1, 2. What kind of prostitute in particular might elicit a strong feeling of revulsion?
IT IS a troubling thing to see a prostitute. We may wonder what circumstances led her to such a degrading way of life. Did violence or abuse at home impel her to take to the streets at a tender age? Or did extreme poverty drive her to sell herself into slavery? Or was she fleeing a brutal mate? Such sad stories unfold all too often in this wicked world. It is no wonder, then, that Jesus Christ singled out some prostitutes, treating them kindly. He stressed that those who repented and changed their lifestyle could hope for a better life.—Matt. 21:28-32; Luke 7:36-50.
2 However, let us imagine a very different kind of prostitute. Picture a woman who deliberately chooses such a life. She sees it, not as degrading, but as empowering! She is eager for the money and influence that this profession offers. Worse yet, what if this woman had a good, loyal husband but she willfully betrayed him in order to pursue prostitution? It would be difficult to feel anything but revulsion for such a woman and the course of life she has chosen. The strong reaction that we feel is a key reason why Jehovah God repeatedly uses the description of a prostitute to show how he feels about false religion.
3. What passages will we discuss in this chapter?
3 The book of Ezekiel contains two remarkable passages in which prostitution illustrates the terrible unfaithfulness of God’s people in Israel and Judah. (Ezek., chaps. 16 and 23) Before we take a closer look at those passages, though, we do well to take note of another symbolic prostitute. Her form of prostitution appeared long before Ezekiel’s day—even before Israel existed—and is still thriving today. This prostitute is identified in the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
“The Mother of the Prostitutes”
4, 5. What is “Babylon the Great,” and how do we know that? (See opening picture.)
4 In the vision Jesus gave to the apostle John at the end of the first century C.E., a striking figure emerges. She is called “the great prostitute” and “Babylon the Great, the mother of the prostitutes.” (Rev. 17:1, 5) For centuries, her true identity has mystified religious leaders and Bible scholars. They have variously said that she represents Babylon, Rome, or the Roman Catholic Church. For many decades, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses have understood the true identity of this “great prostitute.” She is the world empire of false religion. How do we know that?
5 This prostitute is condemned for having immoral relations with “the kings of the earth,” or the political powers. So she clearly is not a political power herself. Furthermore, Revelation shows that “the merchants of the earth,” or the commercial and business elements of this world, grieve over the demise of Babylon the Great. So Babylon the Great cannot represent big business. What, then, is she? She is guilty of “spiritistic practices,” of idolatry, and of deception. Do not those charges clearly fit the corrupt religious organizations of this world? Note, too, that this prostitute is depicted as riding, or exerting a measure of influence over, the political elements of this world. She also persecutes faithful servants of Jehovah God. (Rev. 17:2, 3; 18:11, 23, 24) Is that not exactly what false religion has done, right down to our own day?
6. In what sense is Babylon the Great “the mother of the prostitutes”?
6 Why, though, is Babylon the Great called not only “the great prostitute” but also “the mother of the prostitutes”? False religion has countless divisions. There are denominations, sects, and cults without number. Since the time when the languages were confused in ancient Babel, or Babylon, all manner of false religious doctrines have been spread abroad, spawning an endless variety of religions. How fitting that “Babylon the Great” derives her name from the city of Babylon, a breeding ground for false religions! (Gen. 11:1-9) Hence, all these religions may be seen as “daughters” of one organization, one great prostitute. Satan often uses such religions to lure people into spiritism, idolatry, and other God-dishonoring beliefs and customs. No wonder God’s people are warned regarding that corrupt, world-spanning organization: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins”!—Read Revelation 18:4, 5.
7. Why do we heed the warning to “get out” of Babylon the Great?
7 Have you heeded that warning? Remember, it is Jehovah himself who created humankind to have a “spiritual need.” (Matt. 5:3) That need can properly be filled only by means of the pure worship of Jehovah. Servants of Jehovah naturally want to keep as far away from spiritual prostitution as possible. But Satan the Devil has a different aim. He loves to lure God’s people into the snare of this form of prostitution. All too often, he has succeeded. By Ezekiel’s day, God’s people had a long history of getting involved in spiritual prostitution. We do well to examine that history, for it can teach us much about Jehovah’s standards, his justice, and his mercy.
“You Became a Prostitute”
8-10. What important requirement of pure worship helps us to understand Jehovah’s feelings about involvement in false religion? Illustrate.
8 In the book of Ezekiel, Jehovah uses the illustration of the prostitute in an especially personal way. Ezekiel was inspired to record, in two vivid passages, Jehovah’s feelings of hurt and betrayal on account of the disloyal and immoral behavior of his people. Why would he compare them to prostitutes?
9 To understand the answer, we must first recall a vital requirement regarding pure worship that we discussed in Chapter 5 of this publication. In the Law to Israel, Jehovah stated: “You must not have any other gods besides me [or, “in defiance of me,” ftn.]. . . . I, Jehovah your God, am a God who requires exclusive devotion.” (Ex. 20:3, 5) He later stressed the same truth in this way: “You must not bow down to another god, for Jehovah is known for requiring exclusive devotion. Yes, he is a God who requires exclusive devotion.” (Ex. 34:14) Jehovah could hardly have made the matter any clearer. We cannot worship Jehovah acceptably unless we worship him exclusively.
10 For the sake of illustration, we might think of a marriage. Both husband and wife have the right to expect a certain kind of exclusivity. If either mate were to give romantic or sexual attention to someone outside the marriage, the other mate would rightly feel jealous and betrayed. (Read Hebrews 13:4.) Similarly, when it comes to worship, Jehovah properly feels betrayed when his own people, dedicated exclusively to him, turn to false gods. He expresses this sense of personal betrayal forcefully in Ezekiel chapter 16.
11. What did Jehovah relate about Jerusalem and her origin?
11 The 16th chapter of Ezekiel contains what is by far Jehovah’s longest speech in the book—and one of his longest prophetic utterances in all of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jehovah focuses on the city of Jerusalem as representing unfaithful Judah. He relates the sad and shocking story of her origin and betrayal. She began as a helpless foundling, unclean and uncared for. Her parents were the pagan Canaanites of the land. Indeed, Jerusalem was long under the control of a Canaanite tribe, the Jebusites, until David conquered the city. Jehovah took pity on that foundling, cleaning her up and providing for her. In time, she became like a wife to him. In fact, the Israelites who eventually inhabited the city were in a covenant relationship with Jehovah, one that they had voluntarily entered into back in the days of Moses. (Ex. 24:7, 8) After Jerusalem became the capital of the land, Jehovah blessed, enriched, and beautified her, much as a wealthy and powerful husband might favor his wife with lovely ornaments.—Ezek. 16:1-14.
12. How did disloyalty creep into the history of Jerusalem?
12 Note what happened next. Jehovah said: “You began to trust in your beauty, and you became a prostitute because of your fame. You lavished your acts of prostitution on everyone passing by, and your beauty became his.” (Ezek. 16:15) In the days of Solomon, Jehovah so blessed and enriched his people that Jerusalem became a most splendid city, surely outstanding in all the ancient world. (1 Ki. 10:23, 27) But disloyalty began to creep in. Solomon, seeking to please his many foreign wives, began polluting Jerusalem with the worship of pagan gods. (1 Ki. 11:1-8) And some of his successors to the throne did even worse, polluting the whole land with false worship. How did Jehovah feel about such acts of prostitution and betrayal? He said: “Such things should not take place, nor should they ever happen.” (Ezek. 16:16) But his wayward people sank even deeper into depravity!
Some Israelites sacrificed their children to false gods, such as Molech
13. God’s people in Jerusalem were guilty of what wickedness?
13 Imagine Jehovah’s pain and revulsion as he exposed the wickedness of his chosen people: “You took your sons and your daughters whom you had borne to me, and you sacrificed these to idols to be devoured—have your acts of prostitution not gone far enough? You slaughtered my sons, and you offered them as sacrifices by making them pass through the fire.” (Ezek. 16:20, 21) The unspeakable horror of such deeds shines a light on the wicked heart of Satan. How he loves to lure Jehovah’s people into such revolting practices! But Jehovah sees all. God can undo even the worst of satanic atrocities, and he will exact justice.—Read Job 34:24.
14. Who were Jerusalem’s two sisters in Jehovah’s illustration, and who proved to be the most wicked of the three?
14 Jerusalem, however, did not have the sense to be appalled by her own wickedness. She continued her prostitution. Jehovah said that she was even more shameless than other prostitutes because she actually paid others to commit immorality with her! (Ezek. 16:34) God said that Jerusalem was just like her “mother,” the pagan tribes that once dominated the land. (Ezek. 16:44, 45) Continuing the family illustration, he said that Jerusalem’s older sister was Samaria, who preceded her into a life of religious prostitution. God also mentioned a second sister, Sodom, used proverbially here because it had long since been destroyed for its arrogance and utter depravity. Jehovah’s point was that Jerusalem outdid both of her sisters, Samaria and even Sodom, in terms of wickedness! (Ezek. 16:46-50) God’s people ignored countless warnings and continued in their revolting course.
15. What was Jehovah’s purpose in executing judgment on Jerusalem, offering what hope?
15 What would Jehovah do? He promised Jerusalem: “I am collecting together all the lovers you have given pleasure to” and, “I will give you into their hand.” The former pagan allies of his people would destroy her, stripping her of her beauty and valuable things. “They will stone you and will slaughter you with their swords,” he said. What was Jehovah’s purpose in executing this judgment? It was not the extermination of his people. Rather, it was this: “I will bring an end to your prostitution.” God added: “I will satisfy my rage against you, and my indignation will turn away from you; and I will be calm and no longer feel offended.” As was discussed in Chapter 9 of this publication, Jehovah’s long-term purpose was to bring about the restoration of his people after their exile. Why? He said: “I myself will remember the covenant that I made with you in the days of your youth.” (Ezek. 16:37-42, 60) Unlike his people, Jehovah would prove to be profoundly loyal!—Read Revelation 15:4.
16, 17. (a) Why do we no longer say that Oholah and Oholibah are prophetic types of Christendom? (See the box “The Prostitute Sisters.”) (b) What practical lessons may we draw from Ezekiel chapters 16 and 23?
16 Jehovah, through his long and powerful speech recorded in Ezekiel chapter 16, teaches us a great deal about his righteous standards, his sense of justice, and his profound mercy. The same may be said about Ezekiel chapter 23. True Christians today take to heart Jehovah’s unambiguous messages about the prostitution of his people. Never would we risk hurting Jehovah as Judah and Jerusalem did! So we want to recoil from all idolatry. This includes greed and materialism, which can be forms of idolatry. (Matt. 6:24; Col. 3:5) We want to remain grateful that Jehovah has mercifully restored pure worship in these last days and that he will never again let it be corrupted! With spiritual Israel, he has established “a permanent covenant,” one that will never be broken by disloyalty or prostitution. (Ezek. 16:60) So let us cherish the privilege we have to be associated with Jehovah’s clean people today.
17 What, though, does Jehovah’s speech against the prostitutes described in Ezekiel teach us about “the great prostitute,” Babylon the Great? Let us see.
“She Will Never Be Found Again”
18, 19. What similarities do we note between the prostitutes described in Ezekiel and the one described in Revelation?
18 Jehovah does not change. (Jas. 1:17) His feelings about false religion have remained the same throughout the history of that great prostitute. So we are not surprised to see many similarities between his judgment of the prostitutes in the book of Ezekiel and the fate of “the great prostitute” described in the book of Revelation.
19 Note, for example, that the punishment for the prostitutes in Ezekiel’s prophecies came, not from Jehovah directly, but from the very nations with whom God’s disloyal people had committed spiritual immorality. Similarly, the world empire of false religion is condemned for committing such immorality with “the kings of the earth.” And from whom does her punishment come? We read that these political elements “will hate the prostitute and will make her devastated and naked, and they will eat up her flesh and completely burn her with fire.” Why will the governments of this world make such a surprising move? Because God will “put it into their hearts to carry out his thought.”—Rev. 17:1-3, 15-17.
20. What shows that the judgment on Babylon will be final?
20 So Jehovah will use the nations of this world to carry out his judgment against all false religion, including the many religions of Christendom. This judgment will be final; there will be no forgiveness, no further opportunities for religion to change her ways. Revelation reveals that Babylon “will never be found again.” (Rev. 18:21) God’s angels will rejoice over her demise, saying: “Praise Jah! And the smoke from her goes on ascending forever and ever.” (Rev. 19:3) This judgment will stand for all eternity. Never again will any false religion be allowed to rise up and corrupt pure worship. Babylon’s fiery judgment and destruction will figuratively send up a plume of smoke that will go on rising forever.
21. The destruction of false religion marks the beginning of what period of time, and how will that period end?
21 When the governments of this world turn against Babylon the Great, they will be carrying out an execution of God’s judgment, a great event in the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose. This will mark the beginning of the great tribulation, a time of unprecedented turmoil. (Matt. 24:21) The climax of that tribulation will be Armageddon, Jehovah’s war against this wicked system of things. (Rev. 16:14, 16) As the following chapters of this publication will show, the book of Ezekiel has much to tell us about how the great tribulation will unfold. Meanwhile, what practical lessons from Ezekiel chapters 16 and 23 do we want to retain and apply?
22, 23. How might considering the descriptions of the prostitutes in Ezekiel and Revelation affect us in our sacred service?
22 Satan loves to corrupt those practicing pure worship. Nothing would please him more than having an opportunity to turn us away from pure worship and toward a course like that of the prostitutes described in the book of Ezekiel. We must remember, then, that Jehovah tolerates no rivalry in worship, no disloyalty! (Num. 25:11) We are careful to keep far away from false religion, to “touch nothing unclean” in God’s sight. (Isa. 52:11) For similar reasons, we loyally remain neutral regarding the political conflicts and strife of this divisive world. (John 15:19) We view nationalism as just another false religion that Satan promotes, and we have nothing to do with it.
23 Above all, let us keep in mind what a privilege we have to worship Jehovah in his clean, pure spiritual temple. As we cherish that blessed arrangement, may we be ever more determined to have nothing to do with false religion and her prostitution!