The Sovereignty of God in the Punishment of Sin
Ezekiel 20:33-38
As I live, said the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you:…

As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, etc. The connection of this paragraph with what has gone before, and especially with ver. 32, is of the closest character; it is, in fact, essential. Three leading points require attention.

I. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD OVER MEN, NOTWITHSTANDING THEIR SINS, ASSERTED. (Ver. 33.) The Israelites had resolved to be as the heathen, to conform to their usages, and to mingle themselves with them. But the Lord does not readily loose them from their allegiance to him. The sins of men do not invalidate the sovereignty of God over them. Men cannot by any means annul his right to rule over them. Moral obligations are eternal. The Lord here asserts:

1. His solemn determination to maintain his sovereignty over Israel. "As I live, saith the Lord God, surely... will I rule over you." The oath indicates the settled and unchangeable purpose of the Lord Jehovah. He will not forego his kingly authority over his creatures.

2. His sufficient power to maintain his sovereignity over Israel. "Surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you." There is a reference here to his great and terrible acts in the land of Egypt for the deliverance of his people therefrom (cf. Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 4:34). The Almighty is at no loss for means and instruments to maintain his authority. "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder," etc. (Psalm 2:2-6). If men will not bow to the sceptre of his mercy, they wilt be made to feel the rod of his anger. "There is no shaking off God's dominion," says M. Henry; "rule he will, either with the golden sceptre or with the iron rod; and those that will not yield to the power of his grace shall be made to sink under the power of his wrath."

II. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD OVER MEN MANIFESTED IN THE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR SINS. (Vers. 34-36.) These verses, we think, should be regarded as figurative. The people of the house of Israel had said within themselves, "We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone." The Lord by his prophet declares that they shall not be as the nations; they shall not be lost amongst them; for he will find them out with his judgments. "1 will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered," etc. There is here a reference to their captivity in Babylon. The objection that they were in one land only, and amongst one people only, whereas the prophet speaks of "peoples" and "countries," is not of much weight, seeing that the Babylonian empire was so great as to be spoken of in the terms applied to it in Jeremiah 27:1-7 "To those who fancied that with the removal into exile the judicial activity of God was already closed, and the dawn of the day of grace was immediately approaching, he announces a new phase of this judicial activity, similar to that which first came over Israel in the wilderness. If they are really led out of the former state into the new one, in which they underlie a second judgment, formally they are led into the wilderness, which here designates a state similar to that in which Israel was formerly in the wilderness. The wilderness is designated as 'the wilderness of the peoples,' in contradistinction to the former wilderness, where was only the howling of wild beasts (Deuteronomy 32:10), lions, serpents, and the like (Deuteronomy 8:15; Isaiah 30:6). The new wilderness is one in which Israel is in the midst of the peoples, and can therefore be no ordinary wilderness, for wilderness and peoples exclude one another. It must rather be a symbolic or typical designation of the state of punishment and purification" (Hengstenberg). We have a somewhat similar use of the word "wilderness" in Ezekiel 19:13 and Hosea 2:14. What the punishments thus indicated precisely were and when they were inflicted we know not, because of "the defect of historical notices concerning the state of the exiles." Some idea of them may, perhaps, be gathered from the words, "Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord God" (cf. Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 14:21-23; Numbers 16:31-35, 41-49; Numbers 21:4-6). It is well observed by Greenhill, "That God's punishments are his pleadings; when he visits men for their sins he pleads with them. Every rod of his hath a voice, and pleads for God. Isaiah 66:16, 'By fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh.' His punishments are arguments he uses to convince or confound sinners." If men violate God's righteous laws, and set at nought his supreme authority, they must bear the inevitable penalties of their transgressions, and thus realize their subjection to his sovereignty.

III. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD OVER MEN MANIFESTED IN THE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR SINS IN ORDER TO LEAD THEM LOYALLY TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT SOVEREIGNTY. (Vers. 37, 38.) "The Divine chastisement was designed to exercise a purifying influence upon the people of Israel, and to lead them back to hearty allegiance to the Lord their God. Two results are here represented as effected by means of it.

1. Divine discrimination of human characters. "And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant." The metaphor of passing under the rod is drawn from pastoral lift, and the custom of the sheep passing under the staff of the shepherd to be numbered and examined (cf. Leviticus 27:32; Jeremiah 33:12, 13; Micah 7:14). They who thus pass under the rod are the people of God purified by chastisements, known of him, restored to covenant relationship with him, enjoying the privileges and acknowledging the obligations of that covenant. "The Lord knoweth them that are his;" and distinguisheth them from those who are not his.

2. Divine separation of human persons. "And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and those that transgress against me," etc. (ver. 38). A separation of persons according to their respective characters is here set forth. The sheep will be divided from the goats, the loyal subjects from the hardened rebels. This verse perhaps points, as Scott suggests, "to the whole of the Lord's dealings with Israel, from the time when this prophecy was delivered, to the establishment of a small remnant of them in their own land, after the Captivity; from among whom the idolaters and idolatry itself were completely destroyed, by their manifold desolations, and the terrible havoc made among them." This separation foreshadows that great separation which will be effected at the close of the present economy (cf. Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 21:27). Blessed unspeakably will be the lot of those who shall then be found amongst the loyal subjects of the Lord Jehovah. And as for the rebels, they shall know by dread experience that he is the sovereign Lord of all. - W.J.

Parallel Verses
KJV: As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you:

WEB: As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, surely with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, will I be king over you:

Judicial Discrimination
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