Verse 24 gives a concluding statement as to why Israel was taken into captivity. There are two possibilities regarding Israel's Sabbath breaking. 1) Israel completely rejected God's Sabbath for another day. This possibility exists due to the instances of the "My/their" or "Mine/yours" contrast, that is, My Sabbath as opposed to your Sabbath. 2) They polluted the Sabbath by careless, self-centered observance.
The probability is that they did both—some people completely rejected the Sabbath, while others carelessly observed it. However, it was because of Sabbath-breaking, a type of idolatry, that they went into captivity.
When we look at secular history, even biblical history, and society around us, how to keep this day is a mixed bag. On the surface, what we see in the New Testament is rigorous legalism from the Pharisees or asceticism from the Gentiles. Today, we might call that an extreme "rightism" or perhaps a reactionary conservatism.
In today's world, though, we are confronted with the other side of the coin. We do not even begin to know how to keep the Sabbath because, from our earliest days, our culture's emphasis has been on Sunday, a day that cannot be kept holy because it was never made holy!
The cycle of six workdays and one day of rest and worship is a legacy of the Bible. But in fairly recent history, society has undergone a radical transformation because of scientific, industrial, and technological achievements. A shorter workweek provides us more leisure time. Businesses, however, make every effort to make the best use of time, to maximize production by scheduling work shifts so that the weekly cycle becomes a blur.
We have come to the place where we think that time totally belongs to us, and we can use it as we good and well please. This, in turn, makes a person very conscious of his free time. What does almost every individual do? He does the same thing that a business does. Every bit of time in a person's life is booked up because he wants to get the most out of life.
Even among those who are reasonably religious, the result has been that Sunday has become the hour of worship. The older among us can probably remember that, in the community, Sunday was once set aside very seriously. People did not work. They usually spent the day at home. Maybe the most secular thing they allowed themselves to do was to read the Sunday newspaper. Some, perhaps, did not even listen to the radio on Sunday because, to them, the day was holy.
But over the years, Sunday worship—which used to be kept somewhat as God expects us to keep the Sabbath—has now become, even among religious folks, an hour rather than a day of worship. People go to church for that one hour then perhaps return home. Or, maybe they go to a Sunday brunch at a restaurant. They spend the rest of the time on that day either making money or seeking their own pleasure.
All the while, the real Sabbath is ridiculed or ignored. This is what confronts us when we begin trying to keep it. A similar environment even affects those who continue to keep it. When we look in the Bible, we find that God does not give us many specifics as to how to keep it. God does, however, give us a number of broad principles, and He expects us to extrapolate from those principles in applying them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)
In this passage, God consistently uses a word translated in the King James as "polluted" and in the New King James as "profaned." Pollute means "to defile." Polluted air and water are, to some degree, defiled, stained, poisoned, contaminated, foul. It can imply desecrated, violated, and profaned. Profane means "to treat with irreverence and disrespect." It means "to treat as common": Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are common days of the week, whereas the Sabbath is holy. It is special, set apart.
So, what motivated these people to despise and to pollute His Sabbaths?
Proverbs 4:23 reads, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." Jesus updates this in Matthew 15:19: "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, . . ." and about half a dozen other sins. Yet, just as surely as these evil things come out of the heart, so do good things.
God says through Ezekiel that the Israelites broke the Sabbath because their hearts went after their idols. Spiritually, an idol can be anything to which we give our time or attention to the detriment of our relationship with God. However, we must understand that idolatry forces a person to do its will rather than God's. If the heart goes after an idol, the rest of the body will follow the heart. The heart—the thinking and emotional processes—imposes its will on the hands, the eyes, the ears, the mouth, etc., and they just follow what the heart wills to do. If our hearts follow an idol, God says we will surely break the Sabbath.
The idol does not have to be the same for each person, but in relation to the Sabbath, the result is always the same: All or some part of the Sabbath day will be used as one pleases—pursuing one's own interests—rather than what God intends. This is why God says in Isaiah 58:13 that we should not speak our own words on the Sabbath. When we are speaking our own words, our tongue is following after the idol. Undoubtedly, we sometimes do this ignorantly. For most of us, we know better, but our hearts are still going after our idols.
So we can reach a conclusion directly from God's own Word: Idolatry is at the foundation of Sabbath-breaking.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)
Ezekiel 20:15-16 refers to a historical situation that shows idolatry's deceptive nature. These verses summarize that Israel went into captivity and were scattered primarily as the result of idolatry and Sabbath-breaking. As they were breaking those commands, did they believe that doing so would take them into captivity? Probably not, but we can believe it because God records it for our admonition! It is interesting that idolatry and Sabbath-breaking are linked, because the breaking of either leads directly to the breaking of the other.
We can see Ezekiel's general accusation against Israel's idolatry in the specific example of Judah in the writings of his contemporary, Jeremiah. This occurred just before Judah completely collapsed and the Jews were led into Babylonian captivity. At that time, God flooded the nation with godly prophets to give the people a final warning:
From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, this is the twenty-third year in which the word of the LORD has come to me; and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened. And the LORD has sent to you all His servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear. They said, "Repent now everyone of his evil way and his evil doing, and dwell in the land that the LORD has given to you and your fathers forever and ever. Do not go after other gods to serve them and worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the works of your hand; and I will not harm you." "Yet you have not listened to Me," says the LORD, "that you might provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt." (Jeremiah 25:3-7)
Many prophets witnessed against the Jews, but no lasting repentance occurred. A key to understanding why nothing changed is found in verses 6-7 in the phrase, "provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands." "Works of your hands" indicates concepts, ideas, and notions developed from their own minds, not from the Creator's. He refers, of course, to their idolatry. The deceptive nature of idolatry and Sabbath-breaking is such that their damaging effects are more subtle than other sins' effects. The pains of the penalties usually come so much later that most are unable to connect the true spiritual cause with the individual's or culture's moral and spiritual degeneracy.
If one lies, steals, or commits murder, the effects are almost always immediately evident, but this is not so with idolatry and Sabbath-breaking. With those who do not know God, breaking the first commandment leads to breaking the fourth. However, with the converted—those who know the truth—breaking the fourth can just as easily lead to breaking the first.
The Bible reveals that the effect of breaking the first commandment is to break the second, and eventually all the other commandments (James 2:10). In practical experience, this happens because, once a person is no longer responding to the Creator God's values, someone or something else has to be put in His place. Man will worship—that is, give his devotion to—something, and that something is more often than not himself and his own creations!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Second Commandment
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Ezekiel 20:16: