15 “But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. 16 You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be. 17 You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. 18 And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. 19 Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for a pleasing aroma; and so it was, declares the Lord God. 20 And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter 21 that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? 22 And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood.
23 “And after all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! declares the Lord God), 24 you built yourself a vaulted chamber and made yourself a lofty place in every square. 25 At the head of every street you built your lofty place and made your beauty an abomination, offering yourself to any passerby and multiplying your whoring. 26 You also played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger. 27 Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you and diminished your allotted portion and delivered you to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. 28 You played the whore also with the Assyrians, because you were not satisfied; yes, you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. 29 You multiplied your whoring also with the trading land of Chaldea, and even with this you were not satisfied.
30 “How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, 31 building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment. 32 Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! 33 Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side with your whorings. 34 So you were different from other women in your whorings. No one solicited you to play the whore, and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; therefore you were different. – Ezekiel 16:15-34 ESV
The city of Jerusalem stood as a symbol of God’s blessings upon the people of Israel. It was a magnificent walled city filled with beautiful homes, stunning palaces, and the renowned temple Solomon had built for Yahweh. When the Queen of Sheba made a royal visit to Jerusalem, she had been blown away by all that she had seen.
…when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. She was also amazed at the food on his tables, the organization of his officials and their splendid clothing, the cup-bearers and their robes, and the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Temple of the Lord.
She exclaimed to the king, “Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of your great wisdom! It is far beyond what I was told. How happy your people must be! What a privilege for your officials to stand here day after day, listening to your wisdom! Praise the Lord your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne as king to rule for him. Because God loves Israel and desires this kingdom to last forever, he has made you king over them so you can rule with justice and righteousness.” – 2 Chronicles 9:3-8 NLT
Yet, God did not share the Queen of Sheba’s glowing assessment of the city. He found it to be a moral and spiritual cesspool filled with people who were more than happy to enjoy all the physical benefits He provided, but who refused to keep His commands. They were so unfaithful that God was forced to describe them as little more than spiritual prostitutes.
These people had committed the very crime that Moses had warned them about long before they ever entered the land of Canaan.
“The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.
“You must not worship any of the gods of neighboring nations, for the Lord your God, who lives among you, is a jealous God. His anger will flare up against you, and he will wipe you from the face of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-15 NLT
Now, generations later, God was declaring their guilt and describing the abysmal spiritual conditions within the city of David. They had grown perversely proud of their vaunted position as God’s chosen people. They had allowed their set-apart status as God’s prized possession to go to their heads and give them the misguided impression that they could do no wrong. In their minds, they were invincible and immune to failure. Their status as descendants of Abraham and heirs of God’s covenant promises had made them overconfident and cocky.
The brazen nature of their crimes against God is difficult to comprehend. All that they enjoyed had been given to them by God and yet they turned around and used those resources to manufacture idols to which they offered sacrifices. And not only did they offer these false gods the very gifts God had given them, but they also practiced child sacrifice, offering up their own children as tributes to their pagan deities.
“Then you took your sons and daughters—the children you had borne to me—and sacrificed them to your gods. Was your prostitution not enough? Must you also slaughter my children by sacrificing them to idols?” – Ezekiel 16:20-21 NLT
One of the greatest gifts God had given the people of Israel was their offspring. The psalmist declares, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3 ESV). And yet the unfaithful and ungrateful citizens of Jerusalem were guilty of having treated God’s precious gift of children with blatant disregard. They had dared to deem the offspring promised by God as a sign of His covenant commitment as expendable and disposable.
But as egregious as child sacrifice may be, God also accuses them of spiritual adultery. They had erected idols, high places, altars, and shrines to their false gods all over the city. They had become equal opportunity idolaters, willingly bowing their knees to any and all false gods that came along. And when God brought judgment upon them for their unfaithfulness, they turned to foreign powers for rescue. Rather than acknowledging their sin and returning to Him in humble contrition, they sought the aid of the superpowers of their day. In an attempt to escape God’s judgment for their unfaithfulness, they made things worse by seeking help from countries like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon.
“You have prostituted yourself with the Assyrians, too. It seems you can never find enough new lovers! And after your prostitution there, you still were not satisfied. You added to your lovers by embracing Babylonia, the land of merchants, but you still weren’t satisfied.” – Ezekiel 16:18-19 NLT
And it’s interesting to note that God used the Assyrians as His instruments of destruction when punishing the northern kingdom of Israel. And, eventually, He would use the Babylonians to destroy the rebellious southern kingdom of Judah. The allies the people of Israel turned to for help would become their enemies and the means of their destruction.
The situation in Jerusalem was far worse than Ezekiel could have imagined. God discloses that the citizens of the city suffer from a deadly heart condition.
“What a sick heart you have, says the Sovereign Lord, to do such things as these, acting like a shameless prostitute. You build your pagan shrines on every street corner and your altars to idols in every square. In fact, you have been worse than a prostitute, so eager for sin that you have not even demanded payment.” – Ezekiel 16:30-31 NLT
They suffered from a compulsive disorder that made them far worse than spiritual prostitutes. Rather than selling themselves for whatever benefit they could get in return, they were guilty of paying others for the privilege of committing adultery.
“Prostitutes charge for their services—but not you! You give gifts to your lovers, bribing them to come and have sex with you. So you are the opposite of other prostitutes. You pay your lovers instead of their paying you!” – Ezekiel 16:33-34 NLT
The false gods they worshiped were incapable of bestowing any favors or blessings, but the people of Judah worshiped them anyway. The nations they turned to for rescue were powerless to deliver any aid, but the citizens of Jerusalem repeatedly sought their help. And all the while, they spurned God’s calls to repent and be restored to their former condition as His chosen people. And, as Ezekiel was about to discover, God’s long-suffering patience had finally run out. They suffered from a fatal heart condition and the remedy was as deadly as the disease.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.