The expostulation contained in the last chapter was held with the covenant-people as a whole, and its final aim was to put them on the only way of recovering the prosperity which they had lost – namely, by a sincere and hearty return to the paths of righteousness. But in this chapter, the vision of the prophet is confined to the more distinguished portion of Israel – that is, the princes of the royal family of David. And the only word from the Lord concerning them is one of doleful lamentation over their inevitable ruin. While reasoning with the people, it was taken for granted that a period of revival and blessing still awaited them; and that the only question was concerning the course of procedure on their part, which would lead them to expect its arrival. But no such ray of hope mingles with the somber representation which Ezekiel gives in relation to the princes of the people. It is true that the royal house of David was not to become utterly extinct; for it was still destined to furnish a Leader to the people of God, in the Person of the long-awaited Messiah – under Whom, the cause of righteousness and truth was to attain a glory which it had never reached before! But the melancholy dirge contained in this chapter made it clear that matters were indeed to be of the most humiliating kind for the members of the royal house.
In order to make the meaning of his message more plain and understandable, the prophet gives it the benefit of a two-fold representation. In the first, he compares the Kingdom of Judah to a lioness. The royal family was like a mother to the kingdom, but she was like a lion-mother – fierce, cruel, and wild. But the prophet then compared two of the kings of Judah – in particular, Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim – to lions’ cubs. And if they would have only adhered to the Divine law and promises, God would have preserved to them the might, majesty, and dominion of a lion – as He does (in a spiritual sense) to Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. But these lions’ whelps of whom Ezekiel speaks were cruel and oppressive to their own subjects; they preyed upon their estates and liberties. Instead of realizing that they were set up in the high positions so that they might carry out the Lord’s will in all things, and promote the interests of truth and righteousness; they acted in a wild, lawless, and arbitrary manner, such as might seem to befit those who were possessed of the most savage and ungovernable natures. The prophet represents their deeds under the imagery of catching prey, devouring men, and spreading scenes of horror and desolation wherever they went. As the lion among beasts, they acted likewise among men. Their conduct was as wayward as if their intention had been to tear their people in pieces, and to spread desolation throughout their land. And so it was just and right for the Lord to mete out to them according to their own measure, and to reward them after their own doings. He allowed the surrounding nations – first Egypt, in respect to Jehoahaz; and then Babylon and her armies, in respect to Jehoiakim and his successors – to come and snare them as wild beasts, and to capture them so “that their voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel.” Thus these two foreign kingdoms, especially Babylon, were to be the grave (so to speak) of the earthly pomp and dominion of the princes of God’s people.
So we see that the princes of Israel were exhibited in such a light as to sufficiently account for their being allowed to go down into overwhelming and hopeless ruin. But to complete the gloomy picture, the prophet adds another parable, taken from the vine – which was the chief of the fruit-bearing trees, just as the lion is chief of the beasts of prey. This parable had a particular reference to the contrast between the original state of the royal family, and their now-altered condition. This royal family is represented as a healthy and fruitful vine, planted beside streams of water for abundance of nourishment. Thus she shot forth her branches, which were like so many royal scepters; and she drew all eyes upon her, because of her imposing attitude and flourishing appearance. But because of the corrupt fruit that had been produced by her branches – that is, the individual princes and kings – this vine was now the object of irresistible fury. She was plucked up from the fertile situation which she had hitherto occupied, her luscious fruit was dried up, and her vigorous branches were burned in the fire. Moreover, the vine itself was transplanted into a dry region, where it could no longer flourish; and where the little fruitfulness that still appeared in it was to be devoured by a fire, which proceeded out of herself.
What a doleful picture indeed! But how exactly it matched with the truth of the state of affairs! Only the unerring Spirit of God could have guided the hand of the prophet to exhibit such a faithful representation of the coming future upon the Kingdom of Judah. But it was not merely intended to be a proof of Divine foresight, but rather a grand demonstration – reaching from the past into the future – of the righteous principles of God’s administration. He originally chose Israel to be a royal house, to which He delegated a portion of His own rightful supremacy. But they forgot the nature of their calling, and selfishly and corruptly misused the honor they had received from above. And so their addiction to sinful and worldly pleasures would be extinguished, along with the high rank that they enjoyed among men; their glory would lie in the dust until it would again revive in the promised Messiah – the true Vine, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Who would make Himself peculiarly known as One Who loved righteousness and hated iniquity!
Lord, we repent of times when we have followed the example of Judah’s royal family, and followed our own minds, regardless of the ensuing mischiefs. Amen.
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