ISRAEL’S CONSISTENT PATTERN OF SIN DOWN THROUGH HER HISTORY JUSTIFIES GOD’S JUDGMENT AND MAGNIFIES HIS MERCY
Once the Lord has the attention of the elders in exile, He turns the table on their desire for some type of new counsel that would answer their perplexity regarding their current plight. Through His prophet Ezekiel, the Lord provides a sobering history lesson that details the persistent rebellion and idolatry of Israel down through her generations. Their course of sin continued to the present day so that their culpability does not hinge on the actions of previous generations. Despite the privileges of being called into a covenant relationship with the one true God, gifted with revelation and specific laws, delivered from Egypt, sustained through the wilderness wanderings and brought safely into the Promised Land with its abundant provisions, Israel showed no allegiance or loyalty. Their shocking abominations and harlotries and treachery would have justified annihilation but God in His mercy limited His judgments in order to maintain His reputation among the watching nations.
Iain Duguid: After five chapters of largely pictorial speech—proverbs, riddles, parables, and laments—the prophet returns to the language of straightforward history. This change is marked by a renewed interaction between the prophet and his public.
Peter Pett: In this chapter we are given a detailed description of the history of what God had done for His people, and how they had not responded to Him, beginning with their experiences in Egypt, continuing in the wilderness, and then in the land of Canaan. It continues by speaking of what God’s purposes and intentions for His people are. In each example He reveals how He showed His goodness towards them, how they then rebelled against Him, how He purposed to reveal His anger on them, and how in the end He spared them for the sake of His own name and reputation.
Leslie Allen: There is historical development between the five parts. Vv 5–9 begin the story in Egypt, and vv 10–17 move on to the first wilderness generation in a sequence of two parts, vv 10–14 and 15–17, while vv 18–26 progress to the second wilderness generation, again in two parts, vv 18–22 and 23–26. This structuring in an
A / B 1 / B2 / C1 / C2 pattern cries out for a climax D. It is to be found in vv 30–31; it establishes a movement from Israel past in Egypt and the wilderness to Israel present in the land. The climax smoothly echoes the terminology of v 26 and concludes well by accusing the present generation of their ancestors’ crimes.
Daniel Block: This is a parody. With painstaking precision, incontrovertible logic, and deliberate skewing and distorting of the sacred traditions, Ezekiel turns his people’s history on its head. Employing ancient theological and historical motifs but infusing them with radically new content, he calls his audience to critical self-evaluation. Far from being a story of election and salvation, Israel’s story is one of apostasy. Assuming the role of an outsider, a social critic, Ezekiel recounts Israel’s past by dividing it into four epochs, each of which was characterized by persistent rebellion against Yahweh (vv. 5–31). Instead of accepting their role as covenant benefactors and agents of Yahweh’s honor, they had brought shame to the divine name by running after other gods.
(:1-4) PROLOGUE – DON’T CHALLENGE THE LORD YOUR GOD –
ISRAEL’S PAST GENERATIONS DESERVES GOD’S JUDGMENT
A. (:1) The Challenge from Israel’s Elders
“Now it came about in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me.”
Some of the elders of Jewish exiles in Babylon approached Ezekiel seeking answers from God to specific questions and objections they had regarding God’s treatment of His chosen people. This constituted a challenge to the justice of God.
Ralph Alexander: The chronological notice (July/August 591 B.C.) in v. 1 indicates the beginning of a new segment of the book and a new series of messages. Eleven months had passed since Ezekiel had delivered the previous revelation from God (cf. 8:1). . .
Would Zedekiah’s current diplomacy with Egypt succeed in bringing freedom for the exiles from the tyranny of Nebuchadnezzar? Would the Hebrew captives soon return to the Promised Land?
MacArthur: cf. the similarity in 14:1-3. The prophet responds with a message from the Lord that gives a historical survey of Israel, featuring its uniform pattern of sin. Israel rebelled in Egypt (vv. 5-9), then in the wilderness trek (vv. 10-26), and the entry into the Land of Promise (vv. 27-32). Through all this, God kept delivering them to save His reputation (vv. 9, 14, 22).
Derek Thomas: The elders have once more gathered to hear what Ezekiel has to say (cf. 8:1; 14:1). The reason for their coming together was ‘to enquire of the Lord’. Perhaps they were anxious to know the length of the exile; or perhaps they wished to know if Zedekiah’s fall, predicted in chapter 19, was now imminent and how this might affect relatives and friends back home. It is possible that some of them were anxious to make a deal with their captors and were seeking Ezekiel’s support for it. Whatever the precise reason for their coming together, the tables are turned: the Lord does not allow the elders to set the agenda for discussion; he has an urgent, and highly critical, word for them to hear.
Charles Dyer: The answer God then gave was not a response to their question but a review of their history. To find an answer the people only needed to look into their past.
Peter Pett: Ezekiel was divided up into major sections by these datings.
– Ezekiel 1:2 is dated July 592 BC,
– Ezekiel 8:1 is dated September 592/1 BC,
– Ezekiel 20:1 is dated August 591/0 BC,
– Ezekiel 24:1 is dated January 588 BC,
– Ezekiel 33:21 is dated January 586/5 BC and
– Ezekiel 40:1 is dated April 573 BC, which are in chronological order.
(The oracles against nations were also dated (Ezekiel 26:1 to Ezekiel 32:32), but not in chronological order).
Iain Duguid: To seek the Lord means not to seek the calf idols of Bethel (Amos 5:5). But this is precisely where the elders fail the test. Because they are involved in the idolatrous practices of their ancestors, the Lord will not answer them. The door is so firmly closed in their faces that the prophet does not even bother to record the substance of their request. They might just as well not have said a word. In fact, they may not even have reached the point of framing their question before they are cut off. It is not what they ask that the Lord finds unacceptable but who they are.
B. (:2-3) The Rejection of the Challenge by the Lord
“And the word of the LORD came to me saying, 3 ‘Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God,
Do you come to inquire of Me?
As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.’”
Daniel Block: The instructions for Ezekiel consist of two parts. On the one hand, he is to announce that Yahweh has refused their request for a divine determination on the present crisis; he is under no obligation to respond to them. The rejection notice is also cast in two parts. The opening rhetorical question challenges the sincerity of the men; have they really come to inquire of Yahweh with the wholeheartedness called for in Deut. 4:29? The follow-up declaration, strengthened with the oath and signatory formulae, responds to their request more directly: Yahweh will not permit these people to inquire of him. Unlike 14:3–4, no explicit reason for the rebuff is given at this time.
Although Yahweh refuses to satisfy the elders’ inquiry, he takes advantage of this “teachable moment” by communicating an alternative oracle through his prophetic mediator. Instead of announcing the longed-for salvation, Yahweh charges the prophet to arraign the nation. The manner in which he is to arraign his people is specified in v. 4b: he is to declare the abominations of their ancestors. The assonantal phrase tôʿăbōt ʾăbôtām may be pleasant to the ear, but it represents an intentional distortion of the Deuteronomistic phrase tôʿăbôt haggôyim, “the abominations of the nations.” Pagan actions that are explicitly classified as “abominable” include witchcraft, sorcery, necromancy, the use of mediums; the construction of cult installations, high places, pillars, and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every luxuriant tree (cf. v. 28); the sacrifice of children and the burning of incense to the gods; the worship of the astral deities; and the erection of pagan altars in the temple of Yahweh. In each occurrence of the phrase, the abominations involve the practices of the original inhabitants of the land of Israel. The people in Ezekiel’s audience were probably shocked by Yahweh’s substitution of ʾăbôtām (lit. “their fathers”) for haggôyim (“the nations”).
With this phrase Yahweh’s disposition toward Israel is transparent; to him the nation has historically been merely one of the Canaanite nations. In his development of this thesis the prophet will raise two primary arguments. First, Israel’s total depravity is reflected in that the people have been idolatrous since their beginnings in Egypt. Second, enraged by their response to his grace, Yahweh had decided already while they were wandering in the desert to scatter them among the nations (v. 23), but had delayed the punishment until the cup of iniquity was full.
C. (:4) The Changing of the Narrative to Focus on Deserved Judgment for a History of Sin
1. (:4a) Judgment Commanded
“Will you judge them, will you judge them, son of man?”
Charles Dyer: “Will you judge them?” conveyed His impatience with the people, and it has the force of a command, “Judge these people!” Ezekiel was to confront them regarding the detestable practices of their fathers. The court was to be opened and the evidence presented.
2. (:4b-6) History Lesson Prescribed
“Make them know the abominations of their fathers;”
Constable: In response to the request of these elders, God gave His prophet a message for them. He told Ezekiel to say that He would not satisfy their curiosity about the matters that concerned them. However, Ezekiel was to communicate another message to these elders, a message that included judgment because of the Israelites’ abominable idolatry throughout their history. The Lord’s repeated question has the effect of an emotional imperative: you must pass judgment on them.
Iain Duguid: The way in which Ezekiel challenges the elders with Israel’s history has more than a little in common with chapter 18. It is essentially a story of three consecutive generations, with intended application to the present generation. . . Each generation’s history is presented as a six-stage cycle:
(1) The Lord’s self-revelation (vv. 5–6, 11, 18–19)
(2) A challenge to exclusive devotion (vv. 7, 12, 19–20)
(3) Israel’s rebellion (vv. 8, 13, 21)
(4) The threat of the Lord’s wrath (vv. 8b, 13b, 21b)
(5) Wrath limited/deferred for the sake of the divine name (vv. 9, 14, 22)
(6) Act of limited judgment (vv. 10, 17, 23)
I. (:5-9) PATTERN OF SIN FOR THE GENERATION IN BONDAGE IN EGYPT
A. (:5-6) The Origin of the Nation in the Land of Egypt
1. (:5) Establishment of the Covenant Relationship with the Chosen People
“and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,
On the day when I chose Israel and swore to the descendants of the house of Jacob and made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt, when I swore to them, saying, I am the LORD your God,’”
Peter Pett: God depicts His choice of them as occurring when they were in Egypt. Prior to that His choice had been of individuals and their households, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But in Egypt He had chosen Israel as a budding nation, as a people for Himself.
Lamar Cooper: The word “know,” yādaʾ, is also the word translated “revealed” in vv. 5, 9 (cf. v. 20). It speaks specifically of knowledge by personal experience. Despite the Hebrews’ not “knowing” God, Moses appealed to God not to abandon or annihilate them. The basis of his appeal was the name, which represents the character and reputation of God (vv. 13–14; see Num 14:13–19). Again, for his name’s sake, God spared Israel.
2. (:6) Intention to Deliver Them Out of Egypt and Into the Promised Land
“on that day I swore to them, to bring them out from the land of Egypt into a land that I had selected for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands.”
Iain Duguid: God came to Israel in the midst of their miserable bondage and offered them the way to the total freedom of pure worship. He promised them not just any land but a beautiful land for their own (Ezek. 20:6). Only the very best would do for God’s people. They, however, sought only half-freedom. They wanted freedom from the unpleasant circumstances of their sin and from its messy complications, but not freedom from the sin itself. They would rather keep their idols and perish in the desert than enter the Promised Land without them.
B. (:7-8a) The Objective that the People Repent of Pagan Idolatry
1. (:7) Repentance Commanded
“And I said to them, ‘Cast away, each of you, the detestable things of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt;
I am the LORD your God.’ “
Daniel Block: In view of the grace that Yahweh demonstrated in calling Israel to this special relationship with himself, his demand for exclusive allegiance was not unreasonable. But instead of treasuring the relationship and expressing their gratitude by wholehearted obedience, the Israelites rebelled against him by refusing to listen to him. Their obduracy is highlighted by casting the accusation as a negative echo of the command in v. 7. Whereas the psalmist traces this insubordination to the Red Sea (Ps. 106:7), Ezekiel insists it has its roots in Egypt.
Derek Thomas: The point Ezekiel is now making is that the Israelites in Egypt, far from longing for the fulfilment of this promise, were fully accommodating themselves to their surroundings, even to the extent of needing to be told to get rid of their ‘vile images’ (20:7, 8). These ‘idols of Egypt’ (20:7) were undoubtedly dear to the Israelites, for they refused to forsake them (20:8).
2. (:8a) Rebellion Persisted
“But they rebelled against Me and were not willing to listen to Me;
they did not cast away the detestable things of their eyes,
nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.”
Constable: Some expositors believed that this is a reference to God judging the Israelites at Mt. Sinai because of the Golden Calf incident However, it seems clear that the Lord was referring to Israel’s idolatry in Egypt before the Exodus, which is not revealed as explicitly elsewhere in Scripture. Then He chose to bring them out of Egypt for the sake of His reputation among the other nations (cf. Gen. 15:13-16).
Douglas Stuart: In Egypt before the Exodus the Israelites were hardly devoted, faithful, trusting servants of the Lord waiting longingly for the promises of old to be fulfilled. As the centuries had gone by they had become fully accommodated to their surroundings and had gradually adopted the idolatrous beliefs and worship practices that prevailed in Egypt and everywhere else. These beliefs and practices were so ingrained that it was necessary for the Israelites to be given strict laws against them once they—and the many non-Israelites who, joined them in the Exodus (Ex. 12:38)—got to Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:3–6, 23).
C. (:8b-9) The Opposing Commitments of God —
Mercy Must Triumph over Judgment
1. (:8b) The Commitment of God to Pour Out His Wrath in Judgment
“Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them,
to accomplish My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.”
Feinberg: The Lord did not want His glory and power to be disregarded or lightly esteemed by the nations of the earth. To profane the name of the Lord is the opposite of sanctifying it. If God had poured out His wrath on His people, though they warranted such action by their multiplied transgressions against Him, the heathen could well have concluded according to their reasonings that God was unable to deliver His nation from their enemies.
Daniel Block: These verses reflect the turmoil in Yahweh’s heart over the rebellion of his people. Since El Qanna, “Impassioned God,” cannot stand passively by while his covenant partners turn to other gods, their infidelity fans his fury into flame and he resolves to pour out his wrath on them before they have even left the land of Egypt. But he cannot wipe his people out. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this panel, if not the entire chapter, is the motive Ezekiel offers for Yahweh’s restraint, which reflects the radical theocentricity of Ezekiel’s perspective on his people’s history and his eschatology. Far from capitulating to last-minute sentimentality or pity toward his people, or the sudden realization of their deep-seated need for forgiveness, Yahweh’s unexpected withdrawal rests entirely on personal concerns: he must act for the honor of his name. The phrase ʿāśâ lĕmaʿan šēm has been interpreted as “to act in accordance with one’s character,” but the present context confirms that it is better understood as “to act for the sake of one’s reputation.” Yahweh’s special relationship with Israel was not a secret affair. They were living among the nations, and Yahweh had publicly demonstrated his covenantal relationship with them by bringing them out of Egypt.
2. (:9) The Commitment of God to Show Mercy to Protect His Reputation among the Nations
“But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made Myself known to them by bringing them out of the land of Egypt.”
Ralph Alexander: The Lord’s name embodied all he was. He was the ever-present, eternal, covenant God of Israel. . . The Lord did not want the Egyptian bondage to be misconstrued as a demonstration of his inadequacies, for the truth was just the opposite. It was because of his immutable faithfulness to his promises that he disciplined his people. But the name of the Lord was holy, and the Israelites were to bear continually a proper witness to that holy name (Exod. 19:5-6). Though Israel had failed to sanctify the name of the Lord among the nations, the Lord himself would do so by his deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Then all the nations would know that he was the Lord, the true, faithful, and powerful God of Israel (Exod 7:5; Ps 106:8-12).
Anton Pearson: His name is profaned when men harbor thoughts of him or attribute deeds to him inconsistent with his character as holy and unique (cf. v. 39; 36:20-22). The opposite of “to profane” is “to sanctify.” It is to recognize the Lord as the one true God in every area of life, and to live in a manner befitting him.
II. (:10-26) PATTERN OF SIN FOR THE GENERATIONS IN THE WILDERNESS
A. (:10-14) First Generation in the Wilderness Rebelled Against God’s Goodness
1. (:10-12) Demonstration of God’s Goodness
a. (:10) Redemption = God’s Deliverance
“So I took them out of the land of Egypt
and brought them into the wilderness.”
b. (:11) Revelation = God’s Law
“And I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live.”
c. (:12) Reminders = God’s Sabbaths
“And also I gave them My sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them.”
Charles Dyer: God singled out one of His laws – the Sabbaths – as a visible manifestation of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Isa. 56:1-8). It was a sign to the Israelites that they were God’s special people and were obligated to keep His laws.
Constable: By observing the Sabbath, the Israelites demonstrated their uniqueness among the nations, their sanctification unto Yahweh (Exod. 20:8-11; 31:13-17). The Sabbath was a dual sign to the Israelites. It reminded them of Yahweh’s creation of the cosmos (Exod. 20:11) and of His creation of their nation (Deut. 5:14-15). It was the central sign of the Old Covenant (Isa. 56:2, 4).
Daniel Block: Ezekiel’s emphasis is entirely on the Sabbaths as a gift of Yahweh. For him the Sabbaths served two functions. First, they were a perpetual reminder of Yahweh’s covenant with them. What the rainbow was to the Noachian covenant (Gen. 9:8–17), the Sabbath was to Yahweh’s covenant with Israel—an attesting sign (ʾôt) of Israel’s relationship with him. Second, they had a didactic function: to remind the nation that their special status derives from Yahweh’s action alone. In a clever departure from the decalogic Sabbath, which called on Israel to sanctify the day (qiddēš), here the Sabbaths are perceived as gifts that declare that Yahweh had sanctified them (mĕqaddĕšām).
2. (:13a) Rebellion against God’s Goodness
“But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness. They did not walk in My statutes, and they rejected My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; and My sabbaths they greatly profaned.”
3. (:13b-14) Conflict Between Commitment to Wrath vs. Mercy
“Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them.
But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, before whose sight I had brought them out.”
B. (:15-17) Discipline Coupled with Mercy
1. (:15-16) God’s Discipline
“And also I swore to 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, 16 because they rejected My ordinances, and as for My statutes, they did not walk in them; they even profaned My sabbaths, for their heart continually went after their idols.”
Peter Pett: This is the reversal of Ezekiel 20:6. He who had sworn to them to bring them out of Egypt into the good land He had prepared for them, now lifted up His hand and swore that those of that generation would not enter it (Numbers 32:10-13). The land that that generation had so looked forward to seeing was lost to them forever. God’s favours are conditional on obedience.
2. (:17) God’s Mercy
“Yet My eye spared them rather than destroying them,
and I did not cause their annihilation in the wilderness.”
C. (:18-21a) Second Generation in the Wilderness Persisted in Rebellion
1. (:18) Repentance Commanded
“And I said to their children in the wilderness,
‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers,
or keep their ordinances,
or defile yourselves with their idols.’”
Feinberg: The children of verse 18 are the second generation in the wilderness. They were solemnly warned of God not to follow the wicked ways of their fathers who had shown themselves to be incorrigible. The entire message of Deuteronomy was one constant reminder and warning in this regard.
2. (:19) Relationship to the God of the Covenant Should be the Motivation to Obey
“I am the LORD your God; walk in My statutes,
and keep My ordinances, and observe them.”
3. (:20) Reminders by Sanctifying God’s Sabbaths Should be Helpful
“And sanctify My sabbaths;
and they shall be a sign between Me and you, t
hat you may know that I am the LORD your God.”
4. (:21a) Rebellion Persisted
“But the children rebelled against Me;
they did not walk in My statutes,
nor were they careful to observe My ordinances,
by which, if a man observes them, he will live;
they profaned My sabbaths.”
D. (:21b-26) Discipline Coupled with Mercy
1. (:21b-22) The Opposing Commitments of God –
Mercy Triumphing over Judgment
a. (:21b) The Commitment of God to Pour Out His Wrath in Judgment
“So I resolved to pour out My wrath on them,
to accomplish My anger against them in the wilderness.”
b. (:22) The Commitment of God to Show Mercy to Protect His Reputation among the Nations
“But I withdrew My hand and acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.”
2. (:23-24) The Ordained Discipline of Scattering the Jews among the Nations
a. (:23) Promise of Discipline
“Also I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them among the lands,”
b. (:24) Reason for Discipline
“because they had not observed My ordinances,
but had rejected My statutes, and had profaned My sabbaths,
and their eyes were on the idols of their fathers.”
Douglas Stuart: The people of Israel were forced to remain in the wilderness for forty years while the original exodus generation gradually died away leaving a new generation to enter into the Promised Land. That new generation was for the most part born in the wilderness, although it included some of the original group from Egypt, people like Joshua and Caleb, who had remained faithful even while most of the others had not (Num. 14:6–9). The new generation was given every chance to obey the Lord and to enjoy His constant protection and favor. They, too, however, showed themselves unfaithful, doing the same sorts of things that their parents had been condemned for (v. 21). Accordingly, God’s anger was poured out against them (see Num. 25:3–9), again because of idolatry and all that it entailed. A major incident of idolatry committed by the second wilderness generation was that which occurred at Baal-Peor in Moab. There, the Israelites turned virtually en masse to Baal worship and to the ritual sex that accompanied it (Num. 25:1–3, 6–9, 14–18).
Lamar Cooper: Verse 24 contains the fifth reference in this chapter to the Sabbath, four of which specifically meant the desecration of this holy day (vv. 13, 16, 20, 21, 24). Ezekiel’s constant reference to the Sabbath seems to have a wider significance than the censure for failing to observe the weekly holy seventh day commanded in Exod 20:8–11. It also may include reference to the Sabbatical Year and Jubilee Year observances of Lev 25:1–34.
3. (:25-26) The Outrageous Idolatrous Practices Designed to Bankrupt Them to
Restore Them to the Covenant Relationship
a. (:25) Promulgated Pagan Rituals to Bankrupt Them
“And I also gave them statutes that were not good
and ordinances by which they could not live;”
Feinberg: the statutes which were not good were the Molech worship of verse 26. Undeniably, this heathenish worship was never promoted by God, but rather strongly condemned by Him many times in the Old Testament prophetic messages. Ezekiel was declaring that in retribution the Lord allowed them to go after their own ways in order to punish hem according to their deeds. The passage is speaking in the sense of a judicial sentence. The problem is susceptible of solution if we see that God identifies Himself with the instruments of His wrath and His providential chastisements which He brings upon Israel in answer to their sin. The Lord gave them these worthless and unprofitable statutes in the same sense as Isaiah 63:17. Disobedience leads to greater sin.
b. (:26) Pronounced Them Unclean with the Goal of Restoration
“and I pronounced them unclean because of their gifts,
in that they caused all their first-born to pass through the fire so that I might make them desolate,
in order that they might know that I am the LORD.”
Douglas Stuart: Among the most disgusting of the idolatrous practices that developed among the Israelites was child sacrifice (v. 26). A sacrifice as understood by Israel’s pagan neighbors was a way of giving desirable things to the gods. Humans were supposed to feed the gods by cooking food for them. (The smoke would send the food up to the gods.) And if you could send food via smoke to the gods, how about sending them servants that way? How about really impressing a god with your dedication and sincerity by sending that god something more precious to you than anything else—your own firstborn child? Thinking themselves likely to gain the lifetime favor of the gods in this way, the Israelites borrowed child sacrifice, too, from their neighbors and began killing their firstborn infants and burning them on altars as a means of sending them to the false gods they were worshiping. It is evident that such people really wanted the gods to love them and were willing to “give their all” to gain such love. But all they were doing was playing into the hands of Satan (1 Cor. 10:20). How could such worshipers then be “clean” in the worship of Yahweh? How could they escape His making them “desolate,” that is, imposing on them the curses of desolation predicted for the nation if it would rebel against Him (e.g., Lev. 26:31–35; Deut. 28:51; 29:23)?
III. (:27-29) PATTERN OF SIN FOR THE GENERATION ENTERING THE PROMISED LAND
A. (:27) History of Blasphemy and Treachery
“Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel, and say to them,
‘Thus says the Lord God,
Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed Me
by acting treacherously against Me.’”
Douglas Stuart: In verse 27 the Lord commands Ezekiel to tell not only the elders of the captive Israelites but to the people in general (“the house of Israel”) that they are descended from blasphemers. Blasphemy (Hebrew, giddēf) is taunting or reviling God. It may be done orally or by one’s actions. In that the forefathers of the Israelites were almost immediately unfaithful to God in Canaan, they reviled Him.
B. (:28) Perversion of God’s Gifts into Instruments of Idolatry
“When I had brought them into the land which I swore to give to them,
then they saw every high hill and every leafy tree,
and they offered there their sacrifices,
and there they presented the provocation of their offering.
There also they made their soothing aroma,
and there they poured out their libations.”
Peter Pett: They compounded their rebellion in that when God actually gave them the land He had promised them, in spite of their rebellion, they made use of it to worship other gods. The very basis of the land, the high hills and the flourishing trees (thickly branched and therefore prominent and flourishing) became the means of worship of false gods. Instead of seeing all that was in the land as the blessing of Yahweh, they offered up sacrifices, presented offerings, offered up incense and poured out drink offerings to the so-called gods of the land, utilising the ancient sanctuaries of the Canaanites. Yahweh was sidelined.
David Thompson: God brought Israel into her Promised Land and what did she do? She pursued idolatry. She did not pursue the Word and will of God; she pursued “Bamah” (v. 29), which refers to false religions on almost every high hill. They pursued immorality and idolatry (v. 30). When we read through the book of Judges, everyone was doing that which was right in their own eyes. The entire Promised Land was idolatrous.
C. (:29) Futility of Worshiping on the High Places
“Then I said to them, ‘What is the high place to which you go?’
So its name is called Bamah to this day.”
Constable: The Lord had confronted His people with their use of the high places on hilltops for idolatry. The name of the high places, “Bamah,” had a double significance. It meant “high place,” but it also meant literally “go where” or “go what” (Heb. ba mah). Thus Bamah became a contemptuous pun. When the people went to the high places to worship idols, where were they going? They were going nowhere of any significance, to do nothing of any importance, since these idols were nonentities and could not help them. The name “Bamah” said more about these places than just identifying them as high places of worship, and the Lord had perpetuated the name Bamah for this reason.
Iain Duguid: To this threefold cycle of gracious election, rebellion, and limited judgment, a coda is added in Ezek. 20:27–29, briefly bringing the story up to date. Lest anyone should argue that Ezekiel is raking up old history long forgotten, he replies that the history of Israel’s occupation of Canaan is similarly depressing. Their ongoing love affair with the high places and their defiled worship proves that they are under God’s judgment, even in the sworn land of promise (20:28), down to this very day (ʿad hayyôm hazzeh, the last words of 20:29). Today is, after all, Ezekiel’s interest, as the repetition of the phrase in 20:31 makes clear. Israel’s present is exactly the same as Israel’s past: vile images, child sacrifice, and idolatry (20:31). Surely Israel is a rebellious house, not just in times past but in the present, as the Lord had made clear to Ezekiel in 2:3. Such people need not expect any reply to their attempts to inquire of the Lord (20:31).
(:30-32) EPILOGUE—DON’T CHALLENGE THE LORD YOUR GOD –
EZEKIEL’S CURRENT GENERATION DESERVES GOD’S JUDGMENT –
ASKING THE TOUGH QUESTIONS
A. (:30-31a) Why Continue in the Harlotries of Your Ancestors?
“Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and play the harlot after their detestable things? And when you offer your gifts, when you cause your sons to pass through the fire, you are defiling yourselves with all your idols to this day.’”
Anton Pearson: the prophet, speaking for Jehovah, was condemning the syncretistic and idolatrous practices of his fellow countrymen in Judah.
Derek Thomas: Sexual promiscuity has always been a feature of man’s rebellion from the beginning. Even the greatest of Old Testament saints fell into this snare. To give it religious justification was only to add to the abhorrence of it in God’s eyes. Most of the ancient Near Eastern religions believed that the gods brought things into being through a sexual act. Baal and Asherah, the Canaanite god and goddess of fertility, were believed to be capable of stimulation by sexual acts performed by their worshippers.
Consequently the shrines of Canaanite religion had their professional prostitutes with whom sexual acts were performed. It is hard to imagine a more perverted justification of sin.
Daniel Block: Ezekiel demands reflection by his audience by casting his accusation in the form of two rhetorical questions. As if to dismiss any possibility that the exiles still view their fate as a consequence of ancestral sin, the first charges them with self-defiling (niṭmāʾ) practices. The present generation is not responsible for the sins of the ancestors, but they are accountable for following the pattern of rebellious behavior that their forebears set. The second question raises the issue of spiritual harlotry, accusing the exiles of whoring after their “disgusting things.”
Verse 31 answers both questions. The defilement comes from, and the spiritual harlotry is expressed by, the sacrifice of children to idols. V. 26 intimated this to have been a problem with the second desert generation, but now the accusation is explicit. The phrase to the present day (ʿad-hayyôm) specifically attributes the crime to Ezekiel’s contemporaries. By any interpretation, the verse raises several nagging questions. Are child sacrifices being offered in Babylon? If so, where and when? Unfortunately, little is known about the religious practices of the exiles, but the accusation is too direct to be restricted to those who remain behind in the homeland.
B. (:31b) Why Seek Counsel from the Lord While You Persist in Rebellion?
“’And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel?
As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘I will not be inquired of by you.’”
Charles Dyer: In Ezekiel’s day Israel was still rebellious, just like her ancestors, and was involved in idolatry and child sacrifice. Therefore God refused to let them inquire of Him (cf. v. 3). He would not be a divine Ouija board they could manipulate for an answer whenever they pleased.
C. (:32) Why Desire to be Like the Pagan Nations Who Serve Dead Idols?
“And what comes into your mind will not come about, when you say:
‘We will be like the nations, like the tribes of the lands,
serving wood and stone.’ “
Peter Pett: They would have neither the one thing nor the other. They had lost their right to learn from Yahweh, but they would also not be allowed to continue in their idolatrous ways. It is always man’s desire to fit in with his environment and be like others and ‘accepted’. But God’s people are not to be like that, indeed will not finally be allowed to be like that. Note the contemptuous ‘serve wood and stone’. This is in contrast with worshipping the living, invisible God.