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Ezekiel 16-17   Listen Podcast

Jerusalem - When God made something out of nothing (Ezekiel 16:1-14)

1 Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
2 “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations,
3 and say, “Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: ‘Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.
4 As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.
5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.
6 ¶ “And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, “Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’
7 I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare.
8 ¶ “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord GOD.
9 ¶ “Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil.
10 I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk.
11 I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck.
12 And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head.
13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty.
14 Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord GOD.

We've seen the prophets use a lot of metaphors, but this one had to have angered (to put it mildly) the audience of this prophecy. Ezekiel paints Jerusalem as a prostitute. A recurring image of Israel going after other gods in the Old Testament is that of a prostitute - spiritually speaking. He uses two Hebrew words (translated - whore, whoredom, fornication, harlot) 16 times in this chapter to describe Judah's lack of faithfulness to God. Let's give Ezekiel the award for "Most Outrageous Prophecy" with this one - a prophecy obviously intended to make the point once and for all - a point that these Jewish exiles had refused to see up to this time. And what was that point? ...that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were more wicked than a prostitute because of their infidelity in serving the one true God.

Ezekiel makes some rather interesting and inflammatory opening remarks about Jerusalem in this prophecy. He points out that Jerusalem is not even of Jewish origin. Jerusalem is pictured by Ezekiel as a neglected, left-for-dead baby who was rescued and nurtured by God to a position of glory in verses 1-14. You will recall that David, during his reign, went into Jerusalem and took it from the Jebusites (II Samuel 5:4-10 and I Chronicles 11:4-9, see notes). Ezekiel attributes the founding of Jerusalem to the Amorites and Hittites. Canaan's inhabitants, including those in Jerusalem, were idolatrous and polytheistic. However, after David took Jerusalem from Canaanite control, it became the habitation of God inasmuch as the Temple of God was there.

Look at how special this relationship was between God and Jerusalem in Psalm 132:13-17 (see notes):

For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: “This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread. I will also clothe her priests with salvation, And her saints shall shout aloud for joy. There I will make the horn of David grow; I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed.

God's case against Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16:15-34)

15 ¶ “But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it.
16 You took some of your garments and adorned multicolored high places for yourself, and played the harlot on them. Such things should not happen, nor be.
17 You have also taken your beautiful jewelry from My gold and My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them.
18 You took your embroidered garments and covered them, and you set My oil and My incense before them.
19 Also My food which I gave you—the pastry of fine flour, oil, and honey which I fed you—you set it before them as sweet incense; and so it was,” says the Lord GOD.
20 ¶ “Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter,
21 that you have slain My children and offered them up to them by causing them to pass through the fire?
22 And in all your abominations and acts of harlotry you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, struggling in your blood.
23 ¶ “Then it was so, after all your wickedness—‘Woe, woe to you!’ says the Lord GOD—
24 that you also built for yourself a shrine, and made a high place for yourself in every street.
25 You built your high places at the head of every road, and made your beauty to be abhorred. You offered yourself to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your acts of harlotry.
26 You also committed harlotry with the Egyptians, your very fleshly neighbors, and increased your acts of harlotry to provoke Me to anger.
27 ¶ “Behold, therefore, I stretched out My hand against you, diminished your allotment, and gave you up to the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior.
28 You also played the harlot with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; indeed you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied.
29 Moreover you multiplied your acts of harlotry as far as the land of the trader, Chaldea; and even then you were not satisfied.
30 ¶ “How degenerate is your heart!” says the Lord GOD, “seeing you do all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot.
31 ¶ “You erected your shrine at the head of every road, and built your high place in every street. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned payment.
32 You are an adulterous wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband.
33 Men make payment to all harlots, but you made your payments to all your lovers, and hired them to come to you from all around for your harlotry.
34 You are the opposite of other women in your harlotry, because no one solicited you to be a harlot. In that you gave payment but no payment was given you, therefore you are the opposite.”

Then Jerusalem's sin - spiritual adultery - NO...worse than that...much worse than that. Ezekiel points out that it wasn't a one-time slip up that Jerusalem went after false gods, but a continual, blatant pattern of spiritual adultery - just like a prostitute - many occasions with many false gods.

Notice verses 20-21, "Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, that you have slain My children and offered them up to them by causing them to pass through the fire?" Over the years, Jerusalem had offered her children in sacrifice to these idols, as was common in the worship of the pagan deity Molech under King Ahaz in II Kings 16:3 (see notes) and King Manasseh in II Kings 21:6 (see notes). King Josiah tore these altars down in II Kings 23:10 (see notes). Back in Jeremiah, we see the same issues being addressed in Jeremiah 32:35 (see notes), "And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." This was contrary to the Mosaic covenant (Leviticus 18:21, see notes). Molech gets special attention in Leviticus 20:1-8 (see notes) and the forbidden practice of human sacrifice in Deuteronomy 12:31 (see notes). It should be noted, however, that tolerance for Molech goes all the way back to Solomon who allowed some of his pagan wives to build an altar to Molech right there on the temple grounds (I Kings 11:1-8, see notes), although we have no reason to believe that human sacrifice on that altar was tolerated during his reign.

From the description seen in verses 22 through 25, it would appear that Jerusalem had become a center for pagan worship with "a high place in every street." This point is again emphasized in verse 31.

Notice the client list with whom Jerusalem has been committing this act of spiritual prostitution: Egypt (verse 26), the Philistines (verse 27), the Assyrians (verse 28) and the Chaldeans aka Babylonians (verse 29). Once regarded as heathens by the Hebrews, with all of their false gods, this prophecy is an indictment against Jerusalem who has been, themselves, embracing the very same false gods.

Ezekiel then emphasizes that this pagan worship was a lifestyle with the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Their spiritual prostitution now characterized the city and its people.

God's judgment against Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16:35-43)

35 ¶ “Now then, O harlot, hear the word of the LORD!
36 Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because your filthiness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotry with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children which you gave to them,
37 surely, therefore, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved, and all those you hated; I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness.
38 And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged; I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy.
39 I will also give you into their hand, and they shall throw down your shrines and break down your high places. They shall also strip you of your clothes, take your beautiful jewelry, and leave you naked and bare.
40 ¶ “They shall also bring up an assembly against you, and they shall stone you with stones and thrust you through with their swords.
41 They shall burn your houses with fire, and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; and I will make you cease playing the harlot, and you shall no longer hire lovers.
42 So I will lay to rest My fury toward you, and My jealousy shall depart from you. I will be quiet, and be angry no more.
43 Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but agitated Me with all these things, surely I will also recompense your deeds on your own head,” says the Lord GOD. “And you shall not commit lewdness in addition to all your abominations.

Here's the warning: Jerusalem, your very client list of spiritual whoremongers will be coming to destroy you (verses 35-43). As the Babylonians gathered fighting men from their conquered territories, the very people from whom Jerusalem had adopted their practices of pagan worship would come to destroy them. Jerusalem's demise at the hands of the Babylonian army came in 586 B.C. (II Kings 24, see notes). (For a comprehensive look at the fall of Jerusalem, see the notes on Jeremiah 52.)

Jerusalem is compared to Sodom and Samaria (Ezekiel 16:44-58)

44 ¶ “Indeed everyone who quotes proverbs will use this proverb against you: ‘Like mother, like daughter!’
45 You are your mother’s daughter, loathing husband and children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children; your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite.
46 ¶ “Your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who dwells to the south of you, is Sodom and her daughters.
47 You did not walk in their ways nor act according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you became more corrupt than they in all your ways.
48 ¶ “As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done.
49 Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
50 And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.
51 ¶ “Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and have justified your sisters by all the abominations which you have done.
52 You who judged your sisters, bear your own shame also, because the sins which you committed were more abominable than theirs; they are more righteous than you. Yes, be disgraced also, and bear your own shame, because you justified your sisters.
53 ¶ “When I bring back their captives, the captives of Sodom and her daughters, and the captives of Samaria and her daughters, then I will also bring back the captives of your captivity among them,
54 that you may bear your own shame and be disgraced by all that you did when you comforted them.
55 When your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters return to their former state, then you and your daughters will return to your former state.
56 For your sister Sodom was not a byword in your mouth in the days of your pride,
57 before your wickedness was uncovered. It was like the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria and all those around her, and of the daughters of the Philistines, who despise you everywhere.
58 You have paid for your lewdness and your abominations,” says the LORD.

Then, down through verse 58, we see that people will view Jerusalem with the same disdain that the citizens of Jerusalem had always viewed Sodom or Samaria, both pictured here as sisters of Jerusalem. Samaria was the seat of the Northern Kingdom of Israel which had collapsed in 721 B.C. at the hands of the Assyrians (II Kings 17, see notes). After Solomon's reign, Israel split into two kingdoms in I Kings 12:25-33 (see notes). There was the Northern Kingdom (called Israel, Samaria or sometimes Ephraim) and the Southern Kingdom (called Judah or sometimes Jerusalem). The Northern Kingdom NEVER served Jehovah, the one true God of the Hebrews. From their beginning they served false gods. The inhabitants of the Southern Kingdom always looked down upon the pagan-god worshipers of the Northern Kingdom.

The ultimate insult here is to be compared to Sodom. Nearly everyone knows the wicked story of Sodom's sin. Sodom was destroyed in Genesis 19 (see notes). It's one thing for Ezekiel's prophecy to compare the sin of Jerusalem's spiritual harlotry to that of the Northern Kingdom, but to be compared to the wickedness of Sodom had to have inflamed the ears of those who heard this prophecy.

The New Covenant between God and Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16:59-63)

59 For thus says the Lord GOD: “I will deal with you as you have done, who despised the oath by breaking the covenant.
60 ¶ “Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.
61 Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when you receive your older and your younger sisters; for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of My covenant with you.
62 And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
63 that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,” says the Lord GOD.’ ”

Ezekiel tops off this prophecy beginning in verse 59 with a reminder that God will honor his covenant to his people. Jerusalem will one day be restored to its previous glory when the Messiah comes.

In verse 60 God says, "I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth." That's a reference to the covenant God made with David regarding the everlasting nature of the Davidic Covenant. (See "The Davidic Covenant" for more details.) The future covenant that God will make with Jerusalem (and all Israel) is seen in the remainder of verse 60 down through verse 63. That covenant is the "New Covenant" prophesied by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (see notes). The Davidic Covenant will be fulfilled by the terms of the New Covenant that God will make with Israel and Judah.

Ezekiel gives a riddle/allegory (Ezekiel 17)

1 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
2 “Son of man, pose a riddle, and speak a parable to the house of Israel,
3 and say, “Thus says the Lord GOD:
‘A great eagle with large wings and long pinions,
Full of feathers of various colors,
Came to Lebanon
And took from the cedar the highest branch.
4 He cropped off its topmost young twig
And carried it to a land of trade;
He set it in a city of merchants.
5 Then he took some of the seed of the land
And planted it in a fertile field;
He placed it by abundant waters
And set it like a willow tree.
6 And it grew and became a spreading vine of low stature;
Its branches turned toward him,
But its roots were under it.
So it became a vine,
Brought forth branches,
And put forth shoots.
7 “But there was another great eagle with large wings and many feathers;
And behold, this vine bent its roots toward him,
And stretched its branches toward him,
From the garden terrace where it had been planted,
That he might water it.
8 It was planted in good soil by many waters,
To bring forth branches, bear fruit,
And become a majestic vine.” ’
9 ¶ “Say, “Thus says the Lord GOD:
‘Will it thrive?
Will he not pull up its roots,
Cut off its fruit,
And leave it to wither?
All of its spring leaves will wither,
And no great power or many people
Will be needed to pluck it up by its roots.
10 Behold, it is planted,
Will it thrive?
Will it not utterly wither when the east wind touches it?
It will wither in the garden terrace where it grew.” ’ ”
11 ¶ Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
12 “Say now to the rebellious house: “Do you not know what these things mean?’ Tell them, ‘Indeed the king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and took its king and princes, and led them with him to Babylon.
13 And he took the king’s offspring, made a covenant with him, and put him under oath. He also took away the mighty of the land,
14 that the kingdom might be brought low and not lift itself up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand.
15 But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and many people. Will he prosper? Will he who does such things escape? Can he break a covenant and still be delivered?
16 ¶ “As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke—with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die.
17 Nor will Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company do anything in the war, when they heap up a siege mound and build a wall to cut off many persons.
18 Since he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, and in fact gave his hand and still did all these things, he shall not escape.’ ”
19 ¶ Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “As I live, surely My oath which he despised, and My covenant which he broke, I will recompense on his own head.
20 I will spread My net over him, and he shall be taken in My snare. I will bring him to Babylon and try him there for the treason which he committed against Me.
21 All his fugitives with all his troops shall fall by the sword, and those who remain shall be scattered to every wind; and you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken.”
22 ¶ Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain.
23 On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell.
24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish; I, the LORD, have spoken and have done it.”

Whoa! This seems very familiar. Do you need a hint? Read II Kings 24:6-20; II Chronicles 36:8-16 (see notes); Jeremiah 37 (see notes); Jeremiah 52:1-7 (see notes), and you'll see the actual circumstances of this riddle. It all centers around the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of its inhabitants. The interpretation is found in verses 11-21. The bottom line is: Jerusalem will fall, an alliance with Egypt won't help, the King will be captured by Babylon and punished; his army will be scattered. But wait! There's more!

Verses 22-24 talk about another twig. Following is an excerpt from the Expositors Bible Commentary regarding these 3 verses:

This cutting of the cedar was not from the first cutting made by Nebuchadnezzar in vv.4, 12, for Jeremiah 22:28-30 declared that the physical line of Jehoiachin (Coniah) would not continue to sit on the Davidic throne. Rather, the line would continue through other descendants of David. This new cutting was, however, from the “cedar,” the messianic line. It was the “tender one,” a concept that had messianic implications (Isa 11:1; Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-16; Zech 3:8; 6:12-13). This was the Messiah whom God would establish as King over Israel in the messianic kingdom. The high and lofty mountain may have reference to Mount Zion and the temple complex (cf. 20:40; Ps 2:6; Mic 4:1), but this is only conjecture. This messianic kingdom would be great and fruitful as a stately cedar tree (v.23). All the birds would nest in its branches - perhaps a figure of the nations of the world (cf. Dan 4:17, 32, 34-37; Matt 13:31-32). All the trees (or nations according to the immediate context) would submit to the Messiah and his rule (v.24). God had spoken, he would do it!

This elaborate prophecy of chapter 17 is just another description of that which Ezekiel has been prophesying, the fall of Jerusalem.
(For a comprehensive look at the fall of Jerusalem, see the notes on Jeremiah 52.)