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 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.
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.
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
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
being generalized in its meaning, as in ch.16:29), i.e.
the merchant city of the time. This, of course, refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s
deportation of Jeconiah and the more eminent
(II Kings 24:8-15).
A City of
An apt designation this of
of commerce in the East. The deportation of the chief men among the Jews
from their own land to
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
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.
SEATED TENDENCY OF HUMAN NATURE. There are, indeed,
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.
EXPERIENCES AND OF REMARKABLE FRICTION OF MIND WITH
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
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.
GREAT INFLUENCE FOR BOTH GOOD AND EVIL. A great capital,
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
patriotism and public spirit, law and religion, spread from the great centers
of population, industry, and prosperity, and affect the remotest regions.
FOR WORKS OF BENEVOLENCE AND EVANGELIZATION. They
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
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
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
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)
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
DEEP DESIGNS OF PROVIDENCE!
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
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)
Egypt. The vine is Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar set up as king in
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
even the might of the ancient empire of
with the enraged power from the
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
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
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.
ALLOTTED TO HIM BY DIVINE
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
generations longer the worship of Jehovah.” But he and the princes of his
court were not content with this.
and prosperous and powerful kingdom: why should it now be subject to
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.
ALLOTTED TO HIM BY DIVINE
USE UNLAWFUL MEASURES TO ALTER THAT CONDITION. Thus
did Zedekiah in seeking an alliance with
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.
CONDITION WILL ONLY RENDER THAT CONDITION WORSE. So
it was with Zedekiah. “Thus saith the Lord God; Shall it prosper?” etc.
(vs. 9, 10). Zedekiah entered into alliance with
Nebuchadnezzar, who came and
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
(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.
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
fatal to the soul. Fraud never secures true prosperity, though it may
win earthly pelf.
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
hath taken the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and led them with
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
the power of
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
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
die.” Ezekiel repeats the prediction of ch.12:13. The prison
to be the outcome-of the alliance with
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
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.
ESPECIALLY UNFAITHFUL TO HIM WHEN THEY ARE
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
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
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
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 traffick” — sc. had
brought Jeconiah to
“mountain of the height of
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
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
out of Judaism, and for the benefit of the people of
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.
HIS GOSPEL IS FOR THE WORLD!
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
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
FULLNESS OF HIS MAJESTY AND POWER!
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
when the great families of
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
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
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.
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
princes are among the population. The most promising young men of the
royal house had been transplanted to
Every endeavor was made to train them for usefulness and eminence.
“by great waters.” All that could minister to the growth of the tree was
provided. The outward advantages conferred upon
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.
brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs.” It had within itself
abundance of life. Interpreted politically, this must mean that
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,
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
OF LOYALTY TO GOD!
fruitfulness, the King of Israel was under obligation to the King of
obligation. It had become a matter of international treaty and compact.
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.
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
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.
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
the Constitution, but as we are finding out, the President, like the King
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
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!
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
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!
"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.
Materials are reproduced by permission."
This material can be found at:
If this exposition is helpful, please share with others.