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10. A lament for the kings of Israel ch. 19
This prophecy shows that there were no more rulers left in Judah who could restore the nation to its former glory. Evidently the exiles hoped that some Davidic descendant would prove successful in overcoming the Babylonians and restoring Israel’s sovereignty. This was their last hope, and it is the last prophecy in this section of the book that shows that such a hope was futile.
The prophecy contains two parts. The first part (Ezekiel 19:1-9) uses the figure of a lion and her cubs to describe the Davidic line and two of its kings. The second part (Ezekiel 19:10-14) uses the figure of a vine to describe Israel including its final strong branch or king.
Ezekiel was to lament (Heb. qinah) for the princes of Israel. This is the first of five laments in Ezekiel (cf. Ezekiel 26:17-18; Ezekiel 27; Ezekiel 28:12-19; Ezekiel 32:1-16). Laments usually utilize the qinah or limping form of rhythm in Hebrew, and this one does. The qinah form consists normally of three accented words followed by two accented words in a couplet. For example in Ezekiel 19:2 in the NASB this rhythm is discernible: "She lay down among young lions; she reared her cubs." Usually translations cannot capture the rhythm of the Hebrew text. This rhythm gives a sorrowful feeling to the composition as it is read in Hebrew. The form is quite common in the Old Testament, especially in Lamentations, Psalms, and some of the prophetical books. [Note: For other characteristics of the qinah genre, see Block, The Book . . ., pp. 592-93.]
"A dirge was normally sung or chanted, by professional mourners after the death of the deceased and during his funeral. Ezekiel expressed the Lord’s sadness over the Judean leadership’s failure by chanting this elegy over her final rulers prior to their deaths . . ." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 830.]
However this dirge is also a riddle (cf. Ezekiel 17:1-10). Ezekiel used the term "princes" to describe Judah’s kings (Ezekiel 7:27; Ezekiel 12:10; Ezekiel 12:19; et al.).
The lion and her cubs 19:1-9
The prophet compared the former Davidic kings of Judah to a lioness. This was a common symbol of rulers in the ancient Near East, and the Israelites used the figure for the Davidic kings (Genesis 49:9; Numbers 23:24; 1 Kings 10:19-20; Micah 5:8; cf. Revelation 5:5). [Note: See Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near . . ., p. 300; and ibid., ed., The Ancient . . ., plate 447.] This lioness was responsible for producing and nurturing young lion cubs, the kings that followed in the Davidic line.
One particular ruler in the Davidic line became lion-like. He tore his prey and devoured people. When his neighbors heard about him, someone captured him and brought him as a prisoner to Egypt.
This describes the character and fate of King Jehoahaz who did evil in the Lord’s sight by devouring people in his own kingdom through oppression and injustice (2 Kings 23:31-34). Even though his reign lasted only three months (in 609 B.C.) it was a violent and brutal period in Israel’s history. Pharaoh Neco placed Jehoahaz on Judah’s throne after Neco killed his father, Josiah, at Megiddo thereby gaining sovereignty over Judah. However, Jehoahaz proved to be unmanageable, so Pharaoh took him to Egypt where he finally died (2 Kings 23:31-34; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4; Jeremiah 22:10-12). The Judeans had hoped that Jehoahaz would return from Egypt and rule again in Judah, but that was not to be the case (cf. Jeremiah 22:10-12).
With the death of this cub the lioness took another of her offspring and made him dominant. He gained his position among the other rulers of the area and also became violent and destructive, like the first cub. He so devastated his own land that the people in it despaired. His neighbors also trapped this lion and took him captive to Babylon thus ending his reign.
This describes the career of King Jehoiachin, who also ruled over Judah for only three months (in 598-597 B.C.). Probably the writer omitted referring to King Jehoiakim, the intervening king, because he was not taken into exile like Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin. Other interpreters believe King Jehoiakim is the person in view. [Note: E.g., Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 256; and Block, The Book . . ., pp. 604-7.] The Babylonians captured Jehoiachin and took him into exile in 597 B.C. Later he enjoyed a measure of freedom, but he never returned to rule over Judah (2 Kings 24:8-17; 2 Kings 25:27-30; 2 Chronicles 36:8-10).
Ezekiel changed the figure of the Davidic dynasty to that of a fruitful vine in a vineyard. This vine was fruitful and it flourished because it enjoyed abundant resources. The Davidic dynasty was like a fruitful vine among the other nations because God blessed it (Ezekiel 15:1-6; Ezekiel 17:1-10; Deuteronomy 8:7-8; Psalms 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 24:7; Isaiah 27:2-6; Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 6:9; cf. Matthew 21:33-41; John 15:1-8). Its branches were so strong that they proved usable as scepters for rulers. The vine became exceedingly large in the season of its greatest glory, the days of David and Solomon.
The vine and its branch 19:10-14
However, others uprooted this vine in their fury, trod it underfoot, and cut off its fruitfulness as with a hot east wind (from Babylon; cf. Ezekiel 17:6-10; Ezekiel 17:15; Psalms 89:30-37). Its strong branch, King Zedekiah, was cut off so it withered and burned up. This was a prediction of Zedekiah’s future. Assuming the chronological order of the prophecies in this book, Ezekiel evidently gave this one between 592 and 591 B.C., which was after the reigns of Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin and during the reign of Zedekiah (597-586 B.C.). Zedekiah went into captivity in 586 B.C. He had been responsible for much of the destruction that had overtaken Judah. Perhaps one reason for the change in the figures describing Israel’s kings, from lions to a vine, was that Zedekiah, the branch (Ezekiel 19:12), was not a king approved by the Judeans but a puppet of the Babylonians, though he was in the Davidic line. Scripture gives us little information about Zedekiah’s domestic policies. The vine was now in the wilderness, a place of limited resources. It had burned up so there were no more strong shoots or fruit left in it. No scepter was in it now; there was no Davidic king who could rule over Israel. The vine was not completely destroyed, but it languished having been transplanted to a hostile environment. Another view sees Zedekiah as the fire that consumed the shoots and fruit of the Davidic line. [Note: E.g., Stuart, p. 170.]
The writer identified this piece again as a lamentation, a funeral dirge or elegy that the Jews used to describe their sorrow over the fate of the Davidic rulers of their nation.
It is appropriate that this last section in the part of the book that consists of Yahweh’s reply to the invalid hopes of the Israelites (chs. 12-19) should be a lament. Judah’s doom was certain, so a funeral dirge was fitting. All the exiles could do was mourn the divine judgment on their nation that was to reach its climax very soon.
"Jerusalem’s fall was so certain that Ezekiel considered it inevitable. . . . The dirge was not over one individual; it was being sung for the Davidic dynasty and the ’death’ of its rule." [Note: Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1262.]
Not until Jesus Christ returns to the earth to reign will a strong branch and the ruler’s scepter arise in the line of David again (cf. Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 19". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19