God uses Israel’s history to try to convince the people to turn from their sins.
Ezekiel Chapter 20
Lessons from the text
The Lessons of History God makes it clear in this chapter that we have a lot to learn from history. If we truly look at what happened to the Jews, we can see that there is no escape from God’s wrath if we sin. We also see that despite our sins, God continually tries to convince us to repent, or turn away, from our sins and enter into a covenant with Him. God is honorable, and He will uphold His promise both to the Jew and to the rest of the world. History affirms this. Despite everything, the Jews are still alive and have been reinstated as a nation. No matter who we are, if we really stop and consider the lessons of history, we will learn a lot about the consequences of sins and the blessings of obedience. We can examine how God has interacted with humanity in the past to understand how He is interacting with us now. We can do this because God does not change. If He was merciful in the past, He is still merciful today. If He was willing to plead with the Jews even after they had broken His covenant, He is still willing to plead with you even if you are in sin. If God is reasoning with you about your condition, listen to and believe what He has to say.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1-44 To enquire of God is to ask for guidance about something. Since they have put forth the effort to come to Him, God begins to reason with the elders (see Isa. 1:18). He tries to make them understand that they are not in a right relationship with Him, and until that changes, He will not answer their requests. This shows that God desires to reason with those who are in sin to help them understand that they must turn from sin to have fellowship with Him. 1 Ezekiel was called in the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year of the captivity (Eze. 1:1-2). This puts the events of this chapter just over two years since Ezekiel’s ministry began. 2-3 God says that He will not do as the elders desire; He will not be their fortune teller. 4 To judge is to reveal right and wrong. God is therefore asking Ezekiel to reveal what is right and wrong to the elders. Even though God is not going to answer the elder’s enquiry, He will reason with them about their sin. 5 God begins a history lesson. He is trying to make the elders reflect on the history of their people to realize that when the people disobeyed God, God’s wrath was poured out on them. He begins with the reminder that it was He who came to Israel; God revealed Himself to the Jews rather than the Jews seeking and discovering Him. This demonstrates that the original knowledge of God occurs when God makes Himself known to a person. 6 God has great blessings in store for His people. 7 To inherit to their blessing, all the Jews had to do was remove their idols. See Exodus 23:20-33.
8 The Jews continued to turn back to Egypt and worship idols. In response, God promised judgment and wrath. See Exodus 32:1, II Kings 17:7-18.
9 God only withheld His judgment so that His name would not be tarnished among the Gentiles; if God destroyed all of the Jews for their sins, then the nation's could claim that God is not able to take care of His people. God would have been justified in destroying the Jews, but to ensure that the nations could not misinterpret events, God chose to miraculously preserve the Jew. See Exodus 32:11-14.
10 God brought the Jews out of Egypt so that the Jews, the Egyptians, and all peoples would know that He is God.
11 The law does not give live; righteousness gives life. The person who obeys the law possesses righteousness and therefore life. A man lives in his righteousness, a thought that God repeats three times in this chapter (v. 11, 13, 21).
12 The Sabbath day was meant to be a sign of the covenant between Israel and God; it, like many of the ordinances, would make Israel a peculiar people compared to the traditions of the other nations (See Exo. 19:5, 20:8-11, Deut. 14:1-3).
13 The Israelites polluted the Sabbath by going to gather manna on the Sabbath day even after God said there would be no manna on that day (Exo. 16:22-29). See Exo. 17:3, 32:1-6, Num. 11:1-34, 14:1-10, 16:1-33, 20:2-5, 21:4-5, 25:1-3 for other ways they disobeyed God.
14 Since God brought the Jews out of Egypt so that everyone would know that He is the one true God, if He failed to deliver the Jews to the promised land of Canaan, He could be slandered as being unable to perform His vows. Therefore, despite the sins of the people, He kept His part of the promise so that His name would remain honorable in the sight of all the world.
15-20 Since God is holy and just, He had to find a way to punish the Jews while still keeping His promise. He did so by delaying the fulfillment of the promise so that the generation that had rebelled against Him died in the wilderness and a new generation was able to inherit the land (Num. 26:64-65). He gave this new generation the same opportunity that the previous one had; if they would obey His covenant, they would live.
21 The next generation of Jews did not learn from their parents; as soon as the generation that had entered the land died, their children rebelled against the Lord. The Scripture says that Joshua’s generation failed to keep the commandment to train their children in the ways of God; they did not pass on the knowledge of all the miracles that bore witness to God’s authority and holiness, and the result there was rebellion against God. (Deut. 6:7, 11:19, Judg. 2:7-10) 22-26 As with the generation in the wilderness, God showed mercy to the Jews and did not destroy them for their sins and for breaking the covenant with God. So that all the nations would know that there was a God in Israel, God preserved the Jews from their enemies through judges. Nonetheless, the people continued to rebel until they began to desire laws and statues that were not for their good. God, allowing them to bear the consequences for their choices, allowed the unbeneficial laws to be passed, the first noticeable instance being when Israel asked for a king (I Sam. 8:4-22). As the people desired more and more that was harmful to them, God allowed their desires to be fulfilled until the very blessings God had given them became a curse. This is seen in how the riches and wisdom of Solomon lead to civil unrest and a division in the kingdom (I Ki. 11:43-12:19). Eventually, God allowed the consequences of their choices to degrade them to the point that their cities were overthrown and the people were forced to flee the promised land, first with the northern kingdom and now with the southern kingdom. This brings the narrative to the current day, for Ezekiel is one of the captive Jews in the land of Babylon.
27-33 Using history as His backdrop, God reasons with the current Jews. He is trying to make them realize that they are no better than their fathers. The current generation of Jews has also worshipped false gods and even sacrificed their children to Molech and Baal (Jer. 19:5, 32:35). After seeing how God judged their fathers for sin, how can the current generation expect God to bless them while they sin? Since they have chosen to worship wood and stone (statues in the image of a false god), they should not expect the true God to show them any favor.
34-38 Despite the sins of the people, God declares that He will rule over them. These verses promise the fulfillment of His covenant with the Jews that began at Mount Sinai when God promised to be their God and the people accepted (Exo. 20:2-6, 24:3-8). By accepting the covenant, the people agreed to God’s conditions; obedience to God’s ordinances and standards of holiness. Since the Jews have broken the covenant by worshiping other gods (which breaks the first and second commandments), God is no longer obliged to uphold His part of the covenant. Nonetheless, for His name’s sake He will uphold His part; He will rule over them despite their continual rebellion. As proof that God will not go back on His word, even when He is justified in so doing, God will fulfill all of His vows to Israel that He gave in Mount Sinai. This also points to the ultimate goal of the covenant; for God and Israel to dwell together in unity. This explains why Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth as a Jew and will one day return to rule from Jerusalem (Isa. 24:23, Zech. 14:3-4).
39 Somewhat sarcastically, God tells the people that they can go serve whatever god they want, just quit pretending to serve Him. Because the people claimed that Jehovah was the God of Israel, other nations believe that Jehovah is the god that they worship in the groves an in the high places (see II Chronicles 32:12 for an example). The nations are forming a false opinion of God because of the Jews perversion. This has to stop.
40-44 The holy mountain is Mount Moriah where Solomon built the temple and were Abraham offered Isaac (Gen. 22:2). God once again repeats that He will bring Israel into obedience to the covenant.
45-47 Since Chebar (where Ezekiel is) is north of Jerusalem, God is prophesying against Jerusalem regarding another invasion that will completely consume the city. This was fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem for the second time and burnt the majority of it to the ground (II Ki. 25:8-11).
48 God will destroy Jerusalem to redeem His name among the Gentiles; since the Jews have polluted it, God must prove that the manner of worship of the Jews is not the proper way to worship Him. Also noteworthy is that if God is not willing to spare His own people from the consequences to their sins, how much less will He spare the Gentiles for their sins? From this God’s holiness is made evident. 49 Tragically, God’s words fall on death ears. The time and effort God spent reasoning with the Jews is neglected; the people do not believe that they are in sin but instead believe that Ezekiel is speaking a story with hidden meanings for future generations. In other words, they are examining the prose of the prophet instead of listening to what he is saying. This is similar to the individual of today who listens to a sermon warning of sinners going to hell only to conclude that it was a marvelous story to teach people to be more considerate of each other. Yet the word of God is more than a story; it contains literal truths that one must apply to one’s life or one will literally face the literal consequences stated in Scriptures. For the Jew, this was exile to Babylon. For the individual today, it is eternity in hell if one neglects the great plan of salvation through Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:3).
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