It’s time for some parables. Yahweh is in a metaphorical mood, and as we begin Ezekiel 16, we find Him telling the story of a newborn infant girl who was left by her parents to die in a field. The infant is a metaphor for Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city.
THE PARABLE OF THE ADULTERESS WIFE
“This is what the Lord Yahweh says to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites. Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, your umbilical cord wasn’t cut on the day you were born, and you weren’t washed clean with water. You were not rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one cared enough about you to do even one of these things out of compassion for you. But you were thrown out into the open field because you were despised on the day you were born.” (Eze. 16:3-5)
Never one for soft words, Yahweh throws in these graphic details without hesitation. We can’t help feeling sorry for the girl, and we can’t help noting the references to Amorites and Hittites—people groups who Yahweh ordered Israel to annihilate because He was so angry with them. In a culture that puts a pride in ancestry, Yahweh isn’t being very complimentary to refer to this child as having pagan parents. But then again, Jerusalem didn’t start off as the capital of God’s chosen nation. There was no nation until Yahweh claimed Israel for Himself. And speaking of Yahweh, here He comes: strolling onto the scene as our compassionate Hero.
“I passed by you and saw you lying in your blood, and I said to you as you lay in your blood: Live! Yes, I said to you as you lay in your blood: Live! I made you thrive like plants of the field. You grew up and matured and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, but you were stark naked.
Then I passed by you and saw you, and you were indeed at the age for love. So I spread the edge of My garment over you and covered your nakedness. I pledged Myself to you, entered into a marriage covenant with you, and you became Mine.” (Eze. 16:6-8)
We have to read tender, compassionate care into this story because it’s being implied, but the blunt references to breasts, hair and nakedness tend to be a bit off-putting to our cultured ears.
“I washed you with water, rinsed off your blood, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and provided you with leather sandals. I also wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with jewelry, putting bracelets on your wrists and a chain around your neck. I put a ring in your nose, earrings on your ears, and a beautiful tiara on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was made of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey, and oil. You became extremely beautiful and attained royalty. Your fame spread among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor, which I had bestowed on you.” (Eze. 16:9-14)
For a husband to give his wife such fine things was a very high compliment. We’re supposed to be getting the picture of a husband who is deeply in love with his wife—cherishing her and going out of his way to bless and honor her. Now does this beautiful young woman who is wanting for nothing return her husband’s affection? Does she respond to all of his generosity by giving him her loyal devotion? Not hardly.
“But you were confident in your beauty and acted like a prostitute because of your fame. You lavished your sexual favors on everyone who passed by. Your beauty became his. You took some of your garments and made colorful high places for yourself, and you engaged in prostitution on them. These places should not have been built, and this should never have happened! You also took your beautiful jewelry made from the gold and silver I had given you, and you made male images so that you could engage in prostitution with them. Then you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set My oil and incense before them. You also set before them as a pleasing aroma the food I gave you—the fine flour, oil, and honey that I fed you. That is what happened,” declares the Lord Yahweh. (Eze. 16:15-19)
Well, what a nasty little viper this wife has turned out to be! If we made a movie out of this parable, all of our sympathy would be with the husband. We can just picture him getting reports of his wife’s latest flings and looking like someone has just plunged a knife into his heart. Notice that God is using adulterous sex as a metaphor for idol worship. This is how personal God takes it when we Christians go worshiping other things in His place—it’s betrayal of the first order.
“You even took your sons and daughters you bore to Me and sacrificed them to these images as food. Wasn’t your prostitution enough? You slaughtered My children and gave them up when you passed them through the fire to the images. In all your detestable practices and acts of prostitution, you did not remember the days of your youth when you were stark naked and lying in your blood. (Eze. 16:20-22)
Well, we can start to see why we don’t go around quoting the parables of Yahweh. These stories are graphic and grim, plus they are talking about things that we don’t want to talk about: such as how our rebellion looks from God’s perspective. The Israelites’ practice of sacrificing their children to idol gods takes on a new level of horror when Yahweh presents it in the context of a marriage. Can you imagine yourself in the husband’s place—being appalled to find out that your wife had just slaughtered some of your dear children in order to please her horrid lovers?
“Then after all your evil—woe, woe to you!” declares Yahweh. “You built yourself a prostitute’s mound and made yourself an elevated place in every square. You built your elevated place at the head of every street and turned your beauty into a detestable thing. You spread your legs to everyone who passed by and increased your prostitution. You engaged in promiscuous acts with Egyptian men, your well-endowed neighbors, and increased your prostitution to provoke Me to anger.
Therefore, I stretched out My hand against you and reduced your provisions. I gave you over to the desire of those who hate you, the Philistine women, who were embarrassed by your indecent behavior. Then you engaged in prostitution with the Assyrian men because you were not satisfied. Even though you did this with them, you were still not satisfied. So you extended your prostitution to Chaldea, the land of merchants, but you were not even satisfied with this!” (Eze. 16:23-29)
The Philistines were notorious for their idol worship and sorcery, yet Yahweh describes them as being shocked by Israel’s behavior—this is a very intentional insult against the Jews. Notice how they continue to “get in bed” with any idol they come across: the Assyrians and then the Chaldeans (aka the Babylonians). Somehow when Yahweh describes the worship of idols, it really loses its luster. We start seeing it as the vile, base thing that it is.
“How your heart was inflamed with lust,” declares the Lord Yahweh, “when you did all these things, the acts of a brazen prostitute, building your mound at the head of every street and making your elevated place in every square. But you were unlike a prostitute because you scorned payment. You adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave gifts to all your lovers. You bribed them to come to you from all around for your sexual favors. So you were the opposite of other women in your acts of prostitution; no one solicited you. When you paid a fee instead of one being paid to you, you were the opposite.” (Eze. 16:30-34)
Yahweh is full of pride bashing zingers in this parable. When He compares the Jews to a regular prostitute, the regular prostitute looks much smarter by comparison. At least she charges for her services and her clients give her gifts. But the Jews in Jerusalem are so pathetic that they pay other people for access to their gods. No one has to send Jerusalem an invitation to worship idols—she is already at the door, begging to be let in. How repulsive.
“Therefore, you prostitute, hear the word of Yahweh! This is what the Lord Yahweh says: Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness exposed by your acts of prostitution with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols and the blood of your children that you gave to them, I am going to gather all the lovers you pleased—all those you loved as well as all those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and expose your nakedness to them so they see you completely naked. I will judge you the way adulteresses and those who shed blood are judged. Then I will bring about your bloodshed in wrath and jealousy. I will hand you over to them, and they will level your mounds and tear down your elevated places. They will strip off your clothes, take your beautiful jewelry, and leave you stark naked. They will bring a mob against you to stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. Then they will burn down your houses and execute judgments against you in the sight of many women. I will stop you from being a prostitute, and you will never again pay fees for lovers. So I will satisfy My wrath against you, and My jealousy will turn away from you. Then I will be silent and no longer angry. Because you did not remember the days of your youth but enraged Me with all these things, I will also bring your actions down on your own head.” (Eze. 16:35-43)
In our last lesson, we talked about how Ezekiel is having trouble accepting how fiercely Yahweh is going to discipline Israel for her sins. Well, this parable should certainly help him put things in perspective. Now Yahweh continues the parable by branching out to two other infamous cities of sin. One is Samaria—the capital of the northern half of Israel. We learned about how Yahweh destroyed Samaria in Lesson 23 and we certainly weren’t sad to see her go. Both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel have treated Yahweh horrifically with their incessant idolatry. He now compares Jerusalem in the south to her “sister” city of Samaria in the north. Then He introduces another sister for His Jerusalem character—the ancient city of Sodom, which God destroyed by raining down fire from the sky. Sodom: home of the bisexual rapists who just couldn’t wait to ravage any traveler who made the mistake of lodging there for the night. Now that was a very scary city, and for Yahweh to compare Jerusalem to Sodom just underscores how repulsed He is by Jerusalem’s wickedness.
“Your older sister was Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you, and your younger sister was Sodom, who lived with her daughters to the south of you. Didn’t you walk in their ways and do their detestable practices? It was only a short time before you behaved more corruptly than they did.
As surely I live,” declares the Lord Yahweh, “Your sister Sodom and her daughters have not behaved as you and your daughters have. Now this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn’t support the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before Me, so I removed them when I saw this. But Samaria did not commit even half your sins. You have multiplied your detestable practices beyond theirs and made your sisters appear righteous by all the detestable things you have committed. You must also bear your disgrace, since you have been an advocate for your sisters. For they appear more righteous than you because of your sins, which you committed more abhorrently than they did. So you also, be ashamed and bear your disgrace, since you have made your sisters appear righteous.” (Eze. 16:46-52)
Jerusalem is so wicked that she makes Sodom appear righteous—wow. That’s hard to get our minds around. What a sobering judgment. There’s more to this parable, but now we’re going to back up a chapter and check out a much shorter story that Yahweh tells. This time Jerusalem is compared to a grapevine instead of an adulteress wife.
THE PARABLE OF THE GRAPEVINE & THE TREE
“Son of man, how does a grapevine compare to a tree? Is a vine’s wood as useful as the wood of a tree? Can its wood be used for making things, like pegs to hang up pots and pans? No, it can only be used for fuel, and even as fuel, it burns too quickly. Vines are useless both before and after being put into the fire!
And this is what the Sovereign Yahweh says: The people of Jerusalem are like grapevines growing among the trees of the forest. Since they are useless, I have thrown them on the fire to be burned. And I will see to it that if they escape from one fire, they will fall into another. When I turn against them, you will know that I am Yahweh. And I will make the land desolate because My people have been unfaithful to Me. I, the Sovereign Yahweh, have spoken!” (Eze. 15:2-8)
Well, this is pretty straightforward. We can just imagine trying to make a nice thick peg out of some scrawny wooden vine—what a waste of time. God’s chosen people certainly have lost His favor. The book of Ezekiel is one long string of anger, hate, insults and threats as Yahweh vents His fury over the rebellion of His people. When we stop to remember that God’s fury is what inspired Him to create the torments of Hell, we don’t dare to treat His anger casually.
THE PARABLE OF THE EAGLE & THE VINE
This last parable has very personal meaning for one particular individual: King Zedekiah, the last king of Israel. Back in Lesson 30, we learned that twerpy Zedekiah doesn’t go for this idea of Jerusalem being destroyed. He prefers to fantasize about him and a bunch of his neighbors banning together and overthrowing the mighty Babylonians. Out of all of Israel’s neighbors, Egypt shows the most promise when it comes to military muscle. So even though King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon made Zedekiah swear allegiance to him, Zedekiah went behind Nebuchadnezzar’s back and made a secret pact with Egypt. But here’s the thing about trying to have secrets in this world: you might keep people out of the loop, but God knows everything. He knows all about this secret alliance that’s been formed between Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel) and Egypt, and He’s not for it. In fact, Zedekiah has really gotten himself into trouble with this alliance game he’s been playing, and that’s what this parable is going to be about.
“A great eagle with broad wings and long feathers, covered with many-colored plumage, came to Lebanon. He seized the top of a cedar tree and plucked off its highest branch. He carried it away to a city filled with merchants. He planted it in a city of traders. He also took a seedling from the land and planted it in fertile soil. He placed it beside a broad river, where it could grow like a willow tree. It took root there and grew into a low, spreading vine. Its branches turned up toward the eagle, and its roots grew down into the ground. It produced strong branches and put out shoots. But then another great eagle came with broad wings and full plumage. So the vine now sent its roots and branches toward him for water, even though it was already planted in good soil and had plenty of water so it could grow into a splendid vine and produce rich leaves and luscious fruit.
So now the Sovereign Yahweh asks: Will this vine grow and prosper? No! I will pull it up, roots and all! I will cut off its fruit and let its leaves wither and die. I will pull it up easily without a strong arm or a large army. But when the vine is transplanted, will it thrive? No, it will wither away when the east wind blows against it. It will die in the same good soil where it had grown so well.” (Eze. 17:3-10)
The two eagles in this parable represent two other kingdoms. The first is the Babylonian Empire, and the second is Egypt. The planted seedling is Israel. It’s a rather bizarre story, but happily Yahweh is going to explain it for us.
“Say to these rebels of Israel: Don’t you understand the meaning of this riddle of the eagles?” (Eze. 17:12)
Ah, the sarcastic “Don’t you morons get it yet?” introduction to a parable’s explanation. Who does this remind us of? Our glorious Jesus. He could always be counted on to make His disciples feel like halfwits for not instantly grasping His parables. Well, let’s remember that Jesus said He never spoke of His own initiative—He only repeated whatever Yahweh told Him to say.
It’s a good thing Yahweh explains this one because no, we don’t understand what eagles and plants have to do with anything.
“The king of Babylon [Nebuchadnezzar] came to Jerusalem, took away her king and princes, and brought them to Babylon. He made a treaty with a member of the royal family and forced him to take an oath of loyalty. He also exiled Israel’s most influential leaders, so Israel would not become strong again and revolt. Only by keeping her treaty with Babylon could Israel survive.
Nevertheless, this man of Israel’s royal family [Zedekiah] rebelled against Babylon, sending ambassadors to Egypt to request a great army and many horses. Can Israel break her sworn treaties like that and get away with it? No! For as surely as I live, says the Sovereign Yahweh, the king of Israel will die in Babylon, the land of the king who put him in power and whose treaty he disregarded and broke. Pharaoh and all his mighty army will fail to help Israel when the king of Babylon [Nebuchadnezzar] lays siege to Jerusalem again and destroys many lives. For the king of Israel [Zedekiah] disregarded his treaty and broke it after swearing to obey; therefore, he will not escape.
So this is what the Sovereign Yahweh says: As surely as I live, I will punish him for breaking My covenant and disregarding the solemn oath he made in My Name. I will throw My net over him and capture him in My snare. I will bring him to Babylon and put him on trial for this treason against Me. And all his best warriors will be killed in battle, and those who survive will be scattered to the four winds. Then you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken.” (Eze. 17:12-21)
So here’s the thing about these parables that Ezekiel is sharing in public: they travel. And let’s remember that Ezekiel is living in Babylon, where King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace is. Will Nebuchadnezzar find this parable interesting? Oh, yes, he will. He will find it very interesting to learn how that lying rat Zedekiah has been sneaking around behind his back trying to cut a deal with Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar already suspects that shady business has been going on—that’s why he hauled Zedekiah over to Babylon for a dressing down (see Lesson 31). Of course Zedekiah tried to whitewash himself at the time, but when God rats you out, it’s over. In both Babylon and back in Jerusalem, Yahweh is speaking nasty words against Zedekiah through the mouths of His prophets. You just don’t want to be the star of one of Yahweh’s parables—at least not the kind we’ve been discussing in this lesson.
In our last lesson, Yahweh had warned people that they would see the fall of Jerusalem in their lifetime. In our next lesson, Nebuchadnezzar will begin his third and last attack on that famous city. We’ll also meet two more minor prophets: Obadiah and Joel.
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