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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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EZEKIEL 23

ALLEGORY OF OHOLAH AND OHOLIBAH, i.e., SAMARIA AND JERUSALEM

Several of the authors whose works we have consulted with reference to this chapter have called the language of it repulsive, erotic, crude, indelicate and disgusting. We do not agree with such an attack. Our society has almost removed the common words for sin from their vocabulary.

The prodigal waster refers to himself as "generous," or "liberal." The stingy miser thinks of himself as "thrifty." The drunkard parades as "sociable," or as an innocent sufferer from "alcoholism." The adulterers like to appear as, "modern," or subscribers to the "new morality." Homosexuals call themselves "gay"; but God's Word indulges no such euphemisms. Sins are described in brutal language that refers to them in terms of what they actually are. "Ezekiel selected the marriage metaphor here (we believe the selection was God's choice, not Ezekiel's) for the purpose of showing in a glaring light the full horror of the people's disloyalty."F1 "It should be remembered that Ezekiel is here using the normal thought forms of his day to convey weighty teachings from God regarding the ways of men."F2

"The adultery in this chapter symbolizes primarily the foreign alliances with pagan nations (which indeed always involved the acknowledgement of the gods of the allied nations)."F3 Since the worship of those evil pagan gods was depraved and licentious almost beyond imagination, the representation of God's Chosen People here under the figure of two sisters, insatiable in their lewdness, must be accepted as authentic and appropriate.

It is a bit shocking that Samaria is presented here as the older of the two sisters, since historically, this is incorrect. "What seems to be meant is that the Northern kingdom was larger and more powerful than the southern kingdom.F4

Ezek. 23:1-5


 
Verses 1-5
The word of Jehovah came again unto me, saying, Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: and they played the harlot in Egypt; they played the harlot in their youth; there were their breasts pressed, and there was handled the bosom of their virginity. And the names of them were Oholah the elder, and Oholibah her sister: and they became mine, and they bare sons and daughters. And as for their names, Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem Oholibah. And Oholah played the harlot when she was mine; and she doted on her lovers, on the Assyrians [her] neighbors,

The daughters of one mother .…
(Ezekiel 23:2). Both were of the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

They played the harlot in Egypt…
(Ezekiel 23:3). The only proof of this needed is Gen. 32, where is recorded the apostasy of Israel in the matter of the Golden Calf, a development of just a little over a month during Moses' absence. The cooperation of the people in giving their gold for the making of this copy of an Egyptian God, and the wholesale adultery and fornication with which it was worshipped dramatically demonstrate that all Israel were without doubt habitual practitioners of such licentious worship. Where? In Egypt, of course. Also, see Josh. 24:14. Oholah and Oholibah ... (Ezekiel 23:4). The names of these two sisters are not identical in meaning, despite the claims of some to that effect. Oholah signifies `her tent'; and Oholibah signifies `my tent is in her.F5 Thus these names indicate that God never approved or recognized the worship of the Northern Israel which Jeroboam I instituted following the rebellion of the Ten Tribes against the House of David. As Plumptre wrote, The distinctive element in both of these names is that the worship in Samaria was not authorized by God.F6

They became mine…
(Ezekiel 23:4). This is the formal statement of God that he indeed accepted racial Israel as his wife, or bride. God knew, of course, about the adulterous tendencies of his people, nevertheless he consented to become their husband.


 
Verses 6-10
who were clothed with blue, governors and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon horses. And she bestowed her whoredoms upon them, the choicest men of Assyria all of them; and on whomsoever she doted, with all their idols she defiled herself. Neither hath she left her whoredoms since [the days of] Egypt; for in her youth they lay with her, and they handled the bosom of her virginity; and they poured out their whoredom upon her. Wherefore I delivered her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, upon whom she doted. These uncovered her nakedness; they took her sons and her daughters; and her they slew with the sword: and she became a byword among women; for they executed judgments upon her.

That Oholah should be judged and executed by her lovers verified one of the strange mysteries of wickedness, the classical example of which is that of Amnon (2 Sam. 13), who forced his sister Tamar. Afterward, the Scriptures record that, "Then Amnon hated Tamar with exceeding great hatred; for the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her (2 Sam. 13:15ff)."

Assyrians, clothed with blue, governors and rulers, all desirable young men…
(Ezekiel 23:6). This verse indicates symbolically the embracing of all of Assyria's pagan gods. Oholah, true to her corrupt self, merely superimposed upon the ancient pagan gods of Egypt, the gods of Assyria, producing a syncretistic blend of pagan worship.F7 The most shameful thing of all was that Jehovah was also called upon, right along with the whole pantheon of pagan deities.

The temptation to Israel lay in this: they were terrified by the universal reputation of the terrible Assyrians, known throughout all the world of that period as, The Breakers. "The paramour here, on whose account Israel forsook her God, is Assyria itself, not Assyria's gods, although, no doubt, through fear of the people, Israel endeavored to make friends of the gods also. Thus the `adultery' here was not so much religious as political."F8 We agree that the text here clearly indicates that Israel, although terrified by Assyria, nevertheless admired the beauty of the young men in the armies of their enemies, and also lusted after them. This did not justify their actions, but it affords an explanation of what they did.

Keil also noted that, it was Israel's efforts to avoid damage to themselves that motivated their efforts to form alliances with powerful nations.F9 Also, had not Israel's most glorious king, Solomon himself, done exactly the same thing in his seven hundred marriages with foreign wives, and his honoring all of their gods with special shrines, high places, and other considerations?

The result of Israel's disobedience in this matter, contrary to the admonition of all of her holy prophets, was not their protection at all, but their ultimate destruction as a nation, the sack of their capital city Samaria, and the deportation to Assyria of many thousands of the people. It is simply amazing that Judah apparently never learned anything from the experience of her sinful sister Oholah.


 
Verses 11-21
And her sister Oholibah saw this, yet was she more corrupt in her doting than she, and in her whoredoms which were more than the whoredoms of her sister. She doted upon the Assyrians, governors and rulers, [her] neighbors, clothed most gorgeously, horsemen riding upon horses, all of them desirable young men. And I saw that she was defiled; they both took one way. And she increased her whoredoms; for she saw men portrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion, girded with girdles upon their loins, with flowing turbans upon their heads, all of them princes to look upon, after the likeness of the Babylonians in Chaldea, the land of their nativity. And as soon as she saw them she doted upon them, and sent messengers unto them into Chaldea. And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoredom, and she was polluted with them, and her soul was alienated from them. So she uncovered her whoredoms, and uncovered her nakedness: then my soul was alienated from her, like as my soul was alienated from her sister. Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, remembering the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt. And she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses. Thus thou calledst to remembrance the lewdness of thy youth, in the handling of thy bosom by the Egyptians for the breasts of thy youth.

Clothed most gorgeously…
(Ezekiel 23:12). The word here means `perfection,' and the thought intended is, perfect beauty of clothing.F10

Ezek. 23:12,13 stress the attractiveness of the clothing and appearance of Assyrian and Chaldean cavalry. "Chaldeans, as used later in the paragraph is a symbol for Babylonians."F11

Men portrayed upon the wall in vermilion…
(Ezekiel 23:14). This is illustrated by mural paintings recovered from Mesopotamia.F12 Also, Sculpture brought by Layard from Nineveh, display all of the magnificence of Oriental finery.F13

These things suggest that it was the superior culture of the Assyrians and Babylonians which constituted the chief allurements to the people of God. Inferior cultures have always been attracted and, in a sense, seduced by the luxuries, etc. of the superior culture. We should not be confused by the mention of both the Assyrians and the Chaldeans alike here as the paramour of Oholibah. Judah was "seduced" by both countries. They became tributary to Nebuchadnezzar when Jehoiachim was elevated to the kingship; he rebelled, seeking the friendship of Egypt; Nebuchadnezzar conquered the city, carried Jehoiachin to Babylon, and installed Zedekiah as his vassal; Zedekiah rebelled, seeking friendship and protection from Egypt; and that led to the final destruction of the City and the Temple! The vacillation and fickleness of Judah was a conspicuous element in all such changes

She. sent messengers unto them into Chaldea ..…
(Ezekiel 23:16). This refers to the act of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:7).F14

Then my soul was alienated from her…
(Ezekiel 23:18). God became disgusted with Oholibah (Jerusalem) because, The love of Oholibah was not for her husband (God Himself), but for a multitude of paramours whom she received without discretion or shame. This syncretism in politics led to the tragedy of moral deterioration and spiritual decay.F15

Thus it came to pass that, "Having forsaken God for what she vainly thought was her self-interest, and having abandoned reliance upon Him, Judah came to experience the bitterness of God's alienation from her."F16

Remembering the days of her youth. in Egypt ..…
(Ezekiel 23:19). Here is an unmistakable reference to adultery and sexual immorality in its unalloyed identification with the lusts of the flesh. In Egypt, there were no political alliances which Israel either would have or could have made. We find no excuse whatever for denying the plain, vulgar, and ordinary meaning of what is said here. Furthermore, where the sexual activity of horses and asses is brought forward in the following verse, we have the full confirmation of this view.

Whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses…
(Ezekiel 23:20). The reference here is to the 'membrum virile' (very large in the ass).F17

The spectacular and sensational sexual behavior of these animals made an appropriate illustration of the gross immorality of Judah. The scriptures have a number of references to this in Hos. 8:9; Jer. 2:24; 13:27, etc. Many translations and versions have softened the words to the extent of obscuring their meaning altogether. Perhaps Alexander has done the best job of providing an inoffensive, yet clear, translation of the passage, thus: "Whose genitals were like those of donkeys, and whose emissions were like that of horses."F18


 
Verses 22-27
Therefore, O Oholibah, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will raise up thy lovers against thee, from whom thy soul is alienated, and I will bring them against thee on every side: the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, [and] all the Assyrians with them; desirable young men, governors and rulers all of them, princes and men of renown, all of them riding upon horses. And they shall come against thee with weapons, chariots, and wagons, and with a company of peoples; they shall set themselves against thee with buckler and shield and helmet round about; and I will commit the judgment unto them, and they shall judge thee according to their judgments. And I will set my jealousy against thee, and they shall deal with thee in fury; they shall take away thy nose and thine ears; and thy residue shall fall by the sword: they shall take thy sons and thy daughters; and thy residue shall be devoured by the fire. They shall also strip thee of thy clothes, and take away thy fair jewels. Thus will I make thy lewdness to cease from thee, and thy whoredom [brought] from the land of Egypt; so that thou shalt not lift up thine eyes unto them, nor remember Egypt any more.

Thompson noted, "This section (Ezekiel 23:23-35) consists of four oracles, each of them beginning with the formula, `Thus saith the Lord.' (Ezek. 23:22,28,32, and 35). The first, second, and last of these have a certain amount of language in common; but the third is in a class by itself and consists of a poem about the cup of judgment."F19

Pekod, Shoa, and Koa…
(Ezekiel 23:23). These were part of the Babylonian homeland.F20 The particular area where these peoples lived is supposed to have been east of the Tigris river.

They shall take away thy nose and thine ears…
(Ezekiel 23:25). This is an explanation of what had just been said, namely, that God would commit the judgment of Judah to her enemies, allowing them to judge Judah by their laws, not the laws of God. This horrible punishment was not allowed under God's law, but in Mesopotamia it was the frequent punishment of unfaithful wives.F21

The rest of the horrible Oriental law was that the children of those thus humiliated were sold as slaves; all their property was burnt, and their clothes and their jewels became the perquisites of the executioners. The mutilated woman was left to lie naked, for anyone who wished to satisfy his lust upon her. And an Egyptian law prescribed precisely this punishment for an adulteress.


 
Verses 28-31
For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will deliver thee into the hand of them whom thou hatest, into the hand of them from whom thy soul is alienated; and they shall deal with thee in hatred, and shall take away all thy labor, and shall leave thee naked and bare; and the nakedness of thy whoredoms shall be uncovered, both thy lewdness and thy whoredoms. These things shall be done unto thee, for that thou hast played the harlot after the nations, and because thou art polluted with their idols. Thou hast walked in the way of thy sister; therefore will I give her cup into thy hand.

All of these things shall be done unto thee, for thou hast just played the harlot after the nations…
(Ezekiel 23:30). The complete understanding of what God meant in this chapter is here cleared up. The allegorical picture-language is omitted. Not lovers, but nations are referred to, with whom Israel has played the whore.F22 But in the very same verse the second reason for Judah's punishment was given. Let it be remembered that this is in addition to the first reason: And because thou art polluted with their idols! So, it was actually whoredom, after all, namely, shameless indulgence in the wholesale immorality of the religious licentious of the pagan idols that was also a vital element in precipitating the terrible punishment that fell upon the people of God. This fact makes the meaning and fully justifies the repulsive terminology employed in the presentation of this remarkable allegory.

To speak of Judah's sin here as "nothing more than the seeking of political alliances" is to miss the point altogether.

There are extensive references to the "cup of the wrath of Jehovah" in the Bible. See Jer. 25:15-29; 49:12-13; 51:6-7; Isa. 51:17-23; 56:12; Zech. 12:2; Hab. 2:16; Ps. 11:6; 75:8; and Rev. 14:20. Also see our comments on most of these passages, except the ones in Psalms.


 
Verses 35-42
Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because thou hast forgotten me, and cast me behind thy back, therefore bear thou also thy lewdness and thy whoredoms. Jehovah said moreover unto me: Son of man, wilt thou judge Oholah and Oholibah? then declare unto them their abominations. For they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands; and with their idols have they committed adultery; and they have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass through [the fire] unto them to be devoured. Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths. For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of my house. And furthermore ye have sent for men that come from far, unto whom a messenger was sent, and, lo, they came; for whom thou didst wash thyself, paint thine eyes, and deck thyself with ornaments, and sit upon a stately bed, with a table prepared before it, whereupon thou didst set mine incense and mine oil. And the voice of a multitude being at ease was with her: and with men of the common sort were brought drunkards from the wilderness; and they put bracelets upon the hands of them [twain], and beautiful crowns upon their heads.

Thou hast forgotten me…
(Ezekiel 23:35). Add this to the other reasons God here outlined as the basis of Jerusalem's destruction. (1) They made forbidden political alliances with the nations; (2) they were polluted morally through the idols of the nations with their licentious worship; and (3) they had forgotten God! Thus, they violated the great imperative of the Law of Moses, thundered in the ears of Israel no less than four times, See that thou forget not the Lord thy God (Deuteronomy 8:11). This was the ultimate disaster and the reason for all of Israel's other sins.

They have caused their sons to pass through the fire…
(Ezekiel 23:37). This atrocious worship of Molech was a result of shameless unfaithfulness of God's people, who, in this despicable action, fell as completely into paganism as was possible. Furthermore, as revealed in the same chapter, they had the audacity to enter into God's temple on the very same day, thus aggravating their guilt. God's house, his ordinances and his statutes, including even the sabbath, were totally ignored, despised, and profaned.

With men of the common sort were brought drunkards of the wilderness…
(Ezekiel 23:42). These refer to Israel's new neighbors, Arabs, Moabites, Tyre, Sidon, etc.F23

The extent of Judah's whoredom is emphasized in this reference to her courting with all the ardor of an insatiable prostitute these comparatively insignificant nations, as compared with the Assyrians, Egypt, and the Babylonians. Yes, this is speaking of Judah's seeking an alliance with these very peoples (See Jer. 27:3f). The relative of value of these "powers" in world politics is evident in their comparison with "men of the common sort, and drunkards from the wilderness"! Judah would have made an alliance with anyone.


 
Verses 43-49
Then said I of her that was old in adulteries, Now will they play the harlot with her, and she [with them]. And they went in unto her, as they go in unto a harlot: so went they in unto Oholah and unto Oholibah, the lewd women. And righteous men, they shall judge them with the judgment of adulteresses, and with the judgment of women that shed blood; because they are adulteresses, and blood is in their hands. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I will bring up a company against them, and will give them to be tossed to and fro and robbed. And the company shall stone them with stones, and despatch them with their swords; they shall slay their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses with fire. Thus will I cause lewdness to cease out of the land, that all women may be taught not to do after your lewdness. And they shall recompense your lewdness upon you, and ye shall bear the sins of your idols; and ye shall know that I am the Lord Jehovah.

The righteous men, they will judge them…
(Ezekiel 23:45). We need not look for righteous men here.F24 The evil men who judged Judah were righteous only in the understanding that the sentence which they carried out against her was just and fully in keeping with the Word of God.

Thus ends the tragic allegory of Oholah and Oholibah. A summary of why they deserved the awful fate which they endured must be understood as (1) their forgetting God and relying upon alliances with evil nations for their protection, (2) forgetting God and wallowing in the sensuous debaucheries connected with their shameless worshipping the pagan fertility gods, resulting in the total wreck of the nation's morality, and (3) forgetting God and the profaning of his sanctuary, his sabbaths, and their whole land, along with their forsaking all of his holy commandments and ordinances. They were indeed ruined morally, socially, religiously, and militarily. Israel as a separate people were no longer of any value whatever to their God as a witness to the pagan nations concerning the true God and his will for mankind. There was absolutely nothing left for God to do, except to destroy them, as God had once destroyed all mankind in the Great Deluge, and to begin over again with that "righteous remnant" which would result from the terrible discipline of the captivity.


Footnotes for Ezekiel 23
1: WE, p. 321.
2: Carl G. Howie in the Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 54.
3: F. F. Bruce in the New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 882.
4: Ibid.
5: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Moody Press), p, 131.
6: E. H. Plumptre in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 18.
7: John T. Bunn in the Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1871), p. 301
8: George Barlow, The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1891), p. 281.
9: Carl Friedrich Keil, Keil-Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 323.
10: George Barlow, The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1891), p. 282.
11: F. F. Bruce in the New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 882.
12: Ibid.
13: George Barlow, The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1891), p. 283.
14: Albert Barnes' Commentary, 357.
15: Carl G. Howie in the Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 55.
16: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Moody Press), p. 134.
17: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 596.
18: RHA, p. 883.
19: J. B. Thompson, p. 173.
20: F. F. Bruce in the New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 883.
21: WE, p. 329.
22: Ibid.
23: G. R. Beasley-Murray in the New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 676.
24: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 507.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezekiel 23". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=eze&chapter=023>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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