Ezekiel 23
Pulpit Commentary
The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying,
Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother:
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.
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.
Verse 4. - The occurrence of proper names is almost unique in the parables of the Bible, the Lazarus of Luke 16:20 being the only other instance. Their meaning is sufficiently clear. Aholah (but both names should begin with O rather than A) means "Her tent;" Aholibah, "My tent is in her." A parallel, which may have suggested the names, is found in the Aholibamah (equivalent to "My tent is in the high place") of Genesis 36:2, and another in the use of Ohel as a proper name in 1 Chronicles 3:20. The common element of the two names is the word that is commonly used for the sacred tent or tabernacle in the Pentateuch and elsewhere. The distinctive element of each points to the fact that the worship in Samaria was unauthorized. Her "tent" was hers, not Jehovah's. Of Jerusalem with its temple Jehovah could say, "My tent is in her," and this, as magnifying her privilege, also aggravated her guilt. Keil and others take the adjective here, as in Ezekiel 16:46, as meaning "greater" rather than "older." The former adjective is, of course, applicable to the greater power of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, and, even if we retain the renderings of the Authorized Version, is probably the explanation of Samaria being named as the elder of the two.
And Aholah played the harlot when she was mine; and she doted on her lovers, on the Assyrians her neighbours,
Verse 5. - The history of both the sisters passes from the time of the Exodus to that of their separate existence, and starts, in fact, from their first intercourse with the great monarchies of Asia. So far it is less a survey of their successive stages of degradation, like that of Ezekiel 16, than a retrospect of their political alliances. Aholah played the harlot. The lovers, as in Ezekiel 16:33, are the nations with which the kings of Israel were in alliance, and of these the Assyrians are named as pre-eminent. The word neighbors, which in its literal sense is hardly applicable, is probably to be taken of spiritual affinity, or may be taken as "come near" is in Genesis 20:4; Ezekiel 18:6; Leviticus 20:16. The Assyrians were those who, in that sense, came near to the harlot city. We have in 2 Kings 15:20 the fact that Menahem paid tribute to Pul. Hosea 5:13 and Hosea 7:11 speak generally of such alliances. The black obelisk of Shalmaneser records the fact that Jehu paid tribute to him ('Records of the Past,' 5:41). In the last-named case the tribute consisted chiefly of vessels of gold, bowls, goblets, etc.
Which were clothed with blue, captains and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon horses.
Verse 6. - Clothed with blue. The same word as that used in the description of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:4; Exodus 26:31, et al.). It was probably some hue of the Tyrian purple kind which marked the official dress of the "captains" of the Assyrian armies. The words, with those that follow, bring before us the magnificent array of the Assyrian cavalry - a force in which Israel, throughout its history, was deficient (Judges 5:10; Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 36:8.).
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.
Verses 7-10. - The next two verses paint the consequence of the alliance first with Assyria and then with Egypt. She adopted the religion of Assyria, probably in the form of the worship of Ishtar (Ashtoreth) as the queen of heaven. Having done this, the kings of Israel sought to play off one kingdom against the other (see Hosea 7:11; 2 Kings 17:4). It was, in fact, the discovery of Hoshea's treachery in this matter that led Shalmaneser to besiege Samaria. The result of that siege is described in general terms in Ver. 10. She, the city of Samaria, was slain with the sword, tier sons and daughters were taken into exile. So she became famous (i.e. infamous, like the Latin famosus), literally, a name among women, so. among the neighboring nations.
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.
Wherefore I have delivered her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, upon whom she doted.
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.
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.
Verses 11, 12. - The issue of the Assyrian alliance in the fall of Samaria might have served as a warning to the kings of Judah. But it did not. They also 'courted the alliance of the kings of Assyria, as in the case of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:7-10) and Tiglath-Pileser. Hezekiah followed in the same line, though he too trusted in Egypt, and afterwards rebelled. Manasseh too paid tribute, and made Jerusalem the scene of a confluent idolatry, which included that of Assyria. Even Josiah went forth against Pharaoh-Necho as the faithful vassal of either Assyria or Babylon. The splendor which had fascinated Samaria fascinated her also. Here clothed most gorgeously takes the place of "clothed in blue" in Ver. 6, describing, probably, the same fact.
She doted upon the Assyrians her neighbours, captains and rulers clothed most gorgeously, horsemen riding upon horses, all of them desirable young men.
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,
Verse 14. - The sin of Judah went a stop further than that of Samaria. She courted the alliance of the Chaldeans. Probably the sojourn of Manasseh at Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11) led him to see in that city a possible rival to Assyria. The embassy of Merodach-Baladan to Hezekiah (Isaiah 39.) implies, on the other hand, that Babylon was looking to Judah for support against Assyria. The prophet represents this political coquetting, so to speak, as another act of whoredom. Aholibah saw the images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion (probably "red ochre:" colors seem to have been used largely both in Assyrian and Babylonian sculpture as in Egyptian, and Judah seems to have copied them, Jeremiah 22:14) and fell in love with them. As the passions of a Messalina might be roused by sensuous pictures of masculine beauty, so Judah was led on by what her envoys reported of the magnificence of the palaces, the strength of the armies, of the Chaldeans. The journey of Jonah to Nineveh, and those implied in Hosea 7:11, as well as the prophecy of Nahum, all indicate a more or less intimate knowledge of the Mesopotamian monarchies. The mission of Merodach-Baladan would be naturally followed by a return embassy from Judah. A later instance under Zedekiah meets us in Jeremiah 29:3.
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:
Verse 15. - Exceeding in dyed attire; better, with dyed turbans, or tiaras, such as are seen on the Assyrian monuments of Nimrud, Khorsabad, and Kouyunyik.
And as soon as she saw them with her eyes, she doted upon them, and sent messengers unto them into Chaldea.
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.
Verse 17. - The words paint the intimate alliance, the political prostitution, as it were, involved in the alliance with Babylon. Her mind was alienated from them. Interpreted by the history, the words point to the fact that Judah soon found out how hollow was the help gained by the alliance with Babylon, and turned, after Josiah's death, to Egypt as a counterpoise. As in the history of Amnon (2 Samuel 13:15), lust, when it had wrought its will, passed into loathing and disgust. Jehoiakim and Zedekiah were examples of what we may well call this distracted policy. But, as it was, this alienation did but increase her guilt. As things were, it would have been better, as Jeremiah all along counseled, to accept the rule of the Chaldeans. The mind of Jehovah was alienated from Jerusalem as hers had been from the Chaldeans.
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.
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.
Verse 19. - Yet she multiplied her whoredoms. The disappointment and failure, however, did not lead to repentance. Foreign alliances, and with them foreign idolatries, were courted more eagerly than ever, though in a different direction. The lovers were changed, but the harlotry went on.
For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.
Verse 20. - She doted on her paramours. Commonly the word is used of a concubine (Genesis 22:24; Judges 8:31). Here it is used in scorn of the Egyptian princes whose favor Judah courted, reminding us of Homer's Ἀχαιίδες οὐκετ Ἀχαίοι, as indicating their political weakness. All that need be said of the comparison that follows is that here also Ezekiel follows in the footsteps of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 5:8). What is indicated is that Judah threw herself into the idolatrous ritual of Egypt with an almost orgiastic passion. The harlot nation returned, as it were, to her first love, and renewed the whoredoms of her youth.
Thus thou calledst to remembrance the lewdness of thy youth, in bruising thy teats by the Egyptians for the paps of thy youth.
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;
Verses 22, 23. - The lovers from whom the mind of Judah was alienated were, as in Ver. 17, the Chaldeans. With these are joined Pekod, and Shoa, and Koa. The Authorized and Revised Versions, following the LXX. take these as proper names, and Ewald Smend, and Furst find in them those of Chaldean tribes. The Vulgate, followed by Luther, gives nobiles, tyrannosque, et principes, and Keil and Hengstenberg substantially adopt this rendering, giving "rulers, lords, and nobles." "Pekod" appears as a place in Jeremiah I. 20 (compare Schrader's 'Cuneiform Inscriptions,' 2. pp. 32, 117,120, where Shoa and Koa are identified with Medo-Elamite tribes east of the Tigris), but the ether names are unknown to history. On the whole, the balance seems in favor of the rendering in the text. With these are joined all the Assyrians, who, under Nebuchadnezzar, fought, of course, in his armies." Now she should see her desirable young men... riding upon horses (the prophet repeats with sarcasm the phrase of Ver. 12) in another guise than she had expected.
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.
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.
Verse 24. - With chariots, wagons, and wheels, etc. The first word is only found here, and probably means" armor." So the Revised Version, with weapons, chariots, and wagons. They shall judge thee according to their judgments; sc. shall execute the judgment which God has assigned to them after their own manner, so their usual cruel treatment of barbarous nations.
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.
Verse 25. - They shall take away thy nose and thine ears, etc. (For instances of this or like mutilation, in the case of prisoners of war, see the case of Zedekiah, Jeremiah 52:11; Herod., 3:69, 154.) Possibly it may have been known to Ezekiel as a punishment for the adulterer or adulteress in Egypt and other countries, and if so, he might have selected it as specially appropriate to his parable (Martial, 'Epigr.,' 2:83; 3:85). Thy residue shall be consumed with fire. The Hebrew word for "residue" (not that usually so translated) is the same as that previously translated "remnant." In the first clause it clearly points to the men of Jerusalem who are left after the capture. In the second its meaning is determined by the fact that it follows after the deportation of the sons and daughters. All that was left - in the parable, of the mutilated trunk of the adulteress, in the history, of the devastated city, sc. the empty houses - should be destroyed by fire.
They shall also strip thee out of thy clothes, and take away thy fair jewels.
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.
Verse 27. - Thy whoredom brought from the land of Egypt; i.e. the last political alliance between Judah and Egypt. This, together with the Egyptian cultus that accompanied it, should be made to cease. That would no longer be in the thoughts of the exiles; their hopes from that quarter were extinguished forever.
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:
Verse 28. - Once again with incisive sarcasm the prophet reiterates the phrase of Ver. 17. The punishment should be all the more terrible as coming from those whom the adulteress had once loved with the love that had passed into loathing.
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.
Verse 29. - All thy labor; sc. all the results of labor, all thy wealth.
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.
Verses 31-33. - I will give her cup into thine hand. (For the image of the cup as the symbol of good or evil fortune, see Psalm 23:5; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15; Matthew 20:22; Matthew 26:39.) The cup, in this case, was to be deep and large as that of Samaria. The adulteress was to be "drunk, but not with wine" (Isaiah 29:9). And that "cup," over and above the laughter and derision, would contain much of unknown calamities, the astonishment and desolation of Ver. 33.
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.
Thou shalt be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, with the cup of astonishment and desolation, with the cup of thy sister Samaria.
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.
Verse 34. - Thou shalt break the shards thereof. The picture of the desolate adulteress becomes yet more terrible. Like a forlorn and desperate castaway, she does shameful execution on herself; breaks her cup, and completes the work of mutilation in its most terrible form. That is the doom decreed for her, because she had forgotten her true husband and the love of her espousals. Revised Version gives gnaw the shards thereof, painting yet more vividly the despair of the outcast.
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.
The LORD said moreover unto me; Son of man, wilt thou judge Aholah and Aholibah? yea, declare unto them their abominations;
Verse 36. - As often, Ezekiel emphasizes by reiteration, begins yet a fresh discourse with the same words, wilt thou judge, as in Ezekiel 20:4 and Ezekiel 22:2, and enters on another summary of the sins of the two harlot sisters, in which Moloch-worship (Ver. 37) and sabbath-breaking (Ver. 38) were conspicuous elements. The nature of the guilt is emphasized (Vers. 38, 39) by the fact that the idolatrous ritual was performed on the very day in which the people sacrificed in the temple; that it found a local habitation even there (comp. Ezekiel 8:17; 2 Kings 21; Jeremiah 32:34).
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.
Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths.
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.
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,
Verse 40. - Ye have sent for men to come from far, etc. The words obviously refer to the embassies which had been sent from time to time by both Samaria and Jerusalem to Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. The imagery of the earlier stage of the harlot's progress is resumed, and we have a picture almost the counterpart of that in Proverbs 7:10-21. She takes her bath, paints her eyelashes with kohol, the black pigment still used in the East, as Jezebel had done (2 Kings 9:30). She decks herself with jewels, and sits on a divan (a sofa-conch, rather than bed), and prepares a table for a banquet. And on that table are the incense and the oil, symbols alike of wealth and worship, which Jehovah claims as his, and which she offers to her lovers (comp. Ezekiel 16:13, 19; Hosea 2:5, 8).
And satest upon a stately bed, and a table prepared before it, whereupon thou hast set mine incense and mine oil.
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.
Verse 42. - A voice of a multitude, etc. The word for "multitude" is strictly tumult, and Keil and Currey render, The voice of tumult became still," sc. the threats of the alien powers whom Judah courted were for a time hushed by the tributes thus paid to them. With the men of the common sort; literally, as in the margin, of the multitude of men. Sabeans from the wilderness. The Revised Version, with Keil and almost all recent commentators, follows the margin, drunkards (LXX., οἰνώμενοι). "Sabeans" rests on a Jewish rendering of the text, but, as a people, the Sabeans, who dwelt south of Meroe, though named in Isaiah 45:14, were too remote to come within the horizon of the parable. What Ezekiel dwells on is the ever-growing degradation of the harlot city. Not only the officers of the Chaldeans, but the mixed multitude, the very drunkards from the wilderness of Babylon, were admitted to her embraces. Possibly the word may point to the false gods to whom libations of wine were offered, but I incline to refer it rather to those who got drunk at their idol-festivals even in Jerusalem. Drunkenness was one of the vices of the Babylonians, and the prophets, who admired the Rechabites and the Nazarites (Jeremiah 35; Amos 2:11), must have looked on Judah's participation in that sin as a measureless degradation. The bracelets and crowns symbolize the wealth and prestige which the Chaldean alliance was supposed to bring with it.
Then said I unto her that was old in adulteries, Will they now commit whoredoms with her, and she with them?
Verse 43. - The whole verse is obscure, and has been very differently rendered.

(1) The Authorized Version may be paraphrased, "Then said I to her that was worn out with her whoredoms, passed her prime and enfeebled, Will they (the foreign nations) commit whoredoms (enter into alliances) with her? sc. What is there to attract now? And yet the habit is inveterate. She has grown old in her vice, and cannot cease from it."

(2) The Revised Version takes it not as a question, but as a statement: Now said I of her that was old in adulteries, Now will they commit, etc. So, in the main, Keil. The text is probably corrupt, and resists conjectural emendation. In any case the general meaning is clear. The sin is of too long standing to be cured.
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.
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.
Verse 45. - The righteous men are in effect the ministers of God's wrath. The doom comes at last on both the sisters, who are murderers as well as adulteresses. They shall suffer the punishment of stoning which the Law commanded (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22, 24; John 8:5), and after that their bodies were to be hacked to pieces. The result of that judgment would be that all women should learn not to do after their lewdness, i.e. that idolatry should cease from being the sin of the cities of Israel.

For thus saith the Lord GOD; I will bring up a company upon them, and will give them to be removed and spoiled.
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.
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.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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