Introduction and Background
We have traveled together so far this year together, studying the bible chronologically. From the creation of man and the fall from Eden, to God’s promises to Abraham to make him a great nation. Jacob moved his family to Egypt after a famine, then the Israelites grew to over 2 million people and then escaped from Egypt through the Red Sea to the promised land. From the first king of Israel to the many kings that led to the divided kingdom.
Through it all, God is faithful. When God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land like God promised He would, God gave warned them not to get complacent. God tells them in Deuteronomy 6:10-19 and 8:11-20 about the dangers of ingratitude and taking credit for their own prosperity. God has provided a land of milk and honey, and the Israelites are not to say, “we did this ourselves; we don’t need God.”
God’s next promises to the Israelites are conditional – if you do these good things, I will bless you. If you do those bad things, I will curse you. Through these blessings and curses, God will guide Israel. But the most dire curse God gives to the Israelites is in Deuteronomy 28:58 & 63 –
If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God …
…Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.
God is not to be trifled with. He provides blessings, and He is owed thanks and praise. All too often, His gifts are met with a dismissal from us – as if we don’t need God. And in every instance I could think of in the bible, God provides His blessings first, and then only removes those blessings when His people say they don’t need Him.
God’s Kingdom was supposed to consist of His covenant people, the nation of Israel, following Him as God and King. But the people of Israel basically told God they didn’t need Him, and each generation repeated the blasphemy.
In 722 BC, the Assyrians arrive in Israel and drive the Israelites out. Then a few decades later, King Hezekiah, one of the good kings of Judah, brought the people back to worship the Lord, and God rescued Judah by killing 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in 2 Kings 19:35.
The Assyrian empire began to weaken and retreated from Jerusalem. Their strongest rival was the Babylonian empire, and King Hezekiah foolishly invited the Babylonians to come and visit, to see King Hezekiah’s weaponry and wealth in Jerusalem. Perhaps Hezekiah wanted to show off, or perhaps he was trying to gain favor with the Babylonians and make an alliance with them. Either way, God was unhappy with Hezekiah for making political alliances based on his own wisdom. God’s expectation was that a king in Israel or Judah would follow the Lord and rely on Him for protection.
1 Kings 20 tells us that God sent the prophet Isaiah to explain to Hezekiah that at some time in the future, his descendants would be taken into Babylonian exile along with all the valuable items from the temple. Years later when Jehoiakim was the king of Judah, the Babylonians forced Judah to make an alliance with Babylon, and the Babylonians took hostages from the nobility of Judah. In 598 BC, Jehoiakim tried to rebel against the Babylonians, but he was killed and his son Jehoiachin became king of Judah.
I pause here for a moment to remind all of you that pronouncing bible names isn’t easy, and Hebrew is not my native language. Here is how the name of Jehoiakim’s son is spelled:
And here is how it is pronounced apparently:
I don’t get it, but I’ll pronounce it “Jeh HO ash” even if it doesn’t look like that to me. Which is confusing, because there is a completely different king in the kingdom of Israel named Jehoash who has nothing to do with our study today.
Where was I? Oh yes.
So Jehoiachin, “sorry Jeh HO ash”, did not listen to the prophet Jeremiah nor trust in the Lord, so he tried to make an alliance with Egypt to fight against the Babylonians. That alliance did not work, and after three months Jehoiachin and many other people from Judah were taken into exile to Babylon along with many of the treasures of the temple. Within 10 years, the city of Jerusalem was torn down and burned, and almost all of Judah’s remaining inhabitants were taken into exile to Babylon in accordance with Isaiah’s prophecies.
So now in our scripture for today, it’s 605 BC, and what’s left of Judah has been banished to the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon. A young priest named Ezekiel who was taken in the second wave of exiles under king Jehoiachin, “sorry Jeh HO ash”, is preaching the word.
This young priest, Ezekiel, who has obviously a much easier name to pronounce, sees a vision of God and all His glory. He sees clouds of lightning, living creatures with four faces and four wings, he sees wheels within wheels. And God called Ezekiel to be a prophet and speak the word of God.
And so he did. And the elders of what remained of Jerusalem found Ezekiel’s message to be religious entertainment and paid no heed.
Which brings us to today’s scriptures. The Lord God gave Ezekiel parables of actions to motivate Jerusalem to think about God’s truth. In 3 messages, Ezekiel speaks about a vine, an unfaithful wife, and a tree to convey God’s truth to those who truly wanted to understand. The people, sitting in banishment on the shores of a river in Babylon, were claiming that God had rejected His own people and God was breaking His own covenant. But through God’s parables, Ezekiel tells the people of Jerusalem how God sees them, and we’re going to focus just on the second parable, God sees Judah as God’s own adulterous wife. Here’s our outline for today –
- Helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5
- Honor, Ezekiel 16:6-14
- Harlotry, Ezekiel 16:15-52
- Hope, Ezekiel 16:53-63
Helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5
In God’s eyes, He sees the people of Israel as helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5 –
‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.
(Ezekiel 16:3-5, Chronological Bible, August 19, p.1088)
Ezekiel reminds Jerusalem where they came from. Their history is ugly. Instead of being God’s pure people after the flood, Noah’s son Ham intermingled and became father of the Canaanites. Intermarrying with the Canaanites and worshiping their gods has corrupted Israel. Israel has proved, by their immorality and idol worship, that they are no different from the Canaanites. Nothing about Jerusalem as a city or the people that live there is attractive to God.
If I am going to be honest, nothing about me was attractive to God before I came to know Christ. I was the product of a broken home when my parents divorced when I was 17. Later, despite my good intentions, I myself went through divorce. In my college years I was maybe agnostic, thinking that if God existed he probably gave the world a spin and then sat back to watch what happened. It wasn’t until I was 40 that I realized how involved God had always been in my life.
Even before I was born, my family history isn’t pretty. I grew up as a Roman Catholic, yet I have a German last name. Germans aren’t Catholic, why was my family? Turns out my Great Grandmother is Irish and a Roman Catholic. She married a German boy who may have been Lutheran, and I don’t know because his brother was so mad that his brother had married a Roman Catholic that he killed my Great Grandfather. So my Great Grandmother emigrated to the United States as a pregnant Irish widow and gave birth to my grandfather with the German surname.
My history is ugly. I don’t know each and every one of you, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t sordid stories in your family. It’s just who we are. We are helpless, and we are ugly in God’s eye. Our umbilical cord with our family history was not cut, there was no reason to show us compassion, and if we are honest, because we were born with a sin nature that traces all the way back to Adam and Eve, on the day that we were born, we, too, were helpless and despised.
Honor, Ezekiel 16:6-14
And yet, God loved us anyway. Not because we were free of blemish, or because we were such great people, or had great potential. Not because of anything we did or anything we were. God loved us because of who He is. He loved us, despite the fact we were unlovable. God felt the same way about Jerusalem.
Jerusalem had soiled herself with disobedience, yet God loved her and put her in a position of honor. Verse 6-8 –
“‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.
“‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.’”
God chose her. God cared for her, dressed her, adorned her, loved her. Look at all the ways God describes Jerusalem and her people in Ezekiel 16:6-14 –
- Vs. 7, “I made you thrive like a plant of the field.”
- Vs. 8, “Yes, I … entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,”
- Vs. 9, “I washed you with water, washed off the blood from you and I anointed you with oil.”
- Vs. 10, “I also clothed you….wrapped you….covered you….”
- Vs. 11, “I adorned you with ornaments and jewelry.”
- Vs. 12, “I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head,”
- Vs. 13, “You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.”
- Vs. 14, “Because of the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect.”
God saw the good in Jerusalem despite her helplessness. He removed her helplessness and replaced it with honor. Jerusalem was blessed and lacked nothing.
Ezekiel preaches that the people of Israel and Judah were completely dependent on God for their protection and provision. Every good and perfect thing that they experienced was the result of God’s generosity.
And I look at our great nation where we live in more comfort, prosperity, and wealth than any other population in the history of the world. And yet, we as a nation assume that our success and our comfort comes from our hard work, our intelligence, our character. But James 1:17 reminds us that
“every good and perfect gift is from above”
Our very lives are dependent upon the generosity of God. We are called to live in a state of thankfulness and reverent worship toward God because He has provided us with every good thing in our lives. On top of that, every one of us was in the same situation as the baby in Ezekiel’s metaphor. We were left on the side of the road, cared for by no one, wallowing in our own blood and filth because of our sin.
And despite my family history and sordid generations, God gave me everything because He loved me. And I thought He didn’t care, I thought God was absent. Going to college, I relied on my intellect and wisdom to get a degree and a job, never once considering that God had given me the intellect in the first place. All God asked of me was to glorify Him for the gifts He had given, but I thanked myself for where I was in life.
Harlotry, Ezekiel 16:15-52
Jerusalem did no less. Wallowing on the banks of the river, taking credit for every good thing and blaming God for every bad thing, Jerusalem turned from God, despite all the beautiful ways God felt about her. Jerusalem worshipped other gods, engaged in spiritual idolatry and adultery. Look at verse 15-17, this is how Jerusalem treated God after all His goodness –
“‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him, and he possessed your beauty. You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them.
I think there are some words bible study teachers shouldn’t say in bible study class, and if there was a list of such words, I’m pretty sure “prostitute” and “whore” would be on that list. I’m double sure I’m also not supposed to use any illustrations for this PowerPoint either. But there’s no easy way to avoid these words, and they are, in fact, God’s words, so just bear with me for this section while we discuss the harlotry of Jerusalem.
God is the source of all things good. When we give credit to ourselves or to somebody else other than God, we are not acknowledging God’s provisions. Our entire purpose in life is to know God and make God known. And any credit we give to anything or anyone else but God is spiritual adultery. Here is how Jerusalem treated God after all He had done for her –
- Vs. 15-19. She takes all that God has given to her and uses those things to make images to other gods for worship.
When I think back at the Ten Commandments with it’s “Thou shall not murder” and “Thou shall not steal,” I think it’s too easy to skip over rule number 1 from Exodus 20:1-6 –
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
- Vs. 20-22. She offers the fruit of her womb to the deities of pagan nations.
In other words, she raises her children without regard to God. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard in movies or in person from a young couple, “oh, we don’t raise him/her in any particular religion, we want them to be open-minded and to make their own choice.” I think that’s a form of child abuse, not to tell them that everything they have and everything they are comes from the Lord.
- Vs. 23-30. She builds idols throughout her land and beckons the nations around her to enter her land.
God responds to this by describing her heart as ‘degenerate’. Jerusalem wasn’t following God’s laws, and she invited nations to bring their gods and their cultures into God’s land, and God considered this another form of adultery.
- Vs. 31-35. Not only does she give herself away cheaply to the nations around her, but she hires them to come to her as lovers.
In Ezekiel’s metaphor, the young woman, Jerusalem, enjoyed the fame and attention that she received from the rest of the world, and she decided to make herself a prostitute to all the men who gave her attention. God had saved Israel from a life of death and prostitution, He provided for her, He made her beautiful, He chose her as His bride, but she responded by making herself a prostitute. God says that Israel prostituted herself to the Canaanites, Egyptians, Assyrians, and the Babylonians. And not only is she prostituting herself, unlike most prostitutes, Jerusalem is paying her lovers and not the other way around.
What is God talking about in this metaphor? He is talking about the worship of other gods. God made Himself clear to the people of Israel, but they effectively prostituted themselves to the other nations of the world by worshiping their gods and asking for their approval and protection. The people of Israel showed that they were insecure, impressionable, and unfaithful by rejecting the Lord and worshiping these other gods. They would pay lip service to the Lord, but then they would completely ignore His commandments and turn their backs on Him by indulging in the worship and recognition of false idols and gods of other nations. Ezekiel’s metaphor tells us that Israel, the dying baby rescued by the Lord, turned into a beautiful woman and then rejected her husband for the favors of much lesser men.
- Vs. 36-41. She is abused by those whom she paid to protect her.
Jerusalem entered into agreements with other nations for protection instead of relying on the Lord. Now those nations are abusing Jerusalem which would have never happened if Jerusalem had trusted in the Lord in the first place.
- Vs. 42-43. She experiences the outpouring of anger from the One who had previously poured out love and blessing.
God’s love for Jerusalem has been taken for granted. Like any jealous lover, God’s patience for His adulterous wife leads to anger. God permits the Assyrians to take Israel into captivity, Judah is taken captive by the Babylonians, and still, Jerusalem participates in sexual sin, idol worship, and alliances with the nations around her. There is a limit to God’s patience and love before God’s wrath is revealed.
- Vs. 51. The LORD reveals the root of Samaria and Sodom’s sin, and finds Jerusalem’s sin twice as bad: “Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they.”
Ezekiel lists the sins of Samaria and Sodom illustrating that sexual sin and idol worship are symptoms of a root problem. Sodom had sexual immorality and pride and idleness, but Jerusalem piled on adultery and idol worship on top of that. The Lord God has every right to be angry. And if the Lord would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, should He not destroy Jerusalem also?
Hope, Ezekiel 16:53-63
And that’s where all of us find ourselves. Despite all of God’s gifts, His blessings, His love, His patience, we all turn to sin. We all prostitute ourselves to manmade gods of our own making. John 8:44, Jesus says,
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
We oppose God, and any opposition to God is the same as worshipping the devil. Despite God’s love, we choose pride. And like Jerusalem the prostitute, God’s wrath burns against our sin.
But there is hope anyway. God, despite our failings, has plans for us, plans to give us hope and a future. Though Jerusalem and her people broke their covenant with the Lord and were living in gross sin, sexual immorality and idol worship, God promises to make atonement for their sins. Ezekiel 16:59-60,63 –
“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. …
Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”
God is gracious, even when we are not. It’s humbling to know how bad I have sinned against the Lord, yet there is no sin that can keep me from His love.
In spite of Judah’s prostitution and idolatry against God, and in spite of their exile into Babylon, God still promises that He will restore an everlasting covenant with His people. This covenant would help them forget their shame and pain, and it would lead them into a new era with their God.
Fortunately for the people of Judah, this exile in Babylon was temporary. In about 70 years, they would return to their homeland because of the Persian empire. While they were in exile, the people held on to the hope that if they followed God’s laws and stayed faithful to Him, that He would keep His promise and restore them to the covenant.
And fortunately for you and me, our exile, our relationship with our father the devil, is also only temporary, if we just accept the atonement God provided for us. Not because we are great, but because God is.
Here’s our outline for today –
- Helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5
- Honor, Ezekiel 16:6-14
- Harlotry, Ezekiel 16:15-52
- Hope, Ezekiel 16:53-63
But maybe we should be looking at Ezekiel’s message this way –
- Helpless – when we are without God
- Honor – we are made in God’s image
- Harlotry – in our sin nature, we follow the devil
- Hope – Christ died for us while we were still sinners
I want to finish with a message of hope for you and me. Despite my unbelief, despite by unworthy generational history, despite my sexual immorality and pride, God loves me and gave His son that I may live. He no longer sees my adultery against Him; He sees the atonement in Jesus that He provided for me. All I have to do is accept it and believe that Jesus died for me. Ephesians 2:1-9 is probably the most beautiful message of hope for believers in Christ,
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
It is amazing to me how much God loves us. To God be the glory.