A Bible study from Faithbuilders Fellowship.
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EZEKIEL 16

THIS CHAPTER holds God's rebukes of the people of Jerusalem expresssed by the prophet through an allegory and a proverb. The former starts in verse three. How shocking that these descendants of faithful Abraham and Sarah had become so corrupt in conduct and worship as to be told "thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite" (Ezek. 16:3,45). The people of Jerusalem had so spiritually degenerated from the examples provided by their faithful ancestors as to seem to be descended from a Hittite mother, from Heth, whose daughters were "a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah" (Gen. 26:34,35, 25:10). And the prophet likened the moral quality of Jerusalem's worshippers to people descended from an Amorite father. The Amorites were of the Canaanites, engaged in the worship of degenerate heathen deities, and thus deserved to be removed.--Gen. 15:16

The strange language of vss. 4,5--"The day thou wast born...thou wast cast out in the open field"--is not descriptive of the literal birth of Isaac, the sole issue of Abraham and Sarah. Rather, it refers to the whole of "all these...twelve tribes of Israel" in Egypt (Gen. 49-28,33), a small nation soon without the leadership of the patriarch Jacob, the last to receive direct confirmation of God's promise to Abraham (Gen. 28:14, 32:18). His descendants may have expected difficult experiences, for God had warned their forefather through the "horror of great darkness that fell upon Abram." He was told "that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land not their's" for four hundred years, and be afflicted in serving the oppressors (Gen. 15:12,13). None had pity or compassion upon them. But despite their forsaken condition in affliction, and "in thy blood," God, having "passed by," ordained that they should "Live, Live." He caused them to multiply, and they became great.--Ezek. 16:4-7

Israel Enters Covenant

Again the Lord "passed by," taking cognizance of these "twelve tribes of Israel." They had grown, matured, and were in the "time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness [indicating His acceptance of only them]: yea, I sware unto them and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the LORD God, and thou becamest mine...and thou didst prosper into a kingdom" (Ezek. 16:8-13). This sums up many generations of their nationhood, during which they were with God in the Law Covenant. They pledged their faithfulness and fidelity to Him, and He pledged to be their provider.

But they repeatedly broke God's law and their covenant with provocations and abominable whoredoms. "Thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was" (Ezek. 16:41-43). Throughout their whoredoms, the people represented by Jerusalem gave no remembrance to the former times, called "the days of thy youth," throughout which God sustained their forefathers. They had been preserved because of God's promises to Abraham, but their subsequent conduct showed little appreciation for God's care.

Jerusalem Rebuked by Another Prophet

God also caused another prophet, Jeremiah, to similarly rebuke Jerusalem. "I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah" (Jer. 23:14). That indictment likens the prophets of Jerusalem to Sodom, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to Gomorrah.

Eventually a proverb went forth against Jerusalem in connection with the parable. Two sister cities (really nations, each represented by a city) are attributed to Jerusalem. They were called sisters because all three peoples were involved in spiritual harlotry. All three lothed their husbands (forsook the God who supplied their needs) and lothed their children (offering them in unnatural practices, and failing to direct them in proper worship). They were all of the same allegorical parentage (Ezek. 16:3,44,45). But neither of her two sisters were as corrupt as Jerusalem. The words in the Hebrew text which describe these three sisters are most interesting. They indicate that the sisters did not exist at the same time; thus their relative status and location are of symbolic significance.

Pertinent Elements: Dwell[eth], Elder, Younger

Ezekiel 16:46 employs five elements, three of which are marked in the following paraphrase drawn from definitions in Strong's Hebrew Dictionary and in Gesenius Lexicon. "And thine elder [really, "greater," #1419] sister Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell [really, "to sit down (specifically as judges...)," #3427] at thy left hand: and thy younger [really, "lesser," #6996] sister that dwelleth [really, "sit down...as judges," #3427] at thy right hand, is Sodom and her daughters." Each sister is called a city, representing a kingdom with its own several daughter cities. The daughters of Jerusalem were the cities and people of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah; those of Samaria, the cities and people of the former 10-tribe kingdom of Israel (Hosea 7:1, 8:5); those of Sodom, the former cities and people of Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim (Gen. 10:19, 19:24-29). The daughter cities were dependent upon their respective capitals. All sisters were animated by the same spirit of idolatry.

Keil and Delitzsch commentary suggests, in harmony with Prof. James Strong, that the King James Version use of "elder" and "younger" is appropriate as a translation of the Hebrew words in the text only regarding men and animals. With reference to kingdoms or cities, the meaning is "greater" and "lesser" (as used in the above explanatory translation). While "greater" and "lesser" in the text denote size in a natural sense, the meaning in the allegorical sense is degree of corruption.

Right, Left Denote Relative Responsibility

The element of location is now considered. While it is probable that where Samaria, the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel's capital city, had been more than a hundred years before, and where Sodom had been over a thousand years earlier were left and right, respectively, to one in Jerusalem facing east, neither of those corrupt nations existed in the time of Ezekiel. In several other Biblical accounts, that which is depicted as on the right hand is in a more favorable position, or renders better service, or receives less condemnation than that on the corresponding left hand. (See Gen. 48:14, Matt. 25:33, Ezek. 4:4.) In verse 46, the less-reprehensible sister Sodom (designated the 'lesser' sister), is represented as on the right hand. Of the two, Samaria was more reprehensible than Sodom. Its people had ignored and despised the divine instruction and protection from their covenant God. But both were less blameworthy than Jerusalem.

Therefore, both Samaria and Sodom sat in judgment of their sister, verse 48, because Jerusalem "wast corrupted more than they in all thy ways." Jerusalem was deserving of more blame because she had been first in privilege and favor, having the temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the counsel of prophets for an extended period. Reversely, Jerusalem "hast made thy sisters righteous by all thine abominations which thou hast done. Through thy sins...they become more righteous than thou...thou hast justified thy sisters."-- Ezek. 16:51,52

Future Judgments Tolerable

Verses 53 and 55 depict the future shame of those generations who despised God's bountiful provisions. The principle expressed by Jesus, "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first" (Luke 13:30), will have application in the day of judgment to the people here symbolized by Jerusalem. No longer would fleshly Jerusalem, which the Apostle in his day called "Jerusalem which is now," have first place.

Strong's definition of Hebrew word #7622 translated 'captivity' in the King James version is inserted in the following amplification of Ezek. 16:53-55: "When I shall bring again a former state of prosperity to Sodom and her daughters, and of Samaria and her daughters, then also...thy [Jerusalem's] captives in the midst of them. That thou mayest bear thine own shame, and mayest be confounded [ashamed] in all that thou hast done, in that thou art a comfort unto them. When thy sisters Sodom...and Samaria...shall return to their former estate, then thou [Jerusalem] and thy daughters shall return to your former estate," meaning their respective states or conditions before becoming idolatrous. The personal, individual judgment of all represented by those cities will proceed upon their "return."

The emotion of shame mixed with a portion of remorse may quite naturally have accompanied the people of Jerusalem in their Babylonian captivity, but surely it will also be a part of their experience when they return in resurrection. They will be "in the midst of" her two less-guilty sisters. All of Samaria and Jerusalem who were involved in abominable worship, as well as the rebellious of Israel in the time of Jesus, will, according to our Master, have a less tolerable time "in the day of judgment" than will the people of Sodom.--Matt. 11:20-24

Jerusalem "Despised the Oath"

Jesus referred to as the "house of Israel" all the natural descendants of Jacob who lived in Judaea and Galilee in His time. He said that He came to gather its "lost sheep" (Matt. 15:24, Luke 7:9), and specifically criticized the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida because they did not accept the truths He taught. And to those of His home town he said, "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven [special privilege in frequent receipt of His ministry and witness of God's power manifested through Him], shalt be brought down to hell [the grave, oblivion]: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day."--Matt. 11:20-24, 10:15, Mark 6:11

God also rebuked Jerusalem for the absence of grass-roots warning from among the people themselves of possible punishment for their national fornication (Ezek. 16:56). For God knew that they knew what He had done to Sodom--the record was part of their heritage.

The covenant which Jerusalem is charged of breaking (Ezek. 16:59) is undoubtedly the covenant introduced and ratified at Sinai (Exod. 19:1-8, 24:3-11), and confirmed to later generations of Israel just before Moses died (Deut. 12:15). The Hebrew word translated 'oath' which Moses spoke on God's behalf on that late occasion is the same as that used in Ezek. 16:59, alah, Strong's #423, and its meaning in these places is not fully expressed by the English word 'oath'. It is not the Hebrew word #7650, shaba, used when God swore at Abraham's offering of Isaac (Gen. 22:16), and in God's promise to David (Psa. 110:4). Nor is it #7621, used of God's oath in Gen. 26:3, Psa. 105:9, and many other places. Alah means "deprecation"; "and into His oath of denunciation"-- Leeser; "adjuration"--Byington's translation (a word which Webster defined as "charge under penalty of a curse"). Alah is represented in the King James version more often as some form of the word 'curse' (20 of 42 usages) than any other way. Ezekiel says Jerusalem 'despised' God's warning of punishment when they defiled their covenant with Him.

A New Relationship

There is no question that the 19 appearances of 'thee', 'thou', or 'thy' in Ezek. 16:59-63 all refer to Jerusalem, the subject of the entire chapter. But an important question is raised: are these closing verses put as summation of the chapter, or do they comprise a distinctly different promise?

The force of that question is from the new relationships introduced in the closing verses of Ezekiel 16. Three idolatrous peoples are represented as sisters (vss. 45-52), and that relationship carries over into their future judgment day (vss. 53-55). But in vss. 60-63 that relationship is merely noted; the new relationship is affirmed: Jerusalem receives her sisters as daughters. Through that relationship, they all share the blessings received by the ashamed, chastened, and accepted Jerusalem. It seems clear that Jesus noticed the change in relationships in Ezek. 16:60-63; all lessons he drew from that chapter regarding future judgment are from vss. 53-55. Vss. 60-63 describe a relationship between God and other nations with Jerusalem other than in the Earthly Kingdom Age.

There are more references to covenants in the conclusion of this chapter than in any other five verses of the Bible. The word 'covenant' appears five times: "the covenant," "my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth," "everlasting covenant," "thy covenant," and "my covenant." Immediately after rebuking Jerusalem by reminding them that they had "despised the oath in breaking the covenant," Ezekiel comforted the faithful remnant: "Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant."--Ezek. 16:59,60

One Covennt Remembered: Another Covenant Promised

The covenant God promised to 'remember' was the Abrahamic covenant. This conclusion is directed by comparison of verses 22, 6, and 43. (The Law Covenant was entered after the 12 tribes had become a mature people in the time of Moses, vs. 8, not in "the days of thy youth.") The Abrahamic promise (the 'my covenant' of verse 60) was in effect before the Law Covenant and has never been annulled.

Two covenants are mentioned in verse 60. God remembers one; the other He promises to establish:--"an everlasting covenant." He remembers that He promised that Abraham's multiplied seed would "possess the gate of his enemies" and through his seed "shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 22:17,18). Abraham's seed was among this Jerusalem to whom Ezekiel was writing. God must intend us to understand that the changed relationships whereby Jerusalem receives as daughters her two sisters be received into the 'everlasting covenant'. The arrangement promised would not be by "thy [existing] covenant" (the Law arrangement), but by an arrangement designed to implement the original promises.

God Made Known Only Through the New Covenant

The "everlasting covenant" promised in verse 60 is the new covenant, the only covenant mentioned in Scripture which promises that through it the children of men "shalt know that I [God] am the LORD" and through which God will be "pacified toward" men (Ezek. 16:62,63). "My covenant," vs. 62--"I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD"-- cannot be the covenant the Lord said He would 'remember', but the covenant He establishes because He remembers. The conclusion seems inescapable that "an everlasting covenant," verse 60, and "my covenant," verse 62, are one and the same covenant. Written two times (vss. 60,62), the promise "And I will establish..." is of the new covenant made about 600 years after Ezekiel's time. This repeated promise is of the same new covenant God promised to Israel in Jeremiah's prophecy, through which He foresaw that "they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD."--Jer. 31:34

The blessing promised in Ezek. 16:63 comes through a spiritual relationship: "That thou mayest remember, and be confounded ["pale, by imp. ashamed"--Strong], and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord GOD" (Ezek. 16:63). 'Pacified' holds the thought of being at peace through reconciliation. The Hebrew word from which 'pacified' is translated, vs. 63, means "to cover, i.e. to pardon sin" (Gesenius Lexicon, Tregelles translation). Jesus preached peace, exampled peace, and died in order that peace between God and man might ensue. He "made peace through the blood of His cross."-- Col. 1:20-22

Only the new covenant proposes to forgive sins, and it is the only covenant that has blood of such value and power as to effect forgiveness of sins. It is "the new covenant in His blood" (Luke 22:20) that has been making peace. It is the new covenant through which the Lord forgives iniquity of all who believe in the sacrifice of His well beloved Son. The blood of Jesus is identified only with the new covenant.

Why Promise to Covenant with Jerusalem?

But why, as in verse 62, did God bind himself by promise to establish his everlasting covenant with Jerusalem and Judah? And why, as in verse 61, must the sisters become daughters of Jerusalem to enter covenant relationship with the Lord? The answers are found in the historical and prophetic word. Jerusalem was the foreordained channel of divine blessing to Israel. Special promises pertained to Jerusalem and her daughters--that is, to all the cities and people of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah and Benjamin over which Jerusalem exercised direction. Jerusalem is where God's name was represented. The temple with its law-appointed Levitical priesthood, services, and worship, was in Jerusalem. And to Judah was the scepter assigned. Judah had the kingly promises through David's son. The king would come to Jerusalem. Zion was in Jerusalem, and the king would come both to Zion and out of Zion. The king did come to Jerusalem. Salvation is of the Jews. Thus it was essential to the fulfillment of prophecy that prospective recipients of "an everlasting covenant" be identified with Jerusalem.

After the captivity in Babylon, it was to Jerusalem that all good figs (the faithful Israelites) returned. But all who returned may not have had a faith which qualified them to be denominated "good figs." There was but a remnant. The statement in verse 61 that Jerusalem "shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed" declares that the remnant did identify God's requirement and respond with heart circumcision. The shame sensed by the remnant is what they felt because of the iniquity of the nation, not so much what the circumcized of heart felt with regard to their own imperfect abilities. The principle in God's dealing with that nation should be kept in mind: the blessings prophesied were designed to reward the remnant, but the punishments were suited for those deserving them. The fulfillment of verses 60-63 began with God's acceptance of Israelites in Jerusalem at Pentecost.

New Jerusalem

The divine promises to Jerusalem and her daughters need to be recognized and treasured by all who would receive the Lord's pardon for sin, at whatever time such pardon is evidenced. Great changes commenced at Pentecost. After a time of exclusive spiritual opportunity to fleshly Israel, followed by extensive efforts for a decade to enlighten Jews, much of the Christian ministry thereafter was devoted to the enlightenment of Gentiles. All the promises to the former fleshly Jerusalem now find their fulfillment through identification with "Jerusalem which is above," which "is free, which is our mother" (Gal. 4:26). As Paul taught, Gentiles must come into this New Jerusalem, even as Sodom, allegorically representative of the Gentiles, was one of the sisters which would come to Jerusalem as 'daughters' (Ezek. 16:60-63). It is not inappropriate for Gentile believers to be represented by Sodom in view of the Apostle's teaching in I Cor. 6:9-11: "...and such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." Only through entrance into the spiritual relationship which those promises encourage does one receive salvation.

That which the Apostle referred to as "Jerusalem which is above" is represented in Scripture as the source of spiritual blessing. Its influence began as soon as the prophetic "sprout of David" (Jer. 33:15) came to judgment power and authority. The city referred to in Jer. 33:4 in the phrase, "the houses of this city," was Jerusalem. Its houses and the houses of the kings of Judah were special objects of that wrath of God expressed in the conflict with Babylon relating to their captivity. But a remnant from both segments of the divided 12 tribes were invited to return and were built again under God's providence, verse 7.

All the promises symbolized in Jer. 33:8-14 began their rich spiritual fulfillment to Israelites indeed who became citizen- children of "Jerusalem which is above, which is our mother" (Gal. 4:26). The blessing of Gentile believers depends on recognition and continued allegiance to the new spiritual city. Verses 15-17 pointed forward from Jeremiah's time to "in those days" then future, when the exaltation of the "sprout of David" would meet its reality in the resurrection of King Jesus to "all power in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18). To the inhabitants of this new Jerusalem, God has given all that He promised: prosperity, joy, the voice of the bridegroom and the bride, mercy, shepherds, righteousness and salvation. No wonder the prophet wrote, "And this is the name by which it [she] will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness'" (Jer. 33:16, RSV, NAS, NEB), as it has been since Pentecost.

The prophecy of Jer. 33:17,18 has met its fulfillment in the glorification of our Master. No longer has there been "want of a man to sit upon the throne" or "of a man...to offer sacrifice continually." The offices of king and priest have been combined in Christ Jesus our Lord, and he has become "a priest upon his throne" (Zech. 6:13), a kingly "priest forever after the order of Melchizedeck" (Psa. 110:4). But consider the disharmony if one were to conclude that the fulfillment of the two prophecies just noted, and of Jer. 33:17,18 has not yet been reached! Such would mean that as yet there has been no antitypical David; that Jesus is not a King on David's throne; and that our merciful high priest is not ministering as the antitypical Melchizedek.

Summary

The message in Ezekiel 16 represents irrevocable loss to fleshly Israel of exclusive spiritual opportunity, and loss of all spiritual preeminence. The prophetic promises to 'Jerusalem' pertaining to her spiritual aspects are being fulfilled in the "Jerusalem which is above." It has been seen that the generations of idolatrous Jerusalem lost all founded hope of future earthly preeminence, as also did the generation living in the time of Jesus. Relative to future generations, Jesus testified that "your house is abandoned unto you" (Matt. 23:38). "God...now commandeth all men everywhere to repent."--Acts 17:30

Notes for Further Study:

Moses' warning in Deut. 29:10-25 is part of a comprehensive prophecy forewarning Israel of coming experiences. Israel's sins and punishments are depicted through three chapters, Deut. 27-29. The following was prophesied:

Removal of hereditary kings, Deut. 28:36; Babylonian oppression, Deut. 28:49; the scattering of the people, Deut. 28:64; captivity and desolation, Deut. 29:23-28; events leading to captivity, Deut. 31:16-18; regathering promised, Deut. 30:1-6; (return of "good figs," Jer. 24:5-7; dispersion of rebellious, Jer. 24:9,10); favor upon return, Deut. 30:7-10; special encouragement in the land, Deut. 30:11-14 (quoted by Paul, Rom. 10:6-8); jealousy over Gentile opportunity, Deut. 32:20,21 (explained by Paul Rom. 11:11); events of the era of A.D. 68-70, Deut. 32:24,25; that God wants His rejection of Israel known, Deut. 32:26,27; God's last plea, Deut. 32:29 (delivered by Jesus, Matt. 23:37); behaves like Sodom did, Deut. 32:32 (Isa. 5:1-7, Jer. 2:21); recompense, Deut. 32:35 (referenced by Paul Rom. 11:11); concluding vengeance, Deut. 32:36 (Heb. 10:30, Matt. 10:23, 9:36-38, John 4:34,35, Luke 23:27-31, Ezek. 20:47-59, Matt. 23:38.


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