Ezekiel 23
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 23 History of the two adulterous women, Oholah and Oholibah—Samaria and Jerusalem

The alliances and intrigues of Samaria and Jerusalem with foreign nations had been represented as infidelity to Jehovah since Hosea. These foreign alliances naturally carried foreign manners and worship in their train (Isaiah 2:6). In Judah at least a great flood of idolatry from the east overflowed the country in the declining days of the kingdom, and to some extent this had been true of Israel also (Amos 5:26-27). But apart from this from the earliest times the prophets conceive the kingdom of the Lord as something different in kind from the kingdoms of the nations: its essence consisted in fidelity to Jehovah, and its defence should have been left to him. Therefore when the community of Jehovah sought alliances abroad for protection the prophets detected in this alienation of mind from Jehovah, distrust of his power and dissatisfaction with his rule. Already the conception was taking possession of the prophetic mind that the kingdom of God was not a state but what we now call a church.

The chapter reviews the history of Israel and Judah from the beginning, and has these divisions:—

First, Ezekiel 23:1-10. Infidelities of Samaria with Assyria and Egypt, and the disastrous issue of them.

Secondly, Ezekiel 23:11-21. Infidelities of Jerusalem with Assyria (11–13), Babylon (14–18), and Egypt (19–21) successively.

Thirdly, Ezekiel 23:22-25. Therefore her fate shall be like that of Samaria, she shall drink to the dregs the cup which her sister drank.

Fourthly, Ezekiel 23:36-49. A new description of the immoralities of Oholah and Oholibah, with a fresh threat of punishment.

The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying,
Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother:
2. The two kingdoms are already called sisters, Jeremiah 3:7. Cf. Ezekiel 16:46.

And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity.
3. The two kingdoms are represented ideally as already existing in Egypt. This is not so far from the truth. The great tribes of Judah and Ephraim from the first stood apart, and in their attitude there lay already the germs of the two kingdoms, as appears in the song of Deborah. On the idea of the prophet that idolatry was practised in Egypt, cf. ch. Ezekiel 20:8, Ezekiel 16:26.

And the names of them were Aholah the elder, and Aholibah her sister: and they were mine, and they bare sons and daughters. Thus were their names; Samaria is Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah.
4. The name Oholah may mean “her tent,” though not so pointed, and Oholibah “my tent in her.” Possibly the words mean “tent” (or, tents) and “tent in her;” and the reference may be to the worship practised on the high places in both kingdoms, cf. Ezekiel 16:16. It is doubtful if the prophet means that Samaria had “her tent,” i.e. a sanctuary or worship of her own devising, while Jerusalem had Jehovah’s tent or true sanctuary in her. Cf. the names Hephzi-bah, Isaiah 62:4, and Oholibamah (high-place tent), Genesis 36:2. It was common in the east to give sisters or brothers names almost the same, as Hasan and Husein (little Hasan), the two sons of ‘Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammed.

they were mine] became mine, my wives, cf. Ezekiel 16:8; Ezekiel 16:20. It is curious that Jehovah is represented as the husband of two sisters, a thing which the law disallows, Leviticus 18:18.

And Aholah played the harlot when she was mine; and she doted on her lovers, on the Assyrians her neighbours,
5–10. The intrigues of Samaria with Assyria

5. when she was mine] though my wife, lit. under me.

Assyrians her neighbours] In Ezekiel 16:26 the Egyptians are called Israel’s “neighbours,” but the Assyrians could hardly be so called, and indeed in Ezekiel 23:40 are referred to as “far off.” The word may mean “warriors” (the similar word “war” or “battle” 2 Samuel 17:11 and often). Corn, suggests, “famous,” the term used in Ezekiel 23:23. The verse should be connected with Ezekiel 23:6, as appears from Ezekiel 23:12—even on the Assyrians, warriors clothed with blue.

Which were clothed with blue, captains and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon horses.
6. captains and rulers] Or, governors and satraps, cf. Nehemiah 4:14; Nehemiah 5:15.

Thus she committed her whoredoms with them, with all them that were the chosen men of Assyria, and with all on whom she doted: with all their idols she defiled herself.
7. with all their idols] The alliance with Assyria brought in Assyrian idolatry, cf. 2 Kings 23:11, where horses and chariots of the sun are mentioned, and also the altars on the roofs, where incense was burnt to the host of heaven, Ezekiel 23:12, Jeremiah 19:13.

Neither left she her whoredoms brought from Egypt: for in her youth they lay with her, and they bruised the breasts of her virginity, and poured their whoredom upon her.
8. Samaria intrigued with Assyria and Egypt alternately, or different parties simultaneously. Hosea 7:11, “Ephraim is like a silly dove, without understanding; they call unto Egypt, they go unto Assyria.”

Wherefore I have delivered her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, upon whom she doted.
9. I have delivered] I delivered. The Assyrians overthrew Samaria in 722 b.c. Menahem was supported on the throne by Assyria (2 Kings 15:19); and Hoshea, the last king, was dethroned on account of his intrigues with Egypt (2 Kings 17:4).

These discovered her nakedness: they took her sons and her daughters, and slew her with the sword: and she became famous among women; for they had executed judgment upon her.
10. famous among women] lit. a name to women, i.e. a notorious example to women to take warning from, Ezekiel 23:48, Ezekiel 36:3, Ezekiel 16:41.

And when her sister Aholibah saw this, she was more corrupt in her inordinate love than she, and in her whoredoms more than her sister in her whoredoms.
11–21. The infidelities of Judah with Assyria, Babylon and Egypt

11. On the greater excesses of Judah cf. Ezekiel 16:47; Ezekiel 16:51; Jeremiah 3:8; Jeremiah 3:11.

She doted upon the Assyrians her neighbours, captains and rulers clothed most gorgeously, horsemen riding upon horses, all of them desirable young men.
12. her neighbours] The order is: the Assyrians, governors and satraps, warriors clothed … See on Ezekiel 23:5. The intervention of Assyria in the affairs of Judah was caused by the appeal of Ahaz for help against Syria and Ephraim, 2 Kings 16:7. On the disastrous consequences of Ahaz’s folly cf. Isaiah 7:17-25.

Then I saw that she was defiled, that they took both one way,
And that she increased her whoredoms: for when she saw men pourtrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldeans pourtrayed with vermilion,
14. and that she increased] Rather: And she added to her whoredoms, with full stop at Ezekiel 23:13. It was certainly the custom in Babylonia to draw figures of men and the like upon the walls; it is not probable, however, that such figures of Chaldean warriors had actually been seen in Jerusalem. The prophet combines the Babylonian custom with the reports of Chaldean military splendour current in Judah. Even when Babylon was still a vassal state of Assyria Hezekiah entered into intrigues with it, Isaiah 39. In later times it was the rivalry between Babylon and Egypt that drew Judah into the whirl of imperial politics, and left her from the time of the battle of Carchemish and the defeat of Egypt subject to Babylon (b.c. 604).

Girded with girdles upon their loins, exceeding in dyed attire upon their heads, all of them princes to look to, after the manner of the Babylonians of Chaldea, the land of their nativity:
15. girded with girdles] The “girdles” were properly not belts or sashes, but articles of clothing, tunics or waist-cloths (Isaiah 11:5). “It appears, however, from the monuments that the Assyrians used what was originally the waist-cloth as an ornamental sash” (note from Prof. W. R. Smith).

exceeding in dyed attire] The word “exceeding in” means redundant; it is used of the curtains that “hung over” the sides of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:12-13), and possibly “dyed attire” may mean “turbans,” from being wound (Frd. Del. Baer Ez. p. xii.). The idea would be that the high turbans folded back and hung down.

all of them princes] Or, heroes. The term is used of the choice warriors in chariots, Exodus 14:7; Exodus 15:4, but also more generally.

after the manner of] Perhaps: the likeness of the Babylonians. It is doubtful if the word “likeness” can ever be rendered “in the manner of” or “like” (Isaiah 13:4). Here “likeness” resumes “images” Ezekiel 23:14.

And as soon as she saw them with her eyes, she doted upon them, and sent messengers unto them into Chaldea.
16. Read: and she doted upon them after the sight of her eyes—i.e. with delight and desire (Isaiah 11:3).

And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoredom, and she was polluted with them, and her mind was alienated from them.
17. alienated from them] The figure lies in the revulsion of sated passion; the thing in the weariness of the Babylonian alliance and yoke, cf. ch. 17.

So she discovered her whoredoms, and discovered her nakedness: then my mind was alienated from her, like as my mind was alienated from her sister.
18. “Discovered” is uncovered, revealed.

Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, in calling to remembrance the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt.
19. Judah being situated between the two great empires of Babylon and Egypt and coveted by both, was naturally a hotbed of intrigue by partizans on both sides. The influence of the Egyptian party was great even in the Assyrian age (Isaiah 30-31), and the imposing and pretentious power of the Nile valley continued to delude the politicians of Judah throughout the period of Chaldean supremacy (ch. 29–32; Jeremiah 2:18; Jeremiah 37:5 seq.; Lamentations 4:17).

For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.
Thus thou calledst to remembrance the lewdness of thy youth, in bruising thy teats by the Egyptians for the paps of thy youth.
21. calledst to remembrance] didst recall, i.e. renew, cf. Ezekiel 38:8.

for the paps] By a slight change of reading (k for n), when thy teats were bruised by them of Egypt, when the breasts of thy youth were pressed (Ezekiel 23:3).

Therefore, O Aholibah, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will raise up thy lovers against thee, from whom thy mind is alienated, and I will bring them against thee on every side;
22–35. Chastisement of the adulteress

22. thy lovers] the nations once in alliance with her, Ezekiel 23:9; ch. Ezekiel 16:37; Jeremiah 30:14; Lamentations 1:19. In Hosea 2 the “lovers” are the Baals.

The Babylonians, and all the Chaldeans, Pekod, and Shoa, and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them: all of them desirable young men, captains and rulers, great lords and renowned, all of them riding upon horses.
23. On these peoples cf. Del. Parad., pp. 182, 236, 240. According to this writer the names appear in the inscriptions as Pukûdu, Sutu or Su and Kutu or Ku, and are names of peoples lying east of the Tigris and on the confines of Elam or Persia.

“Captains and rulers,” governors and satraps, Ezekiel 23:6; Ezekiel 23:12. “Great lords,” heroes, Ezekiel 23:15.

and renowned] Perhaps: chiefs. The word is parallel to “princes” Numbers 1:16, lit. “called men,” cf. Amos 6:1.

And they shall come against thee with chariots, wagons, and wheels, and with an assembly of people, which shall set against thee buckler and shield and helmet round about: and I will set judgment before them, and they shall judge thee according to their judgments.
24. with chariots] The term is entirely unknown; LXX. from the north. Boettcher suggested the word “multitude” (Ezekiel 26:10), a sense which Frd. Del. (Baer, Ez. p. xi.) thinks can be reached through the Assyr., the present word remaining unchanged. For people peoples.

set judgment] i.e. commit it unto them, Deuteronomy 11:26; 1 Kings 8:46.

according to their judgments] lit. with their judgments, which are cruel and savage, Ezekiel 23:25.

And I will set my jealousy against thee, and they shall deal furiously with thee: they shall take away thy nose and thine ears; and thy remnant shall fall by the sword: they shall take thy sons and thy daughters; and thy residue shall be devoured by the fire.
25. “Jealousy” differs little from fury, ch. Ezekiel 16:38.

take away thy nose] Reference is either to the ancient practice (as in Egypt) of mutilating the adulteress, or to the habit of disfiguring the captives, cf. Ezekiel 12:13; Ezekiel 16:40.

They shall also strip thee out of thy clothes, and take away thy fair jewels.
26. Cf. Ezekiel 16:39.

Thus will I make thy lewdness to cease from thee, and thy whoredom brought from the land of Egypt: so that thou shalt not lift up thine eyes unto them, nor remember Egypt any more.
27. brought from … Egypt] i.e. continued since the time they were in the land of Egypt, cf. Ezekiel 16:41; Ezekiel 22:15.

For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will deliver thee into the hand of them whom thou hatest, into the hand of them from whom thy mind is alienated:
And they shall deal with thee hatefully, and shall take away all thy labour, and shall leave thee naked and bare: and the nakedness of thy whoredoms shall be discovered, both thy lewdness and thy whoredoms.
29. deal … hatefully] in hatred. “Labour” is wealth, the fruit of labour. “Discovered” is exposed.

I will do these things unto thee, because thou hast gone a whoring after the heathen, and because thou art polluted with their idols.
Thou hast walked in the way of thy sister; therefore will I give her cup into thine hand.
31. her cup] That which she drank, Isaiah 51:22-23; Jeremiah 25:15-16.

Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou shalt drink of thy sister's cup deep and large: thou shalt be laughed to scorn and had in derision; it containeth much.
32. sister’s cup deep] i.e. which is deep. The words “thou shalt … derision” are parenthetical; LXX. omits.

Thou shalt be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, with the cup of astonishment and desolation, with the cup of thy sister Samaria.
33. and sorrow] Or, affliction.

Thou shalt even drink it and suck it out, and thou shalt break the sherds thereof, and pluck off thine own breasts: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD.
34. Cf. Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17.

break the sheards] gnaw the sherds. The act of plucking out her own breasts is that of one intoxicated to madness, Jeremiah 25:16. The words are wanting in LXX. Beating the breasts and tearing the cheeks was a sign of excessive grief (Hamasa, p. 373). “The women rent the breast of their dress, went half-naked, tore their faces, and beat their skin till it was lacerated with shoes (Aghani, xiv. 101, 28; xv. 139, 6; Hudh. 139, 3),” Well., Skizzen, iii. p. 160.

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thou hast forgotten me, and cast me behind thy back, therefore bear thou also thy lewdness and thy whoredoms.
35. bear thou … lewdness] Here “bear” means endure the punishment of it, Ezekiel 23:49.

The LORD said moreover unto me; Son of man, wilt thou judge Aholah and Aholibah? yea, declare unto them their abominations;
36. yea, declare] then declare.

36–49. New exposure of the immoralities of Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23:36-44), and threat of their punishment (Ezekiel 23:45-49)

The passage is not a continuation of Ezekiel 23:1-35, but an independent description, parallel to these verses.

(1) Ezekiel 23:36-37. The adulteries, that is, idolatries, and bloodshed of which the two women are guilty.

(2) vv, 38, 39. Their profaning the house of Jehovah, and breaking; his Sabbaths—the former particularly in their entering his house fresh from the sacrifice of their children.

(3) Ezekiel 23:40-44. Their alliances with idolatrous nations and receiving their gods, under the figure of a harlot receiving and entertaining men.

(4) Ezekiel 23:45-49. Their punishment with the death of an adulteress at the hands of righteous men.—The text in some passages is extremely difficult.

That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them.
37. that they have committed] for they have. The blood on their hands is that of their children whom they sacrifice. See Ezekiel 16:20-21.

Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths.
38. the same day] The phrase is more fully explained in Ezekiel 23:39. LXX. omits in both places.

For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house.
39. The particular profanation of the Lord’s house lay in this that those who had sacrificed their children entered it. The children were no doubt offered to Jehovah, under whatever conception or name, and the worshippers felt no incongruity in entering his house. Jeremiah 7:9 seq.

midst of mine house] It is not meant that children were sacrificed in the house; their sacrifice was combined with other service in the house.

And furthermore, that ye have sent for men to come from far, unto whom a messenger was sent; and, lo, they came: for whom thou didst wash thyself, paintedst thy eyes, and deckedst thyself with ornaments,
40. that ye have sent] Perhaps: and furthermore they sent. The change of person occurs later. The word “they sent” is wanting in LXX.

wash thyself] i.e. bathe thyself.

paintedst thy eyes] This refers to the practice of colouring the edges of the eyelids with a dark powder (stibium), which made the eye itself appear large and brilliant, 2 Kings 9:30; Jeremiah 4:30. The word kahal is Arab., and the root of Alcohol; the Heb. is pûch (Isaiah 54:11); Job’s daughter bore the name Keren-hap-puch, horn of paint.

40–44. These verses hardly refer to political alliances merely; Ezekiel 23:41 suggests idolatrous worship. As the foreign gods came in, however, through intercourse with the nations which served them they are spoken of as being sent for by messengers (cf. Ezekiel 23:16). The whole is presented under the figure of an harlot receiving men from all quarters. The passage has great resemblance to Isaiah 57:9 seq.

And satest upon a stately bed, and a table prepared before it, whereupon thou hast set mine incense and mine oil.
41. a table prepared] i.e. spread.

hast set mine incense] didst set. The words indicate that service of other gods is referred to under the figure of the harlot’s entertainment.

And a voice of a multitude being at ease was with her: and with the men of the common sort were brought Sabeans from the wilderness, which put bracelets upon their hands, and beautiful crowns upon their heads.
42. being at ease] If the reading be correct “at ease” must refer to careless living, a sense which the word has not elsewhere. LXX. renders: and a sound of music they raised; but though the word “multitude” may mean sound or noise when joined to songs (Ezekiel 26:13; Amos 5:23), it can hardly of itself mean music. LXX. may have read “they sang” for “at ease:” “and with a loud noise (Daniel 10:6) they sang”—a sense not suitable seeing the musicians must have been the harlots themselves, Isaiah 23:15-16. For the idea of multitude cf. Jeremiah 5:7 end. If music were referred to the words would be better attached to the previous verse.

was with her] Rather: therein or therewith. LXX. om.

and with the men … Sabeans] and with men. For Sabeans Heb. text reads “drunkards,” as marg., and from the nature of the passage, which speaks of a general practice, reference to any particular nation is less probable. Read as R.V. “and with (in addition to) men … were brought drunkards from the wilderness; and they put bracelets” &c. Even for these vulgar guests the harlots, so indiscriminate was their whoredom, put bracelets on their hands and decked themselves. The idea that it was “men of the common sort” who adorned the harlots with bracelets as their hire (A.V. &c.) has little to recommend it, cf. Ezekiel 16:31 seq. (the verb “they put” is mas. because fem. is not in use, Esther 1:20). Even in Muhammed’s days the Arabs were addicted to drunkenness. LXX. om. “drunkards,” which might be a duplicate of “brought,” and certainly the mention of two classes here is rather improbable, the common sort and those brought from the wilderness might rather be the same, viz. the vulgar and petty peoples in contrast to the larger and nobler such as Babylon. The omission makes the clause difficult to construe. Corn, reconstructs the clause after Proverbs 7:16, making it a description of the “bed of love” (Ezekiel 23:17), but with little probability. If the adulterous act be anywhere referred to it is in Ezekiel 23:43.

Then said I unto her that was old in adulteries, Will they now commit whoredoms with her, and she with them?
43. unto her … old in adulteries] Old is worn out, e.g. of clothes, Joshua 9:4-5, and the verb of the body, in the decay of nature (Genesis 18:12, of Sarah). The construction of A.V. is unusual; the words might be read as an exclamation: She that is aged committeth adulteries! or, With her that is aged shall they commit adulteries! Ew., reading “aged” as a noun, To perdition with adulteries! None of these senses is very natural. LXX., as in some other places, appears to assume a contraction, which it expands, Do they not commit adultery with these?

The meaning put by A.V., R.V. upon the rest of the verse can hardly be drawn from the words, which are extremely obscure. The natural sense is: “now shall her whoredom commit whoredom even itself” (Hitz.); but the idea that what the faded harlot can no more do herself her vicious propensity continues to do, though true in itself, is scarcely to be expected here. LXX., which had nearly our present text before it, disposes the letters differently: And she too has gone a whoring after the manner (with the doings) of a harlot. So Syr., And according to the doings of harlots have they committed whoredom.

Yet they went in unto her, as they go in unto a woman that playeth the harlot: so went they in unto Aholah and unto Aholibah, the lewd women.
44. Yet they went] and they. The verse sums up all that precedes.

the lewd women] The form of plur. “women” does not occur again, though the usual one in Assyr. LXX., to work lewdness.

And the righteous men, they shall judge them after the manner of adulteresses, and after the manner of women that shed blood; because they are adulteresses, and blood is in their hands.
45–49. Judgment on the adulterous women

45. the righteous] righteous men. The prophet carries on the figure of the punishment of adulteresses. They are judged by righteous men. He has not in his mind the nations, the actual executors of judgment in the case of Israel. The word “righteous” throws no light on Isaiah 49:24.

For thus saith the Lord GOD; I will bring up a company upon them, and will give them to be removed and spoiled.
46. Cf. Ezekiel 16:40.

to be removed] maltreated.

And the company shall stone them with stones, and dispatch them with their swords; they shall slay their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses with fire.
Thus will I cause lewdness to cease out of the land, that all women may be taught not to do after your lewdness.
48. be taught] take warning (the form nithpa., cf. Deuteronomy 21:8).

And they shall recompense your lewdness upon you, and ye shall bear the sins of your idols: and ye shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
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