“And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born.” — Ezekiel 16:4-5
Several years ago, I heard about a pastor and his wife in South Korea who have been taking care of abandoned babies since 2009, saving the lives of over 1,500 newborns and adopting nineteen of them.
Their story began in 1987 when Pastor Jong-rak Lee and his wife, Chun-ja, became parents to a disabled son. Eun-man was born with cerebral palsy and a cyst on his left cheek that cut off blood flow to his brain, causing permanent damage. Though bedridden his entire life (he passed away in 2019), Eun-man was instrumental in inspiring a mission that has saved the lives of many babies.
“Through Eun-man, I learned about the dignity of a valuable life,” Pastor Lee said. Concerned about the problem of child abandonment, especially of children with disabilities, he decided to do all he could to rescue and care for these babies just as he cared for his own son. One day, he saw a news article describing a baby box for abandoned infants in the Czech Republic. Lee immediately copied the idea and installed a hinged hatch in the wall of his home bearing the words, “Jesus loves you.” The hatch opens to a small heated and blanket-lined area where babies can be safely placed. The snug box is also accessible from inside the home. When the hatch is opened from the outside, a bell rings inside, and the pastor or one of the staff members who now assists him immediately goes to receive the baby.
The Lee home also serves as their church, and now as an orphanage named Jusarang, meaning “God’s Love.” In 2014, the couple’s life-saving work was the subject of an award-winning documentary entitled “The Drop Box.” In the documentary, Lee tells about one little girl he and his wife loved dearly. Baby Hannah was born to a fourteen-year-old mother who drank and did drugs while pregnant. As a result, the infant had irreversible brain damage and doctors thought she would die almost immediately, but she lived for six years in the Lees’ care. When Hannah passed away, the couple was heartbroken. Lee vowed then that he would never turn away any child with disabilities, promising God, “I will die for these children.”
Pastor Lee’s love for abandoned children could be paralleled to God’s love for Israel. In our focus verses, Ezekiel was instructed by God to compare the people of Jerusalem to an abandoned baby. The people’s chance for survival as a nation in Egypt was as slight as that of a baby forsaken by his or her mother. However, God nurtured and protected them from annihilation, and provided for their every need.
Sadly, our text continues by giving a shocking description of how Judah had turned away from God and gone into idolatry, in spite of the unusual blessings God had given them and the covenant relationship He had entered into with the people. Instead of appreciating their privileges, their wickedness and apostasy was so great that Ezekiel was led by God to compare it to fornication, prostitution, and adultery of the most vile nature.
As individuals under the new covenant, we have been blessed with even more through Jesus Christ than the people of Ezekiel’s day had under the old covenant. Every aspect of God’s provision for His people back then — washing, anointing, clothing, teaching, providing, adorning, and so forth — is provided for us in greater measure. How should we respond to God’s amazing gifts to us? Let us learn a lesson from the failure of Israel, and guard against being faithless and unbelieving. We want to treasure our position and privileges in Christ. We are more than merely accepted and forgiven, we are beloved! We are the sons and daughters of God! In devotion and appreciation to Him, let us determine that by His help and grace, we will remain faithful.
This text is one of the strongest denunciations of Israel’s sin found in the entire Bible. In it, Jerusalem was likened to a cast-off infant who was taken up and raised by God (verses 1-7). When grown, the baby was united with God in spiritual marriage (verses 8-14) but was unfaithful (verses 15-34).
Though addressed to Jerusalem, the message included Judah and the whole of Israel. The first part of the allegory portrays God taking Israel to Himself. In verse 3, “birth” speaks to origin and “nativity” to identified family. When Israel came into the Promised Land in the days of Joshua, the territory was occupied by Canaanite tribes such as the Amorites and the Hittites. God said that Israel had closer kinship with these pagan tribesmen — the most ungodly of the Canaanite tribes — than with God. In her newborn state, Israel was abandoned so completely that the umbilical cord was not even cut. She was left unclean and was not dried with the traditional rubbing with salt — a practice that signified dedication to God. In verse 5, the phrase “none eye pitied thee” indicates that all other nations were against her from the beginning. The phrase “cast out in the open field” refers to a method of infanticide, especially of female infants. The repeated reference to blood in verse 6 highlights God’s willingness to overlook that which repelled Him in order to nurture and save the abandoned child. “Multiply” in verse 7 refers to the growth experienced by Israel under the nurturing care of God.
Verses 8-14 portray God’s covenant with Israel, using the analogy of marriage to show His relationship to the nation. (This was the covenant made between God and Israel at Mount Sinai in Exodus 24:7-8.) The abandoned baby had grown into a young woman, but she was still needy. God gave her protection and provision in the marriage union, represented by the spreading of the skirt and covering of nakedness in verse 8. Israel was fully redeemed from her past bondage in Egypt and was united in a covenantal relationship with God, indicated by the words “and thou becamest mine.” Verse 9 illustrates that as a bride prepares herself for her wedding by washing, moisturizing, and perfuming herself, so the Lord cleansed Israel from impurities and anointed her for their union.
The costly clothing and jewelry mentioned in verses 10-13 represent God’s giving Israel all resources and capabilities for His glory. “Fine flour” is a figurative way of saying that God had richly provided for Israel’s every need. The allegory ends in verse 13 with the phrase, “Thou didst prosper into a kingdom,” meaning that Israel had obtained royal sovereignty. Verse 14 indicates that the fame of Israel had spread among the nations (“heathen”) because of God’s adorning with both physical blessings and His presence and glory.
In verses 15-22, Israel was condemned for behaving like a harlot, and verses 23-34 compare her actions to prostitution and adultery. God’s statements to Ezekiel were harsh and explicit, underscoring His abhorrence of idolatry. Israel had given to the idols of pagan nations all that she had received from God in the marriage covenant — her costly apparel, her gold and silver, her delicacies, and even her children.
“Eminent place” and “in every street” in verse 24 allude to the fact that places of spiritual fornication and adultery were commonly available at street corners and crossroads. Verses 26-29 reveal that increased idolatry and illicit relationships with multiple pagan nations accelerated Israel’s political and religious apostasy. “Diminished thine ordinary food” in verse 27 refers to the removal of God’s blessing of provision even for basic needs, such as food. In spite of all she had received, Israel’s heart languished with unmet desire. “Hire” in verse 31 refers specifically to payment for illicit sexual services. The implication was that while common prostitutes gave themselves up for fees, Israel was prostituting herself and was actually using her bridal gifts to pay her clients.
II. The condemnation of Judah and Jerusalem
C. The cause of Judah’s destruction
3. Parables of Judah’s condemnation
b. The parable of Israel’s unfaithfulness
(1) The origin and state of Israel (16:1-5)
(2) The compassion of the Lord (16:6-7)
(3) The marriage to the Lord (16:8-14)
(4) The adultery of Israel (16:15-34)
Let us learn from the failure of Israel and treasure our privileges as the children of God.