The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever.
— Hallelujah, Handel’s Messiah
Ezekiel 23 is the most sexually explicit passage in the Bible. Most people assume that Song of Songs is the culprit, but at least there, the reality is couched in metaphor and poetry. Here we have no such refuge. The metaphor is stripped from the imagery like clothing from Oholibah. In fact, in Ezekiel 23, graphic sexuality is the metaphor for Samaria and Jerusalem’s political infidelity.
There is another significant difference between Song of Songs and Ezekiel 23. Song of Songs is a celebration of sexuality (unless you bend over backwards to spiritualize it). Ezekiel 23 is an explicit condemnation of rampant lust. Solomon’s language was intended to evoke beauty and desire. Ezekiel tried his best to offend his hearers.
. . .
Usually it’s a bad idea to try to offend people. I’m pretty sure there’s no valid ministry of offense in the New Testament. But that was Ezekiel’s only option.
The Israelites had self-medicated themselves for years with stories of their faithfulness to God and God’s reciprocal care for them. I would suspect that a large number of exiles would have thought that their exile was related to Yahweh’s unfaithfulness to them—as absurd as that sounds.
Ezekiel did the only thing he can do to try to help his fellow exiles see the truth. He shocked them with a sexually explicit parable to get them to open their eyes to the true story of their own history.
. . .
The standard history of Israel reads something like this: God called Abraham, and in faith Abraham followed God. Abraham gave birth to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, and Jacob to Joseph who rescued his family from starvation. Four hundred years later, God called Moses to take the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land. Moses received the law from God on Mount Sinai, and led the people through the desert for forty years. When Moses died, Joshua led Israel across the Jordan river and into the promised land. They conquered the land and drove out many of the inhabitants. In time, Samuel the prophet anointed Saul as king. Saul disobeyed God, so David took the kingship of Israel. David was followed by his son Solomon, and the story continued. Eventually the kingdom of Israel split into two parts: Israel in the north, and Judah in the south.
Ezekiel’s history sounds like this: Two sisters, Oholah and Oholibah, represent Israel and Judah’s two main cities, Samaria and Jerusalem. Oholah (Samaria) was the first to play the whore with the Assyrians and anyone who would pay attention to her. Because Oholah ignored her husband, Yahweh, he delivered her into the hands of her former lovers who killed her mercilessly. Her sister Oholibah (Jerusalem) lasted a little bit longer, but she was even more depraved. Instead of learning form her sister’s mistakes, Oholibah was even more wanton than her sister. She played the whore with the Egyptians, moved on to the Babylonians, and then returned for more with the Egyptians. Like her sister, her husband gave her into the hands of her lovers who stripped her naked and slaughtered her as well. “They shall repay you for your lewdness, and you shall bear the penalty of your sinful idolatry; and you shall know that I am the Lord GOD” (v. 49, NRSV).
Ezekiel’s point was hard to miss. From the time of their slavery in Egypt, the Israelites flirted with the foreign nations. Nothing had changed.
. . .
I’m only taking one entry for this entire chapter—which is uncharacteristic. The reason for this is because chapter 23 is so similar to all the issues we looked at in chapter 16. There is one main difference between the two chapters, however, that is important to point out.
In chapter 16, the woman who represented Jerusalem was judged because of her idolatry. She was caught up in the ritual prostitution that flowed from the gods of the surrounding nations. Here, Oholah and Oholibah are judged for their political flirtation with Egypt and Babylon.
There is an important lesson here. God not only cares about our personal morality (as exhibited in chapter 16)—he also cares about our corporate life and political affiliations (as revealed in chapter 23). I’m not in any position to suggest who everyone should vote for—in fact, when Christians play with that sort of power we often get stupid. Jesus’ sort of power was revealed in weakness and turning the other cheek, not in lobbying his government. Still, God is concerned with who we support and how we conduct ourselves on a national level. We have a higher allegiance to bring to bear.
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
and of his messiah,
and he will reign forever and ever.
(Revelation 11:15, NRSV)
. . .
Omnipotent God, help us to discern your will for us as we pray for “thy kingdom come”. In Jesus’ name, Amen.