II. Prophecies against Judah (Ezekiel 4:1–24:27)

4:1-3 Since Ezekiel was confined to his house and the courtyard around it, God directed him to use signs in the form of visuals and certain actions to convey his message. There are four such signs in chapters 4 and 5, beginning with the depiction of the coming siege against Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies when the city would finally fall around 587–586 BC.

So, how bad was it for Judah? Through Ezekiel, the Lord proposed a hypothetical situation in which a nation sinned against him by acting faithlessly, causing him to stretch out his hand in judgment (14:13). It doesn’t require a genius to understand who this hypothetical nation was. But God didn’t identify it yet. The focal question was, could such a faithless nation be spared? As it turned out, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel, and Job—were in it, they would rescue only themselves by their righteousness (14:14). Regardless of the destruction that the Lord was to bring upon such a faithless land—famine (14:13), dangerous animals (14:15), sword (14:17), or plague (14:19)—even these three couldn’t rescue anyone but themselves (14:16, 18, 20). Clearly, Noah, Daniel, and Job had accomplished much for God by faith. But they couldn’t pull this one off. They were three of the greatest examples of faith and godly favor; nevertheless, their righteousness could not protect such a wicked land.

Contrast this with the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is able to save all sinners by his own righteousness. Anyone who trusts in Christ as his sin-bearer, in fact, is granted a righteousness that is not his own—“the righteousness from God based on faith” (Phil 3:9).

14:21-23 These four devastating judgmentssword, famine, dangerous animals, and plague—are what God vowed to send against Jerusalem (14:21). They foreshadow the four horsemen that God will unleash on an unbelieving world during the great tribulation (see Rev 6:1-8). Importantly, not every person in Judah would die. There would be survivors who would be taken to Babylon so Ezekiel and the other exiles could be consoled about the devastation . . . on Jerusalem (14:22). The consolation, however, wasn’t based on the righteousness of these survivors. Rather, the people exiled previously would see the newcomers’ unrighteous conduct and actions, and Ezekiel would know that it was not without cause that God brought destruction on Jerusalem (14:23). That God was just in his judgment.

15:1-8 God used Ezekiel’s pen and person in numerous ways to convey his message of judgment. In chapters 15–17 the prophet tells three parables to deliver his indictment: the stories of a useless vine (15:1-8), an adulterous wife (16:1-63), and two eagles (17:1-24).

The parable of the useless vine is quite simple. God did not create the wood of the vine to be made into furniture or some other useful item requiring strength (15:2-3). Its job was to hold the fruit it was designed to produce, and then become fuel to be devoured in the fire (15:4-5). The message for the residents of Jerusalem was clear. They had escaped the fire of Babylon when the enemy first came in 597 BC, but the reprieve was only temporary. The fire would still consume them and make the land desolate when God brought down the final curtain of judgment (15:6-8).

16:1-5 The second parable is an extended story of Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness and ingratitude to God for all of his goodness and provision, with the city serving as a representative of the Jewish people. Jerusalem’s sins had become so detestable that it was as if her people had become the offspring of an Amorite and Hethite. These were two pagan peoples in the land of the Canaanites whose practices the Jews had adopted (16:2-3). Against this background, God pictured Jerusalem as an abandoned and uncared for infant thrown into the open field because no one wanted her (16:4-5).

16:6-14 God himself took pity on the thrashing baby and selected her as his own, providing her with everything necessary to make her thrive and mature into a young woman of beauty (16:6-7). Then, when Jerusalem became of marriageable age, God spread the edge of his garment over her in a covenant of marriage, pledging protection and provision, and she became his beloved (16:8). God described in great detail how he dressed his bride in the finest of clothing and jewels, giving her everything fit for a queen and even providing her with a queen’s food (16:9-13). She became extremely beautiful and attained royalty under all this attention (16:13). Jerusalem’s fame spread among the nations because of the way her great God had blessed her and bestowed his splendor on her (16:14).

16:15 Shockingly, though, instead of praise and obedience to God, the Lord’s bride (his people) trusted in her own beauty—the very thing with which God had blessed her. She let her looks and fame go to her head and turned from her Provider to prostitute herself to idols in the most degrading ways possible! Jerusalem’s idolatry is described in terms of adultery. Ezekiel 16:5-34 contains sexually graphic imagery to depict the nation’s idolatrous sins.

16:16-26 Jerusalem used the beautiful clothing God had given her to make high places for idols, and she used his gifts of beautiful jewelry to make sexually degrading male images (16:16-17). She even offered God’s oil, incense, and food in worship to the idols (16:18-19). Worse, she also killed her sons and daughters as sacrifices to the pagan gods of the nations around her (16:20)! This was a particular outrage to God, for his bride who had been left to die in infancy was now killing the children he himself had given her (16:21-22).

So brazen was she about her actions that she wasn’t even embarrassed to bring her idolatry from the high places right into the streets of Jerusalem, practicing it in every square and at the head of every street, essentially becoming like a shameless prostitute who offered her body to any man who passed (16:23-25). The reference to her dalliances with Egyptian men in particular (16:26; see also the Assyrians and Babylonians [“Chaldea”] in 16:28-29) may refer to the Israelites’ foreign alliances as well as their searching for new pagan gods to worship.

16:27-34 God didn’t simply watch while his bride chose unfaithfulness. He gave her over to her enemies, including the Philistines who attacked Israel at various times. And even these pagan nations were embarrassed by the depths of Jerusalem’s indecent conduct (16:27)! God also made sure there was no satisfaction for Jerusalem in her lewdness, even as she continually lusted for more (16:29-30). She became so desperate to satisfy herself that she offered her services to her foreign lovers without payment, even bribing them to be with her (16:31-34)!

16:35-43 Considering the evidence before him, God had no recourse but to pronounce judgment on his promiscuous bride. First, he read the charges against her (16:35-36). Then he pronounced his verdict with the reasons for it (16:37-43). The irony of Jerusalem’s prostitution with her pagan lovers is that they, unlike the spiritual husband she’d scorned had done throughout her history, would not rally to her defense because they cared nothing for her. They would be her executioners! These verses describe the desolation the city of Jerusalem and its people would suffer under the final Babylonian assault to come.

Jerusalem’s leaders had tried to please the invaders earlier to stave off destruction, but it was to no avail. God had already pronounced sentence. Even though he had been a loving and faithful husband, his bride had broken covenant with him. The Babylonians would burn the houses in Jerusalem and execute judgments . . . in the sight of many women—no doubt referring to atrocities—because that was the only way to stop Jerusalem from being a prostitute. It was the only way to calm God’s anger (16:41-42). They had brought their judgment on themselves (16:43). And it all happened because God’s people had forgotten what he had done for them.

16:44-47 God had more evidence to present regarding the justice of his harsh judgment against Jerusalem. Here the analogy turns from the city being a wife to a daughter (14:44-45). Jerusalem was compared to her two sisters: Samaria in the north and Sod-om in the south (16:46). Both cities had committed detestable practices, but Jerusalem had become even more corrupt than they (16:47).

16:48-52 Sodom was legendary for its sin, revealed here to be a lack of concern for the poor along with its detestable acts (homosexuality, rape, and violence) (16:48-50). Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, had long since been destroyed by the Assyrians for its idolatry, but even its people did not commit even half the sins of Jerusalem (16:51). Both of these wicked cities, in fact, appeared more righteous than Jerusalem (16:52). This is an incredible statement of the extent of the city’s sin, which was committed despite its people having the greatest of spiritual advantages—including the temple and the manifest presence of God.

16:53-58 Nevertheless, destruction was not the last word because God had not written off his sinful people. The closing verses of this long parable begin with the surprising prophecy that Sodom and Samaria will be rebuilt in Christ’s millennial kingdom along with Jerusalem (16:53). But first Jerusalem, still being pictured as a disgraceful sister, would have to bear her shame (16:54)—even though in her former pride she had scorned her sister Sodom (16:56). Jerusalem would later feel the same scorn by the nations around her as she had to bear the consequences of her depravity and detestable practices (16:57-58).

16:59-63 In spite of all this, God would remain faithful to his covenants. The oath Israel made refers to the Mosaic covenant (16:59), the only one established by oath. The covenant made with you in the days of your youth refers to the Abrahamic covenant, and the permanent covenant speaks of the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34, which also includes believers in Christ (16:60). In his millennial kingdom Jesus Christ will rule over all, and Israel will be fully redeemed and will know the Lord as it experiences the new covenant nationally (16:62).

17:1-2 Ezekiel’s third and final parable in this section uses the imagery of two eagles and a tree. The Lord told the prophet to pose a riddle and speak a parable to the house of Israel (17:2). A riddle in the Bible is a puzzle, an enigma to be solved—as in the case of Samson’s riddle to the Philistines (see Judg 14:12-14). It’s hard to know how far to press the distinction in this chapter; perhaps the actions of the first eagle were intended as a riddle and those of the second were meant to be a parable.

17:3-21 At any rate, this chapter is best understood by pairing the actions of the eagles with their interpretations. In this first instance, that means reading 17:3-4 and 17:11-12 together. The huge eagle who came to Lebanon and plucked off its topmost shoot to take it to another land was clearly Nebuchadnezzar, which means that Lebanon stood for Jerusalem (17:3-4, cp. 17:12). This referred to the king’s first invasion of Judah in 597 BC when he took King Jehoiachin, “the topmost shoot,” to Babylon and installed Zedekiah in his place.

Nebuchadnezzar left Judah and Jerusalem intact, though weakened (17:5-6; explained in 17:13-14). It was low in height, humbled by Babylon with its branches turned toward Nebuchadnezzar in subjugation (17:6). When Nebuchadnezzar put Zedekiah on the throne in Jerusalem, he made a covenant with him, putting him under oath to be faithful to his Babylonian overlord (7:13). Nebuchadnezzar further weakened Judah by taking away the leading men of the land, but the kingdom of Judah would survive if Zedekiah would keep covenant (17:13-14).

Since Judah’s people were faithless and had broken their solemn promise to keep their covenant with God, however, Zedekiah wouldn’t think twice about breaking his promise to Nebuchadnezzar. Instead of keeping his pact with Babylon, this vine (Zedekiah) bent its roots toward the other huge eagle in Ezekiel’s parable—that is, he revolted by going to the king of Egypt for military help in breaking Babylon’s grip on Jerusalem (17:7-8, explained in 17:15).

Go back to 17:5-6 to recall how Nebuchadnezzar planted Zedekiah in Jerusalem as a vine whose branches were bent toward him—which was God’s will and part of his judgment on his people. This was stated again in 17:8 to reinforce the deceit and futility of Zedekiah’s revolt, which failed completely because he found no aid in Egypt. The king, acting foolishly, had broken his covenant and would find no escape (17:15). Pharaoh with his mighty army would provide no help when Jerusalem was attacked (17:17).

Think of Ezekiel’s immediate readers here, his fellow exiles and the people still in the land of Judah who thought they were fine and needed no repentance. If he wrote chapter 17 about 592-591 BC, he was writing somewhere between five or six years before the final invasion and destruction of Jerusalem and Zedekiah’s horrible fate. There were plenty of false prophets around in those days, both in Babylon and in Jerusalem, telling the people what they wanted to hear. Even after the final exile to Babylon, in fact, when Jerusalem was in ruins and the temple was gone, they were saying the exile would be brief. Thus, the early exiles may have said to one another, “We don’t believe what Ezekiel has been saying. We’re rooting for Zedekiah and the Egyptians to whip these Babylonians and bring us back home. We can’t believe God will let his holy city and temple be destroyed.” And when the rest of the people joined them in exile with their horror stories of the ruin of Jerusalem, they still had false prophets in their midst who told them they would be there for a short time—surely not seventy years. The truth was that it would take a long time for God to bring his people to their knees.

The parable continued with the ruin of Zedekiah (17:9-10, explained in 17:16, 18-21). Nebuchadnezzar would tear out his roots (17:9), using the imagery of Zedekiah and Jerusalem as a vine. He would wither completely (17:10), an image that God made clear in that Zedekiah would die in Babylon (17:16). Why? Because he despised the oath by breaking the covenant (17:18). Now, that’s a statement that we need to read carefully. God hates covenant-breakers, even those who made a covenant with a pagan king! In 17:19-21 Ezekiel provides a detailed prophecy of what happened to Zedekiah and his army when they tried to escape out the back gate as the Babylonians broke into Jerusalem (see 2 Kgs 25:1-10).

17:22-24 This chapter of destruction, desolation, and judgment ends with a prophecy not only of restoration and hope for the faithful remnant, but also of the coming of the Messiah who will establish his glorious kingdom. The phrase tender sprig (17:22) alludes to another prophecy regarding Messiah: “A shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (Isa 11:1). Although the nation was reduced to a stump by the judgments Ezekiel was announcing, there was grace. These verses also picture other nations that will come under Messiah’s reign as he rules the world from his throne in Jerusalem. This promise may have seemed remote to the people of Ezekiel’s day, especially with judgment impending; nevertheless, God sealed it with his word.

18:1-2 In chapter 18 the people’s twisted view of the situation brought about by their spiritual myopia reached a new low: they blamed God for judging them unfairly. So God put aside the visuals and the parables to deliver a hard-hitting message about personal responsibility for sin. At the time, a proverb was going around that excused the people from facing their sins: The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge (18:2). The saying was so well known that Jeremiah, who also wrote to the Jews in exile, quoted it (see Jer 31:29-30). And the idea behind it was that those in the land under Babylon’s heel were suffering, not because they had sinned, but because their parents had. They were confusing the cumulative effects of sin with each person’s responsibility for his or her personal sins.

18:3-20 But God had had enough of that nonsense. He clarified that the person who sins is the one who will die (18:4). Then he presented three hypothetical cases to illustrate the principle. A righteous man will live by his righteousness (18:5-9); but if he has a violent son, that son will certainly die for his own evil (18:10-13). If this evil man in turn has a son who does not follow his father but does what is right, he will certainly live (18:14-17). His rotten father, however, will die for his own iniquity (18:18). Then the principle is restated: The person who sins is the one who will die (18:20). God wanted to make it clear that he judges people for their own sins—not for the sins of their parents.

18:21-24 Don’t miss the news of hope for the person willing to abandon his sin. This chapter is not teaching that salvation is attained through works. The good or evil these hypothetical men, and the people of Jerusalem, were practicing was the outflow of hearts that were or were not in right standing before God. Therefore, God’s plea here was for the people to recognize and repent of their sin and turn to him for forgiveness.

18:25-30 Yet Judah insisted on blaming God for being unfair in his judgments, so he turned their argument on its head. It was their way that was unfair (18:25). They had the common (and wrong) view that God weighed actions and if the good outweighed the bad, a person was okay in his sight. But God proved that salvation was a matter of where you end up, not where you start. That’s why he told Judah in essence, “If you repent I will judge you based on your repentance, not your wickedness.” That’s good news. But he also reversed it and said, “If you don’t repent, I will judge you on your wickedness, not how good you were before you turned to wickedness.”

18:31-32 We know God was talking about the condition of a person’s heart and not works salvation because of his second call to repentance: Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. . . . For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death. . . . So repent and live! (18:31-32). Ultimately, the only way to be saved is by getting a new heart. And the only way to get a new heart is to repent, trust Jesus Christ, and receive a transformed heart through the work of the Holy Spirit (see Ezek 36:26-27; cp. Jer 31:31-34).

19:1-4 To cap off this section (12:1–19:14), thus putting to rest any false hope the people of Judah and Jerusalem had of escaping God’s judgment and the prophecies of exile, Ezekiel was commanded to take up a lament for the princes of Israel (19:1). A lament was normally a dirge or funeral song honoring someone who had died, although the three kings alluded to in this chapter deserved none.

The lioness who gave birth and reared her cubs (19:2) was Israel, the nation that had produced so many great kings. But the first one referenced here is generally agreed to be Jehoahaz, an evil king who came to the throne in Jerusalem after the early death of his father, good King Josiah (see 2 Kgs 23:31-32). Jehoahaz devoured people through his bad decisions during his three-month reign, but he was captured by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt who led him away with hooks (Ezek 19:3-4; see 2 Kgs 23:33).

19:5-9 Then came another bad king, Jehoiachin. He also reigned just three months in Jerusalem, causing great suffering, before Nebuchadnezzar captured him and took him to Babylon (see 2 Kgs 23:34–24:6). Jehoiachin never returned home, so his roar could no longer be heard on the mountains of Israel (Ezek 19:9).

19:10-14 The third and last king is lamented here, King Zedekiah. Nebuchadnezzar left Zedekiah on the throne and left Jerusalem intact like a vineyard, still planted in the holy land to flourish if the king would only keep his covenant (19:10-11). But when Zed-ekiah broke his word, the Babylonian army came and uprooted Jerusalem in fury as fire consumed the holy city (19:12; see 2 Kgs 24:18-7). Its people were deported to a dry and thirsty land (19:13). With the Babylonian exile, the last Davidic king was removed from the throne. There was no longer . . . a strong branch, a scepter for ruling (19:14). Nevertheless, that branch and scepter will be restored in Jesus Christ when he comes to rule on his millennial throne. He is “the Son of David” (Matt 1:1), “the King of Israel” (John 1:49), and “the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Rev 5:5).

20:1 If the people of Judah retained any optimism that God would somehow come down at the last minute and rescue their nation from destruction, that bubble was about to pop. Ezekiel dates the event here to the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month. That puts it in 591 BC, about the seventh year of Zedekiah’s doomed rule in Jerusalem. Some of Israel’s elders approached Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord—that is, to seek an oracle from God for them. Their inquiry isn’t recorded, but judging from the response to it they had not come in humble repentance and with hearts fully devoted to God. They wanted good news from God without having a willingness to follow God.

20:2-4 As I live, I will not let you inquire of me. God flatly refused to speak to these elders because of their sins and those of Judah’s people, whom they represented (20:3-4). His repeated question to Ezekiel, Will you pass judgment against them, will you pass judgment, son of man? is like a command in Hebrew: “Judge these people! Judge these people!” That’s why God told the prophet to explain the detestable practices of their fathers to them (20:4). That is the outline of 20:1-32 in a nutshell. It has the force of a legal indictment.

20:5-9 Ezekiel obeyed and reviewed Israel’s history from the nation’s beginning to his own day. The reference to God choosing Israel during the days of Moses was not a denial of his choice of Abraham and his descendants to be his people. It was a recognition that Israel was born as a nation when God sent Moses to lead them out of the land of Egypt (20:5). God also searched out the land of Canaan for them and called them to get rid of any idols they had worshiped in Egypt (20:6-7). But they rebelled against him, and he considered pouring out his wrath on them (20:8). He did not do it so that his holy name would not be profaned in the eyes of the nations (20:9).

20:10-17 Then Ezekiel reviewed the nation’s travels from Egypt to Mount Sinai, where God gave them his statutes and explained his ordinances to them (20:10-11). From there he led them into the wilderness where they rebelled against him (20:13). He would have destroyed them then, but he stayed his hand for the sake of his name (20:13-14). Nevertheless, Moses’s generation had died in the wilderness because the Lord refused to bring them into the land he had given them (20:15). Their hearts went after their idols instead of the God who redeemed them (20:16). He could have brought the nation to an end in the wilderness; instead, he spared them from destruction (20:17). Their children would live to enter the promised land.

20:18-31 God gave the same commands and the same offer of blessing and land to the children of the exodus generation (20:18-20), but they too rebelled (20:21). Once again, he could have wiped the nation out. But he withheld his hand and acted for the sake of his name (20:22). Though God’s people cared nothing for his glory, God himself is always zealous for it. He warned them that if they turned to idols, he would drive them out of the land (20:23). But it made no difference. They just turned to idolatry with such abandon and passion that they practiced a level of vileness and degradation their ancestors would never have imagined: child sacrifice (20:26). Their punishment, then, was richly deserved.

Ezekiel wrapped up his review and said that his generation was no better than their fathers (20:30), which was why God refused to have anything to do with the elders who had come to inquire of him (20:31; see 20:1-4).

20:32-44 Still, in keeping with God’s eternal purposes, the Lord also had a message of hope and restoration for Israel (20:33-44). The language in these verses cannot be matched to the return from exile in Babylon, or to any era in Israel’s history. This gathering, then, is yet in the future, when God reclaims Israel from the countries where it was scattered (20:34). Israel will then be led into the wilderness for the purpose of judgment, as God did after the exodus from Egypt (20:35-36). But this time all the rebels will be weeded out and only true believers will enter the land, which is a picture of Israel’s purging in the tribulation and their worship of Messiah Jesus in his millennial kingdom. At that time, Israel’s worship will be accepted and the nation will repent of all its unfaithfulness and idolatry (20:44).

20:45-49 In the meantime, the fire of judgment was going to be released on Judah. Even though the Babylonians would come from the north, the destructive fire they would ignite would burn from south (the Negev) to north and would not be extinguished (20:46-48). But the people’s stubborn unbelief was such that even then they mocked Ezekiel, saying, Isn’t he just composing parables? (20:49). In other words, they said, “He’s merely making up stories. All is well.”

21:1-7 Since the people of Judah refused to listen to Ezekiel’s message about the fire in the south, God decided to make it inextricably clear by giving them this word: Son of man, face Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel (21:2). Then he changed the imagery of judgment to a sword that would devour without mercy through the land of Judah, also moving from the south to the north (21:3-4). At this revelation, Ezekiel was told to groan bitterly. When the people asked him why, he was to tell them it was because of the terrible news of the approaching judgment (21:6-7).

21:8-17 The message of this section has several parts, beginning with the picture of a sword of God being sharpened and polished to prepare for a great slaughter (21:8-11). Ezekiel was again told to cry out and wail for the extent of this judgment that would leave no one on the throne of David in Jerusalem (21:12-13). The sword would strike again and again until God had satisfied his great wrath (21:14-17).

21:18-22 The next part of the message concerns the way God would lead Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem when he arrived to put down Zedekiah’s revolt and destroy Jerusalem. The Ammonites, whose capital was Rabbah (modern-day Jordan with its capital of Amman), had also rebelled against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar reached a crossroads and had to decide whether to attack Jerusalem or Rabbah (21:19-20). He consulted all of his pagan objects and rites, but God intervened and led him to Jerusalem where he set up his siege ramps and walls (21:21-22).

21:23-32 Yet even as Babylon was building these siege works, some in Jerusalem thought Nebuchadnezzar’s actions were the result of false divination and would fail (21:23). So God made it known that he had given over Zedekiah, that profane and wicked prince of Israel, to judgment (21:24-25). Jerusalem would be a ruin (21:27).

What about the Ammonites? God had a sword of slaughter poised for them as well (21:28). Ammon was the first on a list of nations that were to be judged for their mistreatment of Israel, with God indicating it would be invaded and destroyed by “the people of the east” (see 25:1-5).

22:1-5 The indictment against Judah and her people continued with a repeat of the question/indictment that began in 20:4: son of man, will you pass judgment? (22:2). The new emphasis here is Jerusalem’s shedding of blood (22:2-4; also 22:6, 9, 12-13, 27). It referred to the violence in the city that was a sin against one’s fellow man (22:3-4).

22:6-16 The leaders of Judah led the people in breaking God’s laws, one by one. Father and mother were mistreated; the resident alien was exploited; the fatherless and widow were oppressed (22:7). They profaned God’s holy things and Sabbaths (22:8). There was also every form of depravity within the nation: sexual sin, bribery, and brutal extortion—all at the hands of a people who had forgotten their holy God (22:9-12). Therefore, God would clap his hands in derision against his dishonest people and against the blood shed among them. Their courage would melt when judgment came and they were scattered (22:13-15).

22:17-22 The images of fierce judgment kept coming. God next gave Ezekiel a word picture of Jerusalem as his furnace of judgment (22:20-21). He would consume the city and its people until there was nothing left but the dross or scum that is scraped away after metal is refined. Because all of you have become dross, he said, I am about to gather you into Jerusalem (22:19). There the Babylonians could burn them in the fire of God’s fury (22:21). Then his sinful people would know that he is the Lord as his wrath was poured out on them (22:22). How much better it is for God to confirm his sovereignty in our lives by blessing our obedience than by punishing our disobedience!

22:23-29 The people came under specific indictment in groups for this catastrophe, beginning with the prophets who conspired to seize wealth from the populace by seeing false visions and lying divinations (22:25, 28). The priests failed to teach God’s law and profaned his holy things, closing their eyes to even the Sabbaths (22:26). They were the (intentionally) blind leading the blind. The officials, meanwhile, were nothing but greedy bureaucrats, destroying lives in order to make profit dishonestly (22:27). Even the people of the land were corrupt and deserved judgment (29:29).

Here we get a picture of a society in complete chaos and breakdown. Every sphere of authority in God’s kingdom program—from the religious leaders, to the civil government, and even the family unit—was failing in its responsibility to carry out God’s kingdom agenda.

22:30-31 Not one person could be found to stand in the gap on God’s behalf and stop his hand of judgment from falling on everyone (22:30). This is the principle of representation that allows God to hold back his judgment if he has sufficient intermediaries whose righteousness can be credited to the benefit of the unrighteous. When such representatives are absent and the people do not repent, then judgment falls (see Gen 18:22-33; 1 Cor 7:13-14).

23:1-4 To further illustrate Judah’s unfaithfulness, God gave Ezekiel another parable to tell his listeners and to record for his readers. This one, like the parable of Sodom and Samaria (see 16:44-59), concerned two sinful women, sisters (23:1). They acted like prostitutes in Egypt, behaving promiscuously (23:3). Together these “sisters” represented the entire nation of Israel, which spent its youth in Egypt where its people first succumbed to idol worship. Oholah represented Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (which by this time had been destroyed), and Oholibah represented Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah (23:4). Their sexual promiscuity was metaphorical for their idolatry—their spiritual adultery—against the Lord. They worshiped false gods and made alliances with the surrounding nations.

23:5-10 The parable unfolds as Oholah (Samaria) sought out her lovers, the Assyrians (23:5), as the rulers of the northern kingdom prostituted themselves to that pagan nation. Because God’s people did not give up their promiscuity that began in Egypt (23:8), God handed them over to the Assyrians to be oppressed and eventually killed by them. Israel was destroyed in 722 BC (23:10).

23:11-13 Unbelievably, Oholibah (Jerusalem) watched all this unfold, yet became even more depraved in her lust than Oholah (23:11). Her lusting after the Assyrians (23:12) probably refers to the actions of King Ahaz of Judah, who sought an alliance with Assyria to beat back an invasion from Israel (the northern kingdom) and Aram (see 2 Kgs 16). In doing so, he made Judah a vassal state of Assyria for the next century. King Josiah freed Judah for a while, but he was killed and Judah came under Egyptian power.

23:14-21 To throw off Egypt, King Jehoiakim turned to the Babylonians and willingly made Judah its vassal state (23:14-17). But when Babylon proved to be a harsh taskmaster, God’s nation came full circle and turned to Egypt for aid. Thus she revisited the depravity of her youth and turned to the country that had originally enslaved her (23:19-21). But her attempt to be rescued by Egypt proved futile. In God’s sight the spiritual promiscuity of Oholibah / Jerusalem was as vulgar as actual prostitution. Instead of turning back to God for help and protection, Judah multiplied its unfaithfulness by continually turning to new pagan “lovers” for the same.

23:22-27 Therefore, there was nothing left for Oholibah but judgment at the hands of her lovers, whom God would incite against her in disgust (23:22). This is a reminder that God sometimes uses the unrighteous to judge his people (see Hab 1:12-13).

Ezekiel declared God’s condemnation in horrific terms. The armies of the entire Babylonian kingdom would come against Jerusalem with devastating effect (23:23). They would inflict punishment similar to the mutilation that was often carried out in that part of the ancient world against a prostitute to ruin her beauty (23:24-27). When the Babylonians were finished with Jerusalem, she would no longer be attractive to anyone.

23:28-35 Ezekiel declared that Jerusalem would be left stark naked, exposing the debauchery of God’s faithless people for all to see (23:28-29). The people of Judah acted like a prostitute with the nations, as did the people of Israel, so they would drink from the cup of Israel’s punishment (23:30-34). The Lord stated clearly the reason for Jerusalem’s judgment: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you must bear the consequences of your indecency and promiscuity (23:35). The leaders and people of Jerusalem would pay the price for their betrayal of their covenant God.

23:36-39 This chapter concludes with a side-by-side comparison of the two sisters’ sins and judgments. Both Oholah and Oholibah, the northern and southern kingdoms, engaged in detestable idolatry of the most disturbing kind (23:36). They sacrificed their children in the fire as food for the idols (23:37) and on the same day went into God’s sanctuary to profane it (23:37-39). Our theology matters. Worship and obedience to the true God will result in righteousness and justice, but worship and obedience to idols results in the worst kinds of immorality and violence against the helpless.

23:40-49 The adulterous way both kingdoms lured other nations into alliances is graphically portrayed as a prostitute adorning herself to lure her lovers into her room (23:40-41). God said his people went for the lowest dregs of society, drunkards from the desert, along with common men (23:42). But righteous men, probably a reference to God’s prophets like Ezekiel, would pronounce judgments on these adulteresses (23:45). The penalty for adultery was stoning, and their enemies would cut them down with their swords . . . kill their sons and daughters and burn their houses (23:47)—all of which happened when both Samaria and Jerusalem fell to invaders. In this way God made an end of their depravity (23:49).

24:1-3 This section (Ezek 20–24) concludes with one last parable and message. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel on a specific and important day (24:1). That’s why God commanded the prophet to write down today’s date, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem (24:2). This date was the same as is recorded in 2 Kings 25:1. It occurred in 588 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar and his army came against Jerusalem to begin the final siege. In other words, the collapse of the city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah was near. So the parable of a boiling pot that God told Ezekiel to deliver to that rebellious house was extremely timely (24:3).

24:4-14 Some of Jerusalem’s leaders had given its people false assurance by using the imagery of Jerusalem as a strong “pot” in which its inhabitants were safe inside, like “meat” (see 11:3). But that was far from the truth. Jerusalem was a rusty pot that was about to be set on fire and brought to a boil by the Babylonians, consuming everyone and everything in it. Jerusalem had become a city of bloodshed, and the blood she shed was still present within her—she didn’t even try to cover up her crimes (24:6-7). So God would expose them when he himself piled up the kindling for the fire under the pot of her judgment until it was empty (24:9-11). Judah’s people had frustrated God’s every effort to purify them of their uncleanness, so he had no recourse but to bring judgment (24:12-14).

24:15-19 Ezekiel had delivered his distressing message again and again, but now it would take a heartbreaking turn for him. The Lord was taking away his wife, the delight of his eyes, and forbidding him to lament or weep or let his tears flow at her death (24:16-17). It was a hard command, and Ezekiel had little time to prepare for the blow. That may be why the people were especially surprised at Ezekiel’s lack of outward mourning and wanted to know what it meant—sensing it was a prophetic message to them (23:18-19).

24:20-27 Ezekiel obliged them with a word from God. The prophet’s message was of overwhelming loss for his fellow exiles, who were about to lose their beloved city and many loved ones when Jerusalem was destroyed and her people slaughtered. But the exiles, like Ezekiel, would be unable to grieve because of the draining effect of God’s judgment (23:20-24). Once again, Ezek-iel stated the purpose of God’s judgment: When this happens, you will know that I am the Lord God (24:24). And when the news of the disaster came, Ezekiel’s mouth would be opened to talk with the messenger (24:27), since he had previously been forbidden to speak except what God told him to say (see 3:25-27).

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