The thought that underlies Ezekiel's parable, that Israel was the bride of Jehovah, and that her sin was that of the adulterous wife, was sufficiently familiar. Isaiah ( Isaiah 1:21 ) had spoken of the "faithful city that had become a harlot." Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 2:2 ) had represented Jehovah as remembering "the kindness of her youth, the love of her espousals." What is characteristic of Ezekiel's treatment of that image is that he does not recognize any period in which Israel had been as a faithful wife. But even here he had a forerunner in Hosea, who, in order that his own life might be itself a parable, was ordered to take to himself "a wife of whoredom," one, i.e; whose character was tainted before her marriage ( Hosea 1:2 ). Ezekiel would seem to have dwelt upon that thought, and to have expanded it into the terrible history that follows.
Universal consent accounts that woman vile who, married to a kind and honourable husband, in order to gratify her own unchastened desires, commits adultery with her neighbours and acquaintances, and expends her husband's substance in rewarding her numerous and profligate admirers. The guilt of Jerusalem must indeed have been great if it could only be adequately set forth under the similitude of guilt so flagrant and abominable as that described in this most appalling chapter. Passing away from the figure to the reality, we have to trace the unfaithfulness of Jerusalem to him who had saved her from death, distinguished her by favour, and exalted her to honour.
I. JERUSALEM 'S DISLOYALTY ORIGINATED IN HER ASSUMING AS HER OWN WHAT WAS REALLY THE GIFT AND GRACE OF GOD . What a lesson is there in the striking expression, "Thou didst trust in thine own beauty"!—thine own, as if for that beauty thou hadst to thank thyself; as if it were aught else than the gift of Divine bounty and the token of Divine favour! We are far less likely to abuse our position and our possessions if we do but remember that they are not ours, save by God's kindness, and that we are not our own.
II. DISLOYALTY ORIGINATED IN FORGETFULNESS OF DIVINE GRACE AND COMPASSION . Very touching is that expression in Ezekiel 16:22 , "Thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth." Here is the radical error. It is pride and self-confidence that leads men astray. They who are forgetful of God are in danger of being unfaithful to him. Jerusalem said, "I sit a queen!" And saying so, she fell. It is a too common experience. The Christian may learn to cultivate the spirit of complete dependence upon God; for the consciousness that he owes all to God will help to bind him to loyal allegiance and constant service.
III. DISLOYALTY WAS MANIFESTED IN THE ADOPTION OF THE IDOLATRY OF SURROUNDING NATIONS . In Jerusalem and the neighborhood the deities of the several peoples to the east, north, and south of Palestine had their deluded votaries; and not only so, idolatry was openly practised. With spiritual wantonness the citizens of the great and glorious city admitted and embraced every form of idolatry, and that even within sight, if not within the precincts, of the very temple of Jehovah.
IV. DISLOYALTY LED TO CONFORMITY TO ALL THE VILE PRACTICES WHICH ARE CONNECTED WITH IDOLATRY . Cruel and lustful rites, it is well known, were associated with heathen worship. In Ezekiel 16:20 and Ezekiel 16:21 reference is made to the practice, connected with the worship of Moloch, of causing sons and daughters to pass through the fire. This was but one of the abominable and reprehensible practices encouraged by heathen priests. When these practices are compared with the observances of the Law of Moses, who can avoid the conclusion that, whereas the former were the invention of sinful men, the latter bear marks of appointment by a pure and merciful God? Once let men abandon the true religion, and "go after false gods," and none can tell into what excesses of iniquity they may be led.
V. DISLOYALTY WAS CARRIED TO AN EXTENT EXTRAVAGANT AND MONSTROUS . Jerusalem is compared with Samaria and with Sodom, and is represented as "corrupted more than they in all her ways!" Indeed, had not the abominations wrought in Jerusalem been flagrant, the language of this chapter would not have been justified. The abuse of the best is ever the worst. The greater the height from which the fall, the severer is the hurt received. The Lord was aggrieved by the lengths to which the disobedient proceeded, the riot of iniquity into which they ran.
VI. FORBEARANCE WITH DISLOYALTY GAVE PLACE TO DIVINE DISPLEASURE , INDIGNATION , AND WRATH . The conduct of Jerusalem is nut unobserved and is not uncensured, Mercy has been defied, and just authority has been set at naught. It is not possible that infidelity so flagrant can be overlooked. Severe and righteous is the resolution of the almighty King, "I will judge thee;" "I will even deal with thee as thou hast done." Not only has Jerusalem to reckon with justice that cannot be perverted and with wisdom that cannot be eluded; it has to reckon with power that cannot be resisted. When God arises to judgment and calls the nations before him, a righteous sentence is pronounced, to which all must submit, and which none can question.
VII. THOSE WHO TEMPTED JERUSALEM TO DISLOYALTY WERE MADE INSTRUMENTS IN JERUSALEM 'S PUNISHMENT . The lovers are called in to minister punishment to the adulteress; the surrounding nations, especially the Assyrians and Chaldeans and the Egyptians, were made instrumental in chastising the people that had permitted themselves to be deluded and seduced by their vile idolatries. Jerusalem's sin was great in proportion to her privileges, and her affliction was as her sin. And there was an awful appropriateness in the employment of the heathen people to chastise those who should have witnessed against their follies instead of being partakers of their sins.—T.
Sin seen in the light of comparison.
If men are so encased in worldliness that they cannot see their sin in the light of God's perfect righteousness, they may yet discover some features of their sin in the light of others' conduct, in the light of others' doom. God has employed manifold methods for convincing men of sin.
I. SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF ANOTHER 'S FALL . In the case of Israel it might have been seen in a parent's disaster and doom. For their idolatries, and the vices bred of idolatry, the Amorites and Hittites were swept out of the land; yea, swept out by the sword of Israel. They had seen the judgments which God had brought upon idolatry. It was a fact indissolubly linked with their own history. For them to fall into the same sin is inexplicable; it is the climax of depravity.
II. SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF PRIVILEGE . The Hebrews had seen the result of idolatry in the sister kingdom of Samaria. The calves erected at Dan and Bethel had not availed to save Israel from defeat and ruin. They in Judaea had greater privilege. The visible presence of Jehovah was in their holy of holies. They had the priesthood and the daily sacrifice and the smoking altar of incense in their midst. If some kind of excuse could be framed on behalf of Israel's lapse, no such excuse could be framed for Judah. They knew the better course, yet they chose the worse.
III. SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF REPEATED WARNING . The disaster which fell upon Samaria and upon Sodom was in the nature of warning to them. It was the clearest warning, written in largest characters. Beside these matter of fact warnings, they were rebuked by a succession of messengers from God. The sin which was great prior to Samaria's fall was greater still after that fall. To continue in sin after repeated warning is to contract fresh sin. Contumely and insubordination are now added. Warning despised is itself a sin.
IV. THE MEASURE OF SIN IS SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF ITS INJURIOUS INFLUENCE ON OTHERS . The inhabitants of Jerusalem had encouraged others to commit idolatry. Other peoples were cloaking themselves under Israel's name. All sin (like some diseases) is terribly contagious. The Jews were inducing others to say, "Well, if these sticklers for an invisible God betake themselves to idols, there must be a reason. Their Jehovah must have failed them. After all, idolatry must be at least permissible." "Thou hast justified thy sisters in all thine abomination."
V. THE DOOM OF SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF GOD 'S CONSISTENT JUSTICE . "When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate … then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate." God has not one tribunal for the Jews and another for the Canaanites. Out of one statute book all shall be alike judged. Human conduct in every land and in every age shall be measured by one standard rule. As God has dealt with transgressors in former ages, so assuredly will he deal with transgressors in times to come. Other things may change, but God and law and righteousness never .—D.
A picture of comparative iniquity.
"Behold, every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying. As is the mother, so is her daughter," etc. The following observations are suggested by this paragraph.
I. THE HEINOUSNESS OF SIN IS PROPORTIONATE TO THE POSITION AND PRIVILEGES OF THE SINNERS . "The more mercies people enjoy, the greater are their sins if they answer not those mercies." It is by the application of this principle that the people of Judah are pronounced greater sinners than they of Sodom or Samaria. Judah was immeasurably richer in moral and religious advantages than Sodom. "They had Moses and the prophets;" they had a clearer and fuller revelation of the Divine will; they had more frequent warnings and exhortations from holy prophets of the Lord; they had regular religious ordinances, and other aids to a true and righteous life, which Sodom possessed not. The people of Judah had greater privileges than Samaria also, in having the temple of God in their midst, and in having kings of the line of David to reign over them, some of whom were eminent for their piety. Because of their grievous sins, notwithstanding their superior privileges, they are accounted more guilty than the people of Sodom and Samaria ( Ezekiel 16:46-48 ). The sins of Sodom are specified by the prophet. "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread," etc. ( Ezekiel 16:49 , Ezekiel 16:50 ). Her grossest, foulest sin is not mentioned here. Before it was destroyed, Sodom had become a moral plague spot upon the face of God's fair earth. And the sins of Samaria, or of the ten tribes, were many and dark. Yet the highly favoured people of Judah were accounted guiltier than either Sodom or Samaria, because they had committed their sins despite the greatest advantages and privileges. Their wickedness had became proverbial. It was common to say of them, "As is the mother, so is her daughter," etc. ( Ezekiel 16:44 , Ezekiel 16:45 ; and cf. Ezekiel 16:3 ). The principle with which we are dealing was clearly and explicitly stated by our Lord ( Matthew 11:20-24 ; Luke 12:47 , Luke 12:48 ). Viewed in this light, how heinous are the sins of Great Britain! This land has been must richly blessed by God with civil and religious freedom, with a splendid literature, a noble ancestry, an open Bible, a weekly day of rest and religious service, abundant provision for public worship, and countless Christian ministries. And if these great advantages be not truly prized and improved, a darker, deeper guilt will be ours than that of less favoured peoples.
II. THE MORE HEINOUS SINS OF A MORE FAVOURED PEOPLE JUSTIFY THE SINS OF PERSONS OF INFERIOR PRIVILEGES . "Thou hast justified thy sisters in all thine abominations which thou hast done" ( Ezekiel 16:51 ). "The justification is a comparative one: in relation to thee, Sodom and Samaria must appear as righteous." Great sins appear small when compared with greater ones. Thus professedly religious people, when they give way to sin, cause those who make no profession of religion to think less gravely, or even lightly, of sin. When religious people have a low standard of practical life and conduct, they thereby lower the standard of those who are about them. Sin in those who occupy the place of the people of God seems to excuse sin in those who occupy a lower position, and in this way affords encouragement to wickedness. Let those "who profess and call themselves Christians" take heed that they so live as not in any way or degree to justify or countenance sin in others.
III. THE GREATEST SINNERS ARE SOMETIMES MOST READY TO JUDGE OTHER SINNERS . "Thou also hast judged thy sisters" ( Ezekiel 16:52 ). "Judah had concurred from the heart in the Divine judgment on Sodom and Samaria, and exalted herself above them on this account, as the Pharisee in the Gospel." They had spoken harshly of their fellow countrymen who were in exile, and with self-righteous assertion of their own privileges ( Ezekiel 11:15 ). Yet in some respects, as we have seen, they were the greatest sinners. And still it is not the holy, but the wicked, who are most ready to condemn sin in others, and to judge others with rigorous severity. But mark the teaching of our Lord on this matter ( Matthew 7:1-5 ; John 8:2-11 ).
IV. THE GREATEST SINNERS WILL MEET WITH THE SEVEREST PUNISHMENT . "Thou also, which hast judged thy sisters, bear thine own shame for thy sins that thou hast committed more abominable than they," etc. ( Ezekiel 16:52 ). Punishment is proportionate with guilt. Terrible were the judgments of God upon Jerusalem (cf. Ezekiel 5:9-12 ; Lamentations 4:4-11 ). Jeremiah cries, "The punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater thou the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her." "Sodom's punishment was sharp but short; Jerusalem's was sharp and long." "We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth." "The righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds."
CONCLUSION . Even the greatest sinners may obtain free and full forgiveness through the infinite mercy of God. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts," etc. ( Isaiah 55:6 , Isaiah 55:7 ).—W.J.