Ezekiel 20



 1 “And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day

of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD,

and sat before me.  2 Then came the word of the LORD unto me, saying,”

A new date is given, and includes what follows to ch.23:49. The last note of time

was in ch.8:1, and eleven months and five days had passed, during which the

prophecies of the intervening chapters had been written or spoken. We may note

further that it was two years one month and five days after the prophet’s call to

his work (ch. 1.), and two years and five months before the Chaldeans besieged

Jerusalem (ch. 24:1). The immediate occasion here, as in ch.8:1, was

that some of the elders of Israel bad come to the prophet to inquire what

message of the Lord he had to give them in the present crisis. Whether any

stress is to be laid on the fact that here the elders are said to be “of Israel,”

and in (Ibid.)  “of Judah,” is doubtful (see note on (Ibid. ch.14:1). Ezekiel

seems to use the two words as interchangeable. Here, however, it is stated

more definitely that they came to inquire, probably in the hope that he would

tell them, as the false prophets were doing, that the time of their deliverance, and

of that of Jerusalem, was at hand. Passing into the prophetic state, Ezekiel

delivers the discourse that follows.


3 “Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them,

Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye come to inquire of me? As I

live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you.”

The inquirers are answered, but not as they expected. Instead of hearing of the

“times and seasons” of the events that were in the near future, the prophet at once

enters on his stern work as a preacher. The general principle that determines the

refusal to answer has been given in ch. 14:3.



The Silent Oracle (vs. 1-3)


An embassy of elders is sent to Ezekiel to make an inquiry of the Lord

through the prophet as to what is to be expected at a new juncture of

national affairs, and Ezekiel is instructed to tell them that God will

give no answer.




QUESTIONS. This was the peculiar, the inconsistent, position of Israel.

God had not been keeping silence. On the contrary, he had been sending

repeated messages to his people, and the Prophet Ezekiel had been busy in

teaching what God had revealed to him. (…..the Lord God of their fathers

sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because

He had compassion on His people…….But they mocked the messengers

of God and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the

wrath of the Lord arose against His people, TILL THERE WAS NO

REMEDY!”  II Chronicles 36:15-16).  This was not a time, like that of

Samuel, when the word of the Lord was rare. But the people had not cared

to receive the Divine messages. Here was Ezekiel’s trouble. He had to

preach to deaf ears and to exhibit his prophetic signs to blind eyes

(ch. 12:2). Likewise Isaiah and Jeremiah.  See Isaiah 6:9-10; Jeremiah 5:21;

Matthew 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40.  The perversity of his

audience had driven him to novel and startling symbolical representations

of truth in a last, despairing endeavor to arrest attention. And yet even these

efforts seemed to have been all in vain. Then there came to him an embassy,

innocently ignoring all these neglected oracles, and blandly requesting a

Divine answer to certain inquiries of their own. Was there ever a more insolent

approach to God?  Now, we have a full and rich Divine revelation in the Bible,

and especially in the gospel of Christ. Here we may see God’s message to man

and God’s answer to the most momentous inquiries of the soul. Yet there are

men who set aside these voices of God, and then plead piteously for light. No

doubt these elders of Israel did not wish to be troubled about their sins;

they were anxious for light on their fate. They were like those people who

discuss the problem of future punishment, and with keen interest, but who

are indifferent to the voice of conscience and the Divine call to repentance.

Yet there is a pathetic side to this subject. Those who reject God still feel

driven to Him for refuge in trouble.




RECEIVED. We cannot be surprised that Ezekiel’s oracle was silenced.

Such insolence as that of the elders of Israel could meet with no more

gracious reception.


Ø      If we refuse to hear Gods Word, we must expect to be left in darkness.

Before we cry for more light, let us use the light we have. We may indeed

pray for God’s Spirit to help our interpretation of the Bible, and having

read the written Word we may crave more light still. But first to reject the

Divine revelation and then to seek for new light is not the way to receive

more truth.


Ø      God will not give light to those who harden themselves in impenitence.

The Jews had been charged with sin and called to repentance. They had

refused to admit the charge and had declined to repent. Thus they had

shut the door against further Divine communications. The spiritual

vision is best purged by the tears of penitence. A hard heart is deaf

to God’s Word.


Ø      It is useless to be informed about the future unless we listen to the

spiritual teachings of God. Men resorted to oracles to satisfy idle curiosity

or to seek mere worldly guidance. God does not speak for such

comparatively worthless ends. We most need spiritual instruction for the

guidance of our souls into the way of life. Till we have received and

obeyed that instruction any other form of revelation must be irrelevant,

distracting, and therefore positively injurious.  (Characterized by

seeking unto soothsayers and fortune-tellers)


4 “Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? Cause them to know

the abominations of their fathers:”  Wilt thou judge them, etc.? The doubled question

has the force of a strong imperative. The prophet is directed, as it were, to assume the

office of a judge, and as such to press home upon his hearers, and through them upon

others, their own sins and those of their fathers. He is led, in doing so, to yet another

survey of the nation’s history; not now, as in chapter16, in figurative language,

but directly.


5 “And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when I

chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of

Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt,

when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the LORD your

God;  6 In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them

forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing

with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands:”  In the day that I lifted up

mine hand. The attitude was that of one who takes an oath (Exodus 6:8), and

implies the confirmation of the covenant made with Abraham. The land flowing

with milk and honey appears first in (Ibid. 3:8, and became proverbial. The glory of

all lands is peculiar to Ezekiel. Isaiah (Isaiah 13:19) applies the word to Babylon.


7 “Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations

of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am

the LORD your God.”





                                                The Elect Israel (vs. 5-7)


The elect Israel is a type of the people of God, the spiritual Israel. Consider

the peculiarities of the one as indications of the special marks of the other.




Ø      Chosen by God. This is the root idea of election. God chooses His

people before they choose Him — chooses them out of the multitude, and

so constitutes them a separate nation. The grounds of the choice rest with

Him and need not be divulged. But we may be sure there are grounds, and

that these are not arbitrary.  History has revealed one great end of the

election of Israel. The nation was chosen in order that it might become the

channel of blessing to all nations. So the Church is chosen to be God’s

means of bringing the gospel to the whole world.


Ø      Chosen in a state of degradation. The Jews were chosen in Egypt.

Though promises had been made to the patriarchs centuries earlier, the

fulfillment of those promises commenced with God’s deliverance from the

bondage of Pharaoh. When the people seemed to be most lost they were

found by God. When they appeared to be of least value He chose them for

Himself. The Lord married the castaway child (ch. 16:8). Thus God

now takes His people in their low estate.


Ø      Chosen by deeds of might. God proved His choice by bringing His people

out of bondage. He “lifted up” His “hand unto the seed of the house of

Jacob.” With God to will is to do. The mighty deeds of God in the plagues

and the passage of the Red Sea ARE OUTDONE BY HIS MIGHTY

WORK IN CHRIST!  In Christ God does not only choose us, He lifts up

His hand to save.


Ø      Chosen through the revelation of God. God made known His Name to

Israel through Moses (Exodus 3:15). We must know God to hear His

voice. The revelation of Christ goes with the election of God. The chosen

are called by means of the gospel.




Ø      High privileges.


o        Deliverance. The Jews were chosen to be delivered from Egypt. God

chooses His people, in the first place, in order to save them from their

evil condition. Salvation is the first result of election.


o        The possession of Canaan. This “land flowing with milk and honey,

which is the glory of all lands,” was given to Israel by God, not

inherited by right, nor won by the sword apart from God’s interference.

God gives His people the kingdom of heaven here, and the heavenly

Canaan hereafter.  It is a glorious privilege to be counted among

the true people of God; for the fruits of the gospel are sweeter and

more satisfying to the soul than the best crops of Palestine to the body.


Ø      Holy living. There was a condition of the Divine election, or rather, a

condition on which the continuation of its privileges depended. The Jews

were to cast away their idols, as God could endure no rivals. The people

had been chosen in their idolatry; but they were required to renounce it.

God chooses His people now while they are yet sinners. But His choice

means that they must give up their sins, and if they still cleave to them

the election will be rendered null and void. The great mercy of God in

choosing souls before the souls have turned to him should be sufficient

ground to induce all who accept the privileges of the gospel to live up

to the standard it sets forth. After God has chosen us to be His people

the least we can do is to choose Him to be our Portion   “My flesh

and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and

                        my portion for ever.”(Psalm 73:26).


 8 “But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken

unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes,

neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out my

fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the

land of Egypt.  9 But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be

polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made

myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt.

10 Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and

brought them into the wilderness.”  No special mention of the idols of Egypt

occurs in the Pentateuch, but it lies, in the nature of the case, that this was the

form of idolatry implied in the second commandment, and the history of the

“golden calf” (Exodus 32:4) shows that they had caught the infection

of the Mnevis or Apis worship while they sojourned in Egypt. Here

apparently the prophet speaks of that sojourn prior to the mission of

Moses. In bold anthropomorphic speech he represents Jehovah as half

purposing to make an end of the people there and then, and afterwards

repenting. He wrought for his Name’s sake, that the deliverance of the

Exodus might manifest His righteousness and might, the attributes specially

implied in that Name, to Egypt and the surrounding nations. They should

not have it in their power to say that He had abandoned the people whom

He had chosen.



God, and Israel in Egypt (vs. 5-9)


“And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; In the day when I chose

Israel,” etc. This paragraph sets forth the dealings of God with His people

in the land of Egypt.


  • THE CHOICE OF THE PEOPLE BY GOD. “Thus saith the Lord; In

the day when chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the

house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt,

when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the Lord your God.”

The day when God chose Israel and made Himself known unto them as

their God was the time when He interposed on their behalf by His servant

Moses. He chose them; they did not choose Him. They did not seek to

serve or worship Him; but He sent Moses to demand their emancipation in

order that they might worship and serve Him. And He thus chose them

neither for their greatness nor their goodness, but because of His own love

for them and His fidelity to his promises made unto their fathers (compare

Deuteronomy 7:7-8). He chose them to receive special revelations of

religious and redemptive truth, to be “a people for His own possession,” His

visible Church in the world, and His witnesses amongst men, testifying to

His unity and supremacy, and observing and maintaining His worship (compare

Ibid. ch.10:15; 14:2). And still God of His grace calls men to Himself. He begins

with us, and not we with Him. “God commendeth His love toward us, in

that, while we were yet sinners CHRIST DIED FOR US!”   (Romans 5:8);

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His

Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  (I John 4:10). If we have sought

God, it was because He first sought us. “By the grace of God I am what

I am” (I Corinthians 15:10).  And the Lord made Himself known to them as

their God, both by declarations and by mighty deeds wrought on their behalf

(Exodus 3:14; 6:1-8). He chose them to be His people; He gave Himself to

them to be their God. “I am the Lord your God.” ‘Your God.’ This is a great

word, and hath great mercy in it; an engaging word, tying God and all His

attributes to them:


Ø      your God to counsel you,

Ø      your God to protect you,

Ø      your God to deliver you,

Ø      your God to comfort you,

Ø      your God to plead for you,

Ø      your God to teach you,

Ø      your God to set up His Name and worship among you,

Ø      your God to bless you with the dews of heaven and fullness of the


Ø      your God to hear your prayers and make you happy!


And he asserts this relationship in the most solemn manner. “I lifted up mine

hand unto them,” i.e. I sware unto them.



PEOPLE. (V. 6.) This purpose has two branches.


Ø      To deliver them from a miserable condition.In that day I lifted up mine

hand unto them, to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt.” He broke

the power of their cruel oppressors, and by a mighty hand He set them free

from their burdens, and led them out of the land of their captivity. And

when men believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and respond to His call, He

delivers them from the bondage of sin. He came into our world to

“proclaim liberty to the captives” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18), to save men

from the power and pollution and punishment of sin.


Ø      To establish them in a desirable condition. “Into a land that I had

espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory

of all lands.”


o       This land was selected for them by God. He summoned Abram to

go forth unto the land that He would show him (Genesis 12:1; and

compare Exodus 3:8,17). “He shall choose our inheritance for us,

the excellency of Jacob whom He loved.”


Ø      This land was excellently situated and richly fertile.  (We have noticed

these points in treating of ch.19:10.) In its natural fortifications, its

remarkable fertility, and its religious privileges, it was glorious as

compared with other lands. And this land God gave unto them. And

our Saviour Jesus Christ not only delivers from sin those who believe

on Him, but He introduces them into a condition of spiritual privilege

and progress.  “Ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear,”

etc.  (Romans 8:15-17); “Beloved, now are we children of God,” etc.

(I John 3:2).



them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not

yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” This

obligation arises out of the relationship stated in v. 5.   Because they are His

people and He is their God, they must be true to Him as their God, having

no connection with idols. The great basis of their obligation to Him is contained

in the words, “I am Jehovah your God” (compare Exodus 20:1-2). In this

prohibition of idolatry there are two points which call for brief notice.


Ø      Sin entering by the eyes. “The abominations of his eyes” — an

expression which denotes idols. The eyes look upon the idols, become

familiar with them, and come to behold them with respect and reverence.

The eyes are both inlets and outlets to the heart. They convey to the heart

the impression of the idol, and if the heart come to reverence the idol, they

express that reverence in their gaze. The eyes are often an avenue

through which temptation to sin enters the soul.


Ø      Sin defiling the heart. “Defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt.”

Sin pollutes our moral life at its very springs. It proceeds from an impure

heart, and it makes the heart still more impure. David was conscious of its

defilement when he prayed, “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity,”

 etc. (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10). The people of God are under the most binding

obligations to shun everything that would lead to their moral

contamination, and to be true to Him both in heart and in life.




Ø      The nature of this rebellion. “But they rebelled against me, and

would not hearken unto me; they did not every man cast away

the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols

of Egypt.” They rebelled against Jehovah by persisting in their

idolatrous practices. The Mosaic history does not explicitly mention

the idolatry of the Israelites in Egypt; but it points to it by implication.

The making and worship of the golden calf was probably an imitation

of the Egyptian worship of the various sacred cows or of the sacred

bulls. It appears from Leviticus 17:7 (Revised Version), that in the

desert the Israelites offered sacrifices to he-goats, and “the worship of

a deity under the form of a he-goat was peculiar to Egypt

(Hengstenberg). That they worshipped idols in Egypt is evident

also from Joshua 24:14, “Put away The gods which your fathers

served beyond the river, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.”

And from ch. 23:3 of our prophet, “They committed whoredoms

in Egypt.” This idolatry they did not abandon when summoned so

to do.


Ø      The punishment of this rebellion. “Then I said I would pour out my

fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst

of the land of Egypt.”  The persecution of the Israelites by the Egyptians

(Exodus 5:5-23), were signs of the anger of the Lord against them. The

Egyptians acted wickedly and cruelly in thus ill treating them; for they

Had not wronged them. Yet they might have been the unconscious agents

Of punishing the Israelites for their unfaithfulness to the Lord their God.

This is certain, that persistent sin invariably meets with deserved punishment.




wrought for my Name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of

the nations, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known

unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt (compare

Numbers 14:13-16). Had He not accomplished His purpose in delivering

them out of Egypt, His Name or honor might have been contemned by the

Egyptians and others. They might have questioned or even denied:


Ø      His ability to execute His purposes and fulfill His promises, asserting

that He did not do so because He could not (Ibid. vs. 15-16).


Ø      His fidelity to His purposes and promises, asserting that He does not

abide by His determinations, but is changeable and therefore unreliable.


Ø      His kindness towards His people, asserting that He is not so deeply

interested in them as to always fulfill His engagements with them.

Therefore, for His Name’s sake, He brought Israel in triumph out of

Egypt. The sins of man cannot frustrate the purposes of God. By His

sins man may exclude himself from any participation in their

fulfillment, or any enjoyment thereof;  but he cannot defeat their

fulfilment (compare Exodus 32:9-10; Numbers 14:11-12; 23:19;

II Timothy 2:13).


  • CONCLUSION. Our subject presents:


Ø      Warnings against rebellion against God.

Ø      Encouragements to trust and obey Him.


See sequel, God and Israel in the Wilderness – at end of v. 26.


11 “And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments,

which if a man do, he shall even live in them.” I gave them my statutes, etc.

Ezekiel recognizes, almost in the very language of Deuteronomy 30:16-20,

as fully as the writers of Psalms 19 and 119 recognized, the excellence of the Law.

A man who kept that Law in its fullness would have life in its fullest and highest

sense.  He was beginning, however, to recognize, as Jeremiah had done

(Jeremiah 31:31), the powerlessness of the Law to give that life without the aid of

something higher. The “new covenant” was already dawning on the mind of the

scholar as on that of the master.



Law and Life (v. 11)



His statutes in order that the Jews might live by means of them. Without

those ordinances they were in danger of death, for they were sinners, and

the fruit of sin is death. Thus we see that the Law was given in mercy. It

came as a blessing. It was in its aim a gospel. Nothing can be further from

the truth than the notion that it was a rod of chastisement, or even, as some

have regarded it, an evil thing, a sort of curse upon sinners. It was not so

regarded by the Old Testament saints, who sang hymns in praise of it, and

hailed it with language of affection and rapture (e.g. Psalm 40. and 119).


Ø      Truth leads to life. The Law was a revelation of God’s eternal verities,

without which the soul would perish in the night of its own ignorance.


Ø      Righteousness would make for life. The Law declared the nature of

righteousness, and pointed out the path on which it could be pursued.

Thus it was an aid to conscience. Further, by its sanctions of menace

And promise it urged the careless to walk in that path.


Ø      Grace leads to life. The Law did not exclude all grace. On the contrary,

it was given in mercy, and it contained saving provisions in various

forms of condescension to human weakness and in the great institution

of sacrifices for sin.



We have come to regard the Law with aversion under the influence of

the arguments of Paul. Yet he distinctly teaches that the Law was good,

but that the perversion of it led to ruin (Romans 7:12).


Ø      The Law condemns sin. Before we have sinned it is a friend to warn us

against doing wrong, but by sinning we have turned it into an enemy.

The warning beacon has thus become an ominous meteor, the sign post a

gallows tree. That which by its guidance protects the innocent from

death, by its judgments condemns the guilty to death (Romans 7:10).


Ø      The Law is powerless to save from sin.


o       Its commandments cannot save. They are standards of

measurement, not direct powers. Though they urge through

conscience, fear, and hope, they only appeal to our nature in

its present state. They do not create a new heart. They may

drive us to flee from the wrath to come; but they do

not provide any refuge.


o       Its sacrifices cannot save. Ceremonial sacrifices could only save

from ceremonial sins. In regard to moral guilt these sacrifices

could only typify cleansing, not really accomplish it (Psalm 51:16;

Hebrews 10:4).



LIFE. The Law was “weak,” though not on account of its own

imperfection, but “through the flesh,” i.e. on account of man’s human

degradation, so that man did not respond to it. Therefore God sent His Son

to bring the salvation which the Law was powerless to produce (Romans 8:3).


Ø      In Christ we have the gift of life. (I John 5:12). Nothing less than

death is due under the Law; nothing less than life is given by Christ.

This we receive by ACTIVE REGENERATING GRACE,  not by

the erection of a new standard of morals — the Sermon on the Mount

substituted for the Ten Commandments — but by the presence and work

of a living Saviour.


Ø      This life in Christ does not destroy the glory of the Law.


o       Christ satisfies the Law in His own Person.

o       He destroys in us the sin which makes the Law our enemy

and earns the death penalty.

o       He gives us His new law of love, His eternal statutes, “which,

if a man do, he shall even live in them” (Matthew 7:24-27;

John 15:10).


12 “Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me

and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify

them.” I gave them my sabbaths, etc. As in Exodus 31:12-17,

the sabbath is treated as the central sign (we might almost say sacrament)

of the Jewish Church, not only as a mark differencing them from other

nations, but as between Jehovah and them, a witness of their ideal

relation to each other, a means of making that ideal relation a reality.

(Israel’s failure to keep the Sabbath was a big issue which brought them

into the seventy years of Captivity - II Chronicles 36:21 – CY – 2014)


13 “But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they

walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which

if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they

greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them

in the wilderness, to consume them.  14 But I wrought for my name’s sake,

that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought

them out.  15 Yet also I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I

would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk

and honey, which is the glory of all lands;”  It is hardly necessary to count up the

several instances of rebellion, from the sin of the golden calf onward. Of direct

violation of the sabbath we have but two recorded instances (Exodus 16:27;

Numbers 15:32); but the prophet looked below the surface, and would

count a mere formal observance, that did not sanctify the sabbath, as a

pollution of the holy day. (For parallel teaching in the prophets, see

Isaiah 56:2-4; 58:13-14; Jeremiah 17:19-27; and later on in the history,

probably as the result of their teaching, Nehemiah 10:31-33; 13:15-22.)

Then I said. The history of Numbers 14:26-35 and 26:65 was probably in

Ezekiel’s thoughts.


16  “Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes,

but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols.

17 Nevertheless mine eye spared them from destroying them, neither

did I make an end of them in the wilderness.”  Their heart went after their idols.

The words may point generally to the fact that the idolatrous tendencies of the

people, though suppressed, were not really eradicated. The history of Baal-peor

(Numbers 25:3-9) shows how ready they were to pass into act, and Amos 5:25-26

implies a tradition of other like acts during the whole period of the wanderings in

the wilderness.


18 “But I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the

statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile

yourselves with their idols:  19 I am the LORD your God; walk in my

statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them;  20 And hallow my sabbaths;

and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the

LORD your God.”



The Sanctity of the Sabbath (v. 20)


The sabbath was given to Israel as a day of rest for man and beast

(Exodus 20:8-11). But it also had a deeper mystical significance which

gave it a peculiar sanctity. It was the sign of Israel, the note by which the

chosen people might be marked, the seal of the covenant of Sinai, as

circumcision was the seal of the earlier covenant with Abraham. In this

particular, of course, the sabbath belonged only to the Jews under the Law,

and our neglect of the seventh day and observance of the “Lord’s day” are

signs that we have passed under a new covenant with a new sanction, seal,

and token, viz. that of the communion (Luke 22:20), which therefore

takes a place with us corresponding to the sabbath in the Law and

circumcision among the patriarchs. Nevertheless, the grounds on which the

sabbath was selected as the symbol of the covenant of the Law are wider

than the dominion of Israel, and deserve to be inquired into with a view to

ascertaining their perpetual significance.



NATURE. God rested from creation (Genesis 2:2). This fact is stated

in primitive language. But the latest science shows that the course of

nature is not a mechanical revolution, but a sort of vital pulsation. Its

movement is rhythmic. It goes by shock and pause. It has its work and its

rest. Summer activity and winter sleep, day and night, storm and calm, are

nature’s alternate week days and sabbaths. We are part of nature, and must

observe its methods.



THE NEEDS OF MAN. “The sabbath was made for man and not

man for the sabbath.”  (Mark 2:27).  Therefore man needed the sabbath.


Ø      He needed the rest. Ceaseless toil wears and frets the very fiber of life.

Masters and slaves, as well as the beast of burden, were benefited by the

Jewish sabbath. We are not under the same formal regulations as those by

which Israel was governed. But the conditions of business life in the

modern world are so much more exacting than any that can be imagined to

belong to the simple pastoral and agricultural life of the ancient Jews, that

the requirement of some equivalent to their sabbath must be much stronger

with us.


Ø      He needed the opportunity FOR REMEMBERING GOD!   The sabbath

Was sacred to the covenant. Sunday is sacred to the resurrection of Christ.

The congenial thoughts and holy occupations of such a day are helpful.


“The Sundaies of man’s life,

Thredded together on time’s string,

Make bracelets to adorn the wife

Of the eternal, glorious King.

On Sunday heaven’s gates stand ope;

Blessings are plentiful and rife,

More plentiful than hope.”

(George Herbert.)



GOD. God ordained the sabbath; it was typical of His resting; and it was

the seal of His covenant with Israel. Thus it was in a threefold sense God’s

day. Christ has warned us against the formal abuse of its sanctity, and

Paul has dared to assert a large Christian liberty in regard to it. Anything

that makes its use formal savours of the Law, is Judaistic, is anti-Christian.

Anything that makes it a day of gloom and repression is even contrary to

its old Jewish observance as a festival. But, on the other hand, God has

claims of worship. If Sunday is given up to amusement or toil those claims

are ignored. It is our duty to give them all possible range in this age of

driving secular interests. Thus are we led on to


“The sabbaths of eternity,

One sabbatic, deep and wide.”

(Tennyson, ‘St. Agnes.’)


  21 “Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they

walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a

man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then

I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against

them in the wilderness.  22 Nevertheless I withdrew mine hand, and wrought

for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen,

in whose sight I brought them forth.”  I said unto their children, etc. The words

can refer to nothing but the great utterance of the Book of Deuteronomy as

addressed to the children of those who had perished in the wilderness. That

utterance also, it is implied, as indeed the Baal-peor history at the close of the

forty years showed, fell on deaf ears. Then also there was, once again, in the

inevitable anthropomorphic language, a change of purpose, from that of a

rigorous judgment to the mercy which prevailed against it.


23 “I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would

scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries;

24 Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my

statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after

their fathers’ idols.” That I would scatter them among the heathen. The words

seem to refer to the generation that had grown up in the wilderness, and,

so taken, do not correspond with the history of the conquest of Canaan.

What Ezekiel contemplates, however, as the resolve of Jehovah, is the

commutation of the sentence of destruction for that of the dispersion of the

people, leaving the time and manner of that dispersion to be determined by

His own will. Possibly even in the time of the judges, with its many

conquests and long periods of oppression, there were instances of such

dispersion, and these, with others that would naturally accompany an

invasion like that of Shishak (II Chronicles 12:2-9), not to speak of

frequent attacks from Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines, Edomites, and

Syrians, may have seemed to the prophet the working out, step by step, of

the dispersion which culminated in the deportation of the ten tribes by

Shalmaneser, and of Judah and Benjamin by Nebuchadnezzar. Traces of

such dispersions before Ezekiel’s time meet us in Psalm 78:59-64;

Isaiah 11:11-12; Zephaniah 3:10, 20.


25 “Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and

judgments whereby they should not live;” The words have sometimes been

understood as though Ezekiel applied these terms to the Law itself, either as

speaking of what Paul calls its “weak and beggarly elements” (Galatians 4:9),

or as unable to work out the righteousness which it commanded (Romans 3:20),

and the language of Hebrews 7:19 and 10:1 has been urged in support of this view.

One who has studied Ezekiel with any care will not need many words to show

that such a conclusion was not in his thoughts at all. For him the Law was

“holy and just and good,” and its statutes such that a man who should keep

them should even live in them (vs. 13, 21). He is speaking of the time

that followed on the second publication of that Law, and what he says is

that the people who rebelled against it were left, as it were, to a law of

another kind. The baser, darker forms of idolatry are described by him,

with a grave irony, as statutes and judgments of another kind, working,

not life, but DEATH!  Sin became, by God’s appointment, the punishment of

sin, that it might be manifest as exceeding sinful. So Stephen says of Israel

that “God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven”

(Acts 7:42). So Paul paints the corruptions of the heathen world as

the result of God’s giving them up to “vile affections” (Romans 1:24-27).

So in God’s future dealings with an apostate form of Christianity, the

same apostle declares that “God shall send them strong delusions that they

should believe a lie” (II Thessalonians 2:11).  Psalm 81:12 may have

been in Ezekiel’s thoughts as asserting the same general law.


26 “And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass

through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them

desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.”



God, and Israel in the Wilderness (vs. 10-26)


“Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt,” etc. The

chief teachings of this section of the chapter may be developed under the

following heads.




This is brought into our notice in four respects.


Ø      In the deeds which He wrought for them. “l caused them to go forth

out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness.” Their

emancipation from their oppressors was effected by the mighty hand of

God, and of His unmerited grace to them. Our Lord Jesus is the great

Deliverer from the serfdom of sin and Satan (compare Isaiah 61:1; John



Ø      In the gifts which He bestowed upon them.


o       His Law. “And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my

judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them.” Statutes

and judgments express the general idea of law. This God gave

to them at Sinai, soon after their deliverance from Egypt. And

this Law was given for life unto them (compare Exodus 20:12;

Matthew 19:17; Romans 7:10, 12). “The precepts which God

gave His people bring life and salvation with them to him who

does them. What grace in God, who gives such precepts! What a

summons to true obedience! These precepts also imply before

all things that they shall confess their sins and seek forgiveness

in THE BLOOD OF THE ATONEMENT!  This is required

by the laws concerning the sin offerings, which in the Mosaic Law

form the root of all other offerings; the Passover, which so strictly

requires us to strive after the forgiveness of sins, and connects all

salvation with it and the great Day of Atonement.”


Ø      His sabbaths.Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign

between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that

sanctify them.’ The sabbath was instituted by God, and was peculiar to

Israel. It was a mutual sign between Him and them. By establishing it

amongst them the Lord sanctified them, separated them from the

nations as a people chosen for Himself; and by keeping it they manifested

their allegiance to Him and honored Him. By its institution He owned

them as His people; by its observance they owned Him as their God. By

so doing they also promoted their best interests. How rich and manifold

are God’s gifts to us!  


o       Laws,

o       ordinances,

o       sabbaths,

o       sanctuaries,

o       religions ministries,

o       His sacred Word;

o       His beloved Son,

o       His Holy Spirit!


Ø      In the forbearance which He exercised towards them. “Then I said, I

would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.

But I wrought for my Name’s sake,” etc. (vs. 13-14, 17). Many and

extreme were the provocations of the Israelites in the wilderness.

How oft did they rebel against Him in the wilderness, and grieve Him

in the desert!”  More than once it seemed as though He would have

destroyed them utterly, as they certainly deserved. Yet in wrath He

remembered mercy. “He being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity,

and destroyed them not,” etc.  (Psalm 78:38-39). How frequently and

grievously have we sinnned against Him! We too have tried His

patience, have provoked Him by our unfaithfulness, our rebelliousness,

our perversity. Great has been His longsuffering toward us (Ibid. ch.

103:8-11; II Peter 3:9).


Ø      In the appeals which he addressed to them. God did not stand by (as it

were), patiently bearing with them in their sin, yet making no effort to

save them therefrom; but He appealed to them earnestly and repeatedly

to keep His commands. “I said unto their children in the wilderness,

Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers,” etc. (vs. 18-20). The

reference in these verses is to the regiving of the Law in the plains of

Moab, as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy. That book is one

great appeal, in many tones and by many arguments, TO THE

YOUNGER GENERATION to be  true to the Lord their God.

How graciously and powerfully God appeals to us in this Christian



o       to our sense of duty and our sense of interest;

o       by authoritative command and gracious persuasion;

o       by strong fears and thrilling hopes;

o       by His Divine Son and by His Holy Spirit.



RELATION TO GOD, Three features of their wickedness are here



Ø      Apostasy of heart. “Their heart went after their idols” (v. 16); “Their

heart was not right with Him, neither were they faithful in His

covenant” (Psalm 78:37). Their sin was not merely on the surface of

their lives, but deeply rooted in their moral nature. “Out of the

heart come forth evil thoughts, murders,” etc. (Matthew 15:19);

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”

(Proverbs 4:23).


Ø      Rebellion of life. “‘The house of Israel rebelled against me in the

wilderness,” etc. (v. 13); “They despised my judgments,” etc. (v. 16).

It is quite unnecessary to specify their rebellions, because they were so

numerous. And the profanations of the sabbath must not be restricted to

the attempt to gather manna on that day (Exodus 16:27-30), or to the

case of the man who gathered sticks thereon (Numbers 15:32-36). God

required them to sanctify the sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12); to “hallow”

it (v. 20); “to consecrate it in every respect to Him, and withdraw it

wholly from the region of self-interest, of personal sinful inclination;”

 and as they failed to keep it thus, they profaned it. Failing to sanctity

 it by reverent worship and hearty service, they are charged with

desecrating it.  And it behoves us earnestly to endeavor to preserve

the Lord’s day for the promotion of the best interests of man and


would be an irreparable loss and injury to man.  (Witness the

present status of the United States of America! – CY – 2014)


Ø      Successiveness in sin. “The children rebelled against me,” etc.

(v. 21).  The younger generation were far from being so wicked as

their fathers (Joshua 24:31); they were also far from being true and

faithful in their relation to the Lord their God. The generation that

entered Canaan was the best which there ever was of that favored

nation.  Yet they frequently rebelled against the Lord. What a

lamentable successiveness in sin there has been in the generations of

our race! Real advance certainly has been made; but still sin, dark

and prevalent, has characterized every generation of mankind.

                   (Like father, like son.  Like mother, like daughter.





Ø      The nature of this retribution. The elder generation was excluded from

the promised land because of their unbelief and rebellion against God

and against the leaders whom He had chosen. “I lifted up my hand

unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land

which I had given them.” etc. (vs. 15-16; and compare Numbers

14:26-35; Psalm 106:24-26). They disbelieved God’s word of promise,

and they should not share in its fulfillment; “they despised the pleasant

 land,” and they were not allowed to enter therein; they wished that

they had died in the wilderness, and in the wilderness they died. And

as to the younger generation, their retribution is thus described: “I gave

them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they

should not live,” etc. (vs. 25-26). The ‘judgments whereby they should

not live’ are those spoken of in v. 18, and are contrasted with the

judgments in vs. 13, 21, laws other than Divine, to which God gives

up those whom He afflicts with judicial blindness, because they have

wilfully closed their eyes (Psalm 81:12; Romans 1:24). We may

compare here Romans 1:24, according to which God, in just retribution

for their revolt, gave over the heathen to vile affections; Acts 7:42,

where it is traced back to God that the heathen served the host of

heaven; and II Thessalonians 2:11, where God sends the apostates

strong delusions. God has so constituted human nature that revolt

from Him must be followed by TOTAL DARKNESS and DISORDER;

that no moderation in error and sin, no standing still at the middle point,

is possible; that the man, however willing he might be to stand still, must,

against his will, sink from step to step. Revolt from God is the crime,

excess in error and moral degradation the merited doom, from which all

would willingly escape if this were in their power. By way of example,

the custom of sacrificing children is mentioned in v. 26. ‘To cause to

pass through’ the fire (v. 31; compare ch.16:21; 23:37) is the current

phrase for sacrificing children which were offered to Moloch. Into such

a detestable custom did God in His righteous judgment PERMIT

THEM TO FALL  that the merited punishment might come

upon them (‘that I might lay them desolate’), by which they learn that

their paternal God, whom they set at naught, is God in the full sense,

whom to forsake is AT ONCE FALL INTO MISERY!


Ø      The design of this retribution. “To the end that they might know that I

am the Lord.” (See our notes on these words in ch.6:7,10; 7:4.)

We must every one be brought to know Him:


o       either by the way of His grace or

o       by the way of His judgments.


See sequel, God and Israel in Canaan – at end of v. 29.


27 “Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto

them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Yet in this your fathers have

blasphemed me, in that they have committed a trespass against me.”

I polluted them through their own gifts. The noun includes

all forms of blessing bestowed on Israel — its corn and wine and oil (see

ch. 16:19-20), even its sons and daughters, the fruit of the womb,

as well as the increase of the earth. (For the prevalence of Moloch worship,

and for the phrase, “pass through,” see notes on Ibid. v.21.) The sins were

to bring desolation as their punishment, and then men would learn to know



28 “For when I had brought them into the land, for the which I lifted up

mine hand to give it to them, then they saw every high hill, and all

the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there

they presented the provocation of their offering: there also they

made their sweet savor, and poured out there their drink offerings.”

 It was a special aggravation of the sin that it was committed in

the very land into which they had been brought by the oath (the “hand

lifted up”) of Jehovah, that it might be a holy land, a witness of the Divine

righteousness to the nations round about. The forms of worship include

that of the high places, and the thick trees (Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 2:20; 3:6)

which witnessed the cultus of the Asherah or of Ashtaroth.


29 “Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go?

And the name whereof is called Bamah unto this day.”  Bamah, in the plural

Bamoth, was the Hebrew for “high place.” At first it was applied to the hill on

Which some local sanctuary stood (I Samuel 9:12; I Kings 3:4), but was

gradually extended, after the building of the temple as the one appointed

sanctuary, to other places which were looked upon as sacred, and which

became the scenes of an idolatrous and forbidden worship. Ezekiel

emphasizes his scorn by a conjectural derivation of the word, as if derived

from the two words ba (“go”) and mah (“whither”); or, perhaps, What

comes? (compare Exodus 16:15 for a parallel derivation of the word

marones). Taking the words in their ordinary sense, they seem to express

only a slight degree of contempt. “What, then, is the place to which you

go?” — what is the “whither” to which it leads? But I incline (with Ewald

and Smend) to see in the word “go into” the meaning which it has in Genesis

16:2 and 19:31, and elsewhere, as a euphemism for sexual union. So later the

word Bamah becomes a witness that those who worship in the high place

go there (as in v. 30) to commit whoredom literally and spiritually. Its name

showed that it was what I have called “a chapel of prostitution” (ch. 16:24-25).



God, and Israel in Canaan (vs. 27-29)


“Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them,

Thus saith the Lord God,” etc. We have here:



them into the land which I lifted up mine hand to give unto them.”


Ø      The Lord gave Canaan unto them, and brought them into it. “He gave

them the lands of the nations; and they took the labor of the peoples in

possession” (Psalm 105:44); “And when He had destroyed seven

nations in the land of Canaan, He gave them their land for an

inheritance” (Acts 13:19). Look at the taking of Jericho as an

illustration of this. It was not by human strategy or strength that

they obtained the city, but by Divine interposition. And this land

was a desirable possession (compare Numbers 13:27; Deuteronomy

8:7-9; 11:10-12; and see our notes on ch.19:10).


Ø      The Lord brought them into Canaan in fulfillment of His promise.

The land which I lifted up mine hand to give unto them.” The lifting

up of the hand is the gesture of the oath, or solemn promise.

Notwithstanding the rebellions of those to whom the promise was given,

and the difficulties in the way of its fulfillment, He made His promise

good. His faithfulness and His power guarantee the performance of His

word. Here we have ground for confidence in Him (compare Numbers

23:19; Matthew 24:35; I Peter 1:25).


Ø      The Lord brought them into Canaan of His own unmerited favor.

Though not expressed, this is clearly implied here (compare Deuteronomy

7:6-8; 9:4-6). God’s kindness to us has been great and undeserved. Who

can count the multitude of His mercies, or estimate their preciousness?

“The Lord hath dealt bountifully with us.” (Psalm 13:6)




Ø      By worshipping in prohibited places. “Then they saw every high hill,

and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices,” etc.

(v. 28). The margin of the Revised Version presents a more striking

signification and a darker guilt. “They looked out for every high hill,” etc.

Their conduct in this respect was a perversion of a Divine law. When the

Israelites first entered Canaan, they were to set up the tabernacle on a

High place, and upon this and upon no other they were to worship

Jehovah.  This was the high place (I Samuel 9:12, etc.; I Kings 3:4).

But the Israelites followed the custom of the country, and set up idol

worship on every high hill, and the word ‘high place’ (bamah), or in

the plural ‘high places’ (bamoth), became a byword (compare bamoth

Baal, Joshua 13:17). This was distinctly forbidden to the Israelites

(Deuteronomy 12:1-14).


Ø      By worshipping prohibited objects. They offered sacrifices to idols.

This fact is not explicitly stated in our text; but it is implied in the

charge of blasphemy preferred against them, and in the expression,

“the provocation of their offering.”


o       As to their blasphemy. The attempt “to combine God and

idols in one’s religion is blasphemy.” It involves a fearful

disparagement, if not the despising, of the Lord Jehovah.


o       The expression, “the provocation of their offering,” indicates

the offerings made to idols whereby they provoked God to

anger (compare Deuteronomy 32:16-17; I Kings 14:22). It was

an aggravation of their guilt that they not only were idolaters,

but defiled with their idolatry the land which was given them

for their glory.  It was perverting the gracious gift of God to

His deep dishonor (compare Jeremiah 2:7). How often have the

good gifts of God been thus perverted! Genius and power,

rank and riches, have frequently been used for selfish and sinful

purposes.  And in this and other ways the kindness of God to

man is often basely requited still.



unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go?” Revised Version,

“What meaneth the high place?” etc. This inquiry seems to be designed:


Ø      To awaken their serious reflection. It was fitted for this. Perhaps it

would lead the idolatrous people to ask themselves, “What meaneth the

high place whereunto we go?” Earnest interrogation might lead to

profitable consideration.


Ø      To lead to their recognition of their folly. Serious reflection could

hardly fail to reveal to them the foolishness of idolatry. What benefit,

could they derive from it? What could their idols do for them? How

unreasonable that reasonable beings should pay homage to things of

wood and stone!


Ø      To lead to their recognition of their sin. Their idolatry involved the

breach of the most sacred and solemn obligations. It was a transgression

of an oft-repeated command of God. Great was both the folly and the

sin of the Israelites in this (compare Jeremiah 2:11-13). This inquiry might

lead them to perceive and to feel these things. The Most High frequently

interrogates sinful men in order to lead them to reflection and reformation

(compare ch. 18:31; Jeremiah 2:5; 4:14). “Not wishing that any

should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  (II Peter 3:9)



DIVINE INTERROGATION. “And the name thereof is called Bamah unto

this day.” The name was continued, and. the people persisted in the

practice of idolatry despite the remonstrances of the Lord. Even under the

most faithful and godly kings the high places were not taken away until

Josiah entered upon his great reformation (II Chronicles 34:3). It is

difficult to eradicate sins in the case of individuals, when the sins have had

time to strike their roots deeply in the heart and life. “Can the Ethiopian

change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that

are accustomed to do evil”  (Jeremiah 13:23).  It is even more difficult to

eradicate the widespread, long continued, deep-rooted sins of a community

or a nation.


30 “Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD;

Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye

whoredom after their abominations?  31 For when ye offer your gifts,

when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves

with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you,

O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of

by you.”  Say ye unto the house of Israel, etc. The words are

addressed primarily to the elders who had come to consult the prophet

(v. 1), but through them to all their contemporaries and fellow

countrymen. They still in heart and even in deed (compare Isaiah 57:4-6, 11,

and 65:3, as showing the habits of the exiles) clung to the old idolatries. The

question for them was whether they would continue to walk in the ways of

their fathers. If so, it was true of them, as of the elders, that the Lord to whom

they came would not be inquired of by them.




            The Memory of Offences in the Land of Promise (vs. 27-31)


Notwithstanding the variety of incident and circumstance in the history of

the chosen people, there was much sameness in their experience, in their

discipline, in their errors and faults. This may account for the brevity with

which the later epochs of national history are treated by the prophet in this

passage. Yet there is a consciousness on his part of the aggravation of

Israel’s guilt which is apparent in the tone of this portion of this remarkable



























32 “And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye

say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to

serve wood and stone.”





                          Unacceptable Prayer (vs. 1-32)


The exact date is given as a voucher for truthfulness. The prophet

committed to writing at once what had occurred. The people are yet

divided by distance — part dwell in Judaea and part in Chaldea. In a spirit

of vain curiosity the elders of the exiled part approach the prophet to

inquire after the destined fortunes and fate of their nation. Had they sought

for guidance or help to amend their lives, their prayer had been successful.

God does not pander to a spirit of curiosity.



men are self-confident. They will not seek God until they discover their

insufficiency to meet misfortune or death. As the sailor does not seek

harbor until driven by tempest, so men avoid God. Yet, in the hour of

peril or pain, an inborn instinct leads them to rest on an arm mightier than

theirs. Sorrow is God’s home call.



impossible to do good to a man so long as he stifles the voice of

conscience; and the first duty of a true prophet is to bring sin to our

remembrance. Unrepented sin is man’s chief foe, and to dislodge this foe

from the heart’s citadel is God’s prime endeavor. The barrier that shuts

out the light of heaven is the shutter of our own impenitence. The obdurate

man destroys his own hope. He bars heaven’s door against himself; he

writes his own failure. It is kindness on God’s part to show us our sins, for

His hops is that we may loathe them and abandon them.



THE HISTORY OF OUR OWN SINS. He who hears of his father’s sin

and does not hate it soon adopts it as his own child. The history of the past

is compressed into our own experience. The Fall in Eden is repeated in our

own history. All the history and development of a tree is condensed into

each fruit kernel; so the moral history is incorporated in us. We may use it

for our profit or for our injury. If we continue the same line of conduct as

our guilty forefathers, we reenact their sins, we endorse their guilty deeds.

The entailment of moral qualities is a pregnant truth. On this ground it was

that all the martyrs’ blood, from Abel downward, accumulated upon the

men in our Lord’s age.



knowledge of past admonition adds to our responsibility. Warnings

addressed to our ancestors are warnings addressed to us. Every item in the

revelation of God’s will is intended for our profit; for revelations of the

eternal God have an abiding force. If we are not moved or awed by

judgments passed upon our ancestors, ours is the greater sin. As our light

is greater than was our forefathers’, so is our sin, unless we repudiate it by




“Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments

whereby they should not live.” The self-blindness and obduracy of men is

such that oftentimes God cannot give them the best laws: such would be

above their comprehension — above their appreciation. Good law can

never be much in advance of a people’s moral condition. God allowed Lot

to retire to Zoar, but the permission became a curse. God yielded to the

Jews’ demand for a king, but their kings led them to civic strife and

idolatry. Jesus Christ yielded to the demand of the Gadarenes to leave their

province, but their loss was great. How much need have we to merge our

wills in God’s will!



forget, or regard as trivial, some deed of the past; yet it lives, in complete

reality, in the memory of God. Likely enough these elders were astounded

with this long recital of their evil deeds. This, however, is a sample of

God’s treatment of all men. The reappearance of our old sins — the

reappearance before the public gaze — will be one element in our

punishment. The future publicity of our follies will form a great ingredient

in our shame. The world already knows the aggravated sins of the




WILL. “And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye

say, We will be as the heathen!” Man resolves; God overrules. Mighty as

man’s will is, it is feeble in comparison with God’s will. It may be as iron,

but even iron is treated as a plaything by the electric force. Even

wickedness shall be restrained of God. Satan shall be bound with chains.

Many men are guiltier than the measure of their deeds. There are

murderers that never slew a man, felons that never stole. The intention is as

guilty as the act. Man’s intended wickedness shall be held in check.



MAN’S BEST WELFARE. “I wrought for my Name’s sake.” One great

purpose our God has in view, in all His government among men, is to

reveal Himself — to unfold the qualities of His character. This is essential

to the highest good of His creature man. He will be patient and tender, or

judicial and severe, in order to bring into view all the excellences of His

majestic character. The more His saints see of His personal characteristics,

the more they admire Him, the more they become like Him. No one will

conclude that the human family has yet seen all the aspects of God’s

character or all the perfections of His nature. Without doubt, eternity will

            be spent in spelling out the meaning of that great Name.





God and Israel in the Then Present (vs. 30-32)


“Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Are ye

polluted after the manner of your fathers?” etc. The Lord Jehovah through

His prophet now addresses Himself to the Israel of that day, and especially

to the elders who had come to the prophet to inquire of him. In these

verses He declares their sins. Three chief points claim our attention.





Ø      The idolatry of the fathers continued by their children. “Say unto the

house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Are ye polluted after the

manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their

abominations?” The whoredom spoken of is spiritual —

unfaithfulness to God, in the worship of idols. Even the exile in

Babylon did not for some time cure the people of this sin. As their

fathers had done, so did they. Parental example is very powerful

for several reasons.


o       It is the example of those who are most looked up to and

imitated by the young.


o       It influences the young in the most impressionable season

of their life. “As the twig is bent the tree inclines.”


o       It is most continuous in its influence upon the young.

“The characters of living parents are constantly presented

for the imitation of their children.  Their example is

continually sending forth a silent power to mold young

hearts for good or ill; not for a single month or year, but

through the whole impressionable period of childhood and youth,

the influence of parental example is thus felt. If it be constituted

of the highest and purest elements, the results will be unspeakably

precious. Sons and daughters will” almost certainly become

patterns of propriety and goodness, because their parents are such.

If, on the other hand, their example be evil, most injurious will be

its effects upon their children. A solemn consideration is this for

parents, and one that should be laid to heart by them. It is difficult,

moreover, to break away from sins which have obtained a firm hold

upon family life and practice.


“It is easier to lead your children into Sodom, than to lead them out!”


Ø      Idolatry practiced even in its most cruel rites. “For when ye offer your

gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute

yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day” (see our notes on

ch. 16:20-21).


Ø      The practice of idolatry defiling the idolater. “Ye pollute yourselves

with all your idols” Worship either elevates or degrades the

worshipper, according to the character of the object thereof. Genuine

adoration is transforming in its influence upon him who offers it, We

become like unto the object or objects of our supreme love and reverence.

Hence the worship of the true God purifies, exalts, enriches, ennobles,

sanctifies, the worshipper; while the worship of any idol or idols — e.g.

riches, rank, popularity, power, pleasure — defiles, degrades, and

impoverishes the worshipper. Moreover, sin of any kind pollutes the

sinner; it stains and defiles his soul (see our notes on v. 7).



GOD. “Shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the

Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.” (We have already considered

this topic in our homilies on vs. 1-4 and ch. 14:1-11.)





Ø      Here is a deliberate design formed by man to conform to idolatrous

usages. “That which cometh into your mind shall not be at all,

that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries,

to serve wood and stone.” Thus the house of Israel, the people of the

only living and true God, inwardly resolved to conform to heathenish

customs, hoping in some way to improve their condition by so doing?

And in our day there are those who, while manifesting some respect

for religion, yet conform to this world in its questionable and even

sinful usages. And some “regard an irreligious condition as preferable

to the struggles of a religious life.”


Ø      Here is mans design to conform to idolatrous usages discovered by the

Lord God. It was in vain for these insincere inquirers of the Lord to think

that they could conceal any design from Him. And elders of Israel should

have known this so well as to be in no danger of overlooking it. But the

practice of sin misleads and deceives sinners, and had probably deceived

them. God is perfectly acquainted with every thought of the mind of man

(ch.11:5; Psalm 139:1-5; Matthew 9:4; John 2:24-25;  Hebrews 4:13).


Ø      Here is mans design to conform to idolatrous usages defeated by the

Lord God. “That which cometh into your mind shall not be at all.”

Their inward purpose He would frustrate. (My prayer is that God

will frustrate the evil in our society which I am powerless to do any

thing about! – CY – 2014)  They might attempt to carry it out, but

it would not succeed. That Israel should become like the heathen,

would be repugnant to the nature of God, especially to His name

Jehovah. The very reverse would be much more in harmony with it,

namely, that the heathen should become like Israel.” The Church

of God is not to be conformed to and lost in the world; but the world

is to be conformed to the Church and to be included therein. The

kingdoms of the world are to become the kingdoms of our Lord and of

 His Christ  (Revelation 11:15). And so the Lord declares that the evil

designs of His sinful people should fail. He can utterly foil the deepest,

subtlest schemes of man; and He will do so when those schemes are

exposed to HIS HOLY WILL!  (compare Job 5:12-14; Psalm 33:10-11;

Proverbs 21:30; Isaiah 8:10; Acts 5:38-39).


33 “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:” 

That which cometh into your mind, etc. The prophet reads the

secret thoughts of the inquirers. If the temple were destroyed, they

thought, then the one restraint on the idolatries they loved would be

removed. They would be no longer a separate people, and would be free to

adopt the cultus of the heathen among whom they lived. If that was not

Jehovah’s purpose for them, then there must be no destruction of the

temple, no dispersion among the nations. They come to Ezekiel to know

which of the two alternatives he, as the prophet of Jehovah, has in store,

and his answer is that he is bound to neither. They could not abdicate their

high position, and would remain under the burden of its responsibilities.

Scattered though they might be among the heathen, yet even there the

“mighty hand and the stretched-out arm” (we note the phrases as from

Deuteronomy 4:34; 5:15) would hunt them down, and punish them for

their iniquities.


34 “And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out

of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and

with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out.  35 And I will bring

you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to

face.  36Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of

Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD.”  The prophet’s words seem

to look beyond the horizon of any fulfillment as yet seen in history, of which the

return of the exiles under Zerubbabel was but the pledge and earnest. He contemplates

not a return straight from Babylon to Jerusalem, but a gathering from all the countries

in which they had been scattered (Isaiah 11:11). When gathered, the

whole nation is to be brought into the wilderness of the peoples, bordered

by many nations. This may probably point to the great Syro-Arabian desert

lying between Babylon and Palestine. This was to be to them what the

wilderness of Sinai had been in the time of the Exodus. There Jehovah

would plead with them face to face, in the first instance as an accuser. (For

face to face, as expressing the direct revelation of Jehovah, see Exodus 33:11;

Deuteronomy 5:4; 34:10, and elsewhere.)





                                    A Human Wilderness (v. 35)


·         WHAT IT IS. Israel is to be brought “into the wilderness of the

peoples.” The wanderings of their fathers was in “a waste howling

wilderness (Deuteronomy 32:10), among the wild beasts and far from

the cities and homes of men; but the exile of the nation in Ezekiel’s day

was a transportation into the midst of the settled populous country of

Babylon. Chaldea was no Siberia. Banishment from Canaan did not lead

to a return to the freedom and the hardships of a nomadic life. The captive

Jews were planted among other nations. Although a strange blight has

since fallen upon the scene of the exile, and the ruins of the great cities of

the Euphrates have now become a veritable wilderness, haunted by lions

and hyenas, those cities were at the height of their prosperity and splendor

when the prophet lived and wrote. How, then, could he speak of them as a



Ø      A great city is a human wilderness. The greater the city, the more

desolate is the wilderness. The social life of small cities like Jerusalem

and Athens must have been strong and pleasant. But this life is swamped

in the myriads of unknown faces that one sees in a vast city. Great

Babylon, Rome, and London — the modern Babylon — have the

character of a wilderness.


Ø      There is no banishment so terrible as that of being lost in a human

wilderness. People who could be tracked over Dartmoor and among the

fells of Yorkshire may be utterly lost in London. Every year there are

many broken lives that go down in the awful misery that floods the

lower parts of a great city, and no one misses them. Their individuality

has been drowned in a sea of humanity. The most heart-rending

loneliness is that of a friendless man in a crowd — so many fellow

beings, and not a spark of fellow feeling!


·         HOW IT IS USED. The city wilderness is used for the punishment of

the Jews; but not for that only.


Ø      God meets his people in the wilderness. Success blinds us to the

presence of God. Society makes us deaf to His voice. Adversity and

solitude prepare us to remember Him and to hearken to His Word.

We need not flee to the wilderness of a John the Baptist — to the

seclusion of a hermitage among the silent rocks — in order to meet

with God. He will visit us in the crowded city. When the heart sinks,

sad and faint at its own loneliness amid the din of a crowded life in

which the lost wanderer has no share, God is ready to whisper words

of comfort. He can find His poor suffering child in the crowd, and

draw near to him there as well as in the field, the chamber, or the

temple.  God comes into most intimate relations with His people

in their hour of desolation. He meets them “face to face.”

In the old wilderness of Sinai the Jews shrank from such near contact

with God, so that it was reserved for Moses alone (Exodus 33:11).

Now it is to be for all Israel. Thus deep distress has its privileges.


Ø      God pleads with His people. He desires to save; He urges repentance.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18).

When men are most cold and repellant, perhaps our heart may be open

to the sympathy of God. Then we can see that HE SEEKS US IN A



Note, it is a shame to Christendom that there should be a human wilderness

among us. Heathen cities were cruel. But brotherhood is essential to

Christianity. May we not say that, after pleading with us for our own sakes,

            God also pleads with us that we may save our lost brothers and sisters?


37 “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you

into the bond of the covenant:”  The “rod” (same word as in Psalm 23:4) is

primarily that of chastisement, but it is also that of the shepherd who gathers

in his flock (ch. 34:11; Leviticus 27:32; Micah 7:14). Into the bond of

the covenant. The word for “bond” (only found here in the Old Testament) is

probably cognate with that for “fetter” or “bond” (Isaiah 52:2; Jeremiah 5:5;

27:2). The chastisement was, for those who accepted it, to do its work by

restoring the blessings of the covenant which apostasy had forfeited.


38 And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that

transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country

where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel:

and ye shall know that I am the LORD.”  The thought of the shepherd

suggests, as in Matthew 25:33, the separation of the sheep from the goats.

The land of the restored Israel was to be a land of righteousness, and the

rebels were not to enter into it. Was Ezekiel thinking of those who were

thus to die in the “wilderness of the peoples” as a counterpart of those who

perished in the forty years of the wandering, and did not enter Canaan?

V. 36 seems to imply that he was looking for a repetition of that history.

The solemn fast kept by Ezra by the river of Ahava (Ezra 8:21-23) may be

noted as corresponding, on a small scale, to Ezekiel’s expectations.


39 “As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord GOD; Go ye,

serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not

hearken unto me: but pollute ye my holy name no more with your

gifts, and with your idols.” Go ye, serve every man his idols, etc. The command

comes as with a grave irony. “Be at least consistent. Sin on, if it is your will to sin;

but do not make the sin worse by the hypocrisy of an unreal worship, and

mix up the name of Jehovah with the ritual of Moloch” (compare ch.Joshua

24:19-20). The margin of the Revised Version gives“but hereafter surely ye shall

 hearken unto me” (“if not” equivalent to “ye shall,” as in the familiar idiom of

Psalm 95:11, where“if is equivalent to “shall not”). So taken, the verse looks

forward to what follows.


40 “For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel,

saith the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them

in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I

require your offerings, and the first-fruits of your oblations, with all

your holy things.”  From the earlier stage of the restoration the prophet passes

on to its completion. The people have come to the mountain of the height of

Israel (Micah 4:1-2; Isaiah 2:2-3). Ezekiel sees an Israel that shall

at last be worthy of its name, the worship of false gods rooted out forever.

The all of them points to the breaking down of the old division between

Israel and Judah (Isaiah 11:13). Jehovah would accept the “heave offering”

(same word as in Exodus 29:27; Leviticus 7:14, et al.) and other oblations.

The fact that Israel itself is said to be the “sweet savor” (Revised Version)

which Jehovah accepts (compare II Corinthians 2:15; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians

4:18) suggests a like spiritual interpretation of the other offerings, though the

literal meaning was probably dominant in the prophet’s own thoughts. The

nearest approach to a parallelism in a later age is that presented by the 9th,

10th and 11th chapters of Romans.; but it is noticeable how there Paul avoids

any words that imply the perpetuation of the temple and its ritual, and

confines himself to the spiritual restoration of his brethren according to the

flesh. It was given to him to see, what the prophets did not see, that that

perpetuation would frustrate the purpose of the restoration; that the temple

and its ritual took their places among the things that “were decaying and

waxing old,” and were ready to vanish away (Hebrews 8:13).





                                                God’s Holy Mountain (v. 40)


·         THE SITE. God’s holy mountain is the site of the temple at Jerusalem.

God promises His people that the exile will cease, that they shall return and

worship Him once more at the old sacred spot. Note the characteristics of it.


Ø      It is exalted. A mountain. Jerusalem is two thousand feet above the level

of the Mediterranean Sea. The rock where the altar of burnt offering

stood — now covered by what is called the “Mosque of Omar” —

is the highest part of Mount Morlah. We look up to heaven in worship.


Ø      It is conspicuous. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Private

worship should be unostentatious and secret (Matthew 6:6); but public

worship should be open to all, and well known, that others may be

invited, and that God may be glorified. Churches should be built

in conspicuous places.


Ø      It is consecrated by old memories. There the fathers worshipped, and

there also God came down and blessed His people in the olden time.

Faith is strengthened, and worship stimulated by such memories.


·         THE SERVICE.


Ø      The people are to serve. They will not be rescued only to be left to enjoy

themselves in idleness. The restored exiles are redeemed for high

service. Christians are not saved from ruin that they may slumber

in listless indifference. Indeed, part of Christ’s salvation is deliverance

from idleness, and the redemption of our powers that they may be

turned to higher uses, i.e. to the service of God.


Ø      God is to be the one Lord served. In the old days of sin the people had

attempted a divided allegiance. But this must now cease. The redeemed

must live to the Lord. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon”

(Matthew 6:24).


·         THE ACCEPTANCE. This is the heart of the whole promise, from

which the glow and joy of it spring. God had rejected His people and their

sacrifices, casting the men into exile and permitting the sacrifices to cease.

Before that disaster, He had refused to accept the offerings of those who

practiced wickedness (Isaiah 1:13). But now on their return to their old

home as purged penitents, God will accept both the people and their gifts.

All our labor is in vain unless it be accepted by Him to whom it should be

offered. God accepts His repentant and returning people:


Ø      on the ground of their repentance;

Ø      in Christ, and on account of His merits;

Ø      fundamentally, because of His own forgiving love.


·         THE SACRIFICES. The people, while they render service, do this

especially by means of the offerings that they bring.


Ø      They express gratitude. Sacrifices for sin are excluded from this passage.

Doubtless they will be required, for unhappily the people will sin again.

But so sad a prospect is not to be contemplated as yet. The offerings now

thought of are those of thanksgiving. They suggest the thought that God

will give bountiful harvests. Here is a picture of joy in worship.


Ø      They were required by God. One would have thought that gratitude

would have made the commandment superfluous. But Malachi shows

that, as a matter of fact, the people were backward with their gifts

(Malachi 3:8). “Where are the nine?” (Luke 17:17). CHRIST IS

OUR ONE SACRIFICE FRO SIN!  Yet God still requires us to

offer our bodies as living sacrifices for thank-offerings and

                        self-dedication (Romans 12:1).



41 “I will accept you with your sweet savor, when I bring you out from

the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have

been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen.

42 And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall bring you into

the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine

hand to give it to your fathers.”  I will be sanctified in you, etc. God is

sanctified when He is manifested and recognized as holy (Leviticus 10:3;

Numbers 20:13). That recognition would be the consequence of the restoration

of Israel, for then it would be seen, even by the heathen, that the God of Israel

had been holy and just and true in His judgments, and that HE SEEKS TO



43 “And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye

have been defiled; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your

evils that ye have committed.  44 And ye shall know that I am the LORD when

I have wrought with you for my name’s sake, not according to your wicked

ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the

Lord GOD.”  And there shall ye remember, etc. The words stretch far and

wide, and throw light on many of the problems that connect themselves

with the conversion of the sinner and the eschatology of the Divine

government. The whole evil past is still remembered after repentance and

forgiveness. There is no water of Lethe, such as the Greeks fabled, such as

Dante dreamt of as the condition of entering Paradise (‘Purg.,’ 31:94-105).

The self-loathing and humility which grow out of that memory, the

acceptance of all the punishment of the past as less than had been deserved,

these are the conditions and safeguards of the new blessedness. Ezekiel

teaches us, i.e., that it is possible to conceive of an eternal punishment, the

punishment of memory, shame, self-loathing, as compatible with eternal

life. So (in v. 44) the prophet ends what is perhaps, the profoundest and

the noblest of his discourses, his “vindication of the ways of God to man.”




                                    The Glorious Restoration (vs. 40-44)


It is difficult to believe that this language can refer to a local and temporal

restoration and union. In this, as in other passages of his prophecy, Ezekiel

seems to point on to the new, the Christian dispensation, into whose

spiritual glory he seems to gain some glimpses neither dim nor uncertain.


·         THE SCENE OF THE RESTORATION. God’s holy mountain, the

mountain of the height of Israel, is the symbol of the Church of the Son of




whom the promise is spoken are those who have been scattered abroad,

but are now brought home, and who constitute “the house of Israel,” i.e.

the true Israel, the Israel of God.


·         THE SERVICES OF THE RESTORATION. By the services, the

offerings, the firstfruits, the oblations, must be understood the spiritual

sacrifices, especially of obedience and of praise, which the accepted of God

delight to lay upon His altar.


·         THE MEMORIES OF THE RESTORATION. These are of two

kinds. The restored have to recollect, and to recollect with loathing, their

wanderings, their evil doings, their defilements But they have also to

remember the work which God has wrought for them, the way by which

God has led them, and the mercy and loving kindness which God has

shown to them.



“For My Name’s Sake” (v. 44)


The grounds of the Divine action are not man’s deserts, but considerations

in regard to God Himself. This is the secret of our hope. “He hath not dealt

with us after our sins” (Psalm 103:10). He hath dealt with us after His

Name. God’s Name stands for what is known of Him — His revelation of

Himself; it also represents His fame, and then His honor — as we should

say, His “good name.” No doubt the latter is the meaning of God’s Name in

the present instance, although this rests upon the former meaning, and in a

measure includes it. Our word “character” has this twofold meaning —

what is known to be in a person and the reputation he bears — the

subjective and the objective characters. We may say that God saves us for

the sake of His own character in both senses.




Ø      God is honored by His fidelity. His name is pledged to His word. His

promise involves His Name. When a man has put his name to a deed,

he is bound to fulfill its conditions. If he fails, his name is dishonored.

Promoters make great efforts to secure for their enterprises names that

will inspire confidence. God will keep His word for the sake of His

credit — for this at least, though we know also for deeper reasons.


Ø      God is honored by His success. The name of the artist goes with his

work. If he sends out a bad piece of work, his name suffers. Now, Israel

was God’s rescued people. All the world gazed in wonder and admiration

when the poor helpless slaves were wrested by Divine power from the iron

grip of Pharaoh. They were seen to be a nation made by God, His

workmanship. (Likewise, we are His workmanship, created in Christ

Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should

walk in them”   (Ephesians 2:10).  If they/we came to ruin after this, God

would seem to have failed. Moses used this argument (Exodus 32:12).


Ø      God is honored by His mercy. Cruel earthly monarchs of the old

heathen type were proud to record on their tablets the number of kings

they had slain, and the number of cities they had sacked. We have

learned to see a greater royal dignity in the saying of William Ill.

concerning a certain nonjuror, “The man has determined to be a martyr,

but I have determined to prevent him.”  God is more honored by

saving the world than He would be by damning it.




Ø      God acts from regard to truth. After all, it is but as an accommodation

to human views that God can be said to keep His promises for the sake

of His reputation, that His Name may not be dishonored. He is essentially

true and eternally constant. Though men may provoke Him to change,

He is firm and holds on to His purpose. Thus Christ persisted in His

saving work, even when those whom He came to bless rejected Him.

He had a great purpose, and no action of man would turn Him from it.


Ø      God acts from regard to righteousness. He desires to establish

righteousness, and to extend its domain. For this purpose it will not

be well that sin should be left to run its own fatal course unchecked,

nor will it be best simply to visit the sin with vengeance, and to cut

down the evil tree root and branch, sweeping the sinner with his sin

into utter destruction. A silent desolation, in which every enemy lies

low, smitten to death, is not the noblest victory. The conquest of the

foe by his conversion to friendship is far higher. THIS IS GOD’S

METHOD!   His righteousness is most honored by THE



Ø      God acts from regard to love. HIS NAME IS LOVE!   When we

penetrate to the heart of God, love is what we see there. If, then, His

Name expresses His inmost character, when God acts for His Name’s

sake He acts in love.  Therefore, though He might smite, extirpate, and

destroy them, HE redeems, saves, and restores His unworthy children


45 “Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,”

In the Hebrew the verses that follow form the opening of the

next chapter. The Authorized Version follows the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and

Luther. The section has clearly no connection with what has preceded, and,

though fragmentary in its character, seems by the words, “set thy face,” to

connect itself with ch.21:2, and to lead up to it. The words of v. 45 imply,

as always, an interval of silence and repose.


46 “Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word

toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field;”

Drop thy word. The verb is used specially of prophetic utterances (ch.21:2;

Amos 7:6; Micah 2:6, 11), and stands, therefore, in the Hebrew without an

object. Toward the south. Three distinct words are used in the Hebrew for the

thrice-repeated “south” of the Authorized Version.


  • One which primarily means “the region on the right hand,” sc. as a man

looks to the east which Ezekiel also uses in ch. 47:19; 48:28);


  • the “shining land,” used repeatedly in chapters  40 and 42.

(Deuteronomy 33:23; Job 37:17; Ecclesiastes 1:6; 11:3); and


  • the Negeb, the “dry” or “parched” land, the South (always in Revised

Version with a capital letter), of Joshua 15:21, and the historical books

generally, the region lying to the south of Judah.


The use of the three words where one might have sufficed is, perhaps, characteristic

of Ezekiel’s affluence of diction. The Septuagint treats all three as proper names,

and transliterates them as Thaiman, Darom, and Nageb. Against this

region and its inhabitants (they, of course, are the “trees”) Ezekiel is

directed to utter his words of judgment. The parenthesis in the last

sentence gives the key to the prophet’s cipher-writing. From Ezekiel’s

standpoint on the Chebar, the whole of Judah is as the forest of the south.

The “green tree,” as in Psalm 1:1-2, is the man who is relatively

righteous; the “dry tree” is the sinner whose true life is withered; the “fire”

the devastation wrought by the Chaldean invaders, as executing the Divine

judgment. In our Lord’s words in Luke 23:31 we may probably find an

echo of Ezekiel’s imagery.


47 “And say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the LORD;

Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and

it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the

flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south

to the north shall be burned therein.  48 And all flesh shall see that I the

LORD have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.”

All faces from the south to the north, etc. The phrase seems,

at first, to pass from the figure to the reality. Possibly, however, face may

stand for “the outward appearance,” the leaves and branches, of the trees.

“From the south (Negeb) to the north” takes the place of the older “from

Dan to Beersheba” (Judges 20:1; I Samuel 3:20). Of that “fire” of

judgment, it is said, as in our Lord’s use of a like imagery, that it shall not

be quenched (Mark 9:43). It shall do its dread work till that work is accomplished.


49 “Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! they say of me, Doth he not speak

parables?”   Doth he not speak parables? We can scarcely wonder that

Ezekiel’s enigmatic words here, as in chapters 15, 16, and 17, should have

called forth some such expression from his hearers; but he obviously records the

whisper which he thus heard, in a tone of sorrow and indignation. It was to

him a proof, as a like question was to the Christ (Matthew 15:16; 16:9;

Mark 8:21) proof that those hearers were yet without understanding.

The question was, for those who asked it, an excuse for hardening their

hearts against remonstrances which needed no explanation. The indignation

was followed by another interval of silence, during which he brooded over

their stubbornness, and at last, in ch. 21:1, the word of the Lord comes to him,

and he speaks “no more in proverbs,” but interprets the latest parable even in

its details.




                                    The Obscurity of Revelation (v. 49)



OBSCURED. It was a fact that Ezekiel had been speaking in parables. No

other prophet indulged so freely in symbolical language. His writings are a

garden of luxuriant metaphors, which often blossom into elaborate

allegories. This style is characteristic of Oriental literature, and it is a

feature of the Bible teaching generally, through in Ezekiel it is carried out

more fully than elsewhere. There is an analogy between the seen and the

unseen. Unattentive hearers may be arrested by what strikes them on the

plain of their own earthly living. It is not enough that we receive a bold

abstract statement of truth into our understandings, for this may never

bear fruit. An imaginative grasp of truth, even when it is less clearly defined,

may be more vital and fruitful.



The unwilling hearers of Ezekiel laid the charge of failure to the account of

the prophet. His language had been so enigmatical that they could not

understand him. It is only reasonable that the Christian preacher should be

open to criticism. On some accounts he should welcome it, for it shows

that the minds of his hearers are not entirely asleep. Anything is better than

blank indifference. Moreover, no one can be so certain that in many things

the preacher fails sadly as he is himself, if he truly understands his high

vocation. Nevertheless, the most hard criticism comes from unsympathetic

hearers, who care only to be taught, and seek only to be amused, or who

are too indolent (lazy) to think, and therefore complain of any appeal to their

intellects, and blame the preacher for making difficulties which must stand

in the way of unthinking minds. The earnest inquirer after truth may pick

up some crumbs from the most obscure and dull sermon.



IN THE HEARER. Like Moses, Ezekiel complains to God of the unjust

judgment of Israel. His contemporaries were like the men of our Lord’s

generation, whom Christ compared to children in the marketplace,

unwilling to respond to any call from their companions (Matthew

11:17). Ezekiel had tried plain speech; and his audience had turned deaf

ears to his teaching. Then in a despairing effort to arrest attention, he had

resorted to more novel and startling methods; but the only response he had

received was an accusation of using enigmatical language. Neither method

had proved successful. No method can succeed with unwilling hearers. The

best seed fails when it falls by the wayside.



SOME ROUSING. EXPERIENCE. What is wanted is not to scatter fresh

seed, but to “break up your fallow ground” (Jeremiah 4:3). Therefore

the rejection of the truth recorded in ch. 20. is followed by the sword of

judgment described in ch. 21. After that, the people will hear, for then the

soil will be prepared to receive the Word of God, whether it come in direct

speech or in symbolical suggestions. Trouble breaks through the

conventional crust of life, and leaves the bruised soul susceptible to

spiritual influences. At least, this is the design of it. Unhappy indeed is the

            case of those who are hardened even against the last appeal.






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                                    A Rejected Application (vs. 1-4)


It is evident that Ezekiel held a position of honour and of some kind of

moral authority among his fellow captives. Although he was not given to

prophesying smooth things, his countrymen still resorted to him, evincing a

certain confidence in his mission. On the occasion here described, an

application made to the prophet was upon Divine authority rejected —

with reason given. So unusual an incident leads to further consideration.


·         MAN’S NEED OF A DIVINE ORACLE. The elders of Israel may be

taken as representatives of mankind generally. They approached the

prophet in order to inquire of the Lord. And in this they were right.


Ø      For human ignorance needs Divine enlightenment and teaching.

Ø      Human uncertainty and perplexity need Divine guidance, wise and


Ø      Human sinfulness, clouding, as it does, the spiritual vision, needs

authoritative precept as to the path of duty.

Ø      Human fear and foreboding need the consolation of Divine kindness and

the promise of Divine support.




lesson more than another inculcated with frequency and constancy in the

pages of Scripture, it is this — that the eternal Father is accessible to his

children, that there is no need which they can bring unto him which he is

not ready to supply from his infinite fullness and according to his infinite

compassion. Revelation itself is a proof of this. The commission given to

prophets and apostles was with a view to a suitable and sufficient response

to the inquiries of men. The supreme Gift of God, his own Son, is just a

provision intended to meet the wants, the deep spiritual cravings, of the

human heart; he is “God with us.” To question God’s willingness to

receive those who inquire of him is to cast a doubt upon the genuine: hess

of the economies alike of the Law and of the gospel.




GOD. Two such conditions may especially be mentioned.


Ø      Teachableness and humility; the disposition of the little child, without

which none can enter the kingdom of heaven; the new birth, which is the

entrance upon the new life.


Ø      Repentance. Whilst living in sin and loving sin men cannot receive the

righteousness, the blessing, which the heavenly Father waits to bestow.

“Your iniquities have separated between you and your God.” Sin is as a

cloud which hides the sunlight from shining upon the soul; it is like

certain conditions of atmosphere, it hinders the sound of God’s voice

from reaching the spiritual ear. This is the action, not of arbitrary will,

but of moral law.




Ø      Here, many, in the same position as that occupied by the elders of Israel

who came to Ezekiel, may learn the reason of their rejection. “As I live,

saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you!”


Ø      Here all suppliants may learn a lesson of encouragement. It is not in

God’s ill will that the obstacle to our reception is to be sought; lot there

is no ill wilt in him. “Wash you, make you clean!” Draw near with a

sense of need, with confessions of unworthiness, with requests based

upon the revealed loving kindness of the heavenly Father; draw near in

the name of him who has himself shown the vastness of the obstacle of

sin, and who has himself removed that obstacle; and be assured of a

gracious reception and a free and sufficient response. In Christ, the

Eternal addresses the sons of men, saying, “Seek ye my face!” and in

Christ the lowly and penitent may approach the throne of grace with

the exclamation, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek!”  (Psalm 27:8)




                        The Memory of the Great Deliverance (vs. 5-9)


The continuity of the national life seems to have been as constantly present

to the mind of Ezekiel as was the fact of individual responsibility. He

distinguished between national and personal character; but both were in his

apprehension real. It is certainly remarkable that, in answering as he was

directed to do, the application of the elders, he should proceed to

epitomize the history of the nation. His aim seems to have been to show

that the irreligion and rebellion of which he complained in the epoch of the

Captivity had existed throughout the several periods of Israelitish history.

In a few brief paragraphs the prophet, in a most graphic way, exhibits the

conduct of the chosen people in several successive eras. As was customary

and natural, the first period dealt with was that of the momentous

deliverance from the bondage of Egypt.


·         REVELATION. God made Himself known unto Israel in the land of

Egypt. In this revelation were included:


Ø      Choice.

Ø      Covenant, confirmed by oath.

Ø      Promise of deliverance from bondage; further promise of a land flowing

            with milk and honey, the glory of all lands.


·         COMMAND. One great duty Jehovah laid upon his chosen and

covenant people — the duty of abandoning the idolatry, whose evil effects

they had witnessed among the Egyptians. They could not consistently

receive the Divine revelation, and at the same time be guilty of idolatry,

which in all its forms was a contradiction of the worship and service of the

one living and true God. Idolatry was not only dishonouring to Jehovah; it

was a defilement of all who took part in its practices.


·         REBELLION. Notwithstanding the grace displayed in the revelation,

notwithstanding the authority accompanying the command, the chosen and

favoured nation rebelled. The circumstances of the case, when considered,

render this all the more marvellous. Although the superior power of the

God of their fathers had been so conspicuously displayed, “they did not

forsake the idols of Egypt.” Such conduct was both treason and rebellion

in one.


·         THREATENING. The truly human manner in which the prophet, in

this and similar places, speaks of the Eternal leads some readers to charge

him with anthropomorphism. The language used of a man might imply

vindictiveness; and, taken in connection with what follows, might even

imply mutability and fickleness. The Divine “fury “and “anger” may not be

free from emotion, but such language is mainly intended to convey the

impression that the law of righteousness exists, and that it cannot be

violated and defied with impunity, either by nations or by individuals.


·         RELENTING AND SALVATION. The ground upon which Jehovah

bore with his sinful people is remarkable; it was “for his own Name’s sake,

that it should not be polluted before the heathen.” For this reason he

brought them forth out of the land of Egypt. Their emancipation was

owing, not to any daring of their own, not to any heroism of their leaders,

not to any fortunate conjunction of circumstances, but to the interposition

of Almighty power.





                        The Memory of the Wilderness of Sinai  (vs. 10-17)


The circumstances employed by the Most High to make Israel a nation

were of the most marvellous and romantic kinds. Psalmists and prophets,

nay, even Christian apostles and deacons, looking back upon the events of

early Israelitish history, felt the fascination of the ancient story, of the

emancipation from Egypt, and of the lengthened discipline of the

wilderness, by which the tribes were welded into a nation and fitted for the

possession of the land of promise.


·         THE GIFT OF THE LAW. Men, especially in their corporate capacity,

need something more than exhortation, dissuasion, sentiment. They need

law. And this necessity was met, when Israel was led into the wilderness,

by the giving of the Law at Sinai. in this gift must be included the ten

commandments, the precepts for family and personal life, the institution of

the ceremonial, sacerdotal, and sacrificial dispensation, the confirmation

and sanctification of the sabbath, by their observance of which the Jews

were so well known by their neighbours. This last-named institution was,

however, regarded by the God of Israel in a higher light — as “a sign

between himself and them.” The people were by these means placed under

authority. Sanctions were attached to the Law, and life was assured to the





Ø      The season and scene of this rebellion should be noticed; it took place,

as the prophet reminds the elders, and as the record itself informs us, in

the wilderness, i.e. immediately after the great deliverance and the

promulgation of the Law, and whilst the people were still dependent in an

especial manner upon the bounty and the protection of the Most High.


Ø      The offensive form of this rebellion is noted: “They walked not

according to my statutes, and despised my judgments” — a course which

showed their failure to appreciate the privileges bestowed upon them, and

the dishonor which they dared to offer to their Deliverer and King.


Ø      Their inexcusable neglect of the provision made in the weekly sabbath

for their true well being.


Ø      Their treachery. “Their heart went after idols.”





Ø      The immediate punishment inflicted upon the rebellious generation was

the refusal to permit them to enter upon the land of promise.


Ø      The forbearance and mercy of God were displayed in that he did not

make an end in the wilderness of those who had rebelled against Him

and defied Him.





            The Memory of the Wilderness of the Wanderings (vs. 18-26)


At this point the transition is made from the generation who received the

Law at Sinai to the generation which followed, and to whom another

probation was afforded.









made of the causing the firstborn to pass through the fire in the service of




v. 23 threats of scattering and dispersion among the heathen were added

to the more general denunciations.








·         APPLICATION. The lesson is very impressively taught in this passage

that repentance and amendment by no means follow as a matter of course

upon either punishment or forbearance. The discipline through which Israel

passed partook of both characters; yet it left the people, as a people, still

disposed to rebellion against God, and to contempt of his Law. It is the

spirit in which God’s dealings with us are received which determines

whether or not they shall issue in our highest good.





                        The Purpose of Israel’s Election (vs. 32-38)


The prophecy at this point turns from the story of the past to the prediction

and prospect of the future.




dispersion were appointed as chastisement and discipline. And there were

those among the Hebrews who thought that, as a nation, they might

amalgamate with the heathen, and might “serve wood and stone.” To

human apprehension, this might seem the natural consequence of their

experience. But the reverse was what happened — captivity and exile

served to restore the chosen people to their fidelity to Jehovah.




LANDS. Lest it should be imagined that, when the children of Israel are

scattered among the nations, the God of Israel will cease to exercise over

them his vigilant sway and righteous retribution, the strongest language is

used to express the unceasing control which, wherever his people are

found, will be maintained over them. “With a mighty hand and a stretchedout

arm will I rule over you… I will be King over you.”




ALLEGIANCE. The expression implies personal interest and personal

intercourse. It implies the free agency of the human beings with whom the

Lord deigns to plead. It implies earnest desire for the welfare of individual

Israelites — welfare which can only be secured through the conviction, the

faith, the voluntary subjection, the loyalty, of these who have been in






Forbearance may and will be exercised, but discrimination must take pace.

The dross must be consumed in order that the pure, fine gold may be

brought out.




aim of the Divine government. Other steps are the means; this is the end.

Sooner or later this glorious and blessed result shall be brought to pass.

“There shall be one flock, and one Shepherd.” The bond of the covenant

shall be again cemented. The purposes of Divine compassion shall be

completely fulfilled. The scattered wanderers shall be led home, for he that

scattered shall gather them. He shall make a way whereby his banished

ones shall return. In the land of promise, the better country, the true

citizens shall assemble, and shall offer sacrifices of perpetual obedience,

and songs of endless praise, to their Deliverer and their Lord.






                                    Judicial Discrimination (vs. 33-44)


As among men, when matters of serious importance have to be determined,

there is the employment of a religious oath, in other words, a solemn

appeal that God should witness the truthfulness of the parties; so, when

God discloses his intentions respecting the destiny of men, he speaks with a

view to produce the deepest impression. He stakes his own existence upon

the certainty of the event.



is his own holiness of nature, that he cannot tolerate impurity of any kind in

his kingdom. Or, if he does tolerate it for a season, it is only for the

purpose of more effectually purifying his saints. To distribute his own

happiness, he created men; but that happiness can only reach perfection

when it is rooted in purity. Purity or perdition is the only alternative under

the sceptre of Jehovah.


·         THE PLACE APPOINTED FOR THE TEST. “I will bring you into

the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I plead with you face to face.”

Already this had been done in the wilderness of Sinai, and now it shall be

done again. This wilderness is not Babylon, nor the desert between

Babylon and Judaea. It denotes the isolated condition of the people, when

they should be scattered among all the nations. A desert is the outward

emblem of man’s desolation through sin. Iniquity has made a desert in his

heart, in his home, in the nation — a desert in all his surroundings. There,

under a sense of his folly and misfortune, God condescends to plead with



·         A WINNOWING PROCESS IS TO BE PURSUED. “I will purge out

from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me.” If the

nation, following its lower passions and following foolish kings, refuse

God’s salvation, God will deal with them individually. As a nation they

shall be destroyed; but an election shall be saved. God will appear as a

Thresher, and will purge his floor, and separate the chaff from the wheat.

Would that the entire nation had yielded to his righteous rule! Yet, if the

majority reject his grace, a minority will accept it. Not a single penitent

shall be swept away with the rebellious. Divine wisdom can and will



·         THE OBDURATE SHALL BE ABANDONED. “Go ye, serve ye

every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me.”

Lightly as men may esteem the severity of such a sentence, it is the most

crushing doom that can befall them — to be given over to the indulgence

of their vices. For God to withdraw the restraints of his grace, and allow

them the liberty they crave, would be the heaviest scourge, the beginning

of perdition. Said God of Ephraim, “He is joined to his idols: let him

alone!” Of some it is declared by Jesus the Christ, “He is guilty of eternal




and 41.) They shall worship again in the consecrated mount. Their

offerings shall be spontaneous and abundant. Their gifts and sacrifices shall

send a sweet savour Godward. Best of all, they shall find acceptance with

God. The Most High will be honoured in their midst. His presence will be

felt as a purifying power. “I will be sanctified in you.” The remembrance of

their past ways and past experiences shall open their eyes to the foulness

and loathsomeness of sin. Their inmost tastes and affections shall be

refined. Self-condemnation is an essential element in repentance.



GOD. “Ye shall know that I am the Lord.” The manifestation of God’s

patience, condescension, and tender love will enlarge their conception of

God. He will gain a larger place in their esteem and confidence. His true

glory will come forth. In this way even human sin will contribute to human

elevation; man’s guilt will promote God’s glory. In the widest sense, “all

things shall work together for good.” The darkest disaster will serve as a

setting for the jewels of God’s goodness.






                                    The Forest in Flame (vs. 45-49)


In a nation, men’s minds are in every stage of development; a hundred

phases of feeling prevail. Hence God, in his kindness, sent his instructions

in every possible form, and adapted his reproofs to every state of mind —

to children as well as to men of riper years.



AND FOREST TREES. Amid many differences, there are some

resemblances, and it is on one of these resemblances that this admonition

fastens. In the earlier stages of their life, trees grow better in clusters. They

serve as a support to each other, and also as a protection against storms.

But soon the roots rob nourishment, each from the other. The boughs shut

out the light and air. They prevent the growth and hardening of the wood.

They become mutually injurious. Sap diminishes. The branches dry and

decay. So it is with men in society. Casting off the fear of God, they

corrupt each other. They become one another’s tempters. Healthy growth

ceases. Shutting out, each from the other, the light and sunshine from

heaven, their proper life shrivels, epics up, and decays. They become

combustible — lit for burning.



MATERIAL FIRE. On these two resemblances the parable depends. As

fire naturally lays hold of and destroys forest trees, be does God’s anger

naturally lay hold of and destroy wicked men. There is a fixed and

unalterable correspondence. “Be sure your sin will find you out!” You may

as well swallow poison, and hope to live; you may as well set fire to

gunpowder, and expect it not to explode; you may as well touch a galvanic

current, and think to avoid any nervous sensation, — as to sin, and not

suffer penalty. Each is alike an eternal decree of the living God. As each

plant has in it the potency to produce another plant, so every sin has in it

the germ of destruction.



trees in a forest are not equally dessicated. Yet such becomes the fierceness

of the flame, fed by the drier trees, that those less dessicated are reduced to

ashes. Men may be less guilty than their neighbors; they may flatter

themselves that they are not so corrupt as others; nevertheless, it they do

not separate themselves, or labor to improve their neighbours, they may

be consumed in the general conflagration. The green trees were threatened

with destruction along with the dry. Evil company is perilous. Each one has

sin enough to draw down Divine anger.



“Doth he not speak in parables?” The bulk of men say, “It is a pretty story.

It has much literary beauty. The preacher was eloquent, imaginative,

interesting.” Yet they see not the moral significance, do not feel the points

of application. The sermon well suited some absent person; it did not touch

them. The eyes of conscience are put out. As it was in the day when Jesus

spake his parables, so is it always. “Men see, but do not perceive; they

hear, but do not understand.” Today a thousand self-blinded men say, “The

doom of the wicked is not so terrible as it seems; for the alarming language

of Jesus Christ was only a parable.” Yet a parable contains hidden truth,

sometimes the most arousing.





                                    On Inquiring of the Lord (vs. 1-4)


“And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day

of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the

Lord,” etc. We here enter upon a new division of this book, which extends

to the close of ch. 23. The prophecies of this section were occasioned by a

visit of the elders of Israel to the prophet, to inquire of the Lord through

him. The paragraph now before us, which may be compared with

ch. 14:1-5, suggests:



LORD. These elders of Israel who came to inquire of the Lord, and sat

before the prophet, were of the exiles. Like Ezekiel, they had been carried

away from their own land to Babylon. Neither the occasion which gave rise

to their inquiry, nor the inquiry itself, is stated. Hengstenberg conjectures

that “the embassy had probably a special occasion in the circumstances of

the time, in a favourable turn which the affairs of the coalition had taken.

They wish to obtain confirmation of their joyful hopes from the mouth of

the prophet.” Or they wanted to ascertain from him if there was a prospect

of the deliverance of Zedekiah from the Chaldean power (compare Jeremiah

21:1, 2). It seems clear from the answer which they received that their

inquiry was political, not moral; that it related to the state of their country

in relation to other nations, not to their personal relations to God. But our

present point is that it is right and commendable to inquire of the Lord. We

may inquire of him by searching the Scriptures in an earnest and devout

spirit, by prayer for the illumination and direction of the Holy Spirit, and by

engaging in public worship and attending the ministration of his Word.

Thus David desired “to inquire in his temple.” This is often profitable to

those who wait upon him in a true spirit. Asaph found it so (Psalm

73:16, 17). And so did Hezekiah King of Judah (II Kings 19:14-37).

And so have millions besides.



WRONG SPIRIT. These elders did so (compare ch. 14:1-3). Their outward

act was right; their inward motive was wrong. Moreover, while it was right to

inquire of the Lord, that which they wanted to know was not

commendable. They wanted the satisfaction of their political curiosity, not

direction in the way of duty. So far were they from desiring to conform to

the wilt of God, that they were in their heart proposing to themselves an

opposite course of conduct (cf. ver. 32). “They did here,” says Greenhill,

“like many that are bent upon marriage, who will go to two or three to

inquire and have counsel, but are resolved to go on whatever is said unto

them; so whatever counsel they should have had given them from the Lord,

they meant to go on in their wicked ways; and this was profound

hypocrisy, whose wont it is to veil the foulest things with the fairest

pretences.” And in these days men may inquire of the Lord perversely.

They may consult him by means of his Word in a wrong spirit. They may

examine that Word with strong prejudices; or not to learn his mind and

will, but to obtain sanctions and supports for their own opinions; or from

curiosity rather than piety. Men may attend church, not “to inquire in his

temple,” but from very different and very inferior motives. They may even

seek him in prayer in a wrong spirit — in an unbelieving, unsubmissive,

selfish, worldly spirit. If we would draw near to him acceptably and

profitably, we “must believe that he is, and that he is a Rewarder of them

that seek after him;” we must be humble and reverent; we must bow loyally

to his supreme authority, and we must sincerely desire to do his will. “If

any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching,” etc.

(John 7:17). By earnestly desiring and endeavoring to do the will of

God, as far as it is known unto you, you are qualifying yourself to receive

further revelations from him.



INQUIRE OF HIM. He knew the real feelings and motives of these elders

of Israel, and spake to them accordingly through his servant Ezekiel. And

he was fully cognizant of the idols in the hearts of the elders who waited

upon the prophet on a former occasion (ch. 14:3). The most

plausible words and the most specious forms cannot impose upon him.

“Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart;”

“The Lord searcheth all hearts;” “I know also, my God, that thou triest the

heart;” “The righteous God trieth the hearts and reins;” “O Lord, thou hast

searched me and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine

uprising; thou understandest my thought afar off,” etc. (Psalm 139:1-5).

“He knows,” says Greenhill, “upon what grounds, with what purpose,

intentions, resolutions, men come to hear his Word, to ask counsel of his

servants. Look to yourselves, spirits, and all your ways; God seeth and

knoweth all, and if you be not sincere, without guile and hypocrisy, he will

find you out and detect you” (compare John 4:23, 24).




Lord God; Are ye come to inquire of him? As I live, saith the Lord God, I

will not be inquired of by you.” Bishop Lowth states the truth clearly and

forcibly: “You shall not receive such an answer as you expect, but such as

your hypocrisy deserves.” The Lord would not reply to their questionings.

They were not in a condition to receive enlightening or edifying

communications from God. Deeply insincere as they were, they could not

receive revelations of Divine truth. The only message suited to them was a

rebuke or warning because of their sin, or a summons to repentance. This

principle is universally and abidingly true. “If I regard iniquity in my heart,

the Lord will not hear me;” “When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide

mine eyes from you,” etc. (Isaiah 1:15); “Then shall they cry unto the

Lord, but He will not answer them,” etc. (Micah 3:4); “We know that

God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do

His will, him He heareth.”





CONDITION. He did so on a former occasion (ch. 14.). He does so here.


Ø      Here is their personal condemnation. “Wilt thou judge them, son of

man, wilt thou judge them?” The prophet is thus summoned to

pronounce sentence upon them. The repetition of the phrase is

expressive of a strong desire that the act should be begun, and thus

gives the force of an imperative.” God would not reply to them for

the gratification of their curiosity, but He speaks to them for the

salvation of their souls. This condemnation might awaken them

to reflection and repentance.


Ø      Here is the exhibition of their national sins. “Cause them to know the

abominations of their fathers.” By the declaration of these the Lord

would vindicate the righteousness of his dealings with them as a people.

He would also show them “that the evil is deep-seated, and a radical

cure is to be desired, which can only be effected by a judgment of

inflexible rigor (Hengstenberg).


·         CONCLUSION. Our subject forcibly impresses the necessity of true

heartedness as a condition of approaching God, so as to meet with his

acceptance and to obtain his blessing.




            The Sovereignty of God in the Punishment of Sin (vs. 33-38)


“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 v. 32, is of the closest character; it is, in

fact, essential. Three leading points require attention.



THEIR SINS, ASSERTED. (v. 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:


Ø      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.


Ø      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 (compare 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 scepter of his mercy, they will be made to feel the rod of his

anger. “There is no shaking off God’s dominion,” says Matthew

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.”



THE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR SINS. (vs. 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 (ibid.  ch. 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 ch.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” (compare Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 14:21-23;

16:31-35, 41-49; 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. <236616>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.





“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.


Ø      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 (compare 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.


Ø      Divine separation of human persons. “And I will purge out from

among you the rebels, and those that transgress against me,” etc. (v. 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 (compare 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.





                        The Gracious Restoration of the People (vs. 39-44)


“As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord God; Go ye, serve ye

every one his idols,” etc. It is here distinctly recognized that not at once

would this reformation and restoration be accomplished. The house of

Israel is told to “go, serve ye every one his idols.” These words are spoken

of as an “ironical conversion” (compare 1 Kings 22:15; Amos 4:4;

Matthew 23:32). They are also described as” the holy irony of him who

knows that mercy is laid up for the future.” It is important to bear in mind

that the words were addressed to the dissimulating elders of Israel. They

had come to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord through him, while in their

heart they were resolved to “be as the heathen… to serve wood and stone”

They received such an answer as they were fitted for: “Go ye, serve ye

every one his idols.” Not quickly are men of such character separated from

their sins. Not quickly are the stern lessons of chastisement truly and

thoroughly learned by them. Moreover, this ironical concession of their

idolatry would perhaps impress them more deeply with the evil thereof than

a renewed prohibition or denunciation of it might have done. Then follows

the assured declaration of their restoration through the mercy of the Lord

God. Of this restoration the more prominent features ate these.





Ø      The renunciation of their idolatry. (v. 39.) The rendering of the margin

of the Revised Version seems to us preferable: “Go ye, serve every

one his idols, hut hereafter surely ye shall hearken unto me, and my

holy Name shall ye no more profane with your gifts, and with your

idols.” Hengstenberg and the ‘Speaker’s Commentary’ take this view of

the verse. “You have pretended,” says Greenhill, “that by your idols

set up in my stead, and the gifts you have offered to them, or by them

to me, that you have honored my Name, but by joining them and me

together, you have polluted my Name.” And he declares that this

pollution shall cease; that they will abandon their idols. And since

their release from the Babylonian captivity, the Jews have never been

guilty of idolatry like that mentioned in v. 32 — the service of wood

and stone; they have never since then forsaken the Lord God for the

idols of heathenism.


Ø      Their consecration to the Lord Jehovah. ‘“ For in mine holy mountain,

in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, there shall all

the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me.” Notice:


o        The scene of this service. “In mine holy mountain, in the mountain of

the height of Israel.” After the return from the exile the temple at

Jerusalem was rebuilt by the Jews, and there they worshipped God.

But in the largest and grandest fulfillment of this prophecy the holy

mountain is to be understood spiritually (compare John 4:20-24).

“The spiritual worship of the New Testament,” as Schroder observes,

can be well described in the phraseology of the Old Testament worship,

by which it was symbolized and prefigured. We still speak of the

heavenly Jerusalem” (compare Isaiah 2:2-3; Galatians 4:24-26;

Hebrews 12:22).


o        The universality of this service. This is very emphatically expressed

here. “There shall all the house of Israel, all of them, serve me.” Partially

this was fulfilled on the return from the exile. “When the Jews had

returned from Babylon under Zerubbabel and Ezra, along with those

who adhered to then, from all the tribes, they formed a unity, possessed

a temple at Jerusalem, and became a single people under the same

presidency “(Cocceius). But the prophecy yet awaits its complete

fulfillment. “All the seperation between Israel and Judah shall cease.

This points to times yet future, when in Messiah’s kingdom Jews and

Gentiles alike shall be gathered into one kingdom — the kingdom of

Christ (compare Jeremiah 31.; Malachi 3:1, etc.; also Romans

11:25-26; Revelation 11:15). Jerusalem is the Church of Christ

(Galatians 4:26), into which the children of Israel shall at last be

gathered, and so the prophecy shall be fulfilled (Revelation 21:2)”

 (‘Speaker’s Commentary’).


o        And as for the nature of this service; they shall worship the living and

true God as the only worthy Object of adoration, and they shall obey

Him as their sovereign Lord.





Ø      The acceptation of themselves. “There will I accept them… As a sweet

savour will I accept you.” This acceptation includes:


o       The full forgiveness of all their offences. That he receives the

      sinner is an evidence that he will remember his sins against him

no more.


o       The gracious reception of themselves: that God would regard

them with complacency, and enrich them with his favour. When

God accepts man he does it heartily and with a glad welcome,

even as the father received his prodigal son (Luke 15:20-24).

When we pray,” Take away all iniquity, and receive us

graciously.”  He speedily answers, “I will heal their backsliding,

I will love  them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.”


Ø      The acceptation of their worship. “There will I require your offerings,

and the first fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things.” When the

worshippers are themselves accepted, their worship will be accepted also.

But when the worshippers are insincere and wicked, the Lord demands of

them, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?” etc.

(Isaiah 1:11-15). It is the contrite and believing heart of the offerer that

commends the offerings unto God. Where this state of heart is we may

say, with David, “Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of

righteousness,” etc. (Psalm 51:19).





Ø      Gathering them from their exile. “When I bring you out from the

peoples, and gather you out of the countries, wherein ye have been

scattered.” The Lord does not lose sight of his people when they are

scattered abroad. He does not cease to care for them or to protect them.

Not one of them shall be lost through any failure on his part (compare

ch. 34:11-16; John 10:28).


Ø      Restoring them to their own land. “When I shall bring you into the land

of Israel, into the country which I hired up mine hand to give unto your

fathers.” The Jews were restored to their own land after the exile in

Babylon. That restoration was a remarkable fulfilment of many

prophecies,  There is perhaps in the text a reference to another and yet

future restoration thither. God by the gospel restores man to his forfeited

inheritance. By sin man was exiled from Eden; by the grace of God in

Christ Jesus he is introduced into a holier and more beautiful Paradise.

“When Divine grace renews the heart of the fallen sinner, Paradise is

regained, and much of its beauty restored to the soul.”



REPENTANCE OF THEIR SINS. (The points which arise under this head

we have already noticed in our homily on ch.  6:8-10.)


Ø      Their gracious recognition of the Lord God. “And ye shall know that I

am the Lord,” etc. (vs. 42, 44). This knowledge does not spring from his

judgments, but from the experience of his gracious dealings. It is a

sympathetic and saving acquaintance with him.


Ø      Sincere repentance of their sirs.


Ø      Here is a prerequisite to true repentance. “There shall ye remember

your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled.”


Ø      Here is an essential characteristic of true repentance. “And ye shall

loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have

committed.” in genuine penitence the sinner reproaches himself

because of his sins.




UNMERITED GRACE OF GOD. “Ye shall know that I am the Lord,

when I have wrought with you for my Name’s sake, not according to your

wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel,

saith the Lord God.” All our blessings flow to us from the inexhaustible

fountain of the grace of God. Mankind has merited no good from him. Our

“evil ways and corrupt doings” have deserved his unmixed wrath. But in

his infinite mercy he has pared our guilty race, enriched us with many

physical and mental blessings, and provided for us an eternal and glorious

salvation through the gift of his beloved Son. And as this restoration of his

people originated in his grace, it shall redound to his glory. “I will be

sanctified in you in the sight of the nations” (v. 41); “I have wrought with

you for my Name’s sake” (v. 44); “In them as a holy people, anew

consecrated to God, shall be exhibited to the heathen the holiness of

Jehovah.” And the redemption of man by Jesus Christ shall issue in the

eternal glory of the God or all grace (Galatians 1:5; II Timothy 4:18;

Hebrews 13:20, 21; 1 Peter 5:10, 11; Revelation 7:9-12).


“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,

But unto thy Name give glory,

For thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.”