And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, "Live!" I said to you in your blood, "Live!" I made you flourish like a plant of the field...This is to me one of the most beautiful passages of Scripture. The image of us as an unwanted child, cast into an open field to die, rejected by parents who wanted nothing to do with us, is at once heartbreaking. Then to see God as the one who walks by, sees us wallowing in our blood, about to die - to see Him stop and speak words of life and love to us, to care for us and make us His bride, is breathtaking. The rejected orphan becomes royalty. The one who possessed nothing possesses everything.
Then Ezekiel turns the world on its head. This chosen one, this orphan who was taken from the pool of blood she lay in and raised up to become the Bride of God, becomes a whore.
But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passer-by: your beauty became his. (16:15)I read this and feel sick. I see this woman, who owes God her very life -- who, without Him would not even have breath, let alone beauty -- take that life and beauty and spend it on everything but Him. She becomes worse than a prostitute, giving away her body and refusing payment. She spurns His love and wastes herself on cheap replacements. And to think that this passage refers to God's Bride, the church, His chosen people! This should not now nor ever be. It makes me feel low, for I know I am guilty of the same things.
How lovesick is your heart, declares the Lord GOD, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment. Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! (16:30-32)
God takes action:
Therefore, behold, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, and those you loved and all those you hated. I will gather them against you from every side and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. And I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy.(16: 36-38)
This seems fair and right. What punishment could be too much for the travesties such a Bride committed? Her debt is far too much to pay back. She owes her husband all - her life, and certainly her faithfulness. And she has done nothing but sin against Him, breaking the covenant they entered. He raised her up from nothing; does He not have the right to return her to nothing in the face of this ingratitude and rebelliousness?
But the story doesn't end there, and this is what is so mind-blowing to me:
Yet will I remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant...I will establish my convenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for all you have done, declares the Lord GOD. (16:60,62-63)
Atone? God will atone for all that this whore has done to Him? He will make an everlasting covenant with her? How dare He! If she has proved to be so recklessly unfaithful in the past, how can He dare to make an everlasting covenant, one that shall never be broken? How can He dare to pay for the sins she's committed? He is a fool, we are led to believe. Were this a story about a human couple, we would be wanting the man to find a woman far more worthy of his love; we would be advising him to stay out of the relationship with this woman, for she is abusive and self-destructive. We would wish him to end up with the girl he's always been friends with, but never really thought of romantically, and go off happily ever after, forgetting he was ever once married to the cheating scum that was his first wife. But God is not like this. While He is a jealous God who demands that we acknowledge His grace and mercy and love, He is also a God who delights in lavishing grace and mercy and love on those who are not even close to deserving it.
Ezekiel 16 is a love story beyond all love stories. It goes beyond the typical happily-ever-after to paint a picture of a love that forgives the utterly unforgiveable. It paints a picture of love that transcends all known class distinctions: instead of the nobleman and the peasant's daughter, this is the Sovereign of the Universe and his outcast bride. And while all love stories have their calamities before their happy endings, none have such calamitous occurances as this. The bride who sleeps with anyone who wishes to? The bride, a whore who pays her lovers, rather than the other way around? The bride, who spends her husband's riches on sex with other men? This nobody, this girl thrown out from society at birth, who gets it all and doesn't even see how very blessed she is - she is the one on whom His affections lie! And yes, while He for a time allows her to go her own way, removing her from His house, he takes her back, forgives her, and pays off her debts again. And the thing is, we get no indication that she necessarily becomes a better-behaved bride when she reenters God's household.
How are we any different: we, purchased by God out of our nothingness, raised up by Him to heights of glory we couldn't otherwise imagine, yet never satisfied, always searching, using God's grace not to honor God, but to purchase for ourselves other lovers? We are so easily distracted. We forget to whom it is we owe our very lives. We take for granted that God will be there to receive us back when we grow tired of wasting ourselves on pleasures. I waste time on meaningless things, like playing on the computer or watching TV, when I could be in the Word, or serving my neighbors in some capacity. I complain about traffic. I complain about my job, or lack of one. I seek to persuade myself that I'm better than others by pointing out their flaws. And at the end of all these things, I become no better than the whore-bride, who takes the beauty and riches of God and spends them on filth.
And this, I believe, is why there is so much suffering in life. Just as God hands His bride over to her enemies in the story, He also hands us over to trials in life, to remind us who it is who delivers us, who it is who purchased us from death. We are spiritual amnesiacs, in constant need of reminder of God's faithful love through the suffering He allows in our lives. By our suffering, we are reminded of the fact that we need God.
God's love is vast; it must be, for His wife is such a whore. May the difficulties and trials we face constantly remind of His faithfulness to us in the midst of our unmeasurable unfaithfulness to Him, and may we love Him more deeply as a result.