Text: Ezekiel 16-18 (Ps 34)
Observe: The dead vine image of chapter 15 changes in chapter 16. Jerusalem represents Israel as a prostitute, an adulterous wife. In these metaphors, Ezekiel shows the peoples’ failure to follow the Lord only.
Chapter 16, the longest of Ezekiel’s oracles, is an allegory of Israel’s pitiful beginnings: a newborn daughter of mixed Hittite/Amorite parentage lies abandoned in a field, dirty, covered with blood. God finds her and cares for her until her maturity, then marries her[LM1] in covenant love, showering her with precious gifts to enhance her beauty.
Alas, she carelessly tosses them away in idolatrous worship. She becomes an adulterous wife, a prostitute who pays her ‘lovers’ (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon), even sacrificing her children to false gods (20,21). Jealous God will avenge her adultery by taking back His gifts. Her ‘lovers’ eventually abandon her, leaving her as naked as she was when God found her.
Jerusalem’s sins make ‘sisters’ Sodom and Samaria’s evils look virtuous, God says (51b). He will punish her: You bear the penalty for your lewdness and your abominations, declares the Lord (58). Yet He will rescue even these evil cities, making Sodom and Samaria like daughters (61). He will take back unfaithful Israel in a new covenant (8 and 59). Then, … you shall know that I am the Lord.(62)
Chapter 17 is a riddle/parable of two ‘great eagles’, a cedar, a vine (that image, again!). The first eagle plucks a twig from the tallest cedar in Lebanon[LM2] and drops it into the city market. It becomes a vine, reaching towards the other eagle. The vine asks the eagle to water it[LM3] , then plant it into good soil. The riddle: Will the vine live or die? What does this mean?
The first eagle, Nebuchadnezzar, takes the ‘twig’, Jehoiachin (remember him? Bad!) to Babylon. Zedekiah (seed/vine) should rule Judah so it flourishes in Babylon (recall Jeremiah 29). But Zedekiah turns to Egypt, the other eagle, and not to Babylon. God punishes the king, in His anger at how he broke His covenant with Babylon. Judah will be scattered but other nations see that God alone is Lord. Finally, God Himself reenacts the allegory, with a different ending (22-24).
The old generational curse making children responsible for parents’ sins (Ex. 20; Num. 14; Deut. 5; Jer.32) is ended. Sadly, children will still suffer, but parents must be responsible for their own sins (18:3). If a righteous man’s son does evil, he’ll be punished; the righteous son of an evil man will not inherit his father’s wrongdoings – God’s gracious revision to this proverb. His final word? … make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! (31)
Interpret: As in Jesus’ parables, we think in circles until we find the centre of its meaning, bending our straight-line mindsets to a new way of seeing.
The sexual imagery of chapter 16 tears away Judah’s façade, to reveal an ugliness that requires God’s deep reworking. The eagles/vine image shows Israel’s constant disobedience in turning away from the Lord to others than God’s choice.
Overturning a deadening proverb (18) foretells God’s redemptive work (thus killing the proverb’s effects): Jesus, becoming a curse on the Cross (Deut. 21:23), took on Himself our sins, from our first parents’ through all generations, setting us free from what keeps us from the Lord – our sin.
Apply: We guard our deceivable hearts against misusing God’s gifts, manufacturing our own take on His Word (or ignoring it altogether), gazing distractedly away from Him. Mindful that our children suffer for our mistakes, we stay close to Jesus so we make His choices.
Ask: Lord, how have I been careless with Your gifts to me? Have I taken my privilege as Your beloved so lightly? Will you give me the courage to look at my wrongdoing and heed Your corrections?
Pray: Lord, Your prophetic word is so often unfathomable. Help me to read with care, asking always for Your Spirit to guide until I can say, “I see! Thank You!” Then I keep asking for deeper understanding as You heal my blindness of heart.
Song: Psalm 34: Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
Psalm 34: Taste and See Steve Angrisano
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.