Elon, North Carolina
We come today to a chapter in Ezekiel that will never be preached in most pulpits in America. It is a chapter that is never taught to kids in Sunday School. If kids came home to parents and said some of the things in this chapter, they would be shocked and would be even more shocked that these were simply things they learned in church.
A Shocking Chapter
The Bible is not all G-rated. Some of the Bible is not appropriate for preschoolers. The Bible can be broken down to children but it does not read like a children’s book. The Bible contains stories which involve nudity and adultery. It contains stories which involve homosexuality and incest. It contains stories which involve rape and prostitution. It contains stories which involve murder, cannibalism and suicide.
Today, we come to a chapter which contains adult themes. It is a chapter that is rated R. This chapter is violent. It is offensive. It is sexually explicit. Some have called it the most sexually explicit passage in the Bible, even more explicit than the Song of Solomon.
It is graphic. The chapter is so graphic that almost all Bibles try to clean it up and sanitize some of the verses in the chapter. They do not tell you what it actually says. For example, Ezekiel 23:20 in the reads in one version, “For she doted upon her paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of donkeys, and whose issue is like the issue of horses” (King James 2000).
Let me read what the verse actually says. “She lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose semen was like that of horses” (God’s Word Translation). That has to go down as one of the strangest verses in the Bible. It mentions donkey balls and horse emission.
Critics ask how can a chapter like this even be inspired by God. How can a filthy chapter be included in a holy book, like the Bible? That is a common Muslim argument. For someone living in the modern world, this chapter is not that shocking. It might be to someone living in Puritan New England but not to someone who lives in America today.
One thing we can say is that the Bible does deal with adult themes and some graphic topics because it contains true stories about real people who do some terrible things. The Bible does not try to hide the faults of people. It does not even try to cover up the sins of the saints.
It exposes them. The Bible describes terrible behavior or people but it does not glorify it. It does not condone that behavior. It does not justify sexual immorality, like the world does. It condemns it. Critics of this chapter make a mistake. It is a mistake that many people make when they read the Bible.
Two Extremes in Interpretation
1) Completely Literal
People who read the Bible often go to two extremes. Some take things in the Bible as literal that were meant to be figurative. Jesus said if you right eye offend you, pluck it out. If your right hand offends you, cut if off (Matthew 5:29-30). We know that this is not literal but some have taken it as literal and mutilated their own bodies. They have never heard of exaggeration. Jesus used hyperbole like people do today.
2) Completely Figurative
Others take something in the Bible as figurative which was meant to be literal. They ask if Adam and Eve were real people and whether Jonah really spend time in the belly of a fish and survived. They ask if Jesus really performed miracles, was born of a virgin and rose form the dead. They ask if the creation story in Genesis should be taken literally or symbolically.
A Symbolic Chapter
That brings us to a very important point. If you get this wrong, you completely misunderstand the whole chapter. Most of us are used to interpreting the Bible literally. We take it at face value most of the time but you cannot do that in Ezekiel 23. This entire chapter is symbolic. It does not mean what it says, it means what it means. It is an allegory.
Virtually nothing in the chapter is literal. The word “prostitute” or “whore” is used about twenty times in the chapter in different forms but these prostitutes are not engaging in physical intercourse. It is a completely different type of prostitution. These sister played the whore “WITH NATIONS” (23:30).
It refers to marital unfaithfulness but it is not talking about physical adultery. It is talking about spiritual adultery. The chapter mentions “lust” about ten times (23:5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 20) but it is not sexual lust at all. It is a lust for political and military power. It mentions “lovers” (23:5, 9, 20, 22) but it is not talking about two lovebirds.
It mentions a “bed of love” (23:17) but it is not talking about a literal bed of love. It is symbolic. The chapter mentions two women and even gives their names. Their names are Oholah (oh-HO-lah) and Oholibah (Oh-ho-li-BAH) but they are not really women.
These two women represent cities (23:4). One sister represents Samaria and one sister represent Jerusalem but they are not even cities. They actually represent kingdoms. Oholah, which is Samaria, represents the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom). Oholibah, which is Jerusalem, represents the Kingdom of Judah (Jerusalem was the capital of the Southern Kingdom).
These two women have the same family name (ohol). Their family name comes from the Hebrew word for “tent.” It is pronounced oh-hell in Hebrew (ʾōhel) but it is not a swear word, just the Hebrew word for “tent.” Oholibah means “my tent is in her.” God’s Temple was in Jerusalem.
Oholah means “her tent.” God’s tent was never in Samaria. He put it in Jerusalem. Samaria set up her own tent of meeting. Samaria had had her own place of worship with golden calves. It was a worship God never recognized.
This chapter is symbolic. If that is true, it means that the sin of the sisters is not primarily sexual. That seems impossible. If you read the chapter, it mentions nakedness, lust prostitution, adultery. It mentions sexual organs (breasts) but all of these things are symbolic. When you look at the actual sins of the city mentioned, they have nothing to do with sex. What are the actual sins of the cities mentioned here?
The Lord said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Declare to them their abominations. 37 For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. With their idols they have committed adultery, and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me. 38 Moreover, this they have done to me: they have defiled my sanctuary ON THE SAME DAY and profaned my Sabbaths. 39 For when they had slaughtered their children in sacrifice to their idols, ON THE SAME DAY they came into my sanctuary to profane it. And behold, this is what they did in my house. (23:36-39 ESV)
But righteous men shall pass judgment on them with the sentence of adulteresses, and with the sentence of women who shed blood, because they are adulteresses, and blood is on their hands.” (23:45 45 ESV)
What were the two sins? The first sin was idolatry. God says it is adultery but the adultery He is talking about is spiritual adultery, which is idolatry. He says, “with their idols they have committed adultery” (23:37 ESV). The second sin is murder. Murder is tied into idolatry, because it mentions child sacrifice.
Their idolatry led to murder. It led to the murder of their own kids. On the very day they murdered their children in front of their idols, they came into the Temple and defiled God’s house. False religion often leads to bloodshed and murder. That is one of the ways you can true religion from false religion. You see it especially in Islam where you have murder in the name of Allah.
Not all Muslims are violent. Many are peaceful but Islam is not a religion that teaches you to love your enemies, forgive people and to turn the other cheek. It is and has always been a religion of the sword. Many have been killed in the name of that religion. It is a religion dripping in blood.
Overview of the Chapter
This is a long chapter but the message of the chapter is very clear. Keep in mind, as we go over it that it is symbolic. It is a story about two women who become prostitutes. Both women are married to the same man. In the chapter, they are married to God. God says, “They became mine, and they bore sons and daughters” (23:4 ESV). They were not only married but had kids.
You do not want to read too much into this. It is an allegory. The point is not that it is okay to marry two women or even to marry sisters. That was prohibited in the OT (Leviticus 18:18). It was not God’s original purpose for there to be two kingdoms. There was only supposed to be one kingdom but a division occurred and the nation split. The oldest sister committed adultery and adultery turned into prostitution and was judged by God.
“Oholah played the whore while she was mine, and she lusted after her lovers the Assyrians, warriors 6 clothed in purple, governors and commanders, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. 7 She bestowed her whoring upon them, the choicest men of Assyria all of them, and she defiled herself with all the idols of everyone after whom she lusted. (23:5-7 ESV)
Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, into the hands of the Assyrians, after whom she lusted. 10 These uncovered her nakedness; they seized her sons and her daughters; and as for her, they killed her with the sword; and she became a byword among women, when judgment had been executed on her. (23:9-10 ESV)
That happened when Israel fell with the Assyrian Captivity. They had been gone for one hundred and thirty-six years. They fell in 722 BC. It is now close to 586 BC. Then the second, sister does exactly the same thing. History repeats itself.
“Her sister Oholibah saw this, and she became more corrupt than her sister in her lust and in her whoring, which was worse than that of her sister. 12 She lusted after the Assyrians, governors and commanders, warriors clothed in full armor, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men.
14 But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, 15 wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. 16 When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. 17 And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoring lust. And after she was defiled by them (23:11-12, 14-17 ESV).
Oholibah continued in the family sin. She not only followed the bad example of her older sister and repeated her sins, she was worse than her sister. She outdid her sister in sin and depravity. What was so shocking about this?
The northern kingdom was extremely wicked. They worshipped a bunch of golden calves. They were completely apostate. They had a completely different set of worship. The southern kingdom did not seem as bad. They had the true worship. They had the Temple. They had the priests. They had the Davidic kings. God says that they were actually worse than the northern kingdom.
God said that the southern kingdom which was outwardly more orthodox was worse than the apostate northern kingdom. That is like a Jesus saying to outwardly moral and religious Pharisees that they were more wicked than people who lived in open sin. It is like God calling a conservative Baptist church being worse than a liberate apostate church. That was the shock. Idolatry was not just in the north; it was in the south. Jeremiah said that Judah had as many gods as they had cities (Jeremiah 11:13). The result was divine judgment.
Therefore, O Oholibah, thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will stir up against you your lovers from whom you turned in disgust, and I will bring them AGAINST YOU from every side: 23 the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, governors and commanders all of them, officers and men of renown, all of them riding on horses.
24 And they shall come AGAINST YOU from the north with chariots and wagons and a host of peoples. They shall set themselves against you on every side with buckler, shield, and helmet; and I will commit the judgment to them, and they shall judge you according to their judgments. 25 And I will direct my jealousy AGAINST YOU, that they may deal with you IN FURY. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire. They shall also strip you of your clothes and take away your beautiful jewels (23:22-26 ESV)
Application for Today
1) Sin is Shocking
Why did God use the kind of language found in this chapter? The chapter is almost pornographic. He did it to shock them to show how bad their behavior was. He did it to get their attention. He described things that they would think was offensive so they could see how offensive their behavior was to God.
God is offensive on purpose in this chapter to show the shocking nature of sin, to show how serious it is to God. This chapter shows how disgusted he is by it and how it offends Him.
We do not think sin is that bad. We are not shocked by it. We are not offended by it. It is so routine and accepted in our society today and sometimes even in the church that we often no longer look at it as bad. Wrong behavior that has been practiced for a long time no longer seems wrong. It becomes accepted by people.
We do not even call it bad. We use all kinds of euphemisms for sin today. Sin is ugly. We do not like to call sin what it is, so we use all kinds of euphemisms to make it sound better. The Bible says that covetousness is idolatry. We call it “the American dream.”
We do not say that people lie. We just say that they stretch the truth. Couples do not fornicate. They are not immoral. They just live together. They just sleep together. Two men in a relationship are not homosexual. They are just gay. The world calls it “an alternative lifestyle.” God calls it “an abomination.”
When people take the Lord’s name in vain, we do not call it swearing or cursing. We just say that they have colorful language. When spouses commit adultery, we say that they are having an affair or a fling. If we believe in abortion, we do not say that we believe killing babies is okay. We say that we are pro-choice. We do not get angry. We just get fed up or ticked off. Christians do not gossip. They just get prayer requests.
Now euphemisms are not wrong. The Bible uses many of them. Adam knew his wife and knew her so well that she conceived and bore a son. That is a euphemism for sex. There is another one used in this chapter. Oholah lusts after the Assyrians and they come and uncover her nakedness (23:10). That is a euphemism for sex. It is not wrong to use euphemisms but it is wrong to be afraid to call sin what it is or to rationalize or justify it. It is wrong to call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20).
2) Sin has Consequences
Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring” (23:35 ESV)
Thus will I put an end to lewdness in the land, that all women may take warning and not commit lewdness as you have done. 49 And they shall return your lewdness upon you, and you shall bear the penalty for your sinful idolatry, and you shall know that I am the Lord God.” (23:48-49 ESV)
We like to sin without consequences. Every time we sin, there are consequences and some of the consequences not pretty. People were starving to death in the famine. Others were getting sick. Many died violent deaths. The few that survived were kicked out of their country and lost all of their possessions.The Bible says that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8).
Individuals suffer the consequences of sin. Families suffer the consequences of sin. Churches suffer the consequences of sin. Nations also suffer the consequences of their sin. When Israel and Judah sinned, God did not send fire down from heaven. He just sent the Assyrians and the Babylonians. They invaded the country and it was not an accident. God said that He sent them. He said that it was a consequence of their own actions (23:35).
God used their own sin to judge them. Israel lusted after the Assyrians, so God used them to judge them. Judah lusted after Babylon, so God used the Babylonians to judge them. He used their lovers to destroy them. The ones they thought would protect them, ended up destroying them. If we make a god out of alcohol or drugs, that may be what God uses to judge us. That may be what does us in in the end.
3) Sin Needs to be Exposed.
Ezekiel’s job was to preach against sin. The Lord said to me: “Son of man, will YOU judge Oholah and Oholibah? Declare to them their abominations” (23:36 ESV). Ezekiel exposed the sins of these two sisters. That is our job today, although not too many Christians do it. We are to shine the light in the darkness and when we do that, evil will be exposed.
That doesn’t mean we are to be self-righteous and arrogant. It does mean that we are to stand up for biblical truth and biblical values. If you do that, prepare to suffer persecution. You will be unpopular. If you dare to take a biblical stand on moral issues today, you will be called hateful or intolerant.