In this chapter we have the longest single allegory of the entire Bible. Prostitution (harlotry) is the most frequent metaphor in the allegory, and by it Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness to the Lord is compared to a prostitute’s immorality. We have seen prophets using a lot of similes and metaphors, but this one had to have angered the audience. Ezekiel points to Jerusalem as a prostitute. A recurring image of Israel going after other gods in the Old Testament is that of a prostitute – spiritually speaking. He used words like whore, whoredom, fornication, and harlot many times in this chapter to describe Judah’s lack of faithfulness to God. And what was the point? That the inhabitants of Jerusalem were more wicked than a prostitute because of their infidelity in serving the one true God. Israel’s story, narrated in the figurative tale of a girl born and growing to maturity, is recounted to make the point about Israel’s offenses.
This baby girl was not born into a normal caring family. Cutting the navel cord, washing with water, rubbing with salt, wrapping with cloths—these were practices of Palestinian midwives and have been observed among modern Arab peasants. After making His covenant, the Lord transformed Israel from a marginalized existence (bathed, clothed, adorned, 16:9–11) to a regal estate, fit to be a queen (16:13). Jerusalem’s fame spread among the nations, which points to the splendid reign of Israel at the time of Solomon.
Amazingly, in spite of Jerusalem’s long history of evil, the allegory makes it clear that God will not reject her forever. Her captivity will end and God will honor His promise of old to reestablish His covenant with her, make her pure as well as secure, and elevate her above such well-known cities as Samaria and Sodom. Israel will be forgiven and righteous again. The allegory is not literal and therefore does not intend to indicate that other cities would become great cities again. Instead it points to the fact that in addition to the restoration of Jerusalem, God will one day forgive many other people their sins, and that He will eventually establish an existence where righteousness prevails and rebellion against Him is no more
It is encouraging to realize that we are already in that “everlasting covenant” if we are in Christ. Our future home is the New Jerusalem, which we will inhabit joyfully in fulfillment of this promise of faithfulness on God’s part. It will have in it none of the abominations of old—none of the arrogance, materialism, idolatry, etc.—that caused its demise and desolation in Ezekiel’s day. But it will once again be the dwelling place of God with His people, a true eternal home for the saints. So the name Jerusalem as used in the Scriptures becomes itself a metaphor for eternal, peaceful, and blissful life with God rather than a literal dwelling place on earth today.
This happy ending to the allegory, however, is not the only part of it that has meaning for us. The history of Jerusalem’s sin is very much a mirror for our own past state. When we sinned, we were turning against God who loves and cares for us; we made ourselves undeserving of His rescue. When we who without Him were lost and helpless, ignored Him and even openly rebelled against Him, imitating those we admired in the world, we acted no better than the harlot Jerusalem. We did not admire and imitate God’s Son. Yet there was always hope for us, because God still loved us. No matter how far we degenerated, we were not too distant to be redeemed, if only by faith we would respond to God’s call.
Mohanraj Israel, D.Min. Dean
School of Religion
Spicer Memorial College, Pune India