Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter closes the series of prophecies beginning with Ezekiel 20, and consists of an extended allegory. Its object, quite in connection with Ezekiel 21, 22, is to set forth the sinfulness of Judah. The allegory is much like that of Ezekiel 16, but differs from it on the one side by omitting the historical features so prominent there, and on the other by using as a basis here a comparison between the northern and southern kingdoms. The allegory is too plain to need any extended comment. It is almost entirely concerned with the southern kingdom, enough only being added in reference to the northern, which had long since passed away, to bring out the comparison.
The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying,
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) In Egypt.—The idolatries of Israel in Egypt have already been spoken of in the Note to Ezekiel 20:8. (See also Ezekiel 23:19 below.)
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) Samaria is Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah.—Samaria, as the capital, is put for the northern kingdom, and is called Aholah = her own tabernacle, because she set up her own worship instead of resorting to the Temple; while the southern kingdom, represented by Jerusalem, is called Aholibah = my tabernacle is in her, because she still contained the sanctuary of the Lord. The word “elder” should be translated greater, as in Ezekiel 16:46. (See Note there.)
And Aholah played the harlot when she was mine; and she doted on her lovers, on the Assyrians her neighbours,(5) The Assyrians her neighbours.—Or, the Assyrians drawing near. They are described in Ezekiel 23:40 as those who “come from far.” The nearness here spoken of is to be understood not locally, but spiritually, of sympathy in idolatry. Of the earlier connection between Israel and Assyria there is little remaining record. In 2Kings 15:19-20, it is said that Pul exacted tribute of Menahem, and the mention seems to imply a still earlier intercourse. According to the Assyrian records, Jehu was tributary to Shalmaneser; Assyria, as representing the great northern power, in contrast to Egypt on the south, is probably used here in a sense broad enough to include also Syria.
Which were clothed with blue, captains and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon horses.(6) Horsemen.—The Assyrians, like the Egyptians, made large use of cavalry, as was necessary to a warlike nation; the multiplication of horses had on this account been forbidden to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 17:16).
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 reality breaks through the figure, and leaves no doubt of the meaning of the allegory.
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) She became famous.—A better word would be notorious. The conquest of Samaria and the captivity of the northern tribes had now been accomplished more than 130 years, and had made them a byword among the nations.
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) She was more corrupt.—Enough having been said of Aholah to form the basis for a comparison, the prophet now turns to Aholibah. The idolatries of Judah not only comparatively but actually exceeded those of her sister kingdom. See, e.g., the account of Manaseeh’s reign (2Kings 21:1-16; 2Chronicles 33:1-9). In addition to her connection with Assyria, Judah also formed alliances with Chaldæa, and intrigued with Egypt and other nations.
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.—See Note on Ezekiel 23:5. In both places the warriors of Assyria are described in the most attractive way to carry out the figure; they are also spoken of as very powerful, to explain the political attraction to them. Israel was both fascinated by their splendour and overawed by their power.
And that she increased her whoredoms: for when she saw men pourtrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldeans pourtrayed with vermilion,(14) Men portrayed upon the wall.—Such portraitures, with evidence that they were once executed in brilliant colours, are characteristic both of Egypt and Assyria, where stone for sculpture abounded. From the close connection in race and customs between the Assyrians and Babylonians, it cannot be doubted that the same portraitures were also common upon the more perishable brick of the latter, of whom the prophet is now speaking. The monuments fully concur in representing the warriors of Assyria and Babylonia as delighting in extreme gorgeousness of apparel, but it is difficult to render into English with accuracy each particular of their dress. The exiles, whom Ezekiel immediately addressed, were familiar with these pictures, and his way of speaking of them was important in checking any disposition to fall into idolatries by means of them.
And as soon as she saw them with her eyes, she doted upon them, and sent messengers unto them into Chaldea.(16) Saw them with her eyes.—This is to be taken in a sense wide enough to include knowledge obtained in any way, as well as by actual sight. The intercourse between Judæa and Babylon was so close that many of the people had seen the Babylonians personally, while others knew of them through their report.
Sent messengers.—Ahaz “sent messengers” to Assyria (2Kings 16:7), and Hezekiah entertained ambassadors from Babylon (2Kings 20:13); but besides these, the whole history of the times implies that there must have been frequent embassies of which no special mention is made. One from Zedekiah is incidentally mentioned by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:3), of which there is no record in history.
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) Her mind was alienated.—The original implies the disgust of satiety. Josiah had been the devoted friend of Babylon, and perished in his zeal on its behalf. Judah was then made a dependency of Egypt, and turned for aid to Babylon. Then receiving in turn the yoke of Babylon, she became impatient, and sought the aid of Egypt. This vacillating policy is described in Ezekiel 23:17-19, and at either, turn was so entirely wanting in sole reliance upon God as to produce the effect of Ezekiel 23:18 : “My mind was alienated from her.”
For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.(20) Their paramours.—The word is masculine, as indicating the abominable sins copied by the Israelites from the heathen, and asses and horses are introduced to show the intensity of lust. (Comp. Jeremiah 5:8.)
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) I will bring them against thee.—Here, as everywhere, the fitness of the punishment to the sin, the correlation between them, is strongly brought out. Israel had chosen the idolatries of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, and these had drawn down upon her the vengeance of Him in whom alone was her refuge; she had sought strength in their political alliance, and they overwhelmed her with desolation.
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) Pekod, and Shoa, and Koa.—These words were taken as proper names by our translators, and are still considered by some as indicating small Chaldæan tribes; but it is better, with the Vulg. and most modern commentators, to understand them as the names of officers, “rulers, lords, and nobles.” Shoa is translated “crying” in Isaiah 22:5, “liberal” in Isaiah 32:5, and “rich” in Job 34:19; while Pekod is rendered “visitation” in the margin of Jeremiah 50:21.
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, wagons, and wheels.—The word translated “chariots” occurs only here, and is thought to mean some weapon of war. It would be better to translate, with weapons, chariots, and wheels. The clause “I will set judgment before them,” is equivalent to I will entrust to them the judgment upon thee.
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) Take away thy nose and thine ears.—The barbarous custom of mutilating prisoners prevailed in the East from the earliest times; it is here mentioned with especial reference to the destruction of the attractiveness of the adulteress Aholibah, and the particulars of Ezekiel 23:26 have the same purpose. (Comp. Ezekiel 16:39.) In Egypt adultery was punished by cutting off the nose and ears.
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) It containeth much.—The cup of humiliation already drunk by Samaria was large, and filled with pain and sorrow, yet Jerusalem must drink it amid the derision of her neighbours.
The LORD said moreover unto me; Son of man, wilt thou judge Aholah and Aholibah? yea, declare unto them their abominations;(36) Wilt thou judge?—Rather, judge thou, as in Ezekiel 20:4; Ezekiel 22:2.
Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths.(38) In the same day.—This is explained more fully in Ezekiel 23:39. Emphasis is laid upon the fact that they worshipped in the sanctuary of Jehovah in the same day that they offered their children to their idols, because the passing directly from the one to the other showed an utter disregard of the commands of the Lord, and an entire want of appreciation of His character and holiness. The figure in this and the following verses is partly dropped to bring out better the reality.
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) Paintedst thine eyes.—The figure is that of a lewd woman preparing herself for her paramour, and awaiting his arrival. Painting the eyes, or rather the lids and lashes, was an ancient custom, still preserved in the East. (Comp. 2Kings 9:30.)
And satest upon a stately bed, and a table prepared before it, whereupon thou hast set mine incense and mine oil.(41) A stately bed is rather the couch or divan used for reclining at a feast. “Mine incense and mine oil” (comp. Ezekiel 16:18) may be taken simply as the products of the land, the good gifts of God which Israel bestowed upon the heathen; but as both of these were especially used in sacrifices, it is better to connect with this the perversion to the worship of the idols of the heathen of what should have been Jehovah’s only.
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) A voice of a multitude being at ease was with her.—The words “voice of a multitude,” wherever else they occur (1Samuel 4:14; Isaiah 13:4; Isaiah 33:3; Daniel 10:6), mean a loud tumult, and even the word here used for “multitude,” when alone, always means a boisterous multitude. Translate The voice of the tumult was stilled thereat: i.e., the tumult of the invading army was stilled by the gifts of Israel, a fact of which there is frequent record in the history. The phrase translated “with her” is rendered “thereby” in Genesis 24:14.
Men of the common sort is better rendered in the margin, the multitude of men; and “Sabeans” is not a proper name, but, as in the margin, drunkards. They are represented as from the wilderness, not as their home, but as the region through which they passed in marching to Judæa. The whole sense of the verse is that the conquerors attacking the land were satisfied with heavy tribute, and having received this, many of the warriors gave themselves up to drunkenness and debauchery, decking out their tributary with meretricious ornaments.
Then said I unto her that was old in adulteries, Will they now commit whoredoms with her, and she with them?(43) Will they now commit?—This should not be made a question, nor should the opening of Ezekiel 23:44 be made adversative. The thought is that, after all means of reclamation had failed, God gave her up to her sins. Translate, Now shall her whoredom be committed, even this. And they went in, &c.
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) Unto Aholah and unto Aholibah.—From Ezekiel 23:11-35 the discourse has been altogether of Aholibah, as the one now immediately concerned; but from Ezekiel 23:36-44, in the enumeration of their sins, both are included, though in the greater part of these verses the singular number is used, because Aholibah was most prominent in the prophet’s thoughts. In the denunciation of judgment, with which the prophecy closes (Ezekiel 23:45-49), both are again spoken of in the plural, because, although Aholah had long since suffered, it was important to show that common sin involved both in common punishment.
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) The righteous men.—That is, men to whom the judgment of righteousness is committed.
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.(47) With stones . . . with swords.—The figure and the reality are here designedly mixed. Stoning was the legal punishment of adultery, but the actual overthrow of Jerusalem was by the sword.
Thus will I cause lewdness to cease out of the land, that all women may be taught not to do after your lewdness.(48) To cease.—By the removal of the sinners. “All women,” in accordance with the allegory, means all nations. The judgments upon Israel should be then, and for all time, a conspicuous monument of God’s righteous severity.
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.(49) Bear the sins of your idols—i.e., the punishment of the sins which you have committed in worshipping your idols.