Ezekiel 20 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Ezekiel 20)
The following commentary covers Chapters 20 and 21.

The people's sin and idolatry retraced: God's judgment

Chapter 20 begins a new prophecy, which, with its subdivisions, continues to the end of chapter 23. It will have been remarked that the general divisions are made by years. Chapter 20 is important. The preceding chapters had spoken of the sin of Jerusalem. Here the Spirit retraces the sin, and especially the idolatry of Israel (that is to say, of the people, as a people) from the time of their sojourn in Egypt. Then already they had begun with their idolatry. For His own name's sake God had brought them up from thence, and given them His statutes and His sabbaths—the latter too in token of the covenant between God and the people. But Israel had rebelled against God in the wilderness, and even then He had thought to destroy them. But He spared them, warning at the same time their children also, who nevertheless followed their fathers' ways. Still, for His name's sake, God withdrew His hand on account of the heathen in whose sight He had brought the people up from Egypt. But in the wilderness He had already warned them that He would scatter them among the nations (Lev. 26, Deut. 32); and as they had polluted the sabbaths of Jehovah and gone after the idols of their fathers, they should be polluted in their own gifts, and be slaves to the idols they had loved, that they might be made desolate by the Lord. For, having been brought into the promised land, they had forsaken Jehovah for the high places. He would no longer be enquired of by them, but would rule over them with fury and with an outstretched arm. He had already in the wilderness threatened the people with dispersion among the heathen; and now, having brought them into the land for the glory of His great name, Israel had only dishonoured Him. He, therefore, executes the judgment with which He had threatened them. Israel, always ready to forsake Jehovah, would have profited by this to become like the heathen. But God comes in at the end in His own ways. He keeps the people separate in spite of themselves, and He will gather them out from among the nations and bring them into the wilderness, as when He led them out of Egypt, and there He will cut off the rebels, sparing a remnant, who alone shall enter the land. For it is there that Jehovah shall be worshipped by His people, when He shall have gathered them out from all the countries where they have been scattered, and Jehovah Himself shall be sanctified in Israel before the heathen. Israel shall know that He is Jehovah, when He shall have accomplished all these things according to His promises. They shall loathe themselves, and shall understand that Jehovah has wrought for the glory of His name, and not according to their wicked ways.

This is the general judgment of the nation, and in fact of the ten tribes as distinct from Judah. They, as a body, were not guilty of the rejection of the blessed Lord. They had been long scattered for their rebellion against Jehovah. They will be brought back, but passed as a flock under the rod of the covenant, the rebels purged out, and only the spared remnant enter the land. They will not thus be in the special tribulation of the last half week, nor under Antichrist. They are dealt with in the national government of God. Judah will of course be in verse 40, but the object is to shew it is not simply Judah, the Jews as we say. Israel in the land, the whole people will enjoy the blessings once promised. But this brings out some important principles. Though the original promises are referred to and exist for the full blessing, yet the dealings of Jehovah begin with the land of Egypt. Next there is an accumulation of sin. The Lord's sparing mercy, when it only made them go on in greater oblivion of His goodness, only aggravated and accumulated the evil, as the Lord speaks, from Abel to Zacharias. Thus the people are judged in view of their conduct, from the time of their departure from Egypt; their idolatrous spirit was manifested even in Egypt itself (compare Amos 5: 25, 26; Acts 7). Jehovah had indeed spared the people for the glory of His name, but the sin was still there. Israel as a nation is therefore scattered, and then placed anew under the rod of the covenant, and God distinguishes the remnant, and acts for the sure accomplishment in sovereign grace of that of which the people were incapable as placed under their own responsibility. Israel, as a whole, as a nation, is distinguished from Judah, which continues in a particular position. With regard to the nation, as such, the rebels are cut off and do not enter the land. In the land two-thirds are cut off at the end (Zech. 13: 8, 9). But in this latter case, it is the Jews who were guilty of the rejection and death of Jesus who are judged. Here it is the dealings of God with the nation—guilty from the time of Egypt; there it is the chastisement of the enemies and murderers of Christ. Grace is shewn in both cases to the remnant.

The beginning of "the times of the Gentiles"

From verse 45 it is another prophecy, which contains the application of the threats in the preceding prophecy to the circumstances through which it will be fulfilled, by the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, as unfolded in chapter 21. Jehovah had unsheathed and sharpened His sword to return it no more to its sheath: it was prepared for the slaughter. The prophet sees Nebuchadnezzar at the head of the two roads to Jerusalem and to Ammon. Jerusalem would treat that which he was doing as a false divination, but she would be overtaken by the judgment of Jehovah. Their conduct had brought their whole sinful course to mind, and the profane Zedekiah (who had filled up the iniquity by despising the oath which he had taken in Jehovah's name) should come to his end when the iniquity was judged; for he had filled up its measure. Moreover, it was now a definitive judgment, and not a chastisement which would allow the unsheathed sword to return to its scabbard, as for His name's sake they had been so often spared as we have seen rehearsed in the chapter. In fact it was a revolution in God's ways, a taking His throne from the earth and the beginning of the times of the Gentiles. Jehovah overturned everything until He should come, to whom in right it all belonged, and to whom the kingdom should be given; that is to say, until Christ. Ammon likewise should be destroyed.

Government entrusted to the Gentiles: Israel proved radically evil

The more these prophecies of Ezekiel and Jeremiah are considered, the more striking do they appear. First of all, they establish the very important fact with respect to the government of the world, namely, that the throne of God has been removed from the earth, and the government of the world entrusted to man under the form of an empire among the Gentiles. In the second place, the veil is also withdrawn as to the government of God in Israel. This test, to which man had been subjected, in order to see if he were capable of being blessed, has only proved the entire vanity of his nature, his rebellion, the folly of his will, so that he is radically evil. Even from Egypt, it was a spirit of rebellion, idolatry, and unbelief, which preferred anything in the world, an idol, or the Assyrian, to Jehovah the true God. Constant in their sin, neither deliverance nor judgment, neither blessing nor experience of their folly, changed the heart of the people or the propensity of their nature. The idolatry that began in Egypt, and their contempt of the word of Jehovah, were not altered by their enjoyment of the promises, but characterised this people until their rejection of Jehovah. But on God's part we see a patience that never belies itself, the most tender care, the most touching appeals, everything that could tend to bring their hearts back to Jehovah; interventions in grace, to lift them out of their misery, and bless them when in a state of faithfulness produced by this grace, through the means of such or such a king; rising up early to send them prophets, until there was no remedy. But they gave themselves up to evil; and, as shewn by Ezekiel and Stephen, the Spirit of God returns to the first manifestations of their heart, of which all that followed was but the proof and the expression. And the judgment is executed on account of that which the people have been from the beginning.

Sovereign grace reigning in righteousness

After the full manifestation of that which the people were, God changes His plan of government, and reserves for sovereign grace the re-establishment of Israel according to His promises, which He would fulfil by His means who could maintain blessing by His power, and govern the people in peace.

It is not uninteresting to recall, that that sovereign grace, which blesses Israel at last and after all, when responsible human nature has been fully tried, is—though we come to it, where real, through definite conviction of our sins and sinfulness—as to God's ways, the starting point of our path and what belongs to us. Hence the necessity of a new nature, and God's love in giving His Son, are the opening of all to us. The cross for both secures the righteousness through which grace reigns.