Our reading today begins with another parable. The lioness and crouching lion imagery is again pulled from Jacob’s blessing of Judah (19:2 – see Gen 49:9). The young cub of verses 3 is Jehoahaz. He was taken captive to Egypt (v. 4 – see 2 Chr 36:4). The other cub is Zedekiah (v. 5). Verses 6-7 tell us that he was an evil “lion” (king – see 2 Kings 24:19-20). That’s why God sent him into captivity in Babylon (v. 9 – see 2 Kings 25:6). In verse 10, God returns to the vine imagery from 15:1-8 (see Gen 49:11-12). This, too, represents Judah. God set the king on his throne (v. 11) and now the nation is cast down (v. 12). There is no king to reign (v. 14 – except God – see below).
Chapter 20 begins with elders coming to Ezekiel once again to seek a word from YHWH (20:1). Once again, God will not answer them (v. 3). God then goes back to the start of the nation, pointing out that they were idolaters from the start. Even when God revealed Himself to them in Egypt, they still worshiped false gods (vv. 5-8). God would have destroyed them then but spared them for the sake of His own name (v. 9). So He saved them from Egypt and gave them the Law (vv. 10-12). Yet they were still idolaters (v. 13). Yet God preserved the next generation to keep His promises, for the sake of His name (vv. 13-20). And even that generation rebelled (v. 21). And that’s why God promised that they would go into captivity (v. 23 – see Deut 28:36).
In verse 25, God says that the Law was not good in the sense that it could not give life. All it could do was reveal their sin and show them their need for God’s salvation (see Gal 3:19-24). And through the Law, God exposed their guilt (v. 26). God required of them their firstborn (see Ex 22:29). Yet God allowed them to redeem the firstborn through their offering of worship to Him (see Ex 13:11-16). And God offered this grace to them that they may be exposed as the worst of sinners who offered their children instead to Molech (see 20:31 and Jer 32:35), which God warned them against from the start (see Deut 12:31). God says very clearly that the Law was given to show that His physical people are sinners (see Rom 5:13), as we all are (see Rom 3:9, 23). God then condemns Judah for worshiping false gods (vv. 27-29). This is why He will not answer when they ask to hear from Him (v. 31). Sin hinders one’s relationship with God (see 1 Pet 3:7).
In verse 32, God speaks to the spiritual remnant among the physical people (and all of His spiritual people). They will not be like the nations. This is a reference to the sin of Israel in asking for a king way back in 1 Samuel 8:4-5. The spiritual people will not worship false gods. Rather, God will be their King (v. 33). He will do this “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath,” a clear reference to the Exodus (v. 34 – see Ex 6:6). God is speaking of the new Exodus. Like God saved physical Israel from physical bondage, He will save a spiritual people (from all nations!) from their spiritual bondage.
God continues the Exodus imagery by saying He will bring this new saved people into the wilderness for judgment (vv. 35-36). That they will “pass under the rod” (v. 37) is an allusion to the required tithe of God’s people of their flocks (see Lev 27:32). Every tenth animal was holy unto God. This is talking about selection! God will select a people holy unto Him! These are those that are part of the New Covenant. And God will purge the evil from among His people (v. 38).
In verse 39, God addresses the physical people who have been idolaters from the start. They can go and be idolaters, because they will no longer be His. Because on His holy mountain (the place of His dwelling, where heaven meets earth – the church!) will only be true worshipers who bring true offerings (v. 40). He will accept us when He gathers us, and through us will us will make His holiness known to all (v. 41)! This is for those who repent of their sin (v. 43). And this, too, will be done for His name’s sake (v. 44)! All glory be unto our God!!!!
Beginning in verse 45, God again pronounces judgment on Judah. They are the tribe “in the southland” (v. 46). They will be burned with fire (v. 47 – see 15:6). The promise that “every green tree” will be burned is a reference to the false gods that Judah worships (see 6:13, 17:24, Isa 57:5). They, too, will be judged. And all will know that it is the work of YHWH (v. 48). This also points to the final judgment. In verse 49, we see that Ezekiel knows the people will not believe this is the word of YHWH.
Chapter 21 begins with the picture of God as the divine warrior (21: 3 – see Deut 32:41, Isa 34:6, Jer 47:6). The “righteous and the wicked” does not speak literally – it is a figure of speech to indicate the totality of the judgment. In verse 4, we see that this also speaks of the final judgment. This is when “all flesh” will know that He is the Lord (see Rev 1:7, Phil 2:10-11). Ezekiel is to prophecy through the act of groaning over what’s coming (vv. 6-7). The divine warrior is coming to punish sinners (vv. 8-11).
The parenthetical of verse 10 is difficult to interpret (as is verse 13), not least of all because of how unclear the Hebrew is here, leading to a number of possibilities in both translation and interpretation. With the call for Ezekiel to “cry out and wail” because “it is against my people”, I think what is certain is that the saved should take no joy in the punishment of the wicked. When we are raptured/resurrected and return with Christ in judgment, our joy of being with Him is going to be mingled with great sorrow for those who will not be.
The motif of the divine warrior continues. Verses 14-17 speak of the final judgment. And this final judgment will be pictured in the fall of Judah to Babylon. The king of Babylon is coming with his sword (v. 18). God describes Nebuchadnezzar as using pagan means of divination (shaking arrows, the liver of animals) to decide to come against Judah first instead of Ammon (vv. 19-22), because to hard-hearted Judah, the judgement can’t be the work of YHWH (v. 23)!
In verse 24, God speaks of the sin of His people that were uncovered by the giving of the Law (v. 24 – see 20:25). Verse 25 describes this as “final” judgment on the physical people, and verse 26 reveals that “things shall not remain as they are” (literally in Hebrew: “this is not this”). In verse 27, the “one to whom judgment belongs” is in the near fulfillment Nebuchadnezzar. But the ultimate fulfillment is the divine warrior. It is Jesus Christ at His Second Coming.
In verse 28, we see that judgment will still fall on Ammon, as it will on all nations (Judah is no different). It will on all those who worship false gods (v. 29). Verses 31-32 reveal that Nebuchadnezzar will wipe out Ammon and they will be no more (they were gone by the second century A.D.). This also pictures the final judgment of the whole earth.