Ezekiel 20

The Word Made Fresh

1On the tenth day of the fifth month in the seventh year, some elders of Israel came to consult the LORD. They sat down before me. 2The LORD’s word came to me:

3“Son of man, tell the elders of Israel that the LORD God wants to know why they are coming to consult me. As I live, says the LORD, I will not allow you to consult me. 4Will you be their judge, son of man? Then remind them of the sins of their ancestors. 5Tell them the LORD says that on the day I chose Israel, I spoke to the children of the family of Jacob while they were in Egypt. I promised them that I am the LORD their God, 6and told them that I would bring them out of Egypt to a land that I had chosen for them; a glorious land of milk and honey. 7I told them to throw away the filthy things their eyes were attracted to, and not to defile themselves with Egyptian idols. I am the LORD your God, I said to them.

8“But they turned against me and refused to listen to me. They did not throw out the filthy things they delighted in, nor did they turn away from the idols of Egypt. That made me want to pour out my wrath on them, and exhaust my anger at them while they were still in Egypt. 9But I decided that my name should not be corrupted in full view of the peoples they would be living among, for I had made myself known to them when I brought them out of Egypt. 10So, I led them out of Egypt into the wilderness. 11I gave them my commandments and laws by which all of them should live. 12I also gave them my sabbaths as a sign that I am the LORD who blesses them. 13But the family of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They refused to obey my rules and rejected my laws, which are meant for everyone to live by, and they corrupted my sabbaths.

Then I thought I would unleash my anger on them and do away with them. 14But instead I decided not to mar my name in full view of the nations who saw me bring them out. 15And I told them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the rich and abundant and glorious land I had given them 16because they had rejected my rules and regulations, nor did they observe my sabbaths. Instead, their hearts were inclined toward their idols. 17Even so, I spared them. I didn’t destroy them or let them dwindle away in the wilderness.

18“In the wilderness I told their children not to follow their parents’ rules and regulations, or to bow down to their idols. 19I told them that I am the LORD their God, that they should follow my rules and observe my decrees, 20and that they were to honor my sabbaths as a sign between us, to remind them that I am the LORD your God. 21But even their children turned against me. They did not abide by my laws or keep the rules I had given them to live by. They abused my sabbaths.

“I decided to pour all my anger over them in the wilderness, 22but I held back and instead acted in a way that would honor my name so that the nations who saw me bring them out would not smear my name. 23I also promised them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the countries and nations 24because they had not kept my rules and had ignored my sabbaths, and had continued to honor their ancestors’ idols. 25I even gave them rules that were not good, and laws by which they could not live. 26I corrupted them through their gifts, and the sacrificing of their first-born children. I meant to horrify them so that they would know I am the LORD.

27“So, son of man, tell the people of Israel the LORD God says this: ‘Your ancestors cursed me and were dishonest with me. 28I had brought them into the land I had sworn to give them, but they worshiped on every high hill and under every leafy tree and there they offered their sacrifices and provoked me with their offerings. They sent up pleasant odors and poured out their drink offerings. 29I confronted them and asked them what the high place is they go to. That is why it is still called Bamah (High Place).’ 30So tell the families of Israel the LORD says this: ‘Will you corrupt yourselves as your ancestors did and chase after their despicable things? 31When you give your offerings and pass your children through the fire you corrupt yourselves before your idols even to this day. Will you consult me, Israel? As surely as I live, I will not be consulted by you!

32“‘You think you can be like other nations and tribes, and worship wood and stone images, but that will never happen. 33As surely as I live,’ says the LORD God, ‘I will rule as king over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and I will pour out my anger against you. 34I will separate you from other peoples and countries where you have been scattered. I will do this with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and I will send out my anger against you. 35I will bring you into the wilderness, and I will judge you face to face. 36As I judged your ancestors in the desert of Egypt, I will judge you,’ says the LORD God. 37‘I will make you succumb to my rod, and I will bring you into the covenant bond I made with you. 38I will purge the rebels from your midst, along with all those who sin against me. I will bring them out of the lands where they live as foreigners, but they will never enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'”

39The LORD God says this to you, people of Israel: “Go ahead and serve your idols, every one of you, now and from now on, if you will refuse to listen to me. But I will not allow you to continue to smear my name with your gifts and idols.

40“On my holy mountain in Israel,” says the LORD God, “every family in Israel will worship me, and I will accept them there, and I will require their sacrifices and the best of your offerings with all your holy things. 41I will accept you as a pleasant aroma when I separate you from the other nations where you have scattered. I will declare my holiness to you in full view of the other nations. 42When I restore you to the land of Israel you will know that I am the LORD, for that is the country I swore to give your ancestors. 43Once there you will recall your ways and deeds which have made you filthy, and you will hate yourselves for all the sins you have committed. 44And when I deal with you for my own name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and corruption, you will know that I am the LORD God, people of Israel.”

45This word of the LORD came to me: 46“Son of man, turn toward the south and preach against it. Prophesy against the forests of the Negeb, 47and tell it to hear the word of the LORD: ‘The LORD God says to Israel, I will set a fire in your midst, and it will burn up every green tree and every dry tree that grows where you are. The blaze will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it. 48Everyone living will see that I the LORD have done it, and it shall remain unquenchable.'”

49Then I said, “Oh, LORD God, the people are saying that I am making all these things up.”


1-8a: In this chapter Ezekiel gives a history lesson to certain elders with him in exile who have come to consult him. It is the seventh year now of Zedekiah’s reign in Jerusalem; in the ninth year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar will have had enough of his rebellious activities and will send the Babylonian army back to destroy the city (2 Kings 25:1). God tells Ezekiel he will refuse to advise these elders, and tells Ezekiel to remind them of the story of Israel’s past, how God planned to bring them out of Egypt, even though they never cast away their idols and even took part in the Egyptian cults.

8b-26: The story of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings is recounted, with a heavy emphasis on the people’s constant rebellion and God’s repeated attempts to reform them. The phrase “for the sake of my name” occurs 3 times here.

27-32: God informs Ezekiel that such people will not be allowed to judge what God has done.

33-38: God has scattered the people in the “wilderness of nations,” where they will undergo a purging of their wicked ways.

39: Ezekiel is to tell the elders to go ahead and serve their idols. God doesn’t want their worship anymore; God refuses to be just one of many gods.

40-44: There will come a day of restoration. The people will be returned to the land, where they will worship God and only God.

45-49: The chapter ends with a strange reference to a fire (God’s wrath?) spreading through the forest of the Negeb, the shrub-strewn desert south of Judah. Why God would want to afflict that place is unexplained, and perhaps Ezekiel doesn’t understand it either, because he objects. People will think I’m “making all these things up,” he says. The meaning of this unusual phrase is probably that Ezekiel fears they will see him as a good side show but not take him seriously.


Who or what do we worship? The way we are keeping the sabbath is a key to how we answer that question. Worshiping God is not difficult, but sometimes people are convinced that happiness and fulfillment in life can be had through other kinds of activities. We worship pleasure. We worship money. We worship power. The list is almost interminable. But none of these other things we worship can satisfy our need to be in God’s good graces. Worship God. The rest will fall into place.