53 “I will restore their fortunes, both the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in their midst, 54 that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done, becoming a consolation to them. 55 As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former state, and you and your daughters shall return to your former state. 56 Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride, 57 before your wickedness was uncovered? Now you have become an object of reproach for the daughters of Syria and all those around her, and for the daughters of the Philistines, those all around who despise you. 58 You bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, declares the Lord.
59 “For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, 60 yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. 61 Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. 62 I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, 63 that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 16:53-63 ESV
Sodom, Samaria, and Jerusalem are each accused of wickedness. Sodom is intended to represent the pagan nations with its blatant immorality and subsequent judgment and annihilation by God. Sodom and its sister city, Gomorrah, were the two poster cities for moral decadence and excess, and God destroyed them both. Samaria was the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel. It was comprised of the ten northern tribes that God had split apart from Solomon’s kingdom as a result of his wicked behavior in the latter part of his reign. This son of David had chosen to erect idols to false gods all across his kingdom and, as a result, God divided his kingdom in half.
Jeroboam, who became the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel, proved to be a less-than-ideal leader. In an attempt to eliminate any allegiance the people might have to their former kingdom and to prevent them from returning to Jerusalem to worship at the temple, Jeroboam created his own capital in Shechem and then created two alternative worship centers dedicated to false gods.
…on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”
He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.
Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. And Jeroboam instituted a religious festival in Bethel, held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in imitation of the annual Festival of Shelters in Judah. There at Bethel he himself offered sacrifices to the calves he had made, and he appointed priests for the pagan shrines he had made. – 1 Kings 12:28-32 NLT
Decades later, Omri would ascend to the throne of the northern kingdom of Israel, and he would relocate the capital city to Samaria.
Omri bought the hill now known as Samaria from its owner, Shemer, for 150 pounds of silver. He built a city on it and called the city Samaria in honor of Shemer.
But Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. He followed the example of Jeroboam son of Nebat in all the sins he had committed and led Israel to commit. The people provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, with their worthless idols. – 1 Kings 16:24-26 NLT
Omri was succeeded by his son, Ahab, who managed to exceed his father in terms of wickedness. Early on his reign, Ahab “built a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him” (1 Kings 16:32-33 NLT).
Yet as morally decadent and spiritually vacuous as Sodom and Samaria may have been, God declares that their wickedness paled in comparison to that of the city of Jerusalem. The capital city of the southern kingdom had become so evil that it made the deeds committed in Sodom and Samaria appear righteous in contrast. But despite this stark assessment, God declares that He will one day restore the fortunes of all three cities.
“But someday I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and Samaria, and I will restore you, too. Then you will be truly ashamed of everything you have done, for your sins make them feel good in comparison.” – Ezekiel 16:53-54 NLT
This astounding statement ties directly back to a promise given to the people of Israel long before they entered the land of Canaan. God had given the people of Israel His commands and ordered them to obey them. He even outlined the blessings they could expect if they obeyed and the curses that would befall them if they disobeyed. And then, Moses assured them that even if they failed to obey, they could experience God’s forgiveness and restoration if they returned to Him in humility and contrition.
…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes. He will have mercy on you and gather you back from all the nations where he has scattered you. Even though you are banished to the ends of the earth, the Lord your God will gather you from there and bring you back again. The Lord your God will return you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will possess that land again. Then he will make you even more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors! – Deuteronomy 30:3-5 NLT
God was informing Ezekiel that the judgment for the sins of Jerusalem was about to come upon them. The Babylonians would soon arrive and bring devastation and destruction to the land of Judah. The capital of Jerusalem would fall and the temple would be destroyed. Then the exiles living in Babylon would see their ranks swell as the tens of thousands of captives began to arrive after their long march from Jerusalem.
And yet, God declares that He will one day restore the fortunes of all those living in the land of Canaan, including Sodom, Samaria, and Jerusalem.
“Yes, your sisters, Sodom and Samaria, and all their people will be restored, and at that time you also will be restored.” – Ezekiel 16:55 NLT
This prophetic statement has yet to be fulfilled. While Ezra and Nehemiah eventually led the people of Israel out of their captivity in Babylon and back to the land of Judah, their fortunes were not completely restored. They did rebuild the city of Jerusalem and restored the temple to a semblance of its former glory, but Israel would never rise to its former state of power and prominence in the region. They would never have a king who would reign over them as David or Solomon had. In fact, their lowly status as a nation would be a constant reminder of just how egregious their sin had been.
“…now your greater wickedness has been exposed to all the world, and you are the one who is scorned—by Edom and all her neighbors and by Philistia. This is your punishment for all your lewdness and detestable sins, says the Lord.” – Ezekiel 16:57-58 NLT
They would be back in the land, but their fortunes would be far from fully restored. God warns them, “I will give you what you deserve, for you have taken your solemn vows lightly by breaking your covenant” (Ezekiel 16:59 NLT). They will reap the consequences of their sin. He will graciously restore them to the land but they will have to suffer the constant reminder of their unfaithfulness in the form of their diminished status as a nation. No longer would they reflect their former lofty position as God’s chosen people. And they will remain in that state for centuries.
But God points to a future time when He will fully restore His wayward people. He will do for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves. He will heal their sick and sinful hearts and restore them to a right relationship with Himself.
“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.” – Ezekiel 16:62-63 NLT
They will grieve, but only for a little while. God’s faithful adherence to His covenant commitments will cause the people of Israel to mourn their past behavior. They will regret their long history of rebellion against God, but God promises full restoration and a complete renewal of their relationship with Him. God will later provide Ezekiel with further details concerning this amazing transformation.
“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign LORD: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:22-28 NLT
Despite the unfaithfulness of His people, God will remain fully committed to His covenant promises. He will do all that He has promised to do, down to the smallest detail. While He had been forced to punish them for their sins, He had never stopped being their God, and He would never fail to fulfill each and every promise He had made.
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? – Numbers 23:19 ESV
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.