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The unfaithfulness of Jerusalem (16:1-43)
In this chapter Ezekiel describes Judah’s relationship with Yahweh by means of a long and colourful illustration. The ancient nation Israel began life in Canaan as a hated people of mixed blood and mixed culture. It was like an unwanted baby girl thrown out at birth and left to die (16:1-5). Then a passing traveller (Yahweh) picked the baby up and gave it a chance to live. The girl survived and grew, though without training or upbringing (6-7).
Many years later, by which time the girl had reached an age when she might marry, the same traveller happened to see her again. She had not been washed or clothed since birth. The man then lovingly bathed her, clothed her, married her, and made her so beautiful that her fame spread to other nations. So likewise, after the Israelites had spent centuries away from God in Egypt, he saved them from shame and made them his own people by covenant at Mt Sinai (8-14).
But the woman was not faithful to the marriage covenant. Israel was unfaithful to the one who had done so much for her. Leaving him to serve other gods, she became a spiritual prostitute. She built shrines and altars to other gods, and offered to those gods the things that Yahweh had freely given her (15-19). To make matters worse, she participated in the pagan practice of offering her children as human sacrifices (20-22).
As a prostitute uses brothels to attract her customers, so Israel built idol shrines throughout her towns and villages (23-25). She further demonstrated her spiritual prostitution by forsaking God and making political alliances with other countries. Even those nations, Israel’s lovers, were ashamed of her immoral behaviour, but Israel kept lusting for more (26-29). In fact, her lust was so great that it was abnormal. Usually the customer pays the prostitute, but in the case of the prostitute Israel she paid the customer, so that she could multiply her immoral acts (30-34).
According to Israelite practice, the punishment for an adulteress was to be stripped naked, paraded in public and then stoned to death. Judah would therefore be punished, with its countryside stripped bare and the nation destroyed by enemy invaders. The nations who would inflict this disaster upon her would be the very nations whose favour she had tried to win by her prostitution (35-41). All this would be at the direction of God himself, whose love for Israel was the reason for his anger with her (42-43).
Worthless sisters (16:44-63)
Ezekiel refers back to Israel’s mixed parentage in Canaan to introduce two sisters of the prostitute (who, in Ezekiel’s time was identified with Judah’s capital Jerusalem). The two sisters were the cities Samaria (capital of the former northern kingdom) and Sodom. Both cities were destroyed by God’s judgment, but Jerusalem’s sin was worse than both (44-48). Sodom was well known for its greed and immorality, Samaria for its idolatry, but both cities now appeared righteous compared with Jerusalem. Surely, the destruction of Jerusalem was inescapable (49-52).
Samaria and Sodom may each have had some satisfaction in seeing Jerusalem suffer the same fate as they had suffered. Yet all three had hope for the future. After the overthrow of Babylon, the three regions of Palestine represented by these three cities would be restored and inhabited again (53-55). In the meantime Jerusalem had to bear the shame of its immoral behaviour. In times past, Jerusalem was ashamed to mention the sin of Sodom, but now her reputation was just as bad (56-58).
Looking beyond the coming judgment, Ezekiel saw the day when a humbled and forgiven Jerusalem would exercise authority over all her neighbours. The granting of this authority would not be because of any right that Jerusalem had under the old covenant. Rather it would be a free act of God’s forgiving grace (59-62). As Jerusalem remembered her shameful behaviour in the past, she would be kept from any feelings of pride (63).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Ezekiel 16". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany