This chapter is a history of the apostasies of God’s people from Him, narrated under the similitude of the sin of adultery. Here the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah – the ten tribes in the north, and the two tribes in the south – are considered separately with their capital cities, Samaria and Jerusalem. All that is written here against the sin of idolatry, against confidence in an arm of flesh, and against sinful alliances with wicked people (which are the sins that are spiritually symbolized by the physical committing of adultery) has been recorded in the pages of Scripture so that others may hear and fear, and not sin in the same way that Israel and Judah did.
There were two sisters, the prophet tells us. The name of the elder sister was Aholah, which means “her own dwelling-place”; and the name of the younger was Aholibah, which means “my dwelling-place in her.” We are expressly told that Aholah stood as a symbol for Samaria, or the portion of God’s Covenant-people in the Northern Kingdom of Israel; and Aholibah was a picture of Jerusalem, or the portion of the Lord’s people in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The names of the two sisters were clearly chosen for the purpose of expressing the relationship in which each of them stood with Jehovah. Aholah, or Samaria, had apostatized from the Lord at the very commencement of her existence as a separate nation; she had set up places of worship for herself, such as the golden calves in the cities of Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12). But Jerusalem still had the dwelling-place of God within her, the true symbols of worship, and the Divinely-appointed means of obtaining the Lord’s favor and blessing. This, however, is the only difference between the two sisters in the rest of the narrative – except for the precedence in guilt and punishment which is ascribed to Aholah, the elder sister. The breach of faithfulness in the marriage-covenant that is charged against these two sisters refers specifically here to their tendencies to form alliances with heathen nations, and their inclinations to look to them – instead of God – for their protection and safety. It was a crime for them to have chased such lovers (to use the figurative language based on the picture of the marriage-relationship); and this sin became its own punishment, as those lovers became their destroyers.
In the case of Aholah – or the Northen Kingdom of Israel – the apostacy is not only represented as revealing itself in the foulness which she contracted in Egypt, and her continuing to hanker after that when she was settled in the land of Canaan; but also in her becoming enamored with the Assyrians. The Assyrians are called her neighbors (verse 5), and they are described as having the gallant appearance and the handsome attire which was intended to work its deceitful charms upon light and unthinking hearts. The meaning is simply that Israel saw, in that great neighboring power, all the elements of worldly rank and prosperity which they desired to possess themselves; and so they trusted in their friendship with that great nation for the strength which they needed, rather than in their relationship with God. And there is no doubt – either from the history, or from the words of the prophet – that the friendship ended most disastrously for Israel; for in time, she was indeed given up by God into the hands of that heathen power, to be humbled, smitten, and brought to desolation.
In regard to the people of Judah, represented by Aholibah, the narrative is quite similar – except that their folly and guilt were intensified by having before their eyes the ruin which had befallen the Northen Kingdom of Israel. They are described as being captivated and allured by the Assyrians first, and then by the Babylonians; and so their heart departed from the Lord, and began to lean upon an arm of flesh. And the end result was that utter destruction was brought upon the people of Judah by those very same objects of their former confidence and admiration.
The closing part of this narrative represents the two sisters – particularly the one that personified the people of Judah – as persevering to the very end in their wild and wicked courses. Like persons in the final stages of abandonment, they went on recklessly in the ways of evil – unstopped by all the troubles and humiliations which they had experienced in the past. Therefore, as utterly reprobate, hardened, and hopeless sinners, they were sentenced to the doom that is appointed against such incorrigible and shameless wrongdoers. And thus the doleful story ends. From first to last, the prophet looks only to the course of crime and its deserved recompense, and he allows the curtain to drop without one gleam of hope concerning the future. He saw that the hammer of the law, in its strongest form, was needed to break the hard and stony heart of the people. So urgent was the call for a work of conviction – and so great was the danger of that work not being effectually carried out – that he would not speak one single word which would lighten the impression of guilt upon their minds, or give them the least excuse for delay. His message was, “Now or never!” The conduct of each and every unrepentant sinner calls for judgment from God, without mercy. And if there is not an immediate awakening in the sinner’s heart of the contrition of sincere repentance, they have nothing to expect except the most unsparing visitations of wrath. Therefore, “flee from the wrath to come!” Flee to Jesus; and in Him alone, find refuge from judgment and redemption from sin – for no earthly alliance or friendship can deliver us or shield us from the wrath of God which we justly deserve!
Lord, we confess that we have often been guilty of spiritual fornication; and we pray for forgiveness for resting for salvation upon anything other than the merits, blood, and righteousness of Jesus Christ! Amen.
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