posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 05:02 PM
Ezekiel is the prophet of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.
His prophecies have been about the approaching judgement, when the city is to be besieged and destroyed.
God has long-term reasons for allowing this to happen, but the immediate cause of the event will be the city’s defiance of the king of Babylon.
Ezekiel turns to allegory once more (ch17) to explain the essential features of the crisis.
The allegory comes in two stages.
Just as Nathan deals with David in the episode of Bathsheba, Ezekiel tells the story first in general terms, inviting his audience to judge the
outcome for themselves (vv1-10).
There is a great eagle, “rich in plumage of many colours”.
This eagle comes to a cedar of Lebanon and breaks off “the topmost of its young twigs”. The real point of this image is about the height of the
twig (tall tree on high mountain), showing that it refers to a member of the royal dynasty.
The eagle “carried the twig to a land of trade and set it in a city of merchants”.
Then the eagle “took of the seed of the land and planted it in fertile soil; he placed it beside abundant waters”, where it prospered as a low
In this case, at least, the image does not represent a physical movement.
It is a metaphor about nurturing someone and establishing them in their place.
A second eagle appears on the scene, with great wings and plumage, but not “rich in many colours”.
The growing vine “bent its roots toward him and shot forth its branches toward him” ,and he transplanted it once more to his own “good soil by
Nevertheless, the vine cannot last in its new location, because it’s roots are not firmly planted.
It will wither away when the east wind (from the desert) strikes into it.
Another way of putting it is that the eagle who planted it in the first place will have no difficulty in pulling up its roots again and cutting off
Taken as a whole, the story is full of anomalies, because it has been moulded around the intended interpretation. This is not how eagles and vines
normally behave. Vines do not reach out to eagles, and eagles do not carry vines and plant them.
The opening image of the eagle snapping off a twig is more realistic, but the twig scene is detached from the rest of the story and plays no part in
Nevertheless, we can grasp the main point; this vine has no security and cannot survive.
Next comes the application of the story; “Thou are the man” (vv11-15).
The first eagle is to be understood as Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.
He has come to Jerusalem once already, taking the current king Jehoiachin (“the twig”), and removing him to Babylon, the city of merchants in a
land of trade.
But that scene is merely establishing the background, locating the story in the eleven-year interval between this preliminary exile and the main
The “twig” is not the real subject of the allegory, so it plays no part in the rest of the story and can be left there in Babylon.
At the same time, Nebuchadnezzar took Zedekiah, the previous king’s uncle (“one of the seed of the land”) and raised him up as the new king in
Jerusalem. That is what is meant by “planted the vine beside abundant waters.”
At least that is what it looks like from a distance, on the other side of the desert.
In the chapters of Jeremiah, which give us a closer view, we may see that Zedekiah is nearly powerless, and terrified of displeasing the nobles who
are the real rulers of the city.
Nebuchadnezzar had him proclaimed as king, but does not seem to have done anything really useful such as providing him with a Babylonian bodyguard.
The second great eagle is the king of Egypt.
Zedekiah has been sending ambassadors into Egypt, requesting horses for his own army and the more direct help of an Egyptian army.
The Egyptians have been responding; their support is portrayed by the image in which the second eagle takes possession of the vine, moving it into a
new bed of good soil with abundant waters.
In practice, though, most of the support must have come in the form of generous promises.
The Egyptians may have sent horses, but they weren’t able, when the time came, to send out an adequate army of their own.
It was easy to predict, then, that the vine would shrivel under the “eastern” wind coming from Babylon, and that Nebuchadnezzar would find it easy
to pull the roots out of the ground.
The moral (vv16-21);
An alliance with Egypt is decidedly the wrong choice, in two different ways.
In the first place, “Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company will not help him in war”. This is true, and a sufficient reason in itself,
yet it is the lesser reason.
The more important reason is that Zedekiah has already committed himself to the king of Babylon, by making a covenant with him and swearing an
The point is that this oath was sworn in the presence of God. It was a covenant which was made with God himself. So when Zedekiah breaks his covenant
oath with Babylon, he is also breaking his covenant oath with God. It is a clear breach of the third commandment, “taking the name of the Lord in
Therefore he must face the punishment of all those who break their covenant with God.
“I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will take him to Babylon and enter into judgement with him there for the
treason he has committed against me”.
The image means that the king of Babylon will be hearing and giving judgement on God’s case against Zedekiah.
Zedekiah’s fall will be the tribunal’s verdict.
There is one final allegory, which returns to the first basic image of the eagle and the twig (vv22-24);
This time, God himself will be taking the twig from “the lofty top of the cedar”- that is, from the house of David.
However, it will only be a “tender sprig”.
This God specialises in taking what is weak, and raising it up himself, in preference to those things which have more obvious power.
He will plant it “on the mountain height of Israel”, on Zion, so that it may “bring forth boughs and bear fruit and become a noble cedar”
Its shade will shelter birds and beasts of every kind. Here we see part of the source of the parables of Jesus about the Kingdom.
In this way, the judgement theme of the main allegory is modified by a promise of restoration.
And God will do these things so that his power may become more evident.
All the trees of the field will know that only he can instigate these reverses;
“To bring low the high tree and make high the low tree
Dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it”.