A parable relative to the Jewish nation. (1-10) to which an explanation is added. (11-21) A direct promise of the Messiah. (22-24)
Verses 1-10 Mighty conquerors are aptly likened to birds or beasts of prey, but their destructive passions are overruled to forward God's designs. Those who depart from God, only vary their crimes by changing one carnal confidence for another, and never will prosper.
Verses 11-21 The parable is explained, and the particulars of the history of the Jewish nation at that time may be traced. Zedekiah had been ungrateful to his benefactor, which is a sin against God. In every solemn oath, God is appealed to as a witness of the sincerity of him that swears. Truth is a debt owing to all men. If the professors of the true religion deal treacherously with those of a false religion, their profession makes their sin the worse; and God will the more surely and severely punish it. The Lord will not hold those guiltless who take his name in vain; and no man shall escape the righteous judgment of God who dies under unrepented guilt.
Verses 22-24 The unbelief of man shall not make the promise of God of none effect. The parable of a tree, used in the threatening, is here presented in the promise. It appears only applicable to Jesus, the Son of David, the Messiah of God. The kingdom of Satan, which has borne so long, so large a sway, shall be broken, and the kingdom of Christ, which was looked upon with contempt, shall be established. Blessed be God, our Redeemer is seen even by the ends of the earth. We may find refuge from the wrath to come, and from every enemy and danger, under his shadow; and believers are fruitful in him.
Ezekiel 17:1-24 . PARABLE OF THE TWO GREAT EAGLES, AND THE CROPPING OF THE CEDAR OF LEBANON. JUDAH IS TO BE JUDGED FOR REVOLTING FROM BABYLON, WHICH HAD SET UP ZEDEKIAH INSTEAD OF JEHOIACHIN, TO EGYPT; GOD HIMSELF, AS THE RIVAL OF THE BABYLONIAN KING, IS TO PLANT THE GOSPEL CEDAR OF MESSIAH.
The date of the prophecy is between the sixth month of Zedekiah's sixth year of reign and the fifth month of the seventh year after the carrying away of Jehoiachin, that is, five years before the destruction of Jerusalem [HENDERSON].
2. riddle--a continued allegory, expressed enigmatically, requiring more than common acumen and serious thought. The Hebrew is derived from a root, "sharp," that is, calculated to stimulate attention and whet the intellect. Distinct from "fable," in that it teaches not fiction, but fact. Not like the ordinary riddle, designed to puzzle, but to instruct. The "riddle" is here identical with the "parable," only that the former refers to the obscurity, the latter to the likeness of the figure to the thing compared.
3. eagle--the king of birds. The literal Hebrew is, "the great eagle." The symbol of the Assyrian supreme god, Nisroch; so applied to "the great king" of Babylon, his vicegerent on earth ( Jeremiah 48:40 , 49:22 ). His "wings" are his great forces. Such symbols were familiar to the Jews, who saw them portrayed on the great buildings of Babylon; such as are now seen in the Assyrian remains.
long-winged--implying the wide extent of his empire.
full of feathers--when they have been renewed after moulting; and so in the full freshness of renovated youth ( Psalms 103:5 , Isaiah 40:31 ). Answering to the many peoples which, as tributaries, constituted the strength of Babylon:
divers colours--the golden eagle, marked with star-like spots, supposed to be the largest of eagles [BOCHART]. Answering to the variety of languages, habits, and costumes of the peoples subject to Babylon.
came unto Lebanon--continuing the metaphor: as the eagle frequents mountains, not cities. The temple at Jerusalem was called "Lebanon" by the Jews [EUSEBIUS], because its woodwork was wholly of cedars of Lebanon. "The mountain of the Lord's house" ( Isaiah 2:2 ). Jerusalem, however, is chiefly meant, the chief seat of civil honor, as Lebanon was of external elevation.
took the highest branch--King Jeconiah, then but eighteen years old, and many of the chiefs and people with him ( 2 Kings 24:8 2 Kings 24:12-16 ). The Hebrew for "highest branch" is, properly, the fleece-like tuft at the top of the tree. (So in Ezekiel 31:3-14 ). The cedar, as a tall tree, is the symbol of kingly elevation (compare Daniel 4:10-12 ).
4. land of traffic . . . merchants--Babylon ( 2 Kings 24:15 2 Kings 24:16 ), famous for its transport traffic on the Tigris and Euphrates. Also, by its connection with the Persian Gulf, it carried on much commerce with India.
5. seed of the land--not a foreign production, but one native in the region; a son of the soil, not a foreigner: Zedekiah, uncle of Jehoiachin, of David's family.
in a fruitful field--literally, a "field of seed"; that is, fit for propagating and continuing the seed of the royal family.
as a willow--derived from a Hebrew root, "to overflow," from its fondness for water ( Isaiah 44:4 ). Judea was "a land of brooks of water and fountains" ( Deuteronomy 8:7-9 ; compare John 3:23 ).
6. vine of low stature--not now, as before, a stately "cedar"; the kingdom of Judah was to be prosperous, but not elevated.
branches turned toward him--expressing the fealty of Zedekiah as a vassal looking up to Nebuchadnezzar, to whom Judah owed its peace and very existence as a separate state. The "branches" mean his sons and the other princes and nobles.
The roots . . . under him--The stability of Judah depended on Babylon. The repetition "branches" and "springs" is in order to mark the ingratitude of Zedekiah, who, not content with moderate prosperity, revolted from him to whom he had sworn allegiance.
7. another . . . eagle--the king of Egypt ( Ezekiel 17:15 ). The "long-winged" of Ezekiel 17:3 is omitted, as Egypt had not such a wide empire and large armies as Babylon.
vine . . . bend . . . roots towards him--literally, "thirsted after him with its roots"; expressing the longings after Egypt in the Jewish heart. Zedekiah sought the alliance of Egypt, as though by it he could throw off his dependence on Babylon ( 2 Kings 24:7 2 Kings 24:20 , 2 Chronicles 36:13 , Jeremiah 37:5 Jeremiah 37:7 ).
water it by . . . furrows of . . . plantation--that is, in the garden beds (Judea) wherein (the vine) it was planted. Rather, "by" or "out of the furrows." It refers to the waters of Egypt, the Nile being made to water the fields by means of small canals or "furrows"; these waters are the figure of the auxiliary forces wherewith Egypt tried to help Judah. See the same figure, Isaiah 8:7 . But "furrows where it grew."
8. It was planted in a good soil--It was not want of the necessaries of life, nor oppression on the port of Nebuchadnezzar, which caused Zedekiah to revolt: it was gratuitous ambition, pride, and ingratitude.
9. Shall it prosper?--Could it be that gratuitous treason should prosper? God will not allow it. "It," that is, the vine.
he . . . pull up--that is, the first eagle, or Nebuchadnezzar.
in all . . . leaves of her spring--that is, all its springing (sprouting) leaves.
without great power or many--It shall not need all the forces of Babylon to destroy it; a small division of the army will suffice because God will deliver it into Nebuchadnezzar's hand ( Jeremiah 37:10 ).
10. being planted--that is, "though planted."
east wind--The east wind was noxious to vegetation in Palestine; a fit emblem of Babylon, which came from the northeast.
wither in . . . furrows where it grew--Zedekiah was taken at Jericho, on Jewish soil ( Jeremiah 52:8 ). "It shall wither, although it has furrows from which it expects continual waterings" [CALVIN], ( Ezekiel 19:12 , Hosea 13:15 ).
12. Know ye not--He upbraided them with moral, leading to intellectual, stupidity.
hath taken the king--Jeconiah or Jehoiachin ( 2 Kings 24:11 2 Kings 24:12-16 ).
13. the king's seed--Zedekiah, Jeconiah's uncle.
taken . . . oath of him--swearing fealty as a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar ( 2 Chronicles 36:13 ).
also taken the mighty--as hostages for the fulfilment of the covenant; whom, therefore, Zedekiah exposed to death by his treason.
14. That the kingdom might be base--that is, low as to national elevation by being Nebuchadnezzar's dependent; but, at the same time, safe and prosperous, if faithful to the "oath." Nebuchadnezzar dealt sincerely and openly in proposing conditions, and these moderate ones; therefore Zedekiah's treachery was the baser and was a counterpart to their treachery towards God.
15. he rebelled--God permitted this because of His wrath against Jerusalem ( 2 Kings 24:20 ).
horses--in which Egypt abounded and which were forbidden to Israel to seek from Egypt, or indeed to "multiply" at all ( Deuteronomy 17:16 , Isaiah 31:1 Isaiah 31:3 ; compare Isaiah 36:9 ). DIODORUS SICULUS [1.45] says that the whole region from Thebes to Memphis was filled with royal stalls, so that twenty thousand chariots with two horses in each could be furnished for war.
Shall he prosper?--The third time this question is asked, with an indignant denial understood ( Ezekiel 17:9 Ezekiel 17:10 ). Even the heathen believed that breakers of an oath would not "escape" punishment.
16. in the place where the king dwelleth--righteous retribution. He brought on himself in the worst form the evil which, in a mild form, he had sought to deliver himself from by perjured treachery, namely, vassalage ( Ezekiel 12:13 , Jeremiah 32:5 , 34:3 , 52:11 ).
17. Pharaoh--Pharaoh-hophra ( Jeremiah 37:7 , 44:30 ), the successor of Necho ( 2 Kings 23:29 ).
Neither . . . make for him--literally, "effect (anything) with him," that is, be of any avail to Zedekiah. Pharaoh did not act in concert with him, for he was himself compelled to retire to Egypt.
by casting up mounts, &c.--So far from Pharaoh doing so for Jerusalem, this was what Nebuchadnezzar did against it ( Jeremiah 52:4 ). CALVIN MAURER, &c., refer it to Nebuchadnezzar, "when Nebuchadnezzar shall cast up mounts."
18. given his hand--in ratification of the oath ( 2 Kings 10:15 , Ezra 10:19 ), and also in token of subjection to Nebuchadnezzar ( 1 Chronicles 29:24 , Margin; 2 Chronicles 30:8 , Margin; Lamentations 5:6 ).
19. mine oath--The "covenant" being sworn in God's name was really His covenant; a new instance in relation to man of the treacherous spirit which had been so often betrayed in relation to God. God Himself must therefore avenge the violation of His covenant "on the head" of the perjurer (compare Psalms 7:16 ).
20. my net--( Ezekiel 12:13 , 32:3 ). God entraps him as he had tried to entrap others ( Psalms 7:15 ). This was spoken at least upwards of three years before the fall of Jerusalem (compare Ezekiel 8:1 , with Ezekiel 20:1 ).
21. all his fugitives--the soldiers that accompany him in his flight.
22. When the state of Israel shall seem past recovery, Messiah, Jehovah Himself, will unexpectedly appear on the scene as Redeemer of His people ( Isaiah 63:5 ).
I . . . also--God opposes Himself to Nebuchadnezzar: "He took of the seed of the land and planted it ( Ezekiel 17:3 Ezekiel 17:5 ), so will I, but with better success than he had. The branch he plucked (Zedekiah) and planted, flourished but for a time, to perish at last; I will plant a scion of the same tree, the house of David, to whom the kingdom belongs by an everlasting covenant, and it shall be the shelter of the whole world, and shall be for ever."
branch--the peculiar title of Messiah ( Zechariah 3:8 , 6:12 , Isaiah 11:1 , 4:2 , Jeremiah 23:5 , 33:15 ).
a tender one--Zerubbabel never reigned as a universal ( Ezekiel 17:23 ) king, nor could the great things mentioned here be said of him, except as a type of Messiah. Messiah alone can be meant: originally "a tender plant and root out of a dry ground" ( Isaiah 53:2 ); the beginning of His kingdom being humble, His reputed parents of lowly rank, though King David's lineal representatives; yet, even then, God here calls Him, in respect to His everlasting purpose, "the highest . . . of the high" ( Psalms 89:27 ).
I . . . will plant it upon an high mountain--Zion; destined to be the moral center and eminence of grace and glory shining forth to the world, out-topping all mundane elevation. The kingdom, typically begun at the return from Babylon, and the rebuilding of the temple, fully began with Christ's appearing, and shall have its highest manifestation at His reappearing to reign on Zion, and thence over the whole earth ( Psalms 2:6 Psalms 2:8 , Isaiah 2:2 Isaiah 2:3 , Jeremiah 3:17 ).
23. under it . . . all fowl--the Gospel "mustard tree," small at first, but at length receiving all under its covert ( Matthew 13:32 ); the antithesis to Antichrist, symbolized by Assyria, of which the same is said ( Ezekiel 31:6 ), and Babylon ( Daniel 4:12 ). Antichrist assumes in mimicry the universal power really belonging to Christ.
24. I . . . brought down the high--the very attribute given to God by the virgin mother of Him, under whom this was to be accomplished.
high . . . low tree--that is, princes elevated . . . lowered. All the empires of the world, represented by Babylon, once flourishing ("green"), shall be brought low before the once depressed ("dry"), but then exalted, kingdom of Messiah and His people, the head of whom shall be Israel ( Daniel 2:44 ).