Ezekiel 23:1-49

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2018-04-23 20:44.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

Again YHWH’s “word” or message came to Ezekiel. In the Targum, this message is identified as a “word of prophecy from before the Lord.” (23:1) As at other times, Ezekiel was addressed as “son of man,” reminding him that he was a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. The message that was conveyed to him in the form of an allegory concerned “two women” who were the “daughters of one mother.” In verse 4, these two woman are identified as Samaria and Jerusalem, representing the Israelites as being a divided nation with two separate kingdoms — the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and its capital Samaria and the kingdom of Judah and its capital Jerusalem. The one mother from whom all the Israelites descended could either be Sarah the wife of Abraham or Rebekah the wife of Isaac. Another possibility is that the one mother represents the nation that came to be divided into two separate kingdoms. In the Targum, the reference is to “two countries” that were like two women who were the daughters of one mother. (23:2)

Already while in Egypt, the Israelites defiled themselves with the idolatrous practices of that land. This early period in the history of Israel as a nation is likened to the “youth” of the two women. Their involvement in idolatry constituted a serious act of unfaithfulness to YHWH and, therefore, is represented as prostitution. The Targum does not refer to prostitution but indicates that the people went astray in idolatry and carried out corrupt deeds. According to the Hebrew text, the “breasts” of the two women were pressed or fondled (“their breasts fell” [LXX]) and the “bosoms of their virginity” were squeezed. The Septuagint says that they “lost their virginity.” (23:3)

The older sister was named Oholah, and the younger sister was named Oholibah. Both sisters belonged to YHWH, for he had chosen their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be the men through whom their descendants would become his own people. Moreover, the Israelites became his unique people when they entered a covenant with YHWH at Mount Sinai. This covenant bound them to YHWH in a relationship like that of a wife to her husband. The people increased in number, and thus Oholah and Oholibah could be described as having borne sons and daughters. Oholah is identified as Samaria, and Oholibah as Jerusalem. The capital Samaria represented the Israelites who came to be part of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, and the capital Jerusalem represented the Israelites who came to be part of the kingdom of Judah. Oholah could be considered as the older sister, for among the Israelites in the ten-tribe kingdom were descendants of Reuben and Simeon, the oldest sons of Jacob, and of Joseph, the firstborn son of his wife Rachel. The name “Oholah” means “her tent.” This name appears to allude to the Israelites of the ten-tribe kingdom as having their own centers for idolatrous calf worship at Dan and Bethel. On this basis, Samaria, as representing the ten-tribe kingdom, could be spoken of as having its own tent or sanctuary that was divinely disapproved. Oholibah means “my tent is in her,” apparently pointing to the temple of YHWH that was located in Jerusalem. (23:4; see the Notes section.)

Although Oholah belonged to YHWH, she prostituted herself. She lusted after her lovers. These lovers are identified as the “Assyrians” (Asshur) who were near (neighbors) or coming near to her. The Israelites of the ten-tribe kingdom, through their monarch and royal officials, negotiated with Assyria, seeking the aid and protection of this strong military power. This involvement constituted prostitution, for it demonstrated lack of trust in YHWH as the protector of those who were devoted to him as their God. Evidence of seeking Assyrian support come from the reigns of Menahem and of Hoshea, the last king of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. Menahem paid a large sum in silver to Assyrian monarch Tiglath-pileser III (Pul). He exacted the tribute amount from wealthy men, each of whom had to pay 50 silver shekels. (2 Kings 15:19, 20) An inscription of Tiglath-pileser III indicates that he placed Hoshea as king over Israel and received a sizable tribute in gold and silver talents. Hoshea paid tribute in subsequent years, including in the time of Tiglath-pileser’s successor Shalmaneser V. (23:5; 2 Kings 17:3, 4; see the Notes section.)

Oholah’s lust is represented as directed to Assyrians who were clothed in purple or royal attire. These Assyrians included governors and officials or commanders, all of them being “desirable” or handsome young men. “Calvrymen riding upon horses” also were the objects of Oholah’s lusting. (23:6) To the choicest “sons” or men of Assyria (Asshur), Oholah prostituted herself, doing so by looking to them for support and paying tribute to the Assyrian monarch. Additionally, she, or the people of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, became defiled upon adopting idolatry (“thoughts” [LXX]; “practices” [P967]) from Assyria. This defilement was with the representations of nonexistent deities (“dungy things” [an expression of contempt]). (23:7)

The “prostitution” or idolatry that began with the people whom Oholah represented began in Egypt, and it continued when the ten tribes formed an independent kingdom and Jeroboam, the first monarch, instituted calf worship at Dan and Bethel. That idolatry never ended during the time the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel existed and became even more abhorrent with the introduction of Baal worship. On account of idolatry and political alliances with foreign powers, Oholah is portrayed as a prostitute with whom men had lain, whose “virgin bosom” they had handled (whose “virginity” they took [LXX]), and upon whom they had poured out their lust. (23:8) Therefore, YHWH delivered Oholah into the “hand” or power of her lovers, “into the hand of the sons of Assyria” (Asshur), for whom “she had lusted.” Her lovers were those with whom she had entered into an alliance for military aid. (23:9) These lovers turned against her when she did not yield to their desire, refusing to pay the tribute they imposed. They warred against her, thereby uncovering her nakedness or exposing her as a humiliated, rejected prostitute. The former lovers “seized her sons and her daughters, and “slew her with the sword.” The people of the ten-tribe kingdom were either killed in war or from its consequences, and survivors were exiled. Oholah, as representing the kingdom, ceased to exist as if slaughtered with the sword. When this judgment was executed against Oholah, she (or the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and the people of the realm) became a byword among those who came to know about her fate. (23:10; see the Notes section.)

Oholibah (representing the kingdom of Judah and the people of the realm) saw what had happened to her sister Oholah, but she did not take the warning lesson to heart. In her lust, Oholibah conducted herself worse than her sister and exceeded her in acts of prostitution. She made herself guilty of shocking idolatrous practices, including child sacrifice, and of entering into alliances with foreign powers. (23:11)

Oholibah lusted after the “sons of Asshur” (the Assyrians). That lust was directed to Assyrian governors and officials or commanders. These governors and commanders appear to be additionally described as “near,” near ones, or neighbors. They were magnificently attired. Oholibah also lusted after “cavalrymen riding upon horses, all of the men being “desirable” or handsome young men. One notable case of that lust occurred during the reign of Ahaz, the monarch of the kingdom of Judah. Pekah, the king of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, had made an alliance with the Syrian king Rezin, joining in a plot to remove Ahaz as king and to replace him with the son of Tabeel. Instead of trusting the word of YHWH through the prophet Isaiah indicating that the plot would fail (Isaiah 7:1-6), Ahaz appealed to Assyrian monarch Tiglath-pileser III to save him from the attack of the troops of Rezin and Pekah and paid a sizable tribute in silver and gold. (23:12; 2 Kings 16:5-9; regarding “near,” see the Notes section on verse 5.)

Through idolatry and military alliances, Oholibah became polluted. YHWH is quoted as saying, “And I saw that she was defiled.” Oholah and Oholibah had followed the same course of being unfaithful to YHWH. (23:13) The harlotries of Oholibah, in the form of alliances, did not end with the Assyrians. She was portrayed as fixing her amorous attention on the Chaldeans. Oholibah saw depictions of men “carved on the wall, images of Chaldeans” portrayed in “vermillion.” According to the Septuagint, the images were made with a stylus. (23:14) These images were of men with a “belt [colorful embroidered work (LXX)] around their loins” and “with flowing turbans [brightly colored tiaras (LXX)] upon their heads.” They looked like “adjutants” or military officers, “all of them” being representations of Babylonian natives, for Chaldea was the land of their birth. (23:15)

The sight of the images of the Chaldeans or Babylonians is represented as causing Oholibah to lust after them and to “send messengers to them in Chaldea.” Possibly after King Josiah died in a battle with the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco (Necho, Nechoh), the people of the kingdom of Judah may have come to regard the Chaldeans as a people with whom to be on friendly terms. (2 Chronicles 35:20-24) This would especially have been the case after the Chaldean crown prince Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Neco at Carchemish in the fourth year of the reign of Josiah’s son Jehoiakim whom Pharaoh Neco had installed as king. (2 Kings 23:34; Jeremiah 46:1, 2) This decisive victory marked the start of Babylonian dominance in the region that included the territory of the kingdom of Judah. So it may be that Jehoiakim sent messengers with tribute to Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar became king subsequent to the death of his father Nabopolassar. Jehoiakim and officials in the kingdom of Judah may have considered an alliance with Chaldea as essential for securing continued freedom from Egyptian control. (23:16)

The alliance with Chaldea must have led to repeated contact with the messengers whom King Nebuchadnezzar sent to Jerusalem. This contact seems to be represented as prostitution in which Oholibah engaged and by means of which she defiled herself. According to the interpretation of the Targum, the Babylonians defiled her with idolatry. In time, Oholibah tired of the Chaldeans, and “her soul” or she herself turned away from them in disgust. This happened when King Jehoiakim rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar. (23:17; 2 Kings 24:1)

Through her alliances with foreign powers and also her idolatry, Oholibah is represented as prostituting herself and exposing her nakedness. As a consequence, YHWH (his “soul” or he himself) turned away in disgust from Oholibah just as he (his “soul”) had turned away from her sister Oholah. In the case of Oholah, this meant being left without YHWH’s protection when the Assyrian troops attacked and conquered the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. (23:18; see the Notes section.)

Oholibah increased her acts of harlotry to an extent that brought to remembrance the “days of her youth” when she prostituted herself “in the land of Egypt.” It was in Egypt that the Israelites polluted themselves with the idolatrous practices of the Egyptians, failing to remain exclusively devoted to YHWH. (23:19)

To express Oholibah’s lust or her desire to prostitute herself, her lovers (the “Chaldeans” [LXX]) are described as having the “flesh” (or the privates) of donkeys and the “emission” (“genitals,” LXX) of horses. (23:20) She focused her attention on the lewdness (“lawlessness” [LXX]) of her youth, apparently longing for the idolatry in which she had engaged while in Egypt. This appears to be likened to having “bosoms pressed” or handled and breasts fondled. (23:21)

In view of her unfaithfulness to him, the Lord YHWH declared regarding Oholibah, “Look, I am arousing your lovers against you,” the ones from whom “you turned in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side.” The introductory “look” serves to focus attention on what YHWH was about to do. (23:22) The lovers are identified as the “sons of Babylon and all the Chaldeans, Pekod [possibly ancient Puqudu] and Shoa [possibly the Qutu] and Koa [possibly the Sutu], along with all the sons of Asshur [all the Assyrians], desirable young men, all of them governors and officials or commanders, adjutants or military commanders and called ones [possibly elite warriors], all of them riding on horses.” Pekod, Shoa, and Koa probably were peoples from a region east of the Tigris River. (23:23) These lovers would come against Oholibah. There is uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew noun that is linked to “chariots,” with suggested possible meanings being “rattling” and “multitude.” According to the Septuagint, the ones attacking would come from the “north.” The military force would include “chariots and wheelwork,” and a “host of peoples.” Each one of them would be equipped with buckler, shield, and helmet. The warriors would set themselves against Oholibah (the kingdom of Judah) all around. YHWH would let them render judgment, and their judging would be according to their judgments. These judgments would be harsh and cruel, with nothing to mitigate them. (23:24)

As the former lovers would be acting with his permission, YHWH is quoted as directing his “jealousy,” ardor, or indignation against Oholibah. Allowed to deal with Oholibah in fury and according to their cruel practices, the lovers are represented as disfiguring her, cutting off her nose and ears. Any remaining ones or survivors would fall by the sword. The Targum interprets this to indicate that the princes and nobles would be exiled and that the people generally would be slain with the sword. The sons and daughters of Oholibah (or the people residing in the realm of the kingdom of Judah) would be seized, and the remaining ones or survivors would be “consumed by fire.” According to the Targum, the choicest land would be burned. (23:25) The former lovers would also strip the clothes off Oholibah and take away her beautiful articles. (23:26)

YHWH declared that he would put an end to the lewdness (impieties [LXX]) of Oholibah and her harlotry that began “in the land of Egypt.” She would then no longer lift her eyes to, or longingly focus her attention on, the idolatry that constituted lewdness and harlotry. Oholibah would no longer remember Egypt. This could relate both to the idolatry of the Egyptians and to the military alliances of the kingdom of Judah with them. In the Targum, the reference is to the “idolatry of the Egyptians.” (23:27)

In expression of his anger with Oholibah (the unfaithful people of the kingdom of Judah), YHWH determined to hand her over into the “hands” or power of those whom she hated, into the hands of her former lovers from whom she (her “soul”) had turned away in disgust. This was fulfilled when the Babylonian troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the kingdom of Judah. (23:28) As the word of YHWH through Ezekiel indicated, they took action against Oholibah “in hatred” or ruthless hostility, taking away from her all the product of her labor and reducing her to an exposed state of nudity. Her nakedness, harlotry, and lewdness was then uncovered. The prophetic words indicated that the kingdom of Judah, including the capital Jerusalem, would be completely devastated. Its fate would be comparable to that of a prostitute who became the object of intense hatred. She would be forcibly stripped of all her clothing and ornaments and violated in a cruel manner. (23:29; see the Notes section.) This would happen to Oholibah because she had conducted herself like a prostitute with other nations, polluting herself with idols (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt]; “thoughts” of the people of the nations [LXX]). (23:30)

Oholibah walked or conducted herself according to the way of her “sister” Oholah, engaging in idoltary and forming alliances with foreign powers. Therefore, YHWH decreed that he would give Oholibah the same “cup” that he had given to her sister. The Targum refers to this “cup” as a “cup of punishment.” Oholibah (or the people of the kingdom of Judah) would have to partake of the bitter potion of conquest, devastation of the land, and exile. (23:31)

To indicate that Oholah (the sister of Oholibah [Samaria or the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel]) had been forced to drink much, the cup containing the bitter potion of conquest and exile is described as “deep and wide” or large. According to the declaration of the Lord YHWH through Ezekiel, it was the same cup from which Oholibah (Jerusalem or the kingdom of Judah) would be forced to drink. This would result in causing Oholibah to become the butt of laughter and mockery as if she had become intoxicated from excessive drinking. (23:32)

Oholibah would be filled with “drunkenness and sorrow” (“faintness” [LXX]) from the bitter potion of conquest and exile. This was the cup from which her sister Samaria (Oholah or the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel) had been forced to drink. On account of what it meant for Samaria or the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, the cup is described as a “cup of horror and devastation [cup of destruction (LXX)],” for the people would be appalled or horrified at what they would be facing and the land would be desolated. (23:33; see the Notes section.) There would be no way for Oholibah to avoid having to drink from this cup, for this is what the Lord YHWH had declared as certain to occur. The people of the kingdom of Judah would be forced to drink every drop of the bitter potion of conquest and exile to an extent comparable to having to gnaw the sherds of the cup into which this potion had penetrated. The distressing experience would be such as to prompt the tearing of the breasts. (23:34; see the Notes section.)

Oholibah had forgotten YHWH, giving no consideration to accountability to him, and had cast him behind her back, treating him as if he did not exist. Therefore, Oholibah (or the people of the kingdom of Judah) would come to experience the consequences for “lewdness” (“impiety” [LXX]) and “prostitution” (idolatry and making alliances with foreign powers). (23:35)

Ezekiel was again addressed as “son of man,” reminding him that he was but a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. For Ezekiel to “judge” Oholah and Oholibah would involve pointing out the serious wrongs that merited severe punishment. He would need to make known the abominable deeds that they had committed. Oholah had already been punished and that punishment continued for the people of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. The punishment for Oholibah or the people of the kingdom of Judah was to occur in the immediate future. (23:36)

Oholah and Oholibah had committed adultery. The people of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah included many who were unfaithful to their marriage mates and a majority of the people who were unfaithful to YHWH by reason of their idolatry and alliances with foreign powers. There was blood on their hands, for they had shed innocent blood when perverting justice and oppressing the poor. The “sons” or “children” (LXX) whom they had borne to YHWH they passed through the fire or offered in sacrifice to the nonexistent deities that their images represented. The sacrificed sons or children belonged to YHWH, for he was the Creator and the One with whom the Israelites were in a covenant relationship. The blood of these sacrificed sons or children was part of the abundant innocent blood the people had spilled. (23:37)

By their abominable practices, the people of the kingdom of Judah (Oholibah) had defiled YHWH’s sanctuary (the temple), doing so “on the same day” they had venerated idols. The people also profaned his sabbaths. They were YHWH’s sabbaths, for he had given them to the Isaelites, and they profaned them when not observing them according to his requirements and when not treating them as sacred. (23:38) After slaughtering their “sons” or “children” (LXX), offering them to idols (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt]), the people would come into YHWH’s sanctuary (the temple) and defile it, for they entered as unclean persons who had offered up their offspring to nonexistent deities. This shocking act of defilement they carried out “in the midst of [YHWH’s] house.” (23:39)

Representing the nation (Oholibah or the people of the realm of the kingdom of Judah), the monarch would send a messenger to a foreign power at a distant location to propose a military alliance. When messengers arrived from that foreign power, they were welcomed, and the response was like that of a harlot who makes herself as attractive as possible, bathing herself, painting her eyelids, and adorning herself with ornaments. Commonly, a black color paint was used to make the white of the eyes stand out more prominently. During the period of Ezekiel’s prophetic activity, Babylon and Egypt were the military powers with which the kingdom of Judah (Oholibah) was allied at different times. (23:40) The overtures for alliances were comparable to what a harlot would do to invite men to have relations with her. Oholibah is represented as having seated herself on a stately couch, spread a table before it, and placed YHWH’s incense and oil upon the table. The items were YHWH’s incense and oil, probably because they should have been offered to him. (23:41) The ones who responded to Oholibah’s welcoming preparations were like a boisterous and carefree crowd. The multitude included drunkards from the wilderness. They were like men without restraint as would be men given to drink to whom intoxicants were unavailable while they were in the arid desert. Those who came to Oholibah and also Oholah are portrayed as putting bracelets on the wrists or arms and beautiful crowns on the heads of the women. (23:42; see the Notes section.)

Regarding a woman worn out by adultery or harlotry, the quoted words of YHWH are somewhat obscure and have been variously understood. This is reflected in the renderings of modern translations. “That worn-out one still has adulteries in her! Now they engage her as a prostitute and she ...” (NAB, revised edition) “Now let them use her as a prostitute, for that is all she is.” (NIV) “To destruction with adultery! Look, they are still going on with those same fornications of hers.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “That woman, worn out with adultery! Are they going to fornicate with her too?” (NJB) “I said to myself that they were using as a prostitute a woman worn out by adultery.” (TEV) “Ah, that woman, grown old in adultery! Now they will commit fornication with her — her of all women!” (REB) In the Targum, the reference is to the people of the congregation of Israel who were worn out by sins. It then continues with the positive thought that the people would give up idolatry and return to worshiping their God. The wording of the Septuagint may be rendered, “Do they not commit adultery with these [women]? And [with] works of a prostitute, she also prostituted herself.” (23:43)

The men (representing the messengers from the foreign powers with which alliances were desired) came as one would go to a prostitute. In this manner, “they went in to Oholah and to Oholibah, women of lewdness” or loose women. The Septuagint says that they went in to “commit lawlessness.” (23:44)

Those judging the women or administering the merited punishment are described as “righteous men.” This is because the depravity of Oholah and Oholibah made these men appear righteous. The judgment is represented as being the judgment for adulteresses and for women who shed blood. Oholah and Oholibah were both adulteresses (on account of practicing idolatry and entering into military alliances with foreign powers) and shedders of innocent blood. Through judicial corruption, oppression of the poor, and the abominable practice of child sacrifice, much innocent blood came to be on the hands of the women. (23:45) The punishment was carried out by a host or military force, terrorizing and despoiling Oholah and Oholibah. In the case of Oholah, it was the Assyrians who had decades previously conquered the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, and the effects from that punitive judgment had not ended when Ezekiel prophesied. In his time, the Babylonian forces under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar brought an end to the kingdom of Judah and destroyed the capital city Jerusalem. (23:46)

The attackers are represented as hurling stones against Oholah and Oholibah, dispatching them with swords, slaying their sons and daughters, and burning their houses. (23:47) By this means, YHWH acted to bring an end to the lewdness or depravity “in the land. The fate of Oholah and Oholibah was to serve as a warning to “all women” or to all other nations that they should not conduct themselves as Oholah and Oholibah had. (23:48; see the Notes section.) These two women had to pay for their lewdness or depravity and to bear the “sins of [their] idols” (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt]; impiety [LXX]). The “sins of [their] idols” were the idolatrous practices in which the people engaged. Upon experiencing the severe punitive judgment, the people would “know” or be forced to recognize the Lord YHWH was the God who did not tolerate unfaithfulness to him and had puished them. (23:49)


For the wording of verse 4, the Targum contains a different interpretation. It indicates that the people prospered with sons and daughters when they served God.

The plural form of the Hebrew word qaróv, meaning “near,” is found in verse 5. It appears to refer to the Assyrian lovers as being “near” or neighbors to Oholah, and this basic significance has the support of the Septuagint. Numerous modern translations, however, do not convey this meaning. They render the Hebrew word as “warriors.” (NAB, NIV, Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) The rendering “warriors” is based on considering the plural form of the word qaróv in the text to be an Aramaic loanword that means “able to fight.”

The interpretation of the Targum for the words in verse 10 indicates that the lovers took the sons and daughters of Oholah captive and slaughtered her people with the sword. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, punitive judgment against Oholah came upon her “daughters.”

For the text of verse 18, the Targum does not use wording that relates to prostitution but refers to Oholibah as having her disgraceful conduct exposed and her shame seen. The oldest Greek text does not include the opening phrase (“And she uncovered her prostitution). It begins with the wording, “And they uncovered her shame.”

The Targum (verse 29) indicates that Oholibah would be left homeless and forsaken, and her idolatry and sins would be exposed.

In verse 33, the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967) refers to the cup as being filled with faintness and describes it as a cup of “insecurity and destruction.”

For verse 34, the Septuagint contains different wording. After indicating that Oholibah would drink from the cup, it says that God would remove her festivals and new moons (or new moon observances).

In verse 42, the Septuagint opens with a reference to a “sound of harmony” or music.

Verse 48 of the Septuagint concludes with the thought that the women would “by no means act according to their impieties.”