Did YHWH give the Israelites laws that were "not good"? (Ezek. 20:25)


That's literally what scripture says. This is not a claim about the nature/ontology of the laws. It is a claim about the function that YHWH's good laws had upon sinners. Let's look at the verse in context, and it will make sense. YHWH (through Ezekiel) was speaking about the Israelite generation that was condemned to die in the wilderness:

Bible15 Moreover also I swore to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; 16 because they rejected my ordinances, and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols. 17 Nevertheless my eye spared them, and I didn't destroy them, neither did I make a full end of them in the wilderness. (Ezek. 20:15-17)

Notice the parallel between the above two "law clauses": "rejected my ordinances" and "did not walk in my statutes". These clauses mean the same thing. We will see this parallelism several more times before we are done.

But YHWH was merciful. He could have killed them immediately, and started over with a remnant of their children. Instead:

Bible18 I said to their children in the wilderness, "Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their ordinances, nor defile yourselves with their idols." (Ezek. 20:18)

This is our second set of parallel law clauses, but now they refer to something which the Israelites were supposed to shun: "Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers" and "neither observe their ordinances." Notice that these parallel law clauses still mean the same thing. But they are referring to the laws of the fathers, which are not the laws given by YHWH.

Bible19 "I am YHWH your God: walk in my statutes, and keep my ordinances, and do them; 20 and make my Sabbaths holy; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am YHWH your God." (Ezek. 20:19-20)

Another warning with a third set of parallel "law clauses" (which again mean the same thing). These are YHWH's laws, which should be obeyed. Again, the children -- the same ones from v. 18 -- disobeyed, just like their parents:

Bible21 But the children rebelled against me; they did not walk in my statutes, neither kept my ordinances to do them, which if a man do, he shall live in them; they profaned my Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out my wrath on them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness.(Ezek. 20:21)

A fourth set of parallel law clauses, which (again) mean the same thing. Notice the phrase "which if a man do, he shall live in them." The opposite is, obviously: if you don't follow the statutes and ordinances, you will die. Yet YHWH, in his mercy, still held back.

Bible22 Nevertheless I withdrew my hand, and worked for my name's sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I brought them forth. 23 Moreover I swore to them in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the nations, and disperse them through the countries; (Ezek. 20:22-23)

There was still -- to external observers ["in the sight of the nations"] -- a chance that YHWH would merely allow them to be "scattered" "among the nations." Ezekiel is still referring to the group in the wilderness.

Bible24 because they had not executed my ordinances, but had rejected my statutes, and had profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers' idols. (Ezek. 20:24)

A fifth set of parallel law clauses, again with the same meaning. This is two whole generations of law-breakers and idolaters. And now we come to the verse in question:

Bible25 Moreover also I gave them statutes that were not good, and ordinances in which they should not live; (Ezek. 20:25).

This is now our sixth set of law clauses:

1. "Statutes that were not good"

2. "Ordinances in which they should not live"

Again, these clauses mean the same thing: if you disobey these laws, you will die. That is not a good outcome for the sinner. Also, YHWH takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23, Ezek. 33:11). These are the same laws as above. The "not goodness" of these statutes thus consists in the judgement effect of disobedience to them, which we are about see. Because YHWH had restrained his hand from destroying them (v. 22), these wilderness wanderers progressed to one of the worst crimes possible: Molech-worship (child-sacrifice).

Bible26 and I defiled them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that opens the womb ...(Ezek. 20:26a)

The Hebrew word which is translated as "defiled" is timme. The commentator Daniel Block writes:

Yahweh defiled his people. One can see how radical this notion is in that nowhere else in the OT does Yahweh appear as the subject of the verb timme (Piel).
(Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 [NICOT], 636)

Here is what God's law says about this crime of Molech worship/child sacrifice:

Bible2 "Moreover, you shall tell the children of Israel, 'Anyone of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who live as foreigners in Israel, who gives any of his seed to Molech; he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 I also will set my face against that person, and will cut him off from among his people because he has given of his seed to Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. 4 If the people of the land all hide their eyes from that person, when he gives of his seed to Molech, and don't put him to death; 5 then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all who play the prostitute after him, to play the prostitute with Molech, from among their people. (Lev. 20:2-5)

YHWH promises to bring judgement directly upon those who engage in this type of idolatry. And this is what he did to that wilderness generation.

Bible26b ... that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am YHWH. (Ezek. 20:26b)

"They" at the end of v. 26 probably refers to the remnant of children who survived from the wilderness (and their descendants). The destruction of this generation would be remembered by these future generations, who would "know that I am YHWH."