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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 17

 

 

Verse 1

In this chapter the Prophet shows that the Jews were utterly foolish in thinking themselves safe, since they had God as their adversary. At the end of the chapter he promises indeed the restoration of the Church, and heralds the kingdom of Christ: but the principal part of the chapter is consumed with this teaching, that the Jews were utterly foolish in promising themselves safety for the city, the temple, and their kingdom: for, as it now appeared, they had violated the covenant of God and he had rejected them. When deprived of God’s help, what could they do? This was egregious folly to hope for a prosperous state of their kingdom when their power was diminished and cut off, and they were reduced almost to the very last straits. But since the Prophet’s discourse came be understood without a knowledge of the history, I shall therefore make a beginning: When Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah king, he also made him tributary to himself. He was made king at the will or rather by the lust of the king of Babylon, when Jeconiah was led captive. (2 Kings 24:15; 2 Chronicles 36:10; Jeremiah 37:1.) Jeconiah had not sinned greatly, but when he saw himself unable to resist, he surrendered himself with his mother and children; he was carried away to Babylon, and there was treated humanely and even splendidly, although not royally. Nebuchadnezzar, foreseeing much trouble if he set any of his satraps over Judea, and fearing daily tumults, appointed Mattaniah king, to whom he gave the name Zedekiah; this was the last king: already, as I have said, the royal dignity was greatly diminished: it was tributary to Nebuchadnezzar, and Zedekiah’s sway was but precarious. His position depended on the will of his conqueror, and he who placed him on the throne could remove him as often as he pleased. A little while afterwards, when he saw that Nebuchadnezzar was at a distance, he made an agreement with the king of Egypt, and thought he should have sufficient help if Nebuchadnezzar were to return again with an army. And the Egyptians, as we have elsewhere said, were sufficiently desirous of this treaty. For they saw the Babylonian monarchy gradually increasing, and it was probable that, when the Jews were utterly subdued, Nebuchadnezzar would not be content with those boundaries, but would attack Egypt in like manner, and absorb that kingdom, as he had done others. Hence a reason for their entering into the treaty was at hand, since the king of Egypt thought that Judea would be a defense if Nebuchadnezzar should come down with his army: and certainly the Jews must receive the assault first. Whatever be the meaning, Zedekiah, through despising his oath, as we shall see, revolted to the Egyptians, and when Nebuchadnezzar afterwards demanded tribute, Zedekiah refused, through reliance on that covenant which he had made with the Egyptians. We now see how foolish the Jews were in sleeping carelessly in that miserable state to which they had been reduced. For when their power was unbroken they could not sustain the attack of the king of Babylon: their king was then a mere dead image, and nothing but a shadow: yet they indulged in pride not only against Nebuchadnezzar but also against the Prophets and God himself, just as if they were flourishing in wealth and power and complete prosperity. Hence Ezekiel now refutes and rebukes this arrogance. He shows how easy it was for the Babylonians to overthrow them again, since when they attacked them before they were subdued, they easily compelled them to surrender.


Verse 2

But I come to the words Son of man, set forth in enigma: the noun and the verb mutually answer to each other, hence any one may if he please render the Prophet’s words, by saying enigmatize an enigma: for the Prophet here speaks of allegorical language, חידה, chideh, signifies the same as “allegory,” where the words are different from the sense, that is, where the sense is wrapped up in obscure involutions: but we know that God sometimes spoke enigmatically when unwilling to be understood by the impious and disbelieving. But here the obscurity of the sentence has another meaning, namely, that the Jews should be waked up, and this prophecy should penetrate their minds: we know their extreme hardness, and hence if the Prophet had spoken simply and in his accustomed language, they had not been so attentive. This therefore is the reason why, God orders him to speak enigmatically. He now adds, משל ומשל, vemeshel meshel. We know that meshel is a remarkable sentence, and is the word used by Solomon as the title of his proverbs: משל, meshel, then, means the same as apothegm: but it is sometimes taken for likeness: and in this place God so denounces destruction upon the Israelites in an allegory, as to illustrate his language by a comparison, since otherwise it would have been obscure. Be this as it may, God so prefaced his address, that the Jews might acknowledge the message to be no common one, but that it ought to affect them seriously. The usual reason for speaking enigmatically does not hold good here, namely, that the Jews were unworthy of the doctrine of salvation, since the Prophet will very shortly explain what he had hitherto uttered in figure and allegory. It is indeed true, that Christ spoke in parables to the people, because the disciples alone were capable of familiar and pure teaching. Of unbelievers, also, Isaiah says, Prophecy shall be to you a sealed book. Hence I will speak with this people in a strange and barbarous tongue, and they shall not proceed beyond the rudiments. (Matthew 13:0.) But, as I have said, the obscurity of this teaching was only a preparation, that the people should strictly attend to the subject here set before them.


Verse 3

Here the Prophet reasons from the greater to the less: for if Nebuchadnezzar was able to subdue the whole kingdom with ease, when as yet the Jews were untouched, how much more readily would he overthrow them when wretched and all but ruined: for nothing remained which was not threatened with ruin; and this is the meaning of the Prophet. But he compares King Nebuchadnezzar to an eagle, whom he says was great, and then with large or extended wings. There is no doubt that by wings, feathers, and plumes, he means the regions and peoples over which Nebuchadnezzar presided; for we know that the Chaldaeans possessed the monarchy of the East. Since, therefore, so many regions and people obeyed Nebuchadnezzar’s sway, it is not surprising that the Prophet calls him a great eagle, with ample wings, and with numerous feathers or plumes; for where he now says, מלא הנוצה, mela henotzeh, full of feathers, he will shortly say, רב נוצה, reb notzeh, many feathers, when speaking of the king of Egypt. He says, the wings were of divers colors; it is the same noun which the Prophet used in the last chapter, when he said that the people were clad in precious garments; for thus the Hebrews speak of Phrygian texture: hence he compares the wings of the king of Babylon to a woven garment, resplendent with various colors; for although Nebuchadnezzar held his throne at only one place, yet he had seized and subdued many tributaries on all sides. This, therefore, is the reason for this variety; — but I cannot proceed further at present.


Verse 4

WE began yesterday to explain the saying of the Prophet, that an eagle came to mount Lebanon, and there cropped off the top of a cedar, that is, the highest bough. Some interpreters seem to me to labor in vain about the word Lebanon. They think it means Jerusalem, and cite the passage in Zechariah where it is said, Open thy gates, O Lebanon. (Zechariah 11:1.) But Zecharia does not speak of the city here, but of the temple, because it was built of a great mass of cedar. But here Ezekiel means the land, and names Lebanon rather than other places, not only because that mountain was the remarkable ornament of the region on account of its lofty cedars, and balsam and aromatic trees, but because this was needful to complete his allegory. If he had said that an eagle had come to a city, it would have been absurd. Hence we see that the word Lebanon is taken for that part of Judea in which the most beautiful trees spring up and flourish. But he says, that it plucked off a bough, from the top of the cedars, because Nebuchadnezzar, who is intended by the eagle took away King Jeconiah as we said yesterday. Hence King Jeconiah is compared to a very lofty bough of a cedar, because at that time all thought that the kingdom was superior to every danger; for the Jews boasted that they were under God’s protection, and that the city was impregnable: hence that occurrence was incredible. Now the Prophet adds, that the eagle plucked off the head or summit of the boughs, as the Hebrews call the tender shoots; and here the word means the tender branches: and it means, as we shall afterwards see, the elders who were dragged away into exile. It took away the head into the land of the merchant We said that this was a mere appellative here, chnaan, because it follows a little afterwards in the plural number: בציר רכלימ שמו, begnir-reklim shemo, in the city of merchants he set it: he says, then, that the boughs were placed in a city of merchants. This name was given to Babylon, not only because it was a celebrated mart of trade, but because it was a firm and strong place of custody through the multitude of inhabitants, so that it was not easy to draw captives from it. For any one could easily be rescued from a solitude without resistance; but in a great concourse it is not so easy to plan or attempt anything. I do not doubt, therefore, that the Prophet means that the higher classes of the kingdom, together with Jeconiah, were shut up in firm custody that they should not escape. It follows —


Verse 5

After Ezekiel has narrated that Jehoiacin was carried away with his counselors and the flower of the whole people, and was so deprived of his native country as to be without hope of return, he now says, that the eagle took up the seed in Judea, and placed it in a fertile land; for he calls it a land of seed, since it was cultivated and produced fruit abundantly. He says, that the seed was afterwards hidden in the soil, that it grew immediately, and became a luxuriant vine. He says also, that its roots were irrigated, like a willow planted by a river’s bed. The Prophet afterwards explains himself: hence it is sufficient to state briefly what he means. The seed, then, which he here means is Zedekiah, the last king. It is said to have been planted beside the waters; for his condition was tolerable, since the royal name and dignity and wealth was left to him. For although he was tributary, the kindness with which he was treated by Nebuchadnezzar was not to be despised, since, by the right of war, he was able to lead him captive. together with his nephew; for Zedekiah was the uncle of Jeconiah or Jehoiacin. But he said, that this vine, which sprang from a seed or germ, grew so that it was of low stature; the Prophet means by these words, as we shall afterwards see, that Zedekiah was not a king, that he was restrained by a bridle from daring to rebel against the king of Babylon; and hence it is added,that its branches turned towards the eagle, and its roots were under him; but in the next clause Ezekiel announces, that it became a vine which set forth branches, and shot forth boughs, which he repeats again, that Zedekiah’s ingratitude may appear the greater, who, not content with his moderate confinement, perfidiously revolted from the king of Babylon, through reliance on the new treaty, on which we touched yesterday. It now follows —


Verse 7

He now detects, under a figure, the perfidy of Zedekiah, since he very soon applied himself to the king of Egypt, and bent his roots and branches towards him, that they might be irrigated. I do not disagree with the opinion of those who think that the Prophet alludes to an Egyptian custom; for we know that they dug furrows through which water flowed through the whole region: hence the fruitfulness of the soil; and thus Egypt is elsewhere compared to a garden. (Deuteronomy 11:10.) Whatever the meaning is, the Prophet shows that Zedekiah was deceived by a foolish confidence when he thought himself safe under the protection of the king of Egypt; for he had said that the seed was so planted that the vine did not rise to a great height, but spread itself under the wings of the eagle. But Zedekiah despised the king of Babylon, thinking that he should improve his condition by entering into a treaty with the king of Egypt. It now follows —


Verse 8

He exaggerates the ingratitude of Zedekiah, because, as we have said, he had been treated humanely by the king of Babylon; for he had been but a private man till that time: he was elevated to a throne and to a sway over the people beyond his expectation, and he had an avenger if any one despised him. For when he was tributary to the king of Babylon, he would doubtless have been assisted by him in adversity: hence his revolt was less excusable, since he had been treated liberally beyond all anticipation. For this reason it is said, the vine was planted in a good soil, and near many waters, that it might put forth branches and bear fruit, so that it might be a goodly vine. It follows —


Verse 9

Here God announces that this vine could not flourish any longer and bring forth fruit; for it had been planted to flourish under the shadow of an eagle, and it had removed itself away. Nothing therefore remains, than that the former eagle should avenge the injury committed against it. This is the meaning of the passage: hence he says, Shall it prosper? Shall not the eagle tear up its roots, and cut off its fruit? Ezekiel assumes this principle, that the vine could not be otherwise preserved than by the power and aid of the eagle which had planted it; for when it passed away from that eagle to another, the Prophet says that the end of the ungrateful vine was at hand; all the leaves of its branches shall wither, and so be dried up, and that not in, a mighty branch, nor in much people. It is certain that Nebuchadnezzar was accompanied with a great army when he came down upon Judea. But the Prophet means, even if Nebuchadnezzar had only brought with him a small band, yet Zedekiah could not remain king, since destruction awaited him through perfidy and revolt, as will afterwards be said. The Prophet often speaks by concession, as if he had said that, by a singe blast, Zedekiah and all the people would wither away, since he could not remain in safety unless he drew sap from his own root; but he had removed his root elsewhere, and so Ezekiel pronounces that he must immediately wither away. It was not then in the power of much people to tear it from its own roots; for Zedekiah had purposely cut off his own roots, when, through his own levity, he had transferred himself to the king of Egypt Behold, says he,he had been planted; but should he have good success? as if he had said, it is vain for Zedekiah to hope for safety from him, whom his own perfidy prevented from befriending him; and therefore the comparison of an east wind is added: since then the east wind has struck it, will it not wither and decay, even upon the furrows of its branches? that is, although it has furrows whence it may expect perpetual moisture; for Egypt was, as we have said, artificially watered; and the Prophet describes Zedekiah’s state just as if the king of Egypt were nourishing him by a stream of water: upon his beds, or furrows, will he wither when the east wind shall strike it. We know that the east wind destroys the fruits in that region, and so it is often mentioned in a bad sense. It now follows —


Verse 11

An explanation of the allegory is now added. The figure being dropped, God shows what he had hitherto set forth enigmatically. We said the object of the allegory was to induce the Jews to apply their minds more diligently to the Prophet’s destruction; for if he had used common and ordinary language, we know how carelessly they were accustomed to despise all rebukes and threatenings; but a riddle, while it held them in suspense, at the same time roused them, and so they were prepared for receiving the instruction which now follows. God says, therefore, that the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem. This reason has induced some to think that Lebanon is metaphorically called Jerusalem, but falsely, as we have already said. As long as the Prophet spoke figuratively, the parts ought to be mutually fitted to each other, as a tree and its branches have some connection with an eagle. The king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took the king away, and the elders, and led them off to Babylon. Although the Jews thought to be sufficiently moved by simple narrative, yet God here reproves them, because he saw how sluggish they were. First, he calls them a rebellious house; then he asks, Whether they know the meaning of all this? This is a kind of reproach by which God reminds them of their stupidity; since that riddle was not so obscure as to prevent them from understanding what had happened, unless they had been destitute of reason and judgment. But the Prophet thrusts at them more pointedly, by calling them a rebellious house, although at the same time he obliquely reproves their stupidity in not immediately perceiving the meaning of the riddle. He now adds, that the king of Babylon had taken from the royal seed. We said that Zedekiah was the uncle of Jehoiakim: he was placed on the throne beyond all expectation; because, if Jehoiakim had begat sons when he was still secure, they would have been his successors: hence it was an extraordinary advantage to Zedekiah in being placed on the throne. But he says, that he was so created king, that the king of Babylon made a covenant with him, and induced him to take an oath. Here God shows that, humanly speaking, Zedekiah’s revolt could not prosper; for even profane men are always persuaded that the perfidy of him who breaks his word will not go unpunished, especially in treaties, which are held sacred by common consent. Since, therefore, the sacredness of treaties was so great, that they could not be violated without weakening the bonds of society, hence the general persuasion that the falsehood of all truce-breakers will turn out unhappily. Now, therefore, God leaves his own cause, and takes up that of King Nebuchadnezzar: Behold, says he, you was made king by gratuitous liberality: a conqueror indeed imposed conditions upon thee, but still thy state was desirable — you could rule your own people splendidly and with moderate dignity: now, because thy covenant has been despised, and your oath broken, you has been ungrateful to the king of Babylon, who had bound thee to himself by his munificence: how can this perfidy prosper? Now, therefore, we see the Prophet’s meaning, when he says that the king of Babylon made a treaty with King Zedekiah, and took an oath of him: this is added for the sake of amplifying; for although men never enter into treaties without a mutual oath, yet Ezekiel seems to have doubled the crime of Zedekiah, when he expresses that an oath intervened. He says that he took the strong of the land, namely, as hostages. There is no doubt that Nebuchadnezzar assembled this troop around him that the Jews might be more quiet: for he knew the turbulent character of the nation, and that the maintenance of so many was expensive: but, as I have said, it was his plan to hold the whole country at peace in this way. But Zedekiah rendered his own brothers and relations liable to death, since Nebuchadnezzar might be induced, by just anger, to slay them all. Hence Zedekiah’s revolt was the betrayal of his brothers: for this reason the Prophet adds, that the strong ones of the people were led away to Babylon; that is, those of the first rank, who were held in honor by the people.


Verse 14

He now adds, that the kingdom might be humbled. Zedekiah then could not pretend error, nor turn his back, as if he had been outwitted by the cunning and secret counsels of the king of Babylon: for Nebuchadnezzar dealt with him openly, and proscribed the conditions on which he wished him to reign. Since, then, the king of Babylon showed Zedekiah openly and sincerely what he wished him to do, that wretched man could not say that he was imposed upon, and not made sufficiently aware of the cunning of the king of Babylon: no such excuse was left to him. And therefore the Prophet clearly expresses that Nebuchadnezzar imposed conditions upon Zedekiah, that his kingdom should be lowly, so as not to lift itself up, but that it should keep the agreement. This was most equitable: for when he appointed a king, he might have imposed upon him very hard conditions, but he was content with moderation, which was surely tolerable even among the best friends. For he made a treaty with him, and then he wished the kingdom to be lowly for its preservation. For it is just as if the Prophet had said, that Nebuchadnezzar thought of nothing else than that Zedekiah might reign in peace; and since he saw it to be useful to the king and the whole people to be restrained within some bounds, he followed that plan. Since, then, Nebuchadnezzar consulted the public advantage by this method of action, Zedekiah was the more wicked in not allowing his own safety to be consulted, since nothing was better or more desirable than for him to remain humble, and not to raise himself up to his own destruction, as afterwards happened. It now follows, that he rebelled by sending his messengers into Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people. These points ought to be mutually compared; that the contrast might correspond: Nebuchadnezzar regarded nothing else but the peace of the country, for he wished to prevent all fears and disturbances. What, then, was Zedekiah? a rebel. And why? for sending messengers to Egypt to fetch many troops of both horse and foot to succor Judea against Nebuchadnezzar. After the conclusion of the war he had done nothing hostile, for it was a part of his paternal anxiety to give them a king of their own nation, and so to set the whole country at rest, that there should be no occasion for tumult. Why, then, should Zedekiah seek help from the Egyptians? Thus we see that the Prophet is removing from him all excuses for self-defense. He now adds, shall he prosper? shall he who has acted thus escape? The Prophet asks with emphasis; because, as I have said, this persuasion was engraved on the minds of all, that vengeance must overtake all the perfidious, especially if they had violated their oath in treaties. The Prophet, therefore, does not simply pronounce that Zedekiah should perish through violating the treaty, but he rises more confidently, and inquires, as of a thing settled and undoubted, Shall he prosper? shall he who has planned such a crime escape? He now adds, shall he who has violated a treaty escape? This repetition is not superfluous: he had formerly said, shall he who has done this escape? he immediately repeats, shall he who has violated a treaty escape? There was nothing obscure in the first clause: but the Prophet added this, not for the sake of perspicuity, but to give more weight. to the sentence. The conclusion is, that it was not possible to escape God’s vengeance for such perfidy, as we shall treat the point more at length tomorrow.


Verse 16

It now follows, As I live, says the Lord Jehovah, in the dwelling of the king who placed him on a throne, shall he die. Although the Prophet had sufficiently shown that Zedekiah could not escape the penalty of his revolt, yet God here again comes forward, and swears by himself, or by his life, that he would punish Zedekiah. Hence the great stupidity of the people appears, for God never acts falsely by his own name, or brings it forward in vain, but when necessity demands it, he swears by himself. And by his own example he prescribes to us, that we should not rush rashly upon an oath, but be sober in this respect. But God swears that Zedekiah should die on the spot, that is, at the capital of the king who put him on the throne; that is Babylon, where he died: and yet he did not see Babylon, because his eyes were put out at Riblath, as we saw elsewhere. (Jeremiah 39:7; Jeremiah 52:11.) But the Prophet simply denounces the penalty, that he should die in exile, and in the dwelling of the king who had placed him on his throne, and from whose covenant he had departed, and whose oath he had despised.


Verse 17

As Ezekiel has before pronounced that there was no need of great forces when God wished to punish Zedekiah by means of the king of Babylon; so he now teaches, on the other hand, how great and powerful an army Pharaoh would collect, and yet it would profit nothing, since Nebuchadnezzar would be victorious. Some interpreters explain the passage otherwise, namely, that Pharaoh would not perform his promise; for kings are accustomed to boast of their supplies when they enter into treaties: they promise 50,000, but only supply 10,000. They think, therefore, that these vain promises by which Zedekiah was deceived are here reproved, since Pharaoh boasted that he would come with very great forces, so as easily to repel the Babylonian army. But the sense which I propose is far more suitable, namely, that whatever Pharaoh should attempt, it would fail to assist him. Although he should come well attended, and oppose the Chaldaeans by immense forces, yet he should effect nothing in battle with him: although this may be true equally of Zedekiah as of the king of Babylon. For Pharaoh did nothing with King Nebuchadnezzar, since he was quickly compelled to retreat into his own territories, and could scarcely defend his own kingdom, for he did not succeed against Nebuchadnezzar: and he did Zedekiah no good, since he did not assist him in his misfortunes, as he had promised. But as far as concerns the general sense, we see that the Prophet means that Zedekiah would be deceived although Pharaoh should faithfully perform his promises, since he was undertaking an expedition against the will of God, which must turn out disastrous. He adds, when he shall throw up a mound and build a tower, (towers are meant, for there is a change of number,) as is customary in besieging cities. This thought to be referred to Nebuchadnezzar, for he began to cast up mounds and build towers against Jerusalem when Pharaoh led away his army. Since Nebuchadnezzar could not contend with both the Egyptians and Jews together, he raised the siege and set out to meet Pharaoh, who, when conquered, retreated with trembling within his own boundaries. Nebuchadnezzar afterwards returned, and after preparing all things, he did not desist till he had stormed the city. Now Ezekiel means this, that Pharaoh would come to his help in vain, when Nebuchadnezzar began to cast up his mounds and build towers against the city. It follows —


Verse 18

Ezekiel repeals again, that, even speaking, Zedekiah could not succeed, since he violated the treaty for we yesterday said that this persuasion is always fixed in men’s minds, that treaties are sacred, and cannot be broken with impunity. Since, therefore, the sacredness of treaties was always prevalent among men, Ezekiel here pronounces that the issue would be disastrous, because Zedekiah despised his oath when he broke the treaty after stretching out his hand. He describes a gesture, as I think, customary among men — that of stretching forth the hand when they wish to witness a covenant. The alliance, then, between the Egyptians and the Jews is here described by an outward gesture, because Zedekiah stretched forth his hand, and yet had violated it in this way: but since he perfidiously revolted from King Nebuchadnezzar, to whom he had pledged his faith, he has done all this, says he, therefore he shall not be liberated. It follows —


Verse 19

The former sentence is confirmed. The Prophet had spoken after the usually received manner when he said that Zedekiah’s perfidy would not be unrevenged; but he now brings forward God as the speaker, because, unless he appeared as an avenger of perfidy, mankind would scarcely ever be seriously persuaded that punishment was prepared for perjurers and truce-breakers. As I have said that this opinion was fixed in the hearts of all, so it must be understood that this opinion was received, and that men were fully persuaded of it: but persuasions which are called “common” (186) vanish away; there are common thoughts which are almost born with us, and follow nature, but they are not firm, because the profane do not hold the principal point, that God is the judge of the world: this sentence, therefore, is added of necessity. Now God swears that Zedekiah should suffer punishment, because he had despised the oath and rendered the covenant void. But we must notice the epithet; for God calls the oath and the covenant his own: he has despised, says he, not simply the oath, but mine: he has violated my treaty. The reason of this language is, that God wishes fidelity between man and man to be cultivated: and so he detests all perjury and all frauds. Now, since there is no more sacred method of contracting a treaty than by solemn rites, there also God shows his judgment in a peculiar manner. In fine, we may deservedly call him the guardian of treaties; for when heathens entered into treaties, they were accustomed to bring forward the name of Jupiter the supreme, because they thought he would inflict vengeance on all who violated their pledge. But God here comes forward, not like an imaginary Jupiter, but because he wished confidence to flourish in human society; since, unless men act sincerely to each other, all society would be broken up. This, then, is the reason why Ezekiel says that the treaty struck with King Nebuchadnezzar was divine, since God would be its vindicator. Meanwhile we must remark that this treaty was lawful and pleasing to God. (Jeremiah 27:17.) And we see from Jeremiah 28:0 and Jeremiah 29:0., that God wished the Jews to suffer under this disgrace for a time. For King Zedekiah, if he had truly discharged his office, was an image of the Messiah, the first-born among the kings of the earth: Hence it was unworthy of him to become tributary to a profane monarch and a cruel tyrant. But since God had so imposed slavery on his own people, Zedekiah ought to be under the yoke, as it is there said, Be you servants to King Nebuchadnezzar and live; that is, there is no other method of obtaining safety, unless you suffer the Chaldaeans to rule over you, and you bear their sway calmly, since Nebuchadnezzar is God’s scourge. This covenant, as I have said, was approved by God, otherwise he could not have been its avenger. We know that there are three kinds of treaties. When there has been war between two kings, if the conqueror wishes to spare his enemy, he receives him into covenant, but imposes conditions at his own discretion. We know that the Romans followed that custom, since it was too difficult for them to hold in subjection all whom they had subdued, and especially at the beginning; and thus they entered into treaties with many tribes under many circumstances. Another sort of agreement is, that between either kings or people when at variance with each other; but before they actually engage, they make a truce with each other, and so remove the occasion of the war — this is another kind. Lastly, those who never were enemies enter into an alliance; and such was the treaty between Zedekiah and the king of Egypt. For they wished to be cautious, and to anticipate the danger which he feared from the Chaldaeans; and hence he entered into the agreement,. Thus the Israelites were formerly joined with the Syrians, and afterwards with the Assyrians. So we saw that the Jews committed adultery when they ran about first to Egypt, then to Assyria, and then to Chaldaea. But this treaty, of which mention is now made, was necessary; for Zedekiah could not escape from embracing the conditions imposed on him by King Nebuchadnezzar. For this reason God pronounces himself the avenger of perfidy.

It is now asked, Whether we may never break our word when any one has been violently attacked, and promised what was otherwise unjust? The reply is at hand, that God’s name is more precious than all human advantages. If any one, therefore, object that he was deceived, and oppressed by unjust conditions, still God’s name must prevail. Hence we must always weigh what is due to the name of God; and hence we shall readily conclude that those can never be excused who violate their engagements on the pretext of being violently compelled, or induced by fraud, or not allowed the liberty of considering whether their promise was according to equity. For this reason, also, it is said in the 15th Psalm, (Psalms 15:4,) that the sons of God swear and suffer loss, because when God’s, name has been interposed, no utility ought to be of such importance as to outweigh the oath that has been taken. And so not without reason God now pronounces that he would avenge the perjury which Zedekiah had committed, since, in truth, we cannot depart from promises which have been sanctioned by an oath in God’s name, without seeming to slight the Almighty himself. Meanwhile, it is certain that there was another reason why God punished the Jews; but here, as I have previously shown, the Prophet mentions what was more familiar to men. The first cause of the destruction of the city and of the whole kingdom, was idolatry, as we saw before, and then the many crimes of the people were added. For from the period of the corruption of true religion, the pollution of many vices increased through the city and the whole land. Hence it happened that God destined his people to destruction; hence also King Zedekiah was deprived of sight. For, as the sacred history testifies, God wished to destroy the whole people: for this reason Zedekiah fell, and provoked the Chaldaeans against him. We see, therefore, that there is a continued series of causes in the eternal providence of God, but not as the Stoics supposed; for they concocted their fate from complex windings or implicit causes, without any will of Deity in that confusion. But God, as I have said, has different reasons why he does one thing or another. Some causes are remote and incomprehensible to us, and others manifest to us: so the proximate cause of the destruction of the people was the revolt of Zedekiah from King Nebuchadnezzar; but there was another more important reason, namely, that the people deserved to perish. Hence Zedekiah was rendered blind by the just judgment of God, since he passed over perfidiously to the king of Egypt, and so armed himself against King Nebuchadnezzar. But we must hold that the reason universally manifest is here reviewed. It follows —


Verse 20

Here he points out the kind of punishment which he was about to inflict on King Zedekiah. He had said generally that his perfidy should fall upon his own head, but he now proceeds further, namely, that Zedekiah should be a captive. For God might chastise him by other means, but the prophecy was thereby confirmed, since the Prophet had clearly threatened Zedekiah as we see. But he speaks in the person of God that his language may have more weight. I will spread my net, says God, and he shall be taken in my snares. The passage is metaphorical, but it best explains what often occurs in Scripture, namely, that while the impious take first one course and then another, they are agents of God who governs them by his own secret virtue, and directs them wherever he wishes. As, therefore, men false up all things confusedly, and are, as we see, driven about hither and thither by their lusts, and disturb heaven and earth; yet God moderates their attacks by his secret providence. We gather this from the Prophet’s words when he calls the army of the king of Babylon, and his plans, and the apparatus of war, God’s net and snares. Although Nebuchadnezzar was impelled by his own ambition and avarice, and did not suppose himself under the divine sway, yet we see what the Spirit pronounces. And we must diligently observe this doctrine, because, if we repose on the paternal solicitude of God, although armies surround us on all sides, yet we may confide securely, and await the end with quiet and tranquil minds, since men can do nothing without God. But when we provoke God’s wrath against us, we must bear in mind, that while men have their reasons for being hostile to us, yet God governs them, or that they are his nets or snares, as the Prophet here says.

I will bring him, says he, to Babylon, and there will I dispute with him in judgment, according to the prevarication by which he has prevaricated. Not only did God dispute with Zedekiah there, but he inflicted a heavy and formidable judgment upon him in Riblah, when he saw his own sons put to death first, and then his own eyes were put out, and then he was bound by chains. But he almost pined away in his captivity, and was treated shamefully even unto death; for this reason God says that he would judge him at Babylon: and yet there will be nothing out of place if we comprehend Riblah also. For although Zedekiah had been partially punished before he entered Babylon, yet God there inflicted his own sentence, after he was dragged from his country and led into exile. He was buried indeed not without honor, as we saw in Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 34:5,) for they bewailed him at his burial — Alas, my brother! alas, O master! as the Prophet says: yet till his death he was like the vilest prisoner, for he pined away in his chains, and was meanly clothed, when the king treated Coniah nobly and splendidly: hence Zedekiah’s captivity was the seal of this prophecy for Ezekiel could not have pronounced this sentence, unless he had been the organ of the Holy Spirit. It follows —


Verse 21

The Prophet now descends to the whole people, especially to the soldiers, whom Zedekiah himself thought would be fit guardians of the city. He says, then, thus shall all his forces be dissipated, so that they shall be dispersed hither and thither and all by the sword. By these words he means the slaughter of the army, since as long as soldiers stand in their own ranks they sustain and repel a hostile attack; but when they are dispersed, every one is subject to the enemy, and hence a promiscuous slaughter arises. He says, therefore, that Zedekiah’s soldiers would be fugitives amidst all their bands: that is, although he had a large army, yet all his forces should be dispersed, and while each should consult his own advantage, he should fall into the enemy’s hands: thus, all shall fall by the sword; then those who remain shall be dispersed towards every wind. We saw the same thing before, for when the Prophet had declared that all the people should suffer by the sword, he added, at the same time, that all the survivors should be fugitives, just as if any one should throw out refuse or hair which the wind would blow hither and thither. Hence he repeats the same now, namely, that the whole people would be like a torn body, since if they escaped the sword, yet they would find no place of rest. Hence while a few would flee to Egypt, some to the Moabites, and others to the neighboring nations, the whole body of the people, would be dissipated. He adds, and you shall know that I Jehovah have spoken. We have explained the meaning of this, and why the Prophet repeats it so often, namely, because the Jews were untractable and derided all God’s threats: the Prophet teaches that they should really feel that he had spoken, and this is the wisdom of fools, as the common proverb expresses it. For because they do not obey any counsels, nor admit any admonitions, and receive no teaching, they are instructed only by the event itself. It follows —


Verse 22

Here the Prophet begins to treat of the restoration of the nation and kingdom. Thus this prophecy without doubt refers to Christ, because although in some sense God had pity on the people when they enjoyed the liberty of returning under Cyrus and Darius, yet what is here written was never fully exhibited except under Christ. It is indeed true, as I have elsewhere expressed, that when the prophets promise restoration to the Church, that they do not restrict their discourse to the person of Christ, but begin with the return of the people for that was the beginning of the full and solid liberty which was at length made manifest in Christ. And Christian writers have erred in urging so precisely that anything said about the restitution of the Church must be understood of the person of Christ, and thus they make themselves ridiculous to the Jews. But, as it has been said already, as often as the Prophets hold out the hope of liberty to the elect and the faithful, they embrace the whole of the time from the return of the people, or from the end of their exile to the end of the kingdom of Christ. When, therefore, the reign of Christ is treated, we must date its commencement from the period of the building of the temple after the people’s return from their seventy years captivity: and then we must take its boundary, not at the ascension of Christ, nor yet in the first or second centuries, but through the whole progress of his kingdom, until he shall appear at the last day. Now let us come to the Prophet’s words, thus says the Lord Jehovah, I will take from the top of the lofty ( ortall) cedar. God pursues the allegory which we saw: for as he said that the top was torn off, or that the highest branch was plucked from the cedar of Lebanon, so he now says, that he would take from the top of the cedar, and after he had plucked or wrenched off a bough, and planted it, such would be the increase, that all the trees would acknowledge that to be a wonderful work. Now this restoration is described to us variously, because after God had spoken of a lofty bough, he descends to a low and abject one; he then pronounces that such should be the beginning of the new kingdom, that he would make the dry tree to bud and humble the lofty one. These things at first sight seem to be opposite to each other, but they agree very well, because God took from the top of a lofty cedar when he planted a new king. For Christ, as respects God’s eternal decree, was always more excellent than heaven and earth; at the same time God afterwards says that he was humble, as he certainly was. But let us follow up the words, I will take, says he, from the top of a lofty cedar, and I will set it: from the top of its twigs I will pluck a tender one, and I will plant it upon a lofty and elevated mountain. Here, as I have said, he speaks of a tall and lofty cedar, and then he speaks of a high branch, but he adds afterwards, I will pluck a tender one from it, by which he means that the twig which he should pluck and plant would be without strength. Here, therefore, is shown the contemptible beginning of the reign of Christ, as the Prophet afterwards more clearly explains himself.


Verse 23

When God announces that the twig which he will plant shall become a lofty cedar, he shows by lofty words that the increase of Christ’s kingdom shall be so wonderful, that it shall surpass the common rule of nature; which indeed was shadowed forth in the person of Zerubbabel, who was chosen to bring back the people from their sad and disgraceful captivity. (Ezra 2:2; Haggai 1:14.) For it does not naturally happen that a twig increases in a short time to a lofty cedar, for we know how slowly cedars grow, and hence we see the Spirit’s intention in saying that a tree should spring from a very small twig. And this prophecy answers to one of Isaiah’s, where he says, (Isaiah 11:1,) A branch shall spring from the root of Jesse: for the house of Jesse was cut off, and he names the house of an obscure and private man as if the remembrance of David were utterly lost. The house of Jesse then was cut off like a tree: that twig, says he, shall spring from its root. Now the Prophet signifies the same thing, and almost under the same similitude. I leave the rest for the next lecture.


Verse 24

In this verse the Prophet signifies that God’s work would be memorable. For when he says that all trees should feel themselves in God’s hand and power, to raise what was fallen, and to cast down and to prostrate what was elevated, he doubtless expresses no common action. By trees he means all the kings of the earth, and all possessed of any dignity. For he follows up his own metaphor: as he called the kingdom of Christ a tree or cedar which grew from a small twig, so he now speaks metaphorically of kings when he says, that all should take notice; for they shall know that Jehovah brings down the high tree. Ezekiel may here seem to be inconsistent with himself, as I have already noticed, because God said that he would take from a lofty cedar a little twig, which he wished to plant: but he now says that God would raise what was low and abject. But we have dissipated this absurdity, because, from the beginning Christ was in the glory of his Father, and thus, as Micah says, his beginning was from eternity. (Micah 5:2.) This excellency of Christ, therefore, is noticed, because, from the time when God erected David’s throne, he at the same time gave a visible sign of the more excellent kingdom which was then secretly hoped for. For this reason Christ was taken from his lofty place, and since he not only put on the form of a slave, but emptied himself even unto death, (Philippians 2:7,) it is not surprising that the Prophet should say, like a tree cast down. Although, as I have remarked, this sentence is not to be restricted to the person of Christ, but thought to be adapted to his kingdom; that is, to his manner and way of governing: since we know, and it has been lately stated, that the gospel is like a scepter, by which Christ subdues all people, and rules them for himself. Now if we reflect on what the preaching of the gospel was, we shall see, as in a glass, the Prophet’s meaning here, that the low tree was elevated, since no one would have thought, that from such slender beginnings the increase which God afterwards bestowed on it could arise. It follows, then, that the height was wonderful, since it could not be comprehended by the human senses.

Meanwhile he adds, I am he who humbles the lofty tree, which is not only understood of the Jews, but, in my judgment, embraces all the empires and principalities of the world. God, therefore, humbles lofty trees, because, whatever opposes itself to Christ’s kingdom, must necessarily fall; and this is described more at length in Daniel. (Daniel 4:0.) For although all the empires of the world are founded in Christ, and sustained by his virtue, yet, since earthly kings rise up and desire to lay Christ prostrate, their pride is the reason why Christ’s empire causes their ruin. This contrast, then, must be noticed, that God sets up low trees, or takes them away, and casts down lofty ones, since we are here taught to hope better of the reign of Christ than we can estimate by our senses; since, if we cast our eyes round us, many things meet us which diminish and weaken our hope. For what is the outward appearance of Christ’s kingdom? In truth we shall feel nothing but despair if we judge of Christ’s kingdom by the present state of affairs. But when we see how the gospel creeps along the ground, this passage should come to our minds, that God will raise up the tree that is abject and contemptible. At the same time, let us learn, that the changes which happen and are perceived in the world are to be imputed to the pride of those who are blinded by their own boasting; for kings, as we have said, forget that they are men, and so rebel against God: hence they must of necessity fall. If this is not fulfilled immediately, let us learn patiently to await the effect of this prophecy. Whatever happens, God has so established the kingdom of Christ alone, that it shall last as long as the sun and moon, but the other empires of the world shall vanish away with their own splendor, and their loftiness shall fall although at present they overtop the clouds. I, says Jehovah, have spoken, and I will do it. God here recalls the minds of the faithful to his power, because, from the time the people were dispersed — I speak of the final overthrow of the city and temple — there was no hope of restoration. Since, then, it was difficult to persuade men of what God now pronounces, he brings pointedly forward his own prowess, in order that men, by holding in check their carnal senses, should raise themselves above the world, and wait for the inestimable prowess of God which does not yet appear to them. It now follows —

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 17:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/ezekiel-17.html. 1840-57.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, December 9th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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