Ezekiel 21-23

Good morning! Today’s passage (Ezekiel 21-23) heavily inveighs against Judah for a long list of sins and wrongdoings committed contrary to God’s law. Some of these are moral flaws, but others are ritual failures, which Ezekiel is somewhat unique among the prophets for pointing out. Priests have colluded with sinful kings and everyday people to bless misbehavior. They have failed to uphold rituals, “made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my sabbaths” (22:26). Because of these and many other sins, Ezekiel declares in chapter 21 that God’s sword is preparing to wipe out every living thing in Judah. Think of this as an ancient form of the “doomsday clock” updated regularly by atomic scientists to show how close nuclear weapons and other threats are to wiping out human life on earth.

The part of this section of Ezekiel which I find most arresting, though, is chapter 23. Again the prophet plays in the world of metaphors, this time so thinly veiled that Ezekiel even tells us who they represent. These two sisters are Israel and Judah, and Ezekiel gives lewd, practically X-rated descriptions of their unfaithfulness to God. In retelling how Israel has fallen—and Judah will soon fall—to foreign invaders, Ezekiel gives the impression that the attacking armies have found willing subjects before they even engage in battle. The metaphor suggests that Israel had already incorporated parts of Assyrian culture before the Assyrians took them over. Had Judah actually reached out to Babylon and invited them in, desiring to be taken over? I’m not sure whether these details connect to any facts on the ground. All history is a version of the truth, but this seems like a particularly creative version.

As a consequence of its infidelity, Ezekiel threatens an orgy of violence against Judah. Chapter 23 carries heavy misogynist overtones, blaming Judah for the coming punishment. It sounds all too similar to ways that our society tends to blame women for making bad choices if they’re raped at a frat party or wearing a mini-skirt, for instance. This is not to say that Judah is blameless (every person and community has its flaws), but I struggle to believe that any entire group of people deserves the cultural collapse that comes with occupation and genocide. The chapter turns into a morality tale at the end, suggesting that “all women may take warning” from what happens to Judah. Adding the implicit threat turns this into a form of social control long after what will or will not happen to Judah, applying it to all women everywhere.

I’m not sure I can find anything redeeming in Ezekiel 23, but perhaps you can. I welcome your thoughts, as always. Happy reading!

Read Ezekiel 21-23.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Ezekiel 24-26. Thanks for reading!

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