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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Ezekiel 16

Verses 1-63

Parable of an Unfaithful Wife (16:1-63)

This chapter, like several others, is based on a parable which is applied to the life of Israel. Like all parables, this one cannot be pressed in every detail; there are inconsistencies. But the main idea illustrated is clear, namely, that Israel is like a wife unfaithful to her covenant position. In this respect the chapter is akin to the Book of Hosea.

Ezekiel calls in question the purity of origin which was the basis for Judah’s false national pride when he says: "Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite" (vs. 3). Amorites appeared on the stage of history about 2000 B.C. and later gave rise to the reign of Hammurabi in the first dynasty of Babylon. The Assyrian word means "westerner," and in this general sense of the term Abraham was in fact an Amorite; that is, he was part of the great Amorite migration. The historic connection with the Hittites, who were a non-Semitic people, is not so direct. The empire of the Hittites flourished from 1600-1200 B.C. in Asia Minor and encompassed the northern section of Syria in the early fourteenth century B.C. Thus the prophet reminds his people that they have been settled in a land not their own and that neither paternal nor maternal ancestry gives basis for pride.

Having made this general introduction the prophet turns from the international framework to a magnetic and beautiful story. A girl at birth was unwanted by her parents, so without being washed after birth she was exposed on the mountain to die. In ancient times society gave parents the right to leave an unwanted child exposed to the elements until death came. This child, unwanted, was left in a field on the day she was born, and no eye pitied her (vss. 4-5). A stranger (the Lord) passed by, saw the pitiable condition of the child weltering in her blood, and said, "Live, and grow up like a plant of the field." So she grew up to young womanhood in the desert, but she was naked, bare, and unprotected (vss. 6-7).

Later the stranger came back to the wilderness and recognized another crisis in the life of the young woman. This time he plighted his troth to her in "covenant," cleansing her of the blood of uncleanness, covering her with his robe, and making her his wife (vss. 8-9). There can be no doubt that these words refer to God’s Covenant with Israel in the wilderness. The waif from the woods, now a full-grown woman, is established in "regal estate," clothed in luxury and secure in plenty. Indeed, she becomes famous for her beauty (vss. 13-14).

Instead of keeping covenant with her betrothed husband, the woman trusted in her beauty and practiced harlotry with every passer-by. She used the gifts bestowed upon her by her husband to buy the attention of her lovers. Verses 16-19 describe in lurid detail the household of the unfaithful wife, where God’s gifts are employed for the wrong ends. In her infidelity nothing or no one was spared. The prophet describes the woman as sacrificing her children to the objects of her unholy desire, clearly referring to child sacrifice to the god Molech. Finally, the woman is condemned in words which combine pathos and satire: "And in all your abominations and your harlotries you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, weltering in your blood" (vs. 22).

The prophet’s story, the meaning of which is transparently clear, is now applied to Israel’s life in the community of nations (vss. 23-43). The message of Isaiah has probably had some influence on the concept here. Apparently infidelity is detected in international affairs, where a political treaty almost always led to syncretism in religion. The Israelites often dealt with the Egyptians and thereby became spiritually unfaithful to the Lord. In this particular reference the age of Solomon is meant. Political marriages and religious syncretism brought Egyptian influence to a high point during Solomon’s reign. Following that, harlotry with Assyria is charged. Historically this tendency to live in treaty relationship reached its high-water mark in the age of King Manasseh, whose unlamented death was not long past. The prophet points to the alliance of Judah with Chaldea, which was even then in effect in Jerusalem. God has punished his people, but to no avail, for even pagan nations were shocked at Israel’s lewd behavior.

Verses 3 5-43 a detail the judgment of God against the faithless wife, who shall be stripped in shame before her former lovers, who have come to despise her. With stones and swords she will be punished. The place of her adultery will be utterly destroyed, and she will not be allowed to pursue her crimson habits again. Because Israel had forgotten the early days of her history, when God had found her in a wilderness as a child, made a Covenant with her, and in love claimed her for his own, the Lord of history will now execute judgment.

Verse 44 relates the proverb of the faithless wife to another proverb concerning two sisters who compete with each other in their depth of moral disrepute. The proverb, "Like mother, like daughter," goes back to pick up the initial statement of the chapter, which declared that Israel had a Hittite mother and an Amorite father. Samaria is identified as the elder sister in the north and Sodom as the younger sister in the south. Samaria was the capital of Israel, established during the reigns of Omri and Ahab, and is frequently described as sister to Judah. Sodom, the younger sister of Judah, did not actually come from the same background of history or race. It did, however, represent the lowest level to which people had sunk, a city upon which God’s fierce judgment came with final destructiveness. Yet the prophet says of Sodom that she had never reached the depths to which Judah has descended (vs. 48).

In order to make his case Ezekiel catalogues the sins of Sodom and of Samaria. Proud Sodom had a surfeit of food, prosperous ease without care for the needy, a haughty spirit, and idolatrous worship (vss. 49-50). Samaria had not done half the sins which Judah committed; yet Samaria had long since been destroyed by the wrath of the Lord. The point in this passage is that Judah has become worse than the worst, hence God’s judgment is inevitable (vss. 51-52).

Judgment for the unfaithful, however, does not end with punishment. Restoration for Sodom, Samaria, and Judah is promised (vs. 53). Meanwhile Judah has now become a reproach to her neighbor, the Philistines, and has taken the place of Sodom as the epitome of human wickedness. After promising harsh judgment for Covenant-breaking, the Lord points to the time when the temporary Covenant will be established as an "everlasting covenant" (vs. 60), unaffected by the contingencies of time. In the period of restoration Sodom and Samaria shall become no longer sisters on equal footing but daughters, subject to Jerusalem. The everlasting Covenant and the redemption of God’s people must inevitably affect and influence neighboring countries.

When this Covenant is renewed, Jerusalem will know the Lord as the true God; she will remember her past with shame and will be silent. A renewed people will recognize God as the Source of all being, the One who alone is worthy of devotion, and they will know that they have nothing in themselves in which to boast.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 16". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/ezekiel-16.html.