Lament of Leaders

Ezekiel 19

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
December 2017

Ezekiel is a very interesting book.  We have seen all kinds of things in this book. We have seen VISIONS in Ezekiel.  Ezekiel is in Babylon.  He is an exile.  While he is there, he sees a vision of the glory of God in Ezekiel 1.  The heavens split open and he sees a new world on the other side.

He sees four fantastic beasts, a heavenly chariot with wheels with eyes on them and a blue throne with someone sitting on it.  The one on the throne talks to him.  He was transported in some of these visions.  In one vision, he is grabbed by a lock of his hair and lifted between heaven and earth and taken to Jerusalem.

We have seen REVELATION in Ezekiel.  God speaks to Ezekiel and gives him a word to proclaim to people.  Some of that revelation involves future events.  We have seen PREACHING.  Ezekiel preaches.  He sets his face against the mountains of Israel and prophecies in Ezekiel 6.  He also prophesies against other prophets who prophesied out of their own hearts in Ezekiel 13.  He preached against other preachers.

We have seen RIDDLES in Ezekiel.  We have seen PARABLES in Ezekiel.  We have seen PROVERBS in Ezekiel.  We have seen an ALLEGORY in Ezekiel.  The allegory is found in the longest chapter in the book, Ezekiel 16.  It is an allegory of a bride that becomes a prostitute who does not work for money but actually pays people for her services.

Now we come to something that we have not seen yet.  It is a LAMENT.  We see that twice in the chapter.  The first verse of the chapter says, “And you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel” (19:1).  The last verse of the chapter says, “This is a lamentation and has become a lamentation” (19:14).  It is the word kee-nah. We will see several laments in the Book of Ezekiel.

What is a lament? A whole book of the Bible is called “The Book of Lamentations.”  It was written by Jeremiah, the weeping prophet.  It describes a funeral for the city of Jerusalem.  Daniel Block says that to raise a lamentation is “a technical term for a special kind of musical composition, the dirge, which was composed and sung at the death of an individual.”[1]  Ity has a certain number of beats in Hebrew.

Ezekiel was not like ministers today.  They go to seminary and are good for only one thing, preaching, and some of them do not do that very well.  Ezekiel can do all kinds of things.  He could preach.  He could prophesy but he could also act.  He had a drama ministry.  He acted out his sermons.  He could cook.  He could cut hair.  He knew how to build things, like a model of the city.  He also knew how to sing.

Ezekiel 19 to a very short chapter.  It is only fourteen verses long.  As we read this chapter, we realize we have seen some of these things before earlier in the book.  Ezekiel 19 is a parable and it is very similar to a parable found in Ezekiel 17.  Let’s compare these two parables.

Two Parables Compared

1) The Parable of Two Eagles and a Vine (Ezekiel 17)

Ezekiel is in Babylon.  He is in exile and he predicts what will happen in Jerusalem to the leaders of the nation in a parable.  It is a parable about two eagles, a cedar tree and a vine.  In the parable, there is a tall cedar tree (17:3).  It represents the nation.

A great eagle comes and takes the top twigs of the tree and set them in a city of merchants (17:4).  The kings of the nation were sent to Babylon.  Its seed was planted in Babylon and planted beside abundant waters (17:4).  It became a vine.  It is not tall anymore.  The tall cedar has turned into a low-spreading vine but at least it is growing by the abundant waters.

Another eagle comes (which represents Egypt) and the vine turns toward it.  This eagle came from the west.  Egypt is west of Jerusalem.  Israel had made a covenant with Babylon but now turns to Egypt for help and decided to break its covenant with Babylon.

The result is disastrous.   Judah turned to Egypt for security against Babylon but they were no help.  An east wind came and struck the vine (17:10).  The east wind represents Babylon.  Babylon is east of Jerusalem.

Babylon strikes the vine, pulls up its roots, cuts off its fruit and the vine withers, which represents the death of the nation.  Ezekiel says that what happened to the vine is not just bad luck or military aggression on Babylon’s part; it is divine judgment.

Ezekiel said that God will spread His net over these kings and they will be taken in His snare (17:20), because they made a covenant with Babylon and then broke it and turned to Egypt for help.  Ezekiel 19 is another parable about the same thing.

2) The Parable of Two Lions and a Vine (Ezekiel 19)

This parable begins with a question.  And you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, 2 and say: What was your mother? A lioness! Among lions she crouched; in the midst of young lions” (19:1-2 ESV).

Israel is also compared to a two things in this parable.  First, she is compared to a lion.  Why a lioness, instead of a different animal?  Lions are often symbols of kings.  It was a common symbol for royalty in the Ancient Near East.  The tribal symbol of Judah was a lion.  In Ezekiel 19, this lion has two cubs and they represent kings.

Ezekiel does not call them “kings” (mel-eck).  He does not dignify these leaders with the title of “king.” He calls them “princes” (nah-geed).  He gives them a downgrade.  The lion represents the nation.  The nation has more than two kings but only two are mentioned in this chapter.  These kings were young (so they were like cubs).

There is another reason why these kings were described as lions.  Lions are known for their ferocity.  They can hurt people, which the leaders of the nation did. Israel was a monarchy.  It had one king and that king could do whatever he wanted to do.

There were no checks and balances.  He did not have to answer to Congress and was not checked by the Supreme Court.  There were not three branches of power.  The king had unlimited power and that often led to an abuse.  That is what we see here.

She brought up one of her cubs, and he became a STRONG lion. He learned to TEAR the prey and he became a MAN-EATER. The nations heard about him, and he was trapped in their pit. They led him WITH HOOKS to the land of Egypt. (19:3-4 NIV)

These kings are portrayed as lions.  Lions are strong.  They are violent and deadly.  This lion was eating people.  This king was doing these things to his own people but that led to a response.  You reap what you sow.  You do bad things to other people; it often comes back to you.  This king was violent and now violence is happening to him.  He is trapped and led away with hooks.

The ancient Near Eastern kings were extremely violent and cruel.  They did not have any concept of international law.  They did not follow the Geneva Convention.  When they conquered a king, they publicly humiliated that king.  They would put him in a cage, put a dog collar around his neck and put a hook in his nose.  The king here was trapped like an animal and taken to Egypt in chains.  It was not only humiliating, it was painful.  It is a reference to Jehoahaz (II Kings 23:31).

He was one of King Josiah’s sons.  Josiah was one of Israel’s greatest kings.  This was his third son took the throne at the age of twenty-three but he was so bad that he only lasted three months on the throne.  This momma lion lost one cub to Egypt.

When she saw that she waited in vain, that her hope was lost, she took another of her cubs and made him a young lion. He prowled among the lions; he became a young lion, and he learned to catch prey; he devoured men and seized their widows. He laid waste their cities, and the land was appalled and all who were in it at the sound of his roaring. (19:5-7 ESV)

 Now a second lion takes over and acts the same way his brother lion acted.  He did not learn anything.  He is also strong, violent.  He ate people, scaring people.  After killing the men, he seized their widows and devastating towns.  History was repeating itself.  The mamma lion lost one cub to Egypt (19:4) another to Babylon (19:9).  They were taken to Egypt and Babylon by hooks (19:4, 9).

WITH HOOKS they pulled him into a cage and brought him to the king of Babylon. They put him in prison, so his roar was heard no longer on the mountains of Israel. (19:9)

A net was spread over these kings (19:8). This net was not spread by God (like in Ezekiel 17) but by other nations.  That is a reference to Zedekiah.

This was a prophecy but part of it had already happened.  Jehoahaz had already been hauled off to Egypt but when Ezekiel originally gave this parable, Zedekiah was still reigning in Jerusalem.  It had not happened yet. Israel is also compared to a vine in this second parable.

Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard, planted by the water, fruitful and full of branches by reason of abundant water. 11 Its strong stems became

rulers’ scepters; it towered aloft among the thick boughs; it was seen in its height with the mass of its branches. 12 But the vine was plucked up in fury,

cast down to the ground; the east wind dried up its fruit; they were stripped off and withered.

As for its strong stem, fire consumed it. 13 Now it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land. 14 And fire has gone out from the stem of its shoots, has consumed its fruit, so that there remains in it no strong stem, no scepter for ruling. (19:10-14 ESV)

This vine was also planted by water and full of branches (19:10) but this vine was tall, not low like the other one.  It was tall and strong with strong stems.  “Its strong stems became rulers’ scepters; it towered aloft among the thick boughs; it was seen in its height with the mass of its branches” (19:10).

What happened to the vine?  The east wind came once again (19:12).  It plucked the vine up in its fury and cast it to the ground (19:12).  The vine was stripped and the fruit of the vine withered (19:12).

Fire consumed the strong stem and the vine was planted in the wilderness in a dry and thirsty land (19:13). The vine is uprooted and planted in the desert where it is dry.  It is no longer next to abundant waters.  As we look at these two parables, we see a lot of similarities.

  • Both mention two animals (two lions and two eagles).
  • Both mention an east wind.
  • Both mention Egypt and Babylon.
  • Both mention a net being used to catch people in a trap.
  • Both mention a vine transplanted to the wilderness
  • Both mention the uprooted vine becoming withered.
  • Both describe the exile of Jewish kings.

Death of a Nation

Let’s talk about exactly what happened during the Babylonian Captivity. It is one of the most important events in biblical history.  Israel died as a nation in 587 BC. They did NOT die as an ethnic group.  As a people, they survived but they died as a nation.  Specifically, they lost three things.  They lost their LAND.  They were kicked off their land.  They were exiled and put in a pagan country where pagan gods were worshipped.

They lost their RELIGION.  Their temple which had been around since the time of Solomon was burned to the ground. The whole temple system is gone, along with the animal sacrifices and the priests.  They lost their land.  They lost their religion.

They also lost their GOVERMENT. They also lost their political structure.  The Davidic Dynasty crumbled. David was king around 1000 BC. The family of David ruled on that throne for four hundred years.  They had about twenty-one kings.  Zedekiah was the last descendant of David to sit on that throne.

After Zedekiah, the Davidic Dynasty ends.  It was good for four hundred years but it ended with Zedekiah.  No one has ever sat on David’s throne since Zedekiah.  The last verse of the chapter says that the vine which was uprooted and cast into the desert no longer has strong stem and has “NO SCEPTER FOR RULING” (19:14).

The monarchy died.  It has been dead for almost three thousand years and it is still dead today.  Israel is a nation today.  It has political leaders but they are not kings, certainly not Davidic kings.  Israel is a democracy.  It is a parliamentary democracy.

There will not be another king who sits on that throne until Jesus returns.  Luke 1;31-33 says, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (ESV).

Jesus right now is not sitting on the throne of David and He is not reigning over the house of Jacob.  You can go to Israel today and Jesus is not ruling the country but one day He will when He returns.  The crown which was taken away from Zedekiah and Jehoiachin will be given to Jesus.

25 And you, O profane wicked one, prince of Israel, whose day has come, the time of your final punishment, 26 thus says the Lord God: Remove the turban and take off the crown. Things shall not remain as they are. Exalt that which is low, and bring low that which is exalted. 27 A ruin, ruin, ruin I will make it. This also shall not be, until he comes, the one to whom judgment belongs, and I will give it to him. (Ezekiel 21:25-27 ESV)

God also predicted that he will restore the nation of Israel.  He will turn the low vine into a tall cedar tree.

Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar.

And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” (17:22-24 ESV)

Funeral for a Nation

After the Babylonian Captivity, the Davidic monarchy died.  After you die, there is a funeral.  This is a funeral oration for the nation, a funeral for the Davidic Dynasty.  After someone dies, there is a period of mourning.  For the Jews, it is a period of time that lasts seven days.  It is called shi-vah. They get the seven days from the Bible.  That is how long Joseph mourned for Jacob after he died in the Book of Genesis (50:10).

An Unusual Lament

After someone dies, it is normal to have a period of morning and a period of grief but what happens in Ezekiel 19 is different.  We have funerals for people after they die.  Ezekiel has one for the leaders of the nation BEFORE they all died.  Now when Ezekiel said these words, Zedekiah was still on the throne but he just had a few years left.

God tells Ezekiel to lament him like he is already gone.  That is SHOCKING.  That would be like having a whole bunch of limousines and a long funeral procession for a president who is still alive and in the White House.  There are a few cases in history of people who attended their own funeral.[2]

Application for Today

This is an interesting chapter but what does it have to do with us?  How could this possibly apply to us?  This chapter shows that God is a person.  God laments over the people of Israel.  He has concern over people.  He wants us to have concern over people.  He tells Ezekiel to sing a song of lament for Israel and the kings of Israel, even though many of them were wicked.  Some people do not care if people die.

Does God ever get sad?  Jesus said a lament over Jerusalem.  He wept over Jerusalem, because he knew what would happen in 70 AD because the Jews rejected him as Messiah.  History was going to repeat itself.  Just as the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s Temple, the Romans were going to destroy Herod’s Temple.

Just as the Babylonians put a siege on the city, the Romans were going to put a siege around the city.  Just as people were so hungry during the siege of Babylon that they committed cannibalism, the same thing happened during the siege of Rome.  Just as the attack by the Babylonians led to a Jewish exile, the attack by the Romans in 70 AD also led to the Jews being  kicked out of their own land again.

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41-42 NIV)

That is interesting.  The Jews reject Jesus.  They reject their Messiah.  They turn him over to the Romans to be crucified.  Jesus does not weep for himself.  He weeps for the nation that rejected Him.  Instead of praying for their destruction, He weeps for them.

In Ezekiel 18, we saw that God did not want people to die.  He said, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”  He told them not to die.  He told them to turn and live but he also gave people free will.  Many choose to reject Him and still do today.  In Ezekiel 19, we see how God feels when people reject Him.  He is grieved.  He laments.  He mourns for them.  We should do the same thing.  We should lament sin.  We should mourn for our own sins.  We should mourn for the sins of others.  We should mourn for the sins of our leaders.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:8-9 ESV)

[1] Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 1-24, pp. 517-518.


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