Two sisters

Jerusalem and Samaria were described as two adulterous sisters in a parable that was intended to portray the two cities as corrupt and tied to the past by their habitual idolatry. (Ezekiel 23). The origin of the adulterous sisters’ behavior was an early exposure to sexual misconduct in the land of Egypt. The Israelites lived in bondage in Egypt for 430 years. When they were finally delivered from bondage by Moses, they had to be taken out of the land almost by force. During the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were continually reverting to old habits such as worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32:4), and engaging in the fertility rites of Baal, the god of the Moabites (Numbers 25:1-2).

The parable of the adulterous sisters opened with a stark picture of violent sexual abuse. God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: and they committed whoredoms in Egypt: they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity” (Ezekiel 23:2-3). The accusation of having committed whoredom was due to a voluntary and willful choice of a particular lifestyle that was contrary to God’s commandments. As God’s chosen people, the Israelites were forbidden to worship any god other than Jehovah. Even before Moses was given the Ten Commandments, it was clear to Abraham’s descendants that they were not to engage in idolatry. Circumcision was symbolic of God’s ownership rights to Abraham’s offspring, and a token of his entering into a covenant with each man individually (Genesis 17:10).

In the parable of the adulterous sisters, Jerusalem, capital of the nation of Judah, was designated as the younger sister, Aholibah, who followed in the footsteps of her older sister, Aholah, who represented Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (Ezekiel 23:4). After the fall of Samaria, Jerusalem was expected to heed God’s warning and turn back to him, but instead, Jerusalem became even more corrupt than Samaria by defiling God’s holy temple. The result was alienation from God and isolation from his messengers, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

In the parable, Ezekiel was told, “And when her sister Aholibah saw this, she was more corrupt in her inordinate love than she…She doted upon the Assyrians her neighbors, captains and rulers clothed most gorgeously, horsemen riding upon horses, all of them desirable young men” (Ezekiel 23:11-12). Jerusalem’s reliance on military strength rather than God’s protection was evident when king Jehoiakim paid tribute or ransom money in order to receive protection from Pharaoh-nechoh of Egypt (2 Kings 23:35). In the end, king Hezekiah of Judah invited the Babylonians to view the treasures of his kingdom which were later taken by king Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 20:13; Ezekiel 23:16).


The sword

The transition that occurred during the Israelites’ period of captivity was focused on a change in the type of relationship God had with his people. Beginning with Abraham, God sought to establish a personal relationship that included ongoing communication between him and his chosen people. Once the nation of Israel came into existence, God’s messages were delivered primarily through prophets that were often ignored and sometimes punished for what they said (Jeremiah 26:11). In order to reestablish communication with his people, God sent them to a place where the absence of his presence would force them to reevaluate their behavior and admit they had been living in sin (Ezekiel 20:43).

A part of God’s judgment of his people was designed to separate out those who wanted salvation from those who thought idolatry would provide for them a better way of life. God told Ezekiel to say to the land of Israel:

Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: that all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more. (Ezekiel 21:3-5)

The LORD’s sword was described as a cutting instrument (2719), perhaps a dagger or knife that he could use against his enemies. The reference to drawing the sword out of his sheath rather than its sheath may indicate the sword was not a physical sword, but actually a person. Talking to his disciples about their mission on earth, Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

Even though Jesus was known as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), the result of Christ’s coming was conflict “between Christ and the antichrist, between light and darkness, between Christ’s children and the devil’s children” (note on Matthew 10:34). When Jesus was presented in the temple for dedication to the Lord, a man named Simeon was given a special insight by the Spirit so that he would recognize the Christ. It says in Luke 2:28-32, “Then he took him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Afterward, Simeon spoke directly to Mary, Jesus’ mother and said, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

In the sixth chapter of the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul talks about putting on the whole armour of God “that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 5:11). In his description of our armour, Paul tells us to “take up the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Obviously, the armour Paul was talking about was not comprised of physical items that we put on our body. Spiritual warfare must be dealt with in our spiritual capacities that we are not always aware of, so Paul used physical items to relate their usefulness to us, and the means by which we can activate them.

The sword of the LORD was activated when God’s people went into exile. Since we know that Ezekiel was already in exile when he received his message from the LORD, the sword was most likely activated some time after the first wave of refugees was taken to Babylon, but before the fall of Jerusalem took place in 586 B.C. In a symbolic act of mourning, God told Ezekiel to sigh before the eyes of the people. Perhaps also, as a signal to antichrist with whom the spiritual engagement was about to begin to take place, God said, “And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, thus saith the Lord GOD; remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more until he comes whose right it is; and I will give it him” (Ezekiel 21:25-27).

God’s chosen people

When God’s people were first brought out of slavery in Egypt, they entered into a covenant with God to serve him and obey his commandments (Exodus 19:8). After many years of practicing idolatry and finally being told they would be sent into exile in Babylon, God’s chosen people thought they could avoid their punishment by renouncing their relationship with God altogether. God told them, “And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out will I rule over you.

In spite of their rebellion against him and continual breaking of his commandments, God would not abandon his people as they had him. God was committed to fulfilling his promise to Abraham and later to king David when he said that he would make his people into a great nation and his kingdom would be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:13). God’s plan to renew his covenant with his chosen people involved a purging of all unbelievers from the Promised Land. God said through the prophet Ezekiel that he would bring his people out of the countries to which he had scattered them “And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saint the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 20:35-36).

The Hebrew word translated plead in Ezekiel 20:35 is shaphat (shaw – fat’) which means to pronounce sentence and by extension to govern (8199). Basically, what God was saying was he intended to exercise his authority over his people and would use force as necessary to return them to the Promised Land after their captivity was completed. Even though he could have made all the people return to their homeland, God would only cause those that were willing to serve and obey to start over. He said, “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:38).

As a result of God’s purging of the Israelites, he was able to accept his people back into fellowship with him. God wanted his chosen people to know that he would continue to work in their lives until the salvation of his people was completed. The one requirement on the part of the people was repentance and even that was something that God was working to bring about. He said, “I will accept you with your sweet savour when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen…And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.

The vineyard

The nation of Israel was likened unto a vineyard that was planted in the midst of hostile territory (Psalm 80:8-13). Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard began with an introduction that expressed God’s emotionally attachment to his people. He said, “Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:1-2).

The Hebrew word translated wild in Isaiah 5:2, beushiym means poison-berries (891). The implication being that the fruit of the vineyard was inedible. God’s intention in establishing the nation of Israel was for it to be a witness to others of his existence and of his involvement with mankind. In spite of the painstaking effort God made to bless his people and to show them his loving-kindness, he was continually rejected and replaced with the pagan gods of other nations. Exasperated, God asked the question, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” (Isaiah 5:4).

Ezekiel’s parable of the vineyard revealed that God’s people were useless to him because they refused to listen to and obey his commands. God asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, What is the vine tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest? Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?” (Ezekiel 15:2-3). The point God was trying to make was that the purpose of the vine was not to produce wood, but to produce fruit. The vine was necessary, actually essential for producing fruit, but the problem was God’s people were no different than the people that lived around them. They were unable to perform the ministry they had been chosen for because the Israelites’ hearts did not belong to God.

Referring to Israel’s ability to minister to the nations around them, God asked Ezekiel, “Behold, when it was whole, it was meet for no work, how much less shall it be meet yet for any work, when the fire hath devoured it, and it is burned?” (Ezekiel 15:5). In other words, the nation of Israel was corrupt from the beginning. Even when king David ruled, there was conflict and dissention among God’s people. David’s brief reign of 40 years represented the best that Israel had to offer, and yet, David’s sin of adultery, and the family conflict that followed, no doubt caused God’s kingdom to suffer disgrace in the eyes of unbelievers.

God’s final judgment of his people was necessary to purge the pride and self-sufficiency that was evident to everyone. God told Ezekiel, “And I will set my face against them; they shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them; and ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I set my face against them, and I will make the land desolate, because they have committed a trespass, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 15:7-8). The use of the name Lord GOD as opposed to LORD or Jehovah, God’s personal name, meant that when God set his face against his people, he would be dealing with them as the Lord of Lords or divine ruler of the universe, a.k.a. Jesus.

Heart trouble

God’s understanding of the human heart goes far beyond a mere perception of who we are or what we want to be. He sees our motives as if they are a clear depiction of the inner being’s true identity. In his condemnation of the ungodly rulers of Jerusalem, God declared, “I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them” (Ezekiel 11:5). The Hebrew word translated mind, ruwach (roo´ – akh) means wind or breath and is an emblem of “the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God” (7307). In other words, the mind is where the human and supernatural aspects of man become one. As a creature created in the image of God, man’s mind has the capacity to convey the intentions of his heart.

According to Hebrew belief, “the breath is suppose to symbolize not only deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger; but also kindred feelings in the Divine nature. It is revealed that God and God alone has the faculty of communicating His Spirit or life to His creatures, who are thus enabled to feel, think, speak, and act in accordance with the Divine will” (7307). Ultimately, what God wants is for man to reflect his own nature, to be like him. That is why God set apart the Israelites as his own people, they were to be an example to the rest of the world of what God was like. Unfortunately, God’s people failed to take on his characteristics, but instead became like the people of the nations that surrounded them (Ezekiel 11:12).

After the people of Israel and Judah were judged by him and were sent into exile, God planned to return his people to their land and start a new relationship with them based on his forgiveness of their sins on a personal basis. God told Ezekiel, “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). The contrast between a stony heart and a heart of flesh was meant to convey the difference between a heart that was submitted to God and one that was not. Another way of saying a heart of flesh would be a circumcised heart. Circumcision was a symbol of Abraham’s submission to God.

The reason why God had to put a new spirit within his people was because they lacked a desire to do his will. Human nature is such that our independence from God’s control makes it impossible for him to impose his will upon us. Therefore, we must choose to become one with him and accept him into our heart. Union with God is a spiritual transaction in which he transforms the inner person or mind to conform it to his will. This can only happen through a conscious decision to give up one’s right to govern oneself. In the case of the Israelites, God’s chosen people, their right to govern their own lives was relinquished when God purchased them out of slavery through their redemption by a sacrificial system, i.e. the blood of Jesus Christ.

Remember me

One thing that is clear about God is he has feelings just like we do. The type of things that upset us, also upset God and cause him to act in ways that we can relate to. God’s anger toward his people was justified in that they had intentionally turned their backs on him after he had blessed them and shown them undeserved favor. Everything God did for the Israelites, he did out of love and compassion for them and he did not punish them until it was evident that his people had rejected him completely.

In the book of Hosea, the children of Israel are portrayed as an adulteress who looked to other gods, and loved to get drunk on wine (Hosea 3:1). In spite of their infidelity, God promised to restore the nation of Israel and to unite the divided kingdoms into one. God’s love for the children of Israel was like that of a jealous husband because his emotions were involved in the relationship. God had a strong emotional attachment to his people (160) and wanted to remain in fellowship with them, even though they did not feel the same way about him (Hosea 3:1).

In his explanation to Ezekiel of the destruction of Judah, God revealed his personal anguish over the situation (Ezekiel 6:9). Once again, he promised to leave a remnant that would one day acknowledge him as Jehovah, the Jewish national name of God. He said, “Yet will I save a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries. And they that escape shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart which hath departed from me and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations” (Ezekiel 6:8-9).

The Hebrew word translated remember in Ezekiel 6:9 is properly translated as “to mark (so as to be recognized)” (2142) and is suggesting that God’s people would stand out among the other people of the nations in which they would be living in exile. God intended for his people to be different in that they were not to worship idols, nor were they to practice witchcraft or the occult. The idea that God’s people would remember him among the nations where they were taken captive was about the continued worshipping of God without a temple in which to do it. Only those who truly loved God would be able to maintain their relationship with him. Over time, it would be evident who really believed in God and who didn’t.

Repentance (Step 4)

Both the books of Isiah and Jeremiah contain illustrations of God as a potter and his chosen people as clay. Isaiah wrote, “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we all are the work of thine hand” (Isaiah 64:8). Jeremiah was told a parable in which the clay was marred in the hand of the potter and had to be remade into another vessel (Jeremiah 18:4). The LORD said to Jeremiah, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).

The process of repentance includes a willing relinquishment of the outcome of our lives. In order to get us to give up what we once thought to be essential for our happiness, God sometimes has to break our hearts. A broken heart is not about producing sadness, but about the view we have of ourselves that is central to our identity. The heart, according to Hebrew scriptures, is the whole inner man. “It includes not only the motives, feeling, actions and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man”  (3820). In one sense, you could say that a broken heart results in the person you are ceasing to exist.

God’s punishment of his people was intended to change their character. He wanted them to be free of the pride and arrogance that caused them to refuse his help. It says in Lamentations 4:1-2, “How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hand of the potter!

God had to use extreme measures to get his people to stop worshipping idols. It says in Lamentations 4:6, “For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughters of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.” Sodom’s quick destruction was considered a merciful act because there was no awareness of what was happening. When Israel and Judah were destroyed, not only did God tell them what was going to happen, but he also forced some of them to survive and go into captivity where the memory of what happened would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

It says in Lamentations 4:18, “They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.” This passage most likely came from someone that witnessed the destruction of Judah and saw first hand the Babylonian soldiers hunting down people as if they were animals to be killed in sport. This type of ruthless brutality no doubt had a lasting impact on those who survived. Through this experience, the hearts of God’s people were changed forever.