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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 16

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


The Second Cycle—Chapters 8-19

THE second cycle (ch. Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 19:14) is separated from the first by an interval of a year and two months. The date is here the sixth year after the captivity of Jehoiachin, the sixth month, the fifth day, about five years before the destruction of Jerusalem. A vision here also forms the introduction, a song the close in ch. Ezekiel 19, in the midst of prophetic discourses that elucidate the vision, obviate objections, and form a bridge between it and the mind. The historical starting-point and the tendency also are similar. The prophet here also strives against the political dreams, represents the destruction as inevitable, and points to repentance as the only way of safety.

The vision is here far more comprehensive than in the first cycle. It occupies four whole chapters. It gives a complete representation of the sins of the people; and here accordingly is unfolded what in the first vision is only indicated concerning the punishment. Common to both visions is the delineation of the theophany itself, and in particular the description of the cherubim. The former delineation is supplemented by that here given only in details.

Ch. Ezekiel 8 contains the exposition of the guilt—the delineation of the four abominations of Jerusalem; ch. Ezekiel 9, the first punishment—Jerusalem filled with dead bodies; ch. Ezekiel 10, the second punishment—Jerusalem burnt; ch. Ezekiel 11:1-12, the third—God’s vengeance follows the survivors of the catastrophe. The close consists of comfort for the captives, who are already in exile with Ezekiel, and on whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem proudly look down; of these will God Himself take care, after the total disappointment of all human hopes (vers. Ezekiel 11:13-21). The prophet then sees still (vers. Ezekiel 11:22-23) how the glory of the Lord leaves the temple; and then the ecstasy comes to an end (vers. Ezekiel 11:21, Ezekiel 11:25).

Verses 1-5

Ezekiel 16. We have here one of the grandest prophecies of Ezekiel, to which ch. Ezekiel 23 forms the parallel. The prophet surveys in the Spirit of God the whole of the development of Israel, the past and the future. First, Ezekiel 16:1-34, the sin of Israel. The inserted description of the benefits of God only sets this sin in its true light, as in Deuteronomy 32 : “Let us love Him, because He has first loved us:” whosoever disregards this, must be fundamentally bad. In the very second verse it is said, “Cause Jerusalem to know her sins;” and Ezekiel 16:3 points to this, that the people in their very first beginnings bore a root of sin in themselves. In the previous section Israel appeared as an unfruitful vine. What was then presupposed is here proved. In the second part, Ezekiel 16:35-52, follows Israel’s punishment; in the third, Ezekiel 16:53-63, his forgiveness.

Grotius says, the whole chapter has a wonderful emphasis, while it admirably carries out the similitude of adultery. The figure of adultery is the special physiognomy of the section. What otherwise distinguishes it, the thought that salvation comes to us of grace and pure love, stands in close connection with this figure. The professed adulteress is, by her conduct, completely excluded from salvation. Whosoever took in the import of this section, all his political hopes were burned to a heap of ashes. Jerusalem presented herself to him as a detestable adulteress, that cannot escape the punishment so richly deserved, as surely as a righteous God exists, who can bestow salvation not in the way of political intrigue, but only after punishment by the grace of the merciful God; and that may no longer haughtily look down upon the heathen, but must be content if she only receive mercy along with them.

The first part vers. ( Ezekiel 16:1-34) falls into three divisions: first, Israel’s misery, in a moral sense ( Ezekiel 16:3), in respect of his condition ( Ezekiel 16:4-5); then God’s compassionate love, whereby He is concerned for the miserable ( Ezekiel 16:6-14); finally, Israel’s shameful ingratitude ( Ezekiel 16:15-34). Ezekiel 16:3-5 forms the introduction to the description of God’s benefits; they were a people of sinful tendency ( Ezekiel 16:3), fallen into deep misery ( Ezekiel 16:4-5). And yet God was concerned for them. What an incentive to true returning love, and what culpability if the love was repaid with ingratitude!

Ezekiel 16:1-5. Ezekiel 16:1. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2. Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, 3. And say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto Jerusalem, Thy descent and birth is of the land of the Canaanite; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother a Hittite. 4. And thy birth, in the day when thou wast born thy navel was not cut, nor wast thou washed with water for purification: thou wast not rubbed with salt nor rolled in swaddling-bands. 5. No eye pitied thee, to do any of these things for thee to have compassion on thee; and thou wast cast out on the open field in loathing of thy soul in the day when thou wast born.

Although descended from the patriarchs, Israel from his first beginning, according to Ezekiel 16:3, has rather the nature of his heathenish native land than that of his pious ancestors. There is here an abridged comparison: thou art not otherwise constituted than if thou wert descended from the Canaanites. The passages of the Old Testament in which the degenerate community of God are designated as heathen, uncircumcised, or specially as Canaanites or some other heathen people, are discussed in the Christology on Zechariah 14:2. The naming of the Canaanites here was the more natural, as Israel in ancient times was in many ways under the direct influence of this corrupt heathen people. The Amorites and the Hittites are two chief Canaanitish tribe?, that elsewhere also often represent the whole of the Canaanites; the Amorites already, in Genesis 15:16, where they specially represent the Canaanitish people in their sinfulness. The proof of the evil disposition dwelling in the people from their first origin, lies in the miserable condition into which they fell in Egypt, which, according to the Old Testament doctrine of retributive divine justice, can only be regarded in the light of punishment, and must be so regarded, according to the scattered indications of the books of Moses concerning the deep corruption of the Israelites before Moses, and their participation in the idolatry of Egypt. A distinct intimation that the suffering in Egypt is to be regarded in the light of a judgment, is found in Genesis 15:13-14: “And they shall serve them, and these shall oppress them four hundred years; and also the people whom they shall serve will I judge.” The time of Israel’s birth, in Ezekiel 16:4, is when in Egypt they passed from a family to a nation, and thereby drew the envy and persecution of the Egyptians upon them. We have here also an abridged comparison: the beginnings were as miserable as those of a child, etc. Rubbings with salt were practised in ancient times with infants, according to Galen, to make the skin tighter and firmer. According to that which follows, all refers to the external condition of Israel, the period of suffering in Egypt, not to their moral state. There is a connection with Ezekiel 16:3, so far as the misery was, as it were, the reflection of the moral state there described. Precisely because this was so, is the mercy of God brought more prominently into view, who delivered His people from their deserved suffering. The real subject of Ezekiel 16:5 is the relentless cruelty of the Egyptians. “With contempt (or loathing) of thy soul:” the soul of Israel is his life: the existence of Israel as a people was the object of loathing to the Egyptians, who endeavoured to annihilate them, not otherwise than as one casts a helpless infant on the open field. The figure of the child is so much the more suitable, as Moses, the type of his people, was actually exposed, and by the providence of God delivered from threatening death. We may not explain: “with contempt of thy life, as it is all the same to the people whether thou perish or not.” The direct aim was the downfall, the destruction of the national existence at its very birth.

Verses 6-14

Ezekiel 16:6-14. It is now explained how God’s grace was concerned for this sinful and miserable people. Ezekiel 16:6. And I passed by thee, and saw thee trampled in thy blood, and said unto thee in thy blood, Live; and said unto thee in thy blood, Live. 7. I made thee myriads, [78] like the bud of the field; and thou didst increase, and wax great, and camest to complete ornament: the breasts were fashioned, and thy hair was grown, but thou wast naked and bare. 8. And I passed by thee, and saw thee, and, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness; and I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord Jehovah, and thou becamest mine. 9. And I washed thee with water, and cleansed away thy blood from thee, and anointed thee with oil. 10. And I clothed thee with broidered work, and shod thee with badger’s skin, and bound thee with fine linen, and covered thee with silk. [79] 11. And I decked thee with ornament, and put bracelets on thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. 12. And I put a ring on thy nose, [80] and drops in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thy head. 13. And thou wast decked with gold and silver. and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work: fine flour, and honey and oil, thou didst eat; and wast exceedingly fair, and didst prosper into a kingdom. 14. And thy name went forth among the heathen for thy beauty, because it was perfect through my ornature which I put upon thee, saith the Lord Jehovah.

[78] רבבה is not one myriad, but the myriad denotes the numerical measure. It is an ideal unity, which includes in itself a multitude of actual myriads.

[79] Luther, “I gave thee fine linen clothes and silken veils.” But the binding refers to the head; and Ezekiel 16:13 shows that silken clothes are to be understood, along with the party-coloured.

[80] Luther, “and gave thee a hair-band on thy forehead.” He could not understand the nose-ring, or he has intentionally set it aside, as foreign to German customs.

“Trampled,” in Ezekiel 16:6, is not merely exposed to trampling, but actually trampled upon; as surely as Israel in Egypt was actually a trampled people, upon whom the Egyptians trod. This child was able to survive such trampling. The words, “And I said unto thee in thy blood, Live,” are repeated, to fix the attention of the ungrateful people, and impress them on their conscience. Ezekiel 16:7 does not abandon the allegory, but it refers to an ideal child, that comes to view in a multiplicity of single existences. The words, “myriads—wax great,” refer to Exodus 1:12, “And as they afflicted them, so they multiplied and broke forth.” “And earnest to complete ornament:” the beauty is figuratively designated as an ornament: the people were adorned with beauty. “And thou wast naked and bare.” Grotius, “This signifies the misery of the people in Egypt.” The blessing of God going forth under the cross caused the vigorous growth and prosperity of the people; but their external condition was still miserable, and all external conditions of national existence were wanting. In Ezekiel 16:8 is the closing of the covenant with the people, as it began with the calling of Moses at Sinai, and attained to its conclusion during the sojourn of the people there. The covering with the skirt of the mantle is the figurative designation for taking under protection ( Ruth 3:9). In connection with this stands here the covering of the nakedness, which indicates the want of protection and help. “Saith the Lord Jehovah:” What grace, when the Holy and Almighty One condescends to enter into covenant with so sinful and miserable a people! The washing with water and anointing with oil ( Ezekiel 16:9) signify the translation from the low and miserable Egyptian condition to a higher and better. Spiritual benefits are not to be thought of. As the blood formerly signified the external misery of the people in Egypt, so also, by the washing with water, can only be understood the removal of the external misery. The prophet adheres to the palpable benefits of God, which even the ungodly, whose conscience he wishes to reach, must have recognised as such. Ezekiel 16:10 f. refer specially to the flourishing period of the people under David and Solomon. The “beautiful crown” in Ezekiel 16:12 belongs, according to Ezekiel 16:13, to the kingdom of Israel. The royal splendour passed from David and Solomon over to the whole people. These bore the beautiful crown, as representatives of the people.

Verses 15-22

Ezekiel 16:15-22. Next follows in two paragraphs the way in which Israel repaid the great grace of God. Ezekiel 16:15. And thou didst trust in thy beauty, and didst play the harlot on thy name, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by: his be it. 16. And thou tookest of thy garments, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot with them: [81] the like shall not come nor happen. [82] 17. And thou tookest thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver which I had given thee, and madest for thee images of men, and playedst the harlot with them. 18. And thou tookest thy broidered garments, and coveredst them; and didst set my oil and my incense before them. 19. And my bread which I gave thee, fine flour, and oil, and honey, I gave thee to eat, and thou didst set it before them for a sweet savour: and thus it was, saith the Lord Jehovah. 20. And thou tookest thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hadst borne to me, and didst offer them to them to devour. Were thy whoredoms too little? 21. And thou didst slay my sons, and gavest them to pass them through (the fire) for them. 22. And in all thy abominations and thy whoredoms thou didst not remember the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast trampled in thy blood.

[81] Luther, ‘“and playedst thine harlotry thereon.” But the masculine suffix is rather to be referred to the paramours, Ezekiel 16:15, who are the object of the whoredom, על as אל in Ezekiel 16:26; Ezekiel 16:28.

[82] Luther, “as never happened, nor will happen.” But באות always denotes the future. It is here plural of the fern, standing for the neut. In יהיה the neut. is denoted by the masc.

“Thou didst trust in thy beauty” ( Ezekiel 16:15)—thoughtest to be allowed to do everything on this account. Hand in hand with this goes, “Thou whoredst on thy name:” the name is, as it were, the foundation of the whoredom; in reliance on thy renown acquired by thy beauty ( Ezekiel 16:14), which thou acknowledgedst not to be a divine endowment, and regardedst as a licence for ungoverned wantonness. The divine gifts, as soon as they cease to be regarded as such, inevitably become a snare. The heart, which they have rendered haughty, becomes the sport of all lusts and passions. “His be it” are the words of the adulteress; that is, to him will I yield myself. “High places with divers colours,” fitted up with garments ( Ezekiel 16:16), can only be idol-temples, as they are fitted up for domestic use. The words “shall not come nor happen” denote an unprecedented shamelessness. Everything that exceeds the usual measure has in it aspects in which it is unique in its kind. “Images of men” ( Ezekiel 16:17): so are the idols designated, in accordance with the representation of Israel as an adulteress. “My oil and my incense:” what God has given remains His even after He has given it, and may not be alienated. “Were thy whoredoms too little?” ( Ezekiel 16:20), so that thou must add murderous to thy adulterous practices. [83] The sacrifice of children appears in Ezekiel as a new aggravated crime in addition to idolatry ( Ezekiel 23:37, Ezekiel 20:26). “Pass through” ( Ezekiel 16:21), that is, to pass through the fire ( Ezekiel 20:31). That the consequence of this passing through was death, appears from the foregoing words, “Thou didst slay them,” and also from the phrase “to devour” in Ezekiel 16:20. The passing through was the mode of slaying, and the devouring was the consequence of it. The idols were thought to be present in the fire. [84]

[83] מעט with מן always means too little; properly, little from some person or thing.

[84] The suffix in להם , Ezekiel 16:20-21, refers to the idols.

Verses 23-34

Ezekiel 16:23-34. In the second part of the representation of the ingratitude the aggravation of the apostasy is described, as it coincided with the times of national misfortune, of oppression under the world-powers. Thenceforward the apostasy was truly national. Misfortune always makes worse, if not better. Merely formal is the distinction, that formerly the paramours were pre-eminently the idols themselves, now the idolatrous nations, in whom Israel seeks the help that was denied of God in righteous judgment. Ezekiel 16:23. And it came to pass, after all thy wickedness; Woe, woe unto thee, saith the Lord Jehovah. 24. And thou didst build for thee a vault, and madest for thee high places in every street. 25. At every crossway thou didst build thy high place, and didst abhor thy beauty, [85] and didst spread out thy feet to every passer-by, and didst multiply thy whoredoms. 26. And thou didst whore with the sons of Egypt, thy neighbours, great of flesh, and multiply thy whoredoms to provoke me. 27. And, behold, I stretched out my hand over thee, and diminished thy statute, and delivered thee to the soul of thy haters, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of thy lewd way. 28. And thou didst whore with the sons of Asshur, because thou wast not satisfied; and though thou didst whore with them, thou wast not satisfied. 29. And thou multipliedst thy whoredoms unto the land of Canaan toward Chaldea, and yet with this thou wast not satisfied. 30. How withered is thy heart, saith the Lord Jehovah, when thou doest all these things, the work of a whorish imperious woman. 31. When thou didst build thy vault at every crossway, and madest thy high place in every street, thou wast not like the harlot, since thou scornedst hire. 32. The woman that committeth adultery under her husband receiveth strangers. 33. They give gifts to all whores, and thou givest thy gifts to all thy lovers. and hirest them, that they may come unto thee on every side for thy whoredoms. 34. And there is in thee the contrary of the women in thy whoredoms, and after thee they follow not for whoredom, and thou givest a hire, and no hire is given unto thee, and so thou art the contrary.

[85] Luther, “madest a thing only to be abhorred.” The verb means in Piel always to abhor, never to make to be abhorred.

The “vault” in Ezekiel 16:24 is a place raised by art for the practice of idolatry. The natural heights are too far from the people hungering after idols. They wish to plant idolatry in the city thoroughfare, and so build for themselves artificial heights. We must distinguish between the thought and its clothing. The thought is, that the objects of idolatry became the prime impulse of the popular life, by which is to be understood much less religious than political adultery, though both went hand in hand. “Thou abhorrest thy beauty” ( Ezekiel 16:25): whosoever abandons it to another must esteem it very little,—must, as it were, conceive a hatred against it. The beauty is the national honour, a noble boon bestowed by God, which not to esteem but to prostitute is a sign of deep degeneracy and alienation from God. This is a disgrace which, as the Jews, so also the Germans formerly, brought upon themselves in large measure, and into which they will soon enough sink back, if they do not gain a firm hold on God, and a clear and certain view of the boon bestowed upon them by Him. “Every passer-by:” at an earlier period Israel stood, by the situation of their country, which admitted no isolation, in manifold intercourse with the world ( Ezekiel 16:15); but in the time which the prophet has in view they lay in the middle of the contending world-powers, the Asiatic and the African, and were thus in their intervening territory tempted by the force of circumstances to adultery with powerful neighbours, if they did not wish honestly to turn to the Almighty God, the only one who could deliver them from this dire necessity, and did deliver them when they, as under Hezekiah, were disposed to do so. “Great of flesh” ( Ezekiel 16:25): this it was that provoked their adulterous desires. In reality, great of flesh means great of power. Here it is very clear that the immediate object of adultery is not the idols in the usual sense, but the world-powers—that the adultery bears essentially a political character: the idols only stand in the second place, in so far as he that pays homage to a people is constrained at the same time to do reverence to their national gods, as we may plainly see from Daniel 3. As here this self-interested political alliance, so in Isaiah 23:17-18, the commercial alliance is designated as adultery. “I diminished thy statute” ( Ezekiel 16:27): this is that which comes to the woman of right, whom the husband must nourish and clothe, according to the determination of the law. This means all the benefits which the Lord has promised in the law to His people in case of fidelity, and according to Ezekiel 16:9, so richly secured in their later times. These are here diminished as a punishment; the people sink lower and lower in consequence of their adultery with the world-power, as we may follow out through their history from Ahaz onward, who first entered into this adulterous connection with the world-powers ( 2 Kings 16:7). The Philistines, who were always at hand when Israel had to suffer from the great world-powers, are specially named, because it was a great disgrace to be compelled to suffer from this petty neighbouring people, and not to be a match for their power. The daughters of the Philistines are the Philistine cities or small states. They are presented as daughters or wives, because Judah also appears as a wife. That the Philistines were, as it were in heart, ashamed of Israel on account of their moral degradation, is the key to the fact that this heathen nation, not knowing the living God or His revealed word, should have gained the supremacy over Israel. If the political adultery with the African world-power procures not the desired result—security against the Asiatic—if Egypt proves a broken reed, they make the attempt with the Asiatic world-power, with the Assyrians themselves ( Ezekiel 16:28). The words, “and thou wast not satisfied,” introduce that which follows. As they turn to the Assyrians, because the adulterous connection with Egypt yields not the desired result, they turn on the same ground from the Assyrians to the Babylonians—to the aid which Asia itself appears to present against Asia. How the Jews, through connection with Babylon before it had attained the world-sovereignty, sought to deliver themselves from the danger threatening from Assyria, ch. Isaiah 39 of Isaiah gives some hints, which are completed by his predictions directed against Babylon; and we find a more definite disclosure on the subject in ch. Ezekiel 23. For the understanding of the disputed predictions of Isaiah the declarations of Ezekiel concerning the relation of Judah to Babylon during the time of the Assyrian dominion are of the greatest importance. The starting-point of the attack is the want of insight into the historical relations existing in the time of Isaiah. The doubts lie here, as in the Scripture generally, only on the surface. But even by this new adultery Judah was not satisfied ( Ezekiel 16:29), as appears from this, that they had returned even now, in the time when Ezekiel prophesied, to their old lovers the Egyptians. They had, as Isaiah so emphatically predicted, to suffer still more heavily from their old friends the Chaldeans than from the Assyrians, against whom they sought their aid. Chaldea is designated as a land of Canaan, because it was a second Canaan, a land of shopkeepers, a political Canaan, like that commonly so called,—a mercantile people, regarding its own interest alone, whose friendship was only a disguised selfishness. To the land of Canaan here corresponds the designation of Babylon as a “city of merchants” in ch. Ezekiel 17:4. He is a fool who seeks real love in such a people, and founds the hope of his safety on connection with them. A withered heart ( Ezekiel 16:30) that has lost sap and power ( Psalms 32:4) is the heritage of those who seek in the world what God alone can secure. Hope always disappointed is the enemy of life. [86] “Imperious:” to be ungovernable is a disgrace for a wife, who from God and by right is “under the husband,” and the sure forerunner of the ruin which is now meeting all those who boast of the “free spirit.” The word means properly potent; but to be potent in relation to God is the highest impotence, as surely as freedom consists in this only, to serve God. That in which Israel is unlike ordinary harlots, is that, whereas they prostitute themselves for hire, she despises the harlot’s hire ( Ezekiel 16:31). The thought is, that Israel casts herself at the feet of the world powers, without any political advantage being secured or even claimed by her, content if she can even secure bare existence. This thought is again carried out in Ezekiel 16:32-34. Ezekiel 16:32 forms only the introduction to this amplification. The wife is Israel. “Under her husband”—while she stands under her husband, and is bound to be devoted to him.

[86] The form לבה , not otherwise occurring, stands intentionally in the singular—an effeminate heart.

Verses 35-52

In Ezekiel 16:35-52, the punishment. Ezekiel 16:35. Wherefore, O harlot, hear the word of the LORD. 36. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because thy brass was wasted, and thy nakedness uncovered by thy whoredoms with thy lovers, and with all thy horrible abominations, and for the blood [87] of thy sons, whom thou hast given unto them; 37. Therefore, behold, I will gather all thy lovers, with whom thou hast been pleased, [88] and all whom thou lovedst, with all whom thou hatedst; and I will gather them against thee round about, and will discover thy nakedness unto them, and they shall see all thy nakedness. 38. And I will judge thee with the judgments of adulteresses, and of those who shed blood; and I will give thee blood of fury and jealousy. 39. And I will give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thy vault, and break down thy high places: and they shall strip thee of thy clothes, and take away thy costly jewels, and leave thee sitting naked and bare. 40. And they shall bring up a company against thee, and cast at thee with stones, and hew thee with their swords. 41. And they shall burn thy houses with fire, and execute judgments upon thee in the sight of many women; and I will make thee rest from being a harlot, and thou shalt not give a hire any more. 42. And I will make my fury against thee rest, and my jealousy shall depart from thee; and I will be quiet, and no more be angry. 43. Because thou didst not remember the days of thy youth, and didst rage against me in all this, [89] I also give thee thy way upon thy head, saith the Lord Jehovah; and thou shalt not commit this lewdness above all thy abominations. [90] 44. Behold, every part shall sins; over thee, saying, As is the mother, so is her daughter. 45. Thou art thy mother’s daughter, that loathes her husband and her children; and thou art the sister of thy sisters, [91] who loathed their husbands and their children: your mother was a Hittite, and your father an Amorite. 46. And thy elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters, that dwell at thy left; and thy sister younger than thou, that dwelleth at thy right, is Sodom and her daughters. 47. And thou hast not walked after their ways, nor done after their abominations: it wanted a little, and thou behavedst more corruptly than they in ail thy ways. 48. As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she or her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters. 49. Behold, this was the iniquity of Sodom thy sister: pride and abundance of everything, and quiet security, were to her and her daughters; and the hand of the wretched and the needy she did not take. 50. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me; and I took them away when I saw it. 51. And Samaria hath not committed half of thy sins; and thou didst multiply thy abominations more than they, and didst justify thy sisters by all thy abominations which thou didst. 52. Thou also take thy shame, who didst judge thy sisters; by thy sins, wherein thou hast behaved more abominably than they, they are become more righteous than thou; and also be thou confounded, and take thy shame upon thee, because thou hast justified thy sisters.

[87] Properly “as the blood,” corresponding to it, in righteous retribution for the shedding of it.

[88] Luther, “with whom thou hast taken pleasure,” commixta es, without warrant from the text.

[89] Luther, “but provoked me with all this,” which רגז with ל cannot possibly signify.

[90] Luther, “although I have not therewith done after the vice in thy abominations.” עשיתי is, however, an unusual form of the 2 fem., for which the Masoretes here, as in זכרתי , substitute the usual one.

[91] It is literally “of thy sister;” but the sister is an ideal person, the sisterhood, that is here presented in two sisters. Thus the singular stands also in Ezekiel 16:51, where the Masoretes wish to substitute in place of the singular the plural, the vowels of which stand under the text. The assumption of an unusual plural form is to be rejected. The plural, signifying, the real multiplicity, appears in place of the ideal unity in Ezekiel 16:22.

The brass ( Ezekiel 16:36) represents metal in general, namely, coined metal. Brass here stands as the metal usually employed for money, as in Isaiah 46:6, where it is said of the idolaters, “They lavish gold out of the bag”—gold, as the most precious. That the Jews, at least those in exile, as well as classic antiquity, had copper money, follows even from our passage, and is confirmed by Matthew 10:9, Mark 12:41, where brass occurs directly for money. The paramours are, according to what follows, pre-eminently the world-powers themselves. Along with them are named, in the second place, the heathen gods, whose worship was a consequence of political dependence. The penal uncovering of the nakedness ( Ezekiel 16:37) is the righteous retribution for licentiousness. The latter denotes the shameful prostitution and self-degradation of the people of God, who went a-begging in the world; the former the shameful external misery into which they fell through the world-powers, to whom they had devoted themselves. The lovers are, according to the foregoing, Assyria and Babylon. The haters are the surrounding nations, who were always lying in wait for the occasion. “With the judgments of adulteresses and murderers” ( Ezekiel 16:38): adultery and murder are, according to the law, punished with death, and must thus also occasion death in the immediate exercise of the divine judgment. Israel had made himself guilty of murder by the worship of Moloch. The blood of fury and jealousy is that which is shed in fury and jealousy. Into this blood Jerusalem went, as it were, wholly: she was wholly transformed into blood. The blood of fury is the punishment for the murder that in human relations calls forth fierce revenge: the blood of jealousy is the retribution for adultery that in human relations awakens the spirit of jealousy. “They leave thee naked and bare” ( Ezekiel 16:39), as thou wast before the Lord had mercy on thee ( Ezekiel 16:7). The unfaithful use of the gifts of God inevitably brings on their loss. God cannot be mocked. Ezekiel 16:40. As the local community is called together against the ordinary adulteress, to execute upon her the penalty of stoning (comp. Deuteronomy 22:24, where this punishment is expressly prescribed in reference to the betrothed maiden who has broken her troth; whereas in the case of married women the law speaks only of the punishment of death in general), so there assemble against adulterous Israel, as it were, an assembly of nations, and execute upon it the penalty of stoning with slinging engines. As murderers are usually executed by the sword, so is murderous Israel hewn down by the enemy with the sword. These are the judgments of the adulteresses and murderers ( Ezekiel 16:38). “And execute judgments upon thee in the sight of many women” ( Ezekiel 16:41): the many women are the many nations. There is an allusion to Deuteronomy 13:16, according to which a city in Israel that serves other gods shall be burned with fire, after its inhabitants had been extirpated by the sword. This command closes a prediction of the fate which should befall Israel in case of its apostasy. “Thou shalt not give a hire any more” ( Ezekiel 16:33-34), because thou wilt have no more lovers; wilt, on the whole, after the dissolution of thy national independence, be no more in a condition which admits of impure intercourse with the world-powers. The jealousy ceases ( Ezekiel 16:42), because it has found its satisfaction in their punishment, and exhausted itself therein, as the fire ceases when it has consumed its fuel. “And didst rage against me in all these” ( Ezekiel 16:43)—notwithstanding all the benefits which thou didst receive from me. The starting-point of adultery with the world and its gods was anger against the true God, who had diminished His benefits to Israel ( Ezekiel 16:27). Instead of recognising therein a deserved punishment, Israel sees an unjust neglect, “falls into anger, and curses his God and his king” ( Isaiah 8:21), and seeks in others what he refuses. The visitation which, instead of leading to repentance, brings on a complete apostasy, has for its consequence the completion of the judgment. “Thou shalt not commit this lewdness above all thy abominations.” Lewdness and abomination are not in themselves different: the thought is, that the measure of the lewdness and abomination is now full—that it is time for punishment to enter into the place of sin. “As the mother, so the daughter,” runs the poetic sentence, according to Ezekiel 16:44. As Israel became like the original inhabitants of Canaan in her manners, so also in her fate, which had already been realized when this sentence was composed. That the mother is the people of Canaan, into whose footsteps Israel had entered, appears from a reference to Ezekiel 16:3, and as expressly affirmed in Ezekiel 16:45. The spiritual mother of Israel, the daughter of Canaan, abhorred her husband, the one true God, who according to Genesis 1:26 created all men after His image, gives to all life, and breath, and all things ( Acts 17:25), in whom all men live, and move, and have their being (ver. Acts 17:28), and who even on this account has a claim on the devoted love of all men; whereas she preferred to Him other gods, the work of men’s hands, and abhorred her children, inasmuch as she sacrificed them to the gods in the fire ( Ezekiel 16:20; comp. Leviticus 18:21, Leviticus 18:24, where it is expressly said that the sacrifice of children offered to Moloch was a native custom among the nations, whom the Lord drove out before Israel ( Deuteronomy 12:30-31). The sisters, to whom, along with the mother, Israel, now perpetuated only in Judah, has become like in transgression, and shall be like in punishment, are, according to Ezekiel 16:46, Samaria and Sodom. These in particular are selected out of the mass of nations, because Sodom was notorious before all others as the greatest sinner, and Samaria stood nearest to Jerusalem. It is said, “who loathed their husbands,” because the one true God, who is the lawful husband to the sisters as to the mother, was another in relation to Sodom and in relation to Samaria: there Elohim, the Godhead; here Jehovah, the historically revealed, the covenant God. Samaria is called in Ezekiel 16:46 the elder sister of Judah, because the northern kingdom embracing the ten tribes was the greater; Sodom the younger, because her territory was smaller than that of Judah. The daughters denote the daughter-cities, and point to this, that Samaria and Sodom come into regard not as single cities, but as centres of a great whole. That Sodom was the chief city of the Jordan valley, appears from the whole account in Genesis 18 and Genesis 19, especially from this, that there the trial was instituted, and also from ch. Genesis 14:21, where the king of Sodom alone treats with Abraham concerning the spoil. Wherever the cities of the Jordan valley are enumerated, Sodom stands at the head. Jerusalem has, according to Ezekiel 16:47, not been contented with walking in the ways of Sodom and Gomorrah: she has pursued a course that was still worse. The prefixed almost [92] serves for modification, points to this, that the sentence has only a partial truth. This truth rests on the statement, Luke 12:48: “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and unto whom much is committed, of him they will ask the more.” Judah trespassed against God, who was revealed in her midst in manifold ways. Judah was worse than Sodom: this thought recurs also in the N. T. ( Matthew 11:24). The deepest gulfs of evil open up first in those to whom God has made Himself known, and who have hardened their heart against His revelation. The sin of Sodom and its punishment are laid down in Ezekiel 16:49-50, that Israel may set herself right as to what she is, and what she has to expect. The prosperity and comfort of existence are connected with pride, in so far as in the mind, like the rich man in the Gospel, she entered wholly into these conditions, so that they became marks of character in her, and ceased to be external and accessory. “When I saw it:” this points to Genesis 18:21. God conducts the inspection by His angels. Judah justifies her sisters ( Ezekiel 16:51), inasmuch as they in reference to her appear as innocent. Her sins weigh heavier than even those of Samaria, because much richer means of grace were bestowed on her. She had before her the temple and the pure worship of God, the sovereignty of the family of David, from which pious kings might and often did descend, the legitimate priesthood, a greater wealth of prophetic gifts, and a longer time for repentance. “Who didst judge thy sisters” [93] ( Ezekiel 16:52): Judah had concurred from the heart in the divine judgment on Sodom and Samaria, and exalted herself above them on this account, as the Pharisee in the Gospel. In the condemnation of her sisters she had condemned herself ( Romans 2:1). Jerusalem has “justified” her sisters, inasmuch as she has behaved worse than they, and so retributive punishment must overtake her also.

[92] כמעט , only a little, wanted a little. קט according to the Arab. only.

[93] We are not to explain, “which (the shame) thou didst award to thy sisters.” The verb does not occur elsewhere in this sense, and “thy shame” then makes a difficulty.

Verses 53-63

Ezekiel 16:53-63. [94] We have here the forgiveness. This is imparted to Jerusalem not for herself alone, but in common with those whom she resembled, both in her sin and her punishment. If Judah is destitute no less than they of any glory before God, if she can obtain redemption only through grace, it is natural that the redemption is not limited to her, but that God, who has mercy upon all His works, extends it also to the others. As righteousness from works goes hand in hand with the limitation to the Jews, so righteousness from above with an extension far beyond these limits ( Romans 11:32).

[94] Comp. on this section, Christology, ii. p. 547 f.

Ezekiel 16:53. And I shall turn back to their captivity, to the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and to the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, and to thy most miserable captivity in the midst of them. 54. That thou mayest take on thee thy disgrace, and be ashamed of all that thou hast done, when thou comfortest them. 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 with thy daughters shalt return to thy former state. 56. And was not thy sister Sodom slandered by thy mouth in the day of thy pride? 57. Before thy wickedness was discovered, as (was the case) in the time of the disgrace of the daughters of Aram and all who were round about her, the daughters of the Philistines, who despise thee round about. 58. Thy lewdness and thy abominations thou hast taken upon thee, saith the LORD. 59. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, And I will do with thee as thou hast done, who hast despised the oath to break the covenant. 60. And I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. 61. And thou shalt remember thy ways and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, those greater than thyself, and those less than thyself; and I shall give them unto thee for daughters, and not by thy covenant. 62. And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: 63. That thou mayest remember, and be ashamed, and no more open thy mouth because of thy shame, when I cover for thee all that thou hast done, saith the Lord Jehovah.

To return to the captivity ( Ezekiel 16:53), is to have compassion on the miserable. [95] The captivity cannot be taken in a strict sense, as Sodom and the other cities of the Jordan valley were not carried away captive, but utterly destroyed. The word misery itself is taken from another land, the genus being named after the chief species. Sodom represents the collective heathen world standing in like relations with her. That great crushing judgments will fall upon the whole heathen world no less than on Sodom itself, is the uniform announcement of the prophets, also of Ezekiel, in ch. Ezekiel 25 and Ezekiel 26; so that the remark, that “Sodom is not the type of heathendom on this account, because heathendom does not need to be restored,” is not to the point. The representative character of Sodom lies in the nature of the thing. If God pities the most notorious sinners among the heathen, how should He not pity all? And it is confirmed by ch. Ezekiel 47:18, where the sea introduced in place of Sodom is a symbol of the world dead in sins. Sodom also stands frequently elsewhere in the O. T. as a representative of deep corruption ( Deuteronomy 32:32; Isaiah 1:10; Jeremiah 23:14). But all doubt is excluded by Ezekiel 16:61. There the representative character of Sodom is expressly affirmed. Yet we may not exclude even Sodom itself from salvation. The special references to it are too strong for this (comp. especially Ezekiel 16:49-50). Ch. B. Michaelis says, “As Samaria and Jerusalem, so must Sodom also, it appears, be taken literally.” As a restoration of the city is not to be thought of, its inhabitants swept away by the judgment can only be the object of salvation; and we have here an allusion to a continuance of the arrangements of grace after death for those for whom on earth salvation did not attain to its highest completion, the Old Testament basis for 1 Peter 3:20-21, 1 Peter 4:6, especially for the latter passage; also for Matthew 12:41-42, a passage that indeed only indirectly leads to the same result. “And to thy most miserable captivity in the midst of them:” Jerusalem has behaved worse than Sodom and Samaria; therefore must she suffer more severely than they. She experiences for the same reason also not a separate forgiveness, placing her above her sisters, but is only favoured among her sisters with an equal participation in the same redemption. There is here no difference; all have sinned and come short of glory before God, and are justified freely by His grace ( Romans 3:23): God has in like manner included all among the disobedient, that He might have mercy on all. Parallel is Isaiah 19:23-24. There, in the Messianic times, Egypt with Assyria serves the Lord, and Israel is the third in their covenant—“a blessing in the midst of the land.” Both there and here, in Ezekiel 16:54, Ezekiel 16:61, Israel appears as the point from which the blessing passes over to the other nations, who were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel. It is, however, not accidental, that Israel here, as in Isaiah, takes only the third place. There lies in this a hint that the heathen world will sooner attain to salvation, and a preparation for Romans 11:25. This hint, however, in reference to the precedence of the heathen in realizing salvation, receives a limitation and restriction in Ezekiel 16:54, Ezekiel 16:61. According to this, salvation comes first from an election out of the Jews to the Gentiles, and then returns from the Gentiles to the Jews. This process of the proclamation and acceptance of salvation Isaiah has already presented in sharper definiteness in the closing chapter of his predictions.

[95] Comp. my comm. on Psalms 14:7; Contributions to the Introd. to the O. T., ii. p. 104 f. שב שבית is to be distinguished from השיב שבות , to restore the captivity ( Jeremiah 49:6). This is the consequence of returning to the captivity, or the miserable. That שוב may also signify to bring back or restore, it has been sought to prove from Nahum 2:3, but incorrectly. The Lord there turns back to the loftiness of Jacob, which gives the ground of his return. Jacob is at the same time Israel, and as such endowed with a higher dignity, that of the church of God, which may be obscured by its sin, but never destroyed. שבית and שבות signify in this phrase always the captivity as a state, and not the multitude of the captives. The fundamental passage is Deuteronomy 30:3, “And the Lord thy God will return to thy captivity.” That the allusion to this passage may be as literal as possible, Ezekiel puts first the there occurring form שבית , and afterwards that which was current in his own time, שבות . The assimilating Masoretes have removed this distinction: Thy misery’s misery, that is, thy highest misery, a captivity of the captivity, such as displays itself amidst the captivity as a captivity.

Ezekiel 16:54 is to be explained by Ezekiel 16:61. Accordingly, the comfort ( Isaiah 40:1) consists in the announcement of the gospel, the comforting truth, to the sisters: The Lord returns to thy captivity. To receive this mission to the heathen is a high honour; and this office she fulfils with deep shame, on account of her former apostasy, for which she deserved something far different from this distinction. The prophet, in Ezekiel 16:55, clings to the thought of restoration to her former better position ( Acts 3:21). But the restoration is here, as in Job, at the same time elevation to a stage of existence far surpassing the former. Ezekiel 16:61 shows that the salvation of Sodom and Samaria consists in admission into the kingdom of God, and participation in all the blessings of this kingdom. “Was not Sodom a talk [96] in thy mouth?” so that thou couldst not cease to spread the report of her shameful deeds and her terrible downfall, but ever again didst revert to this record out of the foretime. This her former haughty pride Israel will remember with deep shame, when she becomes like Sodom in sin and punishment, and a partaker with Sodom of the same undeserved mercy. The wickedness of Jerusalem was discovered ( Ezekiel 16:57) by her punishment. By that which she suffered she learned what she had done, and the delusions of her pride vanished: she no longer spoke of Sodom with a “God, I thank thee,” but laid her hand upon her own heart. The daughters of Aram are the Aramaic cities and tribes. These come not into regard as the destroying powers—were the instruments of the divine vengeance to be named, Assyria and Babylon would rather be cited—but as borderers mocking at the calamity coming from another quarter. The genus to this species are “all who were round about her,” that is, about thee (comp. Ezekiel 5:5-6; Daniel 9:16; Micah 5:6). As a second species of this genus, are then named the daughters of the Philistines, who were especially distinguished among the mockers around by their hatred. This disgrace, which came upon Israel in the time of her calamity, was the just recompense for the arrogance with which she looked down upon Sodom in the time of her prosperity. “Thy lewdness and thy abominations thou hast taken upon thee” ( Ezekiel 16:58): this point of transition to salvation cannot be allowed to thee more than to Sodom and Samaria. “For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, And I will do” ( Ezekiel 16:59): first attention is drawn anew to this, that not the son of man as such speaks, but the Lord, who is concealed behind him, that thus threatening and the preaching of salvation may have the most solid ground. Then, by beginning with and, it is intimated that this is a continuation of what goes before. The oath is the swearing to the covenant on the part of God ( Deuteronomy 29:11-12). After the announcement of punishment to the rebellious people in Leviticus 26:42, God had promised that He would be mindful of His covenant. Deep shame takes hold on Israel ( Ezekiel 16:61), that notwithstanding her deep sinfulness, she was deemed worthy to enter into a motherly relation to the heathen world, to receive them to herself into the kingdom of God, which was the highest honour that could be put upon her. That this honour is not imparted to the whole people, but only to the election (especially represented by the apostolate), is said not here, but elsewhere in the O. T., and even by Ezekiel himself, in the most emphatic manner (comp. for ex., ch. Ezekiel 4:4). It was here intimated in Ezekiel 16:53. In regard to the greater and lesser sisters, Cocceius aptly remarks: “The plural shows that what was said of Samaria and Sodom, refers not to them alone, but to all nations, great and small.” The heathen nations that were to be received by her intervention into the kingdom of God appear as daughters of Jerusalem already in the Song of Songs, on which our chapter is manifestly dependent (comp. my comm. on ch. Ezekiel 1:5). Jerusalem receives the heathen nations, takes possession of them as her property, belonging to her, and Jehovah gives them to her as daughters. Sisters they were before; and even on this it depends that they are given to her for daughters. According to Genesis 1, which teaches the descent of all men from one pair, the whole human race forms a great family. Accordingly, the kingdom of God can only for a time be limited to a single people, and the limiting must be the means of unlimiting. All Christian nations are in fact daughters of Jerusalem, as surely as they are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets ( Ephesians 2:20). Parallel in import is Isaiah 2:3, where, in the day of salvation, many peoples go to the mountain of the Lord that is established on the top of the mountains, and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The short hint conveyed in the words, “and not by thy covenant,” receives light from Ezekiel 16:59. It means, accordingly, not by thy keeping of covenant, not because the fulfilment of thy covenant obligations gave thee any claim. The covenant may, so far as Israel’s obligation is concerned, be called his covenant; so far as Jehovah’s promise is contemplated, it is God’s covenant. It is expressly said in Ezekiel 16:60, that on the divine side the new blessing is rooted in the old covenant relation, so that we cannot say, “Thy covenant means the former reciprocal one.” The covenant that is to be established ( Ezekiel 16:62), can only be the so-called new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31, the more intimate relation into which God is about to enter with Zion, the supremely intimate nature of which is evinced by this among other things, that it draws the heathen more powerfully to it. The knowing is here practical. As formerly by punishment, so now by grace, Zion knows that her God is in the fullest sense God. The higher the benefit, the deeper is the shame ( Ezekiel 16:63) that she has fallen so disgracefully from a God so essentially good.

[96] שׁ?מועה is knowledge, nothing more.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 16". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-16.html.
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