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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ezekiel 20

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XX.

God refuseth to be consulted by the elders of Israel: he sheweth the history of their rebellions in Egypt, in the wilderness, and in the land: he promiseth to gather them by the Gospel. Under the name of a forest he sheweth the destruction of Jerusalem.

Before Christ 592.


Verse 1

Ezekiel 20:1. It came to pass in the seventh year That is, from the captivity of Jeconiah: see chap. Ezekiel 8:1. The occasion of the prophesy in the present chapter was this. The Jews, by certain of their elders, had, as was usual in their distresses, recourse to the God of Israel for direction and assistance. On this, we are informed, Ezekiel 20:3 that the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel, commanding him to tell the elders, that God would not be inquired of by them; for that their continued rebellions, from their coming out of Egypt to that time, had made them unworthy of his patronage and protection. Their idolatries are then recapitulated, and divided into three periods: the first, from God's message to them in Egypt to their entrance into the Promised Land; the second period contains all the time from their taking possession of the land of Canaan, to their immediate condition when this prophesy was delivered; the third period concerns the iniquities and the consequent punishment of the present generation, which had now applied to him in their distresses. See Div. Leg. vol. 3: and Calmet.


Verse 4

Ezekiel 20:4. Wilt thou judge them, &c.?— Wilt thou not judge them, &c.? Lowth. Make thyself, son of man, make thyself their judge: declare to them the abominations, &c. Houbigant. This whole chapter is a kind of decree; in which the prophet, after having set forth the crimes of the Jews, pronounces against them their rejection, and the things which God will do to a faithful people, who shall serve him truly on his holy mountain. See Ezekiel 20:40 and Calmet.


Verse 5

Ezekiel 20:5. When I lifted up mine hand Lifting up the hand, was a ceremony used in taking an oath: the meaning here is, "When I entered into a solemn covenant with them, pursuant to the oath I had sworn to their fathers." But Houbigant is of opinion, that lifting up the hand, in this place, means the giving them help and deliverance. See his note. The 15th and 23rd verses, however, seem to confirm the first explication. Among the Jews, the juror held up his right hand towards heaven; which explains a passage in the 144th Psalm, Ezekiel 20:8 whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood. The same form is retained in some parts of Scotland still. See Paley on Moral and Political Philosophy, p. 159. 4to. This manner of taking an oath is allowed by law to a certain description of protestant dissenters in Ireland called Seceders. 21 & 22 Geo. 3. c. lvii.


Verse 6

Ezekiel 20:6. Flowing with milk and honey Bochart, Hier. p. ii. lib. iv. c. xii. 520 observes, that this phrase occurs about twenty times in the Scriptures; and that it is an image frequently used in the classics.

The glory of all lands The construction of this expression may be, "This [circumstance of flowing with milk and honey] is a glory to all lands." But the rendering of Vitringa, "Quae est egregia inter omnes terras," is a probable one, and founded in truth. "That land is the glory." Secker. "Judaea uber solum. Exuberant fruges nostrum ad morem." Tac. Hist. v. sec. 6. Commentators understand fruges of corn, wine, and olives. "Non minor loci ejus apricitatis quam ubertatis admiratio est," says Justin of the valley of Jericho, lib. xxxvi. c. iii. Josephus represents Galilee as wholly under culture, and everywhere fruitful; as throughout abounding in pastures, planted with all kinds of trees, and inciting by the good quality of the land those who are least disposed to the labour of tillage. He describes Perea as for the most part barren and rough, and too churlish for the growth of cultivated fruits: but adds that, where, there is soil, it bears every thing; that the plains are planted with various trees; and that it is chiefly prepared for the produce of the olive, the vine, and the palm-tree. He observes, that the nature of Samaria differs in nothing from that of Judaea, that both have mountains and plains, have soil for agriculture, bear much, are planted with trees, and are full of wild and of cultivated fruits. Bel. Jud. lib. iii. c. iii. Again, B. J. lib. vi. c. i. sec. 1. we find, that when the Romans besieged Jerusalem, they laid bare a country round about that city ninety stadia in circuit, which had been before adorned with trees and gardens. See Numbers 13:27. Deuteronomy 8:7-9. 1 Kings 5:11. 2 Kings 18:32. Pietro della Valle in Shaw's Travels, 4to. p. 337. That the mountains were cultivated is plain. See Psalms 72:16. Isaiah 5:1; Isaiah 7:25.

Juvat Ismara Baccho Conserere, atque olea magnum vestire Taburnum. VIRG. G. ii. 37.

For open Ismarus will Bacchus please; Taburnus loves the shade of olive-trees. DRYDEN.

"We were drawn up the Rhine by horses. The grapes grow on the brant rocks so wonderfully, that ye will marvel how men dare climb up to them; and yet so plentifully, that it is not only a marvel where men be found to labour it, but also where men dwell that drink it." Ascham's Letters, 4E. p. 372. How some of the mountains were cultivated we learn from Maundrell. "Their manner was, to gather up the stones, and place them in several lines along the sides of the hills, in the form of a wall. By such borders they supported the mould from tumbling, or being washed down; and formed many beds of excellent soil, rising gradually one above another, from the bottom to the top of the mountains. Of this form of culture you see evident footsteps, wherever you go in all the mountains of Palestine." P. 65. 8vo. Oxford. 1740.


Verse 8

Ezekiel 20:8. I said, I will pour out my fury I thought to pour out, &c. and so Ezekiel 20:13; Ezekiel 20:21. We do not read in the book of Exodus, that the Israelites worshipped the idols of Egypt. It is only collected from that book, that they were idolaters in Egypt, because they were so prone to idolatry in the wilderness, in the very midst of God's miracles. But from the manner in which the prophet here upbraids them, we learn that the history of the Israelites is written very compendiously in the books of Moses; and that we may very properly supply some things in the sacred history, in order to explain difficult places, so long as we are led by the hand as it were, and authorized by the sacred writers. See Houbigant.


Verse 9

Ezekiel 20:9. But I wrought for my name's sake This in other parts of Scripture is assigned as the reason why God did not punish the Israelites as they deserved; namely, because it would turn to the dishonour of the Almighty in the judgment of the heathen world, as if he was not able to make good the gracious promises which he had given them. We see throughout the whole Scripture this jealousy, this zeal in the Lord to preserve the honour of his name, and to put to silence the insults and reproaches of unbelievers. Sea Calmet, and Lowth.


Verse 11-12

Ezekiel 20:11-12. I gave them my statutes That is, says Bishop Warburton, he gave them the moral law of the decalogue, in which there was one positive institution, and no more; but this one absolutely necessary to preserve them a select people unmixed with the nations. By the word שׁבתותי shabbetotai, my sabbaths, says Houbigant, are understood those other solemnities, which, no less than the sabbaths strictly speaking, were a sign whereby God was known to be the God of Israel.


Verses 18-20

Ezekiel 20:18-20. Walk ye not, &c.— Walk ye not in the customs of your fathers, nor pursue their manners, &c. Here we see that the children or progeny were again offered, as their sole rule of government what had been given to, and violated by their fathers; namely, the moral law of the decalogue, and the positive institution of the sabbath.


Verse 21

Ezekiel 20:21. Which if a man do, he shall even live in them These statutes were therefore good ones. But they had been scattered among the heathen, and dispersed through the countries, because, as God complains, they had not executed his judgments, but despised his sabbaths; he adds, therefore, Ezekiel 20:25. Wherefore, namely because of their disobedience, I gave them statutes which were not good, that is to say, did not eventually prove of that advantage and benefit to them which they otherwise would have done; and judgments (as it should be rendered) which they will not live by; that is to say, by a due observance of which they will not secure their own prosperity and safety. See Romans 7:10 and Chandler's Life of David, vol. 1: p. 2.


Verse 23

Ezekiel 20:23. That I would scatter them, &c.— We do not read in the history of the Israelites in the wilderness, that they were scattered through the countries by their God, when enraged against them. But what Ezekiel here supplies in the history is easily collected from God's desertion of the Israelites when they were disobedient and rebellious: for thus he delivered them to the Amalekites. Thus also the neighbouring Arabs might carry off many of them captives; and thus also all the neighbouring people might attack and distress them with war. See Houbigant.


Verse 25

Ezekiel 20:25. I gave them also statues that were not good This passage has given great handle to infidels and free-thinkers, though certainly it will admit of more interpretations than one, clear and consistent, and sufficient to remove every objection. I will subjoin two; the first espoused by Dr. Waterland and Vitringa; the second by Spencer, Bishop Warburton, and others; leaving the decision to the reader's judgment. I. God intends not here his own statutes or judgments, but the idolatrous and corrupt principles and practices of the heathens, to which he sometimes abandoned the Israelites, because they had first deserted him. That this is the genuine sense of the text, may be made appear as follows. 1. It is observable, that God here describes these statutes and judgments by characters directly opposite to what he gives of his own. In Ezekiel 20:11; Ezekiel 20:13; Ezekiel 20:21 he says; I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments; which if a man do, he shall even live in them; characters conformable to what he had given in Leviticus 18:4-5 where he says, Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances to walk therein; I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments; which if a man do, he shall live in them: (Compare Romans 10:5. Galatians 3:12.) which is plainly to be understood of the whole system of the Jewish laws; to the keeping of which life was promised, as to the breach of any of them a curse was annexed. See Deuteronomy 27:26. Galatians 3:10. The character then of God's laws, ritual as well as others, was, that a man shall live in them. But in the verse before us, God says, I gave them also statutes [not my statutes] and judgments [not my judgments] whereby they should not live; directly contrary to what he had before said both here and in Leviticus, of his own statutes at large. So that it is highly unreasonable, or rather absurd, to understand both of God's own statutes. 2. In Ezekiel 20:11. God had spoken of giving his own laws to his people; and Ezekiel 20:13 he proceeds to speak of their frowardness, and contemning those his laws, and of his forbearance with them in the wilderness notwithstanding. But at length, in punishment to them, he did what he mentions in the verse before us. So that these statutes cannot be the same with those laws of Moses given before, but must be different. 3. God immediately adds, Ezekiel 20:26. And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire (to be sacrificed, or consecrated in fire to Moloch) all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate. This may be sufficient to intimate what kind of statutes and judgments God is here speaking of; namely, the rites and practices of the heathen, whereby he polluted them, that is, gave them up to their own heart's lusts, to defile and pollute themselves: wherefore it is said, Ezekiel 20:31. When ye offer your gifts, &c. ye pollute yourselves, &c. The Israelites had provoked God many ways, and more especially by their frequent idolatries; and therefore God gave them up to the vilest and most deplorable idolatry, namely, that of sacrificing their sons and daughters to devils, offering them up as burnt-offerings to Moloch. These were the statutes not good; that is to say, the worst that could be, for such is the force of that expression according to the Hebrew idiom. It is said moreover, Ezekiel 20:18. Walk not in the statutes of your fathers, &c. Here we have mention of statutes and judgments by the same words in the Hebrew as in the present verse; not meaning, however, God's statutes or judgments, but the corrupt customs of their idolatrous ancestors; such as God permitted, or gave them up to, because they chose such, as is here intimated. The original word נתן natan, is frequently used in the permissive sense; and therefore I gave them, may amount to no more than, I suffered such things. See Poole's Annotations. 4. St. Stephen, Acts 7:42 seems to have been the best interpreter of the text before us, who says, God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, &c. This was giving them up to statutes that were not good, and to judgments whereby they should not live; to the corrupt customs and impure rites of the heathen. To confirm this, we may observe, that God, by the prophet Jeremiah, (chap. Ezekiel 16:13 compare Deuteronomy 4:27-28; Deuteronomy 28:36-37.) threatens the like judgments to his offending people: and in like manner of Ezekiel in the 39th verse of this very chapter. The Chaldee paraphrast interprets the text before us thus; I cast them out, and delivered them into the hand of their enemies; and they went after their own foolish lusts, and made statutes which were not right, and laws by which you shall not live. See Waterland's Scripture Vindicated, part 3: p. 104. &c. and Vitringa, Observ. Sacr. lib. 2: cap. 1.——II. Bishop Warburton's interpretation is as follows. Their fathers, says he, left their bones in the wilderness; but this perverse race, being pardoned as a people, and still possessed of the privilege of a select and chosen nation, were neither to be scattered among the heathen, nor to be confined for ever in the wilderness. Almighty wisdom, therefore, ordained that their punishment should be such as should continue them, even against their wills, a separated race in possession of the land of Canaan; a punishment declared by these words, Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, &c. that is to say, "Because they had violated my first system of laws, the decalogue, I added to them, [I gave them also, words which imply the giving as a supplement] my second system, the ritual law; very aptly characterised (when set in opposition to the moral law) by statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live." What is here observed opens to us the admirable reasons of both punishments, and why there was a forbearance, or a second trial, before the yoke of ordinances was imposed: for we must never forget, that the God of Israel transacted with his people according to the mode of human governors. Let this be kept in mind, and we shall see the admirable progress of the dispensation. God brought the fathers out of Egypt, to put them in possession of the land of Canaan. He gave them the moral law, to distinguish them for the worshippers of the true God; and he gave them the positive law of the sabbath, to distinguish them for God's peculiar people. These fathers proving perverse and rebellious, their punishment was death in the wilderness, and exclusion from that good land which was reserved for their children. But then these children in that very wilderness, the scene of the fathers' crime and calamity, fell into the same transgressions. What was now to be done? It was plain, that so inveterate an evil could be only checked or subdued by the curb of some severe institution. A severe institution was prepared, and the ritual law was established. For the first offence the punishment was personal; but when a repetition shewed it to be inbred, and, like the leprosy, sticking to the whole race, the punishment was properly changed to national. How clear! How coherent is every thing, as here explained! How consonant to reason! How full of divine wisdom! Yet we are told by the Rabbens, who hold the perfection and eternal obligation of their law, that the statutes not good, were the tributes imposed on the Israelites while in subjection to their pagan neighbours. And Christian writers, who did not attend to the subtilty of this explication, have pretended that the statutes given, which were not good, were pagan idolatries, not given, but suffered; indeed not suffered; because severely, and almost always immediately punished. But the absurdity of this supposition is best exposed by the prophet himself, as his words lie in the text. God's first intention with respect to these rebels, is represented to be the renouncing them for his people, and scattering them among the nations; Ezekiel 20:21. But his mercy prevails; Ezekiel 20:22. In these two verses we see, that the punishment intended, and the mercy shewn, are delivered in general, without the circumstances of the punishment, or the conditions of the mercy. The three next verses, in the mode of eastern composition, which delights in repetition, inform us more particularly of these circumstances, which were dispersion, &c. and of these conditions, which were the imposition of a ritual law, &c. The intended punishment is explained specifically, that is, with its circumstances; the mercy follows, and the terms on which it was bestowed are likewise explained. Whatever is meant by statutes not good, the end of giving them, we see, was, to preserve the Israelites a peculiar people of the Lord; for the punishment of dispersion was remitted to them. But if by statutes not good, be meant the permitting them to fall into idolatries, God is absurdly represented as decreeing an end—the keeping of his people separate—and at the same time providing means to defeat it: for every lapse into idolatry was a step to their dispersion, and utter consumption, by absorbing them into the nations. We must needs conclude therefore, that by statutes not good, is meant the ritual law; the only means of attaining that end of mercy; the preserving them a separate people. See Div. Leg. vol. 3: book 4: p. 394, &c.


Verse 26

Ezekiel 20:26. And I polluted them, &c.— The common interpretation, says Bishop Warburton, is this: "I permitted them to fall into that wicked inhumanity, whereby they were polluted and contaminated, in making their children pass through the fire to Moloch, in order to root them out, and utterly destroy them." But this explanation hath already been exposed in the note on the preceding verse; and there is another, which so exactly quadrates with the sense given to that verse, that it completes the narrative. To understand then what this formidable text aims at, we must consider the context as it has been explained above. The 21st and 22nd verses contain God's purposes of judgment and of mercy in general. The 23rd, 24th, and 25th explain in what the intended judgment would have consisted, and how the prevailing mercy was qualified. The Israelites were to be pardoned [as a nation], but to be kept under by the yoke of a ritual law described only in general by the title of Statutes not good. The 26th verse opens the matter still farther, and explains the nature and genius of that yoke, together with its effects, both salutary and baleful: the salutary, as it was a barrier to idolatry, the most enormous part of which was that whereof he gives a specimen, "the causing their children to pass through the fire to Moloch;" the baleful, as it brought on their desolation when they became deprived of the temple-worship. But to be more particular,—I polluted them in their own gifts: by gifts we may understand, that homage (universally expressed in the ancient world by rites of sacrifice) which a people owed to their God. And how were these gifts polluted? By a multifarious ritual, which, being opposed to the idolatries of the nations, was prescribed in reference to those idolatries; and consequently was incumbered with a thousand ceremonies respecting the choice of the animal; the qualities and purifications of the sacrificers; and the direction and efficacy of each specific offering. This account of their pollution by such a ritual, exactly answers to the character given of that ritual [statutes not good, &c.] in the verse before. Then follows the reason of God's thus polluting them in their own gifts—in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb; that is, the polluting ritual was imposed as a punishment for, as well as a barrier to their idolatries, characterised under this most enormous and horrid of them all, the causing of their children to pass through the fire to Moloch. Then follows the humiliating circumstance of this ritual yoke:—that I might make them desolate; that is to say, that they should, even when they most wanted it, be deprived of their most solemn means of intercourse with their God and King. A real state of desolation! To understand which, we are to consider, that at the time this prophesy was delivered, the Jews, by their accumulated iniquities, were accelerating their punishment of the seventy years' captivity; which doubtless the prophet had in his eye. Now, by the peculiar constitution of the ritual law, their religion was become, as it were, local: all sacrifices being to be offered in Jerusalem: so that when they were led captive into a foreign land, the most solemn means of intercourse at that time between God and man, the morning and evening sacrifice, was entirely cut off: and thus, by means of the ritual law, they were emphatically said to be made desolate. The verse concludes with telling us for what end this punishment was inflicted,—That they might know that I am the Lord. How would this appear from the premises? very evidently. For if, while they were in captivity, they were under an interdict, and their religion in a state of suspension, and yet they were to continue God's select people, (for the scope of the whole prophesy is to shew, that notwithstanding all these provocations, God still worked for his name's sake,) then, in order to be restored to their religion, they were to be restored to their own land; which work prophesy always describes as one of the greatest manifestations of God's power; their redemption from the Assyrian captivity particularly, being frequently compared by the prophets to that of the Egyptian. From hence, therefore, all men might know and collect, that the God of Israel was the Lord. This famous text then may be thus aptly paraphrased, "And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the Lord:" that is to say, I loaded the religious worship due to me as their God, with a number of operose ceremonies, to punish their past, and to oppose their future idolatries; the most abominable of which was, their making their children to pass through the fire to Moloch. And farther, that I might have the ceremonial law always at hand, as an instrument of still more severe punishments, when the full measure of their iniquities should bring them into captivity in a strange land, I so contrived by the constitution of their religion, that it should then remain under an interdict, and all stated intercourse be cut off between me and them; from which evil would necessarily arise this advantage,—an occasion to manifest my power to the Gentiles, in bringing my people again, after a fixed time of punishment, into their own land. Here we see the text, thus interpreted, connects and completes the whole relation, concerning the imposition of the ritual law, and its nature and consequences, from Ezekiel 20:21-26 inclusively; and opens the history of it by due degrees, which those just and elegant compositions require. We are first informed of the threatened judgment, and of the prevailing mercy in general: we are then told the specific nature of that judgment, and the circumstance attending the accorded mercy: and lastly, the prophet explains the nature and genius of that attendant circumstance, together with its adverse, as well as benignant effects. See Div. Leg. vol. 3: p. 401.


Verses 27-31

Ezekiel 20:27-31. Son of man, speak unto the house of Israel This prophesy hitherto contains a declaration of the various punishments inflicted on the rebellious Israelites, from the time of Moses's mission to the preaching of Ezekiel. We have shewn, that their punishment in the first period was death in the wilderness; their punishment in the second period was the fastening on their necks the yoke of the ritual law. The punishment in the third period is now to be considered; and we shall see, that it consisted in the rendering of the yoke of the ritual law still more galling, by withdrawing from them the extraordinary providence, which once rewarded the studious observers of it with many temporal blessings. The punishment was dreadful; and such indeed the prophet describes it to have been. But we may be assured that their crimes had risen in proportion; and this likewise, he tells us, was the case. Ezekiel 20:27-28 begin with a description of their manners when they had taken possession of the land of Canaan: and such was their continual practice, even till the delivery of this prophesy; at which time their enormities were come to such a height, that they contrived in their hearts to renounce the God of Israel altogether: but being surrounded with calamities, and a powerful enemy at the door, they were willing to procure a present relief from him whom they had so much offended, and at this moment were projecting to offend still more. The singular impudence of this conduct will appear to have been the instant occasion of this famous prophesy. Ezekiel 20:30-31 when joined with those that immediately follow, will convince us, that this recourse to the God of their fathers was only a momentary fit, arising from their pressing necessities. Div. Leg. vol. 3: book 4: p. 405, &c. Instead of blasphemed me, we may read, dishonoured, or affronted me.


Verse 29

Ezekiel 20:29. Then I said unto them And though I said unto them, What is the high place in which you assemble? yet the high place retained its name even to this day. Houbigant.

See commentary on Ezekiel 20:27


Verses 32-37

Ezekiel 20:32-37. And that which cometh into your mind By all this it appears, that this rebellious people were not anxious to avoid their approaching captivity, denounced and threatened by all the prophets. What they wanted was, a light and easy servitude, which might enable them to mingle with, and at last to be lost among the nations; like the ten tribes which had gone before them. Against the vileness of these hopes is this part of the prophesy directed. God assures them, that he will bring them out of the Assyrian captivity, as he had done out of the Egyptian; but not in mercy, as was that deliverance, but in judgment, and with fury poured out: and as he had brought their fathers into the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so would he bring them into the wilderness of the people, that is, the land of Canaan, which, they would find on their return to it, was become desert and uninhabited, and therefore elegantly called the wilderness of the people. But what now was to be their reception, on their second possession of the Promised Land? A very different welcome from the first. God, indeed, leads them here again with a mighty hand, and a stretched-out arm; and it was to take possession; but not, as at first, of a land flowing with milk and honey, but of a prison, a house of correction, where they were to pass under the rod, and to remain in bonds. I will cause you, says God, Ezekiel 20:37 to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: words, which strongly and elegantly express subjection to a ritual law, after the extraordinary providence which so much alleviated the yoke of it was withdrawn; and we find it withdrawn soon after their return from the captivity. See Div. Leg. as before.


Verse 38

Ezekiel 20:38. And I will purge out, &c.— The prophet carries on the comparison of the Egyptian deliverance. These rebels, like their fathers in the wilderness, were indeed to be brought out of captivity, but were never to enjoy the Promised Land; and the rest, like the children in the wilderness, were to have the yoke of the ritual law made still more galling: and thus the comparison is completed. These were the three different punishments inflicted in these different periods: the first personal; the second and the third national; only the third made heavier than the second, in proportion to their accumulated offences. Div. Leg.


Verse 39

Ezekiel 20:39. Go ye, serve ye, &c.— Go ye, and take away every one his idols; and if ye will not hereafter hearken unto me, certainly ye shall pollute my holy name no more, &c. Houbigant, who, instead of, All the house of Israel, all of them in the land, in the next verse, reads, All the house of Israel from all lands.


Verses 39-43

Ezekiel 20:39-43. As for you, O house of Israel As, in the height of God's vengeance on the sins of this rebellious people, the distant prospect always terminated in mercy; so, with a mercy, and a promise of better times, the whole of this prophetic scene is closed; in order that those to whom it is addressed should, however criminal, not be left in an utter state of desperation, but be afforded some shadow of repose in the prospect of future peace and tranquillity. For now, turning again to these temporary inquiries after God, the prophet addresses them, As for you, O house of Israel, &c. as much as to say, "Go on no longer in this divided worship; halt no more between two opinions: if Baal be your God, serve him; if the God of Israel, then serve him only." The reason follows, Ezekiel 20:40-43. For in my holy mountain, &c. that is, "For then, a new order of things shall commence. My people, after their return from the captivity, shall be as averse to idolatry, as till then they were prone to it; and the memory of their former follies shall make them loath themselves in their own sight." But the prophesy, I doubt not, has also a reference to the final restoration of the Jews as a preparation for the universal reign of Christ.


Verse 44

Ezekiel 20:44. And ye shall know, &c.— The idea of mercy is naturally attached to that of repentance and reformation; and with mercy the prophesy concludes. The reader hath now a comment on the whole prophesy, whereby he may understand how justly it hath acquired its eminent celebrity: its general subject being no less than the fate and fortunes of the Jewish republic; of which the several parts are so important, so judiciously chosen, so elegantly disposed, and so nobly enounced, that we see the divinity of the original in every step we make. Div. Leg. vol. 3: p. 410.


Verse 45

Ezekiel 20:45. Moreover, the word of the Lord Houbigant, following many learned commentators, begins the 21st chapter very properly with this verse; for what is contained in that chapter is only an explanation of what is included in the remainder of this. The south, in the next verse, and the forest of the south field, mean Judaea; because they who went from Babylon, where Ezekiel now prophesied, into Judea, went southward, and entered by the forest of Lebanon into Judaea. See Ezekiel 20:2 of the next chapter, and Houbigant.


Verse 47

Ezekiel 20:47. All faces from the south to the north, &c.— "From the south of Judaea to the north, shall be seen nothing but faces, burnt, dried up, pale; melancholy through fear, famine, grief, and despair." Isaiah makes use of a similar expression in describing the horrors of wars; Their faces shall be as flames. See ch. Ezekiel 13:8. Lamentations 4:8; Lamentations 5:10. Joel 2:6 and Calmet. Upon receiving this message from God, the prophet observes, that the people were ready to say, he spoke parables, Ezekiel 20:49. Whether this declaration of God was really as hard to be understood by them as a parable, I shall not take upon me to say; but D'Herbelot, in his Bibliotheque Orientale, has given us a passage of a Persian poet describing the desolation made by a pestilence, the terms whereof very much resemble the words of the prophet:—

"The pestilence, like an avenging fire, ruins at once this beautiful city, whose territory gives an odour surpassing that of the most excellent perfumes.

Of all its inhabitants there remains neither a young man nor an old.

This was a lightning that, falling upon a forest, consumed there the green wood with the dry."

So the pestilence and coals of fire are mentioned together by the prophet Habakkuk, chap. Ezekiel 3:5. Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet. See Observations, p. 324.


Verse 49

Ezekiel 20:49. Doth he not speak parables? Though these prophesies were clear enough, if they would have given themselves the trouble to have considered and compared them with the state of things; yet, as the understanding of them would have obliged the people to a change of conduct, the source of their obscurity is very discernible therein. It was hence that the Jews, dazzled with the evidence of what Jesus said to them, and surprised with the splendour of his miracles, demanded of him with importunity, and with a spirit of malice, that he would tell them plainly who he was; as if his doctrine and his actions did not sufficiently declare it. How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. John 10:24. See Calmet.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The date of this prophesy is in the seventh year of Jeconiah's captivity and Zedekiah's reign, the fifth month, the tenth day; and it was delivered on occasion of the elders of Israel, whether of the captivity or from Jerusalem, coming to consult the prophet, as some suppose, whether they might not, to ingratiate themselves with their heathen masters, conform to their heathen worship: certain it is, that whatever was the cause of their coming, their hearts were hypocritical, and the answer of God to them is full of wrath.

1. God refuses to be required of by them; for they who draw near to God hypocritically, can expect no mercy at his hands; their very prayers will be turned into sin.

2. The prophet must arraign and condemn them; no more their advocate, but their accuser; and now constituted their judge to pronounce sentence upon them for all their own and their fathers' abominations.

2nd, God begins to recapitulate the provocations of Israel; and they commenced from the day when he began to form them into a people.

1. He reminds them of the wonders of his grace shewn to them above all nations. He chose them for a peculiar people, in the time of their deepest affliction, and most abject wretchedness, in the land of Egypt; he made himself known unto them, by his name JEHOVAH, and by the miracles that he wrought for their deliverance; confirming his favour towards them by an oath, and assuring them of the inheritance that he had provided for them in a land flowing with milk and honey, the glory of all lands, which he espied for them, singled out with peculiar care, as the happy spot appointed for their abode. Note; None truly know God, but those in whom he is revealed.

2. The commands that he gave them were most reasonable and easy. They were enjoined to cast away every man the abominations of his eyes, and not defile themselves with the idols of Egypt. And this he enforces with the most cogent reason, I am the Lord your God, the only worthy object of worship, and to whom they were bound by unnumbered obligations.

3. They notwithstanding wilfully rebelled, and refused to hearken to God's commands, continuing in their abominations, and cleaving to the idols of Egypt; not deterred by all the plagues which they beheld.

4. By his prophets he threatened to destroy them with the Egyptians. As they had joined in their idolatry, they deserved to share their ruin. But,

5. For his name's sake he wrought, that the heathen might not blaspheme, as if he was unfaithful to his promises, or unable to accomplish them.

3rdly, The mercies of God, and the ingratitude and disobedience of the Jewish people, are displayed.

1. God's mercies toward them were amazingly great and singular. He brought them forth from Egypt with a high hand; led them into the wilderness, where they lived by daily miracles; and gave them his law, with the statutes and judgments of his worship, by the observance of which they might expect to live long, and enjoy the promised inheritance: he gave them also his sabbaths, the weekly sabbath, and the sabbatical and jubilee years, signs of his favour towards them, memorials of their deliverance from Egypt, pledges of their entrance into the rest of Canaan, and figures of the eternal rest which remains for the faithful in a better world: thus God distinguished them from all nations, and intended to make them know that he their Lord sanctified them; these holy days appointed for his immediate service, having then, as they still have, the most blessed influence upon the souls of those, who conscientiously sanctify their sabbaths to keep them holy.

2. Their ingratitude and undutifulness were most provoking. In the wilderness, where they were surrounded with mercies and miracles, they rebelled, cast off God's government, despised his ordinances, polluted his sabbaths, and sunk into idolatry.

3. Offended with such baseness, God threatened utterly to consume them in his fury. But for his own glory, that the heathen might not dishonour his name, as if he was unable to bring his people into the land of Canaan, he resolved to fulfil his promise: yet, not to leave such wickedness without a mark of his severe displeasure, he sware in his wrath concerning the men of that generation, that they should never enter into his rest; and, in consequence thereof, their carcases fell in the wilderness. Let us therefore fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of us should come short of it, and perish after the same example of unbelief and disobedience.

4. God did not make an utter end of them, but spared their children, and solemnly warned them, by their fathers' ruin, against their sins, not to walk in their statutes, or copy their worship or manners, but to flee from idolatry, to know the Lord to be their God, to worship him according to his own prescription, observant of his sabbaths, and obedient to his laws. Note; Children should take warning by their parents' ill example, and be peculiarly careful to abstain from their sins.

5. They notwithstanding rebelled against God, and trod in the steps of their ungodly fathers; sabbath-breakers, disobedient, idolaters; rejecting their own mercies, they provoked that wrath which would have destroyed them, had not God for his own glory restrained his arm, after making them feel some heavy strokes of his displeasure in the wilderness. And though, according to his promise, he brought them into the land of Canaan, he foretold the fearful dispersion to which at last they would be doomed for their transgressions. Note; (1.) Sinners are self-murderers: they might have lived, if they would have been obedient; but they prefer sin and death. (2.) They who walk in the ways of their wicked ancestors, must expect their judgments.

6. He gave them up to their own inventions. Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live. He gave them up to the idolatrous customs of the nations, and suffered them to follow the vain traditions of their apostate forefathers. Though some interpret this of the judgments that he sent upon them; others of the rites of the ceremonial law, on which depending for acceptance with God without any reference to the Messiah, they became a stumbling-block to them, instead of leading them to Christ, &c. (See the Annotations.) And I polluted them in their own gifts, suffering them to offer sacrifices to idols, even the inhuman oblations of the first-born to Moloch, to make them desolate: thus weakened by their own more than savage conduct, they became an easy prey to their enemies: to the end that they might know that I am the Lord, righteous in the punishments inflicted upon them. Note; (1.) A greater curse cannot fall upon the sinner, than to be left of God to the wickedness of his own heart. (2.) God will make himself known to sinners: if they will not receive him as their Lord and Saviour, they shall prove him to be God the avenger.

4thly, Their provocation ceased not in the wilderness; but when they came into the land of Canaan the same abominations were practised.

1. When God had fulfilled his promise to them, and brought them into the good land, they trespassed yet more and more. Instead of confining themselves to God's altar, they, in conformity to the customs of the heathen, chose hills and groves for their places of worship, and offered there their sacrifices, incense and libations, which, if offered to the God of Israel, were contrary to his precept: but probably they rather there served their idols, which made the provocation of their offering greater. And, though warned of the folly and sin of their idolatrous services, when they had God's altar to go to, they persisted in their perverseness; and the high places were to the last frequented: it is called Bamah, that is, the high place, unto this day. So inveterately rooted is the love of sin in the heart of the sinner.

2. Even after all the judgments executed upon them, the present generation committed the same abominations, polluting themselves with idols, and causing their children to pass through the fire to Moloch; with the folly and wickedness of which God justly upbraids them; and how then could they dare inquire of him? or what answer of peace could they expect from him? he swears by himself, that neither their persons nor petitions should be regarded; and their schemes of currying favour with their heathen masters, by compliances with their worship, and incorporating with them by intermarriages, he will blast: either they shall refuse to admit them to join with them, or despise them for their perfidy. Note; (1.) Little is ever got by sinful compliances: the very enemies of religion will honour those who shew steadiness and integrity; while they treat apostates with contempt. (2.) They who by a religious profession have once forfeited the world's favour, may despair of ever recovering it again.

5thly, Since they would not bow to the sceptre of his righteous government, God threatens,

1. To rule them with a rod of iron, disappointing their schemes, and pouring out his fury upon them: they shall not be suffered to mingle with the heathen, among whom they are scattered, but thence will God collect them: when the Babylonians shall have subdued these nations, they shall be brought into the wilderness of the people, be carried captives into Chaldea, and there God will judge and punish them, as he had punished their fathers in the wilderness, after they came out of Egypt. Note; They strive in vain, who seek to frustrate God's holy counsels.

2. There is mercy in reserve for a remnant, when the rebels are purged out by his judgments.

[1.] The rebels shall be for ever cut off from the congregation of the Lord; shall never more enter the land of Israel, given up to their idolatries, and totally excluded from God's worship; so that they shall pollute his holy name no more, by joining him with their idols; and at the same time that they pretended to honour him with their gifts, still continuing in their idolatry. Note; (1.) The rebellious sinner will be eternally separated at last from the congregation of the just, and never enter the rest of glory. (2.) That soul is completely miserable, which God abandons. (3.) Pretences to religion, when the heart is enslaved by idol lusts, do but add profaneness and hypocrisy to iniquity.

[2.] The faithful shall be separated, and blessed with God's regard. They shall pass under the rod, visited with corrections; and recovered in the furnace of affliction. They shall be brought again into the bond of the covenant, be acknowledged as God's people, be restored again from their dispersion to their own land, and serve God in his Zion, his holy mountain. Their oblations and their worship shall be accepted, they penitently acknowledging, bewailing, and abhorring themselves for their former transgressions; and God will be sanctified in them before the heathen, who will confess his faithfulness to his promises, his power and grace displayed in their recovery; and they shall know that he is the Lord, by experience of these his dispensations of mercy towards them, wrought not for their sakes, who deserved nothing but to perish in their iniquities, but for his own name's sake, most eminently to display his glory, as the promise-keeping and sin-pardoning God. Note; (1.) Afflictions are blessed means of good to those who are not incorrigibly impenitent. (2.) When God accepts our persons in Christ Jesus, then our poor services become a sweet savour through the Beloved. (3.) The sinner that returns to God and finds favour, sees in the glass of God's love the baseness, malignity, and ingratitude of sin, and loaths himself for all his abominations. (4.) We never know God truly, till by experience, coming to him as lost sinners, we prove the wonders of his pardoning love. (5.) All our salvation flows, not from our deserts, but God's rich mercy; and as he designs his own glory herein, to the praise of the glory of his grace it must be wholly ascribed.

6thly, We have in this chapter another prophesy, which would most properly have begun the next chapter. The subject of both is the same, the threatened ruin of Judah and Jerusalem.

1. The forest of the south field, toward which the prophet is commanded to set his face and drop his word, is the city of Jerusalem, full of inhabitants, unfruitful as the trees of the wood, and the haunt of wicked men fierce and ravenous as the beasts of the forest.

2. God threatens to kindle a fire in it, a fire of wrath; and the conflagration shall be universal, devouring and destroying all ranks, young and old without distinction, from one end of the land to the other; and none can quench it; a destruction so terrible shall mark the finger of divine vengeance, and even the surrounding heathens shall acknowledge that this is Jehovah's doing.

3. Ezekiel makes his complaint to God. Ah! Lord God, they say of me, Doth he not speak parables? they scoffed at the message that he brought them, as unintelligible; and counted it not worth their attention. Note; They who have no inclination to profit by the word of God, will always have some fault to find with the delivery of it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ezekiel 20:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/ezekiel-20.html. 1801-1803.

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