Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!
THE SINS OF ISRAEL AND JUDAH REPRESENTED UNDER THE FIGURE OF TWO HARLOTS. (Chap 23)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Samaria and Jerusalem are the capitals and representations of the two kingdoms Israel and Judah. These two cities are presented under the allegory of two harlots who are sisters, and who have practiced whoredom from the days of Egypt onwards. (Ezekiel 23:2-4.)
Ezekiel 23:1-4. The two harlot sisters are briefly described.
Ezekiel 23:2. “Two women, the daughters of one mother.” “These two cities had a common mother—the Hebrew people; regard being had to what they had become in the possession of that people.”—(Henderson).
Ezekiel 23:3. “They committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth.” The prophet regards this two-fold divisions of the people as dating long before the time of the separation of the kingdoms. The two kingdoms existed virtually in Egypt in the tribes of Ephraim and Judah. The origin of their idolatry is to be traced to Egypt, where all the tribes alike fell into that sin. It was in the very “youth” of the people that they had become alienated from God. “There they bruised the teats of their virginity.” “At that time Israel was still unmarried. The marriage with Jehovah took place when the covenant was made at Sinai. But she was even at that time betrothed. This is proved by what God had done to the Patriarchs, and by the circumcision to which they had submitted; and hence their unchaste conduct fell under the judgment of (Deuteronomy 22:23, &c.). Their business was to prepare themselves as a pure virgin for marriage.”—(Hengstenberg). “On account of the legitimate relation in which the nation stood to God from its very origin, namely, of a marriage covenant, the political and religious departure of both kingdoms from the principles laid down in the law, appears as wantonness (Ezekiel 16:15). Egypt was the means of exciting the first carnal impulses of the youthful people to a heathenish mode of feeling and action, whereby they were robbed of their virgin purity.”—(Lange.)
Ezekiel 23:4. “Aholah the elder.” This name signifies, Her own tent. Thus it is implied that the worship of the Samaritans was of their own invention and was never appointed of Jehovah. The northern kingdom had erected an altar of her own will (1 Kings 12:31-33). “Aholibah her sister.” The meaning of this name is, My tent is in her. Jehovah had ordained the temple-worship at Jerusalem. He had chosen Zion for an habitation to set His name there (Psalms 132:13-14). “And they were Mine.” “Previous to the apostasy under Jeroboam, Samaria, equally with Jerusalem, worshipped the true God. Their inhabitants were sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. He never renounced His right to the Israelites as subjects of theocracy, but sent prophets to disclose His will to them and warn them against idolatry. The northern kingdom was the sphere of the special labours of Elijah and Elisha.”—(Henderson).
I. It consists in forsaking the Creator to love and serve the creature. The children of Israel committed whoredoms in Egypt by worshipping its idols. They forsook their God, who had called them to love and serve Himself, and to forsake all other. Idolatry is the perversion of a true religious instinct, as lust is the perversion of a passion which should inspire the devotion of love and self sacrifice. The worship and service of the creature is unauthorised. And it also debases.
II. The sin of it is manifest from the nature of the relations in which we stand to God. “There were two women, the daughters of one mother.” God was a Father unto Israel. The people were His own peculiar heritage. By their idolatry they were bringing dishonour upon the name of God. Duties arise out of our relation to God which cannot be set aside without bringing upon ourselves the stain and the consequences of transgression.
III. In the youth of a people they are especially exposed to this sin “They committed whoredoms in their youth.” The allurements of Egyptian idolatry soon corrupted Israel in the days of her youth. Their feelings were fresh, their experience small, and the pleasures of Egypt were novel and strange. Young societies are greatly exposed to the dangerous fascinations of those by whom they are surrounded. So the early Christian Church was soon corrupted by false philosophy; and in a later age, by the seductions of wordly power and grandeur. Also, in the youth of human life, the lusts and pleasures of the world are most powerful to seduce.
IV. This sin may be prevalent amidst all the refinements of civilization. The Israelites found in Egypt an advanced civilization. Yet amidst all this were to be found the coarsest and most debasing forms of idolatry. How much grovelling and degrading superstition is still to be found in the midst of the highest civilization!
V. This sin should be denounced in plain terms. The fleshly sins, which are here used as a figure of spiritual sins, are described in plain language. They are set forth in all their naked deformity; spoken of exactly as they are. Those who counsel such sins would like (if they hear of them at all) to have their loathsomeness hidden under the veil of elegant speech. “Plain speaking is not attractive; flowery ambiguities are of the devil”—(Lange). Those who blame the prophet for his great plainness of speech should rather concern themselves with the thought of the baseness of those sins which demanded so faithful a narration and exposure. The whole of this passage teaches us that true religion leads to fellowship with God, His love and service. And all love and service inconsistent with this belongs to a class of sins which can best be described under the images of the worst and most degrading of fleshly lusts.
1. The Lord takes notice where and when those who are in relation to Him do sin. “In Egypt, and in their youth.” They sinned amidst the grand and bitter enemies of God, among Egyptians, and then when they were growing up to be a people. They should have considered what enemies the Egyptians were to their God and His worship, how odious their ways and worship were to Him. They should have walked circumspectly, so that they might have kept His name from being polluted; and likewise they, being in their youth under bondages, should have minded God’s kindnesses in preserving them, and making them to prosper. When God is beginning to show kindness to a people in misery, and raising them up to some height and greatness, and then for them to turn aside to lewdness, to superstitions, idolatrous, and heathenish practices, this God observes in a special manner, and it provokes Him greatly (Psalms 106:7). When states, cities, families, degenerate in their youth, it sorely displeases God.
2. Wheresoever a devised worship is brought in, there man’s tabernacle is set up; where true worship is advanced, there is God’s tabernacle. The ten tribes had a worship of Jereboam’s devising, like unto the worship of Jerusalem in many things; but this was Aholah, their own tabernacle. God owned it not, He was not in their assemblies, He accepted not their sacrifices, their incense was a stink in His nostrils. But Jerusalem was Aholibah, My tabernacle, there God’s own worship was set up, and so long as His worship was there, He acknowledged His tabernacle to be in her. Where His worship is, there He dwells (Psalms 68:16); and is to be seen and enquired of (Psalms 27:4).—Greenhill.
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The spiritual adultery of Samaria with Assyria. The instrument of her punishment is that very people which she had made the object of her impure love.
Ezekiel 23:5. The Assyrians her neighbours. The word refers rather to kinsmen, rather than to those dwelling near. Asshur was brother to Arphaxad, Abraham’s ancestor (Genesis 10:22; Genesis 10:24; Genesis 11:16-26).
Ezekiel 23:6. Clothed with blue, captains and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon horses. “This description given of the Assyrians contains the thought that Israel, dazzled by Assyria’s splendour, and overpowered by the might of that kingdom, had been drawn into intercourse with the Assyrians, which led her astray into idolatry. The predicate, clothed in purple, points to the splendour and glory of this imperial power; the other predicates, to the magnitude of its military force.” (Keil). We have here the ground which tempted Aholah to become unfaithful to her God. It lay in this, that the paramour Assyria came into her neighbourhood, and placed his grandeur before her. Therein lay the temptation to sue for his favour to ward off injury. The adultery has been not so much a religious as a political import. The paramour, on whose account Israel forsakes his God, is Assyria itself, not its god, though they endeavoured, no doubt from fear of the people, to make friends of its gods also.” (Hengstenberg).
Ezekiel 23:8. “Neither left she her whoredoms brought from Egypt.” This was the Apis-worship of which Israel was guilty while in Horeb. Jeroboam instituted it, thus reviving the former iniquity of the nation. The people never wholly got rid of this source of unfaithfulness brought from Egypt. Even Jehu tolerated it (2 Kings 10:31).
Ezekiel 23:10. “These discovered her nakedness.” “This denotes the ignominious treatment which Israel must suffer from Assyria, as a punishment for her revolt to Egypt. Aholah is slain with the sword: the proper substance of the people, the men fit for service, fell in the war, while the weaker portion was carried into exile.” (Hengstenberg.) “Famous among women.” “She was rendered as notorious by her punishment as she had been by her crimes. She was made an example to which an appeal could be made by other states” Henderson.
THE SIN OF SAMARIA
I. It showed the basest ingratitude. “Played the harlot when she was Mine.” God had united her to Himself, she was in living and tender relationship with Him when she basely deserted His worship and service. She was taught the true doctrine, and the right way of duty, and was supplied with means to observe both. Yet she sinned against light and privilege.
II. It showed the dangerous power of the imagination. The military organization of Assyria dazzled their imagination. The glory of the world seduces the worldly mind. “Clothed with blue, captains and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon horses.” Such was the power and grandeur of Assyria. In accordance with the figure employed, those things are named which would be likely to strike the eye of a wordly minded young woman. Israel admired the political and worldly grandeur of the Assyrians, and so were seduced into idolatry. They first worshipped the power and magnificence of the nation, and then it was an easy matter to adopt the worship of their gods. The fascinations of the world is still the standing danger to purity in doctrine and worship. In all sensuous forms of religious worship there lurks this great danger, that men through admiration of the outward are led to adopt the false doctrines of which it is the vehicle.
III. It showed how inveterate are old evils. “Brought from Egypt” (Ezekiel 23:8). The old idolatry which they had learned in Egypt clung to the nation every now and then breaking out. The nation was never clearly delivered from it till after their captivity in Babylon.
IV. It was visited with exemplary punishment.
1. Those who had seduced her by their power and grandeur were made the very instruments of her punishment. She had doted on the Assyrians, and she was delivered into their hands (Ezekiel 23:9).
2. She was made a warning example to all. “Famous among women.” An example to all the other nations. They would talk of her; some of her abominable wickedness, others of her miseries, previous judgments, and calamities.
1. When people embrace false worship they are violent and strong in their affections towards it. Aholah doted upon her lovers, her heart was fired with Babylonish gods, and confidences in them.
2. What evil persons have practised in their youth that they affect in their age. Aholah had loved the Egyptian idols in her minority, and after she was grown up, those idols were not out of her thoughts. Her Egyptian lovers were still in her mind, like harlots that mind their former lovers long after they are married. What corruption gets in youth, grows up and abides; an unclean, idolatrous heart in youth, will be so in age.
3. Idolatry may continue long in a nation, but shall at least be severely punished by the Lord. Aholah had been an idolatress from her youth, and when she was grown up to some greatness, then she broke out into gross, notorious idolatry (1 Kings 12:0); in which she continued for upwards of two hundred and sixty years, and then the Lord plagued, yea, destroyed her, her sons and daughters. It is wisdom to cleave to the Lord and His worship, not to follow or confide in other nations, or their ways.
4. God makes places and persons remarkable by the judgments He executeth upon them. Aholah was made famous among women by those judgments He brought upon her. Aholah was Samaria, which Shalmaneser besieged three years, and then took it; and afterwards burnt it (2 Kings 17:5-6).—Greenhill.
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The spiritual adultery of Judah with Assyria, in which she surpasses Samaria in her iniquity.
Ezekiel 23:11. “She was more corrupt in her inordinate love.” “Judah went much further than Samaria. It not only indulged in sinful intercourse with Assyria, which led on to idolatry as the latter had done, but it also allowed itself to be led astray by the splendour of Chaldea to form alliances with that imperial power, and to defile itself with her idolatry. And when it became tired of the Chaldeans it formed impure connections with the Egyptians as it had done once before during its sojourn in Egypt” (Keil).
Ezekiel 23:12. “Doted upon the Assyrians, her neighbours.” “The reference here is to the application made by Ahaz to Tiglath-pileser for his assistance against the Syrians and Israelites (recorded 2 Kings 16:7-9), which led to the idolatrous transaction at Damascus, and the introduction of the Syrian idolatry into Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 28:16)” (Henderson). “Clothed most gorgeously.” The word means perfection, and the thought intended is, perfect beauty of clothing. “The costume of the Assyrian cavalry may be seen in the sculptures brought by Layard from Nineveh, which display all the magnificence of Oriental finery” (Henderson).
Ezekiel 23:14. “She saw men portrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion.” “In regard to the Chaldeans, the relation to them was brought about by means of likenesses, which Judah saw. The word means, something engraven or sketched, painted. These were, probably, coloured bas-reliefs, in vermilion, which would be all the more appropriate for warriors. The representation here may probably be the mere drapery of the thought, that the bare report of the military prowess of the Chaldeans had inflamed the imagination and the senses of Judah. Owing to the undeniable intercourse between nations in the Old World, which certainly obtained between Palestine and Babylon, it is not in itself unimaginable that such wall-pictures of representatives of foreign nations may have existed in the royal palaces of Judah.”—(Lange).
Ezekiel 23:15. “Exceeding in dyed attire upon their heads.” The reference is to the lofty turbans, such as may be seen on the monuments of ancient Nineveh.
Ezekiel 23:18. “My mind was alienated from her.” “The thought in these verses (Ezekiel 23:16-18) is the following:—the acquaintance made by Israel (Judah) with the imperial splendour of the Chaldeans, as exhibited in the sculptures of their palaces, incited Judah to cultivate political and mercantile intercourse with this imperial power, which led to its becoming entangled in the heathen ways and idolatry of the Chaldeans. The Chaldeans themselves came and laid the foundation for an intercourse which led to the pollution of Judah with heathenism, and afterwards filled it with disgust, because it was brought thereby into dependence upon the Chaldeans. The consequence of all this was, that the Lord became tired of Judah. For instead of returning to the Lord, Judah turned to the other power of the world, namely, to Egypt; and in the time of Zedekiah renewed its ancient coquetry with that nation.” (Keil).
Ezekiel 23:19. “In calling to remembrance the days of her youth.” She had grown disgusted with Babylon; yet she repented not, but turned back again to the old ways which she had learned in Egypt (2 Kings 23:29-35).
Ezekiel 23:20.“Whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.” “This representation is sufficiently explained by the particularly lecherous character of the animals mentioned, and describes the obscene character of the Egyptians (Ezekiel 16:26).”—(Lange.)
Ezekiel 23:21. “Calledst to remembrance the lewdness of thy youth” (Heb.). “And thou didst visit the lewdness of thy youth.” “The falling back into the old sin is, as it were, a visit which is paid to that which ought to be hated and avoided. The words, ‘When a man of Egypt handled,’ etc., refer to the attempt of the Egyptians to draw the people in their first beginnings into the Egyptian unity, and so to nationalize them—an attempt to which the youth of the people furnished the occasion.”—(Hengstenberg.)
THE SIN OF JUDAH
The sin of Judah was one of special aggravation. Her sin surpassed that of Samaria. “She was more corrupt in her inordinate love than she, and in her whoredoms more than her sister in her whoredoms.”
1. She had greater privileges. A purer knowledge of the true way of worship. Greater grace to resist temptation, and to keep in the right way.
2. She had the warning example of Samaria’s punishment. She saw how God punished them by the very instruments of their inordinate love, and yet took not warning. “They both took one way,” not reflecting that they who take the same way also reach the same end.
3. She used special devices to increase her sinful desires. “She increased her whoredoms.” She stimulated her lustful imagination by pictures and representations of forbidden objects. The sight of these would set her longing after the seductive idolatry of the nations, and draw her away from her lawful love and home. The lust of the eye is one of the great dangers of the world. She also suffered herself to be ensnared by the memory of her old sins (Ezekiel 23:19; Ezekiel 23:21). It is sad when nations and individuals go back again to the sins of their early life.
4. She brought sad judgment upon herself, yet repented not. When she had obtained her desire and embraced the idolatry of Babylon, she was still unsatisfied and even learned to loathe that which she once so eagerly sought. “Her mind was alienated from them.” Israel could not find rest in the idolatry of the nations, for she still retained some memory of better things. The people could not become as the heathen in all respects, for their glorious past was still a fact and could not be separated from their history. The idolatry of Babylon could not satisfy the sinful longings of the chosen people. All impure lust, when it has spent its passion, becomes hatred. For all such lust is selfish and will turn, at length, into aversion to its object. Fellowship with sin must only be of short duration. There is no true binding principle in it. But it was the shame and misery of Israel that the judgments of God, and her disgust of Babylon, failed to bring her to repentance.
1. When God executes severe judgments upon cities He looks that others should take warning thereby. God destroyed Samaria for her idolatry and confederating with heathenish nations. When Jerusalem saw this she reformed not, but was more corrupt. God expected that Jerusalem should hereupon have purged out all idolatry, and cleaved wholly to Him, so that she might have been spared, but she made no good use of His dealings with Samaria.
2. Progress in the same sins, after judgments executed upon others is a fearful aggravation of sin. “When she saw this she was more corrupt.” When God’s hand is lifted, judgment executed, men should fear and learn righteousness; but to go on in wickedness is a horrible slighting, yea, despising of God and His judgments.
3. Sinful cities usually grow worse whatever judgments they see executed upon others. Jerusalem was more corrupt than Samaria. So corrupt is the nature of man that it is not only worse after mercies but even after judgments.
4. The eyes are instruments and occasions of great evil. When she saw the images of the Chaldeans in their dresses, with their belts and aspects, she was taken with them. The images affected her eyes, and they conveyed corruption to her heart, or that which stirred the corruption pre-existent in her heart. Adultery and idolatry have their chief entrance by the eye, and many other sins likewise. What a sad thing was it, that Jerusalem’s eyes should be taken with the painted images of Babylonians! Some confess there is danger by gazing upon living objects, the beauties of men and women, but they fear none from dead objects; but Achan saw a wedge of gold and a Babylonish garment, and they snared him; Aholibah here saw Babylonish pictures, and they ensnared him.
5. For God’s people to admit any part of Babylonish worship is to defile the bed of love. God is a jealous God, His worship must be pure, and the heart must be pure. If the worship be mixed, or heart lean upon an arm of flesh, the bed of love is defiled. In His worship and ordinances God lets out His love to the soul. When they are pure, by the heart being pure and confiding in God, He lets out Himself and His love. Let us look to our hearts, that they may be disengaged from all creature confidences, and to our worship that it be according to God, and then we shall have communion with and comfort from our Beloved.
6. Wickedness is inconstant. “Her mind was alienated from them.” She was taken with the very images of the Babylonians; now she cares not for the men themselves, her soul is disjointed from them; but it was to fall in with some others, and they were the Egyptians (Ezekiel 23:19). But she held not there long; which made the Lord to say, “Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? thou also shalt be ashamed of Egypt, as thou wert ashamed of Assyria” (Jeremiah 2:36).
7. Impudence and open sinning cause God to disown and renounce them that do so. Aholibah discovered her whoredoms and nakedness; she talked openly what she had done with the Babylonians, she set up altars and idols in every street, was openly and impudently wicked, prostituting herself to all in the streets. Now it being so, saith the Lord, “then my mind was alienated from her,” seeing she is become so audaciously wicked, I can affect her no longer. Jerusalem’s wickedness alienated God’s heart from her, made Him renounce her for a harlot. It is sad when God renounces (Hosea 1:9). If we would not have God’s heart alienated from us, and so be disowned, renounced by Him, let us take heed of all sins, especially of impudency in any sin.
8. Fresh sins bring to mind former old sins. Aholibah’s latter trucking with the Egyptians minded God of her primitive whoredoms and abominations, when she lived in Egypt, which was one thousand years before: there she had her lovers; there she defiled herself “with the idols of Egypt” (Exek. Ezekiel 20:7); and her affection now to Egypt, and Egypt’s paramours, caused God to mind those sins of her youth. He had no pleasure in doing so, but Aholibah called them to remembrance, by acting the same or the like things again, she called them out of darkness, and presented them to the view of God. (Greenhill).
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The transgression of Jerusalem is followed by her punishment.
Ezekiel 23:23. “Pekod, and Shoa, and Koa.” “From the circumstance that these names occur in immediate connection with the Babylonians, the Chaldeans, and Assyrians, and further that Pekod is used by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:21) as a descriptive name of Babylon, it may be inferred that all three are to be so interpreted in this place. No such geographical names as Shoa and Koa occur either in sacred or profane writers. The former, however, signifying wealth or opulence, and the latter, princely, noble, are aptly descriptive of the state of Babylon in the days of her prosperity, as Pekod, is of her anticipated punishment.” (Henderson).
Ezekiel 23:24. “Buckler, and shield, and helmet.” These are all defensive armour. The Chaldeans had only to lay siege to the city and bide their time. God’s arrows would do the rest. “And they shall judge thee according to their judgments.” Israel was to be judged on the ground of natural justice. The unfaithful city was condemned by man for an offence against human law. Their judgments were brought about by God’s righteous law of retribution, though Nebuchadnezzar was the instrument raised up to administer it.
Ezekiel 23:25. “They shall take away thy nose and thine ears.” “What nose and ears are for a woman, that for a people is their military strength, the bloom of the nation. When this is annihilated, a people has lost its beauty. That the words must refer to this is shown by those immediately adjoining, and giving the explanation, “Thy remnant shall fall by the sword.” Zion has various forms of existence, and, therefore, a manifold remnant. The first remnant refers to the fighting men, who, so to speak, shall fall by the sword to the last man—the falling of the remnant pre-supposes the falling of all the rest; the second remnant refers to Zion as a city, the houses, all of which shall be destroyed by fire” (Hengstenberg). “Punishment by cutting off the nose and ears was inflicted for adultery, not only the Chaldeans, but also among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. It was, therefore, to represent that which adulterous Judah was to suffer under the image of such ignominious and cruel treatment. They were also to be stripped of what lewd females set most value upon—their rich dresses and costly jewels, by which they attract the notice of their paramours” (Ezekiel 23:26).—Henderson.
Ezekiel 23:27. “Thus will I make thy lewdness to cease from thee.” The punishment inflicted by the Chaldeans would be effectual in curing them of idolatry. After the captivity the Jews never fell again into this sin.
Ezekiel 23:29. “Shall take away all thy labour.” They were to be deprived of the fruits of their labours.“The nakedness of thy whoredoms shall be discovered.” “As long as all went well this nakedness was covered. The shamefulness of her conduct did not come to the light. In that which she suffers, what she has done will be manifest to all the world.”—Hengstenberg.
Ezekiel 23:32. “Thou shalt drink of thy sisters cup deep and large.” “This cup is the figure of the destiny. The mockery of large measure corresponds to the cup of wide compass, the greatness of the mockery to the greatness of the calamity, that called forth the mockery so much the more, the greater the pretensions of the Jews, who conducted themselves as the people to whom was secured the universal supremacy, who had always in their mouth the saying, ‘My enemies shall fall, but I shall tread on their high places.’ ”—(Hengstenberg). “By a change of metaphor the judgments to be inflicted upon Judah are represented as the contents of a cup which she was to drink. This metaphor is of frequent occurrence both in the Old and New Testaments (Psalms 75:8; Jeremiah 25:15; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 18:6.) The force of the metaphor lies in the idea that the ingredients were nauseous and deleterious.Judah was to be treated as Israel had been, only more severely in proportion to the greater guilt she had contracted.—(Henderson).
Ezekiel 23:34. “And thou shalt break the sherds thereof, and pluck off thine own breasts.” This expresses most forcibly the desperation to which the Jews should be reduced, when compelled to undergo the extreme infliction of their punishment. By a bold hyperbole, not satisfied with having sucked out the last drop that was in the cup; they are represented as crunching the very sherds of it with their teeth, and tearing their breasts which they had prostituted in adultery” (Henderson). “The tearing of the breasts is placed beside the breaking of the sherds as if it were done by means of the sherd-fragments. Or it may have been done in frenzy by her own nails. We find a historical illustration of this in the treatment they gave Gedaliah, the Chaldean governor, for which they were compelled to suffer (Jeremiah 41:0.)” (Lange).
THE PUNISHMENT OF JERUSALEM
I. The people are to be punished by those with whom they sinned. “Behold I will raise up thy lovers against thee” (Ezekiel 23:22). Those with whom she had pleasurable sin, by a natural retribution become the instruments of her chastisement. Thus sinners are punished by means of other sinners. Whatever pleasures may have been found in sin when it was followed, the memory of it, at last, will bear a sting.
II. The people are to be punished in the ordinary course of human justice. “And they shall judge thee according to their judgments” (Ezekiel 23:24). They had offended against the sense of natural justice which was found among the nations. And they are punished by men for an offence against human law. Yet, though men were the instruments, they were punished by God. The punishment of sin in human society is natural, yet it is surely the moral law of God taking effect as far as is possible in this present life. “From the natural course of things, vicious actions are, to a great degree, actually punished as mischievous to society; and besides punishment actually inflicted upon this account, there is also the fear and apprehension of it in those persons whose crimes have rendered them obnoxious to it, in case of a discovery; this state of fear itself often a very considerable punishment. The natural fear and apprehension of it, too, which restrains from such crimes, is a declaration of Nature against them. It is necessary to the very being of society, that vices destructive to it should be punished as being so; the vices of falsehood, injustice, cruelty: which punishment therefore is as natural as society; and so is an instance of a kind of moral government, naturally established, and actually taking place. And, since the certain natural course of things is the conduct of Providence or the government of God, though carried on by the instrumentality of men; the observation here made amounts to this, that mankind find themselves placed by him in such circumstances, as that they are unavoidably accountable for their behaviour, and are often punished, and sometimes rewarded under his government, in the view of their being mischievous, or eminently beneficial to society. The Author of Nature has as truly directed that vicious actions, considered as mischievous to society, should be punished, and put mankind under a necessity of thus punishing them; as He has directed and necessitated us to preserve our lives by food” (Butler’s Analogy, Part I, Chap. III). The goodness and patience of God had failed to bring Jerusalem to repentance, and the people, therefore, were given up to punishment by means of man.
III. The people are to be punished by the violent taking away of that which led them into the snares of sin. “They shall deal furiously with thee: they shall take away thy nose and thine ears” (Ezekiel 23:25). “They shall also strip thee of thy clothes, and take away thy fair jewels” (Ezekiel 23:26). Personal attractions, beautiful garments, adornments and jewellery make lead women attractive, and lead them into snares. God will remove from His people, even by means of the wrath of a strange nation, all those things which tempted their hearts from Him. They had left their first and lawful love, and they are to have the punishment of adulterers.
IV. The punishment was to be terrible.
1. A complete exposure of their iniquity. “The nakedness of thy whoredoms shall be discovered both thy lewdness and thy whoredoms” (Ezekiel 23:29). Punishment exposes, Their moral loathesomeness would be laid bare before the sight of all.
2. The rich heritage of the past was to be wasted. “They shall deal with thee hatefully, and shall take away all thy labour” (Ezekiel 23:29). All the results of their labour in the past under the guidance of God. How often, among nations, is destroyed, as in a moment, the slow work of long ages,—the precious heritage of the past! “The city where David dwelt” (Isaiah 29:1), and all which in their history led up to David and from him, is doomed to be destroyed.
3. They would have to drink of a bitter cup. Their cup was to be “filled with drunkeness and sorrow,” the “cup of astonishment and desolation” (Ezekiel 23:33). And the very greatness of their sorrow, their abject humiliation would occasion derision among their enemies, “Thou shalt be laughed to scorn, and had in derision; it containeth much” (Ezekiel 23:32). The nations would look upon them swallowing the nauseous draught, and make merriment over their sorrow. They would have to drain this cup of sorrow to the last drop, “Thou shalt even drink of it and suck it out, and thou shalt break the sherds thereof” (Ezekiel 23:34).
4. They would be dricen to the frenzy of madness. “And pluck off thine own breasts” (Ezekiel 23:34). Jerusalem is represented as a woman seized with madness in her great suffering, who gnaws the very sherds of the earthen cup and tears out her own breasts. Her insatiable lust, which had gone to the length of mad desire, is now met by a punishment which is furious, and which drives her to madness. How often are sinners punished in those members of the body in which they have sinned!
V. This punishment would prove an effectual remedy for their sin. “Thus will I make thy lewdness to cease from thee, and thy whoredom brought from the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 23:27). By the afflictions which they suffered in Babylon they were completely cured of idolatry. They never fell into that evil after the Captivity. This was an old-rooted sin, but it was entirely plucked from them. So God educates nations, and brings home to them, at last, the lessons of His providence and grace. And it is often necessary that, as with individual men, they should be educated through punishment. It took a long time to deliver Israel entirely from Egypt, their house of bondage. Their physical slavery was soon destroyed, but their spiritual slavery still held them to Egypt though many ages of their history.
1. God makes them instruments of woe and misery with whom we have sinned. The Babylonians, Chaldeans, the Assyrians, her lovers, were to be brought against her. Jerusalem had doted upon and trusted in them, and by them would God plague Jerusalem. She had often sinned by her confidence in Egypt (Isaiah 30:2; Isaiah 31:1); and God by the Egyptians scourged her (2 Chronicles 36:3). Parents dote upon their children, and oft God makes them rods to whip them, yea, clubs to break their hearts and bones.
2. When people go from God to false worship, and put confidence in arms of flesh, God will deal severely by them. God would put Aholihah into the Babylonian hands. He would set His jealousy against her, thrust her out of doors; and what then? The Babylonian would deal furiously with her, abuse her body, destroy her children, burn her habitation, strip her of her vestments and jewels, take away all she had gotten, lay open her shame, and do hatefully by her; she should be punished with the same punishments Aholah was.
3. Judgments and afflictions are cups which the Lord gives sinners to drink of, some more some less. Sometimes God’s judgments are called a “cup of trembling” (Isaiah 51:22); sometimes a “cup of fury” (Jeremiah 25:15), and sometimes “a cup of astonishment,” as here. And Aholibah had all these cups given her to drink; they were “deep, large,” containing much, and she was made to drink them all off, yea to the very dregs. As men fill up the measure of their sins, so God fills up the cups of His judgments. “Fill to her double” (Revelation 18:6). Babylon’s sins were come to the full, and the cup of the Lord’s fury was full.
4. Neglect and contempt of God, and His word, causes Him to execute judgment. “Because thou hast forgotten Me, and cast Me behind thy back.” Thou hast made Me bear thy sins, and thou shalt bear My punishments. As the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, so the forgetting of God is the beginning of folly and all evil. Then God is out of sight, behind the back; and what will not men do when no awe of God or His word is upon them? Then, like Abolibah, they will commit any lewdness. God had done much for Abolibah, dealt by her like a loving husband; but she slighted Him, went out a whoring from Him, did those things which greatly dishonoured Him, and so provoked Him to mind her that forgot Him. He fell upon her with His judgments, and destroyed her. And so will the Lord do by all that forget Him (Psalms 9:17). Whatever sins the nations commit, they are comprehended in their forgetting God, that is the root of all evil.—(Greenhill).
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Judah and Samaria are considered as joined together in their sin and punishment.
Ezekiel 23:37. “They have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands.” “The actual subject matter of these verses is closely connected with Ezekiel 23:16, more especially in the designation of the sins as adultery and bloodshed (compare Ezekiel 23:37 and Ezekiel 23:45 with Ezekiel 16:38). They committed adultery with the idols, thus placing the idols on a par with Jehovah as the husband of Israel (compare Jeremiah 3:8; Jeremiah 2:27. For the Moloch-worship compare Ezekiel 16:20-21, and Ezekiel 20:31”).—Keil.
Ezekiel 23:39. “Then they came the same day into My sanctuary to profane it.” “So callous and daring were the Jews in their idolatry that on the very day on which they had burned their children to Moloch in the valley of Gehenna, they hypocritically presented themselves as worshippers in the temple of Jehovah. Compare Jeremiah 7:9-10.” (Henderson). The profanation consisted, not simply in idol-worship considered by itself, but in worshipping the true God in connection with their idols. Thus they placed Jehovah on a par with Moloch.
Ezekiel 23:40. “Ye have sent for men to come from far.” The Heb. verb being in the imperfect tense shows that the action was continuous. Not that they merely sent once and again, but that they were wont to do so. “For whom thou didst wash thyself, paintedst thy eyes, and deckedst thyself with ornaments.” “They spread fine paint of a black colour on the eyelids so as to produce a black margin, and thus make the white of the eye look more beautiful and seducing. It is a custom still practised by Oriental females. Jerusalem is represented as so doing to entice her lovers. She left nothing untried by which this might be effected” (Henderson). “The eyelashes and eyebrows were stained with a powder, so as to make the glance of the eye more brilliant.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 23:41. “Satest upon a stately bed, and a table prepared before it.’ “She seated herself upon a cushion (not lay down upon a bed), and in front of this there was a table, spread with different kinds of food, upon which she placed incense and oil.”—(Keil.) “The board or table is furnished with meats and drinks. Eating and drinking play an important part in adultery, either in the usual or in the spiritual sense.”—(Hengstenberg). “Where-upon thou hast set Mine incense and Mine oil.” The force of this charge lies in the fact that she devoted the offerings which belonged to Jehovah to the gratification of her lovers. “Religious ceremonies are not here spoken of. We find ourselves in the region of political idolatry, which in the latest times of the people, from the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah, far outweighed that of religion. The corresponding reality consists in the rich gifts by which Judah endeavoured to purchase the favour of the heathen sovereigns (Isaiah 30:6).”—(Hengstenberg.) Some understand this passage as describing the lascivious worship of the Babylonish Mylitta. The wanton Israel is described as preparing herself for one of the high festivals of this goddess, and as abandoning herself to strangers like the young women of Babylon.
Ezekiel 23:42. “A voice of a multitude being at ease was with her.” They are at ease, in careless, undisturbed prosperity. “Sabeans from the Wilderness.” “Instead of receiving the warnings given them by the prophets, and humbling themselves on account of their idolatries, the inhabitants of Jerusalem indulged in rioting and drunkenness—bringing even the vulgar Arabs from the desert to keep them company.”—(Henderson.) The phrase “from the desert,” cannot indicate the home of these men, but simply the place from which they came to Judah, namely, from the desert of Syria and Arabia, which separated Palestine from Babylon. These peoples decorated the arms of the harlots with clasps, and their heads with splendid wreaths (crowns). The thought is simply that Samaria and Judah had attained to wealth and earthly glory through their intercourse with these nations; the very gifts with which, according to Ezekiel 16:11, &c., Jehovah Himself had adorned His people.”—(Keil)
Ezekiel 23:43. “Old in adulteries.” Lit. who was debilitated for adultery. “The Heb. word does not indicate the means by which the strength has been exhausted, but is an accusation of direction or reference, debilitated with regard to adultery, so as no longer to be capable of practising it.”—(Keil.) “Will they now commit whoredoms with her?” “Disgusting as was her character as an old adulteress, Jerusalem found those who encouraged her in her wickedness. Taken in connection with the next verse, the two sisters are again presented to view, though Aholibah is specially singled out, being the more guilty of the two.”—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 23:45. “The righteous men.” Men who had the right on their side. Such were the Chaldeans, who were the instruments of God’s righteous anger. “The Chaldeans are righteous according to their mission as ministers of the Divine vengeance. The heathen tyrant also, in Isaiah 49:24, is designated as righteous.”—(Hengstenberg.) “A moral comparison between the Chaldeans and the Jews is not intended, nor are prophets and righteous men among the people themselves to be imagined.”—(Lange.)
Ezekiel 23:46. “I will bring up a company upon them.” “Here the prophet is first addressed. What shall happen is, as it were, wrought by him, as the power which gave the prophecy produces also the fulfilment; in the prophecy also, ideally considered, the fulfilment is already present. The community denotes usually the congregation of Israel. As this has failed to do its duty, reacting against the crime, as once happened in the war against Benjamin (Judges 20:0), so stands here the community of the heathen, which God summons to execute His vengeance.”—(Hengstenberg.)
Ezekiel 23:48.“All women.” All the nations, to whom Israel would serve as a warning and deterring example.
Ezekiel 23:49. “They shall recompense your lewdness upon you.” “The punishment is announced to both the women, Israel and Judah, as still in the future, although Aholah (Samaria) had been overtaken by the judgment a considerable time before. The explanation of this is to be found in the allegory itself, in which both kingdoms are represented as being sisters of one mother; and it may also be defended on the ground that the approaching destruction of Jérusalem and the kingdom of Judah affected the remnants of the kingdom of the ten tribes, which were still to be found in Palestine; whilst, on the other hand, the judgment was not restricted to the destruction of the two kingdoms, but also embraced the latter judgments which fell upon the entire nation.”—(Keil).,
ANOTHER SUMMARY OF THE SINS AND PUNISHMENT OF JUDAH AND SAMARIA
I. Their Sins.
1. Idolatry. “With their idols have they committed adultery” (Ezekiel 23:37). Jehovah was to Israel as a husband. To serve other gods was to forsake and forfeit His favour and protection. It was a fearful crime, such as adultery would be in the judgment of all nations.
2. Cruelty. “Blood is in their hands.” They offered their children to the cruelties of Moloch worship. Idolatry leads to perverted and unnatural views of human duty and of the requirements of religion. Hence the cruelty of its rites.
3. Impurity. She sought to make herself attractive to her lovers, using every art to pander to her lust (Ezekiel 23:41-42). Israel made herself attractive to the surrounding nations, “For whom thou didst wash thyself, paintedst thy eyes, and deckedst thyself with ornaments.” They washed themselves before men, but were unclean before God—the way of hypocrites. Israel sought for occasions of sin. “Ye have sent for men” (Ezekiel 23:40). They tried to excite a jaded appetite (Ezekiel 23:43). They were old and worn out in the service of sin, but tried hard to awaken the impulses of it, to stir up the embers of a smouldering fire. Even in Christian lands, how many serve such impure and cruel gods and even use infamous arts to plunge into the lowest depths of iniquity! “He who serves Venus and Bacchus offers to them also his children.”—(Lange). And how many, also, become more shameless as they grow old in sin!
4. Profanity. They profaned the Sabbath and the sanctury (Ezekiel 23:38). They employed in the service of idolatry the “incense” and “oil,” God’s own property, which He had reserved for sacred uses (Exodus 30:23-33). More than this, they dared to combine the service of Jehovah with that of idols, thus adding to their sins the boldest and most wicked hypocracy. After they had indulged in the most cruel rites of idolatry, they came “in the same day” into God’s sanctuary to defile it. “To run from the harlot-house to God’s house, from murder to the place of prayer, from sin to sinning, is not pleasing to God.”—Lange.
II. Their punishment.
1. It would be felt to be just even by the heathen nation who inflicted it. “And the righteous men, they shall judge them.” (Ezekiel 23:45). The Chaldeans had right on their side. They were the righteous instruments of God to execute His vengeance. Even heathen nations looked upon perjury and breach of covenant as fearful crimes. (Ezekiel 17:15-16).
2. It would be a severe, and yet a most fitting punishment. (Ezekiel 23:46-47). The Judgment hour had come, and God’s army was ready. “They shall stone them with stones,”—the punishment of those who commit adultery and shed blood (John 8:5).
3. It would be effectual. The punishment would completely cure the evil (Ezekiel 23:48). It would be a warning example to all (Ezekiel 23:48). It would bring them to the true knowledge of God (Ezekiel 23:49). The whole of this chapter illustrates the words of St. Paul, that “the Law entered that the offence might abound” (Romans 5:20). It would seem as if the presence of God’s holy Law served to stir up the proud will of the chosen people to more desperate self-assertion. They sought those sinful alliances with the powers of the world, which seemed to have all the more attraction because they were forbidden. “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).
1. Sinners make little or no conscience of horrible sins, or holy duties; they pass from one to the other immediately. When they had slain their children to their idols, that same day they came into the Sanctuary. From shedding of blood and sacrificing to idols, they step into the temple and worship of God. Had not their consciences been seared, they would have accused them and told them that they were unclean, not fit to meddle with holy things. But they go boldly and impudently into God’s presence. So Jeremiah tells us, they did steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, walk after other gods, and then come presently and stand before Him in His house, and say: “We are delivered.” (Jeremiah 7:9-10.) They passed from wicked practices to holy duties, making no conscience of the one or the other.
2. The Lord takes notice how men draw near to Him in the duties of His worship. They thrust themselves into the temple worship and into the presence of God, as if they had been innocent and as acceptable to God as any. Men may deceive others and themselves, but they cannot deceive the Lord. He sees their spirits, and whether they come unprepared in the guilt of former or present sins.
3. Profaning of holy things is wronging God. “This have they done unto Me. Lo, thus have they done in the midst of Mine house.” God had instituted their worship, and had stamped holiness upon them; and therefore the defiling and profaning of them He counted the defiling and profaning of His name and of Himself. Three ways, especially, are holy things defiled, profaned:
(1.) When men come in their sins, without purging themselves. (St. James, James 4:8.) If men draw near to God without cleansing their hands, and purifying their hearts, God will not draw near them. He will not touch unclean things.
(2.) When we mingle aught of us therewith. Additions of human things are pollutions of divine things. When they brought aught into the Temple which God appointed not, then was God’s worship defiled. When Nadab and Abihu put strange fire into the censers, they defiled God’s worship and provoked Him to their destruction (Leviticus 10:0); and when they set their threshold with God’s threshold, they defiled His name and worship (Ezekiel 43:7-8).
3. When holy things are handled irreverently. The Bethshemites in a rude manner peeped into the ark and profaned it, which caused the Lord to smite them with sudden death (1 Samuel 6:19). Solomon gives counsel that men should keep their feet when they go into the house of God (Ecclesiastes 5:1). For if they look not well to their affections, they will play the fool, and profane those holy things, and procure a curse instead of a blessing.
4. Sinners will show great activity in drawing others to themselves and their wicked ways. These harlots sent to Assyria, to Egypt, and to others to come unto them. They trimmed and decked themselves, they spared not for any cost whereby they might please and satisfy them. Thus did the harlot (Proverbs 7:0). She perfumes her bed, trims up herself, goes forth, and diligently seeks, finds, and brings in the prey. Some compass sea and land to make proselytes. Shall wicked ones and wickedness be active, expensive to draw and ruin others, and shall not godly ones and godliness be as active and expensive to win and save sinners?
5. Those who are given to corporeal or spiritual uncleanness are seldom, recovered, but go on and grow old in those sins. These women had many reproofs and threatenings, but none prevailed (Ezekiel 23:44). Such sins are bewitching, and hold men captive. “None that go unto her return again” (Proverbs 2:19).
6. The Lord takes notice of sinners, as to the beginning, progress, and continuance of their sin. He observed when Aholah began her whoredoms, when the calves were set up at Dan and Bethel, how she grew up and grew old in adulteries. God’s eye goes along with sinners, from the beginning to the end.
7. God’s judgments are teaching things. He brought these judgments upon the two harlots, that all women might be taught thereby. Gideon by thorns and briars taught the men of Succoth (Judges 8:16). There is no judgment of God upon any city, nation, or people, but it speaks and teaches: “Hear ye the rod” (Micah 6:9); it hath a voice, a teaching voice.
1. It teaches all who are guilty of the same sins, and not visited with the same judgments to admire the goodness and long suffering of God towards them.
2. It teaches those who are guilty of such sins to repent and turn to the Lord, lest the Lord, being now in the way of judgment, should break out also upon them, and make them examples of His justice.
3. It teaches others to fear and to flee from such practices, as being such destructive judgments. When Samaria and Jerusalem shall be destroyed for their confidence in the arm of flesh, will not every other city learn what is the reward of wickedness, and fear to do the like?
8. God’s ways with sinners in judging them righteously brings them to acknowledge the equity of His dealing with them. When the just punishment of your lewdness and idolatry shall be upon you, “ye shall know that I am the Lord,” who observed all your ways, who waited long for your repentance, who have dealt justly with you in all the evils I have brought upon you; you cannot but justify Me, and condemn yourselves.—(Greenhill.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 23". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26