The design which was now on foot among the elders of Israel was that the people of Israel, being scattered among the nations, should lay aside all their peculiarities and conform to those among whom they lived; but God had told them that the design should not take effect, Ezek. 20:32. Now, in these verses, he shows particularly how it should be frustrated. They aimed at the mingling of the families of Israel with the families of the countries; but it will prove in the issue that the wicked Israelites, notwithstanding their compliances, shall not mingle with them in their prosperity, but shall be distinguished from them for destruction; for idolatrous Israelites, that are apostates from God, shall be sooner and more sorely punished than idolatrous Babylonians that never knew the way of righteousness. Read and tremble at the doom here passed upon them; it is backed with an oath not to be reversed: As I live, saith the Lord God, thus and thus will I deal with you. They think to make both Jerusalem and Babylon their friends by halting between two; but God threatens that neither of them shall serve for a rest or refuge for them.
I. Babylon shall not protect them, nor any of the countries of the heathen; for God will cast them out of his protection and then what prince, what people, what place, can serve to be a sanctuary to them? God was Israel’s King of old, and had they continued his loyal subjects he would have ruled over them with care and tenderness for their good, but now with a stretched-out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over them, Ezek. 20:33. That power which should have been exerted fore their protection shall be exerted for their destruction. Note, There is no shaking off God’s dominion; rule he will, either with the golden sceptre or with the iron rod; and those that will not yield to the power of his grace shall be made to sink under the power of his wrath. Now when God is angry with them, though they may think that they shall be lost in the crowd of the heathen among whom they are scattered, they will be disappointed; for (Ezek. 20:34) I will gather you out of the countries wherein you are scattered, as, when the rebels are dispersed in battle, those that have escaped the sword of war are pursued and brought together out of all the places whither they were scattered, to be punished by the sword of justice. They shall be brought into the wilderness of the people (Ezek. 20:35), either into Babylon, which is called a wilderness (Ezek. 19:13), and the desert of the sea (Isa. 21:1), or into some place which, though full of people, shall be to them as the wilderness was to Israel after they came out of Egypt, a place where God will plead with them face to face, as he pleaded with their fathers in the wilderness of Egypt (Ezek. 20:36),—where their carcases shall fall and where he will swear concerning them that they shall never return to Canaan, as he did swear concerning their fathers that they should never come into Canaan,—where he will avenge the breach of his law with as much terror as that with which he gave it in the wilderness of Sinai. Note, God has a good action against apostates, and will find not only time, but a proper place, to plead with them in upon that action, a wilderness even in the midst of the people for that purpose.
II. Israel shall be no more able to protect them than Babylon could; nor shall their relation to God’s people stand them in any more stead for the other world than their compliance with idolaters shall for this world; nor shall they stand in the congregation of the righteous any more than in the congregation of evil-doers; for there will come a distinguishing day, when God will separate between the precious and the vile; he will cause them, as the shepherd causes his sheep, to pass under the rod, when he tithes them (Lev. 27:32), that he may mark which is for God. God will take particular notice of each of them, one by one, as sheep are counted, and he will bring them into the bond of the covenant (Ezek. 20:37); he will try them and judge of them according to the tenour of the covenant, and the difference made between some and others by the blessings and curses of the covenant. Or it may refer to those among them that repented and reformed; he will cause them to pass under the rod of affliction, and, having done them good by it, he will bring them again into the bond of the covenant, will be to them a God in covenant, and use them again as heirs of promise.
1. He will separate the wicked from among them (Ezek. 20:38): “I will purge out from among you the rebels, who have been a grief and scandal to you, and who have by their rebellions brought all these calamities upon you.” The judgments of God shall find them out, and their naming the name of Israel shall be no shelter to them. They shall be brought out of the countries where they sojourn, and shall not have that rest in them which they promised themselves. But they shall not enter into the land of Israel, nor enjoy the benefit of that rest which God has promised to his people. Note, Though godly people may share with the wicked in the calamities of the world, yet wicked people shall have no share with the godly in the heavenly Canaan; but it shall be part of the blessedness of that world that they shall be purged out from among them, the tares from the wheat, the chaff from the corn, Ezek. 13:9. But wherever these idolaters of the house of Israel were contriving to worship both God and their idols, thinking to please both, God here protests against it (Ezek. 20:39), as Elijah had done in his name: “If the Lord be God, then follow him, but, if Baal, then follow him; if you will serve your idols, do, and take what comes of it; but then do not pretend relation to God and a religious regard to him, nor pollute his holy name with your gifts at his altar.” Spiritual judgments are the sorest judgments. Two of that kind of judgments are threatened in Ezek. 20:39 against those that were for dividing between the God of Israel and the gods of the nations:—(1.) That they should be given up to the service of their idols. To them he said ironically, “Since you will not hearken unto me, go you, serve every one his idols, now that you think it will be for your interest, and hereafter also. You shall go on in it. Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone; let him take his course, and see what he will get by it at last.” Note, Those who think to serve themselves by sin will find in the end that they have but enslaved themselves to sin. (2.) That they should be cut off from the service of God and communion with God: “You shall not pollute my holy name with your vain oblations, Isa. 1:11. You bring your gifts in your hands, wherewith you pretend to honour me, but at the same time you bring your idols in your hearts, and therefore you do but pollute me, which I will not suffer any more,” Amos 5:21, 22. Note, Those are justly forbidden God’s house that profane his house.
2. He will separate them to himself again. (1.) He will gather them in mercy out of the countries whither they were scattered, to be monuments of mercy, as the incorrigible were gathered to be vessels of wrath, Ezek. 20:41. Not one of God’s jewels shall be lost in the lumber of this world. (2.) He will bring them to the land of Israel, which he had promised to give to their fathers; and the discontinuance of their possession shall be no defeasance of their right; it is the land of Israel still, and thither God will bring them safely again, Ezek. 20:42. (3.) He will re-establish his ordinances among them, will set up his sanctuary in his holy mountain, which is here called the mountain of the height of Israel; for, though the Mount Zion was none of the highest mountains, yet the temple there was one of the highest honours of Israel. It is promised that those who preserved their integrity, and would not serve idols, in other lands, shall return to their prosperity and shall serve the true God in their own land: All of them in the land shall serve me. Note, It is the true happiness of a people, and a sure token for good to them, when there is a prevailing disposition in them to serve God. Whereas God had forbidden the idolaters to bring their gifts to his altar, of these he will require offerings and first-fruits, and will accept them, Ezek. 20:40. What he does not require he will not accept, but what is done with a regard to his precepts he will be well pleased with. He will accept them with their sweet savour, or savour of rest (Ezek. 20:41), as being very grateful to him and what he takes a complacency in; whereas, to hypocritical worshippers, he says, I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. (4.) He will give them true repentance for their 25a3 sins, Ezek. 20:43. When they find how gracious God is to them they will be overcome with his kindness, and blush to think of their bad behaviour towards so good a God: “There, in my holy mountain, when you come to enjoy the privileges of that again, there shall you remember your doings, wherein you have been defiled.” Note, The more conversant we are with God’s holiness the more we shall see of the odious nature of sin. There you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight. Note, Ingenuous evangelical repentance makes people loathe themselves for their sins, as Job 42:5, 6. (5.) He will give them the knowledge of himself: They shall know by experience that he is the Lord, that he is a God of almighty power and inexhaustible goodness, kind to his people and faithful to his covenant with them. Note, All the favours we receive from God should lead us into a more intimate acquaintance with him. (6.) He will do all this for his own name’s sake, notwithstanding their undeservings and ill-deservings (Ezek. 20:44); he has wrought with them, that is, wrought for them, wrought in favour of them, wrought in concurrence with them, they doing their endeavour; he has wrought with them purely for his name’s sake. His reasons were all fetched from himself. Had he dealt with them according to their wicked ways and their corrupt doings, though they were the better and sounder part of the house of Israel, he would have left them to be scattered and lost with the rest; but he recovered and restored them for the sake of his own name, not only that it might not be polluted (Ezek. 20:14), but that he might be sanctified in them before the heathen (Ezek. 20:41), that he might sanctify himself (so the word is); for it is God’s work to glorify his own name. He will do well for his people that he may have the glory of it, that he may manifest himself to be a God pardoning sin and so keeping promise, that his people may praise him, and that their neighbours may likewise take notice of him, as they did when God burned again their captivity, Ps. 126:3. Then said they among the heathen, The Lord has done great things for them.