Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The prophecies of this section Eze. 20-23 were delivered nearly a year after those of the former Eze 8:1. Ezekiel in reply to other inquiries from the chieftains of the people, sets forth their national history, the national judgment, and the hope of divine mercy. This leads up to the prediction of the kingdom of the Messiah.
The elders of Israel - These were as in Eze 14:1, some of Ezekiel's fellow-exiles, designated in general terms by the name of Israel, though more properly belonging to the kingdom of Judah.
Enquire - As to the hope of deliverance from the Babylonians.
Wilt thou judge them? - We should rather say, Wilt thou not judge them? i. e., wilt thou not pronounce sentence upon them? Compare Eze 22:2.
The children of Israel in Egypt were warned to abstain from the idolatry of the pagan. This purpose they lost sight of, yet God spared them and brought them into another state of probation.
Lifted up mine hand - i. e., sware, because the hand was lifted up in adjuration.
Idols of Egypt - These incidental notices show the children of Israel in Egypt to have been addicted to idolatry. Compare Jos 24:14.
I wrought for my name's sake - Lest it should appear to the Egyptians that Yahweh was a God who would, but could not, save.
The probation in the wilderness. The promise was forfeited by those to whom it was first conditionally made, but was renewed to their children.
The "statutes" were given on Mount Sinai, and repeated by Moses before his death (Exo 20:1 ff; Deu 4:8).
In them - Or, through them: and in Eze 20:13.
See Exo 31:13. The Sabbath was a sign of a special people, commemorative of the work of creation, and hallowed to the honor of Yahweh, the covenant-God. As man honored God by keeping the Sabbath holy, so by the Sabbath, God "sanctified" Israel and marked them as a holy people. Therefore to profane the Sabbath was to abjure their Divine Governor.
My sabbaths they greatly polluted - Not by actual non-observance of the sabbatical rest in the wilderness, but in failing to make the day holy in deed as well as in name by earnest worship and true heart service.
The book of Deuteronomy contains the address to "the children" of those who perished in the wilderness. The whole history of Israel was a repetition of this course. The covenant was made with one generation, broken by them, and then renewed to the next.
The "judgments whereby they should not live" are those spoken of in Eze 20:18, and are contrasted with the judgments in Eze 20:13, Eze 20:21, laws other than divine, to which God gives up those whom He afflicts with judicial blindness, because they have willfully closed their eyes, Psa 81:12; Rom 1:24.
To pass through - The word also means to "set apart," as the firstborn to the Lord Exo 13:12. They were bidden to "set apart" their firstborn males to the Lord. They "caused them to pass through the fire" to Moloch. An instance of their perversion of God's laws.
The probation in the land of Canaan from their entry to the day of Ezekiel.
Yet in this - It was an aggravation of their guilt that they defiled with idolatry the land given them for their glory.
Bamah - The Hebrew word for "high place." Another instance of the perversion of God's laws. 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 Yahweh (Sa1 9:12 ff; Kg1 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" ("Bannah," plural "Bamoth") became a by-word (compare "Bamoth-Baal," Jos 13:17). "Bamoth" occurs on the Moabitic stone, which records the erection of high places in honor of Chemosh. The name "Bamah" was thus a brand of the divine displeasure, and a memorial of the people's guilt.
Eze 20:30, Eze 20:31
The present state of the people. Those who came to inquire were the representatives of the whole people though belonging to the exiles.
God's future dealings with His people:
(1) in judgment Eze 20:32-38;
(2) in mercy Eze 20:39-44.
The inquirers had thought that if Jerusalem were taken, and the whole people became sojourners in a foreign land, they would cease to be a separate nation. In their love for idolatry some may have even desired this. But more probably they thought that this very consequence precluded the possibility of such a catastrophe. God answers that He will not allow them to become as the pagan, but this will only subject them to severer trial and stricter rule.
The expressions "a mighty hand, stretched out arm" carry back the thoughts to Egyptian bondage Deu 4:34; Deu 5:15; but then it was for deliverance, now for judgment "with fury poured out."
The wilderness of the people - A time of probation will follow, as before in the wilderness of Sin, so in the "wilderness of the nations" among whom they will sojourn (not the Babylonians) "after" that captivity. This period of their probation is not over. The dispersion of the Jews did not cease with the return under Zerubbabel; but in our Saviour's time they were living as a distinct people in all the principal places in the civilized world; and so they live now. God is yet pleading with them "face to face," calling them personally to embrace those offers which as a nation they disregarded.
To pass under the rod - i. e., to be gathered into the flock Mic 7:14.
The bond - The shepherd collects the flock, and separates the sheep from the goats, which are rejected. Compare Rom 11:7-11.
Strong irony. Some prefer another rendering: "Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, yet hereafter ye shall surely hearken unto me, and shall no more pollute My Holy Name etc." In this way, this verse is introductory to what follows.
This points to the consummation indicated by the vision of the temple.
In the mountain of the height - Or, Upon a very high mountain Eze 40:2. Compare Isa 2:2-3.
The house of Israel, all of them - All the separation 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. Jerusalem is the Church of Christ Gal 4:26, into which the children of Israel shall at last be gathered, and so the prophecy shall be fulfilled Rev 21:2.
This paragraph is in the Hebrew text, Septuagint and Vulgate the beginning of Ezek. 21 to which it belongs, as it contains a prophecy delivered in a form which is there explained. It may, however, be regarded as a link between the foregoing and following prophecies, being a general introduction to seven words of judgment about to be pronounced in development of that which has just been delivered.
In this verse occur three Hebrew synonyms for "south," denoting:
(1) the region on the right, Teman Sa1 23:24;
(2) the region of dryness, Negeb Jos 15:4;
(3) the region of brightness, Darom Deu 33:23.
The variety of terms helps the force of the application. Chebar is in the north of Babylonia; from the north the Chaldaeans came upon Judaea (see the Eze 1:4 note).
Forest of the south - The land of Israel. See Eze 21:1-2.
Parables - Compare Eze 17:2. The meaning of the prophet was clear enough, if those whom he addressed had chosen to understand.