Forum Class #10

The Story of Two Sisters (Ezekiel 23-24)

Oholah and Oholibah (23:1-49) The allegory of Israel's history which occupied chapter 16 is continued in this chapter in a slightly different form and in even more repulsive detail. It tells of two sisters, Oholah and Oholibah, who represent Samaria and Jerusalem. While not described specifically as brides of Yahweh, some such relationship is clearly implied in verse 4, 'They became mine', and in verse 5, 'Oholah played the harlot while she was mine'. The chapter deals with their intrigues with foreign powers, described in the crudest of terms, and with their subsequent downfall. Despite the distasteful theme and the indelicate language, the reader of these verses must appreciate that this is the language of unspeakable disgust and must try to recognize Ezekiel's passion for God's honor and his fury at the adulterous conduct of His covenant people. The feeling of nausea which a chapter like this arouses must be blamed not on the writer of the chapter nor even on its contents, but on the conduct which had to be described in such revolting terms. At the same time it is possible to see that Ezekiel's language shows considerable awareness of the fundamental characteristics of apostasy.

[Ezekiel 16 describes Israel's violation of her marriage covenant with Yahweh by her idolatrous religious behavior. Chapter 23 returns to the same imagery, this time describing Israel's political alliances and liaisons with foreign powers, especially Assyria and Babylon. The girls learned their immoral ways while very young and living in Egypt].

The chapter may be divided into four convenient paragraphs, dealing first with each of the sisters in turn (1-10, 11-21); then follows the fate of Oholibah (22-35), and finally the abominable acts of both sisters are reviewed and their judgment is pronounced (36-49).

23:1-4. Introduction. The introductory details of the allegory must not be over-pressed. The sisters represent cities and their inhabitants, rather than tribes. In any case Judah and Ephraim were not even brothers, for Ephraim was one of the two sons of Joseph and was therefore Judah's nephew. The points being made are simply that the two cities have a close affinity from the distant past, that their origins were in Egypt, and that the beginning of their subsequent conduct can be traced back to their Egyptian pre-history.

The names, Oholah and Oholibah, derive from the Hebrew 'ohel, meaning a 'tent'. It could be a reference to a tented place of worship, but it is not clear whether this is Israel's tabernacle in the wilderness or a pagan shrine. The name of Esau's wife, Oholibamah (Gn. 36:2), or 'tent of the high place', suggests the latter, as do the tents of the gods described in the Ugaritic texts. On the other hand, Oholah could mean 'her tent' and Oholibah almost certainly means 'my tent (is) in her', which suggests Yahweh's sponsorship of Jerusalem. But again the details must not be pressed too far. It is enough that the names had a cultic flavor.

23:5-10. Oholah. The depravity of Samaria is shown by Oholah's initiative in offering herself to her Assyrian lovers. Hosea too had made insinuations of this sort: 'They have gone up to Assyria, a wild ass wandering alone; Ephraim has 'hired lovers' (Ho. 8:9; cf. 5:13 ; 7:11; 12:1). The historicity of the charge is borne out by a good deal of evidence. The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III illustrates Jehu prostrating himself before the Assyrian king (the date would be about 840 BC, at the beginning of Jehu's reign) and offering gifts, possibly with a view to buying support against Hazael of Damascus. Adad-Nirari III (c. 812-782 BC), in an inscription found at Nimrud, also claimed to have received tribute from 'the territory of Omri', and there is no reason to doubt the truth of this.' 2 Kings also describes the paying of tribute by Israel to Assyria in the reigns of Menahem (c. 745-738 BC) and Hoshea (c. 732-724 BC); see 2 Kings 15:19ff.; 17:3.

The Assyrian lovers are described vividly as warriors, following a minor emendation based on the Assyrian word quradu, 'warrior', and as caparisoned in gorgeous violet fabrics (Heb. tekelet). Captains (governors) and rulers are both loan-words from Akkadian, the first meaning 'district governors', like Zerubbabel or Nehemiah (Hg. 1:1; Ne. 5:14), and the second meaning 'satraps' or any less senior officials. Israel's harlotries with them were not merely political liaisons, but involved an acceptance of Assyrian idols as well, as verse 7b makes clear. In all this, she was merely perpetuating the patterns of behaviour she had learned in Egypt. The Hebrew had never found it easy to resist the temptations and allurements of more sophisticated civilizations than his own, whether they were the fleshpots of Egypt or the dashing gallants of the Assyrian cavalry regiments. But Israel's reward was very different from her expectation. Having been possessed and used, she was then despised and exposed to public ridicule, and finally savaged and destroyed.

23:11-21. Oholibah. Jerusalem's guilt is even greater than her sister's. She aped Samaria in courting Assyria, apparently failing to learn the lesson of Samaria's fate. The obvious historical episode behind this accusation is the approach made by Ahaz to the Assyrians during the Syro-Ephraimite war (2 Ki. 16:8). This was roundly condemned by Isaiah (Is. 7:7-9) who warned Ahaz of the consequences of such foolish and faithless overtures. But Ezekiel's message concentrates on the further harlotries committed by Jerusalem with the Babylonians. Again the temptation came through the sight of gorgeously appareled military men (14f.), not flesh and blood, but painted in glorious technicolor (in typical Babylonian style) on the walls of buildings. The glamour of the sight prompted an invitation to enjoy the sensual pleasures of adultery, and this, once taken, turned quickly to disgust (17). She was not alone in this, however, for her sensuality had also caused the Lord to turn in disgust from her. So once again the pattern of life begun in Egypt had repeated itself in Judah's later history

23:22-35. The fate of Oholibah. This section consists of four oracles beginning with the formula: 'Thus says the Lord God' (22, 28, 32, 35) Of these the first two and the last share a certain amount of language in common, but the third is in a class by itself and consists of a poem about the cup of judgment. The first oracle (22-27) depicts Oholibah under the judgment of her foreign lovers, who have been summoned together by God to surround her in battle-array, like an army besieging a city. They comprise Babylonians and Chaldeans, though these were not separate peoples, and special mention is made of what were probably marginal tribes on the eastern borders of the Babylonian empire, Pekod, Shoa and Koa. These are normally identified, though not without some uncertainty, with Puqudu, Sutu and Qutu, Aramaean tribes to the east of the river Tigris which are known from a number of Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions. All these peoples, together with all the Assyrians with them, are to be the instruments of God's punishment upon Jerusalem. Though they inflict the cruel mutilation and slaughter described in verse 25, it is made clear that it is ultimately the Lord's doing and that His permissive will is behind it all. Verse 26, like 16:39, may even refer back to the treatment meted out by Israel to the Egyptians at the time of the Exodus: the pigeons have come home to roost at last.

The second oracle (28-31) is less strongly worded. The Babylonians are not described as lovers but as those whom you hate, but the principle of reciprocity is maintained: they shall deal with you in hatred (29, RSV). No atrocities are described, but the results of a hostile invasion are indicated by the removal of all thy labor, i.e. the wealth which was the fruit of their labor, and by their being left naked and bare, as if after the destruction of their armies or their fortifications. Verse 31, reminiscent of verse 13, shows that the doom of Jerusalem is imminent. She is about to drink from the cup of God's wrath and to share in her sister Samaria's dreadful fate.

The reference to her cup (31) is the connecting link which leads on to the poem about the cup of Samaria (32-34). This is a strange little stanza: it does not appear to say very much that has not already been said, and its interpretation is made more difficult by textual uncertainties. Its main impact is made by its striking language and pregnant phrases, as so often in this type of Hebrew poetry. To render it in English demands so much paraphrase and interpretation that the effect, especially of the 3:2 meter, is usually lost. Its starkness may be judged by this literal rendering:

Cup of-your-sister you-shall-drink
(which is) deep and-wide.
She /it/ you-shall-be for-laughter and-derision
much to-contain.
Drunkenness and-anguish you-will-be-full-of,
cup-of-waste and-desolation.
Cup of-your-sister, Samaria,
you-will-drink it and-drain (it);
And its-pieces you-shall-break(?)
and-your-breasts you-shall-tear-apart

23:36-49. Judgment on the two sisters. This final section recapitulates and enlarges on much that has gone before. Having described their history separately, Ezekiel now classes them together and comments on the similarities of their sins and their punishment. Once again, to judge (36) means to declare and make known. The offenses specified are religious (37-39) as 'well as political (40-44). Among the former are idolatrous associations, which are branded as adultery; child sacrifice, which brings blood upon their hands (37) ; defilement of God's Temple by entering it with the guilt of child-sacrifice still upon them; and the profanation of Sabbaths (38). Note that both sisters arc charged with the defilement of the Jerusalem sanctuary: a reminder that the separation of Israel from Jerusalem was still remembered with bitterness, unless this refers to the successors of the Israelites (later called Samaritans) who still traveled south to worship Yahweh at Jerusalem (cf. Je. 41:5), and in Ezekiel's view defiled the place by their very presence there. The invitations to foreign alliances are pictured under the figure of a harlot with painted eyes (cf. 2 Ki. 9:30; Je. 4:30), reclining on a couch (cf. Pro 7:16), entertaining her clients. At this stage the plural gives way to the singular, for Oholibah only is intended, and the suitors are denigrated as a riff-raff of desert-dwellers or drunkards; who bring bangles and bracelets as payment for their prostitutes' services (42).

45. The righteous men can hardly be the lovers of verses 22-24, even though the nations will eventually be the instruments of God's judgment. It must mean that those who judge the two sisters will judge them righteously. The stress is on the way the judging will be done, not on who will do the judging. The punishment will be the common penalty for all adulteresses and shedders of blood : death by stoning, to which is added destruction of their property with fire (cf. Lv. 20:10; Dt. 21:21). The similarity of this penalty with the state of siege of a city bombarded with sling-stones and incendiary missiles can scarcely have been coincidence. The shame of the guilty person's end under Mosaic law will be exactly matched by the fate of Samaria and Jerusalem.

The rusty cauldron (24:1-14) With these verses we come to the climax of all that Ezekiel has been trying to say in the previous twelve chapters. His main purpose, as we have noted, has been to justify the coming judgment upon Jerusalem. We called this collection of oracles 'Objections to Judgment', and we have seen arguments raised and demolished one by one and accusations made against both the past and the present conduct of the people of Jerusalem. There is hardly anything more that can be said. The hour has come. Judgment is about to fall.

The section begins therefore with a command from God to the prophet to note down the day, for it was the day when the siege would begin (1, 2). This is followed by a poetical allegory about a cauldron being set on a fire, symbolizing the city's state of siege (3-5). Then comes a prose statement consisting of two short oracles, each beginning with the words, 'Woe to the bloody city!' (6, 9), which enlarge upon and interpret the allegory and at the same time introduce the idea of the cauldron's symbolical rustiness.

24:1, 2. Naming the day. The date is normally given as 15th January, 588 BC, and is the same date mentioned in 2 Kings 25:1 and Jeremiah 52:4. It is also known from Zechariah 8:19 that this date became a fast for the exiles, as commemorating one of the critical days in the fall of the holy city. The possibility that Ezekiel could have possessed second sight to know the actual date of an event taking place some hundreds of miles away fills many commentators with alarm. The unlikelihood of this happening is one of the main arguments for giving Ezekiel a Palestinian locale at this stage of his ministry. But there is nothing inherently wrong with his being made aware of such an event at such a distance, whether it came to him through telepathic sensitivity or through a direct supernatural revelation from God. Despite all the arguments to the contrary, the latter possibility appears to be so much more in keeping with Ezekiel's characteristic God consciousness and would he yet another authentication of his prophetic gifts. He had foreseen this event and been living with it for so long that it would not have needed a miracle or a striking theophany for his prophetic spirit to build up within himself the deep conviction that 'today is the day'. Many lesser men than Ezekiel have had mare remarkable successes with nothing more than inspired hunches to help them.

24:3-5. The Song of the cauldron. This poem has no religious language in it and could well derive originally from a household cooking-song, rather like 'Polly, put the kettle on'. To use a popular saying or story or poem from everyday life and to turn it into a message was a typically prophetic way of speaking, and many popular preachers of today still use the same technique. The imagery is reminiscent of Jeremiah's vision of the boiling pot (Je. 1:13f.), and the same language has already been employed by Ezekiel in 11:3, 7, 11, though with a different interpretation. Some think that the imperative verbs are addressed to the prophet and that this is therefore another of Ezekiel's acted parables, but if that were so one would expect a concluding phrase such as 'And I did as the Lord commanded me'. Nevertheless the poem is an allegory and has its detailed application to the circumstances of the day, as any acted parable would. The cauldron is Jerusalem, the fire underneath and around it is the siege, the pieces of flesh are the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The word for cauldron (Heb. sîr) normally refers to any large wide-mouthed pottery utensil used for washing or cookery, though in this instance We find in verse 11 that it is made of copper

24:6-14. Woe to the bloody city! Here are two oracles dependent upon each other and on the poem of the cooking pot. The first (6-8) deals with the blood-guiltiness of Jerusalem, harking back to the message of 22:1-16, and introduces this by making play on the corrosion which the boiling of the cauldron has brought to light, probably in the form of a rusty scum. The Hebrew may be related to a root meaning 'disease' or even 'filthiness', but its meaning must be drawn mainly from its context. Out of this reddish mess the contents are to be removed piece by piece indiscriminately. That is to say, the inhabitants of the besieged Jerusalem are to be scattered in all directions. But Jerusalem's guilt still remains, like blood spilled on the bare rock, uncovered by earth in burial and therefore still crying out to God for vengeance (cf. Gn. 4:10; Lv. 17:13; Jb. 16:18; Is. 26:21). The dispersion of the Jews has not provided a solution to this greater issue of the nation's guilt.

The second oracle (9-14) deals with this question in a different way. In verse 5, the logs were piled under the cauldron to boil the contents of the stew; now the Lord intends to kindle a fire which will eventually melt the cauldron itself. To this end the contents are first disposed of (following RSV, boil well the flesh, and empty out the broth, 10), the bones of the meat are burnt, and then the empty pot is stood on the burning coals so that it may become red-hot and all its filth and rust be melted away. The first two words of verse 12, she hath wearied (me with her) toil, and are thought by many to be a doublet from the previous verse; but the verse goes on to show that not even this drastic treatment of Jerusalem has the desired effect. Knox paraphrases: 'So deep is that rust, even the fire will not drive it out', and he adds in an engaging footnote, 'But it is not clear that this is the meaning' In a passage of such difficulty, details of translation must often be sacrificed for the sake of making over-all sense. And the sense is put clearly, at least in RSV: Its rust is your filthy lewdness. Because I would have cleansed you and you were not cleansed from your filthiness, you shall not be cleansed any more till I have satisfied my fury upon you (13). The appalling sufferings undergone by God's people from 588 BC onwards, in the siege and in exile, were due to their unwillingness to allow God to deal with them much earlier on in their history of disobedience. And now the sentence has been passed, the moment of execution has come. Nothing can turn it back. I the Lord have spoken (14). His decision and His word and His action are alike irrevocable.

The death of Ezekiel's wife (24:5-27) In these verses we catch a glimpse of the inner Ezekiel which rarely appears through his apparently harsh and unyielding exterior. His austerity and rigid self-discipline, his passion for truth and for the honour of God's holy name, very nearly conceal the tender heart that lies within. While not wishing to romanticize Ezekiel in any way, it is worth commenting that often a man is seen for what he really is only when he is seen in conjunction with his wife. Whereas in the other forty-seven chapters we are impressed, if not overawed, by Ezekiel's personality, in this chapter at the heart of the book which bears his name we meet him and find him attractive with human emotions like our own. This is borne out by the phrase he uses to describe his wife: 'the desire of his eyes, the one in whom his eyes delight.' Skinner writes: 'That phrase alone reveals that there was a fountain of tears sealed up within the breast of this stern preacher.' His refusal to mourn openly was no act of personal choice but a symbolical demand made upon him by God, which only accentuated for him the bitterness of his loss. E. L. Allen (in IB) comments that men who are called by God often have to pay a heavy price for their concern with human needs and their identification with God's purpose. 'They are called again and again to surrender their private lives to the requirements of their public responsibility.' For Ezekiel there would surely have been the added burden of being misunderstood and criticized for his show of heartlessness. Behind the laconic phrase in verse 18, 'And on the next morning I did as I was commanded' (RSV), there must have been long hours of sleeplessness and spiritual anguish.

16-18. The manner of his wife's death, which was apparently forecast the morning that it happened (and there is no reason to suppose that it was not within a few days of the date mentioned in 24:1), is described as with a stroke (AV, RV). This does not demand a sudden death; it could mean 'plague' or 'pestilence', or anything that strikes a person down. It would not therefore be impossible that Ezekiel's wife was already ill, and this would make more sense of Ezekiel's speaking to the people in the morning to tell them of what would happen and to warn them that he had been commanded not to mourn (18). Alternatively, we can understand the death as quite without warning (from the point of view of physical symptoms), except in so far as God's prediction of it had came to Ezekiel earlier in the day, and the opening phrase of verse 18 could be taken as meaning, 'I was about my normal business of speaking to the people in the morning, and in the evening without warning my wife died.' It is very difficult to imagine Ezekiel telling all and sundry that his wife was about to die the same day, when she was at work around the house, to all appearances hale and hearty. No doubt, she would have had something to say! It is far more conceivable to suppose that, although he was forewarned, he kept the message to himself until he should have to use the sad occasion for yet another symbolical action. The mourning customs reflected in these verses are interesting. Five aspects may be observed. (a) Sigh, but not aloud (17, RSV): the word 'sigh' is normally used of the noisy groaning of wounded men and is a reminder of the ritual lamentations that were regularly laid on for funeral occasions (cf. Mk. 5:38). (b) Bind on your turban (RSV): in mourning the turban, the normal headdress of the priest (cf. Ex. 39:28; Ezk. 44:18), though it was also the festal headgear for a layman (Is. 61:3, 10), would be removed and the head covered in dust and ashes (cf. Jos. 7:6; I Sa. 4:12; Jb. 2:12). (c) Put your shoes on your feet: the sandals were taken off in time of distress, as in 2 Samuel 15:30 (if. also Is. 20:2). (d) Covering the lips was compulsory for the leper (Lv. 13:45) and was a sign of disgrace (Mi. 3:7). It involved veiling the lower part of the face from the nose downwards: the word lips (sapam) really means 'mustache', which it regularly represents in modern Hebrew. (e) Eat not the bread of men (RV) : this was changed by Wellhausen to 'bread of sorrows' and same ancient versions translate 'bread of mourners' (followed by RSV), but the more difficult MT deserves to be retained. The phrase 'of men' means 'ordinary', 'common' (according to its use in Dt. 3:1I; Is. 8:1), So the command here is not to eat ordinary food, i.e. the mourners' funeral meal. Cf. Jeremiah 16:7. Indeed it is useful to compare these word. with the whole section in Jeremiah 16:5-13, where Jeremiah was forbidden by God to enter the house of mourning and was called upon to give his reasons when he was challenged by the people.

24:19-24. The sign interpreted. When Ezekiel deliberately refrained from the customary mourning procedures, it is to his credit and to that of his fellow-exiles that they immediately suspected that it had some special significance. Their visit to his home the morning after the news of his wife's death had flashed around the settlement had probably been to offer sympathy and to give support. Instead they found themselves asking for a word from God. It Was no new message, but because of the occasion which prompted it, it spoke with greater force than ever before. God was about to profane, by destroying it, His holy Temple. Just as Ezekiel's dearest one had been taken away from him by a single stroke, so the nation was to lose its dearest object, its proud boast (the pride of your power, RSV), the desire of its soul (that which your soul pitieth, AV; meaning 'object of your soul's compassion'). The people of Jerusalem would lose their children by enemy action as well. And the message was: you shall do as I have done (22). Howie understands this as a condemnation of the people's incredible lack of grief or sense of repentance over the tragedies which threatened them. His lack of grief pointed up the wrongness of their lack of concern. The context, however, demands that the withholding of grief should follow the catastrophe. Ezekiel had not wept, and Israel would not weep either: because in both cases the tragedy was too deep and stunning for any expression of grief to prove adequate. As Cooke puts it: 'Mourning will be out of place in the presence of a disaster so complete.'

24:25-27 The end of Ezekiel's dumbness. The chapter ends with a further word that looks forward to the second main phase of Ezekiel's ministry after chapter 33. It deals with the impact that the destruction of Jerusalem will have upon the prophet himself; note the emphatic And you, son of man, which opens the paragraph. As far as Ezekiel was concerned this disaster would prove a turning-point in his life's work. His message would be vindicated and for the first time he would have ready hearers. More particularly, the ritual dumbness, which was imposed upon him at the time of his call, would be taken from his mouth, and he would be able to speak freely (cf. 3:26, 33:22). The sentence construction of the passage is slightly confused and it gives the impression of the writer's mind running faster than his pen. As it stands, it looks as if the phrase in that day of verse 26 is intended to refer to the same day as verse 25, but clearly the fall of the city and the relaying of the news by a fugitive to Ezekiel could not have happened on the same day, unless it is supposed that Ezekiel was at that time in Palestine and less than a day's journey from Jerusalem. It is better to assume that the writer, writing from the standpoint of knowing what was to come, rolled the event and the recounting of the event into one episode. In support of this it is worth mentioning that the word fugitive (26, RSV) is really the fugitive, as if the writer already knew about what was coming in 33:21. So he is saying: 'when this event happens and the news reaches your ears, then your mouth shall be opened and you will be dumb no longer.' This release from the restriction imposed upon him will in itself be a portent and the people will recognize the hand of the Lord in it all (27). Then at last Ezekiel will be free. His prophecies of doom will no longer need to be uttered. He will be able to act as a shepherd and a watchman to his people. He will be free to work constructively towards the building up of a new community, a new Israel. (John B. Taylor, Ezekiel, IV Press 1969)

From The Bible Knowledge Commentary by John K. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck

The parable of the two adulterous sisters (chap. 23) Ezekiel presented another parable to illustrate Judah's unfaithfulness and the certainty of her punishment. Chapter 23 seems to be a restatement of the parable in chapter 16 since both chapters deal with Judah's unfaithfulness to God. However, in chapter 16 Ezekiel focused on Judah's idolatry, whereas in chapter 23 he stressed Judah's illicit foreign alliances in addition to her idolatry. In chapter 16 her trust was in other gods; in chapter 23 it was in other nations.

(1) The infidelity of the sisters (23:121). 23:1-3, Two sisters shared the same moral degradation for they became prostitutes in Egypt, engaging in prostitution from their youth. Ezekiel's reference to Egypt would call to mind the origins of the nation Israel in Egypt (d. 20:4-12). The two sisters were sexually promiscuous women.

23:4. After describing their character Ezekiel gave their names and identities. The older was named Oholah, and her sister was Oholibah. These names are based on the Hebrew word for "tent" ('ohel). The first name means "her tent" and the second means "my tent is in her." Though one must be careful not to press a parable's details, probably these names have significance. The word "tent" implied a dwelling place or sanctuary. It was often used of God's sanctuary among Israel (d. Ex. 29:4, 10-11,30). The name Oholah ("her tent") could imply that the sanctuary associated with this sister was of her own making. By contrast, the name Oholibah ("my tent is in her") implies that God's sanctuary was in her midst.

Oholah represented Samaria, and Oholibah represented Jerusalem. These two "sisters," the capital cities of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, represented the people of those two kingdoms. Though God's covenant with these women was not explicitly stated, it was implied. They were Mine and gave birth to sons and daughters. The God of grace lavished His love on these undeserving sisters.

23:5-10. The sin of Oholah, the older I sister, was her (Samaria's) association with the Assyrians. Samaria's alliance with Assyria ultimately led to her doom. Israel's relationships with Assyria are well documented. The Black Obelisk of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (dated ca. 841 B.C.) mentions "Jehu son of Omri" and pictures him bowing down to the Assyrian monarch. This is not mentioned in the Bible, but it probably resulted from the Syrian threat to Israel. Syria was expanding into Israel's land in the Transjordan during Jehu's reign (2 Kings 10:32-34). To counter that threat Jehu allied Israel with Assyria and submitted himself as a vassal. The obelisk pictures Jehu and his servants bringing tribute to the Assyrian king. Menahem and Hoshea, two later kings of Israel. also paid tribute to Assyria (2 Kings 15:19-20; 17:3-4). The Prophet Hosea (ca. 760-720 B.C.) rebuked Israel for her dependence on Assyria instead of on the Lord (el. Hosea 5:13-14; 7:1/; 8:9; 12:1).

After Israel became Assyria's vassal she could not disentangle herself. When she finally tried to break away by forming a coalition with both Syria and Egypt (cf. 2 Kings 17:4; Isa. 7:1), she felt Assyria's wrath. The very nation to which Samaria had turned for assistance would destroy her. God gave all Israel, including Samaria, over to her lovers, the Assyrians, for whom she lusted and who killed her with the Sword. In 722 B.C. Samaria fell to Assyria (cf. 2 Kings 17:5-6, 18-20).

23:11-18. The judgment of the older sister Oholah (Samaria) should have been a warning to the younger sister Oholibah (Jerusalem). Unfortunately she failed to heed the warning. In fact she was more depraved than her sister.

Jerusalem followed the immoral course charted by her sister: she too lusted after the Assyrians. Judah curried the favor of Assyria rather than relying on her God. Possibly Ezekiel had in mind the disastrous political move of King Ahaz of Judah who willingly made Judah Assyria's vassal. Israel and Syria had banded together to oppose Assyria, and they sought to bring Judah into the alliance. When Ahaz refused, they attacked Judah hoping to dethrone Ahaz and to replace him with a king who would support their uprising. Rather than trusting in God for deliverance (as Isaiah the prophet urged him to do), Ahaz sent to Assyria to enlist her aid and protection. With that act Judah became a vassal of Assyria for the next century (cf. 2 Kings 16:5-9; Isa. 7).

But Jerusalem's political intrigues did not stop there; she carried her prostitution still further. Alter appealing to Assyria, Jerusalem turned to Babylon. Ezekiel described in some detail the garb of the Babylonian soldiers Jerusalem lusted alter (Ezek. 23:15).

Jerusalem sent messengers to them in Chaldea, Then the Babylonians came to her, to the bed of love, and in their lust they defiled her. Jerusalem's respite from Assyria's domination was short lived. King Josiah established her independence, but he was killed in battle as he tried to thwart an Egyptian incursion through his country (cf. 2 Kings 23:29-30). Judah became a vassal of Egypt for lour years. Probably during that time King Jehoiakim contacted Babylon to request her aid. When Babylon defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 B.C., Jehoiakim willingly switched allegiances and became Nebuchadnezzar's vassal (2 Kings 24:1).

But when Babylon came, Jerusalem found that the lovers for whom she had lusted were brutal. After she had been defiled by them, she turned away from them in disgust. Babylon became a harsher taskmaster than either Assyria or Egypt, and Jerusalem sought to escape Babylon's dominance. While Jerusalem turned from Babylon, God turned from Jerusalem. Jerusalem continued in the ways of her sister and even surpassed Samaria's unfaithfulness. God had finally rejected Samaria for her actions, and He now rejected Jerusalem.

23:19-21. Jerusalem's faithlessness cost her the only true protection she ever had. Yet instead of repenting of her sin, she sought additional human help, becoming more and more promiscuous. Her cycle of sin brought her back to the very nation with which she had originally been defiled and which had enslaved her--Egypt (vv. 3, 19, 21).

To show his absolute disgust in this course of action, Ezekiel used coarse language (v. 20), not to be vulgar, but to portray graphically the utter spiritual degradation to which Judah had fallen. In the last 14 years of Judah's history (600-586 B.C.) she attempted to elicit Egypt's help in her revolt against Babylon. King Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon in 600 B.C. alter Egypt defeated Babylon (2 Kings 24:1). Judah eagerly grasped Egypt's hollow promises of aid. Zedekiah's final revolt against Babylon in 588 B.C. came with Egypt's promise of assistance (2 Kings 25:1; Jer. 37:5-8; Ezek. 29:6-7).

(2) The punishment of the sisters (23:22-35). 23:22-27. Here Ezekiel gave lour oracles, each beginning with the words, This Is what the Sovereign LORD says (vv. 22, 28, 32, 35). The oracles all focused on Jerusalem's judgment. Those Jerusalem despised would be the ones who would punish her. God would bring her lovers against her, including the Babylonians. . . the men of Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians. Perhaps Pekod, Shoa, and Koa Were three Aramean tribes (Puqudu, Sulu, and Qutu), near the mouth of the Tigris River. These three tribes, along with the Assyrians, were part of the Babylonian Empire and were represented in Babylon's army. Ezekiel was saying that the combined army of Babylon and her allies would descend on Jerusalem.

When the Babylonians would attack Jerusalem with military officers. . . weapons, and well-protected soldiers the city would not escape. The punishment God would inflict on her in His anger through Babylon would be like a mutilation. They will cut off your noses and your ears, and those. . . who are left will fall by the sword. In Mesopotamia facial mutilation was a frequent punishment for adultery. A guilty woman would be rendered so grotesque that she would be forever undesirable to anyone else; she would be forced to bear her shame and guilt publicly. Similarly Jerusalem would be rendered unattractive to any more potential lovers.

Also some of Jerusalem's children would be carried away as slaves, others would be burned by fire, and her possessions (clothes and jewelry) would be stripped away. God's punishment would cure Judah's lust; she would no longer look to Egypt for help.

23:28-31. This second oracle repeats (for emphasis) several points stated in verses 22-27, and adds that when the Babylonians were done, Jerusalem would be left naked and bare. Though ashamed, this punishment would come because of her promiscuity in seeking aid from other nations and becoming perverted by their idols. Since she had sinned like her sister, she would be punished in a similar way (I will put her up into your hand; cf. comments on vv. 32. 34)--by the sword and exile.

23:32-34. This third oracle of judgment against Jerusalem differs from the others because it is a poem. The point of the poem, which might be titled "The Cup of God's Judgment," is that Jerusalem was to take part in Samaria's judgment because she had taken part in Samaria's sin. God said, You will drink your sister's cup (cf. v. 31), a cup large and deep; it will bring scorn and derision, for it holds so much.

The concept of imbibing a cup of judgment occurs throughout the Bible (cf. Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17-23; Jer. 25:15-19; 51:7; Hab. 2:16; Rev. 17:3-4; 18:6). The "contents" of the cup were the ruinous effects of sin--sorrow. . . ruin, and desolation--accumulated by the nation.

23:35. This fourth oracle presents the main reason Jerusalem was to be judged. She had forgotten God (cf. 22:12) and thrust Him behind her back. Jerusalem's illicit affairs with other nations came alter she forgot her source of protection and openly rejected God. Because of this rejection, she must bear the consequences of her lewdness.

(3) Conclusion (23:36-49). In the final section of this chapter Ezekiel reviewed the sin and judgment of Samaria and Jerusalem. The history and judgment of both countries had been presented separately (vv. 1-35), but now they were combined for the sake of comparison. The sins of both nations were idolatry (vv. 36-39) and foreign alliances (vv. 40-44), and their judgments were the same (vv. 45-49).

23:36-39. Idolatry, though not the subject of verses 1-35, Was common to Israel and Judah. The apex of their spiritual adultery was child sacrifice: they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to Me. This, one of the most detestable practices of the Canaanite religions, had infiltrated both Israel and Judah (See comments on 16:20-22). The people were so hardened by sin that on the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered the temple with their children's blood on their hands and the smoky smell of burning flesh embedded in their clothes. Their very presence profaned and desecrated the house of God!

23:40-44. The spiritual adultery of the two nations was matched only by their political adultery. Both countries enticed foreign nations into illicit alliances. Ezekiel painted a vivid picture of the sisters preparing themselves for lovers (i.e., enticing other nations to help them). The harlot sisters sent. . . for men and when they arrived the girls bathed themselves for them, painted their eyes, and put on . . . jewelry (cf. Prov. 7:6-21).

The enticements of the two sisters drew a carefree crowd of Sabeans . . . from the desert and men from the rabble. The word "Sabeans" (sabaim)may also be translated "drunkards" (from saba). "to imbibe, drink largely"; cf. NIV marg.). Perhaps Ezekiel deliberately chose the word because of its double meaning. The wild nomadic Sabeans may have behaved like drunkards. The reputation of the sisters was so well known that even the lower elements of society knew where to find them. Ezekiel also employed two similar-sounding words to draw attention to the baser elements being attracted to the women. They brought in (mubaim) "Sabeans/drunkards" (sabaim).

The sisters were using their charms to gain others' favors, so God reduced them to the status of prostitutes (cf. Ezek. 23:3). This appropriately pictures Israel and Judah turning to pagan nations for help and being molested by them.

23:45-49. God said that righteous men would sentence them to the punishment adulteresses deserved. Who were these "righteous men"? Certainly they were not the nations that ultimately destroyed the sisters, because those nations had previously committed adultery with them. Most likely the "righteous men" were the prophets of God raised up to denounce sin and pronounce judgment. They functioned like elders who decided the fate of someone accused of fornication (cf. Deut. 22:13-21). The judgment for adultery was death (Lev. 20:10), generally by stoning (cf. Lev. 20:27; John 8:3-5); and the judgments for idolatry in a city were the sword and fire (Deut. 13:12-16). These judgments would be enacted against these "sisters." The mob-a derisive way of referring to the foreign nations would stone them and cut them down with. . . swords, and flames would engulf their houses. These are the same judgments Ezekiel pronounced earlier (Ezek. 16:40-41). They would provide a warning to other nations.

f. The parable of. the boiling pot (24:1-14) Chapter 24 concludes the third series of judgments on Judah (chaps. 4-11; 12:19; 20-24). Chapter 24 climaxes these prophecies with two additional messages that show the inevitability of judgment.

24:1-2. Ezekiel's final prophecies of doom against Jerusalem came in the ninth year (of King Jehoiachin's exile; cf. 1:2), in the 10th month on the 10th day. This was January 15, 588 B.C.--a day of national calamity for Jerusalem. The king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem that very day. This was the day Ezekiel had been pointing to for over four years. The date was so significant that it was also mentioned by the writer of 1 and 2 Kings (cf. 2 Kings 25:1) and by the Prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 39:1; 52:4).

24:3-5. Ezekiel told the rebellious house of Israel (cf. 3:9) a parable about a cooking pot being filled with water and choice cuts of meat being boiled. This was similar to his message in chapter 11, in which some leaders used the figure of a cooking pot to give Jerusalem false hope. The people thought that being in the pot Jerusalem) would keep them safe; but here Ezekiel prophesied that the pot would be their place of destruction.

24:6-8. Ezekiel explained the parable through two similar statements (vv. 6-8, 9-14), each beginning with the words, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the city of bloodshed (vv. 6, 9). These statements spoke of the city's blood-guiltiness (cf. 22:1-16). Ezekiel said Jerusalem was like a pot now encrusted, whose deposit will not go away! "Encrusted" and "deposit" are from the Hebrew word hel'ah and could be translated "rusted" and "rust." In the fire of God's judgment Jerusalem's "impurities" floated to the surface. Her corruption could not be hidden. She was as unappealing as rusty scum floating on the surface of a meal being cooked.

The meal was ruined by the rusty scum, so the contents of the pot were dumped. People in Jerusalem who had felt secure from Babylon's onslaught would be dragged from the city into exile with no regard for their position in society (no lots would be cast for them).

The cause for the dispersion was repeated (24:7-8): bloodshed poured out openly on rocks, not. . . where the dust would cover it. Jerusalem had shed innocent blood and had not even bothered to hide her crimes. That blood was crying out, figuratively speaking, for vengeance (cf. Gen. 4:10; Lev. 17:13-14; Job 16:18). Because Jerusalem had openly shed the blood of others, God would openly shed her blood on the bare rock.

24:9-14. Ezekiel's second statement of judgment dealt specifically with the rusty pot. The meat in the pot was to be cooked "well done," picturing the slaughter of the Jerusalemites by Babylon. But God's judgment would go beyond the inhabitants to encompass the city of Jerusalem itself. The empty pot Jerusalem without its inhabitants) was to be set. . . on the coals. . . its impurities were melted and its deposit, or rust, burned away. The city itself had to be destroyed to remove its impurities.

God had tried to cleanse His people from their impurities but they resisted all such efforts. Therefore they would experience the purifying work of God's wrath. God's patience had run out; the time had come for Him to judge. He would not hold back or have pity. God's mercy prompts Him to withhold judgment as long as possible to enable people to repent (cf. 2 Peter 3:8-10), but He does not wait indefinitely. A time comes when God punishes wickedness.

g. The sign of. the death of Ezekiel's wife (24:15.27)

24:15-17. Ezekiel acted out through his own heartbreaking experience the inner pain about to be felt by all those Israelites already in captivity.

God explained the sign to Ezekiel, possibly in a dream at night (v. 18). The tragedy of the death of Ezekiel's wife (the delight of his eyes; cf. v. 21) would normally produce an outpouring of grief and sadness. But God told him not to lament or weep or shed any tears. He was to groan quietly and not mourn for the dead. He had to keep his personal feelings of loss bottled up inside: he was not allowed to follow normal mourning procedures (v. 17b; cf. Jer. 16:5-7).

24:18-19. Next morning Ezekiel told the people about his vision, and that evening his wife died. The next morning, when his wife would have been buried, he followed God's instructions and did not mourn openly. Because the event had been explained to the people in advance, they realized that the action had . some national significance. So they asked him to explain what it meant.

24:20-24. Ezekiel explained that the death of his wife symbolized the destruction of God's temple and the slaughter of the people of Jerusalem--people loved by those in exile. Ezekiel had lost the "delight" of his "eyes" (v. 16) and the exiles would lose Jerusalem, the delight of their eyes (cf. v. 25), to Babylon. Just as Ezekiel had experienced a great personal tragedy, so those already in captivity would feel the tragedy when they heard about Jerusalem's fall and the massacre of their loved ones (sons and daughters) there.

The Jews in captivity would be devastated by the news of Jerusalem's fall, and the magnitude of destruction would render all grief inadequate. Normally when a personal tragedy occurs, friends and relatives gather to share in the grief of the one affected and to support him in his time of anguish and loss. But when Jerusalem fell everyone was in anguish because everyone was affected. The tragedy would be so awesome that any public expression of grief would seem insignificant. The Jews already in Babylon were to avoid all public display of grief just as Ezekiel had done. They would simply waste away because of their sins while groaning among themselves. The catastrophe would send all the exiles into a state of shock and would force them to acknowledge their Lord: When this happens, you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.

24:25-27. When the news of Jerusalem's fall reached the exiles, the prophet's mouth would be opened; he would no longer be silent. Ezekiel had been commanded to remain silent before his fellow exiles except to pronounce the prophecies God gave him (cf. 3:25-27). His part-time dumbness would end when the prophecies he had delivered were confirmed (cf. 33:21-22).

The Destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple: The Account of Josephus:

"Now the king of Babylon was very intent and earnest upon the siege of Jerusalem; and he erected towers upon great banks of earth and from them repelled those that stood upon the walls: he also made a great number of such banks round about the whole city, the height of which was equal to those walls. However, those that were within bore the siege with courage and alacrity, for they were not discouraged, either by the famine or by the pestilential distemper, but were of cheerful minds in the prosecution of the war, although those miseries within oppressed them also; and they did not suffer themselves to be terrified, either by the contrivances of the enemy, or by their engines of war, but contrived still different engines to oppose all the other withal, till indeed there seemed to be an entire struggle between the Babylonians and the people of Jerusalem, who had the greater sagacity and skill; the former party supposing they should be thereby too hard for the other, for the destruction of the city; the latter placing their hopes of deliverance in nothing else but in persevering in such inventions, in opposition to the other, as might demonstrate the enemy's engines were useless to them; and this siege they endured for eighteen months, until they were destroyed by the famine and the darts which the enemy threw at them from the towers.

Now the city was taken on the ninth day of the fourth month, in the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah. They were indeed only generals of the king of Babylon, to whom Nebuchadnezzar committed the care of the siege, for he abode himself in the city of Riblah. The names of these generals who ravaged and subdued Jerusalem, if any one desire to know them, were these: Nergal Sharezer, Sangar Nebo, Rabsaris, Sarsechim, and Rabmag; and when the city was taken about midnight, and the enemy's generals were entered into the temple, and when Zedekiah was sensible of it, he took his wives and his children, and his captains and friends, and with them fled out of the city, through the fortified ditch, and through the desert; and when certain of the deserters had informed the Babylonians of this, at break of day, they made haste to pursue after Zedekiah, and overtook him not far from Jericho, and encompassed him about. But for those friends and captains of Zedekiah who and fled out of the city with him, when they saw their enemies near them, they left him and dispersed themselves, some one way and some another, and every one resolved to save himself, so the enemy took Zedekiah alive, when he was deserted by all but a few, with his children and his wives, and brought him to the king. When he was come, Nebuchadnezzar began to call him a wicked wretch, and a covenant breaker, and one that had forgotten his former words, when he promised to keep the country for him. He also reproached him for his ingratitude, that when he had received the kingdom from him, who had taken it from Jehoiachin, and given it him, he had made use of the power he gave him against him that gave it: "but," said he, " God is great, who hateth that conduct of thine, and hath brought thee under us." And when he had used these words to Zedekiah, he commanded his sons and his friends to be slain, while Zedekiah and the rest of the captains looked on; after which he put out the eyes and bound him, and carried him to Babylon. And these things happened as Jeremiah and Ezekiel had foretold to him, that he should be caught and brought before the king of Babylon, and should speak to him face to face, and should see his eyes with his own eyes; and this far did Jeremiah prophesy. But he was also made blind, and brought to Babylon but did not see is according to the prediction of Ezekiel.

We have said thus much because it was sufficient to show the nature of God to such as are ignorant of it that it is various, and acts many different ways, and that all even happen after a regular manner, in their proper season, and that it foretells what must come to pass. It is also sufficient to show the ignorance and incredulity of men, whereby they are not permitted to foresee any thing that is future, and are, without any guard, exposed to calamities, so that it is impossible for them to avoid the experience of those calamities.

And after this manner have the kings of David's race ended their lives, being in number twenty-one, until, the last king, who all together reigned five hundred and fourteen years, and six months, and ten days: of whom Saul, who was their first king, retained the government twenty years, though he was not of the same tribe with the rest.

And now it was that the king of Babylon sent Nebuzaradan, the general of his army, to Jerusalem, to pillage the temple; who had it also in command to burn it and the royal palace, and to lay the city even with the ground, and to transplant the people into Babylon. Accordingly he came to Jerusalem, in the eleventh year of king Zedekiah, and pillaged the temple, and carried out the vessels of God, both gold and silver, and particularly that large laver which Solomon dedicated, as also the pillars of brass, and their chapters, with the golden tablets and the candlesticks: and when he had carried these off, he set fire to the temple in the fifth month, the first day of the month, in the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, and in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar; he also burnt the palace, and overthrew the city. Now the temple was burnt four hundred and seventy years, six months, and two days, after it was built it was then one thousand and sixty-two years, six months, and ten days, from the departure out of Egypt; and from the Deluge to the destruction of the temple, the whole interval was one thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven years, six months, and ten days; but from the generation of Adam, until this befell the temple, there were three thousand five hundred and thirteen years, six months. and ten days; so great was the number of years hereto belonging; and what actions were done during these years, we have particularly related. But the general of the Babylonian king now overthrew the city to the very foundations, and removed all the people, and took for prisoners the high-priest Seraiah, and Zephaniah, the priest that was next to him, and the rulers that guarded the temple, who were three in number, and he eunuch who was over the armed men, and seven friends of Zedekiah, and his scribe and sixty other rulers; all whom, together with the vessels they had pillaged, he carried to the king of Babylon to Riblah, a city of Syria So the king commanded the heads of the high-priest and of the rulers, to be cut off there; but he himself led all the captives and Zedekiah to Babylon. He also led Josedek the high-priest, away bound. He was the son of Seraiah, the high-priest, whom the king of Babylon had slain in Riblah, a city of Syria, as we just now related.

And now, because we have enumerated the succession of the kings, and who they were, and how long they reigned, I think it necessary to set down the names of the high priests, and who they were that succeeded one another in the high-priesthood under the kings. The first high-priest then at the temple which Solomon built was Zadok; after him his son Achimas received that dignity; after Achimas u as Azarias; his son was Joram, and Joram's son was Isus; after him was Axioramus; his son was Phideas, and Phideas's Soll was Sudeas, and Sudeas's son was Juelus, and Juelus's son was Jotham, and Jotham's son was Urias, and Urias's son was Nerias, and Nerias's son was Odeas, and his son w as Sallumus, and Sallumus's son was Elcias, and his son [was Azarias, and his son] was Sareas, and his son was Josedec, who was carried captive to Babylon. All these received the high-priesthood by succession, the sons from their father.

When the king was come to Babylon, he kept Zedekiah in prison until he died, and buried him magnificently, and dedicated the vessels he had pillaged out of the temple of Jerusalem to his own gods, and planted the people in the country of Babylon, but freed the high-priest from his bonds." (Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter VIII.)

NOTE: The First and Second Temples were both destroyed on the 9th day of the month of Av. (586 BC and 70 AD). Each year on the 9th of Av, devout Jews gather in Jerusalem every year to read the Lamentations of Jeremiah.

Notes and Audio (MP3) go to
March 21, 2004.

 Psalm 79

1 (A Psalm of Asaph)
O God, the nations have come into Your inheritance;
Your holy temple they have defiled;
They have laid Jerusalem in heaps.
2 The dead bodies of Your servants
They have given as food for the birds of the heavens,
The flesh of Your saints to the beasts of the earth.
3 Their blood they have shed like water all around Jerusalem,
And there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a reproach to our neighbors,
A scorn and derision to those who are around us.
5 How long, LORD? Will You be angry forever?
Will Your jealousy burn like fire?
6 Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know
You, And on the kingdoms that do not call on Your name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob,
And laid waste his dwelling place.
8 Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us!
Let Your tender mercies come speedily to meet us,
For we have been brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation,
For the glory of Your name;
And deliver us, and provide atonement for our sins,
For Your name's sake!
10 Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?"
Let there be known among the nations in our sight
The avenging of the blood of
Your servants which has been shed.
11 Let the groaning of the prisoner come before You;
According to the greatness of Your power
Preserve those who are appointed to die;
12 And return to our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom
Their reproach with which they have reproached You, O Lord.
13 So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture,
Will give You thanks forever; We will show forth
Your praise to all generations.

 Psalm 83

1 (A Song. A Psalm of Asaph)
Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace,
And do not be still, O God!
2 For behold, Your enemies make a tumult;
And those who hate You have lifted up their head.
3 They have taken crafty counsel against Your people,
And consulted together against Your sheltered ones.
4 They have said, "Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation,
That the name of Israel may be remembered no more."
5 For they have consulted together with one consent;
They form a confederacy against You:
6 The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites; Moab and the Hagrites;
7 Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek; Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
8 Assyria also has joined with them;
They have helped the children of Lot. Selah
9 Deal with them as with Midian, As with Sisera,
As with Jabin at the Brook Kishon,
10 Who perished at En Dor, Who became as refuse on the earth.
11 Make their nobles like Oreb and like Zeeb,
Yes, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12 Who said, "Let us take for ourselves
The pastures of God for a possession."
13 O my God, make them like the whirling dust,
Like the chaff before the wind!
14 As the fire burns the woods,
And as the flame sets the mountains on fire,
15 So pursue them with Your tempest,
And frighten them with Your storm.
16 Fill their faces with shame,
That they may seek Your name, O LORD.
17 Let them be confounded and dismayed forever;
Yes, let them be put to shame and perish,
18 That they may know that You,
whose name alone is the LORD,
Are the Most High over all the earth.