This chapter and the next are so closely related that the first of them may very well be regarded as a kind of introduction to the other. The first represents briefly – by a parable – what the second describes more fully, with all the minuteness of historical detail. The subject of both is the ingrained, incorrigible wickedness of God’s Covenant-people; they had defeated the ends of their high calling, and thereby rendered themselves obnoxious to the severest penalties.
So in this introductory chapter, the word of the Lord comes to the prophet and asks, “What is the vine tree more than any tree, or a branch of it among the trees of the forest?” In other words, how does vine-wood compare to other forest-wood? Indeed, it has nothing to entitle it to any preeminence above other trees. Rather, it is quite the reverse, for it is inferior to them all. Its soft and brittle nature renders it unfit for being made into any useful implements, even of the most common kind. Not so much as a tent-pin can be made from it; it is only useful for fuel to the fire. Such were the chosen people of God; they were often compared to the vine, and sometimes even to vines of the choicest kind (Deut. 32:32; Isa. 5; Ps. 80; Jer. 2:21; Hos. 10:1) – but it was always with respect to the fruitful qualities of the vine, signifying the prolific goodness that ought to have been found in them, as the people whom the Lord had chosen. If they did not bear the fruit that was expected of them, then how were they any better than other nations? In fact, in respect of those things which constitute the natural greatness of earthly kingdoms – such as antiquity of origin, extent of territory, or abundance of resources – what could they boast of, in comparison to powerful world-empires such as Egypt or Ethiopia or Babylon? They were greatly inferior in these things! Thus, whenever they lost their distinction as the holy nation that walked in the ways of the Lord, they were no longer capable of holding a place of power and influence among their heathen neighbors. On the contrary, they became like salt that had lost its savor; they were only fit to be cast out – or to be committed to the fire, like a piece of a dead vine.
Such is the picture that is here given of God’s Covenant-people as a whole. They were far from being in a prosperous state when Ezekiel wrote these words; and so, in verses 4 and 5, he modifies the description of the worthless vine, so as to exactly fit their case: “Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devours both the ends of it, and the middle of it is scorched; is the scorched part that still remains fit for work? Behold, when it was whole, it was not used for work; how much less when the fire has devoured it, and it is scorched!” This was an allusion to the impoverished state of the Jews at this time; it was as if their two ends were already consumed in the fire, and their middle portion that remained was also very severely scorched. The ten northern tribes had already been carried away into Assyria; and as for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, it was on the brink of ruin. And if they were incapable of coping with other kingdoms before this time, they were immeasurably more so now. It would be plain to see, even to the most careless and unthinking persons, that they were in danger of the complete destruction that is spoken of in verses 7 and 8.
In a very striking manner, this parable teaches us that when God chooses His people out of the world, all their security and power and glory are immediately connected with their walking in the ways of His commandments. It is the same truth which was brought out by John the Baptizer (at another time, and under different circumstances) when he said, in regard to the approaching work and Kingdom of the Messiah, “Now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire.” And it is also the same principle which our Lord Himself taught in the parables of the wicked farmers and of the fruitless fig tree (Matt. 21:33-41; Luke 13:6-9), and which He still further embodied in the parabolical action of the cursing of the fruitless fig tree outside of Bethany (Mark 11:12-14). Therefore, this truth is clearly for all times and stages of the Church’s history. God’s people are still a chosen people, who are distinguished with the highest privileges and most elevating hopes; but these are all for the single purpose of rescuing them from the pollutions of the world, and of rendering them as a Godly people who are zealous of good works. Let them only pursue after this high calling with undeviating determination and steady aim; and then they shall be found to be full of the favor of God, and strong in His might! Then they shall successfully contend with principalities and powers, and they will prove themselves to be the appointed channels of conveying life and blessing to a perishing world! But if they themselves are drawing back to the ways of corruption; and if they begin to breathe the spirit of the world, and to do its works – then they must be of all men the most guilty, and they are also the most sure to inherit the woes of condemnation! For they oppose and frustrate the very purpose for which they have been called to the enjoyment of such distinguished privileges; and so they belong to that unhappy class, of whom our Lord has said that it shall “be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for them.” Let us pray to the Lord Jesus that we may always be connected with Him, for He is the true Vine; and when we are connected to Him as the branches, we shall never be in danger of being burned in the fire of everlasting destruction!
Lord, we pray for grace that You would never let us fail to live up to the great purpose of our calling, which is to bear fruit for the glory of Your name! Amen.
If you prefer to listen, today’s Family Bible guide is available in audio format on both SermonAudio and YouTube.
Join other families all around the globe and receive the full-color, freely downloadable format of these thoughts in your email every day! It’s my prayer that you and your family will be equipped to receive abundant blessings from the hand of the Lord as you study His Word and worship in His presence together.
photo by luca | Lightstock.com