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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 17

The Second Cycle—Chapters 8-19

THE second cycle (ch. Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 19:14) is separated from the first by an interval of a year and two months. The date is here the sixth year after the captivity of Jehoiachin, the sixth month, the fifth day, about five years before the destruction of Jerusalem. A vision here also forms the introduction, a song the close in ch. Ezekiel 19, in the midst of prophetic discourses that elucidate the vision, obviate objections, and form a bridge between it and the mind. The historical starting-point and the tendency also are similar. The prophet here also strives against the political dreams, represents the destruction as inevitable, and points to repentance as the only way of safety.

The vision is here far more comprehensive than in the first cycle. It occupies four whole chapters. It gives a complete representation of the sins of the people; and here accordingly is unfolded what in the first vision is only indicated concerning the punishment. Common to both visions is the delineation of the theophany itself, and in particular the description of the cherubim. The former delineation is supplemented by that here given only in details.

Ch. Ezekiel 8 contains the exposition of the guilt—the delineation of the four abominations of Jerusalem; ch. Ezekiel 9, the first punishment—Jerusalem filled with dead bodies; ch. Ezekiel 10, the second punishment—Jerusalem burnt; ch. Ezekiel 11:1-12, the third—God’s vengeance follows the survivors of the catastrophe. The close consists of comfort for the captives, who are already in exile with Ezekiel, and on whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem proudly look down; of these will God Himself take care, after the total disappointment of all human hopes (vers. Ezekiel 11:13-21). The prophet then sees still (vers. Ezekiel 11:22-23) how the glory of the Lord leaves the temple; and then the ecstasy comes to an end (vers. Ezekiel 11:21, Ezekiel 11:25).

Verses 1-10

Ezekiel 17. The predominant practical tendency of this chapter, is to strike down the vain hopes that were founded on the alliance of Zedekiah with Egypt, that the people may attain to salvation by the way of repentance. The prophet, however, does not stop with the annihilation of earthly hopes. At the close he points to the glorious exaltation of the kingdom of David, which the Lord will bring to pass at the end of days. Whosoever laid up this promise in his heart, would thereby be delivered from the region of vain political hopes and intrigues. The saying of Augustine applies here: “That which thou seekest is; but it is not where thou seekest it.” The central point of the hopes of the future was the person of the king. God, they thought, cannot let him fall, without reversing the glorious promises that He had made to the house of David. To all outward appearance, the hopes of the house of David are buried with Zedekiah. The prophet, on the contrary, teaches that Zedekiah will find what his deeds deserve, and yet God will at length, when all seems to be lost, gloriously fulfil His promise to the house of David. The prophecy falls into three paragraphs: the parable representing the emptiness of all earthly hopes of the future; its exposition, Ezekiel 17:11 f.; the salvation from above, Ezekiel 17:22 f.

Ezekiel 17:1-10. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2. Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel; 3. And say. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, The great eagle, with great wings, with long quills, full of feathers, which had divers colours, came unto Lebanon, and took the leafy crown of the cedar. 4. The top of its young twigs he plucked off, and brought it to the land of Canaan; in a city of merchants he set it. 5. And he took of the seed of the land, and put it in a seed field: he took it to many waters, and set it as a willow tree. 6. And it sprouted, and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches should turn towards him, and its roots be under him: and it became a vine, and sent out branches and shot forth sprigs. 7. And there was a great eagle, with great wings and many feathers; and, behold, this vine hungered in its roots after him, and sent forth its branches towards him, that he might water it from the beds where it was planted. 8. In a good field by many waters was it planted, that it might send out leaves and bear fruit, and become a goodly vine. 9. Say thou, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Shall it prosper? Shall he not pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof, that it wither? In all the verdure of its shoots it shall wither; and not by a great arm or many people will it be taken away with its roots. 10. And, behold, it is planted: shall it prosper? Shall it not utterly wither when the east wind toucheth it? It shall wither on the beds of its shoots.

The great eagle ( Ezekiel 17:3) is the king of Babylon, who is among the kings what the eagle is among the birds: in the composition of the cherubim, the eagle represents the whole class of birds. The greatness of the wings and of the quills denotes the extension of his dominion: comp. Isaiah 8:8, where the outstretched wings of the king of Assyria cover the entire holy land. The thickness of the feathers denotes the great multitude of his subjects; the divers colours, the multiplicity of the nations. In the carrying out of this symbol, the mountain chain which on the north separated the heathen country from the abode of God’s people, is employed now as a figure of the native kingdom (comp. Christol. on Zechariah 11:1), now as a figure of the heathen monarchy (comp. my comm. on ch. Song of Solomon 4:8 of the Song of Songs),—a double meaning, which was yielded by the intervening position of Lebanon. The cedar on Lebanon is the house of David: comp. Daniel 4:8-9, where Nebuchadnezzar appears as a great and strong tree, and Ezekiel 31:3 f., where Assyria is designated as a cedar on Lebanon. The leafy crown [97] of the cedar is the then royal court, which was carried away by Nebuchadnezzar, and whose constituent parts are described in 2 Kings 24:14. To the leafy crown here corresponds, in the exposition, Ezekiel 17:12, the king of Jerusalem with her princes. The top of the young twigs of the cedar, in Ezekiel 17:4, is different from the leafy crown in Ezekiel 17:3. While the latter designates the whole court, the former refers to him who is specially concerned, king Jehoiachin, who is the more aptly compared with a twig, as he was a youth when carried captive. The country of the Chaldeans cannot here be called Canaan, that is, a merchant’s land; nor can Babylon be called a city of traders, in the usual sense. This would be a designation that, irrespective of its being not at all characteristic, would not meet the case in point. That which is intended is rather the Chaldean diplomacy, the policy of the interests that were thus pursued, just as we speak of political negotiations and international intrigues. From this policy originated the removal of Jehoiachin to Babylon. Self-interest is the point of comparison between politics and trade. This community of principle also explains how both politics and trade are represented in Scripture under the figure of adultery, the self-seeking, that conceals itself under the appearance of love (comp. my comm. on Revelation 14:8, Revelation 17:2); the self-seeking policy, Nahum 3:4; the trade, Isaiah 23:15 f. It was, as it were, a profitable stroke of business, that Jehoiachin, who was favourable to Egypt, should be removed to Babylon, and a creature of the king of Babylon set up in his stead, whose fidelity he might count upon, because he had the legitimate sovereign in his custody, and could make use of him according to circumstances. The king of Babylon “took of the seed of the land” ( Ezekiel 17:5), in opposition to the appointment of a foreign regent; Zedekiah, whom the Chaldeans appointed, was of the old native royal family ( 2 Kings 24:17; here Ezekiel 17:13). The Chaldean policy preferred such a one, in order to secure the sympathies of the people. The “field of seed” in which the new king was planted, is a fertile soil, in opposition to a barren region. It refers, besides the fertility, to the advantageous situation of the promised land in a commercial aspect, on the highway of the world’s commerce by land and by water, to which the blessing of Jacob had pointed ( Genesis 49:13); and likewise the blessing of Moses ( Deuteronomy 33:19). [98] “He took it to many waters.” Waters, in the symbolic style of Scripture, signify the sources of nourishment (comp. on Psalms 107:33; Revelation 17:1-2). “Set it as a willow:” set the new king, so that in a spiritual sense he was a willow, resembled this in fresh bloom (comp. the figure of the tree planted by the water-brooks in Psalms 1). The following figure of the vine is not here in contradiction with that of the willow. The two figures present different aspects. The subject in Ezekiel 17:6 is not the willow tree, but the king. The new king ( Ezekiel 17:6) is a vine, not a cedar, as the earlier independent family of David. “Spreading,” so that it grew luxuriantly indeed, but in breadth, not in height, which is still more definitely shown by the addition “of low stature.” Its (Zedekiah’s) roots should be under him—should not be withdrawn from dependence on the king of Babylon. The words, “And it (the vine in spe) became a vine, and sent out branches and shot forth sprigs,” prepare for what follows. From the prosperity of the new kingdom arose the arrogance which led to the attempt to shake off the yoke of Babylon. The second great eagle ( Ezekiel 17:7) is the king of Egypt, the African world-power. It also has great wings, an extended dominion, and is rich in feathers—has a numerous population under it; but the other is the great, this only a great eagle; and it wants the “divers colours,” the multitude of nations united under its sway. This kingdom is not a composite one, extending over a wide surface of nations, like the Asiatic, whose sovereign called himself king of kings, but a homogeneous one. The vine, the kingdom of Judah, “hungers” or longs after the second eagle, or the king of Egypt; and this hunger belongs especially to its roots, [99] which particularly need strengthening, and in which the defect of the new kingdom displayed itself. The watering appears to allude to the Nile, the symbol of Egypt and its king, which waters Egypt, led by the trenches into the fields (comp. Jeremiah 2:18). The words “from its beds,” the bed where it was planted, belong to the phrase, “it hungered and sent out.” The planting bed is Canaan, where the king is planted by the Chaldeans, and is thereby bound to obey him,—a thought which is carried out further in Ezekiel 17:8. In Ezekiel 17:8 we have the good design of the king of Babylon, and of God, who makes use of him as His instrument. Only from mischievous ingratitude could Zedekiah seek to attach himself to the king of Egypt. Hitherto the motive to judgment; in Ezekiel 19:9 the judgment itself,—a judgment pronounced not by the son of man, but by Him who speaks and it is done. In the words, “Shall he not pull up the roots thereof?” the subject is the king of Babylon. The roots signify the national existence; the fruit the produce of the land, or the collective gain. The vine becomes dry [100] in all its sprouting leaves: these signify all that by which a prosperous national life is displayed. “Not by a great arm or many people will it be taken away with its roots.” According to Jeremiah 34, Nebuchadnezzar led a numerous army to Jerusalem; but there was no need of so great preparations. If a nation have God for its enemy, one can chase a thousand of them, and two can put ten thousand to flight ( Deuteronomy 32:30; comp. Leviticus 26:8). The Egyptians were quite passive (comp. Ezekiel 17:17). The taking away with the roots [101] signifies the total abolition of the national existence. The destructive east wind, in Ezekiel 17:10, signifies the king of Babylon.

[97] צמרת , properly the wool of the tree, the top, where the foliage is rankest.

[98] קח is abbreviated from לקח . The abbreviation is intended to point to the previous ויקח , and to resume this. Mich. accepit inquam.

[99] These stand in the so-called relative accusative, which limits more strictly the sphere.

[100] תיבש refers to the vine, as in Ezekiel 17:10.

[101] Job 28:9, ῥ?ιζῶ?ν ; Mark 11:20; comp. Matthew 3:10, Luke 3:9, where the axe lies at the root of the trees.

Verses 11-21

Ezekiel 17:11-21. Then follows, in Ezekiel 17:11-21, the exposition of the parable. Ezekiel 17:11. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 12. Say now to the house of rebellion. Know ye not what this is? Say, Behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took its king, and its princes, and brought them to him to Babylon. 13. And he took of the king’s seed, and made a covenant with him, and took an oath of him; and he took the mighty of the land: 14. That it might be a base kingdom, that it might not lift itself up, that his covenant might be kept and might stand. 15. And he rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people. Shall he prosper? shall he escape that doeth such things? and should he break the covenant, and escape? 16. As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, in the place of the king that made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he brake, he shall die with him in the midst of Babylon. 17. Neither shall Pharaoh with mighty army and great company act with him in war, by casting up a mount, and building a fort, to cut off many souls. 18. And he has despised the oath, to break the covenant, and, behold, he gave his hand, and all this he did, he shall not escape. 19. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, As I live, mine oath that he despised, and my covenant that he broke, this will I lay upon his head. 20. And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare; and I will bring him to Babylon, and plead with him there for his trespass which he hath committed against me. 21. And all his fugitives [102] with all his squadrons shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered towards all winds: and ye shall know that I the Lord have spoken it.

[102] An allusion to מברחיו , his elect, quid pro quo.

“The house of rebellion” ( Ezekiel 17:12), the rebellious company, should have been led by the parable and its exposition to submission to the destiny of God. “He took the mighty of the land” ( Ezekiel 17:13): the noblest of the land were, according to 2 Kings 24:15, carried away with Jehoiachin to Babel. Nebuchadnezzar retained them as hostages for the fidelity of Zedekiah, but especially to weaken the power of the vassal-kingdom ( Ezekiel 17:14). “With him” ( Ezekiel 17:17): this is most simply referred to the rebel king. Pharaoh will not render him the expected powerful aid against the Chaldeans; he will leave his protégé in the lurch, when he is hard pressed by his enemies. That the Chaldeans need no great military force against Jerusalem, is manifest here from this, that the Egyptians, against whom alone it could be necessary, come not to its aid with any force. Egypt was already at that time worm-eaten; which the Spirit of God showed to His prophets, while the world went no further than the surface.

Verses 22-24

In Ezekiel 17:22-24, the promise. [103] Ezekiel 17:22. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, And I will take of the leafy crown of the high cedar, and set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and plant it on a mountain high and eminent. 23. On the high mountain of Israel will I plant it; and it shall put forth branches, and bear fruit, and become a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; [104] in the shadow of its branches shall they dwell. 24. And all the trees of the field shall know that I the LORD have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and made the dry tree to flourish; I the LORD have spoken and done it.

[103] Christol. ii. p. 475 f.

[104] That we must explain “fowl of every wing” by as many as have wings, is obvious from the parallel passage, 39:4, 17, and the fundamental passage, Genesis 7:14.

The beginning of the discourse of God with and—“And I will take”—points out that this procedure of God is the continuation of a former one—His destructive interposition against the house of David, according to the saying, “I kill, and I heal.” The doubled emphasis on I points out that the procedure here announced has the warrant of success in the person of the speaker. This I is of powerful import, as the speaker is no other than “the Lord Jehovah,” the Almighty, the purely absolute Being, whom no created tiling can resist. This I forms the counterpart to the present weak and barren attempt to maintain the house of David in its dignity. When all these political intrigues are shattered, the Lord takes the matter in hand—the same who defeated these human schemes of deliverance. The cedar is here, as before, the house of David. The tenderness of the twig points to this; that the branch of David will present itself at first small and obscure, in accordance with the announcement of the earlier prophets, that the Messiah will appear in the time of the deepest humiliation of the house of David, rise from the fallen tabernacle of David ( Amos 9:11), a rod out of the stem of Jesse ( Isaiah 11:1), a root out of a dry ground ( Isaiah 53:2). The mountain high and eminent, on which the tender twig is planted, is the symbol of a mighty kingdom. The high mountain of Israel, in Ezekiel 17:23, forms the more exact description of the mountain high and eminent. It means, according to ch. Ezekiel 20:40, Mount Zion, which is here, however, viewed not according to its natural height, in respect to which it stands far behind Lebanon, which appeared in Ezekiel 17:3 as the symbol of the kingdom of God, but according to its spiritual height, which already existed in the times of the O. T., according to Psalms 48:3, “Beautiful for its height, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, the city of the great King” ( Psalms 68:17), but first attains to its full import in the Messianic times; comp. Micah 4:1, Isaiah 2:2, according to which in that time, “at the end of days,” the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills. [105] In point of fact. Mount Zion signifies the kingdom to be raised to the supremacy over the world-kingdoms. Yet we must expect that, when the fulfilment of our prophecy begins, the kingdom of God will have its seat on the natural Zion; and so in fact it happened. The branches, which the shoot puts forth, signify the extension of the sovereignty of that great descendant of David; the fruits which it bears (comp. Isaiah 11:1, “a branch out of its roots shall bear fruit”), signify the saving operations that come from Him. The words, “and become a goodly cedar,” show that the cedar with its leafy crown, in Ezekiel 17:22, existed only in an ideal sense, and had entirely disappeared from the common reality. With the new shoot it entered again into this with imposing effect. To represent powerful ruling families under the form of an overshadowing tree, is a figure particularly acceptable in the Chaldean period, and probably borrowed from the Chaldees ( Ezekiel 31:3 f.; Daniel 4:7-8). Matthew 13:32 rests on our passage. The trees of the field ( Ezekiel 17:24) are, in the symbolic style of Scripture, the princes and the mighty ones of the earth (in Revelation 7:1). The high tree is the worldly dominion. The humiliation of this is implied in the exaltation of the house of David, announced in the previous verse: when all the fowls dwell under that cedar, there remains no more room for the worldly dominion. The low tree is, David, or the family of David, that attains to its exaltation in the Messiah. With the fact of the exaltation is given its accomplishment by Jehovah, as surely as the family of David stands under the protection of Jehovah. The green tree is the world-monarchy that flourished luxuriantly at the time when this prophecy was published; comp. Daniel 4:8-9, where it is said in the description of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, “The tree was great and strong, and its height reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of the whole earth; its leaf was fair, and its fruit much,” etc. In the exposition (ver. Daniel 4:19) it is said, “Thou art the tree, O king;” while the tree of David’s race was already almost dried up, and according to the announcement of the prophet, should soon be altogether dried up.

[105] Cocccius: qui ut altior erat omnibus montibus in toto mundo, quia domus Dei tantum in illo erat, ita longe altior futurus erat, quum Rex regum in eo manifestaretur.

The exposition of the symbol is not added here, for the same reason that a prediction against Babylon is wanting in Ezekiel, whereas the whole of the predictions of Jeremiah culminate in this. The prophet spoke in the country of the Chaldees; and that they kept an observant eye on the predictions in Israel, is plain, among other passages, from Jeremiah 29:21-22. Caution in regard to the surrounding heathen is also observable in the whole book of Ecclesiastes.

The words, “I the Lord speak and do,” oppose to the visible, in which the promise is devoid of all ground, the person of the promiser. Experience has shown that this power concealed behind the visible is of infinitely more importance than the visible, that is so imposing. Babylon, and with it the whole series of the old world-powers, are dried up; David flourishes and bears fruit, and under the shadow of his offshoot the fowls of the heaven dwell.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 17". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-17.html.