Ezekiel 20:25
Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live;
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(25) Statutes that were not good.—In this verse the general statement is made of which a particular instance is given in the next. The “statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live,” cannot be the same with those described in Ezekiel 20:11 as “judgments which, if a man do, he shall even live in them.” They are not, therefore, to be understood (as many of the fathers took them) of any part of the Mosaic law. Neither is it a sufficient explanation to say that God gave them what was intrinsically good, but it became evil to them through their sins; such a view of the law is emphatically discarded in Romans 7:13. The statutes of the Mosaic law are not intended here at all, as is plain from the particular instance of the consecration of children to Moloch in the next verse. These evil statutes and judgments were those adopted from the heathen whom they had suffered to dwell among them, and from the surrounding nations. But how can the Lord say that He gave these to them? In the same way that it is said in Isaiah 63:17, “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from Thy ways, and hardened our heart from Thy fear?” So also St. Paul says of the heathen (Romans 1:21-28) that God “gave them up to uncleanness,” “unto vile affections,” “to a reprobate mind;” and of certain wicked persons (2Thessalonians 2:11-12) “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believe not the truth.” And St. Stephen says of these very Israelites at this very time, “God gave them up to worship the host of heaven” (Acts 7:42). It is part of that universal moral government of the world, to which Ezekiel so frequently refers, that the effect of disobedience and neglect of grace is to lead the sinner on to greater sin. The Israelites rebelled against the Divine government, and neglected the grace given them; the natural consequence was that they fell under the influence of the heathen. Comp. Note on Ezekiel 14:9.

Ezekiel 20:25-26. Wherefore I gave them statutes that were not good, &c. — This some understand of the ceremonial law, as if it were given purely to be a check and restraint to that perverse people, consisting of numerous rites and observances, many of which had no intrinsic good in them. “But I conceive,” says Lowth, “the statutes here spoken of to be of a different nature from those mentioned Ezekiel 20:11, because they have a quite contrary character given of them; and therefore I take the words to import, that God, in a just judgment for their disobedience to his own laws, gave them up to a reprobate mind, and suffered them to walk after the idolatrous and impious customs of the heathen around them. And whereas, by obeying the laws and ordinances which he had given them, they might have lived happily, (Ezekiel 20:11,) they became slaves to the vile and cruel practices of the heathen idolatries, so as to offer up their very children in sacrifice to idols, to the utter destruction of themselves and their posterity, Ezekiel 20:26. This will appear to be the sense of the text, if we compare it with Ezekiel 20:39, and with Deuteronomy 4:28; Deuteronomy 28:36; Jeremiah 16:13; in which texts God threatens them, as a punishment for their neglect of his worship, to disperse them into the heathen countries, and thereby deprive them of an opportunity of serving him in public, and expose them to the peril of being seduced to idols. Just as David complains to Saul of the hardship of his exile, that it laid him open to the temptation of serving the heathen gods, 1 Samuel 26:19.” In the same light Bishop Newcome views the passage, interpreting the sense to be, “I permitted them to observe statutes, or idolatrous rites, of an evil and execrable nature.” And I polluted them in their own gifts — I suffered them to pollute themselves in offering abominable sacrifices. In that they caused to pass through the fire, &c. — In offering their firstborn sons in sacrifice to Moloch. That I might make them desolate — Which occasioned the destruction of great numbers of them, and made a desolation in the land. That they might know that I am the Lord — This I permitted, that they might be made sensible that I am the living and true God, and a being infinitely more excellent than any or all of the idols, to the worship of which they had foolishly addicted themselves: or, that they might be compelled to acknowledge, that I am a mighty king in punishing those that would not have me for a gracious king in governing them.

20:10-26. The history of Israel in the wilderness is referred to in the new Testament as well as in the Old, for warning. God did great things for them. He gave them the law, and revived the ancient keeping of the sabbath day. Sabbaths are privileges; they are signs of our being his people. If we do the duty of the day, we shall find, to our comfort, it is the Lord that makes us holy, that is, truly happy, here; and prepares us to be happy, that is, perfectly holy, hereafter. The Israelites rebelled, and were left to the judgments they brought upon themselves. God sometimes makes sin to be its own punishment, yet he is not the Author of sin: there needs no more to make men miserable, than to give them up to their own evil desires and passions.The "judgments whereby they should not live" are those spoken of in Ezekiel 20:18, and are contrasted with the judgments in Ezekiel 20:13, Ezekiel 20:21, laws other than divine, to which God gives up those whom He afflicts with judicial blindness, because they have willfully closed their eyes, Psalm 81:12; Romans 1:24.25. I gave them … statutes … not good—Since they would not follow My statutes that were good, "I gave them" their own (Eze 20:18) and their fathers' "which were not good"; statutes spiritually corrupting, and, finally, as the consequence, destroying them. Righteous retribution (Ps 81:12; Ho 8:11; Ro 1:24; 2Th 2:11). Eze 20:39 proves this view to be correct (compare Isa 63:17). Thus on the plains of Moab (Nu 25:1-18), in chastisement for the secret unfaithfulness to God in their hearts, He permitted Baal's worshippers to tempt them to idolatry (the ready success of the tempters, moreover, proving the inward unsoundness of the tempted); and this again ended necessarily in punitive judgments. Because they did by such perverse obstinacy reject the statutes I did in mercy give them; my good laws and judgments, saith God, they despised; for this cause God proceeds to punish them in a dreadful kind and manner,

Gave them; not by appointing or enjoining, but by permitting them to make such for themselves, much like that Romans 1:24, giving up to a reprobate sense, or that 2 Thessalonians 2:11 Psalm 81:11,12, as a governor or father, after long and fruitless strivings with an obstinate and unruly youth, gives him up at last as hopeless, and casts off the care and guidance of him.

Statutes; orders and rules about their religious worship, which they first invented, next approved, and lastly made their established religion, where all they could love in it was, that it was their own.

Were not good; had nothing in them that was morally good, pious, or suited to the spiritual nature of God; that were unprofitable, and ministered nothing to the edifying and bettering of men, nor could commend the users of them to God; that were indeed pernicious to the users, and increased their sins, being superstitious and idolatrous: so the not good is very bad, inconvenient, and hurtful.

Whereby they should not live: if it be not explicatory of the former, it may, it is possible, refer distinctly to the inconvenient, oppressive, and unsafe courses, decrees, and edicts about civil matters, which were such as they could never thrive under; for however some heathen nations have thrived under an evident blessing from Heaven, though their religion were idolatrous, yet I do not remember that an apostate nation ever retained their good government and civil prosperity under their apostacy from God; thus the judgments given were such they could not live in them; they made grievous and destructive laws for themselves and theirs.

Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good,.... Yea, were very bad; not the moral law, and the statutes of it; for that is holy, just, and good, though the killing letter and ministration of condemnation and death to the transgressors of it; indeed those laws were both good and bad to different persons, as Abendana observes; good to those that observed them, but not good to those that transgressed them, the issue of which was death: rather these were the statutes and rites of the ceremonial law, which were not in their own nature good; nor did they arise from the nature and holiness of God, but from his will; and though very good and useful under the legal dispensation, until the Messiah came, especially when attended to by faith, and with a view to him; yet had the sanction of death to many of them, that a man could not live by them: but it may be, the punishments inflicted on them for their sins, by the plague, by fire, and by serpents, are meant; which may be called "statutes" and "judgments", because ordered and appointed by the Lord, and according to justice: or, as many, both Jews and Christians, think, the idolatrous laws, usages, and customs of other nations, the traditions of their fathers, their wicked laws and statutes, and their own; which, being left to a reprobate mind, they were suffered to walk in, to their hurt and ruin; which is sometimes the sense of the word give; and so here, he "gave", that is, he permitted them to observe such statutes; and this sense is countenanced and confirmed by Ezekiel 20:26; to which agrees Jarchi's note,

"I delivered them into the hand of their imagination (or corrupt nature) to stumble at their iniquity;''

see Romans 1:28. Kimchi interprets them of laws, decrees, tribute, and taxes, imposed upon them by their enemies that conquered them. The Targum is,

"and I also, when they rebelled against my word, and would not obey my prophets, cast them far off, and delivered them into the hands of their enemies; and they went after their foolish imagination, and made decrees which were not right:''

and judgments, whereby they should not live; yea, which were deadly and destructive to them; which brought ruin, destruction, and death upon them; for more is designed than is expressed: this was the effect of following the customs of the nations, and of walking in the statutes of their fathers, and of their own; whereas, had they walked according to the judgments and statutes of God, moral and ceremonial, they had lived comfortably and prosperously.

Wherefore I gave {l} them also statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they should not live;

(l) Because they would not obey my laws, I gave them up to themselves that they should obey their own fantasies, as in Eze 20:39, Ro 1:21,24.

25. Wherefore I gave … also] Moreover also I gave, see Ezekiel 20:23.

statutes … not good] These statutes are of a kind contrary to those given before (Ezekiel 20:11) which were good. These points seem plain: 1. The practice referred to is that of passing the firstborn male children through the fire as a burnt-offering to the deity. 2. The law in Israel was that all the male firstborn of men and the male firstlings of beasts were the Lord’s. The firstborn of men were to be redeemed, as also the firstlings of unclean animals, but the firstlings of clean animals were to be offered in sacrifice to Jehovah (Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:12-13; Exodus 22:29, cf. Numbers 3:46-47; Numbers 18:15-16). The law requiring the sacrifice of the firstborn had become extended, so as to include children. The practice was one prevailing among the peoples around Israel, and probably it first crept into use in Israel and was then justified by the law or custom relating to cattle, of which it might seem a natural extension; but in Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5 Jehovah vehemently protests that to command it never came into his mind. The question to whom the children were offered, lit. passed over in the fire, is not quite easy to decide. In passages where the practice is condemned it is represented as a sacrifice to “the Molech,” Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10, or to the Baal, Jeremiah 7:31, or generally, to the idols, Ezekiel 16:21; Psalm 106:38 (idols of Canaan). Though the spelling of the name Molech is peculiar, the word probably means “the king” originally, just as the Baal means “the lord,” both names being descriptive of the same deity. In Isaiah 57:9 “the king” has the ordinary spelling. Though borrowing the practice from the Canaanites it is probable that in Israel the sacrifice was offered to Jehovah, particularly as the law under which it was made was considered given by him. On the other hand Jer., though repudiating this popular inference, speaks of the offering as being made to Baal. The name “Baal,” however, from Hosea downwards is used somewhat laxly, including the images of Jehovah, and all heathenish ceremonies in his service are called worship of Baal. 3. This law is described as not good, one by which men could not live. The effect of it was that men were polluted in their gifts (Ezekiel 20:26), and the purpose of it was to destroy them. This evil law, entailing this consequence, was a judicial punishment of them for their former sins, just as the “deception” of the false prophets was, ch. Ezekiel 14:9. Whether the people, familiar with the Baal worship, drew the false inference from the law of the firstborn, or whether false teachers set the idea before them, is uncertain (Jeremiah 8:8 appears to refer to written perversions of the law). The sacrifice of children was a practice that gained ground in the disastrous times before the exile (Hosea 13:2 has another meaning: men who sacrifice kiss calves; it is the irrationality of men kissing calves that the prophet mocks, not the enormity of human sacrifices). Ezekiel appears to regard the practice as ancient, as he connects it with the second generation in the wilderness. The instances noted in early history are transjordanic (Jephthah and king of Moab), and possibly, though the practice became aggravated only at a later period, the prophet may have considered that the people became acquainted with it on the other side of the Jordan.

Verse 25. - I gave them also statutes that were not good, etc. The words have sometimes been understood as though Ezekiel applied these terms to the Law itself, either as speaking of what St. Paul calls its "weak and beggarly elements" (Galatians 4:9), or as unable to work out the righteousness which it commanded (Romans 3:20), and the language of Hebrews 7:19 and Hebrews 10:1 has been urged in support of this view. One who has studied Ezekiel with any care will not need many words to show that such a conclusion was not in his thoughts at all. For him the Law was "holy and just and good," and its statutes such that a man who should keep them should even live in them (vers. 13, 21). He is speaking of the time that followed on the second publication of that Law, and what he Says is that the people who rebelled against it were left, as it were, to a law of another kind. The baser, darker forms of idolatry are described by him, with a grave irony, as statutes and judgments of another kind, working, not life, but death. Sin became, by God's appointment, the punishment of sin, that it might be manifest as exceeding sinful. So Stephen says of Israel that "God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven" (Acts 7:42). So St. Paul paints the corruptions of the heathen world as the result of God's giving them up to "vile affections" (Romans 1:24, 25). So in God's future dealings with an apostate form of Christianity, the same apostle declares that "God shall send them strong delusions that they should believe a lie" (2 Thessalonians 2:11). Psalm 81:12 may have been in Ezekiel's thoughts as asserting the same general law. Ezekiel 20:25The Generation that Grew Up in the Desert

Ezekiel 20:18. And I spake to their sons in the desert, Walk not in the statutes of your fathers, and keep not their rights, and do not defile yourselves with their idols. Ezekiel 20:19. I am Jehovah your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my rights, and do them, Ezekiel 20:20. And sanctify my Sabbaths, that they may be for a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am Jehovah your God. Ezekiel 20:21. But the sons were rebellious against me; they walked not in my statutes, and did not keep my rights, to do them, which man should do that he may live through them; they profaned my Sabbaths. Then I thought to pour out my wrath upon them, to accomplish my anger upon them in the desert. Ezekiel 20:22. But I turned back my hand and did it for my name's sake, that it might not be profaned before the eyes of the nations, before whose eyes I had them out. Ezekiel 20:23. I also lifted my hand to them in the desert, to scatter them among the nations, and to disperse them in the lands; Ezekiel 20:24. Because they did not my rights, and despised my statutes, profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were after the idols of their fathers. Ezekiel 20:25. And I also gave them statutes, which were not good, and rights, through which they did not live; Ezekiel 20:26. And defiled them in their sacrificial gifts, in that they caused all that openeth the womb to pass through, that I might fill them with horror, that they might know that I am Jehovah. - The sons acted like their fathers in the wilderness. Historical proofs of this are furnished by the accounts of the Sabbath-breaker (Numbers 15:32.), of the rebellion of the company of Korah, and of the murmuring of the whole congregation against Moses and Aaron after the destruction of Korah's company (Numbers 16 and Numbers 17:1-13). In the last two cases God threatened that He would destroy the whole congregation (cf. Numbers 16:21 and Numbers 17:9-10); and on both occasions the Lord drew back His hand at the intercession of Moses, and his actual intervention (Numbers 16:22 and Numbers 17:11.), and did not destroy the whole nation for His name's sake. The statements in Ezekiel 20:21 and Ezekiel 20:22 rest upon these facts. The words of Ezekiel 20:23 concerning the oath of God, that He would scatter the transgressors among the heathen, are also founded upon the Pentateuch, and not upon an independent tradition, or any special revelation from God. Dispersion among the heathen is threatened in Leviticus 26:33 and Deuteronomy 28:64, and there is no force in Kliefoth's argument that "these threats do not refer to the generation in the wilderness, but to a later age." For in both chapters the blessings and curses of the law are set before the people who were then in the desert; and there is not a single word to intimate that either blessing or curse would only be fulfilled upon the generations of later times.

On the contrary, when Moses addressed to the people assembled before him his last discourse concerning the renewal of the covenant (Deuteronomy 29 and 30), he called upon them to enter into the covenant, "which Jehovah maketh with thee this day" (Deuteronomy 29:12), and to keep all the words of this covenant and do them. It is upon this same discourse, in which Moses calls the threatenings of the law אלה, an oath (Deuteronomy 29:13), that "the lifting of the hand of God to swear," mentioned in Ezekiel 20:23 of this chapter, is also founded. Moreover, it is not stated in this verse that God lifted His hand to scatter among the heathen the generation which had grown up in the wilderness, and to disperse them in the lands before their entrance into the land promised to the fathers; but simply that He had lifted His hand in the wilderness to threaten the people with dispersion among the heathen, without in any way defining the period of dispersion. In the blessings and threatenings of the law contained in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-30, the nation is regarded as a united whole; so that no distinction is made between the successive generations, for the purpose of announcing this particular blessing or punishment to either one or the other. And Ezekiel acts in precisely the same way. It is true that he distinguishes the generation which came out of Egypt and was sentenced by God to die in the wilderness from the sons, i.e., the generation which grew up in the wilderness; but the latter, or the sons of those who had fallen, the generation which was brought into the land of Canaan, he regards as one with all the successive generations, and embraces the whole under the common name of "fathers" to the generation living in his day ("your fathers" Ezekiel 20:27), as we may clearly see from the turn given to the sentence which describes the apostasy of those who came into the land of Canaan ('עוד זאת ). In thus embracing the generation which grew up in the wilderness and was led into Canaan, along with the generations which followed and lived in Canaan, Ezekiel adheres very closely to the view prevailing in the Pentateuch, where the nation in all its successive generations is regarded as one united whole. The threat of dispersion among the heathen, which the Lord uttered in the wilderness to the sons of those who were not to see the land, is also not mentioned by Ezekiel as one which God designed to execute upon the people who were wandering in the desert at the time. For if he had understood it in this sense, he would have mentioned its non-fulfilment also, and would have added a 'ואעשׂ למען שׁמי וגו, as he has done in the case of the previous threats (cf. Ezekiel 20:22, Ezekiel 20:14, and Ezekiel 20:9). But we do not find this either in Ezekiel 20:24 or Ezekiel 20:26. The omission of this turn clearly shows that Ezekiel 20:23 does not refer to a punishment which God designed to inflict, but did not execute for His name's sake; but that the dispersion among the heathen, with which the transgressors of His commandments were threatened by God when in the wilderness, is simply mentioned as a proof that even in the wilderness the people, whom God had determined to lead into Canaan, were threatened with that very punishment which had now actually commenced, because rebellious Israel had obstinately resisted the commandments and rights of its God.

These remarks are equally applicable to Ezekiel 20:25 and Ezekiel 20:26. These verses are not to be restricted to the generation which was born in the wilderness and gathered to its fathers not long after its entrance into Canaan, but refer to their descendants also, that is to say, to the fathers of our prophet's contemporaries, who were born and had died in Canaan. God gave them statutes which were not good, and rights which did not bring them life. It is perfectly self-evident that we are not to understand by these statutes and rights, which were not good, either the Mosaic commandments of the ceremonial law, as some of the Fathers and earlier Protestant commentators supposed, or the threatenings contained in the law; so that this needs no elaborate proof. The ceremonial commandments given by God were good, and had the promise attached to them, that obedience to them would give life; whilst the threats of punishment contained in the law are never called חקּים and משׁפּטים. Those statutes only are called "not good" the fulfilment of which did not bring life or blessings and salvation. The second clause serves as an explanation of the first. The examples quoted in Ezekiel 20:26 show what the words really mean. The defiling in their sacrificial gifts (Ezekiel 20:26), for example, consisted in their causing that which opened the womb to pass through, i.e., in the sacrifice of the first-born. העביר כּל־פּטר points back to Exodus 13:12; only ליהוה, which occurs in that passage, is omitted, because the allusion is not to the commandment given there, but to its perversion into idolatry. This formula is used in the book of Exodus (l.c.) to denote the dedication of the first-born to Jehovah; but in Ezekiel 20:13 this limitation is introduced, that the first-born of man is to be redeemed. העביר signifies a dedication through fire ( equals העביר בּאשׁ, Ezekiel 20:31), and is adopted in the book of Exodus, where it is joined to ליהוה, in marked opposition to the Canaanitish custom of dedicating children of Moloch by februation in fire (see the comm. on ex. EZechariah 13:12). The prophet refers to this Canaanitish custom, and cites it as a striking example of the defilement of the Israelites in their sacrificial gifts (טמּא, to make unclean, not to declare unclean, or treat as unclean). That this custom also made its way among the Israelites, is evident from the repeated prohibition against offering children through the fire to Moloch (Leviticus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 18:10). When, therefore, it is affirmed with regard to a statute so sternly prohibited in the law of God, that Jehovah gave it to the Israelites in the wilderness, the word נתן (give) can only be used in the sense of a judicial sentence, and must not be taken merely as indicating divine permission; in other words, it is to be understood, like 2 Thessalonians 2:11 ("God sends them strong delusion") and Acts 7:42 ("God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven"), in the sense of hardening, whereby whoever will not renounce idolatry is so given up to its power, that it draws him deeper and deeper in. This is in perfect keeping with the statement in Ezekiel 20:26 as the design of God in doing this: "that I might fill them with horror;" i.e., might excite such horror and amazement in their minds, that if possible they might be brought to reflect and to return to Jehovah their God.

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