Oholah and Oholibah (or Aholah and Aholibah) are symbolic names for the kingdom of Israel (the ten tribes in the north) and the kingdom of Judah (the two tribes in the south). Oholah and Oholibah appear in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 23. This chapter describes the spiritual infidelity of Israel and Judah, picturing them as two sisters.
Ezekiel refers to Oholah and Oholibah and identifies them as Samaria (the capital of Israel) and Jerusalem (the capital of Judah) in Ezekiel 23:4. The sisters are “daughters of the same mother” (verse 2) because Israel and Judah were originally one nation, Israel. The meanings of two names have special significance. Oholah means “her own tent or tabernacle”—Samaria had a separate worship-place apart from the temple in Jerusalem. Oholibah means “my tabernacle is in her”—this represents Jerusalem, where God did establish worship.
Both Oholah and Oholibah engaged in prostitution (spiritual infidelity) in Egypt in their youth (Ezekiel 23:3). The older sister, Oholah, later played the harlot with the Assyrians (verses 5–8). That is, Samaria and Israel had sought fulfillment and security by aligning themselves with idolatrous Assyria. The punishment of Oholah fit her crime: “Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, the Assyrians, for whom she lusted. They stripped her naked, took away her sons and daughters and killed her with the sword” (verses 9–10). Israel was conquered and her people deported to Assyria in 722 BC (2 Kings 17). The Assyrians were the instruments God used to inflict His judgments upon Israel.
In Ezekiel 23:11–21, Ezekiel portrays the younger sister, Oholibah, as even more corrupt and promiscuous than Oholah. Rather than learning from her sister’s mistakes, Oholibah craved after the Babylonian idols and then the Chaldean lifestyle, committing spiritual prostitution with the Babylonians. Because of Jerusalem’s and Judah’s idolatries God alienated Himself from them and allowed them, too, to be taken into captivity: “I will turn you over to them for punishment, and they will punish you according to their standards. I will direct my jealous anger against you, and they will deal with you in fury” (verses 24–25). Oholibah had learned nothing from her sister’s sad story, and Judah finally fell to Babylon in 586 BC.
The rest of Ezekiel 23 outlines the details of the two nations’ spiritual infidelity and the punishment they received from God. “[Your enemies] will deal with you in hatred and take away everything you have worked for. They will leave you stark naked, and the shame of your prostitution will be exposed. Your lewdness and promiscuity have brought this on you, because you lusted after the nations and defiled yourself with their idols” (verses 29–30). Among the detestable practices committed by Oholah and Oholibah were sacrificing their children to idols and profaning the sanctuary of God (verses 37–38).
The lesson of the sad story of Oholah and Oholibah is that God is a jealous God who punishes those who turn their backs on Him and chase after idols. Though God is patient and long-suffering, eventually His judgment falls on the unfaithful. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Since you have forgotten me and turned your back on me, you must bear the consequences of your lewdness and prostitution” (Ezekiel 23:35).