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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 23

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-4


In Ezekiel 23, Ezekiel vividly paints the history of the sister kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In Ezekiel 16, the LORD compared Jerusalem to a harlot. The same comparison is used in this chapter, but now for the entire nation. The emphasis in the previous comparison is on spiritual adultery with Canaanite idolatry. In addition, in Ezekiel 23 it is also about Israel’s political adultery, that is, on its political alliances with foreign powers. Ezekiel 16 emphasizes more the earlier history of Israel, while Ezekiel 23 emphasizes more the later history.

The chapter can be divided into five sections:
1. Introduction: Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23:1-Numbers :).
2. The sin of Oholah (Samaria) (Ezekiel 23:5-2 Samuel :).
3. The sin of Oholibah (Jerusalem) (Ezekiel 23:11-Ecclesiastes :).
4. Judgment on Oholibah (Ezekiel 23:22-Habakkuk :).
5. Judgment on Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23:36-Ephesians :).

Oholah and Oholibah

The word of the LORD comes to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 23:1). The LORD is going to introduce to Ezekiel the political sins of His people in a parable of two women, two sisters (Ezekiel 23:2). This is the third time, after Ezekiel 16 and Ezekiel 20, that He deals with the history of His people. In the description in Ezekiel 16, we still find hope at the end of the chapter. That hope is missing from the description in this chapter. That the two women are daughters of one mother indicates that Israel was originally one people.

Yet from the time the people were in Egypt, they are represented as two women (Ezekiel 23:3). The actual tearing of the kingdom into two parts was preceded by a long time of inner division. This should be a warning to us to nip a spirit of division in the bud.

The two women indulge in the caresses of the Egyptians. The time in Egypt begins well. Joseph is viceroy. When Jacob and his sons come to Egypt, they are allowed to live in the best part of the land (Genesis 47:6; Genesis 47:11). When slavery comes, the people continue to benefit from the prosperity in Egypt. This prosperity gives a nice feeling. It makes slavery pleasant. Soon after they leave Egypt and the trial come, they even long to return to their stay in Egypt (Numbers 11:5; Numbers 14:2-:; Exodus 16:3).

The LORD gives both women names and also says to whom those names belong (Ezekiel 23:4). The Hebrew word ohel, which means ‘tent’, is found in both names. Oholah means ‘her tent’ and Oholibah means ‘My tent is in her’. Oholah is an allusion to the self-willed religion (‘her tent’) of the ten tribe realm, represented by Samaria. We see this willfulness in the erection of the altars for the golden calves at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:28-Amos :). Oholibah is an allusion to Jerusalem, where the temple of God (‘My tent’) stands and where He has dwelt.

Verses 5-10

The Sin of Oholah and the Judgment on Her

Samaria (the ten tribes) plays the harlot in a spiritual sense (Ezekiel 23:5). Instead of trusting in God, she connects herself with the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:19; Hosea 5:13; Hosea 7:11Hosea 8:9; Hosea 12:2). Seeking help from the Assyrians results in impressively dressed “neighbors”, men of distinction, entering the land (Ezekiel 23:6). Thus Assyrian culture makes its appearance in the land and conquers the heart of Samaria (Ezekiel 23:7). That culture is completely intertwined with the idolatry of Assyria which is also adopted by Samaria. The ten tribes bow down in fornication to the stink gods of Assyria.

But Assyria is not the only empire with which Samaria commits spiritual harlotry. Samaria also remains open to the influence of Egypt (Ezekiel 23:8). She continues to worship the idols of Egypt as she has done during the time of her slavery. When appropriate, she also seeks political support from Egypt (cf. Hosea 12:2). God reminds her of her shameless behavior that she has already displayed in her earliest days.

Because of her harlotry with Assyria, the LORD surrendered Samaria to the Assyrians (Ezekiel 23:9). From a political point of view, Assyria could not tolerate Samaria’s collusion with Egypt and punished Samaria severely for it (2 Kings 17:2-Ruth :). The Assyrians completely destroyed and disfigured Samaria and also depopulated it by taking away its population (Ezekiel 23:10). Thus, the existence of the northern ten tribes realm came to an end. The behavior of Samaria gives the Israelites a bad name among the other “women”, that is, among the other nations and especially among their sister nation Judah. In the following verses we see how Oholibah reacts to what has happened to her sister Oholah.

Verses 11-21

The Sin of Oholibah

Jerusalem (and Judah) has not let the terrifying example of Samaria and Israel keep them from going the same sinful way (Ezekiel 23:11). In fact, she has surpassed her sister in wickedness. Her passion leads her to act even more perniciously than her sister.

Like Samaria, Judah has sought help from Assyria (2 Kings 16:7), because she too has become enchanted with what Assyria has to offer (Ezekiel 23:12; Ezekiel 23:6). The LORD perceives how she has defiled herself by associating with Assyria and adopting its idolatry (Ezekiel 23:13). Thus both sisters, Oholah and Oholibah, continue on the same path of evil, away from the LORD.

Jerusalem does not limit herself to Assyria. She also comes under the temptation of the Chaldeans or Babylonians (Ezekiel 23:14). She sees the images of Chaldeans, portraits, engraved in the wall according to Babylonian custom. The red color of vermilion makes it appealing and attractive. The men depicted wear with pride the clothes of Babylon (Ezekiel 23:15). The advertisement works enchanting. Jerusalem instantly falls in love when she sees it with her own eyes (Ezekiel 23:16). Covetousness comes through seeing. It is the cause of the fall into sin (Genesis 3:6; 1 John 2:16). Advertising still works the same way today.

Jerusalem sends envoys to Babylon to ally with her. For a people who have the LORD as their God, this mission is deeply shameful. This mission is a great dishonor to God. In doing so, Jerusalem commits spiritual unfaithfulness that is equivalent to harlotry (Ezekiel 23:17). She defiles herself by this act. Sharing the love bed possibly also refers to worshiping the idols of Babylon, which we see in the word “harlotry”. Then she becomes disgusted with Babylon because Babylon’s love is over and Babylon treats her harshly. But when Babylon notices that Jerusalem seeks help from Egypt during the reign of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah (Jeremiah 37:5-Ruth :; Ezekiel 17:12-Ezra :), Babylon turns against Jerusalem.

Shameless harlotries or idolatry means that God also turns away from Jerusalem with disgust (Ezekiel 23:18). He cannot stand the fact that she, whom He has taken for a wife, behaves like a vulgar harlot who bares her body for any man.

Jerusalem keeps on playing the harlot and multiplies her harlotries by making new contacts, now with Egypt (Ezekiel 23:19). She seeks help from Egypt against the supremacy of Babylon. As a result, she comes to adopt the customs of Egypt. Judah imitates Samaria in this (Ezekiel 23:3; Ezekiel 23:8). Also in Jerusalem, the ‘infatuations’ of the past reappear (Ezekiel 23:20). The Egyptians are compared to “donkeys” and “stallions”, animals known for their fiery sex drive. For the gratification of that animal kind, Jerusalem makes itself available.

Then Ezekiel addresses Jerusalem directly (“thus you longed for”). He reminds her of her past shameful lusts and accuses her of allowing those feelings to gain the upper hand over her again (Ezekiel 23:21). It is a warning to us: if past sins, especially sexual ones, are not radically judged as sin, sooner or later they will take hold of us again (cf. Ephesians 4:17-Psalms :).

In the magazine ‘Live’, April/May 2013 issue, I read an article on ‘first impressions’ in which “remembering the days of her youth” (Ezekiel 23:19) has a current application. The article quotes something from the popular science magazine ‘Weet Magazine’. It concerns a remarkable quote from a lawyer, specializing in divorce, on April 24, 2010 in the daily Dutch newspaper ‘de Telegraaf’. After estimating the significant increase in divorces in the first quarter of 2010 at about 20%, this lawyer says: ‘The number of divorces has been increasing for years, partly because people are cheating more often and because of the rise of the Internet. As a result, old lovers suddenly reappear, with far-reaching consequences.’

Old loves with ‘first impressions’ that have not been forgotten, have not been discarded, and flare up again …

Verses 22-35

Judgment on Oholibah

“Therefore” (Ezekiel 23:22) refers to the unfaithfulness mentioned in the previous verses. The LORD will, as punishment for that unfaithfulness, set against her the nations from whom she has previously sought help. The LORD says who those are (Ezekiel 23:23). They are the Babylonians and the Assyrians, with some nomadic tribes, whom she has so admired (Ezekiel 23:6), but against whom she has also rebelled again. They will come against Jerusalem with great military display and set themselves against her from all sides (Ezekiel 23:24). They will be given power by the LORD to execute judgment on Jerusalem. They will do so in accordance with the customs of the nations she has adopted.

Through the former lovers, the LORD will make Jerusalem feel His jealousy (Ezekiel 23:25). He acts like a jealous husband who has been cheated by his wife in the lowest way. For this He is so wroth that He will bring His anger down on the city through the enemies. They will mutilate Jerusalem, make it hideous. Those who remain alive in the city will fall by the sword or be taken. Jerusalem will be deprived of all that is graceful and she will be displayed naked (Ezekiel 23:26).

That punishment will have the result that she will cease behaving shamefully and playing the harlot (Ezekiel 23:27). She will no longer think of an adulterous relationship with Egypt. That she will no longer think of Egypt is not because she has come to repentance. It is because the LORD has delivered her up to her enemies and she has lost all attractiveness because of her deformity. In particular, she need not think any more of Egypt, which is not interested in a stripped and disheveled Jerusalem.

Ezekiel 23:28-Amos : repeat in other words, what has already been said in Ezekiel 23:22-Daniel :. The LORD is so repulsed by her behavior that He presents her with her sins once again. He has to, because she is so stubborn. He gives her over into the power of peoples she hates and from whom she sought to tear herself away (Ezekiel 23:28). Those nations, driven by hatred, will treat her shamefully, and will take away everything from her and leave her poor and destitute (Ezekiel 23:29).

She brought this judgment upon herself by her own disgraceful behavior toward the LORD (Ezekiel 23:30). She has offended Him to the depths of His soul by seeking support in political alliances with the neighboring nations. That lewd connection has manifested itself in the worship of the stink gods of those pagans. What an insult to Him!

Thus, Jerusalem has gone the same way as her sister Samaria (Ezekiel 23:31). Therefore, Jerusalem will suffer the same judgment as Samaria; only it will be carried out by a different people. She will have to drink the cup of the wrath of God when the city is invaded by the Babylonians, just as Samaria drank that cup in her removal by the Assyrians.

This judgment is placed before the attention of Jerusalem once more in a song (Ezekiel 23:32). The fate of Jerusalem will not provoke pity, but jeers and mockery. The cup of God’s wrath is filled to the brim. The enemies will note with gloating that the cup she is given to drink is well full, that heavy she is punished. The cup is so full that whoever drinks it will be filled with drunkenness (Ezekiel 23:33). This drunkenness will not result in ‘pleasantness’, but in great and bitter suffering. Jerusalem can check with her sister Samaria to see what drinking that cup means.

Jerusalem will drink that cup and will drink it and drain it (Ezekiel 23:34). The punished harlot, who used to become drunk in committing her shameful fornication with lust, will now become drunk and insane with pain and grief when she has to drink the cup of God’s wrath to the last drop. Out of her mind with pain, she will bite the cup to pieces; with the fragments, she will rip open her breasts, with which she used to please her lovers. The Lord GOD has personally spoken this word and therefore it will happen.

Once again, the cause of this disciplinary action is emphatically presented to Jerusalem (Ezekiel 23:35). She has forgotten the LORD. That ignoring of the LORD is a guilty forgetting. It is the source of the misery. However, she has gone even further and cast Him contemptuously behind her back, thereby demonstrating how worthless she finds Him, not worth paying any attention to anymore. What she now faces are the consequences of her own sins.

Verses 36-49

The End of Oholah and Oholibah

Ezekiel is commanded to judge the two apostate women (Ezekiel 23:36). The LORD presents the command to Ezekiel as a question (cf. Ezekiel 20:4). He connects with the feelings of disgust which the prophet gradually acquired, which are also His feelings. The two women are put on the same level. This is a humiliation for Jerusalem, for the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the rest of the Judeans dislike the Samaritans (John 4:9; John 8:48).

Ezekiel is to present the two sisters with the indictment. This means that they are told once again a detailed list of their sins which are now read out as an indictment. The summary is: adultery and murder (Ezekiel 23:37). The adultery here is primarily spiritual adultery, idolatry: bowing down in worship to the stink gods of the nations. The murder they commit by bringing the children destined for God as a gruesome sacrifice to those stink gods.

They did even more harm to God, for they defiled His sanctuary and profaned His sabbaths (Ezekiel 23:38). With God and His rights they take no account at all anymore. They will decide for themselves how to serve Him. As a result, they have so carelessly disregarded His rights that they dare to enter God’s sanctuary the same day they sacrificed their children to the stink gods, with their straight faces (Ezekiel 23:39). It is supreme insolence. It is total insensitivity and indifference to what is appropriate for the presence of God.

The LORD complains that they have dared to misbehave like this in the midst of His house. It is a brutal disregard of His holiness. Their practice comes down to seeing the LORD their God as one of the idols, but one they do not take too seriously.

And still that is not all. On top of that, they invited idolatrous pagans to come to them (Ezekiel 23:40). They have done their best to make a good impression on those pagans. They wash themselves, make themselves up and decorate themselves (cf. Proverbs 7:10-Ecclesiastes :). With pagans they want to connect to make themselves strong.

To put the guests in a good mood, they provide a good setting: a beautiful bed that invites sexual intercourse and a prepared table to fill the stomach well (Ezekiel 23:41). On that table are also incense and oil intended for the LORD. They take from the LORD what is His and put it before the pagans. This is gross abuse and an insult to the LORD.

The crowd accepts the invitation (Ezekiel 23:42). They come, and they join the two women at the prepared table. The revelry attracts other men. They are men of the lowest sort who appear distinguished. They bring gifts for the women with which they adorn them. These adornments act as shackles, for the women are captured by these people they invited.

There isn’t much attraction left to Samaria and Jerusalem, and do the pagans still want to commit adultery with them (Ezekiel 23:43)? Do they really want to? Yes, because as long as there is still something to gain, the nations, especially if invited, will want to have that intercourse with Samaria and Jerusalem (Ezekiel 23:44). The disgraceful behavior of the two sisters started very early, as early as Egypt, and was continued by them into their old age, to the end of their existence as a people.

They will be judged for their adultery and fornication by “righteous men” (Ezekiel 23:45). This refers to the Assyrians (Ezekiel 23:9) and the Babylonians (Ezekiel 23:22). These nations are called “righteous” because despite their cruel practices they are the instruments through which God executes His judgment on His people. The adulterers are punished with death according to the ordinance of the law (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). How much more is this punishment deserved by women who, moreover, have brought upon themselves the most terrible blood guilt by sacrificing their own children to idols.

The LORD calls the nations to go up against Jerusalem and Samaria (Ezekiel 23:46). He gives the order to make them a terror and plunder. The nations will stone the two sisters with stones and kill them with the sword (Ezekiel 23:47). Thus their sons and daughters will perish and the offspring of evildoers will be exterminated. The houses, where they prepared their idolatrous practices, will be burned with fire. In this way, the shameful behavior in the land will cease (Ezekiel 23:48). The judgment will be education for the women of other nations not to act in such a way.

Once again, God emphasizes that the judgment that strikes them is the result of their own disgraceful behavior (Ezekiel 23:49). They will bear the sins of their worship of their stink gods. When God upholds justice in this way, His own honor will shine thereby. He makes Himself known through this, and wherever He makes Himself known, He is glorified.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ezekiel 23". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/ezekiel-23.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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