Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
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
20:2. “Then came the word of the Lord unto me,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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