Ezekiel 23

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD’s word came to me: 2“There were two women, son of man, who were sisters for they had the same mother. 3In Egypt they became prostitutes while they were still young. There their breasts were caressed, and their virgin bosoms fondled. 4The older one was Oholah and her sister was Oholibah. They belonged to me, and they gave birth to sons and daughters. Oholah is Samaria and Oholibah is Jerusalem.

5“Oholah became a prostitute while she still belonged to me. She desired the Assyrians, warriors who were her lovers, 6in their blue uniforms. They were governors and commanders, handsome young men on horseback. 7She gave her favors to all the handsomest men in Assyria, and she was corrupted by all the idols that belonged to the men after whom she lusted. 8She did not cease her prostitutions which she had practiced in Egypt. Men had lain with her when she was still in her youth, and fondled her virgin breasts and lusted after her. 9So, I gave her to her lovers, the Assyrians, for she lusted after them. 10They stripped her naked. They took her sons and daughters and killed her with the sword. And so, she came under judgment and women used her name as a curse word.

11“Her sister Oholibah saw all this, but was more sinful than she, and her prostitution and lust were worse than those of her sister. 12Her desire was her craving for the Assyrian governors and commanders in their uniforms, all of them handsome young men mounted on horses. 13I saw that she was defiled, for she had taken the same path as her sister. 14But her behavior was even worse; she saw representations of men carved on the wall; Chaldean leaders dressed in red 15with belts around their waists. They wore flowing turbans on their heads – handsome officers all, Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. 16When she saw them she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. 17Then the Babylonians came to her and contaminated her with their lust. After she allowed them to have sex with her, she turned away from them, disgusted. 18But when she was so open about her sexual prowess and flaunted her naked body, I turned away from her in disgust as I had turned away from her sister.  19But she became even more filled with lust. She remembered her youth when she became a prostitute in Egypt 20and lusted after her illicit lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose ejaculations like those of stallions. 21You yearned for their obscenities when you were young and allowed them to fondle and caress your young breasts.

22“So, Oholibah,” says the LORD God, “I will arouse the lovers you turned against in disgust, and bring them against you from every direction – 23Babylonians and Chaldeans, those from Pekod and Shoa and Koa and the Assyrians with them. They are all handsome young men, officials and commanders, officers and soldiers, all riding horses. 24They will attack you from the north with chariots and wagons and a massive army. They will assail you from every side wearing bucklers, shields and helmets. I will allow them to judge you and they will judge according to their own standards. 25I will be outraged by you and will allow them to deal with you furiously. They will slice off your nose and ears, and whoever survives will be put to death. They will capture your sons and daughters, and any of you who survive will be burned in fire. 26They will strip you naked and take away your jewelry. 27And that is how I will end your lewd behavior and the prostitution you brought from Egypt. You will not long for them or remember Egypt any longer, 28because I, the LORD God, will give you to those you hate and turned from in disgust. 29They will treat you with hatred and take everything you have labored for. They will leave you naked, and your prostitution and your lewdness will be exposed. 30This is the reason I have brought this upon you. You were a prostitute to the other nations, and you made yourself filthy with their idols. 31You have followed the ways of your sister and I will put her cup into your hands.”

32The LORD God says you will drink your sister’s cup to the last drop.
“You will be scorned and derided.
33Drunkenness and sorrow will be your fate.
Your sister Samaria’s cup is a cup of horror and misery.
34But you shall drink it until it is drained.
You shall gnaw its broken pieces and tear your breasts.
This I have spoken,” says the LORD God.

35“So,” says the LORD God, “because you have forgotten me and turned your back on me, you must bear the consequences of your lewdness and prostitution.”

36The LORD said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare their abominable behavior to them. 37They have committed adultery with their idols. Blood is on their hands. They have even offered to them their own children which they had born to me. 38And, as if that weren’t enough, at the same time they have defiled my sanctuary and cheapened my sabbaths. 39On the very day when they had slaughtered their children for their idols they came into my sanctuary and defiled it. That is what they did to my dwelling!

40“They even sent messengers to invite others from far away to come, and they came. For them you bathed, painted your eyes and decorated yourself with ornaments. 41You sat on a large couch with a table before it and placed my incense and my oil there. 42The sounds from a wild multitude surrounded you. Many commoners were invited from the wilderness. They put bracelets on the arms of the women and sparkling tiaras on their heads.

43“I said, look, she is exhausted with all her adulterous behavior, but men still come in to have sex with her. 44They have gone to her as they would any prostitute; that is how they treated Oholah and Oholibah, for they were lewd women. 45But righteous judges shall declare them guilty of adultery and bloodshed, for that is what they have done.”

46The LORD God says gather a crowd against them to plunder them and terrify them, 47then stone them and cut them down with their swords. “They shall kill their sons and daughters and burn down their houses. 48That is how I will end their lewdness in the land. Then all women will be warned not to do as they have done. 49They will repay you for your filthiness and you will suffer the penalty for your sinfulness and your idolatry.

“And you shall know that I am the LORD God.”


1-4: We have already noted that Ezekiel was very much against any attempt to form alliances with other nations; he sees such alliances as signs of unfaithfulness to God, for only God should be relied upon. This chapter is an extended metaphor depicting Jerusalem and Samaria as two sisters who have prostituted themselves to other lovers although they belonged to God. Their names are curious: Oholah means “her tent,” and Oholibah “my tent is in her.” One explanation is that the names refer to Samaria’s worship of false gods and the erection of shrines (often tents) on every high hill; while Jerusalem is where God’s “tent,” or sanctuary, has been placed.

5-10: Oholah (Samaria) made alliances with Assyria. As a result, God summoned the Assyrians to conquer Oholah and her country (Israel) and inflict great devastation on her sons and daughters (the towns and villages).

11-21: Jerusalem knew very well what was going on in Samaria but chose to commit the same sins, not only with the Assyrians but with the Babylonians and Egyptians as well — referring of course to the alliances the kings of Judah had tried to form with those nations. Again, we note that Ezekiel uses very raw and descriptive language, and you can be sure some of these verses are not among the readings in the Common Lectionary for Sunday worship.

22-35: Oholibah gets the greater attention in the tale and her destruction is described in more detail (which in my opinion should have been truncated at least a bit). Her crimes are threefold: she did not learn from the demise of her sister Oholah, she played the prostitute with other nations (and their false gods), and she turned her back on the LORD.

36-39: Ezekiel is to pronounce the charges against them, but notice that the charge has now been reduced to one: they have been unfaithful to the LORD. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” was the first commandment, after all.

40-45: A curious vignette that involves other “lovers” who are unidentified. The sisters put together elaborate preparations to receive their new “clients,” but the charade is spoiled by the drunken rabble around them. Some scholars suggest that there may have been overtures to more distant empires, but the reality of Judah and Israel’s condition at that stage (“she is worn out with adulteries”) made them undesirable for any kind of alliance. These lesser nations (the “raucous multitude” — Edom, Ammon, and Moab) come anyway, but only to plunder.

46-49: The moral of the story is that the two sisters will be punished, and let that be a lesson to all the other cities in Judah and Israel.


The prophecies of Ezekiel are not suitable for Sunday morning worship, but his images of Israel and Judah as prostitutes certainly got the attention the Jewish elders in exile in Babylon! The primary sin of Judah and Israel was their emphasis on snuggling up to other nations where the LORD was unknown and not worshiped. God’s people are still often guilty of such rebellion against God as were the people of Jerusalem; it’s just that today we don’t worship other gods belonging to other religions, but we do worship other “gods” when we live in ways God doesn’t approve of.