Ezekiel 16
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 16 The foundling child who became the faithless wife

The prophet continues to pursue his demonstration of the inevitableness of Jerusalem’s destruction. In ch. 13, 14 he swept away the delusive hopes with which the prophets of Israel filled her imagination; and in ch. 15 he shewed how little the fact that Israel was the people of the Lord was fitted to inspire confidence, as other prophets had shewed before him (Amos 3:2). In the present passage it is the positive proof of the necessity of Israel’s destruction that he exhibits—her persistent unfaithfulness to Jehovah through all her history, and her forgetfulness of his goodness. He has to “shew to Jerusalem all her abominations” (Ezekiel 16:2). This is done in the allegory of the foundling child who became the faithless wife of her benefactor. Though marked by a breadth with which modern taste is unfamiliar the allegory is powerful. And when the details are forgotten and only the general conception remains in the mind, the prophet’s creation is felt to be artistically beautiful as well as true. An outcast infant exposed in the open field and weltering in its blood was seen by the pitying eye of a passer by. Rescued and nourished she grew up to the fairest womanhood, and became the wife of her benefactor, who lavished on her all that could delight and elevate. But the ways into which he led her were too lofty to be understood, and the atmosphere around her too pure for her to breathe; the old inborn nature (her father was the Amorite and her mother a Hittite) was still there beneath all the refinements for which it had no taste, and at last it asserted itself in shameless depravity and insatiable lewdness.

This moral history of Israel has these divisions:

(1) Ezekiel 16:1-7. The exposed infant adopted and reared to womanhood.

(2) Ezekiel 16:8-14. The foundling, now grown up to be a fair woman, taken in marriage by her benefactor.

(3) Ezekiel 16:15-34. Her numerous infidelities.

(4) Ezekiel 16:35-58. Punishment of the adulterous wife.

(5) Ezekiel 16:59-63. Her receiving again.

Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
1–7. The exposed child rescued and adopted by Jehovah—his taking to himself the family of Israel in the early patriarchal times

Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations,
2. cause Jerusalem to know] The object of the chapter is to impress on Israel the necessity of the Divine judgment because of her persistent idolatry through all her history (ch. Ezekiel 20:4, Ezekiel 22:2, Ezekiel 23:36). Jerusalem, which is spoken to throughout, represents the kingdom of Judah, and even the whole family of Israel in its early history.

And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite.
3. Thy birth … land of Canaan] of the Canaanite. “Birth” is origin (ch. Ezekiel 21:30, Ezekiel 29:14), the figure being taken from a mine or a quarry, cf. Isaiah 51:1, “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.” When Jerusalem’s origin is said to be from the land of the Canaanite several references seem combined, e.g. the fact that Jerusalem was a Canaanite city; that Israel first became a family in Canaan (Ezekiel 16:4); and that having originated there its moral character corresponded to its Canaanite origin and had cleaved to it all through its history.

an Amorite] the Amorite. The Amorites and Hittites are named as the two chief Canaanitish peoples, the whole population being sometimes called the Amorites (Genesis 15:16; Amos 2:9), and at other times the Hittites (Joshua 1:4). Jerusalem has the one for father, and the other for mother (Ezekiel 16:45).

And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.
4. as for thy nativity] The circumstances of thy birth were these, as follows. The family of Israel, represented by Jerusalem, is compared to an exposed infant, for whom the things absolutely necessary to preserve its life were not done. The reference is to the history of the family in Canaan, and in its descent to Egypt, when it was feeble, unprotected and in danger of perishing.

to supple thee] The word is otherwise unknown. Targ. “for purification,” probably guessed, but some such sense is required. Fried. Del. refers to an Assyrian root signifying to wash.

wast not salted at all] An ancient custom was to rub the newborn infant with salt—“tenera infantium corpora … solent ab obstetricibus sale contingi ut sicciora sint et restringantur,” Jerome. The ceremony was probably partly religious as well as healthful.

None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born.
5. None of the offices necessary to preserve the life of the child were performed; no pitying eye looked on it, no affectionate hand did aught for it; it was even thrown out in the open field. It was too common a custom among ancient nations to expose children; among the Arabs female children were buried alive (Kor. 81. 8).

to the lothing of thy person] Rather, because of the utter loathing of thee; lit. the loathing of thy soul. Cf. Ezekiel 16:45.

And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.
6. And when I passed] More pathetic in the Heb. order: and I passed by thee and saw thee.

polluted] weltering; wallowing or struggling.

when thou wast in thy blood] The meaning may be: “I said unto thee, In thy blood live!” i.e. in spite of thy blood; although unclean and loathsome, live! Jehovah’s pitying eye looked through that which might repel, and saved. The repetition (which LXX., however, omits) may emphasise the great act of Jehovah’s pity.

I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare.
7. have caused … multiply] Lit. as marg. made thee a myriad. This idea of multiplication in number deserts the figure, introducing the notion of the numerical increase of the people (Exodus 1:7; Deuteronomy 10:22; Deuteronomy 33:17). The rest of the verse, however, continues the figure of the child growing up to womanhood. For “myriad” LXX. has “do thou grow” (imper.). This is not natural, but probably some word signifying “growth” should be read, “I gave thee growth like the herb of the field; and thou didst grow and wax great.”

thou art come … ornaments] Thou didst come to excellent ornament, lit. ornament of ornaments. The connexion requires that “ornament” should mean graces and beauties of the person. The word has nowhere else this sense, being always employed of such ornaments as jewelry which are worn (Ezekiel 16:11). The rendering “beauty of cheeks” (Hitz.) rests upon the supposed sense of Psalm 32:9; Psalm 103:5. In Isaiah 64:6 a word somewhat similar occurs: filthy (i.e. menstruous) garment, and several scholars (J. D. Michaelis, Cornill) assume this sense here. This requires considerable alteration of the text, which already lay before LXX. (though r was read for d, as often). Neither is Ezekiel 16:22 in favour of it.

are fashioned] Better past tenses: were fashioned … was grown, but thou wast.

The passage is an allegorical description of the early history of the family of Israel, their struggles for existence in Canaan, their descent into Egypt, the oppressions suffered there, and the Lord’s care and protection of them (Exodus 3:7; Exodus 3:9; Psalm 105:12 seq.). The unattractive character of the early patriarchal history as written in Genesis is plain enough (Genesis 29-31, 38.). This unattractive character is set forth in the blood and pollution of the new-born infant, and the Lord’s care of them in their dependent and defenceless condition under the figure of his pity and adoption of the outcast child. The truth conveyed in the allegory is more delicately expressed by another writer: “The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all peoples; but because the Lord loved you” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine.
8–14. The child, now an adult virgin, taken to Himself in marriage by Jehovah:—the redemption of the people from Egypt, and covenant with them at Sinai to be their God

8. Now when I passed] Better in continuance of the historical narrative, and I passed by.

the time of love] The outcast child was now a marriageable woman.

spread my skirt] Cf. Ruth 3:9—a figure for marriage.

a covenant with thee] The marriage relation is a covenant, Proverbs 2:17; Malachi 2:14. On the “oath,” cf. Ezekiel 16:59.

thou becamest mine] She became his wife, Ruth 4:13; Hosea 3:3.

Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.
9. Purifications before marriage. Whether “blood” be used somewhat generally to indicate the uncleanness of her infancy still cleaving to her, or in a more specific sense, may be uncertain (Ezekiel 16:7). Ruth 3:3; Esther 2:12.

I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers' skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk.
10. The costly clothing.

broidered work] Psalm 45:14; Jdg 5:30. The word might mean work of various colours (Exodus 26:36). So Ezekiel 16:13; Ezekiel 16:18.

badgers’ skin] According to most, skin of the sea-cow or manati, an animal allied to the dolphin, and found in the Red Sea. The name is found in Assyrian; the Assyrian kings crossed the Euphrates in ships made of the skin of this animal, and Salmaneser pursued his foes on lake Van in such ships. These facts suggest that the skins were readily procured not only in Mesopotamia but even in Armenia, and that some land animal must have furnished them. On these grounds Fried. Del. (Prolegomena, p. 78) decides for the wether. See Dill. on Exodus 25:5.

fine linen] i.e. byssus. It is not certain whether the byssus was cotton or linen, or both. It was worn by the priests (Exodus 39:27), and by persons of rank (Genesis 41:42). The “girding” or binding here can hardly refer to the headdress (Exodus 29:9), because in Ezekiel 16:13 the “clothing” is said to be of fine linen (cf. Ezekiel 16:12 or headdress).

covered thee with silk] The word again only in Ezekiel 16:13. It may be doubtful if silk was worn as early as the time of the prophet. The LXX. and ancients thought of some very thin and delicate material. The kind of garment was probably some large wrapper or veil covering the whole person.

Ezekiel 16:11-12. Her ornaments.

I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck.
11. On bracelets, cf. Genesis 24:22; Genesis 24:47. On chain or necklace, Genesis 41:42; Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 3:3.

And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head.
12. on thy forehead] Rather: a ring on thy nose, Isaiah 3:21. The nose-ring was a jewel placed on the outside of the nostril. Cf. Jdg 8:24 (where read, nose-rings). Genesis 24:47. On earrings, Numbers 31:50.

a beautiful crown] so ch. Ezekiel 23:42; in Isaiah 62:3 rendered “a crown of glory.” The word does not suggest royalty (Ezekiel 23:42).

Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom.
13. Her delicate fare and beauty.

fine flour] This was used in offerings at the altar (Ezekiel 16:19), and was probably the food of persons of refinement and rank. Cf. Psalm 81:16, “I should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat, and with honey out of the rock should I satisfy thee;” Psalm 147:14; Deuteronomy 32:13-14.

exceeding beautiful] The beauty is less that of the mere city (Psalm 48:2) than of the personified state or people (Ezekiel 16:14).

prosper into a kingdom] Or, attain to royal estate. The reference is not to the mere historical fact that a monarchy arose in Israel under Saul or more permanently under David. It was Israel herself, personified as a woman, that attained to royalty, that is, to be an independent state among the states around, a queen among other queens. The words are wanting in LXX.

And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord GOD.
14. Her renown spread among the nations because of her beauty. In this is included partly the prosperity and success of the state, not without reference perhaps to the beauty of the city (Lamentations 2:15, the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth, Psalm 50:2), and of the land, which is often celebrated (ch. Ezekiel 20:6; Ezekiel 20:15 the glory of all lands, cf. Daniel 8:9; Daniel 11:16; Daniel 11:41; Zechariah 7:14); and partly also the glory of a higher kind conferred on her by Jehovah and his presence, in the sense of Deuteronomy 4:6-8.

my comeliness] Or, my adornment; that given by me (Ezekiel 16:10-13); hardly in the sense of Isaiah 60:1, that Jerusalem’s beauty was only a reflection of the glory of Jehovah, who was in the midst of her.

These verses allegorically set forth the second period of Israel’s history: her redemption by Jehovah from Egypt, his covenant with her to be her God, his leading her into the promised land, and making her the paramount power there, and loading her with all the riches of that good land. Other prophets with more simplicity have celebrated this early time, “I remember of thee the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals; how thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (Jeremiah 2:2); “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe on the fig tree at her first season” (Hosea 9:10; cf. Deuteronomy 32:10).

But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was.
15. because of thy renown] In the consciousness of it. The consciousness of her beauty and renown removed from her mind the sense of dependence and responsibility, and she became vain in her own imaginations. Another prophet has expressed the same idea in regard to Babylon: “Thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever, so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, neither didst consider the issue of them … thou hast said, None seeth me.” (Isaiah 47:7; Isaiah 47:10). Hävern. quotes Ovid, Fasti, i. 419, Fastus inest pulchris, sequiturque superbia formam.

every one that passed by] A figure taken from the habit of harlots sitting by the wayside, Genesis 38:14; Jeremiah 3:2, “By the ways thou hast sat for them as an Arab in the desert.”

his it was] The prostitution was indiscriminate, Jeremiah 3:2; cf. ch. Ezekiel 23:40. The idea expressed is the ineradicable tendency of the people to adopt the religious customs of the nations with which age after age they came into connexion (Ezekiel 16:23 seq.). The phrase is peculiar and wanting in LXX.

15–22. All the gifts of Jehovah to her she took and bestowed on idols: her raiment (Ezekiel 16:16; Ezekiel 16:18), her gold and silver (Ezekiel 16:17), and her delicate fare (Ezekiel 16:19). And as if this were a small matter, she sacrificed also the children which were Jehovah’s to her idols (Ezekiel 16:20-21).

15–34. The wife’s infidelities—Israel’s idolatries and idolatrous alliances with foreign nations

The idolatries of Israel are represented figuratively as a wife’s infidelities against her husband, as had been common in the prophets since Hosea, particularly in Jeremiah (in Isaiah only the single passage ch. Ezekiel 1:21). These idolatries seem presented in two stages: Ezekiel 16:15-22, her addicting herself to the worship and religious customs of the Canaanites among whom she dwelt; and Ezekiel 16:23-34, her alliances with foreign peoples and adoption of their religions.

And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot thereupon: the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so.
16. She took of her “garments,” the flax and the wool which Jehovah had given her to cover herself withal (Hosea 2:9), and made tents upon the high places for the idols which she there worshipped. For “high places” cf. ch. Ezekiel 6:3. The “high places decked with divers colours” (R. V.) might be tents, or the reference might be to hangings or carpets. In 2 Kings 23:7 reference is made to women “who wove tents for Ashera;” cf. 1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 17:29.

like things shall not come] Or, should not come. An exclamation of dislike and abhorrence of the shameful practices just referred to. The rendering given can hardly be extracted from the words, which are probably corrupt in some way, though already read by LXX. (with a different vocalization). Comp. perhaps ch. Ezekiel 20:29.

Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them,
17. Cf. Hosea 2:8, I multiplied unto her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.

images of men] Jerusalem being an unfaithful wife the idols are “men.” The images were of gods; and this prophet probably saw little distinction between an image of Jehovah and that of any other deity. It is likely that, apart from the calf-images, the symbols of Jehovah as well as of the other gods were of the human form; cf. as to the Teraphim, 1 Samuel 19:13. The supposition hazarded by some that the “male images” (marg.) were representations of the Phallus has little to support it. It is true that Jerome considers the “gruesome object” set up by Maacah the mother of Asa to be simulacrum Priapi (2 Chronicles 15:16, cf. 1 Kings 15:13), but this is mere conjecture; and the passage Isaiah 57:8 is too obscure to be depended upon (cf. Prof. W. R. Smith, Rel. of Sem. p. 437).

broidered … coveredst them] Cf. Ezekiel 16:10; Ezekiel 16:13. The practice of clothing the idols is illustrated by Jeremiah 10:9, “There is silver beaten into plates … blue and purple for their clothing; they are all the work of cunning men.”

hast set mine oil] didst set. The ref. is to the offerings made to the idols. The Lord calls it “mine” because due to him, or rather because given by him to Israel, Hosea 2:8, “she did not know that I gave her corn and wine and oil … I will take back my corn in the time thereof.”

And tookest thy broidered garments, and coveredst them: and thou hast set mine oil and mine incense before them.
My meat also which I gave thee, fine flour, and oil, and honey, wherewith I fed thee, thou hast even set it before them for a sweet savour: and thus it was, saith the Lord GOD.
19. a sweet savour] See on ch. Ezekiel 6:13. The words “and thus it was” emphasize what was done, with a tone of reprobation.

Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter,
20 seq. The sacrifice of children

Jehovah is the husband of the idealized community, and the individual members are his children. Human sacrifices, though rare, were not altogether unknown in early Israel, as the instance of Jephthah proves (Judges 11). They were probably more common among the Canaanites and neighbouring peoples, though perhaps even among them resorted to only on occasions of great trial, in the hope of appeasing the anger or securing the favour of the deity (cf. the tragic story of the king of Moab, 2 Kings 3:27). Instances of human sacrifices do not occur in the early history of Israel, for neither the slaughter of Agag (1 Samuel 15:33) nor the hanging of seven descendants of Saul (2 Samuel 21) comes strictly under the idea of a sacrifice; but Ahaz king of Judah is said to have passed his son through the fire (2 Kings 16:3), and the practice introduced by him was followed by Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6), and must have spread among the people (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:35). The phrase “to pass through the fire” might be taken to mean merely a lustration or purification by fire, not implying the death of the child. This cannot, however, have been the case, for this prophet uses the words sacrifice (Ezekiel 16:20) and slaughter (Ezekiel 16:21), and Jeremiah says the people built high places “to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal” (ch. Ezekiel 19:5). The child, of course, was not burnt alive, but slain like other sacrifices, and offered as a burnt offering. The practice was a widespread one in the East, 2 Kings 17:31. See further on ch. Ezekiel 20:25 seq.

20. to be devoured] Namely, in the fire.

That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them?
21. hast … delivered them] Or, didst deliver them up, in causing them, as R.V. The child passed into the possession of the deity when consumed in the fire.

And in all thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted in thy blood.
22. So absorbed was Jerusalem in her infidelities that she remembered nothing of her early history, “the shame of her youth,” nor the compassion shewed her by Jehovah. On “polluted” cf. Ezekiel 16:6.

And it came to pass after all thy wickedness, (woe, woe unto thee! saith the Lord GOD;)
23. after all thy wickedness] The wickedness described in preceding verses as idolatries of Canaan; after this followed foreign idolatry. LXX. omits the words “woe, woe unto thee.”

23–34. Her infidelities with strangers from abroad, i.e. her alliances with idolatrous nations and adoption of their religious rites: Egypt (Ezekiel 16:23-27), Assyria (Ezekiel 16:28), and Chaldea (Ezekiel 16:29 seq.). Hosea already stigmatized foreign alliances as whoredoms; it is not, however, so much the political aspect of these alliances as their religious consequences that Ezekiel reprobates. Such alliances were followed by the fashions and worship of the nations with which they were formed (Isaiah 2:5 seq.). Naturally also when Israel became subject to the great eastern empires, the overwhelming influence of these states, with their customs and religions, was widely felt. The gods which had given them universal empire were introduced and worshipped. There appears to have been a great invasion of foreign idolatry in Judah in the declining years of the state, and the kingdom sank to a level in this respect to which the North had never fallen.

That thou hast also built unto thee an eminent place, and hast made thee an high place in every street.
24. an eminent place] The term is used of the “back,” the “boss” of a buckler, and the like, and means something elevated to some extent and probably arched; R.V. marg. vaulted chamber. It appears to be the same thing which is called a “high place” or rather: height, or elevated place, in this verse and Ezekiel 16:25 (a different word from that usually rendered “high place”). Small shrines must be meant, as they were put in every street, and at every head of the way. If the places were arches or vaults there is no reason to suppose that they were used for literal prostitution, as A.V. marg. suggests. The language is figurative for idolatry, Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:2.

Thou hast built thy high place at every head of the way, and hast made thy beauty to be abhorred, and hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied thy whoredoms.
25. thy high place] See Ezekiel 16:24.

made … to be abhorred] This sense is doubtful; the word means to abominate, hence dishonour or disregard, or as we might say “prostitute thy beauty.”

Thou hast also committed fornication with the Egyptians thy neighbours, great of flesh; and hast increased thy whoredoms, to provoke me to anger.
26. Egyptian idolatry.

hast also committed] and thou didst commit. The narrative tense should be used throughout.

great of flesh] In an obscene sense. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 23:20. The expression is chosen probably to represent the brutality of the Egyptian idolatries, which in some ways were baser than those of any people.

Behold, therefore I have stretched out my hand over thee, and have diminished thine ordinary food, and delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee, the daughters of the Philistines, which are ashamed of thy lewd way.
27. I have stretched] I stretched … and diminished … them that hated … were ashamed. The reference appears to be to the distant times of the Philistine supremacy in the last days of the Judges.

thine ordinary food] Or, allotted portion, Exodus 21:10. The measure is one to which an offended husband might have recourse. Hosea 2:9, “therefore will I take back my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof.”

daughters of the Philistines] i.e. the cities or small Philistine lordships. The clause might explain the phrase “diminished thy portion”—her territory was seized by her enemies.

which are ashamed] were ashamed. Cf. Amos 3:9, “Publish ye in the palaces of Ashdod and say, Assemble ye on the mountains of Samaria, and behold what oppressions are in the midst thereof.” Whether the prophet speaks of Egyptian idolatry in the early times of Israel’s life from historical sources may be uncertain. Such idolatry at this period seems nowhere else spoken of; comp. the list Jdg 10:6. Possibly as he charges the people with idolatry in Egypt (ch. Ezekiel 20:7; Ezekiel 23:3; Ezekiel 23:8; Ezekiel 23:19; Ezekiel 23:21) they may not have shaken themselves clear of it even in the period of the Judges. The connexion of the country with Egypt was at all times very close.

Thou hast played the whore also with the Assyrians, because thou wast unsatiable; yea, thou hast played the harlot with them, and yet couldest not be satisfied.
28. Infidelity with Assyria.

The historical tense “didst play” is better. Already Amos 5:26 appears to mention the names of Assyrian gods, for the passage can hardly refer to any time but his own. Jeremiah 2:18; Jeremiah 2:36.

Thou hast moreover multiplied thy fornication in the land of Canaan unto Chaldea; and yet thou wast not satisfied herewith.
29. Infidelities with the Chaldeans. Past tense is better: didst multiply.

in the land of Canaan] Rather: with (lit. unto) the merchants’ land, even Chaldea. Again ch. Ezekiel 17:4, the land of traffic. With similar contempt Hosea (Ezekiel 12:7) uses the term of Israel. Cf. Proverbs 31:24; Isaiah 47:15.

How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord GOD, seeing thou doest all these things, the work of an imperious whorish woman;
30. How weak is thine heart] i.e. how passion-sick, consumed by desire. The term “heart” (fem.) occurs nowhere else, and the plur. (Psalm 7:10; Proverbs 15:11) is hardly evidence for it (Ges.). LXX. renders: how shall I deal with thy daughter (exactly as Hosea 11:9 how shall I deal with thee, Ephraim). Our present text lay before the translator: “with thy daughter” is “thy heart” with different points; and “weak” was probably read as part of verb “to fill” (spelled as Job 8:21) and rendered freely. The text, however, may be faulty.

imperious … woman] Not positive: domineering; but negative: subject to no control, unbridled.

In that thou buildest thine eminent place in the head of every way, and makest thine high place in every street; and hast not been as an harlot, in that thou scornest hire;
31. Recapitulation of the acts done in her unbridled licentiousness, with the addition of a trait shewing that her dissoluteness was without parallel—other harlots take hire, she gives it.

in that thou scornest hire] Rather: hast not been as an harlot, that scoffeth at her hire (R.V. marg.), lit. in scoffing at hire. The words describe a characteristic of harlots, not one of Jerusalem in which she is unlike them. On scoff or “mock at,” cf. ch. Ezekiel 22:5; 2 Kings 2:23; Habakkuk 1:10; Psalm 44:14; Jeremiah 20:8, &c. The harlot mocks at her hire in order to augment it; Jerusalem does not desire hire, she rather offers it (Ezekiel 16:33).

But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!
32. Seems to break the connexion and has been regarded as a gloss. The words “instead of her husband” should be “under her husband,” though her husband’s (cf. Ezekiel 23:5, when she was mine; Numbers 5:19). The clauses are probably exclamatory: A wife that committeth adultery! though her husband’s (though married) she taketh strangers! It is also possible to take the language as an apostrophe: O adulterous wife, &c. LXX. read differently, and the verse is not without suspicion.

They give gifts to all whores: but thou givest thy gifts to all thy lovers, and hirest them, that they may come unto thee on every side for thy whoredom.
And the contrary is in thee from other women in thy whoredoms, whereas none followeth thee to commit whoredoms: and in that thou givest a reward, and no reward is given unto thee, therefore thou art contrary.
34. from other women] Point thus: “from other women: in that thou committest whoredom, and none goeth a whoring after thee; and in that thou givest hire, and no hire is given unto thee; therefore thou art contrary.” Hosea 8:9, Ephraim hireth lovers; Jeremiah 2:23-25; Jeremiah 3:1-2.

Wherefore, O harlot, hear the word of the LORD:
35–43. Punishment of the adulterous wife, and child-murderer

This punishment is described in somewhat mixed figures: first, Ezekiel 16:36-39, in a figure which tends to pass into a literal account of the destruction of Jerusalem; and secondly, Ezekiel 16:40-43, in a figure suggested by the punishment of the ordinary adulteress.

Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered through thy whoredoms with thy lovers, and with all the idols of thy abominations, and by the blood of thy children, which thou didst give unto them;
36. thy filthiness] The parallelism “nakedness” requires some such sense; and so the Jewish tradition. The Heb. is the ordinary word for “brass,” but any reference to “hire” or money here is out of the question. Cf. Dukes, Spr. d. Mischnah, p. 37. Geiger, Urschrift, p. 392. Somewhat differently Fried. Del. in Baer, Ezek., p. xiv.

Behold, therefore I will gather all thy lovers, with whom thou hast taken pleasure, and all them that thou hast loved, with all them that thou hast hated; I will even gather them round about against thee, and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness.
37. all thy lovers] The heathen nations whose alliance she sought, Hosea 2:10.

taken pleasure] Lit. to whom thou hast been pleasing or sweet—with a sensual reference.

that thou hast hated] The nations with whom no alliances were formed, such as the Philistines.

And I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy.
38. shed blood] Reference to child murder, Ezekiel 16:20; Ezekiel 16:36. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 23:45; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22.

give thee blood in fury] Lit. make thee the blood of fury, i.e. bring on thee the bloody death which fury and jealousy executes. On cons. cf. ch. Ezekiel 26:21, Ezekiel 35:6.

And I will also give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thine eminent place, and shall break down thy high places: they shall strip thee also of thy clothes, and shall take thy fair jewels, and leave thee naked and bare.
39. On “eminent place” and “high places,” see Ezekiel 16:24.

strip thee … of thy clothes] Reference is probably to a barbarous practice of publicly exposing the adulteress, Ezekiel 16:37. Ch. Ezekiel 23:26; Hosea 2:10.

They shall also bring up a company against thee, and they shall stone thee with stones, and thrust thee through with their swords.
40. a company against thee] A congregation or public assembly of the people, at which the adulteress shall be tried and then executed; Leviticus 20:2; Deuteronomy 22:21 (cf. 1 Kings 21:9-15), Proverbs 5:8-14, I was almost in all evil (danger of death) in the midst of the congregation and assembly. The death of the adulteress was by stoning; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; John 8:5.

And they shall burn thine houses with fire, and execute judgments upon thee in the sight of many women: and I will cause thee to cease from playing the harlot, and thou also shalt give no hire any more.
41. thine houses with fire] A summary method of punishment often adopted, as by the Philistines on Samson’s father-in-law (Jdg 15:6); threatened by Ephraim on Jephthah (Jdg 12:1). Comp. also the summary act of Absalom against Joab for his inattention to the prince’s messages (2 Samuel 14:30), cf. Joshua 7:25.

sight of many women] The neighbouring states. There may be reference to a custom of making women witness the fate of the adulteress, that they might take warning.

So will I make my fury toward thee to rest, and my jealousy shall depart from thee, and I will be quiet, and will be no more angry.
42. make my fury … to rest] i.e. satisfy and appease it. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 5:13.

Because thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, but hast fretted me in all these things; behold, therefore I also will recompense thy way upon thine head, saith the Lord GOD: and thou shalt not commit this lewdness above all thine abominations.
43. The verse concludes the whole passage Ezekiel 16:35-43, summing up its meaning compendiously, cf. Ezekiel 16:22.

thou shalt not commit] The tense is perf., which can hardly be taken as fut. perf., though the prophet does use the perf. in an uncommon way (ch. Ezekiel 13:11, Ezekiel 24:5). The sentence can hardly be read interrogatively, without altering the text. LXX. read and thus for “and not”: and thus hast thou committed lewdness. The term “lewdness” is used by Ezekiel of sexual enormity, applied figuratively to idolatry (Ezekiel 16:27). “Lewdness” and “abominations” would not differ, except that the former was the quality characterizing the acts called abominations. In this case the clause must read: and thus hast thou committed lewdness in (amidst) all thine abominations; and the words would be a final summary of the preceding verses. “Lewdness,” however, is used literally (ch. Ezekiel 22:9), and Ezekiel 16:45 seems to speak of literal unchastity. The clause might thus be attached to Ezekiel 16:44, and “lewdness” being distinguished from “abominations,” we might read: lewdness in addition to all thine abominations. This distinction, however, is not natural. The proposal to read first person, and put the words into the mouth of Jehovah (Keil): I have not committed wickedness in all thine abominations (i.e. by winking at them and leaving them unpunished, Leviticus 19:29) is singularly inept.

Behold, every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying, As is the mother, so is her daughter.
44. A taunting proverb in regard to Jerusalem, the adulteress and child-murderer: she is the true daughter of her mother the Canaanite. The proverb or saying is probably to be restricted to the words: “As is her mother, so is her daughter.” In Ezekiel 16:45 seq. the prophet speaks and addresses Jerusalem.

Thou art thy mother's daughter, that lotheth her husband and her children; and thou art the sister of thy sisters, which lothed their husbands and their children: your mother was an Hittite, and your father an Amorite.
45. that lotheth her husband] In the sense of the allegory “lothing her husband” should mean changing her god for another; and in the case of Jerusalem and Samaria the charge is intelligible, Jehovah being the husband (ch. 23). But such a charge could hardly be made against the Canaanites, the Hittite mother and Sodom (Jeremiah 2:11). The prophet appears to desert the allegory, introducing real features into his description, and referring to actual adultery and unfaithfulness, which were characteristic of the Canaanite nations. Another interpretation, as old as Theodoret, considers Jehovah to be the “husband” even of the Hittite mother, heathen idolatries being infidelity to the true God. Such a reflexion is not natural to a prophet of this age, though a similar idea occurred to St Paul (Romans 1). At the same time this prophet predicts the restoration of Sodom and its union to the people of the Lord. Cornill, considering the difficulties of interpretation as insuperable, strikes out the words as a gloss.

sister of thy sisters] The sisters of Jerusalem were Samaria and Sodom, and she had a genuine family likeness to them.

your mother] Your (plur.) refers to the three sisters.

And thine elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell at thy left hand: and thy younger sister, that dwelleth at thy right hand, is Sodom and her daughters.
46. elder sister] “elder” is lit. greater, and the reference is to the greater political importance and wider territory of Samaria; as on the other hand Sodom was smaller than Judah. In estimating the quarters of the heavens the beholder faced the east, having the north on his left, &c.

her daughters] i.e. subordinate towns.

Yet hast thou not walked after their ways, nor done after their abominations: but, as if that were a very little thing, thou wast corrupted more than they in all thy ways.
47. as if that were a very little thing] Or temporally: but a little while, and then, i.e. speedily thou wast corrupted; though there seems no reference to any actual period of righteousness, such as the times of David. (The strange word ḳâṭ is utterly unknown; any connexion with Ar. ḳaṭ only, or with an Assyr. word “a little,” Fried. Del. p. xvi. is little probable. If the word be anything but an echo of preceding sounds it may be a fragment of the word “little,” cf. Isaiah 16:14; Isaiah 29:17.) Cf. ch. Ezekiel 5:6-7.

47–51. The depravity of Jerusalem exceeded that of either of her sisters: Sodom (Ezekiel 16:48-50), Samaria (Ezekiel 16:51).

As I live, saith the Lord GOD, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters.
48. Cf. Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:24.

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
49. abundance of idleness] prosperous ease, as R.V., lit. prosperity of quiet. Sodom lived in security and suffered no calamities, as Jeremiah 48:11 says of Moab, “Moab has been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees; he hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity.” On “fulness of bread” and consequent pride and forgetfulness of God cf. Deuteronomy 32:15; Hosea 13:6; Proverbs 30:7.

strengthen the hand] Or, take hold of the hand, i.e. to help or rescue. Prosperity led to pride and inhumanity and then to abominations (Ezekiel 16:50).

And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
50. as I saw good] Or, when I saw it. Genesis 18:21, I “will go down and see whether they have done according to the cry which is come up unto me.”

Neither hath Samaria committed half of thy sins; but thou hast multiplied thine abominations more than they, and hast justified thy sisters in all thine abominations which thou hast done.
51. hast justified] Jeremiah 3:11, “Backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah.” The abominations of Judah set Samaria and Sodom in a comparatively righteous light.

Thou also, which hast judged thy sisters, bear thine own shame for thy sins that thou hast committed more abominable than they: they are more righteous than thou: yea, be thou confounded also, and bear thy shame, in that thou hast justified thy sisters.
52. Point thus: “and thou also, which hast (in that thou hast) given judgment for (in behalf of) thy sisters, bear thy shame; through thy sins which thou hast committed more abominable than they, they are more righteous than thou.” Jerusalem has “given judgment” or interposed (1 Samuel 2:25) in behalf of her sisters in being more wicked than they—she has made them comparatively righteous. The phrase “bear thy shame” might mean “suffer in destruction the consequences of thy wickedness;” Ezekiel 16:54; Ezekiel 16:61; Ezekiel 16:63, however, shew that the ref. is to the feeling of shame due to the fact that by the grossness of her abominations she has shewn her sisters to be more righteous than she (cf. Ezekiel 39:26). The prophet assumes the exile and looks forward to the time of restoration. Sodom also and Samaria shall be restored as well as Jerusalem, and it is this that shall bring shame to her, for she shall feel that they whom she did not deign to mention because of their evil fame (Ezekiel 16:56) were not worse but better than herself.

When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, then will I bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them:
53. Sodom and Samaria shall be restored, and Jerusalem along with them.

When I shall bring again] Rather; and I will bring again. The phrase “turn the captivity” probably means: turn the fortunes (lit. the turning) of one.

captivity of thy captives] Most moderns by a slight change of reading after LXX. render: and I will bring again thy captivity in the midst of them. Cf. Isaiah 19:24, “In that day shall Israel be a third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth.”

That thou mayest bear thine own shame, and mayest be confounded in all that thou hast done, in that thou art a comfort unto them.
54. Read: “that thou mayest bear thy shame, and be ashamed because of all that thou hast done in comforting them.” Jerusalem “comforted” Samaria and Sodom in surpassing them in wickedness, and causing them to feel less their own guilt, as also in causing their restoration.

When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate, then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate.
55. When thy sisters] Better: and thy sisters … and thou and thy daughters. In this idea of the restoration of Israel’s heathen neighbours to their own land after being plucked up out of it Ezekiel as usual follows Jeremiah; cf. in general, Jeremiah 12:14-17; Moab, ch. Jeremiah 48:47, Ammon, Jeremiah 49:6, and Elam, Jeremiah 49:39.

For thy sister Sodom was not mentioned by thy mouth in the day of thy pride,
56. Jerusalem did not deign to refer to Sodom on account of the wickedness and evil repute of the latter. Others interrogatively: Was not Sodom a report (a moral byword) in thy mouth? But the interrogative form is precarious.

Before thy wickedness was discovered, as at the time of thy reproach of the daughters of Syria, and all that are round about her, the daughters of the Philistines, which despise thee round about.
57. was discovered] i.e. manifested. According to modes of thinking then prevalent calamity was the accepted proof of wickedness. Jerusalem’s wickedness was laid bare when her great calamities fell upon her, Lamentations 1:8-9.

the time of thy reproach] Better, with R.V. as at the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria—which is that which they cast upon Jerusalem, not conversely as A.V. The “time” must be the present, not any previous time, and the language expresses this awkwardly. LXX. read: as now thou art the reproach (“now” for “time,” and either finding or inserting the pron. “thou”). The rendering: before thy wickedness was discovered as (it is) now, a reproach &c. (Hitz. Corn.), is scarcely a Heb. construction. It would be easiest to change “time” into “thou” (cf. the opposite change “which” into “ten” ch. Ezekiel 40:49): as thou art the reproach.

Syria, and … round about her] The mention of Syria (Heb. Aram) is strange when the reference is to the downfall of Jerusalem. For Aram Syriac gives Edom (d. for r, cf. ch. Ezekiel 27:16) which is more natural (cf. ch. Ezekiel 35:12 seq., Ezekiel 25:5; Ezekiel 25:12; Ezekiel 25:15). Vulg. reads, round about thee, while Syr. wants the whole phrase. The ref. is to Jerusalem in any case. Ezekiel nowhere else brings Syria into connexion with Israel.

which despise thee] Or, do despite unto thee; cf. ch. Ezekiel 25:15.

Thou hast borne thy lewdness and thine abominations, saith the LORD.
58. This and the preceding verses assume the destruction of Jerusalem, of which the prophet was fully assured.

For thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant.
59. The fall of Jerusalem, prophetically assumed in Ezekiel 16:58, is now directly threatened. On the “oath” cf. Deuteronomy 29:12; Deuteronomy 29:14.

Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant.
60. The Lord will substitute for the old covenant which was broken an “everlasting” covenant, cf. ch. Ezekiel 37:26; Isaiah 54:9-10; Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 31:35-36; Jeremiah 32:40; Jeremiah 33:20-22. The covenant will be everlasting because he will forgive their sins (Jeremiah 31:34), and write his law (Jeremiah 31:33), and put his fear (Jeremiah 32:40) in their hearts; giving them a new heart and putting his spirit within them, Ezekiel 36:26. On “days of thy youth” cf. Jeremiah 2:2, and Isaiah 54:6.

Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger: and I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant.
61. Sodom and Samaria, the sisters of Jerusalem, shall be restored also with her and given her for daughters. This restoration of her sinful sisters and her receiving them for daughters shall bring the sense of her own sin home to Jerusalem, and she shall be ashamed of all she has done.

not by thy covenant] This glory of receiving Samaria and Sodom and her other sister cities and nationalities for daughters shall not accrue to Jerusalem as the result of her former covenant with Jehovah, for that covenant of his she broke. It shall be like the new covenant itself, something altogether additional, an act of God’s goodness in no way depending on former relations (Ezekiel 16:62).

And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD:
62. I will establish] “I” is emphatic, in opposition to “not by thy covenant.” The new covenant will shew that which Jehovah is better than all his chastisements.

That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord GOD.
63. when I am pacified] Better active: when I forgive thee. The word is the technical sacrificial word to “atone” or make atonement for. It probably means to “cover,” though it is no more used in the physical sense but only in reference to sins or guilt. Hence when God is the agent this covering of sin is pardon, Jeremiah 18:23; Deuteronomy 21:8 (be merciful to); 2 Chronicles 30:18. The important point is to retain the active sense of the word. An act of God is described, not an effect produced upon his mind.

The great grace of Jehovah in restoring Jerusalem will humble and ashame her, when she remembers her past evil. What all chastisements could accomplish but indifferently, goodness will accomplish fully. Jerusalem will no more “open her mouth,” but sit in abashed though glad silence before God. His goodness and her own sin will so fill her mind that the thoughts will be too deep for words. Formerly she accused God’s providence, thinking she suffered for the iniquities of generations before her; formerly she boasted of her place before Jehovah, and her sister Sodom was not in her mouth. Now her mind will muse on other things.

Though the language and conceptions of Ezekiel are less familiar and natural to western minds than those of some of the other writers of Scripture, his thoughts are very elevated.

(1) The figure of the adulterous wife expresses the conviction, felt by him very strongly, that all through her history Israel had sinned against Jehovah, especially in the matter of his service. While former prophets like Amos and Hosea condemn the ritual and the manner of the worship because this implies a false conception of Jehovah, a conception so false as to correspond in no sense to Jehovah as he really is, Ezekiel condemns the worship at the high places as in itself false. He regards the high places as Canaanite shrines, and the service there is no service of Jehovah. And when he says that Jerusalem was unfaithful with Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, besides expressing his belief that the kingdom of Jehovah is not as one among the other kingdoms, he assails the strange infatuation which the people displayed in adopting the gods and rites of the nations with which in successive ages they entered into relation. What took place in regard to the worship of the Canaanites when Israel entered upon possession of that land, took place all down the history as they successively came under the influence of the great states around.

(2) When the prophet charges Jerusalem with outbidding Samaria and Sodom in wickedness, his judgment agrees with that of Jeremiah, and is founded partly on the fact that Jerusalem had fuller knowledge of Jehovah from her more extended history, and consequently her sin was greater than that of Samaria. The judgment, however, may also be partly based on objective grounds. So far as appears from the prophets Amos and Hosea idolatry in the strict sense was not greatly prevalent in the North. What prevailed was mainly a sensuous worship of Jehovah, due to false conceptions of his nature, which probably had arisen from a long syncretism with the idea and service of the Baals. But in the later history of Judah idolatry in the sense of the worship of gods different from Jehovah greatly prevailed. Neither does the cruel rite of child-sacrifice appear to have invaded the Northern Kingdom.

(3) It is, however, when the prophet brings the sin of Jerusalem into connexion with that of Samaria and Sodom, which it exceeded, and lifts that strange fact up into the region of divine thoughts and providential operations, that his ideas become most profound. The sin of Jerusalem, so great amidst all God’s love and favour, reveals to himself the nature of sin and its power over men, and he remembers with compassion those heathen peoples, like Sodom, on whom his former judgments had so unsparingly fallen. His own people’s fall causes him to take to his heart the Gentile world. The Apostle Paul touches the same or a kindred idea when he says: By their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles; the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world (Romans 11:11-12).

Again when the prophet says that Jerusalem “shall be ashamed in that she has justified her sisters,” the thought is similar to that expressed by St Paul, “Salvation is come unto the Gentiles for to provoke them (Israel) to jealousy.’ Cf. Deuteronomy 32:21. The sight of other peoples received by her God awakens Israel to the meaning of her own past, and to recollections of her former relations to God. Finally the receiving again of Israel and the incoming of the Gentile peoples like Sodom illustrate the manner of salvation, shewing it to be of grace, a grace that is stronger to overcome sin and awaken sorrow for it than all judgments—he hath shut up all into disobedience that he might have mercy upon all. Neither the prophet nor the apostle moves in the region of second causes; they lift up the whole movement of salvation into the region of the divine thoughts and compassions.

(4) The prophet predicts the restoration of Jerusalem, Samaria and Sodom, and that Jerusalem, though like a sister to them in wickedness, shall receive all these greater and smaller sisters as daughters. There shall then in the new kingdom of Jehovah be only one mother city, all other cities or peoples shall be her children. To the prophet’s mind the identity of Samaria and Sodom remains even when they are destroyed, and they shall remember and turn to the Lord. There is in such passages, what is not unusual in Ezekiel, a struggle between the spiritual conception or fact and the external form in which he still feels it must be embodied. It is the spiritual conception of the conversion to Jehovah even of peoples like Sodom that fills his mind; but he is unable to give this expression in any other way than by saying that Sodom shall return to her former estate.


Ch. 17 The treacherous vineplant—King Zedekiah’s disloyalty to the King of Babylon

The chapter is without date. Nebuchadnezzar appeared in Palestine in the ninth year of Zedekiah to punish his disloyalty and intrigues with Egypt. The present passage assumes this disloyalty and may be dated a year or two earlier (c. 590).

The chapter contains these divisions:

First, Ezekiel 16:1-10. The riddle of the great eagle.

Secondly, Ezekiel 16:11-21. Explanation of the riddle.

Thirdly, Ezekiel 16:22-24. Promise that Jehovah will set up in Israel a kingdom that shall be universal.

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