The story of two sisters
Ezekiel 23 (ESV)
Oholah and Oholibah
Here is some Scripture you have probably never heard read aloud in church! But remember the purpose that Ezekiel has — to rouse the people of Jerusalem to see the terrible fate that is coming on account of their on-going unrighteousness.
The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother. 3 They played the whore in Egypt;
There are several evidences of Israel’s idolatry in Egypt:
~The worship of the golden calf at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:1-6)
~The reference to their idolatry in Egypt (Joshua 24:14): Put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord!
~Jeroboam’s choice of golden calves as objects of worship (1 Kings 12:26-33).
they played the whore in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and their virgin bosoms handled. 4 Oholah was the name of the elder and Oholibah the name of her sister. They became mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem.
God gave these two symbolic sisters names. The elder was Oholah, which means Her Own Tabernacle, with the sense that she rejected God’s temple and the service that attended it. The younger was Oholibah, which means My Tabernacle is In Her, with the sense that she was home to God’s temple and its service.
5 “Oholah played the whore while she was mine, and she lusted after her lovers the Assyrians, warriors 6 clothed in purple, governors and commanders, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. 7 She bestowed her whoring upon them, the choicest men of Assyria all of them, and she defiled herself with all the idols of everyone after whom she lusted. 8 She did not give up her whoring that she had begun in Egypt; for in her youth men had lain with her and handled her virgin bosom and poured out their whoring lust upon her.
Before the Assyrians conquered Israel she followed her attraction to their gods, their power, their protection, and their ways. This repeats an irony expressed before in Ezekiel; when God’s people reject Him and embrace the idols of the nations, He allows those nations to conquer His people.
We imagine the small kingdom of Israel looking with awe and envy upon the mighty empire of the Assyrians. Though they feared them, they also noticed their power and wealth, their influence and fame. Israel thought that by worshiping Assyria’s gods, adopting their morals, and embracing their customs they also could gain some of that power and fame. It was a foolish rejection of their covenant God and embrace of idolatry.
9 Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, into the hands of the Assyrians, after whom she lusted. 10 These uncovered her nakedness; they seized her sons and her daughters; and as for her, they killed her with the sword; and she became a byword among women, when judgment had been executed on her.
“Throughout the Scriptures it may be discerned that divine retribution operates in such a way that the source of sinful pleasure becomes the source of punishment. Samaria’s lovers became her destroyers.”
–Charles L. Feinberg
11 “Her sister Oholibah saw this, and she became more corrupt than her sister in her lust and in her whoring, which was worse than that of her sister. 12 She lusted after the Assyrians, governors and commanders, warriors clothed in full armor, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men. 13 And I saw that she was defiled; they both took the same way. 14 But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, 15 wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. 16 When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. 17 And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoring lust. And after she was defiled by them, she turned from them in disgust. 18 When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister. 19 Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt20 and lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses. 21 Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts.”
In the end, Jerusalem was more depraved than Samaria. Jerusalem ran after her idol-lovers in the most gross and disgusting ways, thinking that these potent, mighty people could protect Judah. Ezekiel used this nearly raunchy language to shock his complacent listeners.
22 Therefore, O Oholibah, thus says the Lord God:
God’s judgment against Jerusalem was all the more deserved because they were Oholibah – meaning, My Tabernacle is In Her. The great blessing of the temple and priesthood in their midst made their accountability much greater.
“Behold, I will stir up against you your lovers from whom you turned in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side: 23 the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, governors and commanders all of them, officers and men of renown, all of them riding on horses. 24 And they shall come against you from the north with chariots and wagons and a host of peoples. They shall set themselves against you on every side with buckler, shield, and helmet; and I will commit the judgment to them, and they shall judge you according to their judgments. 25 And I will direct my jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire. 26 They shall also strip you of your clothes and take away your beautiful jewels. 27 Thus I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring begun in the land of Egypt, so that you shall not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore.
“Those who had previously come to her to make love, now come from all sides to make war.”
–Daniel I. Block
Block quoted an excerpt from the annals of Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (883–859):
“I felled with the sword 800 of their combat troops, I burnt 3,000 captives from them. I did not leave one of them alive as a hostage. I captured alive Hulaya their city ruler. I made a pile of their corpses. I burnt their adolescent boys (and) girls. I flayed Hulaya their city ruler (and) draped his skin over the wall of the city Damdammusa. I razed, destroyed, (and) burnt the city… Moving on from the city Kinabu I approached the city Tela. The city was well fortified… I felled 3,000 of their fighting men with the sword. I carried off prisoners, possessions, oxen (and) cattle from them. I burnt many captives from them. I captured many troops alive: I cut off of some their arms (and) hands; I cut off of others their noses, ears (and) extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made one pile of the living (and) one of heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city. I burnt their adolescent boys (and) girls. I razed, destroyed, burnt (and) consumed the city.”
28 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will deliver you into the hands of those whom you hate, into the hands of those from whom you turned in disgust, 29 and they shall deal with you in hatred and take away all the fruit of your labor and leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your whoring shall be uncovered. Your lewdness and your whoring30 have brought this upon you, because you played the whore with the nations and defiled yourself with their idols. 31 You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand.
Being Oholibah (having the temple) instead of Oholah (rejecting the temple) made no difference if it did not result in faithfulness to Yahweh and His covenant. If the people of Jerusalem thought having the temple would save them from judgment, that God would never allow the Babylonians to destroy the temple, they needed to learn from the story of Oholah and Oholibah.
32 Thus says the Lord God:
“You shall drink your sister’s cup
that is deep and large;
you shall be laughed at and held in derision,
for it contains much;
33 you will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow. A cup of horror and desolation,
the cup of your sister Samaria;
34 you shall drink it and drain it out,
and gnaw its shards,
and tear your breasts;
“Drinking that cup would result in national ‘drunkenness,’ i.e., confusion, which in turn would lead to scorn and derision by other nations. That cup would produce sorrow, astonishment and desolation.”
for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. 35 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring.”
The punishment to come is not a pretty picture, Ezekiel says. Now he lists the specific sins:
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.
They loved their idolatry! The preparation for the parties included bathing, putting on make-up, and carefully choosing dress and jewelry. Lavish food and drink surrounded them. And for whom? — drunkards and other unworthies. I find it hard to read these passages and not think of certain elements of our modern club/entertainment culture . . .
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.”
The severity of conquest and exile had a purpose greater than punishment. The ultimate purpose was to reveal God in both His holy judgments and gracious restorations.
In contrast to the distasteful sin and unrelenting shamefulness of these sisters in this chapter, HERE is a song of victory in our Savior! Elevation Worship and “Resurrecting.”
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Images courtesy of: