Ezekiel is the prophet of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.
His main mission was to warn his people about the coming catastrophe, and explain what God was doing.
In the seventh year (that is, the seventh year of Ezekiel’s exile with his king), some of the elders of Israel among the exiles came to see him to
“inquire of the Lord” (ch20).
They must have been desperate to find out what would happen, if they were prepared to ignore the rebuff which a similar party had received the
previous year. The Lord had said that he would not accept their inquiries, because there was idolatry in their hearts. He would answer them only
through his acts of judgement.
This party meets the same refusal; “As I live, says the Lord, I will not be inquired of by you”.
However, he instructs Ezekiel to amplify this answer by giving them an account of the idolatry of their ancestors.
This goes back to “the day when I chose Israel”. For this account, that means the time when he made himself known to them in Egypt. He promised to
take them to “the most glorious of all lands” and told them to cast away the idols of Egypt.
Yet they rebelled against this demand and clung on to these “detestable things”. He had half a mind to spend out his wrath against them there and
then, in the midst of Egypt itself. But he considered what this would do to “my name” amongst the other nations and held to his first intention of
bringing them away from Egypt and out into the wilderness.
We don’t find that exact story in Exodus. The nearest we get is the dialogue between God and Moses after the “golden calf” episode in Sinai
(ch32). Ezekiel may still have had access to traditions which have not been preserved in the Pentateuch.
In the wilderness (at Sinai) “I gave them my statutes and showed them my ordinances”. Yet they rebelled and rejected his ordinances, and profaned
his sabbaths. Therefore he swore to them that he would not
bring them into the promised land. However, he did not destroy them altogether, as
he might have done.
Again, this looks like a different tradition. In the Numbers account, the decision to exclude that generation was made at Kadesh (ch14), because they
“murmured” against the leadership of Moses and Aaron and proposed to return to Egypt in preference to undertaking the invasion of Canaan.
The Lord then gave the same instructions to their children, re-affirming his statues and ordinances.
However, they too rebelled, and he only just held himself back from pouring out his wrath against them there in the wilderness.
This looks like a version of the story of Shiittim (Numbers ch25), when the Israelites were drawn into the practices of the Moabites. There was a
great plague, but Phinehas the son of Eleazar took swift action and “turned back” the wrath of God.
Nevertheless, the Lord took two additional measures, before allowing them to proceed further.
“I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations”. This looks like an advance warning, made with foresight, of what
was now happening in Ezekiel’s time. The same warning, in a conditional form, is found in Deuteronomy (ch28 vv62-64).
He also “gave them statutes which were not good”.
This is one example of one of the more difficult themes found in the Bible. When someone seems determined to act in disobedience to the Lord, he
allows them to carry on doing it- “gives them enough rope”, as it were- and this is described as causing them to do it. The classic case is the
“hardening of Pharaoh’s heart”.
The only explanation given here is “I did it that they might know I am the Lord”. He will judge them, as he judged Pharaoh, once he has allowed
them to expose the full extent of their opposition.
So he gave them, or at least they picked up, new statutes and ordinances “by which they could not have life”.
This includes the practice of “offering by fire all their first-born”. The histories and the prophets do not start complaining about this horrible
custom until the later stages of the kingdom, but the implication of Ezekiel’s narrative is that the practice was acquired even while they were
still on the far side of the Jordan. This seems very plausible, since we know of two examples of human sacrifice from that region- by Jephthah (Judges
ch11) and by the king of Moab (2 Kings ch3).
The final stage of this history of idolatry is a more familiar story.
It is the idolatry which they fell into once they had entered the land, under the influence of the original inhabitants. They offered sacrifices to
the local idols “wherever they saw any high hill or leafy tree”.
Which brings us back to the starting-point of this explanation.
Since they are defiled by their idols “to this day”, he will not accept inquiries from them.
He can tell them now, though, that they will not be allowed simply to relapse, as a people, into the accepted idolatry of the rest of the world.
They should already know that they are about to be scattered from the land.
Once that has happened, he will collect them together again, out of their various places of exile, and will take them back into the wilderness, so
that he can enter into judgement with them “face to face”.
As in Hosea ch2, the wilderness is the place where he re-sets the relationship, just as he was obliged to do in the original wilderness experience.
He will then separate them out. He will “purge out the rebels from among you”. Though the rebels will have been removed, like the rest, from the
first places of exile, they will not be allowed back into the land.
On the other hand, the faithful remnant will enter the land, to serve the Lord and be accepted, on his holy mountain.
“I will manifest my holiness amongst you in the midst of the nations”.
He will do this, disregarding their old corruption, “for my name’s sake”.
They themselves will still remember the pollutions of the past and will be suitably chastened- “and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils
that you have committed.”
And the purpose of the exercise is, as always;
“You shall know that I am the Lord”.
edit on 6-4-2018 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)