1 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city? Then declare to her all her abominations. 3 You shall say, Thus says the Lord God: A city that sheds blood in her midst, so that her time may come, and that makes idols to defile herself! 4 You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made, and you have brought your days near, the appointed time of your years has come. Therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all the countries. 5 Those who are near and those who are far from you will mock you; your name is defiled; you are full of tumult.
6 “Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood. 7 Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. 8 You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths. 9 There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst. 10 In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual impurity. 11 One commits abomination with his neighbor’s wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; another in you violates his sister, his father’s daughter. 12 In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take interest and profit and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; but me you have forgotten, declares the Lord God.
13 “Behold, I strike my hand at the dishonest gain that you have made, and at the blood that has been in your midst. 14 Can your courage endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with you? I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it. 15 I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you. 16 And you shall be profaned by your own doing in the sight of the nations, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 22:1-16 ESV
The people of Judah were lawbreakers – plain and simple. They were guilty of violating the commands of God as outlined in the Mosaic Law, and they couldn’t pass the buck and blame their ancestors for their predicament. No, this was a present-day problem that persisted in Judah and all the way to the Kebar River in Babylon. Wherever the people of God could be found, spiritual unfaithfulness and moral laxity were in close proximity. The exiles eeking out a living as refugees in Babylon couldn’t claim exemption from God’s wrath because they were just as guilty of apostasy and idolatry as their friends and family members back home. In the short time they had been in Babylon, they had acclimated to their new surroundings and even adopted the gods of their captors. They no longer bothered to keep the Sabbath day holy. Their observance of God’s commands had become optional rather than mandatory.
But God’s greatest condemnation was reserved for the citizens of “the bloody city” (Ezekiel 22:2 ESV). This was His less-than-flattering description of Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, and the location of the majestic temple that Solomon had built in His honor.
God’s description of Jerusalem as a bloody city was not just hyperbole. He wasn’t exaggerating or attempting to use over-the-top rhetoric to paint the city in as negative a light as He possibly could. In six verses, God lays out the evidence for His accusation of blood-guilt against Jerusalem’s inhabitants. In verses two and three, He refers to Jerusalem as a “city of murderers,” and each of these “murderers” was guilty of committing an actual crime.
“…you are guilty because of the blood you have shed.” – Ezekiel 22:4 NLT
“Every leader in Israel who lives within your walls is bent on murder.” – Ezekiel 22:6 NLT
“People accuse others falsely and send them to their death.” – Ezekiel 22:9 NLT
“There are hired murderers, loan racketeers, and extortioners everywhere.” – Ezekiel 22:12 NLT
“But now I clap my hands in indignation over your dishonest gain and bloodshed.” – Ezekiel 22:13 NLT
The Mosaic Law had been intended to regulate human behavior, dictating how God’s people were to interact and engage with Him and with one another. The law had a vertical and horizontal aspect to it. It outlined how the Israelites were to conduct their lives and display their set-apart status as His chosen people. There were laws that determined how they were to treat God, and there were laws that determined their relationships with one another. And adherence to the law was to produce a community that was regulated and motivated by love.
There was an occasion when Jesus was approached by some Jewish religious leaders, and they asked Him to name “the most important commandment in the law of Moses,” (Matthew 22:36 NLT), to which Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 NLT). Jesus described this as “the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:38 NLT), but then quickly added the following addendum to His answer:
“A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:39 NLT
Love God. Love others. The entire corpus of the Mosaic Law rested on those two timeless truths. Obedience to God’s law should reflect a love for Him and demonstrate a love for others. It was never intended to be a list of rules and regulations to adhere to out of some sense of duty or in hopes of a reward for a job well done.
God had graciously given His laws to the descendants of Abraham. They were unique to the people of Israel and were designed to set them apart from the rest of the world‘s population. By living in loving obedience to God’s commands, the Israelites would showcase God’s love, mercy, power, and grace to the nations. But rather than love and listen to God, they had chosen to adopt the ways of the world. They wanted to blend in, not stand out.
“We want to be like the nations all around us, who serve idols of wood and stone.” – Ezekiel 20:32 NLT
They chose idolatry over fidelity and faithfulness. And in choosing to love false gods, they rejected the one true God. They fell out of love with God and abandoned His law and, in doing so, lost the capacity to love one another. The apostle Paul describes the sequence of events that leads to this kind of drastic behavioral change.
…they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself… – Romans 1:21-25 NLT
This pattern is on full display in Ezekiel 22, as God describes the downward trajectory of Judah’s apostasy. Their idolatry or love affair with false gods had resulted in abject hatred for one another. Selfishness ruled the day. The entire community was marked by injustice and abuse. By choosing to reject God and embrace idols, the people of Israel had jettisoned their set-apart status and took on the characteristics of the fallen world around them.
They no longer honored their fathers and mothers as God had commanded them to do. They extorted the foreigners living among them, profiting off of them by demanding payment for protection. Rather than treat orphans and widows with dignity and respect as God had commanded, they wronged and oppressed them. They were guilty of perjury and liable, falsely accusing one another just to line their own pockets. And they were even willing to see the innocent put to death if it meant they could somehow benefit from their demise. Adultery was rampant. Sexual sin was widely practiced and accepted. Rape and incest had become so commonplace that there was no longer any shame associated with these heinous acts. Hired murderers, loan racketeers, and extortioners were everywhere. And God sums up the sorry state of affairs by declaring, “They never even think of me and my commands, says the Sovereign Lord” ( Ezekiel 22:12 NLT).
In a sense, God was out of sight and out of mind. They lived as if He didn’t even exist, or if He did, He was too powerless or indifferent to do anything about their behavior. They truly thought they could continue to live in violation of His law and get away with it. But they were in for a rude awakening. God was about to bring their sinful free-for-all to an abrupt and ignominious end.
“But now I clap my hands in indignation over your dishonest gain and bloodshed. How strong and courageous will you be in my day of reckoning? I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said. I will scatter you among the nations and purge you of your wickedness.” – Ezekiel 22:13-15 NLT
The people of God had become godless. They had abandoned their set-apart status in order to blend in with the rest of the world. But their idols would not save them. Their substitute gods would prove to be impotent and incapable of delivering them from the wrath of Yahweh. Their sinful behavior had polluted the land of promise, so God was going to purge the land of their presence, sending them into exile just like Ezekiel and his fellow refugees. But when all was said and done, they would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Yahweh alone is God.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
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.