Every Harlot was a Virgin once.
— William Blake, “To The Accuser Who Is The God Of This World”
Last Sunday I preached an awkward message. I’ve been preaching through Revelation, taking every image and symbol as it comes. Last week was chapters 17-18. The Whore of Babylon. To compound matters, our junior church program was over for the summer, so I had a bunch of grade-school faces staring at me throughout the church (well, to be honest, I’m sure not many of them were listening).
It’s an awkward subject to talk about, but it’s there in a black 9 point serif. Since John drew so much of his inspiration from Ezekiel, it was natural to look to Ezekiel 16 & 23 as a fundamental source of inspiration for the Whore of Babylon. If you remember, those were the two dirtiest chapters of Ezekiel—the ones that spoke of Israel like a whore who had run away from her husband [Yahweh] to chase after other lovers [Egypt & Assyria].
Now at the end of the book of Ezekiel, Yahweh has returned to his temple (his footstool). You might expect some grandiose (universal?) offer or immunity to everyone. Instead, God insists on the same standards that Israel broke before. There are four details God reminds Ezekiel of.
. . .
- Israel and her kings were no cease defiling God’s name by their “whoring” (v. 7, NRSV). This speaks of spiritual infidelity. They ran after Egypt and Assyria in the past to find political security. If this new post-exilic arrangement was going to work, they would have to rely on their husband alone for their protection.
- Israel was not to bury her kings next to God’s temple. That’s a confusing expression. While there are a couple different explanations, the one that makes to most sense to me speaks of a cult of kings. Just like Israel needed keep herself pure from Egypt and Assyria, she was also to keep herself pure from worshiping herself! Dead kings are a laughable subject for worship, in the presence of God’s temple.
- Israel was to avoid butting her own buildings up against God’s Temple. The idea here is that Israel some of the sense of sacredness associated with the Temple of God. The sacred space of the Temple was to be more than valuable real estate.
- Finally, Israel was to stop the “abominations that they committed” (v. 8, NRSV). This is a catch-all phrase for everything pagan that subverted the worship of the true God.
The ultimatum is laid.
. . .
When you realize what God wanted from his people, it becomes easy to turn the focus on ourselves.
- Do we chase after things other than God (RRSPs, governments, jobs) for our security? His claim on us demands our wholehearted trust. After all, isn’t that that what “faith” means?
- This injunction doesn’t prohibit cemeteries in the churchyard. When you project the images through to today, the grave of kings represents things we worship other than God. Like point #1, we could create a long list in an honest moment. Likewise, the Temple doesn’t refer to our church buildings, it refers to us—the place where heaven and earth intersect (thank you, Mr. Wright). What sort of dehumanizing, antichrist things have taken up residence in our lives?
- This third demand rings loudly today. In Ezekiel’s context, Yahweh wanted Israel to recognize his sacredness. Do we recognize that sacredness today? I think about some of the songs we sing in our churches, and wonder if we ever slide to far into my-buddy-Jesus music at the expense of God’s majesty.
- When we follow Jesus, trusting him for security, everything dehumanizing needs to fall away. We’re living in grace—the sort of grace that allows God to refine our character into the image of his Son while we live in his freedom.
. . .
Lord God, give me the strength to allow you to refine my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.