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God’s Faithless Bride


The word of the L ord came to me: 2Mortal, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3and say, Thus says the Lord G od to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite. 4As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in cloths. 5No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you out of compassion for you; but you were thrown out in the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.

6 I passed by you, and saw you flailing about in your blood. As you lay in your blood, I said to you, “Live! 7and grow up like a plant of the field.” You grew up and became tall and arrived at full womanhood; your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.

8 I passed by you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love. I spread the edge of my cloak over you, and covered your nakedness: I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord G od, and you became mine. 9Then I bathed you with water and washed off the blood from you, and anointed you with oil. 10I clothed you with embroidered cloth and with sandals of fine leather; I bound you in fine linen and covered you with rich fabric. 11I adorned you with ornaments: I put bracelets on your arms, a chain on your neck, 12a ring on your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. 13You were adorned with gold and silver, while your clothing was of fine linen, rich fabric, and embroidered cloth. You had choice flour and honey and oil for food. You grew exceedingly beautiful, fit to be a queen. 14Your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of my splendor that I had bestowed on you, says the Lord G od.

15 But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. 16You took some of your garments, and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore; nothing like this has ever been or ever shall be. 17You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and my silver that I had given you, and made for yourself male images, and with them played the whore; 18and you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. 19Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with choice flour and oil and honey—you set it before them as a pleasing odor; and so it was, says the Lord G od. 20You took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. As if your whorings were not enough! 21You slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering to them. 22And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, flailing about in your blood.

23 After all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! says the Lord G od), 24you built yourself a platform and made yourself a lofty place in every square; 25at the head of every street you built your lofty place and prostituted your beauty, offering yourself to every passer-by, and multiplying your whoring. 26You played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger. 27Therefore I stretched out my hand against you, reduced your rations, and gave you up to the will of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. 28You played the whore with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. 29You multiplied your whoring with Chaldea, the land of merchants; and even with this you were not satisfied.

30 How sick is your heart, says the Lord G od, that you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen whore; 31building your platform at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square! Yet you were not like a whore, because you scorned payment. 32Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! 33Gifts are given to all whores; but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from all around for your whorings. 34So you were different from other women in your whorings: no one solicited you to play the whore; and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; you were different.

35 Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the L ord: 36Thus says the Lord G od, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whoring with your lovers, and because of all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37therefore, I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated; I will gather them against you from all around, and will uncover your nakedness to them, so that they may see all your nakedness. 38I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy. 39I will deliver you into their hands, and they shall throw down your platform and break down your lofty places; they shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful objects and leave you naked and bare. 40They shall bring up a mob against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41They shall burn your houses and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; I will stop you from playing the whore, and you shall also make no more payments. 42So 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. 43Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things; therefore, I have returned your deeds upon your head, says the Lord G od.

Have you not committed lewdness beyond all your abominations? 44See, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you, “Like mother, like daughter.” 45You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and her children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. 46Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. 47You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. 48As I live, says the Lord G od, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 51Samaria has not committed half your sins; you have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed. 52Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have brought about for your sisters a more favorable judgment; because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.

53 I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes along with theirs, 54in order that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done, becoming a consolation to them. 55As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former state, Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former state, and you and your daughters shall return to your former state. 56Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride, 57before your wickedness was uncovered? Now you are a mockery to the daughters of Aram and all her neighbors, and to the daughters of the Philistines, those all around who despise you. 58You must bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the L ord.

An Everlasting Covenant

59 Yes, thus says the Lord G od: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath, breaking the covenant; 60yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. 61Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of my covenant with you. 62I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the L ord, 63in order that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord G od.

The Prophet here confirms his former teaching, namely, that although the Jews rendered God’s covenant vain as far as they possibly could, yet it should be firm and fixed. But we must hold what I have mentioned, that this discourse is specially limited to the elect, because the safety of the whole people was already desperate. Hence God shows that the covenant which he had made with Abraham could not be abolished by the, perfidy of man. And this is what Paul says in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 3:4,) Even if the whole world were liars, yet God must always remain true. But we see that the covenant of which we are now teaching was new, and yet had its origin from the old, because we are so reconciled to God by Christ that we ought to be grafted into the body of the ancient Church, and be made sons of Abraham, since, as we saw before, he is not called the father of the faithful in vain. God says, therefore, that his own covenant should be firm with the people, not with that people which had been already deserted through its perfidy, but with the true and genuine children of Abraham, who followed their father in faith and piety, as it is said in the 102d Psalm, (Psalm 102:18,) A people shall be created to the praise of God. For the Prophet now shows that God’s covenant could not be otherwise constituted afresh unless a new Church were formed, and God was to create a new world: for this is the meaning of the words, A people when created shall praise God. The Spirit, therefore, obliquely reproves the Israelites, as if he had said that the praises of God were abolished among them: but when the new people shall come forth, then God should be glorified. He adds, and you shall know that I am Jehovah. This phrase is often repeated, but in a different sense. For when a prophet threatened the people, he always added this particle, and thus a contrast must be understood between the people’s stupidity and good sense; for all their prophecies were neglected by the people. God’s servants indeed uttered their voice, and severely blamed the impious and wicked, but without any effect. Since, therefore, they so wantonly played with reproaches and threats, it was often said to them, You shall begin to feel me to be God when I shall cease to speak to you, and shall instruct you by scourges. But now the Prophet, as we see, preaches concerning the gratuitous reconciliation of the people with God. Hence they really felt him to be God, because he stood firm to his promises, although, through the fault of man, his covenant had fallen to pieces and become invalid. The Prophet here announces that they should feel God to be unlike themselves, that is, not to change his counsels, or to vary with the levity and inconstancy of men: as also it is said in Isaiah, My thoughts are not as your thoughts: as far as the heavens are distant from the earth, so are my thoughts distant from yours, and my ways from your ways. (Isaiah 55:8,9.) God here means that the Jews acted wrong in estimating his pity by their own common sense: for he says that he differed very much from them, since his pity was unfathomable, and his truth incomprehensible.

Now, therefore, we understand what the Prophet means in this verse. In the first clause he pronounces, that the covenant which God would make with his new and elect people should be firm: then he adds, that the Jews should know that they were dealing with God, because they could not take away what God was then promising. Now we can understand the reason why God’s covenant in Christ was perpetual: because, as we read in Jeremiah, he inscribed his law on the hearts of the righteous, and remitted their iniquities. (Jeremiah 31:33.) This, then, was the cause of its perpetuity. Besides, although the Prophet magnifies God’s grace in the second clause, yet at the same time he recalls the Jews from every perverse imagination which might entirely shake their confidence. For when they thought themselves plunged in an abyss, they were ready to collect that there was no further remedy. But if God wished to preserve them, why did he not send them help in time? But when he suffered them to be led into exile, and to be plunged into the lowest depths, there was no hope of restoration. For this cause Ezekiel announces that the faithful ought not to persist in their own thoughts, but rather to raise their minds to heaven, and to expect what seemed altogether out of place, since they thought to judge according to the nature of God, and to measure the effects of his promises by the immensity of his power rather than by their own perceptions.

Ezekiel again exhorts the faithful to repentance and constant meditation. We have said that these members cannot be divided, namely, the testimony of grace with the doctrine of repentance: we have said, also, that this is the substance of the gospel, that God wishes those to repent whom he reconciles by gratuitous pardon. For he is appeased by us only when he makes us new creatures in Christ, and regenerates us by his Spirit; as it is said in Isaiah, God will be propitious to the people who shall have returned from their iniquity. (Isaiah 59:20.) That promise is restricted to those who do not indulge and revel in sin, but humble themselves before God, and decide their own salvation to be impossible without their being severe judges to their own condemnation. Therefore Ezekiel follows up this point when he says that you may remember and be ashamed. I have said that penitence is not only to be commended here, but the continual desire for it. And this must be remarked, because it is troublesome to us to be often shaking off our sins; and hence we escape as far as we can from the perception of them: for we desire our own enjoyment, and every one willingly puts his sins out of sight. Surely if we do look upon them, they first compel us to be ashamed, and then we are wounded with serious grief; conscience summons us to God’s tribunal: we then acknowledge the formidable vengeance which slays even the boldest, unless they are upheld by the assurance of pardon. Since, then, the acknowledgment of sins brings us both shame and sorrow, we endeavor to put it far away from us by all means. But no other way of access to embracing God’s favor is open to us, except that of repentance of sins. This, then, is the reason why God insists so much on this point: we do not follow him directly; hence it is not sufficient to show us what ought to be done, unless God pricks us sharply, and violently draws us to himself. This passage, then, must be remarked where the Prophet commands the faithful, after they have obtained pardon, to remember their sins, for hypocrites are here distinguished from the true sons of God. Hypocrites boast with swelling words, that they rely on the mercy of God, and speak mightily of the grace of Christ, but meanwhile they wish the memory of their sins to remain buried. On the other hand, we cannot be otherwise truly humble before God, unless we judge ourselves, as I have said. If we desire, therefore, our sins to be blotted out before God, and to be buried in the depths of the sea, as another Prophet says, (Micah 7:19,) we must recall them often and constantly to our remembrance: for when they are kept before our eyes we then flee seriously to God for mercy, and are properly prepared by humility and fear.

The Prophet adds also, that you may be ashamed: for it is not sufficient simply to remember, unless we add the shame of which the Prophet speaks. For we see that many remember their faults and confess their sins, but they do it lightly, and as a matter of duty; nay, they acknowledge them so as to remain in their integrity, and, as they say, to preserve their credit. But the recognition here required is accompanied by shame, as Paul, when addressing the faithful, puts before them their past life thus:

“What fruit could you gather from that course of life.”
(Romans 6:19-21.)

You blush now in truth when so many crimes are heaped upon you: you were then blind, and wandered in darkness: but when God shone upon you by the gospel, you acknowledge your baseness and foulness, from which shame is produced. He now adds, neither may thou open thy mouth any more. It is not surprising if the Prophet uses many words in explaining one thing which is not obscure in itself. But I have already shown why he does so, because we are with the greatest difficulty led on to that shame which the Prophet mentions. We condemn ourselves indeed verbally at once; but scarcely one in a hundred can be found so to cast himself down as to sustain willingly the reproach which he deserves. Since then voluntary submission is not found in man, it is necessary that we should be impelled more hardly and sharply, as the Prophet does here. When he says, there shall be no opening of the mouth, he means, that no partial confession of sins shall be exacted by which men bear witness, and acknowledge themselves liable to God’s judgment; but a full and entire confession, so that they may be held convicted on all sides. And this must be diligently noticed. For we see that the world is always endeavoring to escape God’s sentence by turning away from it; and since it cannot do this completely, it invents subterfuges, so as to retain some portion of its innocence.

Hence the fiction among the papists of partial justification: hence also their satisfactions; for they are compelled, whether they wish it or not, to confess themselves worthy of death: but afterwards they use the exception, that they have merited something before from God through their good works, and are not altogether worthy of condemnation: then they descend to compensations, and wish to treat with God, as if they could appease him by what they call works of supererogation. Whatever be the sense, men can scarcely be found who sincerely and honestly acknowledge that there exists in themselves nothing but material for condemnation. We confess, as I have said, that we are guilty before God, but only for one or two faults. What then does the Holy Spirit here prescribe? that there should be no opening of the mouth; as also Paul says, adopting his form of speech from this and similar passages. It is often said in the Prophets, Let all flesh be silent before God, (Zechariah 2:13;) but here the Prophet speaks specially of the shame by which God’s children lie so confused, that they are altogether silent. Paul also says, that every mouth may be shut, and all flesh humbled before God. (Romans 3:19.) He afterwards shows that Jews as well as Gentiles were involved in the same condemnation, and that there was no hope of safety left except through God’s mercy: he then adds, that God’s justice truly shines forth when our mouth is stopped, that is, when we do not turn aside and offer any excuses, as hypocrites divide the merit between God and themselves. I indeed confess that I have sinned; but why may not my good works come into the account? why should I be condemned for one fault only? as if those who violate law do not depart from righteousness. We see, then, that we are properly humbled when we are silent and do not reproach God, when we do not quibble or allege first one thing and then another to extenuate or excuse our fault. God indeed wishes our mouth to be open; as Peter says, that we are called out of darkness into marvelous light, to show forth his praises who delivered us. (1 Peter 2:9.) For this purpose, then, God was merciful to us, that we might be heralds of his grace. And in this sense, also, David says, Lord, open you my lips, and my mouth shall declare thy praise; that is, by giving me material for a song, as he elsewhere says, He has put a new song into my mouth. (Psalm 51:15; Psalm 40:3.) God, therefore, opens the mouths or lips of the faithful whenever he is liberal or beneficent towards them. But he is here treating of the exceptions of those who would willingly transact business with God, as if they were not wholly worthy of condemnation. In fine, Ezekiel signifies that this is the true fruit of penitence when we do not defend ourselves, but silently confess ourselves convicted. A passage of Paul’s may possibly be objected as apparently contrary to this of our Prophet, in which he reckons defense among the effects or fruits of penitence, (2 Corinthians 7:11;) but defense is not here used in our customary sense: for any one who asserts that he has acted rightly, and so without fault is said to defend himself. But a defense in Paul’s sense is nothing else but a prayer against punishment when a sinner comes forward, and after confessing his fault, begs of God to pardon it, and, as it were, covers himself with mercy, so that his condemnation is nowhere apparent. We see, then, that the language of Paul is not in opposition to that of the Prophet.

He now adds, from thy disgrace, verbally from the face of thy disgrace, when I shall be propitious to thee. We again see that these things agree well together, that God buries our sins and we recall them to memory. For we turn aside his judgment when we willingly accuse and condemn ourselves. For when conscience is asleep, it nourishes a hidden fire, which at length emerges into a flame and lights up God’s wrath. If, therefore, we desire the fire of God’s wrath to be extinguished, there is no other remedy than to shake off our sins and to set before our eyes the disgrace which we deserve, and God’s mercy induces us to this. For we must remark the connection, when I shall be propitious to thee, you shall be silent in thy disgrace. And surely the more any one has tasted of the grace of God, the more ready he is to condemn himself, and as unbelief is proud, so the more any one proceeds in the faith of God’s grace, he is thus humbled more and more before him. And that is best expressed in the words of the Prophet, since he teaches that silence is the effect of grace or of gratuitous reconciliation. When therefore he says, I shall have been propitious to thee, then you shall blush that thou may be mute, namely, on account of thy disgrace. And we see that the people were so taught by legal ceremonies to apprehend the mercy of God, and to be touched at the same time with the serious affection of penitence; for without a victim, God was never appeased under the law. And now although animals are not sacrificed, yet when we consider that no other price was sufficient to satisfy God, except his only-begotten Son poured forth his blood in expiation, there matter is set before us for embracing the grace of God, and at the same time we are touched, as the saying is, with the true affection of penitence. Besides, God amplifies the magnitude of his grace when he says לכל אשר עשית, lekel asher gnesith, on account of all things which, you have done. For the people thought not only to feel God merciful, but to examine their faults, and then to feel how manifold and remarkable was God’s mercy towards them. For if the people had only been guilty of one kind of sin, they would have valued God’s grace the less: but when they had been convicted of so many crimes, as we have seen, hence the magnitude of his grace became more apparent. 154154     In commenting on this chapter, Calvin takes occasion to explain the gospel doctrines of justification, faith, and repentance, and refers to the adverse fictions of the papacy. This interesting subject is fully treated by Bishop Davenant in his Disputatio de justitia habituali et actuali, delivered when professor of divinity at the University of Cambridge (1631). The English translation by the Revelation Josiah Allport, 1844, is a most valuable work, and treats largely on this and all collateral subjects. His “Determinationes,” edit. 1634 and 1639, may also be consulted: with Penrose on the Atonement, 1843; and St. Bernard’s Sermon on Isaiah 6:1, 2. Oecolampadius, on Ezekiel 16:55, is copious, spiritual, and practical; and Maldonatus gives the sense of the Hebrew remarkably well and with great consistency, though he adds no practical comments. Theodoret and Jerome are both very explanatory, especially on Ezekiel 16:45. See Dissertations at the end of this volume. Let us now go on.

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