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ISRAEL’S INGRATITUDE, PUNISHMENT, AND, IN THE END, FORGIVENESS. (Chap. 16)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The prophet surveys the entire development of the nation, past and future. Their original condition was most wretched, like that of a miserable infant at its birth utterly neglected and deprived of proper attention and care. God had brought them out of this lowly estate, had saved them from destruction, and had fostered them with His constant love and care until they had reached to a maturity of vigour and loveliness. But in their ingratitude they sinned grievously against Him. They might rest in their position as the chosen vine and think themselves secure, but they are here assured that they are no better than other nations, and are liable to be punished and judged as the heathen around them. Yet, in the end, God will be mindful of His covenant, grant them His forgiveness, and restore them to favour.
ISRAEL’S PAST CONDITION, HELPLESS, UNCLEAN, AND ABOUT TO PERISH. (Ezekiel 16:1-2)
Ezekiel 16:1-2. “Cause Jerusalem to know her abominations.” Jerusalem is used as the symbolical representative of the whole Jewish people. Her sins were greater than those of other nations; they were “abominations,” for they were the sins of the covenant people. The main end of this chapter is to declare these abominations.
Ezekiel 16:3. “Thy birth and thy nativity is in the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite.” “Regarded merely as a city, Jerusalem was neither of Amoritish nor Hittite origin, but simply a Jebusite city. And it is too obvious to need any proof that the prophetic word does not refer to the city as a city, but that Jerusalem represents the people of Israel, or the covenant nation. It was not the mass of houses, but the population—which was the foundling—that excited Jehovah’s compassion, and which He multiplied into myriads (Ezekiel 16:7), clothed in splendour, and chose as the bride with whom He concluded a marriage covenant. The descent and birth referred to are not physical, but spiritual descent. Spiritually, Israel sprang from the land of the Canaanites; and its father was an Amorite and its mother a Hittite, in the same sense in which Jesus said to the Jews, ‘Ye are of your father the devil’ (St John 8:44). The iniquity of the Amorites was great even in Abraham’s time, through not yet full or ripe for destruction (Genesis 15:16); and the daughters of Heth, whom Esau married, caused Rebekah great bitterness of spirit (Genesis 27:46)” (Keil).
Ezekiel 16:4. “Thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee.” The cutting of the navel-string is necessary for the independent life of the child, and the washing with water to cleanse it from the impurities attaching to it. If these necessary offices are neglected, the infant must perish.
“Thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all” “After the washing, the body was rubbed with salt, according to a custom very widely spread in ancient times, and still met with here and there in the East; and that not merely for making the skin drier and firmer, or of cleansing it more thoroughly, but probably from regard to the virtue of salt as a protection from putrefaction. And, finally, it was bound with swaddling-clothes. Not one of these things, so indispensable to the preservation and strengthening of the child, was performed in the case of Israel at the time of its birth from any feeling of compassionate love; but it was cast into the field, i.e. exposed, in order that it might perish. The day of the birth of Jerusalem, i.e. of Israel, was the period of its sojourn in Egypt, where Israel as a nation was born, the sons of Jacob who went down to Egypt having multiplied into a nation” (Keil).
Ezekiel 16:5. “None eye pitied thee, to do any of these things unto thee.” “Those who had looked up to Joseph did not even look down with compassion on thee” (Lange). Israel in Egypt was an object of contempt. The neglect into which it had fallen might well be compared to the cruel desertion of an infant; for Moses, the type of his people, was actually exposed, and afterwards delivered from threatened death by God’s providence
MORAL CORRUPTION IN THE CHURCH
The prophet is speaking to those who had been brought into covenant with God, and called to serve Him as His people. He is not speaking of the sins of mankind generally, but of those of the Church. Of this moral corruption we are here taught—
I. That it ought to be thoroughly brought home to all concerned. No half measures, or delicate hints, will suffice. Jerusalem must “know her abominations” (Ezekiel 16:2).
1. The knowledge of sin is, before all things, necessary to salvation. It is not sufficient to make a general admission of our heritage in the sin which is natural to our race. There must be a real, heart-felt knowledge of sin as committed by ourselves against God. The sad wounds of our soul must be probed to the very bottom, a painful yet salutary process.
2. The knowledge of sin cannot be arrived at by our own unaided powers. However we may lament the sin that is in the world, we are naturally blind to our own real state. Even the engaging in the outward services of religion may tend still more to blind us, for we are tempted to rest satisfied with them, and, it may be, to regard them as an atonement for our faults and transgressions. And religious people are liable also to the temptation of pleading the motive of a good intention and purpose as a defence for what is clearly wrong. They use the light which is given them, not to shine on the path of duty, but to aid their own wilfulness. The real knowledge of sin must be brought to such from without. It is necessary that the inspired prophet should speak. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to convince of sin.
II. It ought to be revealed in all its enormity.
1. As sin against the light. Those who have church privileges, and yet live ungodly lives, are regarded as the heathen in the sight of God (Matthew 18:17).
2. As sin which brings to a most miserable condition. Such may be compared to an abandoned infant, ready to perish (Ezekiel 16:4-5).
1. A people may be guilty of abominations, and not know nor acknowledge them. “They know not to do right” (Amos 3:10). When men know not what is right, how can they know what is wrong? They stored up violence and robbery in their palaces, they got wealth by injustice, oppression, laid it up, and thought it well gotten. They know not God (Jeremiah 9:3). “They know not the way of the Lord” (Jeremiah 5:4); therefore their own ways seem good in their eyes. They were blinded, and as they knew not their abominations, so they acknowledged them not (Hosea 5:15). They are, therefore, urged to lay their sin to heart and confess it.
2. There is an unwillingness in sinners to hear of their sins. “Cause Jerusalem to know,” &c.; she is against it, but make her to know them. This people were always averse to hear of their sins or duty (Zechariah 7:11-12; 2 Chronicles 36:16). When Stephen told them of their practices (Acts 7:51-52) what followed upon it? “They were cut to the heart, and they gnashed upon him with their teeth.” And when Christ told them of their sins they derided Him (Luke 16:14), told Him that He had “a devil” (John 8:48). And not only wicked men are unwilling to hear of their sins, but even good men also. When God reproved Jonah, “Doest thou well to be angry?” his reply was, “I do well to be angry, even to death.” He thought God did evil in reproving him, that he had more cause to be angry than God had to chide him for his anger. Paul was become an enemy to the Galatians, because he told them the truth, he told them of their sins. Good men do not easily endure to hear of their faults.
3. What God commands the prophets and ministers to do, it matters not how it is taken by the people, they are to do it. It was not for Ezekiel to excuse himself from this service, to object against it, to say they will mock me, despise me, misuse me, hate me, seek my hurt. God commanded, and it was his duty to do it carefully, conscientiously, and faithfully. He must make known their sins to themselves, to the world, let the event be what it will (Isaiah 58:1). The prophet must not whisper, but cry, and that aloud; it matters not who hears, he must lift up his voice like a trumpet. When men blow trumpets they do it with all their strength, and the sound of it goeth far; so must the prophets utter the sins of the people, and show them their transgressions.
(1.) That others may take warning, and not do as they have done (1 Timothy 5:20).
(2.) That they may bring the parties to repentance (Jeremiah 33:22). How shall sinners come to repentance if they hear not of their sins, if they be not convinced of the sinfulness of them by the prophets and ministers of God? The false prophets hid their sins from them.
(3.) That they may deliver their own souls (Ezekiel 33:8-9).
4. The sins of people are abominations in God’s account. Sins are works, but works of iniquity, abominable works, and abominable iniquity (Psalms 14:1; Psalms 53:1).—Greenhill.
ISRAEL’S SALVATION FROM HER SHAME AND MISERY IS DUE TO THE LORD ALONE (Ezekiel 16:6-14)
Ezekiel 16:6. “And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood.” Some render, “and saw thee trampled in thy blood.” Israel in Egypt was a people trampled upon, utterly despised. “I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live.” It was sad to be despised, but the chief danger was that life was seriously threatened. From the mouth of God, the word “Live” was a word of power, and was visibly fulfilled in the extraordinary multiplication of Israel. “Jehovah here represents Himself as a traveller who, on passing by, discovers the unsightly and pitiable object which had just been described, and interposes for its rescue. Notwithstanding its pollution, He takes compassion upon it, and saves its life. In this miserable and helpless condition Jehovah found the Hebrews in the land of bondage. Extending the principle involved in the figure beyond the direct teaching of the text, it is strikingly descriptive of the condition of sinners previous to conversion.”—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 16:7. “I have caused thee to multiply as the bird of the field.” According to the promise (Exodus 1:7; Exodus 1:12). “Thou art come to excellent ornaments.” Heb., “Ornament of cheeks,” describing youthful freshness and beauty of face. “Thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown.” The Heb. word when applied to the breasts means to expand, lit. to raise oneself up. “The metaphor is still continued, representing the infant growing up to womanhood, and exhibiting unmistakeable signs of puberty.”—(Henderson.) “Whereas thou wast naked and bare.” “Naked and bare are figurative expressions for still destitute of either clothing or ornaments. This implies something more than the poverty of the people in the wilderness attached to Egypt. Nakedness represents deprivation of all the blessings of salvation with which the Lord endowed Israel and made it glorious, after he had adopted it as the people of his possession in Egypt, Israel was living in a state of nature, destitute of the gracious revelations of God.”—(Keil.)
Ezekiel 16:8. “Behold thy time was the time of love.” This is not intended merely to convey the idea that she had arrived at a marriageable age, but also the further thought that she had become an object of affection. “I spread my skirt over thee and covered thy nakedness.” “The spreading of the corner of the upper garment and the covering of the nakedness symbolize in general, that He took the miserable, helpless one under His protection, interested Himself in her; specially, however, with the thought of conferring the honour of betrothal, marriage (Ruth 3:9). This thought is solemnly carried out in the swearing and entering into covenant, by means of which Israel, grown into a nation, now became the peculiar people of Jehovah (Ezekiel 20:5-6; Exodus 19:0, Exodus 20:2; Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 5:2; Ephesians 5:32.”—(Lange.) “There was nothing in Israel that was lovely. It was all pure affection on the part of Jehovah. The advance in the allegory is now to that of the espousals.”—(Henderson.) “I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee.” “An obvious reference to the solemn transactions at Sinai, when Jehovah entered into covenant with the Hebrews, thereby contracting as it were a conjugal relation, by which He pledged Himself to love, provide for, and protect them; while they came under an obligation to love, worship, and obey Him to the exclusion of every rival god. Hence as it follows in the sequel, and so frequently in the Old Testament, idolatry is represented as spiritual adultery, the nation thereby being guilty of a breach of the marriage covenant.’—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 16:9. “Then washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I annointed thee with oil.” Preparations for the marriage ceremony, consisting of purification, the putting on of ornaments, and annointing with oil were customary in the East (Esther 2:9-12). Before the Israelites were permitted to enter into covenant with God they had to undergo a thorough purification (Exodus 19:14; Jeremiah 2:2-3). “The anointing with oil indicates the powers of the Spirit of God, which flowed to Israel from the divine covenant of grace.”—(Keil.)
Ezekiel 16:10. “Broidered work.” Rich garments of many colours, adorned with figures wrought in silver and gold. With such costly garments queens were accustomed to clothe themselves (Psalms 45:15). “And shod thee with badger’s skin.” “This was a kind of skin used by the Hebrews to make an over-covering to the tabernacle (Exodus 26:14); and, as appears from the present verse, used also for shoes; but of what particular animal, has been disputed. The most probable opinion is, that the seal is intended.”—(Henderson.) “And I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk.” “The girding with fine linen refers to the head-band (Ezekiel 24:17; Exodus 29:9; Leviticus 8:13), and is applied by the Targum to the headdress of the priests.”—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 16:12. “And I put a jewel on thy forehead.” The Hebrew word here rendered, “jewel” properly means a “ring,” and the word rendered “forehead” (though sometimes used to denote the countenance or face in general) signifies strictly and properly the nose. “The jewellery included not only armlets, nose-rings, and earrings, which the daughters of Israel were generally accustomed to wear, but also necklaces and a crown, as ornaments worn by princesses and queens.”—(Keil.)
Ezekiel 16:13. “Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver.” This verse sums up the contents of Ezekiel 16:9-12. “Thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil; and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom.” “The food is referred to once more; and the result of the whole is said to have been, that Jerusalem became exceedingly beautiful, and flourished even to royal dignity. The latter cannot be taken as referring simply to the establishment of the monarchy under David, any more than merely to the spiritual sovereignty for which Israel was chosen from the very beginning (Exodus 19:5-6). The expression includes both, viz., the call of Israel to be a kingdom of priests, and the historical realisation of this call through the Davidic sovereignty” (Keil)
Ezekiel 16:14 “And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty.” “As a kingdom theirs was distinguishingly flourishing in the days of David and Solomon, the former of which monarchs greatly extended its boundaries and enriched it with the spoils of his victories. The theocracy then reached its highest point of glory, and was of great celebrity among the surrounding nations (1 Kings 10:0). Still they are reminded that their prosperity and glory were not owing to any merit of their own. It was a ‘comeliness’ which Jehovah their covenant-God had put upon them. To His unmerited bounty they owed all that they enjoyed” (Henderson).
SALVATION IS OF THE LORD
The salvation and advancement of Israel to position and renown among the nations has its parallel in the salvation and exaltation of believers. Consider—
I. The grace of this salvation. Israel is described under the figure of a miserable infant neglected at its birth, and even cast out and left to perish. This people on whom God bestowed His grace, were lying in their own pollutions, and fast sinking into moral death. They were destitute of every ornament and beauty of goodness (Ezekiel 16:6-7). There was nothing in them to win the love of admiration or affection, but everything to excite loathing and disgust. When we consider the condition from which Israel was called, we must feel that the salvation of the people was by grace alone. And what does God see in man as a sinner but all that is abhorrent to His own holy nature! If God comes to the help of such it must be by the impulse of a grace which is all His own.
II. The glory of this salvation. The glory of it lies in the fact that it is grace manifested in the most wonderful and excellent way.
1. It had its source in the love of pity and compassion. There was nothing in the original condition of Israel to win the love of admiration. It was the love of pity and compassion that saved them. Such a love is worthy of the broad free benevolence of God. It is a love which cannot be overtasked by the worst condition of human sin and misery. The grace of God meets the case of the guilty, and His mercy that of the miserable; and the glory of it lies in the fact, that it springs from pure pity without any merit or claim whatever on the part of its object.
2. It was a manifestation of that love which desires to give and bless. These are the essential characteristics of all love which is worthy of that sacred name. “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and that blessedness first and above all belongs to God. He is the only blessed One, for He alone is ever giving and never receiving. And what is Creation but the love of God expressing itself in manifold gifts; and what is Redemption but the love of God, as it brings the undeserved gifts of salvation to the souls of men? God’s love gave to ancient Israel a restored life; “I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live”—gave them an energy of growth and improvement—invested them with ornaments and beauty (Ezekiel 16:7). They also had bestowed upon them by an extraordinary grace the favours of God’s love, for they were taken into intimate union with Himself (Ezekiel 16:8). And further, God also gave them influence among the nations of the earth (Ezekiel 16:14)—that influence which comes from righteousness. They had thus bestowed upon them that love which both gives and blesses. But in this process by which they were raised from sin to holiness, the order is, first—forgiveness; and then the other gifts and blessings of grace. They are first purified from their pollution, and then are anointed (Ezekiel 16:9). For God must pardon before He can heal; and men must be justified before they can be sanctified. God loves the sinner though vile and miserable but His favour is only reserved for those who are washed and sanctified.
The first lesson of this passage is, that the infinite love and pity of the heart of God is the spring and origin of our salvation. Therefore there is no room for pride or boasting on our part. In this matter of salvation, above all things, we must give the glory to God alone.
I. There is nothing in the creature to move God to show mercy. God saw nothing to incline or move Him to do aught, or bestow aught upon this infant. But there are several things which move men.
1. Birth and progeny. Royal and noble births have affected many; David was taken with Saul’s daughter (1 Samuel 18:17-18). This moves not God, He poureth contempt upon princes (Job 12:21). He chooseth the poor to be rich in faith (James 2:5). Believers are said to be “born not of blood” (John 1:13), which some refer to families of noble and royal blood. “Not many noble are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26).
2. Beauty. Jacob was affected with the beauty of Rachel; Ahasuerus with the beauty of Vashti (Esther 1:11). God is not moved with beauty; if we had it, there is nothing in man to affect His eye (Psalms 14:3). We are altogether filthy, and God saw them in their blood.
3. Natural parts prevail with men. Ahithophel’s counsel took much with David and Absalom; Joseph, Daniel, had excellent spirits, great wisdom, and they were advanced thereupon. Learning is persuasive, and conquers many, but parts and learning can do nothing with God (1 Corinthians 1:26; Matthew 11:25).
4. Profitableness, serviceableness. So Paul persuades Philemon to take Onesimus, because he would be profitable unto him. Men are taken with men, because they bring in gain unto them. But the Lord is not profited by the righteousness of men (Job 35:7); He receives nothing at man’s hands, and when we have done all, we are unprofitable servants.
5. Necessity moves men mightily. It caused Abiathar to give the shew-bread to David (1 Samuel 21:6); the necessity of the Church moved the rich to sell their lands and goods to distribute unto every man as they had need (Acts 2:45). This is no motive unto Divine Majesty.
6. Hope of proving well draws forth men to do much. Men do much for others with the hope that they may become instruments of good. But God will give the gifts of Christ for the rebellious, and dwell among them (Psalms 68:18). How rebellious was Manasseh! How did he sin against heaven and earth, yet God had a gift of life for him. To Mary Magdalene and to Zaccheus, Christ said, live, when they were in their blood. He showed mercy to Paul, and bade him live, when he was a persecutor and an injurious person.
7. Nothing in the godly moves God, all they do is debt (Luke 17:10). The will and deed are of the Lord (Philippians 2:13).
II. The Lord shows mercy to men when they are in desperate conditions. When this infant was cast out, and lay bleeding to death, God said “Live.” When Moses, and other Hebrew children were to be drowned, the Lord delivered them. When in Babylon, all the necks of the Jews were upon the block by Haman’s plot and power, the Lord showed them mercy, and said, “Live,” The thief upon the cross met with life in the gates of death.
III. When sinners look not after God, He is pleased to look after and find out them. God found out and sought the Jews, when they neither sought nor called; so it is with the Gentiles (Isaiah 65:1). Both Gentile and Jew had preventing grace, and were sought out of God before ever they sought God. Hence Jerusalem had that promise or title, thou shalt be called, “Sought out” (Isaiah 57:12).
IV. God hath no need of any people. He passed by, like some great man, that riding forth, finds a poor distressed infant, and out of compassion takes it into his family; not because he needs it, but he will show kindness to it of his own good pleasure. If He needed people or nations He could create them, raise them up from the stones. The Samaritan had no need of the wounded man, but he needed the Samaritan’s wine and oil.
V. In bestowing mercies, God is real. This appears from the doubling of the word—“Live,” “Live.” When there is a doubling of the same word, there the intention, reality, and earnestness of the author speaking is held out (Ezekiel 5:8; Ezekiel 37:5-6; Isaiah 40:1).
VI. When God hath done much for a people, and they are degenerate and ungrateful, the Lord’s way of dealing with them is to set before them their original condition and his kindness unto them (Micah 6:2-5 : Deuteronomy 32:6). (Greenhill).
ISRAEL’S APOSTACY FROM GOD (Ezekiel 16:15-34)
EXEGETICAL NOTES. Its origin and nature (Ezekiel 16:15-22); its magnitude and extent (Ezekiel 16:23-34).
Ezekiel 16:15. The apostacy of Israel is described under the image of whoredom and adultery. “Thou didst trust in thine own beauty.” The gifts of God, when they ceased to be recognised as such, became a snare. Israel prostituted them in the service of idolatry. Because of thy renown. “Teaching that the Jews had employed the renown, which through the Divine goodness they had acquired, as a means of seducing neighbouring nations to commit spiritual fornication.”—(Henderson).
Ezekiel 16:16. The “high places” were temples erected, upon heights by the side of altars (1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 17:29). In 2 Kings 23:7, the Jewish women are described as wearing hangings to adorn the temples of Astarte. The latter part of the verse expresses the idea that such gross abominations in Israel were altogether unparalleled in the past, as they would be in the future.
Ezekiel 16:17-19. “Images of Men.” Heb. “Of a male.” This may describe idolatry in general, and thus the word “male” would be used as corresponding with the description of Israel as an adulteress. But some expositors think that a reference is made here to a certain abominable form of idolatry. “Scholz and Hävernick understand what were worshipped in the idolatrous service of phallus, or the membrum virile, which the Egyptians regarded as the emblem of fecundity, and which is still licentiously worshipped by the Hindoos under the name of lingam.”—(Henderson).
Ezekiel 16:20-22. “To cause them to pass through the fire.” A clear reference to Moloch-worship in which children were sacrificed to the idol by burning them. “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.”—(Hengstenberg.)
Ezekiel 16:23-27. “An eminent place.” The Heb may be rendered a brothel, or place of prostitution. The word was so understood by the LXX. Thus figuratively the prophet describes their unholy passion for idol-worship. “The natural heights are too far for 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.”—(Hengstenberg.) “And hast made thy beauty to be abhorred.” The Heb. verb in the Piel conjugation signifies to abhor, never to cause to be abhorred. To prostitute their beauty was to show their contempt for it. By forsaking God and His Holy worship they showed how little esteem they had for the national honour. “And hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by.” “At an earlier period Israel stood, by the situation of their country, which admitted no isolation, in manifold intercourse with the world; 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.”—(Hengstenberg.) “The Egyptians, thy neighbours, great of flesh.” Heb. “The Sons of Egypt.” An euphemism to denote the licentious character of the Egyptian worship. “The sons of Egypt are not its gods, and therefore the reference is to political whoredom. Let it be remembered how in express terms intercourse with Egypt was forbidden to Israel, how return thither is threatened them rather as the worst punishment (Deuteronomy 28:68); and let one compare from the days of Solomon onwards (1 Kings 3:1; 1 Kings 9:16; 1 Kings 10:28; 2 Kings 18:0; 2 Kings 18:0; Isaiah 30:1-33; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 36:6; Jeremiah 37:5; Jeremiah 37:7).—(Lange). “The daughters of the Philistines which are ashamed of thy lewd ways.” “The daughters of the Philistians are the Philistian states, corresponding to the representation of Israel as an adulterous wife. The Philistians are mentioned as the principal foes, because Israel fell completely into their power at the end of the period of the Judges (Judges 13:0; 1 Samuel 4:0; 1 Samuel 4:0); and they are referred to here, for the deeper humiliation of Israel, as having been ashamed of the licentious conduct of the Israelites, because they adhered to their gods, and did not exchange them for others as Israel had done (Jeremiah 2:10-11).—(Keil).
Ezekiel 16:28-34. “Thou hast played the whore also with the Assyrians, because thou wast unsatiable.” “Having got no satisfaction in the African, they betake themselves now to the Asiatic world-power. They long after it, and find no satisfaction even when the longing is realized.”—(Lange). “Not satisfied with adopting the idolatories of Egypt, the Jews practised those of the more distant Assyrians and Babylonians. They were perfectly insatiable in their lust. Their idolatry was an amalgamation of all the different forms which obtained in the countries around them.”—(Henderson). “How weak is thine heart.” Some render it, “Yet how languishing is thine heart.” In this sense we are to understand that sickly craving of lustful desire, which had grown into a disease. Ewald designates the expression as “a biting sarcasm; how great must be the languishing of love!” Others understand it more generally of the tendency of oft-repeated sin to weaken our moral nature. “The influence of sin on the soul is to render it morally impotent. Though it may not deprive it of the powers which are requisite to constitute man a responsible agent, it weakens his principle of action, takes possession of those powers, and forms itself into habits which the individual allows to grow upon him, so that he becomes at last insensible to the operation of the strongest moral motives.”—(Henderson). “And the contrary is in thee from other women in thy whoredoms.” Israel gave presents to its lovers, contrary to the practice of prostitutes in general. The Jews practised idolatry not from the mere love of gain, but from the gratification they found in that sin. They had arrived at that lowest stage of depravity when sin is loved merely for its own sake. “Ezekiel has thus fulfilled the task appointed him in Ezekiel 16:2, to charge Jerusalem with her abominations. The address now turns to an announcement of the punishment.”—(Keil).
ISRAEL’S APOSTACY: AN EXAMPLE OF MONSTROUS INIQUITY
I. It was the prostitution of God’s best gifts. “Thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown” (Ezekiel 16:15). They ceased to recognise their superior endowments as the free and undeserved gifts of God’s great favour, and therefore these became a snare to them and the occasion of falling. Their iniquity was beyond that of other nations, because theirs was the sin of a people taken into special covenant with God. It is more than common iniquity—it is monstrous to turn God’s gifts into the means of sin (Jude 1:4). The sins against the clearest light are the greatest of all.
II. It took the worst possible forms.
1. They devoted all God’s gifts to idols.
(1.) The common gifts of Providence. Food of various kinds, represented by “fine flour, and oil, and honey” (Ezekiel 16:19).
(2.) Luxuries. “Jewels of gold and silver.” With these they made images to be employed in the most degrading forms of idolatry.
(3.) Even their own children. They gave them up to Moloch-worship, caused them “to pass through the fire” (Ezekiel 16:21). Such was their infatuation with this idolatry, that they silenced the common instincts of nature, and gave up their own children to the most cruel forms of death. The prophet speaks of their great sins with the utmost force of language when he calls them “abominations.”
2. They took special pains to spread idolatry. They built idol temples close to the dwellings of the worshippers, so that they might not have to seek them in distant places. They tempted others with all the wiles and artifices of wickedness, “Thou hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by” (Ezekiel 16:25). With a zeal worthy of a better cause they sought out the worst forms of idolatry among the nations of the earth—The Egyptians (Ezekiel 16:26), the Assyrians (Ezekiel 16:28), the Chaldeans (Ezekiel 16:29). They seemed bent not merely upon imitating, but even surpassing the worst abominations of the heathen around them.
3. Their lust of idolatry was insatiable. When they had gained their desire, they refused to be satisfied, and still cried out for more (Ezekiel 16:28-29). “How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord God!” (Ezekiel 16:30). Their lust was glutted until they could feel only the sickly languishing of “an imperious whorish woman.”
4. They loved the sin of idolatry for its own sake. Not for gain, but because they had a delight in it (Ezekiel 16:33-34).
5. They sinned thus grievously after due chastisement. God compares himself to a husband who endeavours by means of chastisement to induce his faithless wife to return. The supply of food, clothing, and of all the necessaries and comforts of a wife are diminished. She is even delivered over unto the will of them that hate her (Ezekiel 16:27). Such was the discipline by which the Lord sought to bring His ancient people to a sense of their folly, and to restore to them the privileges of the faithful. He did not suffer Israel to attain to that glory and power which was their sure portion had they continued to serve the Lord with a perfect heart. He allowed their enemies to triumph over them, so that they had not the undisturbed possession of Canaan. To remain unimproved under the chastisements of God, and not even to feel them, shows a heart in the last stage of hardening. “Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved” (Jeremiah 5:3).
I. Where God bestows choice mercies upon a people, He looks for answerable returns from them. He gave life to the Israelitish state (Ezekiel 16:6). He multiplied it as the bud of the field (Ezekiel 16:7). He loved this people, entered into covenant with them, married them unto Himself (Ezekiel 16:8). He washed away their blood, and anointed them with oil (Ezekiel 16:9). He gave them costly apparel, fine flour, honey and oil, royal dignity, special beauty, great fame and glory (Ezekiel 16:10-14); and now expected that they should have lived to Him, and improved all for the honour of His name. “But thou didst trust in thine own beauty,” etc. I looked not for this at thy hands; I looked that thou shouldst have been faithful and fruitful in all good works, and been as exemplary for holiness and justice to other nations, as I was exemplary in my mercies towards thee above other nations (Isaiah 5:2).
II. Ingratitude in God’s people is a provoking sin, and causes God to upbraid them for it. From the beginning of Ezekiel 16:6, to the end of Ezekiel 16:14, which are but nine verses, there is “I” seventeen times, and every mention of it is a matter for upbraiding unto them. When God had made Adam after His image, planted him in Paradise, given him dominion over all the creatures, for him not to obey one little command was gross ingratitude, provoked the Lord to upbraid him and punish him for it (Genesis 3:0) Christ upbraids Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum where His mighty works were done, because they brought not forth fruits answerable, but were impenitent and ungrateful (Matthew 11:0)
III. We are very apt to trust in, and be proud of, the mercies God bestows upon us. “Thou did’st trust in thine own beauty.” Those things that I gave thee to make thee beautiful, thou hast abused and put too much confidence in. The heart of man is ready to idolize every mercy God gives. There are several mercies we are apt to trust in.
1. In riches. The rich man confides in wealth as citizens do in a walled, well fortified, and well built city (Proverbs 10:15; Psalms 52:7; 1 Timothy 6:17).
2. In princes and great ones (Psalms 146:3; Isaiah 2:22; Jeremiah 17:5; Isaiah 30:3).
3. In your own natural excellencies. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,” etc. (Jeremiah 9:23). “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26); the heart is the most excellent part of man (See also Proverbs 3:5).
4. In the ordinances and means of grace (Jeremiah 7:4; Jeremiah 7:14-15.
IV. Great renown, through man’s corruption, oft proves a snare, occasions great sins. God made this people above all nations, in praise, in name, in honour, that they might be a holy people unto Him (Deuteronomy 26:19). Their renown should have encouraged them unto holiness, and it was an incentive unto looseness. Solomon had great renown abroad in the nations (1 Kings 4:31); that drew the princes to bestow their daughters upon him. His name made way for unlawful marriages, and they made way for unlawful gods.
V. The most beautiful and renowned church may degenerate, apostatise, and become corrupt. This Israelitish woman was the only spouse of God. He entered into covenant with her, she became His; He put more spiritual beauty and comeliness upon her than upon all the nations, and made her renowned throughout all the world; yet she forsook God, played the harlot, prostituted herself to every idol and idolater. And now where was the Church of God? She “played the harlot with many lovers” (Jeremiah 3:1). Here was visible apostacy, visible idolatry, but no true visible Church. Neither was God without a true Church at this time. There were some godly ones in secret, who mourned for the abominations done in the city, temple, and everywhere (Ezekiel 9:4). But these lay hid, and durst not appear in the ways of worship then amongst them. So in Elijah’s days. He complained, “The children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant,” etc. (1 Kings 19:10); but God had then seven thousand in secret (Ezekiel 16:18). The true Church may be brought to such a paucity, such a lowness, that there may be no public meetings, or view thereof. The papists say their Church cannot err, especially in things necessary to salvation; and why? because it is the spouse of Christ. Was not this Israelitish Church the spouse of God? And did it not err in the great and weighty things of salvation? Did it not leave God and fall into idolatry, such practices as exclude the kingdom of heaven? What privilege hath the Roman Church more than this had? Whatever papists say or write, their Church hath trusted in her beauty, been proud of her renown, and played the harlot as notoriously as ever Jerusalem did.—(Greenhill.)
ISRAEL’S PUNISHMENT WILL CORRESPOND WITH HER SINS. (Ezekiel 16:35-42)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 16:35-36. “Because thy filthiness was poured out.” Heb. “Because thy brass has been lavished.” Brass is used here to signify money. Israel had spent the wealth which God had given her in the servise of idolatry. “That the Jews, at least those in the 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 the heathen gods, whose worship was a consequence of political dependence.—(Hengstenberg.) “And by the blood of thy children which thou didst give unto them.” They were also guilty of murder in sacrificing their children to Moloch (Ezekiel 16:20.)
Ezekiel 16:37. “I will gather all thy lovers.” Chiefly those of Assyria and Babylon. “With all them that thou hast hated.” These were the surrounding nations who were always lying in wait for an occasion against Israel. God would gather friend and foe against Jerusalem and use them as instruments to execute His judgments. Israel is to be punished in kind. She had cultivated friendship with the heathen and partaken of their iniquities, and now she shall be given up altogether into their power. “I will even gather them round about against thee, and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness.” “The public judgment. First of all, the assembling of the lovers as witnesses. She who has dishonoured and brought herself to shame becomes now, by the interposition of God, to the one party an object of loathing, to the other an object of mockery. The last attraction, and what might still have been an object of regard, vanishes. Hävernick refers to the procedure in the case of a married woman suspected of adultery (Numbers 5:18).”—(Lange.)
Ezekiel 16:38. “And I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and shed blood are judged.” This is the explanation of the figurative language employed in the last verse. Israel was to be punished with the punishment of adulterers and murderers. “And I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy.” “Thou shalt be turned into blood, so that nothing but blood may be left of thee, and that the blood of fury and jealousy, as the working of the wrath and jealousy of God (compare Ezekiel 16:42). To this end the heathen will destroy all the objects of idolatry, then take from the harlot both clothes and jewellery, and leave her naked, i.e. plunder Jerusalem and lay it waste, and, lastly, execute upon her the punishment of death by stoning and by sword; in other words, destroy both city and kingdom.”—(Keil.)
Ezekiel 16:39. “And leave thee naked and bare.” “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.”—(Hengstenberg.)
Ezekiel 16:40. “They shall also bring up a company against thee.” “This may be explained from the ancient mode of administering justice, according to which the popular assembly (Proverbs 5:14) sat in judgment on cases of adultery and capital crimes, and executed the sentence, as the law for stoning expressly enjoins (Leviticus 20:2; Numbers 15:36; Deuteronomy 22:21). But they are also applicable to the foes, who would march against Jerusalem” (Keil). “And they shall stone thee with stones.” The usual mode of capital punishment under the Mosaic law, and which was inflicted for the crimes of idolatry, adultery, and murder. This doom pronounced upon Jerusalem was accomplished literally, for she was “stoned” before she was burned (Jeremiah 33:4). “With their swords.” Slaying with the sword was a mode of punishment adopted when there were many criminals to be put to death. It was also the doom of those who seduced men to apostacy (Deuteronomy 13:12-15).
Ezekiel 16:41. “And execute judgments upon thee in the sight of many women.” “The many women are the many heathen nations, according to the description of Jerusalem or Israel as an unfaithful wife.”—(Keil.) “As it is the greatest punishment to an adulterous woman to be exposed in her sin before the eyes of other women; so will the severest portion of Israel’s punishment be, that it will stand exposed in its sin before the eyes of all other nations.”—(Klieforth.) Concerning the burning of the houses of Jerusalem with fire, see 2 Kings 25:8-9. “And thou also shalt give no hire any more.” “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.”—(Hengstenberg.)
Ezekiel 16:42. “So will I make my fury toward thee to rest, and my jealousy shall depart from thee.” “The jealousy ceases because it has found its satisfaction in their punishment, and exhausted itself therein, as the fire ceases when it has consumed its fuel.”—(Hengstenberg.) “The Divine justice comes to an end in its character of jealousy—in other words, as the injured faithfulness and love of Israel’s husband. The departing of the jealousy might, perhaps, by comparison with Isaiah 11:13, show grace in the background; but the connection with what follows requires rather a thought like Hosea 2:4. Jehovah gives up the adulterous whorish wife.”—(Lange.)
THE PUNISHMENT OF APOSTACY
I. The loathsome nature of the sin is made manifest. The sin which the children of Israel had committed by their idolatry is called by its right name. It was the breaking of the sacred marriage-covenant into which God had entered with His people. All what whoredom and adultery is in the social state, all what filthiness is in the morals and manners of a people, such was their sin in the sight of God (Ezekiel 16:38). Israel was guilty of unfaithfulness of the worst kind. God had given the nation the privileges of an espoused wife, but she sinned with many lovers, thus despising the great grace which had called her to such distinction and honour. God’s punishments sometimes begin by revealing our sin to us in all its real vileness. The very conviction of sin is a painful wound—the arrows of the Almighty within our spirit.
II. The very objects of sinful desire are turned into the instruments of punishment. “I will gather all thy lovers with whom thou hast taken pleasure, and all them that thou hast loved, with all them that thou hast hated; I will even gather them round about against thee, and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness” (Ezekiel 16:37). Those who contributed to her sin shall be made the instruments of her punishment. Sinful love, sooner or later, changes into hate. The boon companions of the profligate turn out to be his bitterest enemies. They thus become a scourge in the hands of God to chastise him for his iniquity. There is no true honour amongst transgressors, for their life is founded upon a falsehood. And as God employed as a scourge for His people those who once were friends, He will also employ for chastisement those who were always enemies. “And with them that thou hast hated.” Those with whom the children of Israel sinned would make common cause with their enemies for their punishment.
III. The punishment will correspond with the sin.
1. In degree. They were to be punished as murderers and adulterers, for they had sinned “as women that break wedlock and shed blood” (Ezekiel 16:38). Stoning was the punishment of adultery, and this threat was literally fulfilled upon Jerusalem, for she was stoned before she was burned (Jeremiah 33:4). Their sin was great, and therefore their punishment, so great that even God’s fury is represented as being satisfied upon them, and quite brought to a pause (Ezekiel 16:42). They could no further go in iniquity, and so God’s fury is represented as ceasing; by which we are to understand that it rested upon them. He left them to their fate. God can bring it about that we shall be able to sin no further.
2. In kind. Their sin was public, and so their shame and their judgment were public. Their sin was unfaithfulness towards God, and they are punished by the unfaithfulness of men. They cast God off, and men cast them off. That law which is true of individual man is true also of nations, that the very things which they sow they shall also reap.
1. God’s hatred is so great, against idolatry and idolators that He will not endure the places where they have used idolatrous worship. The places where they sinned must be destroyed, broken, utterly razed and ruined. Hezekiah is commended for four things; and the first is for removing the high places; then for breaking the images, cutting down the groves, and breaking the brazen serpent.
2. When we abuse the mercies of God, we give Him cause to take them away. They decked their high places with their garments (Ezekiel 16:16); they made images of their jewels (Ezekiel 16:17). Here God threatens to take away both the one and the other. He would give them into their hands who should rob them of their fair jewels, and strip them of all their clothes (Isaiah 42:22). “And leave thee naked and bare.” Before, in Ezekiel 16:8, it is said, that God covered her nakedness. He found her naked, and now He would leave her naked and bare.
3. When God hath showed much kindness to a people, and they have been ungrateful, He will reduce them to their former condition. God did much for Ephraim, yet he was ungrateful, forgot God, went out to other lovers (Hosea 2:2-3). God had spread His skirt over this Jewish woman, clothed her with embroidered silk and fine linen, decked her with choice ornaments and jewels, put His comeliness upon her; but she abused all His bounty and love, proved ungrateful and whorish, and therefore He would put her into her first condition, strip her of all, and leave her naked. She came out of captivity, she should now go into captivity; she was cast out, and now she should be cast out again; she was poor, beggarly, and had nothing, and should be made so again.
4. When judgments are executed upon a backsliding people, then God is at rest and is satisfied. When this woman, this Jewish state, fell into the hands of enemies, was plundered and spoiled, and all her glory laid in the dust; then God caused His fury to rest, His jealousy to depart, then He was quiet, and angry no more. Before judgment be thoroughly executed, God is troubled and restless; but when it is done, He is pacified, comforted, as it is in Ezekiel 5:13. Before Jonah had judgment passed upon him, there was a great wind, and a mighty tempest in the sea. The Lord’s anger was let out. But when Jonah was sent, and cast into the sea—justice done—it is said the sea ceased from her raging. The Lord first ceased from His fury, He was pacified, and manifested it by stilling of the seas. God would bring the Assyrians upon the Jews; and what then? “The indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction” (Isaiah 10:25).—(Greenhill.)
This dire judgment is just; for Israel has not only forgotten God’s undeserved favour to her in her election, but has even surpassed both Samaria and Sodom in her abominations.
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 16:43. “Hast fretted Me in all these things.” Instead of regarding their calamaties as the just punishment of their sin, they raged against the Lord. The judgments that ought to have led them to repentance only served to make them desperate, and to plunge them into still greater depths of apostacy. “And thou shalt not commit this lewdness above all thine 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 the punishment to enter into the place of sin.”—(Hengstenberg.) “We must explain the words from Leviticus 19:29, where the toleration by a father of the whoredom of a daughter is designated as Zimmáh. If we adopt this interpretation, Jehovah says that He has punished the spiritual whoredom of Israel, in order that He may not add another act of wrong to the abominations of Israel, by allowing such immorality to go unpunished. If he did not punish, He would commit Zimmâh Himself,—in other words, would make himself accessory to the sins of Israel.”—(Keil.)
Ezekiel 16:44. “Behold every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying, as is the mother, so is her daughter.” “Her abominable life is so conspicuous, that it strikes every one, and furnishes occasion for proverbial sayings. The daughter is of course Jerusalem, as the representative of Israel. The mother is the Canaanitish race of Hittites and Amorites, whose immoral nature had been adopted by Israel.”—(Keil.)
Ezekiel 16:45. “Thou art thy mother’s daughter that loveth her husband and her children; and thou art the sister of thy sisters, which loveth their husbands, and their children; your mother was an Hittite, and your father an Amorite.” Here Jehovah is represented as the husband, not only of Israel, but also of the other nations. In their case, also, idolatry was apostacy from God who first gave them that knowledge of Himself which they were not willing to retain. Keil notes that Theodoret has explained it correctly in this way: “He shows by this, that He is not the God of Jews only, but of Gentiles also; for God once gave oracles to them, before they chose the abominations of idolatry. Therefore he says that they also put away both the husband and the children by denying God, and slaying the children to demons.”
Ezekiel 16:46. “Thine elder sister is Samaria … thy younger sister is Sodom.” “Samaria and Sodom are called sisters of Jerusalem, not because both cities belonged to the same mother-land of Canaan, for the origin of the cities does not come into consideration here at all, and the cities represent the kingdoms, as the additional words, “her daughters,” that is to say, the cities of a land or kingdom dependent upon the capital, clearly prove. Samaria and Sodom, with the daughter cities belonging to them, are sisters of Jerusalem in a spiritual sense, as animated by the same spirit of idolatry. The Heb. ought to be rendered, “Thy great sister is Samaria … and thy sister, who is smaller than thou, is Sodom.” Samaria is called the greater sister of Jerusalem, and Sodom the smaller sister. This is not equivalent to the older and the younger, for Samaria was not more deeply sunk in idolatry than Sodom, nor was her idolatry more ancient than that of Sodom” (Keil). The expressions “left hand,” “right hand” are employed, because the Orientals regarded the East as the principal point of the heavens. Hence the left would designate the North, and the right the South, the direction in which Sodom had lain.
Ezekiel 16:47. “Thou wast corrupted more than they in all thy ways.” Jerusalem had greater guilt, because she was distinguished by greater religious privileges than these cities. She had the temple, the sacrifices, Divinely appointed priests, and the law. In her midst God was worshipped once in the beauty of holiness.
Ezekiel 16:48. “Sodom, thy sister hath not done … as thou hast done.” Compare Lamentations 4:6; Matthew 11:24.
Ezekiel 16:49. “Pride, fulness of bread and abundance of idleness was in her.” Prosperity proves dangerous to virtue, idleness leads to temptation and to every sin. Moses had forwarned Israel against these dangers (Deuteronomy 6:11-12; compare Hosea 13:6). Idleness predisposes men to infidelity (Isaiah 32:9; Ezekiel 32:11; Jeremiah 22:21). “Neither did she strengthen the hands of the poor and needy.” The “cry” of the oppressed in Sodom was the great reason for her destruction. Such a cry had also come forth from Jerusalem.
Ezekiel 16:50. “Therefore I took them away as I saw good.” Heb., “According to what I saw.” “This points to Genesis 18:21. God conducts the inspection by His angels.”—(Hengstenberg.)
Ezekiel 16:51. “And hadst justified thy sisters in all thine abominations.” “To justify the crimes of others is a Hebrew mode of speech, denoting to make them appear comparatively innocent by the side of others, accompanied with much more aggravating circumstances.”—(Henderson.) Jerusalem had a longer probation than Samaria, and had been warned by the example of Samaria’s punishment. Yet she committed worse crimes than those which prevailed in Samaria after Jehu had suppressed Baal-worship.
Ezekiel 16:52. “Be thou confounded also, and bear thy shame, in that thou hast justified thy sisters.” “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.”—(Hengstenberg).
GOD’S JUDGMENTS UPON ISRAEL JUSTIFIED
God’s judgments for sin will at last be acknowledged as just even by sinners themselves. But even in this world we can see enough of God’s righteous dealings to assure us that He will be clear when He judges. The prophets of Israel were concerned that men should know that God’s ways are equal—that His punishments were not arbitrary, but just. His judgments upon Israel could be clearly justified.
I. They sinned against a great and extraordinary grace. The Lord had been with this nation from its youth up. He had adopted this people, had made known Himself to them, had distinguished them above all others by gifts of knowledge and of privilege. The duties and customs of the pure worship of Jehovah were made known to them. They had every reason to worship God alone, for they were in possession of the purest form of religion known to mankind, and they ought to have been superior to every temptation to forsake that religion for the debasing forms of idolatry around them. But they forgot their high calling. “Thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth” (Ezekiel 16:43). They had displeased a personal God who could feel the wrongs done to Him by His creatures. “Thou hast fretted me in all these things.”
II. They surpassed other nations in iniquity. Samaria and Sodom were punished, and they had not sinned against such great light and privilege. “Thou wast corrupted more than they in all thy ways” (Ezekiel 16:47). The people of Israel would reckon themselves as saints when compared with Sodom and Samaria, but how different was God’s judgment! They had been warned against the sins of Sodom; yet they had done worse, for more was given to them and more would be required (Deuteronomy 6:11-12; comp. Hosea 13:6).
III. They are condemned out of their own mouth. “Thou also which hast judged thy sisters, bear thine own shame for thy sins that thou hast committed more abominable than they; they are more righteous than thou: yea, be thou confounded also, and bear thy shame, in that thou hast justified thy sisters” (Ezekiel 16:52). In the condemnation of her sisters she had condemned herself. Israel had nothing to answer; for the same judgments upon others, which they regarded as just, were now visited upon themselves with equal justice (Romans 2:1). Every sinner will be brought, at last, to admit the justice of God in his condemnation. He will be confounded,—have literally nothing to answer. When men see the awful reality of things they are forced into the terrible silence of conviction.
I. when a man is said to be idle.
1. When he doth nothing, is unemployed (Matthew 20:3). The Greek word for “idle” means a man without work. Solomon’s sluggard would not plough by reason of the cold (Proverbs 20:4).
2. When they do not what they should do. He is idle who does not do God’s work. There is a work of God’s appointment for the day, which you ought to take notice of, and do. “There are some among you which work not at all, but are busy-bodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11), doing no work, yet working about everywhere.
3. When they do not so much as they ought to do, but are lazy in doing little. When men put not forth themselves to do what they ought to do in conscience, and according to right reason, they are justly said to be idle (Romans 12:11; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Proverbs 18:9).
II. The evil of this sin.
1. It is against the end of man’s creation. God made man for labour when he was in a state of innocency (Genesis 2:15). He must not be idle there, taking his pleasure in a paradise. And after the Fall, in the sweat of his face he was to eat bread. It is the end of man’s creation and birth to be doing.
2. It is a sin against the light of nature, which puts every thing upon motion. The heavens, with the glorious lights thereof, move and are constant in their motions (Psalms 19:5). The ant is a very little creature, but exceedingly laborious. So the bee is little in bulk, but great in employment, and wonderfully busy. These creatures, with many others, confute the sluggard daily, preach down idleness and call for action.
3. It puts God’s family out of order. The world is God’s family, and he hath appointed men unto some employment in it. As a wise artist makes no wheel in a clock, but to move and help on the general work; and if one wheel stands, it is out of order and hinders all the rest. Idle persons are disorderly persons (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
4. It sets a man among the dead. An idle man is both unsavoury and inactive. The poorest and meanest man in the world that follows a calling, and is laborious in it, is better than the most eminent that doth nothing. One is living, and the other a dead man.
5. Idleness exposes a man to variety of temptations. It lays him open to Satan, for a man unemployed is like a city without walls and gates whither any enemy may easily have entrance (Ezekiel 38:11). An idle man is like a vessel which is empty, any one that comes to it may put in what he will; so Satan pours into idle persons what liquor he pleases. Those who are out of God’s work are most exercised with the devil’s.
6. Idleness is the mother and nurse of our most dangerous enemies, viz.: lusts. Standing waters corrupt soonest. Among the Sodomites was abundance of idleness, and abundance of lusts, which fight and war against the soul. And what madness is it for a man to harbour and feed the enemies that seek his life. In doing nothing men learn to do ill.
7. Poverty and beggary are the issues of idleness. Solomon tells the sluggard that his “poverty shall come as one that travelleth, and his want as an armed man” (Proverbs 6:11). He lieth still, but poverty is up and marching towards him. He is without defence, but that comes armed. The meaning is, poverty will come upon an idle and slothful person suddenly and irresistibly. “Drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags” (Proverbs 23:21).
8. Idleness is such a sin as exempts a man from the protection of the angels. He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalms 91:11). What ways? Those which are according to His will, which His providence leads unto, not in the ways of sin. A man that is idle is in the devil’s way, not in God’s way. Idle persons that have no calling go out from God and the guard of His angels. If these feared God, they would walk in a calling, and the angels of God would be about them (Psalms 34:7). Faith is a working grace, witness Hebrews 11:0.; 1 Timothy 5:8.
9. Idle persons are burden-some creatures. The fig-tree was a burden to the ground where it stood (Luke 13:7). It was a burden to the garden, to the gardener, to the other trees, to the lord and master of all. “Why stand ye here all the day idle? You do no good to ourselves, none to your neighbours, none to the public, none to posterity, nor bring any glory to God.”
10. It is a wasting of precious time, a hiding of our talent. Time, that is given us to get grace, to work out our salvation, to glorify God. This the idle person squanders away. Such are not minding the apostolical rule, “See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:15-16). The man who had one talent would not use it, but hid it in the earth. “Thou wicked and slothful servant” (Matthew 25:25-26). Thus wickedness and sloth go together. When Joseph’s brethren came into Egypt, and were before Pharaoh, the first question he asked them was, “What is your occupation?” (Genesis 47:3). This was a good question of a king, when strangers were to come and dwell in his laud, to know whether they had any calling, could get their livings, and not be burdensome to his kingdom and subjects.—(Greenhill.)
But these terrible punishments are not to be the end of the Lord. He will remember His ancient Covenant, and bring His people out of misery, so that they shall attain to the glory which He had promised them. They must however, reach this through humility for the restoration of Sodom and Samaria are also announced. Hence all boasting on the part of Israel is excluded.
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 16:53. “When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, then will I bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them.” “The promise commences with an announcement of the restoration, not of Jerusalem, but of Sodom and Samaria. The two kingdoms, or peoples, upon which judgment first fell, shall also be the first to receive mercy; and it will not be till after then that Jerusalem, with the other cities of Judah, will also be restored to favour, in order that she may bear her disgrace, and be ashamed of her sins (Ezekiel 16:54); that is to say, not because Sodom and Samaria have borne their punishment for a longer time, but to the deeper shaming, the more complete humiliation of Jerusalem. The Hebrew expression means, “to turn the captivity,” not “to bring back the captives;” and it is here used in a figurative sense for restitutio in statum integritatis. No carrying away took place in the case of Sodom.”—(Keil.)
Ezekiel 16:54. “In that thou art a comfort unto them.” “By bearing disgrace, i.e., by its endurance of well-merited and disgraceful punishment, Jerusalem consoles her sisters, Samaria and Sodom; and that not merely by fellowship in misfortune, but by the fact that from the punishment endured by Jerusalem, both Samaria and Sodom can discern the righteousness of the ways of God, and find therein a foundation for their hope, that the righteous God will bring to an end the merited punishment as soon as its object has been attained.” (Keil.)
Ezekiel 16:55. “When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former estate.” “If Jerusalem, Samaria, and Sodom, are to be viewed as symbolical of the surrounding people whose centre they formed, or with whom they stood connected, no difficulty will arise relative to the restoration of Sodom. If we regard her as the representative of the Ammonites and Moabites, the descendants of Lot, we shall here have only a parallel prediction to Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:6. However obscure the lights of history relative either to the captivity or the restoration of the nations beyond the Dead Sea, there can be little doubt that they participated more or less in the fate of the Jews, to whose country they lay contiguous. That most of the ten tribes of which Samaria had been the capital were restored under Cyrus, is now generally admitted. The restoration of all the three classes of people is here predicted to take place at the same time.”—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 16:56. “For thy sister Sodom was not mentioned by thy mouth in the day of thy pride.” They took no heed of the warning of Sodom’s example. Boasting themselves as “The Temple of the Lord,” they thought that they needed it not (Jeremiah 7:4).
Ezekiel 16:57. “As at the time of thy reproach of the daughters of Syria.” “By the reproach of the cities of Syria, was not meant anything derogatory to the character of those cities nationally considered, but the indignity offered by the Syrians to the Jews, when, under Rezin, they invaded the land of Judah (2 Kings 15:37; Isaiah 7:1-9). That this is the construction to be put upon the words is evident from the parallelism, in the corresponding member of which the manner in which the Jews had been treated by the Philistines is mentioned. Compare for the insults offered by both, Isaiah 9:11-12.—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 16:58. “Thou hast borne thy lewdness and thine abominations.” Jerusalem would bear the guilt of these iniquities, and would know how great that burden was when she would be called upon to atone for her wrong-doing.
Ezekiel 16:59. “I will even deal with thee as thou hast done.” In mercy Jehovah would “walk contrary unto them,” so that they might be humbled and thus brought to repentance. “Which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant”. “Despising the oath points back to Deuteronomy 29:11-12, where the renewal of the covenant concluded at Sinai is described as an entrance into the covenant and oath which the Lord then made with His people. But even if Israel has faithlessly broken the covenant, and must bear the consequent punishment, the unfaithfulness of man can never alter the faithfulness of God. This is the link of connection between the resumption and further expansion of the promise in Ezekiel 16:60 and the closing words of Ezekiel 16:59. The remembrance of His covenant is mentioned in Leviticus 26:42-45 as the only motive that will induce God to restore Israel to favour again, when the humiliation effected by the endurance of punishment has brought it to a confession of its sins.”—(Keil.)
Ezekiel 16:60. “Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant.” “The covenant which God concluded with Israel in the day of its youth, i.e., when he led it out of Egypt, He will establish as an everlasting covenant. Consequently it is not an entirely new covenant, but simply the perfecting the old one for everlasting duration. For the fact itself, compare Isaiah 55:3, where the making of the everlasting covenant is described as granting the steadfast mercies of David, i.e., as the fulfilment of the promise given to David (2 Samuel 7:0). This promise is called by David himself an everlasting covenant, which God had made with him (2 Samuel 23:5). And the assurance of its everlasting duration was to be found in the fact that this covenant did not rest upon the fulfilment of the law, but simply upon the forgiving grace of God (compare Ezekiel 16:63 with Jeremiah 31:31-34).”—(Keil).
Ezekiel 16:61. “Then shalt thou remember thy ways and be ashamed.” They would be ashamed when they saw the other nations associated with them in the enjoyment of the same blessings. “I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant.” The covenant to which they assented at Horeb excluded all other nations from its benefits (Exodus 24:7). The blessings which were to come upon all nations would flow from the earlier promise which God made to Abraham (Galatians 3:13-14).
Ezekiel 16:62. “And I will establsh My covenant with thee.” This was the old covenant made with Abraham, wherein Christ was promised, who was to bless all nations. That was a covenant purely of blessing, and in the form of it entirely unconditional (Galatians 3:17).
Ezekiel 16:63. “And never open thy mouth because of thy shame.” This would be the shame of the penitent, who is overwhelmed with a sense of God’s extraordinary goodness, and of his own foolishness and ingratitude (Romans 3:19).
GOD’S PURPOSE OF MERCY TOWARDS ISRAEL
I. It would not be defeated by the greatness of their sin. Israel had sinned against the clearest light, and in spite of great gifts and privileges. Their sin was greater than the common iniquity of the nations around them, for it was ingratitude and rebellion against the living God. Yet this did not overtask God’s infinite mercy, or close the door of hope against them for ever. With Him there is plenteous redemption. The gospel offers salvation to the worst of sinners, even to those who like Israel, have sinned against the greatest light.
II. Its strength lay in God’s ancient covenant with them. It was the old covenant which God would now call to mind that which He made with them when He first chose them as a people destined to accomplish His purpose of salvation for the world. In the meantime they were punished according to their works, which was justice. But, in the end, His grace would deal with them according to His mercy secured by His old covenant (Ezekiel 16:60). Faith in God’s unchanging goodness was David’s comfort when he uttered his “last words.” He remembered many failures, and how he and his house had fallen far short of their high calling, but his soul stood firmly upon this rock, “Yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although He make it not to grow” (2 Samuel 23:5). Thus David confessed that his house was no suitable home for Israel’s Great Ruler, but he had strong faith that grace would prevail over all this unworthiness. And now grace begins the work of reconciliation, of re-establishment. God had not broken His covenant, and now He will make the first advance towards its renewal and fulfilment. All would be seen to be of grace, and not of merit; and, therefore, there can be no ground of boasting on the part of Israel. God’s purpose of mercy towards mankind, in Jesus Christ, is intended to prevail over all their sin. The grace displayed in redemption is sufficient for the largest designs of mercy.
III. It would be accomplished through their humiliation.
1. They would be brought to see their own sin in all its magnitude. They would remember the past with shame, and the sense of God’s infinite mercy displayed in their forgiveness would close their months in utter astonishment. They would be both ashamed and confounded (Ezekiel 16:61-63).
2. They would be put to shame by God’s dealings with other nations. The restoration of Sodom and Samaria was also promised (Ezekiel 16:53-54). Nations which they thought were for ever beyond the reach of Divine mercy were about to be blessed. This great purpose of restoration is fully accomplished in the Gospel dispensation. God chose from His people, Israel, the apostles who were to preach the Gospel, “Salvation is of the Jews.” They were the people appointed to spread the glad tidings of salvation to the heathen. The old Covenant would expand into the large and unchangeable purpose of God’s mercy in the Gospel. From Jerusalem is to go forth the word of mercy that is to save the world. Thus in the end, it will be seen that God’s love is not partial, but contemplates the larger purpose of bringing the means of salvation within the reach of all.
But how could a restoration of Sodom and her daughters (Gomorrah, etc.) be predicted, when the destruction of these cities was accompanied by the sweeping away of all their inhabitants from off the face of the earth? Many of the commentators have attempted to remove the difficulty by assuming that Sodom here stands for the Moabites and Ammonites, who were descendants of Lot, who escaped from Sodom. But the untenableness of such an explanation is obvious, from the simple fact that the Ammonites and Moabites were no more Sodomites than Lot himself. And the view expressed by Origen and Jerome, that Sodom is a typical name, denoting heathenism generally, is also unsatisfactory. The way in which Sodom is classed with Samaria and Jerusalem, and the special reference to the judgment that fell upon Sodom (Ezekiel 16:49-50), point undeniably to the real Sodom. The heathen world comes into consideration only so far as this, that the pardon of a heathen city, so deeply degraded as Sodom, carries with it the assurance that mercy will be extended to all heathen nations. We must therefore take the words as referring to the literal Sodom. Yet we certainly cannot for a moment think of any earthly restoration of Sodom. For even if we could conceive of a restoration of the cities that were destroyed by fire, and sunk into the depths of the Dead Sea, it is impossible to form any conception of an earthly and corporeal restoration of the inhabitants of those cities, who were destroyed at the same time; and in this connection it is chiefly to them that the words refer. This does not by any means prove that the thing itself is impossible, but simply that the realization of the prophecy must be sought for beyond the present order of things, in one that extends into the life everlasting.—(Keil).
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 Ez., in ch. 25 and 26; so that the remark, that “Sodom is not a 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 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. Ezekiel 16:49-50) 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 O. T. 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.—(Hengstenberg).
“I will establish my covenant with thee.” Men once sensible of breach with God are not easily induced to believe that God will bestow great mercies upon them. The Lord, therefore, out of His abundant kindness, doubles the promise of making and establishing His covenant with Jerusalem, so that her fears and disputes may cease, and she be ascertained thereof. “Thou shalt know that I am the Lord.” The Heb word signifies to know, to acknowledge, to understand, to be certain, and properly refers to the mind and understanding. The knowledge here meant is a saving knowledge; for He speaks not of that knowledge which arises from afflictions and judgments, of which He had oft spoken before. Thirteen times the Lord saith, that they should know that He was the Lord But this was by His judgments. Here He speaks of such knowledge as springs from a fountain and foundation of mercy. “Thou shalt know Me,” i.e. in another manner than thou didst before; thou shalt know Me spiritually, with a knowledge of faith and salvation (John 7:17; John 10:4). This differs from a legal and literal knowlege, for—
1. It is a more distinct knowledge of God. Human knowledge is more mixed, dark, and confused. Every ungodly man’s light is darkness (Job 10:22). But he who hath light from God in covenant, his light is clear. “The light of the righteous rejoiceth” (Proverbs 13:9). If it were confused and obscure, it would not rejoice. “The wisdom from above is pure” (James 3:17); and the more pure, the more clear, the more distinct.
2. It is a savoury, relishing knowledge, the soul is affected with it. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” The true knowledge and taste of God is as sweet as any gain, as ever manna was. “His fruit was sweet to my taste.” His knowledge hath a savour in it (2 Corinthians 2:14).
3. It is a deep-rooted and well-settled knowledge. The Lord puts wisdom in the inward parts, and gives understanding to the hearts of those with whom He strikes His covenant (Job 38:36). “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Not in our heads only, not on our hearts only, but in our hearts. God puts and writes His law in the hearts of His people (Jeremiah 31:33). Wicked men have knowledge and light in their heads, but darkness in their hearts.
4. It is distinguishable from other kinds of knowledge by the effects
(1.) It is peaceable. It causeth men to live peaceably (James 3:17; Isaiah 11:9). When men know God savingly, they love peace, and pursue peace; but when knowledge is literal, they are contentious and bitter.
(2.) It humbleth much. The more men know God in His holiness, glory, and goodness, the more humble they will be (Ezekiel 20:42-43). When Job had a clear and spiritual sight of God, he abhorred himself in dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6). In like manner the prophet Isaiah and Paul (Isaiah 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:8-9).
(3.) It is working and powerful. Like fire, it consumes the lusts of men’s hearts, and separates the dross of their spirits. The truth purifies the soul (1 Peter 1:22). Divine knowledge keeps under what hinders practice, and leads out the soul to action (Psalms 109:3-4). Men have not the true knowledge of God when their lusts overpower them, and make them disobedient.
(4.) Trust and confidence in the Lord. The knowledge we speak of hath certainty in it, and causeth venturing (Psalms 9:10). They that know God spiritually, His truths and promises, covenant, faithfulness, will resign up themselves to Him and lean upon Him. “In the Lord, Jehovah, is everlasting strength” (Isaiah 26:4). When a man hath the true, real, and clear knowledge of this he will trust in God. David had the right knowledge of God when he said, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him will I trust” (Psalms 91:2).—(Greenhill.)
1. Godly sorrow and shame for sin arises from a right knowledge of God in the covenant of grace. If the knowledge be spiritual and evangelical, the fruit of the covenant, men’s repentance will be suitable; sanctified knowledge will produce sanctified shame, sorrow, and tears (Zechariah 12:10). When men are in covenant with God, and have the spiritual knowledge of His love and bounty, in giving Christ to take away sin, and look upon Him in His piercings and sufferings for their sins, then they will mourn with a great but spiritual mourning, which is the most kindly and acceptable.
2. Those who rightly know God in the covenant of grace, will not murmur against Him for any of His dealings with them. They will be silent and submissive before Him. They know God is infinitely wise, just, and holy; that all their afflictions and chastisements are exceeding short of what they deserve; that nothing comes to pass without His Providence; that He can wrong none; that He can use unholy instruments holily, and hath holy ends in all His ways. Job met with very hard things; but knowing God the right way, he opened not his mouth against Him but for Him. So David, “I was dumb; I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it” (Psalms 39:9). He was silent, and patiently submitted unto the hand of God; he neither accused Him, nor excused himself. If I be reproached, persecuted, afflicted any way, I know it is Thy doing, and I will be dumb. Those who have spiritual knowledge of God, and spiritual sorrow for their sins are most silent. In whatsoever condition they be cast, they will say with the Church, “We will bear the indignation of the Lord, because we have sinned against Him” (Micah 7:9).
3. Sin is such an evil as provokes God. “When I am pacified towards thee.” If there were not offence, no place would be found for pacification, for where this has to be made provocation hath gone before. Sin provokes God bitterly, and makes him angry every day (Hosea 12:14; Psalms 7:11). To kindle His anger, even but a little, is a dangerous thing (Psalms 2:12). Paul knew it when he said, “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy; are we stronger than He?” (1 Corinthians 10:22).
4. Though sin do provoke God greatly and bitterly, yet He is to be pacified. He is not implacable. “He will not keep His anger for ever.” His mercy endures for ever, but not His anger; His wrath is momentary, but His kindness is everlasting (Isaiah 54:8). Aaron made an atonement for the people (Numbers 16:46). Phineas turned away his wrath (Numbers 25:11). Moses prevailed with God, and pacified Him when he was very angry (Exodus 32:14). And when the people were full of sin, had greatly trespassed, “He being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea many a time turned He His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath (Psalms 78:38).
5. God being pacified toward a people is a great mercy. This appears in two things:
(1.) All that hath offended is passed by and forgiven. “For all that thou hast done.” Not for one, or two, or a hundred things done, but for all done; the idolatry, oppression, pride, fulness of bread, idleness, neglect of the poor, injustice, profaneness, etc. Here is the greatness of Divine grace; be sins never so great, old, many, they are all done away.
(2.) He is so pacified, that He will not be angry with them again for those evil deeds. The Heb. word denotes such a covering of their sins, so that they cannot be easily seen again; an expiation, a blotting out (Isaiah 43:25). “The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none, and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found” (Jeremiah 50:20).—(Greenhill).
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany