By Shelley Neese

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Welcome to Bible Fiber, where we are encountering the textures and shades of the biblical tapestry through twelve Minor Prophets, two reformers, and one exile. I am Shelley Neese, president of The Jerusalem Connection, a Christian organization devoted to sharing the story of the people of Israel, both ancient and modern.

This week we are studying Ezekiel 16, the longest chapter in the book by far. Ezekiel’s extended allegory is 63 verses, which makes this one chapter longer than the books of Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Malachi, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Haggai. Because of this, we will divide Ezekiel 16 into two parts. This week, we focus on the initial 43 verses, which are reflective. In the next episode, we will study the last 20 verses which look to Israel’s future.


Ezekiel 16 presents a parable using marital terminology to explain the broken covenant relationship between God and his people. His exilic audience was already familiar with the marriage metaphor. Several centuries earlier, God had commissioned the prophet Hosea to marry the promiscuous Gomer as a symbol of the Northern Kingdom’s infidelity (Hos. 2:3-15). Hosea and Gomer’s marriage was a living parable. Just as Hosea endured heartache from his wayward wife, Israel snubbed God’s love. Yet, Hosea’s love for Gomer was unfailing, just as God’s love for Israel remained steadfast.

Hosea’s real-life marriage may have inspired Ezekiel’s marriage parable. However, in typical Ezekiel fashion, the prophet amplified and stretched the teaching to its furthest and most disturbing extreme. While Hosea’s wife, Gomer, was an adulterer, the woman Ezekiel depicted was a nymphomaniac.

If Spotify listed Ezekiel 16, they would mark it as “explicit” for language and theme. For this reason, you’ve probably never heard these chapters preached on a Sunday morning. English translations have tried to soften the more pornographic descriptions in the text, but fully masking the chapter’s crudeness would require a complete alteration of its content.

As a rhetorical strategy, Ezekiel used graphic language to shock his audience. His retelling of Israel’s history was a lewd expose, but the intent was to foster empathy for the faithful husband betrayed by his wanton wife. This way, Israel could witness the ugliness of their sin through the same lens as Yahweh. The audience was supposed to be shocked by their rebellion against God, not Ezekiel’s impropriety.

Acting as God’s mouthpiece, Ezekiel let the rage overtake him. Recall that prior to this parable, Ezekiel was a carefully guarded priest. He had never even once eaten unclean food (4:14). Although preaching hard truths was part of his calling, the filth that came out of his own mouth must have surprised even him.

Origin Story

Ezekiel 16 begins with a critical look at Israel’s humble origins. He presented a revised version of their history that focused on their pagan roots as a nation and the pre-Israelite population in Jerusalem. Addressing Jerusalem, he said, “Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite” (16:3). In his retelling, Israel was born of pagan parents because they occupied Jerusalem for hundreds of years before David conquered the city from the Jebusites (2 Sam. 5:6-9).

Israel’s lore usually begins with God’s election of Abraham from all the people on earth and his promise to Abraham that his descendants would make a great nation. Ezekiel disrupted this shared narrative that bound Israel together by pushing the origin point back to a more unflattering start. The pre-Israelite city had a pagan foundation, and the nation of Israel was born from a mixed pagan ancestry. Through this satirical retelling, he pulled the rug out from under their patriotic ideals and insulted their self-perception. He wanted them to stop being overconfident in their current position with Yahweh based on their past.

Israel’s selling card was not that they were racially distinct from neighboring groups. Nor did Israel accomplish anything exceptional—culturally or architecturally—that distinguished them from their pagan neighbors. God did not choose them because of their patronage or because they merited his favor. He chose them to be his own because of his good grace.

From abandoned infant to royal queen

Ezekiel retold the entire biography of Israel’s election and subsequent rebellion against Yahweh in a manner that most certainly caught his audience off guard. In the allegory, he cast Israel as a helpless orphan girl scorned from birth. Her absentee parents denied her any of the normal care given to a newborn to protect her health. They left her naval chord uncut and did not cleanse or swaddle her (16:4). Abandoned in a field, the unwanted and unnamed child wallowed in her own blood and amniotic fluids. Ezekiel states, “you were abhorred on the day you were born” (16:5).

A passerby, representing Yahweh, took pity on the struggling infant. He claimed her when no one else would, rescuing her from the brink of death. Yahweh narrates, “I passed by you and saw you flailing about in your blood. As you lay in your blood, I said to you, ‘Live! and grow up like a plant of the field” (16:6-7). By his command, Yahweh spoke life into her, rescuing her with a beautiful act of compassion.

When the orphan girl grew to a marriageable age, her savior married her in another act of selfless love. In the biblical period, parents normally arranged marriages for their children. Because of her ignoble birth, she was at a disadvantage. Yahweh claimed her as his wife by spreading his cloak over her, a marriage ritual that also occurred in the book of Ruth (Ruth 3:8-9). Yahweh said, “I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you” (16:8).

Yahweh did everything for his new wife that her parents denied her on the day of her birth. He washed her with water and anointed her with oil (16:9). Yahweh extravagantly cared for his wife, showering her with resources. She had clothes made of embroidered fabrics and sandals of fine leather (16:10). She wore gold and silver jewelry on her neck, arms, ears, and nose. He even placed a crown on her head, the first sign that her benefactor-turned-husband was also a king (16:13). Even her daily diet was made up of lavish foods.

Ezekiel’s unwanted orphan child rose to the status of queen. This rags-to-riches plotline is common to so many other fairy tales, like an ancient Near Eastern version of Cinderella. A poor and unloved girl grabs the attention of a royal, and her fortune changes. The snag in Ezekiel’s fairy tale is that the girl was entirely undeserving. Although she grew in beauty and stature, it was only surface changes. The gifts did not increase her interior strength or transform her for the better. Once her station in life improved, she betrayed the king even though he was the one responsible for her rise.

From queen to prostitute

Instead of demonstrating her gratitude to her husband, she used her splendor to seduce other lovers. Ezekiel said, “You trusted in your beauty and prostituted yourself because of your fame and lavished your prostitutions on any passerby” (16:5). Every gift that Yahweh generously provided his wife was abused to betray him, the giver. Ezekiel illustrated how much Israel had lost touch with all God had done for her throughout history. One by one, she exploited the provisions from her husband to seduce new lovers. Her superior garments decorated the “high places,” wording that alluded to Judah’s proliferation of idolatrous shrines on hilltops (16:16). Shamelessly, Judah no longer even tried to hide her pursuit of other gods from Yahweh. She melted down her jewelry and reshaped it into male idols (16:17). She offered her food, incense, and oil as sacrifices to false gods (16:19).

Worst of all, she took her children, the children she shared with her husband, and sacrificed them as food for the idols (16:20-22). As Yahweh’s indictment against his adulterous wife built, this was the climax of her list of misdeeds, the most revolting act of treachery. 2 Kings attests that, at least during the reigns of the heathen kings Ahaz and Manasseh, the Israelites sacrificed their children to the pagan god Molech (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6). This horrific act defied God’s laws laid out in the Torah (Lev. 18:21; 20:1-5). Yahweh was clear that he hated child sacrifice, and any such deviation permanently desecrated the land (Deut. 12:31; Ps. 106:38).

Israel’s advancement from orphan to queen was Yahweh’s doing. Yet, she spurned his love and disavowed her royal status. Although he withheld nothing from her, she repaid him with heartache. God attributed her disloyalty to her self-selective memory; she forgot the days of her youth (16:22, 43).

Yahweh did not charge his wife, Israel, with a one-off affair. She was a serial cheater. Ezekiel even clarified that the queen did not prostitute herself out of hunger or poverty (16:31). Yahweh had already spoiled her with every resource she could need. Difficult circumstances did not force her into a life of prostitution. She wasn’t the victim or a prostitute for hire. She was the one bribing men to be her lovers, not vice versa (16:34).

Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon as lovers

Not every component of Ezekiel’s message is symbolic. By naming the three major historical empires in the ancient Near East, the political meaning becomes clear. Ezekiel’s focus on spiritual adultery shifts to Israel’s lack of political allegiance. Rather than trusting solely in Yahweh, Israel pursued the protection of other nations. God had pledged to provide for Israel’s security, but she solicited treaties and formed alliances with stronger nations.

Yahweh accused his wife of “multiplying” her prostitutions by going after Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon (16:25). The theme of adultery continued to explain the motivations behind Israel’s political maneuverings. She tried to lure neighboring nations into bed with her. At every public square and street corner, she sat on a platform and grotesquely exposed herself to passersby. The prophet lacks any sense of decorum when describing the insatiability of her sexual appetite (16:28). Even the Philistines—hardly champions of virtuous living—were offended by Jerusalem’s lusty overtures (16:27).

Because they lacked faith in Yahweh, the Israelites repeatedly appealed to foreign armies for protection. Assyria was a historical enemy and no longer a threat to Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE. Instead, Egypt and Babylon were the two major powers battling for control of Jerusalem. After the Babylonian invasion that resulted in Ezekiel’s exile, Jerusalem sought a military alliance with Egypt as their only chance to fend off another Babylonian attack. Like Ezekiel, the prophet Jeremiah inveighed against Jerusalem’s courtship of foreign empires. Jeremiah warned that reliance on Egypt for help would ultimately be futile (Jeremiah 2:36-37, 37:5-10). He was right, of course, and the Babylonians decimated Jerusalem in 586 BCE.

When Ezekiel described the queen paying off her lovers for sexual favors, he was likely referring to the times Judah and Israel had to pay tribute to their neighbors for political protection (2 Kings 16:8). Yahweh’s fundamental problem with Jerusalem’s political alliances was that every time they sought the favor of another kingdom, they appealed to that kingdom’s patron deity. When God transported Ezekiel to Jerusalem, he observed the apostate worshipers imitating Egyptian and Babylonian religious practices (8:12-16).


As the indictment against Jerusalem gained momentum, Ezekiel pushed the boundaries of decency even further. He wanted his audience to empathize with Yahweh’s agony and understand God’s sense of betrayal. God’s generosity towards Israel was immense, but just as a scorned husband has limits, so did God.

After listing the excesses of her adultery in a long and frustrated outburst, God pronounced judgement on his adulterous wife (16:35-36). He was divorcing her. In the divorce proceedings, he would humiliate her just as she had humiliated him (16:37). No one would come to her defense or object to her punishment.

Israel’s laws considered adultery a capital offense. The prescribed punishment involved public stripping and stoning (Lev. 20:10-12; Deut. 22:22). In Ezekiel 16, a mob of her lovers gathered to administer the stoning, but they went even further and cut her to pieces with their swords (16:40). The lovers were also the agents of her death. In a frenzy of violence, they plundered every beautiful object Yahweh had given her. Without God and the protections of their mutual covenant, she returned to her original state: bloodied, naked, and alone (16:39).

After the violent episode, Yahweh’s wrath was spent. He said, “So I will satisfy my fury on you, and my jealousy shall turn away from you; I will be calm and will be angry no longer” (16:42).

Yahweh had intended for his chosen nation to represent him well, like a noble queen brings honor to the royal household. His hope was that the nations would be drawn to him by the example of his bride, Israel. However, the adulterous queen turned Yahweh’s name into a mockery. Like the allegory, Israel sullied the king’s reputation and brought him no glory. Rather than becoming a source of pride, she was a thing of shame.


Without God’s intervention, we as Christians would be like the baby in the field, destined to die in our own sin. He did not leave us for dead but came to rescue us.

The allegory is not only relevant to Israel and her past. As Christians, we must also take caution not to abuse the gifts Jesus has freely given to us. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he described the Church as the bride of Christ, and may even have been alluding to Ezekiel’s parable and God’s sacrificial love. Paul exhorted, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25-27).

Does our confidence come from our gifts and resources, or does it come from our identity in Christ? Every accusation laid out against the queen rings true for our own situation. The root problem of her perverse behavior was that she forgot the mercy and kindness of Yahweh. As the bride of Christ, we are also at risk of spiritual amnesia, losing all memory of his sacrifice. We cannot forget our own origin story. We must allow ourselves to be transformed daily by God’s lavish love.

Thank you for listening and please continue to take part in this Bible Reading Challenge. Next week, we are reading the rest of Ezekiel 16.

And please keep the nation of Israel in your prayers. As we constantly pray for the Israeli hostages in Gaza, I find that Ezekiel, an Israelite also living in exile, is the ideal prophet to read and study.

For all the Biblical references each week, please see the show transcript on our blog or by signing up for our emails at I do not say all the references in the podcast but they are all in the transcript.

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Shabbat Shalom

Ezekiel’s hearers likely remembered that King Ahaz once formed an alliance with Assyria to counter the threat from the alliance of Arameans and the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 16:7-9).