In Ezekiel 20:5–9 God says that before He brought Israel out of Egypt He commanded them to ‘Cast away the abominations of their eyes, and not defile themselves with the idols of Egypt,’ but that they rebelled against Him. And He also says that this provoked Him to anger against them at that time, even to the point of ‘pouring out His fury upon them.’ Where in the historical record of the Book of Exodus did this occur?
5 And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the LORD your God;
6 In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands:
7 Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
8 But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then said I, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.
9 But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt. (Ezekiel 20:5–9)
As the opening verses of Ezekiel 20 relate, when Israel began to experience the Fifth Course of Punishment of Leviticus 26, God began to culminate His indictment against them, (and also His justification for bringing it upon them), by having Ezekiel ‘judge the elders of Israel’ in connection with it.
In particular God had Ezekiel “cause them to know the abominations of their fathers,” and by doing so He in essence traced their worthiness for receiving the Fifth Course of Punishment from the time that He began dealing with them as a nation in Egypt until He actually had to bring it upon them.
Now what God says to Ezekiel about Israel’s abominations and idolatry while they were still in Egypt is actually something that He mentions in other places as well. For example, Joshua himself makes mention of it in Joshua 24:14, and God refers to it again later on in Ezekiel as He continued His indictment. But God also does refer to it right back in the Book of Exodus itself.
However He does not refer to it in the kind of detail with which He describes it to Ezekiel. Instead what God says about it back in Exodus is only indicative in nature, and it is more or less ‘said in passing,’ so to speak.
In other words, God says something in Exodus that indicates that He gave Israel a command, and then a threat, just like He told Ezekiel that He did. But what God says about this in the Book of Exodus simply only indicates that He did this, without amplifying upon it or describing it in detail. Wherefore if we do not pay close attention to what it says back in Exodus, we can miss it.
What God said to Ezekiel took place in Exodus 6, where it records the issue of God beginning to confront Israel with the subject of His “Jehovah-ness,” especially as it pertained to the people being educated in their absolute need for Him to be what His name “Jehovah” stands for and means.
Now after God told Moses what to say about His “Jehovah-ness” to the children of Israel, (as recorded in Exodus 6:1–8), and then Moses spoke it to the people, (as the beginning of verse 9 relates), the remainder of verse 9 says, “but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.” Therefore they refused to listen to God as He began to educate them in His “Jehovah-ness.”
Now what needs to be recognized is that God in turn responded to Israel’s negative response to Him. And in particular He responded to them in a way that ‘cut to the heart of the matter’ of why they responded negatively. For in truth their “anguish of spirit” involved more than being grieved and distressed over how Pharaoh was now treating them, as is evident from the wording of verse 9 itself, and also from how they treated Moses and Aaron after they had complained to Pharaoh.
Hence when the people refused to listen to Moses when he confronted them with the issue of God’s “Jehovah-ness” unto them, their refusal was actually based upon the fact that they were turning against God Himself.
Now, as I said, God responded to this. But God does not give a detailed account of His response in Exodus 6. He only briefly says something that indicates that He did respond, and that His response was stern and serious.
What God did is in what Exodus 6:13 relates. As the first part of the verse states, “And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel,…” This was God’s response to Israel after they refused to hearken unto the issue of His “Jehovah-ness” unto them. He gave them “a charge.”
Now exactly what God said to them in this “charge” He does not delineate here. But the fact that it was “a charge,” that it was given in response to them refusing to hear Him, and that it dealt with what was going on in their minds and hearts, tells us something about it.
For example, it clearly indicates it was “a charge” that was strongly reproving and rebuking in nature. It was a charge of blameworthiness, as well as of correction in order to avoid consequences. As such it indicted them for their negative response and it dealt with the issue of what was behind it.
Moreover, as is commonly the case with such “a charge,” it undoubtedly also sternly took them to task for their contrariness, and it told them what they were worthy of receiving, and it also threatened them with receiving serious consequences if they did not respond positively to God now. And it ‘charged’ them with what they now needed to do when it came to responding positively to God.
This is what is legitimately indicated to have taken place simply by what the beginning of verse 13 says that God did.
So even though in Exodus 6 God does not give the details of what the “charge” said, we are able to understand the gist of what it said from the fact that it was “a charge,” and from the nature of the context in which God gave it.
So then on the basis of this we are able to understand that what God later on describes in detail to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 20:5–9, is what historically took place in Exodus 6 when Israel refused to hearken unto God’s declaration of His “Jehovah-ness,” and He then ‘charged’ them as Exodus 6:13 says.
Now as previously mentioned, this is further substantiated by some things that are said later on, both soon after Israel came out of Egypt and further afield.
For example, in Joshua 24:14 Joshua cites the fact that the people of Israel did ‘serve other gods’ in Egypt, as well as before. And he cites this as he charges them to “fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth,” by putting away from among themselves these very same gods that their fathers served before, including when they were “in Egypt.” And this tallies with exactly what God in Ezekiel 20:5–9 says that Israel did.
It is also interesting to note in Exodus 6 that immediately after verse 13 says that God ‘charged’ the children of Israel, God then briefly interrupts the historical account of things to set forth a special record about “the heads of their fathers’ houses” in verses 14–27. In doing this God signified and underscored the basis upon which He would be dealing with Israel from this point on in view of their rebelliousness.
Now this too tallies with what God says in Ezekiel 20:5–9. For after telling Ezekiel how Israel rebelled against His charge to them in that day, and how it provoked Him to anger against them, He then says…
9 But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt. (Ezekiel 20:9)
And this is just what Exodus 6:14–27 points out and underscores.
– K.R. Blades
[Note: The next question also pertains to this very important time in God’s program with Israel when He was initially educating the children of Israel in the issue of His “Jehovah-ness” and grace.]