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Ezekiel: Chapter 20

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1In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain elders of Israel came to consult the LORD, and sat down before me. 2And the word of the LORD came to me: 3Mortal, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD: Why are you coming? To consult me? As I live, says the Lord GOD, I will not be consulted by you. 4Will you judge them, mortal, will you judge them? Then let them know the abominations of their ancestors, 5and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob—making myself known to them in the land of Egypt—I swore to them, saying, I am the LORD your God. 6On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. 7And I said to them, Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. 8But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; not one of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend 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 in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. 10So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. 11I gave them my statutes and showed them my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live. 12Moreover I gave them my sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, so that they might know that I the LORD sanctify them. 13But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness; they did not observe my statutes but rejected my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live; and my sabbaths they greatly profaned.

Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make an end of them. 14But I acted for the sake of my name, so that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. 15Moreover I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land that I had given them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands, 16because they rejected my ordinances and did not observe my statutes, and profaned my sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols. 17Nevertheless my eye spared them, and I did not destroy them or make an end of them in the wilderness.

18I said to their children in the wilderness, Do not follow the statutes of your parents, nor observe their ordinances, nor defile yourselves with their idols. 19I the LORD am your God; follow my statutes, and be careful to observe my ordinances, 20and hallow my sabbaths that they may be a sign between me and you, so that you may know that I the LORD am your God. 21But the children rebelled against me; they did not follow my statutes, and were not careful to observe my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live; they profaned my sabbaths.

Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness. 22But I withheld my hand, and acted for the sake of my name, so that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. 23Moreover I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24because they had not executed my ordinances, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their ancestors’ idols. 25Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not live. 26I defiled them through their very gifts, in their offering up all their firstborn, in order that I might horrify them, so that they might know that I am the LORD.

27Therefore, mortal, speak to the house of Israel and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: In this again your ancestors blasphemed me, by dealing treacherously with me. 28For when I had brought them into the land that I swore to give them, then wherever they saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices and presented the provocation of their offering; there they sent up their pleasing odors, and there they poured out their drink offerings. 29(I said to them, What is the high place to which you go? So it is called Bamah a Cn: Heb in your blood to this day.) 30Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your ancestors and go astray after their detestable things? 31When you offer your gifts and make your children pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be consulted by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord GOD, I will not be consulted by you.

32What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, “Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.”

33As I live, says the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, I will be king over you. 34I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and 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 ancestors in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, says the Lord GOD. 37I will make you pass under the staff, and will bring you within the bond of the covenant. 38I will purge out the rebels among you, and those who transgress against me; I will bring them out of the land where they reside as aliens, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.

39As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the Lord GOD: Go serve your idols, everyone of you now and hereafter, if you will not listen to me; but my holy name you shall no more profane with your gifts and your idols.

40For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, says the Lord GOD, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land; there I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred things. 41As a pleasing odor I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. 42You shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country that I swore to give to your ancestors. 43There you shall remember your ways and all the deeds by which you have polluted yourselves; and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. 44And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways, or corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, says the Lord GOD.

45 b Heb Its strongest stems became rulers' scepters The word of the LORD came to me: 46Mortal, set your face toward the south, preach against the south, and prophesy against the forest land in the Negeb; 47say to the forest of the Negeb, Hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to north shall be scorched by it. 48All flesh shall 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 a maker of allegories?’ ”

Notes:

b Cn: Heb in your blood

c Heb Its strongest stems became rulers' scepters

Text Commentary view alone

20.1–44 : Israel's pattern of rebellion.

1–4 :

Date: August 14, 591 BCE. All consultation of the LORD is prohibited (see v. 31n.; 14.1–11n. ).

5–9 :

Rebellion in Egypt. Already with these verses, this passage of Ezekiel exhibits a theological schematization of history. The passage is not intended as a chronological account but as a theological retelling of the people's essential behavior. The schematization repeats three times a pattern of rebellion despite God's self‐revelation (vv. 5–9,10–17,18–26 ). The effect is to drive home how this same rebellious pattern is inevitable for the present generation (vv. 30–32 ).

6 :

A land flowing with milk and honey, v. 15; Ex 3.8; Lev 20.24; Deut 6.3 .

8 :

Idolatrous worship in Egypt is not found in Pentateuchal traditions, but see Josh 24.14; Ezek 23.3,8 .

9 :

For the sake of my name (vv. 14,22,44; Ex 9.16; Lev 22.32–33 ), expresses prevenient grace; see 36.22–32n. Israel's deliverances from Egypt, from the wilderness, and eventually from the exile, were accomplished neither because of human initiative nor because of human intrinsic worth.

10–17 :

Rebellion in the wilderness.

11 :

Lev 18.5 .

12–13 :

Ezekiel is influenced by the emphasis on the sabbath in the “Holiness Collection” (Ex 31.13; Lev 19.30; 26.2 ). In this tradition, keeping the sabbath is a sign of the holiness and priestly service of all God's people. For a particular example of violation of the sabbath, see Ex 16.27–30 .

13b–17 :

Ex 32.9–14; Num 14.11–20; Deut 9.25–29 .

18–26 :

Rebellion of the next generation.

25–26 :

The people must have been using the “law of the firstborn” (Ex 22.29; 34.19 ) to legitimate child sacrifice ( 16.20–22n. ). Ezekiel interprets this turn of events as a “negative” use of God's law: God may use such laws to demonstrate people's rebelliousness and even to harden them in it.

27–32 :

Application of the passage to Ezekiel's contemporaries.

29 :

The word play here is explained by the textual note a.

31 :

On making children pass through the fire, see 16.20–22n.; 23.37; Deut 18.10; 2 Kings 16.3; 17.17; 21.6 . The end of the verse echoes v. 3 , forming an “inclusio” (envelope) around the passage. Judgment on the people's faithless state is fixed: Ezekiel cannot intervene for them with God (see 3.22–27n. ).

33–38 : An oracle of promise,

but with an angry tone dating prior to Jerusalem's destruction in 586 BCE. God's irresistible (stubborn) grace will triumph with Israel, through force if necessary. As in the wilderness (Num 14.26–35 ), the unfaithful will be purged.

39–44 : Final reconciliation.

After the new Exodus, God will restore the people to Zion, and their sacrifices will again be acceptable.

40 :

Ezekiel's pro‐Zion theology (cf. 5.5n.; 43.12; Zech 8.3; Joel 3.17 ).

20.45–21.32 : Sword prophecies

(Lev 26.25,33 [“Holiness Collection”]).

20.45–21.7 : The sword against all flesh.

45–49 :

A threat against the south. South and Negeb both stand for Judah and Jerusalem, which lie south of their attackers.

49 :

The people cannot take a claim of Jerusalem's vulnerability seriously (see 2.6n.; 3.7; 33.32 ).

21.1–5 :

The preceding forest fire is interpreted as the sword of God.

6–7 :

The message is reiterated through an expressive action.

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