2 Samuel 8-9; 2 Corinthians 2; Ezekiel 16; Psalms 58-59
IF EZEKIEL 15 PICTURES JERUSALEM as a useless vine (imagery that shows up elsewhere, e.g., Ps. 80; Isa. 5), Ezekiel 16 pictures Jerusalem as a prostitute.
The language is shocking, horrible—and it is meant to be. The long analogy begins as a rather extreme version of My Fair Lady: absolutely everything this woman enjoys, not least life itself, is the direct result of God’s gracious intervention. But quite unlike My Fair Lady, in which the man proves to be an unthinking and self-centered manipulator until the “lady” he has created out of a street urchin rebukes him, here God is the One who proves indomitably faithful. Moreover, he is hurt by the ingratitude and betrayal implicit in this lady’s constant pursuit of other lovers—i.e., other gods. She proves to be not only “weak-willed” but “brazen” (Ezek. 16:30). Worse, while prostitutes receive a fee for their services, this woman pays others so that she can sleep with them. Israel has not so much been seduced by idolatry or somehow been paid to engage in idolatry, as she has taken the active role and has paid quite a bit so that she can indulge in idolatry, precisely because that is what she wants to do.
The analogy is extended to talk about the older sister (the northern tribes, who went into captivity more than a century earlier because of their spiritual adultery). The Judahites like to think of themselves as superior not only to places like Sodom (proverbial for wickedness) but to the northern tribes; God says that Judah is so bad that by comparison the other two “sisters” look good (Ezek. 16:49-52).
The analogy works for four reasons. (a) It exposes the emotional horror of apostasy. Apostasy as adultery is seen for the betraying, despicable, hurtful, selfish conduct it really is. The issue is not freedom of religion (any more than adultery is freedom from sexual narrow-mindedness), but self-love and inconstancy. (b) Marriage can be seen as a covenantal relationship. Thus breaking the marriage covenant is inevitably reminiscent of breaking the covenant between God and the people he redeemed from slavery in Egypt. In both cases the apostasy/adultery is a flagrant defiance of solemn vows. (c) The imagery taps into a large biblical-theological theme that runs almost the entire way through Scripture: Yahweh is the bridegroom of the bride Israel; Christ is the bridegroom of the church; the ultimate consummation is the marriage supper of the Lamb. (d) All covenant-keeping requires the right sort of diligent remembering: re-read Ezekiel 16:43, 60, 61, 63—and reflect on 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.