A Painful But Vital Lesson to Learn

36 The Lord said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Declare to them their abominations. 37 For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. With their idols they have committed adultery, and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me. 38 Moreover, this they have done to me: they have defiled my sanctuary on the same day and profaned my Sabbaths. 39 For when they had slaughtered their children in sacrifice to their idols, on the same day they came into my sanctuary to profane it. And behold, this is what they did in my house. 40 They even sent for men to come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent; and behold, they came. For them you bathed yourself, painted your eyes, and adorned yourself with ornaments. 41 You sat on a stately couch, with a table spread before it on which you had placed my incense and my oil. 42 The sound of a carefree multitude was with her; and with men of the common sort, drunkards were brought from the wilderness; and they put bracelets on the hands of the women, and beautiful crowns on their heads.

43 “Then I said of her who was worn out by adultery, ‘Now they will continue to use her for a whore, even her!’ 44 For they have gone in to her, as men go in to a prostitute. Thus they went in to Oholah and to Oholibah, lewd women! 45 But righteous men shall pass judgment on them with the sentence of adulteresses, and with the sentence of women who shed blood, because they are adulteresses, and blood is on their hands.”

46 For thus says the Lord God: “Bring up a vast host against them, and make them an object of terror and a plunder. 47 And the host shall stone them and cut them down with their swords. They shall kill their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses. 48 Thus will I put an end to lewdness in the land, that all women may take warning and not commit lewdness as you have done. 49 And they shall return your lewdness upon you, and you shall bear the penalty for your sinful idolatry, and you shall know that I am the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 23:36-49 ESV

From the moment God gave Moses His law on the top of Mount Sinai to the days before the people of Israel entered the land of Canaan, they had received repeated warnings about practicing idolatry.

“Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction. – Exodus 22:20 ESV

Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips. – Exodus 23:13 ESV

“So do not corrupt yourselves by making an idol in any form—whether of a man or a woman, an animal on the ground, a bird in the sky, a small animal that scurries along the ground, or a fish in the deepest sea. And when you look up into the sky and see the sun, moon, and stars—all the forces of heaven—don’t be seduced into worshiping them. The Lord your God gave them to all the peoples of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 4:16-19 NLT

So be careful not to break the covenant the Lord your God has made with you. Do not make idols of any shape or form, for the Lord your God has forbidden this. The Lord your God is a devouring fire; he is a jealous God.” – Deuteronomy 4:23-24 NLT

“When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations and you drive them out and live in their land, do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.’ You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods.

“So be careful to obey all the commands I give you. You must not add anything to them or subtract anything from them. – Deuteronomy 12:29-32 NLT

But for four chapters, God has delivered His blunt assessment of their abject failure to obey His commands. From the loftiest leader to the lowest peasant, everyone in Israel and Judah was guilty of pursuing an ever-expanding list of false gods. They had turned idolatry into a national sport where it seems everyone had become an active and eager participant.

To make matters worse, in their desperate attempt to elicit a favorable response from their newfound gods, they had embraced the reprehensible practice of child sacrifice. God’s chosen people had literally offered up their sons and daughters as atoning sacrifices to their gods of wood and stone.

They have committed adultery with their idols, and their sons, whom they bore to me, they have passed through the fire as food to their idols. – Ezekiel 23:37 NLT

But they never fully abandoned their worship of Yahweh. They simply integrated their new gods into a new syncretic religious experience that allowed them to hedge their bets and call on any and all deities who might help them succeed. Yahweh was good but not good enough. They wanted to make sure that they had all the proverbial bases covered and a full contingent of deities at their disposal.

But they had failed to remember that Yahweh is a devouring fire and a jealous God. In their zeal to become equal-opportunity idolaters, they had offended the one true God. They had the unmitigated gall to sacrifice their children to a false god and then walk into the temple and expect to receive a warm and welcoming reception from God.

“In the very same day they desecrated my sanctuary and profaned my Sabbaths. On the same day they slaughtered their sons for their idols, they came to my sanctuary to desecrate it. This is what they have done in the middle of my house. – Ezekiel 23:38-39 NLT

They saw nothing wrong with worshiping at the shrine of Molech and then waltzing into the sanctuary to give Yahweh an equal share of their affections. But in doing so, they desecrated the house of God and defamed the honor of His name. They made the name of Yahweh a laughingstock among their pagan neighbors. No other nation treated their god with such disrespect and dishonor.

By embracing the idols of the surrounding nations, both Israel and Judah had hoped to forge alliances with them. They believed the shared experience of a common religion would make it far easier to co-exist with their pagan neighbors. And God accuses both nations of selling themselves out to the highest bidder, like a common prostitute. They had no shame, offering to get in bed with anyone who might benefit them in any way. But even their “lovers” had eventually lost interest in Jerusalem and Samaria, viewing them as nothing more than “lewd women” (Ezekiel 23:44 ESV) of low morals and with no scruples. Even the godless nations will exhibit a greater degree of righteousness as they judge Israel and Judah for their unprecedented treatment of Yahweh.

So, God determines to bring this charade to an end. No longer willing to stand back and watch His chosen people denigrate and dishonor His name, God declares His intent to “put an end to the obscene conduct in the land” (Ezekiel 23:48 NLT). God had already brought judgment against the northern kingdom of Israel. Now it was time for Judah to experience the full weight of God’s wrath. One of the very pagan nations whom Judah had embraced as a lover would be used by God to deliver the knock-out blow that would bring an end to their serial infidelity. And God is brutally blunt when summarizing the outcome of His pending judgment.

“They will repay you for your obscene conduct, and you will be punished for idol worship. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 23:49 NLT

The sad result of this devastating event will be a sobering awareness that there is only one God. When the dust settles and the ruins of Jerusalem become visible for all to see, the people of Judah will finally realize that Yahweh was exactly who He had always claimed to be: ăḏōnāy yᵊhōvâ – the Sovereign Lord of all.

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.