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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 16

Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral EpistlesFairbairn's Commentaries

Verses 1-63

CHAPTER 16.

THE STORY OF ISRAEL’S GUILT AND PUNISHMENT.

Ezekiel 16:1 . And the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 16:2 . Son of man, make Jerusalem know her abominations,

Ezekiel 16:3 . And say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah to Jerusalem, Thy origin and thy birth (Hävernick would render here: the place of thy production and the place of thy birth. But no instance can be produced in which the terms are used distinctly to express the locality in which the action or event took place. And if it had been the locality that was here pointed to, what follows would have been not of, but in, the land of Canaan. The words are literally, thy diggings, or originatings, and thy bringings forth, to which substantially correspond thy origin and thy birth.) were of the land of the Canaanite; thy father was the Amorite, and thy mother the Hittite. (Not simply an Amorite and a Hittite, but these two tribes themselves personified; as if all the peculiarities respectively belonging to them united in the parentage of the Israelitish people.)

Ezekiel 16:4 . And for thy birth, in the day that thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed with water for cleansing: thou wast not salted at all, nor wast thou wrapt in swaddling-bands. (The use of water is here said to be לְמִשְׁעִי which occurs only here, and has been very commonly rendered “for suppling,” as from שָּׁעַע , to stroke or smear. Gesenius gives cleansing as the meaning, which, with most recent authorities, we adopt. The latter is certainly the more natural sense. In the Septuagint the word is altogether omitted. The application of salt to new-born infants in ancient times is known to have been a common practice, supposed to have been used medicinally, for the purpose of hardening the skin; but probably, also, not without reference to the symbolical import of salt, as an emblem of purity and incorruption. Jerome says on the passage: “The tender bodies of infants, while they still retain the heat of the womb, and by their cries give evidence of the first commencement of this toilsome life, are wont to be sprinkled with salt by the nurses, to make them more dry and firm.” Galen speaks of it, De Sanit. i.7.)

Ezekiel 16:5 . No eye pitied thee, to do one of these things to thee, to have compassion upon thee; and thou wast thrown upon the open field, with contempt of thy life, (“With contempt of thy life,” seems to come nearer to the idea here expressed than the “loathing of thy person.” For נֶפֶשְׁ , though often used for life, never precisely means person; and when the treatment is said to have been done with loathing of this, it is much the same as we would express by contempt, or disdainful indifference, to the life.) in the day that thou wast born.

Ezekiel 16:6 . And I passed by thee, and saw thee ready to be trampled on in thy blood, and I said to thee in thy blood, Live; yea, I said to thee in thy blood, Live.

Ezekiel 16:7 . A myriad like the produce of the field I made thee; and thou didst increase and wax great, and became most beautiful; (It is literally, “and didst come to ornament of ornaments.” The word עֲדִי has no other well-ascertained meaning; and the attempts of Havernick and Hitzig to change the sense are both quite unsuccessful. See Hengstenberg on Psalms 32:9. It is there also used somewhat peculiarly, of the bit and bridle of a horse, “whose ornaments are bit and bridle,” meaning that the nature of a horse is such as to require decorations of that sort.) thy breasts formed, and thy hair grew, and thou wast naked and bare. (The meaning of this last clause is much obscured in the Authorized Version, by giving the conjunction and the adversative force of whereas, thereby making the nakedness and bareness here mentioned point to a condition prior to that described in the preceding terms. But it is only the literal rendering that conveys the proper idea. The prophet means to say, that even when grown to womanhood and ripe for marriage, she was still naked and bare; beautiful, indeed, in person, but as to other things in an unfurnished and poor condition.)

Ezekiel 16:8 . And I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, and, behold, thy time was a time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, (This expression, of “throwing the skirt over her,” as appears also from what immediately follows, is synonymous with entering into the marriage relation. It is taken from Ruth 3:9: “Spread thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.” It gives a very feeble sense when explained, as it often is, of taking under the wing of Divine protection and support. The passage in Ruth, and collateral passages in the law (Deuteronomy 22:30; Deuteronomy 27:20), fully bear out the other and more specific meaning. Nor are similar expressions wanting in the Greek poets for indicating the marriage union; as in Sophocles’ Trachin, v. 536. See also Grotius here.) and covered thy nakedness; and I sware unto thee, and entered into covenant with thee, saith the Lord Jehovah, and thou becamest mine.

Ezekiel 16:9 . And I washed thee with water, and rinsed thy blood from off thee, and anointed thee with oil.

Ezekiel 16:10 . And I clothed thee with broidered work, and gave thee shoes of tachash, (It is not ascertained with certainty what was meant by tachash; it is always used in connection with skin, or articles made of skin; for example, the tabernacle was covered with tachash skins, Exodus 25:5. The ancient versions understood it to denote the colour of the skins, red or blue; but the Talmudists and Hebrew interpreters take it for the name of the animal from which the skins were obtained, probably the badger or seal; and this is now generally acquiesced in.) and girded thee with fine linen, and covered thee with silk.

Ezekiel 16:11 . And I decked thee with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain upon thy neck.

Ezekiel 16:12 . And I put a jewel in thy nose, and ear-rings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thy head.

Ezekiel 16:13 . And thou wast adorned with gold and silver; and thy clothing was of fine linen and silk and broidered work; fine flour, and honey, and oil didst thou eat; and thou wert exceedingly beautiful, and didst prosper into a kingdom.

Ezekiel 16:14 . And thy name went forth among the nations on account of thy beauty; for it was perfect by reason of my adornment, which I put upon thee, saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 16:15 . But thou didst trust in thy beauty, and didst play the wanton upon thy name, (The most literal rendering here is to be preferred. Hävernick’s, “against thy name,” with a reference to Judges 19:2, is rather forced. She played the wanton upon her name, because her renown, with the riches and honour on which it was grounded, carried her away into sin.) and didst pour out thy fornications upon every one that passed by; it was his (viz. thy beauty).

Ezekiel 16:16 . And thou didst take of thy garments, and didst make to thyself high places of divers colours, and didst play the wanton upon them (such as) had not come in, nor did exist.

Ezekiel 16:17 . And thou didst take thy beautiful articles, of my gold and my silver, which I put upon thee, and didst make for thyself statues of men, and didst commit fornication with them.

Ezekiel 16:18 . And thou tookest thy broidered garments, and didst cover them; and my oil and my incense thou didst set before them.

Ezekiel 16:19 . And my bread which I gave thee, fine flour and oil and honey, that I fed thee with, thou hast also set it before them for a sweet savour: and it was so, saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 16:20 . And thou didst take thy sons and thy daughters whom thou barest to me, and to them hast thou sacrificed them to be devoured:

Ezekiel 16:21 . Were thy whoredoms too little, that thou shouldest have slain my children, and given them by making them pass through the fire for them?

Ezekiel 16:22 . And with all thy abominations and thy whoredoms, didst not remember the days of thy youth, when thou wert naked and. bare, wert ready to be trampled on in thy blood.

Ezekiel 16:23 . And it came to pass, after all thy wickedness (woe, woe to thee, saith the Lord Jehovah),

Ezekiel 16:24 . That thou didst build to thee a chamber, (It seems probable that what is meant here by גָּב is such a chamber as the Latins denoted fornix, here suitably rendered by the Septuagint οἴκημα πορνικὸν a class of apartments too frequently associated with the impure religions of antiquity.) and didst make for thee a high place in every street.

Ezekiel 16:25 . At every corner of a way hast thou built thy high place, and hast made thy beauty to be abhorred, and hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and hast multiplied thy whoredoms.

Ezekiel 16:26 . And thou hast played the wanton with the Egyptians, thy neighbours, great of flesh, (This epithet, “great of flesh,” applied to the Egyptians, seems to point to the gross and lustful character of their religion (comp. chap, 23:20). How much the Egyptian religion partook of such a character has been abundantly established. See, for example, Hengstenberg on the Pentateuch, ii. p. 118 sq.; also Herod, ii. 46. It may be doubted, however, whether committing adultery with the Egyptians means worshipping their idols. We would rather understand it, with Calvin, of their improper trust in the power of Egypt, which was itself an act of unfaithfulness toward God. So also may be understood what is said of the Assyrians.) and hast multiplied thy whoredoms, to provoke me to anger.

Ezekiel 16:27 . And, behold, I have stretched out my hand upon thee, and have diminished thy allowance, and have given thee to the desire of them that hate thee, the daughters of the Philistines, that are ashamed of thy lewd way. (“The daughters of the Philistines” seem here to be taken generally as a name for heathen adversaries. They were not actually the parties to whom Israel was given up, when her allowance was diminished, or her inheritance curtailed; but those to whom they were given up might be called daughters of the Philistines, from their character and position.)

Ezekiel 16:28 . Thou hast played the wanton also with the Assyrians, because thou wast not satisfied, and didst play the wanton, and still wast not satisfied.

Ezekiel 16:29 . And thou didst multiply thy whoredoms toward the land of Canaan, as far as Chaldea, (The meaning of this fresh charge, which we render quite literally, seems to be this, that the people multiplied still further their backslidings and pollutions, such as belonged to the land of Canaan under its original inhabitants, and that by going even to Chaldea; bringing in Chaldea to aggravate the Canaanitish character of their evil ways. We greatly prefer this sense to taking Canaan as an appellative, and rendering “ the merchant-land to Chaldea.”) and even still wast not satisfied with this.

Ezekiel 16:30 . How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord Jehovah: since thou doest all these things, the doing of an adulterous imperious woman;

Ezekiel 16:31 . Since thou buildest thy chamber at the corner of every way, and makest thy high place in every street; and hast not been as an harlot, to scorn the hire. (The practice of harlots is referred to, scoffing at or scorning the offered hire, in order to obtain more. Unlike such, worse even than those profligates, Israel seemed to be indifferent to the result of her procedure; she did not care whether she got much or little heedlessly bent on the way of ruin. The rendering of this clause by the Vulgate is particularly happy: Nec facia es sicut meretrix fastidio augens pretium.)

Ezekiel 16:32 . The adulterous woman, who receives strangers while under her husband! (The common version misses the exact import of this verse, by rendering, “taketh strangers instead of her husband.” The sin charged is that of taking or receiving strangers while under the law of her husband. It refers to Numbers 5:19-20; Numbers 5:29, where the rendering should be, “goeth aside under her husband,” i.e. turns aside to another while properly under him.)

Ezekiel 16:33 . To all harlots they give gifts; but thou bestowest gifts on all thy lovers, and bribest them to come to thee on every side by thy whoredoms.

Ezekiel 16:34 . And there is in thee the contrary of woman, in thy committing whoredoms while it is not played the wanton after thee; and in thy giving of a reward, while a reward is not given to thee; so that thou art contrary.

Ezekiel 16:35 . Therefore, harlot, hear the word of Jehovah:

Ezekiel 16:36 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because thy filthiness has been poured out, and thou hast discovered thy nakedness by thy whoredoms upon thy lovers, and upon all the idols of thy abominations, and by the blood of thy children whom thou didst give to them;

Ezekiel 16:37 . Behold, therefore, I will gather all thy lovers, with whom thou hast had pleasure, even all whom thou hast loved, with all that thou hatest; and I will gather them against thee round about, and discover thy nakedness to them, and they shall see all thy nakedness.

Ezekiel 16:38 . And I will judge thee according to the judgments of adulteresses and those who shed blood; and I will make thee blood of fury and jealousy.

Ezekiel 16:39 . And I will give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thy chambers, and shall prostrate thy high places; and they shall strip thee of thy clothes, and shall take thy beautiful jewels, and leave thee naked and bare.

Ezekiel 16:40 . And they shall make to go up against thee a company, and they shall stone thee with stones, and thrust thee through with their swords.

Ezekiel 16:41 . And they shall burn thy houses with fire, and execute judgments upon thee in the sight of many women; and will make thee cease from playing the wanton, nor also shaft thou give hire any more.

Ezekiel 16:42 . And I will make my fury to rest in thee, and my jealousy shall depart from thee; and I will be quiet, and will no more be angry.

Ezekiel 16:43 . Because thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, and hast provoked me in all these things; behold, I also recompense thy way upon thy head, saith the Lord Jehovah; and will not do what is scandalous upon all thine abominations. (This last clause is very commonly, and also in the Authorized Version, rendered, “And thou shalt not commit this lewdness above all thy abominations” but what lewdness? Nothing had been mentioned separate from the abominations themselves. The verse treats of God’s proceedings, not Israel s, and this clause is plainly a continuation of what he declared it his purpose to do to Israel. He will deal with her according to her sins, and will not be guilty of the scandalous part (such is the precise import of the phrase) of encouraging her in her sinful courses. The expression refers to the conduct of a father who should encourage his daughter to play the harlot, as recorded in Leviticus 19:29. The very same term is also used there.)

44. Behold, every one that deals in proverbs shall utter a proverb upon thee, saying, As is the mother, so is the daughter.

Ezekiel 16:45 . Thou art thy mother’s daughter, that dost loathe her husband and her children; and the sister of thy sisters art thou, who did loathe their husbands and their children; your mother was a Hittite, and your father an Amorite.

Ezekiel 16:46 . And thine elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell on thy left; and thy younger sister, that dwells on thy right, are Sodom and her daughters.

Ezekiel 16:47 . And thou hast not walked after their ways, and done according to their abominations; it was accounted but a little thing; and thou hast been corrupted more than they in all thy ways.

Ezekiel 16:48 . As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, Sodom thy sister has not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, and thy daughters.

Ezekiel 16:49 . Behold, this was the iniquity of Sodom thy sister, pride, fulness of bread, and secure rest was in her and in her daughters; and she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

Ezekiel 16:50 . And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me; and I removed them according to what I saw. (The expression here has been misunderstood, from not perceiving that it refers to Genesis 18:21, where the Lord said to Abraham, that he would go down and would see whether the iniquity of Sodom was according to the cry that came into his ears: he did according to what he saw.)

Ezekiel 16:51 . And Samaria has not committed the half of thy sins; and thou hast multiplied thy abominations above them, and hast justified thy sisters by all thine abominations which thou hast done.

Ezekiel 16:52 . Thou also, who hast vindicated (The proper meaning of the verb פָּלַל seems to be to judge for, to undertake or vindicate the cause of any one, and in this sense it is plainly used in 1 Samuel 2:25. It is used also in Piel in the sense of judging generally; but most commonly in Hithpael in the sense of entreating for, or supplicating a sense very naturally arising out of what we suppose to be the primary one of judging, for the purpose of establishing the cause or right of any one. Here the meaning is, that Israel by her greater guilt had, as it were, given judgment in favour of her less guilty neighbours.) thy sisters, bear thine own shame; by thy sins, in which thou hast done more abominably than they, they are justified above thee; and also be thou confounded, and bear thy shame, in that thou hast justified thy sisters.

Ezekiel 16:53 . And I shall turn again the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, and the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them; (I adhere to the common rendering of the phrase שׁוּב שְׁבוּת in preference to that so strenuously contended for by Hengstenberg in his Beitr. ii. p. 104, and again on Psalms 14:6. It is quite true, that in other expressions the verb is used intransitively to turn back to, or return to anything. That, however, does not conclusively prove it may not be used actively in a proverbial expression like this; indeed, the fitf here between the verb and the noun, pointing out the one as the object of the other, seems to demand the active sense; and in Jeremiah 49:6 the Hiphil form is employed, to render the force of the expression more apparent: “I will cause to return i.e. I will bring back the captivity of the children of Ammon.” See also Nahum 2:3. The difference, however, between the two interpretations is merely philological; it respects simply the original import of the words, whether they mean precisely a turning back of the captivity, or a turning back to it, viz. on the Lord’s part, with a view to its removal. The meaning is still, in either case, substantially the same. The expression is a proverbial one, to denote the undoing of an existing evil, and is often used of cases where there was no real captivity, as in Job 42:10, and Jeremiah 30:18.)

Ezekiel 16:54 . That thou mayest bear thy shame, and be confounded for all thou hast done, in making thyself a comfort to them.

Ezekiel 16:55 . And thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former state, and thou and thy daughters shall return to your former state.

Ezekiel 16:56 . Though Sodom thy sister was not for a report in thy mouth in the day of thy pride;

Ezekiel 16:57 . Before thy wickedness was discovered, as at the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria (I apparently, the time when thou becamest an object of reproach to them), and all round about her, the daughters of the Philistines, that despise thee round about.

Ezekiel 16:58 . Thy scandalous behaviour and thine abominations, thou shalt bear them, saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 16:59 . For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, who hast despised the oath to break the covenant.

Ezekiel 16:60 . But I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish with thee an everlasting covenant.

Ezekiel 16:61 . And thou shalt remember thy ways and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder, and thy younger, and I give them to thee for daughters yet not by thy covenant.

Ezekiel 16:62 . And I will establish with thee my covenant; and thou shalt know that I am Jehovah.

Ezekiel 16:63 . To the end thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I grant forgiveness to thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord Jehovah.

1. THE history recorded so graphically in this chapter naturally falls into several successive portions; and of these, the first, which ends with Ezekiel 16:7, unfolds Israel’s beginnings as a people when they were struggling into national existence. It takes its commencement with the birth of the female child, and terminates with her advance to womanhood. The two features that are brought prominently out in this portion of the history are the naturally helpless, unpromising, and polluted condition of Israel, and the wonderful mercy and loving-kindness of God in preserving their existence and nursing them to maturity. “The origin and the birth” of this child are said to have been “in the land of Canaan;” and it is added, “Thy father was the Amorite, and thy mother the Hittite.” To connect the chosen people with such a parentage was one of the most impressive ways that could be taken to mark their inveterately depraved and sinful character. The original inhabitants of Canaan, and in particular the Amorites and the Hittites, who, from being the most important and powerful tribes, are sometimes named as representatives of the whole, (Thus, in Genesis 15:16, “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full,” evidently meaning the inhabitants of Canaan generally. (Comp. also Amos 2:9.) So again in Joshua 1:4, “All the land of the Hittites” is used as a designation of the whole land of Canaan. In naming a Hittite mother, an allusion is doubtless intended to Esau’s wives, daughters of Heth, whose ways vexed the heart of Rebekah (Genesis 27:46).) were so hateful in the sight of God, on account of their sinful and corrupt ways, that he had decreed their utter extermination from the land, which was given as a possession to the children of Israel. Therefore, to represent these Israelites now as the legitimate offspring of the very out casts they had supplanted, was in the strongest manner to identify the state and manners of the one with those of the other. It was adopting substantially the same figure when John the Baptist called the Scribes and Pharisees of his day “a generation of vipers” the serpent’s brood; and when our Lord charged many others with being” of their father the devil, and doing the lusts of their father.” (The same figure was in familiar use among the Greeks and Latins: “Sons of Hercules,” “Daughters of Apollo,” etc.; and in Virgil the much stronger expression, which finds a parentage in the most senseless part of inanimate nature, “Duris genuit te cautibus horrens Caucasus” (Ǣn. iv. 366).) Even Hosea, whose language is tame compared to Ezekiel’s, had already addressed Israel on one occasion by the name of Canaan (Hosea 12:7, where we should read, “Canaan! the balances of deceit are in his hands”); and Isaiah, earlier still, had gone to the utmost length in the use of the figure when, in proclaiming the word of the Lord to his countrymen, he addressed them as the “rulers of Sodom, and the people of Gomorrah!” (Isaiah 1:10.) It was virtually saying, the people no longer deserved the name of the seed of Abraham, but were rather to be classed with the worst and vilest portion of mankind.

When the prophet has thus marked the native vileness and depravity of the people, by ascribing to them a Canaanitic origin, he proceeds to exhibit, under a few striking traits, the miserable helplessness and destitution out of which their national existence had emerged. The child that personifies them is represented as a despised and neglected infant, that was denied the commonest acts of parental regard its very life a miracle neither bandaged, nor washed, nor salted, nor swaddled, at its birth, but cast forth as a worthless and polluted thing on the face of the earth, and mercilessly abandoned to the elements of nature. So wretched and forlorn in the first stage of being, had Israel been left to their own resources, they would certainly have perished under the adverse influences against which they had to struggle, or, which is all one in this connection, would have failed to reach an independent national existence. But here now appears, in striking contrast to the evil, the other prominent feature of the description, the wonderful grace and mercy of God, which prevailed over all that was abject and repulsive in their condition, and fostered the feeble life into full-grown maturity. His eye pitied the poor and wretched little one, and with a word of power he bade it live; and not only live, but grow and strengthen to its full proportions. “I made thee,” as the words literally and properly are in Ezekiel 16:7, “a myriad, like the increase of the field, and thou didst multiply, and wax great, and became most beautiful; thy breasts formed, and thy hair grew, and thou (still) wast naked and bare.” The idea obviously is, that under the protecting and fostering care of God, the small and despised people, who had been at first ready to perish, rapidly grew into considerable numbers and strength, capable of being used for some important purpose, though still, from their low and impoverished state, the aid of a gracious and powerful hand would be needed to bring it into accomplishment.

The period of Israel’s history embraced in this part of the description is undoubtedly that of the sojourn in Egypt; for it was then, properly, that their existence as a people began. It was a beginning, however, impressed with the most humiliating marks of feebleness and contempt. Even when the family of Jacob were, for Joseph’s sake, treated to distinguished favour, it was not without accompanying tokens of a contrary description: on account of their occupation as shepherds, they were eyed with disdain by the Egyptians, and had to dwell by themselves as an inferior caste. But this natural antipathy soon expressed itself in a more actively offensive form, and a tide of undisguised hatred and cruel oppression set in against them, which, with few interruptions, continued to flow for centuries. Everything was done which an unscrupulous tyranny could devise to depress their condition, and even extinguish their existence. Yet so carefully did the Lord watch over them during this long season of peril, that not only was their being preserved, but their growth also was supernaturally increased: “They were fruitful,” it is said, “and swarmed, and multiplied, and increased most exceedingly;” and “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (Exodus 1:7; Exodus 1:12). This paternal kindness and watchful oversight on the part of God was the more striking, and should have produced the deeper impression on the national mind of Israel, as it was exercised not merely amid destructive influences working from without, but also in the face of much spiritual corruption prevailing within. The families of Israel had become most deeply infected with the foul leprosy of Egypt; and to the contempt arising from their political feebleness, there was also to be overcome the disgust which could not fail to be produced by their sensual idolatries. Doubtless there was then, as through all subsequent periods of their history there still was, a faithful remnant, in whose bosoms the hidden life of faith was maintained. The covenant of Abraham, pledging to him in perpetuity a spiritual seed, indispensably required this; and the brief notices of the period abundantly testify that it was not altogether wanting. Still, viewed as a whole, the people were in a most degenerate and polluted condition. The general meanness and poverty of their external circumstances was but the symbol of their spiritual state; and while in respect to number they had now become suited to the higher purposes of God, they still lacked what was most essentially needed to fit them for the execution of his will. But in all this, believers of every age must see the image of their own state by nature, and the ground of their infinite obligations. What have they of their own? Only, like Israel, the elements of weakness, pollution, and death. It is the grace of God alone that breathes life into the soul, and at once reveals the things that are to be received and done in God’s service, and confers the power for receiving and doing them aright. Whence the first and last feeling in every regenerate bosom must be one of deep abasement, and entire renunciation of self, spontaneously yielding the praise and glory to God.

2. The second stage of this allegorical history, exhibited in Ezekiel 16:8-14, represents the singular honour and glory conferred on the ideal virgin in her exaltation to the rank of a spouse to the King of Zion, and her decoration with apparel suited to her elevated station. Here, again, everything is fragrant with the matchless grace and loving-kindness of God. She has nothing of her own to entitle her to such an ennobling distinction, and nothing of her own to fit her for adorning it. It is not she that makes the advance to God, but God that makes the advance to her; “the Lord passes by her” now as he had done at the first, and fixes on her the regard of his love. And that love not a mere general benevolence, but such a special affection as one cherishes toward the person he would betroth for his wife; for when the Lord passed by her, “he spread his skirt over her;” “yea,” he adds, explaining more distinctly what was meant by the transaction, “I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord Jehovah, and thou becamest mine.” That is, she became his in the same sense in which a woman becomes a man’s when united to him by the marriage oath and covenant, in respect to which, as usually connected with the solemnization of marriage, the proper wife of an Israelite is called, in Malachi 2:14, “the wife of thy covenant.” And as it was customary for brides, when entering into union with earthly kings and potentates, to pass through a period of purification (Esther 2:12), so this betrothed spouse of the king of Zion, all unfitted as she naturally was for such a glorious union, is declared to have been specially prepared for the occasion: “And I wash thee with water, and I rinse thy blood from off thee (that, namely, of her original impurity still cleaving to her), and I anoint thee with oil.” When thus personally prepared for the solemnity, she is furnished with all the usual articles of a bride’s apparel, raiment of rich embroidery, shoes of tachash, silk and fine linen, ear-rings, jewels, ornaments of silver and gold, and a beautiful crown upon the head; for, being the spouse of a king, she was raised to the highest dignity, and must bear the emblem of royalty. And as the consequence of this instalment in high and honourable state, she was furnished with the best provisions with flour, and honey, and oil and prospered, and became great, so that the fame of her comely and beautiful appearance spread all around, and she attracted the admiration and envy of her heathen neighbours.

The description presents a vivid and impressive image of the singular goodness of God to Israel, from the time that he visited them in Egypt, and raised them from the low and depressed condition which they held there, to the nearest fellowship with himself, and the highest place among the kingdoms of the earth. The relation formed between Jehovah and Israel at that interesting period had already been more than once represented under the image of the marriage-union. To say nothing of various descriptions founded on this image in Isaiah (such as Isaiah 1:1, Isaiah 54:1), it forms the basis of the whole series of representations given by Hosea in the three first chapters of his writings; and Jeremiah, referring expressly to the period of the deliverance from Egypt, and what immediately followed, says in one of his earliest prophecies (Hosea 2:2): “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” Indeed, no earthly relation could so fitly have been employed as that of marriage to exhibit the nature of that hallowed union, in virtue of which the Lord not only conferred upon them the rich dowry of temporal good, but also graciously condescended to maintain with them a most intimate and endearing interchange of love. For, as Hävernick justly remarks, while the external greatness and glory afterwards imparted to Israel are not excluded from the representation, they are by no means (as Grotius, and interpreters of a kindred spirit imagine) alone intended. It is the internal relationship established between them and God, and the spiritual blessings immediately growing out of it, which are here primarily and chiefly referred to. Even the outward temporal blessing secured in the covenant, and in part also realized, should never have been viewed as an ultimate and independent good, but rather as the expression and emblem of something higher and better. They were not properly blessings at all, except in so far as they were held in connection with the favour of Heaven, and bespoke the fellowship of love that subsisted between Jehovah and his people. Canaan itself derived its chief value as a covenant-good from its being the Lord’s possession the land which he claimed as peculiarly his own, and in which his people dwelt as “sojourners with him.” It is, therefore, their close relationship to God, and their high place in respect to the affairs of his spiritual kingdom, which is most directly indicated under the idea of their marriage-union to the Lord. The same, substantially, which is otherwise expressed by their being made a kingdom of priests; and still again by their having put upon them the name of Israelites God’s wrestlers.

But considering the state in which they were found in Egypt, they much needed to undergo a process of purification, to fit them for bearing aright so high and ennobling a character. That many rites of cleansing should have been prescribed to them, and a long course of preparatory discipline appointed, only betokened the Lord’s earnest desire to have them qualified for the exalted state and destiny he wished them to fill. And throughout, nothing was wanted of tender compassion and faithful dealing on his part. From the first he crowned them with marks of his goodness. A fulness of power and glory rested on them, far surpassing what their numbers alone might have warranted them to expect. And when the kingdom at last rose to meridian splendour, and received the confirmation and enlargement given to it, especially in the days of David and Solomon, the surrounding heathen were compelled to own that there is a great reality in the favour and blessing of Heaven. They saw in Israel, as a people, living monuments of the mighty efficacy of Divine grace, how it can exalt the feeble, and lay the powers of the world, as well as the bounties of nature, under contribution to the furtherance of its beneficent designs. And assuredly, the children of grace should be such monuments still; nor, if true to their principles, and faithful to their heavenly calling, can they fail to be so. “Washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God,” they are admitted into the very secret of the Lord’s presence; and all things become theirs all things needful for their present and final welfare. They dwell “where angels visit,” “where beams descend from the Eternal Sun,” where flows that river of life which makes glad the city of God, partakers even now of a blessing which the world may well envy, but which, blessed be God, it can as little take away as it can give.

3. In the preceding section, the prophet has magnified the grace and goodness of God to Israel, and in the next, embracing Ezekiel 16:15-34, he exhibits, in the most pungent terms, the ungrateful and treacherous conduct of Israel toward God. The much-beloved spouse, who has been treated to such high honours, and replenished with so many precious and costly gifts, proves unfaithful to her husband, employs the very ornaments and provisions he has conferred on her to the shameful purpose of feeding her wanton disposition and compassing her sinful ends; and instead of seeking, as in duty bound, to promote his credit and renown in the world, acts rather as if her object were to show how low a place he held in her esteem, and how much she preferred others before him.

In this part of the narrative the allegorical style is perhaps as closely preserved as it could have been consistently with vividness and accuracy in the representation; but it is impossible not to notice at various points how the fictitious garb drops off, and the plain reality discovers itself, as when mention is made of the children being sacrificed by passing through the fire (Ezekiel 16:21), and the Egyptians and Assyrians are specified among those with whom a forbidden intercourse was carried on (Ezekiel 16:26, Ezekiel 16:28). We can only view the representation generally, and with respect to its leading features; as from the very nature of the image it is impossible to be minute without, at the same time, falling into indelicacy. But we see at a glance that the primary evil charged, and the spring of all the abominations that followed, was the misappropriation of God’s goodness viewing the gifts conferred apart from the bounteous Giver, and applying them to selfish purposes. “Thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and didst play the wanton upon thy name,” or renown: such is the first crime laid to her charge. Instead of holding, as Israel manifestly should have done, all their mercies and privileges in humble dependence on God, and using them for his glory, they looked upon them as in the strictest sense their own, and turned them into instruments and occasions for exalting themselves in the eyes of others. They became vain in their imaginations, and seemed to enter into a sort of senseless rivalry with their neighbours, for the countenance and support of their false gods. It may possibly appear as if the picture were somewhat overdrawn, when Israel is represented as courting the attention of those foul divinities, and, for that purpose, turning to account her beautiful ornaments and stores of plenty. But a deep truth lies at the bottom of the representation. For what were the false gods in question but the personification of those carnal desires and affections which the good things so amply poured into Israel’s lot had but served to feed? deified human nature in its manifold varieties of lust and earthliness? So that their zeal in worshipping such gods, and lavishing on them costly tokens of their regard, very much resolves itself into an anxiety to have the countenance of Heaven upon the gratification of their own grovelling and earthly propensities. And hence it was that, when replenished with a fulness of worldly comforts, Israel so naturally preferred the worship of idols to that of Jehovah, and, like a treacherous spouse, breaking loose from the holy restraints of wedlock, yielded themselves to the service of these impure rivals; for thus they could give freer play to the corrupt affections of nature. Their conduct in this was simply an example of the native effect of the world upon the heart, according to the circumstances of the time; and when our Lord, speaking for all times, sets before us the prodigal son, selfishly coveting his portion of goods, and going to spend them in alienation from his father’s house, he but presents us with another exhibition, differently modified, of the same great truth. Let the heart of nature be fed to the full with gifts, and there will never fail to appear, in one form or another, the idolatry of self and the world.

The fervid and glowing character of Ezekiel’s mind, however, is not satisfied with this general description of the idolatrous spirit that discovered itself in Israel’s history. It must give stroke after stroke, and heap one particular upon another, to make the impression complete. And therefore he goes on to tell how everything that Israel had received of good, her garments of divers colours, jewels of gold and silver, oil, flour, honey, incense, were all employed in the service of corruption; and how new ways were sought out, and special places erected for the prosecution of her unhallowed purposes. Nor does he fail to notice, in thus filling up the picture of evil, one or two revolting traits, which give a peculiar hideousness to the character of Israel’s degeneracy. The sacrificing of the children, by making them pass through the fire, is one of these; and the Lord calls them his own children, rather than hers, “my children,” because they had been born under his covenant with Israel, and bore the sign of the covenant upon them. Another also is given toward the close of the description, when, after having declared the readiness of Israel to take up with every form of idolatry in Canaan and all round to Chaldea, on the one hand, and Egypt on the other, the cutting remark is brought in, that none of these nations followed her the treacherous and wanton dealing was all on Israel’s part she conceded everything to them, they yielded back nothing in return to her her wickedness was gratuitous and unrequited folly. A solemn and pregnant truth, which the Church of God should never forget. She loses all, and the world gains all, when she foolishly stoops to impair the testimony of God, or adjust the claims and services of religion to the tastes and practices of the carnal mind. A nominal advance or apparent reconciliation may possibly be achieved by the manœuvre, but it can be no more than nominal and apparent; the interests that really profit by such a policy are those of the flesh and the world. It is only when the Church is faithful to her testimony when she stands in the truth of Christ, and in that truth shines forth” bright as the sun, clear as the moon,” that she is found also, in her conflict with evil, “terrible as an army with banners.”

4. The next section Ezekiel 16:35-52 is chiefly occupied with the denunciation of judgment, though at different places, and especially toward the close, the peculiar greatness of Israel’s sin is again brought into view, to justify the awful severity of the punishment. Here also, as in the other parts, the prophet indulges in considerable amplification, and descends to much minuteness of detail. But the substance of the representation consists in denouncing against the faithless spouse the sentence of death written in the law against conjugal infidelity, and this to be executed by the hand of her guilty paramours. In the law there were two modes sanctioned of capital punishment, the one for individuals, the other for communities; in the first case, stoning; in the other, destroying with the sword. As adultery belonged to the first of these classes, the appropriate punishment for it was stoning to death. (Leviticus 20:10, which, though it simply mentions putting to death, is yet to be connected with Ezekiel 16:1 as to the manner of inflicting the punishment. Also John 8:5, which shows the Jewish mind on the subject. And, indeed, generally, stoning to death appears to have been the only legal form of capital punishment for individual sins.) And as the conjugal infidelity in this case was coincident with two other heinous crimes, apostasy from the true worship, and the sacrificing of children to Moloch, which were also adjudged to the same punishment (Deuteronomy 13:10; Leviticus 20:1-5), the doom might be said here to be doubly due. But a single form of punishment, even though a capital one, does not seem adequately to express the full measure of condemnation that was provoked by such aggravated guilt; and therefore the other also, which was decreed against an apostate city (Deuteronomy 13:15), is conjoined with it, though the consistence of the allegory suffers by the conjunction: “They shall bring up a company against thee, and they shall stone thee with stones, and thrust thee through with their sword.” For the same purpose of rendering what was done more fully expressive of the Lord’s sore displeasure against the sin, the execution of the doom is coupled with all manner of indignities, exposing the faithless spouse to shame before others, demolishing her high places, spoiling her of her jewels and apparel, burning her houses, and reducing her in all respects to the most abject and humiliating condition. And that the whole was to be accomplished in the presence and by the instrumentality of those nations whose evil manners Israel had followed, and whose treacherous alliance she had courted, is intended to mark the dealing of God toward her as more signally exemplifying the Divine law of recompense. It was to bring prominently into view, through her melancholy experience, the grand lesson, that “God will make him who leaves God for the world, disgraced even in the eyes of the world, and indeed the more so, the nearer he formerly stood to himself.” (Hengstenberg’s Christol. on Hosea 2:12; also Isaiah 47:3; Jeremiah 13:26; Nahum 3:6, in all which the same idea is unfolded, only less fully and broadly.)

The result of this severe execution of judgment is intimated in a peculiarly strong manner of expression, though already in substance employed at Ezekiel 5:13: “I will make my fury to rest in thee, and my jealousy shall depart from thee, and I will be quiet, and will be no more angry.” The meaning is, that the Divine vengeance called forth by people’s sins should then have run its course; God’s holiness and majesty should have unfolded themselves in measures of justice toward the people, corresponding to their extreme and incorrigible wickedness toward him. The one followed upon the other by a close and stringent necessity; since, for God to have acted otherwise would have been to show himself indifferent to the interests of holiness, or rather to appear as the patron of sin. Hence the very singular and too commonly misunderstood asseveration, with which the Lord winds up this part of the description: “And also I, behold, I recompense thy way on thy head, saith the Lord Jehovah, and will not do what is scandalous upon all thine abominations.” I thus vindicate myself from any participation in the guilt, and show that I do not act the shameful part of countenancing thee in thy abominable ways, but by these judgments raise a solemn and effective protest against them.

Yet, as if there might seem an undue severity in the judgments pronounced, the prophet again dwells at some length on the greatness of the provocation. And to give his discourse here more pungency and force to those whom it immediately respected, he narrows the application to that portion of the covenant-people with whom alone he had properly to do those of the kingdom of Judah. Viewing Jerusalem now in this restricted sense, he charges her with having exceeded in the measure of her criminality the very worst and guiltiest of her neighbours. The legitimate daughter of a Hittite mother and an Amorite father, she had also proved herself the genuine sister of Samaria (called the elder, because in a moral respect more nearly related) on the north, and Sodom on the south. For she had trodden anew in their polluted ways, but with still greater perverseness of disposition and wantonness of behaviour, so that she might even be said to have justified them; they could shelter themselves when accused of sin under her worse example. Not that the unrighteous and perverse ways followed in Judah were in themselves of a darker and more abominable character than those which had already given such an unhappy notoriety to Samaria and Sodom. This had well-nigh been impossible. But the evil deeds here having been committed on holier ground, in the midst of more distinguished privileges, and in defiance of warnings and protestations altogether peculiar, bore upon them a far deeper impression of guilt. It was simply on the territory of heathenism, and from being carried away by the full tide of worldly prosperity poured into their lot, that Sodom and her daughter cities of the plain became to an unusual degree immersed in the vices of pride, carnality, and lust. And even Samaria, though occupying higher ground than Sodom, and sinning against greater privileges, still held, in comparison of Judah, a much inferior position. For it was the peculiar distinction of Judah, that she had in her very bosom the temple of God, a legal priesthood, the order of government which God himself had appointed, kings often of eminent piety, prophets endowed with the richest gifts of the Spirit, and in addition to all, the spectacle before her eyes of God’s judgments resting both on Samaria and Sodom on each hand appalling monuments of Divine vengeance! Her sins, therefore, were relatively of a much deeper dye than those of her erring neighbours, and it was in the highest degree impossible that she should escape the righteous judgment of God. But if she, in comparison of them, incurred such pre-eminent guilt and condemnation, much more, again, sinners under the gospel in comparison of her; for now it is emphatically that the clear light shines, and that the many talents of knowledge and grace are held in God’s kingdom. Sin committed in such circumstances acquires its darkest character, and the judgment that alights must come with corresponding severity. As our Lord, indeed, intimated in that solemn word to the Jews, which may still be substantially addressed to every impenitent transgressor: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin, but now they have no cloak for their sin.”

5. The last portion, which reaches from Ezekiel 16:53-63 to the close of the chapter, subjoins a word of promise to the long series of expostulation and threatening, and lets in a gleam of hope as to the future condition of the people. Of course, this again could only be done at the expense of the allegorical representation; for on the supposition of the faithless spouse having been actually stoned to death and thrust through with the sword, all hope must of necessity have been cut off. But truth required that the form in this case should be sacrificed to the substance of the delineation. It was absolutely necessary to show that, however severe the judgments of God were to be against the apostasy of Judah, they were not to be utterly exterminating, and that a people of God should still survive for honour and blessing.

The particular form given to this more cheering part of the representation was chosen with an especial view to the lowly and abased spirit, which the prophet would have them to understand was absolutely necessary before they could find a return of the Lord’s favour and goodness. Even the humiliating providences and manifold tribulations, which were to pass over the remnant of the house of Judah, would fail to be sufficiently productive of the desired effect; it would come only with the returning showers of the Divine goodness. For this end, to render the spiritual result in question more certain, the offending sisters, who had shared before Judah in the punishment, are also named before her as partakers of the benefit, that self-boasting on her part might be excluded: “And I shall turn again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, and the captivity of thy captivities ( i.e. thy very grievous captivity) in the midst of them. And thy sister, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters, shall return to their former state, and thou and thy daughters shall return to your former state:” they not less than thou; even Sodom too, though she, as is presently mentioned in Ezekiel 16:56, “was not for a report in thy mouth (not viewed and spoken of as a case, of which thou shouldst have been mindful, and from which thou shouldst have learned wisdom) in the day of thy glory.” She has disdained to be admonished by her example, and even afterwards by the chastisements she personally received at the hand of the Syrians, the Philistines, and other warlike neighbours, whom the Lord occasionally employed against her as instruments of rebuke; for her sin was still not fully discovered, she did not yet see to the depth of it, and would not receive correction (Ezekiel 16:27). Whence it became necessary to have the whole brought clearly to light, and judgments corresponding to it laid on her (Ezekiel 16:58-59).

But what precisely is to be understood of the returning, or bringing back of the captivity, here promised? The expression, as we have stated in a previous note, is used proverbially for the removal of an afflicted condition in general, and the appointment of a happy and prosperous one. Its application to the case of Job “and the Lord turned the captivity of Job” (Job 42:10) puts this beyond a doubt. And even here, though the import of the phrase appears to be rendered more express by specifying a return to the former state, yet when it is spoken of Sodom and her neighbour cities, as well as of Samaria and Jerusalem and their neighbour cities, it manifestly could not be intended to intimate specifically and properly a return from exile, and a re-inhabitation of the old places. This was obviously impossible in the case of Sodom and the cities of the plain. The promise is simply one of restored prosperity; the approaching tide of desolation should again be turned back, and a state of prosperity and happiness, as of old, be appointed. Not that exactly which had been, line for line; but what, in the altered circumstances of another time, might be regarded as corresponding to it. “The safe and prosperous condition of former times,” says Hävernick justly, “is the determinate form under which the prophet descries also the future; but presently, again, this appears arrayed in so ideal a splendour, that that very form bursts asunder, and a new world in reality comes into view. There is the old God, with his old gifts of love; but the subjective condition has became quite different, and hence the old blessings are also of a new kind, and the whole state, in consequence, rises into something far more elevated and glorious than the old one.” It is as if an assurance were given to a child, whose family had become enveloped in misfortune, that he should live to see the former prosperity return again; but meanwhile he himself springs to manhood, and having now other wants to satisfy, and higher relations to fill than formerly, the revived prosperity must bring new and nobler gifts within his reach, to place him on the same relative position he originally occupied. In short, the bringing back of the captivity, and returning to the former state, as applied to the covenant-people, indicates nothing as to the outward form of things to be enjoyed, but points only to their nature and character, as similar to what already had been. And in regard to the manner of accomplishing the promised good, by coupling Sodom and Samaria with Jerusalem in the happy prospect, it must be borne in mind that the representation is figurative; it is the truth represented and embodied in an ideal history; and nothing more can fairly be deduced from the particular trait now referred to, than that the covenant-people, as they had, in the aggravation and magnitude of their guilt, sunk below the most depraved nations around them, so they might expect the return of God’s favour and blessing only when they came to view their case in its real enormity, and cherish on account of it a suitable feeling of abasement. They must be ready to put themselves on a level with the lowest, as the necessary condition of their being visited anew with honour and enlargement. Hence it is entirely out of place here to move any question, with some commentators, as to the building anew of Sodom and the other cities of the plain. This were to turn the figure into a reality, and also to transfer the subject itself from the moral region of God’s government toward men, to the merely natural region of his providential arrangements respecting the material world. And if it is out of place to move such a question regarding Sodom, it is equally unnecessary, at least, regarding Samaria and Jerusalem. It is the kind, not the precise form of things, which is to be kept in view; and the promise of good here given for the future might be brought to a full accomplishment, and carried even to its highest perfection, though the cities of Judah and Israel should continue, like those of the plain, monuments of desolation and ruin. For the happiness and glory of the covenant-people, which alone is to be regarded here, however it might be connected with them, might also be attained without them; and so far from being necessarily tied to them, may even be found in largest measure while the old things in that respect are gone into utter oblivion.

The closing verses, while they carry forward substantially the same line of thought, in respect especially to the necessity of profound humiliation on the part of the people, and the proposed manifestation of rich grace on the part of God, also render prominent a remarkable difference between those represented by this ideal woman and others. With all her guilt and baseness, she still had what they had not, and what in the day of returning grace would bring them to her, rather than send her to them for blessing, she had the covenant of God, which, however it had been suffered to fall into abeyance, had never been repudiated by him. “And I remember,” the Lord says, “my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I establish for thee an everlasting covenant.” That covenant made with them in the days of their youth, as to its promise of blessing, was God’s word, which he could not suffer to pass unfulfilled. And though there was in this respect an Old and a New, yet so little was there of contrariety between them, when rightly understood, that the one was properly, as here represented, the root of the other; the Old, the germ out of which all the coming good was to spring and develope itself. A glorious rise, indeed, was to take place from a lower to a higher, when the Old passed into the New; but by no means an antagonism, as from bad to good. The better things to come, when they appeared, merely filled up and completed what had been shadowed forth and promised in the Old; and precisely by being thus filled up and completed, did the covenant become what it is here called, an everlasting one. Grace reigns now in a manner it never did before, and the blessing rests upon better promises, because there is a much fuller manifestation of Divine power and goodness associated with them. And on this account there is no longer the same room for the former breaches and desolations to enter; the inheritance is made sure for ever to all the seed of blessing.

But the more that everything appears to stand in the grace and loving-kindness of God, the more is there to abase and humble the partakers of the blessing; especially when they consider the freeness with which grace not only comes from the bosom of God, but also sheds forth its abundance on the worst and the vilest. Those who had been sisters to Judah in guilt and punishment were now also to become partners with her in experiences of blessing, and were to be given to her for daughters because through her they should attain to the inheritance of blessing. Yet “not by thy covenant,” it is added, lest she should again arrogate the glory to herself; not by virtue of any transaction or league of her own framing, such as of old she was ever attempting to form; not by any such covenant of thine, but by mine the Old, and yet New the everlasting covenant, which I make with you, and establish for the good of the world. (Such must be held to be the meaning here. The “not by thy covenant” cannot possibly refer to the old covenant made with Israel, as contradistinguished from the new, for God had already traced to that covenant, as its fountain-head, all the grace and blessing that was to be conferred. And, as Calvin justly remarks here, while there were important differences between the two covenants, as noticed by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:32, yet the new covenant so sprung from the old, that it is well-nigh the same in substance, though different in form.) And so, as the result of all, “Thou shalt know that I am the Lord; to the end thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee (or, when I grant forgiveness to thee) for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord Jehovah.”

So ought it to be also in our experience. The humbling and salutary lessons, so strikingly brought out in this wonderful history, should take such deep and abiding hold of our hearts that we shall ever be careful to avoid the evils against which it warns us. And especially since God has now laid open to us the marvellous riches of his grace, and called us to the inheritance of his kingdom, we should strive to remember how unworthy we naturally are of such singular goodness, and how often, by our light and sinful behaviour, we have provoked him to withdraw it again; so that we may give to him all the glory, and may set our hearts more upon that better country, where imperfection shall be for ever done away, and the strivings between nature and grace shall be wholly unknown.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 16". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-16.html.
 
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