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THE ALLEGORY OF THE UNFAITHFUL WIFE
The sole purpose of this tremendous chapter was stated bluntly in the second verse: "Cause Jerusalem to know her abominations." Ezekiel discharged this assignment in the most realistic, and some would say the most revolting, chapter in the Bible. Under the influence of Christ, men today would not speak in such harsh, realistic, even vulgar language which we find here; but the sad truth was that only this kind of brutally frank and honest language could get the attention of Israel.
The problem was the national attitude of the whole Jewish nation. Remembering their past glory, the miraculous aid which had given them their eminence, the extravagant luxury of their formerly great empire, and their constant appropriation unto themselves of the most surpassing thoughts relative to their being "God's chosen people," "the choicest among the nations," etc., the Jewish mind utterly despised all of the other races on earth. Had not God wiped out Samaria? and Sodom? Their national expectation looked forward to "the Lord's Day," when God would appear, probably on a white horse, kill all the Gentiles, and turn the whole world over to his favorite people, the Jews.
It was this national conceit which had prevented the Jews, up to this point, in catching the point of Ezekiel's many prophecies concerning the worthlessness and reprobacy of the "Once Chosen" people. That is the background of this chapter.
Ezekiel seized upon the metaphor of the marriage covenant, so dramatically depicted in Hosea 2:2-14, expanded and elaborated it, and made it the startling "Allegory of the Unfaithful Wife," fully meriting the brutal and sadistic punishment of adulteresses in ancient times.
This whole chapter was summarized by Halley. "It is a graphic, vivid portrayal of Israel's idolatry under the figure of a bride, rescued from her exposure as an infant, who became the wife of her benefactor, who made her a queen and lavished upon her silks, sealskins, and every beautiful thing; who then made herself a prostitute to every man that passed by, thereby becoming even worse than Samaria and Sodom."
Plumptre described the language here as unmatched by anything else except some passages in Dante, but cautioned us to remember that, "The scenes brought forth by the prophet here were a very familiar thing to the men of the generation addressed by Ezekiel." The picture of Israel is so revolting in this chapter that the distinguished Jewish Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, "Forbade the chapter either to be read or translated in public!" Plumptre noted that Israel is here revealed as, "The Messalina of the nations." Messalina was the profligate third wife of the Emperor Claudius, executed in 48 A.D.
According to Jamieson, there are five great paragraphs in the chapter. (1) The Great Benefactor rescues the outcast infant foundling (vv. 1-7). (2) Later married to her Benefactor, she is made a queen (vv. 8-14). (3) She becomes a gross, unprincipled sinner (vv. 15-34). (4) She incurs the terrible punishment of an adulteress (vv. 35-52). (5) Her restoration is promised, but it is also extended to Samaria and Sodom! (vv. 53-63).
The proposition to be exploited in this chapter is the unmitigated wickedness of Israel from its very beginning and throughout its history.
HEREDITY; BIRTH; INFANCY; EXPOSURE; AND RESCUE
"Again, the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations; and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto Jerusalem: Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of the Canaanite; the Amorite was thy father, and thy mother was a Hittite. And as for thy nativity, the day thou wast born, thy navel wast not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to cleanse thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor wast thou swaddled at all. No eye pitied thee, to do any of these things unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, for that thy person was abhorred, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee weltering in thy blood, I said unto thee, Though thou art in thy blood, live; and I said unto thee, Though thou art weltering in thy blood, live. I caused thee to multiply as that which groweth in the field, and thou didst increase and wax great, and thou attainedst to excellent ornament; thy breasts were fashioned, and thy hair was grown; yet thou wast naked and bare."
"The word of the Lord unto Jerusalem ..." (Ezekiel 16:3). Although Jerusalem alone is mentioned here, "The city is used as a representative of the whole Jewish nation."
The metaphor is that of a baby girl mercilessly exposed in an open field, for whom none of the necessary services for a newborn child were performed. Unwashed, abhorred, thrown out to die, just like that newborn child recently picked up by the garbage men in Houston. McFadyen noted that, "In a similar way, Israel's sins from the beginning to the end of her history constituted one unbroken record of black apostasy."
The picture of an unattended, abandoned new-born baby girl, with uncut navel and wallowing in the refuse of its afterbirth is described here in very indelicate language; "But Ezekiel meant it that way; he was exposing ugly sins, and he made the allegory fit the facts."
Those were cruel times in world history; and the exposure of unwanted children for the purpose of getting rid of them was widely known. Furthermore, as Plumptre said, "Everyone was familiar with scenes of this kind." In fact, it must be supposed that, the captives themselves were particularly familiar with such things; because in that long terrible march, lasting a month or more, from Jerusalem to Babylon, the heartless captors would have allowed no time or consideration for the women whose children were born on the bitter march. Such unfortunate children as were born under those conditions were left by the side of the road to die.
"Thy nativity is of the land of the Canaanites ..." (Ezekiel 16:3). "Ezekiel here moved far beyond other prophets, asserting that from their very birth, Israel had the genes of depravity in her being."
The allegory here is somewhat inexact, because, strictly speaking, Abraham and the patriarchs were not Canaanites; however, what is said here indicates that the Chosen People did indeed become the children, in the spiritual sense, of the Canaanites. The Amorite father, and the Hittite mother, through their abominable idols with their licentious rites, won Israel over, and became the spiritual parents of the Jews, who actually became "Canaanites" in every spiritual sense (Hosea 12:7).
The allegory fits especially in the matter of when the "infancy" of the Jewish nation actually occurred; it was not in the days of Abraham, but at the time of their coming up out of Egypt. The covenant from the days of Israel's youth, however, referred to the Abrahamic promise, and not to the Mosaic covenant (verse 60).
The comparison of the Jewish nation with an exposed and abandoned infant was extremely appropriate; because, "The Jews in Egypt were held to be contemptible by the Egyptians; and the Pharaoh's determined to exterminate them through the murder of their male children. Moses, as a type of the whole nation, was himself exposed, and delivered from actual death, only by God's providence."
"I said unto thee ... live ..." (Ezekiel 16:6). The repetition of this speaks of the miracle of God in the preservation and blessing of the infant nation, threatened as they were, by Egyptian intentions to destroy them.
"Thou attainedst to excellent ornaments ... thy breasts were fashioned ... thy hair was grown ..." (Ezekiel 16:7). The ornaments here are the natural beauty of womanhood, as distinguished from those mentioned in Ezekiel 16:11. "Her breasts were fashioned" was rendered by Keil as, "Her breasts expanded."
"Thy hair was grown ..." (Ezekiel 16:7). This is not a reference merely to "longer hair," but as Greenberg noted, to hair not visible at all previously, "Lo, hair is grown on thy vulva."
"I caused thee to multiply ..." (Ezekiel 16:7). This is a reference to the marvelous growth of Israel, which is indicated here as being due to the special providence of God.
"Yet thou wast naked and bare ..." (Ezekiel 16:7). "This represents the days of their sojourn in Egypt, before the Sinaitic covenant."
"Now when I passed by thee and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee saith the Lord Jehovah, and thou becamest mine. Then I washed thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with sealskin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and covered thee with silk. And I decked thee with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a ring upon thy nose, and ear-rings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thy head. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil; and thou wast exceeding beautiful; and thou didst prosper unto royal estate. And thy renown went forth among the nations for thy beauty; and it was perfect, through my majesty which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord Jehovah."
THE FOUNDLING MARRIED TO HER BENEFACTOR
"I spread my skirt over thee ..." (Ezekiel 16:8). This was a symbol of marriage. A Biblical example of this is found in Ruth 3:8. What is typified here is the marriage of God to Israel, a metaphorical representation of the Sinaitic covenant and the choice of the nation as "God's Chosen People."
"Then I washed thee with water ..." (Ezekiel 16:9). Commentators have struggled with this; but the explanation is in Ephesians 5:25ff: "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself." Thus the marriage of Christ to his Bride the Church followed the same pattern that is found here. The purpose of the "washing" in both instances was the cleansing of the bride and her consecration to the Lord. Paul further mentioned the "washing" of the first Bride, the Racial Israel, as their, "Being baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:2).
"I washed away thy blood from thee ..." (Ezekiel 16:9). Here again, some very powerful scholars are perplexed. "This washing is interpreted as the cleansing and purification from menstrual blood." No indeed! The reference in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is to the washing that precedes union with God (or Christ) and cleanses from "all previous sin," the same being typified by the elaborate ceremonies that attended the giving of the Law at Sinai. The blood that was washed away in Ezekiel 16:9 is typical of all sins and mistakes.
Note also that "the anointing with oil" followed the washing, just as the anointing of Aaron followed his ceremonial washing, and just as the reception of the Holy Spirit followed the baptism (the washing) of Jesus Christ, and just as the reception of the Holy Spirit is always subsequent to and contingent upon Christian baptism of all the followers of Christ.
"The anointing with oil indicates the powers of the Spirit of God, which flowed to Israel from the divine covenant of grace."
This custom of anointing with oil, which from the most ancient times, accompanied the making of any solemn covenant, has come down even into current times. Those who saw the coronation of Elizabeth II, Queen of England, cannot forget the solemn ceremony of the anointing of the Queen with oil.
"Badgers' skin (sealskin in ASV) ..." (Ezekiel 16:10). "This is probably a reference to the skin of the dugong, a herbivorous cetacean found in the Red Sea." Greenberg thought the leather referred to here was "a specially treated and dyed sheep or goat skin"; but in the same breath he mentioned a certain Bodenheimer who believed that the skin of dolphins was meant. Jamieson tells us that, "Shoes made of this material were always worn by the Hebrews upon festal occasions."
"Through my majesty which I had put upon thee ..." (Ezekiel 16:14). The words "my majesty," with the possessive pronoun stress the fact that all of the renowned beauty and perfection of Israel were the gifts of God and were not due to any intrinsic worth or ability of the Jews themselves. Is it not also true of every gifted mortal?
"But thou didst trust in thy beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and poured out thy whoredoms on every one that passed by; his it was. And thou didst take of thy garments, and madest for thee high places decked with divers colors, and playedst the harlot upon them: like things shall not come, neither shall it be so. Thou didst also take thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest for thee images of men, and didst play the harlot with them; and thou tookest thy broidered garments and coveredst them, and didst set my oil and my incense before them."
THE SHAMEFUL PROFLIGACY OF ISRAEL
This extensive paragraph encompasses Ezekiel 16:15-34, but we shall subdivide it.
"Playedst the harlot ... poured out thy whoredoms ..." (Ezekiel 16:15). Although the particular sins of Israel mentioned in this long paragraph are here listed as "whoredoms," the reference is inclusive of such things as seeking alliances with foreign nations, and the adoption of the religious idols and customs of the pagan world around them. Nevertheless, the allegory is very proper and accurate, because, as May noted, "As in Hosea and other prophets, such terminology here carries with it a connotation of association with the sexual rites of the Canaanite cults." The unbelievable licentiousness which marked the worship of the various fertility gods and goddesses was extremely immoral and depraved.
"God had warned Israel not to forget him when she came into all the benefits that he would give her in the Promised land (Deuteronomy 6:10-12);" But no sooner had God given them a magnificent and glorious kingdom under Solomon, than the nation, led by the scandalous Solomon, did exactly what is outlined here. "They committed spiritual adultery with every nation on earth" Solomon had seven hundred wives, each of them representing an alliance he had made with some foreign state or principality, and three hundred concubines. This was not merely "spiritual adultery." It was unmitigated, lustful adultery practiced on a Gargantuan scale. There's no better word for it than the harsh realism of this allegory. All of that reprehensible conduct showed that Israel was no longer trusting God who had so richly blessed them. They were trusting their own ability to take care of themselves by their alliances with other states.
The evil outlined in this long paragraph, "Began when Israel adopted the Canaanite sanctuaries of Palestine (Jeremiah 2:5-7, also 5:28 here)"; but, as noted in the previous paragraph, it was Solomon who brought the whole pantheon of pagan gods into Israel. All of Solomon's pagan wives brought their own religion, their own pagan priests, and all of the evil practices of their religion. And of course, Solomon built every one of them a temple, or shrine, or high place. There is nothing more scandalous than Solomon's debauchery of the whole nation.
"And madest for thee images of men ..." (Ezekiel 16:17). "There is reference here to a certain form of very abominable idolatry, namely, the worship of the phallus, or the membrum virile, which the Egyptians regarded as the emblem of fecundity, and which is still licentiously worshipped by the Hindus under the name of lingam."
These verses stress the fact that it was the very gifts of God Himself which the Israelites used to construct their pagan shrines and to be wasted in pagan worship. "This was a crowning aggravation of their guilt, that the very valuables designed for God's worship were prostituted in the worship of his pagan rivals."
"My bread also, which I gave thee, fine flour, and oil, and honey, wherewith I fed thee, thou didst even set it before them for a sweet savor; and thus it was, saith the Lord Jehovah. Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters which thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Were thy whoredoms a small matter, that thou hast slain my children, and delivered them up, in causing them to pass through the fire unto them? And in all thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast weltering in thy blood."
"Before them for a sweet savor ..." (Ezekiel 16:19). These were food offerings to idols.
"To pass through the fire to them ..." (Ezekiel 16:20,21). This is a reference to the horrible infanticide identified with the worship of Molech, a pagan practice that continued throughout the greater part of Israel's history, even some of their kings making their sons "pass through the fire to Molech."
"Thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth ..." (Ezekiel 16:22). Matthew Henry has an extensive analysis of this whole long paragraph (Ezekiel 16:15-35).
I. Causes of Israel's sin.
A. They grew proud (Ezekiel 16:15).
B. They refused to remember (Ezekiel 16:22).
C. They were weak in heart (Ezekiel 16:30).
II. Particulars of their sins.
A. They worshipped every idol they heard of (Ezekiel 16:15).
B. They lavished their God-given wealth on their idols (Ezekiel 16:16,18).
C. They made idols from gold God had given them (Ezekiel 16:17).
D. They served idols with the wealth God gave them (Ezekiel 16:18).
E. They sacrificed their children to Molech (Ezekiel 16:20).
F. They even built shrines for their idols (Ezekiel 16:23-25).
III. Aggravations of their Guilt.
A. They even worshipped the idols of those nations which were their enemies (Ezekiel 16:28).
B. God rebuked them, but still they continued in the same sins (Ezekiel 16:27).
C. They spent much money on their idols (Ezekiel 16:31-34).MONO>
Later in this study of the paragraph, we shall refer to this outline.
"And it is come to pass after all thy wickedness, woe, woe unto thee! saith the Lord Jehovah, that thou hast built unto thee a vaulted place, and hast made unto thee a lofty place in every street. Thou hast built thy lofty place at the head of every way, and hast made thy beauty an abomination, and hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied thy whoredoms. Thou hast also committed fornication with the Egyptians, thy neighbors, great of flesh; and hast multiplied thy whoredoms to provoke me to anger. Behold therefore, I have stretched out my hand over thee, and have diminished thine ordinary food, and delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee, the daughters of the Philistines, that are ashamed of thy lewd way. Thou hast played the harlot with the Assyrians, because thou wast insatiable; yea, thou hast played the harlot with them, and yet thou wast not satisfied. Thou hast moreover multiplied thy whoredom unto the land of traffic, unto Chaldea, and yet thou wast not satisfied herewith."
"At the head of every way ..." (Ezekiel 16:25). "The meaning here, as noted also in the LXX, clearly indicates that these were used for prostitution. Such places of prostitution were found in the `high places' of Judah." The amazing charge here is that there was one of these on "every street," or at the head of every way.
The aggravation of Israel's guilt was especially seen in their worship of the gods of their sworn enemies. This paragraph mentions the Egyptians (Ezekiel 16:28), the Philistines (Ezekiel 16:27), the Assyrians (Ezekiel 16:28), and the Chaldeans (Ezekiel 16:29), All of which, at one time or another, had oppressed Israel.
"Thou hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied thy whoredoms ..." (Ezekiel 16:25). The meaning is that Israel, like an insatiable whore, had spread her legs apart for anyone who would have her. An example of this, as applied in the political sector of Israel's behavior, is found in Zedekiah's attempt to form political alliances with such countries as Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon (Jeremiah 27:1-4).
"How weak is thy heart, saith the Lord Jehovah, seeing thou doest all these things, the work of an impudent harlot; in that thou buildest thy vaulted place at the head of every way, and makest thy lofty place in every street, and hast not been as a harlot, in that thou scornest hire. A wife that committeth adultery! that taketh strangers instead of her husband! They give gifts to all harlots; but thou givest thy gifts to all thy lovers, and bribest them, that they may come unto thee on every side for thy whoredoms. And thou art different from other women in thy whoredoms, in that none followeth thee to play the harlot; and whereas thou givest hire, and no hire is given thee, therefore thou art different."
This paragraph fits the last entry in Matthew Henry's outline, above. The wealth and honor of Israel were squandered in their shameful efforts to build and strengthen alliances with foreign governments, instead of trusting Jehovah, who alone had power to protect and bless his people. There is no more shameful episode in the history of Israel than the vain and foolish efforts of her final series of kings to mimic the scandalous conduct of Solomon in his alliances with many nations. The whole world was ashamed of them, even the Philistines (Ezekiel 16:27); and they were also the laughing-stock of all the nations.
It must be admitted that Ezekiel, at this point, had fulfilled his commission to "Make Jerusalem know her abominations" (Ezekiel 16:2). If language could accomplish such an assignment, then Ezekiel had done it!
"Wherefore, O harlot, hear the word of Jehovah: Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness uncovered through thy whoredoms with thy lovers; and because of all the idols of thy abominations, and for the blood of thy children, that thou didst give unto them; therefore behold, 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 against thee on every side, and will uncover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness. And I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and shed blood; and I will bring upon thee the blood of wrath and jealousy."
ISRAEL'S PUNISHMENT AS AN ADULTERESS
These eighteen verses (Ezekiel 16:35-51) speak of the awful punishment of the Chosen People and of its absolute justice in God's sight.
The punishment of unfaithful wives in antiquity was as sadistically cruel as anything ever known. It is described in Nahum 3:4-7. (We refer the reader to my commentary on Nahum in the Minor Prophets Series, Vol. 3, p. 48.) In this paragraph, God condemned Israel to suffer such a shameful and terrible punishment. Why? They had cast into jeopardy the salvation of all mankind!
"Thy filthiness was poured out ..." (Ezekiel 16:36). The marginal reading for "filthiness" is "brass," standing "for wealth or money." However Greenberg stated that the word is actually, "The cognate of the Akkadian "nahsati", meaning `morbid genital outflow' of a woman, a reference to female genital distillation produced by sexual arousal." He translated this place, "Your juice was poured out." We feel certain that the marginal reference is preferable.
"I will also give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thy vaulted place, and break down thy lofty place; and they shall strip thee of thy clothes, and take thy fair jewels; and they shall leave thee naked and bare. They shall also bring up a company against thee, and they shall stone thee with stones, and thrust thee through with their swords. And they shall burn thy houses with fire, and shall execute judgments upon thee in the sight of many women; and I will cause thee to cease from playing the harlot, and thou shalt also give no hire any more. So will I cause my wrath toward thee to rest, and my jealousy shall depart from thee, and I will be quiet, and will be no more angry. Because thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, but hast raged against me in all these things; therefore, behold, I also will bring thy way upon thy head, saith the Lord Jehovah: and thou shalt not commit this lewdness with all thine abominations."
"They shall strip thee of thy clothes ..." (Ezekiel 16:39). Biblical examples of the degradation of a harlot by exhibiting her naked are found in Hosea 2:12; Nahum 3:5, and in Jeremiah 13:22,26.
"Behold, every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying, As is the mother, so is her daughter. Thou art the daughter of thy mother, that loatheth her husband and her children; and thou art the sister of thy sisters that loathed their husbands and their children: your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. And thine elder sister is Samaria, that dwelleth at thy left hand, she and her daughters; and thy younger sister, that dwelleth at thy right hand, is Sodom and her daughters. Yet hast thou not walked in their ways, nor done after their abominations; but as if that were a very little thing, thou wast more corrupt than they in all thy ways. As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters."
"Hittite ... Amorite ..." (Ezekiel 16:45). See under Ezekiel 16:3, above, for discussion of this. The designation of these as the parents of Israel must be understood spiritually. As Matthew Henry explained it, "The Jews were as much like the Canaanites as if they had been the literal children of them."
"Left hand ... right hand ..." (Ezekiel 16:46). In Biblical literature, the perspective for determining which was left or right was that of facing eastward; thus the left hand was north, and the right hand was south, the respective locations, as related to Jerusalem, of Samaria (north), and Sodom (south).
"Elder sister, Samaria ... younger sister Sodom ..." (Ezekiel 16:46). This has puzzled some writers, because, chronologically, it is contrary to the facts. Sodom was older by more than a thousand years than Samaria. What is indicated is that Samaria had usurped the place of Sodom as the chief sinner of history, represented here as the younger sister supplanting the older. There is another instance of Ezekiel's reversing the chronology in Ezekiel 14:20, above. Spiritually, Samaria had indeed become the older sinner, that is, the worse sinner. The next verse reveals that Jerusalem had surpassed them all in wickedness.
"Thou wast more corrupt than they ..." (Ezekiel 16:47). The "they" here refers to Samaria and Sodom; Jerusalem was more wicked than either of them. This fundamental truth is the foundation of a tremendous moral problem. God had totally destroyed Sodom; how then could it be just for God to spare a remnant of Israel who was more wicked than Sodom? This will be cleared up later in the chapter. As we have often pointed out, the salvation of all men was contingent upon the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham and the patriarchs; and, in a very real sense, God was "stuck with Israel," until the Messiah should at last be born of Mary and cradled in the manger at Bethlehem. The salvation of all the earth depended upon it.
Beasley-Murray commented on this verse thus, "Jerusalem's sin was not only as bad as that of her heathen predecessors, and not only as bad as the sins of Samaria nad Sodom, but even worse than they (Ezekiel 16:47)."
This paragraph is significant in that the pagan city of Sodom is classified as a "sister" of Israel, both alike being God's people in the general sense that all nations are God's, and that God is the God of all nations, and not merely the God of the Jews. This principle is further confirmed in the following paragraph in which restoration is also promised to Sodom.
"Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom: pride, ruiness of bread, and prosperous ease in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good. Neither hath Samaria committed half of thy sins; but thou hast multiplied thine abominations more than they, and hast justified thy sisters by all thine abominations which thou hast done. Thou also, bear thine own shame, in that thou has given judgment for thy sisters; through thy sins that thou hast committed more abominable than they, they are more righteous than thou: yea, be thou also confounded, and bear thy shame, in that thou hast justified thy sisters."
These verses put the icing on the cake for Ezekiel's efforts to make her abominations known to Jerusalem. It must be admitted that the prophet had done a remarkably effective job of fulfilling his assignment (Ezekiel 16:2).
As for the reasons why Jerusalem's sins were so much worse than those of her sisters Sodom and Samaria, they are resident in the privileges and obligations of the covenant. "To whom much is given, of him much is required" (Luke 12:48).
The terrible punishment that was executed upon Jerusalem was necessary, because God's justice required it. He had utterly destroyed Sodom for less sin than that of Israel.
"And I will turn again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, and the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them; that thou mayest bear thine own shame, and mayest be ashamed because of all that thou hast done, in that thou art a comfort unto them. And thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate; and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate; and thou and thy daughters shall return to their former estate. For thy sister Sodom was not mentioned by thy mouth in the day of thy pride, because thy wickedness was uncovered, as at the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria, and all that are round about her, the daughters of the Philistines, that do despite unto thee round about."
"I will turn again their captivity ..." (Ezekiel 16:53). The simple meaning of this is that God will rescue them from the captivity of sin. That is the meaning of the term when Jesus used it in Luke 4:18, and that is the meaning of it here. There was never any captivity of Sodom.
This promise of restoration for apostate Israel is here projected as including also the restoration of Sodom and Samaria, with Jerusalem mentioned last, indicating that racial Israel will be on the level with all the rest of mankind, even with the Gentiles, and even be of lesser importance in the kingdom of the Messiah. Such a promise could not possibly have satisfied the ego of Israel. "Yes, Israel would again be restored, but only along with Samaria and Sodom."
"Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former estate ..." (Ezekiel 16:55). How could such a thing be? Sodom had been totally destroyed; how then would God restore them? The meaning here is that, "The spiritual descendants, or successors, of Sodom, the people of the same character as the Sodomites would, under the New Covenant in Christ, enjoy the privileges of forgiveness and salvation."
In fact, this indeed happened at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Paul noted that the very worst sinners, including drunkards and Sodomites, were saved, cleansed, sanctified, and justified, not as continuing practitioners of their vile sins, of course, but, as in the case of every other Christian, upon the prior condition of their repentance and turning away from their wickedness. Christ did not come into this world and die in order to save men in their sins but from their sins. In the very passage, cited above, where Paul told of the redemption of these Sodomites of his generation, he also stated that practitioners of such gross sins, "cannot inherit the kingdom of God." Of course, they can be saved, all right, but upon the same terms under which anyone else may be saved, namely, upon the condition of their unqualified repentance and turning from their wicked ways.
"Thou has borne thy lewdness and thine abominations, saith Jehovah. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I will also deal with thee as thou hast done, who hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant. Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. Then shalt thou remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder sisters and thy younger; and I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant. And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am Jehovah; that thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I have forgiven thee of all that thou hast done, saith the Lord Jehovah."
"Who hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant ..." (Ezekiel 16:59). This meant the absolute, terminal abrogation of the Sinaitic covenant with Israel. What happens when any party to a covenant breaks it; it terminates the covenant. As Jeremiah put it, "Which my covenant they brake" (Jeremiah 31:32). Oh, but how about the restoration promised in this chapter? isn't God going to restore that old status of their being his "Chosen People" to Israel? No indeed! Look at Ezekiel 16:61, "But not by thy covenant!"! That old covenant is no more. There is a New Testament in everyone's Bible!
"I will remember my covenant ..." (Ezekiel 16:60). This was without a doubt the covenant with Abraham, in which God promised that in his seed, the seed singular, which is Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16), God would bless all the families of men (Genesis 12:3). That very verse is the seed of the everlasting covenant promised in this verse. However, all of those who will be redeemed under that everlasting covenant will constitute the true Israel of God, having no connection whatever with any racial consideration whatever, but made up of Jews and Gentiles alike, who will repent, be baptized into Christ, and thus be inducted into Christ, who is indeed the TRUE ISRAEL OF GOD (John 15:1ff). All of such recipients of salvation, by virtue of their identity with Christ become "Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:27-29).
"I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant ..." (Ezekiel 16:60). As Plumptre said. "This reference is, of course, to the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-35."
"Thou shalt receive thy elder sisters and the younger... as daughters... (Ezekiel 16:61). The use of `elder sisters and younger' here is different from such designations earlier in the chapter. "Elder sisters" (note the plural) is a reference to Sodom and all other Gentile nations, and Samaria is here the younger sister because Judah, the southern Israel, was older than Ephraim (son of Joseph), the Northern kingdom. Also this reveals the fact that Sodom in the earlier reference is a representative of all the Gentiles.
Now just how is it that all of these will be received as daughters of Israel? This took place in the establishment of the New Covenant, and is still going on. When the redeemed of all nations who are united with Christ and identified with him, thus becoming TRUE ISRAELITES, by virtue of their being Christ's spiritual body, every single soul becomes automatically a "son of Abraham." The saved of all nations therefore become daughters of Israel, in exactly the same way that by worshipping Jesus Christ, the glorious promises of all nations falling down and worshipping Israel are actually fulfilled, because our Lord Jesus Christ is indeed ISRAEL.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezekiel 16". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent