“Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou shalt drink of thy sister’s cup deep and large: thou shalt be laughed to scorn and had in derision; it containeth much. Thou shalt be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, with the cup of astonishment and desolation, with the cup of thy sister Samaria.” — Ezekiel 23:32-33
In today’s focus verses, the “cup” refers to the judgments of God that would come upon Judah because of her persistent refusal to heed the warnings God had given her. Furthermore, she had seen the punishment poured out on the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and yet had continued in her sin. She had chosen to drink from the cup of sin, and thus would have to drink from the cup of God’s judgment.
When Rose Cummings was just a little girl, her mother helped her begin to drink of the cup of sin. She later testified, “I was born in England, and from the time I was just a tiny tot, my mother took me to the saloon. When I was old enough to reach the bar, we stood at it together and drank. She was an infidel and used to say, ‘All the Hell we get, we get right here on earth, and when we die, we die like a dog.’ Because of this, I did not believe in Hell and decided I was going to have a good time — to enjoy whatever money and liquor could bring. Instead, I found misery and remorse.
“One day when I was drunk on the street, I was picked up and put in a patrol wagon. I was told I would go to jail if I did not get off the streets permanently, so I went into a reformatory for six months. It did not do me any good. The minute I got out and had a little money, I went right back into sin.
“Eventually I traveled five thousand miles from England to Portland, Oregon, and thought I could turn over a new leaf, but I became worse. I married a man who owned a saloon, when I had already had four husbands in England. For the next six years, I was hardly ever sober. Eventually, my body broke down and I could not do a day’s work.
“One day when I was forty years old, I was handed an Apostolic Faith paper. In it, I read about a drunken woman who was saved. I said, ‘If God gave her a chance, surely He will give me one.’ In a sick and miserable condition, I went to an Apostolic Faith meeting. My lungs were diseased from the life of sin, and I could scarcely talk. The people there prayed for me and God marvelously healed me. I said, ‘O God, if You can heal my body, You can save my soul!’ I went to the altar of prayer, but the mountains of sin seemed too high. God showed me how I had wronged others. I thought He could never forgive me for the things I had done, but when I finished praying an honest prayer, He spoke peace to my soul. He saved me and instantly delivered me from alcohol.
“I wrote to my eighty-year-old mother in England about what God had done for me and sent her an Apostolic Faith paper. After reading it, she repented of her sins and God saved her, too. For thirty-three years, I have proved there is power in the Blood of Jesus. God restored my health and strength. I used to go to bed in fear and dread, but now I lie down in peace and rest. In the morning I wake up and praise God.”
After drinking deeply of the cup of sin, Rose made a good choice and repented. By seeking and experiencing God’s mercy, she avoided the cup of His judgment. Each of us must choose whether or not we will follow God. How blessed it is to decide to do so!
This portion of chapter 23 concludes God’s message to Ezekiel that began in chapter 20, and presents reasons for God’s judgment upon Israel. The characterization of the capital cities of Samaria (representing all the Northern Kingdom of Israel) and Jerusalem (representing all of the Southern Kingdom of Judah) as adulterous sisters is continued, with Aholah being the name given to Samaria, and Aholibah to Jerusalem. Verses 22-35 reveal that because Aholibah had followed her sister Aholah’s example of adulterous idolatries, she also would receive the harlot’s punishment. A further description of the nations’ transgressions is given in verses 36-44, and judgment is pronounced on both nations in verses 45-49.
According to verses 22-23, Aholibah’s “lovers” — the heathen nations with whom Judah had forged alliances — were the mighty Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Babylonians. With them were the tribal mercenary forces of Pekod, Shoa, and Koa. Judah thought she controlled these relationships, but when her lovers exercised the upper hand, she hated her role of subjection. The phrase “I will set judgment before them” in verse 24 means that God was going to delegate His judgment to these former allies who would judge according to their standards of justice. Thus, the judgment prophesied against Judah was reflective of both the Mosaic Law (regarding adultery and murder), and the civil laws of that region (regarding adultery and political treaty betrayal).
In addition to breaking her covenant with God, Judah had also broken her covenant with Nebuchadnezzar. This would fuel Nebuchadnezzar’s anger and he would seek revenge. Removing the nose and ears, noted in verse 25, was a common punishment for unfaithful wives and also false political allies, as both had broken an agreement of fidelity. The “clothes” and “jewels” of verse 26 refer to the riches and glory that God himself had given Judah, and stripping an unfaithful wife of such bridal gifts was common punishment. Verse 27 indicates that the harshness of Nebuchadnezzar’s God-allowed judgment would cure Judah forever of idolatry.
The “cup” mentioned in verses 31-34 symbolizes destiny and frequently portrayes judgment. Because Jerusalem’s behavior mirrored Samaria’s, her punishment would be the same. The large size of her allegorical cup would cause ridicule and scorn, and consuming its contents would make the recipient reel and tremble with astonishment as if drunken. Aholibah would drink fully of the cup of judgment, to the very last drop.
God’s message had been delivered primarily in a symbolic way to this point, using the figure of sexual immorality to illustrate the nation’s unfaithfulness to Him. Beginning with verse 36, God instructed Ezekiel to speak directly and literally about the sins of Israel and Judah. Although Israel had been judged more than a century earlier, the specific sins of both sisters are emphasized in verses 36-44. Both nations had been unfaithful to their covenant with God (by committing spiritual adultery) and to their own communities (by practicing violence under the cover of the Law).
Verse 39 indicates that the Israelites had even sacrificed their own children to idols. According to Exodus 34:20, the firstborn in Israel belonged to the Lord, but these had been consumed by fire in the people’s worship of pagan gods.
The people made a mockery of worship by going directly from these pagan practices to the Lord’s holy Temple, even on Sabbaths and days of prescribed feasts. The phrase “a voice of a multitude” in verse 42 seems to indicate the setting was an idolatrous festival where a base and riotous multitude gathered and performed religious rites.
Verses 45-49 are the conclusion of Ezekiel’s message. Although the Assyrians and Chaldeans were evil and ungodly, they are referred to in verse 45 as “righteous men” because God used them to bring about His righteous judgment. The sisters’ punishment was what was required by Mosaic Law for adulteresses and murderers — death by stoning, sword, and fire. Israel and Judah paid the full penalty for their apostasy, but their conquest and exile was more than punishment. Verse 49 reveals that the ultimate purpose was to reveal God in His righteous judgments, and that they would know that He was the true God.
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
(d) The judgment upon Aholibah (23:22-35)
(e) The transgressions of the sisters (23:36-44)
(f) The judgment on the sisters (23:45-49)
How we live each day will determine the contents of the cup we will eventually drink — whether judgment or reward from God. Today we want our lives to be in full accordance with God’s instructions.