THE ABOMINABLE SINS OF PERSISTENT SPIRITUAL HARLOTRY DEMAND SEVERE JUDGMENT
Daniel Woodhead: This chapter continues with the Lord’s displeasure of Israel’s sins. It is another long parable of spiritual harlotry similar to that which the Lord gave us in chapter sixteen. Chapter sixteen focused on the breaking of marriage vows between Israel and Jehovah’s sacred covenant with the Jews. This chapter will discuss Israel’s worldliness particularly with treaties and alliances with other nations. These alliances were treated by the Jews as being stronger for security and safety then the total dependency they should have had on God. They represent a desire to free their souls away from God, seeking to satisfy themselves, apart from His commands, with practices He forbade. He faults them particularly with her spiritual sins. While the references here will be to sexual immorality the imagery actually is “spiritual fornication” or leaving the genuine God of Creation for pagan occultic non-gods. Scripture uses sexual lust as a metaphor for idol worship (Ezekiel 16:15-34). The imagery employed here is vivid with the illustration of sexual immorality through prostitution which closely resembles Israel’s departure from the genuine (sexual intercourse ordained by God in a committed marriage). They left for that which did not love her or have her best interest at heart. She preferred the cold heart of prostitution to the warm loving secure relationship to the God of the universe that called her out from the people groups of the world. There are many illustrations that God gave Ezekiel to describe the Jew’s sins. When all are assembled in this book as they are they only comprise a small reflection of the disappointment and displeasure the Lord experienced with them.
Iain Duguid: the prophet harnesses all of the emotional impact of a graphic portrayal of sexual perversion to drive home the point that Jerusalem’s coming destruction is both the deserved and the inevitable consequence of her past actions.
Douglas Stuart: The chapter is an allegory about the offensive disobedience of the northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah), with regard to their lack of trust in the Lord and their willingness to seek peace, security, and religion from the great international powers of the day, Assyria and Babylon. Behind the allegory is the common metaphorical language of ancient international treaties and of Israelite prophets that likened unfaithfulness to the Lord to adultery and, more commonly, prostitution (Hebrew, zanah, vv. 3, 7, 8, etc.). Israel—either north or south or both—could be imagined as the wife of the Lord, cheating on Him with other gods and/or nations by her political and religious infidelity. To a considerable extent chapter 23 follows and complements chapter 16, although it does not seem to be the case that these two chapters are merely parts of what was once a single long allegory. More likely, at various times and perhaps even for various audiences, two separate but comparable prophecies were delivered about Israel’s history.
It is important to appreciate the fact that God expected His people to depend on Him alone for their political security among the nations as well as for their worship. He was their national God as well as the personal God of each Israelite. They were forbidden to try to obtain by diplomacy what He had promised to give them if they would have faith in Him. Thus, just as they were not to depend in any way on other gods, so they were not to depend in any way on other nations. The prophets frequently attacked the tendency in both north and south to try to find stability, prestige, security or strength by alliances with other nations (e.g., Hos. 7:8–12; Is. 30:1–5; Jer. 42:18–22).
Unfortunately, the temptations were irresistible to Israel. What others had, she wanted. What others did, she copied. . .
In their own eyes they weren’t wrong. In God’s eyes, they were not only wrong, but completely disgusting! They were His special covenant people blessed with all sorts of advantages and opportunities to be a light to the nations. Instead they had completely forgotten Him (v. 35). They were His bride sworn to love only Him. Instead, they cheated on Him constantly. To themselves, they seemed attractive. To Him, they were lewd. So no matter what they thought of themselves, God knew what they were and what they deserved.
Derek Thomas: The sinfulness of Israel and Judah, focused on their respective capital cities of Samaria and Jerusalem, has been portrayed in terms of an allegory of two fallen women: Oholah and Oholibah. The depth of the treachery, sinking into the mire of prostitution and adultery, is shocking. God’s Old Testament church has committed the gravest of transgressions against the covenant. She has violated the bond of marriage.
Peter Pett: The final judgment of Jerusalem was fast approaching, and in this parable is provided the justification for it. It depicts in its intensity the depths to which God’s people had fallen and shows why they had to be judged. Yet it does not hide from the fact that they were like that from the very beginning. There had never been a long period when they had been worthy. However, God had been gracious to them in their unworthiness, but now their sinfulness has come to fruition. Their iniquity was now full. The chapter is difficult to commentate on in depth because it is so sordid, for it is seeking to bring out the disgusting state of the people. But where God has spoken we must seek to understand.
I. (:2-4) INTRODUCTION OF THE ACCUSED HARLOTS = SAMARIA AND JERUSALEM
“The word of the LORD came to me again saying,”
A. (:2) Common Origin
“Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother;”
MacArthur: “One mother” refers to the united kingdom, while “two women” refers to the divided kingdom.
Douglas Stuart: “Daughters of one mother” (v. 2) underlines Israel and Judah’s common origin as a unified nation. Prostitution (“harlotry”) in Egypt and “their youth” (v. 3) refers to the nation’s lack of faithfulness during its idolatrous years in Egypt and the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula as described in Exodus and Numbers particularly (cf. Ezek. 20:5–21). They were “Mine,” that is, the nations belonged to the Lord, presumably as His wives (v. 4). Neither Ezekiel nor anyone in his audience would have assumed that this imagery of the Lord’s two wives meant that God favored polygamy. Polygamy was never outlawed in Bible times, and they would have known many men who had more than one wife (as Jacob, their ancestor had). The allegory simply makes use of that familiarity with polygamy to symbolize the history of a divided nation. “Sons and daughters” (v. 4) are the towns, cities, and populations that increased in number as God blessed His people in the Promised Land.
B. (:3) Common Offense
“and 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.”
Peter Pett: Their nationhood had begun in Egypt, and it had been an unhappy beginning. The picture of Israel in Egypt was not a pleasant one. They had worshipped a selection of foreign gods, and that worship had led them into sexual perversion and evil living. They had allowed themselves to be manhandled by what was unworthy. They had fallen not only into slavery but into degradation and idolatry.
C. (:4) Capital City Identifications
“And their 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.”
Constable: Oholah was the name of the older sister (lit. “her tent,” or “she who has a tent,” probably a reference to her pagan tent shrines), and she represents Samaria, the capital of the kingdom of Israel. Oholibah was the younger sister (lit. “my [or ‘a’] tent is in her,” probably a reference to the temple), and she represents Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom of Judah. Thus the Lord associated these two kingdoms with their unauthorized and authorized places of worship, respectively. One of Esau’s wives was Oholibamah, meaning “tent of the high place” (Gen. 36:2).
Peter Wallace: the point of the similarity of the names is that Samaria and Jerusalem are fundamentally similar: like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Douglas Stuart: The allegory of the sister cities begins by emphasizing their long history of promiscuity and identifying them as Samaria and Jerusalem. Then the story of Samaria is told first, Oholah (Samaria) being the elder sister in the story. Historically, Jerusalem was founded by not later than 4000 b.c., according to carbon–14 dating, while Samaria was built more than three millennia later by the Israelite king, Omri (885–880 b.c.; 1 Kin. 16:21–28). Thus Jerusalem was much older than Samaria. But as Samaria “died” first (destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 b.c. as opposed to Jerusalem’s “death” at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 b.c.) and because Samaria embraced full idolatry and international dependencies far earlier than Jerusalem, it is treated in the story as if it were “older.”
Daniel Block: The present image is artificially created in accordance with the requirements of the allegory. For this prophet, the name “Israel” represented the entire undivided people of God. However, in order to reflect the actual history of the nation, which had for centuries been divided into two kingdoms, the covenant between Yahweh and all Israel was best portrayed as a marriage to two sibling wives. Thereby both their ethnic and their theological unity are affirmed.
II. (:5-10) SAMARIA’S HISTORY OF HARLOTRY (OHOLAH)
A. (:5a) Violation of Covenant Relationship
“And Oholah played the harlot while she was Mine;”
B. (:5b-7) Unfaithful Liaisons with Assyria
“and she lusted after her lovers, after the Assyrians, her neighbors, 6 who were clothed in purple, governors and officials, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. 7 “And she 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.”
Iain Duguid: Not content with the Lord, she traded her attentions elsewhere. She lusted after the Assyrians, seeking to enter a covenant with them, a politico-religious alliance that implied a repudiation of trust in the Lord as her sole provider. What attracted her to the Assyrians was their power and prestige. They all appeared to her as warriors—horsemen and charioteers, governors and commanders, dressed in splendid garments of blue (23:6).
The historical background of this assertion is not hard to trace. From around 841–840 b.c., Israel was involved in an alliance with Assyria when Shalmaneser III received a substantial tribute from Jehu. Climbing into bed with Assyria may have seemed the logical—perhaps the only possible—political option to Israel’s leadership, but it was also tantamount to a rejection of trust in the Lord in favor of Assyria’s idols, with which Israel now defiled herself (23:7). It was a return to her former way of life in Egypt, from which the Lord had redeemed her (23:8). The consequences of her lifestyle choice were severe, yet fitting. The Lord gave her over into the hand of her lovers, the Assyrians (23:9). The very things that attracted her to them rebounded against her. Their warrior power was exerted against her, and far from clothing her in similar manner to themselves they stripped her naked and killed her (23:10).
Daniel Block: Whether or not these officers are listed in descending order of rank, in Oholah’s eyes they all qualify as baḥûrê ḥemed, ṣhoiṣe desirable men, attractive candidates who can try to satisfy her insatiable lust. Her total lack of restraint is emphasized by the threefold repetition of kol, “all,” in v. 7. To concretize the offense Yahweh says she defiled herself … with all their images. Many delete bĕkol gillûlêhem niṭmāʾâ as an intrusive reference to idolatry in a context that is otherwise overwhelmingly political. However, gillûlîm need not be restricted to images of deity. Here they represent men, a conclusion confirmed by vv. 13–14, which, in an exposition of this phrase, replace the gillûlîm with ṣalmê kaśdîm, “images of Chaldeans.”
C. (:8) Consistent with Her Harlotries in Egypt
“And she 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.”
D. (:9-10) Condemned to Suffer Abuse and Disgrace
1. (:9) Punished by Her Paramours
“Therefore, I gave her into the hand of her lovers,
into the hand of the Assyrians, after whom she lusted.”
2. (:10a) Punished In Horrible Ways
a. Stripped of Modesty and Respect
“They uncovered her nakedness;”
b. Stripped of Children
“they took her sons and her daughters,”
“but they slew her with the sword.”
Derek Thomas: The lesson, for those who serve sin, seems to be that sin always has the last word. Those who give themselves to unlawful sexual gratification will find that, though the pleasure may be momentarily satisfying, the reward is invariably death: the death of disease, broken relationships and guilt.
3. (:10b) Punished by Disgrace
“Thus she became a byword among women,
and they executed judgments on her.”
MacArthur: The northern kingdom of Israel was a harlot, in a spiritual sense, by seeking union for fulfillment and security with idolatrous, young, wealthy, attractive Assyria. Assyria turned on her (v. 10), conquered her, and deported Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17).
Leslie Allen: vv. 5-10 — The political involvement of the northern kingdom with Assyria in the eighth century b.c. is interpreted negatively, as it was by Hosea. For Hosea it spelled a fundamental lack of faith in Yahweh—deserting him in favor of “lovers” (Hos 8:9; cf. 5:13; 14:3). Ezekiel develops this imagery in terms of the sexual attractiveness of macho Assyria, a veritable world power with all its impressive trappings. He categorizes Israel’s subsequent overtures to Egypt, made in order to secure liberation from Assyria (cf. 2 Kgs 17:4; Hos 7:11; 12:2), as a further manifestation of a deep urge toward inconstancy. This urge met its providential nemesis in the fall of Samaria and the end of the northern kingdom. The victors’ indulgence in their fruits of victory, the rape and killing of women and the selling of children, is woven into the allegory, as is Israel’s loss of face in the sight of other nations.
John Taylor: The Hebrew had never found it easy to resist the temptations and allurements of more sophisticated civilizations than his own, whether they were the fleshpots of Egypt or the dashing gallants of the Assyrian cavalry regiments. But Israel’s reward was very different from her expectation. Having been possessed and used, she was then despised and exposed to public ridicule, and finally savaged and destroyed.
III. (:11-21) JERUSALEM’S HISTORY OF HARLOTRY (OHOLIBAH)
A. (:11) Multiplied Harlotries of Jerusalem – Surpassing Samaria
“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.”
Douglas Stuart: Since Ezekiel’s fellow exiles in Tel-Abib were Judeans, they would take pride in the fact that the Davidic dynasty still ruled in Judah in the person of Zedekiah, that any power attacking Judah would have to contend with a well-fortified Jerusalem, and that their continuity of traditions with the past was intact, since unlike now-destroyed Samaria, their nation was still going strong, still enjoying the well-deserved (of course) blessing of the Lord.
All this was wrong. Judah was odious to the Lord. Jerusalem was a disgusting city. They should have been abjectly ashamed of themselves rather than proud—praying for forgiveness rather than congratulating themselves on their fine lineage. Thus when the allegory of chapter 23 gets around to the story of Oholibah/ Jerusalem, it gives no encouragement at all to the audience. The character they identify with is even worse than the character they’ve just been hearing about (Oholah, i.e., Samaria).
Peter Wallace: The people of Jerusalem had participated in the mocking of Samaria. Their northern neighbors had not worshiped God aright! Israel, at best, worshiped Yahweh with the golden calves at Bethel and Dan. And during the corrupt years of the Omrides (Ahab’s family) they had worshiped Baal – and (it seems) even the gods of Assyria. And sure, we had some bad kings in Jerusalem – Ahaz and Manasseh even committed idolatry in the temple! But Josiah fixed all that! We are God’s holy people – living in God’s holy city. We are not like Samaria! Ezekiel says, “that’s true – you’re worse!”
B. (:12-13) Harlotries with Assyria
“She lusted after the Assyrians, governors and officials, the ones near, magnificently dressed, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men. 13 And I saw that she had defiled herself; they both took the same way.”
Iain Duguid: Oholibah is not merely like her sister; she is worse than her sister. Nor is this depravity the result of ignorance: Her sister “saw” and yet still became more depraved in her lust, committing more adulteries than her sister (23:11). She first sinned in exactly the same way with the Assyrians (23:12, which closely recapitulates 23:5–6), and then added to her little black book the Babylonians (23:14). She was worse in her wantonness than her sister not merely in the number of her lovers (two as against one) but in the nature of their relationship. She was attracted to the Babylonians by a mere wall depiction; entranced by the vision of them she herself sent messengers to Babylon to get them (23:16). She was thus not merely willing to be seduced but was herself the active seductress. They thus became idols come to life for her: Like the idols of the house of Israel in 8:10, they are described as “portrayed on a wall, figures of Chaldeans” (23:14). Though they may be attractively dressed up, they are merely an old idolatry warmed over.
C. (:14-18) Harlotries with Babylonia
1. (:14-16) Seduced
“So she increased her harlotries. And she saw men portrayed on the wall, images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion, 15 girded 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. 16 “And when she saw them she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea.”
Peter Pett: These gorgeous cultic pictures painted on Babylonian walls had become familiar to Ezekiel since coming to Babylonia, and may possibly have been reproduced in some small way, through Babylonian influence, in Jerusalem. They were a vivid means of portraying the way that Jerusalem had been seduced by Babylonian sophistication and had become wrapped up in Babylon, like young women falling in love with a photograph of a uniformed officer.
2. (:17-18) Shamed
“And the Babylonians came to her to the bed of love,
and they defiled her with their harlotry.”
And when she had been defiled by them,
she became disgusted with them.”
And she uncovered her harlotries
and uncovered her nakedness;”
Then I became disgusted with her,
as I had become disgusted with her sister.”
Leslie Allen: vv. 14-18 — The second phase of Judah’s political involvement was with Babylonia, Assyria’s successor as the eastern world power. The glamor of Babylon is described in terms of architectural ornamentation. Doubtless Ezekiel and his audience had seen such painted bas-reliefs on Babylonian buildings, and the account is embroidered by the contemporary reference in the interests of communication with his hearers. Hab 1:6–11 reflects the tremendous impression the Babylonian army made on Judah. Underlying v 16 may be a tradition of secret negotiations with Babylon, whether in Hezekiah’s reign (cf. 2 Kgs 20:12–15) or in Jehoiakim’s (cf. 2 Kgs 23:34–24:1). Judah’s subsequent disenchantment is clothed in the psychological phenomenon of sexual revulsion (cf. Gottwald, All the Kingdoms of the Earth 305–6), which for the prophet illustrates the restlessness of those who refuse to find their rest in Yahweh. The narration of this second phase of Judah’s infidelity is drawn to a close by mention of Yahweh’s abhorrence. The partner who sadly “observed” at the end of the first phase (v 13) is now stung to a stronger reaction, which with its reference back to the northern kingdom bodes ill for Judah.
John Taylor: Verse 17 reflects the pendulum-like swing from a pro-Babylonian policy to an anti-Babylonian policy that marked Judah’s political history during the last hundred years before the exile. Discovered (18, av, rv) is well translated in rsv with the words carried on openly and flaunted. The references to Egypt in 19–21 may possibly reflect contemporary pro-Egyptian intrigues (cf. Jer. 37:5), but it is not necessary that it should be so interpreted. The dominant thought is the influence of Judah’s Egyptian upbringing.
D. (:19-21) Harlotries with Egypt
1. (:19-20) Seduced
“Yet she multiplied her harlotries, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the harlot in the land of Egypt.
And she lusted after their paramours, whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys and whose issue is like the issue of horses.”
Daniel Block: The strength of Yahweh’s passion over Oholibah’s conduct is reflected in the shocking portrayal of the third phase of her whoredoms. Now she has come full circle. As she recalls her youth in Egypt, the mature woman’s addiction takes her back to where it all began, only with intensified energy. The obscenity of the description accords with the unrestrained prurience of Oholibah’s actions.
Constable: vv. 17-21 — After she became a vassal of Babylon, she became disgusted with the Babylonians and turned away to seek help from Egypt (cf. Jer. 2:18; 6:8; 37:5-7; Lam. 4:17). The Lord also became disgusted with her, as He had with her sister. Nevertheless she persisted in her immoral conduct that she had learned in Egypt. She lusted after the Egyptians that pursued her like donkeys and horses in heat (cf. Jer. 2:24; 5:8; 13:27). Donkeys and horses were proverbial for their strong sexual drive (cf. Jer. 2:24; 5:8; 13:27), and the Lord used these animals as a figure for the Egyptians’ potency that attracted the Israelites.1 Jerusalem returned to her old lover, namely, Egypt.
Lamar Cooper: Judah’s political prostitution was presented in explicit sexual terminology. This idolatry produced the same revulsion by God that prompted him to annihilate their forefathers in the wilderness for the worship of the gods of Egypt (v. 21; Exod 32:11–18). Judah lusted for her lovers whose “genitals were like those of donkeys, and whose emission was like that of horses” (v. 20). These proverbial phrases were intended to show divine contempt for those attracted by the military power portrayed by reference to sexual potency.
3. (:21) Shameless
“Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom because of the breasts of your youth.”
Leslie Allen: vv. 19-21 — The third phase, hinted at in v 17, relates to Egypt and brings the account down to the present. Judah’s overtures to the ambitious Hophra, which Judeans at home and doubtless abroad viewed positively as the answer to all their problems, are invested with a negative aura, as a return to Egyptian bondage (v 3) and also as the history of the northern kingdom disastrously repeating itself (v 8). The coarseness of the description in v 20 leaves no doubt that for Ezekiel and his God the political alliance stank. The direct address of v 21, which continues in the next section, is both rhetorical and real in that Ezekiel was speaking to exiled Judeans. It creates a passionate conclusion.
Peter Pett: They are pictured as looking back with longing to when their breasts were admired and were heavily fondled. They want this to happen again. Their concentration is on the sensual rather than the spiritual.
IV. (:22-35) FOUR MESSAGES OF JUDGMENT ON JERUSALEM (OHOLIBAH)
A. (:22-27) Savaged by Her Former Lovers
“Therefore, O Oholibah, thus says the Lord God,”
Douglas Stuart: “Therefore” (Hebrew, lākēn, v. 22) is legal language, a standard way of introducing the judgment sentence in a prophetic passage dealing with God’s judgment for breaking His Law. The lovers Judah came to hate (“from whom you have alienated yourself”) will serve as God’s instruments of punishment. In verse 23, the Babylonians and Chaldeans are two names for the same nation. Pekod, Shoa, and Koa were Aramean tribes, small nations east of the Tigris that were now part of the Babylonian Empire and whose populations presumably served in considerable numbers in the Babylonian army. Ezekiel sometimes mentions such obscure, distant lands and peoples in order to convey to Israel the idea that “the whole world” is or will be against them (cf. chs. 38 and 39). In the conquering Babylonian army will also be Assyrians—the group that conquered Samaria—when the foe takes Jerusalem captive. The enemies’ harsh “justice” will constitute God’s delegated judgment (v. 24). It will include mutilation (“They shall remove [cut off] your nose and your ears”), death (“your remnant shall fall by the sword”), enslavement (“They shall take your sons and your daughters”), and the burning of the city (“devoured by fire,” v. 25). Nothing of her former glory, symbolized here by clothes and jewelry, will be left, and thereby Jerusalem will learn not to think about “Egypt”—her idolatrous, dependent origins—any more (vv. 26–27).
Lamar Cooper: vv. 22-35 — This passage contains four messages of judgment to come upon Oholibah (Judah, especially Jerusalem).
– First, her lovers would become the instruments of judgment against her. The Babylonians, with other conquered vassals, would attack Jerusalem (vv. 22–27). They would mutilate her, strip her, and take her away.
– Second, she would be despised by those who were formerly her lovers (vv. 28–31). Disloyalty to God leads to idolatry and ultimately is expressed in contempt for all involved.
– Third, she would suffer the same fall as her sister Oholah. Jerusalem would be destroyed and her citizens taken captive because of the wrath (cup) of God (vv. 32–34).
– Fourth, she would bear her sin, abandoned of any source of help (v. 35). Because Jerusalem forgot God, she was left alone. Greater punishment for sin does not exist than to be isolated in a time of judgment and despair.
Robert Lawrence: This passage (verses 22-35) contains four messages of judgment to come upon Oholibah (Judah, especially Jerusalem).
a. God would bring the Babylonians to punish Judah just as He brought the Assyrians to punish Samaria (vv. 22–27).
b. God would allow the people they hated to ravage their land and destroy Jerusalem and the temple (vv. 28–31).
c. Next, she would suffer the same fall as her sister Oholah – the cup He hands them will be large and deep and they will have to drink it (vv. 32–34).
d. Judah would bear their own sin, abandoned of any source of help (v. 35).
1. (:22-24) Onslaught of Judgment from Former Lovers
a. (:22) Initiation of Judgment
“Behold I will arouse your lovers against you, from whom you were alienated, and I will bring them against you from every side:”
b. (:23) Identification of the Attackers
“the 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.”
c. (:24a) Implements of Warfare
“And they 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;”
d. (:24b) Imposition of Judgment
“and I shall commit the judgment to them,
and they will judge you according to their customs.”
2. (:25-27) Oppression of Judgment from Former Lovers
a. (:25a) Delegated Jealousy and Wrath
“And I will set My jealousy against you,
that they may deal with you in wrath.”
b. (:25b) Disfigurement, Separation and Consumption
“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.”
Constable: Her enemies would cut off her nose and her ears. This was an ancient Near Eastern punishment for adulteresses, which was understandable since these women typically adorned themselves with nose-rings and earrings. This appears to have been a method of mutilating enemies and prisoners of war as well. This punishment would make Jerusalem grotesque, unappealing, and repulsive to other nations. Cutting off the noses and ears was one example of the mutilation of prisoners captured by their enemies.
Iain Duguid: This combination of divine and human judgment is further developed in the following verses. The Lord says, “I will direct my jealous anger against you, and they will deal with you in fury” (23:25). As Jerusalem’s sins were worse than her sister’s, so also will her punishment be. She will not only be stripped but also disfigured, and her children will not only be taken from her but will also fall by the sword and be consumed by fire (23:25). The goal of this judgment is a proper amnesia: forgetting the prostitution begun in Egypt (23:27). Her lovers have now become her enemies, who will strip her and plunder her (23:28–29). As she followed in the pattern of her elder sister, so now she will share her elder sister’s fate and drink from the same bitter cup of sorrow, all the way down to its dregs (23:32–34). In her shame, she will tear out the bodily members that led her into sin in the first place, her breasts.
c. (:26) Denuding
“They will also strip you of your clothes
and take away your beautiful jewels.”
d. (:27) Detoxification
“Thus I shall 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.”
Leslie Allen: Overshadowing this whole operation would be the figure of Yahweh, Ezekiel discloses in vv 22, 24b–25aα and 27a, at the beginning, middle and end of the pronouncement. It would be the reprisal of a cuckolded husband (cf. v 4) provoked to jealousy. The human enemies would be given free rein to put their own cruel standards into operation. Such was the noose into which Judah had rashly put its head by dallying with the Egyptians. The ghost of Egypt (cf. v 19) had to be laid to rest once and for all. Judah’s dream was to turn into a waking nightmare.
B. (:28-31) Stripped Naked for Her Idolatry
“For thus says the Lord God,”
Douglas Stuart: Delivered to her enemies (exiled, v. 28), Jerusalem will be “naked.” Hebrew gālāh means either “naked” or “exiled/exposed,” and thus it and its synonyms are used often in the prophets as metaphors for exile, as here in verse 29. Judah’s harlotry (promiscuous unfaithfulness, v. 30) requires that she drink from Samaria’s “cup,” that is, her same fate (v. 31).
1. (:28) Abandoned to Her Enemies
“Behold, I will give you into the hand of those whom you hate,
into the hand of those from whom you were alienated.”
2. (:29) Abused and Exposed
“And they will deal with you in hatred, take all your property,
and leave you naked and bare. And the nakedness of your harlotries shall be uncovered, both your lewdness and your harlotries.”
Constable: The Lord also announced that He would turn Jerusalem over to those whom she had come to hate, namely, the Babylonians. They would hate her, rob her of her property, and leave her naked and ashamed (in 586 B.C.).
3. (:30-31) Aligned with the Harlotries and Punishment of Samaria
“These things will be done to you
because you have played the harlot with the nations,”
because you have defiled yourself with their idols.”
You have walked in the way of your sister;
therefore I will give her cup into your hand.”
C. (:32-34) Scorned and Sorrowful as She Drains the Cup of God’s Judgment
“Thus says the Lord God,”
Douglas Stuart: The short cup poem that follows (vv. 32–34) is a type of taunt song or mocking song (cf. Is. 37:22–29; Ezek. 29:3–5) used to “rub in” the reality of Judah’s coming fate. Indeed, near the end of the song, the people’s coming misery is described in the symbolism of the cup’s breaking into pieces and lacerating (tearing up, rather than “tearing at”) Oholibah’s breasts. Everything she has done will backfire on her. Her sins will produce not pleasure, only hurt. She should have loved the Lord only (v. 35), but having rejected Him and gone into prostitution, she will, having been tried for harlotry and found guilty, be punished to the full extent of the Law.
Lamar Cooper: The third message was a reminder that the “cup” he had given to her sister Oholah (Samaria) contained the wrath of God’s judgment that also would be given to Judah (vv. 32–34). The first strophe of these verses describes the size of the cup and the consequences of drinking its contents (e.g., scorn, derision) because it holds much (v. 32). The second strophe describes the drunkenness and sorrow that are the consequences of the ruin and desolation that resulted from drinking the cup (v. 33). The final strophe describes the anguish of the finality of judgment (v. 34). The “cup” of God’s wrath is a common feature in the Old Testament prophet who proclaimed God’s judgment on Israel and Judah (Isa 51:7, 22; Jer 25:15–17, 28; Hab 2:16; Zech 12:2). The motif of the cup places Ezekiel in “a long prophetic chain that was to culminate in Jesus, who absorbed in his own person the horror of God’s judgment accepting it from his hand without a shudder (Mark 14:36).” [Leslie Allen]
John Taylor: The reference to her cup (31) is the connecting link which leads on to the poem about the cup of Samaria (32–34). This is a strange little stanza: it does not appear to say very much that has not already been said, and its interpretation is made more difficult by textual uncertainties. Its main impact is made by its striking language and pregnant phrases, as so often in this type of Hebrew poetry. To render it in English demands so much paraphrase and interpretation that the effect, especially of the 3:2 metre, is usually lost. rsv tries to keep close to the Hebrew; jb renders it wordily but well. Its starkness may be judged by this literal rendering:
Cup of-your-sister you-shall-drink
(which is) deep and-wide.
She / it / you-shall-be for-laughter and-derision
Drunkenness and-anguish you-will-be-full-of,
Cup of-your-sister, Samaria,
you-will-drink it and-drain (it);
And its-pieces you-shall-break(?)
1. (:32) Scorned – Emphasis on the Size of the Cup
“You will drink your sister’s cup, Which is deep and wide.
You will be laughed at and held in derision; It contains much.”
2. (:33) Sorrowful – Emphasis on the Effects of Drinking the Cup
“You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow,
The cup of horror and desolation,
The cup of your sister Samaria.”
Peter Pett: The point of the song is that she is drinking what she has brought on herself, and drinking deeply to the derision of others, and will thus end up in pathetic need and despair. her end will be in desperation. Those who keep bad company will reap the consequences.
3. (:34) Staggered – Emphasis on the Finality and Brutality of Drinking the Cup
“And you will drink it and drain it.
Then you will gnaw its fragments And tear your breasts;”
“’for I have spoken,’ declares the Lord God.”
D. (:35) Sowing What She Reaped by Forgetting Her Covenant God
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God,”
1. Root Problem
“Because you have forgotten Me and cast Me behind your back,”
Constable: Jerusalem would bear the Lord’s punishment for her lewd and immoral behavior because she had abandoned Him. This short message identifies the root problem in Israel’s apostasy: she had forsaken Yahweh.
“bear now the punishment of your lewdness and your harlotries.”
V. (:36-49) JUDGMENT ON BOTH SISTERS —
SUMMARY JUDGMENT FOR HARLOTRIES
A. (:36-45) Statement of the Charges
“Moreover, the LORD said to me,”
Lamar Cooper: Seven “detestable practices” were reviewed (23:36–44) prior to the verdict (vv. 45–49). These practices or “abominations” restate all former charges presented in chaps. 20–23. These “detestable things” relate to spiritual infidelity, moral impurity, and political indiscretion. The list includes desecration of the Sabbath (v. 38), desecration of the temple (v. 39), forbidden foreign alliances (vv. 40–41), adultery (vv. 42–44), innocent bloodshed (v. 45), child sacrifice (vv. 46–47), and idolatry (vv. 48–49).
1. (:36) Call to Judgment
“Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah?
Then declare to them their abominations.”
2. (:37-39) Catalog of Indiscretions
a. (:37) Idolatry – Including Child Sacrifice
“For 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.”
Douglas Stuart: In one sense, the allegory saves the worst for last. It specifies that Israel’s idolatry included child sacrifice (v. 37) and the desecration of the temple (v. 38), charges not yet mentioned in the chapter. Moreover, it stresses the extent to which Israel—north and south—had aggressively sought the services of foreign nations (vv. 40–44) rather than merely acceding to diplomatic overtures from them.
Derek Thomas: This is one of the most amazing truths in the Scriptures: that, as Christians, we share in the closest possible relationship with Jesus Christ. It is an intimacy analogous to the ‘one flesh’ relationship in a marriage. It is the highest expression of love and intimacy. It is a relationship bound by the most solemn obligations of fidelity and trust. To break this relationship is to violate the most precious thing we possess. It is a crime of the highest order. In the realm of marriage, adultery is the hardest sin to forgive. In the spiritual realm, its offence is of the greatest significance. If we imagine the pain brought upon an offended partner by the violation of marriage that adultery brings, we can begin to understand the reaction of God to the sins of his people. It is a violation of the covenant.
b. (:38-39) Defiling the Sanctuary and Profaning the Sabbaths
“Again, they have done this to Me: they have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and have profaned My sabbaths.
39 For 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.”
Peter Pett: Guilt piled on guilt. Not only had they offered their children to Molech, they had done it on the sabbath and had then gone to God’s sanctuary as though they had done nothing wrong, indeed no doubt feeling how holy they had been. This was syncretism with a vengeance, for they were so far wrong that they no doubt expected Yahweh to be pleased with what they had done. So can superstition destroy true religion. But God was far from pleased. He was furiously angry. All that He had patiently taught them had been thrown aside. Northern Israel was involved in the defiling of the sanctuary because what remained of them had now found refuge in Judah and they were equally guilty.
Jeff Meyers: When I mention the word or say the fact of they have defiled, they have used it for a purpose that it was not intended. They have changed, like it says, they defiled the sabbath. They were not longer obeying those sabbath laws. They were no longer utilizing the temple for what it was intended for. They were using it for their own good and their own personal agenda. Ladies and gentlemen, the only entity that Jesus Christ shed his blood for was the church, and when you use the church for your own personal agenda, you have prostituted the church, and today there are many people who use their position and their “churches” to propagate their agenda and not the gospel. They do it under the guise of the church. Anytime you’re watching national news, a lot of times there is somebody who is always introduced as “the Reverend So-and-so.” Aha, just because you’ve got a title doesn’t mean you’re propagating the gospel. Just because you have a position as the pastor of a church doesn’t mean you’re propagating the gospel. Oftentimes we, like the Israelites, we hide behind our churches, we hide behind our titles and at the end of the day all we’re propagating is our personal, carnal agendas. What did you have in Israel? They said, “Oh, but I’m a priest. I’m a prophet. I work in the temple.” And the Lord says, “Yeah, but you’ve defiled it. You’ve profaned it.”
3. (:40-44) Seductive Solicitations of International Liaisons
a. (:40-42) The Attraction
“Furthermore, they have even sent for men who come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent; and lo, they came– for whom you bathed, painted your eyes, and decorated yourselves with ornaments; 41 and you sat on a splendid couch with a table arranged before it, on which you had set My incense and My oil. 42 And the 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.”
Constable: These daughters had sent to other nations and invited ambassadors to come to them to make treaties (cf. Deut. 17:14-20). They had made themselves as attractive as possible, like a prostitute does for her lover. They even used the things that they should have used only for the worship of Yahweh to entice desert lovers (e.g. the Arabians, Moabites, and Edomites).
The whole atmosphere of the reception was like that of a drunken orgy. The same Hebrew word, saba’im, can mean “Sabeans” and “drunkards” (v. 42), and both meanings could have been intended (double entendre). These foreign lovers gave the Israelites the wages of a prostitute including bracelets and crowns.
b. (:43-44) The Astonishment
“Then I said concerning her who was worn out by adulteries, ‘Will they now commit adultery with her when she is thus?’ 44 But 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.”
Douglas Stuart: Verses 40–44 depict symbolically Israel’s history of self-destructive international diplomacy, like a prostitute sending out invitations and making herself attractive to men (cf. Jer. 4:30; 2 Kin. 9:30). In verse 41 “My incense and My oil” symbolizes the blessings of God being used wrongly—incense and oil being the prostitute’s toiletries which she used to make herself attractive to her lovers even though they had been obtained with her husband’s money. In verse 42 “Sabeans” reflects a Hebrew original (from the root sbʒ) better rendered “drunks”—that is, drunken, dirty tent dwellers, caravaneers (“from the wilderness”), and other lowlife (“men of the common sort”). These brought jewelry as payment for their illicit sex. Although the prostitute is “worn out” or “old” (Hebrew, balah, v. 43) lovers still want her (nations still see Israel as a valuable conquest).
4. (:45) Confirmation of Judgment
“But 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.”
John Taylor: The righteous men can hardly be the lovers of verses 22–24, even though the nations will eventually be the instruments of God’s judgment. It must mean that those who judge the two sisters will judge them righteously. The stress is on the way the judging will be done, not on who will do the judging.
B. (:46-49) Sentencing Judgment Pronounced
“For thus says the Lord God,”
Daniel Block: The lengthy oracle against Oholah and Oholibah concludes with a summons to the executioners, identified vaguely as qāhāl, “assembly,” here “army,” and the committal of the women to be terrorized and plundered. The nouns zaʿăwâ, from “to terrorize,” and bāz, from “to plunder,” prove that the prophet’s attention has shifted from the women to the cities they represent. In terms reminiscent of 16:40–41, v. 47 lists the ruthless tactics that will be employed by the assembled agents of judgment: stoning, hacking up women with swords, slaughtering children, and burning houses. Vv. 48a and 49a declare the twofold divine objective in this outpouring of violence: to purge (hišbît min) the land of the women’s contaminating lewdness and to impose on them the guilt/punishment of their wicked behavior. When this occurs, Ezekiel’s audience will acknowledge Yahweh.
1. (:46) Mob Justice
“Bring up a company against them,
and give them over to terror and plunder.”
Peter Pett: Men can be very unpleasant when they get together in drunken mood and egg each other on, and the picture here is of the fallen women being tossed about and humiliated and degraded in a gathering of drunkards. It is the final depiction of their degradation which will be followed by their punishment.
2. (:47) Brutal Devastation
“And the 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.”
3. (:48) Goal of Deterrence
“Thus I shall make lewdness cease from the land,
that all women may be admonished
and not commit lewdness as you have done.”
Daniel Block: the concluding parenetic appeal reminds the readers of this oracle that in God’s eyes adultery is an abhorrent evil, not only because it perverts the sex act but especially because it violates the covenant bond of marriage. Apart from the marital covenantal commitment, all sexual activity is prostitution, and rather than offering lasting satisfaction, illicit intimacy yields contempt and disgust. Ezekiel’s own application of the lesson of Yahweh’s case against Jerusalem to his immediate audience points the way to its significance for God’s people today. The fate of Jerusalem serves as a warning for the corporate community of faith as well as for individual members of that community. Marital infidelity is self-destructive, and brings upon one the wrath of God.
4. (:49a) Accountability for Harlotries and Idolatry
“And your lewdness will be requited upon you,
and you will bear the penalty of worshiping your idols;”
Daniel Woodhead: The gross sin of turning away from God and replacing Him with worthless idols will no longer be practiced. All the women engaging in these lewd activities will have been chastised. Meaning that Israel, represented by the two prostitutes in the parable will not engage in these practices any longer and the surrounding nations will learn a lesson from Israel’s downfall. Even if the surrounding nations continue to worship idols they will not do so with the same degree of profligacy as Israel did. They will not be disloyal to their own particular idols either as they seek to separate themselves from Israel’s sins, seeing what Israel’s God did to satisfy His vengeance for their idolatry. They all shall know that this was from Jehovah the Lord.
5. (:49b) Recognition Refrain
“thus you will know that I am the Lord God.”
Lamar Cooper: While most parables and messages concerning sin in the Old Testament seek to produce repentance, that is not so here. The message closed with a note of finality.