Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The date given in Eze 20:1 applies not only to Ezekiel 20, but also to Ezekiel 20-23 (compare Eze 24:1); the prophetic utterances in these four chapters being bound together into a group of connected words of God, both by their contents and by the threefold repetition of the expression, "wilt thou judge?" (vid., Eze 20:4; Eze 22:2, and Eze 23:36). The formula התשׁפּוט, which is only omitted from the threat of punishment contained in Ezekiel 21, indicates at the same time both the nature and design of these words of God. The prophet is to judge, i.e., to hold up before the people once more their sinful abominations, and to predict the consequent punishment. The circumstance which occasioned this is narrated in Eze 20:1-3. Men of the elders of Israel came to the prophet to inquire of the Lord. The occasion is therefore a similar one to that described in the previous group; for we have already been informed, in Eze 14:1, that elders had come to the prophet to hear God's word from him; but they had not gone so far as to inquire. Here, however (Ezekiel 20), they evidently address a question to the prophet, and through him to the Lord; though the nature of their inquiry is not given, and can only be gathered from the answer, which was given to them by the Lord through the prophet. The ground for the following words of God is therefore essentially the same as for those contained in Ezekiel 14-19; and this serves to explain the relation in which the two groups stand to each other, namely, that Ezekiel 20-24 simply contain a further expansion of the reproachful and threatening addresses of Ezekiel 14-19.
In Ezekiel 20 the prophet points out to the elders, in the form of a historical survey, how rebellious Israel had been towards the Lord from the very first, even in Egypt (Eze 20:5-9) and the desert (Eze 20:10-17 and Eze 20:18-26), both the older and the later generations, how they had sinned against the Lord their God through their idolatry, and how it was only for His own name's sake that the Lord had not destroyed them in His anger (Eze 20:27-31). And as Israel hath not given up idolatry even in Canaan, the Lord would not suffer Himself to be inquired of by the idolatrous generation, but would refine it by severe judgments among the nations (Eze 20:32-38), and sanctify it thereby into a people well-pleasing to Him, and would then gather it again out of the dispersion, and bring it into the land promised to the fathers, where it would serve Him with sacrifices and gifts upon His holy mountain (Eze 20:39-44). This word of God is therefore a more literal repetition of the allegorical description contained in Ezekiel 16.
Date, occasion, and theme of the discourse which follows. - Eze 20:1. And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth (moon), on the tenth of the moon, there came men of the elders of Israel, to inquire of Jehovah, and sat down before me. Eze 20:2. Then the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Eze 20:3. Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Have ye come to inquire of me? As I live, if I suffer myself to be inquired of by you, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah. Eze 20:4. Wilt thou judge them? Wilt thou judge, O son of man? Make known the abominations of their fathers to them. - If we compare the date given in Eze 20:1 with Eze 8:1, we shall find that this word of God was uttered only eleven months and five days after the one in Ezekiel 8; two years, one month, and five days after the call of Ezekiel to be a prophet (Eze 1:2); and two years and five months before the blockading of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (Eze 24:1). Consequently it falls almost in the middle of the first section of Ezekiel's prophetic work. דּרשׁ את , to seek Jehovah, i.e., to ask a revelation from Him. The Lord's answer in Eze 20:3 is similar to that in Eze 14:3. Instead of giving a revelation concerning the future, especially with regard to the speedy termination of the penal sufferings, which the elders had, no doubt, come to solicit, the prophet is to judge them, i.e., as the following clause explains, not only in the passage before us, but also in Eze 22:3 and Eze 23:36, to hold up before them the sins and abominations of Israel. It is in anticipation of the following picture of the apostasy of the nation from time immemorial that the sins of the fathers are mentioned here. "No reply is given to the sinners, but chiding for their sins; and He adds the oath, 'as I live,' that the sentence of refusal may be all the stronger" (Jerome). The question התשׁפּוט, which is repeated with emotion, "gives expression to an impatient wish, that the thing could have been done already" (Hitzig). The interrogative form of address is therefore adopted simply as a more earnest mode of giving expression to the command to go and do the thing. Hence the literal explanation of the word התשׁפּוט is also appended in the form of an imperative (הודיעם). - The prophet is to revert to the sins of the fathers, not merely for the purpose of exhibiting the magnitude of the people's guilt, but also to hold up before the sinners themselves, the patience and long-suffering which have hitherto been displayed by the Lord.
Election of Israel in Egypt. Its resistance to the commandments of God. - Eze 20:5. And say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, In the day that I chose Israel, and lifted my hand to the seed of Jacob, and made myself known to them in the land of Egypt, and lifted my hand to them, saying, I am Jehovah, your God: Eze 20:6. In that day I lifted my hand to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into the land which I sought out for them, which floweth with milk and honey - it is an ornament of all lands: Eze 20:7. And said to them, Cast away every man the abominations of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am Jehovah, your God. Eze 20:8. But they were rebellious against me, and would not hearken to me. Not one of them threw away the abominations of his eyes, and they did not forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I thought to pour out my wrath upon them, to accomplish my anger upon them in the midst of the land of Egypt. Eze 20:9. But I did it for my name's sake, that it might not be profaned before the eyes of the nations, in the midst of which they were, before whose eyes I had made myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. - Eze 20:5 and Eze 20:6 form one period. בּיּום בּחרי (Eze 20:5) is resumed in בּיּום ההוּא (Eze 20:6), and the sentence continued. With ואשּׂא the construction with the infinitive passes over into the finite verb. Lifting the hand, sc. to heaven, is a gesture employed in taking an oath (see the comm. on Exo 6:8). The substance of the oath is introduced by the word לאמר at the close of Eze 20:5; but the clause 'ואוּדע וגו (and made myself known) is previously inserted, and then the lifting of the hand mentioned again to indicate the importance of this act of divine grace. The contents of Eze 20:5 and Eze 20:6 rest upon Exo 6:2., where the Lord makes Himself known to Moses, and through him to the children of Israel, according to the nature involved in the name Jehovah, in which He had not yet revealed Himself to the patriarchs (Exo 6:3). Both נשׂאתי ידי (I lifted my hand) and אני יהוה are taken from Exo 6:8. The word תּרתּי, from תּוּר, to seek out, explore, also belongs to the Pentateuch (compare Deu 1:33); and the same may be said of the description given of Canaan as "a land flowing with milk and honey" (vid., Exo 3:8, etc.). But צבי, ornament, as an epithet applied to the land of Israel, is first employed by the prophets of the time of the captivity - namely, in Eze 20:6 and Eze 20:15 of this chapter, in Jer 3:19, and in Dan 8:9; Dan 11:16, Dan 11:41. The election of the Israelites to be the people of Jehovah, contained eo ipso the command to give up the idols of Egypt, although it was at Sinai that the worship of other gods was for the first time expressly prohibited (Exo 20:3), and Egyptian idolatry is only mentioned in Lev 17:7 (cf. Jos 24:14). Ezekiel calls the idols "abominations of their eyes," because, "although they were abominable and execrable things, they were looked upon with delight by them" (Rosenmller). It is true that there is nothing expressly stated in the Pentateuch as to the refusal of the Israelites to obey the command of God, or their unwillingness to give up idolatry in Egypt; but it may be inferred from the statements contained in Exo 6:9 and Exo 6:12, to the effect that the Israelites did not hearken to Moses when he communicated to them the determination of God to lead them out of Egypt, and still more plainly from their relapse into Egyptian idolatry, from the worship of the golden calf at Sinai (Ex 32), and from their repeated desire to return to Egypt while wandering in the desert.
(Note: The remarks of Calvin upon this point are very good. "We do not learn directly from Moses," he says, "that they had been rebels against God, because they would not throw away their idols and superstitions; but the conjecture is a very probable one, that they had always been so firmly fixed in their abominations as to prevent in a certain way the hand of God from bringing them relief. And assuredly, if they had embraced what Moses promised them in the name of God with promptness of mind, the execution of the promise would have been more prompt and swift. But we may learn that it was their own obtuseness which hindered God from stretching out His hand forthwith and actually fulfilling all that He had promised. It was necessary, indeed, that God should contend with Pharaoh, that His power might be more conspicuously displayed; but the people would not have been so tyrannically afflicted if they had not closed the door of divine mercy.")
Nor is there anything said in the Pentateuch concerning the determination of God to pour out His wrath upon the idolatrous people in Egypt. We need not indeed assume on this account that Ezekiel derived his information from some special traditional source, as Vitringa has done ObservV. ss. I. 263), or regard the statement as a revelation made by God to Ezekiel, and through him to us. The words do not disclose to us either a particular fact or a definite decree of God; they simply contain a description of the attitude which God, from His inmost nature, assumes towards sinners who rebel against His holy commandments, and which He displayed both in the declaration made concerning Himself as a zealous, or jealous God, who visits iniquities (Exo 20:5), and also in the words addressed to Moses when the people fell into idolatry at Sinai, "Let me alone, that my wrath may wax not against them, and that I may consume them" (Exo 32:10). All that God expresses here, His heart must have felt in Egypt towards the people who would not desist from idolatry. For the words themselves, compare Eze 7:8; Eze 6:12; Eze 5:13. ואעשׂ (Eze 20:9), "but I did it for my name's sake." The missing object explaining what He did, namely, abstain from pouring out His wrath, is to be gathered from what follows: "that I might not profane my name." This would have taken place if God had destroyed Israel by pouring out His wrath; in other words, have allowed them to be destroyed by the Egyptians. The heathen might then have said that Jehovah had been unable to liberate His people from their hand and power (cf. Num 14:16 and Exo 32:12). החל is an infin. Niphal of חלל for החל (cf. Lev 21:4).
Behaviour of Israel in the Desert
Eze 20:10. And I led them out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the desert; Eze 20:11. And gave them my statutes, and my rights I made known to them, which man is to do that he may live through them. Eze 20:12. I also gave them my Sabbaths, that they might be for a sign between me and them, that they might now that I Jehovah sanctify them. Eze 20:13. But the house of Israel was rebellious against me in the desert: they did not walk in my statutes, and my rights they rejected, which man is to do, that he may live through them, and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned: Then I thought to pour out my wrath upon them in the desert to destroy them. Eze 20:14. But I did it for my name's sake, that it might not be profaned before the eyes of the nations, before whose eyes I had led them out. Eze 20:15. I also lifted my hand to them in the desert, not to bring them into the land which I had given (them), which floweth with milk and honey; it is an ornament of all lands, Eze 20:16. Because they rejected my rights, did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths, for their heart went after their idols. Eze 20:17. But my eye looked with pity upon them, so that I did not destroy them, and make an end of them in the desert. - God gave laws at Sinai to the people whom He had brought out of Egypt, through which they were to be sanctified as His own people, that they might live before God. On Eze 20:11 compare Deu 30:16 and Deu 30:19. Eze 20:12 is taken almost word for word from Exo 31:13, where God concludes the directions for His worship by urging upon the people in the most solemn manner the observance of His Sabbaths, and thereby pronounces the keeping of the Sabbath the kernel of all divine worship. And as in that passage we are to understand by the Sabbaths the actual weekly Sabbaths, and not the institutions of worship as a whole, so here we must retain the literal signification of the word. It is only of the Sabbath recurring every week, and not of all the fasts, that it could be said it was a sign between Jehovah and Israel. It was a sign, not as a token, that they who observed it were Israelites, as Hitzig supposes, but to know (that they might know) that Jehovah was sanctifying them, namely, by the Sabbath rest - as a refreshing and elevation of the mind, in which Israel was to have a foretaste of that blessed resting from all works to which the people of God was ultimately to attain (see the comm. on Exo 20:11). It is from this deeper signification of the Sabbath that the prominence given to the Sabbaths here is to be explained, and not from the outward circumstance that in exile, when the sacrificial worship was necessarily suspended, the keeping of the Sabbath as the only bond which united the Israelites, so far as the worship of God was concerned (Hitzig). Historical examples of the rebellion of Israel against the commandments of God in the desert are given in ex. Eze 32:1-6 and Num 25:1-3; and of the desecration of the Sabbath, in ex. Eze 16:27 and Num 15:32. For the threat referred to in Eze 20:13, compare Exo 32:10; Num 14:11-12. - Eze 20:15 and Eze 20:16 are not a repetition of Eze 20:13 (Hitzig); nor do they introduce a limitation of Eze 20:14 (Kliefoth). They simply relate what else God did to put bounds to the rebellion after He had revoked the decree to cut Israel off, at the intercession of Moses (Num 14:11-19). He lifted His hand to the oath (Num 14:21.), that the generation which had come out of Egypt should not come into the land of Canaan, but should die in the wilderness. Therewith He looked with pity upon the people, so that He did not make an end of them by following up the threat with a promise that the children should enter the land. עשׂה כלה, as in Eze 11:13.
The Generation that Grew Up in the Desert
Eze 20:18. And I spake to their sons in the desert, Walk not in the statutes of your fathers, and keep not their rights, and do not defile yourselves with their idols. Eze 20:19. I am Jehovah your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my rights, and do them, Eze 20:20. And sanctify my Sabbaths, that they may be for a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am Jehovah your God. Eze 20:21. But the sons were rebellious against me; they walked not in my statutes, and did not keep my rights, to do them, which man should do that he may live through them; they profaned my Sabbaths. Then I thought to pour out my wrath upon them, to accomplish my anger upon them in the desert. Eze 20:22. But I turned back my hand and did it for my name's sake, that it might not be profaned before the eyes of the nations, before whose eyes I had them out. Eze 20:23. I also lifted my hand to them in the desert, to scatter them among the nations, and to disperse them in the lands; Eze 20:24. Because they did not my rights, and despised my statutes, profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were after the idols of their fathers. Eze 20:25. And I also gave them statutes, which were not good, and rights, through which they did not live; Eze 20:26. And defiled them in their sacrificial gifts, in that they caused all that openeth the womb to pass through, that I might fill them with horror, that they might know that I am Jehovah. - The sons acted like their fathers in the wilderness. Historical proofs of this are furnished by the accounts of the Sabbath-breaker (Num 15:32.), of the rebellion of the company of Korah, and of the murmuring of the whole congregation against Moses and Aaron after the destruction of Korah's company (Num 16 and Num 17:1-13). In the last two cases God threatened that He would destroy the whole congregation (cf. Num 16:21 and Num 17:9-10); and on both occasions the Lord drew back His hand at the intercession of Moses, and his actual intervention (Num 16:22 and Num 17:11.), and did not destroy the whole nation for His name's sake. The statements in Eze 20:21 and Eze 20:22 rest upon these facts. The words of Eze 20:23 concerning the oath of God, that He would scatter the transgressors among the heathen, are also founded upon the Pentateuch, and not upon an independent tradition, or any special revelation from God. Dispersion among the heathen is threatened in Lev 26:33 and Deu 28:64, and there is no force in Kliefoth's argument that "these threats do not refer to the generation in the wilderness, but to a later age." For in both chapters the blessings and curses of the law are set before the people who were then in the desert; and there is not a single word to intimate that either blessing or curse would only be fulfilled upon the generations of later times.
On the contrary, when Moses addressed to the people assembled before him his last discourse concerning the renewal of the covenant (Deut 29 and 30), he called upon them to enter into the covenant, "which Jehovah maketh with thee this day" (Deu 29:12), and to keep all the words of this covenant and do them. It is upon this same discourse, in which Moses calls the threatenings of the law אלה, an oath (Deu 29:13), that "the lifting of the hand of God to swear," mentioned in Eze 20:23 of this chapter, is also founded. Moreover, it is not stated in this verse that God lifted His hand to scatter among the heathen the generation which had grown up in the wilderness, and to disperse them in the lands before their entrance into the land promised to the fathers; but simply that He had lifted His hand in the wilderness to threaten the people with dispersion among the heathen, without in any way defining the period of dispersion. In the blessings and threatenings of the law contained in Lev 26 and Deut 28-30, the nation is regarded as a united whole; so that no distinction is made between the successive generations, for the purpose of announcing this particular blessing or punishment to either one or the other. And Ezekiel acts in precisely the same way. It is true that he distinguishes the generation which came out of Egypt and was sentenced by God to die in the wilderness from the sons, i.e., the generation which grew up in the wilderness; but the latter, or the sons of those who had fallen, the generation which was brought into the land of Canaan, he regards as one with all the successive generations, and embraces the whole under the common name of "fathers" to the generation living in his day ("your fathers" Eze 20:27), as we may clearly see from the turn given to the sentence which describes the apostasy of those who came into the land of Canaan ('עוד זאת ). In thus embracing the generation which grew up in the wilderness and was led into Canaan, along with the generations which followed and lived in Canaan, Ezekiel adheres very closely to the view prevailing in the Pentateuch, where the nation in all its successive generations is regarded as one united whole. The threat of dispersion among the heathen, which the Lord uttered in the wilderness to the sons of those who were not to see the land, is also not mentioned by Ezekiel as one which God designed to execute upon the people who were wandering in the desert at the time. For if he had understood it in this sense, he would have mentioned its non-fulfilment also, and would have added a 'ואעשׂ למען שׁמי וגו, as he has done in the case of the previous threats (cf. Eze 20:22, Eze 20:14, and Eze 20:9). But we do not find this either in Eze 20:24 or Eze 20:26. The omission of this turn clearly shows that Eze 20:23 does not refer to a punishment which God designed to inflict, but did not execute for His name's sake; but that the dispersion among the heathen, with which the transgressors of His commandments were threatened by God when in the wilderness, is simply mentioned as a proof that even in the wilderness the people, whom God had determined to lead into Canaan, were threatened with that very punishment which had now actually commenced, because rebellious Israel had obstinately resisted the commandments and rights of its God.
These remarks are equally applicable to Eze 20:25 and Eze 20:26. These verses are not to be restricted to the generation which was born in the wilderness and gathered to its fathers not long after its entrance into Canaan, but refer to their descendants also, that is to say, to the fathers of our prophet's contemporaries, who were born and had died in Canaan. God gave them statutes which were not good, and rights which did not bring them life. It is perfectly self-evident that we are not to understand by these statutes and rights, which were not good, either the Mosaic commandments of the ceremonial law, as some of the Fathers and earlier Protestant commentators supposed, or the threatenings contained in the law; so that this needs no elaborate proof. The ceremonial commandments given by God were good, and had the promise attached to them, that obedience to them would give life; whilst the threats of punishment contained in the law are never called חקּים and משׁפּטים. Those statutes only are called "not good" the fulfilment of which did not bring life or blessings and salvation. The second clause serves as an explanation of the first. The examples quoted in Eze 20:26 show what the words really mean. The defiling in their sacrificial gifts (Eze 20:26), for example, consisted in their causing that which opened the womb to pass through, i.e., in the sacrifice of the first-born. העביר כּל־פּטר points back to Exo 13:12; only ליהוה, which occurs in that passage, is omitted, because the allusion is not to the commandment given there, but to its perversion into idolatry. This formula is used in the book of Exodus (l.c.) to denote the dedication of the first-born to Jehovah; but in Eze 20:13 this limitation is introduced, that the first-born of man is to be redeemed. העביר signifies a dedication through fire (= העביר בּאשׁ, Eze 20:31), and is adopted in the book of Exodus, where it is joined to ליהוה, in marked opposition to the Canaanitish custom of dedicating children of Moloch by februation in fire (see the comm. on ex. Eze 13:12). The prophet refers to this Canaanitish custom, and cites it as a striking example of the defilement of the Israelites in their sacrificial gifts (טמּא, to make unclean, not to declare unclean, or treat as unclean). That this custom also made its way among the Israelites, is evident from the repeated prohibition against offering children through the fire to Moloch (Lev 18:21 and Deu 18:10). When, therefore, it is affirmed with regard to a statute so sternly prohibited in the law of God, that Jehovah gave it to the Israelites in the wilderness, the word נתן (give) can only be used in the sense of a judicial sentence, and must not be taken merely as indicating divine permission; in other words, it is to be understood, like Th2 2:11 ("God sends them strong delusion") and Act 7:42 ("God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven"), in the sense of hardening, whereby whoever will not renounce idolatry is so given up to its power, that it draws him deeper and deeper in. This is in perfect keeping with the statement in Eze 20:26 as the design of God in doing this: "that I might fill them with horror;" i.e., might excite such horror and amazement in their minds, that if possible they might be brought to reflect and to return to Jehovah their God.
Israel committed these sins in Canaan also, and to this day has not given them up; therefore God will not allow the idolatrous generation to inquire of Him. - Eze 20:27. Therefore speak to the house of Israel, O son of man, and say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Still further have your fathers blasphemed me in this, with the faithlessness which they have shown toward me. Eze 20:28. When I had brought them into the land, which I had lifted my hand to give them, then they looked out every high hill and every thickly covered tree, and offered their sacrifices there, and gave their irritating gifts there, and presented the fragrance of their pleasant odour there, and poured out their drink-offerings there. Eze 20:29. And I said to them, What height is that to which ye go? And its name is called Height to this day. Eze 20:30. Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, What? Do ye defile yourselves in the way of your fathers; and go whoring after their abominations; Eze 20:31. And defile yourselves in all your idols to this day, by lifting up your gifts, and causing your sons to pass through the fire; and should I let myself be inquired of by you? As I live, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah, I will not let myself be inquired of by you. - The לכן in Eze 20:27 is resumed in Eze 20:30; and there the answer given by God to the elders, who had come to inquire of Him, is first communicated, after an express declaration of the fact that Israel had continued its idolatry in the most daring manner, even after its entrance into Canaan. But the form in which this is done - עוד זאת, "still further in this" - is to be understood as intimating that the conduct of the fathers of the existing generation, and therefore not merely of those who grew up in the wilderness, but also of those who had lived in Canaan, has already been described in general terms in the preceding verses, and that what follows simply adds another novel feature. But this can only be the case if Eze 20:23-26 are taken in the sense given above. זאת is an accusative; and גּדּף is construed with the accusative both of the person and thing. The more precise definition of זאת is not given in בּמעלם בּי ni nev at the end of the verse, but in the idolatry depicted in Eze 20:28. מעל refers to the faithlessness involved in the breach of the covenant and in idolatry. This is the general description; whilst the idolatry mentioned in Eze 20:28 constituted one particular feature, in which the faithlessness appeared in the form of blasphemy. For the fact itself, namely, the worship on high places, which was practised on every hand, see Eze 6:13; Eze 16:24-25; Kg1 14:23; Kg2 17:10.
In the enumeration of the offerings, there is something striking in the position in which כּעס קרבּנם stands, namely, between the slaughtered sacrifices (זבחים) and the increase- and drink-offerings; and this is no doubt the reason why the clause 'ויּתּנוּ שׁם וגו is omitted from the Cod. Vat. and Alex. of the lxx; and even Hitzig proposes to strike it out. But Theodoret found this reading in the Alex. Version; and Hitzig is wrong in affirming that קרבּן is used in connection with sacrifices, meat-offerings, and drink-offerings. The meat-offerings are not expressly named, for ריה ניחוח does not signify meat-offerings, but is used in the law for the odour of all the offerings, both slaughtered sacrifices and meat-offerings, even though in Eze 16:19 it is applied to the odour of the bloodless offerings alone. And in the same way does קרבּן embrace all the offerings, even the slain offerings, in Eze 40:43, in harmony with Lev 1:2; Lev 2:1, and other passages. That it is used in this general signification here, is evident from the introduction of the word כּעס, irritation or provocation of their gifts, i.e., their gifts which provoked irritation on the part of God, because they were offered to idols. As this sentence applies to all the sacrifices (bloody and bloodless), so also does the clause which follows, 'ויּשׂימוּ שׁם וגו, refer to all the offerings which were burned upon the altar, without regard to the material employed. Consequently Ezekiel mentions only slain offerings and drink-offerings, and, by the two clauses inserted between, describes the offering of the slaughtered sacrifices as a gift of irritation to God, and of pleasant fragrance to the idolatrous worshippers who presented them. He does not mention the meat-offerings separately, because they generally formed an accompaniment to the slain offerings, and therefore were included in these. But although God had called the people to account for this worship on high places, they had not relinquished it even "to this day." This is no doubt the meaning of. Eze 20:29, which has been interpreted in very different ways. The context shows, in the most conclusive manner, that הבּמה is to be taken collectively, and that the use of the singular is to be explained from the antithesis to the one divinely appointed Holy Place in the temple, and not, as Kimchi and Hvernick suppose, from any allusion to one particular bâmâh of peculiar distinction, viz., "the great high place at Gibeon." The question מה is not expressive of contempt (Hitzig), but "is founded upon the assumption that they would have to give an account of their doings; and merely asks, What kind of heights are those to which you are going? Who has directed you to go thither with your worship?" (Kliefoth). There is no need to refute the trivial fancy of J. D. Michaelis, which has been repeated by Hitzig, namely, that Ezekiel has taken בּמה as a derivative from בא and מה. Again, the question does not presuppose a word addressed by God to Israel, which Ezekiel only has handed down to us; but is simply a rhetorical mode of presenting the condemnation by God of the worship of the high places, to which both the law and the earlier prophets had given utterance. The next clause, "and their name was called Height" (high place), is not to be regarded as containing merely a historical notice of the name given to these idolatrous places of worship; but the giving of the name is a proof of the continued existence of the thing; so that the words affirm, that notwithstanding the condemnation on the part of God, Israel had retained these high places, - had not abolished them to this day. - Eze 20:30 and Eze 20:31 facilitate the transition from the first part of this word of God to the second. What has already been said in vv. 5-29 concerning the idolatry of the people, from the time of its election onwards, is here expressly applied to the existing generation, and carries with it the declaration to them, that inasmuch as they are defiling themselves by idolatry, as their fathers did, Jehovah cannot permit Himself to be inquired of by them. The thought is couched in the form of a question, to express astonishment that those who denied the Lord, and dishonoured Him by their idolatry, should nevertheless imagine that they could obtain revelations from Him. The lifting up (שׂאת, from נשׂא) of gifts signifies the offering of sacrifices upon the altars of the high places. For Eze 20:31, compare Eze 20:3. - With this declaration God assigns the reason for the refusal to listen to idolaters, which had already been given in Eze 20:3. But it does not rest with this refusal. God now proceeds to disclose to them the thoughts of their own hearts, and announces to them that He will refine them by severe judgments, and bring them thereby to repentance of their sins, that He may then gather them out of the dispersion, and make them partakers of the promised salvation as a people willingly serving Him. - In this way do Eze 20:32-44 cast a prophetic glance over the whole of the future history of Israel.
The Judgment Awaiting Israel of Purification among the Heathen
Eze 20:32. And that which riseth up in your mind shall not come to pass, in that ye say, We will be like the heathen, like the families of the lands, to serve wood and stone. Eze 20:33. As I live, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah, with strong hand and with outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, will I rule over you. Eze 20:34. And I will bring you out of the nations, and gather you out of the lands in which ye have been scattered, with strong hand and with outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, Eze 20:35. And will bring you into the desert of the nations, and contend with you there face to face. Eze 20:36. As I contended with your fathers in the desert of the land of Egypt, so will I contend with you, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah. Eze 20:37. And I will cause you to pass through under the rod, and bring you into the bond of the covenant. Eze 20:38. And I will separate from you the rebellious, and those who are apostates from me; out of the land of their sojourning will I lead them out, but into the land of Israel shall they not come; that ye may know that I am Jehovah. - העלה על רוּח, that which rises up in the spirit, is the thought that springs up in the mind. What this thought was is shown in Eze 20:32, viz., we will be like the heathen in the lands of the earth, to serve wood and stone; that is to say, we will become idolaters like the heathen, pass into heathenism. This shall not take place; on the contrary, God will rule over them as King with strong arm and fury. The words, "with strong hand and stretched-out arm," are a standing expression in the Pentateuch for the mighty acts by which Jehovah liberated His people from the power of the Egyptians, and led them out of Egypt (cf. Exo 6:1, Exo 6:6 with וּבמשׁפּטים גּדולים). Here, on the contrary, they are connected with בּחמה שׁפוּכה, and are used in Eze 20:33 with reference to the government of God over Israel, whilst in Eze 20:34 they are applied to the bringing out of Israel from the midst of the heathen. By the introduction of the clause "with fury poured out," the manifestation of the omnipotence of God which Israel experience in its dispersion, and which it was still to experience among the heathen, is described as an emanation of the divine wrath, a severe and wrathful judgment. The leading and gathering of Israel out of the nations (Eze 20:34) is neither their restoration from the existing captivity in Babylon, nor their future restoration to Canaan on the conversion of the people who were still hardened, and therefore rejected by God. The former assumption would be decidedly at variance with both מן העמּים and מן הארצות, since Israel was dispersed only throughout one land and among one people at the time of the Babylonian captivity. Moreover, neither of the assumptions is reconcilable with the context, more especially with Eze 20:35. According to the context, this leading out is an act of divine anger, which Israel is to feel in connection therewith; and this cannot be affirmed of either the redemption of the people out of the captivity in Babylon, or the future gathering of Israel from its dispersion. According to Eze 20:35, God will conduct those who are brought out from the nations and gathered together out of the lands into the desert of the nations, and contend with them there. The "desert of the nations" is not the desert lying between Babylonia and Palestine, on the coastlands of the Mediterranean, through which the Israelites would have to pass on their way home from Babylon (Rosenmller, Hitzig, and others). For there is no imaginable reason why this should be called the desert of the nations in distinction from the desert of Arabia, which also touched the borders of several nations. The expression is doubtless a typical one, the future guidance of Israel being depicted as a repetition of the earlier guidance of the people from Egypt to Canaan; as it also is in Hos 2:16. All the separate features in the description indicate this, more especially Eze 20:36 and Eze 20:37, where it is impossible to overlook the allusion to the guidance of Israel in the time of Moses.
The more precise explanation of the words must depend, however, upon the sense in which we are to understand the expression, "desert of the land of Egypt." Here also the supposition that the Arabian desert is referred to, because it touched the border of Egypt, does not furnish a sufficient explanation. It touched the border of Canaan as well. Why then did not Ezekiel name it after the land of Canaan? Evidently for no other reason than that the time spent by the Israelites in the Arabian desert resembled their sojourn in Egypt much more closely than their settlement in Canaan, because, while there, they were still receiving their training for their entrance into Canaan, and their possession and enjoyment of its benefits, just as much as in the land of Egypt. And in a manner corresponding to this, the "desert of the nations" is a figurative expression applied to the world of nations, from whom they were indeed spiritually distinct, whilst outwardly they were still in the midst of them, and had to suffer from their oppression. Consequently the leading of Israel out of the nations (Eze 20:34) is not a local and corporeal deliverance out of heathen lands, but a spiritual severance from the heathen world, in order that they might not be absorbed into it or become inseparably blended with the heathen. God will accomplish this by means of severe chastisements, by contending with them as He formerly contended with their fathers in the Arabian desert. God contends with His people when He charges them with their sin and guilt, not merely in words, but also with deeds, i.e., through chastening and punishments. The words "face to face" point back to Deu 5:4 : "Jehovah talked with you face to face in the mount, out of the midst of the fire." Just as at Sinai the Lord talked directly with Israel, and made know to it the devouring fire of His own holy nature, in so terrible a manner that all the people trembled and entreated Moses to act the part of a mediator between them, promising at the same time obedience to him (Exo 20:19); so will the Lord make Himself known to Israel in the desert of the world of nations with the burning zeal of His anger, that it may learn to fear Him. This contending is more precisely defined in Eze 20:37 and Eze 20:38. I will cause you to pass through under the (shepherd's) rod. A shepherd lets his sheep pass through under his rod for the purpose of counting them, and seeing whether they are in good condition or not (vid., Jer 33:13). The figure is here applied to God. Like a shepherd, He will cause His flock, the Israelites, to pass through under His rod, i.e., take them into His special care, and bring them "into the bond of the covenant" (מסרת, not from מסר Raschi, but from אסר, for מאסרה, a fetter); that is to say, not "I will bind myself to you and you to me by a new covenant" (Bochart, Hieroz. I. p. 508), for this is opposed to the context, but, as the Syriac version has rendered it, b-mardûtâ (in disciplina), "the discipline of the covenant." By this we are not merely to understand the covenant punishments, with which transgressors of the law are threatened, as Hvernick does, but the covenant promises must also be included. For not only the threats of the covenant, but the promises of the covenant, are bonds by which God trains His people; and אסר is not only applied to burdensome and crushing fetters, but to the bonds of love as well (vid., Sol 7:6). Kliefoth understands by the fetter of the covenant the Mosaic law, as being the means employed by God to preserve the Israelites from mixing with the nations while placed in the midst of them, and to keep them to Himself, and adds the following explanation, - "this law, through which they should have been able to live, they have now to wear as a fetter, and to feel the chastisement thereof." But however correct the latter thought may be in itself, it is hardly contained in the words, "lead them into the fetter (band) of the law." Moreover, although the law did indeed preserve Israel from becoming absorbed into the world of nations, the fact that the Jews were bound to the law did not bring them to the knowledge of the truth, or bring to pass the purging of the rebellious from among the people, to which Eze 20:38 refers. All that the law accomplished in this respect in the case of those who lived among the heathen was effected by its threatenings and its promises, and not by its statutes and their faithful observance. This discipline will secure the purification of the people, by severing from the nation the rebellious and apostate. God will bring them forth out of the land of this pilgrimage, but will not bring them into the land of Israel. ארץ is the standing epithet applied in the Pentateuch to the land of Canaan, in which the patriarchs lived as pilgrims, without coming into actual possession of the land (cf. Gen 17:8; Gen 28:4; Gen 36:7; Exo 6:4). This epithet Ezekiel has transferred to the lands of Israel's exile, in which it was to lead a pilgrim-life until it was ripe for entering Canaan. הוציא, to lead out, is used here for clearing out by extermination, as the following clause, "into the land of Israel shall they not come," plainly shows. The singular יבוא is used distributively: not one of the rebels will enter.
The Ultimate Gathering of Israel, and Its Conversion to the Lord
Eze 20:39. Ye then, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Go ye, serve every one his idols! but afterwards - truly ye will hearken to me, and no longer desecrate my holy name with your sacrificial gifts and your idols, Eze 20:40. But upon my holy mountain, upon the high mountain of Israel, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah, there will all the house of Israel serve me, the whole of it in the land; there will I accept them gladly; there will I ask for your heave-offerings and the first-fruits of your gifts in all that ye make holy. Eze 20:41. As a pleasant odour will I accept you gladly, when I bring you out from the nations, and gather you out of the lands, in which you have been scattered, and sanctify myself in you before the eyes of the heathen nations. Eze 20:42. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the land which I lifted up my hand to give to your fathers; Eze 20:43. And there ye will think of your ways and your deeds, with which ye have defiled yourselves, and will loathe yourselves (lit., experience loathing before yourselves) on account of all your evil deeds. which ye have performed; Eze 20:44. And ye will know that I am Jehovah, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways and according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, is the saying of Jehovah. - After the Lord has declared to the people that He will prevent its being absorbed into the heathen world, and will exterminate the ungodly by severe judgments, the address passes on, with the direction henceforth to serve idols only, to a prediction of the eventual conversion, and the restoration to Canaan of the purified nation. The direction, "Go ye, serve every one his idols," contains, after what precedes it, a powerful appeal to repent. God thereby gives up the impenitent to do whatever they will, having first of all told them that not one of them will come into the land of Canaan. Their opposition will not frustrate His plan of salvation. The words which follow from ואחר onwards have been interpreted in different ways. It is opposed to the usage of the language to connect ואחר with עבדוּ, serve ye hereafter also (De Wette, etc.), for ו has not the force of the Latin et = etiam, and still less does it signify "afterwards just as before." Nor is it allowable to connect ואחר closely with what follows, in the sense of "and hereafter also, if ye will hearken to me, profane ye my name no more" (Rosenmller, Maurer). For if תּחלּלוּ were used as an imperative, either it would have to stand at the beginning of the sentence, or it would be preceded by אל instead of לא. Moreover, the antithesis between not being willing to hear and not profaning the name of God, is imported arbitrarily into the text. The name of the Lord is profaned not only by sacrifices offered in external form to Jehovah and in the heart to idols, but also by disobedience to the word and commandments of God. It is much better to take ואחר by itself, and to render the following particle, אם, as the ordinary sign of an oath: "but afterwards (i.e., in the future)...verily, ye will hearken to me;" that is to say, ye will have been converted from your idolatry through the severe judgments that have fallen upon you. The ground for this thought is introduced in Eze 20:40 by a reference to the fact that all Israel will then serve the Lord upon His holy mountain. כּי is not "used emphatically before a direct address" (Hitzig), but has a causal signification. For 'הר מרום ישׂ, see the comm. on Eze 17:23. In the expression "all Israel," which is rendered more emphatic by the addition of כּלּה, there is an allusion to the eventual termination of the severance of the people of God (compare Eze 37:22). Then will the Lord accept with delight both them and their sacrificial gifts. תּרוּמות, heave-offerings (see the comm. on Exo 25:2 and Lev 2:9), used here in the broader sense of all the sacrificial gifts, along with which the gifts of first-fruits are specially named. משׂאות, as applied to holy offerings in the sense of ἀναθήματα, belongs to the later usage of the language. בּכל־קדשׁיכם, consisting of all your consecrated gifts. קדשׁים, as in Lev 22:15. This promise includes implicite the bringing back of Israel from its banishment. This is expressly mentioned in Eze 20:41; but even there it is only introduced as self-evident in the subordinate clause, whereas the cheerful acceptance of Israel on the part of God constitutes the leading thought.
בּריח ניחח, as an odour of delight (ב, the so-called Beth essentiae), will God accept His people. ריח ניחח, odour of satisfaction, is the technical expression for the cheerful (well-pleased) acceptance of the sacrifice, or rather of the feelings of the worshipper presenting the sacrifice, which ascend to God in the sacrificial odour (see the comm. on Gen 8:21). The thought therefore is the following: When God shall eventually gather His people out of their dispersion, He will accept them as a sacrifice well-pleasing to Him, and direct all His good pleasure towards them. ונקדּשׁתּי בכם does not mean, I shall be sanctified through you, and is not to be explained in the same sense as Lev 22:32 (Rosenmller), for ב is not equivalent to בּתוך; but it signifies "I will sanctify myself on you," as in Num 20:13; Lev 10:3, and other passages, where נקדּשׁ is construed with ב pers. (cf. Eze 28:25; Eze 36:23; Eze 38:16; Eze 39:27), in the sense of proving oneself holy, mostly by judgment, but here through having made Israel into a holy nation by the refining judgment, and one to which He can therefore grant the promised inheritance. - Eze 20:42. Then will Israel also recognise its God in His grace, and be ashamed of its former sins. For Eze 20:43, compare Eze 6:9 and Eze 16:61. - With regard to the fulfilment, as Kliefoth has correctly observed, "in the prediction contained in Eze 20:32-38, the whole of the searching judgments, by which God would lead Israel to conversion, are summed up in one, which includes not only the Babylonian captivity, the nearest and the first, but the still more remote judgment, namely, the present dispersion; for it is only in the present dispersion of Israel that God has really taken it into the wilderness of the nations, just as it was only in the rejection of Christ that its rebellious attitude was fully manifested. And as the prophecy of the state of punishment combines in this way both the nearer and more remote; so are both the nearer and more distant combined in what Eze 20:40 to 44 affirm with regard to the ultimate fate of Israel." The gathering of Israel from among the heathen will be fulfilled in its conversion to Christ, and hitherto it has only taken place in very small beginnings. The principal fulfilment is still to come, when Israel, as a nation, shall be converted to Christ. With regard to the bringing back of the people into "the land of Israel," see the comm. on Ezekiel 37, where this promise is more fully expanded.
The Burning Forest
Eze 20:45. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Eze 20:46. Son of man, direct thy face toward the south, and trickle down towards the south, and prophesy concerning the forest of the field in the south land; Eze 20:47. And say to the forest of the south land, Hear the word of Jehovah; Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I kindle a fire in thee, which will consume in thee every green tree, and every dry tree: the blazing flame will not be extinguished, and all faces from the south to the north will be burned thereby. Eze 20:48. And all flesh shall see that I, Jehovah, have kindled it: it shall not be extinguished. Eze 20:49. And I said, Ah, Lord Jehovah! they say of me, Does he not speak in parables? - The prophet is to turn his face toward the south, and prophesy concerning the forest of the field there. הטּיף is used for prophesying, as in Amo 7:16 and Mic 2:6, Mic 2:11. The distinction between the three epithets applied to the south is the following: תּימן is literally that which lies on the right hand, hence the south is a particular quarter of the heavens; דּרום, which only occurs in Ezekiel and Ecclesiastes, with the exception of Deu 33:23 and Job 37:17, is derived from דּרר, to shine or emit streams of light, and probably signifies the brilliant quarter; נגב, the dry, parched land, is a standing epithet for the southern district of Palestine and the land of Judah (see the comm. on Jos 15:21). - The forest of the field in the south is a figure denoting the kingdom of Judah (נגב is in apposition to השּׂדה, and is appended to it as a more precise definition). שׂדה is not used here for a field, as distinguished from a city or a garden; but for the fields in the sense of country or territory, as in Gen 14:7 and Gen 32:3. In Eze 20:47, יער , forest of the south land, is the expression applied to the same object (הנגב, with the article, is a geographical term for the southern portion of Palestine). The forest is a figure signifying the population, or the mass of people. Individual men are trees. The green tree is a figurative representation of the righteous man, and the dry tree of the ungodly (Eze 21:3, compare Luk 23:31). The fire which Jehovah kindles is the fire of war. The combination of the synonyms להבת שׁלהבת, flame of the flaming brightness, serves to strengthen the expression, and is equivalent to the strongest possible flame, the blazing fire. כּל־פּנים, all faces are not human faces or persons, in which case the prophet would have dropped the figure; but pânim denotes generally the outside of things, which is the first to feel the force of the flame. "All the faces" of the forest are every single thing in the forest, which is caught at once by the flame. In Eze 21:4, kŏl-pânim (all faces) is interpreted by kŏl̇-bâsar (all flesh). From south to north, i.e., through the whole length of the land. From the terrible fierceness of the fire, which cannot be extinguished, every one will know that God has kindled it, that it has been sent in judgment. The words of the prophet himself, in Eze 20:49, presuppose that he has uttered these parabolic words in the hearing of the people, and that they have ridiculed them as obscure (mâshâl is used here in the sense of obscure language, words difficult to understand, as παραβολή also is in Mat 13:10). At the same time, it contains within itself request that they may be explained. This request is granted; and the simile is first of all interpreted in Eze 21:1-7, and then still further expanded in Eze 21:8.