Ezekiel 17 - Outline of Ezekiel (Book Notes menu page)
Israel's spiritual unfaithfulness toward the LORD was the subject of the parable of the adulterous woman (in ch.16). Like an unfaithful wife, the nation had wantonly turned away from Him to worship false gods, and to entangle themselves with ungodly nations.
     The first of two parables, in ch.17, highlights Israel's political unfaithfulness to the promises she made to one of those nations, and depicts the near term consequences. The second parable, which uses similar figures, applies to the distant future.
     The Parable of Two Eagles, and a Vine which had been a Cedar (v.1-21)
1. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
2 Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel;
3 And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD;
A great eagle with great wings, longwinged, full of feathers, which had divers colours,
came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar:
4 He cropped off the top of his young twigs, and carried it into a land of traffick;
he set it in a city of merchants.
5 He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field;
he placed [it] by great waters, [and] set it [as] a willow tree.
6 And it grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature,
whose branches turned toward him, and the roots thereof were under him:
so it became a vine, and brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs.
7 There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers:
and, behold, this vine did bend her roots toward him,
and shot forth her branches toward him,
that he might water it by the furrows of her plantation.
8 It was planted in a good soil by great waters,
that it might bring forth branches,
and that it might bear fruit, that it might be a goodly vine.
9 Say thou, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Shall it prosper?
shall he not pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof, that it wither?
it shall wither in all the leaves of her spring,
even without great power or many people to pluck it up by the roots thereof.
10 Yea, behold, [being] planted, shall it prosper?
shall it not utterly wither, when the east wind toucheth it?
it shall wither in the furrows where it grew.
Ezekiel, and other true prophets, spoke only as they were entrusted with "the word of the LORD" (v.1).
This message was in the form of a 'riddle' {ie., puzzle, dark saying} or 'parable' {ie., proverb}. It is an allegory, or illustrative story, in which the interaction of birds and trees are symbolic of interactions in the human realm, between kings and kingdoms.
     God's Word is usually intended to be understood according to the literal or normal meaning of the words. Where God has chosen to speak in parables or allegories, He also explains the meaning, so that His children are not in confusion (although the meaning may remain hidden to others). Often, the explanation accompanies the parable. In some cases, the Holy Spirit makes the meaning clear only in the light of other Scripture passages.
     This riddle is presented in v.3-10. The explanation is given in v.11-21.
     Another related riddle is presented, in v.22-24, without explanation. Its meaning must be discerned from the symbols used in the first riddle, as illuminated by other passages.
11 Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
12 Say now to the rebellious house, Know ye not what these [things mean]?
tell [them], Behold, the king of Babylon is come to Jerusalem,
and hath taken the king thereof, and the princes thereof,
and led them with him to Babylon;
13 And hath taken of the king's seed,
and made a covenant with him, and hath taken an oath of him:
he hath also taken the mighty of the land:
14 That the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up,
[but] that by keeping of his covenant it might stand
{ie., remain, continue}.
15 But he rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt,
that they might give him horses and much people.
Shall he prosper? shall he escape that doeth such [things]?
or shall he break the covenant, and be delivered?
16 [As] I live, saith the Lord GOD,
surely in the place [where] the king [dwelleth] that made him king,
whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he brake,
[even] with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die.
17 Neither shall Pharaoh with [his] mighty army
and great company make for him in the war,
by casting up mounts, and building forts, to cut off many persons:
18 Seeing he despised the oath by breaking the covenant,
when, lo, he had given his hand,
and hath done all these [things], he shall not escape.
In v.11-21, the LORD explains the riddle to "the rebellious house" {ie., the royal house of David, in Jerusalem, as represented by the then reigning king, Zedekiah}. The parable's message relates to kings and events which were current in Ezekiel's day.
...the king of Babylon...
Nebuchadnezzar was the first great eagle. Under his broad wings, his empire stretched far and wide, and was full of many diverse nationalities (v.3; Dan 2:37,38; 4:22; 7:4).
...is come to Jerusalem... and hath taken the king... and the princes... and led them... to Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar had cropped off the top of the Davidic line of kings (the tall cedar tree, v.3b,4), when he took king Jehoiachin (the highest branch), many princes, officers and craftsmen (the twigs) captive (2Kin 24:10-16). Ezekiel was among those taken captive, at that time.
...and hath taken of the kings seed, and made a covenant with him...
...that the kingdom might be base... not lift itself up... that... it might stand.
Nebuchadnezzar appointed Jehoiachin's uncle, Zedekiah, to govern in Jerusalem, but as a tributary in subservience to Babylon (2Kin 24:17). The tall cedar had been reduced to the stature of a lowly willow or crawling vine, which was dependent upon the great eagle for its well-being (v.5,6). The covenant between Nebuchadnezzar and Zedekiah ensured that the Davidic kingdom would continue in Jerusalem, and enjoy a measure of prosperity and security under the Babylonians (v.13,14).
...but he rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people...
Zedekiah, ruler of Jerusalem (the lowly vine), sent roots toward another great empire, Egypt (the other great eagle, v.7,8), seeking economic and military assistance, against the Babylonian overlords. In doing so, Zedekiah broke his covenant with Nebuchadnezzar, though he had sworn an oath, before God, that he would keep it (v.13; 2Chr 36:11-13).
...shall he prosper?... shall he break the covenant and be delivered?... (cp. v.9,10)
Zedekiah had broken his oath sworn before the LORD. The LORD would hold him accountable.
...as I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely... in the midst of Babylon he shall die.
Up to this point, the riddle's explanation rehearsed events which were either 'past' (eg., Jehoiachin's removal, Zedekiah's appointment) or 'current' (Zedekiah's overture to Egypt). However, verses 16-20 foretold events which were soon to occur. The captivity of Zedekiah was still a few years in the future.
...neither shall Pharaoh... make {ie., do, accomplish} for him in the war...
...by casting up mounts, and building forts, to cut off many people...
{or, "...when they cast up mounds and build siege walls to cut off many lives." [NASB]}
The mighty army of Pharaoh did come, and the Babylonian forces retreated, temporarily.
But in the end, the Egyptians would not stay to help Zedekiah, and the Babylonians would return unopposed, to besiege and prevail against Jerusalem. Jer 37:3-10; Lam 4:17
     The exiles, among whom Ezekiel lived and to whom he delivered this message, were hopeful that Jerusalem would be spared. But God said, their hope was in vain.
19 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD;
[As] I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised,
and my covenant that he hath broken,
even it will I recompense upon his own head.
20 And I will spread my net upon him,
and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon,
and will plead with him there
for his trespass that he hath trespassed against me.
21 And all his fugitives with all his bands shall fall by the sword,
and they that remain shall be scattered toward all winds:
and ye shall know that I the LORD have spoken [it].
...mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own head.
Zedekiah had sworn falsely, that he would keep his covenant with Nebuchadnezzar. In doing so, he had taken the LORD's name in vain (Lev 19:12; Deu 5:11; Jer 5:2). This was in addition to the many ways that he and the nation had violated the Mosaic Law, God's covenant with Israel (eg., Jer 7:9-15).
...I will spread my net upon him... I will bring him to Babylon...
...I will plead with {ie., render judgment upon} him there for his trespass... against me.
Zedekiah had "trespassed... a trespass" {'grievously trespassed,' or 'committed treachery'} against the LORD. (cp. similar wording in Eze 14:13 and 15:8)
     The LORD held him personally accountable, and would reward him accordingly. As these verses foretold, Zedekiah would indeed be captured and taken to Babylon. See Jer 52:5-11.
...and ye shall know that I the LORD have spoken it.
When news of Zedekiah's fate eventually reached the exiles, it would compel them to acknowledge that this message had come from the LORD.
     The fulfillment of this near-term prophecy would also declare the veracity of the prophet's long-term message, in the following verses.
The Parable of the Cropped Cedar, Replanted by the LORD (v.22-24)
22. Thus saith the Lord GOD;
I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set [it];
I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one,
and will plant [it] upon an high mountain and eminent:
23 In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it:
and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar:
and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing;
in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell.
24 And all the trees of the field shall know
that I the LORD have brought down the high tree,
have exalted the low tree,
have dried up the green tree,
and have made the dry tree to flourish:
I the LORD have spoken and have done [it].
The riddle, in v.22-24, refers to the re-establishment of the Davidic Kingdom, under the Messiah, who is the pinnacle of David's line:
  1. The highest branch...
    The Messiah (Jesus Christ) is called the Branch of the LORD, and the Branch of David.
    Isa 4:2; 11:1-5 (He would arise as a 'twig' from David's cut-off 'stump'.); Jer 23:5,6; 33:15,16; Zech 3:8; 6:12,13
  2. A tender {or, weak} one...
    He came as a helpless babe. Luk 2:7
    He lived and died, as a humble man. Isa 53:2,3; Php 2:6-8
  3. Whom the LORD will plant "upon an high mountain and eminent."
    In prophetic symbolism, mountains and hills frequently refer to kingdoms, of differing stature.
    His Kingdom will be exalted above all others, and will be centered in Jerusalem. Psa 2:6; Isa 2:2,3; Luk 1:31-33
  4. His Kingdom will bear fruit (v.23; Isa 9:6,7; 32:17)
    and stand as a 'goodly' {ie., mighty, worthy} cedar,
    in contrast to Israel's fruitlessness as a vine (Isa 5:1,2; Eze 15:1-8).
  5. His Kingdom will encompass and benefit all people ("all fowl of every wing").
    Psa 22:27-30; 72:8-11; Dan 2:34-35,44-45; Rev 11:15
...and all the trees of the field shall know, that I the LORD...-
The phrase 'all the trees of the field' refers to all men, everywhere in the world, in the time of the worldwide Millennial Kingdom. [cp. Eze 31:2,5,15, where Pharaoh's multitude (ie., his citizens and soldiers) are referred to as trees of the field.]
     When Christ reigns over all the earth, everyone will know that the LORD has accomplished His promises.
...that I the LORD...
  1. ...have brought down the high tree...-
    The high tree, in v.3,4, was the Davidic Kingdom in Jerusalem, which had exalted itself in rebellious pride (eg., Eze 16:24,25,50). Jerusalem was brought low by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
       Yet, Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom would also be brought down, as described in similar terms, in Dan 4:23-25.
  2. ...have exalted the low tree...
    Israel and the Davidic Kingdom, which had been diminished, from their stature as a cedar, to become a lowly willow or vine (v.5,6), will yet be exalted to the head of the nations, during the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. Amos 9:11; Mic 4:1-3,6-8
  3. ...have dried up the green {HB=lach, moist, new, fresh, vigorous} tree...
    This reminds us of the many references to idolatrous worship, which was practiced "under every green {HB=ra'anan, luxuriant, fresh} tree" (eg., Eze 6:13). However, where that is the meaning, the word for 'green' is always HB=ra'anan, and never HB=lach.
       The only other reference to 'green {HB=lach} trees' (Eze 20:47) refers to a 'forest' of vigorous soldiers, who would be destroyed by the fiery judgment of God, as though they were dead trees.
       At Christ's victorious return to the earth, the powerful enemies of God's people will wither away to nothing. Isa 26:4-6; Luk 1:52-55; Rev 19:11-21
  4. ...have made the dry tree to flourish.
    Consider Luke 23:26-31, where, while enroute to the cross, the One, who has Life in Himself (eg., Joh 1:3,4; 5:26; 11:25,26), addressed the nation of Israel, foretelling future fires of judgment upon their dry vine wood (cp. Eze 15:6).
       When Jesus Christ was crucified, His strength was dried up (Psa 22:14,15). From all appearances that was the end of Him. But God raised Him up from the dead, to await the time, when He will return to reign over the earth from David's throne. Isa 49:4-9; 53:8-12; Acts 2:24-36
       In that day, He will cause the dry tree (the cut-off stump of the Davidic Kingdom) to flourish, through vital union with the living vine (Joh 15:1-6).
...I the LORD have spoken and have done it.
The fulfillment of His Word is inevitable.

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