Today’s passage is Ezekiel 20:1-29. There are many lessons we can learn from this passage. Let’s go!
Ezekiel 20:1-3 (NIV) 1 In the seventh year, in the fifth month on the tenth day, some of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and they sat down in front of me. 2 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 3 “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Have you come to inquire of me? As surely as I live, I will not let you inquire of me, declares the Sovereign LORD.’
On verses 1-3: According to many scholars, the date Ezekiel describes in verse 1 can be equated to sometime in August 591 B.C. At that time some elders of Israel come to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord. However, the Lord tells Ezekiel that He refuses to let the elders inquire of Him (v3).
Why would the Lord not let the elders of Israel inquire of Him? In the rest of chapter 20, God will explain in an indirect way His reason for not letting the Israelite elders inquire of Him: it’s because of the Israelites’ tendency to rebel against what God says. Why would God bother telling the Israelites what they should do when the Israelites would refuse to do it?
What can we learn from this? It’s no use trying to inquire of God when we are simultaneously worshiping other gods or hanging onto our own agenda.So whenever you inquire of God, first take a moment to search your heart. Repent of any sins that you struggle with, lay down your own agenda and commit yourself to doing what God says even before He tells you what He wants you to do. By taking these steps first, you position your heart to hear much more easily from God.
(For a similar scene, see Ezekiel 14:1-11.)
Ezekiel 20:4-10 (NIV) 4 “Will you judge them? Will you judge them, son of man? Then confront them with the detestable practices of their fathers 5 and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On the day I chose Israel, I swore with uplifted hand to the descendants of the house of Jacob and revealed myself to them in Egypt. With uplifted hand I said to them, “I am the LORD your God.” 6 On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands. 7 And I said to them, “Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” 8 “‘But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in Egypt. 9 But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations they lived among and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites by bringing them out of Egypt. 10 Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the desert.
On verses 4-10: When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, this was God showing tremendous mercy and undeserved grace to a people prone to rebelling against Him. God had every right to abandon the Israelites because of their rebellion and unbelief, but for the sake of His name, so as not to let His name be defamed among the nations, He still led the Israelites out of Egypt, despite their rebellious tendencies.
What can we learn from this? Here are two lessons I learn:
Just as the Israelites were rescued out of slavery in Egypt not because of their own merit and goodness but because of God’s mercy and grace, so God rescued us from slavery to sin not because we deserved it but because of God’s mercy and grace. “It is by grace we have been saved, through faith, and this not from ourselves; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
One of the key repeated phrases in Ezekiel 20 is “for the sake of my name” (see verses 9, 14 and 22). The fact that God would still lead the rebellious Israelites out of Egypt “for the sake of my name” (v9) shows us that God cares about how His name is treated. That is because God’s name is also a reflection of God’s character, so God will go out of His way to uphold His name and reputation.Psalm 138:2 says “[Y]ou have exalted above all things yourname and your word.” In other words, God places the highest value on His name and His word. He is grieved when His name or His Word are brought into disrepute. That is why when God gave Moses the ten commandments, He said, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.” (Exodus 20:7)
How careful are you to uphold the worth of God’s name? Do you misuse God’s name? It’s for this reason that, for example, I would urge you not to say, “Oh my God” unless you’re actually praying to God. Don’t use God’s name in vain. Rather, hold the name of God in high regard.
Ezekiel 20:11 (NIV) 11 I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them.
On verse 11: A good parent does not lay down rules for their child simply for the sake of rules, but to protect and train their child so that the child can ultimately grow up to live life to the fullest. Likewise, why does God give us His decrees and make known to us His laws? It’s not to condemn us, to kill our joy or to cap our happiness. Rather, God gives us His commands so that we would be able to live life to its fullest, so that “the man who obeys them will live by them”. As Jesus says in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and life to the full.” God’s commands are not prison bars that ruin your life but are more like guardrails on a highway that protect your life.
Ezekiel 20:12 (NIV) 12 Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy.
On verse 12: What was the purpose of God commanding the Israelites to take a Sabbath day and rest from their work (Exodus 20:8-11)? It was to remind the Israelites that it is God’s grace, not their work, that brings them near to God and enables them to enjoy His presence. Likewise, may you rest in the finished work that Jesus Christ completed on the cross to bring you to God, instead of relying on your own continual and imperfect effort to please God. Also, may you learn to incorporate regular rest into your work schedule so that you can be refreshed by, and reminded of, God’s grace in your life.
Ezekiel 20:13-17 (NIV) 13 “‘Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the desert. They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws–although the man who obeys them will live by them–and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and destroy them in the desert. 14 But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. 15 Also with uplifted hand I swore to them in the desert that I would not bring them into the land I had given them–a land flowing with milk and honey, most beautiful of all lands– 16 because they rejected my laws and did not follow my decrees and desecrated my Sabbaths. For their hearts were devoted to their idols. 17 Yet I looked on them with pity and did not destroy them or put an end to them in the desert.
On verses 13-17: Here the Lord speaks of how the Israelites continued to rebel against Him even after He had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Their rebellion came in the form of refusing to obey God’s commands, refusing to honour His designated Sabbath days, and devoting their hearts to idols (v16). Yet for two reasons – “for the sake of my name” (v14) and because God had pity or compassion on the Israelites (v17) – God did not put an end to the Israelites in the desert on their way to the promised land. Rather, God spared the next generation of Israelites and promised to take them, if not their parents, to the promised land.
Likewise, when God sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins, God did it for two reasons: (1) to uphold the trustworthiness of His name; and (2) out of compassion for you and me.
Ezekiel 20:18-20 (NIV) 18 I said to their children in the desert, “Do not follow the statutes of your fathers or keep their laws or defile yourselves with their idols. 19 I am the LORD your God; follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 20 Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.”
On verses 18-20: Notice that God tells the next generation of Israelites in the desert, “Do not follow the statutes ofyour fathers or keep their laws or defile yourselves with their idols” (v18). Instead, He tells them to “follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (v19) and “keep my Sabbaths holy” (v20). Likewise, each of us needs to choose whose laws we are going to follow: we can insist on following our laws (“I am my own king. My body belongs to me, not God. I’ll do whatever I feel like and whatever I want. I am my own law”). Or we can follow God’s laws. We can worship our idols, or we can worship God. Of course, the consequences of doing one or the other are huge. May we be careful to follow God’s Word and not just our own made up laws.
Ezekiel 20:21-24 (NIV) 21 “‘But the children rebelled against me: They did not follow my decrees, they were not careful to keep my laws–although the man who obeys them will live by them–and they desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in the desert. 22 But I withheld my hand, and for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. 23 Also with uplifted hand I swore to them in the desert that I would disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my laws but had rejected my decrees and desecrated my Sabbaths, and their eyes [lusted] after their fathers’ idols.
On verses 21-24: Sadly, the next generation of Israelites followed in their fathers’ footsteps. They rebelled against God just as much as their fathers did, even while God was trying to lead them to the promised land. But once again, for the sake of His name (v22) the Lord did not destroy them, but showed them great mercy, warning them that they would be dispersed and scattered among the nations if they continued in their rebellion (v23-24).
Ezekiel 20:25-26 (NIV) 25 I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by; 26 I let them become defiled through their gifts–the sacrifice of every firstborn–that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.’
On verses 25-26: One reason God allows people to sin and to reject Him is because God wants people to choose to love Him, as an act of their will. But here we learn another reason why God allows people to sin: it is so that hopefully people will realize that their own ways do not lead to life, that their ways are like “laws they could not live by” (v25) and that life God’s way is so much better than life our way.
Ezekiel 20:27-29 (NIV) 27 “Therefore, son of man, speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: In this also your fathers blasphemed me by forsaking me: 28 When I brought them into the land I had sworn to give them and they saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices, made offerings that provoked me to anger, presented their fragrant incense and poured out their drink offerings. 29 Then I said to them: What is this high place you go to?'” (It is called Bamah to this day.)
On verses 27-29: Here God describes how the Israelites’ pattern of rebellion continued into their time in the promised land, as they used the land God had given them to offer sacrifices to idols (v28).
Notice that in every environment where the Israelites lived, whether as slaves in Egypt or as pilgrims in the desert or as residents of the promised land itself, the Israelites’ sinful, idolatrous tendencies reared their ugly head. It goes to show that our tendency to sin cannot be fully removed just by changing our environment. What we need is a change of heart. That is why in the book of Ezekiel God no longer promises the Israelites a new environment, but a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 11:19).
God does the same for us. When we were prone to sin against God no matter where we are, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for all of our sins past, present and future. He also sent us His Holy Spirit to give us a new heart and a new spirit. Praise God that in Jesus Christ we are a new creation, empowered by God to live the life He calls us to live.
Heavenly Father, please forgive me for the times when I have misused Your name, not being careful to treat Your name with the highest honour. For You have exalted above all things Your name and Your Word (Psalm 138:2). Thank You that when my work was not enough to qualify me for heaven, when a new environment couldn’t change the old sinner in me, You sent Your son Jesus Christ to do a work that I could not do, and usher in a change that a change of environment could never bring, a change that is from the inside out. Holy Spirit, fill me today. May I hold Your name in the highest regard. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!