Ezekiel 23:1-4 (NIV) 1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, there were two women, daughters of the same mother. 3 They became prostitutes in Egypt, engaging in prostitution from their youth. In that land their breasts were fondled and their virgin bosoms caressed. 4 The older was named Oholah, and her sister was Oholibah. They were mine and gave birth to sons and daughters. Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem.
On verses 1-4: Here the Lord begins to tell Ezekiel a parable concerning two sisters called Oholah and Oholibah. Oholah (whose name means “her tent”) is the older sister and represents the northern kingdom of Israel and in particular its capital city Samaria. Oholibah (whose name means “my tent is in her”) is the younger sister and represents the southern kingdom of Judah and in particular its capital city Jerusalem. They were “daughters of the same mother” (v2) in that Judah and Israel originally comprised the one nation called “Israel” before they divided into two kingdoms. When verse 3 says that these two sisters were “prostitutes in Egypt, engaging in prostitution from their youth” (v3), this is likely a reference to how early on Israel looked to the Egyptians to save them from death (Genesis 42:1) but eventually became slaves to the Egyptians (Exodus 1:11).
What can we learn from this? This entire parable is talking about the Israelites’ tendency to look to other nations for help and deliverance instead of looking to God. As we will see in the verses that follow, in each case, the Israelites would find themselves becoming slaves or captives to the very people they thought would protect them and set them free. What they needed all along but shunned all too often was to place their hope in God alone.
Likewise, this entire parable illustrates for us the grave dangers of placing your hope in people instead of placing your hope in God.
Ezekiel 23:5-10 (NIV) 5 “Oholah engaged in prostitution while she was still mine; and she lusted after her lovers, the Assyrians–warriors 6 clothed in blue, governors and commanders, all of them handsome young men, and mounted horsemen. 7 She gave herself as a prostitute to all the elite of the Assyrians and defiled herself with all the idols of everyone she lusted after. 8 She did not give up the prostitution she began in Egypt, when during her youth men slept with her, caressed her virgin bosom and poured out their lust upon her. 9 “Therefore I handed her over to her lovers, the Assyrians, for whom she lusted. 10 They stripped her naked, took away her sons and daughters and killed her with the sword. She became a byword among women, and punishment was inflicted on her.
On verses 5-10: For many years Israel (represented by the capital of city of Samaria and symbolized in this parable by the woman “Oholah”) had a hot-cold, on again-off again relationship with Assyria that was like a destructive love affair. This would play out in history between 743 B.C. and 722 B.C.
In approximately 743 B.C. Assyria invaded Israel, so King Menahem of Israel paid tribute to Assyria in the form of 1,000 talents (or 37 tons) of silver. He paid all this to Assyria in the hope of getting Assyria’s protection and support (2 Kings 15:19-20).
In approximately 732 B.C. Pekah king of Israel formed an alliance with another king (King Rezin of Damascus) in hopes of now getting up from under Assyrian control. As a result, Assyria invaded Israel once again, required Israel to pay tribute to Assyria and deported many Israelites out of Samaria (2 Kings 15:29).
Later that same year in 732 B.C. Hoshea murders Pekah king of Israel and assumes the throne of Israel. Eventually King Hoshea refuses to pay tribute to Assyria and looks to Egypt for help against Assyria. That’s why Ezekiel 23:8 refers to how Israel “did not give up the prostitution she began in Egypt” (v8). However, the Assyrians lay siege to Samaria and capture it in 722 B.C. The Israelites in Samaria are deported out of Samaria. This story is told in part in 2 Kings 17:3-23.
As history would show, Israel at first lusted after Assyria’s help and protection, only to become controlled, captured and shamed by Assyria.
Ezekiel 23:11-13 (NIV) 11 “Her sister Oholibah saw this, yet in her lust and prostitution she was more depraved than her sister. 12 She too lusted after the Assyrians–governors and commanders, warriors in full dress, mounted horsemen, all handsome young men. 13 I saw that she too defiled herself; both of them went the same way.
On verses 11-13: Like Israel (“Oholah”) before her, the nation of Judah also lusted after Assyria. In 732 B.C. King Ahaz of Judah willingly pledged himself as a servant and vassal of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7). To get Assyria’s protection, he paid Assyria with all the gold and silver in the temple of Jerusalem and the royal palace. He was so enamoured with Assyria that he even copied their altar used for idol worship and made a replica in Judah. For the next century, Judah would be a vassal (servant) of Assyria and would not be delivered from Assyrian threats until Hezekiah became king of Judah and looked to God for a miraculous deliverance.
Yet even after this, Judah would go even further than her sister Israel in her lust for and promiscuity with other nations, as we will see the verses that follow.
Ezekiel 23:14-21 (NIV) 14 “But she carried her prostitution still further. She saw men portrayed on a wall, figures of Chaldeans portrayed in red, 15 with belts around their waists and flowing turbans on their heads; all of them looked like Babylonian chariot officers, natives of Chaldea. 16 As soon as she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. 17 Then the Babylonians came to her, to the bed of love, and in their lust they defiled her. After she had been defiled by them, she turned away from them in disgust. 18 When she carried on her prostitution openly and exposed her nakedness, I turned away from her in disgust, just as I had turned away from her sister. 19 Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. 20 There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. 21 So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.
On verses 14-21: After her love affair with Assyria, Judah lusted after the Chaldeans and the Babylonians, worshiping their gods. For example, see 2 Kings 21:2 where King Manasseh leads Judah into a wide-scale idolatry, worshiping the gods of other nations.
Ezekiel 23:22-31 (NIV) 22 “Therefore, Oholibah, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will stir up your lovers against you, those you turned away from in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side– 23 the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, the men of Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, handsome young men, all of them governors and commanders, chariot officers and men of high rank, all mounted on horses. 24 They will come against you with weapons, chariots and wagons and with a throng of people; they will take up positions against you on every side with large and small shields and with helmets. I will turn you over to them for punishment, and they will punish you according to their standards. 25 I will direct my jealous anger against you, and they will deal with you in fury. They will cut off your noses and your ears, and those of you who are left will fall by the sword. They will take away your sons and daughters, and those of you who are left will be consumed by fire. 26 They will also strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry. 27 So I will put a stop to the lewdness and prostitution you began in Egypt. You will not look on these things with longing or remember Egypt anymore. 28 “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to hand you over to those you hate, to those you turned away from in disgust. 29 They will deal with you in hatred and take away everything you have worked for. They will leave you naked and bare, and the shame of your prostitution will be exposed. Your lewdness and promiscuity 30 have brought this upon you, because you lusted after the nations and defiled yourself with their idols. 31 You have gone the way of your sister; so I will put her cup into your hand.
On verses 22-31: Judah had a continual lust for other nations, a penchant for thinking that being close to other nations (most recently Babylon) and worshiping their gods would give her security and freedom. Yet ultimately Judah would only be controlled, captured and shamed by the very nation Judah thought would be her salvation. Ultimately, in 586 B.C. Jerusalem (Judah’s capital city) would fall to the Babylonians and the last group of Israelites in Jerusalem would be captured and deported to Babylon.
What can we learn from all this? Don’t put your hope in people as if they are your salvation or the be all and end all of your happiness. When we allow people to take God’s place in our heart, we will ultimately be miserable, disappointed and taken captive. But when we let God be God in our lives, we experience true freedom and security.
Heavenly Father, in both peaceful times and troubled times, may You alone be my hope, for true freedom and real security come from You alone. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!