Ezekiel 17



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;”  Again there is an interval

of silence, till another theme is suggested to the prophet’s mind and worked out

elaborately. This he describes as a “riddle” (same word as the “dark speeches” of

Numbers 12:8, the “hard questions” of I Kings 10:1).  It will task the ingenuity of

his hearers or readers to interpret it, and so he gives (vs. 12-24) the interpretation.

That interpretation enables us to fix the occasion and the date of the prophecy.

It was the time when Zedekiah was seeking to strengthen himself against

Nebuchadnezzar by an Egyptian alliance.



A Riddle and a Parable (v. 2)


In the present instance the riddle and the parable are one, the riddle being

expressed in the form of a parable. Both of these oblique forms of

expression are characteristic of Oriental literature, and appear frequently in

the pages of the Bible. Let us consider their advantages.


  • THE RIDDLE. This is not a mere puzzle to amuse; nor is it propounded

to vex and perplex the listener. Unlike our idle conundrum, it has a grave



Ø      To arrest attention. Ezekiel was required to prophesy to people with

blind eyes and deaf ears (ch. 12:2). The methods of direct instruction

had failed to impress his drowsy hearers. Called upon to try

more rousing means, the prophet now launches into parables and

riddles.  Novelty of method may be desirable in the expression of old

familiar truths.  It is useless to preach if we have not the ears of the

audience. Yet it is dangerous to shock reverence by frivolous

eccentricity. There was nothing frivolous in Ezekiel’s riddle, —

it was grave, and even sublime; neither was there anything

eccentric about it, — it followed a recognized method.


Ø      To provoke thought. While a direct statement may not be strongly

grasped just because it is intelligible in a moment, an oblique phrase,

which demands thought for the understanding of it, may sink the

deeper into the mind. It is not only requisite that we should see the

truth; we need also to TAKE HOLD OF IT!   An easy comprehension

of it does not satisfy all its demands, and we should not only think

about it, but think our way into it, using our own minds. Truth that

is thus held is most truly our own possession.


Ø      To endure. The riddle will be easily remembered and readily

transmitted.  Truth is not the private property of its discoverer

nor of his first hearer. It is the heritage of all; it claims eternal

remembrance. We want to make the teaching of it tell and stay.


  • THE PARABLE. Ezekiel’s riddle was thrown into the form of a

parable. Usually the riddle appears to have been of the character of a

parable, though perhaps, as a rule, more brief and less easily interpreted

than an ordinary parable; e.g. compare Samson’s riddle with Jotham’s

parable (Judges 14:14 and 9:7-15). The one is curt and enigmatical; the

other fuller and more easily understood. The parabolic form of speech has

its own peculiar advantages. Sharing the three advantages of the riddle

already discussed — i.e. arresting attention, provoking thought, and

enduring — though in a milder form when the parable is simpler and less

concise than the riddle, it is compensated for any apparent inferiority to the

riddle in these respects by the possession of certain good points of its own.

Let us consider its special mission.


Ø      To take possession of the imagination. The parable appeals to the

pictorial faculty. It handles truth on its poetic rather than on its

philosophical side. It is therefore realistic, for nothing is so realistic as

poetry, nothing so paints upon our inward eye the things it is

describing in words. Now, it is not enough that we should understand

the truth in word and naked idea. We want to see it, to handle it, to

feel the glow and power of its presence.


Ø      To connect truth with present facts. The parable brings heaven down to

earth. When dealing with earthly things it draws them into relation with

nearer objects. Thus it shows that the subjects it treats of are closely

connected with us. Theology is too much discussed as though it

belonged to the star Sirius. Parables remind us that it belongs to our

earth. Following analogies with nature and life, they indicate links of

connection between the material and the spiritual, between nature and

God, and also between nature and man.


3 “And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; A great eagle with great wings,

longwinged, full of feathers, which had divers colors, 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.”  The eagle with great wings and long pinions (Revised

Version) probably the golden eagle, the largest species of the genus —

stands for Nebuchadnezzar, as it does in Jeremiah 48:40; 49:22. In

Isaiah 46:11 the “ravenous bird” represents Cyrus. Possibly the eagle

head of the Assyrian god Nisroch (II Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38)

may have impressed the symbolism on Ezekiel’s mind. A doubtful

etymology gives “the great eagle” as the meaning of Nisroch. The divers

colors indicate the variety of the nations under the king’s sway

(Daniel 3:4: 4:1). If the cedar was chosen to be the symbol of the

monarchy of Judah, then it followed that Lebanon, as the special home of

the cedar, should take its place in the parable. Possibly the fact that one of

the stateliest palaces of Solomon was known as the “house of the forest of

Lebanon” (I Kings 7:2; 10:17, 21) may have made the symbolism

specially suggestive. The word for highest branch is peculiar to Ezekiel

(here and in v. 22). The branch so carried off was carried into “a land of

traffick (Hebrew,  Septuagint, and Vulgate, “a land of Canaan,” the word

being generalized in its meaning, as in ch.16:29), i.e. to Babylon, as preeminently

the merchant city of the time. This, of course, refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s

deportation of Jeconiah and the more eminent citizens of Jerusalem

(II Kings 24:8-15).



A City of Merchants (v. 4)


An apt designation this of Babylon the great, the very center and emporium

of commerce in the East. The deportation of the chief men among the Jews

from their own land to Mesopotamia is pictorially described under the

similitude of the highest branch of the cedar of Lebanon carried by the

great Assyrian eagle away astward “into a land of traffic” and set in “a

city of merchants.” The description of Babylon is applicable to the great

centers of population in our own and other lands, which serve both to

concentrate and to diffuse the products which constitute so large a part of

the wealth of the world, and which minister to human convenience and

luxury. As an important factor in civilization, such cities should be

considered in the light of reflection and religion.




impulses which estrange and isolate men; but there are others which draw

them together. We are by nature social; we have natural sympathies; we

depend one upon another; we only live intellectually and morally in virtue

of our mutual intercourse. Not only so; men find their interest and pleasure

in close associations of various kinds. It is to their mutual advantage to

gather together for the interchange of services. Thus it is in accordance

with laws imposed upon our constitution by the Maker of all that men

gather together in cities. In such populous centers the busy and active, the

laborious and the influential, find scope for the exercise of their powers.

Craftsmen and tradesmen, the bees of the social hive, spend in town life

almost the whole of their earthly existence. And even those whose vocation

is more distinctively intellectual, and who prefer retirement and quiet, still

do not allow themselves to be cut off from the busy haunts of men; but

ever and anon plunge, if but for a brief season, into the rapid, whirling tide

of humanity that sweeps through their country’s capital.




MIND. As compared with those engaged in rural pursuits, the dwellers in

cities are quick and enterprising. They are brought more frequently into

contact with one another, and each man meets daily a far richer variety of

character. They are more ready to take in new ideas and to form new

habits. In cities there are great contrasts. The life of the farm laborer and

that of the country gentleman are not so contrasted as the life of the artisan

and that of the merchant. In cities wealth and luxury are side by side with

poverty and wretchedness. The poor have fewer to care for them, and the

rich have fewer natural claims and responsibilities There is a rush and

scramble for wealth and position, which renders a great city the natural

theme of the cynic’s sniper and the satirist’s invective. Yet beneath all this

there is much in city life which cannot but be regarded with interest and

admiration; and the contempt which is felt for townspeople is often

superficial prejudice.



SIN. There is a bad as well as a good side to city life. In the race for riches

there are many opportunities for theft, peculation, embezzlement, and

forgery, and the widespread desire for rapid enrichment furnishes motives

to which too many sooner or later yield. In a vast population provision is

made for amusement and excitement, and for vicious gratification, and in

this whirlpool multitudes of the young and heedless and pleasure seeking

go down, NEVER TO EMERGE!   There is in great cities a possibility of

concealment, by which many are encouraged to form habits of self-

indulgence and dissipation, from which they might in more favorable

circumstances have been restrained by the gentle pressure of home

influence and wholesome public opinion. No wonder that, when parents

send a son to the metropolis to earn a living or to seek a fortune, their

minds are distressed and anxious at the thought of the manifold

temptations to which the child of many prayers is to be exposed.




the seat of government, of literature, of manufacture, of commerce, is often

compared to the heart in the body, whence the streams of life flow

constantly and regularly to reach the remotest extremity. In the great

monarchies, empires, and republics of the world, how great a part has been

played by the cities in which wealth and power have been concentrated,

and by which national policy has been so largely shaped! How could the

history of mankind be written without reference to Memphis, to Nineveh,

to Babylon, to Rome, to Constantinople, to Paris, to London, to New

York and Washington, D.C.?  Intelligence and wealth, luxury and vice,

patriotism and public spirit, law and religion, spread from the great centers

of population, industry, and prosperity, and affect the remotest regions.




abound in enterprise and public spirit, and these may be employed as truly

in the enlightenment and improvement of men as in the acquisition of

wealth. They abound in population, and furnish persons of every grade of

natural and acquired qualification for the several departments of Christian

usefulness. They abound in wealth; and material means are necessary for

the conduct of educational, philanthropic, and missionary plans. They have

abundant means of communicating with localities near and far, which it

may be desired to reach and affect for good; from them roads radiate to

every part of the land, and ships sail to every port. These and other

circumstances lead to the belief that our great cities will become in the

future, even more than in the past, centers and ministers of blessing to



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.”

The seed of the land is Zedekiah, who was made king by

Nebuchadnezzar in Jeconiah’s place. The imagery of the willow (the

Hebrew word occurs here only) seems suggested by Ezekiel’s

surroundings. No tree could stand out in greater contrast to the cedar of

Lebanon than the willows which he saw growing by the waters of Babylon

(Psalm 137:2, though the word is different). The choice of the willow

determined the rest of the imagery, and the fruitful field and the great or

many” (Revised Version) waters represent Judah, possibly with reference

to its being in its measure a “land of brooks of waters,” of “fountains and

depths,” of “wheat and barley and wine” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9; 11:10-12).

The kingdom of Zedekiah, i.e., was left with sufficient elements for

material prosperity. That prosperity is indicated in v. 6 by the fact that

the willow became a vine. It was of “low stature,” indeed, trailing on the

ground. It could not claim the greatness of an independent kingdom. Its

branches turned toward the planter (Ibid.); its roots were under him. It

acknowledged, that is, Nebuchadnezzar’s suzerainty, and so, had things

continued as they were, it might have prospered.


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.”  The other great eagle is, of course, Egypt, then

under Apries, or Pharaoh-Hophra (Jeremiah 44:30). We note the absence of

the “long pinions” and the “many colors” of the first eagle. Egypt was not so

strong, nor did her sway extend over so great a variety of nations as

Babylon. To that eagle the vine bent its roots, i.e., as in v. 15, Zedekiah

courted the alliance of Pharaoh (Apries), and trusted in his chariots, he was

to water the vine, which so turned to him from the beds of her

plantation (Revised Version).


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.”  Ezekiel repeats, as justifying Nebuchadnezzar’s action, that

his first intention had been to leave Zedekiah under conditions which would

have given his kingdom a fair measure of prosperity. The vine might have

borne fruit.


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.”

The prophet, like his contemporary Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:7), like his

predecessor Isaiah (Isaiah 30:1-7), is against this policy

of an Egyptian alliance. The question which he asks, as the prophet of

Jehovah, implies an answer in the negative. The doom of failure was

written on all such projects. The he of the next question is not

Nebuchadnezzar, but indefinite, like the French on. For leaves of her

spring, read, with the Revised Version, fresh springing leaves; or, the

leaves of her sprouting. The Authorized Version and the Revised Version

of the last clause seems to assert that Nebuchadnezzar would have an easy

victory. It would not take great power or much people to pluck up such a

vine from its roots, i.e. no forces of Egypt or other allies should be able to

restore Judah from its ruins. Its fall was, for the time, irretrievable (compare v. 17).


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.”  The question, Shall it prosper? comes with all the

emphasis of iteration. The east wind is, as elsewhere, the symbol of scorching and

devastating power (ch. 19:12; Hosea 13:15; Jonah 4:8; Job 27:21). For furrows,

read beds, with Revised Version. In the case of the Chaldeans, who came from

the east, there was a special appropriateness in the symbolism.



The Parable of the Two Eagles (vs. 3-10)



  • THE FIRST EAGLE AND THE CEDAR. The eagle is the King of

Babylon. The cedar is the house of David. Nebuchadnezzar cut off the

topmost twigs of this tree when he deported Jehoiakim and his court to



Ø      God uses powerful instruments. The eagle is the king of birds. The

one here described is of exceptional splendor, with variegated plumage

(v. 3). Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful monarch of his age,

and he carried with him the glory of conquest over various nations,

together with those resources which he drew from them which added

to the sweep of his mighty wings of victory. Yet this awful tyrant was

a puppet in the hands of the King of kings, who used him to work out



Ø      Earthly greatness is no security against ruin. The house of David was

great, ancient, and glorious, like a cedar of Lebanon among the trees of

the forest. No cattle of the field could pluck the topmost twigs that

waved proudly in the wind. But the eagle swooped down upon them,

tore them off, and bore them away to his distant eyrie (nest), with

greater ease than if they had been obscure boughs of lowly shrubs.

The greatness of the house of David did not protect Jehoiakim against

Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonian monarch seized that wretched

king and carried him captive to Chaldea. There is an earthly exaltation

which springs from the favor of Heaven. Yet when that favor is lost,

all its former glory will not save it.  Let no one boast in his privileges

and attainments; they are flimsy shields before the fiery darts of

judgment.  (“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take

heed lest he fall.”  - I Corinthians 10:12)


  • THE SECOND EAGLE AND THE VINE. This eagle is Pharaoh of

Egypt. The vine is Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar set up as king in

Jerusalem in place of Jehoiachin.


Ø      It is better to be fruitful than famous. If Zedekiah had acted wisely he

might have had a safe, though humble, reign. He could no longer rule

in pride, like Jehoiakim before him, as the top twig of a glorious cedar;

but as a lowly young vine, feeble and small, he might bear good fruit.

A humble, useful life is better than one of proud pretensions, and

safer too; for the vine would not have attracted the destroying eagle

if it had grown in quiet.


Ø      The feeble are tempted to seek inefficient help. The vine appealed to a

second eagle. Zedekiah sought an alliance with Pharaoh. This was bad

policy, for it was certain to provoke the vengeance of Babylon, and then

even the might of the ancient empire of Egypt would be unequal to cope

with the enraged power from the Euphrates, even if Pharaoh proved

true to his alliance in the hour of need. But Zedekiah was MORE THAN

politically foolish. He had lost faith in God, THE ONE SURE

PROTECTOR OF ISRAEL!  (See II Kings 18:21)   Men trust to

policy, money, friendship, etc.  But no earthly alliance will save in

the hour of greatest need.


Ø      Confidence in a worthless defense will lead to ruin. The vine had better

never have appealed to the second eagle. Zedekiah suffered grievously

through leaning on Egypt. If we turn from OUR TRUE REFUGE

to any earthly supports, we shall not only find them fail us; we shall

also provoke WRATH and JUDGMENT!   Deceitful cunning will

only aggravate the fate of the sinner.  Zedekiah’s treachery made

his doom the more certain.




Discontent and Its Disastrous Development (vs. 5-10)




SCOPE FOR PROGRESS. “He took also of the seed of the land, and

planted it in a fruitful field,” etc. (vs. 5, 8). Zedekiah King of Judah is

meant by “the seed of the land.”  He was set upon the throne by

Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, and took an oath of fealty to him.

In so doing Nebuchadnezzar was the unconscious agent of Divine

providence.  (The background of Zedekiah can be found in  II Kings

24:17-25:7;  Jeremiah 39:1-7; 52:1-11; II Chronicles 36:10-21) 

And the condition in which Zedekiah was placed was a good one, and

favourable to progress. But is there for every one a condition allotted by

God? Has He appointed the station and place even of the obscure and

feeble? We argue that such is the case, because:


Ø      The providence of God is universal, including in its vast operations the

great and the small, the high and the low. Every person and every event

is comprehended in the great plan of the Supreme Ruler.  Without a plan

such as this His providential government could not possibly succeed.

(Consider Christ’s teaching in Matthew 6:26-30; 10:29-31).


Ø      The sacred Scriptures reveal the care of God for every person — not

only for the great and noble, but for the obscure and lowly. He

distributes to some men one talent, to others five; and He looks for

the right employment of the one as well as of the five. In fact, the

Most High manifests special interest in the weak and the poor and

the unregarded (compare I Corinthians 1:26-29; James 2:5).


Ø      This truth is confirmed by the material creation of God. That creation is

one grand whole, to the completeness of which every portion is essential.

The system of the universe is, in fact, so perfect, that the

loss or displacement of any member would fatally derange the general

order. If there were any smallest star in heaven that had no place to fill,

that oversight would beget a disturbance which no Leverrier could

compute; because it would be a real and eternal, and not merely casual or

apparent disorder. One grain more or less of sand would disturb or even

fatally disorder the whole scheme of the heavenly motions. So nicely

balanced, and so carefully hung, are the worlds, that even the grains of

their dust are counted, and their places adjusted to a corresponding nicety.

There is nothing included in the gross, or total sum, that could be

dispensed with. The same is true in regard to forces that are apparently

irregular. Every particle of air is moved by laws of as great precision as the

laws of the heavenly bodies, or, indeed, by the same laws; keeping its

appointed place, and serving its appointed use....What now shall we say of

man? Noblest of all creatures, and closest to God, as he certainly is, are we

to say that his Creator has no definite thoughts concerning him, no place

prepared for him to fill, no use for him to serve, which is the reason of his

existence? For these reasons we conclude that God has allotted a place

and duty for each of us; and that place is best for us. It is that which

infinite wisdom and kindness have appointed; and is therefore best

suited to the end which God designs in us and for us. And our condition

usually, like that of Zedekiah, admits of progress. From the smallest hamlet

there is a way to the great metropolis. And the obscurest and meanest lot

affords scope for fidelity and diligence and advancement.




content. The kingdom had actually made some progress under him. “It

grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature,” etc. (v. 6). Further

progress was possible to him. At the very least, “he might have kept the

fragments of the kingdom of Judah together, and maintained for some

generations longer the worship of Jehovah.” But he and the princes of his

court were not content with this. Judah had formerly been an independent

and prosperous and powerful kingdom: why should it now be subject to

Babylon? Why should they not discover or devise means for recovering

their national independence? Thus we are apt to fail as regards

contentment. We look at the bright side of our neighbor’s lot in life, and

at the dark side of our own, and become dissatisfied and restless. We long

for the gifts, the advantages, and the circumstances of others, and in so

doing we depreciate the good which we actually possess. We crave

freedom from some hindrance or infirmity; we are eager for larger

prosperity or speedier progress; we chafe under our restraints, and are

impatient for the realization of our wishes, and are heartily discontented

with our present circumstances and condition. (Does this not describe

the hankering for entitlements in our society? – CY – 2014) But, it may be

asked, is man to sink into ignoble content, never wishing to increase his

attainments, to advance in his character, or to improve his circumstances?

Certainly not.  Such a state of mind can hardly be called contentment. It is

more akin to indolence and slothfulness; and it leads to stagnation and ruin.

The true contentment of man is the contentment of a being created for progress.

But such progress should not be based upon discontent with our present

condition, and unfaithfulness in our present duties. That man only is fit for

a greater position who makes the best use of his present position. “A man

proves himself fit to go higher who shows that he is faithful where he is.

(Jesus said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant:  thou has been

faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things:

enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Mattthew 25:21,23)   A man that

will not do well in his present place, because he longs to be higher, is fit

neither to be where he is nor yet above it; he is already too high, and

should be put lower. Hence the Apostle Paul required his converts to

abide each one in that calling wherein he was called (I Corinthians 7:20);

to fill his place till God opens a way, by filling it, to some other; the bondman

to fill his house of bondage with love and duty, the laborer to labor, the

woman to be a woman, the men to show themselves men, all

to acknowledge God’s hand in their lot, and seek to cooperate with that

good design which He most assuredly cherishes for them.





did Zedekiah in seeking an alliance with Egypt. “There was also another

great eagle with great wings and many feathers,” etc. (v. 7). He had

solemnly sworn fealty to Nebuchadnezzar for himself and the people under

him. If there was anything in his circumstances or condition which he

wished to be altered, he should have applied to Nebuchadnezzar, not to

Pharaoh. Yet in his discontent, and incited by his princes, he sought an

alliance with the King of Egypt, violated the sacred oath which he had

sworn unto the King of Babylon, and rebelled against him. Supposing that

rebellion had been successful, instead of the ruinous failure that it was, it

would still have been a great wrong, because it would have been achieved

by dishonorable and sinful means. Should discontent ever prompt us to

use ways and instruments that are not upright and honorable for the

altering of our condition, we may be quite sure that THAT DISCONTENT

IS WICKED!  When discontent becomes strong and active, we grow

impatient of the working of the Divine purposes concerning us, and are

tempted to break from our submission to the guidance and control of God’s

providence, and to take the ordering of our life into our own hands. And if

we will take the helm of our life out of God’s hands into our own, He will

not compel us to yield to His guidance. Moreover, if we will employ

questionable means to accomplish our desires when we cannot realize

those desires otherwise, we may do so; but it will be to our own injury.




it was with Zedekiah. “Thus saith the Lord God; Shall it prosper?” etc.

(vs. 9, 10). Zedekiah entered into alliance with Egypt, rebelled against

Nebuchadnezzar, who came and besieged Jerusalem, and after the people

had suffered unutterable miseries by famine and pestilence, the city was

taken, the temple was destroyed; Zedekiah, who attempted escape by

flight, was captured and brought before the King of Babylon at Riblah,

where his sons were slain before his eyes; then his eyes were put out, he

was carried captive into Babylon, and died in prison in that land

(Jeremiah 52:1-11). Such was the disastrous development of his

discontent. And still, if unchecked, discontent leads to ruinous issues,

robbing the life of peace and progress, and conducting it to darkness and

failure. If we will take the management of our life out of God’s hands into

our own, we shall certainly come into difficulties and trials, and perhaps

even into ruin. We have neither knowledge nor wisdom enough to order

our lives aright. “The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that

walketh to direct his steps”  (Jeremiah 9:23); “Trust in the Lord with all

thine heart, and not upon thine own understanding: in all thy ways

acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). 

Be not ambitious to do the highest work, the grandest work, but the work

God gives you to do — be it the most menial service, be it what others call

drudgery. You may make it beautiful by the spirit in which you perform it.

Strive not after the ‘many things,’ but after the ‘one thing needful’

(Luke 10:41-42), and  remember, every part assigned you by God is a

good part — be it the servant’s part or the mistress’s, the teacher’s part or

the scholar’s, the wife’s part or the maid’s, — the part of action or of

suffering, of toil or of tears, of speech or of silence. “And be content with

such things as ye have: for himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee,

neither will I in any wise forsake thee.”  (Hebrews 13:5)



Shall it Prosper? (v. 10)



prosperity may blind us as to its true nature. There is a prosperity which

none need covet, a swollen worldly success that leaves the soul starved,

barren, and sapless. (Like the Children of Israel – “They….lusted

exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert.  And He

gave them their request; but sent leanness to their souls.”  - Psalm

106:14-15 – CY – 2014).   It may be more blessed to suffer from the

stimulating shocks of adversity than to be surfeited with such a false

prosperity. But real prosperity is naturally and rightly desired. No one

ought to be content to make shipwreck of life. We may not attain to the

objects which we set before ourselves, and we may never realize any very

great success in the eyes of men. But that our lives should break up in ruin

is of all things most to he deplored. The question, “Shall it prosper?” is

thus to be asked with natural anxiety. We may ask it in regard to


Ø      the soul;

Ø      the Church;

Ø      a specific enterprise.


  • PROSPERITY MAY BE EASILY MISSED. The vine in the parable

did not prosper. Zedekiah’s diplomacy was a failure. Many men make

shipwreck of life. Churches sink into deadness. The inquiry should go

back to the possible causes of failure.


Ø      A false aim. Zedekiah thought only of his own throne. He did not

give evidence of the genuine patriotism which would have preferred

the welfare of the nation to his own safety. Selfishness may win

worldly success. But it is certain to starve the roots of soul prosperity.


Ø      A false trust. Zedekiah trusted to Pharaoh instead of God. If we are

looking for prosperity in any region to the neglect of our trust in God,

we are courting failure, for with Him are the issues of life. 


Ø      A false character. Zedekiah not only leaned upon a broken reed in

trusting to Egypt; he acted treacherously in so doing. Deceit is

fatal to the soul. Fraud never secures true prosperity, though it may

win earthly pelf.


  • PROSPERITY NEED NOT BE MISSED. Here, again, we must bear

in mind the nature of true prosperity. We cannot all be rich or successful in

earthly enterprises. But no soul need be wrecked, for it is within the power

of all to attain to a life which shall be reckoned successful in the sight of

God. We should see to it that we have the secret of this prosperity.


Ø      Living for God. This will give us a right aim. The soul that lives for self,

for the world, for any lower aim, is running for the rocks. But no one

who truly lives for God can utterly fail.


Ø      Trusting in God. It is not easy to pursue this high aim; indeed, it is

impossible to do so without the aid of Divine grace. The life of faith is

the only perfectly prosperous life. The heroes of faith whose fame is

celebrated in Hebrews 11 were all of them truly successful, though

many of them uffered and some died as martyrs.



is pertinent. Everything else may look fair, but if this vital question receives

a negative reply, all the other points of excellence count for nothing, or

even tell against us in mockery of the one fatal flaw. The life may be

comfortable; the Church may be sound and orthodox, or popular and

attractive; the plan of work may be clever and original. But what is the use

of all these pleasant features if they are to end in failure?


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.”  The parable has been spoken.

Ezekiel, after the pause implied in v. 11, now becomes its interpreter. And that

interpretation is to be addressed to the “rebellious house” (ch.2:3, 6) among whom

he lived. Probably even among the exiles of Tel-Abib there were some who

cherished hopes of the success of the Egyptian alliance, and of the downfall

of the power of Babylon as its outcome. The tenses are better in the

indefinite past — “came,” “took,” “brought,” and so on in v. 13. The

history of Jeconiah’s deportation and of Zedekiah’s oath of fealty

(II Chronicles 36:13) is recapitulated. He dwells specially on the fact that the

mighty of the land had been carried off with Jeconiah. It was

Nebuchadnezzar’s policy to deprive the kingdom of all its elements of

strength — to leave it “bare.” Even masons, smiths, and carpenters were

carried off, lest they should be used for warlike preparations (II Kings 24:16).

It could not lift itself up. It was enough if “by keeping its covenant”

it was allowed to stand.


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?”  That they might give him horses. The

chariots and horses” of Egypt seem, throughout its whole history, to have

been its chief element of strength. See for the time of Moses (Exodus 14:7),

of Solomon (I Kings 10:28-29), of Rehoboam (II Chronicles 12:3), of Hezekiah

(Isaiah 31:1: 36:9). Shall he prosper? What had been asked in the

parable is asked also, in identical terms, in the interpretation. Ezekiel

presses home the charge of disloyalty as well as rebellion. Like Jeremiah, he

looks on Nebuchadnezzar as reigning by a Divine right.


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.”  Ezekiel repeats the prediction of ch.12:13. The prison

in Babylon, under the eye of the king against whom he had rebelled; this

was to be the outcome-of the alliance with Egypt. The prophecy was

probably written when the hopes of Zedekiah and his counselors were at

their highest point, when the Chaldeans had, in fact, raised the siege in

anticipation of the arrival of the Egyptian army (Jeremiah 37:5-11).

Ezekiel, like Jeremiah (loc. cit.), declared that the relief would be but



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.  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.”

By casting up mounts, etc.; better, with the Revised Version,

when they cast up mounts. The words describe the strategical operations,

not of the Egyptians against the Chaldeans, but of the Chaldeans, when

they recovered from their first alarm, against Jerusalem (II Kings 25:1;

Jeremiah 39:1).  The Egyptians, Ezekiel predicts, would be powerless to

prevent that second and decisive siege. In vs. 18-19 the prophet emphasizes

the fact that this would be the just punishment of Zedekiah’s unfaithfulness.



The Broken Covenant (vs. 18-19)


In turning to Egypt for protection Zedekiah had broken faith with

Nebuchadnezzar; but he had done worse, for he had broken the covenant

between God and the house of David.



sin against man is also sin against God. The second table of

commandments lies upon the first, and a breach of the one involves a

breach of the other. David confesses that he had sinned against God, and

God only (Psalm 51:4), though his crime was directly committed

against Uriah the Hittite. The penitent prodigal charges himself with having

sinned against heaven as well as before his father (Luke 15:18). God

enters into all earthly arrangements. The oath is a direct call upon God to

do this; but without any such solemn appeal God cannot but take note of

all we say and do, and as THE GUARDIAN OF TRUTH AND JUSTICE

He will consider any earthly unfaithfulness as wrong against Himself.




UNFAITHFUL TO THEIR FELLOW MEN. Zedekiah was the king of a

covenant nation, and his throne was bound by God’s solemn covenant with

David. He was, therefore, in a special sense a servant of God. If the

servant behaves ill in the world his Master must take note of the fact. It is a

wrong against the Master, who is dishonored by his shameful conduct.

When a professedly Christian man shows a lack of integrity before the

world, his sin is intensified by contrast with his high profession. It is bad

for the common person to be faithless, but when a knight of honored title

shows the same failure of character, he brings disgrace upon his order. If

one who stands before men as a Christian proves himself to be

dishonorable in business, he injures the holy Name of his Master, and he

breaks faith with the God whom he has promised to serve.



HEINOUS SIN. The Jews were peculiarly privileged; therefore their sin

was especially guilty. They were bound to fidelity by exceptional pledges;

their disloyalty was, therefore, the more culpable. Christians now stand in

the ancient position of the Jews.


Ø      Christians are peculiarly privileged. They not only receive the general

mercies of God which all men may share. They are partakers of His

choicest covenant blessings. Jesus Christ, who has pledged the new

covenant in His blood, has brought with it the highest blessings.

For Christians to fall into sin is doubly guilty.


Ø      Christians are especially pledged. If we take the Christian name we

incur the Christian obligations. The vows of God are then upon us.

We are pledged to loyalty to Christ. It is no common sin to break

vows of Christian service. The prophet called this sin in Israel

adultery. It carries the shame and guilt of that outrage on honor.


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.”  The words receive a special significance

as being identical with those which Ezekiel had uttered in ch.12:13, with the

addition that the sin against Nebuchadnezzar as the vicegerent of Jehovah,

was a sin against Jehovah Himself as the God of faithfulness and truth.

There, in Babylon, the real character of his sin should be brought home to the

conscience of the blind and captive king. What follows in v. 21, in like

manner, reproduces ch.12:14-15.


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.”  From the message of deserved

chastisement the prophet passes to the promise of restoration. The cedar

of Israel is not dead. Jehovah would, in His own time, take the highest branch,

tender and slender though it might be, the true heir of David’s house, and

deal with it far otherwise than the Chaldean conqueror had done.

The latter had carried off the branch to the “land of trafficksc. had

brought Jeconiah to Babylon. Jehovah would plant His branch upon the

mountain of the height of Israel (Isaiah 2:2;  Micah 4:1). It was

not to be as a willow in a low place, but to flourish, true to its origin as a

cedar, so that “all fowl of every wing” should dwell in the shadow of its

branches (compare ch. 31:3-9, where the same imagery is used of

Assyria; and Matthew 13:32). As with like prophecies in Isaiah 11:1 and 53:2

(where the “tender one” finds a parallel), the words paint an

ideal never historically realized, but finding a partia1 fulfillment in

Zerubbabel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, merging in the

still unfulfilled vision of the kingdom of the Messiah and the restoration of

Israel. To Ezekiel, as to other prophets, it was not given to know the times

and the seasons, or even the manner of the fulfillment of his hopes; and

when he uttered the words, the vision may have seemed not far off, but

nigh at hand.



Christ, the New Cedar (vs. 22-23)


After words of darkness and ruin, there appears the wonderful Messianic

prophecy of restoration and future blessings. Sometimes this prophecy is

expressed in general terms; but here the THE PERSONAL MESSIAH

IS PREDICTED under the image of a shoot taken from the fallen cedar.




Ø      It is a cutting from the old cedar. That proud and once venerable tree

has been cruelly torn by the fierce eagle. One of its topmost twigs has

been carried away, for Jehoiachin has been taken to Babylon. But

another shoot from the same tree is destined to a glorious future.

Christ is of the stock of David. He is called God’s Servant, “the

Branch” (Zechariah 3:8). The people hailed Jesus as the “Son of David”

(Matthew 20:30). Christ comes as a King, and He comes to fulfill God’s

ancient promises to David.  He unites the present to the past, and

accomplishes in Himself what the throne of David had failed to attain.


Ø      It appears as a slender twig. It was said of the Christ, “He shall grow up

before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground” (Isaiah

53:2). Jesus entered the world in the lowly estate of the infant Child of a

poor woman, and His earthly life was one of humiliation and slight visible



Ø      It is planted on a mountain.


o       At Zion. Christ appears on the holy hill of Zion. He was welcomed

with hosannahs as he went up to Jerusalem. His truth first shone

out of Judaism, and for the benefit of the people of Zion.


o       In exaltation. Christ was exalted by God, although He presented

a humble appearance to men.  (Philippians 2:9-11)


o       In a conspicuous place. Christ appeared openly before men.





Ø      It is to grow in size. It shall bring forth boughs. The cutting becomes a

cedar tree. The mustard seed grows into a great tree. Christ not only

grew in stature, wisdom, and grace as a Child (Luke 2:52). He grew in

power afterwards, being made perfect by the things that He suffered

(Hebrews 5:8-9), and being exalted to the right hand of God on

account of His great self sacrifice at the cross. Christ continues to grow

in the extension of His kingdom, in the progress of the Church, which

is His body.


Ø      It is to be fruitful. “And bear fruit.” This cedar is to share the merits of

the vine. Great as the monarch of Lebanon is it is to be fruitful as the

tender plants of the vineyard. Christ is not only great and exalted, and

ever growing in the power of His kingdom. He gives out grace. His

fruit is for THE HEALING OF THE NATIONS (Revelation 22:2).

He is the Bread of life, and His people feed upon Him (John 6:48).

Christianity is not merely a big success, like Mohammedanism. It is a

blessing to the world as beneficent as it is victorious. The great Oriental

monarchies were destructive, bringing a blast from the desert over the

countries they conquered. The kingdom of heaven is healthful and

fertilizing, promoting goodness, enterprise, civilization. We do not

simply admire a great Lord in His solitary grandeur, like some awful,

barren, Alpine peak. We are grateful to One who is as a fruitful tree.


Ø      It is to afford shelter. The birds are to roost in its branches, and take

refuge from the storm under its foliage. So was it to be with the

mustard tree (Matthew 13:31).


o       Christ is a Refuge.

o       His shelter is FOR ALL who need Him, as under the cedar

shall dwell all fowl of every wing.”


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.” All the trees of the field, etc.

As the cedar of Lebanon stands here for the royal house of David, so the

other “trees” represent the surrounding nations, who are thought of as

witnessing, first the strange prostration, and then the yet stranger resurrection

of the house and the might of Judah and Israel. The thought, which reproduces

that of I Samuel 2:7, finds an echo in Luke 1:51-52. Another echo of the words

may, perhaps, be traced in the “green tree” and the “dry” of Ibid. ch.23:31.

Here then, also, as in ch. 16., the utterance which , demoted

king the prophet sees that of THE DIVINE IDEAL KING IN THE




The Great Reversal (v. 24)


The great tree is to be cast down and withered, while the lowly growth is

to be planted on high, and is to flourish. This was true of Zedekiah and

Christ, as of Saul the king and David the shepherd. It is recognized in the

Magnificat (Luke 1:52); for the lowly Mary of Nazareth is honored,

when the great families of Jerusalem are slighted. The principle that it

illustrates is pointed out by Christ, who tells us not only the general truth

that “the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16), but also its

moral justification. “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and

he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Ibid. ch.23:12).




Ø      The humiliation of the great. This takes two forms.


o       Lowered rank. The great cedar is to be cast down.

Shame follows honor.

o       Exhausted resources. The green tree is dried up. Earthly

prosperity is followed by misery, the fullness of resources by



Ø      The exaltation of the low. This also takes two forms, corresponding to

the humiliation.


o       Higher rank. The low tree is exalted, and the twig becomes a

Mighty cedar. So the lowly Jesus becomes the great Christ,

and the humble servant of God is raised to heavenly glory.

o       Improved condition. The dry tree flourishes. The once depressed

Good cause lifts up its head and becomes prosperous. This was

seen in the growth and success of early Christianity after the

shame of the cross, and the consequent depression of the earthly

state of Christ’s disciples. Jesus Christ speaks of a similar great

reversal in the future judgment of the world.




Ø      It is attributed to God. He it is who makes great, and He also makes low.

The most lofty rank is not above the reach of His terrible hand of justice;

the lowest estate is not beneath His condescension. The great sweep of

providence embraces all men.


Ø      It is conditioned by human character. God is not capricious. He does

not grudge prosperity to His children. There is no Nemesis threatening

human success apart from that of justice against wrong doing. Innocent

prosperity is not regarded with disfavor by God. The selfish envy with

which the unfortunate are tempted to pursue their more happy brethren

can find no justification in the ways of God. On the other hand, present

misfortune is not in itself a ground for future favor, though it may be a

plea for simple pity and needful mercy. The high are not cast down just

because they are high, nor are the low exalted solely because they are low.

Christ has given us the secret of the great reversal in the passage already

quoted, viz. humiliation is to be the punishment of self-seeking, and

exaltation is to be the reward of self-sacrifice. That is the great lesson

which Paul draws from the cross of Christ (Philippians 2:4-11).



of the field shall know,” etc. God’s providential judgment is public; so will

the great judgment be.


Ø      The shame of the fall of the great cannot be hidden. High

reputations have been trampled in the mire.

Ø      The fame of the exaltation of the low will not be kept secret.

Ø      These facts contain warning lessons for the proud and self-seeking,

and encouragement for the humble and unselfish. They are meant to

be noted.

Ø      They glorify God, who thus shows Himself just and good, and mighty

against the strong.



The Parable of the Vine (vs. 1-21)


Sin of every sort has a baneful power of blinding the mind of the

transgressor. The thief does not perceive the criminality of his act. He

complains only of the law which is so severe. The drunkard does not

perceive the culpability of his course. May he not order his life as he

pleases? So is it in every case — even in the case of secret sin. The moral

sense is blinded, infatuated, indurated.  In all such instances some ingenious

method is required to convince the judgment of its wrong doing. This can

often be done by means of a parable. The persons addressed perceive the

incongruity or the folly set forth in the picture, before they perceive that it

applies to themselves — condemn their own conduct. This is Ezekiel’s

purpose in this chapter.


  • THE YOUNG SHOOT PLANTED. In this chapter we have both

parable and interpretation; hence there is no scope for conjecture touching

the meaning. The tender twig is said to have been plucked from a cedar in

Lebanon. For what Lebanon was to Palestine in natural fertility and glory,

Jerusalem was in political eminence. What the cedar is among trees, royal

princes are among the population. The most promising young men of the

royal house had been transplanted to Babylon (see Daniel 1:1-2).

Every endeavor was made to train them for usefulness and eminence.


  • A FERTILE SITUATION. It was planted in “a fruitful field” — placed

by great waters.” All that could minister to the growth of the tree was

provided. The outward advantages conferred upon Israel were

exceptionally favorable. God had dealt with them as He had not dealt with

any other nation. Even when the wave of invasion swept over them, He did

not allow it at the first to overthrow them completely. The conqueror still

made terms with them, which, if honorably maintained on their part,

might have led to a recovery of independence and honor. The God of

heaven was still their Friend, and it was in his heart to show them every

possible favor. No enemy was so formidable as their own selves.


  • ROBUST GROWTH.It grew and became a spreading vine.” “It

brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs.” It had within itself

abundance of life. Interpreted politically, this must mean that Israel had

statesmen and warriors competent for the administration of her national

affairs. She had men of intellectual gifts — far-sighted prophets — young

men of courage and energy. As a nation, Israel had not sunk into the

weakness and decrepitude of old age. It was not from any process of

natural decay that calamity had overtaken her. The secret of her downfall

must be sought in her MORAL DELINQUENCIES  in her LACK



  • HER INDEBTEDNESS. For this fresh trial of her integrity and

fruitfulness, the King of Israel was under obligation to the King of

Babylon, here symbolized by the first eagle. Israel had acknowledged this

obligation. It had become a matter of international treaty and compact.

That Israel’s nationality and existence had not, at once, been terminated by

the Eastern conqueror was due solely to his clemency. The defeated

kingdom had allotted to it another lease of existence, another chance of

meriting renown. “It was planted in a good soil, by great waters,” and the

enjoyment of this privilege was a pure favor. Hence arose a new and

distinct obligation — an obligation admitted and defined.


  • FLAGRANT TREACHERY. It is not consistent with the rules of

literary composition to speak of a vine as guilty of treachery. But a teacher

of religion is more concerned with the substance of his communication than

with the form. If only Ezekiel could bring home to Israel’s conscience the

greatness of her sin he would easily forgive himself mere literary blemish.

Earthly metaphors were incompetent to express all the truth. The violation

of a positive covenant was a flagrant offence. We can conceive of none

greater, especially as it was a covenant made in the name of God. And it

was as foolish as it was flagrant. Did he suppose that Nebuchadnezzar

would not resent the insult and avenge his outraged honor? Wrong doing

is always bad policy (There is no right way to do the wrong thing!),

 as inexpedient as immoral. If man cannot trust the oath and compact of a

fellow man, all the bands of society would be loosed, and this globe would

be a perpetual scene of anarchy, war, and misery (Just the scene that Jesus

said will happen – Matthew 24:12-13 – CY – 2014).  Mere might would

always reign, and violence would be the only scepter.


  • DIVINE INDIGNATION. God Himself appears upon the scene, and

arms Himself against the offender. Since the King of Israel had sworn, in

God’s name, to observe the covenant, the honor of God was involved.

(Similarly, the President of the United States takes an oath to uphold

the Constitution, but as we are finding out, the President, like the King

of Israel, is making many blunders, perhaps with the same consequences –

CY – 2014).  Therefore He will vindicate his own majesty. “As I live,

saith the Lord God, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my

covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own

head  (v. 19).  As the interests of a nation are greater than those of a

private person (This is the problem in America, the right of the individual

is selfishly trumping the state! – CY – 2014), so the violation of a

national compact is a sin of blackest hue. It was not simply his own

pleasure and advantage Zedekiah was imperiling, but the interests and the

lives of ALL HIS SUBJECTS.   Therefore God Himself was constrained

to leave His secret habitation, and appear as THE AVENGER OF CRIME!


  • COMPLETE DESTRUCTION All his fugitives with all his bands

shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered toward all

winds.” A series of lesser chastisements had been employed, but had

proved unavailing to subdue the pride of Israel. Loss, defeat, public

humiliation, dismemberment of empire, had in succession been tried. But

the medicine had not taken effect. A more drastic measure must now be

employed. The kindness, patience, and long suffering of God are signally

displayed; and it ought to impress our hearts most deeply to observe with

what reluctance He unsheathes the avenging sword. But Justice must have

her due. Our God cannot be trifled with, for HE IS JUDGE OF ALL!







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