We are obviously dealing with a marriage relationship between God and Jerusalem, representing all of Israel. The woman Israel was not faithful, and harlotry entered the relationship. From verse 15 on, the marriage relationship described here, the harlotry, the fornication, and the adultery of the woman is either inferred or directly stated in virtually every verse in this long chapter. In one verse after another, God is telling how she committed harlotry and why.
The liberal Interpreter's Bible Commentary says, "Israel here is portrayed as a wife who became a pagan temple prostitute." That is a possibility, but I think the more conservative commentaries are more correct. She is portrayed as an unfaithful wife whose unfaithfulness is displayed in a far wider range of life and activities than just religious.
Israel—the nation and wife—is unfaithful in every area and activity of life that a faithful wife or nation would normally be involved in. The sexual orientation of what is written of her sin is used because sexual sins are the most common way unfaithfulness in marriage is shown to the public. It is something that everybody can relate to. However, the real spiritual sin behind all of these sexual terms is gross idolatry. Verse 59 says, "For thus says the Lord GOD; I will even deal with you as you have done, which have despised the oath in breaking the covenant." She broke the marriage covenant and became a harlot.
Israel simply did whatever she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it, and in the manner that she wanted. Her harlotry is clearly the breaking of the terms of the marriage covenant, and it is unfaithfulness, disloyalty, and spiritual in nature. It is primarily idolatry, but all other sins are included. Israel was unfaithful in conducting business, both domestically and internationally. Israel was unfaithful in managing God's great green earth; unfaithful in forgetting who her blessings came from; unfaithful in the way they treated one another in their personal marriages; unfaithful in their childrearing practices.
We all know that the relationship being described here is between God and Israel, and the marriage entered into was the Old Covenant proposed and ratified at Mount Sinai. What God proposed to Israel, and to us under the New Covenant, is an entire way of life. It is not just religion. It is everything that the church ought to be, the example and teacher of things that are right and true.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 5)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Ezekiel 16:20: