Elon, North Carolina
We are studying the Book of Ezekiel. We come to a shorter chapter (compared to Ezekiel 16). It does not seem like one that is too important. It is all about some trees, a vine and a few birds. Actually, this chapter is extremely important. There is a prophecy of the Messiah in this chapter. It is the first time that Ezekiel makes a prophecy of the Messiah in this book. Both Jewish and Christian scholars agree that the Messiah is mentioned at the end of the chapter.
The famous Jewish scholar Rashi says it refers to “King Messiah”. It is one of four prophecies of the Messiah in the Book of Ezekiel. This chapter is just like the last one. The first part of the chapter is very depressing, when you understand what this parable means but it ends on a positive note. After a chapter of bad news, there is some good news at the end.
Last week, we began a new section of the book. It is a section that deals with parables. Parables did not begin in the NT. Jesus did not invent them. There were parables in the OT. Last week, we looked at two of them. We looked at the parable of the USELESS VINE in Ezekiel 15. Israel was compared to a useless vine.
Then we looked at the parable of the UNFAITHFUL WIFE in Ezekiel 16. The city of Jerusalem is personified as a woman. Chapter sixteen gives us a parable of a baby girl, abandoned in an open field and left to die but rescued and adopted by God. God said to that baby “live’ like He says to each one of us. She went from being abandoned and adopted to be adorned. She was raised up as a queen but then she changes.
The bride becomes a slut. She goes from being a wife to being a prostitute but not an ordinary prostitute. She becomes a brazen prostitute but God judges her. She is abused and totally humiliated by her own lovers. Instead of God rejecting this wife, He takes her back. He atones for her sin. In Ezekiel 17, we come to another parable, the parable of the TWO EAGLES.
Why does God Speak in Parables?
This raises an interesting question. Why does God speak to people in riddles? Why does God speak to people in parables? It seems strange to us. Keep in mind the audience that Ezekiel is addressing. He is speaking to a hostile audience. They are not open to his message. God called them “a rebellious house” in Ezekiel 17:12.
We talk a lot today about hearing from God. God speaks to people from different ways. God uses every possible means to get people’s attention. He uses everything to get our attention. Sometimes he uses trials, suffering and heartbreak. Sometimes he uses pain to speak to us. He used several different ways to speak to the Jews.
Ezekiel used drama to convey his message. He acted out his message so they could see it by shaving his head with a sword, by building a miniature city and playing army men. He acted out the food shortage that was going to happen by eating a siege diet. He lay on his side for a year.
Symbolic actions were one way the message was presented because people like to be entertained, only this type of acting had a serious message attached to it. Judgment was coming on Jerusalem. Ezekiel did not just use actions; he used words. He used parables. Ezekiel 17:1-2 says, “The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, propound a riddle, and speak a parable to the house of Israel” (ESV).
Ezekiel used allegories. He used riddles. He used stories. Why stories? We all like to hear stories. Many people would have no interest in hearing a dry lecture on a topic but would love to hear stories. We love it as children and never outgrow it, so Ezekiel told them some stories. People like riddles. Riddles excite our curiosity. They are intriguing. There are some riddles in the Bible. The mark of the beast and the number 666 is a riddle.
Ezekiel 17, this is not just a parable (mah-shal) and a riddle (he-dah), it is an allegory. It is an allegory, just like the last chapter. There are two eagles (called “great eagles”). There is a cedar tree, and an east wind in this chapter but they are all symbolic. They are not literal. In fact, they all stand for NATIONS. The eagles represent two world powers, two superpowers in Ezekiel’s day.
Is America the Eagle?
The bald eagle is the symbol of America. It is our national emblem. There is an eagle on the seal of the US. Is this a prophecy of America, as some have suggested? Is this where America is in Bible prophecy?
There are two problems with that theory. This prophecy is not addressed to America. Ezekiel 17:1-2 says, “The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, propound a riddle, and speak a parable to THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL (ESV).
This parable was NOT addressed to America. It was not written to the USA. In fact, Ezekiel gives us the INSPIRED INTERPRETATION of the parable. We do not have to guess what this parable means. The Bible interprets most of its symbols. Beginning at Ezekiel 17:11 we have a lengthy explanation of this parable. We will see what the parable says and what is interpretation is.
Why would a nation be referred to as an eagle? One of the four living creatures in Revelation looked like an eagle (4:7). Eagles in the Bible are symbols of strength. They are regarded as king of the birds in contrast to the lion, which was considered the king of the beasts (Job 4:10; Proverbs 30:30).
Isaiah 40:31 says, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” What happened to Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
45 “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you.
46 They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever…. 49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down LIKE THE EAGLE, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50 a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. (Deuteronomy 28:45-46, 49-50)
The Meaning of the Parable
Thus says the Lord God: A GREAT EAGLE with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colors, came to Lebanon and took THE TOP OF THE CEDAR. 4 He broke off the topmost of its young twigs and carried it to a land of trade and set it in a city of merchants.
5 Then he took of THE SEED of the land and planted it in fertile soil. He placed it beside abundant waters. He set it like a willow twig, 6 and it sprouted and became a LOW SPREADING VINE, and its branches turned toward him, and its roots remained where it stood. So it became a vine and produced branches and put out boughs.
7 “And there was ANOTHER GREAT EAGLE with great wings and much plumage, and behold, this vine bent its roots toward him and shot forth its branches toward him from the bed where it was planted, that he might water it. 8 It had been planted on good soil by abundant waters, that it might produce branches and bear fruit and become a noble vine.
9 “Say, Thus says the Lord God: Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots and cut off its fruit, so that it withers, so that all its fresh sprouting leaves wither? It will not take a strong arm or many people to pull it from its roots. 10 Behold, it is planted; will it thrive? Will it not utterly wither when the east wind strikes it—wither away on the bed where it sprouted?” (17:3-10 ESV). Then we come to the interpretation of the parable in Ezekiel 17:11-18.
Then this message came to me from the Lord: 12 “Say to these rebels of Israel: Don’t you understand the meaning of this riddle of the eagles? The king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, took away her king and princes, and brought them to Babylon. 13 He made a treaty with a member of the royal family and forced him to take an oath of loyalty. He also exiled Israel’s most influential leaders, 14 so Israel would not become strong again and revolt. Only by keeping her treaty with Babylon could Israel survive.
15 “Nevertheless, this man of Israel’s royal family rebelled against Babylon, sending ambassadors to Egypt to request a great army and many horses. Can Israel break her sworn treaties like that and get away with it? 16 No!
For as surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, the king of Israel will die in Babylon, the land of the king who put him in power and whose treaty he disregarded and broke.
17 Pharaoh and all his mighty army will fail to help Israel when the king of Babylon lays siege to Jerusalem again and destroys many lives. 18 For the king of Israel disregarded his treaty and broke it after swearing to obey; therefore, he will not escape. (ESV).
The parable starts with one great eagle which took the highest branches of a cedar tree and put it in another land. The cedar tree represents Israel and the one at the top of the country was the king of Israel or Judah (Jehoiachin).
Babylon invaded the country and he surrendered. Jehoiachin was sent to Babylon. The merchant city is Babylon. The tall majestic cedar tree is brought low like a weeping willow. It became a vine. The bad news was that it became a low-spreading vine. The good news is that was planted in fertile soil near abundant waters.
What does that represent? It represents the nation after the first deportation. After the first group of Jews were taken to Babylon, the nation was never the same. It was replaced with a puppet or a vassal king. Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, took over and ruled under Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar could have put a Babylonian in charge. Instead, He put someone in the line of David in charge of the country.
At first “the vine” turned towards the eagle of Babylon and was subject to Nebuchadnezzar (17:6). Then another great eagle appeared on the scene and the vine turned toward it. Zedekiah made an alliance with Egypt to overthrow the yoke of Babylonian bondage.
When Ezekiel gave this parable, part of it had already been fulfilled. Jehoiachin had already been deported to Babylon the rest of it had not been fulfilled yet. In this parable, Zedekiah sees a second eagle and thought this was the answer. He thought he could rebel against the first eagle and the second eagle would protect him but instead of saving him, it only sealed his doom.
When Zedekiah did this, two things happened. Bad things happened to Zedekiah and to the dynasty. Zedekiah saw his kids killed and then had his eyes put out. Both Zedekiah and Jehoiachin were put in prison in Babylon. Zedekiah died in prison. Jehoiachin was released. He was in prison for thirty-seven years but he was eventually released.
What happened to the dynasty? Zedekiah was last king of the Davidic king to sit on the throne. No one else did. The Davidic line ended with Zedekiah but God also predicted that one day the Davidic monarchy would be restored by God.
22 The Lord God says, “I will also take a young branch from the very top of the cedar tree and plant it. I will break a soft new one from the very top of its young branches, and plant it on a high mountain. 23 I will plant it on the high mountain of Israel. It will grow branches and give fruit and become a beautiful cedar.
Birds of every kind will nest in it. They will nest in the shadow of its branches. 24 Then all the trees of the field will know that I am the Lord. I bring down the high tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree become green. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I say.” (17:22-24 NLT)
There are THREE JEWISH KINGS mentioned in this chapter. The first is Jehoiachin. The second is Zedekiah. The third is Jesus. One day Jesus will be king. God promised David that he would never lack a man to sit on his throne (Jeremiah 33:17). He swore to David with an oath (Psalm 89:35-36; Acts 2:30).
God promised to David that his “house and his kingdom would endure before God forever” (II Samuel 7:16). That is why Jesus was a physical descendant of King David. It is why we have two genealogies of Jesus in the NT. He will return to earth and king of kings and lord of lords. Jesus will be the highest branch of the tree (17:22).
One day, Jesus will be planted on top of a mountain for everyone to see. He will not literally be planted. This is a parable or allegory but he will rule over the world and this rule will be on earth. His kingdom will be universal. He will rule over all kings, nations and peoples
Is Jesus ruling on the throne of David now? Some say that He is. The throne of David is a political throne but it was on earth. Solomon sat on the throne of David (I Kings 2:24). That throne was one earth, not in heaven. Jesus is the king now but He will not rule on earth until the millennium. Our presidents are elected on a Tuesday in November but do not take the oath of office until January 20.
Two Fatal Sins
What does this parable say to us today? Does it say anything to us today or did it just speak to people in Ezekiel’s day? The leaders of Judah committed two sins which are still very common to this day and because they were leaders, their sin did not just affect them, it affected the whole nation. It sealed the fate of the whole nation. What were those two sins? They come right out of this chapter.
1) Not Keeping Your Promises
11 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Say now to the rebellious house, Do you not know what these things mean? Tell them, behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took her king and her princes and brought them to him to Babylon. 13 And he took one of the royal offspring and made a COVENANT with him, putting him under OATH (the chief men of the land he had taken away), 14 that the kingdom might be humble and not lift itself up, and keep his covenant that it might stand…
16 “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised, and WHOSE COVENANT with him HE BROKE, in Babylon he shall die. 17 Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company will not help him in war, when mounds are cast up and siege walls built to cut off many lives.
18 He DESPISED the oath in BREAKING the covenant, and behold, he gave his hand and did all these things; he shall not escape. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely it is MY OATH that he DESPISED, and MY COVENANT that he BROKE. I WILL return it upon his head.
20 I WILL spread MY NET over him, and he shall be taken in MY SNARE, and I WILL bring him to Babylon and enter into judgment with him there for the treachery he has committed against ME. 21 And all the pick of his troops shall FALL by the sword, and the survivors shall be SCATTERED to every wind, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken.” (17:11-14, 16-21 ESV).
What happened here? Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel, removed Jehoiachin as king and replaced him with his Uncle Zedekiah and then made a covenant with him. Ancient treaties were sealed with an oath, an oath of allegiance II Chronicles 36:13 says that King Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah made him “swear by God.” Zedekiah swore an oath to Babylon and made a covenant. He swore an oath in the name of God and then he broke it. That is taking God’s name in vain.
God takes His name seriously and punishes everyone who uses his name in vain. Zedekiah took God’s name in vain. He used it in an oath. God called it “My Oath.” Three times God says “I will” do something to judge Zedekiah. He used Babylon to do it but it came from Him
That raises an interesting question. Do we as Christians keep our word? Do we keep our promises? Some of us do not even keep our marriage vows. We have an obligation as Christians to all of our agreements we make with people, even covenant made with unbelievers. Nebuchadnezzar was unbeliever. He was a pagan king. God still wanted him to keep his covenant he made.
2) Not Trusting God to Solve Your Problems
Zedekiah had a problem. Babylon invaded the country and took over. He made a covenant with Nebuchadnezzar because he had to. Instead of trusting God, we want to fix things our self and go to Egypt for help. Egypt was a great empire but it did not compare to the might of Babylon.
Instead of putting his hope in God, Zedekiah put his hope in foreign alliances. His problem was not political or military. It was spiritual. Babylon was there because of the sin of the nation. Zedekiah did not deal with the sin of the nation, the root cause of the problem. Instead, he tried to find a way out of the problem. God is the ultimate Eagle who will restore the fortunes of Israel.
When we have problems, do we turn to God or to someone else? Do we go to Egypt? It is not always wrong to go to Egypt. God told one of the patriarchs to go there but we need to go to God first and do what He tells us to do.
“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!” (Isaiah 31:1 ESV).
“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge.” (Isaiah 30:1-2 NIV)
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.’” (Jeremiah 17:5 ESV).
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” (Psalm 118:8 ESV)