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Ezekiel 16- A Sermon

Updated: Oct 14, 2023

A sermon preached at St George's Chruch, Leeds on 22nd July 2018. Audio

Have your ever tried reading the Old Testament from cover to cover? If you have I wouldn’t be surprised it you found it at times difficult.

The the laws and regulations of Leviticus appear to us strange and the dizzy heights of apocalyptic visions of the back end of the book of Daniel are confusing to say the least. Readers sometimes feel they are wading through treacle when they hit the seeming endless genealogies of Chronicles or overwhelmed with emotion at the violence, both human and divine, that is displayed in what some call the ‘texts of terror’.

When I teach Old Testament at St Hild I tell students that the Old testament is not written to us but for us. It’s like we are reading someone else mail. And the original author and readership, inhabitants of the ancient near east, were from a culture very different than ours so it not surprising that we find these texts at times but difficult and strange.

However, these texts are for us today.

In them we find the the back story of God’s work in the world, we gain insight into the complexity of the human condition and most importantly we discover the God who has revealed himself in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Over the next two weeks we are going to be looking at two strange and shocking passages from the the prophet Ezekiel. Each of the sermons will have extended reading of scripture which focus on two of the major themes and narrative turning points of the bible.

Exile: Gods people are exiled are sent away from the land. The Babylonian Empire is on the move and surrounds, takes over and eventually brings destruction to Jerusalem and the Temple. Its from this place that Boney M sang the words ‘By the rivers of Babylon, their we wept when we remembered Zion’.

Return from Exile. God’s people in Exile in Babylon return to the land and rebuild the Temple.

So in order to appreciate these prophetic oracles as it was first spoken I want us to use our historical imaginations to place us back there in the culture and the context in which our passage was first spoken. Once I have set the scene I will read to you from Ezekiel Chapter 16. When Ezekiel spoke these words I don’t imagine that he spoke from a lectern in an anglican way so my reader will seek to embody the emotion of the passage, using music and drama, to bring this ancient text to life.

I want us to imagine ourselves in a market place in a refugee camp by the Chebar River, in Babylonia. We are part of the 8,000-10,000 individuals who had been deported from Jerusalem and sent to Babylonia.

Here we we are exiled away from the Jerusalem, from Judah and the Temple. We are the elite in exile ….nobles, artisans and priests. (the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple hasn’t yet happened )

We have heard that the young man Ezekiel, a so called prophet, has a message from YHWH the God of Israel, to share with us.

Over here we have the nobles, the educated elite, who have come to hear what this prophet Ezekiel has to say. You are biding your time, you have forgotten your identity as the children of Abraham and you continue to play the power games of empire Yes, you suppose God is a little angry with you, yes you oppressed the poor, but no big deal you believe that you will soon be back in the land and your lives back on track.

Over here are the priests who long to return to the Jerusalem to worship at the temple of YHWH. You believe that Babylon isn’t that bad, that God is not really angry at you and that very soon we will be back in the land. And like your counterparts in Jerusalem you worship YHWH on the sabbath, you perhaps have sacrifices presented for you in the temple of Jerusalem, But you are also known as those who in various times and places bow the knee to foreign pagan gods. Furthermore, you also those who turn a blind eye to those who have been burning their children as sacrifices to false Gods.

Over here are the artisans and artists. You are going to make the most of it here in Babylonia and you look forward to the future with hope. You hope that this alliance with Babylon will bring material gain and new opportunities for business. However, you have forgotten where you have come from that YHWH has called you, has loved you, has chosen you to be a light to the world and a blessing to the nations.

And then the Prophet Ezekiel, the one who speaks to the nobles, artists and priests without fear because he has first spent time in the presence of YHWH, opens his mouth. (10 mins-Music Sad Classical Playlist)

16 The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices 3and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem:

Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.

4On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths.

5No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.

6“ ‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” 7I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.

8“ ‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.

9“ ‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. 10I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments.

11I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, 12and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.

14And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.

15“ ‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.

16You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution.

You went to him, and he possessed your beauty.

17You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them.

18And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. 19Also the food I provided for you—the flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat—you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign Lord.

20“ ‘And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? 21You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols. 22In all your detestable practices and your prostitution, you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood.

30“ ‘I am filled with fury against you, declares the Sovereign Lord, when you do all these things, acting like a brazen prostitute! 31 When you built your mounds at every street corner and made your lofty shrines in every public square, you were unlike a prostitute because you scorned payment.

32“ ‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! ….

35“ ‘Therefore, you prostitute, hear the word of the Lord! 36This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because you poured out your lust and exposed your nakedness in your promiscuity with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols, and because you gave them your children’s blood, 37therefore… I will deliver you into the hands of your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you naked and bare.

40They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. 41They will burn down your houses and inflict punishment on you ….I will put a stop to your prostitution,…… you did not remember the days of your youth but enraged me with all these things, I will surely bring down on your head what you have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.

60Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. …. I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. 63Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done…you will remember.. declares the Sovereign Lord.’ ”

[Take a few minutes to chat to your neighbour about the impact of this passage].

Passion of YHWH: (4 mins or less)

In this passage the Ancient hearers come face to face with a God who is passionate and burns with a furious and zealous love.

This is not the God of philosophical speculation a God who can be described as an unmoved mover or absent landlord, but rather this is YHWH the covenant God who presents himself as a lover, intimately involved with passion and emotion with a people group who are objects of both his affection and anger.

As we heard this passage being read we see YHWH the lover

who has pursued his love,

lavished gifts on his love,

entered into covenant partnership and marriage with his love.

A God who burns with holy rage when he discovers that his love has other lovers.

And then with a broken heart he lets her go, but even then he turns and says he will remember the covenant he has made and, as the rest of the bible shows he goes out to pursue his love again to bring her home.

This message is for us today for The God and Father of of our Lord Jesus Christ is a lover, full of emotion and passion for his people.

YHWH a God who woos the rebel, loves the unlovable,

He is the God who goes after the lost sheep, and who welcomes the prodigal , a God who who promises to his people that even in their exile and the desert place there is hope.

YHWH is passionate lover that risks a broken heart, a passionate love that is played out over centuries and across the cosmos, a love that is willing to go through hell and high water so that the church, which includes broken sinners like me and you, can be in intimate union with him forever.

A love stronger than betrayal

stronger than the power of sin

a burning passionate furious love.

It is this love, through the Spirit, which was tugging at our hearts as scripture was being spoken, to call us afresh to repentance, fidelity and allegiance.

Perversity of Sin

In graphic language and with powerful metaphors this passage reminds us of the perversity of sin.

A perversity which causes people to forget the goodness of God,

to rebel against his grace

and to forsake his covenant embrace.

With the Ezekiel metaphor of marriage sin is portrayed as an act of prostittuion. The exiles had a history of YHWH covenant faithfulness (yet they could not remember), they had experience of his tender embrace and presence (yet they could not remember) and as Jeremiah says they forsook the fountain of living waters and preferred to drink from sewers.

This is also a message for us today in a culture which often makes light of sin and mocks the notion of purity

This is message for us today, to a western church culture which in various times and places has shared its bed with the mistresses of materialism, consumerism, nationalism and militarism.

This is a message for you and me whose hearts, like the people of old, are capable of following idols. We may not be tempted to bow down to idols of wood and stone, to Baal or Marduk, but we are capable of following counterfeit gods.

As Tim Keller writes

“An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.” –

The bible says All have sinned and fall short fo the glory of God, It is also true that I have sinned and fall short fo the Glory of God.

Without Jesus I am a sinner in need of a saviour,

I am a rebel in need of a pardon,

and a harlot in need of forgiveness.

As I was thinking about this sermon this week, I was reminded of the Eastern Orthodox prayer based on scripture. It’s called the Jesus prayer and involves simply repeating the prayer, often by slowing down your breathing or using prayer beads to rest the words.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a Sinner.

Problem of Violence (10 mins)

This passage though also raises to us the problem of violence for it seems on the surface level of the text that the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ has an issue with his temper which at times breaks out in fury and wrath in acts of physical violence against his people and the other nations.

In our reading we heard the words ‘

“I will deliver you into the hands of your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you naked and bare. They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. ”

This is a metaphor which at the surface level includes a threat of mob violence, sexual abuse (the adulterous lady is stripped) and is killed in the most horrific and humiliating way.

Walter Bruggeman the Old Testament scholar says that this is a

‘side of Yahweh not so often visible, a Yahweh who is out of control with the violent, sexual rage of a husband who assaults his own beloved….Yahweh’s massive act of destroying Jerusalem appears to be the work of a wronged lover who determines to humiliate, and finally to destroy, the erstwhile object of love. One might wish that this dimension of Yahweh had not been given us, that it had been expunged from the record. But there it is!’

Although a full discussion of this cannot be given i do want to mention three responses to this which we may find helpful.

Firstly, the prophet Ezekiel and the Old Testament in general is culturally conditioned and reflects the norms of an ancient world. God uses this culture, with its strengths and weaknesses, to communicate to his people. Violence was part of the mental furniture of the ancient worldview and uses this to deliver a message from YHWH to his people.

Moreover we must also note that Ezekiel, inspired by he Spirit, uses rhetoric, passion , threats of vioelence and shock tactics to highlight the depravity of his people, he aims to break through the hardness of their hearts, so that they might repent and turn away from the coming disaster. At times in life a quiet word is needed, at other times a rhetorically fuelled shout is necessary to warn of impending doom.

Secondly, this passage and other passage of violence in the old testament can be explained by what we may call redemptive withdrawel. Out of love God loves and protects his people. His arms are around them protecting them from the hostile nations in the world. However, his people rebel so pleads and begs with them to remain faithful to him.

[freestyle this section]

If you continue to act in this way I have no choice but to withdraw myself from you, in the hope that as you face the consequences of your behaviour you will change yours ways.

He warns them that if they continue down this path he will withdraw his presence and removes his hedge of protection from them. So that they face the consequences of their actions so that new possibilities can be opened.

Take someone in addiction, prepare food, bail them out, clean up their mess, rock botton, that they afce the consequences of their actions and in turn change their ways, get help and move forward with hope.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we need to hold the Old Testament and its portrayal of God to the Light of Christ.

The old testament is but a shadow compared to the full revelation fo God in Jesus. A shadow, reveals as well as conceals, the reality to which it relates.

So for a moment lets look to Jesus to see what God is like. As MIcheal Ramsey said ‘God is Christlike and in him there is no unChristlikeness at all’. Or as Jesus said ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

If we want to see clearly God’s attitude to violence then we need to look no further than Jesus who is, as Hebrews says ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature’

IN Jesus we see a God who is full of cruciform love who would rather die for his enemies than kill them.

IN Jesus we see a God who is full of self-giving love who would rather bless his enemies than curse them.

IN Jesus we see a God one who would rather say of those who killed him ‘father, forgive them’ than call down a myriad of angels to rescue him from there hands.

Jesus said love your enemies, he says to the woman caught in adultery ‘neither do I condemn you’.

It is this Jesus who weeps over Jerusalem knowing that war with Rome is just around the corner and says ‘ How I longed to gather you as chicks underneath my wings but you would not listen.’

He himself to bring an end to the exile of sin, and to deal with the perversity of sin and idolatry, takes the path of humiliation, whereby on the cross he is stripped, abused and dies a horrific and humiliating death so that the consequences, curse and punishment fall on him so that blessing and forgiveness surround and empower broken sinners to once more be the beautiful bride of YHWH.

As Ephesians says ‘Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a glorious church, without stain or wrinkle or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.’

We have covered a lot of ground in this sermon. Let me close with these words from

Revelation 19:6–9

Then I heard the sound of massed choirs, the sound of a mighty waterfall, the sound of strong thunder:


The Master reigns,

our God, the Sovereign-Strong!

Let us celebrate, let us rejoice,

let us give him the glory!

The Marriage of the Lamb has come;

his Wife has made herself ready.

She was given a bridal gown

of bright and shining linen.

The linen is the righteousness of the saints.

9 The Angel said to me, “Write this: ‘Blessed are those invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.’ ” He added, “These are the true words of God!”



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