Notice the emphasis on the personal pronoun "My." The source of the law or the values we submit to is the sovereign. This aids us greatly in determining whether idolatry is present and how our conscience will respond.
God forcefully contrasts His laws with pagan commands and practices. He clearly implies that those who submit to pagan commands are guilty of putting another god before the true God. The Israelites—in sincerity and a clear conscience, perhaps even fervently—brutally sacrificed their sweet and innocent firstborn in the fires to Molech, and all the while they were guilty of a horrible, vicious idolatry!
Today, we may not throw babies onto Molech's altar, but we abort 4,200 pregnancies a day, ending the lives of these potential members of God's Family in the name of free choice and self-concern. The law of the land permits this atrocity! If that is not idolatry, what is? What kind of morality, what religion, permits men to enact such heinous laws? People have become blinded by focusing on their own pleasure, failing to see even that murder is involved, let alone the idolatry. God's law nowhere permits such a depraved activity.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)
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)
This passage portrays a critical point regarding why Israel was taken into captivity. There is no doubt Israel was a religious people. Yet, notice the emphasis on the personal pronoun "My." Their source of values was not God. Realizing the source of any given value or moral standard will go a long way toward determining its rightness and therefore its efficacy.
Romans 6:15-19 helps to clarify this:
What then? Shall we sin [transgress God's law] because we are not under the law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
The source of a person's values will determine his righteousness or his sinfulness. In addition, then, the source of the values to which he submits will also establish who is the sovereign in his life and of whom he is a servant. Finally, the source also determines whether idolatry is present and how the individual's conscience will be affected and respond.
If the source of values is man, then man is the sovereign. This can be perfectly acceptable as long as the value one obeys agrees with God's values. Any person's values may come from society in general, his family practices, his peers, or even his spouse. One often hears the justification, "Everybody's doing it," as a defense. The source of that value is "everybody"!
Understanding the source helps to reveal the sin of idolatry in a clear but disgusting light. The Israelites of Ezekiel 20 apparently could, in all sincerity and with a clear conscience—and perhaps even with fervency—sacrifice their firstborn to Moloch! This is a vivid example of how twisted a person's thinking and conscience can become by believing a corrupt source.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment
Clearly, these prophecies have not yet been fulfilled. To date, God has not actually scattered Israel among all nations. Historically, He did not use the Assyrians to scatter Israel so much as He used them to resituate Israel to locales south of the Caspian Sea, in what is now northern Iran. In process of time, God further resituated Israel through a number of migrations into rather localized areas of the earth, such as northern Europe, the British Isles (including Ireland), the North American continent, Australia, and New Zealand. Notice that these areas are isolated from the capitals of the Gentile world. The British Isles and New Zealand are islands; Australia is a continent-sized island. North America is separated from other northern hemisphere power centers by two large oceans.
These lands to which God led Israel were generally under-populated before Israel invaded them and displaced the aboriginal—Gentile—populations. These aboriginal peoples did not constitute the bulk of Gentiles. Far from it. The majority of the Gentiles lived, and continue to live, in areas isolated from the lands of national Israel. The Gentiles are concentrated in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Asian Subcontinent, and South America, as well as in certain areas of southern and eastern Europe. With the exceptions of the State of Israel and South Africa, Israelite migrations to these Gentile areas have generally not been extensive to date.
So today's world looks like this: The Gentiles are concentrated in certain areas of the world, while Israel is concentrated in other areas of the world. Relatively low numbers of Gentiles live among the Israelites, and, again in relative terms, even fewer Israelites live in Gentile areas, such as Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa. Clearly, those Israelites residing in South Africa make up an exception to the pattern. However, when God scatters Israel to all nations, the exception will be the rule. The present plight of Israelites living in South Africa will become Israel's commonplace plight everywhere.
To this day, God has not yet scattered Israel among the Gentiles en masse, not yet sifted them "among all nations." Today's demographic reality does not look at all like the population distribution of which God speaks in Deuteronomy 28, Ezekiel 20, or Amos 9.
This level of scattering is yet to come. A number of scriptures appear to connect this vast displacement of Israelites with Israel's fall and the time of "Jacob's Trouble." For example:
One-third of you shall die of the pestilence, and be consumed with famine in your midst; and one-third shall fall by the sword all around you; and I will scatter another third to all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them. (Ezekiel 5:12)
Does the scattering mentioned here occur before Israel's fall or after? As an approach to that question, it may be instructive to compare Matthew 24 with Ezekiel 5. Note, however, that the order in which the terrible events cataloged in them is not the same. Comparing the number of thens in Matthew 24 with the number of thens in Ezekiel 5 suggests another difference. Matthew wins out, with his ten to Ezekiel's two. As Herbert Armstrong so often pointed out, Matthew 24 is sequential—first this, then that, "immediately after" the other.
However, aside from the last clause of Ezekiel 5:12, where it is quite obvious that the sword will follow the third God has scattered "to all the winds," there is no explicit idea of sequence in the Ezekiel passage. Nothing in verse 12 (or in its companion, verse 2) argues for a sequence of events: first pestilence, then famine, then war, then scattering. Even though war is mentioned in this passage after pestilence and famine, the war of which God speaks could cause—and hence, precede—the pestilence and famine. Historically, this is not at all an unusual sequence. War comes first, causing famine.
So, it is possible, even plausible, that some part of the prophesied scattering could take place before the pestilence. It could even take place in a time of relative peace and prosperity.
Of course, none of this denies the fact that the final dissolution of the nations of modern-day Israel will not be accompanied by vast, involuntary migrations. That will certainly be the case. Yet, given the magnitude of the prophesied sifting/scattering, it remains plausible that God may at least begin to scatter Israel before her national destruction, using as His vehicle the widespread "open borders" established by a globalized international community. Such borders would facilitate easy migration from nation to nation (just as between Canada and the United States today).
Globalism (Part Nine): Running To and Fro
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Ezekiel 20:23: