One of the most intriguing challenges I was asked to undertake turned out to be a fun endeavor, can you imagine having to write a paper on the Old Testament? Where would you start?
After deliberating long and hard, I decided to go with the obscure. Over the years I have been led again and again to chapter 16 of the book of Ezekiel, so much so that my Bible often falls open right at that spot. It’s an allegory from the prophet Ezekiel to Jerusalem. To say it is gripping, telling, volatile and a bit vivid in its description would be just scratching the surface. Filled with imagery and metaphors some of it easy to understand and parts have a depth that cuts to the core of God’s heart of love for His people, and to the very reason why we were created.
I hope this will rivet you. Some things in life are worth spending a bit of time to understand, and when we do, it has a unique way of rearranging our soul. I will share how this has personally impacted me a bit later in this post. For now, let’s start with the storyline.
In this Old Testament allegory, which is a story or picture that reveals a hidden meaning, we see Jerusalem as a woman. But a woman who makes up the whole of a nation. As the story begins, Ezekiel is to bring forth this analogy to confront Jerusalem about her detestable practices that she repeatedly exhibited and defiled against the Lord’s covenant. Here is an important fact: A blood covenant is binding, lasting and a sacred bond. It is both corporate and individual. To more fully understand this intense comparison we must first see that the word of God is His divine story of His beloved people. As we link this understanding of the Lord’s love with the unfaithfulness portrayed through this metaphor, we will begin to see why this is so heartbreaking. This incredible nation has always been God’s chosen people. A nation that was created to bring forth the One who would redeem humanity from our fall into sin and our loss of the Kingdom.
Some background history is needed to understand the storyline more clearly before we unfold this deep metaphor, and we will be adding more detail as the imagery evolves. The Lord made a promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation and his son of the promise, Isaac, marked a profound impact at this nation’s inception. Isaac’s son Jacob had sons that make up what is known as the 12 tribes of Israel. For a lengthy period of their history, this entire nation was trapped in slavery in Egypt, but the Lord brought forth their miraculous rescue out from under horrifying bondage. This nation then rose to the heights of an extravagant luxury of a great empire. However, all throughout their history, they struggled with an overall lack of motivation to truly worship God, especially during their tragic Babylonian exile and subsequent rebuilding of the Temple. God would expose through Ezekiel His true perception of how He saw this disloyalty. Ezekiel used the metaphor of the marriage covenant and was sent to pronounce this nation, this woman, as an unfaithful adulterous wife.
This woman is introduced first as an infant girl born in Canaan to an Amorite father and a Hittite mother who apparently abandoned her at birth. Ezekiel 16:4 states “On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean….”. In addition to that she was not wrapped in cloths or attended to, she was naked and exposed. No one had compassion on her; she was despised. What’s implied is the idea that from her birth, the nation Israel had the genes of depravity, with a father and a mother who worshiped abominable idols and had no time for anything else. How shocking for the descendants of Abraham and Sarah to be likened to degenerate heathens. This, however, is not describing the birth of Isaac, but as mentioned earlier, this is the viewpoint of God in regards to their lineage of constant betrayal towards Him. It is incredible that despite their infidelity and seemingly forsaken condition we see that the Lord never forgot about them. In fact, He caused them to multiply and become great.
“Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, Live!” Ezekiel 16:6. The first part of this verse is speaking of the 400 years that they spent spinning their wheels caught up in meaningless and agonizing hard work from the taskmasters in Egypt. Then there were ten plagues followed by the Egyptian pharaoh’s outrage when he finally exploded after the death of his firstborn son. Then the miraculous happened, the Pharaoh threw the whole nation of Israel out of Egypt. They were liberated from their slavery and released to go out into the desert to worship God. Rescued! “I said to you, Live!”
Next, the woman is compared to a plant in the field that grows up and is developing and becoming the most beautiful of jewels, this because of God’s divine special providence toward her. As she sojourned in the desert with Moses as her leader, she was still seen as naked and bare and vulnerable, so she grumbled and complained. As illumination of her mistrust in the Lord’s faithfulness and her apparent misunderstanding of how God considered this conduct, she received the Sinaitic covenant of the law at the base of Mount Sinai. This law was given directly from God to Moses and was written by the finger of God on tablets of stone. This, however, was not a marriage covenant. The woman would come to realize that in and of herself she could never be ready for the intense, devoted love of the Perfect Husband. The Mosaic covenant was brought forth to show her that she could not meet the impossible expectations of the perfection needed to wed such an amazing covenant partner. She needed a Redeemer, One who could buy her back from her depravity and unfaithful corruption.
“Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love…”. Interpreted as the age for a woman to be old enough to marry, “…I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness.” v 8, symbolic of a marriage betrothal. An example of this in Israel’s history springs forth as we see the Moabitess Ruth laying at the feet of Boaz. It is fascinating to note how the story of Ruth ties in with this section of Ezekiel. Ruth was a foreigner, despised and unclean according to Jewish customs. She was kicking about in her blood, so to speak, estranged, until she said to her dead husband’s mother Naomi in Ruth 1:16, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” As they returned to the land of Jerusalem, it became apparent that Naomi’s ambition was to have Ruth meet Boaz, their family’s kinsman redeemer, in a covenant-making vow. Naomi told her to wash and perfume herself, proceed to the threshing floor and in the evening while Boaz was asleep uncover his feet and lay down next to him. As he awakened, Ruth, knowing what she was requesting, spoke to Boaz asking that he “spread the corner of his garment over her.” He would be the one to redeem her and Naomi’s family. Ruth eventually married Boaz, and she was grafted into the line of the Chosen people of God. In fact, she was the great-grandmother of King David. Just as Ruth was espoused to Boaz, the Lord arranged this for His people, Israel. He also had this in mind in a much greater and profound capacity. Jesus would cover the nakedness of all men (who would believe on Him) with His righteousness because our own righteousness will not do. The Lord spreads a garment of covering over His people, so we will not be found naked and ashamed in our betrothal to Him.
Continuing in Ezekiel 16:8 of this remarkable allegory, we see that it communicates the greatest desire of the Lord’s heart, “I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord…” If we look at Exodus 19:4 it says that God carried Israel on eagle’s wings in Egypt and brought her to Himself. Right here in this verse, the Lord tells us the whole reason we were created. God wants to bring us to Himself! Incredible! For Israel to enter into a covenant, God brought her out of bondage but didn’t just leave her there alone. He does the same for each of us. He wants me, and He wants you. His desire is that all would come to be His. This is definitely a wow! And when I ponder it I can hardly breathe.
This allegory rises to its intense peak as it declares boldly, adamantly and fervently “…and you became mine.” Is something astonishing and wonderful about being chosen, isn’t it? We become different, distinguishable from all the other people on the face of this earth. This Hebrew nation, Jerusalem, the woman we have been observing in this allegory is changed, she is adorned in all the pageantry of one who would marry a King. “I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck…and a beautiful crown on your head.” Ezekiel 16:11. “You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.” If we look at the book of Esther, we see that there is a proper protocol to meet a king. The process of protocol for Esther to meet the one who ruled from the royal throne in the citadel of Susa, King Xerxes, was to undergo a regimen of beauty treatments and special food. God behind the scenes making Esther ready to be presented to this king so that she would become his wife and thus have access to his inner chambers. Her royal position was ultimately established by God to save the Jewish nation from extinction, as they were threatened by the wicked and evil villain Haman. Esther’s fame is now spoken about throughout all of history; she radiated an exceptional grandeur. And likewise, the people of God would shine a splendor all their own. “And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.” Ezekiel 16:14
Unfortunately, there is often a downward plunge when someone rises too quickly to opulence, and we have this right here in this allegory, “BUT, you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.” Ezekiel 16:15. Worse than an adulterous wife because she sold herself. As we contemplate what we have observed in this metaphor to Jerusalem, we are brought to the beginning again with this resounding surge of just how the Lord sees her infidelity. “You took some of your garments and made gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution.” Ezekiel 16:16. “You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors.” Mindboggling because she gave payment and none was given to her; she is essentially the opposite of a prostitute. So, in essence, she was selling herself and paying her cohorts. God would not stand for this. She would be stripped of all her luxurious clothes and fine jewelry and be left once again naked and bare, referring to her exile in Babylon. She would bear the consequences.
“Yet, I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” Ezekiel 16:60. Amazing! The Lord’s love is astounding and eternal. He keeps His promises. Ultimately this is referring to the New Covenant because He has provided the way to be His forever. The conclusion of Ezekiel’s allegory states, “…when you receive your sisters, both those older than you and those who are younger…” how is Israel going to receive these sisters and who are they? This took place at the establishment of the New Covenant, and this is still going on right now. The redeemed of all nations will be identified with Jesus Christ and become a “son of Abraham.” The saved will indeed be united to the Lord as His bride and have a beautiful wedding and a dazzling reception. This bride will finally be able to be completely faithful to her Bridegroom only because of His complete redemptive love. He is the Perfect Husband. “For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is his name – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” Isaiah 54:5.
So, the reason I chose Ezekiel 16 is that it lays out the perfect love story of the Lord. Did you notice all of the drama? It seems as though the adulterous wife has completely broken God’s, heart. But Thankfully He didn’t rely on her to establish or confirm the marriage covenant. He cut this everlasting, binding, sacred covenant with Himself. Together the Father and Jesus walked through the ceremony thus making it a perfect union. We enter in by our belief and our faith, just as Abraham did.
I am in this covenant, and it makes my heart sing. I am His….
The allegory is about Jerusalem, but it is also about me (and you too). Over the years this allegory has been an instrumental part of my life and walk with the Lord. The very first time I stumbled upon it was at a women’s retreat in 1996. I was at the base of a huge waterfall in the redwood trees all by myself. We were given the first seven verses to contemplate, how did they relate to our life. I was a newer believer so when God said, “Live!” it suddenly had a deeper meaning to me.
The following year while walking the same path to the creek, this passage took on a whole new feel. This time there were many women to give a smile at and say hello. As I sojourned along the trail, the Lord conveyed to me that it was indeed time to understand more about His love. “I looked and saw that you were old enough for love.” Ezekiel 16:8. He was going to be revealing to me just how love works. I read the verses about Him adorning me with all the jewels ‘of His character’ and filling me with the fine food ‘of His word, ’ and I was so grateful for all He was transforming in me. He was letting me see that ‘that’ love was beginning to overflow onto others. It was also in this season that I learned what it truly means to be a worshiper.
A couple of years went by, and as I was engrossed in a study on covenant I saw the verses about spreading the corner of His garment over me to cover my nakedness in a brand new way. I began to see more clearly that His covenant of love was what covered, enveloped, and protected me from shame and guilt.
Quite a few years passed and I encountered some major traumas in my life and heart. I always knew His love for me, but there was still a part of me that couldn’t quite come to grips with why a God who loves would allow such horrific things to happen to me…
The very first time reading Ezekiel 16 I read all the way through it. But, through the years the Lord would keep unveiling sections as though I had never read them before. At one point He let me sense the agony in His heart with that word “but” in verse 15. He showed me that often His people keep one foot in the world and one foot in the Kingdom. He wanted me to have both feet firmly planted in Him. Through the previously mentioned series of circumstances, the certainty of the Lord’s deep, committed binding lasting love was poured over me as I became fully persuaded that absolutely nothing can separate me from the love of the Father. Nothing! A big, big deal. Life changing really!
The latest thing that the Lord has shown me through this metaphor is “you became beautiful and rose to be a queen, and your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.” Ezekiel 16:14. The splendor He has given: yes it is truly all about Him. It is certainly new and different than at the time of this allegory to Jerusalem. Because of Jesus and the Father’s depth of love, we can live ‘out of’ this beautiful true love. He laid down His life for His friends. For each of us, it is a personal knowing of being rooted and established in love. We have an eternal covenant, an unshakeable Kingdom and the best part of all, the King of the Kingdom.
We are complete and lack nothing in Him; this has captivated and permeating my heart. He has made us ‘royalty’, a royal priest, in a New Covenant. Loving others stems from this beautiful love that we receive from Him. Instead of living a life of bondage in our own Egypt expecting others to live up to our expectations. We can accept people even in their bondage. Loving them with the true love we have received from our King. Helping others to know for themselves the true love of God, His heart is the most majestic, gorgeous heart of love. And He TOTALLY loves us.
The betrothed. “My identity is God’s love for me”.