Ezekiel 16 – The Harlot Wife of Yahweh
In this poetic description of Israel’s history, one could match details of the story with events in Israel’s history – such as saying the “marriage covenant” described in Ezekiel 16:8 was the covenant made with Yahweh at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:7-8). Still, we don’t have to find a specific event or season of Israel’s history for each detail; this is prophetic poetry, and truly describes the relationship in its impressions.
“Here, in the longest chapter in Ezekiel, the story is told in detail in all its sordid, loathsome character, so that God’s infinite abhorrence of Israel’s sin may be clearly seen. According to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus in the Mishna, the chapter was not to be read nor translated in public.” (Charles Feinberg)
“A very extraordinary chapter this sixteenth of Ezekiel! A minister could scarcely read it in public: he certainly would not like to explain its metaphors to a general audience.” (Charles Spurgeon)
“Although there are many metaphors here, yet all is not metaphorical. Where there was so much idolatry, there must have been adulteries, fornications, prostitutions, and lewdness of every description.” (Adam Clarke)
A. Israel rescued and adorned.
1. (1-5) Jerusalem’s humble beginning.
Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.
a. Cause Jerusalem to know her abominations: This word of the Lord through Ezekiel concerns Jerusalem and the depths of her wickedness. Throughout this chapter, Jerusalem is used as an accurate representative of the people of Israel as a whole.
i. “Ezekiel was charged by God to declare his message to Jerusalem as representative of all Judah, and even the entire nation.” (Feinberg)
b. Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan: This was true in the prior sense of God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and when Israel as a nation came back to the land in the days of Joshua. The land of Israel was occupied by Canaanite tribes such as the Amorite and the Hittite tribes.
i. “Amorite and Hittite were general names for the people of Canaan who occupied the land before Abraham…. Being the most powerful of the nations in Canaan, they represented them all.” (Feinberg)
ii. Are from the land of Canaan: “The statement is heavy with sarcasm, however, for the term ‘Canaanite’ was a byword for moral decadence.” (Taylor)
iii. Your mother a Hittite: “Sometimes the ill nature of a father is corrected in the child by the sweetness of the mother, but you Jews were not so happy, your mother was as bad every whit as your father.” (Poole)
c. On the day you were born: God used a vivid description to show how humble and poor Israel’s beginnings were. There was none to care for her at birth; all other nations were against her from the beginning (no eye pitied you). Israel was hated from birth (you yourself were loathed on the day you were born). If not for the care of their covenant God, they would have perished.
i. You were not rubbed with salt: “In salting the child the skin is rubbed with salt to make it firm and clean.” (Feinberg)
ii. “Cutting the cord, washing, rubbing down with salt, and clothing the newborn were also customary legal acts of legitimation. In the neglect and abandonment of the infant in the open field, the parent legally relinquished all rights to and responsibilities for the child.” (Block)
iii. Thrown out into the open field: “This is an allusion to the custom of some heathen and barbarous nations, who exposed those children in the open fields to be devoured by wild beasts who had any kind of deformity, or whom they could not support.” (Clarke)
iv. Thrown out into the open field shows how lost and vulnerable they were without God. “Cast out into the open field, left in a wilderness where it is not likely that any should pass by, thrown where the cold can smite by night and the heat can blast by day, left where the wild beast goeth about, seeking whom he may devour-such is the estate of human nature: unclothed, unarmed, helpless, exposed to all manner of ravenous destroyers.” (Spurgeon)
2. (6-7) God’s favor transforms Jerusalem.
“And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare.
a. When I passed by you and saw you struggling: Continuing the illustration from the previous verses, God took note of Israel in their humble, hated state. They would have perished (struggling in your own blood) if not for God’s grace-filled intervention.
i. In Deuteronomy 7:7-8, God explained the reason He set His attention on Israel to rescue them: The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers.
ii. It wasn’t because Israel was so amazing or so holy. They were weak, poor, struggling, and near death. But God passed by and took notice.
b. I said to you in your blood, “Live!”: When all their circumstances and all the other nations said die to Israel, God said live. He brought life to them and made them thrive like a plant in the field.
i. “He pronounces the sentence of life upon the child, otherwise sentenced to certain death. His passion is reflected in the emphatic twofold declaration, In your blood, live!” (Block)
c. You grew, matured, and became very beautiful: Under God’s care Israel became larger, stronger, and more mature. They became very beautiful and came into young adulthood (your breasts were formed, your hair grew).
i. According to Block, your hair grew refers to the metaphorical young woman’s pubic hair. “With the passing of the age of innocence and the arrival of sexual maturity, nakedness assumes moral overtones. Whereas the earlier nakedness had made the foundling vulnerable to the elements and marauding animals, now she stands exposed to dangers of a different sort.” (Block)
d. But you were naked and bare: Israel grew and matured, but had not become so self-sufficient that they no longer needed God.
i. “The foundling became a beautiful young woman, yet it is stated that she was naked and bare. The implication may be that she was without wealth and without the benefits of culture and civilization, as the world sees them.” (Feinberg)
3. (8) God’s loving covenant with Jerusalem.
“When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord GOD.
a. I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness: In the figure used by the Lord to describe Israel and His relationship to them, they were grown yet still greatly neglected and needy. They needed God’s protection (spread My wing) and His provision (covered your nakedness), and God gave them both.
i. Spread My wing over you: “The phrase in v. 8 describes the symbolic act whereby the husband took his wife under his protection (Ruth 3.9).” (Wright)
b. I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you: Above protecting and providing for Israel, God entered into a covenant relationship with them. It was a covenant marriage, and God could say, “you became Mine.”
i. “In earthly inter-relationships, the marriage relationship is the highest in sanctity, because it is the highest in the experience of Love. By this figure, then, God sets forth for us what His heart feels for us, and what He desires from us in return. His love is of the strongest and tenderest, and He looks for a return of that love in uttermost loyalty.” (Morgan)
4. (9-14) God’s care and generosity adorn Jerusalem.
“Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord GOD.
a. I washed you in water: God described His care and adornment of Israel. He cleaned them and anointed them with fragrant oil. He clothed them in fine clothes and sandals of badger skin. God adorned them with all kinds of jewelry, and even put a beautiful crown on Israel’s head.
i. Covered you with silk: “The word for ‘silk’ in verse 10 is a Hebrew word which does not occur elsewhere. The clothing was costly.” (Feinberg)
ii. Embroidered cloth…badger skin…fine linen: “These expressions occur elsewhere most frequently in the descriptions of the tabernacle, its curtains, and the priestly vestments. References to the luxury leather of which her sandals are made (tahas) occur only in contexts involving the tabernacle.” (Block)
iii. “The badgers’ skin (AV) is the same as the material used in the covering of the tabernacle (Numbers 4:6ff.). The various translations give sealskin (RV), porpoise skin(RV mg.),leather (RSV). ‘Badger’ is certainly not right, because the skin had to be both suitable for shoes and also large enough for one of them to cover the ark. The likeliest candidate is the dugong, a seal-like animal of the order Siremia, which is found in the Red Sea; its skin is used by the bedouin for making sandals.” (Taylor)
b. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil: God provided richly for Israel’s every need.
i. “Furthermore, her special food…‘fine flour’ and ‘oil,’ figured prominently in the sacred offerings. In short, Jerusalem, the bride of Yahweh, is clothed with the garments that ‘clothe’ the sanctuary and is fed with the ‘food’ of its offerings.” (Block)
c. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty: Because of God’s generous love and care, Israel excelled in beauty and was raised to royal status. They became famous among the nations, and it was all because of God’s splendor that He had bestowed upon them. It was not of themselves.
i. “During the reign of King David and during Solomon’s early years, Jerusalem was indeed a queenly city and Israel a prosperous kingdom. As long as Israel, Jehovah’s wife, obeyed His Word and kept His covenant, He blessed her abundantly just as He promised. He gave her healthy children, fruitful flocks and herds, abundant harvests, and protection from disease, disaster, and invasion.” (Wiersbe)
ii. “Incredibly, the charge that Ezekiel would later level at the king of Tyre applied to this poor foundling: ‘Your heart was lifted up on account of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom on account of your splendor.’” (Block)
iii. From a new covenant perspective, it is staggering to think and to believe that we have even more in Jesus Christ than Israel had when they were blessed under the old covenant. Every aspect of God’s blessing to Israel under the old covenant (washing, anointing, clothing, providing, adorning, crowning, etc.) is given in greater measure and glory in the new covenant.
iv. F.B. Meyer described how we should react to God’s amazing gifts towards us: “Let us dare to believe that it is so. Accept and value your position. In Christ, we are more than tolerated; we are loved. We are more than forgiven; we are arrayed in fair garments. The King greatly delights in us. In His eyes, and because His beauty is upon us, we are all fair.”
B. Israel the proud harlot.
1. (15-19) Jerusalem acts like a harlot.
“But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it. You took some of your garments and adorned multicolored high places for yourself, and played the harlot on them. Such things should not happen, nor be. You have also taken your beautiful jewelry from My gold and My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them. You took your embroidered garments and covered them, and you set My oil and My incense before them. Also My food which I gave you—the pastry of fine flour, oil, and honey which I fed you—you set it before them as sweet incense; and so it was,” says the Lord GOD.
a. You trusted in your own beauty: This pride was the root of Israel’s decline. They forgot that they were nothing when God found them and that He had bestowed their beauty upon them. Brought to beauty by God’s blessing, they trusted in the blessing God gave instead of in God Himself.
i. Ezekiel 16:15-35 is one of the strongest denunciations of Israel’s sin found in the entire Bible. “Rebukes of Israel’s sin by the prophets of Israel are many and well known, but none is so vivid, vehement, sordid and piercing as these words.” (Feinberg)
ii. “God had warned Israel not to forget him when she came into all the benefits that he would give her in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 6:10–12). This exhortation was soon forgotten by the nation’s leaders.” (Alexander)
iii. To deserve such a strong rebuke, Israel began by forgetting an important principle: everything good they were, and all the good they had, were the gift of God’s grace to them. Many centuries later the Apostle Paul wrote of this same principle for Christians: For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7).
iv. If it was possible for blessed Israel to trust in her own beauty, so it is possible for the disciple of Jesus. F.B. Meyer spoke of the Christian’s proper attitude: “Let us not presume. We have nought of our own. When the temptation tries us to pride ourselves on our goodness; to arrogate to ourselves a special position because of our superiority to others; to assume that we can be independent of our immortal Lover—then let us remember what we were.”
b. Played the harlot because of your fame: God gave Israel a place of status and royalty among the nations, but they used that fame to seek after the idols of the pagan nations. They ran after pagan idols like a harlot runs after customers (poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by).
i. “It is an ill sign in any of us when God’s blessings are themselves made into idols. If thou beginnest to worship thy wealth, thy health, thy children, thy learning, or anything that God has given thee, this is exceedingly provoking to the Most High; it is a breach of the marriage covenant between thy soul and God.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Played the harlot: “The verb [harlot, root znh] and other derivatives occur twenty-one times in this description of Jerusalem’s unrestrained nymphomaniacal adventures with her lovers.” (Block)
iii. “The Christian reader may, not surprisingly, feel nauseated at the indelicate realism of Ezekiel’s language, but Ezekiel meant it that way. He was telling of ugly sins and he made the parable fit the facts.” (Taylor)
iv. “Although the root naap [adultery] is more fitting to describe Israel’s covenantal infidelity, znh [harlotry] offers a more forceful rhetorical tool. The innocent young woman, graciously elevated to the status of queen, has become a whore.” (Block)
c. You took some of your garments and adorned multicolored high places: Israel took the very blessings God adorned her with and she used those blessings to adorn the places of pagan idolatry. The gold and silver God gave them were used in sexually charged idol worship (male images and played the harlot with them).
i. Multicolored high places: “The gaily decked shrines (RSV) indicate the colourful hangings of the tents that were set up at the high places (see note on 6:3), which were seen by Ezekiel to be places for feasting, fornication, idolatry and child-sacrifice.” (Taylor)
ii. Male images: “Priapi are here meant, which were carried about in the ceremonies of Osiris, Bacchus, and Adonis; and were something like the lingam among the Hindoos.… This was done at the worship of Bacchus in Egypt: and they who wish to see more may consult Herodotus lib. ii, c. 48, 49. In this phallic worship the women were principally concerned.” (Clarke)
2. (20-22) Jerusalem sacrifices their sons and daughters to idols.
“Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, that you have slain My children and offered them up to them by causing them to pass through the fire? And in all your abominations and acts of harlotry you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, struggling in your blood.
a. These you sacrificed to them to be devoured: Israel became so degenerate in her devotion to idols that she offered her own sons and daughters and sacrificed them to the pagan idols such as the detestable Molech.
i. To be devoured: “Instead of presenting her children to Yahweh, her husband, this woman presented them as food to the pagan images that she had made! The expression le ekol (lit. ‘for eating’) portrays the children as idols’ diet.” (Block)
b. By causing them to pass through the fire: Their idolatry went so far that they actually participated in the Canaanite cult of child sacrifice. Even King Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3) and King Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6) took part in this horrific practice. The pagan god (or, demon, more accurately) Molech was worshipped by heating a metal statue representing the god until it was red hot, then placing a living infant on the outstretched hands of the statue, while beating drums drowned out the screams of the child until it burned to death.
i. Sadly, even a man as great as Solomon at least sanctioned the worship of Molech and built a temple to this idol (1 Kings 11:7). One of the great crimes of the northern tribes of Israel was their worship of Molech, leading to the Assyrian captivity (2 Kings 17:17). King Manasseh of Judah gave his son to Molech (2 Kings 21:6). Up to the days of King Josiah of Judah, Molech worship continued, because he destroyed a place of worship to that idol (2 Kings 23:10).
ii. There is little or no archaeological evidence for child sacrifice among the Israelites of this period. This means that either the practice was very rare or diligently covered up. This may be God’s way of saying that even if the practice was rare, it was an abomination to Him.
c. You did not remember the days of your youth: Israel’s haughty pride was rooted in their failure to remember. They no longer remembered their poor and humble beginning, and how all the protection, provision, and adornment they enjoyed was the blessing and gift of God.
3. (23-26) Jerusalem’s great wickedness.
“Then it was so, after all your wickedness—‘Woe, woe to you!’ says the Lord GOD — that you also built for yourself a shrine, and made a high place for yourself in every street. You built your high places at the head of every road, and made your beauty to be abhorred. You offered yourself to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your acts of harlotry. You also committed harlotry with the Egyptians, your very fleshly neighbors, and increased your acts of harlotry to provoke Me to anger.
a. Woe, woe to you: This was God’s sorrowful lament over wicked Israel. God’s protest came from great depth of feeling.
i. “The repeated woe is partly threat and partly lament.” (Feinberg)
b. You also built for yourself a shrine, and made a high place for yourself in every street: As they grew worse in wickedness, Israel began to multiply their idolatry. It became widespread and common over the entire land.
i. Made a high place: “Gab, a stew or brothel.… So my old MS. Bible, a bordel house. ‘Thou hast builded thy stewes and bordel houses in every place.’–Coverdale’s Bible, 1535. Bordel is an Italian word: how it got so early into our language I know not. Our modern word brothel is a corruption of it.” (Clarke)
c. You offered yourself to everyone who passed by: Israel’s unfaithfulness to God was not only in every place, but seemingly also to every pagan god, even the gods of the Egyptians. They did it all to provoke God to anger.
i. You offered yourself: Literally, this is you opened your feet. It was an indelicate way of saying “you spread your legs for everyone.” Ezekiel used this shocking language to jolt his jaded listeners.
ii. Your very fleshly neighbors: This is more shocking language. “The prophet describes this lover in obscenely physical terms: your neighbors with the huge organs.” (Block) There are several places in the Old Testament where the penis is euphemistically referred to as flesh: Ezekiel 23:20, 44:7, 9; Genesis 17:11, 14, 23, 24, 25; Exodus 28:42; and Leviticus 15:2-19.
C. The depths of the sin of Israel the harlot.
1. (27-29) Foreign lovers turn upon Jerusalem the harlot.
“Behold, therefore, I stretched out My hand against you, diminished your allotment, and gave you up to the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You also played the harlot with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; indeed you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied. Moreover you multiplied your acts of harlotry as far as the land of the trader, Chaldea; and even then you were not satisfied.
a. Therefore, I stretched out My hand against you: After a long time and great provocation, God began to act against Israel. He diminished their provision and gave them to their enemies the Philistines (gave you up to the will of those who hate you). Israel’s idolatry was so great it made the Philistines blush.
i. Diminished your allotment: “God’s reaction was that he was provoked to anger (26), for which his appointed punishment was to diminish her allotted portion (27), which refers to loss of territory by enemy annexation. We know from the Taylor Prism that Sennacherib did just that in 701 BC.” (Taylor)
b. You also played the harlot with the Assyrians: Their idolatry became worse, multiplying so far they not only went after the gods of the Assyrians and the Babylonians (as far as the land of the trader, Chaldea), they also formed political alliances with those nations. The temptation was not only to idolatry but also to reliance upon, and alliances with, foreign nations.
i. “In time and when it suited her pleasure, she turned to the Assyrians. The historical books recount the pro-Assyrian policy of both Ahaz and Manasseh (see II Kings 16:7 ff.; Hosea 5:13; 8:9; Amos 5:26).” (Feinberg)
2. (30) Degenerate Jerusalem.
“How degenerate is your heart!” says the Lord GOD, “seeing you do all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot.
a. How degenerate is your heart: God saw that the problem with Israel went far deeper than their actions. Their heart had become proud and dissatisfied with their covenant God. This decline was truly degenerate.
b. The deeds of a brazen harlot: Israel’s decline began in the heart, but it did not end there. In their wickedness and idolatry they did the deeds of unashamed prostitutes.
3. (31-34) Jerusalem worse than a harlot.
“You erected your shrine at the head of every road, and built your high place in every street. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned payment. You are an adulterous wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband. Men make payment to all harlots, but you made your payments to all your lovers, and hired them to come to you from all around for your harlotry. You are the opposite of other women in your harlotry, because no one solicited you to be a harlot. In that you gave payment but no payment was given you, therefore you are the opposite.”
a. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned payment: Israel practiced their idolatry every place (at the head of every road and a high place in every street), yet in one way they were significantly worse than a literal harlot – they received no benefit of any kind from their idolatry, still they persisted in it.
i. “In Ezekiel 16:30–34 in a piece of fine sarcasm Ezekiel portrays Israel literally as a nymphomaniac whose promiscuous lust has caused her to reverse the usual order involved in prostitution. She has hired rather than been hired by her clients.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
b. You are an adulterous wife, who takes strangers: The sense is that the harlot does it for pay, but the adulterous wife for free, merely for the thrill of transgression and a combination of weakness and hardness of heart.
i. Israel as the adulterous wife is the theme of Ezekiel’s predecessor, the prophet Hosea – as well as many other prophets.
c. Men make payments to all harlots, but you made your payments to all your lovers: Israel was like the adulterous wife who not only gives herself away for free but also buys lavish gifts for her illicit lovers.
d. No one solicited you to be a harlot: In her metaphorical harlotry, Israel had no pimp. She was not forced or persuaded to do what she did; it came from her degenerate heart (Ezekiel 16:30). Even though it cost her (you gave payment), she still continued to be unfaithful to her God.
i. “But is the church today any less guilty? Members of local churches commit the same sins we read about in the newspapers, but the news doesn’t always get to the headlines. Congregations are being torn apart because of professed Christians who are involved in lawsuits, divorces, immorality, family feuds, crooked business deals, financial scandals, and a host of other activities that belong to the world.” (Wiersbe)
D. God’s message to Israel the harlot.
1. (35-39) Judgment announced against Jerusalem the harlot.
‘Now then, O harlot, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because your filthiness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotry with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children which you gave to them, surely, therefore, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved, and all those you hated; I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged; I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy. I will also give you into their hand, and they shall throw down your shrines and break down your high places. They shall also strip you of your clothes, take your beautiful jewelry, and leave you naked and bare.
a. O harlot, hear the word of the LORD: God didn’t address Israel by a noble name. Their degenerate heart deserved a shocking address.
i. O harlot: “A name good enough for such an odious housewife, the shame of her sex. He is not worthy of an honest name whose deeds are not honest.” (Trapp)
ii. Because your filthiness was poured out: Block believes this refers to “the female genital fluid produced at sexual arousal.” But most commentators believe this is a reference to the issue of a venereal disease: “Thy filthiness issuing from thee by reason of thine overly frequent and excessive adulteries. He meaneth the infamous fluxes of whores, saith Diodat.” (Trapp) It is properly translated in our version filthiness, poisonous filth. Does it not refer to that venereal virus which is engendered by promiscuous connexions?” (Clarke)
b. I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved, and all those you hated: The LORD spoke as the one who knows human nature. He knew that when people run after illicit lovers – either literally or spiritually – some they may love, but others they will hate.
i. “Appropriately, it is Israel’s ‘lovers’ who will execute God’s vengeance upon her. By that they add to the depth of her shame. They show how cheaply they had valued what she had to offer them and the real contempt in which they held her.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
ii. “For these reasons God would gather all her lovers—those she had loved, i.e., the Egyptians, and those she had hated, i.e., the Chaldeans. These would come against Jerusalem from every direction.” (Smith)
c. I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them: God promised to humble – even to humiliate – Israel before her pagan neighbors. The beauty and adornment she had traded upon before the nations would be stripped away, and they would see what Israel was without God.
i. This wasn’t shame for the sake of shame; this was for the sake of repentance and restoration.
ii. “Jerusalem had bared her body to all passersby. Now God provides her with all the exposure she wants, and more. If she wants to be a public spectacle, he offers his aid. Naked he had found her; naked he would leave her. The hell that awaited her was not the creation of some demonic force or external power, but of her own making.” (Block)
d. I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged: God would bring the punishment of death upon Israel. He would not kill the nation completely, but reign death upon them in judgment. God promised to bring this judgment with passion: I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy.
i. “The first step in her retributive judgment at the hands of the Lord would be public exposure before both her lovers and her enemies. Public exposure of profligate women and stoning of them were well-known customs in ancient Israel.” (Feinberg)
e. I will also give you into their hand: God promised that the judgment to come upon Israel would come through the very lovers she gave herself to. The neighboring nations, and their gods by proxy, would conquer and humiliate stubborn Israel.
i. They shall also strip you: “It is opprobrium to a man to be stripped, more to a woman; this Jewish adulteress shall be stripped, that her nakedness appear.” (Poole)
2. (40-43) Describing the coming judgment against Jerusalem the harlot.
“They shall also bring up an assembly against you, and they shall stone you with stones and thrust you through with their swords. They shall burn your houses with fire, and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; and I will make you cease playing the harlot, and you shall no longer hire lovers. So I will lay to rest My fury toward you, and My jealousy shall depart from you. I will be quiet, and be angry no more. Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but agitated Me with all these things, surely I will also recompense your deeds on your own head,” says the Lord GOD. “And you shall not commit lewdness in addition to all your abominations.
a. They shall also bring up an assembly against you: The armies of the nations surrounding Israel would come against her in a divinely appointed judgment. The judgment would be complete, with the stones of attack, the swords of war, and the fire of destruction.
b. I will make you cease playing the harlot, and you shall no longer hire lovers: The judgment God would bring upon them would be something of a cure for Israel’s gross idolatry. After this judgment and exile, they would never have the same problem with the idols of the nations.
c. So I will lay to rest My fury toward you: God’s judgment against and anger towards Israel was not to last forever. When their hearts were turned away from their gross idolatry, God would change His disposition toward them.
d. Because you did not remember the days of your youth: God repeats the idea from Ezekiel 16:22. Their self-destructive pride was based on their failure to remember that all the good they had was a blessing and gift from God.
i. “In order that she might remember him once again, God would bring this discipline on her. Though mankind may forget God, his love prevents him from forgetting his own. God takes his commitments in personal relationships seriously.” (Alexander)
E. The past, present, and future of Jerusalem the harlot and her “family.”
1. (44-45) The mother of Jerusalem the harlot.
“Indeed everyone who quotes proverbs will use this proverb against you: ‘Like mother, like daughter!’ You are your mother’s daughter, loathing husband and children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children; your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite.
a. Like mother, like daughter: This proverb would be accurately said of Israel in Ezekiel’s day. The idea from Ezekiel 16:3 is repeated: your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite – and Israel acted just like those pagan nations.
b. You are your mother’s daughter…you are the sister of your sisters: God had called Israel to be different from the pagan nations, and instead she became just like them.
c. Who loathed their husbands: It is strange and shocking that Israel would be like those who hated their husbands. Spiritually speaking, Yahweh was the covenant husband of Israel, who was a perfect husband. This bad marriage was entirely the responsibility of one party, not both.
i. Israel “was weary of the best Husband, that while she doted on abominable adulterers, did most contemptuously disregard her Husband, and forsake him.” (Poole)
2. (46-47) The sisters of Jerusalem the harlot.
“Your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who dwells to the south of you, is Sodom and her daughters. You did not walk in their ways nor act according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you became more corrupt than they in all your ways.
a. Your elder sister is Samaria: Here God focused on Jerusalem and the southern kingdom it was the capital of. The city of Samaria was the capital city of the long-conquered northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 16:24-29). Once-faithful Jerusalem had become just as corrupt as her elder sister, Samaria.
b. Your younger sister…is Sodom: It was bad enough to be identified with Samaria, but Jerusalem’s state was far worse than that. She was like Sodom, with all her infamous corruptions (Genesis 13:13, 19:1-24).
i. “Ezekiel calls Samaria the “elder sister” and Sodom the “younger sister” not out of any chronological interest (the Hebrew terms are, literally, “big” and “small,” respectively). Ezekiel has in view their historical importance to those whom the prophet addressed.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
ii. Some think the associations with Samaria and Sodom were only poetic. “Ezekiel probably has two groups in mind. Samaria represents those who in the past were a breakaway from Judah. Sodom represents the dregs of Canaanite society, and would be those who had not had any allegiance to Jehovah (cf. Matthew 10.15; 11.23,24).” (Wright)
c. But, as if that were too little, you became more corrupt than they in all your ways: Even worse, Jerusalem became more corrupt than Sodom. This was a staggering accusation for God to make, yet it was true.
i. “Jerusalem’s sin had been the more heinous in that she had professed to set the standard for her sisters, whereas she had been more abominable than they.” (Morgan)
3. (48-50) Comparing Jerusalem to her sister Sodom.
“As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.
a. Neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you: Introducing this word with a solemn vow (as I live), God repeated the accusation from the previous verse.
b. This was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: Point by point, God listed some of the sins of Sodom. The sins listed here are alluded to in Genesis, but not specifically detailed. Some wrongly take this to mean that God did not consider the sexual depravity described in Genesis 19:1-24 to be sin, but this is a clear and willful misunderstanding of the text. These were sins at the root of the depravity described in Genesis 19, and in addition to that depravity.
· She and her daughter had pride: Genesis 13:10 says that the land of Sodom was like the garden of the LORD. It was the kind of city that citizens take great pride in.
· Fullness of food and abundance of idleness: Being well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord (Genesis 13:10), there was agricultural abundance in Sodom. This made them self-reliant, sinfully independent, and overly invested in entertainments and comforts.
· Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy: With her great abundance, the people of Sodom should have been more generous and giving to the poor and needy. Yet in their selfishness and abundance of idleness they were not generous or helpful.
· They were haughty and committed abomination: Ancient Sodom was filled with pride and terrible idolatry (abomination). The sexual depravity described in Genesis 19 was no doubt connected with the environment of unrestrained idolatry.
i. “The sins of Sodom here include what we know of from Genesis18.20-19.11, but go wider into the luxuries and sins of civilized prosperity (Genesis13.10).” (Wright)
ii. “This material ease fostered sexual perversion (Genesis 13:13; 18:20; 19:4–5). This passage stands as both an exhortation and a warning against such wickedness and life styles today.” (Alexander)
iii. Committed abomination: “That unnatural filthiness which taketh its name from them. This in the Levant is not held a vice, and in Mexico it is one of the Spanish virtues.” (Trapp)
c. Therefore I took them away as I saw fit: God brought His judgment to Sodom, and He would bring it to Jerusalem and Judah, who in many ways were worse than Sodom.
4. (51-52) Comparing Israel to her sister Samaria.
“Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and have justified your sisters by all the abominations which you have done. You who judged your sisters, bear your own shame also, because the sins which you committed were more abominable than theirs; they are more righteous than you. Yes, be disgraced also, and bear your own shame, because you justified your sisters.
a. Samaria did not commit half of your sins: Since Samaria fell some 130 years before Jerusalem, Judah had much more time to indulge in sin. As well, they had far more light with the presence of the temple, the institution of the priesthood, and better kings.
i. “Judah was more guilty because she had more privileges from the Lord.” (Feinberg)
b. And have justified your sisters by all the abominations which you have done: Jerusalem’s heart and deeds were so bad that it made Samaria and Sodom look justified in comparison.
i. Jesus made a similar comparison more than once (Matthew 10:15, 11:23-24).
ii. “Any woman who puts these women in a good light should be ashamed of herself.” (Block)
c. You who judged your sisters, bear your own shame also: Jerusalem and Judah proudly thought themselves better than Samaria and Sodom, but this proud judgment only made them guiltier. Jerusalem would be disgraced also and bear their own shame.
i. “Ezekiel lives among people who feel shame because Yahweh, in whom they had placed their trust, had reneged on his covenant commitment and failed to stand up for them. The purpose of this entire oracle has been to turn the tables on the Israelites’ complaint. The charge of betrayal is to be leveled not against Yahweh but against themselves.” (Block)
5. (53-59) A promise of restoration for Jerusalem and her sisters.
“When I bring back their captives, the captives of Sodom and her daughters, and the captives of Samaria and her daughters, then I will also bring back the captives of your captivity among them, that you may bear your own shame and be disgraced by all that you did when you comforted them. When your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters return to their former state, then you and your daughters will return to your former state. For your sister Sodom was not a byword in your mouth in the days of your pride, before your wickedness was uncovered. It was like the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria and all those around her, and of the daughters of the Philistines, who despise you everywhere. You have paid for your lewdness and your abominations,” says the LORD. For thus says the Lord GOD: “I will deal with you as you have done, who despised the oath by breaking the covenant.
a. When I bring back their captives: God promised some kind of restoration for Sodom and Samaria, and that Jerusalem would also be restored, and their captives brought back. The promise to bring back the captives of Samaria is easily understood, and we may see its fulfillment. The fulfillment of this promise to Sodom is more difficult to understand.
i. “But the restoration of Sodom will pose no difficulty for the omnipotence of God; her restoration was mentioned first to do away with all boasting.” (Feinberg)
b. That you may bear your own shame: Part of the reason God promised to restore the captivity of Samaria and Sodom was to humble Jerusalem and Judah. They would know that they were not the unique objects of God’s favor and restoration. His love was wider than that.
i. “There will, however, be a day of restoration for Sodom, Samaria and Jerusalem, but this will bring nothing but a heightened sense of shame and further humiliation for the harlot city.” (Taylor)
ii. Your sister Sodom was not a byword: “In former times self-righteous Jerusalem would not even mention the name of Sodom. Jerusalem, however, was humbled when her own wickedness was made public through divine judgment.” (Smith)
c. You have paid for your lewdness and your abominations: The day would come when God’s season of discipline and judgment over Jerusalem and Judah would pass. In some sense cured of their previous idolatry, they could move forward in humility instead of pride.
6. (60-63) Remembering the old covenant, promising an everlasting covenant.
“Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when you receive your older and your younger sisters; for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of My covenant with you. And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,” says the Lord GOD.’”
a. Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth: Despite the certainty of the coming judgment, God would not forget His covenant with Israel. They would continue to have a special place in His plan of the ages, and therefore in His heart.
b. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed: The restoration would bring humility to Israel, not only toward God but also towards those they had previously despised and judged (when you receive your older and younger sisters).
c. And I will establish My covenant with you: The idea is repeated again for emphasis. The coming judgment would be so great that Israel would be tempted to believe there was no more hope for them with God. Yet again and again Yahweh promised to establish His covenant with them again.
i. “God says that not only will He make good on the past covenants but He is also going to make a new covenant with them. Unfortunately, these passages of Scripture are not studied very much at all. When they are, they make it very clear that God still has a future purpose with the nation Israel.” (McGee)
d. When I provide you an atonement for all you have done: Through Ezekiel, the LORD hinted at the nature of the future covenant. The idea of a God-provided atonement is an important aspect of the new covenant, already mentioned in Ezekiel 11:17-21. This would be the true and ultimate restoration of Israel.