Ezekiel 23

Two Sisters

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, there were two women who were daughters of the same mother. They engaged in prostitution in Egypt; in their youth they engaged in prostitution. Their breasts were squeezed there; lovers
In the Hebrew text the subject is left unstated and must be supplied from the context.
fondled their virgin nipples there.
Oholah was the name of the older and Oholibah
The names Oholah and Oholibah are both derived from the word meaning “tent.” The meaning of Oholah is “her tent,” while Oholibah means “my tent is in her.”
the name of her younger sister. They became mine, and gave birth to sons and daughters.
In this allegory the Lord is depicted as being the husband of two wives. The OT law prohibited a man from marrying sisters (Lev 18:18), but the practice is attested in the OT (cf. Jacob). The metaphor is utilized here for illustrative purposes and does not mean that the Lord condoned such a practice or bigamy in general.
Oholah is Samaria and Oholibah is Jerusalem.

“Oholah engaged in prostitution while she was mine.
Heb “while she was under me.” The expression indicates that Oholah is viewed as the Lord’s wife. See Num 5:19–20, 29.
Played the harlot refers to alliances with pagan nations in this context. In Ezek 16 harlotry described the sin of idolatry.
She lusted after her lovers, the Assyrians
Heb “Assyria.”
– warriors
The term apparently refers to Assyrian military officers; it is better construed with the description that follows. See D. I. Block, Ezekiel (NICOT), 1:738.
clothed in blue, governors and officials, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. She bestowed her sexual favors on them; all of them were the choicest young men of Assyria. She defiled herself with all whom she desired
Heb “lusted after.”
– with all their idols.
She did not abandon the prostitution she had practiced in Egypt; for in her youth men had sex with her, fondled her virgin breasts, and ravished her.
Heb “and poured out their harlotry on her.”
Therefore I handed her over to her lovers, the Assyrians
Heb “I gave her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the sons of Assyria.”
for whom she lusted.
10 They exposed her nakedness, seized her sons and daughters, and killed her with the sword. She became notorious
Heb “name.”
among women, and they executed judgments against her.

11  “Her sister Oholibah watched this,
The word “this” is not in the original text.
but she became more corrupt in her lust than her sister had been, and her acts of prostitution were more numerous than those of her sister.
12 She lusted after the Assyrians – governors and officials, warriors in full armor, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men. 13 I saw that she was defiled; both of them followed the same path. 14 But she increased her prostitution. She saw men carved on the wall, images of the Chaldeans carved in bright red,
The only other occurrence of the Hebrew term is in Jer 22:14.
15 wearing belts on their waists and flowing turbans on their heads, all of them looking like officers, the image of Babylonians
Heb “the sons of Babel.”
whose native land is Chaldea.
16 When she saw them,
Heb “at the appearance of her eyes.”
she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea.
The Chaldeans were prominent tribal groups of Babylonia. The imagery is reminiscent of events in the reigns of Hezekiah (2 Kgs 20:12–15) and Jehoiakim (2 Kgs 23:34–24:1).
17 The Babylonians crawled into bed with her.
Heb “The sons of Babel came to her on a bed of love.”
They defiled her with their lust; after she was defiled by them, she
Heb “her soul.”
became disgusted with them.
18 When she lustfully exposed her nakedness,
Heb “She exposed her harlotry and she exposed her nakedness.”
I
Heb “my soul.”
was disgusted with her, just as I
Heb “my soul.”
had been disgusted with her sister.
19 Yet she increased her prostitution, remembering the days of her youth when she engaged in prostitution in the land of Egypt. 20 She lusted after their genitals – as large as those of donkeys,
Heb “She lusted after their concubines (?) whose flesh was the flesh of donkeys.” The phrase “their concubines” is extremely problematic here. The pronoun is masculine plural, suggesting that the Egyptian men are in view, but how concubines would fit into the picture envisioned here is not clear. Some suggest that Ezekiel uses the term in an idiomatic sense of “paramour,” but this still fails to explain how the pronoun relates to the noun. It is more likely that the term refers here to the Egyptians’ genitals. The relative pronoun that follows introduces a more specific description of their genitals.
and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions.
21 This is how you assessed
Or “you took note of.” The Hebrew verb פָּקַד (paqad) in the Qal implies evaluating something and then acting in light of that judgment; here the prophet depicts Judah as approving of her youthful unfaithfulness and then magnifying it at the present time. Some translations assume the verb should be repointed as a Niphal, rendering “you missed” or by extension “you longed for,” but such an extension of the Niphal “to be missing” is otherwise unattested.
the obscene conduct of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled
Heb “when (they) did,” but the verb makes no sense here and is better emended to “when (they) fondled,” a verb used in vv. 3 and 8. See L. C. Allen, Ezekiel (WBC), 2:43.
your nipples and squeezed
Heb “for the sake of,” but the expression is awkward and is better emended to read “to squeeze.” See L. C. Allen, Ezekiel (WBC), 2:43.
your young breasts.

22  “Therefore, Oholibah, this is what the sovereign Lord says: Look here,
The word הִנֵּה (hinneh, traditionally “behold”) indicates becoming aware of something and has been translated here as a verb.
I am about to stir up against you the lovers with whom you were disgusted; I will bring them against you from every side:
23 the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod,
Pekod was the name of an Aramean tribe (known as Puqudu in Mesopotamian texts) that lived in the region of the Tigris River.
Shoa,
Shoa was the name of a nomadic people (the Sutu) that lived in Mesopotamia.
and Koa,
Koa was the name of another Mesopotamian people group (the Qutu).
and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, all of them governors and officials, officers and nobles, all of them riding on horses.
24 They will attack
Heb “come against.”
you with weapons,
This is the only occurrence of this term in the OT. The precise meaning is uncertain.
chariots, wagons, and with a huge army;
Heb “an assembly of peoples.”
they will array themselves against you on every side with large shields, small shields, and helmets. I will assign them the task of judgment;
Heb “I will place before them judgment.”
they will punish you according to their laws.
25 I will direct
Heb “give.”
my jealous anger against you, and they will deal with you in rage. They will cut off your nose and your ears,
Heb “they will remove.”
This method of punishment is attested among ancient Egyptian and Hittite civilizations. See W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel (Hermeneia), 1:489.
and your survivors will die
Heb “fall.”
by the sword. They will seize your sons and daughters, and your survivors will be consumed by fire.
26 They will strip your clothes off you and take away your beautiful jewelry. 27 So I will put an end to your obscene conduct and your prostitution which you have practiced in the land of Egypt.
Heb “I will cause your obscene conduct to cease from you and your harlotry from the land of Egypt.”
You will not seek their help
Heb “lift your eyes to them.”
or remember Egypt anymore.

28  “For this is what the sovereign Lord says: Look here,
The word הִנֵּה (hinneh, traditionally “behold”) indicates becoming aware of something and has been translated here as a verb.
I am about to deliver you over to
Heb “I am giving you into the hand of.”
those whom you hate, to those with whom you were disgusted.
29 They will treat you with hatred, take away all you have labored for,
The Hebrew term means “labor,” but by extension it can also refer to that for which one works.
and leave you naked and bare. Your nakedness will be exposed, just as when you engaged in prostitution and obscene conduct.
Heb “The nakedness of your prostitution will be exposed, and your obscene conduct and your harlotry.”
30 I will do these things to you
The infinitive absolute continues the sequence begun in v. 28: “Look here, I am about to deliver you.” See Joüon 2:430 #123.w.
because you engaged in prostitution with the nations, polluting yourself with their idols.
31 You have followed the ways of your sister, so I will place her cup of judgment
Heb “her cup.” A cup of intoxicating strong drink is used, here and elsewhere, as a metaphor for judgment because both leave one confused and reeling. (See Jer 25:15, 17, 28; Hab 2:16.) The cup of wrath is a theme also found in the NT (Mark 14:36).
in your hand.
32 “This is what the sovereign Lord says: “You will drink your sister’s deep and wide cup;
The image of a deep and wide cup suggests the degree of punishment; it will be extensive and leave the victim helpless.
you will be scorned and derided, for it holds a great deal.
33 You will be overcome by
Heb “filled with.”
drunkenness and sorrow. The cup of your sister Samaria is a cup of horror and desolation.
34 You will drain it dry,
Heb “You will drink it and drain (it).”
gnaw its pieces,
D. I. Block compares this to the idiom of “licking the plate” (Ezekiel [NICOT], 1:754, n. 137). The text is difficult as the word translated “gnaw” is rare. The noun is used of the shattered pieces of pottery and so could envision a broken cup. But the Piel verb form is used in only one other place (Num 24:8), where it is a denominative from the noun “bone” and seems to mean to “break (bones).” Why it would be collocated with “sherds” is not clear. For this reason some emend the phrase to read “consume its dregs” (see L. C. Allen, Ezekiel [WBC], 2:44) or emend the verb to read “swallow,” as if the intoxicated Oholibah breaks the cup and then eats the very sherds in an effort to get every last drop of the beverage that dampens them.
and tear out your breasts,
The severe action is more extreme than beating the breasts in anguish (Isa 32:12; Nah 2:7). It is also ironic for these are the very breasts she so blatantly offered to her lovers (vv. 3, 21).
for I have spoken, declares the sovereign Lord.

35  “Therefore this is what the sovereign Lord says: Because you have forgotten me and completely disregarded me,
Heb “and you cast me behind your back.” The expression pictures her rejection of the Lord (see 1 Kgs 14:9).
you must bear now the punishment
The word “punishment” is not in the Hebrew text but is demanded by the context.
for your obscene conduct and prostitution.”

36  The Lord said to me: “Son of man, are you willing to pronounce judgment
Heb “will you judge.” Here the imperfect form of the verb is probably used with a desiderative nuance. Addressed to the prophet, “judge” means to warn of or pronounce God’s impending judgment. See 20:4; 22:2.
on Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominable deeds!
37 For they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and their sons, whom they bore to me,
The Lord speaks here in the role of the husband of the sisters.
they have passed through the fire as food to their idols.
Heb “they have passed to them for food.” The verb is commonly taken to refer to passing children through fire, especially as an offering to the pagan god Molech. See Jer 32:35.
38 Moreover, they have done this to me: In the very same day
Heb “in that day.”
they desecrated my sanctuary and profaned my Sabbaths.
39 On the same day they slaughtered their sons for their idols, they came to my sanctuary to desecrate it. This is what they have done in the middle of my house.

40  “They even sent for men from far away; when the messenger arrived, those men set out.
Heb “to whom a messenger was sent, and look, they came.” Foreign alliances are in view here.
For them you bathed,
The Hebrew verb form is feminine singular, indicating that Oholibah (Judah) is specifically addressed here. This address continues through verse 42a (note “her”), but then both sisters are described in verse 42b, where the feminine pronouns are again plural.
painted your eyes, and decorated yourself with jewelry.
41 You sat on a magnificent couch, with a table arranged in front of it where you placed my incense and my olive oil. 42 The sound of a carefree crowd accompanied her,
Heb “(was) in her.”
including all kinds of men;
Heb “and men from the multitude of mankind.”
even Sabeans
An alternate reading is “drunkards.” Sheba is located in the area of modern day Yemen.
were brought from the desert. The sisters
Heb “they”; the referents (the sisters) have been specified in the translation for the sake of clarity.
put bracelets on their wrists and beautiful crowns on their heads.
43 Then I said about the one worn out by adultery, ‘Now they will commit immoral acts with her.’ 44 They had sex with her
Heb “and they came to her.”
as one does with a prostitute. In this way they had sex with Oholah and Oholibah, promiscuous women.
45 But upright men will punish them appropriately for their adultery and bloodshed,
Heb “and upright men will judge them (with) the judgment of adulteresses and the judgment of those who shed blood.”
because they are adulteresses and blood is on their hands.

46  “For this is what the sovereign Lord says: Bring up an army
Heb “assembly.”
against them and subject them
Heb “give them to.”
to terror and plunder.
47 That army will pelt them with stones and slash them with their swords; they will kill their sons and daughters and burn their houses.
The Hebrew text adds “with fire.”
48 I will put an end to the obscene conduct in the land; all the women will learn a lesson from this and not engage in obscene conduct. 49 They will repay you for your obscene conduct, and you will be punished for idol worship.
Heb “and the sins of your idols you will bear.” By extension it can mean the punishment for the sins.
Then you will know that I am the sovereign Lord.”

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