Ezekiel 20:32
When you say: "Let us be like the nations, like the peoples of the lands, serving wood and stone," what you have in mind will never happen.
A Vain ImaginationWilliam Perkins.Ezekiel 20:32
Men Endeavouring to be Like the HeathenH. J. Boris.Ezekiel 20:32
Our Obligation to Serve GodJ. Randall, M. A.Ezekiel 20:32
Religious Obligations IrrevocableG. Bellett.Ezekiel 20:32
The Impossibility of Becoming as the HeathenH. Melvill, B. D.Ezekiel 20:32
The Paganism of the HeartHomilistEzekiel 20:32
Unacceptable PrayerJ.D. Davies Ezekiel 20:1-32
God, and Israel in the Then PresentW. Jones Ezekiel 20:30-32
The Purpose of Israel's ElectionJ.R. Thomson Ezekiel 20:32-38

The prophecy at this point turns from the story of the past to the prediction and prospect of the future.

I. GOD'S PURPOSES CANNOT BE FULFILLED BY THE ABSORPTION OF ISRAEL AMONG THE HEATHEN. Exile and dispersion were appointed as chastisement and discipline. And there were those among the Hebrews who thought that, as a nation, they might amalgamate with the heathen, and might "serve wood and stone." To human apprehension, this might seem the natural consequence of their experience. But the reverse was what happened - captivity and exile served to restore the chosen people to their fidelity to Jehovah.

II. GOD'S RULE OVER HIS PEOPLE WILL BE MANIFESTLY AND EFFECTIVELY MAINTAINED EVEN IN DISTANT AND HEATHEN LANDS. Lest it should be imagined that, when the children of Israel are scattered among the nations, the God of Israel will cease to exercise over them his vigilant sway and righteous retribution, the strongest language is used to express the unceasing control which, wherever his people are found, will be maintained over them. "With a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm will I rule over you... I will be King over you."

III. GOD WILL PLEAD WITH THE SCATTERED ISRAELITES WITH A VIEW TO SECURE THEIR SUBMISSION AND ALLEGIANCE. The expression implies personal interest and personal intercourse. It implies the free agency of the human beings with whom the Lord deigns to plead. It implies earnest desire for the welfare of individual Israelites - welfare which can only be secured through the conviction, the faith, the voluntary subjection, the loyalty, of these who have been in rebellion.

IV. GOD WILL PURGE OUT REBELS AND TRANSGRESSORS, AND SO PURIFY THE TRUE ISRAEL FROM THOSE WHO ARE ISRAELITES IN NAME ONLY AND NOT IN SPIRIT AND REALITY. Forbearance may and will be exercised, but discrimination must take pace. The dross must be consumed in order that the pure, fine gold may be brought out.

V. GOD WILL GATHER THE TRUE SHEEP INTO THE FOLD, AND RE-ESTABLISH HIS COVENANT WITH HIS PEOPLE. This is the real aim of the Divine government. Other steps are the means; this is the end. Sooner or later this glorious and blessed result shall be brought to pass. "There shall be one flock, and one Shepherd." The bond of the covenant shall be again cemented. The purposes of Divine compassion shall be completely fulfilled. The scattered wanderers shall be led home, for he that scattered shall gather them. He shall make a way whereby his banished ones shall return. In the land of promise, the better country, the true citizens shall assemble, and shall offer sacrifices of perpetual obedience, and songs of endless praise, to their Deliverer and their Lord. - T.

We will be as the heathen.

1. The force of early habits. The spirit of self-indulgence and sensualism was the first spirit that animated us all. Its death requires time. Hence in unguarded moods it comes up again.

2. The force of social influence. In our industries, recreations, our literature and institutions, the spirit of Paganism breathes in all, and it tends to possess us of itself.

3. The force of satanic agency. The devil's great wish is that men should endeavour to get their "bread" — their happiness — out of "stones."


1. By the growth of heavenly sentiments.

2. By closer fellowship with the Divine.

3. By a moral conquest over spiritual foes.

4. By a translation into the heavenly world.


The Jewish people had grown tired of Jehovah's service. Whatever its advantages and its righteousness, it was irksome, tedious, and severe. Other nations had not the same restrictions and the same punish. merits. "Look," they said, "at the people who serve idols, they have no law to fetter their inclinations and limit their pleasures, while on every side we are hedged in and forbidden and punished heavily if we transgress. Let us give up Jehovah's service and be as other nations are, do as they do, and find the same freedom and enjoyment." All this is very natural, and is constantly recurring. Many feel as the Jews felt. Religion's ways have become tiresome to them. They compare their lives with the lives of men of the world, and they seem to suffer from the comparison. We meet with the same thing in the realm of intellectual experience. Men give up religion, they tell us, to escape from the mental anxieties that have troubled them; to escape from the strife of sects, the clamour and conflict of opinions. The vanity of such a spirit and of such conduct is the subject of the text. "It shall not be at all." Utter disappointment is almost inevitable. Why?

I. BECAUSE THE THOUGHT OF THEIR MINDS IS OPPOSED TO THE PRINCIPLES OF THEIR NATURE AND THE FACTS OF THEIR HISTORY. The Jewish people spoke in denial and forgetfulness of their own condition. They assumed what was impossible, namely, that they could dismiss and annihilate all the past, and bow down before gods of wood and stone, and enter upon a course of unregulated enjoyment, with a satisfaction equal to theirs who had never known Jehovah and His holy law. It could not be. There is no river of forgetfulness in which men can bathe. We may think as they did, but "it shall not be at all," for —

1. We have an enlightened conscience, and that will prevent it. What others call pleasure would be to us sin — sin against God.

2. We have the memory of better things, and that will prevent it. The heathen knew nothing better than his heathenism. The Jew could look back, was often compelled to look back, upon much that made his fallen position hateful. We turn from religion, but bitter memories remain to us.

3. We bring to it the knowledge of Divine truth, and that will prevent it. Truth once imparted and received cannot be wholly lost. It will live, and often present itself to trouble the soul. This applies specially to those who turn to superstitious courses. There is something significant in the expression "to serve wood and stone." It seems to intimate that to the Jew, with his knowledge, the gods of heathenism could never be anything better. A man who loses his sight by disease or accident can never equal in cheerfulness and in free unembarrassed movement a man who was born blind. No more can those who have known religious truth and religious experiences be equal with those who have never risen above the world, and whose lives throughout have been shadowed by error and falsehood.

II. BECAUSE IT IS SUBJECT TO THE COUNTERACTING OPERATIONS OF THE GREAT GOD. There are two ways in which God defeats the thought of their minds.

1. By His correcting providences. The afflictions, losses, bereavements, sorrows of life.

2. By His pursuing love. By His Spirit making memory a living picture of the better past.Learn —

1. The weakness and littleness of fallen human nature. Men who have tested the heavenly manna can yet turn from it to the coarsest food.

2. The safeguards against such a spirit. Ponder the truth here asserted. Patient, earnest work; the cultivation of a cheerful, joyous frame; the glorious future.

3. The folly and evil of such conduct. And if it has been yours, come back to Christ at once.

(William Perkins.)

I. THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE TEXT ON THE HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE. The Israelites had the most distinguished privileges. No other nation had a history like theirs. It was the history of Divine interpositions, manifestations, and revelations. No other nation had such statutes and laws. They had heard the blast of the trumpet which no earthly lips could have blown. No other nation had such songs; they were the odes in which they rehearsed in their homes and in the sanctuary God's wonderful dealings with their race, so that the history of the past was perpetuated. God had a local residence in their midst. He had His palace and His court. The symbol of the Divine presence dwelt between the outstretched wings of the cherubim, and as the worshipper bowed down he could almost see the veil of the temple wave, as if by the presence of Him who dwelt in the Holy of Holies. The God of Israel had His altars and sacrifices, His ministers and priests. Other nations had their gods, but they had never at any time heard their voice; there had been no manifestations of their power and glory. Others nations had their sacrifices, but no fire had ever come down from heaven on their altars. Idolatry was perpetuated by the heathen; they made no change in their gods. It mattered not how uncouth and grim the idol, it was not exchanged for another. It mattered not how revolting and debasing the superstition, it was perpetuated. The Israelites sought to extinguish the last ray of Divine light, to obliterate the last traces of the Divine law, to silence the faint echoes of the Divine voice which yet lingered around them. They sought to become as "the heathen, and as the families of the countries, that worshipped wood and stone." But God said, "That which cometh unto your mind shall not be at all." He interposed to prevent this fearful consummation. He visited them with chastisement upon chastisement. The Jews are the aristocracy of Scripture without their coronets. They are like a river running through the deep sea, but never mingling with its waters. They are yet separate and distinct, thus proving the truth of the text.

II. THE APPLICATION OF THE GREAT PRINCIPLE CONTAINED IN THE TEXT TO YOURSELVES. Our privileges are greater than those of the Israelites, so that we may even say that the past "had no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth." There has been a manifestation of God; but it has been in the flesh. There has been a sacrifice for sin, of which all other sacrifices were but the prefiguration. There has been a diviner Pentecost; for the Holy Ghost rent the heavens and came down. There has been a more glorious Gospel; for we have a Gospel of facts. The truth is the highest and divinest power in the world, and has authority over men. All human laws and polities may change, the world may be burnt up to its last cinder, the heavens may pass away with a great noise; but the truth is eternal — it can never pass away. It is the light; it illumines or blinds: it is the fire; it softens or hardens: it is the power that saves or destroys; it is either "life unto life or death unto death." Men cannot believe the truth if they have never heard it; but we cannot justify our unbelief through our want of acquaintance with the truth. With what authority it comes to us! The truth overawes you, and, unconsciously it may be, you do partial homage to it, but you have no true affinity with it; your heart returns no response to its voice; you do not want to believe. There is an awful power in man by which lie comes into collision with God, by which he puts an affront on the truth, and refuses to believe or obey it. Men would change all things, they would change the true into the untrue. The truth is as though it were untrue to them. They would have no law with its majestic sanctions and awful penalties. They would have no everlasting distinction between right and wrong. They would have no Gospel with its Saviour and its Cross — with its blessed words of promise and of hope for guilty men. Man's unbelief is his protest against truth. It is the manifestation of the disloyalty of his whole nature to the truth. Men may let go their hold on the truth, but the truth does not let go its hold on them. If a man has stood on an exceeding high mountain, and has seen the grand panorama unfold itself to his view, can he ever forget it? If he has seen the sea when the tempest has passed over it and the floods have lifted up their hands, can he ever forget it? And can a man who has heard the truth ever forget it? It is graven on his memory as in characters of eternal fire — he can never divest himself of the associations and recollections of truth. God interposes to prevent the utter apostasy of nations and of men. "And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people," etc. We have been brought into the wilderness — into the scene of utter desolation — we have been stript of everything, and in fearful silence God has come to us and pleaded with us. And what has been the character of His pleadings? Has He upbraided us — has He threatened us with terrible punishment? We were silent, and we heard Him say, "Come now, and let us reason together." We had no excuses, no arguments, but to our utter amazement He said, "Though your sins be as scarlet," etc. Or we have been sent into captivity, a foe mightier than the Chaldean has led us away, and there in the deep degradation and fearful servitude of sin, our eyes have been opened to our folly and wickedness. We have thought of the past, and its remembrance has awakened the bitterest regrets. Our responsibilities are proportionate to our privileges.

(H. J. Boris.)

It is taken for granted by many that persons are not under any obligation to act religiously if they do not profess to be religious. Some such thought as this came into the minds of the people to whom the text refers. They disliked the service of the God of Israel, and thought they should get free from it by laying aside the name and profession of Israelites, and by becoming like the heathen. What base ingratitude was this. The Lord had separated them, in order that they might be His own peculiar people; and as such He had wrought for them the greatest wonders, and enriched them with the highest privileges (Isaiah 5:1; Deuteronomy 4:32; Romans 9:4; Exodus 4:22). The thought was ungrateful, deeply ungrateful; but it was as foolish as it was ungrateful. It was utterly vain, for it could not be realised. They could not reduce themselves to the exact level of the heathen; they might become idolaters; but it was impossible for them to "be as the" Gentiles in respect to their responsibilities. And should the like thought come into the mind of any Christian — should he wish to make no profession of religion, but to be on a level with a mere natural man, to have no higher calling, no greater duties, no mightier obligations; he must be taught the vanity of such a wish; he must be told that the thing cannot be. No, we are in covenant with Christ, bound by the terms of that covenant, and we cannot, if we would, free ourselves from them. We are members of His Church, and not mere natural men, left to the light of reason and the promptings of human passion; and therefore as members of His Church, and not as mere natural men, we shall be judged. And if such a thought on our part is as vain as it was on the part of the Jews, is it not on our part equally ungrateful? We can look back on a series of mercies, more wonderful than that which marked out the history of Israel. We have been redeemed at a more costly price than that which redeemed their lives from destruction in the land of Egypt; we have been baptized with a holier baptism than that which they received in the cloud and in the sea; more heavenly food has been offered for our support than the manna on which they fed in the wilderness; a richer stream follows us in our journey than that which flowed from the rock in Horeb; and a far more glorious inheritance awaits us than their promised land, which flowed with milk and honey. Is there nothing in all tiffs to bind us in willing subjection to our Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ?

(G. Bellett.)

There is, perhaps, no subject on which has been lavished so much of lofty thought and splendid expression as on the immortality of the soul, considered as an article of what is called natural theology. And yet we must feel that these endeavours to establish the immortality of the soul apart from the Bible are at best unsatisfactory: they rather leave its immortality as a splendid conjecture than place it as an established fact. The soul may be capable of an immortality, but God may not choose to allow it to be immortal. He formed it; He can annihilate it. Who can tell? how can reason inform us whether He will be pleased to extinguish the soul at or after death, or whether He will permit and appoint it to burn forever as a spark from Himself? It is here that we are in darkness without the Bible; it is here that natural theology must give place to revealed. Reason shows us that the soul may live forever; Scripture alone certifies us that the soul shall live forever, even as Scripture alone instructs us how the soul may be happy forever. For a moment, and as introductory to our text, we would comment on one species of argument which has been freely adduced in support of the immortality of the soul, but which, however it may dazzle the imagination, possesses, we suspect, but little real strength. It is often confidently said that the soul shrinks from annihilation as from that which it instinctively abhors — that it loudly lifts up its voice against the notion of perishing with the body, and, by the earnestness with which it craves immortality, attests in a measure that it is not to die. We altogether question this. So far from a natural shrinking from annihilation, we believe that as to the great mass of men we might rather assert the natural wish for annihilation. I do not know why all men should shrink from the supposition of the soul's perishing with the body; I see the strongest reasons why they should incline to the supposition, and wish even if they cannot prove it to be true. There are crowds of genuine Christians who virtually go far beyond the Israelites, whose wicked wish or purpose is recorded in our text. The Israelites longed to be "as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone." The people, you see, had so sinned against God, and they held His service in such utter loathing, that they would have been glad to forget it altogether, and to diminish their responsibleness by lapsing into the ignorance of actual idolaters. But this it is which God assures them can never be. Having known the true God, it was impossible they could be dealt with as though they had never known any but the false god. Wilful ignorance can never put a man in the same position as unavoidable ignorance; and if you attend to the statements of Scripture you will see that we are to be reckoned with hereafter for every talent committed to our care. Whether we have misused it, or whether we have let it go idle, the mere fact that we had it is to constitute an important item in our future account. Born in a Christian country, baptized with Christian baptism, placed under a Christian ministry, we are all immeasurably removed from unavoidable ignorance. Take a number of colonists, — transfer them to some distant land, where there are no temples but those of false gods: the colony thus transplanted may learn the ways of the heathen, adopt their superstitions, and bow at their altars; but think ye that therefore the birth and the baptism and the Christian institutions retain no effect? The heathen may teach the colonists their vices, and even convert them to their superstitions, and men who left their own country with some sense of awe of the God of their fathers may utterly forget Him in the strange land to which they have wandered for a home, in place of endeavouring to make Him known to their new and ignorant associates; they may dishonour His name by even exceeding the heathen in licentiousness, teaching and being taught new forms and measures of iniquity; but this is the sum of the change which can be wrought; there is no possibility of the colony getting rid of that vast and portentous accountableness which has been fastened on itself by its adhesion to Christian privileges and Christian rites. Will you say there is nothing in this supposed case of a colony to touch your own case? You are never likely to desire or design, you may tell me, what has been imagined. Not so; for we would now observe that it is no uncommon hope, that of wilful ignorance passing for unavoidable ignorance, and no uncommon endeavour that of occupying the position of those who have fewer moral advantages than ourselves. Take a very common instance. How many keep away from the sacrament of the Lord's supper because secretly conscious that the receiving it pledges them to increased holiness of life, and certainly hoping that their sins will be more excusable whilst they do not partake of so solemn an ordinance! They neglect the holy communion, partly at least under the notion that the sins which they love and do not wish to abandon are less criminal and less dangerous in non-communicants than in those who obey Christ's dying command — "This do in remembrance of Me." But what is this, if not almost literally what was meditated by the Israelites in our text? Here is the hope, on the part of those who know of the sacrament, of being dealt with as those who never heard of the sacrament. Preposterous hope! It is the Israelite thinking that he may be as the heathen. He dies innocently who dies in actual want; he dies by suicide who starves himself with a meal within reach. "That which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen." There is, we believe, a yet more common endeavour to the getting rid of the responsibility which results from the possession of opportunities and advantages. Think ye not that many a man avoids reading the Bible, and putting himself in the way of knowing the exact truth in regard of his spiritual condition, under the impression, perhaps hardly acknowledged even to himself, that he is safer in his ignorance — that he shall escape with a lighter judgment if he remain uninformed as to his precise danger and duty? What gains he, what can he gain, by his wilful, his premeditated ignorance? Does he think — can he be so infatuated as to think — that truth, to which he shuts his eyes, is the same thing, the same in its accusing power, the same in its condemning power, as truth which has never been revealed? Does he think, can he think, that by living in a darkened room — a room which he has shut up and darkened of his own will and by his own act — he will have no more to answer for than those to whom God has never vouchsafed the beauty and the magnificence of the sunshine? Vain thoughts! vain thoughts! Know all of you, that live you may as those who shall perish at death, but judged you must be as those who were told. their. immortality. Live you may as pagans — judged you must be as Christians. Never can you pass the broad line of separation between the wilful and the unavoidable. Since, then, we must be judged as Christians, shall we not strive that we may be accepted as Christians? If an unimproved privilege must be an everlasting burden, here is fresh motive to the endeavouring so to use it that it may prove an everlasting blessing.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

I. WE CANNOT, IF WE WOULD, ESCAPE FROM THE SERVICE OF GOD. We are now, as Israel of old, instructed in His will by His word. If we dislike what we there learn to be our duty, there is no help for it. It will continue to be our duty nevertheless; and we shall be made to answer for non-performance. We may, by carelessness, or obstinate rejection of the Word, very much confuse our recollection of what we already know, and shut ourselves out from the attainment of any further knowledge; but we shall never be able to make our minds quite like a sheet of blank paper, clear from any notion of religion. The behaviour and conversation of his neighbours, the very sight of the house of prayer, which he has studied God's commandments, he knows well enough that he has offended against them in many and glaring instances. He may keep them at bay when he is in high health and spirits, when his affairs prosper, and when he is surrounded by companions, ready to encourage him in his impiety. But what will he do when infirmity or sickness comes upon him? when misfortune has deprived him of all the worldly goods wherein he trusted; and when his friends have either deserted him, or been taken from him by some such visitation as shall make him tremble for his own safety? In times like these he will feel that. God is ruling over him with fury poured out. It will be well if he has grace to seek for refuge from that wrath where refuge may be found, through faith, attended by repentance and amendment of life. God's dispensations will all be good to those that use them rightly; they will all be evil to those that do not receive them as from His hand. His chastisements will become mercies to those who undergo them with a penitent and obedient heart; His gifts will be turned into curses to those that revel in them without acknowledging the Giver.

II. ALL THESE EVILS ARE ENTIRELY BROUGHT UPON MEN BY THEIR OWN HARDNESS OF HEART. Will it be said that men ought to have had a choice whether they would have a revelation made to them or no; and that, not having been allowed such a choice beforehand, they ought now to be permitted to renounce religion if they please, and become unbelievers? That would be to pronounce the most precious gift that God has ever made to mankind, a gift purchased by the blood of His Son, to be of no value. The very desire of such liberty is a sin of the deepest dye. It is a refusal of the advice and admonition of God, and amounts to charging Him with folly and tyranny, as though He gave us commands not calculated for our benefit. For if we believe that His laws are for our good, how can we doubt that it is good for us to know them and to de them? And nobody does doubt it, but they whose hearts are enslaved to sin, and alienated from all that is holy and upright and godly. The wish, then, to be released from the obligation of God's laws is practical atheism.

III. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF WITHDRAWING FROM THE OBLIGATIONS WHICH OUR CHRISTIAN COVENANT IMPOSES ON US NEED NOT ALARM ANY TRULY PIOUS MIND. God will judge the heathen as well as us His chosen people; and though He will require more of us than He will of them, in just proportion to our greater advantages, yet the knowledge and power communicated to us more than compensate for the greater perfection and precision of the work expected from us. We have served a regular apprenticeship of Christian education; the designs and will of God, our employer, are fully made known to us; and we may seek for instruction from Him at any time in His Word, and for assistance from His Holy Spirit. It is no more than justice that much should be required of us, to whom so much has been given.

(J. Randall, M. A.)

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