The book of Ezekiel is a wonderful, if somewhat neglected book in our Old Testament. It is true that, at times, the content can be difficult to understand, but if we stick with it there are some wonderful truths to be discovered. An example of this is found in chapter 16. At first glance we might wonder what it is about, yet the first fourteen verses give a wonderful picture of the overwhelming grace of God. There is also a lesson about the careful reading of Scripture. The passage is addressed to the city of Jerusalem and describes what she was in origin, and what she became by sovereign grace.
It is important to understand that these verses are addressed specifically to Jerusalem and that, although she represents the people within her and the kingdom of which she is the capital, yet what is said applies specifically to her (cp. the references to the cities of Samaria and Sodom further down the passage, e.g. v.53). Jerusalem was a city of great significance to the people of Israel and to Judah in particular at this time. It was the place where the Lord had placed His name, the place of the sanctuary, the seat of the sovereign. Nor only for Israel: its significance (should have) extended worldwide (Ps 48.2), and will in a coming day (Is 2.2-3).
Yet Jerusalem was not, in origin, an Israelite city. Verse 3 is an example of why we should read Scripture carefully. If, instead of "Jerusalem" we subconsciously read "Israel" in this verse, we would come to the conclusion, as some have, that the Bible contradicts itself. "Here is proof", some might say, "that there was no journey of Abraham, no conquest, and that Israel's origins are in the land of Canaan". Yet the passage is not talking about Israel, but Jerusalem! When we look for the original inhabitants of the land, and therefore the presumed original builders of the city, the book of Genesis shows us that there were in the land both Amorites (ch.14), and Hittites (ch.23). Indeed, in Joshua 10, the inhabitants of Jerusalem are described as "Amorites" (v.5). Thus, Jerusalem was Gentile in origin. In fact, its inhabitants were not finally subjugated until David's time (2 Sam 5.6). Now, this is very interesting, because it puts the following display of God's grace into a Gentile context. There are therefore some striking parallels with Ephesians 1 and 2, and Romans 8.
So we come to the description of Jerusalem's birth. What a picture is here! How helpless and hopeless a scene is painted. Yet that is also the picture in Ephesians 2: "dead in trespasses and sins" (v.1), "children of wrath" (v.3), "having no hope, and without God in the world" (v.12). Into such a scene of utter hopelessness bursts the grace of God, and the divine command, "Live" (v.6). Recall the words, "But God, who is rich in mercy…hath quickened us together with Christ" (Eph 2.4-5).
From verses 6-14 in Ezekiel 16 we can see the Lord acting in sovereign grace. Noting the number of times the pronoun "I" is used in these verses, we are reminded that salvation is the work of God alone. Indeed, we can now divide this passage in accordance with what we find in Romans 8.30: "called" (vv.6-7); "justified" (vv.8-10); "glorified" (vv.11-14).
Not only do we see the hopelessness of Jerusalem's condition, but v.6 emphasises her uncleanness. Three times over it speaks of her pollution - "in thy blood". We may contrast this with the blood of Christ which brings cleansing (1 Jn 1.7), redemption and forgiveness (Eph 1.7). Her uncleanness makes the action of the Lord all the more amazing. There was nothing lovely in her that He should do this. Nevertheless He said to her twice over, "Live". Similarly, it was when we were "dead in sins" (Eph 2.5) that we were "quickened", and when we were "without strength", "ungodly", "sinners" that "Christ died for us" (Rom 5.6,8).
An evidence of life is growth, and we see this in v.7. It should be a natural development. We are to "desire the sincere milk of the word" that we may "grow thereby" (1 Pet 2.2). Although we have been saved by grace through faith, it is anticipated that divine life will be manifested in "good works" (Eph 2.10).
In the following verses we see some things that the Lord has done for Jerusalem:
"I spread my skirt over thee" (v.8)
This speaks of protection from danger. The word translated "skirt" also means "wing". Compare the desire of the Lord Jesus in relation to Jerusalem (Mt 23.37). As the hen protects her chicks from coming danger, so we too have been "delivered…from the wrath to come" (1 Thess 1.10; cp. Ruth 2.12; 3.9).
"and covered thy nakedness" (v.8)
Nakedness speaks of shame and guilt. Compare Adam and Eve in the Garden: when they had eaten of the fruit their eyes were opened and "they knew that they were naked" (Gen 3.7). Up until then they had not been ashamed (2.25), but now they sought to cover their nakedness and to hide from God, neither of which was successful. If there was to be a covering it had to be provided by the Lord, and so it was, for He made them coats of skins (3.21), pointing forward to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
"sware…covenant…thou becamest mine" (v.8)
The hymn writer has written, "Mine by covenant, mine for ever, mine by oath and mine by blood", and these are precious truths indeed, expressing some of the thoughts contained in this verse. Yet they actually fall short of the wonder of it. It is not that He is mine, but that I am His! This was the appreciation that the bride in the Song of Solomon eventually came to when she said, "I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me" (Song 7.10; cp. 2.16; 6.3). What security there is in this! Yet this truth also brings with it responsibility – see 1 Corinthians 6.20.
Not only has sin been dealt with as a principle, but so have sins. Through the blood of the Lord Jesus, the blood which brings cleansing (1 Jn 1.7), we have the "forgiveness of sins" (Eph 1.7). Our defilement has been washed away completely – note the phrase "throughly washed" in our passage (v.9). Yet there is another thought here, for the ideas of washing and anointing with oil are brought together. We recall the words of the Lord Jesus in relation to the new birth, where He speaks of being born of "water and of the Spirit" (Jn 3.5), or the words of Paul: the "washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3.5).
We, too, have clothes to "put on" (Col 3.12ff). As with "broidered work", there are various strands that come together to create a beautiful display of Christ-like characteristics in us. Elsewhere, we are to be "clothed with humility" (1 Pet 5.5). All this can be summed up in the phrase: "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 13.14). Note that three out of four of the materials in our v.10 are found in the Tabernacle, which speaks of Him.
Finally, the Lord speaks to Jerusalem of her adornment, and the richness of her provision. It is not for nothing that Jerusalem is described as "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth" (Ps 48.2). The Lord had made her beautiful. Yet we, too, in the purposes of God, have also been adorned. We see the fulfilment of it at the close of the book of Revelation, in chapter 21, where John sees "the holy city, new Jerusalem…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (v.2; cp. v.9ff). It is not coincidence, then, that we can see such parallels in this passage, because what God did for the earthly Jerusalem He has done in far greater measure for us as a part of the Bride, the New Jerusalem.
We are reminded of M'Cheyne's hymn:
When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not mine own…
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe;
for at the end we are reminded again that it is all of grace and all of God.