In the sixteenth chapter of the book of Ezekiel God gives Ezekiel a parable to share with both the Jews in Babylon, and those who will be coming from Jerusalem after Nebuchadnezzar invades them for the final time in 586 B.C.. This is a very long message of sixty-three verses, and the central theme can be divided into are six sections:
- The rejected orphan who marries the king (Ezekiel 16:1-14).
- The queen who became a harlot (Ezekiel 16:15-34).
- The harlot who becomes a convict (Ezekiel 16:35-43).
- The convict who became a “proverb” (Ezekiel 16:44-52).
- The convict and her Sisters repent (Ezekiel 16:53-58).
- The convict is saved, cleansed and restored (Ezekiel 16:59-63).
This lengthy parable can be viewed as God holding up a mirror to the Jews so they can see themselves as He sees them. The grace of God is met with ingratitude, indifference and abomination. It is similar to the story of Hosea and Gomer (Hosea 1-3).
The effectiveness of a parable lies in the abstract manner it uses to describe a direct condemnation to the recipient, and at the same time subtlety let them know the thrust of the message is directed at them. Jesus used about forty-six parables in His teachings because of their effectiveness in conveying a concept. In the following example of an effective parable, the prophet Nathan came to King David and caused him to realize the depth of his sin with Bathsheba towards God:
II Samuel 12:1-10
1And Jehovah sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. 2The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds; 3but the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. 4And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and (killed) dressed it for the man that was come to him. 5And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As Jehovah liveth, the man that hath done this is worthy to die: 6and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. 7And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. (ASV, 1901)
1Again the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, 2Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations; 3and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto Jerusalem: Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of the Canaanite; the Amorite was thy father, and thy mother was a Hittite (ASV, 1901).
The first section of the parable is covered in verses 1-14. Ezekiel is again told to let Jerusalem know the depth of her abominations. We read this in the text that says, “cause Jerusalem to know her abominations.” The Hebrew text uses the verb form for “know” that indicates the intensity of the message God is telling Ezekiel to convey to the Jewish people. Ezekiel used the God given parable which is an effective way to cause them to listen to the parable. God does not just want Ezekiel to let them know, He wants Ezekiel to make sure they know.
God starts the parable by saying Jerusalem was like an orphan of a mixed union. She came from a pagan land called Canaan, had an Amorite as a father and a Hittite as a mother. This lineage of an Amorite and a Hittite had nothing to offer this child other than a pagan influence. Under the leadership of Joshua, seven Canaanite nations were driven out of their territory before God’s covenant people could live in there. As the newborn nation grows, it will be influenced by the social and cultural practices of the people around them. Gradually there was nothing in Israel’s manner of living that distinguished it from the pagan, sinful Canaanites. Eventually, after 820 years, they became just like the despicable nations they replaced in every aspect of their behavior.
Jerusalem Became an Orphan
4And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to cleanse thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. 5No eye pitied thee, to do any of these things unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, for that thy person was abhorred, in the day that thou wast born (ASV, 1901).
The story continues with the story of an infant girl who was abandoned by her parents at birth. She is found dirty and neglected, which indicates she was rejected and possibly hated. She is left to die in an open field. God describes the proper birth practices that nobody did for her, such as cleaning a newborn with salt, water, and oil, and then wrapping the baby in cloth strips. Without the proper care she is facing certain death. Israel is portrayed as a female baby, abandoned at birth with no one to care for or have pity on her helplessness. This parable also describes the city of Jerusalem’s birth in a Canaanite nation that was basically spiritually vacant of any reverence towards God.
“6And when I passed by thee, and saw thee weltering in thy blood, I said unto thee, Though thou art in thy blood, live; yea, I said unto thee, Though thou art in thy blood, live.” (ASV, 1901).
Now the King says, “I” (this means God since He is giving this narrative) was passing by and sees her wallowing in the placental blood of her birth. He says to her that even though you are in a pagan land, I will cause you to live. This represents a “word picture” of the family of Jacob (also called Israel) being taken to Egypt as the result of a famine. There they would be able to live in safety and security under their brother, Joseph, the prime minister.
Israel Thrives and Grows
7I caused thee to multiply as that which groweth in the field, and thou didst increase and wax great, and thou attainedst to excellent ornament; thy breasts were fashioned, and thy hair was grown; yet thou wast naked and bare (ASV, 1901).
The first part of this verse describes how the baby infant, Israel, would thrive within a Egypt’s favorable environment. She flourished like sprouts in a field reminding the Jews of how God “grew” them in Egypt. Seventy people in Jacob’s family went to live in Egypt, and four hundred years later Moses led out a nation with 603,550 males over twenty years of age (Numbers 1:46). Since this number did not include the Levites, or the women and children, the total population was conservatively closer to 1,300,000. They had truly become a nation in the sense of size when they were led out of Egypt in the Exodus.
The parable continues with a description of a baby who grows up into a young adult woman. She has a fully developed body, the developed breasts and growing hair represents spiritual maturity. Yet, she is described as “naked and bare”. What does this mean? It means that even though the Nation Israel had grown and matured as a nation, had seen the Shekinah Glory, and were protected by God in the first Passover, they still did not have His commandments, therefore were “naked and bare” in a spiritual sense. They were mature enough to understand spiritual desires, but had not yet committed themselves to God. The importance of having and following the commandments of God, or the Mosaic Law, will be explained using the marriage relationship next.
The King Takes His Bride
“8Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord Jehovah, and thou becamest mine.” (ASV, 1901)
Now God declares that with this maturity, it was time for the young woman to become the wife of Adonai. So, in His love for her, He performed the ancient ritual of “spreading the corner of His garment” over her claiming her for His bride. This ritual is explained in the book of Ruth. Ruth comes to Boaz, her kinsman redeemer, and asks him to spread the skirt of his garment over her, by which she is saying that she wants to be under his protection as his wife. He complies, and accepts the offer as her kinsman redeemer and husband (Ruth 3:9).
Similarly here God says “I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord Jehovah, and thou becamest mine.” The Nation Israel now belongs to God when the marriage ceremony took place at Mount Sinai, in which the entire corpus of the Mosaic Law (actually containing 613 commandments) was ratified (or made official) by two blood covenants. The covenants were the Passover offering, and circumcision. Now the marriage is complete, and the Nation Israel has become the wife of Jehovah.
The Ritual of The Marriage
“9Then washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. 10I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with sealskin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and covered thee with silk. (ASV, 1901)
Continuing with the parable, God says He washed her “with water”, which washed away the blood and anointed her with “oil”. Then He clothed her with fine garments, of “sealskin”, “fine linen” and “silk”. These represent the loving care and adornment He provides for His wife whom He loves. When Israel received the Mosaic Law, she was also given the Tabernacle where God would meet with the Nation Israel. It was adorned in a similar manner:
“1 Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains; of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, with cherubim the work of the skilful workman shalt thou make them.” (ASV, 1901)
“14And thou shalt make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of sealskins above.” (ASV, 1901)
“29And thou shalt overlay the boards with gold, and make their rings of gold for places for the bars: and thou shalt overlay the bars with gold. 30And thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof, which hath been showed thee in the mount.” (ASV, 1901)
“11And I decked thee with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. 12And I put a ring upon thy nose, and ear-rings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thy head.” (ASV, 1901)
The adornments described here are part of God, the King, ceremonially claiming Israel as His bride, and puts “a beautiful crown” on her head to signify that she is now His Queen.
The gifting of jewelry is important because it was part of the process by which a young woman accepted an offer of marriage, and shows that the two families have agreed upon the union. For example, Abraham’s servant claimed Rebecca to be Isaac’s bride by adorning her with jewelry:
“47And I asked her, and said, Whose daughter art thou? And she said, The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bare unto him: and I put the ring upon her nose, and the bracelets upon her hands. 48And I bowed my head, and worshipped Jehovah, and blessed Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the right way to take my master’s brother’s daughter for his son. 49And now if ye will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me: and if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left. 50Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from Jehovah: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good. 51Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as Jehovah hath spoken. 52And it came to pass, that, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself down to the earth unto Jehovah. 53And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things.” (ASV, 1901)
The Blessing of The Nation Israel is Complete
“13Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil; and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper unto royal estate. 14And thy renown went forth among the nations for thy beauty; for it was perfect, through my majesty, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord Jehovah (ASV, 1901).
The final blessing of the woman is complete. She is completely adorned with all the finest raiment, jewels, silk and embroidered work. She eats the finest food and has matured into a lovely woman who was exceedingly beautiful. She had become prosperous, and her renown went forth among the other nations. She had become the queen to the King whose “majesty” made her “perfect”.
Israel was the orphan who became a queen. All the figures used in the parable so far were reminders of the providential care God gave Israel from the time of Abraham, to nationhood, and forward. The city of Jerusalem became exceedingly beautiful, and prospered into a kingdom. The city’s renown went forth among the nations on account of her beauty. It is generally agreed that King Solomon was the wisest and wealthiest man who has ever lived. All this is a striking allegory of Jehovah’s mercy to Jerusalem, and the culmination refers to the days of the glorious kingdom under King Solomon. In fact, the Queen of Sheba had to see the splendor of Solomon’s empire for herself:
I Kings 10:6-7
6 And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, 7 but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard (ESV).
Jehovah had done all this for her, and not a word of gratitude or love came back to God, the King, from His Queen who represented the Jews and Jerusalem.
Daniel E. Woodhead