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Ezekiel 20



God's Dealings With Israel Rehearsed The Rebellions of Israel The Fall and Rise of Israel The LORD's Will and Human Defiance An Account of Israel's Infidelities
20:1-8a 20:1-4 20:1-8a 20:1-3 20:1-3
      20:4-9 20:4-17
20:8b-17   20:8b-13a    
  20:10-17   20:10-16  
20:18-26 20:18-26 20:18-21a   20:18-26
20:27-32 20:27-32 20:27-31 20:27-32 20:27-29
God Will Restore Israel to Her Land God Will Restore Israel   God Punishes and Forgives  
20:33-38 20:33-38 20:33-38 20:33-36  
30:39-44 20:39-44 20:39 20:39-44  
  Fire in the Forest 20:40-44 Fire in the South The Sword of Yahweh
(MT 21:45-49)
20:45-49 20:45-49 20:45-49 20:45-48  

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



 1Now in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me. 2And the word of the Lord came to me saying, 3"Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God, "Do you come to inquire of Me? As I live," declares the Lord God, "I will not be inquired of by you."'
 4"Will you judge them, will you judge them, son of man? Make them know the abominations of their fathers; 5and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God, "On the day when I chose Israel and swore to the descendants of the house of Jacob and made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt, when I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God, 6on that day I swore to them, to bring them out from the land of Egypt into a land that I had selected for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands. 7I said to them, 'Cast away, each of you, the detestable things of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.' 8But they rebelled against Me and were not willing to listen to Me; they did not cast away the detestable things of their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt."

20:1 "in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth of the month" Ezekiel makes an attempt to date his prophecies (i.e., 591 b.c., cf. II Kgs. 25:8; compare with Jer. 52:12; also note the dates in Ezek. 1:1; 8:1; 20:1; 26:1; 29:1,17; 30:20; 31:1; 32:1,17; 33:21). The purpose for this may be

1. a literary way of asserting that YHWH spoke to him

2. a way of showing he was a true prophet (i.e., YHWH spoke to him before the event)

3. just his meticulous personality or possibly priestly training

The elder's question is not stated, but the date causes one to imagine it was related to Egypt's power and Zedekiah's proposed alliance with Pharaoh Psammetik II (595-589 b.c.).

▣ "the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord" They had done this before (cf. 8:1,11,12; 14:1). We do not know what they came to ask because Ezekiel receives another vision while they sat there. This revelation relates to their questions.

20:3 The motives and sins of this (these) group(s) of elders are consistently negative (cf. 8:1; 14:1). They came as if they were seeking YHWH's advice and guidance (cf. 14:3; 20:31), but in reality, they were idolaters (cf. 14:7). The wickedness of Jerusalem (chapters 8-10) has already affected the exiles (leaders reflect the populace). This uniform evil demonstrates that YHWH's choosing the exiles to reconstitute Israel, while judging and destroying those in Palestine, was an act of mercy, not merit (cf. 36:22-38). He chose them because of His eternal redemptive purposes for all mankind! See Bob's Evangelical Biases at 12:16.

One day YHWH will listen again (cf. 36:37-38)!

▣ "Son of Man" See note at 2:1.

▣ "speak" This (BDB 180, KB 210) is a Piel imperative (cf. 3:1; 12:23; 14:4; 20:27; 29:3; 33:2; 37:19,21).

▣ "the Lord God" This is literally Adon YHWH. See Special Topic: Names for Deity at 2:4. Notice the number of titles used for God in this chapter. This is a chapter about God and His intentions for Israel, but they would not!

1. Lord (YHWH), v. 2

2. Adon YHWH, vv. 3(twice),5,27,30,31,33,36,39,40,44,47,49

3. YHWH your Elohim, vv. 5,7,19,20

4. I am the Lord (YHWH), vv. 26,38,42,44

5. I, the Lord (YHWH), v. 48

Also notice the personal pronouns and phrases.

1. Myself, vv. 5,9

2. against Me, vv. 8,13,21,27,38

3. My wrath, vv. 8,13,21

4. My anger, vv. 8,21

5. My name, vv. 9,14

6. My statutes, vv. 11,13,16,19,21,24

7. My ordinances, vv. 11,13,16,19,21,24

8. My sabbaths, vv. 11,13,16,20,21,24

9. My eye, v. 17

10. My hand, v. 22

11. blasphemed Me, v. 27

12. listen to Me, v. 39

13. My holy name, v. 39

14. My holy mountain, v. 40

15. serve Me, v. 40

16. prove Myself holy, v. 41

17. My name's sake, v. 44


20:4 YHWH seems to be asking Ezekiel if he is ready to act as His mouthpiece in confronting (cf. 16:2; 22:2) these idolatrous elders. The repeated verb (BDB 1047; KB 1622) could be Qal imperfect or Qal imperfect used as a jussive (cf. vv. 7,18[thrice]).

▣ "Make them know" This verb (BDB 393, KB 390, see Special Topic at 22:4) is a Hiphil imperative (Hiphil perfect in 22:2). It implies both

1. truth

2. a relationship with YHWH (e.g., Gen. 4:1; Jer. 1:5)


▣ "abomination" See Special Topic at 5:11.

▣ "of their fathers" This is surprising in light of chapter 18. Are these elders being confronted because of their parents' or ancestors' sins? Our parents and society often set destructive patterns or licenses which reap judgment (cf. Exod. 20:5; Deut. 5:9,10). There is both an individual and corporate ethical, moral, religious responsibility. It is not an either/or situation. These elders are affected, but also responsible, as were the Davidic kings of chapter 19.

20:5-7 These verses describe YHWH's actions/admonitions towards the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ("the seed of the house of Jacob," v. 5).

1. "I chose Israel," BDB 103, KB 119, Qal infinitive construct, this election terminology, so common in Deuteronomy and Isaiah, occurs only here in Ezekiel

2. "I swore" (lit. "lifted hand"), v. 5(twice), BDB 669, KB 724, Qal imperfect (i.e., that I would be their God)

3. "I made Myself known to them," v. 5, BDB 393, KB 390, Niphal imperfect

4. "I swore," v. 6, BDB 669, KB 724, Qal perfect (that I would bring them out of bondage, out of Egypt)

5. "that I had selected for them," v. 6, BDB 1064, KB 1707, Qal perfect (I would give them the land of Canaan, cf. Gen. 15:12-21)

6. "cast away. . .the detestable things," v. 7, BDB 1020, KB 1527, Hiphil imperative

7. "do not defile yourselves," v. 7, BDB 379, KB 375, Hithpael imperfect used in a jussive sense, cf. 18:15; 20:7,18,31; 22:3-4; 23:7,30; 36:18,25; 37:23


20:5 "swore" This is literally "lift the hand" and is used twice in this verse. This forms the central theme of this chapter (cf. vv. 6,15,23,28,42): God's gracious provisions and covenant promises in contrast to Israel's repeated covenant failures (cf. Psalm 106; Nehemiah 9).

The gesture of raising/lifting (BDB 669, KB 724) the hand can have several meanings.

1. oath taking, Exod. 6:8; Num. 14:30; Ps. 106:26; Ezek. 20:5-6

2. rebellion, II Sam. 20:21

3. positive action, Ps. 10:12 (YHWH); 119:48 (human)

4. blessing, Lev. 9:22; Ps. 28:2; 63:4; 134:2; I Tim. 2:8

5. prayers, Lam. 2:19


20:6 "to bring them out" This verb (BDB 422, KB 425, Hiphil infinitive construct, cf. vv. 6,9,10, 14,22,34,38,41) is often used (in the Hiphil) of YHWH's act of (1) prophetic fulfillment (cf. Gen. 15:12-21) and/or (2) mercy in delivering Israel from Egypt. It is also used of YHWH delivering Israel from the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles (cf. vv. 34,38,41; 34:13).

NASB"that I had selected for them"
NKJV, NRSV"that I had searched out for them"
TEV"I had chosen for them"
NJB"which I had reconnoitered for them"
LXX"that I spied for them"
REV, JPSOA"that I had sought out for them"

The verb (BDB 1064, KB 1707, Qal perfect) means "to seek out," "to spy out," or "to explore," in light of the fact that (1) it is used so often for the twelve spies (cf. Num. 13:2,16,17,25,32; 14:6,7, 34,36,38) and (2) it is found only here in the Prophets. The translation "spy out" seems best in light of Deut. 1:33. YHWH took special, personal care of young Israel (cf. Ezekiel 16)!

▣ "flowing with milk and honey" This phrase is first used in Exod. 3:8,17; 13:5; 33:3; Lev. 20:24; Num. 13:27; 14:8; 16:13-14. It became a technical name used in Aramaic sources (i.e., Persian) for the land of Palestine/ Canaan (cf. Jer. 3:19). It was a very fertile place (cf. v. 15).

20:7,8 "cast away" This verb (BDB 1020, KB 1527, Hiphil imperative) is often used of people rejecting God's revelation, word (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 127).

1. I Kgs. 14:9, Jeroboam I cast YHWH behind his back (i.e., out of sight, out of mind)

2. Neh. 9:26, Israelites, during the period of the Judges, cast God's law behind their backs

3. Ps. 2:3, the kings of the earth reject the Lord's anointed

4. Ps. 50:17, the wicked reject YHWH's word

5. Ezek. 23:35, Judah forgot YHWH and cast Him behind their backs

What these rebels should have cast away was their rebellion (cf. 18:31; 20:7-8). One day they will throw their idols out in the street (cf. 7:19).

20:7 "defiled yourselves with the idols of Egypt" This could refer to the golden calf of Exodus 32 or the idols mentioned in Josh. 24:14.

20:8a This describes Israel's rebellion against their covenant God (i.e., during and after the Exodus).

1. they rebelled against Me, v. 8 BDB 598, KB 632, Hiphil imperfect

2. they were not willing to listen to Me, v. 8, "listen," BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal infinitive construct, cf. 3:7; 12:2

3. they did not cast away the detestable things, v. 8, BDB 1020, KB 1527, Hiphil perfect, cf. 5:11; 11:21

4. they did not forsake the idols of Egypt, v. 8, BDB 736, KB 806, Qal perfect, cf. Exodus 32; Ps. 106:19-23

The foolishness of idol worship is highlighted in Ps. 115:4-8; 138:15-18; Isa. 44:9-17; Jer. 2:27-28; 10:3-5; Hab. 2:18-19!

 8b"Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them, to accomplish My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. 9But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made Myself known to them by bringing them out of the land of Egypt. 10So I took them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. 11I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live. 12Also I gave them My sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. 13But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness. They did not walk in My statutes and they rejected My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; and My sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them. 14But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, before whose sight I had brought them out. 15Also I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands, 16because they rejected My ordinances, and as for My statutes, they did not walk in them; they even profaned My sabbaths, for their heart continually went after their idols. 17Yet My eye spared them rather than destroying them, and I did not cause their annihilation in the wilderness."

20:8b This describes YHWH's reaction to Israel's rebellions (i.e., bondage in Egypt).

1. I resolved to pour out My wrath, v. 8

2. I resolved to accomplish My anger, v. 8

3. I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned ("profane" lit. "pollute," BDB 320, KB 319, cf. vv. 13,14,16,21,22,24,39; 36:22-38)


20:9-12 God's actions towards Israel during the Exodus and beyond (v. 9c).

1. I took them out of Egypt. 

2. I brought them into the wilderness.

3. I gave them My statutes, I informed them of My ordinances.

4. I gave them My sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them (a regular worship time and place, Exod. 31:13).

5. That they might know. This Hebrew word (BDB 393, KB 390, cf. v. 20) implies both

a. a personal relationship

b. knowledge about something


20:9 Notice that YHWH has a concern for "the nations." Israel was meant to reveal YHWH to the nations (cf. vv. 14,39; 36:22-38; 39:7). I think there is a direct link to Gen. 3:15; 12:4; Acts 3:24-26; Gal. 3:8-9!

▣ "I acted for the sake of My name" This idea that historical actions related to Israel defined the character of YHWH seems to have begun with Moses' intercessory prayer in Exod. 32:11-14. It becomes a recurrent theme (cf. II Kgs. 19:34; 20:6; Ps. 23:3; 25:11; 31:3; 79:9; 106:8; 119:21; 143:9; Isa. 37:35; 43:25; 48:9,11; Jer. 14:7,21; Ezek. 20:9,14,22,44; 36:21,22-38).

See SPECIAL TOPIC: BOB'S EVANGELICAL BIASES at 12:16! YHWH's choice, love, and care for Israel was redemptively purposeful! There was/is an eternal redemptive plan: YHWH created humanity in His image and likeness for fellowship (cf. Genesis 1-2). See Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed., pp. 377-381.

20:11 "statutes. . .ordinances" See Special Topic at 5:7.

▣ "by which, if a man observe them, he will live" This alludes to the promises of Lev. 18:5; Deut. 30:15-20 and Ezekiel 18 (cf. vv. 13,21).

Life on earth is both physical and spiritual, similar to John 5:40; 10:10. Life is far more than mere physical existence. There is a quality of life that only God can give, which involves more than things or time. Augustine put it well when he said, "there is a God-shaped hole in every person." This is the image, likeness of the Creator, which only He can fill!

20:12-13 A brief content outline (compare with Nehemiah 9 and Acts 7):

1. verses 7 and 8 show the rebellion of the people of God during the Exodus

2. verses 12 and 13 show the rebellion of the people of God during the wilderness wandering period

3. verses 20 and 21 show the rebellion of the second generation during the wilderness period

4. verses 24 and 25 show the continual rebellion of the people of God even in the Promised Land

5. in the midst of all this rebellion, God's grace and provision remain steadfast


20:12 "sabbaths" This term (BDB 992) is surprisingly mentioned several times in this chapter in correlation with words for God's revelation (statutes, ordinances, cf. vv. 11-12,13,16,19-20,21,24). The exact reason is uncertain. For a good brief discussion on the origin of the Sabbath see Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 2, pp. 475-483.

▣ "who sanctifies them" This participle (BDB 872, KB 1073, Piel participle) is from the root term "holy" (i.e., set apart for service to YHWH). Israel was made holy by God (cf. Exod. 31:13) in order to reveal holiness to the nations. Their holiness would be YHWH's way to manifest Himself to the nations (cf. vv. 9,14,22,39; 36:22-38).

Holiness is a covenant position (i.e., related to YHWH), but also a call to holy living!


20:13 Israel sins during the wilderness wandering period (i.e., from Egypt to Canaan).

1. They did not walk in My statutes, BDB 229, KB 246, Qal perfect, cf. vv. 16(twice), 18, 19, 21,39

2. They rejected My ordinances, BDB 549, KB 540 Qal perfect, cf. vv. 16,24

3. They profaned My sabbaths, BDB 320, KB 319, Piel perfect


20:14 Again YHWH's concern for His name before the nations is emphaasized (cf. vv. 9,22,39; Isa. 48:9). YHWH has a personal interest in Israel (i.e., the coming Messiah). See Special Topic at 12:16.

20:15 Here the reason for the forty years in the wilderness is explained. It was Israel's continuing sin (i.e., idolatry [cf. v. 16b, Qal active participle] and other covenant disobedience).

20:17 Even amidst their sin YHWH limited His wrath so as not to destroy Israel (cf. Isa. 48:9). In my opinion, so that Messiah would/could come from Abraham's line and fulfill Gen. 3:15! There has always been an eternal redemptive plan for all humanity (i.e., Isa. 66:23). Israel was a tool, a servant in that plan (cf. Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:28; 13:29)!

 18"I said to their children in the wilderness, 'Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers or keep their ordinances or defile yourselves with their idols. 19I am the Lord your God; walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and observe them. 20Sanctify My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.' 21But the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, nor were they careful to observe My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; they profaned My sabbaths. So I resolved to pour out My wrath on them, to accomplish My anger against them in the wilderness. 22But I withdrew My hand and acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. 23Also I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them among the lands, 24because they had not observed My ordinances, but had rejected My statutes and had profaned My sabbaths, and their eyes were on the idols of their fathers. 25I also gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not live; 26and I pronounced them unclean because of their gifts, in that they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire so that I might make them desolate, in order that they might know that I am the Lord."'

20:18-26 Again we return to the issue of multi-generational sin. Chapters 18-20 are related by this theme. If one generation rebels, YHWH tries to encourage and inform the next one. Tragically Israel continued its rebellion through time. It ultimately resulted in the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles (the bondage of Egypt in another land). Moses predicted this (cf. Deut. 4:25-31; 28:64-68), as did Joshua (cf. Josh. 24:19-20).

20:18-20 A series of commands expresses YHWH's intent for the second generation of the Exodus.

1. Negative (Israel's reality), v. 18

a. do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, v. 18, BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

b. do not keep their ordinances, v. 18, BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

c. do not defile yourselves with their idols, BDB 379, KB 375, Hithpael imperfect used in a jussive sense

2. Positive (YHWH's hope), vv. 19-20

a. walk in My statutes, v. 19, BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperative

b. keep My ordinances, v. 19, BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperative

c. observe them (lit. "do"), v. 19, BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperative

d. sanctify My sabbath, v. 20, BDB 872, KB 1073, Piel imperative


20:21-26 Israel did not obey, but rebelled against YHWH (several of this list are parallel).

1. They did not walk in His statutes, v. 21

2. They were not careful to observe His ordinances, v. 21

3. They profaned His sabbaths (cf. v. 20), v. 21


1. resolved to pour out His wrath, v. 21

2. accomplished His anger against them in the wilderness, v. 21

3. withdrew His hand, v. 22, cf. Ps. 74:11; Lam. 2:3

4. acted for the sake of His name, v. 22 (cf. 36:22-38)

5. scattered them among the nations, v. 23 (cf. Ps. 106:19-27 describes the wilderness period, vv. 26-27 make the threat)

6. dispersed them among the lands, v. 23 (parallel to #5)

7. gave them statutes that were not good, v. 25

8. gave them ordinances by which they could not live, v. 25 (apparently from false prophets or faithless leaders)

9. pronounced them unclean (i.e., worship of Molech, child sacrifice), v. 26

10. made them desolate, v. 26


20:25 "I also gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not live" This verse has been a great concern to many commentators because it seems to impugn God's character.

1. Rashi says that YHWH let their inner evil loose (cf. Ps. 81:12; Isa. 66:4; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).

2. Kimchi, another Jewish expositor, says that they were given over to the enemy (i.e., Canaanite tribes) and they tried to live by their standards (i.e., worship of Molech, cf. v. 26).

3. This may be sarcasm, like vv. 29 and 39; they were using His guidelines (cf. vv. 11-13,16,19-21,24) in Canaanite ways (one example, Genesis 22 became a model for child sacrifice, cf. v. 26). These people had the appearance of being faithful worshipers (like the elders of vv. 1-4), but in reality were idolaters.

4. Compare 14:29; Isa. 29:13-14; 63:17


20:26 "they caused all their first-born to pass through the fire" This refers to the worship of the Phoenician fire god, Molech (cf. 16:20; Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; II Kings 17:17; 21:6; 23:10; 11 Chr. 28:3; Jer. 32:35). This may have been a misunderstanding about the death of the first-born recorded in Exodus 12, 13 or even Genesis 22. See Special Topic: Molech at 16:16-21.

 27"Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God, "Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed Me by acting treacherously against Me. 28When I had brought them into the land which I swore to give to them, then they saw every high hill and every leafy tree, and they offered there their sacrifices and there they presented the provocation of their offering. There also they made their soothing aroma and there they poured out their drink offerings. 29Then I said to them, 'What is the high place to which you go?' So its name is called Bamah to this day."' 30Therefore, say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord God, "Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and play the harlot after their detestable things? 31When you offer your gifts, when you cause your sons to pass through the fire, you are defiling yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live," declares the Lord God, "I will not be inquired of by you. 32What comes into your mind will not come about, when you say: 'We will be like the nations, like the tribes of the lands, serving wood and stone.'"

20:27 Israel was meant to be a light to the nations (cf. vv. 9,14,22,41), but idolatry turned their witness into confusion, darkness, and blasphemy (e.g., "to throw accusations," BDB 154, KB 180, Piel perfect). Their covenant disobedience was seen as "unfaithfulness" or even "treachery" (BDB 591, KB 612, Qal infinitive construct, cf. 14:13; 17:20; 18:24; 20:27; 39:26) against YHWH.

20:28 "which I swore to give them" This refers to the repeated promise by YHWH to give Abraham and his seed the Promised Land (i.e., Canaan).

1. Abraham, Gen. 12:1,7; 13:15; 15:18

2. Isaac, Gen. 50:24; Exod. 13:11; 33:1; Num. 11:12; 14:23; 32:11; Deut. 1:8; 9:5; 29:13

3. Jacob, Gen. 26:3

4. Israel, Num. 14:16; Deut. 4:21; 6:23; 8:1; 11:9; 19:8; 26:3,15; 28:11; 31:7,23; 34:4; Josh. 1:6; 21:43-44


▣ "then they saw every high hill and every leafy tree" This refers to the worship of the gods of the Canaanite fertility cult of Ba'al and Ashterah/Astarte. They turned every hill and valley into a place of sexual idolatry (cf. 6:13; 16:23-29; Isa. 57:5-8; Jer. 2:20; 3:6,13; 17:2; Hosea 4:13).

NASB, NRSV"the provocation"
NKJV"provoked Me"
TEV"made Me angry"
NJB"provoked My anger"

The term (BDB 495) means "vexation" or "anger." It often refers to YHWH's anger at idolatry (cf. I Kgs. 15:30; 21:22; II Kgs. 23:26).

The phrase "they poured out their libations" is mentioned as part of pagan rituals which provoked YHWH several times in Jeremiah (cf. 7:18; 19:13; 32:29; 44:17-19). YHWH is a jealous God (cf. Lev. 26:30-31). He will not accept rivals!

▣ "soothing aroma" This (BDB 629) is a metaphor for an acceptable sacrifice (incense or meat, cf. Gen. 8:21; Exod. 29:18,25,41; Lev. 1:9,13,17; Ezek. 6:13; 16:19; 20:28). It must be stated that this phrase does not imply that sacrifices were seen as a "feeding" of YHWH, which is part of the Mesopotamian texts (i.e., Gilgamesh Epic). It is an idiom!

▣ "poured out their libations" This refers to liquid offerings (usually wine), which often accompanied other sacrifices.

SPECIAL TOPIC: ALCOHOL (fermentation) AND ALCOHOLISM (addiction)

20:29 "Bamah" This is the Hebrew word for "high place" (BDB 119). Originally they were local shrines (cf. I Sam. 7:17; 9:12-25; 10:5,13; I Kgs. 3:2-4), which were not condemned.

However, the same places became the sites of fertility worship (cf. Num. 22:41; I Kgs. 11:7; 12:31-32; 14:23; 15:14; 22:43; II Chr. 21:11; Jer. 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; Hosea 4:13; 10:8; Amos 7:9; Micah 1:5). Josiah ordered them to be destroyed (cf. I Kgs. 13:2,32,33; II Kgs. 23:5-20; II Chr. 34:3-4). The centralization of worship in Jerusalem (cf. Lev. 17:3-5; Deut. 12:13-14) was meant to control this potential abuse.

20:30-32 The question is to whom does "your fathers" refer?

1. immediate past generation

2. wilderness wandering generation

3. early settlers in the Promised Land

4. or, collective of all past generations

The specific idols referred to are the fertility gods of Canaan (i.e., Ba'al, Asherah, Molech). Verse 32 describes the enormity of the problem in the statement "we will be like the nations, like the tribes of the land, serving wood and stone." Remember that the Israelites were given the land of Canaan because of the continuing idolatry of the tribes of the land (cf. Gen. 15:12-21). If Israel repeats their abominations, she will also be removed from the land (uniquely dedicated/owned by YHWH). Israel loses that which makes her distinct! Israel cannot be a light to the nations because she has become one of the nations! She was lost as a vehicle of revelation!

20:32 This statement of desire by the idolatrous Judeans will never come to pass (the Qal infinitive absolute and the Qal imperfect of the verb "to be," BDB 224, KB 243). God's covenant people cannot be allowed to be like the other people. God desires that He (the only true God) be revealed to the nations through His people! They are His people for this very purpose (see SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH's ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN at 12:16).

 33"As I live," declares the Lord God, "surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out, I shall be king over you. 34I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out; 35and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. 36As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you," declares the Lord God. 37I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; 38and I will purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am the Lord."

20:33 YHWH will not allow His covenant people to completely degenerate into idolatry.

1. surely with a mighty hand

2. with wrath poured out, cf. Lam. 4:11

These phrases (i.e., #1,#2) were originally used of YHWH's great and merciful acts of deliverance (in the Exodus, cf. Deut. 3:24; 4:34; 5:15; 6:21; 7:8,19; 9:26,29; 11:2; 26:8; Josh. 4:24). But now they are used to demonstrate that YHWH is fighting against rebellious Israel, not for her!

YHWH will be king! He will accomplish His purposes through national Israel! Even though He exiles them, He will bring them back into the land (cf. vv. 34,41; 11:17; 28:25; 29:13; 34:12-13; Deut. 30:3; Jer. 23:3).

20:37 "pass under the rod" This refers to a shepherd's rod (BDB 986) used for counting sheep (i.e., Lev. 27:32; Jer. 33:13).

▣ "the bond of the covenant" This may reflect the cursings and blessings of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-28.

20:38 The exile will "purge" (BDB 140, KB 162, Qal perfect)

1. those who continue to rebel, BDB 597, KB 632, Qal participle

2. those who continue to transgress, BDB 833, KB 981, Qal participle


▣ "they will not enter the land" See vv. 15, 16, and 13:9. Evil will be purged from the Promised Land!

 39"As for you, O house of Israel," thus says the Lord God, "Go, serve everyone his idols; but later you will surely listen to Me, and My holy name you will profane no longer with your gifts and with your idols. 40For on My holy mountain, on the high mountain of Israel," declares the Lord God, "there the whole house of Israel, all of them, will serve Me in the land; there I will accept them and there I will seek your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your holy things. 41As a soothing aroma I will accept you when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered; and I will prove Myself holy among you in the sight of the nations. 42And you will know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the land which I swore to give to your forefathers. 43There you will remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for all the evil things that you have done. 44Then you will know that I am the Lord when I have dealt with you for My name's sake, not according to your evil ways or according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel," declares the Lord God.'"

20:39-40 The verse begins with sarcasm (two Qal imperatives, "go" and "serve"), denoting Israel's current idolatry. However, a new day is coming (i.e., "afterwards," BDB 29)! This is the great news of chapter 20. Israel has been so consistently unfaithful, but YHWH is consistently faithful. He will restore a repentant and purged Israel!

Note how the text expresses this.

1. You will surely listen to Me, v. 39

2. My holy name you will profane no longer, v. 39, cf. 36:21,22; Lev. 18:21; 19:12; 20:3; 21:6

3. All Israel will serve Him, v. 40

4. I shall accept them, v. 40

5. I shall accept their sacrifices, v. 40

6. I shall accept them as an approved sacrifice, v. 41

7. I will gather them from the nations, v. 41

8. I shall prove Myself holy among you in the sight of the nations, v. 41


20:40 "For on My holy mountain" In context this refers to Mount Moriah, on which Abraham offered Isaac (i.e., Genesis 22) and on which the temple was built (i.e., I Kings 7-8). This is a symbolic way of asserting the effective working of the Mosaic covenant.

The term "mountain(s)" (BDB 249) is used often in Ezekiel.

1. It often is a way of referring to the whole land (as Mt. Seir stands for Edom, cf. 35:2-3), i.e., 6:3; 19:9; 33:28; 34:13,14; 37:22

2. It often is a way of identifying the site of fertility worship, i.e., 6:3-4,13; 18:6,11

3. It refers to YHWH's special holy mountain (i.e., the temple), cf. 17:22-23; 20:40; 28:14,16 (possibly a divine mountain in the north); 43:12

The phrase "the mountains of Israel" is unique to Ezekiel (i.e., note repetition in chapter 36).

20:41 "As a soothing aroma I shall accept you" This construct (BDB 629 and 926) is metaphorical of a sacrifice (see note at 20:28). In Ezekiel it has been used consistently of pagan offerings (cf. 6:13; 16:19; 20:28). But here it refers to the people of Israel (cf. 43:27). YHWH brought back the remnant from exile and denotes His acceptance of them by this priestly phrase (remember Ezekiel was a trained priest of the line of Zadok)! A people in fellowship with their Creator has always been the goal of the tabernacle and Levitical sacrifices.

20:43 Israel's true repentance will cause them

1. to remember (BDB 269, KB 269, Qal perfect) their sin (cf. 16:61,63; 36:31, in 6:9 they will remember how they hurt YHWH).

2. to loathe (BDB 876, KB 1083, Niphal perfect) themselves for it (cf. 6:9; 36:31).


20:44 "not according to your evil ways or according to your corrupt ways" Grace, oh grace! What a marvelous message to share! God will deal with us according to who He is and what He has done, not according to who we are or what we have done! Hallelujah.

The spiritual principle "we reap what we sow" is abrogated by the mercy and eternal redemptive purposes of YHWH. Israel has a place in a larger scheme, as do the nations (cf. Romans 9-11).

 45Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 46"Son of man, set your face toward Teman, and speak out against the south and prophesy against the forest land of the Negev, 47and say to the forest of the Negev, 'Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I am about to kindle a fire in you, and it will consume every green tree in you, as well as every dry tree; the blazing flame will not be quenched and the whole surface from south to north will be burned by it. 48All flesh will see that I, the Lord, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched."'" 49Then I said, "Ah Lord God! They are saying of me, 'Is he not just speaking parables?'"

20:45 A new revelation of a cleansing fire to sweep Canaan of idolatry. See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE at 1:4. This parable introduces chapter 21. This is where the MT starts a new chapter.

20:46 "set your face toward" This is a literary marker for a judgment pronouncement (cf. 6:2; 13:17; 20:46; 21:2; 25:2; 28:21; 29:2; 35:2; 38:2), which follows the same imagery used of YHWH (cf. Lev. 26:17; Jer. 21:10; Ezek. 14:8; 15:7).

▣ "Teman" This is one of three different words which denote the south.

1. Temas (BDB 412, cf. 40:24,27,28,44,45; 41:11,12,13,18)

2. Darom (BDB 204, cf. 21:2; 40:24,27,28,44; 41:11; 42:12,13)

3. Negeb (BDB 616, cf. 21:3; 40:2; 46:9; 47:19; 48:16,28,33)

All of these are allusions to the capital city of Jerusalem (cf. 21:1).

20:47 "it shall consume every green tree in you, as well as every dry tree" This parable describes a coming judgment that will affect all Israelites. Here again, we are confronted with the two different ways of judgment.

1. from father to children to the third and fourth generations, cf. Exod. 20:5; Deut. 5:9

2. one individual's life does not affect the children, cf. chapter 18

Somehow both are true! One deals with individuals and one with a national collective. The tension remains! For me personally, my hope lies in Deut. 5:10 and 7:9! My nation may experience the judgment of God, which affects me, but My God knows me and will bring me (and my faithful descendants) to Himself!

20:49 The idolatrous elders listening to Ezekiel (cf. 20:1) heard these words and thought he was speaking only metaphorically. Chapter 21 is a reaction to this!


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