“Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: . . . And the names of them were Aholah the elder, and Aholibah her sister: and they were mine, and they bare sons and daughters. Thus were their names; Samaria is Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah.” — Ezekiel 23:2, 4
Siblings can have an impact on one another, whether for good or for bad. A lady named Mary relates that when she and her younger sister were children, they visited various churches. In grade school, she asked one of her teachers who was a Christian what church he attended. He gave her a tract and told her the location of an Apostolic Faith Church in the area. She and her sister began attending services there, and before long her sister had prayed and received the experiences of salvation, sanctification, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Yet Mary was content to merely attend church, and she neglected to seek God.
When Mary’s sister was eighteen years old, she was struck by a car and suffered a severe brain injury. While she was hospitalized, Mary stayed with her, and many people prayed for her. Some came to visit, including the school teacher who had given them the invitation to church.
During one of the teacher’s visits, he told Mary that her sister’s condition was actually better than Mary’s because the sister was saved and ready to meet God, and Mary was not. That comment really impacted Mary because the injury had left her sister with almost no ability to function. God used the teacher’s words to draw Mary’s heart, and by her sister’s hospital bed, she prayed, confessing her sins and asking the Lord to be merciful to her. God made a change in Mary that was the turning point in her life.
Her sister passed away shortly after. That was a very sad time for Mary, but she came to understand that her sister had everything she needed from God, and was ready to go to Heaven. Mary learned a great lesson from her younger sister’s example.
In today’s text, God compared the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (Jerusalem) to sisters, and described how Judah followed in the sinful steps of Israel. He said that Judah should have learned from Israel’s example that God would punish rebellion and idolatry, but she failed to do so. What a contrast to individuals like Mary who learned a spiritually beneficial lesson from watching her sibling!
People often learn by example and are influenced by those around them. We want to learn lessons from others, whether they be siblings or associates, because it is much easier to learn by observation than by painful experience. In addition, we want others to be able to benefit from seeing our lives. People are watching each of us. The prayer of our hearts should be that they will be inspired to follow God by what they see in us.
This portion of chapter 23 is the first part of the conclusion of God’s message to Ezekiel that began in chapter 20, which presents reasons for God’s judgment upon Israel. The sins of the capital cities of Samaria (representing the Northern Kingdom of Israel) and Jerusalem (representing all of the Southern Kingdom of Judah) are described — specifically, their alliances with heathen nations such as Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. In verses 1-4, Samaria and Judah are characterized as adulterous sisters, referred to as Aholah (Samaria) and Aholibah (Jerusalem representing Judah). The harlotries of Samaria are described in verses 5-10, and those of Judah in verses 11-21. The coarse language of this chapter reflects God’s repugnance at their spiritual adulteries.
The sisters’ names were allegorical. Aholah means “her own tabernacle” and refers to Samaria creating its own worship center. Aholibah means “my tabernacle [is] in her,” as Jerusalem held the sanctuary of the Lord. God’s assertion in verse 4 that “they were mine” is a reference to the solemn covenant He had entered into with the people. However, even during their slavery in Egypt, the people had begun practicing idolatry and spiritual fornication (called “whoredoms” in verse 3).
Verses 5-10 record the spiritual harlotry of Samaria (Aholah). Desiring the strength of the Assyrian army, Samaria disdained God’s protection and made political alliances with the Assyrians, referred to as her “lovers” in verse 5. Political agreements of that region were often expressed in terms of an intimate relationship, and such a relationship required the adoption of the ally’s deities in joint worship. Samaria willingly prostituted herself in this manner, adding the full scope of Assyrian idolatry to the earlier idolatry she had practiced in Egypt (see Ezekiel 20:6-8). Since Samaria had forsaken His protection, God ordained that her punishment would come from the Assyrians, the very power with which she was infatuated. What had started as a relationship of mutual consent ended with Samaria’s conquest and captivity by Assyria.
Verses 11-21 reveal that instead of learning from the consequences that had befallen Samaria, Judah (Aholibah) committed even greater fornications. Judah also made political alliances with the Assyrians, and became enamored with Assyria’s gods and heathen practices (see 2 Kings 16:7-15). Judah was as adulterous as Israel, and her sins ultimately took her even further into idolatry.
Next, the splendor of Chaldea enticed Judah to betrayal. The “men portrayed upon the wall” in verse 14 were likely bas-relief depictions of war scenes and triumphal processions, such as those found by archaeologists in excavations at Calah, Dur-Sharrukin, and Nineveh. Judah wanted to align herself with such an impressive ally, and so again betrayed her covenant with God by sending ambassadors to establish further political alliances.
Judah’s behavior revealed her willingness to compromise with and pander to her allies, but it also displayed her vulnerabilities (referred to as “nakedness” in verse 18). While desiring power and position, she ended up experiencing degradation and invasion — though still without repentance. Her rampant sin disgusted God, who disassociated Himself from Judah, just as He had from Israel.
Instead of returning to the Lord for protection and leadership, Judah increased her political and religious philandering. Next, she looked to Egypt, the other power of that day, for security and advancement, forming impure connections with that nation in a repeat of her past behaviors. The word “paramours” in verse 20 refers to Judah’s supposed allies — Assyria, Chaldea, Babylon, and Egypt. The portrayal is of Judah lusting after partnerships that were beyond her ability to control or direct.
II. The condemnation of Judah and Jerusalem
D. The revelation of God’s dealings with Israel
3. The summary of God’s present dealings
c. The parables of Israel’s judgment
(1) The parable of the two sisters
(a) The identification of the sisters (23:1-4)
(b) The harlotries of Aholah with Assyria (23:5-10)
(c) The harlotries of Aholibah (23:11-21)
 With Assyria (23:11-13)
 With Babylon (23:14-18)
 With Egypt (23:19-21)
Are we learning from those around us? And what kind of example are we to our siblings, other family members, and our associates? God will help us if we do our best.