In the last chapter, the Lord was reckoning with the people of Judah, and bringing ruin upon them because of their treachery in breaking the marriage-covenant with Him; but in this chapter, He is reckoning particularly with the king of Judah for his treachery in breaking his covenant with the king of Babylon. At the very time when Ezekiel originally spoke these words, this treason was actually underway; for King Zedekiah was underhandedly consulting with the king of Egypt for assistance in a scheme which he had devised in order to shake off the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Zedekiah had sworn by the name of the Lord that he would serve Nebuchadnezzar as a vassal-king, but now he was in the very act of violating that homage which he had promised. Therefore, God’s prophet threatens the ruin of Zedekiah and his kingdom by this parable.
This parable, or similitude, is also referred to as a riddle. This was because it was to be filled with deep and important subject-matter; and even with the aid of the accompanying explanation, it would require the most careful thought and consideration in order to be understood in its profound and wide-reaching meaning. A great eagle first presents itself, in a vision, to the eye of the prophet. It was large and it had long wings, and its plumage was very full and colorful; in fact, it was the noblest species of its kind. Ezekiel sees this splendid bird directing its course toward Lebanon; and there he plucked off the topmost shoot of a cedar tree. This branch, the eagle carried away and placed in a city of merchants. Then the same eagle took some of “the seed of the land,” which was native to the region; and he planted it in a fruitful field, in the immediate vicinity of great waters – where it possessed every natural advantage for growth and fruitfulness, but only within certain limits. Its growth was not to be like that of the strong and lofty cedar, but of a low vine. And the branches of this vine instinctively turned toward the eagle that planted it, as if it was doing homage to the power which had given it its separate existence and its flourishing condition.
But now another eagle comes onto the field of vision. It was also of great size, with large wings and many feathers; although its wings were not as long as the former, nor was its plumage as richly colored. Yet the vine – as if it saw some attractive beauty in this bird, which the other eagle did not have – presently began to bend its roots and turn its branches toward him. The vine was ambitious of getting a larger growth and reaching a greater altitude than it was likely to attain as it currently stood; and with this objective in view, it sought the help of a new power to supply it more abundantly with the means of refreshment. What a vain imagination! This vine was already planted in good soil, on the banks of a great river; and thus it already had everything necessary to make it flourish! Therefore, since it was going against nature in this new attempt after enlargement – so far from succeeding according to its wishes – it would actually be made to feel the withering blast of the east wind. In fact, it would be plucked up by the roots and left to die; and this would not be done as a matter of gigantic difficulty, for it would be easily accomplished without great power or many people.
Such is the parable contained in the first part of this chapter (verses 1-10); and in the next part (verses 11-21), the interpretation of the parable is given. The first eagle represented Nebuchadnezzar, the great Babylonian king. He had come to Jerusalem, the seat of civil honor and dignity in Canaan – just as Lebanon was the seat of natural elevation and forest grandeur. The eagle plucking off and carrying away the highest branch of the cedar was a symbol of how Nebuchadnezzar had taken away King Jehoiachin – the head of the royal house of Judah – to Babylon. But he did not entirely overthrow the kingdom of Judah; for with one member of King Jehoiachin’s family – namely, his uncle Zedekiah – the Babylonian monarch made a covenant and set him up as a vassal-king. The kingdom was now in a comparatively enfeebled state, like a low and creeping vine. Yet it was still capable of such strength and prosperity as is characteristic of the vine – if the people had only been content with the measure of good that was mercifully allotted to them by God, even in their lowly condition. But alas! Fretting under the thought of being forever subservient to Babylon, they eagerly grasped at a tempting alliance with the king of Egypt – who was represented by the other eagle, which was less strong in wing and less rich in plumage. And so they thus provoked their former master to visit them with a severe and merciless retaliation, as he destroyed their city and took away the people into captivity.
But it is from this point of depression that a new and better turn of affairs takes its rise! When the Lord had completed the execution of their deserved judgment, He Himself would reappear upon the scene to rectify the evil. And in the concluding portion of the chapter (verses 22-24), He gives the assurance of a restoration to the greatest honor and prosperity. From the summit of the same lofty cedar which had previously been plucked by the king of Babylon, He would pluck a slender twig – that is, a selected “cutting” from the tree of the house of David, to which the kingdom belonged by an everlasting covenant. Jehovah would plant this slender twig upon Mount Zion, and there this branch would spring up and grow so tall that it would command the admiration and homage of the whole world! Of course, it is vain to seek for the fulfillment of this prophetic imagery anywhere except in Christ, the Messiah! In no other individual do the prophet’s words converge in perfect harmony; but in Him, they meet together with the greatest possible exactness; for through the Gospel, His Kingdom is even now spreading over the whole earth!
Lord, help us to fall down and worship You as the great King Whose Kingdom started as a mustard seed, but is now filling the whole world! Amen.
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