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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 36–49
Verses 36–49

After the ten tribes were carried into captivity, and that kingdom was made quite desolate, the remains of it by degrees incorporated with the kingdom of Judah, and gained a settlement (many of them) in Jerusalem; so that the two sisters had in effect become one again; and therefore, in these verses, the prophet takes those to task jointly who were thus conjoined: “Wilt thou judge Aholah and Aholibah together? Ezek. 23:36. Wilt thou go about to frame an excuse for them? Thou seest the matter is so bad as not to bear an excuse.” Or, rather, “Thou shalt now be employed, in God’s name, to judge them, Ezek. 20:4. The matter is rather worse than better since the union.”

I. Let them be made to see the sins they are guilty of: Declare unto them openly and boldly their abominations. 1. They have been guilty of gross idolatry, here called adultery. With their idols they have committed adultery (Ezek. 23:37), have broken their marriage-covenant with God, have lusted after the gratifications of a carnal sensual mind in the worship of God. This is the first and worst of the abominations he is to charge them with. 2. They have committed the most barbarous murders, in sacrificing their children to Moloch, a sin so unnatural that they deserve to hear of it upon all occasions: Blood is in their hands, innocent blood, the blood of their own children, which they have caused to pass through the fire (Ezek. 23:37), not that they might be dedicated to the idols, but that they might be devoured, a sign that they loved their idols better than that which was dearest to them in the world. 3. They have profaned the sacred things with which God had dignified and distinguished them: This they have done unto me, this indignity, this injury, Ezek. 23:38. Every contempt put upon that which is holy reflects upon him who is the fountain of holiness, and from a relation to whom whatever is called holy has its denomination. God had set up his sanctuary among them, but they defiled it, by making it a house of merchandise, a den of thieves; nay, and much worse; there they set up their idols and worshipped them, and there they shed the blood of God’s prophets. God had revealed to them his holy sabbaths, but they profaned them, by doing all manner of servile work therein, or perhaps by sports and recreations on that day, not only practised, but allowed and encouraged by authority. They defiled the sanctuary on the same day that they profaned the sabbath. To defile the sanctuary was bad enough on any day, but to do it on the sabbath day was an aggravation. We commonly say, The better day the better deed; but here, the better day the worse deed. God takes notice of the circumstances of sin which add to the guilt. He shows (Ezek. 23:39) what was their profanation both of the sanctuary and of the sabbath. They slew their children, and sacrificed them to their idols, to the great dishonour both of God and of human nature; and then came, on the same day, their hands imbrued with the blood of their children and their clothes stained with it, to attend in God’s sanctuary, not to ask pardon for what they had done, but to present themselves before him, as other Israelites did, expecting acceptance with him, notwithstanding these villanies which they were guilty of; as if God either did not know their wickedness or did not hate it. Thus they profaned the sanctuary, as if that were a protection to the worst of malefactors; for thus they did in the midst of his house. Note, It is a profanation of God’s solemn ordinances when those that are grossly and openly profane and vicious impudently and impenitently so intrude upon the services and privileges of them. Give not that which is holy unto dogs. Friend, how camest thou in hither? 4. They have courted foreign alliances, been proud of them, and reposed a confidence in them. This also is represented by the sin of adultery, for it was a departure from God, not only to whom alone they ought to pay their homage and not to idols, but in whom alone they ought to put their trust, and not in creatures. Israel was a peculiar people, must dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations; and they profane their crown, and lay their honour in the dust, when they covet to be like them or in league with them. But this they have now done; they have entered into strict alliances with the Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians, the most renowned and potent kingdoms at that time; but they scorned alliances with the petty kingdoms and states that lay near them, which yet might have been of more real service to them. Note, Affecting an acquaintance and correspondence with great people has often been a snare to good people. Let us see how Jerusalem courts her high allies, thinking thereby to make herself considerable. (1.) She privately requested that a public embassy might be sent to her (Ezek. 23:40): You sent a messenger for men to come from far. It seems, then, that the neighbours had no desire to come into a confederacy with Jerusalem, but she thrust herself upon them, and sent under-hand to desire them to court her: and, lo, they came. The wisest and best may be drawn unavoidably into company and conversation with profane and wicked people: but it is no sign either of wisdom or goodness to covet an intimacy with such and to court it. (2.) Great preparation was made for the reception of these foreign ministers, for their public entry and public audience, which is compared to the pains that an adulteress takes to make herself look handsome. Jezebel-like, thou paintedst thy face and deckedst thyself with ornaments, Ezek. 23:40. The king and princes made themselves new clothes, fitted up the rooms of state, beautified the furniture, and made it look fresh. Thou sattest upon a stately bed (Ezek. 23:41), a stately throne; a table was prepared, whereon thou has set my oil and my incense. This was either, [1.] A feast for the ambassadors, a noble treat, agreeable to the other preparations. There was incense to perfume the room and oil to anoint their heads. Or, [2.] An altar already furnished for the ambassadors’ use in the worship of their idols, to let them know that the Israelites were not so strait-laced but that they could allow foreigners the free exercise of their religion among them, and furnish them with chapels, yea, and complimented them so far as to join with them in their devotions; though the law of their God was against it, yet they could easily dispense with themselves to oblige a friend. The oil and incense God calls his, not only because they were the gift of his providence, but because they should have been offered at his altar, which was an aggravation of their sin in serving idols and idolaters with them. See Hos. 2:8. (3.) There was great joy at their coming, as if it were such a blessing as never happened to Jerusalem before (Ezek. 23:42): A voice of a multitude being at east was with her. The people were very easy, for they thought themselves very safe and happy now that they had such powerful allies; and therefore attended the ambassadors with loud huzzas and acclamations of joy. A great confluence of people there was to the court upon this occasion. The men of the common sort were there to grace the solemnity, and to increase the crowd; and with them were brought Sabeans from the wilderness. The margin reads it drunkards from the wilderness, that would drink healths to the prosperity of this grand alliance, and force them upon others, and be most noisy in shouting upon this occasion. Whoever they were, in honour of the ambassadors they put bracelets upon their hands and beautiful crowns upon their heads, which made the cavalcade appear very splendid. (4.) God by his prophets warned them against making these dangerous leagues with foreigners (Ezek. 23:43): “Then said I unto her that was old in adulteries, that from the first was fond of leagues with the heathen, of matching with their families (Jdg. 3:6), and afterwards of making alliances with their kingdoms, and, though often disappointed therein, would never be dissuaded from it (this was the adultery she was old in), I said, Will they now commit whoredoms with her and she with them? Surely experience and observation will by this time have convinced both them and her that an alliance between the nation of the Jews and a heathen nation can never be for the advantage of either.” They are iron and clay, that will not mix, nor will God bless such an alliance, or smile upon it. But, it seems, her being old in these adulteries, instead of weaning her from them, as one would expect, does but make her the more impudent and insatiable in them; for, though she was thus admonished of the folly of it, yet they went in unto her, Ezek. 23:44. A bargain was soon clapped up, and a league made, first with this, and then with the other, foreign state. Samaria did so, Jerusalem did so, like lewd women. They could not rest satisfied in the embraces of God’s laws and care, and the assurances of protection he gave them; they could not think his covenant with them security enough. But they must by treaties and leagues, politic ones (they thought) and well-concerted, throw themselves into the arms of foreign princes, and put their interests under their protection. Note, Those hearts go a whoring from God that take a complacency in the pomp of the world and put a confidence in its wealth, and in an arm of flesh, Jer. 17:5.

II. Let them be made to foresee the judgments that are coming upon them for these sins (Ezek. 23:45): The righteous men, they shall judge them. Some make the instruments of their destruction to be the righteous men that shall judge them. The Assyrians that destroyed Samaria, the Chaldeans that destroyed Jerusalem, those were comparatively righteous, had a sense of justice between man and man and justly resented the treachery of the Jewish nation; however, they executed God’s judgments, which, we are sure, are all righteous. Others understand it of the prophets, whose office it was, in God’s name, to judge them and pass sentence upon them. Or we may take it as an appeal to all righteous men, to all that have a sense of equity; they shall all judge concerning these cities, and agree in their verdict, that forasmuch as they have been notoriously guilty of adultery and murder, and the guilt is national, therefore they ought to suffer the pains and penalties which by law are inflicted upon women in their personal capacity that shed blood and are adulteresses. Righteous men will say, “Why should bloody filthy cities escape any better than bloody filthy persons? Judge, I pray thee,” Isa. 5:3. This judgment being given by the righteous men, the righteous God will award execution. See here, 1. What the execution will be, Ezek. 23:46, 47. The same as before, Ezek. 23:23 God will bring a company of enemies upon them, who shall be made to serve his holy purposes even when they are serving their own sinful appetites and passions. These enemies shall easily prevail, for God will give them into their hands to be removed and spoiled; this company shall stone them with stones as malefactors, shall single them out and dispatch them with their swords; and, as was sometimes done in severe executions (witness that of Achan), they shall slay their children and burn their houses. 2. What will be the effects of it. (1.) Thus they shall suffer for their sins: Their lewdness shall be recompensed upon them (Ezek. 23:49); and they shall bear the sins of their idols, Ezek. 23:35, 39. Thus God will assert the honour of his broken law and injured government, and let the world know what a just and jealous God he is. (2.) Thus they shall be broken off from their sins: I will cause lewdness to cease out of the land, Ezek. 23:27, 48. The destruction of God’s city, like the death of God’s saints, shall do that for them which ordinances and providences before could not do; it shall quite take away their sin, so that Jerusalem shall rise out of its ashes a new lump, as gold comes out of the furnace purified from its dross. (3.) Thus other cities and nations will have fair warning given them to keep themselves from idols. That all women may be taught not to do after your lewdness. This is the end of the punishment of malefactors, that they may be made examples to others, who will see and fear. Smite the scorner and the simple will beware. The judgments of God upon some are designed to teach others, and happy are those who receive instruction from them not to tread in the steps of sinners, lest they be taken in their snares; those who would be taught this must know God is the Lord (Ezek. 23:49), that he is the governor of the world, a God that judges in the earth, and with whom there is no respect of persons.