Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
A deputation of the elders of Israel, as usual, in their distress, came to request Ezekiel to ask counsel of God, Eze 20:1. In reply to this, God commands the prophet to put them in mind of their rebellion and idolatry: In Egypt, Eze 20:2-9, in the wilderness, vv. 10-27, and in Canaan, Eze 20:28-32. Notwithstanding which the Lord most graciously promises to restore them to their own land, after they should be purged from their dross, Eze 20:33-44. The five last verses of this chapter ought to begin the next, as they are connected with the subject of that chapter, being a prophecy against Jerusalem, which lay to the south of Chaldea, where the prophet then was, and which here and elsewhere is represented under the emblem of a forest doomed to be destroyed by fire, Eze 20:45-49.
In the seventh year - Of the captivity of Jeconiah, (see Eze 8:1), and the seventh of the reign of Zedekiah.
The fifth month, the tenth day - That is, according to Abp. Usher, Monday, August 27, A.M. 3411.
Certain of the elders of Israel - What these came to inquire about is not known. They were doubtless hypocrites and deceivers, from the manner in which God commands the prophet to treat them. It seems to have been such a deputation of elders as those mentioned Eze 8:1; Eze 14:1.
I will not be inquired of by you - I will not hear you. I will have nothing to do with you.
Wilt thou judge them - If thou wilt enter into any discussion with them, show them the abomination of their fathers. The whole chapter is a consecutive history of the unfaithfulness ingratitude, rebellion, and idolatry of the Jews, from the earliest times to that day; and vindicates the sentence which God had pronounced against them, and which he was about to execute more fully in delivering them and the city into the hands of the Chaldeans.
I chose Israel - They did not choose me for their God, till I had chosen them to be my people.
I lifted up mine hand - I bound myself in a covenant to them to continue to be their God, if they should be faithful, and continue to be my people. Among the Jews the juror lifted up his right hand to heaven; which explains Psa 144:8 : "Their right hand is a right hand of falsehood." This is a form used in England, Scotland, and Ireland.
To bring them forth of the land of Egypt - When they had been long in a very disgraceful and oppressive bondage.
A land that I had espied for them - God represents himself as having gone over different countries in order to find a comfortable residence for these people, whom he considered as his children.
Flowing with milk and honey - These were the characteristics of a happy and fruitful country, producing without intense labor all the necessaries and comforts of life. Of the happiest state and happiest place, a fine poet gives the following description: -
Ver erat aeternum, placidique tepentibus auris
Mulcebant Zephyri natos sine semine flores.
Mox etiam fruges tellus inarata ferebat:
Nec renovatus ager gravidis canebat aristis.
Flumina jam lactis, jam flumina nectaris ibant:
Flavaque de viridi stillabant ilice mella.
Ovid's Metam. lib. i., 107.
On flowers unsown soft Zephyr spreads his wing,
And time itself was one eternal spring;
Ensuing years the yellow harvest crowned,
The bearded blade sprang from the untilled ground,
And laden unrenewed the fields were found.
Floods were with milk, and floods with nectar filled,
And honey from the sweating oaks distilled.
In the flourishing state of Judea every mountain was cultivated as well as the valleys. Among the very rocks the vines grew luxuriantly.
Cast ye away - the abominations - Put away all your idols; those incentives to idolatry that ye have looked on with delight.
They did not - cast away - They continued attached to the idolatry of Egypt; so that, had I consulted my justice only, I should have consumed them even in Egypt itself. This is a circumstance that Moses has not mentioned, namely, their provoking God by their idolatry, after he had sent Moses and Aaron to them in Egypt.
But I wrought for my name's sake - I bare with them and did not punish them, lest the heathen, who had known my promises made to them, might suppose that I had either broken them through some caprice, or was not able to fulfill them.
I caused them to go forth - Though greatly oppressed and degraded, they were not willing to leave their house of bondage. I was obliged to force them away.
I gave them my statutes - I showed them what they should do in order to be safe, comfortable, wise, and happy; and what they should avoid in order to be uninjured in body, mind, and possessions. Had they attended to these things, they should have lived by them. They would have been holy, healthy, and happy.
I gave them my Sabbaths - The religious observance of the Sabbath was the first statute or command of God to men. This institution was a sign between God and them, to keep them in remembrance of the creation of the world, of the rest that he designed them in Canaan, and of the eternal inheritance among the saints in light. Of these things the Sabbath was a type and pledge.
But the house of Israel rebelled - They acted in the wilderness just as they had done in Egypt; and he spared them there for the same reason. See Eze 20:9.
I lifted up my hand - Their provocations in the wilderness were so great, that I vowed never to bring them into the promised land. I did not consume them, but I disinherited them. See the note on Eze 20:5 (note).
But I said unto their children - These I chose in their fathers' stead; and to them I purposed to give the inheritance which their fathers by disobedience lost.
I withdrew mine hand - I had just lifted it up to crush them as in a moment; for they also were idolatrous, and walked in the steps of their fathers.
I gave them also statutes that were not good - What a foolish noise has been made about this verse by critics, believers and infidels! How is it that God can be said "to give a people statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they could not live?" I answer, in their sense of the words, God never gave any such, at any time, to any people. Let any man produce an example of this kind if he can; or show even the fragment of such a law, sanctioned by the Most High! The simple meaning of this place and all such places is, that when they had rebelled against the Lord, despised his statutes, and polluted his Sabbaths - in effect cast him off, and given themselves wholly to their idols, then he abandoned them, and they abandoned themselves to the customs and ordinances of the heathen. That this is the meaning of the words, requires no proof to them who are the least acquainted with the genius and idioms of the Hebrew language, in which God is a thousand times said to do, what in the course of his providence or justice he only permits to be done.
I polluted them in their own gifts - I permitted them to pollute themselves by the offerings which they made to their idols. Causing their children to pass through the fire was one of those pollutions; but, did God ever give them a statute or judgment of this kind? No. He ever inveighs against such things, and they incur his heaviest displeasure and curse. See on Eze 20:31 (note).
What is the high place - מה הבמה mah habbamah, "what is the high place?" What is it good for? Its being a high place shows it to be a place of idolatry. I called it במה bamah, to mark it with infamy; but ye continue to frequent it, even while it is called במה bamah, to the present day!
Ye pollute yourselves - This shows the sense in which God says, Eze 20:26, "I polluted them in their own gifts." They chose to pollute themselves, and I permitted them to do so. See on Eze 20:25 (note), Eze 20:26 (note).
And that which cometh into your mind - Ye wish to be naturalized among idolaters, and make a part of such nations. But this shall not be at all; you shall be preserved as a distinct people. Ye shall not be permitted to mingle yourselves with the people of those countries: even they, idolaters as they are, will despise and reject you. Besides, I will change your place, restore your captivity; yet not in mercy, but in fury poured out; and reserve you for sorer evils, Eze 20:34.
I will bring you into the wilderness of the people - I will bring you out of your captivity, and bring you into your own land which you will find to be a wilderness, the consequence of your crimes.
There will I plead with you - There I will be your king, and rule you with a sovereign rule; and the dispensations of my justice and mercy shall either end you or mend you.
I will cause you to pass under the rod - This alludes to the custom of tithing the sheep. I take it from the rabbins. The sheep were all penned; and the shepherd stood at the door of the fold, where only one sheep could come out at once. He had in his hand a rod dipped in vermillion; and as they came out, he counted one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine; and as the tenth came out, he marked it with the rod, and said, "This is the tenth;" and that was set apart for the Lord.
I wilt bring you into the bond of the covenant - You shall be placed under the same obligations as before, and acknowledge your selves bound; ye shall feel your obligation, and live according to its nature.
I will purge out from among you the rebels - The incorrigibly wicked I will destroy; those who will not receive him whom I have appointed for this purpose as the Savior of Israel. And I will gather you who believe out of all the countries where you sojourn, and bring you into your own land; but those of you who will not believe - will not receive the Son of David to reign over you, shall never enter into the land of Israel, but die in your dispersions. This is what the contradicting and blaspheming Jews of the present day have to expect. And thus, both of you shall know that he is Jehovah, fulfilling his threatenings against the one, and his promises to the other.
Go ye, serve ye every one his idols - Thus, God gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they could not live, by thus permitting them to take their own way, serve their gods, and follow the maxims and rites of that abominable worship.
For in mine holy mountain - The days shall come in which all true Israelites shall receive Him whom I have sent to be the true sacrifice for the life of the world; and shall bring to Jerusalem - the pure Christian Church, their offerings, which I will there accept, for they will give me thanks for my unspeakable gift.
And ye shall know - Shall acknowledge that I am Jehovah.
And there shall ye remember your ways - Ye shall be ashamed of your past conduct, and of your long opposition to the Gospel of your salvation.
These promises may, in a certain limited sense, be applied to the restoration from the Babylonish captivity; but they must have their proper fulfillment when the Jews shall accept Jesus as their Savior, and in consequence be brought back from all their dispersions to their own land.
Set thy face toward the south - Towards Judea, which lay south from Babylon, or Mesopotamia, where the prophet then dwelt.
The forest of the south field - The city of Jerusalem, as full of inhabitants as the forest is of trees.
I will kindle a fire - I will send war, "and it shall devour every green tree," the most eminent and substantial of the inhabitants; and every dry tree, the lowest and meanest also.
The flaming flame shall not be quenched - The fierce ravages of Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans shall not be stopped till the whole land is ruined.
All faces from the south to the north shalt be burned - From the one end of the land to the other there shall be nothing but fear, dismay, terror, and confusion, occasioned by the wide-wasting violence of the Chaldeans. Judea lay in length from north to south.
All flesh - All the people shall see that this war is a judgment of the Lord.
It shall not be quenched - Till the whole land shall be utterly ruined.
Ah Lord God - O my God, consider my situation; who will believe what I shall say? They put the evil day far from them.
Doth he not speak parables? - הלא ממשל משלים הוא halo memashshel meshalim hu, "Is not he a maker of parables?" Is it not his custom to deal in enigmas? His figures are not to be understood; we should not trouble ourselves with them. We are not obliged to fathom his meaning; and perhaps after all it does not refer to us, or will not be accomplished in our time, if it even respect the land. Thus they turned aside what might have done them good, and rejected the counsel of God against themselves.
By dividing the word with our neighbor we often lose the benefit both of threatenings and promises. They voluntarily shut their own eyes; and then God, in judgment, sealed them up in darkness.