In these chapters (Ezekiel 21,22,23) there is a long history in view of Israel’s involvement with other nations. In particular God speaks to Ezekiel about six kingdoms, some past and some present: the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Ammonites, Judah, and Samaria.
After Solomon died, the kingdom of Israel divided. Judah and Benjamin remained with Jerusalem, and the other tribes made their capital, Samaria.
Later God allowed the Assyrians to destroy Israel because of it's participation in the idolatry and corruption of Egypt and other smaller nations. However Judah,with its capital Jerusalem, was preserved because of its good kings Hezekiah and Josiah.
But now, in Ezekiel’s time, the kings of Judah were evil, so the Chaldeans, whose empire was ruled from Babylon, were appointed by God to destroy Jerusalem, to kill, scatter, and take captive, the inhabitants of the kingdom.
2 Outline of Ezekiel 21 and 22
Babylon God’s Sword - The Sword Trilogy
(1) God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy against the land of Israel and to sigh in bitterness. For both the righteous and wicked who dwell in Jerusalem will be cut off from it. [Some will be killed, some scattered, and some taken into captivity.] God has drawn his sword and it won't return to its sheath. [Times of tribulation for the remnant of Israel and for Jerusalem, will continue.] (Ezekiel 21:1-5).
The news of certain and imminent invasion leaves Ezekiel heart-broken. When the Israelites hear it, they will tremble (Ezekiel 21:6-7).
(2) Ezekiel is again commanded to prophesy about the sword and its power, and this time to strike his thigh. God's sword is polished to flash like lightning, and sharpened to slay. It is given into the hand of the slayer to strike all flesh. This is figurative of the Babylonian armies. However, they will wield literal swords as one of their terrors (Ezekiel 21:8-12).
This sword despises the sceptre [the corrupt rule of Jerusalem’s prince Zedekiah]. The two will be tested. The sword will win and the sceptre will be no more (Ezekiel 21:13).
(3) A third time Ezekiel must prophesy about the sword of God, and this time strike his hands together. It is the sword that slays to the right hand to the left (Ezekiel 21:14-16).
God will also strike his fists together and he will fully satisfy his wrath (Ezekiel 21:17).
A signpost for the sword
[On his model of Jerusalem (see Ezekiel 4:1-2)] Ezekiel is to place a sign at the fork in the road God says, "Appoint a road for the sword to go to Rabbah of the Ammonites, and to Judah, into fortified Jerusalem" (Ezekiel 21:18-20).
The king of Babylon will use divination to decide that he will take the road to Jerusalem and lay seige to it and set up his weapons and machines of destruction. The divination may be false, but the attack on Jerusalem is appointed by God and is real (Ezekiel 21:21-23).
Israel’s sin and corruption had been remembered and exposed. So now God’s reputation must be preserved. The time has come to make an end to the iniquity (Ezekiel 21:24).
The prince of Israel will be overthrown and stripped of his turban and crown. There will be no son to reign as king in Israel "until He comes whose right it is, and I will give it to Him." This is a reference to God’s Son, Jesus the Messiah (Ezekiel 21:25-27).
A sword against the Ammonites
The Ammonites [descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot] are also in danger of a sword polished and flashing because of their false visions and lying divinations misleading Israel. [That was God’s reason. Of course Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had his own reasons, since the Ammonite’s loyalties were ambiguous. They sometimes helped the Babylonians yet sometimes helped the Israelites] (Ezekiel 21:28-29).
The sword against the Ammonites will be returned to its sheath. The Ammonites will survive, nevertheless they'll become a forgotten nation (Ezekiel 21:30-32).
The Sins of Jerusalem Exposed
Ezekiel is given the task of exposing the abominations of bloodshed and idolatry in Jerusalem. Her destruction is near and she will be infamous, mocked by the nations (Ezekiel 22:1-5).
There follows a detailed list of sins: abuse of power; disrespect for parents; oppression of strangers; mistreatment of orphans and widows; profaning of holy things and the Sabbath; slander; eating food offered to idols; lewdness; sexual sins including incest; financial sins of bribery, usury, and extortion; and perhaps most damning of all, God says, "You have forgotten me"(Ezekiel 22:6-12).
This is why God beats his fists and sends the sword to scatter the people among the nations and shame them (Ezekiel 22:13-16).
In the Midst of a Furnace
God utters a parable of the furnace in which silver and other metals are melted to separate metal from impurities known as dross. The furnace is God’s wrath. The metal is what is good. The dross is the sins exposed. God will melt the people of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 22:17-22).
God speaks to Ezekiel about the prophets and priests who are corrupt and who profane holy things thus profaning God himself (Ezekiel 22:23-26).
Not only the prophets and priests but also the princes are condemned for listening to their lies and joining with them in oppressing the poor and helpless (Ezekiel 22:27-29).
God looked for a man among the princes who would make a wall [of integrity and righteousness] and stand before God to prevent the destruction, but no such man could be found (Ezekiel 22:30-31).
3 The Sisters Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23)
A Parable of Two Harlots
God speaks to Ezekiel a parable of two women. They are sisters. They are harlots. Their names are Oholah and Oholibah. We are told who they represent: "Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem is Oholibah." These names are significant. Oholah means "Her own tabernacle" and Oholibah means "My tabernacle is in her". Samaria had its own place of worship, but God’s true temple was in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 23:1-4).
God says, "Oholah played the harlot even though she was Mine." The people of Samaria were supposed to be God’people, but they became infatuated with the Assyrians when they rose to power, just as her ancestors had been with Egypt. The sexual immorality God describes was no doubt real, but it is also a metaphor for idolatry. They worshipped false gods instead of Yaweh the Lord God Almighty (Ezekiel 23:5-8).
The irony was that the Assyrians turned on Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel. [In the same way, God will turn the Babylonians of Chaldea upon Oholibah. Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah will be desolate] (Ezekiel 23:9-19).
The younger sister Oholibah (Jerusalem) should have learnt a lesson from Samaria and been faithful to God. But she became more corrupt in her lust than her sister had been (Ezekiel 23:11-16).
God says of Jerusalem, “Then the Babylonians came to her, into the bed of love,
And they defiled her... then she turned away from them in disgust... then I turned away from her in disgust as I had done with her sister" (Ezekiel 23:17-18).
The people of Jerusalem (Oholibah) knew their ancestors had long ago "played the harlot" with Egypt, but they did the same with the Babylonians (Ezekiel 23:19-21).
God’s message to Oholibah thrice repeated.
So God says to Oholibah, "Behold, I will stir up your lovers against you". The formidable armies will come in force to render judgment for God. They will ransack Jerusalem and punish the pollution disobediently brought from Egypt long years ago and still practised (Ezekiel 23:22-24a).
(1) First repetition. Jerusalem has come to hate her "lovers" (the Babylonians) and now they will be the instrument of God’s punishment because she has walked in the way of her sister (Samaria). (Ezekiel 23:28-31).
(2) Second repetition. Oholibah (Jerusalem) will drink of her sister’s cup, a deep cup of "horror and desolation". She will become a joke to her neighbours. With the shards of that cup she will cut herself in grief (Ezekiel 23:32-34).
(3) Third repetition. A very brief pronouncement: "Because you have forgotten Me and cast Me behind your back, therefore you shall bear the penalty of your lewdness and your harlotry" (Ezekiel 23:35).
Ezekiel to declare Oholibah’s abominations
Ezekiel is asked to judge both sisters Oholah and Oholibah and declare to them their abominations. [Of course Ezekiel cannot speak to the wicked Oholah of the time of the Assyrian empire. But he can speak to the wicked descendants of the ten tribes of Israel living in Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian empire] (Ezekiel 23:36).
The sins declared: "For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths. For after they had slain their children for their idols, on the same day they came into My sanctuary to profane it; and indeed thus they have done in the midst of My house." (Ezekiel 23:37-38).
God describes how Jerusalem entertained foreigners with revelry, even misusing holy things of the temple. Righteous men will judge them. [The man with the inkhorn had marked certain men as worthy (Ezekiel 9:1-11) Good men like these would judge that Jerusalem had rebelled not only against Nebuchadnezzar but against God, so deserved all that was to be poured upon it] (Ezekiel 23:40-45).
"For thus says the Lord God: ‘Bring up an assembly against them [the siege], give them up to trouble and plunder. The assembly shall stone them with stones and execute them with their swords; they shall slay their sons and their daughters, and burn their houses with fire. Thus I will cause lewdness to cease from the land, that all women may be taught not to practice your lewdness. They shall repay you for your lewdness, and you shall pay for your idolatrous sins. Then you shall know that I am the Lord God'" (Ezekiel 23:46-49).
4 What it Means for Us
What we are studying is not just history, it's history with a message for us. Here are a few random points for example. No doubt you can think of several more...
Those who listened to Ezekiel and believed he was speaking for God, could have heeded the warnings and got clear of the danger, thinking it better to flee than to die. If we listen to Jesus and believe his warnings, we can flee from sin and avoid the fires of hell.
Nations in those days were all answerable to God. So are all nations today. Nations who are corrupt, rebellious, and unbelieving, can still be brought low by God if they test him too long and don't repent and turn to him.
The world today is still full of idolatry and the exhortation still stands: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols"(1John 5:21).
Today, as always, things that are appointed by God must come to pass. They cannot be changed. "Repent or perish" is one of those things.