The prophet here further shows Jerusalem her abominations, by comparing her with those places that had gone before her, and showing that she was worse than any of them, and therefore should, like them, be utterly and irreparably ruined. We are all apt to judge of ourselves by comparison, and to imagine that we are sufficiently good if we are but as good as such and such, who are thought passable; or that we are not dangerously bad if we are no worse than such and such, who, though bad, are not of the worst. Now God by the prophet shows Jerusalem,
I. That she was as bad as her mother, that is, as the accursed devoted Canaanites that were the possessors of this land before her. Those that use proverbs, as most people do, shall apply that proverb to Jerusalem, As is the mother, so is her daughter, Ezek. 16:44. She is her mother’s own child. The Jews are as like the Canaanites in temper and inclination as if they had been their own children. The character of the mother was that she loathed her husband and her children, she had all the marks of an adulteress; and that is the character of the daughter: she forsakes the guide of her youth, and is barbarous to the children of her own bowels. When God brought Israel into Canaan he particularly warned them not to do according to the abominations of the men of that land, who went before them (for which it had spued them out, Lev. 18:27, 28), the monuments of whose idolatry, with the remains of the idolaters themselves, would be a continual temptation to them; but they learned their way, and trod in their steps, and were as well affected to the idols of Canaan as ever they were (Ps. 106:38), and thus, in respect of imitation, it might truly be said that their mother was a Hittite and their father an Amorite (Ezek. 16:45), for they resembled them more than Abraham and Sarah.
II. That she was worse than her sisters Sodom and Samaria, that were adulteresses too, that loathed their husbands and their children, that were weary of the gods of their fathers, and were for introducing new gods, a-la-mode—quite in style, that came newly up, and new fashions in religion, and were given to change. On this comparison between Jerusalem and her sisters the prophet here enlarges, that he might either shame them into repentance or justify God in their ruin. Observe,
1. Who Jerusalem’s sisters were, Ezek. 16:45. Samaria and Sodom. Samaria is called the elder sister, or rather the greater, because it was a much larger city and kingdom, richer and more considerable, and more nearly allied to Israel. If Jerusalem look northward, this is partly on her left hand. This city of Samaria, and the towns and villages, that were as daughters to that mother-city, these had been lately destroyed for their spiritual whoredom. Sodom, and the adjacent towns and villages that were her daughters, dwelt at Jerusalem’s right hand, and was her less sister, less than Jerusalem, less than Samaria, and these were of old destroyed for their corporeal whoredom, Jude 1:7.
2. Wherein Jerusalem’s sins resembled her sisters’, particularly Sodom’s (Ezek. 16:49): This was the iniquity of Sodom (it is implied, and this is thy iniquity too), pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Their going after strange flesh, which was Sodom’s most flagrant wickedness, is not mentioned, because notoriously known, but those sins which did not look so black, but opened the door and led the way to these more enormous crimes, and began to fill that measure of her sins, which was filled up at length by their unnatural filthiness. Now these initiating sins were, (1.) Pride, in which the heart lifts up itself above and against both God and man. Pride was the first sin that turned angels into devils, and the garden of the Lord into a hell upon earth. It was the pride of the Sodomites that they despised righteous Lot, and would not bear to be reproved by him; and this ripened them for ruin. (2.) Gluttony, here called fulness of bread. It was God’s great mercy that they had plenty, but their great sin that they abused it, glutted themselves with it, ate to excess and drank to excess, and made that the gratification of their lusts which was given them to be the support of their lives. (3.) Idleness, abundance of idleness, a dread of labour and a love of ease. Their country was fruitful, and the abundance they had they came easily by, which was a temptation to them to indulge themselves in sloth, which disposed them to all that abominable filthiness which kindled their flames. Note, Idleness is an inlet to much sin. The men of Sodom, who were idle, were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly, Gen. 13:13. The standing waters gather filth and the sitting bird is the fowler’s mark. When David arose from off his bed at evening he saw Bathsheba. Quaeritur, Aegisthus quare sit factus adulter? In promptu causa est; desidiosus erat—What made Aegisthus an adulterer? Indolence. (4.) Oppression: Neither did she strengthen the hands of the poor and needy; probably it is implied that she weakened their hands and broke their arms; however, it was bad enough that, when she had so much wealth, and consequently power and interest and leisure, she did nothing for the relief of the poor, in providing for whose wants those that themselves are full of bread may employ their time well; they need not be so abundantly idle as too often they are. These were the sins of the Sodomites, and these were Jerusalem’s sins. Their pride, the cause of their sins, is mentioned again (Ezek. 16:50): They were haughty, with the horrid effects of their sins, their abominations which they committed before God. Men arrive gradually at the height of impiety and wickedness. Nemo repente fit turpissimus—No man reaches the height of vice at once. But, where pride has got the ascendant in a man, he is in the high road to all abominations.
3. How much the sins of Jerusalem exceeded those of Sodom and Samaria; they were more heinous in the sight of God, either in themselves or by reason of several aggravations: “Thou hast not only walked after their ways, and trod in their steps, but hast quite outdone them in wickedness, Ezek. 16:47. Thou thoughtest it a very little thing to do as they did; didst laugh at them as sneaking sinners and silly ones; thou wouldst be more cunning, more daring, in wickedness, wouldst triumph more boldly over thy convictions, and bid more open defiance to God and religion: ‘if a man will break, let him break for something.’ Thus thou wast corrupted more than they in all thy ways.” Jerusalem was more polite, and therefore sinned with more wit, more art and ingenuity, than Sodom and Samaria could. Jerusalem had more wealth and power, and its government was more absolute and arbitrary, and therefore had the more opportunity of oppressing the poor, and shedding malignant influences around her, than Sodom and Samaria had. Jerusalem had the temple, and the ark, and the priesthood, and kings of the house of David; and therefore the wickedness of that holy city, that was so dignified, so near, so dear to God, was more provoking to him than the wickedness of Sodom and Samaria, that had not Jerusalem’s privileges and means of grace. Sodom has not done as thou hast done, Ezek. 16:48. This agrees with what Christ says. Matt. 11:24; It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee. The kingdom of the ten tribes had been very wicked; and yet Samaria has not committed half thy sins (Ezek. 16:51), has not worshipped half so many idols, nor slain half so many prophets. It was bad enough that those of Jerusalem were guilty of Sodom’s sins, Sodomy itself not excepted, 1 Kgs. 14:24; 2 Kgs. 23:7. And though the Dead Sea, the standing monument of Sodom’s sin and ruin, bordered upon their country (Num. 34:12), and that sulphureous lake was always under their nose (God having taken away Sodom and her daughters in such way and manner as he saw good, as he says here, Ezek. 16:50; so as that one thing should effectually make their overthrow an example to those that afterwards should live ungodly, 2 Pet. 2:6), yet they did not take warning, but multiplied their abominations more than they; and, (1.) By this they justified Sodom and Samaria, Ezek. 16:51. They pretended, in their haughtiness and superciliousness, to judge them, and in the days of old, when they retained their integrity, they did judge them, Ezek. 16:52. But now they justify them comparatively: Sodom and Samaria are more righteous than thou, that is, less wicked. It will look like some extenuation of their sins that, bad as they were, Jerusalem was worse, though it was God’s own city. Not that it will serve for a plea to justify Sodom, but it condemns Jerusalem, against which Sodom and Samaria will rise up in judgment. (2.) For this they ought themselves to be greatly ashamed: “Thou who hast judged thy sisters, and cried out shame on them, now bear thy own shame, for thy sins which thou hast committed, which, though of the same kind with theirs, yet, being committed by thee, are more abominable than theirs,” Ezek. 16:52. This may be taken either as foretelling their ruin (Thou shalt bear thy shame) or as inviting them to repentance: “Be thou confounded and bear thy shame; take the shame to thyself that is due to thee.” It may be hoped that sinners will forsake their sins when they begin to be heartily ashamed of them. And therefore they shall go into captivity, and there they shall lie, that they may be confounded in all that they have done, because they had been a comfort and encouragement to Sodom and Samaria, Ezek. 16:54. Note, There is nothing in sin which we have more reason to be ashamed of than this, that by our sin we have encouraged others in sin, and comforted them in that for which they must be grieved or they are undone. Another reason why they must now be ashamed is because in the day of their prosperity they had looked with so much disdain upon their neighbours: Thy sister Sodom was not mentioned by thee in the day of they pride, Ezek. 16:56. They thought Sodom not worthy to be named the same day with Jerusalem, little dreaming that Jerusalem would at length lie under a worse and more scandalous character than Sodom herself. Those that are high may perhaps come to stand upon a level with those they contemn. Or “Sodom was not mentioned, that is, the warning designed to be given to thee by Sodom’s ruin was not regarded.” If the Jews had but talked more frequently and seriously to one another, and to their children, concerning the wrath of God revealed from heaven against Sodom’s ungodliness and unrighteousness, it might have kept them in awe, and prevented their treading in their steps; but they kept the thought of it at a distance, would not bear the mention of it, and (as the ancients say) put Isaiah to death for putting them in mind of it, when he called them rulers of Sodom and people of Gomorrah, Isa. 1:10. Note, Those are but preparing judgments for themselves that will not take notice of God’s judgments upon others.
4. What desolations God had brought and was bringing upon Jerusalem for these wickednesses, wherein they had exceeded Sodom and Samaria. (1.) She has already long ago been disgraced, and has fallen into contempt, among her neighbours (Ezek. 16:57): Before her wickedness was discovered, before she came to be so grossly and openly flagitious, she bore the just punishment of her secret and more concealed lewdness, when she fell under the reproach of the daughters of Syria, of the Philistines, who were said to despise her and be ashamed of her (Ezek. 16:27), and under the reproach of all that were round about her, which seems to refer to the descent made upon Judah by the Syrians in the days of Ahaz, and soon after another by the Philistines, 2 Chron. 28:5, 18. Note, Those that disgrace themselves by yielding to their lusts will justly be brought into disgrace by being made to yield to their enemies; and it is observable that before God brought potent enemies upon them, for their destruction, he brought enemies upon them that were less formidable, for their reproach. If less judgments would do the work, God would not send greater. In this thou hast borne thy lewdness, Ezek. 16:58. Those that will not cast off their sins by repentance and reformation shall be made to bear their sins to their confusion. (2.) She is now in captivity, or hastening into captivity, and therein is reckoned with, not only for her lewdness (Ezek. 16:58), but for her perfidiousness and covenant-breaking (Ezek. 16:59): “I will deal with thee as thou hast done; I will forsake thee as thou hast forsaken me, and cast thee off as thou hast cast me off, for thou hast despised the oath, in breaking the covenant.” This seems to be meant of the covenant God made with their fathers at Mount Sinai, whereby he took them and theirs to be a peculiar people to himself. They flattered themselves with a conceit that because God had hitherto continued his favour to them, notwithstanding their provocations, he would do so still. “No,” says God, “you have broken covenant with me, have despised both the promises of the covenant and the obligations of it, and therefore I will deal with thee as thou hast done.” Note, Those that will not adhere to God as their God have no reason to expect that he should continue to own them as his people. (3.) The captivity of the wicked Jews, and their ruin, shall be as irrevocable as that of Sodom and Samaria. In this sense, as a threatening, most interpreters take Ezek. 16:53, 55. “When I shall bring again the captivity of Sodom and Samaria, and when they shall return to their former estate, then I will bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them, and as it were for their sakes, and under their shadow and protection, because they are more righteous than thou, and then thou shalt return to thy former estate,” But Sodom and Samaria were never brought back, nor ever returned to their former estate, and therefore let not Jerusalem expect it, that is, those who now remained there, whom God would deliver to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, Jer. 24:9, 10. Sooner shall the Sodomites arise out of the salt sea, and the Samaritans return out of the land of Assyria, than they enjoy their peace and prosperity again; for, to their shame be it spoken, it is a comfort to those of the ten tribes, who are dispersed and in captivity, to see those of the two tribes who had been as bad as they, or worse, in like manner dispersed and in captivity; and therefore they shall live and die, shall stand and fall, together. The bad ones of both shall perish together; the good ones of both shall return together. Note, Those who do as the worst of sinners do must expect to fare as they fare. Let my enemy be as the wicked.