It may be one of the most graphic chapters of the Bible. If you haven’t done so already, read the entire chapter of Ezekiel 16. Though it’s 63 verses long, it goes fast. If you are wondering why the amount of explicit detail is mentioned, it’s not for entertainment value. Rather the spiritual audacity of God’s people is highlighted, only to be even more outshined by the profound and unfailing love of God.
Verses 1-5 parallel the beginnings of the people of Israel as a baby found in the wilderness. Rather than letting it die, the finder has pity and saves the child. Not only does the protagonist raise the child, but later falls romantically in love with her. Here the loves of romance and foster parent are insufficient to convey the divine love that God has for His people. Instead they form a composite love that points to a higher type of love. The two are married under the covenant oath (v. 8) and the bride is adorned with the best jewels and metals. (Note the bride is adorned by God, not by herself.) Images of beauty, taste, wealth, and delicacy are used to describe their union (vv. 9–14). In a sense, this is the most beautiful couple found in Scripture. It is the love story of love stories. Sadly, it does not end here.
Alas, the next section starts with the word but (v. 15). The bride was unsatisfied with this relationship. The reason is found throughout the passage and then summarized at the end. Although she married up (the most “up” possible!), she wanted more, and in turn, played the harlot with those around her. Using and abusing the gifts she received, she courted more suitors and seduced them (vv. 16–19). Combining the motifs of harlotry with idolatry, their children were sacrificed to other gods (vv. 20–22), and high places of idol worship were built.
The text then mourns at how this woman offered herself to everyone who walked by (v. 25). Each of the names of the nations that Israel betrayed God with are listed: Egypt (v. 26); the Philistines (v. 27); the Assyrians (v. 28); and the Chaldeans (v. 29). Ironically, these are the nations that subjugated or aggravated Israel throughout her history. Furthermore, the text repeats the phrase that she was not satisfied even with these lovers.
God declares what will happen to His bride in the judgment (vv. 35–43). Her reputation would degenerate into shame, becoming a household story of warning. Israel would go down in history as more wicked than Samaria or Sodom (vv. 44–59). Some are scared with the strong language God uses during His judgment sentences. But when you understand the context of their relationship and history, God sounds like a spurned husband who has the justice of the universe on His side. The Bible is clear that the sacred spiritual and physical union between husband and wife was violated. Not only singularly violated, but continuously, willingly, and multitudinously. The extremes are underscored in that though harlots accept payment, this woman offered her body for free (v. 31) and, in fact, paid men to satiate her desires (vv. 32–34).
Why is this almost near-pornographic narrative found in Scripture? It is to symbolize the holiness of the union between God and His people and how this precious union was violated. The violation can only be understood in the context of the original holiness intended in the covenant union. Though she was fated to die a poor and destitute death as a baby, God saved her, took care of her, loved her, married her, and made her rich and famous. Yet the cardinal sin highlighted in the chapter is that she “did not remember the days of [her] youth” (vv. 22 and 43). Her forgetfulness of her past and present caused her to become spiritually promiscuous and unrestrained with her sexuality.
The good news is found in verses 60–63, where, although the wife has not remembered, the Divine Husband will indeed remember. Rather than a two-way covenant, God establishes a one-way covenant (like a will), in which God causes forgiveness, justified righteousness on our behalf, sanctified righteous living, atonement, and our salvation. In short, He recreates His bride. Not only has He created us, loved us, brought us out of the wilderness, cleaned us, married us, established us and prospered us, and then forgiven us, and saved us; through all this He has remembered His covenant promises and been faithful to us. When we see all this and remember, repent, and return, He also changes us that we may always remember the covenant and be with Him forever.