Ezekiel 20 – Israel’s History of Sin, God’s History of Mercy
A. God’s mercy to Israel in Egypt and the wilderness.
1. (1-4) Elders of Israel visit Ezekiel to inquire of the LORD.
It came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Have you come to inquire of Me? As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I will not be inquired of by you.”’ Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Then make known to them the abominations of their fathers.
a. It came to pass in the seventh year: This took place some two years after the prophecies of Ezekiel 1-3 (Ezekiel 1:2) and one year after the prophecies of Ezekiel 8 (Ezekiel 8:1).
b. Certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me: As happened previously in Ezekiel 14:1, the elders of Israel in exile came to Ezekiel as a recognized prophet, to inquire of the LORD through him.
c. I will not be inquired of by you: This was God’s initial response to the elders of Israel, much the same as He said to them the last time they inquired of God (Ezekiel 14:3). He said it strongly with an oath (As I live).
i. “For some unexplained reason the enquiry is an impertinent one and needs only a rehearsal of Israel’s past sins to show that history has answered the question for them.” (Taylor)
ii. “Nay, but you act a deep hypocrisy, being already resolved on your own course, and yet now pretend you would know my counsel. It is a sharp reproof of their wickedness, and God utterly refuseth to be inquired of by such.” (Poole)
d. Then make known to them the abominations of their fathers: Following in Ezekiel 20 is a strong description and denunciation of Israel’s abominations through their history, together with remarkable promises of restoration and mercy.
2. (5-7) God’s oath to Israel.
“Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “On the day when I chose Israel and raised My hand in an oath to the descendants of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt, I raised My hand in an oath to them, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God.’ On that day I raised My hand in an oath to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, ‘flowing with milk and honey,’ the glory of all lands. Then I said to them, ‘Each of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’
a. On the day when I chose Israel and raised My hand in an oath to the descendants of the house of Jacob: God referred to an oath He made to Israel in the land of Egypt. We have no record of this specific oath, but it is simply a restatement of aspects of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12:1-3).
i. Something of that oath is shown in Exodus 6:8: And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the LORD.
b. I raised My hand in an oath to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land…the glory of all lands: God repeated the promise originally given to Abraham and his covenant descendants, renewing it for the generation yet in Egypt. God promised to take them out of Egypt, and into Canaan, which He called the glory of all lands.
i. Raised My hand in an oath: “I bound myself in a covenant to them to continue to be their God, if they should be faithful, and continue to be my people. Among the Jews the juror lifted up his right hand to heaven; which explains Psalm 144:8: ‘Their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.’ This is a form used in England, Scotland, and Ireland.” (Clarke)
ii. A land that I had searched out for them: “After the manner of man God speaks, as if he had been the spy to go from place to place to search out the best, and to appoint it for them; it was his wise and good providence which assigned this land to them.” (Poole)
iii. The glory of all lands: “It was so then, it is not so now, since the Jews were disprivileged and dejected; but as in the earthly paradise, after man fallen, the rose fell off, the brier whereon it grew remained; so here.” (Trapp)
c. Each of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes: God not only gave Israel an oath; while the people of God were still in Egypt, God gave them a command. The command was to throw away the idols of Egypt. They were to have nothing to do with the gods of Egypt.
i. “The fact that they turned so easily to fresh idols like the golden calf, indicates that many, as Ezekiel says, must have been attracted also by Egyptian religious practices.” (Wright)
3. (8-9) God’s mercy to Israel’s early disobedience to Him while still Egypt.
But they rebelled against Me and would not obey Me. They did not all cast away the abominations which were before their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said, ‘I will pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.’ But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles among whom they were, in whose sight I had made Myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
a. But they rebelled against Me and would not obey Me: Even while in Egypt, Israel did not listen to God and truly forsake the idols of Egypt. In response, God said He would judge (I will pour out My fury on them).
i. “They continued attached to the idolatry of Egypt; so that, had I consulted my justice only, I should have consumed them even in Egypt itself.” (Clarke)
ii. “They did not forsake the idols of Egypt; it is probable there were some among them that carried with them (as Rachel did her father’s) the idols of Egypt.” (Poole)
iii. There were several evidences of Israel’s idolatry in Egypt:
· The worship of the golden calf at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:1-6).
· The idolatry practiced in Egypt: Put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! (Joshua 24:14)
· The choice of golden calves as objects of worship by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:26-33).
b. But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles: Despite Israel’s sin, God extended His grace and mercy to Israel while still in Egypt. He did this to preserve His reputation among the Gentiles, and fulfilled His promise to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
i. “When God could find no basis in them for extending to them His mercy and grace, He did it solely for His name’s sake, that is, for His own glory.” (Feinberg)
ii. “The divine reputation depends on the fate and welfare of his people. All of God’s dealings with Israel were public—before the eyes of the nations. Israel was to be the agent through whom the nations would come to know that he is Yahweh.” (Block)
4. (10-17) God’s mercy to a disobedient Israel in the wilderness.
“Therefore I made them go out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them.’ Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness; they did not walk in My statutes; they despised My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’; and they greatly defiled My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out. So I also raised My hand in an oath to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, ‘flowing with milk and honey,’ the glory of all lands, because they despised My judgments and did not walk in My statutes, but profaned My Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless My eye spared them from destruction. I did not make an end of them in the wilderness.
a. Therefore I made them go out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness: Despite the sins described in Ezekiel 20:8, God did as He described in Ezekiel 20:9. God set them free from slavery and Egypt and set them on the road to Canaan, the Promised Land.
i. I made them go out: “Though greatly oppressed and degraded, they were not willing to leave their house of bondage. I was obliged to force them away.” (Clarke)
b. I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgments: God did much more than bring Israel out of Egypt. He brought them to Mount Sinai where He gave them His law. He gave them His Sabbaths as a sign between them and Himself. God did it all to separate Israel to Himself.
i. “Had they attended to these things, they should have lived by them. They would have been holy, healthy, and happy.” (Clarke)
ii. “The Sabbath was the central sign of the old covenant (cf. Isaiah 56:2, 4). Repeatedly it is shown that the law of the Sabbath was not legislation by which they could gain life but rather the sign of the covenant between God and Israel.” (Feinberg)
iii. “The phrase ‘the man who obeys them will live by them’ (Ezekiel 20:13) reflects Leviticus 18:5. It is not a reference to eternal salvation by works.” (Alexander)
c. Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness: There were many times when Israel did this. One of the most notable was their sin with the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-8). Even in the wilderness, they greatly defiled God’s Sabbaths.
i. Their heart went after their idols: “Heb., Their dungy deities; those dirty delights carried them sheer away from God and goodness. Any beloved sin will do so.” (Trapp)
d. I said I would pour out My fury on them in the wilderness: As He did in Egypt (Ezekiel 20:8), God said He would judge Israel in the wilderness. Yet as He did before, God held back His judgment acting for His name’s sake, to preserve His reputation before the Gentiles.
e. I did not make an end to them in the wilderness: Israel certainly deserved God’s judgment in the wilderness, but God mercifully brought them into the Promised Land.
5. (18-20) God’s appeal to Israel’s next generation in the wilderness.
“But I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am the LORD your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.’
a. But I said to their children in the wilderness: The generation that came from Egypt would not trust or obey God as they should. God mercifully spoke to the next generation and told them to not repeat the same mistakes as their fathers.
b. I am the LORD your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them: God gave that generation, born and raised in the wilderness, the path and the opportunity to walk in His ways.
6. (21-24) God’s further mercy to Israel in the wilderness.
“Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, and were not careful to observe My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’; but they profaned My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the wilderness. Nevertheless I withdrew My hand and acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out. Also I raised My hand in an oath to those in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the Gentiles and disperse them throughout the countries, because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes, profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers’ idols.
a. Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against Me: Sadly, the generation born and raised in the wilderness did not obey God. God said, they did not walk in My statutes, and were not careful to observe My judgments.
b. I said I would pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the wilderness: As He did regarding Israel in Egypt (Ezekiel 20:8) and the generation that came out of Egypt (Ezekiel 20:13), God said that He would judge the generation of Israel born and raised in the wilderness.
c. Nevertheless I withdrew My hand and acted for My name’s sake: Once again, God spared Israel and did so with an eye towards His reputation among the Gentiles.
d. I raised My hand in an oath to those in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the Gentiles and disperse them throughout the countries: In the late wilderness period, God promised Israel that if they persisted in disobedience and rebellion, He would scatter them to the nations (Deuteronomy 4:27, 28:64). Ezekiel and the elders he spoke to experienced the fulfillment of that oath.
i. “But even as early as the wilderness era God had predicted Israel’s worldwide scattering among the nations (Deuteronomy 28:64-68). The Babylonian captivity was only a partial realization of this prophecy by Moses.” (Feinberg)
7. (25-26) In His judgment, God allows Israel to suffer the consequences of their sin.
“Therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live; and I pronounced them unclean because of their ritual gifts, in that they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire, that I might make them desolate and that they might know that I am the LORD.”’
a. I also gave them up to statutes that were not good: Since Israel rejected God’s law (Ezekiel 20:8, 20:13, 20:16), God allowed them to live under the law of other nations – laws that were not good and judgments by which they could not live.
i. “Ezekiel was declaring that in retribution the Lord allowed them to go after their own ways in order to punish them according to their deeds. The passage is speaking in the sense of a judicial sentence…. Disobedience leads to greater sin. Sin becomes its own punishment.” (Feinberg)
ii. “God gave them to the customs and consequences of the religion they had chosen.” (Wright)
iii. “When they had rebelled against the Lord, despised his statutes, and polluted his Sabbaths-in effect cast him off, and given themselves wholly to their idols, then he abandoned them, and they abandoned themselves to the customs and ordinances of the heathen.” (Clarke)
b. I pronounced them unclean because of their ritual gifts: Israel served and gave honor to the pagan idols in the most unclean and terrible ways, ultimately including child sacrifice (they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire).
c. That I might make them desolate and that they might know that I am the LORD: These great sins while in the land eventually brought the long-withheld judgment of God.
B. God’s mercy to disobedient Israel in the Promised Land.
1. (27-28) Israel’s idolatry in the Promised Land.
“Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “In this too your fathers have blasphemed Me, by being unfaithful to Me. When I brought them into the land concerning which I had raised My hand in an oath to give them, and they saw all the high hills and all the thick trees, there they offered their sacrifices and provoked Me with their offerings. There they also sent up their sweet aroma and poured out their drink offerings.
a. In this too your fathers have blasphemed Me: Ezekiel here retraces some of Israel’s history, beginning at the nation as they received Canaan as God’s gift. Even then they were unfaithful to God when He brought them into the land.
b. They saw all the high hills and all the thick trees, there they offered their sacrifices: In terrible ingratitude, Israel used the very hills and trees God gave to them to offer their sacrifices to pagan idols. The sacrifices were of all kinds, including incense (sweet aroma) and wine (drink offerings).
i. “The crowning rebellion of Israel’s history was that when finally, in the mercy of God, they entered into the land of promise, they promptly took over the heathen Canaanite hill-top shrines as their own places of sacrifice.” (Taylor)
2. (29-32) God refuses to speak to an Israel that will not listen to Him.
Then I said to them, ‘What is this high place to which you go?’ So its name is called Bamah to this day.”’ Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Are you defiling yourselves in the manner of your fathers, and committing harlotry according to their abominations? For when you offer your gifts and make your sons pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols, even to this day. So shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I will not be inquired of by you. What you have in your mind shall never be, when you say, ‘We will be like the Gentiles, like the families in other countries, serving wood and stone.’
a. What is this high place to which you go? Israel used the tops of hills and mountains for idol altars and sacrifice so often that the term high place was used for any place of idolatry, no matter what the elevation (as in Ezekiel 16:24-25). The name Bamah means high place.
i. Bamah: “A high place; a name good enough in itself, but, as used by them, as odious to all good hearts as a brothel house is to a chaste matron. She is the worse to pass by it, and spitteth at it. So should we in like case.” (Trapp)
b. Are you defiling yourselves in the manner of your fathers: This was the critical question Ezekiel asked of the elders who came to him as a prophet to inquire of the Lord (Ezekiel 20:1). After spelling out a long history of Israel’s sin and idolatry, the elders were those and represented those who did defile yourselves with all your idols, even to this day. Nothing had changed.
i. “Why this rehearsal of the nation’s sins of the past to the prophet’s countrymen in exile? The reason is clear: their father’s sins were mirrored in their own lives, as is demonstrated in the course of the message.” (Feinberg)
ii. Yet God used the period of exile to refine and change Israel. When they emerged from their Babylonian exile, they no longer had the same problem with idolatry as they had before. They certainly had other sins and failings, but seemed to be “cured” of their outward idolatry of pagan gods.
c. So shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? The elders originally came to seek a word from God through the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:1). God made it clear that He owed no special revelation to such a disobedient people. If we want to hear God’s voice and receive His guidance, it is always best to obey what He has already said and walk in the path already revealed.
i. “It is as though he expressed surprise that those who had continued in sin and emulated the disobedience of their forefathers should still expect to receive fresh revelations from God.” (Feinberg)
ii. “Are you fit to come and ask counsel of me, whom you have so shamelessly, so obstinately forsaken and reproached? Can you expect I should answer you?” (Poole)
d. We shall be like the Gentiles, like the families in other countries: God forcefully rebuked the elders, and many others among Israel’s exiles, for their unspoken and hidden sins. They almost looked forward to the opportunity to live like the families in other countries and to forsake the LORD, serving wood and stone. God had to correct this evil attitude or Israel would completely assimilate into the countries where they were exiled.
i. “Ye wish to be naturalized among idolaters, and make a part of such nations. But this shall not be at all; you shall be preserved as a distinct people. Ye shall not be permitted to mingle yourselves with the people of those countries: even they, idolaters as they are, will despise and reject you.” (Clarke)
ii. We shall be like the Gentiles: “The more pleasure we may have had in forbidden paths, the more sharp the anguish through which we shall have to retrace our steps. We cannot be as the nations. We cannot serve wood and stone. We cannot go our own way.” (Meyer)
3. (33-36) God’s strong promise of restoration.
“As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face. Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord GOD.
a. Surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you: God said this with a vow (As I live), emphasizing the fact that though Israel had in many ways forsaken Him, He had not forsaken them. God would rule over them on His own terms.
i. “The insidious attitude of assimilation to the idolatrous ways of the heathen will not be allowed to happen.” (Taylor)
ii. “If one reads these verses dispassionately, that they proffer not salvation to the existing Israel but the opposite. The only ‘mercy’ that Yahweh promises, the only surcease of exile where Israel finds itself, is that it may be confronted by its Master. The result of this confrontation is that Israel will come to realize the enormity of its guilt. The people will loathe the evil that they have done.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
b. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you: God had fulfilled His promise to scatter disobedient Israel. Soon He would fulfill His promise to restore them, and with the same energy and intent as His previous judgment.
c. I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face: God promised to deal with Israel in their return from exile much as He dealt with them when they came out of Egypt. He would prove to them His love and faithfulness, and so plead His case with Israel.
i. Into the wilderness: “So the final period of Israel’s history, the dispersion in exile, is seen as a reversion to the wilderness life which had preceded the settlement in Canaan.” (Taylor)
ii. Face to face: “The emphasis is not on the intimacy of the relationship between deity and human but on the directness of the encounter. This time there will be no cloud or mediator to shield Israel from the awesome divine majesty.” (Block)
4. (37-38) God promises correction and covenant.
“I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.
a. I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: God promised that the time of exile would be a necessary corrective and that the covenant He had with Israel would be again restored. The correction would begin by selecting those who were restored to the land, as a shepherd identified his flock under the rod.
i. Under the rod: “The idiom derives from the custom of a shepherd standing at the entrance of the fold and using his rod to count, examine, and sort his sheep.” (Block)
ii. “As a shepherd’s staff is employed to count the sheep (Jeremiah 33:13), so the Lord will bring the entire flock under the rod, this time with the purpose of separating the godly from the wicked.” (Feinberg)
b. I will purge the rebels from among you: God promised that not all those in exile would return. Rebels and those who transgress would not enter the land of Israel. This purging work would be another way God would reveal Himself to Israel (then you will know that I am the LORD).
i. We see from these promises a partial fulfillment in the return from the Babylonian captivity under Ezra and Zerubbabel, and a greater and more perfect fulfillment in the millennial age.
ii. Smith spoke to the sooner, partial fulfillment: “Centuries before in the wilderness of Egypt the Lord had discriminated between those who were destined to enter the land of promise, and those who were not. So now the Babylonian exile would serve to discriminate between those who were to be permitted to return, and those who would be denied.”
iii. Wiersbe spoke to the later, ultimate fulfillment: “Israel will be restored to her covenant relationship to the Lord and will experience the blessings of the New Covenant (Ezekiel 18:31; 36:26–27). ‘I will purge out the rebels’ (Ezekiel 20:38) and they will not be allowed to enter the land of Israel and enjoy the blessings of the messianic kingdom.”
C. God reveals Himself in restoration and mercy.
1. (39) A challenge to choose Yahweh or the idols.
“As for you, O house of Israel,” thus says the Lord GOD: “Go, serve every one of you his idols—and hereafter—if you will not obey Me; but profane My holy name no more with your gifts and your idols.
a. As for you, O house of Israel: Having walked through Israel’s history of sin and God’s history of mercy to Israel, having brought the matter to the present day, and having spoken of the future, now Yahweh gave them a challenge.
b. Go, serve every one of you his idols: God called His people to a decision point. If they wanted to serve their idols, then they might as well make up their minds and do it. Let them become Babylonians in every regard now that they were in Babylon.
c. But profane My holy name no more with your gifts and your idols: What God did not want from Israel was a divided heart. When they brought Yahweh worship from hearts also given to idols, it profaned God and His name. In New Testament phrasing, God called Israel to be hot or cold, but no longer lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16).
2. (40-41) Gathered again to properly worship God.
For on My holy mountain, on the mountain height of Israel,” says the Lord GOD, “there all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, shall serve Me; there I will accept them, and there I will require your offerings and the firstfruits of your sacrifices, together with all your holy things. I will accept you as a sweet aroma when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will be hallowed in you before the Gentiles.
a. On My holy mountain…all the house of Israel…shall serve Me: God promised that when Israel was restored to the land, the people would once again serve Him in a way that He would accept. This was fulfilled when the temple was rebuilt under Ezra and Zerubbabel.
i. Shall serve Me: “They will render priestly service to God, for the word ‘serve’ is the technical term for priestly ministry (cf. for this commission Exodus 19:6).” (Feinberg)
b. I will accept you as a sweet aroma when I bring you out from the peoples: God clearly longed for Israel’s restoration to the land. When God brought them back from where He had scattered them, it would be like a pleasing sacrifice. It would also glorify God before the Gentiles.
3. (42-44) God revealed in His restoration and mercy.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for which I raised My hand in an oath to give to your fathers. And there you shall remember your ways and all your doings with which you were defiled; and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight because of all the evils that you have committed. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have dealt with you for My name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel,” says the Lord GOD.’”
a. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel: God’s restoration of Israel to the land would be a powerful revelation of Himself, both to Israel and to the world. This was true of the return from the Babylonian exile; it was also true of Israel’s 1948 return to the land.
b. For which I raised My hand in an oath to give to your fathers: God promised the land to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and his covenant descendants. It was their land, and it remained their land even after God scattered them from the land because of their disobedience.
c. There you shall remember your ways and all your doings with which you were defiled: Restored Israel would no longer be given over to the same sins as they were before the exile. They would loathe themselves because of all the evils that they have committed.
i. You shall remember your ways: “Recognition is the first thing in reformation.” (Trapp) “As elsewhere zakar [remember] does not mean simply ‘to recall to mind,’ but ‘to acknowledge, take account of, accept responsibility for,’ their conduct.” (Block)
ii. “These promises may, in a certain limited sense, be applied to the restoration from the Babylonish captivity; but they must have their proper fulfillment when the Jews shall accept Jesus as their Saviour, and in consequence be brought back from all their dispersions to their own land.” (Clarke)
d. I have dealt with you for My name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways: The overwhelming mercy of God toward Israel would be a powerful revelation of Yahweh’s existence and character (then you shall know that I am the LORD).
i. “Israel would have new understanding of Jehovah, and come to know that the perpetual reason for His operation was the glory of His name, and not merely punishing them for their evil ways, that is to say, the punishment of Jehovah was never merely vindictive, but always a process moving toward the realisation of His original intention of good to the nations of the earth.” (Morgan)
D. Judgment like a forest fire.
“In the Hebrew text of Ezekiel 20:45 is the beginning of Ezekiel 21, where the connection is clear and the figure is explained in direct prophetic discourse.” (Feinberg)
1. (45-48) Judgment on the forest of the south.
Furthermore the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face toward the south; preach against the south and prophesy against the forest land, the South, and say to the forest of the South, ‘Hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree and every dry tree in you; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be scorched by it. All flesh shall see that I, the LORD, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.”’”
a. Son of man, set your face toward the south: God told Ezekiel to preach against the south, that is, the land of Judah, which lies south of where Ezekiel was (Babylon). Here Judah and Jerusalem are represented as a forest ready to be burned. Jerusalem was as full of people as the forest is full of trees.
i. “The Hebrew uses three different words [for south] (temana, darom, and negeb). Of these the first two are general poetic words to describe the southerly direction, whereas the third refers to a named geographical area, called in modern Israel the Negev, which lay to the south of the Judean hills.” (Taylor)
ii. “‘Preach against the south’ (RSV) is a pallid equivalent of the Hebrew, which is more actually ‘spit toward the south’—the word occurs in Ezekiel only in this passage.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iii. “The southern forest referred to the southern kingdom of Judah, a forested area in biblical times, even into the upper Negev.” (Alexander)
b. Behold, I will kindle a fire in you: The Babylonian army would come with devastating judgment against Judea and Jerusalem. The judgment would be so complete that it would burn both the green tree and the dry tree – those obviously ready to burn in the coming judgment, and those who were relatively righteous and innocent.
i. “Ezekiel characterizes Yahweh as an enemy who ignites the forest, setting off a conflagration that does not cease until every twig has burned up.” (Block)
ii. “That fire would consume every green tree as well as every dry one. The thought is that both the righteous and the wicked would suffer from the devastation caused by the Chaldean invaders.” (Smith)
c. All flesh shall see that I, the LORD, have kindled it: God’s judgment against Israel would be so powerful and complete that the whole world would take notice.
2. (49) The prophet’s complaint.
Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! They say of me, ‘Does he not speak parables?’”
a. Ah, Lord GOD: This was another of Ezekiel’s passionate pleas to God.
b. Does he not speak in parables? The elders of Israel (Ezekiel 20:1) and others rejected or even despised Ezekiel’s message because they claimed it was hard to understand. Their failure to understand was willful and would be judged.
i. “Men find difficulty in understanding a message which is distasteful to them.… It is well known that to the unwilling heart any message from God appears to be difficult of comprehension.” (Feinberg)