Scripture Text – Ezekiel 18-21
Responsibility is one of the major themes of these four chapters. By dealing with the subject of personal and national responsibility, Ezekiel was able to answer the frequent complaints of the people that the Lord was treating them unfairly. Responsibility and accountability are needed themes in our own day. Irresponsibility is rampant and very few people are willing to take the blame for wrongs committed or mistakes made.
National Responsibility – Continued
Please read Ezekiel 20:1-44 for the background to this section.
Israel in Egypt (Ezekiel 20:5–8). God “chose” the nation of Israel when He called Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees and go to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12), but the nation didn’t even exist at that time. God built the nation in the land of Egypt. When Jacob’s family entered into Egypt, they numbered 66 people; Joseph’s family was already in Egypt and they brought the total to 70 (Genesis 46). But when the Jews left Egypt at the Exodus, the fighting men alone numbered over 600,000 (Numbers 1:46), so there may well have been over two million people in the nation. In Egypt, God revealed Himself to the Jews through the ministry of Moses and Aaron as well as through the terrible judgments He inflicted on the land of Egypt. He made it clear that the gods of the Gentile nations were only myths and had no power to do either good or evil. God reminded them how He had judged these false gods in Egypt and proved them to be helpless nothings. (See Exodus 12:12; Numbers 33:4.)
However, while living in Egypt, the Jews began secretly to worship the gods of the Egyptians. After all, if the Egyptians were masters over the Jews, then the gods of Egypt must be stronger than the God of Israel! The Jews defiled themselves with the gods of Egypt and grieved the heart of God. When God opened the way for Israel to leave Egypt, some of the Jews took their Egyptian gods with them! God had sworn by an oath (“I raised my hand”) that He was Israel’s God and that He would set them free and give them the Promised Land. The true God set them free, but they still carried false gods with them! The nation rebelled against God even after He demonstrated His grace and power in delivering them!
Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Ezekiel 20:9–10). The Lord had every reason to pour out His wrath on Israel, but for His name’s sake, He rescued His people. God often worked on Israel’s behalf, not because they deserved it but for the glory of His own name (see also Isaiah 48:9; 66:5), just as He has saved His church today “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). The account of the Exodus did go before the Jews as they marched toward the Promised Land (Joshua 2:10), and it did bring glory to God’s name.
Israel at Sinai (Ezekiel 20:11–12). Israel tarried about two years at Sinai where God revealed His glory and gave them His laws. While they tarried there, Moses directed the construction of the tabernacle and its furniture. But even after seeing God’s glory and hearing His voice, Israel rebelled against Him by making and worshiping a golden calf (Exodus 32). God gave them the Sabbath day (the seventh day of the week) as a sign to remind them that they truly did belong to Him. By setting aside that one day each week to honor the Lord, Israel witnessed to the other peoples that they were a special nation, however, they continued to persist in polluting the Sabbath and treating it like any other day.
The law that God gave Israel at Sinai consisted of statutes and ordinances governing every area of life: their civic responsibilities, the maintaining of courts and judges, the punishment of offenders, and the responsibilities of the people and their priests in the religious life of the nation. But because Israel was a theocracy and God was their King, every law had its religious implications. To break the law was to sin against the Lord, and the people did it frequently.
Those who obeyed God’s law would “live” (Ezekiel 18:11, 13, 21), an important word we considered earlier in the 18th chapter. If you remember, it refers to physical life, not being subject to capital punishment because of deliberate disobedience to God’s statutes. But for the Jew who loved the Lord, trusted Him, and obeyed Him, it included the spiritual life that comes to all who believe through faith. Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 make it clear that nobody is saved simply by obeying the law; but those who trust the Lord will prove their faith by their obedience. Religious people like the Pharisees have a “law righteousness,” but those who trust Christ have a “faith righteousness” that enables them to obey God’s will (Philippians 3:1–16; and see again Romans 10). Salvation is always by faith (Hebrews 11:6) and this faith is always reflected in good works and obedience.
To Be Continued