Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Exegesis on Ezekiel

This is my most recent Ezekiel exegesis for my class on the prophets.


Ezekiel 16:1-43

I. Historical/Cultural Context

This figurative narrative or allegory, from the beginning of the monarchy or earlier, [1]is a striking departure from Amos’ and Hosea’s depiction of Israel’s beginnings at God’s call from Egypt, describing her then as innocent. Contrast Ezekiel: Israel viewed as hopeless from beginning, Canaan her origin. “The twists to the familiar theme are designed to shock…people out of their complacency.”[2]

At maturity, Yahweh weds Jerusalem because of “…the contractual nature of marriage, the spousal relationship lent itself to expressing the centrality, permanence, and emotive content of the covenant bond between God and people.”[3] Graphic in nature, an early rabbi, “Eliezer … forbade … liturgical use…though… retained in the lectionary, it was stipulated that it must …be followed by its [greatly sanitized] targum (m. Megillah 4.10).”[4]

II. Analysis of the Passage – God’s “Nymphomaniac Bride”[5]

Scene 1 takes place in verses 1-7. Verses 1-2 show the allegory as confrontation. Verse 3 concerns Jerusalem’s parentage “…reflect[ing] the actual background …Jerusalem was a Jebusite city closely related to the Hittites, and before that …Amorite.”[6] Blenkinsopp states “Unflattering allusion to ancestors is a … feature of vituperative satire.”[7] Jerusalem (and Israel as a whole[8]) is shown as an unwanted child left to die of exposure whose parents treated her as “an obscene excretion…abandoned …to welter in the blood of its afterbirth…”[9] A kind passer-by, God, pities her, making sure she will live.[10] She grew through God’s protection. Verse 7 “’Yet you were naked and bare’ reminds us … we are in … an allegory that has a logic of its own.”[11] Ezekiel has readers remember the child’s sad beginning, compared to her current estate which “far transcends mere physical life.”[12]

Scene 2, verses 8-14 find Yahweh again as a passer-by. Verse 8’s spreading the corner of the garment signified a marriage commitment (cf. Ruth 3:9).[13] God is attracted to the physically matured girl. “The allegory is particularly daring in view of Jerusalem’s proclivity…for the worship of the Canaanite Astarte, the ‘queen of heaven,’ …fertility goddess … consort of the national god.”[14] Yahweh’s marriage is like a prince lifting up the state of the abandoned girl with bride price, gifts, and a royal prince’s favors, well beyond the girl’s imagining. God does everything for her “that had been denied by her parents.”[15]

Verses 15-34 provide the turning point, unfaithfulness flowing from pride in her beauty, portraying Jerusalem and Judah’s apostasy: (1) worship in high places; (2) idolatry; (3) cult of Moloch; (4) intercourse with foreign nations and adopting their ways. “The accusations come in a stream and the figures leap back and forth… not unusual with Ezekiel.”[16] In Western Semitic mythology, the city is the spouse of the patron deity, thus the similitude of faithlessness to marital infidelity.[17] Prostitutes get paid, but wanton Jerusalem pays her lovers, referring to alliances with Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. Verses 20-21 describe horrendous unfaithfulness: infant sacrifice in the Hinnom Valley, the only reference to this practice.[18]

Wronged husband Yahweh, verses 35-43, shames unfaithful Jerusalem publicly. Israel’s lovers will mete out judgment—adding further shame, showing they never loved her. She ceases prostitution by force, not from repentantance. God’s anger will subside, with “no hint that God will again turn to Israel. Israel is an episode in the divine dealing with humankind that now belongs to the past, with no intimation of any other episodes to come.”[19]

III. Synthesis of the Passage

In this poignant allegory, God confronts Jerusalem and thereby, all Israel. Described as an unwanted, uncared for baby, God noticed her, cleaned, clothed, and loved her, provided what her parents did not. At maturity, God wedded her giving his … solemn oath … enter[ing] into…covenant with [her]… [she] became [his]” (Ezek 16:8b), explaining the spousal metaphor. The bride was unfaithful with other gods and nations, breaking the covenant, heaping punishment upon herself at her lovers’ hands.

IV. Application

God’s rescuing and choosing of one unwanted parallels God’s choosing and calling us. Where others see insignificance, God sees his “chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Col 3:12a). Riches (clothing etc.) bestowed were gifts from her husband, “the result of …unsolicited and unanticipated benefaction”[20] as are God’s riches of his love, grace, and salvation (Eph 2:7). Prideful, we sometimes seek other lovers, wanting that which only the Beloved can provide.



[1] Joseph Blenkinsopp, Ezekiel, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, ed. Patrick D. Miller (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 76.

[2] Gordon McConville, A Guide to the Prophets, Exploring the Old Testament, vol. 4 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 91.

[3] Blenkinsopp, 76.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Robert R. Wilson, Ezekiel, The HarperCollins Bible Commentary, ed. James L. Mays (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 603.

[7] Blenkinsopp, 77.

[8] Wilson, 603.

[9] Vawter and Hoppe, 93.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Blenkinsopp, 78.

[14] Vawter and Hoppe, 93.

[15] Wilson, 603.

[16] Vawter and Hoppe, 94.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 95.

[20] Blenkinsopp, 78


Bibliography

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Ezekiel. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and

Preaching. Ed. Patrick D. Miller, Jr. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

McConville, Gordon. A Guide to the Prophets. Exploring the Old Testament. Vol. 4.

Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

The Bible. New International Version.

Vawter, Bruce and Hoppe, Leslie J. A New Heart: A Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel.

International Theological Commentary. Ed. Fredrick Carlson Holmgren and

George A. F. Knight. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991.

Wilson, Robert R. Ezekiel. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Ed. James L. Mays.

San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.


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