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Ezekiel 20-21 Listen
Setting the stage for Ezekiel 20
Since Ezekiel tells us that these prophecies were given in July/August, 591 B.C., let's take a look at what we know about this time period; it will provide a little perspective to this prophecy. After having considered Ezekiel's previous prophecies concerning the imminent fall of Jerusalem, these elders of the exiles still had hope that Judah/Jerusalem would be able to beat the inevitable - their fall to Babylon.
Here's what we know from secular historical sources. In the late summer of 591 B.C., the news of Egypts victory in the Sudan undoubtedly had reached the remnant of Judeans at Tel Abib over in Babylon. Certainly rumors also indicated that Psammetik II, who was an Egyptian king of the Twenty-sixth dynasty from 595 BC to 589 BC, would march against the Babylonians in Palestine. Naturally these Jewish exiles would have been quite excited about the possible outcome of these actions. Perhaps Psammetik II would be able to kick Nebuchadnezzar out of the region and make it possible for the Jewish state to once again be established. Zedekiah had foolishly shared the same dream when he revolted from Babylonian rule and placed his confidence in Egypts strength somewhere between the end of 591 and 589 B.C. That turned out to be a bad move because the Pharaoh soon became ill, and the potential strength of Egypt never materialized, and...well...you know what happened to Zedekiah. (Click here if you don't.)
With that being established, here the elders of the exiled Jews request an audience with Ezekiel to get an idea of what to expect now (verse 1).
Let's face it; Israel had a history of rebellion (Ezekiel 20:1-32)
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 enquire of the LORD, and sat before me.
2 Then came the word of the LORD unto me, saying,
3 Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye come to enquire of me? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you.
4 Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? cause them to know the abominations of their fathers:
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;
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 for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands:
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.
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.
9 But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted 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.
10 Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness.
11 And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.
12 Moreover also 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.
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 them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.
14 But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out.
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;
16 Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols.
17 Nevertheless mine eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness.
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:
19 I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them;
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.
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 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.
22 Nevertheless I withdrew mine hand, and wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth.
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;
24 Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols.
25 Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live;
26 And I polluted them in their own gifts, 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.
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 me, in that they have committed a trespass against me.
28 For when I had brought them into the land, for the which I lifted up 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 savour, and poured out there their drink offerings.
29 Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go? And the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day.
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?
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 enquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you.
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.
Ezekiel gives the familiar history of Israel's repeated rebellion against God again. They rebelled coming out of Egypt. Their children rebelled. Not long after entering Canaan they began serving their false gods. Ezekiel verbalizes these idolatrous actions, even appearing to present them as tests from God in the way they are presented beginning in verse 18 through 26. Because they rebelled against the worship of the one true God, God gave them over to ungodly pagan statutes which completely corrupted them. The sinfulness of their ancestors all the way down to the present group of renegades is clearly presented in verses 27-31.
Finally, Ezekiel asks these exiled Jewish leaders the big question: Do you corrupt Jewish leaders still have the audacity to inquire regarding the legitimacy of Ezekiel's prophecy concerning the fall of Jerusalem? They obviously expected to be delivered (according to their false prophets) and prosper under the false gods brought home from other nations. The bottom line of verse 32 is God saying, "Nope...that's not going to happen!" Ezekiel prophesies from God that they will not turn to God.
What about a restoration? (Ezekiel 20:33-44)
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:
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.
35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face.
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.
37 And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant:
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.
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.
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.
41 I will accept you with your sweet savour, 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.
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.
43 And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.
44 And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have wrought 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.
Ezekiel continues his answer to their inquiry. Yes, there will be a restoration, but not like they were thinking. The stipulations listed here describe the events which take place after the smoke has cleared from the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:11-21, see notes) and the millennium begins.
Notice the provisions of this restoration which Ezekiel prophesies:
Was this criteria of restoration fulfilled under Cyrus the Persian in 535 B.C. after the defeat of the Babylonians? Well...it is true that Jews began returning to Palestine at that time, and they were very zealous toward God...at least for a little while after that. However, a close inspection of this criteria reveals that all the components listed in these 12 verses did not exist at the time of the return to the land beginning in 535 B.C. Therefore, the restoration of which Ezekiel speaks here is definitely a description of the yet-future millennium. As a matter of fact, the five conditions as stated above each have stipulations that eliminate the possibility that they might be confused with the return of the exiles in 535 B.C. - definitely millennium.
A fire of judgment is coming their way (Ezekiel 20:45-49)
45 Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
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;
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.
48 And all flesh shall see that I the LORD have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.
49 Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables?
Ezekiel is still prophesying to the elders who came to ask his counsel in verse 1. Here's yet another prophecy concerning judgment on Judah, but this time Ezekiel focuses in on the southern portion of Israel known as Negev. This fire appears to be a metaphor for God's fiery judgment of the Babylonians against Judah. This judgment prophecy serves as an introduction to the prophecy of chapter 21.
A vivid prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 21)
1 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
2 Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel,
3 And say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked.
4 Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north:
5 That all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more.
6 Sigh therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins; and with bitterness sigh before their eyes.
7 And it shall be, when they say unto thee, Wherefore sighest thou? that thou shalt answer, For the tidings; because it cometh: and every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and shall be brought to pass, saith the Lord GOD.
8 Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
9 Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the LORD; Say, A sword, a sword is sharpened, and also furbished:
10 It is sharpened to make a sore slaughter; it is furbished that it may glitter: should we then make mirth? it contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree.
11 And he hath given it to be furbished, that it may be handled: this sword is sharpened, and it is furbished, to give it into the hand of the slayer.
12 Cry and howl, son of man: for it shall be upon my people, it shall be upon all the princes of Israel: terrors by reason of the sword shall be upon my people: smite therefore upon thy thigh.
13 Because it is a trial, and what if the sword contemn even the rod? it shall be no more, saith the Lord GOD.
14 Thou therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite thine hands together, and let the sword be doubled the third time, the sword of the slain: it is the sword of the great men that are slain, which entereth into their privy chambers.
15 I have set the point of the sword against all their gates, that their heart may faint, and their ruins be multiplied: ah! it is made bright, it is wrapped up for the slaughter.
16 Go thee one way or other, either on the right hand, or on the left, whithersoever thy face is set.
17 I will also smite mine hands together, and I will cause my fury to rest: I the LORD have said it.
18 The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
19 Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the king of Babylon may come: both twain shall come forth out of one land: and choose thou a place, choose it at the head of the way to the city.
20 Appoint a way, that the sword may come to Rabbath of the Ammonites, and to Judah in Jerusalem the defenced.
21 For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver.
22 At his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to appoint captains, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to appoint battering rams against the gates, to cast a mount, and to build a fort.
23 And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, to them that have sworn oaths: but he will call to remembrance the iniquity, that they may be taken.
24 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are discovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear; because, I say, that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand.
25 And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end,
26 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high.
27 I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.
28 And thou, son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning the Ammonites, and concerning their reproach; even say thou, The sword, the sword is drawn: for the slaughter it is furbished, to consume because of the glittering:
29 Whiles they see vanity unto thee, whiles they divine a lie unto thee, to bring thee upon the necks of them that are slain, of the wicked, whose day is come, when their iniquity shall have an end.
30 Shall I cause it to return into his sheath? I will judge thee in the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy nativity.
31 And I will pour out mine indignation upon thee, I will blow against thee in the fire of my wrath, and deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, and skilful to destroy.
32 Thou shalt be for fuel to the fire; thy blood shall be in the midst of the land; thou shalt be no more remembered: for I the LORD have spoken it.
Remember, they came to Ezekiel and asked for a second opinion (20:1). This is a continuation of the condemnation that began in 20:45, but now Ezekiel begins to describe this judgment against Judah with a sword metaphor. Verse 19 clearly identifies this sword judgment when it says, "the sword of the king of Babylon may come."
Here's the sword of God's judgment against Judah/Jerusalem prophesying the final destruction in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians:
Ezekiel uses the "sword" to paint a thorough picture of God's judgment upon Judah/Jerusalem for their disobedience. Keep in mind, the elders did ask Ezekiel what to expect. Sometimes you just hate to be right!