AS IN EZEKIEL 8, WHERE THE elders of the exilic community consult with the prophet, so here in Ezekiel 20. As in the earlier instance, God gives Ezekiel something to say to the elders and to the community they represent.
Part of what Ezekiel conveys has been said before. The Sovereign Lord is not too eager to let them consult him when he finds their hearts so distant (Ezek. 20:2-4, 31; cf. chaps. 13-14). There follows a survey of Israel’s history of rebellions. But there are two or three themes in this chapter that have either not been introduced before or have been barely mentioned.
The first is the sheer glory of God: that is one of God’s driving concerns behind the judgments that have fallen and are about to fall. For the sake of his own name God has done what would keep his name “from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight [he] had brought them out” (Ezek. 20:14; cf. Ezek. 20:22). This theme is further developed in chapters 36 and 39. It is so central in Scripture that we are in danger of overlooking it precisely because of its familiarity. For instance, when Jesus goes to the cross we are accustomed to thinking about God’s love for us in sending so stupendous a gift, or about Jesus’ love for us in that he bore our guilt and punishment in his own body on the tree. Well and good. But the Scriptures also insist that the exaltation of Christ is the product of the Father’s commitment that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father (John 5:23; cf. John 12:23). When Jesus goes to the cross, in part he is acting out of sheer loving obedience to his Father (John 14:31; cf. 15:9-11). God’s awesome plan of redemption is to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:3-14). This must shape our understanding of God—and thus our prayer lives and our priorities.
That is also why, in the second place, God will not permit his people to be comfortable in their sin. The law was given so that the one who obeys it will “live by” it (20:11, 21, 25; cf. Lev. 18:5)—in this context this means that the one who obeys the Law will prosper. When the people disobey and hunger to be “like the peoples of the world,” God vows that what they have in mind “will never happen” (Ezek. 20:32). Instead, God will protect his name, invoke “the bond of the covenant” (Ezek. 20:37) and pour out his wrath (Ezek. 20:33) so that the people will not “live by” the evil statutes they choose: they will not prosper. Years of God’s forbearance (whether then or now) must ultimately issue either in transformation or in judgment.