Adultery and anger: Ezekiel 23


Today’s reading: Ezekiel 23-24.

The heart of the moral wrong of adultery is that a covenant, a sacred commitment, has been broken. The one-flesh union which set this relationship apart from all others has been torn asunder by one of the spouses and by a third party that has now entered into the oneness of the relationship. Dennis P. Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex

Let’s take the sin of adultery one level deeper. The heart of its wrongness lies in its betrayal of a covenant with God. Marriage for Christians reflects our marriage to God. When we break covenant with our spouse, we also break covenant with God. The hurt and loss which adultery cause personally are magnified at the spiritual level (see my post from Proverbs for more about the human aspect of adultery).

Now take the betrayal of adultery to the corporate or national level, and you have the situation in Israel and Judah in the years before Jerusalem’s fall. The LORD found Israel as an abandoned baby and raised her to beautiful womanhood (see Ezekiel 16). He had carried her through the desert out of her bondage in Egypt. He pledged himself to her in perpetual marriage only to see her reject him and commit adultery through her idolatry with all the surrounding nations. After centuries of forbearance his self-professed “jealous anger” could no longer be withheld. Israel, and then Judah, felt the full blast of his fury.

Then confront them with their detestable practices, for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them. They have also done this to me: At that same time they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my Sabbaths. On the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered my sanctuary and desecrated it. Ezekiel 23:36-39

Ezekiel’s message from the LORD contains some of the harshest words in the Old Testament. Noses and ears will be cut off, sons and daughters will fall to the sword, and those who are left will be consumed by fire. This must be one place where Jehovah earned his “God of wrath” reputation. Yet his wrath was justified:

  • The nation had broken covenant with him
  • rejected all his efforts at reconciliation
  • committed adultery by prostituting herself with every idol
  • and defiled the temple by practicing despicable, unholy actions there

God hates adultery, whether committed at a personal level in marriage or in our relationship with him. His anger was so great that he could not hold back judgment despite his love and affection for Israel. Ezekiel closes out his writings on the destruction of Jerusalem by giving a living sermon on the limits of affection. His wife dies suddenly and God tells him not to mourn publicly, though she was the delight of his eyes. When the exiles ask him why he isn’t mourning, he tells them that God is destroying Jerusalem as they speak, and they are not to mourn though the city was “the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection.” God could not mourn for Jerusalem because of its wickedness. He wants the exiles to experience that same emotion, to face up to their own share of shame, and begin the process of loving the LORD rather than his house.

They should not have mourned the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple because it was deserved and it was clearly announced long ahead of time. In contrast, the death of Ezekiel’s wife was neither deserved nor announced long ahead – yet he was commanded to not mourn. It was much more true that Israel should not mourn the conquest of Judah, Jerusalem, and the temple. – David Guzik

Image by stuant63 on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

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