Chapter 16 focus: The Adulterous Wife!
With chapters 11-21 in our sights this week, we’ll focus on chapter 16 because of it’s powerful imagery. It’s a vivid image of Israel’s dark heart and the hideousness of sin.
Biblical Context: Consider these snippets from the Old Testament as God establishes a covenant with Israel…
5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’ 7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
And God spoke all these words: 2 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’
5 For your Maker is your husband –
the Lord Almighty is his name –
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
4 ‘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. 5 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, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
14 ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
EZEKIEL CONTEXT: Chapters 1-10 describe God coming to Ezekiel amongst the exiles in a vision and giving him the command to speak to the fellow exiles about the future destruction of Israel. There are very dark images of judgement on God’s people because of their detestable practices. The ultimate judgement of God is that he departs from the Temple – leaving it nothing but an empty building. The following are possible titles for each chapter surrounding chapter 16.
Chapter 11: The End of the Heart of Stone
Chapter 12: The Final Sign: Ezekiel Packs His Exile Bag
Chapter 13: Stop Lying and Whitewashing!
Chapter 14: You Have Idols In Your Heart
Chapter 15: Like a Stick in the Fire, Jerusalem will be Consumed
Chapter 16: Israel the Whore!
Chapter 17: The Fragile Vine: it will not survive – yet another will
Chapter 18: Individual Sin Judged – so turn and live!
Chapter 19: The Lion and the Lament
Chapter 20: Listen and Learn From Your Past
Chapter 21: My Sword is Drawn – You’ll Not Be Remembered
Chapter 16 gives a vivid and “Adults only” description of why God is so angry with them.
16:1-5 Israel’s birth is described as totally uncared for. Nobody gave any motherly love or affection to this nation. The imagery is clear but what about the historic reality? Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen 15:5). He was also assured that his descendants would be mistreated by the Egyptians (Gen 15:13). Israel’s early years was spent in slavery.
16:6-8 The imagery continues but it is vivid now that Israel is a female who is growing up (see also ‘her’ in verse 1). The importance here is that Israel’s description is not just a generic person but a girl. Fragile and vulnerable are two words that come to mind here. The covenant would best be compared with the covenant with the nation of Israel at the foot of Mt Sinai – see Exodus 19-20. God enters a covenant between Himself and Israel – this chapter imagines it like a marriage. See also Jeremiah 3 and Hosea 2.
16:9-14 The virgin bride is adorned by the King. She becomes a glorious queen, renowned for her beauty because the LORD has adorned her in glorious splendour. A break-down of the different elements would be interesting but futile. The imagery is that this abondoned baby is now fully grown and her beauty amplified because of the love lavished from God. The wife has benefited greatly by this covenant relationship. The LORD had given her splendour and made her beauty great! It’s a Cinderella story! For Israel, the height of her beauty would be the dedication of the Temple in Solomon’s day (1 Kings 8).
16:15-19 But Israel took everything that God had given her and metaphorically slept with other gods. They were thankless and ran to idols, adorning them with the very things that God had given to her.
16:20-22 It gets worse. She is not only being free with her adornments – like the temple silver and gold etc – but now abusing her children. She is involved in child abuse! Sacrificing the children of Israel to idols. See 2 Kings 17:17 and Jeremiah 19:5.
16:23-29 It gets worse. She is never satisfied. Not only one incident of prostitution but it goes on and on and Israel can’t get no satisfaction! The imagery of sexual immorality as a description of how Israel has treated God is blunt. Notice how each other nation is described. Egypt with its …… and the Philistines who are shocked at the conduct of Israel.
17:30-34 It gets worse. Israel is sleeping around and not even getting paid for it. She’s an adulterous wife! She even gives to others for the pleasure. The people of God are so desperate to be ‘in bed’ with other nations and their practices that they’ll do anything. This chapter is M rated and will get worse.
16:35-42 And God will now act justly with his adulterous wife (Deut 22:21)! They will be worse off than when the LORD first found her. She was once abandoned and bloody and naked with nobody wanting her. Now she will be stripped naked and butchered by those she prostituted herself with. Verse 42 indicates that God’s wrath will be spent and come to an end. It’s not a great moment but there is the beginning of hope here.
16:43 This one verse sums up the chapter neatly. They failed to remember their youth and how the LORD had provided so well for them. Israel has mounted anger upon anger on themselves and the LORD will now bring down enraged fury on their head.
16:44-58 Compared to the most shameful people around, they have got nothing on Israel! No, Israel makes the worst nations look good! Sodom and Samaria have been wicked, but Israel has far exceeded their wickedness. Yet God will restore all of them.
16:59-63 The LORD will remember his covenant and will restore Israel. The grace of God certainly does pass all understanding. Just imagine if the metaphor running through this chapter were literally about someone you were married to. And yet you would re-establish the original covenant! Now imagine that it were you who treated your spouse like Israel treated God. Would you expect to be forgiven and welcomed back? How can God allow this and remain just? He will make atonement for them. He will completely spend his rage and satisfy his wrath in atonement. So the two parties – God and Israel – will be at-one
New Testament relevance.
“This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.” 1 John 4:10
The marriage agreement is used in the scriptures to point us to the great commitment of God to His people. Jesus is described as the groom which we await to return (Matt 25; Rev 21). While we wait, will we remain faithful? Or will we be attracted to and lust after other loves? We can make the same mistake as Israel and take God’s love and care for granted –
Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself. 2 Timothy 2:11-13
Israel has been completely unfaithful to God and it is beyond a joke. God’s anger and rage must be spent before this marriage can be fixed. God is Israel’s husband and she has been the most infamous slut in return. She should have remembered the LORD and been devoted to Him only – forsaking all others!
- A teaching: Our God makes and keeps promises and has the same expectation of us. Like the marriage vows are to be meaninful and true, so is our commitment to the One who died for us and gave us life – who said, “Live!”
- A Correction: Where has your heart wandered recently? Is there something or someone that is stealing your heart from God? The people of God are called to be different. Are you devoted to the LORD or do the things of this world catch your eye and you feel drawn to pursue them? Examples might be an immaculate home, a new relationship, sexual immorality…
- A Rebuke: Have you forgotten the love that you once had for God? Has the understanding of God’s grace and mercy and love left your memory? Is God in the back-seat of your life? Is he in a different car? Turn back to God. Remember how much he loves you and cares for you. Call him your God again and repent if you have run far away from him.
- Training: Couples are often advised to attend relationship courses or workshops to help each person develop better skills at communication and caring and having quality time together. Our God does not want religion but relationship. God’s side of the relationship is perfect. Couldn’t be better! But we need to address our side of the relationship often. How is your listening skills with God? How is your quality time in prayer? How is your financial planning and goal-setting getting along? Are you taking the lead in this relationship or are you being submissive? It’s worth thinking about how we treat God in our relationship.
Dear LORD, thank you for giving us a new life in Jesus. Thank you for loving us with an everlasting love. Please help us to be faithful and love you with all our heart. Amen.