“Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Now, Son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city? Yes, show her all her abominations'” (Ezekiel 22:1-2 NKJB).
Cities (and states, countries and other geographic entities) often gain reputations for certain traits. These may reflect natural characteristics (as for example, “Rome, the city of seven hills”) but are often anthropomorphic; that is they are described in terms of human character or morality.
When one mentions the name of any of the world’s great cities today, there are certain images which almost immediately come to mind. Paris, Bangkok, New York, Los Vegas, Monte Carlo, New Orleans – the list is virtually endless. History pairs those locations with events and kinds of activities and they convey a distinct impression to those aware of that connection.
Travelers to such places may be forewarned of both attractions and dangers, using the reputation of his or her destination to prepare for either safety or adventure, depending upon the traveler’s own inclinations.
Readers of the Bible are fully aware of certain cities of ancient times with tawdry reputations. Ancient Sodom is remembered for sexual immorality and perversion (Genesis 18-19). The seaports of Tyre, Sidon, and Corinth were famous centers of drunken revelries (Matthew 11:21-24).
It is not surprising to find a scathing rebuke and prophesy of judgment against such sinful centers in the Bible such as that of Ezekiel 22. It does surprise us, however, to find that the bloody city upon which this judgment was pronounced was holy Jerusalem, the place selected by God to house his name and represent his presence.
“Look, the princes of Israel: each one has used his power to shed blood in you. In you they have made light of father and mother; in your midst they have oppressed the stranger; in you they have mistreated the fatherless and the widow” (22:7).
Cities are inanimate collections of wood, steel, and stone. They have no inherent righteousness or evil. Any moral or spiritual attributes a city may have, or lack, is the property of its human inhabitants. Jerusalem was a bloody city because her leaders (princes) committed acts of cruelty and injustice within her, and because her citizens “slander[ed] to commit bloodshed” (22:9).
Those of us who live in quiet small towns in which nothing much seems to happen may often look with horror and suspicion at the terrible wickedness of the big city, especially the distant city. But the truth may well be that we also harbor those guilty of many evils. In fact we ourselves may live in ways far too similar to those whom we condemn.
It is not just the foreign mega-cities in which abominations and atrocities are committed. “There is none righteous, no, not one. . . . All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23).
God sent the prophet Ezekiel to judge his own people and to warn them of the need for repentance. We have that same word of prophecy. We also have the teachings of Jesus Christ who declared, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).