“I’ve discovered a few things that make me wonder if they should be in the Bible. In particular is Ezekiel 16:1-63. It reads as though God fell in love with a discarded female baby and makes the statement, ‘You became Mine.’ How does this figure? Please give me your understanding.” –GS
To get meaning from Ezekiel 16, we need to see it as it was intended to be, like many other passages of Scripture: symbolic or figurative, and written to teach a powerful lesson.
The culture of ancient Israel being so strikingly different from ours, it is very difficult for us to view the illustration as it would have been viewed by a person at that time. Even though we don’t subscribe to the present culture, we still feel the influence of an environment where promiscuity has taken down the sacred regard for life. In the context of ancient Israel, the illustration had weight, being drawn from life itself. We see this type of illustration throughout Scripture, often capsulizing a lesson that was to be felt as well as understood.
Why don’t we find the lesson spelled out clearly? If the Bible clearly and openly defined these figures of speech for every casual or curious reader, it probably would not have survived through the ages and have been translated into our languages today. God has a purpose in these things which is far beyond our understanding.
Meaning in the Drama…
To get the full meaning underlying this little drama, we need to take it back to the time of Abraham (then Abram), father of the Israelite nation, because it was through him that the nation was born. When God called Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldeans, he journeyed from there to Haran with his father Terah. We do not have any details, but it seems likely that God was calling Abram to leave his country, his family, and his father’s house (Gen. 12:1) because he wanted Abram away from the worship of false gods. If he would obey, God promised that He (the true God) would make Abram the father of a great nation and a source of blessing for all people on the earth (Gen. 12:2-3).
Notice how God launched His prophet into the lesson: “Son of man, cause Jerusalem [the center of worship for the Israelite people] to know her abominations” (Ezek. 16:2). God is speaking out against abominable practices among people who are supposed to be His worshipers. And the lesson is meant to go beyond Israel, because Scripture is intended for the instruction and guidance of all His chosen ones (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
“On the day you were born…”
The prophet paints a word picture of a newborn, abandoned and rejected at birth. No eye pitied, no one had compassion on the infant, but “you were thrown out into the open field… you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.” If not for the care of God, this helpless, loathsome newborn infant would have perished.
God took note of the struggling infant and said “Live!” when all the other nations said die. God brought life to them and made them thrive like a plant in the field. Without God there was no hope –for Israel or—though far removed, for us. But under God’s care Israel matured into a thriving nation.
“You grew, matured, and became very beautiful” – a description of Israel when they obeyed and became a strong, thriving nation under good leadership, like that of King David.
But the beauty was short-lived. Even though God wonderfully provided for them as a nation, they used these provisions for abominable ends. As a nation they forsook Him again and again, and turned to the gods of the nations around them, who in that sense became their mother and their father. By abusing God’s goodness and forsaking Him they were even worse than the surrounding nations, even surpassing their sisters, Sodom and her daughters, in sin.
God’s Prophet addresses a people in exile for their sins…
We need to remember also that Ezekiel was addressing captives in Babylon, who were even then only about a millennium removed from the Exodus. Their miraculous deliverance from Egypt was still often mentioned among them, and continued to be mentioned even on into New Testament times.
Even as the Israelites left Egypt, they might have been said to be as an infant “wallowing in his own blood” (terrible sins). We are not told to what extent they were influenced by the religions of Egypt. But years later, it was their own serious transgression when, under wicked leaders (like King Manasseh); the nation was in a very real sense “wallowing in its own blood” by practicing human sacrifice, passing their children “through the fire,” (2 Kings 3:27; 16:3; 17:17; 23:10; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). This was a practice that the true God absolutely abhorred and forbade (Lev. 18:21).
Because the people were suffering for their sins as he gave them this message, Ezekiel was using every means possible to drive the message home to his audience, reminding them that they were “alive” only because God rescued them. And in spite of God’s mercy and goodness, they were even then rejecting the very One who had rescued them from death when they were helpless to help themselves.
Israel dishonored God … even after He had rescued them
The ancient Israelites, accustomed to children being born at home, would have understood the picture. Just as they did the best they knew to preserve the newborn’s life, so God had rescued the Israelite nation as His own beloved child. God had given the newborn nation every advantage for life, spiritually speaking, and yet as a nation they turned right against their most loving, caring “parent” (God), even going to the basest and demeaning level of dishonoring Him by becoming a harlot.
Spreading their shameful acts far and wide, they were enticing others to even worse acts. Israel’s deeds were worse than a harlot, even worse than Sodom. No one solicited them to commit such crimes. The impulse came from within, the evil uncontrolled mind, their own thoughts. And God would not be silent.
God’s promises are to the faithful, the clean of heart. It is a warning to all who take God’s laws lightly. God warned: the neighboring nations will strip them bear, leaving them nothing. Her punishment is of her own making; she went so far that her neighbors despised her.
It is both an exhortation and a warning against such wickedness and lifestyles today.
The End of the story
What is the end of the story? God would not relent until Israel repented of her evil, and learned to do right; then He would turn again to her.
His work is not in vain; He promised to remember His covenant with Israel and through discipline and training prepare a people worthy of life, even to make an everlasting covenant with them.
The prophet’s picture is the totality of God’s way of working with His people from the beginning all the way to the time when His kingdom is established worldwide and “all nations shall serve and obey him” (Dan. 7:27).