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Chapter 16 A Further Depiction of Jerusalem - An Unwanted Foundling.
Having depicted Jerusalem as a wild and useless vine, it is now depicted as having been an unwanted foundling, wallowing in its distress, until Yahweh came and had pity on it. Then He had bestowed favour on it, but it had proved treacherous, and had deserted Him for others, and had become a prostitute with many lovers. The words are spoken of Jerusalem but undoubtedly include all Israel. What had happened to the one had happened to the other, and Jerusalem and its environs now stood for Israel. It was all that was left to them. Ezekiel’s language is strong and vivid, and very literal. He deliberately describes things as they are with the intention of arousing disgust, because he is bringing out that Jerusalem was disgusting.
God’s Gracious Deliverance of an Undeserving and Helpless Israel.
‘Again the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations.” ’
God will now recount Israel’s great sin and apostasy, to show her the greatness of the sin that she has committed. ‘Abominations’ especially as in mind idolatry but anything that possesses a man’s mind and comes between him and God is abomination.
(In Ezekiel the terms ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Judah’, and ‘Israel’ are almost synonymous. What applies to one usually applies to the other. All are seen as one).
“And say, thus says the Lord Yahweh to Jerusalem, Your birth and your nativity is the land of the Canaanite. The Amorite was your father, and your mother was a Hittite.”
‘To Jerusalem.’ This word conjures up two thoughts, Jerusalem as a city, which God had chosen as His dwellingplace (Psalms 132:13), and Jerusalem as representing the whole of what was left of Israel. Israel, even the exiles, were often described as ‘Zion’ (e.g. Zechariah 2:7). What remained of the land of Israel was not very large, being composed of Jerusalem and its environs, so that Jerusalem could be seen as representing the whole. Indeed it was the heart of Israel, and bore within it the stamp of the whole. So we do not need to choose between whether he has Jerusalem in mind or Israel. The one was represented by the other.
These words are derogatory. Israel prided itself on its ancestry, and the Canaanites were a byword for immorality and sin, which was why God had demanded that they be utterly destroyed. This latter condemnation was also aimed at the Amorites and the Hittites who dwelt in the land (Deuteronomy 7:1-5; Deuteronomy 20:17). All three names could in fact be used as a general designation for the inhabitants of the land. See among others Genesis 10:16; Genesis 15:16; Numbers 13:29; Joshua 1:4; Joshua 5:1; Joshua 7:7; Joshua 24:15; Joshua 24:18; Amos 2:10.
There are a number of points here. One is that neither Jerusalem nor Israel were in fact as racially pure as they thought. They were of mongrel descent. Israel did in fact include Canaanites, Amorites and Hittites in their ancestry, for such would be among the servants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and among the mixed multitude that became a part of Israel at the exodus and at Sinai, and this was added to by intermarriage contrary to God’s command (Deuteronomy 7:3). And the suggestion is that this was now coming out in their behaviour.
The second is that they had become like those that they had lived amongst. They had been established in the land of the Canaanites and had aped the Canaanites, Amorites and Hittites in the land, who had ‘fathered’ and ‘mothered’ them. That was why they were behaving as they were.
The third was that Jerusalem itself was a city of bastard descent, a city of mixed race, and those races evil. In the wider meaning of the terms the Jebusites who dwelt in Jerusalem were Canaanites and Amorites, and were associated with the Amorites and Hittites as dwellers in the mountains (Numbers 13:29), and they lived among the Israelites, no doubt being forced to submit to the covenant with Yahweh after the capture of the city by David.
Thus Israel’s professed purity was a farce. There was nothing in their background to make them especially attractive. Anything they had was because of God’s goodness to them.
“And as for your nativity, in the day that you were born your navel was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you. You were not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. No eye pitied you to do any of these things to you, to have compassion on you. But you were cast out in the open field because your person was abhorred in the day that you were born.”
‘Your nativity.’ The time of birth and what immediately followed. The thought is probably that of the ‘birth of the nation’ in Egypt, a slave nation treated abominably. But the more general idea was that they were basically unwanted so that no one bothered with them, even those who had ‘fathered’ them. (The idea that it was the Abrahamic period mainly in mind is denied by the fact that the father was an Amorite and the mother a Hittite).
The meaning of the word translated ‘to cleanse’ is unknown. It is probably a technical term for cleaning up the baby and removing the stains of afterbirth. ‘Salting’ was probably for antiseptic purposes. Swaddling was wrapping up the baby for protection. But no one did this for Israel. They were unwanted. So they were, as it were, tossed into a field in their filthy state just as they came out of the womb, because they were hated. This, alas, was all too often the experience of an unwanted baby. The idea behind all this is that in themselves they had nothing to be proud of. Their state was such that they were only to be pitied.
“And when I passed by you and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you, ‘In your blood, live.’ Yes I said to you, ‘In your blood live.’ ”
Yahweh found her in her dreadful state, kicking and struggling in her own blood and had pity on her. There is divided opinion as to whether ‘in your blood’ is part of what Yahweh said or not. Either we read ‘I said to you in your blood, “Live”, where there is huge emphasis on the fact that Israel was lying in her blood, to bring out her dreadful state (much blood would have been spilled in Egypt), or the phrase means basically ‘I said to you, “out of imminent death, live” ’. Either way the important fact is that Yahweh commanded and gave life. Without Him she would have ceased to be. Life began again when Israel was spared at the Passover and crossed the Sea of Reeds. But it is also a beautiful picture of the new birth, something experienced by God’s true people in every age.
Several versions and the LXX omit the repetition of ‘in your blood live’, but it is typical of ancient literature and is probably repeated for emphasis. It was the moment of deliverance from which all else followed.
“I caused you to multiply (literally ‘made you a myriad’) as the bud of the field, and you increased and flourished (‘waxed great’) and you attained to exceptional ornament (‘ornament of ornaments’). Your breasts were fashioned and your hair was grown. Yet you were naked and bare.”
The vivid pictures are striking. They flourished like buds of the field springing up all over the ground, and growing into full flower, attaining to full beauty (excellent ornament). Lack of ornaments was seen as a sign of mourning and sorrow and unacceptability (Exodus 33:4). Their ‘ornaments’ are then described, fully fashioned breasts and long and luxurious hair. These were indeed the ‘ornament of ornaments’ for a woman. The pictures have in mind that He is speaking to a whole people so that the description takes this into account. The whole people flourished as one.
Some would change the text to read, ‘you came to the time of menstruation’ (requiring a slight change in the Hebrew text) but this is unnecessary, although the similarity to the word for menstruation may have been the reason for the words used.
‘Yet you were naked and bare.’ Although they had received life and beauty there was still that which was lacking which God would now provide for them. The account is not intended to be fully realistic (even though grown she was still covered in blood - Ezekiel 16:9). It is poetry in prose. It is depicting her state as she was in herself and the total dependence of Israel on Yahweh for all that she had.
The idea of nakedness not only suggests need but also sinfulness. When Adam and Eve had sinned they ‘knew that they were naked’ (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 2:10). They were exposed in all their sinfulness and weakness. Nakedness regularly pictures abject need and sinfulness (2 Chronicles 28:19; Isaiah 20:3-4; Lamentations 1:8; Ezekiel 23:29; Hosea 2:3; Micah 1:8; Nahum 3:5).
“Now when I passed by you and looked on you, behold your time was the time for love. And I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord Yahweh, and you became mine.”
The time moves on and Israel was maturing. The Great Deliverer again passed by and recognised that it was time to take Israel as His wife because she had reached ‘the time for love’. The spreading of the skirt of his long cloak over her indicated taking her under his protection and an acceptance of her as His betrothed (Ruth 3:9). Thus she who had been naked was no longer naked. She was His, and covered by Him. This incident almost certainly refers to the Sinai covenant, and Sinai made provision to deal with the problem of Israel’s sin And this is confirmed by the words that follow.
‘Yes, I swore to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord Yahweh, and you became mine.’ While the covenant represents marriage in the story (compare Proverbs 2:17; Malachi 2:14), the use of the term ‘covenant’, rather than ‘married you’, confirms that it refers to Yahweh’s covenant with His people. Compare Exodus 19:4-6 together with Deuteronomy 28:9; Exodus 24:8. These were precisely the promises of the Sinai covenant.
“Then I washed you with water, yes, I thoroughly washed away your blood from you, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered work and shod you with sealskin, and I girded you about with fine linen, and covered you with silk. I decked you also with ornaments, and I put bracelets on your hands and a chain on your neck, and I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head.”
Yahweh had then washed her from all her past imperfections and anointed her with oil, both to beautify her and to demonstrate that she was His. Anointing with oil always ritually represented the dedication of something to Yahweh.
Then He clothed her with the finest clothes and decked her with jewellery and ornaments (compare Genesis 24:53; Psalms 45:13-15; Isaiah 61:10). Embroidered work was very expensive, sealskin (dugong skin) was of the finest quality. Fine linen and silk were for the wealthy. The ornaments were such as any woman of a distinguished family would wear (compare Isaiah 3:21). Finally He placed a royal crown on her head. The foundling had become a queen. The growth of Israel to such an exalted position may well refer to her exaltation under David, when she was queen of the nations round about, and possibly to the earlier days of Solomon in all his splendour. And what had happened to Israel had also happened to Jerusalem (Psalms 48:2; Psalms 50:2). But we must not limit it to historical allusions. She had become a queen in God’s eyes.
“Thus were you decked with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered work. You ate fine flour, and honey, and oil, and you were extremely beautiful and you prospered to royal estate.”
The picture is idealised. It was how God saw His people once they were cleansed. They who had been sinners had become beautiful in His eyes, and He had made them His queen, and had richly provided everything that they could need. The gods of other nations had goddesses as their consorts, but Yahweh’s consort was His people. He was to be all in all in their eyes, and they were His beloved. Compare for a similar figure in the New Testament Ephesians 5:26-27.
‘ “And your renown went forth among the nations for your beauty, for it was perfect through my majesty which I had put on you,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
Their covenant with Yahweh, and His faithfulness to it, had given them renown among the nations, and God had bestowed on them His majesty. In their particular area they had reached the pinnacle, admired by all. All the world came to hear the wisdom of Solomon (1 Kings 10:23-24). And they owed it all to Yahweh. But pride always comes before a fall because man is basically sinful. And that is just as true today as it ever was.
Israel’s Base Response to the Goodness of Yahweh.
“But you trusted in your beauty, and played the prostitute because of your renown, and poured out your whoredoms on all who passed by. His it was.”
The beauty and renown that God had given them proved their downfall. It led to disobedience and idolatry. We only have to think of the effect on Solomon of his foreign wives, all the result of his splendour (1 Kings 11:1-3). They inveigled him into idolatry (1 Kings 11:4-6). And what the king did the people gladly copied. ‘On all who passed by.’ They had previously been delivered by Yahweh passing by (Ezekiel 16:6; Ezekiel 16:8), but now those who passed by were lovers, and they led her astray. These lovers would once not have looked at her, but because of what God had done for her she had now become desirable. ‘His it was.’ Each one of them could have her, she was free and easy.
“And you took of your clothes and made for yourself high places decked with various colours (RSV ‘gaily decked shrines’), and played the prostitute on them. The like things shall not come, neither shall it be so.”
She stripped off her clothes so as to attract her lovers. Then the fine and rich clothes that Yahweh had given her in her prosperity were used to decorate the high places where the gods of Canaan were worshipped and honoured (compare 2 Kings 23:7), and sexual perversions took place in accordance with Canaanite religion (compare Jeremiah 3:2).
‘The like things shall not come, neither shall it be so.” What they did was so disgraceful that the like of it has been known neither before or since.
“You took your fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images, and played the prostitute with them.”
The picture is vivid. It was as though they had made the god-images in order to make love to them. But it was of course done with the cult male and female prostitutes. And they had done it with the silver and gold that Yahweh in His goodness and love had given them!!
“And you took your bordered clothes and covered them (the idols), and set my oil and my incense before them.”
The catalogue of dastardly behaviour continues. They put the fine clothes that Yahweh had given them on idols. The oil and incense that He had given them in abundance they offered to false gods. But we need to beware before we are too amazed. Many a Christian life has been withered because of God’s goodness to them which has made them forget Him. Wealth and prosperity are the enemy of the dedicated spiritual life.
“My bread also which I gave you, fine flour, and oil, and honey with which I fed you, you even set it before them for a sweet savour. And thus it was, says the Lord Yahweh.”
All the things which Yahweh had given them they passed on to their idols. The bread on which they had fed abundantly, and the luxury food which He had given them to enjoy, a far cry from the hunger and poor food they had known in the wilderness before they received the manna (Exodus 16:3), these they offered, not in thanksgiving to Yahweh, but as a sweet savour to their new gods. God had fulfilled all His promises to them and they had thanked Him by offering His abundance to their ‘lovers’.
‘And thus it was, says the Lord Yahweh.’ Thus it was, that was the real situation. This was God’s final summary on their behaviour. All the things He had given them, luxury food, luxury clothing, luxury jewellery, gold and silver and ornaments, all the things He had piled on them in His grace and goodness, they were giving to His ‘rivals’. That was how they had behaved, and were behaving. Could there be anything worse? Yes, there could. Worse was to follow.
“Moreover you have taken your sons and your daughters, whom you have borne to me, and these you have sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whoredoms a small matter that you have slain my children, and delivered them up, making them pass through the fire to them?”
To all that had gone before they had added this, that their own children whom they had borne to Yahweh, for all the firstborn were especially His, they had passed through the fire to Molech, to be devoured by him in the fire. Were their previous sins of unfaithfulness of such light importance that they could add this gross sin? Note the ‘my children’. They had slain those who belonged to Yahweh by offering them to other gods. Thus they had added theft, murder and sacrilege to their other sins.
Child sacrifice had been long known in Canaan, usually, but not always, to Molech, (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 23:10; Psalms 106:38). That was why God had given the important lesson to Abraham that it was not by slaying his son that he would please God (Genesis 22:0). He learned the lesson that, in the words of Micah, ‘shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does Yahweh require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:6-8). But it seems to have increased dramatically around the period just prior to that in which Ezekiel is speaking (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 32:35).
“And in all your abominations and your whoredoms you have not remembered the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare and were weltering in your blood.”
He referred them back to what had been their miserable condition. He pointed out how they had forgotten the past, and what He had done for them, and what they owed to God. It was clearly stated in the covenant. ‘I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” but they had overlooked the fact. How easy it is to forget God’s faithfulness and goodness to us when things are going well. See especially the warning in Deuteronomy 6:10-12.
‘All your abominations and your whoredoms.’ In their case it was their idols which concentrated their minds on earthly things and behaviour, together with the sensual rites and accompanying unrestrained lust. In our case, although we may not erect idols, we have our own gods; singers, footballers, sportsmen, Mammon, Sex and Greed. These too take our minds from God and have become far more to us than they should.
“And so it is after all your wickedness - woe, woe to you, says the Lord Yahweh - that you have built yourself an eminent place (or vaulted chamber) and have made yourself a lofty place on every street. You have built your lofty place at every head of the way, and have made your beauty an abomination, and have opened your feet to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your whoredom.”
The ‘eminent place’, and the ‘lofty places’ on every street, may refer to the brick pedestals used by cult prostitutes in Assyrian inscriptions and the cult elevations symbolising the sacred marriage of the fertility goddess. Their encouragement of cult prostitution was seen by Yahweh as portraying their own adultery.
Alternately they may be prominent roof top shrines indicating the availability of fertility rites in connection with Canaanite worship. They would then be the equivalent of religious brothels. Either way these proliferated and could be found in every street and especially at prominent places.
‘And have opened your feet to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your whoredom.’ This indicates the widespread participation in such rites, but it is also preparing for what follows. They had welcomed the Egyptians (Ezekiel 16:26), had to tolerate the Philistines (Ezekiel 16:27), and had opened their arms to the Assyrians (Ezekiel 16:28) and the Babylonians (Ezekiel 16:29). This refers to political intrigue, and the constant seeking of help from anyone but Yahweh. It resulted in the necessity for introducing the gods of these nations and giving them exalted status. But that did not excuse them taking them to their hearts and filling Jerusalem with them. The fact was that they did not just reluctantly tolerate them, they showed how depraved they were by welcoming them with opened legs, (a very vivid metaphor).
“You have committed fornication with the Egyptians, your neighbours, great of flesh, and have multiplied your whoredom to provoke me to anger.”
It began when Solomon took Pharaoh’s daughter as his wife to magnify himself and to cement a political alliance with Egypt ( 1Ki 3:1 ; 1 Kings 9:16; 1 Kings 9:24; 1 Kings 11:1-4). Egypt was the major nation to the south of Canaan and a natural ally against any enemies from the north, but friendship with Egypt meant involvement with their gods, which included Pharaoh, manifestation on earth of Osiris, and thus fraternisation with Egypt was forbidden by the prophets (Ezekiel 17:15; Ezekiel 20:7; Ezekiel 23:3; 2 Kings 17:4; 2Ki 18:21 ; 2 Kings 18:24; 2 Kings 25:26; Isaiah 30:1-5; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 36:6; Jeremiah 24:8; Jeremiah 37:5; Jeremiah 41:17; Jeremiah 42:4; Jeremiah 42:14-19; Jeremiah 43:7; Jeremiah 44:0 all; Lamentations 5:6).
‘Great of flesh.’ Egypt from a fleshly point of view appeared to be a formidable ally. But Israel should have known that Yahweh was greater and should not have looked to Egypt (Isaiah 30:2).
‘And have multiplied your whoredom to provoke me to anger.’ This is an indication of Israel’s fascination with the gods of Egypt which resulted in their worshipping them and serving them (Jeremiah 44:8; Jeremiah 44:15; Jeremiah 44:17; Jeremiah 44:25).
“Behold therefore I have stretched out my hand over you, and have diminished your allotted portion, and delivered you into the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who are ashamed of your lewd ways.”
Compare here 2 Chronicles 28:18; Isaiah 9:12 which demonstrate that the Philistines were an ever present menace, taking advantage, when they dared, of any weakness. They occupied many towns of Judah ‘and dwelt there’. The extent of Israel’s land was becoming less and less. Thus when Jerusalem rebelled against Babylon it would again give them their opportunity which they took (Ezekiel 25:15), for which they would eventually be punished by God (Ezekiel 25:15-17; Jeremiah 25:20; Jeremiah 47:1; Zephaniah 2:4-5; Zechariah 9:6).
So as a result of Philistine activity their ‘allotted portion’ had been further reduced, and life became a burden. We have an example of this from the Taylor Prism where Sennacherib says of Hezekiah ‘His towns which I had despoiled I cut off from his land, giving them to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Sillibel, king of Gaza, and so reduced his land.’ All these were Philistine kings. But God here points out that the Philistines were more righteous than Jerusalem for they despised the flagrant behaviour of Jerusalem in welcoming many gods. Even the ungodly Philistines were mainly faithful to their own gods.
“You have played the prostitute also with the Assyrians because you were insatiable, yes, you have played the prostitute with them, and yet you were not satisfied.”
The resume of their history continues. They had welcomed the Assyrians and their gods with open arms (2 Kings 16:7-16; 2 Kings 21:5). And this was not because of direct invasion but because they sought his help against their enemies. The result was that the Assyrians never again left them alone until they themselves were defeated by the Babylonians. Such submission to Assyria necessitated the acceptance of their gods to some extent, but they went further than that, for they actually welcomed them
‘And yet you were not satisfied.’ Their apostasy had done them no good. They found no peace of mind or heart, nor did they find constant prosperity. Yahweh was no longer with them.
“You have moreover multiplied your whoredom in the land of Canaan as far as Chaldea and yet you were not satisfied herewith.”
Now the Babylonian gods were included in their worship, both in Jerusalem and in exile (as we have seen earlier they had a whole miscellany of gods - chapter 8). So the whole of their history since the time of Solomon has been one of unfaithfulness to Yahweh and slavering over other gods, together with the immoral ways of those gods. Yet still they were not satisfied.
“How weak is your heart,” says the Lord Yahweh, “seeing you do all these things, the work of an imperious, whorish woman, in that you build your eminent place at the head of every way, and make your lofty place in every street, and have not been like a prostitute in that you scorn hire. A wife who commits adultery. Who takes strangers instead of her husband.”
Israel’s behaviour is shown for what it is, the product of a weak and faithless heart. She behaves just like a prostitute, with her prostitute podiums and cultic shrines offering these services. But she is worse than a prostitute, for she does not do it for money in order to survive, but she does it because she loves it, deliberately faithless to her husband with any stranger who passes by. And it is flagrant. She does not creep about, ashamed of what she is, but is ‘imperious’, proudly displaying her behaviour and arrogant with it.
“They give gifts to all prostitutes, but you give your gifts to all your lovers, and bribe them, that they may come to you on every side for your whoredoms. And the contrary is in you from other women in your whoredoms, in that none follows you to commit whoredom. And whereas you give hire, and no hire is given to you, you are therefore the opposite of them.”
Israel’s unforgivable state is emphasised. Rather than being the one who was paid, she actually pays in order to indulge in prostitution. She bribes men to prostitute her, in order to ensure that she can be satiated. There is no other prostitute like this. She is unique. No other follows her example. Indeed her behaviour in paying instead of receiving payment demonstrates that she is the opposite of them. She has debased herself worse than a prostitute.
Two thoughts possibly lie behind this example. Firstly that Judah first came to the notice of Assyria, before Assyria had showed any belligerence towards her, when she sent payments and appealed for her help, and then openly welcomed her gods without any constraint being put on her (2 Kings 16:7-16; Hosea 8:9), followed by her willingness to expose herself to Babylon, even under a good king (2 Kings 12-15). And secondly that she did indeed seem to welcome any gods which came to her notice, without any persuasion being necessary, so that she gave rather than received.
So Ezekiel has outlined a number of reasons for the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the exile; excessive vanity (Ezekiel 16:15 a), spiritual prostitution (Ezekiel 16:15-19), human sacrifices (Ezekiel 16:20-21), forgetting God’s goodness and unmerited favour (Ezekiel 16:22), exposing her prostitution openly (Ezekiel 16:23-25), trusting to pagan nations rather than to Yahweh (Ezekiel 16:26-29), and a weak heart and mind that had cast off all moral restraints (Ezekiel 16:30-34).
God’s Judgment On Her Behaviour - She will Be Treated As An Adulteress.
“For this reason, O prostitute, hear the word of Yahweh, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, because your brass was poured out and your nakedness discovered through your whoredoms with your lovers, and because of all the idols of your abominations, and for the blood of your children which you gave them, therefore behold I will gather all your lovers with whom you have taken pleasure, and all those whom you have loved, with all those whom you have hated, I will even gather them against you on every side and will make open your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness.”
Ezekiel now directly addresses Israel, by ‘the word of Yahweh’, as a prostitute in process of her profession. She is stripped of her clothing and her discharges come out of her. There may be the idea that she continued to ply her trade during her menstrual period (‘like brass poured out?), for menstrual discharge was looked on as ritually ‘unclean’. But he may just have in mind discharges during sexual intercourse. Thus here she was revealing herself as Ezekiel saw her, disgusting and without shame
The use of the word ‘brass’ here must be compared with its use by Ezekiel in connection with refining. (He speaks as a layman, not as a metalsmith). It has in mind inferior brass with its impurities which it is difficult to refine out. Thus in Ezekiel 24:11 it is closely allied to dross and parallels the ‘filthiness’ and ‘rust’ that gathers in an inferior brass cauldron, the impurities of which cannot be removed even when it melts in the fire; and in Ezekiel 22:18 the idea is of brass being melted in the furnace and being like dross.
Compare Jeremiah 6:28-29 where Jeremiah says, ‘they are all as brass and iron, they all deal corruptly’ and along with iron it is seen as containing impurities such that it cannot be refined, and is compared with ‘refuse silver’. So the ‘brass poured out’ here has in mind what is inferior and unrefinable because of its impurities. ‘As brass poured out’ may well have become a familiar and vivid way of speaking of a woman’s discharges.
Israel’s disgusting state is then clarified. She is responsible for the multiplying of idols, and the lewdness that goes with them, they are like her discharges. And she is especially responsible for the blood of her slain children offered to these idols.
“Therefore behold I will gather all your lovers, with whom you have taken pleasure, and all those you have loved, with all those you have hated, I will even gather them against you on every side, and will reveal your nakedness to them that they may see all your nakedness.”
Prostitutes who offer themselves in public gathering places where drinking also goes on, which would be the case with cult prostitutes, are often subjected to degrading treatment by those who have previously made use of their services, in a state of drunkenness. It was probably a familiar sight in Jerusalem. That is what is in mind here. A prostitute subjected to humiliation and degradation by her drunken and debased former ‘lovers’.
I remember having a case described to me which took place in a Cyprus bar, where the prostitute, whom many of them had previously ‘used’, was seized by a gang of drunken soldiers, who used a bottle neck to perform degrading acts on her. It had even disgusted the far from puritanical (non-Christian) soldier who told me of it.
Thus would Israel suffer from those all around her, both her ‘allies’ (those whom she loved) and her enemies who were waiting to pounce (those whom she hated). They would surround her, gaze on her abject state, and abuse her, a vivid picture of the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon and subsequent devastation of the land by Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites and Philistines (Ezekiel 25:0).
Note the ‘you have taken pleasure’. It is a rare prostitute who takes pleasure in what she does. They usually despise their clients, although they are sensible enough to hide it. But Israel was so licentious that she had actually taken pleasure in her disgraceful behaviour.
“And I will judge you as women who break wedlock and shed blood are judged. And I will bring on you the blood of fury and jealousy.”
Because of her licentious behaviour and sacrifice of her children to idols she will be treated as an adulterous wife and a child exposer, and judged accordingly. ‘Exposure’ involved abandoning a new born child somewhere to die. Many a woman, and especially prostitutes, rid themselves of an unwanted child by exposure. The idea is particularly poignant in that that was what God had pictured as happening to Israel in Ezekiel 16:5. Thus the offering of their children by fire to the gods is likened to such child exposure.
‘And I will bring on you the blood of fury and jealousy.’ This may mean that she will receive what is due both from those who are angry at her doings, and those who are jealous of her, from her ‘lovers’, but more probably the idea is of the fury and jealousy of her divine Husband Who demands the ultimate penalty on such behaviour (compare Ezekiel 16:42). Both adultery and murder incurred the death penalty. All may of course be in mind here for the statement is general.
“I will also give you into their hand , and they will throw down your eminent place, and break down your lofty places, and they will strip you of your clothes, and take your fair jewels, and they will leave you naked and bare. They will also bring up an assembly against you, and they will stone you with stones and thrust you through with their swords. And they will burn your houses with fire, and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women, and I will cause you to cease from playing the prostitute, and you will no more offer yourself for hire.”
Ezekiel quite happily intermixes his illustrations and connects them with the realities of its fulfilment. Firstly Israel as linked with Jerusalem will be handed over by her Husband to her lovers who will dismantle all her prostitute’s equipment, remove her beautiful clothing and her jewellery, and leave her naked in her shame. She would lose everything that God had given her, through the activity of the very lovers that she had chased.
The picture then moves on to her being brought before the gathered assembly of judges (where she may have lost her fine clothing and jewellery but would not strictly be naked, but Ezekiel is piling on the humiliation) where she is sentenced to death by stoning, the penalty for adultery (Deuteronomy 22:21-24; Leviticus 20:10) and for encouraging others to idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:10), and also to be thrust through with the sword and burnt with fire, the penalty for a city which turns to idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:15-16).
‘And execute judgments on you in the sight of many women.’ One purpose of stoning was a warning to women who saw in it the consequence of adultery and idolatry. Even so will the judgments Yahweh pours out on Israel and Jerusalem be a warning to all who see it, and especially to the exiles.
All these things would be literally fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. The sufferings of the people of a besieged city that did not surrender was always dreadful in the extreme, the men were unmercifully slaughtered, the women raped and then often killed. No pity would be shown.
‘And I will cause you to cease from playing the prostitute, and you will no more offer yourself for hire.’ Israel’s ability to behave in this way will cease because Jerusalem and the land of Israel will be no more.
“So will I cause my fury on you to cease, and my jealousy will depart from you, and I will be quiet, and angry no more.”
Yet in all this God’s purpose is finally merciful. He wants to rid His people of idolatry so that they will again respond in full to the covenant. Once their sin has been dealt with His righteous anger against sin will no longer be necessary. Once their idolatry has ceased He will no longer need to be concerned about their not looking to Him. He will no longer need to be a ‘jealous God’. The terms fury and jealousy are anthropomorphic and not to be taken too literally. His ‘fury’ is His set attitude against sin as the moral Judge of the universe, His ‘jealousy’ is His righteous concern against their behaving in a way which is detrimental to themselves and to the world. As with any good and righteous husband, God’s heart is set against anything that wrecks His wife’s life, and uniquely His wife will be able to benefit from His punishment, for some of His people remain.
So will He be ‘quiet’. His work will have been accomplished, justice will have been satisfied, and He will be able to restore His people to their old relationship.
God Compares Jerusalem and Israel With Samaria and Sodom. She Is Worse Than Both.
“Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have fretted me in all these things, therefore, behold, I also will bring your way on your head,” says the Lord Yahweh, “and you will not go on committing lewdness above all your abominations.”
This verse connects what has gone before with what now follows. God remorselessly confirms that there is no alternative to judgment. Israel have forgotten all He has done for them, causing Him great distress because they are only harming themselves, and the world to whom they should have been a witness. Thus they must suffer the consequences, for the sake of others who see what occurs (Ezekiel 16:41), for if they do not they will simply magnify their lewdness and become worse and worse, which is something that God cannot allow.
“Behold every one who uses proverbs will use a proverb against you, saying, ‘As is the mother, so is her daughter.’ You are your mother’s daughter, who loathes her husband and her children, and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathe their husband and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite, and your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells at your left hand, she and her daughters, and your younger sister who dwells at your right hand is Sodom and her daughters.”
These verses present a miserable picture of humanity, with its fightings and squabbles, its hatreds and prejudices, its racialism, and its constant enmity of man against man, and nation against nation, each hating the other. And the proverb thus applies, ‘like mother, like daughter’. The ‘mother’ of Jerusalem and Israel was a Hittite, whose husband was an Amorite. But they all hated each other. The relationships must be accepted loosely as representing inter-relationship and connection. We do not need to ask who their husbands were in the other cases for we are not told. It is a parable and no application is made. It simply means anyone associated with them.
All the inhabitants of Canaan had been constantly at war with each other, as the Amarna letters reveal to us. There was no love lost between them. They regularly loathed each other (read the correspondence). Thus the Hittites loathed the Amorites, (their ‘husband’), who had long dwelt alongside them, and they loathed the Israelites, and they loathed the Sodomites. And the Samaritans hated everyone around them, and the Sodomites had originally loathed the Hittites and Amorites, and the pre-Israelites. The point is that everyone hated everyone.
The names were carefully selected. The Amorites and the Hittites were of those Canaanites who were utterly condemned by Yahweh for their evil and licentious ways (the first two names in Deuteronomy 20:17, see also Ezekiel 7:1-5; and note 1 Kings 9:20; 2 Chronicles 8:7). The people of Samaria were the northern tribes of Israel who demonstrated what they were by being carried off into captivity for their extreme sinfulness (2 Kings 17:6-18). The Sodomites were a byword for sin, licentiousness and complacency. Yet all of them were to be seen as better than Jerusalem, (the heart of every Israelite in Jerusalem would be appalled at the thought), as she was revealed by her behaviour.
In view of the stated fact that the husband of the Hittite was an Amorite it is doubtful if we can associate the ‘husbands’ with God (as in the previous parable) as some seek to do. It is indeed very questionable whether Ezekiel would see God as the husband of the wicked Sodomites. The ‘daughters’ would be their related towns and villages. (Such are regularly called ‘daughters’ in Joshua and elsewhere. Ezekiel 16:48 seems to exclude reference to ‘daughters’ as signifying children offered as sacrifices).
“Yet you have not walked in their ways nor done after their abominations, but, it is a very little thing, (or ‘in a very little time’) you were more corrupt than them in all your ways.”
The statement is sarcastic. They had not behaved like Sodom and Samaria, no, they had behaved far worse. Sodom and Samaria were bad enough, but Israel had sinned even more. ‘It is a very little thing’ is probably the intended meaning and is heavy in sarcasm. ‘A little thing’ was how Israel might have stated it, but not Yahweh. (The translation ‘In a very little time’ would suffer from the fact that Sodom’s history was long past, even though such lengths of time were then probably very vague to most people).
“As I live,” says the Lord Yahweh, “Sodom your sister has not done, she nor her daughters, as you have done, you and your daughters. Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom; pride, fullness of bread and prosperous ease were in her and in her daughters. Nor did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before me. Therefore I took them away when I saw them (or ‘as I saw fit’).”
The evil behaviour of Sodom and her sister towns was proverbial. But, says Yahweh, the behaviour of Jerusalem and Israel was worse. Isaiah 3:9 says of Judah and Jerusalem, ‘the show of their countenance witnesses against them, and they declare their sin as Sodom.’ Lamentations 4:6 goes further and says, ‘for the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the sin of Sodom.’ Indeed the destruction of Sodom is regularly spoken of in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 29:23; Isaiah 1:9; Jeremiah 49:18; Amos 4:11) as illustrating the awful judgment of God. And yet Sodom had not sinned as greatly as Israel.
The sins of Sodom are categorised. She was proud, complacent, basking in prosperity, lacking in concern for the poor and needy, arrogant and idolatrous (committed abomination), so much so that God took her people away when He saw them. We know something of her degradation and sexual perversion from Genesis 19:0, the natural result of following their religion and of the gods they worshipped. But she had not sinned like Jerusalem had done, multiplying their idolatry over so long a period. No wonder they were doomed.
“Neither has Samaria committed half of your sins. But you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and put your sisters in the right by all your abominations which you have done. You also bear your own shame in that you have given judgment for your sisters. Through your sins which you have committed, which were more abominable than they, they are more righteous than you. Yes, be you also confounded and bear your shame, in that you have put your sisters in the right.”
Samaria had been guilty of gross sin. They had built high places in all their cities and villages, down even to their watchtowers, and they had set up pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree. They had served idols and rejected the pleading of the prophets. They had ignored His Law and behaved like the nations round about them. They had even offered up their children as sacrifices. (See for the whole 2 Kings 17:9-17). Thus Yahweh had removed them out of His sight (2 Kings 9:23).
But their sins were not half those of Judah and Jerusalem, nor did they multiply gods half as much. Indeed compared with Jerusalem and Judah they were to be seen as a righteous nation. Jerusalem and Judah were so wicked that compared with them Samaria and Sodom were ‘in the right’. So Jerusalem had made the wickedness of Sodom and Samaria seem not half so much (compare Matthew 11:23-24 for a similar contrast). The indictment against Jerusalem is compelling. How could she be spared?
The Coming Restoration Will Bring Shame On Jerusalem.
Suddenly in the gloom there comes again the promise of future restoration. With all the blackness of the future before them final restoration is guaranteed, as is the restoration of Sodom and Samaria. But that restoration will fill them with shame as they remember their sins and what they have been.
“And I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in the midst of them, that you may bear your own shame, and may be ashamed because of all that you have done, in that you have become a consolation to them.”
The fortunes of both Sodom and Samaria will be restored. The areas in which both were found will prosper. And Jerusalem and Judah will also be restored that they may learn shame for all that they have done, and especially shame that they were so wicked that they made the other two look righteous in comparison, and that, by the judgment that came on them, they brought consolation to the others. Where they should have been witnesses by the purity of their lives and worship, they had instead become witnesses by the example set by the judgment that came on them.
This was partially fulfilled when Palestine flourished in later centuries as a place faithful to the One God, but found its greater fulfilment through the activities of the Christian church, and will find its final fulfilment in eternity in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
The translation ‘I will turn again their captivity’ is a possible alternative translation (so RV). Compare Deuteronomy 30:3. But the equally acceptable translation ‘restore their fortunes’ is here more likely, especially in view of the fact that Sodom were not taken into captivity as the others were. The return from captivity is also, however, included.
“And your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, will return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters will return to their former estate, and you and your daughters will return to your former estate.”
Eventually both Palestine and the Jordan valley would be restored to their former state, and the judgment on them will have been lifted Whether in the case of Samaria we are to read into this the return of some of the exiles we are not told. But it was inevitable that once the opportunity arose some would make their way back to the land, whether to Samaria or to Judah and Jerusalem, and meanwhile Samaria would again prosper.
But most astonishing of all, Jerusalem and Judah would also be restored and would once again prosper, having learned well that idolatry must be allowed no more. Of the many lessons that they did not learn, that was one lesson that they learned to the full.
“Was not your sister Sodom a byword (‘report, news item’) in your mouth in the day of your pride, before your wickedness was discovered? Just as the time of the reproach of the daughters of Aram and of all who are round about her, the daughters of the Philistines who do despite to you round about. You have borne your lewdness and your abominations, says Yahweh.”
The idea here is that they had once used the name of Sodom as a byword for sin, until things changed when their own wickedness was uncovered, and now similarly they are being made a byword for sin by the people of Aram (Syria) and by the Philistines who are round about them. Thus they are receiving the consequence of their dreadful behaviour. They have replaced Sodom as the epitome of lewdness.
‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “I will even deal with you as you have done, who have despised the oath in the breaking of the covenant.”
Because they have despised the oath they made to God, by breaking the covenant, God will deal with them accordingly. He will initiate the curses of the covenant (Deuteronomy 27:15-26). Both the marriage covenant and the Sinai covenant are in mind here, the one as a picture, the other as the reality.
The promise of Final Hope. The New Everlasting Covenant.
Once again Ezekiel surprises us by introducing hope in the midst of gloom. He reminds us that God’s purpose behind all that is to come is the final restoration of His people. This is a trait of the book, the shining of a light in the midst of almost unrelieved gloom. Jerusalem must indeed fall, the Temple must indeed be destroyed, the people must indeed go though much turmoil and suffering, hope must almost seem gone, but in the end God’s longsuffering and unmerited love towards His people will be revealed in complete restoration.
“Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish to you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed, when you will receive your sisters, your elder sisters and your younger, and I will give them to you for daughters, but not by your treaty-making (covenant). And I will establish my covenant with you and you will know that I am Yahweh.”
God will never forget His covenant with His people, made at the very beginning. His love and His promises made there still stand, hindered only by their intransigence. So one day He will establish with them a new covenant, an everlasting covenant.
When this takes place they will think back on their behaviour and be ashamed (compare Ezekiel 20:43; Ezekiel 36:31; Zechariah 12:10-14), and this covenant will not only include them, but also many ‘sisters’ both older and younger. God’s covenant will not only be for them, but for the world. And it will be none of their doing, nor will it be the result of their political manoeuvrings.
These verses are remarkable in what they reveal. Firstly they indicate that the first covenant, the covenant of Sinai, was insufficient because of man’s weakness and because it was not all inclusive.
Secondly it indicates that the new covenant will be everlasting. There will be no way of annulling it, for it will be brought about by God’s activity and not man’s, and will therefore succeed in its aims. It will thus never cease. We can compare here the words of Jeremiah where he speaks of the new covenant which will be written in men’s hearts, ‘I will put My law in their inward parts, and I will write it in their heart, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And they will no more teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying “Know Yahweh”, for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, says Yahweh, for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more’ (Jeremiah 31:33-34). See also Ezekiel 36:25-32; Ezekiel 11:18-20; Ezekiel 37:26-28; Isaiah 59:21; Isaiah 61:8. It promises full, total, and permanent restoration through the powerful working of God by His Spirit in men’s hearts.
Thirdly it excludes man having any part in it except as the recipient. It will not be by man’s treaty-making.
Fourthly it promises that at the last men will be ashamed of what they have been, as they respond with others to the grace of God.
Fifthly it reaches far beyond God’s original people to the whole world, to both old and new nations (the elder sisters and the younger sisters in their plurality go far beyond Sodom and Samaria), in the same way as His covenant with Abraham, for this covenant is the final outworking of that one (Genesis 12:3). That covenant, unsought, unmerited, and unconditional, began it all, this one, unsought, unmerited, and unconditional, will be its final realisation.
“And I will establish my covenant with you and you will know that I am Yahweh.” All the way through these past chapters we have had the refrain ‘and you will know that I am Yahweh’, and it has always seemed like a threat, for the point was always that they would know it through judgment on their sins, but now the promise is again given, and the idea is more personal and joyous (I will not say ‘more positive’ because all that God does is positive). Like a wife coming to know her husband whom she hardly knew, so will His people come to know Him in an everlasting relationship.
“That you may remember, and be confounded, and never open your mouths any more because of your shame, when I have forgiven you all that you have done, says the Lord Yahweh.”
The result of this restoration under a new, everlasting covenant will be a full realisation of their own undeserving and an awareness of complete forgiveness. On the one hand they will be silenced as they consider the former, never again to boost themselves, or clamour, or make great claims for themselves. On the other they will have perfect peace because of their awareness of a forgiveness which is full and absolute.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 16". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany