From the Mailbox – “Ezekiel 23”

Posted by on July 11, 2011 in From The Mailbox, Thoughts | 5 comments

My friend Monica left this request in my mailbox:

Since we have discussed personally about many topics in the bible, and you have found reasonable explanations for some topics, here’s a tough one: – Ezekiel 23 has some really strange verses that I would like you to explore, with the help of your vast and knowledgeable audience.

Well I was only familiar with one section of this verse, the one which reads:

“There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” Ezekiel 23:20

Not that that is actually that relevant to the deciphering of this passage, it’s simply the most colourful bit of language from Ezekiel 23.

It’s pretty obvious from the outset that Ezekiel 23 is a parable which uses the “whorish” behaviour of a pair of women as a metaphor for the unfaithful and ungodly behaviours of Israelites from two nations; “Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem.” The parable uses language that nears on pornography, and would no doubt make the most liberal Christian blush. What is interesting it that the language is uses phrases that not only makes the nations of Samaria and Jerusalem look bad and promiscuous, but also makes the actions of women seem unacceptable. The bible does a great job of showing women as untrustworthy and worthy of scorn. In fact, the depictions of women in this verse seem so impassioned and described in such a way that I think the author may have been enjoying writing it a little too much, if you catch my drift.

Let me explain. The author could have used a parable of men instead of virginal women, but as it was written by men within a patriarchal society, of course they would not write something that looked unfavourably upon their own kind. So women are again the scapegoats of mankind’s (and male) bad behaviour.

There is more to this verse though. The parable is also proclaiming that the nations of Jerusalem and Samaria belong to God, to the people of God, and therefore become holy lands forever more, if the Bible is to be believed as the word of God. The conflict in Israel and Palestine has everything to do with the proclamation by both sides that it is their God-given right to be in the “holy-land” because of just such affirmations as the ones above. So much bloodshed over a seaport in the desert just because the authors believed that the land was theirs by God-given mandate.

A biblical interpretation would tell us that the message of Ezekiel 23 is as a warning to the nations of Earth to not be godless in our actions toward other nations, or God will give permission for the other nations to kill the former. The website says this about the verse:

The great lesson of Ezekiel 23 is that we must learn from the mistakes of others. The Israelites in Judah and Jerusalem should have learned from the errors of their brethren in Samaria. Sin and idolatry brought the wrath of God upon Samaria to its extinction as a nation. Why didn’t the people of Jerusalem reason that if they did the same things, that they would receive the same punishment? Failure to do so cost them their city, their temple, their lives and their souls.

The Bible abounds in examples of ungodly people being punished — even those who were once faithful to Him. Let’s take warning from these passages and not become infatuated with the sin of this world. Instead, let’s serve the God of Heaven with diligence.

It reminds me of the whole “Obey me or else” attitude that other sections of the Bible promote. The fact that the language of this verse is so anti-women should be obvious to the reader, even if it’s not in fact speaking about human women, but the metaphor of countries as women.

I’d be interested if anyone else had more insight into this verse. Please leave your comments below.

Thanks Monica for your request. You can follow Monica on Twitter here, or visit her awesome blog here.

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  1. I think there are several websites that explore the issues going on with Ezekiel 23:20 Of course, they are not safe for work.

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  2. There is no domineering “do this or else” in this chapter; Ezekiel is simply warning the Hebrews that God’s protection will not last forever if they continue to spurn holiness.

    And there is no way that men could have been used instead of women in a way that would have made sense to Ezekiel’s audience. Men were responsible to be protectors and providers for their wives; it wouldn’t make sense to assert that a wife would eventually refuse to protect her husband if he kept committing adultery. The analogy used was probably the best possible one for this culture and people.

    Finally, there is no denigration of women in this chapter. What is being decried is adultery, promiscuity, and prostitution. Yes, the language is quite vulgar, but that’s par for the course in the Prophets.

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    • I beg to differ. Firstly I see the “warning the Hebrews that God’s protection will not last forever if they continue to spurn holiness” as exactly a “Do this or else” situation, because God gave permission for the nations to attack Samaria and Jerusalem. It is a warning.

      Secondly, men COULD have been used to illustrate this story. Instead of using examples of women in their apparently disgusting behaviours as an illustration, why not JUST TELL THE STORY of nations that were forgetting God? Why illustrate it with women, and using such a disgusted tone.

      And finally, the language is ALL denigration of women, because the parable again uses this disgusted language AGAINST WOMEN as a parable where it was more than likely the MEN who were apparently godless.

      In any case, as I understood it, it’s not a prophecy, rather a telling of a historical events, so why not just tell the story?

      The language we use, even if it is from the bronze age, says so much about our attitudes, in this case, the author seems to be a sex obsessed misogynist.

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  3. I see what David is saying, but it’s piss poor apologetics that allows for the continued use of the bible as some kind of moral guidebook today. Yes the bronze age goat-herders were unsophisticated barbarians so of course their stories will be couched in those terms, but what we’re interested in is the usefulness of the writings of that book for modern societies. The answer to that is clear. It serves to maintain the status quo foundations of the primitive thinking it contains, allbeit in a way that we’ve tarted up to help us pretend we don’t still objectify women in similar ways. What you are reading is the corner stones of ‘rape culture’ & the millennia long objectification of women (& children & weak minorities) for the benefit/s if men. It’s insidious, but it’s there if you’ll just take a peek.

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  4. Lamberth’s argument from autonomy declares that,because of our level of consciousness, in accordance with Morgan’s Canon and with the U.N.Declaration of Rights, we are independent beings, not beholden to God, nor required to worship, but instead He would have to fulfill the one-way street of Fr. Meslier’s [ Google:] the problem of Heaven] of having had to put us into a better place and- never changing that. [Google:] covenant morality for humanity-the presumption of humanism requires that also.
    What counts is what is good for us,not for a Supreme Tyrant!

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