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Israel Favored Of God But Faithless
This lengthy chapter, in the very nature of things, could not very well have been divided inasmuch as it gives a complete outline of God’s ways with Israel from the very beginning, and their ungrateful response to His loving-kindness. There is much here against which the mind revolts-much that is so indelicate according to our way of speaking, much that is loathsome and even grossly sordid. But we need to remember that sin is the vilest thing in all the universe. And Israel’s sin in turning away from the true and living God to the worship of the idols of the nations roundabout her, was of a most revolting character, for that idolatry was linked with very corrupt and immoral practices. Therefore God used the method employed here, indelicate as it may seem to people of refined tastes and clean minds, to portray the filthiness of such sin and iniquity as that of which this nation had been guilty. No carefully chosen words or guarded expressions can make wickedness any less repulsive than it really is in the sight of a holy God.
“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, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to cleanse thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor 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”-vers. 1-5.
Israel here is likened to an unwanted female babe exposed for death, thrown out by its parents immediately after birth and left to perish in its uncleanness.
Canaan was the home of the Amorite and the Hittite. Israel’s parentage as a nation was traced back to these idolatrous tribes. The ordinary care given to a newborn child had not been hers. The inhabitants of the land repudiated her and endeavored to rid themselves of her from the beginning.
Nevertheless God in mercy and loving-kindness looked upon Israel and intervened in her behalf, as the next verses remind us.
“And when I passed by thee, and saw thee weltering in thy blood, I said unto thee, Though thou art in thy blood, live; yea, I said unto thee, Though thou art 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. 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 washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and 1 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 earrings 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; for it was perfect, through My majesty which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord Jehovah”-vers. 6-14.
Jehovah looked upon the infant nation in pity and tender consideration. Instead of permitting her enemies to destroy her, He threw the mantle of His protection over her, took her up in grace, nourished and cherished her, saw her develop as from a neglected infant into a fair and beautiful maiden.
In His tender love He cleansed, clothed and adorned her, making her to become the most favored of nations, a witness to His great compassion and His omnipotent power. Thus she became renowned throughout the world, and even the nations that knew not her God, could not fail to realize that she was specially favored by Him who had become her Deliverer and Protector. All was of Him. He acted according to the love of His heart not according to any merit He saw in her.
Instead of responding to such goodness by loyalty to her Redeemer-God, she proved utterly faithless, as the next section reveals.
“But thou didst trust in thy beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst 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: the 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 Mine oil and Mine incense before them. 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, whom 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”-vers. 15-22.
Pride is latent in the human heart. We who have nothing of which to be proud, are prone to take credit to ourselves for any success or special favor God bestows upon us, forgetting that we have nothing which we have not received.
So Israel became vainglorious and trusted in her own beauty-that beauty which the Lord her God had put upon her, which should have led her to devote herself to Him alone. She used it to draw to herself the admiration and lascivious affection of the idolatrous nations from which she had been called to separation. Like an unfaithful wife preferring others to her own husband she became filthy and defiled. Spiritual fornication and adultery is the unholy union of the people of God with the world, even as James says, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). This immoral relationship is also used as a symbol of idolatry, turning from the one true God to the worship of idols. Of all this Israel had been guilty, and although God had sent His prophets to plead with her to forsake her evil way, she refused to hearken, and persisted in her wicked harlotry, so that God was now about to cast her off as one with whom it was useless to plead any longer. But ere declaring this He gave further proof of her perfidy.
“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 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 whoredom. Thou hast also committed fornication with the Egyptians, thy neighbors, great of flesh; and hast multiplied thy whoredom, 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 also 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”-vers. 23-29.
Instead of either turning from her corrupt ways, or even manifesting a measure of restraint, the very-pleadings of the Lord through His prophets had the opposite effect, apparently; for Israel increased in her wickedness, becoming guilty of more and greater abominations as the years went on, so that even “the daughters of the Philistines” were astonished and ashamed of her lewdness. Her zest for new forms of idolatry seemed insatiable. She followed the vile nature worship of the Assyrians with which the most detestable sexual impurity was connected, and still she was not satisfied, for satisfaction can never be found apart from conformity to and delight in the will of God.
The charge against her is continued in verses 30 to 34.
“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 unto thee, therefore thou art different”-vers. 30-34.
The slave of her own lusts, Israel fancied herself free while attempting to enjoy the licentiousness into which she had plunged and which she imagined was liberty-freedom from all restraint; whereas it was actually bondage of the worst kind. Too weak to resist solicitation to sin she plunged madly on in her downward course like “a wife that committeth adultery! that taketh strangers instead of her husband!”
Ordinarily those going in to harlots expect to pay for the gratification of their voluptuous desires. But so low had Israel fallen that she was as one who was so insatiable in her unholy appetite that she was paying a terrible price for such gratification. It is a sordid picture indeed, but it shows how low a people may fall who turn their backs upon revealed truth and learn to love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.
Therefore judgment could no longer be deferred. The very holiness of God demanded that He deal with such unspeakable corruption.
“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 are judged; and I will bring upon thee the blood of wrath and jealousy. I will also give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thy vaulted place, and break down thy lofty places; 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 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”-vers. 35-43.
Judgment is God’s strange work. He delights in mercy and “doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). But when every effort to recover people from their wilfulness and wickedness proves abortive His wrath must have its way.
In this section the Lord specifies very definitely the reasons why He could no longer tolerate the behavior of His covenant people. Not only were they guilty of all the vileness charged against them, but also they were destroying their own children by their evil example. As they had behaved so shamelessly God would put them to shame before the “lovers” on whom they had doted. He would deal with them as women who break wedlock should be dealt with, and He would bring down upon their guilty heads the punishment that they deserved. They should be stripped of all that He had given them-their land would be overrun by those with whom they had committed spiritual fornication. As they had proven utterly recreant to the promises they had made to the Lord, so He would be bound no longer by His promises to them. He was about to visit upon them the fruit of their own evil ways and reward them according to the perfidy of their hearts.
In their disobedience to His word they had sunk to the level of the cities of the plain which God had destroyed with fire from heaven because of their unnatural vices.
“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, who 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. Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom: pride, fulness of bread, and prosperous ease was 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 thou thine own shame, in that thou hast 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”-vers. 44-52.
The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were thriving communities when Abraham first entered the land. They were destroyed in judgment when the cup of their iniquity became full. Now Judah had shown herself to be of the same character as they. She was morally their daughter, and, “As is the mother so is her daughter.” Samaria, her elder sister, had been judged already. The Assyrians had carried the ten tribes into captivity because of their iniquity. But instead of learning from this and humbling themselves before God and turning from their filthiness, Judah had perpetrated even greater wickedness until now “there was no remedy.”
“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 your former estate. For thy sister Sodom was not mentioned by thy mouth in the day of thy pride, before thy wickedness was uncovered, as at the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria, and of all that are round about her, the daughters of the Philistines, that do despite unto thee round about. Thou hast 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”-vers. 53-59.
In the times of restitution of all things spoken of by God’s holy prophets (Acts 3:21) even Sodom and her daughters, the sister cities of the plain will be restored, when the desert shall be made to blossom as a rose. This refers not to the eventual salvation of the sinners of those cities, who are, as Jude tells us, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 1:7), but to rebuilding of the cities themselves in millennial days, when they will be inhabited by a regenerated people dwelling in peace under Messiah’s benevolent yet righteous sway. In that day Israel and Judah shall “return to their former estate of blessing” under the fostering care of the God they had so dishonored in the past.
Judah had despised the people of Sodom as sinners above all others; yet her own behavior was even more shameful than theirs. So the Lord declared He would deal with them according to their doings as those who had “despised the oath in breaking the covenant.”
This however should not be forever. In a future day He would take them up again, after they had humbled themselves in His sight and forsaken the sins that had provoked Him to anger.
“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 all that thou hast done, saith the Lord Jehovah”-vers. 60-63.
How precious these closing verses of this long chapter which has been such a sad and gruesome recital of the lewdness and unfaithfulness of Israel!
Though they had forgotten Him and broken the covenant, so far as their responsibility was concerned-that is, the legal covenant into which they had entered at Sinai-God still remembered the unconditional covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He would fulfil those promises in spite of the failure of the nation as such, His is an everlasting covenant, and as David said, is “ordered in all things, and sure” (2 Samuel 23:5).
In the day when He shall turn their hearts back to Himself they will become ashamed, both Israel and Judah, of all the evil they have done; and they will become a means of blessing to others when God takes them up in grace again. His covenant shall be estab- lished, and they who had behaved so badly will loathe themselves because of their iniquities, and rejoice in His favor when He shall forgive all their iniquities, or as the Authorized Version puts it, “When He is pacified toward them for all that they have done.”
Only through the work of Christ on the cross is this blessedness to be theirs. That work is not mentioned here, but it is unfolded elsewhere in the prophetical writings as the only basis upon which God can meet and bless those who had become so polluted by sin.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezekiel 16". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany