Israel’s History of Idolatry
In Ezek 20:1-32, Ezekiel recounted Israel’s history of idolatry. The elders of Israel came to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord, v.1. When they sat before him, the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel, v.2. And the Lord asked them a question which he also answered, v.3. He asked, “Are ye come to inquire of me”? And he answered, “I will not be inquired of by you”.
In v.4, the Lord then asked Ezekiel a question. He asked, “Wilt thou judge them, son of man”? And again the Lord answered his own question. He said, “cause them to know the abominations of their fathers”. What follows is the Lord’s testimony of Israel’s history of idolatry, starting all the way back in Egypt, when they were in bondage.
Idolatry of the Jews in Egypt
When the Jews were in Egypt, the Lord chose Israel as his firstborn son, Ex 3:7, 4:22. This is why we refer to Israel as God’s ‘chosen’ people. He made himself known to them in Egypt, saying, I am the Lord your God. And he promised to bring them out of Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey, v.5-6. The cross-reference for this is in Ex 6:1-8.
In preparation for their Exodus, the Lord told them to cast away the abominations of their eyes and not defile themselves with the idols of Egypt, v.7. According to Jos 24:14, they had been serving false gods in Egypt.
In v.8, they rebelled against the Lord, and didn’t cast away their idols. So, the Lord said that he would pour out his fury upon them and accomplish his anger in Egypt. They wouldn’t have made it out of Egypt alive if the Lord had followed through with this.
But, according to v.9, the Lord wrought for his name’s sake that it should not be polluted before the heathen in Egypt. Remember, the Lord had made himself known to the Egyptians through all his miraculous plagues, Ex 7:4-5. (Contrast Ex 5:2.) So, if the Lord had slain them in Egypt, his name would have been polluted.
Idolatry of Israel in the Wilderness
So, the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness, gave them his statutes, and showed them his judgments, v.10-11. Notice the statement, “which if a man do he shall even live in them”. This is what Paul called “the righteousness which is of the law”, in Rom 10:5. The Lord also gave them his sabbaths, which were a sign between the Lord and Israel, so that they would know that he is the Lord, v.12. No one knew about the sabbath until God made it known to Israel on Sinai, Neh 9:13-14.
However, in v.13, Israel again rebelled against the Lord in the wilderness. They walked not in his statutes, they despised his judgments, and polluted his sabbaths. So, the Lord said that he would pour out his fury on them in the wilderness to consume them.
He didn’t consume them. Instead, he wrought for his name’s sake, that it would not be polluted before the heathen, v.14. See how Moses used the Lord’s desire to protect his name when he prayed, after Israel made the golden calf, Ex 32:11-12.
Yet, in v.15-16, the Lord said that he would not bring them into the land of Canaan. They had despised his judgments, not walked in his statutes, and polluted his sabbaths, and their heart went after their idols. Notice that the Lord called Canaan, “the glory of all lands”. (It is still the glory of all lands, and God will one day fulfill his promise to Abraham to give this land to his seed.)
Nevertheless, according to v.17, the Lord spared them in the wilderness. The men twenty years old and older all died out, but God spared their children, Num 14:28-32. The reason that they weren’t all consumed is that the Lord wouldn’t pollute his name before the heathen, Num 14:13-16.
Idolatry of Their Children in the Wilderness
The Lord said to the children of these men who died, “Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols”. Instead, they were to keep the Lord’s statutes and judgments, and hallow his sabbaths, v.18-20.
Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against the Lord, just like their fathers had done, v.21. So, the Lord said that he would pour out his fury upon them in the wilderness. Nevertheless, he withdrew his hand and wrought for his name’s sake that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, v.22. Notice what Rahab said about the Lord in Jos 2:9-11. God’s name in Jericho wrought fear.
Instead, the Lord lifted up his hand that he would scatter them among the heathen and disperse them through the countries (called ‘diaspora’) because they didn’t execute his judgments, they despised his statutes, they polluted his sabbaths, and they went after their fathers’ idols, v.23-24.
Wherefore, the Lord gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live, v.25. You can see these statutes and judgments in verses like Lev 26:14-43, Amos 9:1-10, Ezek 11:8-12, etc. The Lord polluted them in their gifts, see v.31, as in Is 1:11-15. The reason is that they caused to pass through the fire all that opened the womb, as in Jer 32:35. So, the Lord said that he would make them desolate to the end that they might know he is the Lord, v.25-26.
Israel’s History of Idolatry in Canaan
The Lord instructed Ezekiel to speak to the elders seated before him. He told them that their fathers had blasphemed the Lord in that they committed trespass against him, v.27.
When the Lord brought them into the land to give it to them, they saw the high hills and thick trees and offered their sacrifices and presented the provocation of their offering, v.28. A good cross-reference for this is Jer 32:30-35. One high place where they worshipped was Bamah, v.29.
Idolatry of Israel’s Elders in Ezekiel’s Day
So,God instructed Ezekiel to ask the elders two questions. “Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations”, v.30? The answers, of course, are “Yes”. When they offered their gifts and made their sons to pass through the fire, they polluted themselves with their idols, v.31.
Thus, the Lord returned to his original question. He asked, “Shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel”? And once again the Lord answered his own question, “I will not be inquired of by you”, v.31.
The Lord concluded this part of the prophecy by letting the elders know “that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone”, v.32. In other words, they aren’t going to get away with their idolatry for ever.
Conclusion of Israel’s History of Idolatry
You can see Israel’s history of idolatry and constant rebellion and God’s continual mercy in Ps 106:19-45. Over and over they have provoked the Lord to anger with their idolatry and over and over the Lord has regarded their affliction and delivered them. In the future, they will have their greatest episode of idolatry when they worship the antichrist. And yet, the Lord will save a remnant of Jews and will once and for all deliver them and stop their idolatry.