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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 23



Verse 3

3. They committed whoredoms in Egypt — It is plain from this that Ezekiel knew that Israel had broken faith with the one God in Goshen. Baethgen has convincingly proved that Kuenen’s idea of an original Hebrew polytheism has not the slightest foundation. He shows that when the prophets were battling for monotheism they were not striving for a new thing, but for the ancient imperishable treasure which the nation did not prize and revere enough. Moses and the prophets, as little as Jesus, wished to proclaim a new God. They only revealed another phase of the character and will of the “Ancient of Days.” “As far back as Israelitish history can be followed into the past the legitimate worship of Israel was the worship of the one God, and the worship of other gods was regarded as an apostasy.” (See Baethgen, Der Gott Israels und die Gotter der Heiden, 1888.)

Verse 4

4. Aholah… and Aholibah — Rather, Oholah… and Oholibah. These sisters have symbolic names, meaning “her tent” and “my tent in her”; probably signifying that Samaria dwelt apart, in a sanctuary of her own devising, while Jehovah dwelt with Judah. This special privilege would magnify the guilt of Oholibah’s apostasy. It is possible, however, that the reference may only be to the worship on high places common to both divisions of the kingdom. (Compare chap. xvi, where Jerusalem is represented as a harlot having two sisters, Samaria and Sodom.) For the sake of the allegory Ezekiel pictures both of these sisters as wives of the same husband, though he well knew this was contrary to the law (Leviticus 18:18).

Verse 5

5. And Aholah played the harlot — The wife deserts her husband and joins herself to the handsomely uniformed Assyrians. Nahum represents Nineveh as the grand courtesan of the nations. Her palaces and glorious gardens and, above all, the military prowess which for six centuries dominated the whole earth made her brave to look upon. “In war the Assyrians astonished the people by the richness of the colors of their costumes, the flashing of their arms, and the multitude of horses and chariots, which has never been surpassed by any other people.” — Delatre. The military grandeur of these young horsemen dazzles her eyes and she accepts them and “all their idols” (Ezekiel 23:7) instead of her true Lord. This evidently refers to Jerusalem’s political as well as her religious affiliation with Assyria. (Compare Hosea 5:13; Hosea 7:11; 2 Kings 23:11; 2 Kings 17:4.) Her neighbors (also Ezekiel 23:12) — The nations that had formerly seemed far away (Ezekiel 23:40) came very near to Jerusalem after Jehu began to pay tribute to Shalmaneser (Black Obelisk). It is probable, however, that this Hebrew term may mean “warriors” (Smend) or “high dignitaries” (Toy).

Verse 6

6. Captains and rulers — Rather, prefects and governors, Toy. (See Nehemiah 4:14; Nehemiah 5:15).

Verses 7-10

7-10. This vile creature is not even true to her Assyrian paramour, but continues the adultery with Egypt began in her youth. It was because her Assyrian lovers discovered her intrigues with Egypt that they tore off her beautiful garments and left her stricken and destitute.

Famous [literally, a name] among women — See notes Ezekiel 16:37. It is especially emphasized that it shall be those for whom she has forsaken her loving husband who shall oppress her and make her a byword. The language and comparisons were intended to shock the hearers and compel them to acknowledge that the most indecent actions of the most shameless prostitutes were not as bad as the treatment of Jehovah by Samaria and Judah.

Verse 11

11. Aholibah… was more corrupt — Judah, though with greater privileges, was even worse than her sister Samaria (Ezekiel 16:47; Ezekiel 16:51; Jeremiah 3:8; Jeremiah 3:11). She also doted upon the young Assyrian cavalrymen (Ezekiel 23:12) and defiled herself with them (Ezekiel 23:13), and as soon as she saw the wall pictures representing the Babylonian military officers, so passionate did she become that she could not even wait for them to come and offer their illicit affection, but hastened messengers to them calling them to her “bed of love” (Ezekiel 23:14-17). The wall decorations mentioned are very common in the ruins of Chaldean palaces and temples. The pictures are often carved in brick and then enameled in bright colors. So naturalistic is the description in these verses (14-16) that Layard took them for the motto of his Nineveh and its Remains. The Assyrians and Babylonians much resembled each other in the gorgeousness of their dress and other decorations. The robes of the king were richly embroidered, covered often with exquisite designs of genii and symbolic animals set with precious stones. Among the spoils and tribute inscribed on the monuments colored garments of blue and purple are frequently mentioned. The very word used by Ezekiel — takiltu (Ezekiel 23:6) — often occurs in these lists (Evetts).

Verse 14

14. And that — Rather, And yet. Ezekiel 23:13 should close with a period. This verse opens to view Judah’s affiliations with Babylon. Jerusalem early saw that Babylon was to become a great power and courted its favor even while it was yet a vassal of Assyria (Isaiah 39).

Verse 15

15. Girdles — It was a peculiarity of the Chaldeans, as shown by the monuments, that they used as a girdle the azar, or large shawl, which other Eastern people used as a waistcloth, confining their flowing robes with this instead of a simple belt (Jewish Quarterly Review, 4:29) — so true, to the smallest detail, is this prophet’s description.

Exceeding in dyed attire — Rather, with dyed turbans pendent. The monuments often represent the headdress richly dyed red and hanging down behind. Princes (“great lords,” Ezekiel 23:23) — Rather, knights (1 Kings 9:20). Orelli well suggests that in chapter 16 the misbehavior of the false wife is emphasized, while in this chapter the fascination of the foreign world powers is in the foreground.

Verse 17

17. Her mind was alienated from them — This occurred after her passion was satisfied (compare 2 Samuel 13:15), and she began to feel the weight of the heavy hand of her Babylonian lovers and to long for release; but it was too late to return without bitter repentance to her true husband, for his mind had also become alienated from her (Ezekiel 23:18).

Verse 19

19. Yet she multiplied her whoredoms — She was not true to her new Babylonian paramour, nor did she return to her rightful husband, but ever courted other foreign alliances, especially with Egypt. (See Ezekiel 16:32; Isaiah 30, 31.) Calling to remembrance the days of her youth — See notes Ezekiel 5:3. It is only natural that during the centuries which Israel spent in Egypt she should have been impressed with the rich and splendid ritual. A new light has been thrown upon the worship of the golden calf in the wilderness by the discovery of an Egyptian text which states that a silver calf of six hundred pounds weight was yearly offered to the great god of Pithom — the city which the Israelites built (Exodus 1:11), and which was situated on the edge of the land of Goshen, where they lived.

Verse 20

20. Compare notes Ezekiel 16:26, and see Jeremiah 5:8. The coarsest and most fleshly abominations just suited her taste.

Verse 21

21. Calledst to remembrance — Rather, soughtest after, renewed. In bruising, etc. — Rather, when they of Egypt did bruise thy teats, for to press the breasts of thy youth. (See Ezekiel 23:3.)

Verse 23


23. Pekod, and Shoa, and Koa — These are supposed to be abbreviated names of various tribes among the Chaldeans or which lived neighbor to them. Pekod is very like the Pu-ku-du of the monuments (see also Jeremiah 50:21), while Shoa and Koa have been identified with the Kutu and the Sutu which are often mentioned together in the cuneiform inscriptions (Schrader, Orelli).

Verse 24

24. Chariots, wagons, and wheels, and… people — R.V., “weapons, chariots, and wagons, and… peoples.” Delitzsch gives an Assyrian word, meaning “multitude,” which is very like the unknown Hebrew word translated “chariots” in A.V.

Verse 25

25. I will set my jealousy against thee — See note Ezekiel 5:13.

They shall take away thy nose and thine ears — So Babylonian captives were often mutilated (for example, Zedekiah, Jeremiah 52:11). It was also the practice among some ancient peoples to mutilate the adulteress.

Thy remnant… thy residue — The same word in both cases. The picture of the adulteress gives way for a moment to the picture of Jerusalem in flames and her inhabitants falling by the sword (compare 5-7).

Verse 26

26. Note Ezekiel 16:39.

Verses 27-29

27-29. This unfaithfulness, begun in Egypt and continued ever since, shall finally cease (note Ezekiel 22:15), but not until her old lovers “in hatred” shall take away all her wealth (labor) and leave her destitute, her nakedness publicly revealed (discovered).

Verse 30

30. I will do these things unto thee — The Septuagint places a period after “discovered” (Ezekiel 23:29), and reads, “Thy lewdness and thy whoredoms have done this unto thee.” (Compare Jeremiah 4:18.) In many places in this prophecy Jehovah considers as his own actions the deeds which he permits even bad men to perform. He makes even the wrath of men to praise him. Unknowingly and unwillingly the Assyrians and Egyptians become his agents in punishing and purifying his disobedient people (note Ezekiel 20:25).

Verse 31-32

31, 32. Her cup — See Jeremiah 25:15; Matthew 20:22; Matthew 26:39. Every inhabitant of Jerusalem would admit that Samaria’s cup of sin and folly and punishment was deep and large (Ezekiel 23:32).

It containeth much — Or, thou shalt be had in derision to the uttermost.

Verse 33

33. See Isaiah 51:17-23.

Verse 34

34. Thou shalt break the sherds — Or, “gnaw the sherds” (R.V.). In her madness and pain the drunken woman lacerates her lips with the broken cup and plucks off (mutilates, or tears, Ezekiel 23:25) her own breasts. See Jeremiah 25:15-18.) This verse is sometimes omitted in the critical versions of the text because of its ambiguity.

Verse 36

36. Here begins a new description of the wickedness of the two sisters who have committed adultery by idol worship (Ezekiel 23:37); whose hands are stained with the blood of their own children (Ezekiel 23:37); who are sabbath breakers and profane (Ezekiel 23:38), yet, notwithstanding all this, hope for beauty and happiness (Ezekiel 23:41).

Wilt thou judge — See Ezekiel 20:4.

Verse 37

37. To pass for them through the fire — On Molech worship see note Ezekiel 16:20-21. The Baal worship was only a little less horrible. (See Vigouroux, “Les Pretres de Baal,” Revue Biblique, 1896.)

Verse 39

39. The same day — This was an especial insult to Jehovah. The sacrilegious irreverence of these pretended worshipers of Jehovah is seen in the fact that they do not even repent of such practices, but unblushingly enter the holy place. This proved that they neither obeyed nor feared the Lord of the house (Ezekiel 8:17; 2 Kings 21:4; Jeremiah 32:34).

Jerusalem has become like the prostitutes of the heathen temple, who seek visitors from afar (see Ezekiel 23:16); who bathe themselves, and paint their eyes with kohl to make them look large and bright, who bedeck themselves with jewels (Ezekiel 23:40), and use the sacred incense and oil as attractions for their bed of lust (Ezekiel 23:41). The revelations of Jerusalem life given elsewhere by Ezekiel and other prophets prove that this was not all metaphor, nor does it refer merely to political alliances. The prevalence of idolatry in Jerusalem, and even in the temple itself, proves the presence of these other shameless iniquities. No wonder the prophet calls the holy city a harlot, and speaks in words that cut to the quick against practices which strike at the roots of all social and family life (Ezekiel 23:40-44).

Verse 42

42. And a voice of a multitude being at ease was with her — The LXX. reads, And with a loud noise did they sing therein.

And with the men… Sabeans — Hebrews with men… drunkards. From the earliest days harlotry and drunkenness have been closely associated.

Verse 43

43. Mosheh Ben Shesheth renders: “As I looked I thought: Can it be that a woman who is old and decrepit will commit adultery? Or is it not enough that she has grown old in whoredoms? No; therefore even these have come to commit them with her?(or, Will they not take away all her gains and herself as well?).” This shows how uncertain the Hebrew text is. The picture seems to be that of a woman worn out in sin, yet still attempting to carry on her old life. It of course refers to Jerusalem coqueting with foreign alliances and foreign idolatries.

Verse 45

45. Righteous men; they shall judge them — As righteous men would execute lawful punishment upon such adulteresses, stoning them with stones (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; Deuteronomy 22:24), so a company of God’s executioners shall come upon Jerusalem and Samaria and they shall be removed (literally, tossed to and fro), spoiled, stoned, destroyed with fire and sword (Ezekiel 5:2; Ezekiel 6:4-10; Ezekiel 16:40-41). The result shall be a world-wide warning against idolatry and its complete extermination in Israel (Ezekiel 23:48-49). The influence of this chapter is seen throughout all Jewish literature. Take for example, this pathetic extract from the Hebrew Divan of R. Judah Halevy: —

O cup of woe! Give pause! Give breathing space!

My veins and soul are full of bitterness. I think on Aholah

I drink thy cup; On Aholibah then I drain its dregs.

O Zion, “perfect beauty,” grace and love

Of old thou bindest on thee yea, the souls

Of sages, too, are bound up in thy life,

These gladden in thy weal, these wail thy woe,

These weep thy ruin. Still from captive pit

Toward thee they yearn, and toward thy sacred gates

Each from his place they bow them down in prayer.


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ezekiel 23:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

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