Ezekiel is the prophet of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.
In the first chapters of the book, his main purpose was to impress upon his people the fact that the siege and exile would be coming, and the kingdom
would be destroyed.
Ezekiel now inserts a poetic “lamentation for the princes of Israel” (ch19).
Lamentation is appropriate, because of the fates of the last few rulers of Judah.
Addressing the princes, this chapter tells them “your mother was a lioness amongst lions, rearing her whelps”.
The lion is the ancient symbol of Judah, and “your mother” appears to mean the nation.
We are told that the first of her whelps became a young lion and learned to catch prey.
He devoured men, and therefore the other nations took alarm.
They caught him in their pit and dragged him with hooks to the land of Egypt.
This is commonly taken to be a reference to Jehoahaz, who was deposed by Pharaoh Necho and removed to Egypt a few months after the battle of Megiddo
(2 Kings ch23 vv31-33).
The difficulty is that Jehoahaz could hardly be described as behaving among the nations like a young lion. He did not have the power.
Indeed he hardly had enough time, since he reigned for only three months. He did have time, admittedly, to do “what was evil in the sight of the
Lord, according to all that his fathers had done”, but he could have earned that reproach simply by doing nothing to restrain popular idolatry.
Perhaps the “devouring of men” is brought in by the “lion” metaphor. The king had been captured like a lion; catching prey is what lions do,
and it is one of the reasons why they are captured.
This whelp having been lost, the mother brought forward a second whelp.
This one too, prowling among the lions, learned to catch prey and devoured men.
“He ravaged their strongholds and laid waste their cities”.
So the nations reacted in just the same way as before. They spread their net over him, took him in their pit, used hooks to get him into a [wheeled?]
cage, and took him to the king of Babylon.
(We are gradually learning about the technique for capturing lions)
But again there is a problem with the first part of this description.
Jehoahaz was followed on the throne by Jehoiakim.
Jehoiakim rebelled against the king of Babylon, but died before the Babylonian army arrived.
When Nebuchadnezzar arrived on the scene, he took into exile the new king Coniah (as Jeremiah calls him) and replaced him with Zedekiah.
So Coniah is the prince who fits the conclusion “they took him to the king of Babylon”.
But he resembles Jehoahaz in ruling for just three months, with no time to do anything except “what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to
all that his father had done” (2 Kings ch23 vv8-9).
One commentary (the old ICC) suggests “the reference is rather to the evils which his attitude brought upon the country”. That is, he devastated
his own land indirectly, by bringing down the Babylonians against it.
But Coniah was not responsible for inciting the Babylonians. He merely inherited his father’s rebellion. In any case, that explanation wrecks the
logic of the picture, in which the prowling and devastating behaviour is the reason why the nations want to capture the young lion.
Once again, the fact that he was captured is the real point of the comparison.
There is another way of interpreting the allusion to “your mother”.
Jehoahaz and Zedekiah both have the same birth
mother, namely Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah.
So “she was a lioness amongst lions” might be understood as a tribute to this otherwise anonymous lady. Jehoiakim had a different mother, which
would account for his omission from the tale.
Another common factor is that both kings were apparently installed in the Babylonian, anti-Egyptian interest. As already mentioned, Jehoahaz was
deposed by the Egyptians, probably for that reason, and Zedekiah was nominated by Nebuchadnezzar in person.
A mother’s pride would help to account for the portrayal of them both as young lions on the rampage. In reality, of course, the timid Zedekiah,
refusing tribute under pressure from his nobility, does not fit this picture any better than Coniah would have done.
It has to be said, on the other hand, that the final captivity of the second lion agrees more with the story of Coniah. As does the location of this
chapter within Ezekiel’s narrative, placed before the fall of Jerusalem.
In the last portion of the lamentation, the image changes again.
“Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard”- This time “your mother” really does refer to God’s people as a nation.
In the old days she prospered. She was planted in “abundant waters”, and therefore full of vitality. One of her stems became a ruler’s sceptre
which towered high.
But there was a disastrous transition. She was plucked up from her roots and thrown on the ground, where the east wind might dry it up and fire
consume the royal stem.
She is now in a very bad place, both literally and metaphorically. She has been “transplanted” to a dry and thirsty land, and fire originating
from that stem has destroyed her branches and their fruit.
As a result, there remains nothing to support any royal sceptre.
This image mourns, or anticipates, the final destruction of the kingdom and the general exile in Babylon.
edit on 23-3-2018 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)