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After another pause, the prophet enters on another elaborate parallel, after the pattern of Ezekiel 16:1-63; but with a marked variation. There we have the history of one harlot, s.c. of Israel in its collective unity. There we have two sister harlots, the daughters of one mother, and they are Samaria and Jerusalem, as both belonging to Israel. For the purpose of the parable, they are represented as having had a separate existence, even during the period of the sojourn in Egypt. This was probably historically true, the line of cleavage caused by the claims of Ephraim to supremacy appearing again and again long before the revolt of the tea tribes under Jeroboam (Judges 8:1; Judges 12:1; 2 Samuel 19:43). Both were alike tainted with idolatry, as in the history of the golden calf, when they came out of Egypt (comp. Ezekiel 16:7; Ezekiel 20:7, Ezekiel 20:8). Yet even then Jehovah, like Hoses in the personal history which was to be to him as a parable of that of Israel, had compassion on them, harlots though they were (Hosea 1:2). They became his, and "bare sons and daughters."
The occurrence of proper names is almost unique in the parables of the Bible, the Lazarus of Luke 16:20 being the only other instance. Their meaning is sufficiently clear. Aholah (but both names should begin with O rather than A) means "Her tent;" Aholibah, "My tent is in her." A parallel, which may have suggested the names, is found in the Aholibamah (equivalent to "My tent is in the high place") of Genesis 36:2, and another in the use of Ohel as a proper name in 1 Chronicles 3:20. The common element of the two names is the word that is commonly used for the sacred tent or tabernacle in the Pentateuch and elsewhere. The distinctive element of each points to the fact that the worship in Samaria was unauthorized. Her "tent" was hers, not Jehovah's. Of Jerusalem with its temple Jehovah could say, "My tent is in her," and this, as magnifying her privilege, also aggravated her guilt. Keil and others take the adjective here, as in Ezekiel 16:46, as meaning "greater" rather than "older." The former adjective is, of course, applicable to the greater power of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, and, even if we retain the renderings of the Authorized Version, is probably the explanation of Samaria being named as the elder of the two.
The history of both the sisters passes from the time of the Exodus to that of their separate existence, and starts, in fact, from their first intercourse with the great monarchies of Asia. So far it is less a survey of their successive stages of degradation, like that of Ezekiel 16:1-63; than a retrospect of their political alliances. Aholah played the harlot. The lovers, as in Ezekiel 16:33, are the nations with which the kings of Israel were in alliance, and of these the Assyrians are named as pre-eminent. The word neighbors, which in its literal sense is hardly applicable, is probably to be taken of spiritual affinity, or may be taken as "come near" is in Genesis 20:4; Ezekiel 18:6; Le Ezekiel 20:16. The Assyrians were those who, in that sense, came near to the harlot city. We have in 2 Kings 15:20 the fact that Menahem paid tribute to Pul. Hosea 5:13 and Hosea 7:11 speak generally of such alliances. The black obelisk of Shalmaneser records the fact that Jehu paid tribute to him ('Records of the Past,' 5.41). In the last-named case the tribute consisted chiefly of vessels of gold, bowls, goblets, etc.
Clothed with blue. The same word as that used in the description of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:4; Exodus 26:31, et al.). It was probably some hue of the Tyrian purple kind which marked the official dress of the "captains" of the Assyrian armies. The words, with those that follow, bring before us the magnificent array of the Assyrian cavalry—a force in which Israel, throughout its history, was deficient (Judges 5:10; Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 36:8.).
The next two verses paint the consequence of the alliance first with Assyria and then with Egypt. She adopted the religion of Assyria, probably in the form of the worship of Ishtar (Ashtoreth) as the queen of heaven. Having done this, the kings of Israel sought to play off one kingdom against the other (see Hosea 7:11; 2 Kings 17:4). It was, in fact, the discovery of Hoshea's treachery in this matter that led Shalmaneser to besiege Samaria. The result of that siege is described in general terms in Ezekiel 23:10. She, the city of Samaria, was slain with the sword, tier sons and daughters were taken into exile. So she became famous (i.e. infamous, like the Latin famosus), literally, a name among women, so. among the neighboring nations.
Ezekiel 23:11, Ezekiel 23:12
The issue of the Assyrian alliance in the fall of Samaria might have served as a warning to the kings of Judah. But it did not. They also 'courted the alliance of the kings of Assyria, as in the case of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:7-10) and Tiglath-Pileser. Hezekiah followed in the same line, though he too trusted in Egypt, and afterwards rebelled. Manasseh too paid tribute, and made Jerusalem the scene of a confluent idolatry, which included that of Assyria. Even Josiah went forth against Pharaoh-Necho as the faithful vassal of either Assyria or Babylon. The splendor which had fascinated Samaria fascinated her also. Here clothed most gorgeously takes the place of "clothed in blue" in Verse 6, describing, probably, the same fact.
The sin of Judah went a stop further than that of Samaria. She courted the alliance of the Chaldeans. Probably the sojourn of Manasseh at Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11) led him to see in that city a possible rival to Assyria. The embassy of Merodach-Baladan to Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:1-8.) implies, on the other hand, that Babylon was looking to Judah for support against Assyria. The prophet represents this political coquetting, so to speak, as another act of whoredom. Aholibah saw the images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion (probably "red ochre:" colors seem to have been used largely both in Assyrian and Babylonian sculpture as in Egyptian, and Judah seems to have copied them, Jeremiah 22:14) and fell in love with them. As the passions of a Messalina might be roused by sensuous pictures of masculine beauty, so Judah was led on by what her envoys reported of the magnificence of the palaces, the strength of the armies, of the Chaldeans. The journey of Jonah to Nineveh, and those implied in Hosea 7:11, as well as the prophecy of Nahum, all indicate a more or less intimate knowledge of the Mesopotamian monarchies. The mission of Merodach-Baladan would be naturally followed by a return embassy from Judah. A later instance under Zedekiah meets us in Jeremiah 29:3.
Exceeding in dyed attire; better, with dyed turbans, or tiaras, such as are seen on the Assyrian monuments of Nimrud, Khorsabad, and Kouyunyik.
The words paint the intimate alliance, the political prostitution, as it were, involved in the alliance with Babylon. Her mind was alienated from them. Interpreted by the history, the words point to the fact that Judah soon found out how hollow was the help gained by the alliance with Babylon, and turned, after Josiah's death, to Egypt as a counterpoise. As in the history of Amnon (2 Samuel 13:15), lust, when it had wrought its will, passed into loathing and disgust. Jehoiakim and Zedekiah were examples of what we may well call this distracted policy. But, as it was, this alienation did but increase her guilt. As things were, it would have been better, as Jeremiah all along counseled, to accept the rule of the Chaldeans. The mind of Jehovah was alienated from Jerusalem as hers had been from the Chaldeans.
Yet she multiplied her whoredoms. The disappointment and failure, however, did not lead to repentance. Foreign alliances, and with them foreign idolatries, were courted more eagerly than ever, though in a different direction. The lovers were changed, but the harlotry went on.
She doted on her paramours. Commonly the word is used of a concubine (Genesis 22:24; Judges 8:31). Here it is used in scorn of the Egyptian princes whose favor Judah courted, reminding us of Homer's Ἀχαιίδες οὐκετ Ἀχαίοι, as indicating their political weakness. All that need be said of the comparison that follows is that here also Ezekiel follows in the footsteps of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 5:8). What is indicated is that Judah threw herself into the idolatrous ritual of Egypt with an almost orgiastic passion. The harlot nation returned, as it were, to her first love, and renewed the whoredoms of her youth.
Ezekiel 23:22, Ezekiel 23:23
The lovers from whom the mind of Judah was alienated were, as in Ezekiel 23:17, the Chaldeans. With these are joined Pekod, and Shoa, and Koa. The Authorized and Revised Versions, following the LXX. take these as proper names, and Ewald Smend, and Furst find in them those of Chaldean tribes. The Vulgate, followed by Luther, gives nobiles, tyrannosque, et principes, and Keil and Hengstenberg substantially adopt this rendering, giving "rulers, lords, and nobles." "Pekod" appears as a place in Jeremiah 50:20, but the ether names are unknown to history. On the whole, the balance seems in favor of the rendering in the text. With these are joined all the Assyrians, who, under Nebuchadnezzar, fought, of course, in his armies." Now she should see her desirable young men … riding upon horses (the prophet repeats with sarcasm the phrase of Jeremiah 50:12) in another guise than she had expected.
With chariots, wagons, and wheels, etc. The first word is only found here, and probably means" armor." So the Revised Version, with weapons, chariots, and wagons. They shall judge thee according to their judgments; sc. shall execute the judgment which God has assigned to them after their own manner, so their usual cruel treatment of barbarous nations.
They shall take away thy nose and thine ears, etc. Possibly it may have been known to Ezekiel as a punishment for the adulterer or adulteress in Egypt and other countries, and if so, he might have selected it as specially appropriate to his parable (Martial, 'Epigr.,' 2.83; 3.85). Thy residue shall be consumed with fire. The Hebrew word for "residue" (not that usually so translated) is the same as that previously translated "remnant." In the first clause it clearly points to the men of Jerusalem who are left after the capture. In the second its meaning is determined by the fact that it follows after the deportation of the sons and daughters. All that was left—in the parable, of the mutilated trunk of the adulteress, in the history, of the devastated city, sc. the empty houses—should be destroyed by fire.
Thy whoredom brought from the land of Egypt; i.e. the last political alliance between Judah and Egypt. This, together with the Egyptian cultus that accompanied it, should be made to cease. That would no longer be in the thoughts of the exiles; their hopes from that quarter were extinguished forever.
Once again with incisive sarcasm the prophet reiterates the phrase of Ezekiel 23:17. The punishment should be all the more terrible as coming from those whom the adulteress had once loved with the love that had passed into loathing.
All thy labor; sc. all the results of labor, all thy wealth.
I will give her cup into thine hand. (For the image of the cup as the symbol of good or evil fortune, see Psalms 23:5; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15; Matthew 20:22; Matthew 26:39.) The cup, in this case, was to be deep and large as that of Samaria. The adulteress was to be "drunk, but not with wine" (Isaiah 29:9). And that "cup," over and above the laughter and derision, would contain much of unknown calamities, the astonishment and desolation of Ezekiel 23:33.
Thou shalt break the shards thereof. The picture of the desolate adulteress becomes yet more terrible. Like a forlorn and desperate castaway, she does shameful execution on herself; breaks her cup, and completes the work of mutilation in its most terrible form. That is the doom decreed for her, because she had forgotten her true husband and the love of her espousals. Revised Version gives gnaw the shards thereof, painting yet more vividly the despair of the outcast.
As often, Ezekiel emphasizes by reiteration, begins yet a fresh discourse with the same words, wilt thou judge, as in Ezekiel 20:4 and Ezekiel 22:2, and enters on another summary of the sins of the two harlot sisters, in which Moloch-worship (Verse 37) and sabbath-breaking (Verse 38) were conspicuous elements. The nature of the guilt is emphasized (Verses 38, 39) by the fact that the idolatrous ritual was performed on the very day in which the people sacrificed in the temple; that it found a local habitation even there (comp. Ezekiel 8:17; 2 Kings 21:1-26.; Jeremiah 32:34).
Ye have sent for men to come from far, etc. The words obviously refer to the embassies which had been sent from time to time by both Samaria and Jerusalem to Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. The imagery of the earlier stage of the harlot's progress is resumed, and we have a picture almost the counterpart of that in Proverbs 7:10-21. She takes her bath, paints her eyelashes with kohol, the black pigment still used in the East, as Jezebel had done (2 Kings 9:30). She decks herself with jewels, and sits on a divan (a sofa-conch, rather than bed), and prepares a table for a banquet. And on that table are the incense and the oil, symbols alike of wealth and worship, which Jehovah claims as his, and which she offers to her lovers (comp. Ezekiel 16:13, Ezekiel 16:19; Hosea 2:5, Hosea 2:8).
A voice of a multitude, etc. The word for "multitude" is strictly tumult, and Keil and Currey render, The voice of tumult became still," sc. the threats of the alien powers whom Judah courted were for a time hushed by the tributes thus paid to them. With the men of the common sort; literally, as in the margin, of the multitude of men. Sabeans from the wilderness. The Revised Version, with Keil and almost all recent commentators, follows the margin, drunkards (LXX; οἰνώμενοι). "Sabeans" rests on a Jewish rendering of the text, but, as a people, the Sabeans, who dwelt south of Meroe, though named in Isaiah 45:14, were too remote to come within the horizon of the parable. What Ezekiel dwells on is the ever-growing degradation of the harlot city. Not only the officers of the Chaldeans, but the mixed multitude, the very drunkards from the wilderness of Babylon, were admitted to her embraces. Possibly the word may point to the false gods to whom libations of wine were offered, but I incline to refer it rather to those who got drunk at their idol-festivals even in Jerusalem. Drunkenness was one of the vices of the Babylonians, and the prophets, who admired the Rechabites and the Nazarites (Jeremiah 35:1-19.; Amos 2:11), must have looked on Judah's participation in that sin as a measureless degradation. The bracelets and crowns symbolize the wealth and prestige which the Chaldean alliance was supposed to bring with it.
The whole verse is obscure, and has been very differently rendered.
(1) The Authorized Version may be paraphrased, "Then said I to her that was worn out with her whoredoms, passed her prime and enfeebled, Will they (the foreign nations) commit whoredoms (enter into alliances) with her? sc. What is there to attract now? And yet the habit is inveterate. She has grown old in her vice, and cannot cease from it."
(2) The Revised Version takes it not as a question, but as a statement: Now said I of her that was old in adulteries, Now will they commit, etc. So, in the main, Keil. The text is probably corrupt, and resists conjectural emendation. In any ease the general meaning is clear. The sin is of too long standing to be cured.
The righteous men are in effect the ministers of God's wrath. The doom comes at last on both the sisters, who are murderers as well as adulteresses. They shall suffer the punishment of stoning which the Law commanded (Le Ezekiel 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22, Deuteronomy 22:24; John 8:5), and after that their bodies were to be hacked to pieces. The result of that judgment would be that all women should learn not to do after their lewdness, i.e. that idolatry should cease from being the sin of the cities of Israel.
Aholah and Aholibah.
"Her tent" and "My tent is in her." These names stand respectively for Israel and Judah. Israel, the northern kingdom, had her own tent, i.e. she was independent after secession from Judah, like a woman who has left her mother's tent and has one of her own. Judah retained the temple, the representative of the tabernacle of the wilderness; therefore God's tent was in her. These prosaic facts were suggestive of deeper traits of national character, which the symbolical names suggested.
I. INDEPENDENCE. Israel is named Aholah. She has her own tent; she is independent. This national independence has its counterpart in individual independence. Jacob leaves his home and fights his own battle with the world. Joseph is sent away from his family, and cast in his youth among the grand opportunities of a great nation and the direful temptations of a dissolute society. The young man going out into the world enters on the exhilarating but trying career of independent life. There are special opportunities, duties, and dangers in having one's own tent.
1. Opportunities. The independent position is not hampered with restrictions. Freedom means a wide range for individual activity. Now is the time to realize the long-cherished dreams of earlier days.
2. Duties. Duty dogs the footsteps of opportunity. As our scope for choice and individual activity is enlarged, the obligations of service are correspondingly increased. The slave has few duties; the free man great obligations. The liberty of manhood brings the burden of a man's duty. Christian liberty increases the obligations of Christian service.
3. Dangers. Israel gained in freedom by her rebellion against the petty tyranny of Rehoboam; but the liberty which was got by separation brought its own great dangers. Cut off from the temple-worship, excluded from the national festivals, deprived of the highest religious ministrations, the freed people were tempted to fall into the idolatry of their ancestors and their neighbors. This temptation was too great for them, and they apostatized earlier than Judah. It is dangerous to be separated from religious ordinances. The young man who leaves the Christian home of his childhood for new scenes of worldly life is entering on a path of peril. A self-contained life is open to temptation. To seek to be independent of God is to court ruin.
II. DIVINE FELLOWSHIP. Judah is named Aholibah. God's tent is in her. She has the outward means and symbols, at least, of the Divine presence. This fact represents high privileges, with corresponding guilt when God is forsaken.
1. High privileges.
(1) Prosperity. God's presence brings joy and true welfare.
(2) Protection. If God's tent is in our midst, the Captain of salvation is with us, and though a host should encamp around us, we need fear no evil.
(3) Spiritual grace. The temple was not a mere meeting-place, sanctuary, and fortress. Its services were "means of grace." God is with us to enlighten, purify, quicken.
2. Heavy guilt. Aholibah apostatized. Her guilt was all the greater that she bore such a name, and could claim the symbol of God's presence as peculiarly her own. The greatest guilt is that of men who know God and have enjoyed his presence and grace in the past, and who, sinning openly against light, have spurned those privileges and willfully rebelled against their chosen God. No sinners are so guilty as apostatized Christians. Mark: it is possible to be Aholibah and to enjoy God's presence, and yet to turn against him, fall, and be ruined.
Doting on the Assyrians.
This foolish, fatal infatuation of Israel for the Assyrians may be taken as a striking instance of the fascination of worldliness. Israel had known the true God, and had been called to a peculiar destiny as a holy and. separate nation; yet she turned aside from her high vocation, lured by the fatal charms of military splendor and sensuous luxury in a great heathen empire.
I. GOD'S PEOPLE ARE REQUIRED TO SEPARATE THEMSELVES FROM THE WORLD, who hear the call of God must follow him into the wilderness, or, if he gives them a land flowing with milk and honey, must still keep themselves apart from the evil world. This does not mean the physical separation of a hermit's exile or a monk's cloistered imprisonment. The true separation is spiritual, not local. We are called to forsake the spirit of the world, to renounce its evil practices, and to repudiate its low, material, sensuous tone of life.
II. THE WORLD ENDEAVORS TO ENSNARE THE PEOPLE OF GOD. It is not content to let them stand aloof; it appears as a tempter trying to charm the bride of Christ into infidelity. We cannot afford to despise its fascinating influence, for this is most subtle and potent. It comes through various means.
1. Proximity. Assyria was a "neighbor" of Israel. The Church is in the world. Christian men are in daily intercourse with worldly men. "Evil communications corrupt good manners."
2. Earthly attractiveness. There was a material splendor in the great empire of Assyria which the marvelous sculptures and inscriptions that have been made familiar to us by Layard and others put beyond question. The "governors and rulers clothed most gorgeously," and the horsemen, "all of them desirable young men," awoke the admiration of the poor little semi-barbarous nation, Israel. The luxury of the world, its luscious literature and sensuous art, its enormous resources, and its elaborate culture of earthly refinement, are necessarily most fascinating.
3. Natural inclination. The world could not touch us for harm if it found nothing sympathetic in us. But it easily discovers remains of its old dominion. The old Adam is not quite dead. Passion within may be roused to answer to temptation from without.
III. THE SNARES OF THE WORLD ARE FATAL TO THOSE WHO ARE ENTANGLED IN THEM. Israel's doting upon the Assyrians was fatal to her religion, her morals, and her national existence. To succumb to the spirit of the world is to make shipwreck of life.
1. Religious ruin. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." The spirit of worldliness is antagonistic to God. As surely as this spirit gains ground in our lives, the spirit of devotion will recede.
2. Moral ruin. True worldliness is morally evil. It is not a mere habit of external and earthly living. It carries with it the indulgence of the lower life. At least it tends to this, and all its fascinations drag the soul down.
3. Life-ruin. In the end the Christian man who gives himself up to the attractions of worldly living will reap the consequences of his tin in corruption and death.
A bad example.
Judah followed the bad example of her sister Israel; consequently, she was to share the fate of Israel We see here an instance of the evil influence of a bad example, and of its fatal consequences.
I. THE EVIL INFLUENCE OF A BAD EXAMPLE. Consider how this fell power is exerted.
1. By the fascination of suggestion. The path is made by the pioneer, and the follower has only to walk in it. The sight of a predecessor indicates the road, calls attention to it, suggests the idea of walking in it. The publications of the details of a horrible crime in the newspaper exerts a most deleterious influence in this way by filling the minds of people with thoughts of a kindred character. Hence the common occurrence of an epidemic of similar crimes.
2. By the attraction of sympathy. Judah is drawn to follow her sister Israel When Israel goes wrong, Judah accompanies her and goes wrong in a similar manner. Affection is fatal when it induces us to copy the vices of those whom we love. Even sisters must part when one chooses an evil way, if the other would not also choose sin. But it is hard to resist the charms of affection.
3. By the delusion of a false excuse. Judah pleads the example of her sister as an excuse. What others are doing seems to be justified by their action. Instead of measuring our conduct by the Law of God, we are tempted to test it by the corresponding conduct of others.
II. THE SIN OF FOLLOWING A BAD EXAMPLE. Judah is blamed for following the bad example of Israel. It is not for one moment supposed that the misconduct of her sister could be pleaded as a justification for her own repetition of it. We cannot be excused in our own sin on the ground that we are simply treading in the footsteps of predecessors. See how this sin is inexcusable.
1. Because the evil of the way is known. The foolish follower is not deceived. Judah knows that Israel has taken an evil course. Bad examples may ensnare the careless, but those who have minds to think for themselves cannot be blind to the wrong character of the example before them.
2. Because of the freedom of the will. A bad example is a temptation to evil; but it is not a force compelling men to follow. Its attraction can only work through the will, never contrary to it. Therefore one must consent voluntarily to follow the evil pattern before doing so, and this free consent destroys the excuse that the example is to blame rather than the man who imitates it.
3. Because of one's own advantages. Judah might plead that she was sorely tempted by her sister's example. But then she possessed higher privileges than Israel. She was Aholibah, while her sister was only Aholah. She had the temple of God in her midst, while Israel was left to her own resources. Christians are doubly guilty in following the bad example of godless men. They sin in spite of higher influences which should suffice to keep them in the right path.
III. THE FATAL CONSEQUENCES OF FOLLOWING A BAD EXAMPLE. Judah was walking in the way of her sister; therefore she must drink of her sister's cup. Companions in guilt will be companions in doom. It is impossible to walk in the same path as another without going towards the same goal. Moreover, if higher religious privileges do not keep us from following the sinful practices of worldly men, most certainly they will not protect us from sharing their fate. He who treads the sinner's flowery path will drink of the sinner's bitter cup.
(first half of verse)
I. FORGETTING GOD IMPLIES THAT HE HAS FORMERLY BEEN KNOWN. We cannot forget what we have never known. The lower animal, which is incapable of entertaining a thought of God, cannot forget him. If I forget much, I must have known much.
1. Men have a natural knowledge of God. Few races, if any, are without a trace of religion. The Andaman islanders and the Fuegians are said to have been discovered in that state. If so, they are just the exception that proves the rule. The science of comparative religion reveals an underlying primitive theism beneath the tangled growth of later mythology. St. Paul appealed to the natural knowledge of God among the heathen (Acts 17:28; Romans 1:21).
2. They who have seen the Jewish and Christian revelation have a larger knowledge of God. Israel had known God by his special manifestations in the Law, in his providence and miracles, in the prophets. All Christendom is open to the higher knowledge of God in Christ. Children in Christian homes and Sunday schools have known God, though they may have forsaken him in later days.
3. The people of God have the fullest knowledge of God. True Israelites and Christians know God as he is never known to the outer world. They have the knowledge of experience, spiritual sympathy, and fellowship (John 14:7).
II. THERE ARE MANY INDUCEMENTS TO FORGET GOD.
1. He is invisible. The knowledge of God is held only by faith. The decay of faith leads to forgetting God. It requires some spiritual effort to keep our hold on the Unseen.
2. Earthly interests distract our thoughts. These things are seen, present and pressing; they crowd about us and force themselves upon us. They make themselves felt as intensely real. Pleasures of life and cares of life, fascinating delights and absorbing anxieties, all tend. to put out the thought of God.
3. Sinful inclinations rouse an aversion to the thought of God. He is holy; lie disapproves of sin. It is not pleasant to think of God when we are choosing the evil way.
III. FORGETTING GOD IS ITSELF A GREAT SIN. We can control our memory by fixing our thoughts upon God. This is not a case of mere brain failure. There is a moral defect behind it. Apart from all active deeds, the very forgetting God is itself wicked on several grounds.
1. God has never forgotten us. He has provided for our daily needs, while we have been ignoring the hand from which the provision came. He is our Father. Gratitude and love should keep the thought of God warm in our heart. To forget God implies gross unthankfulness and a base lack of natural affection.
2. God claims our attention and obedience. He is our Lord. He expects us to listen to his voice, give heed to his commands, and obey his will. But to forget God is to ignore these duties.
IV. FORGETTING GOD IS HURTFUL TO MAN. They know not what they miss who forsake their true life and forget their Father in heaven. Seeking liberty, they court death.
1. This is the loss of the best blessings of Heaven. The light of God's countenance is despised. His guidance, comfort, support, and salvation are neglected. The joy of communion is renounced.
2. This incurs a fatal doom. God cannot let us forget him forever. If we do not remember his love today, we may encounter his wrath tomorrow (Psalms 44:20, Psalms 44:21).
V. GOD MERCIFULLY INTERFERES TO SAVE US FROM FORGETTING HIM.
1. He reveals himself in his Word. The revelation of nature is daily spread before us. But when that is despised, God adds the more clear voice of prophecy. We have the open Bible to remind us of God.
2. God comes to us in his Son. As men had forgotten him, God came right down among them, looked at them through a human countenance, and spoke in a human voice. Christ comes to save us from forgetting God.
3. God rouses us by his providence. We are forgetting God while all goes smoothly. Then his thunders burst over us. They startle and alarm, but they awaken. Thus God saves us from forgetting him.
I. ABOMINATIONS MAY BE HIDDEN.
1. They may be committed in secret. Then they are unknown to every one but the guilty persons and their accomplices.
2. Their corrupt character may not be admitted. Then they may be done in open daylight without shame or rebuke. Not only the outside public, but even the guilty persons themselves, may not perceive the full evil of what they are doing.
3. They may be forgotten. People do not wish to call to mind a disagreeable past. As the years glide by it slides further and further into the dim land of forgetfulness. By dint of reiterated self-flattery the guilty persons almost persuade themselves that they did not do the evil things of those old bad years, or that somehow they have left their former selves behind them in that evil past; or they put the thought of it quite out of their minds.
II. ABOMINATIONS CANNOT BE HIDDEN FOREVER. God does not forget them. The recording angel has written them in his awful book with ink that never fades. The subtle poison of them lingers in the souls of the guilty. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Some seeds take long to germinate. But the seeds of evil deeds have a fatal vitality, though they be slow to make an appearance. We cannot escape the consequences of our misdeeds by forgetting them.
III. IT IS BEST THAT ABOMINATIONS SHOULD BE REVEALED TO THE GUILTY ON EARTH. It is no piece of idle vengeance that tortures Israel with a revelation of its abominations.
1. It is well for the guilty to know them. There is no chance of repentance until the heinousness of sin is acknowledged. But that this may be the case, the abominations must first be revealed to the sinner. There may be little good in proclaiming his guilt aloud to the world. What is needed is that it should be brought well home to his own conscience.
2. It is well that they should be known now. If men wait for the certain revelation of final judgment, the abominations will be declared in trumpet-tones of denunciation, and burned into the soul in memories of fire. It is infinitely better to become conscious of them first, that the awakening knowledge of guilt may perchance lead to contrition and repentance.
IV. GOD DECLARES THEIR ABOMINATIONS TO SINNERS. He is too merciful to permit his children to perish without warning. The Bible contains awful revelations of human sin. If we take it as a lamp, and turn its light on our own lives and into our own hearts, it will reveal many an abomination of wickedness hitherto calmly ignored. The prophets of Israel were required to reveal man's sin quite as much as to make known the thoughts and will of God. John the Baptist came to prepare for Christ by declaring to men the abominations of their ways. Christ himself makes men feel their sin by his own holy presence. So Peter feared to be near him (Luke 5:8). A vision of Christ throws a wholesome light on the hideous condition of an impenitent soul. This is to lead to repentance and salvation through Christ. Then the abominations may be blotted out (1 John 1:7).
Ezekiel 23:40 and Ezekiel 23:42
The foreign and the common.
In Ezekiel 23:40 Israel is seen to be seeking distant foreign connections, like a faithless wife who goes far afield for companions in sin. In Ezekiel 23:42 the charm of the distant and the foreign is swallowed up in the vulgarity of sin, which is the same in essence all the world over.
I. THE CHARM OF THE FOREIGN. The Jews were especially warned against foreign alliances, as they meant distrust in God, and as they led to the introduction of corrupting heathen influences. Nevertheless, the foolish people gave way to the fatal fascination of foreigners.
1. There is a charm in novelty. We are tempted to accept alien ideas just because they strike us with a certain freshness. Thus all sorts of earthly notions and practices have been imported into God's Israel, the Christian Church, by have peculiarly wide and varied relations with the world, and Christianity claims all the earth as its domain. But the fatal charm is that of following the example of the various practices of mankind instead of impressing a Christian influence on the race. This was Israel's mistake. Called to carry out a mission to the world, she succumbed to the spirit of the world. There is great danger lest the Church should follow her example in this respect. Indeed, this has happened already to a deplorable extent. A pseudo-liberalism claims to be following the zeit-geist, and so to be adapting Christianity to the world. This means unfaithfulness to Christ. St. Paul would be all things to all men, but only that he might win all men to Christ, never so as to surrender Christ to please the world. That is the part of a Judas.
II. THE DISILLUSION OF THE COMMON. Israel and Judah cast wistful glances on the foreigner. But when they had accomplished their purpose and were indulging in revelry with a multitude of people who had adorned them with the barbaric magnificence of golden bracelets and crowns, what did it all amount to but the shame of a low, drunken debauch? Novelty in sin does not elevate the evil thing, which is essentially the same, however it may be clothed and decorated. The so-called refinement of vice is but a veneer on the surface which leaves the rottenness beneath untouched. Cosmopolitanism does not save from moral corruption. The whole world is essentially one in its sin. There is a horrible vulgarity about all wickedness. If we would be saved from this we must in a sense become a "separate people." We may and we should still sympathize with all our fellow-men, send the gospel to every nation and ourselves learn such lessons as a wide view of mankind may teach us. Yet for all the higher efforts of life the inspiration must be found in the retired and secret chamber of prayer.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
What it must have cost the patriotic prophet to write this chapter passes our power to imagine. The Jew was naturally and pardonably proud of his country and of its history. No thoughtful Jew could, indeed, be insensible to imperfections and flaws in the national character, to stains upon the nation's annals. But in this passage of his prophecies the dark shading is relieved by no gleam of light. Israel is depicted as bad from the days of Egyptian bondage down to the days of Babylonian captivity. The figurative language employed is such as could only be justified by facts most discreditable to the character of the Hebrew people. That there were exceptions to the rule, Ezekiel was well aware. But the rule was that the people were, at every stage of their existence, prone to depart from the God to whom they owed every privilege, every blessing; that they resisted no temptation to idolatry; that they were incessantly provoking the anger and just condemnation of the theocratic king. To complete the horror of the representation, the northern and southern tribes are alike included in the indictment and in the guilt. Penetrating beneath the faithful but very repulsive, yet necessary and just, similitude employed by the prophet, to the moral and spiritual lessons thus conveyed, we may trace the story of the inexcusable infidelity of Judah and Israel as related without exaggeration by one of their own race.
I. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH WAS COMMON TO JUDAH AND ISRAEL. We have but to turn to the Books of Kings and of Chronicles to see that in this respect the northern and southern kingdoms were alike, if not equally, guilty. In the record we find, notwithstanding certain remarkable exceptions in the case of Judah, that kings and people continually forsook their Divine Deliverer and rightful King, and addicted themselves to the degrading idolatries practiced by the surrounding nations.
II. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH COMMENCED IN THE NATION'S YOUTH, DURING THE EGYPTIAN BONDAGE. The record of the wanderings in the wilderness is a sufficient proof of this. The worship of the golden calf is a well-known instance of the readiness of Israel to fall back into the Egyptian idolatry, which, it might have been supposed, they had forever left behind them when they crossed the Red Sea, and witnessed the powerlessness of the gods of Egypt to save Pharaoh and his mighty but misguided host.
III. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH WAS REPEATED WHEN ISRAEL WAS BROUGHT INTO CONTACT WITH THE ASSYRIANS. In the frank and painful language of the prophet is depicted the fatal readiness of the Israelites to yield themselves to the seductions of the Oriental idolatries, and even to go out of their way to court the corruption which they should have eschewed. Compared with the pure and stately rites instituted by Divine command, and celebrated in the temple courts of Jerusalem, the worship of the Assyrians was inexpressibly degrading. The length of time during which the Hebrews had enjoyed peculiar privileges increased their culpability in transferring, at this period, the allegiance they owed to the true God from him to the contemptible idols of Assyria.
IV. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH ALIENATED HIM FROM THE PEOPLE WHOM HE HAD CHOSEN. As the soul of a husband is estranged from the adulteress who has deserted him, so the Lord declared his soul to be alienated from her whom he had signalized by his favor. Israel had forsaken the one incomparably holy and gracious God, and had attached herself to the lords many and the gods many of the surrounding peoples; and such conduct could not but raise a barrier between Jehovah and the nation that had shown such insensibility to his favor, and such readiness to yield to the advances of his enemies.
V. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH WAS PUNISHED THROUGH THE AGENCY OF THE VERY PEOPLE THROUGH WHOSE INSTIGATION IT WAS COMMITTED. How remarkable the threat, "I will raise up thy lovers against thee!" By Assyria Judah and Israel were corrupted; and by Assyria they were chastened. They alienated the Lord, and yet found no help from the false gods for whose sake they had deserted him.
VI. PARTNERS IN DISLOYALTY WERE PARTNERS IN PUNISHMENT. Alike they sinned, and alike they suffered. They incurred the same fate, and from the same sword. Samaria and Judah alike endured the sorrows of the Eastern captivity and the shock of the Eastern armies.
VII. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH WAS SEVERELY DEALT WITH. In various figures, each with its own dark shade of significance, the prophet portrays the impending fate of the guilty, apostate nations. They were mutilated; they were compelled to drink the cup of astonishment and desolation; they were consumed with fire and slain with the sword.
VIII. THE AIM OF THUS PUNISHING DISLOYALTY WAS TO BRING IT TO AN END. "Thus will I cause lewdness [i.e. idolatry] to cease out of the land, that all women [i.e. nations] may be taught not to do after your lewdness."
IX. JEHOVAH THUS VINDICATES HIS OWN CLAIM TO THE LOYALTY OF ALL MEN, AVENGING HIMSELF UPON THOSE WHO WRONG HIM. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord God." His honor he will not give unto another. To our reverence and our obedience, to our devotion and service, our Creator and Redeemer has an indisputable and indefeasible claim; and this he will assuredly assert and maintain. He will be honored, both by the condemnation of the unfaithful and rebellious, and by the salvation of the penitent, the submissive, and the loyal.—T.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
Exalted relationship and enormous sin.
"And Aholah played the harlot when she was mine."
I. A RELATIONSHIP OF THE HIGHEST PRIVILEGE. "She was mine." Aholah is intended to represent the people of Israel as distinguished from the people of Judah. The Lord here says that she was his. In common with all other peoples, Israel was his:
(1) By creation. God "himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." He is "the Father of spirits."
(2) By sustentation. He is "the God in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways." With Job, we may say to him, "Thou hast granted me life and favor, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit." But:
(3) Israel was his by redemption. He redeemed them from their bondage in Egypt by mighty works and marvelous signs. That emancipation is an illustration of the redemption of man from sin effected by our Savior Jesus Christ. "The Lord hath anointed him … to proclaim liberty to the captives," etc. (Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 61:2). He "gave himself a ransom for all."
(4) Israel was his pre-eminently by covenant engagement. "I aware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine" (Ezekiel 16:8). They belonged to him as a wife belongs to her husband. This is the relationship to which the text points, and which is treated of in Ezekiel 16:1-63. It is great condescension on the part of God to authorize the prophets thus to represent his relation to his people. "Thy Maker is thy Husband; the Lord of hosts is his name" (Isaiah 54:5). "Return, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am a Husband unto you" (Jeremiah 3:14). This relationship should be characterized by:
1. Tender affection. We may see this in the way in which St. Paul writes of the love between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:23-32). When marriage is contracted without true mutual affection, the relation is desecrated.
2. Exalted privilege. In taking the Israelites to be his, God gave himself to them as their supreme Portion. "They shall be my people, and I will be their God" (Jeremiah 32:38). "This of God's being our God," says Charnocke, "is the quintessence of the covenant, the soul of all the promises: in this he hath promised whatsoever is infinite in him, whatsoever is the glory and ornament of his nature, for our use; not a part of him, or one single perfection, but the whole vigor and strength of all. As he is not a God without infinite wisdom, and infinite power, and infinite goodness, and infinite blessedness, etc; so he passes over, in this covenant, all that which presents him as the most adorable Being to his creatures: he will be to them as great, as wise, as powerful, as good, as he is in himself. And the assuring us, in this covenant, to be our God, imports also that he will do as much for us as we would do for ourselves, were we furnished with the same goodness, power, and wisdom: in being our God, he testifies it is all one as if we had the same perfections in our power to employ for our use; for he being possessed with them, it is as much as if we ourselves were possessed with them for our own advantage, according to the rules of wisdom, and the several conditions we pass through for his glory."
3. Scrupulous fidelity. The relationship imperatively demands this. God would not fail in one jot or tittle on his part. "If we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself." And Israel was required to be true to him in obeying his commands, and above all in worshipping him alone. "I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods before me," etc. (Exodus 20:1, seg.). Through Jesus Christ we may each enter into this exalted relationship. Through him we may each be enabled, without presumption, to say of the great God, "He is my God and my Father."
II. A SIN OF THE GREATEST HEINOUSNESS. "And Aholah played the harlot when she was mine." Israel is here represented as a wife who has been unfaithful to her husband. The primary reference is to the sin of Jeroboam in setting up the golden calves at Bethel and at Dan, and calling upon the people to worship God through them (1 Kings 12:26-33). And this was but the beginning of Israel's sin. Afterwards they worshipped Baal and Astarte. Their sin involved:
1. Positive injustice. They robbed God of his rights. He has a just claim on our obedience, our reverence, and our love. This claim is firmly based upon what he is in himself—the Supremely Great and Good; and upon what he is and does in relation to us—our Creator, etc. Not to comply with his claims is to defraud him o; his due.
2. Base ingratitude. How shameful were the returns which Israel made for his great kindness to them! Very strikingly is this set forth in Ezekiel 16:1-63. And their conduct has been too closely reproduced by us. For his fidelity we have returned unbelief; for his love, coldness of heart; for his beneficence, disobedience. How heinous this ingratitude is! And yet, alas, how common!
"Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
"Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the Waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remember'd not."
3. Heinous infidelity. This is the aspect of Israel's sin to which prominence is given in the text. In forsaking the Lord God for idols they committed a treacherous breach of a sacred engagement. Their conduct is an illustration of the action of those who, having avowed their allegiance to him, turn their backs upon him and upon his cause. Terrible is their guilt, and deplorable their condition. "It is a miserable thing," says Bishop Ryle, "to be a backslider. Of all unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose it is the worst. A stranded ship, a broken-winged eagle, a garden overrun with weeds, a harp without strings, a church in ruins,—all these are sad sights; but a backslider is a sadder sight still." And appalling will be their doom, even "a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries." Says Bunyan, "They fall deepest into hell who fall backwards into hell." Let backsliders return unto the Lord while there is yet time. "Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; I will not look in anger upon you," etc. (Jeremiah 3:12,Jeremiah 3:14; Hosea 14:1-4).—W.J.
Sinners left to themselves and to their sins.
"Wherefore I delivered her into the hand of her lovers," etc. The aspect of the sin of Israel which is most conspicuous in this chapter is not their idolatry so much as their contracting political alliances which were forbidden by God. "The imagery," as Fausset remarks, "is similar to that in Ezekiel 16:1-63.; but here the reference is not, as there, so much to the breach of the spiritual marriage-covenant with God by the people's idolatries, as by their worldly spirit, and their trusting to alliances with the heathen for safety, rather than to God." Our text suggests two observations—
I. DETERMINED PERSISTENCE IN SIN LEADS GOD TO ALLOW THE SINNER TO TAKE HIS OWN COURSE. The Israelites would trust in Egypt or in Assyria rather than in the Lord their God. Remonstrances against political alliances with heathen nations, or conformity to their religious observances, with warnings of the consequences of so doing, had been addressed to them in vain. Exhortations to trust in Jehovah alone had proved fruitless. All moral means had been employed to secure their fidelity to their duty and their God, but without avail. Wherefore the Lord "delivered her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, upon whom she doted." The Israelites would have their own way, and God at length allowed them to take it (cf. Psalms 81:11, Psalms 81:12). There are some today in whom we fear the same process is at work. Here is a man who makes riches the object of his supreme concern. Money is the god in which he trusts, and to which he is devoted. His great and constant efforts are made in order to acquire and retain riches. Remonstrances and rebukes for the course he is pursuing are unheeded by him. Exhortations and encouragements to cherish a different and nobler ambition, to trust a worthy object, and to live to God, are addressed to him in vain. He will go on in his own way. And at length God allows him to take his course, and live for money. The same thing takes place with others who make a god of pleasure, or who will trust supremely in their own sagacity and judgment, or whose grand ambition and ruling purpose is to attain conspicuous position or commanding power. If they are invincibly determined to follow their own course, God allows them to do so. The case is thus forcibly stated by Dr. Joseph Parker: "A man sets his mind on standing on some high place; he points to a pillar, and says that if he could ascend to its summit he would see from that lofty elevation glimpses of heaven, and he determines that he will stand upon that summit, whatever hazards he may incur. At length God grants him his request; and when the man has ascended to the eminence which he coveted, what does he find? Sand, sand, sand! Mile on mile of sand—sand for mile on mile! And now he wishes to descend; but bow to get down is his great difficulty. There may be no way down but that which involves suicide. Yet the man was determined to reach that elevation; nothing could stand between him and his wish; he urged God to grant him his request; with importunate desire he besought that he might have his own way; and there is no punishment heavier than that which falls upon any man when God allows him to take his own course." God does much to lead men to forsake sin and follow holiness; he gave his own beloved Son as a sacrifice for the abolition of sin and the salvation of the sinner; he is working for these ends by many and powerful agencies; for these objects he will do everything that he can, everything that is consistent with his own holiness and with the moral constitution which he has given to man. But one thing he will not do—he will not compel men to forsake their own evil ways and walk in his way of holiness. And if men were forced into righteousness of action, what would such righteousness be worth? The obedience which is not willing is mechanical, not moral. The goodness which is not hearty is in the sight of God but a dead and hypocritical form.
II. THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN GENERALLY ARISES OUT OF THE SIN ITSELF. "Wherefore I delivered her up into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, upon whom she doted." "The cause which at last brought destruction on Israel was that the King of Assyria found conspiracies in Hosea, who was intriguing with Egypt at the same time that he acknowledged himself a tributary to Assyria (2 Kings 17:4)." Says Matthew Henry, "The neighboring nations, whose idolatries she had conformed to and whose friendship she had confided in, and in both had affronted God, are now made use of as the instruments of her destruction. The Assyrians, on whom she doted, soon spied out the nakedness of the land, discovered her blind side, on which to attack her, stripped her of all her ornaments and all her defenses, and so uncovered her, and made her naked and bare, carried her sons and daughters into captivity, slew her with the sword, and quite destroyed that kingdom and put an end to it …. And that the Assyrians, whom they had been so fond of, should be employed in executing judgments upon them, was very remarkable, and shows how God, in a way of righteous judgment, often makes that a scourge to sinners which they have inordinately set their hearts upon. The devil will for ever be a tormentor to those impenitent sinners who now hearken to him and comply with him as a tempter." "God excites those against us for punishment to please whom we had sinned." Scott says truly, "God commonly employs tempters to punish those who listen to them." And Shakespeare—
"Heaven is most just, and of our pleasant vices
Makes instruments to scourge us."
In the righteous government of God punishment is not arbitrarily annexed to sin: it grows out of the sin. As Hesiod observes, "The seeds of our own punishment are sown at the same time we commit sin." "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," etc. (Galatians 6:7, Galatians 6:8). If men will trust in riches or rank, in pleasure or power; if they will live for these things, their life will bear its appropriate fruit. These their gods will prove their ruin. Their hopes will be utterly disappointed, their lives deplorably impoverished and degraded, and their souls lost. Let us take heed to the object of our trust. "Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is," etc. (Jeremiah 17:7, Jeremiah 17:8).—W.J.
A severe judgment and its satisfactory consequences.
"Thus will! make thy lewdness to cease from thee, and thy whoredom brought from the land of Egypt," etc. The sin referred to in this verse is the idolatry of the people. Two of its clauses make this quite clear. "Thy whoredom brought from the land of Egypt;… thou shalt not lift up thine eyes unto them." The form of the idols which Jeroboam set up he derived from Egypt, where he had resided for some time. In setting up the golden calves at Bethel and Dan he "translated to Israelitish soil the worship which he had seen at Memphis and Heliopolis" (1Ki 12:26 -36). And, what is more important for the elucidation of our text, which is addressed to the people of Judah, the whole Israelitish people brought with them their deep-rooted tendency to idolatry when they came out of Egypt. Two chief points are presented to our notice.
I. A JUDGMENT OF GREAT SEVERITY FOLLOWED BY SATISFACTORY CONSEQUENCES. God had already visited the kingdom of Israel with his judgments because of their idolatries. He had sent famine upon them (1Ki 17:1; 1 Kings 18:1, 1 Kings 18:2); he had allowed them to suffer by the invasions of their enemies (2 Kings 6:24-29; 2 Kings 10:32, 2Ki 10:33; 2 Kings 13:3, 2 Kings 13:4, 2 Kings 13:7). Amos the prophet forcibly sets forth these visitations of Israel by reason of their sins (Amos 4:6-11). And as all these judgments failed to turn them from idolatry, the Lord suffered them to be carried captive into Assyria (2 Kings 17:3-6). These things should have been a warning to the people of Judah to keep clear of idolatry; yet they frequently lapsed into it. God had caused them also to suffer by reason of it (2 Kings 18:13-16; 2Ki 21:1-15; 2 Kings 23:31-35; 2 Kings 24:1-4, 2 Kings 24:10-16). But these judgments did not cleanse the kingdom of Judah of idolatry. Checked for a time, the- sinful practice broke out vigorously again. And in consequence, the complete destruction of Jerusalem, the utter overthrow of the kingdom, and the captivity of the people, are declared to be at hand. And the text asserts that, by means of this severe judgment, the people would be finally and forever freed from idolatry. And the result has proved the prophetic assertion true. One effect of the Captivity was the complete eradication of the tendency of the Jews to idolatry; "so that whereas, before the Captivity, no nation (all things considered) was more impetuously bent upon idols and idolatry than they were, after that Captivity no nation was more vehemently set against idols and idolatry than they were." The sin of idolatry is not limited to those who are called heathen. Dr. Thomas Guthrie says truly, "In a sense all men are idolaters. In the days of old, it is said that Egypt had more gods than men. Elsewhere than in Egypt, everywhere, as the Bible says, 'there be lords many and gods many.' The Hindu reckons his divinities by thousands and tens of thousands; yet the world has a larger pantheon—as many gods as it has objects, be they innocent or guilty, which usurp the place of Jehovah, and dethrone him in the creature's heart. Nor are men less idolaters if drunkards, though they pour out no libation to Bacchus, the god of wine; nor less idolaters, if impure, that they burn no incense at the shrine of Venus; nor less idolaters, if lovers of wealth, that they do not mould their god into an image of Plutus, and, giving a shrine to what lies hoarded in their coffers, offer it their morning and evening prayers. He has been an idolater, who, rebelling against Providence, follows the hearse of a coffined god; he made an idol of wife or child; and now, when the robber of all our homes has stolen these his gods away, and bears off his plunder to the grave, the feelings of that man's heart may be expressed in Micah's complaint to the Danite robbers, 'Ye have taken away my gods which I made, and what have I more? and what is this that ye say unto me, What aileth thee?' 'Let no one deem it strange if God should visit him for his idolatries. He may do so by forcibly removing the idol, by depriving the idolater of the riches which he has worshipped, or by taking to himself the child or other relative which has been made an idol. Or he may visit those who sin thus by making the idol the occasion of sharp sorrow or bitter trial, as when a child has been idolized by his parents, and grows up to "bring down their grey hairs with sorrow to the grave." Blessed will it be if such visitation leads to the turning of the heart entirely to God.
II. A PROPHETIC PREDICTION WHICH WAS REMARKABLY FULFILLED. "Thus will I make thy lewdness to cease from thee," etc. "This prediction is frequently repeated; and the accomplishment of it has been most wonderful. It might have been expected that a nation, ever prone to idolatry in a country where the worship of the true God was established and none else tolerated, would have readily conformed to the idolatrous usages of the nations among whom they were scattered by the Captivity, and so have been incorporated with them. Yet neither the authority, the frowns, the examples, or the favor of their conquerors or powerful neighbors; nor their own fears, hopes, interests, or predilection for the sensual, jovial worship of idols, could prevail with them to run into gross idolatry, during the Captivity or afterwards! Nay, they were instrumental to the proselyting of numbers of idolaters to the worship of Jehovah, in the countries where they were dispersed" (Scott). This is certainly a remarkable fulfillment of prophetic prediction; and it furnishes:
1. Evidence of the omniscience of God. He clearly and certainly foresaw what the result of the Captivity would be in this respect. Such foreknowledge points to the omniscience of him who possesses it. "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me," etc. (Psalms 139:1-4). This knowledge should prove:
(1) A restraint to the evildoer. There is no possibility of sinning in secret (cf. Job 34:21, Job 34:22; Psalms 90:8; Hebrews 4:13).
(2) An inspiration and consolation to every one who trusts in God. "Our individual life," to use the words of Dr. Parker, "is all understood by him. That life is but dimly known to ourselves. We catch glimpses of it here and there, but its scope and meaning are still unrevealed to us. We are often in shadow. There are scattered rays of light, but no steady shining of the sun which protects us from the mystery of much darkness. It is enough that God knows our life, and that his wisdom is pledged as our defense. Tomorrow is coming upon us, and we know not with what messages and revelations, with what joys and troubles; but God is coming with it, and in his path is the brightness of all-sufficient wisdom."
2. Evidence of the Divine inspiration of the prophet. The influence of past judgments upon the people could not have led Ezekiel to have predicted such a result of the Captivity, but one of an opposite character. The character of the people and the circumstances of their captivity were not calculated to inspire a declaration like this. It could not have been the product of mere human genius in an exalted mood, or human foresight in a condition of intense activity. Such a prediction must have been communicated to the prophet by him to whom all things are known.
CONCLUSION. "Guard yourselves from idols."—W.J.
Ezekiel 23:38, Ezekiel 23:39
The exclusiveness of the worship of the Lord God.
"Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day," etc. The chief practical suggestions of our text may be arranged under three heads.
I. MEN INSTRUCTED IN THE TRUE RELIGION PRACTISING THE GREATEST ABOMINATIONS OF HEATHENISM. "They had slain their children to their idols" (Ezekiel 23:39). "They have caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass through the fire unto them to be devoured" (Ezekiel 23:37). We have already noticed the offering of children to Moloch (on Ezekiel 16:20, Ezekiel 16:21). And in this age and in this professedly Christian land people make sacrifices which bear some resemblance to these in spirit. How many respectable and avowedly Christian parents sacrifice their daughters in marriage to mammon l The man may be unsuitable in age, uncongenial in temper, immoral in character and conduct; but, if he be rich, he is welcomed as a suitor. How frequently, too, are the best and the abiding interests of children—their intellectual, spiritual, and eternal interests—risked, or even sacrificed, by their parents, in order that they may attain unto higher social status or gain worldly honors and distinctions! And in other ways practices which are worthy only of heathen intelligence and morality are at work amongst us.
II. MEN PASSING AT ONCE FROM THE PRACTICE OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF HEATHENISM INTO THE SANCTUARY AND SERVICE OF THE LIVING GOD. "When they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house." The Prophet Jeremiah complains of a similar sin: "Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye have not known; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my Name, and say, We are delivered; that ye may do all these abominations?" (Jeremiah 7:9, Jeremiah 7:10). The sin is not unknown amongst us in these days. Men are on the racecourse, with its cruelty, profanity, and gambling, on the weekday, and on Sunday they enter the sanctuary of God, and take part in its services. There are those who, during the week, visit scenes of drunkenness and profligacy, and on the Lord's day they go to church and unite in the forms of worship. It is an ill preparation for the sacred engagements of the house of God to spend the Saturday evening in the public house, worshipping Bacchus. Nor is the character of the case much altered when persons attend church on Sunday morning, and spend the remainder of the day in social festivity and dissipation.
III. THAT SUCH CONDUCT IS A PROFANATION BOTH OF THE SABBATH AND THE SANCTUARY OF GOD. "Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths. For when they had slain their children to their idols," etc. We may show this by noticing:
1. That these things should be held in reverence.
(1) Because they were instituted by God. He ordained the sabbath and the sanctuary. They rest upon the basis of Divine authority.
(2) Because they were instituted for his glory. Both the sabbath and. the sanctuary are for the worship of the Most High. Both are intended to promote the best interests of man, to elevate him as a spiritual and immortal being, and thus to enable him more fully to glorify God. As man grows in spiritual purity and power, in righteousness and kindness towards men, and in reverence and devotion towards God, his life contributes to the honor of God. The sabbath and the sanctuary, when properly used, further these ends.
2. The conduct exhibited and condemned in the text is most irreverent in relation to these things.
(1) Because it puts the sanctuary and. the sabbath on the low level of heathen institutions and customs. So did the people of Israel and of Judah. How many today attend religious services for no higher reason than this, that it is socially respectable to do so.
(2) Because it disparages them in the eyes of observers. If men form their opinion of religious services and ordinances from such persons as take part in them on Sunday, and during the rest of the week lead lives of a character which is in utter opposition to them, they must conclude that they are shams and unworthy of the regard of true men.
(3) Because it is insulting to God. Such conduct implies that our outward and empty forms and ceremonies can please him, or that he will accept our attendance upon his worship as a compensation for our disregard of his will when we are absent from his house. "But the Lord looketh on the heart," He rejects the worship which is offered to him by such persons as hypocritical service and offensive to him (cf. Psalm 1:7-23; Isaiah 1:11-15).
CONCLUSION. The worship of God is exclusive. "Thou shalt have none other gods before me;" "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve;" "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Let us cultivate decision and thoroughness in his service. How different from the conduct condemned in the text was that of Cyprian! On his way to martyrdom he was told by the emperor that he would give him time to consider if he had not better cast a grain of incense into the fire in honor of the idol-gods than die so ignominiously. Cyprian replied, "There needs no deliberation in the case." John Huss, at the stake, was offered a pardon if he would recant. His reply was, "I am here, ready to suffer death." Thomas Hawkes, in like circumstances, said, "If I had a hundred bodies, I would suffer them all to be torn in pieces, rather than recant." Let us seek to be alike true, whole-hearted, and firm in our allegiance to our Lord.—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 23". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany