For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

20:1.  “And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me.”


The date mentioned here was August 14, 591 BC, i.e., seven years, five months, and ten days since the beginning of the Babylonian captivity.  On that day the chief of the elders amongst the captives in Babylon came to Ezekiel seeking information from God relative, it is generally believed, to the end of the captivity.


20:2.  “Then came the word of the Lord unto me, saying,”


20:3.  “Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Are ye come to inquire of me?  As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.”


The only response God would give, however, was the assurance that He would not answer their questions.


20:4.  “Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them?  cause them to know the abominations of their fathers:”


“Wilt thou judge them,” is better translated, “Arraign them,” or “Confront them.”  Instead of enlightening them as to when the captivity would end, God’s servant was to set before them the wickedness, “the detestable impieties, the filthy practices” of their fathers, that had brought upon them the judgment of their captivity in Babylon, their sins being just as vile as those committed by their fathers.


20:5.  “And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God: In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the Lord your God;”


This is generally believed to have been when God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, see Ex 3.


God had chosen Israel; they had not chosen Him; and in describing them as Israel, and as the house of Jacob, we are being reminded that though seemingly one company, one nation, they were in fact two distinct groups: one, the true Israel; and the other, Israel in name only, as Paul declared concerning that same nation, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called,” Ro 9:6-7.  The name Israel is always associated with what is of the spirit; Jacob, with what is of the flesh.


God’s lifting up his hand is another way of saying that He had sworn by Himself to do for Israel all that He had promised even while they were still in bondage in Egypt.


It isn’t difficult to see in His dealings with Israel a symbolic foreshadowing of what He has done with those who comprise the Church.  We, like Israel, were in bondage to sin and Satan, and as it was by the death of the Passover lamb that Israel was redeemed, so has it been by the blood of the true Passover Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, that we have been delivered from bondage, and redeemed from the consequences of our sins.


A further lesson, however, lies in the fact that those redeemed from Egypt’s bondage were called both Israel and Jacob.  The type is fulfilled in us in that following conversion we too are possessed of two natures: the old Adamic nature that continues to produce sin in our lives even as believers; and the other, the life and nature of Christ, which strives to produce righteousness in our lives.  The conflict between these two natures is described by Paul in Ro 7, where in verses 24-25 he bewails the activity of the old nature against the new, but exults in the victory of the new nature over the old through the Lord Jesus Christ, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”


And yet another lesson is connected with the two names.  There are two churches: the true Church consisting of born-again believers; and the professing but apostate church consisting of mere empty professors who know not Christ as Savior.


20:6.  “In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied (selected) for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands:”


God didn’t just deliver Israel from Egypt’s bondage: He brought them into Canaan, the best of all the lands, one abundantly rich in everything they could desire, their deliverance being a type of that which is experienced by every believer, for we have not only been delivered from bondage to sin and death, but brought into a glorious realm of liberty and life, abounding with every blessing that the heart of man could desire, as it is written, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (things) in Christ, ”Eph 1:3.


20:7.  “Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”


“... abominations” is also translated disgusting, detestable; and their being “the idols of Egypt” tells us that they were the idols worshiped by the Egyptians, and Israel; but since Egypt represents the world of business and pleasure living in defiant independence of God, these idols represent the things worshiped by that same evil world: money, power, pleasure, education, fame, being but a few of this world’s gods.


Their being commanded to cast away their idols translates into the command to us not to set our hearts on the things of the world, but instead to seek those things which pertain to the kingdom of heaven, as it is written, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you,” Mt 6:33.


20:8.  “But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.”


Rebel Israel refused to listen, clinging instead to the idols they themselves had made, and to those of the Egyptians; and so has it been with Christendom.  The apostate travesty masquerading as the true Church also clings to its idols; but worse: the true Church for the most part has also refused to abandon its idols, for only the spiritually blind will fail to see the extent to which even genuine Christians grasp tenaciously the very same things: money, power, fame, pleasure, etc.  Nor is God any less angered by the cupidity of professing Christians today than He was by that of His earthly people in Egypt.


20:9.  “But I wrought (acted, worked) for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted (profaned, dishonored) before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt.”


His people might care nothing for God’s glory or the honor of His name, but He cared, and for that reason would not break His promise to deliver them from Egyptian bondage, reserving for a later time His punishment of their wickedness.  The same principle applies also to His dealings with the professing church.  At the Bema, the judgment seat of Christ, what is worthy of reward in the life of each believer will be recompensed accordingly; what is unworthy, going unrewarded, there being no other punishment since the Lord Jesus Christ has born that punishment at Calvary.  Unbelievers will be judged at the great white throne, their eternal punishment, to be endured in the lake of fire, being proportionate to the measure of their sin.


20:10.  “Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness.”


For the sake of His own glory, He didn’t deal with Israel in Egypt according to their wickedness, but delivered them, and brought them out into the wilderness.  His judgmental dealing with them would be between Him and them alone; and so will it be with the Church.  It will be at the Bema, not here on earth, that the Lord Jesus Christ will judge the lives of His own.


20:11.  “And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in (by) them.”


Statutes and judgments are virtually the same, statutes being laws or decrees; judgments being ordinances related to the carrying out of those decrees, and emphasizing the penalty or reward attending the breaking or keeping of them.


“... he shall live by them” is not to be construed as teaching salvation by works, but rather announcing the truth that an obedient life is the outward evidence of saving faith, the outward morality of the religious but unbelieving man being often mistaken for evidence of genuine conversion.


20:12.  “Moreover I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.”


To be sanctified is simply to be set apart for God; and inasmuch as the Sabbath was a day of rest, the truth being declared in this is that believers have entered into eternal rest through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  Israel’s resting on the sabbaths was the symbolic announcement of their having been redeemed by His power, and of their trust in that power to supply all their needs.


20:13.  “But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in (by) them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted (desecrated, profaned): then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.”


With everything in God’s dealings with them designed to promote trusting obedience, Israel had chosen instead to rebel against Him.  They rejected His laws, and despised the ordinances He had appointed, through which they could express their love and gratitude.  In failing to keep the sabbaths, they desecrated, profaned them, and dishonored God.


The sabbath was appointed as a day of rest long before the giving of the law, “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.  And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made,” Ge 2:2-3.


Israel’s desecration of the sabbath provoked God’s furious anger so that He destroyed that rebellious generation in the desert, refusing to allow them to enter Canaan, bringing their children in instead.  He is no less provoked by Christendom’s profanation of the seventh day, and will just as surely execute judgment against the offenders in the impending Great Tribulation.


20:14.  “But I wrought (acted) for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted (profaned, sullied) before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out.”


God might have destroyed them on the spot, but regard for the honor of His Own great name preserved them.  He was infinitely more honored in their deliverance and preservation than He would have been in their destruction.  The same is true of His dealings with this present evil world.  It deserves to be destroyed, but He has chosen instead to redeem it at incalculable cost, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, its destruction being delayed until He is glorified in its submission to His rule in the coming Millennium, following which it will be replaced with a new earth, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away ....” Re 21:1.


20:15.  “Yet also I lifted up my hand unto 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;”


What God refrained from doing in the presence of the Egyptians: promising the destruction of that rebellious generation of Israel, He did do in the wilderness, when having been provoked by their refusal to enter Canaan, He promised to destroy all that faithless generation, except Caleb and Joshua, see Nu 14:30.


20:16.  “Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted (desecrated) my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols.”


They rebelled against God’s appointed ordinances regarding worship, and against His laws relative to their every-day lives, their rebellion including profanation of the sabbaths, and their worship of idols.


20:17.  “Nevertheless mine eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness.”


In His mercy God didn’t destroy them as a nation.  It was only that rebellious generation that He caused to die out in the wilderness - with the exception of Caleb and Joshua - while He preserved their children to go in and inherit Canaan.


20:18.  “But I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols:”


God forbade them to walk according to the laws which their fathers had made to replace His, or to obey the ordinances with which they had replaced His; and above all they were not to worship the idols their fathers had set up.


20:19.  “I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them;”


They were to obey only His laws, and to perform only the ordinances which He had appointed.


20:20.  “And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God.”


“... to hallow” was to keep sacred or holy the sabbaths which God had appointed as times of rest not only for man and beast, but also for the land itself.  It was in fact for their dereliction relative to the land that God punished them with the seventy years captivity in Babylon, because for about four hundred and ninety years they had failed to observe the sabbatical year: rest for the land every seventh year.  What they refused to yield voluntarily, God compelled them to yield by the compulsion of the Babylonian seventy-year captivity, thus giving to the land the seventy years of rest denied it by greedy rebellious Israel.


Relative to the Sabbath’s being a sign between God and the people, it was the symbolic revelation of the truth that it was He, not the land itself, Who supplied all their needs.


20:21.  “Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in (by) them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness.”


Ungrateful Israel rebelled, refusing to obey God’s laws, or to keep His religious ordinances, that rebellion guaranteeing their destruction, just as obedience would have ensured their preservation and blessing.


It is instructive to note that it was their profanation of the sabbaths which is singled out as the cause of their destruction at God’s hand.  What should have been easiest for them to do - rest on the sabbaths - was what they refused to do; and it wasn’t long until that sin of omission was followed by sins of commission culminating in the idolatry, which brought God’s fierce wrath upon their guilty heads.


Sin almost invariably progresses by the same means: neglect of prayer, Bible study, observance of the Lord’s Supper, are usually the first steps of departure taken by a believer, and are quickly followed by greater sins of commission, until eventually he makes shipwreck of his life, and becomes the object of God’s wrath rather than blessing.


20:22.  “Nevertheless I withdrew mine hand, and wrought (acted) for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted (profaned) in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth.”


Concern for His own glory impelled God to delay execution of judgment, for had He destroyed the rebels immediately, the nations would have construed it as inability on His part to keep His word, and deliver those He had undertaken to redeem, and bring into Canaan, the place of milk and honey.


20:23.  “I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries;“


The preservation of His own honor doesn’t require God to tolerate sin, for as He is glorified by the obedience of the righteous, so is He also glorified in the destruction of the disobedient.  He therefore swore unto Israel in the wilderness that if they refused to obey Him He would scatter them amongst the surrounding heathen nations, and world-wide.  This threat was fulfilled in the Assyrian captivity of Israel (the ten northern tribes) in 722 BC; and in the later Babylonian captivity of Judah and Benjamin in 586 BC; and again in the AD 70 Diaspora which has left them scattered world-wide to this day, except for the small remnant that has begun to return since 1948 in preparation for the impending Great Tribulation judgments.


20:24.  “Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted (profaned) my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols.”


They had failed to carry out God’s ordinances relative to worship, had despised all His laws, had failed to keep His sabbaths, and in addition had worshiped the idols before whom their evil fathers had also bowed.


20:25.  “Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live;”


Some understand this to mean that the laws and ordinances which God had given them were not good in the sense that the people’s disobedience invested them with the character of death; others, that He permitted them to be submissive to the evil, and therefore deadly laws and ordinances of their heathen neighbors, this latter appearing to be the correct meaning, though settlement of that question is relatively unimportant, for in a sense both are true.


20:26.  “And I polluted (defiled) them in their own gifts (offerings), 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.”


It was by His permissive, not His directive will, that God allowed the wicked people to defile themselves by their idolatrous worship which required them to burn their own firstborn children in sacrifice to their idols.


“... that I might make them desolate,” is also translated that I might fill them with horror: horrify them: stun them: confound them: make them an object of horror.  He would leave them to learn for themselves by bitter experience, the unspeakable wickedness into which their disobedience would ultimately lead them, that experience resulting in their being convicted of sin, and in their  returning to Him as the only true God.


20:27.  “Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed (outraged) me, in that they have committed a trespass against me.”


To blaspheme is to speak irreverently about or against God; and in the present context to commit a trespass was to deal treacherously with Him, treachery being a violation of trust; their treachery consisting of their giving to idols the worship that belonged only to God.


20:28.  “For when I had brought them into the land, for the which I had lifted mine hand to give it to them, then they saw every high hill, and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering: there also they made their sweet savor, and poured out there their drink offerings.”


Upon being brought into Canaan, the land which God had sworn to give them, they had aped the wickedness of the Canaanites by setting up their own idolatrous shrines on the top of every hill and under every large tree, the preferred sites for the idolatrous worship.  Instead of offering to Him the sacrifices which God had prescribed, in the place of His appointment, they had “presented the provocation of their offering,” i.e., they had provoked Him to anger by presenting sacrifices to idols.


20:29.  “Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go?  And the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day.”


Bamah means a high place (for idols).  In other words, every hill was the scene of their idolatrous worship.


20:30.  “Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations?”


This rhetorical question may also be translated, “Are you polluting yourselves by wantonly lusting after their detestable loathsome gods?”


20:31.  “For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel?  As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.”


This was God’s angry response to what is recorded in verse 1, i.e., the temerity of the elders in coming to inquire of Him.  He would give them no answer!


20:32.  “And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone.”


What was in their mind was to be like their neighbors who worshiped idols; but they, Israel, would maintain the empty form of also worshiping Jehovah, thus reducing Him to being just another in the pantheon of the surrounding idolatrous nations.  But He would disillusion them.  Such a thing would never be.  He would not share His glory, and because they would persist in their evil, He would destroy that wicked generation.


20:33.  “As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you:”


He Who would have ruled over them beneficently had they been obedient, would instead rule them with a rod of iron, His mighty arm stretched out in fury punishing their rebellion, and thereby teaching them that He alone was God, the idols of the nations being but powerless inanimate things of wood and stone.


20:34.  “And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out.”


Those addressed were they who had been taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, and who had been dispersed by him throughout all the lands comprising his far-flung empire.  God’s assurance was that He would regather them by His almighty power, and punish their oppressors in His fierce anger.


20:35.  “And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face.”


Of various explanations of the meaning of this verse, the one that seems most likely is that which applies it to the Diaspora which occurred in AD 70, “the wilderness” being used metaphorically to describe the Gentile nations among which Israel has since then been scattered; God’s pleading with them having reference to the judgments of the impending Great Tribulation, from which will emerge a repentant converted remnant that will inherit millennial blessing.


20:36.  “Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord God.”


This is generally taken to mean that as God had pleaded with their fathers in the wilderness following their deliverance from Egypt, so will He plead with the Tribulation age generation in the wilderness of the world, of which Egypt is a type.  Many commentators take the pleading to refer to the Tribulation age judgments out of which will emerge the repentant converted Israel that will inherit millennial blessing.


20:37.  “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant:”


The figure here is of a shepherd causing his sheep to pass through a narrow place under his shepherd’s rod or crook so that he may count them.  It is generally taken to refer to Christ’s judgment of the nations at the end of the Great Tribulation, only the converted remnant of Israel and of the Gentiles surviving that judgment to enter the millennial kingdom, the others being cast bodily into hell.


20:38.  “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the Lord.”


This continues to describe the Lord’s regathering and judgment of Israel at the close of the Great Tribulation, and His dismissal into hell of all the unbelievers among them.


20:39.  “As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord God; Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me: but pollute ye my holy name no more with your gifts, and with your idols.”


Here the narrative returns to the generation addressed by Ezekiel.  Those who refused to listen to Him He delivers up to continue in their idolatry thus sealing their doom; but with the solemn injunction not to go on dishonoring His holy name by continuing the charade of worshiping Him as well as their idols.


20:40.  “For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things.”


This is generally understood to refer to the regathering of the converted nation at the end of the Great Tribulation, “mine holy mountain” being Mount Zion, the God-appointed site of the Temple, not only in the past, but also in the Millennium.  It will then be the center, not only of Israel’s worship, but of the whole world.


“... all of them in the land,” clearly points to regathered Israel in the Millennium when the Levitical order of worship will be resumed, but being invested with a new character: those sacrifices, which in the OT age anticipated Christ’s coming, will then be commemorative and retrospective, looking back to and celebrating that one perfect sacrifice which alone could make eternal atonement for sin.


20:41.  “I will accept you with your sweet savor, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen.”


Israel regathered from among the nations at the end of the Great Tribulation will be like a soothing pleasing fragrance to God, His holiness being reflected to the nations in the holiness of their lives in the Millennium.


20:42.  “And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers.”


The Great Tribulation judgments will produce the Israel that will truly know the Lord, and synonymous with their knowing Him as their Savior God will be their enjoyment of the land of Canaan, promised to their fathers long ago, possession and enjoyment having been forfeited for all these weary centuries by their unbelief.


20:43.  “And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall loath yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.”


Conversion is the only thing that reveals to a man the utter wickedness of his unconverted state, and so will it be with Israel.  Only when converted will she rightly comprehend her former vileness, her most heinous sin being her crucifixion of her Savior Messiah.


20:44.  “And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought (dealt) with you for my name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord God.”


Israel will be reconciled to God when He has dealt with her, not as her great wickedness deserves, but according to His own transcendent grace and mercy, she then learning that the One she hated and crucified was His Son Who had come down to earth to die in her guilty place and thus make atonement for all her many sins.


20:45.  “Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,”


20:46.  “Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field;”


The section beginning with verse 45 properly belongs to chapter 21.


The south was the territory of Judah; and “the forest of the south field” were the people of Judah, so that this prophecy is against Judah.


20:47.  “And say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein.”


The fire to be kindled in the midst of Judah was the destruction that would be brought by the incursion of Babylon into the land: the green trees representing the righteous; and the dry, the wicked, see 21:3.  None would be spared; the devastation and slaughter would extend over the whole land.


20:48.  “And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.”


Everyone would know that God was the Author of the destruction; nor would there be any hope of stopping it.


20:49.  “Then said I, Ah Lord God! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables?”


Ezekiel complained that the warning would go unheeded, the unbelieving people dismissing his words as being those of a mere story-teller, and in response God in chapter 21 permitted His servant to use plain language.  Their skepticism, however, would not alter the truth, or prevent the fulfillment of God’s word.

[Ezekiel 21]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough