For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses. – Ezekiel 23:20
Meaning of Ezekiel 23:20
The verse Ezekiel 23:20 is written in metaphorical expressions and told by Ezekial to the kingdom of Judah as guided by God. Chapter 23, especially verse 20, highlights the kingdom of Judah’s association with sin and its relationship with the kingdoms of Assyria and Egypt. This alliance was against God’s commandments, as He considered it to be adultery. Hence, God, while speaking to prophets, compares their alliance to prostitution and promises to deliver them to their enemies as a judgment. The verse having a lewd description does not have a direct meaning. The readers are encouraged to use metaphorical references of two sisters: Oholah is the city of Samaria, and Oholibah is the city of Jerusalem. Also, the horses or asses are referred to as the powerful forces as well as the military of the kingdoms of Egypt and Assyria.
Interpretations of Ezekiel 23:20
As Ezekiel 23:20 is one of the lesser-read and taught verses and is metaphorical. A few interpretations of the verse are given below.
Interpretation #1 God is possessive about His people
According to this interpretation, the reader understands that God is jealous, as repeated in the Old Testament. As per the verse, God is disgusted by the people of Samaria and Jerusalem, who seek help from Egyptians and Assyrians instead of coming to God. God hated idol worship and commanded His children to have complete trust in Him. However, there are many instances where the Israelites and Samarians mingled with other religious groups or kingdoms, making God angry. Christians conclude that God was pronouncing curses and expressing His anger for their disobedience out of jealousy.
Interpretation #2 Alliance with Egypt triggered God’s anger
In this interpretation, the reader refers to the journey of Exodus, where God brought all the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. As God had delivered them from the oppressive rule of the Pharoah, also known as Ramses II, going to back the oppressive regime is compared to adultery. Also, willingly compromising God’s commandment by associating with the enemy. Hence, the priests compare both incidents to warn the believers not to associate with the enemies and unbelievers, as well as go back to their past lives in order to have a good relationship with God and avoid His anger.
Interpretation #3 God was pointing out the Israelite’s unfaithfulness
The most accepted version among Christians is that God expects His followers or believers to be obedient. While He doesn’t want His children to look back at the past, He expected Israelites to remember their ancestor’s deliverance from Egypt which happened nearly nine centuries after the time of Ezekiel, the prophet. Also, since many generations had passed, the Israelites ignored their past in spite of remembering the events. However, God is angry as they begin to compromise and passes the same message through Ezekiel.
Interpretation #4 The lewdness was required to draw attention
In this final interpretation, the reader concentrates on the language more than the historical context or the metaphorical statements of comparing two women to Samaria and Jerusalem. Ezekiel, the prophet, uses crude words to describe the alliance of Samaria and Jerusalem with Egypt and Assyrians as two women who were brides before but they were now being prostitutes and selling themselves to slavery. He or she understands that God hated the weakness of the Israelites so much that He chose to use gross imagery along with a metaphorical description to highlight their disgrace and their idol worship.
Historical background of Ezekiel 23:20
The book of Ezekiel was written between 592 – 570 BC. Chapter 23 is specially written to highlight the actions of Israelites from the eleven tribes and the capital cities Samaria and Jerusalem. Ezekiel uses lascivious descriptions using the illustration of two sisters and their sinful choices. Harsher punishment is pronounced over Jerusalem than Samaria. The verse Ezekiel 23:20 especially talks about the city of Jerusalem, which ran after the idolaters and defiled herself. This is a spiritual illustration and imagery of two kingdoms chosen by God, going away from their roots and inviting curses upon themselves.
Literary Devices of Ezekiel 23:20
Ezekiel Chapter 23 is not commonly used in churches. Hence remains unknown to most Christians. A few literary devices used in Ezekiel 23:20 are given below.
Imagery – The verse uses extensive and lewd imagery to describe a woman doing an illicit act with a male whose body parts are compared to a donkey and a horse.
Metaphor – The verse is also a good example of metaphor as the prophet Ezekiel compares make body parts with a donkey’s flesh.
Consonance – The verse uses repeated consonant sounds, and few are in quick succession. For example, the sound of /r/, the sound of /s/, and the sound of /sh/ in ‘For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.’
Assonance – The verse also has a few vowel sounds in repetition, and a few vowels are in quick succession. For example, the sound of /o/, the sound of /e/, and the sound of /oo/ in ‘For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.’
Theme – The major themes of the verses Ezekiel 23:20 are judgment, idolatry, and adultery. The minor themes include warning and prophecy.