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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 23

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Ezekiel 23:0


Oholah and Oholibah's Sin and its ConsequencesTwo Harlot SistersThe Allegory of the Sisters, Oholah anad OholibahThe Sinful SistersAn Allegorical History of Jerusalem and Samaria
Ezekiel 23:1-4Ezekiel 23:1-4Ezekiel 23:1-4Ezekiel 23:1-10Ezekiel 23:1-8
(vv. Ezekiel 23:2-4)
The Older Sister, Samaria
Ezekiel 23:5-10Ezekiel 23:5-10Ezekiel 23:5-10
(vv. Ezekiel 23:5-8)Ezekiel 23:9-10
(vv. Ezekiel 23:9-10)
The Younger Sister, Jerusalem
Ezekiel 23:11-21Ezekiel 23:11-21Ezekiel 23:11-21Ezekiel 23:11-13Ezekiel 23:11-20
(vv. Ezekiel 23:12-16)
Ezekiel 23:14-21
(vv. Ezekiel 23:17-18)
(vv. Ezekiel 23:19-21)
Judgment on JerusalemGod's Judgment on the Younger SisterEzekiel 23:21-34
Ezekiel 23:22-35Ezekiel 23:22-31Ezekiel 23:22-35Ezekiel 23:22-27
(vv. Ezekiel 23:22-24a)
(vv. Ezekiel 23:24-34)
Ezekiel 23:28-31
(vv. Ezekiel 23:32-34)(vv. Ezekiel 23:32-34)Ezekiel 23:32-34(vv. Ezekiel 23:32-34)
(vv. Ezekiel 23:35)(vv. Ezekiel 23:35)Ezekiel 23:35
Both Sisters JudgedGod's Judgment on Both SistersEzekiel 23:35-39
Ezekiel 23:36-39Ezekiel 23:36-45Ezekiel 23:36-39Ezekiel 23:36-39
Ezekiel 23:40-42Ezekiel 23:40-42Ezekiel 23:40-45Ezekiel 23:40-45
Ezekiel 23:43-45Ezekiel 23:43-45
Ezekiel 23:46-49Ezekiel 23:46-49Ezekiel 23:46-49Ezekiel 23:46-49Ezekiel 23:46-49

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Ezekiel 23:0 is a series of judgment oracles

1. similar in subject matter to Ezekiel 16:0

2. similar in genre to “the sword oracles” of Ezekiel 21:0

B. YHWH's reasons for judging His own people are laid out in the allegory of faithless sisters. This literary form is not meant to support

1. polygamy

2. marrying sisters

It is for shock value. It is designed to be disgusting. It is ironic tragedy, but with a hopeful outcome.

1. YHWH found and took special marvelous care of Israel

2. Israel was repeatedly unfaithful

3. YHWH will restore her (e.g., Hosea 1-3)

C. Ezekiel 23:35 is theologically significant, as is the personal PRONOUN'S repeated use in Ezekiel 23:36-45.

Verses 1-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 23:1-4 1The word of the LORD came to me again, saying, 2”Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother; 3and they played the harlot in Egypt. They played the harlot in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and there their virgin bosom was handled. 4Their names were Oholah the elder and Oholibah her sister. And they became Mine, and they bore sons and daughters. And as for their names, Samaria is Oholah and Jerusalem is Oholibah.

Ezekiel 23:2 The NKJV sees most of the chapter as poetry.

1. Ezekiel 23:2-4

2. Ezekiel 23:5-8

3. Ezekiel 23:9-10

4. Ezekiel 23:12-16

5. Ezekiel 23:17-18

6. Ezekiel 23:19-21

7. Ezekiel 23:224e

8. Ezekiel 23:24-27

9. Ezekiel 23:32-35

10. Ezekiel 23:35

Most other modern English translations only view Ezekiel 23:32-34 as poetry. It is hard to distinguish elevated, emotional, figurative prose from poetry.

Ezekiel 23:3 “bosom” This term (BDB 186) occurs uniquely in this chapter (i.e., Ezekiel 23:3, Ezekiel 23:8, Ezekiel 23:21 [with emendation]) and possibly in Proverbs 5:19. The other Hebrew word for “breasts” (BDB 994) is also found in Ezekiel 23:3, Ezekiel 23:21, and often in Song of Songs.

It seems unusual to have the term “virgin” (BDB 144) in this context because this refers to the wives of YHWH figuratively bearing His children (cf. Ezekiel 23:4, Ezekiel 23:37). NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 782, says that this refers to “reputable” and not “wanton.”

Ezekiel 23:4 “Oholah and Oholibah” Their Hebrew names are a play on the Hebrew word for “tent” (BDB 14). This is an allegory similar to chapter 16 based on Israel's and Judah's infidelity to the covenant (i.e., marriage vow) with YHWH. Oholah (BDB 14, lit. “her tent,” which may be an allusion to pagan tent-shrines or to false temples at Dan and Bethel) stands for the capital of Israel, Samaria, Oholibah (BDB 14, lit. “my tent is in her,” i.e., temple) stands for the capital of Judah, Jerusalem.

Notice how their disobedience is characterized.

1. played the harlot in Egypt, Ezekiel 23:3

2. played the harlot in their youth

a. breasts pressed, Ezekiel 23:3

b. virgin bosom handled, Ezekiel 23:3

3. they were wed to YHWH and bore children, Ezekiel 23:4

Israel's idolatry in Egypt is a recurrent theme unique to Ezekiel, see Ezekiel 16:26; Ezekiel 20:4-17. The judgment of Egypt is described in Ezekiel 29:1-21.

Verses 5-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 23:5-10 5”Oholah played the harlot while she was Mine; and she lusted after her lovers, after the Assyrians, her neighbors, 6who were clothed in purple, governors and officials, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. 7She bestowed her harlotries on them, all of whom were the choicest men of Assyria; and with all whom she lusted after, with all their idols she defiled herself. 8She did not forsake her harlotries from the time in Egypt; for in her youth men had lain with her, and they handled her virgin bosom and poured out their lust on her. 9Therefore, I gave her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, after whom she lusted. 10They uncovered her nakedness; they took her sons and her daughters, but they slew her with the sword. Thus she became a byword among women, and they executed judgments on her.”

Ezekiel 23:5-8 This describes the acts of Oholah (Samaria).

1. played the harlot (BDB 275, KB 275, Qal IMPERFECT) while married (lit. “under me” BDB 1065,1,c) to YHWH (cf. Isaiah 54:5-6; Jeremiah 3:1, Jeremiah 3:20; Hosea 2:2 and note Hosea 2:16), Ezekiel 23:5

2. lusted (BDB 721, KB 783, Qal IMPERFECT) after other lovers, Ezekiel 23:5

3. lusted especially after Assyria, Ezekiel 23:5, Ezekiel 23:7, Ezekiel 23:9

a. leader dressed in purple, Ezekiel 23:6

b. governor and officials, Ezekiel 23:6

c. desirable young men, Ezekiel 23:6

d. riding on horses, Ezekiel 23:6

e. the choicest men of Assyria, Ezekiel 23:7

4. accepted their gods (idols) and defiled herself (BDB 379, KB 375, Niphal PERFECT), Ezekiel 23:7

5. harlot from her youth (i.e., Egypt), Ezekiel 23:8 (see note at Ezekiel 23:4)

6. “they poured out their lusts,” Ezekiel 23:8, cf. Ezekiel 16:15; this refers to the desire for political alliances, but these attempts at security involved the ritual acknowledgment of their national idols

Ezekiel 23:5

NASB, NJB, LXX“her neighbors” NKJV“the neighboring” NRSV, JPSOA, NIV“warriors” REB“officers”

This Hebrew term (BDB 898) usually means “come near,” “approach” and can be used for bringing an offering. It is only in this context (i.e., Ezekiel 23:5, Ezekiel 23:12 [i.e., “the ones near”]) that it can mean “warlike” or “warrior” (from an Akkadian root). It is also possible that it refers to a governmental official (i.e., one who is near the king).

“her lovers” In context this refers to political alliances, but this also involved the acknowledgment of their gods, which led to idolatrous practices with the fertility gods (cf. Hosea 11:7, Hosea 11:8:9; Hosea 12:1).

Ezekiel 23:6 “governors and officials” These refer to Assyrian government leaders.

1. “governor” - BDB 808, NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 602, notes that this term referred to the chief local Assyrian official when Israel was a vassal region after the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. by Shalmaneser V and Sargon II.

2. “officials” - BDB 688, cf. Ezekiel 23:6, Ezekiel 23:12, this would denote the chief local Assyrian official when Israel became a province in 841 B.C. under Shalmaneser III.

Ezekiel 23:9-10 YHWH's response to His unfaithful wife Oholah.

1. I gave her into the hands of her lovers

2. They uncovered her nakedness

3. They took her children (i.e., exile)

4. They killed many inhabitants of Israel (i.e., invasion in 724 B.C., Samaria fell in 722 B.C.)

5. He made her a byword among women

6. Assyria became the “rod” (cf. Isaiah 8:7; Isaiah 10:5) of YHWH's anger and judgment

Verses 11-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 23:11-21 11”Now her sister Oholibah saw this, yet she was more corrupt in her lust than she, and her harlotries were more than the harlotries of her sister. 12She lusted after the Assyrians, governors and officials, the ones near, magnificently dressed, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men. 13I saw that she had defiled herself; they both took the same way. 14So she increased her harlotries. And she saw men portrayed on the wall, images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion, 15girded with belts on their loins, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them looking like officers, like the Babylonians in Chaldea, the land of their birth. 16When she saw them she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. 17The Babylonians came to her to the bed of love and defiled her with their harlotry. And when she had been defiled by them, she became disgusted with them. 18She uncovered her harlotries and uncovered her nakedness; then I became disgusted with her, as I had become disgusted with her sister. 19Yet she multiplied her harlotries, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the harlot in the land of Egypt. 20She lusted after their paramours, whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys and whose issue is like the issue of horses. 21Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom because of the breasts of your youth.”

Ezekiel 23:11-17 These verses describe the acts of Oholibah (Jerusalem).

1. more corrupt in her lusts than her sister, Ezekiel 23:11

2. more harlotries than her sister, Ezekiel 23:11

3. lusted after Assyrian (possibly related to 2 Kings 15:17-22; 2 Kings 17:1-6) officials, Ezekiel 23:12

a. governors, officials

(1) magnificently dressed

(2) riding on horses

(3) desirable young men

b. “The Assyrians were famous for their rich and costly apparel. The expression ‘Assyrian garments' became synonymous with elegant and expensive clothing,” James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, pp. 307-308.

4. defiled herself, Ezekiel 23:13

a. Babylonian and/or Assyrian men portrayed on the wall, Ezekiel 23:13-14

(1) girded with bells, Ezekiel 23:15

(2) flowing turbans

(3) looking like Babylonian officers, Ezekiel 23:15

b. sent messengers to Chaldea (Babylon, cf. 2 Kings 16:0; 2 Kings 20:11-19), Ezekiel 23:16

c. Babylon came, Ezekiel 23:17

(1) to her bed of love

(2) they defiled her with harlotry

(3) uncovered her nakedness

5. her soul became disgusted with them, Ezekiel 23:17c, Ezekiel 23:22, Ezekiel 23:28, their rich and costly apparel.

“The expression 'Assyrian garments' became synonymous with elegant and expensive clothing.” James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, pp. 307-308.

Ezekiel 23:11 Judah should have learned from the excesses of her northern sister, but she did not. This description relates to the Syro-Ephraimatic War (cf. 2 Kings 16:8; Isaiah 7:7-9).

Ezekiel 23:14 “portrayed on the wall” These wall paintings, carvings, and inlays (BDB 348, KB 347, Pual PARTICIPLE) are the source of much of the historical and cultural information moderns possess about the culture of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Ezekiel uses this VERB to describe

1. the idolatry of the temple, Ezekiel 8:10

2. the glory of the Babylonian officers and soldiers, Ezekiel 23:14

“with vermilion” This (BDB 1059, KB 1666) refers to a red pigment used for wall painting cf. Jeremiah 22:14, here of Babylonian soldiers. The pigment came from one of two sources.

1. a certain insect

2. Egyptian ochre from Sinopis

Ezekiel 23:15

NASB, NRSV, TEV“officers” NKJV“captains”

This term (BDB 1026) means “the third one” and refers to

1. the third person in a war chariot, cf. Exodus 14:7

a. one to drive

b. one to shield

c. one to fight

2. a high court official, cf. 2 Kings 7:2, 2 Kings 7:17, 2 Kings 7:19; 2 Kings 10:25; 2 Kings 15:25

3. a military officer, cf. 2 Samuel 23:8; 2 Kings 9:25; Ezekiel 23:15, Ezekiel 23:23

Ezekiel 23:18-21, Ezekiel 23:22-35 YHWH's response to His unfaithful wife Oholibah.

1. YHWH became disgusted (BDB 429, KB 431, Qal IMPERFECT) with her, as with her sister, Ezekiel 23:18, cf. Jeremiah 6:8

2. The repeated reasons for YHWH's disgust.

a. uncovered her harlotries, Ezekiel 23:18

b. uncovered her nakedness, Ezekiel 23:18

c. multiplied her harlotries, Ezekiel 23:19

d. remembered the days of her youth (i.e., idolatry in Egypt), Ezekiel 23:19

e. lusted after their Egyptian paramours, Ezekiel 23:20-21 (this may refer to Judah seeking help from Egypt against Babylon, who was her supposed ally, cf. 2 Kings 24:1-7)

3. YHWH arouses (BDB 734, KB 802, Hiphil PARTICIPLE) her lovers against her, Ezekiel 23:22

a. a large mercenary army of Babylon will attack them from every side, Ezekiel 23:23

b. description of their weaponry, Ezekiel 23:24

c. treat Jerusalem according to their customs (i.e., slaughter and exile), Ezekiel 23:24

4. YHWH sets His jealousy (BDB 888) against them, Ezekiel 23:25

5. YHWH sets His wrath (BDB 404) against them, Ezekiel 23:25

6. Wrath described in vivid terms, Ezekiel 23:25-27

a. remove your nose

b. remove your ears

c. death by the sword

d. death by fire

e. take their wealth

(1) children

(2) clothes, cf. Ezekiel 23:29; Ezekiel 16:39

(3) jewels from Egypt, cf. Ezekiel 16:39

7. YHWH will deal with them in hatred (BDB 971), Ezekiel 23:29

a. take property (i.e., that which they have worked for all their lives, CONSTRUCT BDB 481, 388, cf. Deuteronomy 28:33; Jeremiah 20:5) and leave them naked and bare, Ezekiel 23:29, cf. Ezekiel 16:39. Nakedness was part of the curses of Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 28:48).

b. because of their idolatry, Ezekiel 23:30

c. because they walked in the way of their sister, Ezekiel 23:31

d. because they forgot YHWH and cast Him behind their back, they now face the judgment, Ezekiel 23:35 (i.e., lived as if there were no covenant and no YHWH)

Ezekiel 23:20

NASB, NKJV, NRSV“paramours” TEV“oversexed men” NJB“big-membered” NIV Interlinear“genitals” PESHITTA“male organs” REB“members”

The MT has “concubine” (BDB 811), which in context seems not to balance the second phrase well. Though it is crude to modern standards Ezekiel is suggesting

1. large penis

2. strong ejaculation

The NIV translation captures the sense well! These sexual metaphors are meant to shock and nauseate God's people about their idolatry (i.e., foreign alliances). Often the sexual metaphors are also literal because the fertility gods of the Ancient Near East are the national gods.

NASB, NKJV“issue of horses” NRSV“emission of stallions” NJB“ejaculating as violently as stallions” LXX“members of horses” PESHITTA“whose privates are like those of horses” JPSOA“whose organs were like those of stallions”

This term (BDB 281) refers either to a sexually ready male organ or a powerful ejaculation. It occurs only here in the Bible, but similar allusions are made to Israel acting in idolatrous ways as animals long for reproduction (i.e., Jeremiah 2:24; Jeremiah 14:6).

Verses 22-35

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 23:22-35 22”Therefore, O Oholibah, thus says the Lord GOD, 'Behold I will arouse your lovers against you, from whom you were alienated, and I will bring them against you from every side: 23the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them; desirable young men, governors and officials all of them, officers and men of renown, all of them riding on horses. 24They will come against you with weapons, chariots and wagons, and with a company of peoples. They will set themselves against you on every side with buckler and shield and helmet; and I will commit the judgment to them, and they will judge you according to their customs. 25I will set My jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in wrath. They will remove your nose and your ears; and your survivors will fall by the sword. They will take your sons and your daughters; and your survivors will be consumed by the fire. 26They will also strip you of your clothes and take away your beautiful jewels. 27Thus I will make your lewdness and your harlotry brought from the land of Egypt to cease from you, so that you will not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore.' 28For thus says the Lord GOD, 'Behold, I will give you into the hand of those whom you hate, into the hand of those from whom you were alienated. 29They will deal with you in hatred, take all your property, and leave you naked and bare. And the nakedness of your harlotries will be uncovered, both your lewdness and your harlotries. 30These things will be done to you because you have played the harlot with the nations, because you have defiled yourself with their idols. 31You have walked in the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand.' 32Thus says the Lord GOD, 'You will drink your sister's cup, Which is deep and wide. You will be laughed at and held in derision; It contains much. 33You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, The cup of horror and desolation, The cup of your sister Samaria. 34You will drink it and drain it. Then you will gnaw its fragments And tear your breasts; for I have spoken,' declares the Lord GOD. 35Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, 'Because you have forgotten Me and cast Me behind your back, bear now the punishment of your lewdness and your harlotries.'“

Ezekiel 23:22 “from whom you were alienated” This refers to Ezekiel 23:17c and is repeated in Ezekiel 23:28. This phrase (BDB 668, KB 722, Qal PERFECT and BDB 659) occurs only here and in Ezekiel 23:28 in the entire OT. A related phrase occurs in Ezekiel 23:17, Ezekiel 23:18. This refers to the emotional results of a faithless relationship. Judah was unfaithful (idolatry) throughout her history. Finally YHWH had enough and abrogated the covenant relationship! But He would restart it.

1. the post-exilic return (cf. Ezra-Nehemiah)

2. the new covenant (i.e., NT, cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-38)

Ezekiel 23:23 Judah became a Babylonian vassal in 605 B.C., when General Nebuchadnezzar II (later king) invaded. This did not stop the rebellion so he invaded again in 597 and 586 (destruction of the temple and Jerusalem). At this point Judah became a province. Even then Nebuchadnezzar had to send an invasion in 582 because of the assassination of his appointed governor Gedaliah (cf. 2 Kings 25:22-24).

“Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa” These refer to Armenian tribes in the eastern part of Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 50:21). This whole verse implies that the army was made up of mercenary troops including the remnant of the Assyrian army. The IVP Bible Background Commentary notes that these names meant “punishment,” “war cry,” and “shriek” (p. 709).

Ezekiel 23:24 This is a list of all the military equipment arrayed against besieged Jerusalem.

1. mobile weaponry

a. NASB, “weapons”

NRSV, TEV, NJB, “from the north” (from LXX)

BDB 246, KB 254, meaning uncertain; it is future only here in the OT

b. “chariots,” BDB 939, cf. Isaiah 2:7; Isaiah 22:18

c. “wagons” (lit. “wheels,” BDB 165, possibly related to the vision of chaps. 1 and 10). Used in Isaiah 5:28 and Jeremiah 47:3 for war chariot wheels

2. fully equipped infantry

a. “buckler,” BDB 857 III, full body shield, cf. Ezekiel 26:8; Ezekiel 38:4; Jeremiah 46:3

b. “shield,” BDB 171, small personal shield, cf. Ezekiel 38:4, Ezekiel 38:5; Ezekiel 39:9; Jeremiah 46:3, Jeremiah 46:9

c. “helmet,” BDB 875, loan word used only twice in the OT, cf. Ezekiel 27:10; Ezekiel 38:5; 1 Samuel 17:38; Jeremiah 46:6

All of Assyria's arsenal of weaponry was arrayed against God's special city, now abandoned by Him!

Ezekiel 23:25 “I will set My jealousy against you” The VERB “set” or “direct” (BDB 678, KB 733, Qal PERFECT) is a common VERB (e.g., Ezekiel 23:7, Ezekiel 23:9, Ezekiel 23:24, Ezekiel 23:25, Ezekiel 23:28, Ezekiel 23:31, Ezekiel 23:42, Ezekiel 23:46, Ezekiel 23:49).

“My jealousy” is a way of referring to the monotheistic character of YHWH (cf. Exodus 8:10; Exodus 9:14; Deuteronomy 4:35, Deuteronomy 4:39; Deuteronomy 5:7; Deuteronomy 32:39; Deuteronomy 33:26; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 7:22; Isaiah 43:9-11; Isaiah 45:21-22; Isaiah 46:9; Jeremiah 2:11; Jeremiah 5:7, Jeremiah 5:10; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4, 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; James 2:19).

“They will remove your nose and your ears” These were the places where women wore jewelry. This violent removal of jewelry was practiced in the Ancient Near East as punishment of adulteresses (i.e., Middle Assyrian Law Code).

Ezekiel 23:31 “her cup into your hand” This is a biblical metaphor for one's destiny. It can be positive (cf. Psalms 23:5) or negative (cf. Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-22; Jeremiah 25:15-29; Lamentations 4:21; Habakkuk 2:16). In many ways Judah was more responsible for her sin because

1. she saw what happened to Samaria, but did not change

2. she had the temple, priests, and Davidic rulers

Ezekiel 23:32-34 This is a poem about “the cup” (BDB 468) of judgment mentioned in Ezekiel 23:31.

1. description of the cup

a. your sister's cup, Ezekiel 23:32, Ezekiel 23:33

b. deep and wide

c. cup of horror and desolation, Ezekiel 23:33

e. contains much

2. description of its event

a. you will be laughed (BDB 850) at and held in derision (BDB 541)

b. You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow

c. you will drink it and drain it (i.e., experience every last drop of YHWH's judgment)

d. you will gnaw its pieces and tear your breasts

This metaphor of a cup of judgment is recurrent in Scripture, see Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 51:22; Jeremiah 25:15, Jeremiah 25:16, Jeremiah 25:27, Jeremiah 25:28; also Matthew 20:22; Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13.

Ezekiel 23:34

NASB“then you will gnaw its fragments” NKJV“you shall break its shards” NRSV, JPSOA, REB“you shall gnaw its shards” TEV“with its broken pieces” NJB“then will you break it in pieces” LXX“I will take away her feasts and her new moons” Peshitta, RSV“you shall cut off your hair” NIV“you shall dash it to pieces”

It is obvious from the Septuagint and Peshitta that the ancient versions were confused by this line of poetry. In context it seems that one of two options seems logical.

1. the large cup of judgment is drunk to the last drop (i.e., full measure)

2. it is an idiom of regret, as is the next line, “tear your breasts,” possibly the broken pieces are used to mutilate her erotic regions (cf. Ezekiel 23:3, Ezekiel 23:8, Ezekiel 23:21)

The UBS Hebrew OT Project gives “and you will chew on its broken pieces” a “B” rating.

Ezekiel 23:35 Amazingly the people of God have knowingly, purposefully turned away from Him (cf. Genesis 3:0). Oh, the tragedy.

1. forgotten Me, BDB 1013, KB 1489, Qal PERFECT, cf. Ezekiel 22:12; Psalms 106:21; Isaiah 17:10; Jeremiah 3:21; Hosea 2:13; Hosea 8:14; Hosea 13:6

2. cast Me behind your back, BDB 1020, KB 1527, Hiphil IMPERFECT (i.e., modern idiom, “out of sight, out of mind”), cf. 1 Kings 14:9; Psalms 50:17; Jeremiah 2:27; Jeremiah 32:33

Notice the number of times in this context where phrases containing a PRONOUN denoting YHWH are used.

1. they have forgotten Me, Ezekiel 23:25

2. they have cast Me behind their back, Ezekiel 23:35

3. (killed children) whom they bore to Me, Ezekiel 23:37

4. they have done this to Me, Ezekiel 23:38

5. they have defiled My sanctuary, Ezekiel 23:38

6. they have profaned My sabbath, Ezekiel 23:38, Ezekiel 23:39

7. they practiced idolatry in My house, Ezekiel 23:39

8. they used His incense and oil to impress foreigners at a special meal, Ezekiel 23:41

Sin is rebellion against a personal God! This is a fulfillment of Deuteronomy 31:16.

The goal of humanity is fellowship with our Creator. Nothing in the world can take His place. The essence of sin is “self.” Salvation is freedom from the tyranny of self-focused living and the restoration of the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), which allows an intimate, daily fellowship with God.

Because humans turn away from God they bear (BDB 669, KB 724, Qal IMPERATIVE) the full consequences of their deeds.

Ezekiel 23:36-45 The two sister's sins are enumerated again.

1. committed adultery, Ezekiel 23:37

2. committed murder, Ezekiel 23:37

3. committed idolatry, Ezekiel 23:37

4. defiled My sanctuary, Ezekiel 23:38

5. defiled My sabbaths, Ezekiel 23:38

6. sacrificed children, Ezekiel 23:39 (see Special Topic: Molech at Ezekiel 16:16-20)

7. played the harlot with foreigners (i.e., political alliances), Ezekiel 23:40-44

Verses 36-39

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 23:36-39 36Moreover, the LORD said to me, “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominations. 37For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. Thus they have committed adultery with their idols and even caused their sons, whom they bore to Me, to pass through the fire to them as food. 38Again, they have done this to Me: they have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and have profaned My sabbaths. 39For when they had slaughtered their children for their idols, they entered My sanctuary on the same day to profane it; and lo, thus they did within My house.”

Ezekiel 23:36 As Ezekiel was commanded to act as judge (BDB 616, KB 665, Hiphil IMPERATIVE, lit. “declare”) in Ezekiel 20:4 (twice) and Ezekiel 22:2 (twice), now again (compare Jeremiah 1:10).

Ezekiel 23:37 “their sons, whom they bore to me, to pass through the fire This idiomatic language refers to the redemption of the firstborn found in Exodus 13:0. But these idolatrous Jerusalemites were sacrificing their children to Molech (see Special Topic: Molech, cf. Ezekiel 23:39; Ezekiel 16:20, Ezekiel 16:36), not presenting them to God.

Ezekiel 23:38 The accusation against God's people acting inappropriately in their worship of God is recurrent.

1. defiled (BDB 379, KB 375, Piel PERFECT) His sanctuary, cf. Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 7:20

2. profaned (BDB 320, KB 319, Piel PERFECT) His sabbaths, cf. Ezekiel 20:13, Ezekiel 20:16, Ezekiel 20:21, Ezekiel 20:24; Ezekiel 22:8

YHWH took these actions personally as an attack on Himself (cf. Ezekiel 23:38a).

Verses 40-42

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 23:40-42 40”Furthermore, they have even sent for men who come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent; and lo, they camefor whom you bathed, painted your eyes and decorated yourselves with ornaments; 41and you sat on a splendid couch with a table arranged before it on which you had set My incense and My oil. 42The sound of a carefree multitude was with her; and drunkards were brought from the wilderness with men of the common sort. And they put bracelets on the hands of the women and beautiful crowns on their heads.”

Ezekiel 23:40 Israel and Judah decorated themselves for the idolatrous meals (cf. Ezekiel 23:41) with foreign gods (i.e., political alliances).

1. bathed, BDB 934

2. painted their eyes, cf. 2 Kings 9:30; Jeremiah 4:30 (usually black or blue around the eyes to highlight them)

3. decorated themselves with ornaments, BDB 725, cf. Ezekiel 16:13-16; Isaiah 3:18-23

Verse Ezekiel 23:42b seems to describe presents brought by the foreign officials.

1. bracelets, BDB 855, cf. Ezekiel 16:11, Ezekiel 16:12; Genesis 24:22, Genesis 24:30, Genesis 24:47; Isaiah 3:19

2. crowns, BDB 742, this action may be mimicking YHWH's actions in Ezekiel 16:9-14. The crown can refer to royalty or a wedding crown (cf. Song of Song of Solomon 3:11)

Ezekiel 23:42-43 These verses are difficult to translate and, therefore, difficult to interpret. The context helps, but does not reveal the specifics related to the lovers of Ezekiel 23:42.

The ADJECTIVE “worn out” (BDB 115) is meant to express that Judah is an experienced prostitute, as a matter of fact, a prostitute used so often that she has become unattractive.

The MT Hebrew text offers a suggested change (i.e., Qere, “what is read”) to a VERB (BDB 275, KB 275, Qal IMPERFECT). The original unchanged text was “Will they commit adultery with her now, and she with them?” The emended text reads “Will they now commit adultery with her when she is thus?”

Ezekiel 23:42

NASB, NRSV“drunkards” NKJV, REB“Sabeans” LXX, TEV, NJB, JPSOA“a crowd of men” PESHITTA“men who had come from Sheba”

The MT has “drunkards” (BDB 685, Qere [it is read] the NOUN; BDB 684, KB 738, Qal PARTICIPLE, Kethibh [it is written]), whose only occurrence is here, so some change it to Sabeans, which is spelled exactly the same, but without the letter waw. Sheba is an ancestor of the Sabeans (i.e., raiders, cf. Genesis 25:3), who lived in southwest Arabia.

Verses 43-45

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 23:43-45 43”Then I said concerning her who was worn out by adulteries, 'Will they now commit adultery with her when she is thus?' 44But they went in to her as they would go in to a harlot. Thus they went in to Oholah and to Oholibah, the lewd women. 45But they, righteous men, will judge them with the judgment of adulteresses and with the judgment of women who shed blood, because they are adulteresses and blood is on their hands.

Ezekiel 23:43 See note at Ezekiel 23:42-43.

Ezekiel 23:44 “they went in to” This is a Hebrew idiom for sexual intercourse (e.g., Genesis 6:4; Genesis 24:67; Genesis 38:2, Genesis 38:8, Genesis 38:9, Genesis 38:16, Genesis 38:18; Genesis 39:14; Deuteronomy 22:13).

Ezekiel 23:45

NASB“But they, righteous men, will judge them” NKJV“But righteous men will judge them” NRSV“But righteous judges shall declare them” TEV“Righteous men will condemn them” NJB“All the same, there are upright men who will judge them”

This is the use of “righteous” (BDB 843) as “fair.” This does not refer to people who know and follow YHWH. In context it refers to YHWH's instruments of judgment, Assyria and Babylon, and that His judgment on Israel and Judah was deserved!

Verses 46-49

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 23:46-49 46”For thus says the Lord GOD, 'Bring up a company against them and give them over to terror and plunder. 47The company will stone them with stones and cut them down with their swords; they will slay their sons and their daughters and burn their houses with fire. 48Thus I will make lewdness cease from the land, that all women may be admonished and not commit lewdness as you have done. 49Your lewdness will be requited upon you, and you will bear the penalty of worshiping your idols; thus you will know that I am the Lord GOD.'“

Ezekiel 23:46-49 These verses list the consequences of their acts.

1. invasion, Ezekiel 23:46

2. given over to terror (cf. Deuteronomy 28:25) and plunder (in the sense of shame, cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 632), Ezekiel 23:46

3. many/most killed, Ezekiel 23:47

a. by stones

b. by swords

c. by fire

4. idolaters cut off, Ezekiel 23:48

5. idolaters judged, Ezekiel 23:49

Ezekiel 23:47 “stone them” This was the punishment for adultery (cf. Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 21:21). It is also mentioned in Ezekiel's parallel allegory (cf. Ezekiel 16:40). See Special Topic: The Death Penalty in Israel.

Ezekiel 23:48 This verse uses “women” as a metaphor for all of God's people. “Admonish” (lit. “discipline,” BDB 415, KB 418, Nithpael PERFECT) is often used of YHWH's judgment on the disobedience of His covenant people (cf. Leviticus 26:18, Leviticus 26:28; Psalms 6:1; Psalms 38:1; Psalms 39:11; Psalms 118:18; Jeremiah 31:8).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Ezekiel 23". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/ezekiel-23.html. 2021.
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