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And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
The date of the prophecy is between the sixth month of Zedekiah's sixth year of reign and the fifth month of the seventh year after the carrying away of Jehoiachin - i:e., five years before the destruction of Jerusalem (Henderson).
Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel;
Put forth a riddle - a continued allegory, expressed enigmatically, requiring more than common acumen and serious thought. The Hebrew, [ chiydaah (H2420)] is derived from a root [chaadad] 'to be sharp' - i:e., calculated to stimulate the attention and whet the intellect. Distinct from 'fable,' in that it teaches not fiction but fact. Not like the ordinary riddle, designed to puzzle, but to instruct. The "riddle" is here identical with the "parable" [ maashaal (H4912)], only that the former refers to the obscurity, the latter to the likeness of the figure to the thing compared.
And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; A great eagle with great wings, longwinged, full of feathers, which had divers colours, came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar:
A great eagle - the king of birds. The literal Hebrew is, 'the great eagle.' The symbol of the Assyrian supreme god, Nisroch [akin to the Hebrew 'eagle,' nesher (H5404)]; so applied to 'the great king' of Babylon, his vicegerent on earth (Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22).
With great wings - his "wings" are his great forces. Such symbols were familiar to the Jews, who saw them pourtrayed on the great buildings of Babylon; such as are now seen in the Assyrian remains.
Long-winged - implying the wide extent of his empire.
Full of feathers - when they have been renewed after moulting; and so in the full freshness of renovated youth (Psalms 103:5; Isaiah 40:31). Answering to the many peoples which, as tributaries, constituted the strength of Babylon.
Which had divers colours - the golden eagle, marked with starlike spots, supposed to be the largest of eagles (Bochart). Answering to the variety of languages, habits, and costumes of the peoples subject to Babylon.
Came unto Lebanon - continuing the metaphor, as the eagle frequents mountains, not cities. The temple at Jerusalem was called 'Lebanon' by the Jews (Eusebius), because its wood-work was wholly of cedars of Lebanon. "The mountain of the Lord's house" (Isaiah 2:2). Jerusalem, however, is chiefly meant-the chief seat of civil and religious honour, as Lebanon was of external elevation.
Took the highest branch - King Jechoniah, then only 18 years old, and many of the chiefs and people with him (2 Kings 24:8; 2 Kings 24:12-16). The Hebrew [ tsameret (H6788)] for "highest branch" is, properly, the fleece-like tuft at the top of the tree. So in Ezekiel 31:3-14. The cedar, as a tall tree, is the symbol of kingly elevation (cf. Daniel 4:10-22).
He cropped off the top of his young twigs, and carried it into a land of traffick; he set it in a city of merchants.
He ... earned it into a land of traffic ... a city of merchants - Babylon (2 Kings 24:15-16), famous for its transport traffic on the Tigris and Euphrates; also, by its connection with the Persian Gulf, it carried on much commerce with India.
He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field; he placed it by great waters, and set it as a willow tree.
He took also of the seed of the land - not a foreign production, but one native in the region; a son of the soil, not a foreigner: Zedekiah, uncle of Jehoiachin, of David's family.
Planted it in a fruitful field - literally, a field of seed; i:e., fit for propagating and continuing the seed of the royal family.
Set it as a willow - [ tsaptsaapaah (H6851), derived from a Hebrew root, tsuwp (H6687), 'to overflow'] from its fondness for water (Isaiah 44:4). Judea was "a land of brooks of water and fountains" (Deuteronomy 8:7-9; of John 3:23).
And it grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned toward him, and the roots thereof were under him: so it became a vine, and brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs.
It ... became a spreading vine of low stature - not now, as before, a stately "cedar:" the kingdom of Judah was to be prosperous, but not elevated.
Whose branches turned toward him. Expressing the fealty of Zedekiah as a vassal looking up to Nebuchadnezzar, to whom Judah owed its peace and very existence as a separate state. The "branches" mean his sons, and the other princes and nobles. The "roots under him" (the Babylonian king, answering to the "great eagle") imply that the stability of Judah depended on Babylon.
It ... brought forth branches, and ... sprigs. The repetition "branches" and "sprigs" is in order to mark the ingratitude of Zedekiah, who, not content with moderate prosperity, revolted from him to whom he had sworn allegiance.
There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers: and, behold, this vine did bend her roots toward him, and shot forth her branches toward him, that he might water it by the furrows of her plantation.
There was also another great eagle - the King of Egypt (Ezekiel 17:15). The "long-winged" of Ezekiel 17:3 is omitted, as Egypt had not such a wide empire and large armies as Babylon.
This vine did bend her roots toward him - literally, 'thirsted after him with its roots,' happily expressing the longings after Egypt in the Jewish heart. Zedekiah sought the alliance of Egypt, as though by it he could throw off his dependence on Babylon (2 Kings 24:7; 2 Kings 24:20; 2 Chronicles 36:13; for a time Egypt did cause Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw from the siege of Jerusalem, but God warned the Jews, "Pharaoh's army, which is come forth to help you, shall return to Egypt, to their own land," Jeremiah 37:5; Jeremiah 37:7).
That he might water it by the furrows of her plantation - i:e., in the garden beds (Judea) wherein it (the vine) was planted. Rather, 'by' or 'out of the furrows,' etc. It refers to the waters of Egypt, the Nile being made to water the fields by means of small canals or "furrows;" these waters are the figure of the auxiliary forces wherewith Egypt tried to help Judah. See the same figure, Isaiah 8:7. But see note, Ezekiel 17:10, "in the furrows where it grew."
It was planted in a good soil by great waters, that it might bring forth branches, and that it might bear fruit, that it might be a goodly vine.
It was planted in a good soil. It was not want of the necessaries of life, nor oppression on the part of Nebuchadnezzar, which caused Zedekiah to revolt; it was gratuitous perjury, ambition, pride, and ingratitude.
Say thou, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Shall it prosper? shall he not pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof, that it wither? it shall wither in all the leaves of her spring, even without great power or many people to pluck it up by the roots thereof.
Shall it prosper? Could it be that gratuitous perjury and treason should prosper? God will not allow it. "It,"
i.e., the vine.
Shall he not pull up the roots thereof? - i:e., the first eagle, or Nebuchadnezzar, shall pull up Zedekiah. It shall wither in all the leaves of her spring - i:e., all its springing (sprouting) leaves.
Even without great power or many people - it shall not need the whole forces of Babylon to destroy it; a small division of the army will suffice, because God will deliver it into Nebuchadnezzar's hand (Jeremiah 37:10).
Yea, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither, when the east wind toucheth it? it shall wither in the furrows where it grew.
Yea, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? - i:e., though planted.
East wind. The east wind was noxious to vegetation in Palestine: a fit emblem of Babylon, which came from the northeast.
It shall wither in the furrows where it grew. Zedekiah was taken at Jericho, in Jewish soil (Jeremiah 52:8). 'It shall wither, although it has furrows from which it expects continual watering' (Calvin). (Ezekiel 19:12; Hosea 13:15.)
Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
No JFB commentary on this verse.
Say now to the rebellious house, Know ye not what these things mean? tell them, Behold, the king of Babylon is come to Jerusalem, and hath taken the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and led them with him to Babylon;
Know ye not what these things mean? He upbraided them with moral, leading to intellectual, stupidity. Behold, the king of Babylon is come to Jerusalem, and hath taken the king thereof - Jechoniah or Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:11-16).
And hath taken of the king's seed, and made a covenant with him, and hath taken an oath of him: he hath also taken the mighty of the land:
And hath taken of the king's seed - Zedekiah, Jechoniah's uncle.
Taken an oath of him - swearing fealty as a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar (2 Chronicles 36:13).
He hath also taken the mighty of the land - as hostages for the fulfillment of the covenant; whom, therefore, Zedekiah exposed to death by his treason.
That the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping of his covenant it might stand.
That the kingdom might be base - i:e., low as to national elevation, by being Nebuchadnezzar's dependent; but, at the same time, safe and prosperous if faithful to the "oath." Nebuchadnezzar dealt sincerely and openly in proposing conditions, and these moderate ones; therefore Zedekiah's treachery was the baser, and was a counterpart to his and the Jews' treachery toward God.
But 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? or shall he break the covenant, and be delivered?
But he rebelled. God permitted this because of His wrath against Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:20).
That they might give him horses - in which Egypt abounded, and which were forbidden to Israel to seek from Egypt, or indeed to "multiply" at all (Deuteronomy 17:16; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 31:3; cf. Isaiah 36:9). Diodorus Siculus (1: 45) says that the whole region from Thebes to Memphis was filled with royal stalls, so that 20,000 chariots, with two horses in each, could be furnished for war.
Shall he prosper? The third time this question is asked, with an indignant denial understood (Ezekiel 17:9-10).
Shall he escape that doeth such things? or shall he break the covenant, and be delivered? Even the pagan believed that breakers of an oath would not "escape" punishment.
As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely in the place where the king dwelleth that made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he brake, even with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die.
Surely in the place where the king dwelleth that made him king, whose oath he despised ... even with him in ... Babylon he shall die - righteous retribution. He brought on himself, in the worst form, the evil which, in a mild form, he had sought to deliver himself from by perjured treachery-namely, vassalage (Ezekiel 12:13; Jeremiah 32:5; Jeremiah 34:3; Jeremiah 52:11).
Neither shall Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company make for him in the war, by casting up mounts, and building forts, to cut off many persons:
Pharaoh - Pharaoh-hophra (Jeremiah 37:7; Jeremiah 44:30), the successor of Necho (2 Kings 23:29).
Neither shall Pharaoh with his mighty army ... make for him - literally, 'effect (anything) with him,' i:e., be of any avail to Zedekiah. Pharaoh did not act in concert with him, because he was himself compelled to retire to Egypt.
By casting up mounts ... So far from Pharaoh doing so for Jerusalem, this was what Nebuchadnezzar did against it (Jeremiah 52:4.) Colvin, Maurer, etc., refer it to Nebuchadnezzar, 'when Nebuchadnezzar shall cast up mounts.'
Seeing he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, when, lo, he had given his hand, and hath done all these things, he shall not escape.
Seeing he despised the oath ... when, lo, he had given his hand - in ratification of the oath (2 Kings 10:15; Ezra 10:19), and also in token of subjection to Nebuchadnezzar (1 Chronicles 29:24, margin, 'submitted themselves unto Solomon,' literally, 'gave the hand under Solomon;' 2 Chronicles 30:8, margin; Lamentations 5:6).
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; As I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own head.
Mine oath that he hath despised ... even it will I recompense upon his own head. The "covenant," being sworn in God's name, was really His covenant; a new instance, in relation to man, of the treacherous spirit which had been so often betrayed in relation to God. God Himself must therefore avenge the violation of His covenant "on the head" of the perjurer (cf. Psalms 7:16).
And I will spread my net upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon, and will plead with him there for his trespass that he hath trespassed against me.
I will spread my net upon him - (Ezekiel 12:13; Ezekiel 32:3). God entraps him as he had tried to entrap others (Psalms 7:15).
I will bring him to Babylon, and will plead with him there - by judgments on him, bereaving him of sight (Ezekiel 20:36). This was spoken at least upwards of three years before the fall of Jerusalem, somewhere in the interval between the sixth month of the sixth year and the fifth month of the seventh year of Zedekiah's reign; or, what is tantamount, Jehoiachin's captivity (cf. Ezekiel 8:1 with Ezekiel 20:1).
And all his fugitives with all his bands shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered toward all winds: and ye shall know that I the LORD have spoken it.
All his fugitives ... shall fall by the sword - the soldiers that accompany him in his flight.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent:
I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it. When the state of Israel shall seem past recovery, Messiah, Yahweh Him. self will unexpectedly appear on the scene as Redeemer of His people (Isaiah 63:5).
I ... also. God opposes Himself to Nebuchadnezzar: 'He took of the seed of the land, and planted it (Ezekiel 17:3; Ezekiel 17:5): so will I, but with better success than he had. The branch he plucked (Zedekiah) and planted flourished but for a time, to perish at last; I will plant a scion of the same tree, the house of David, to whom the kingdom belongs by an everlasting covenant, and it shall be the shelter of the whole world, and shall be forever.'
Branch - the special title of Messiah (Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12, "my servant ... the man whose name is the BRANCH;" Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 4:2; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15, "the Branch of righteousness").
I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one. Zerubbabel never reigned as a universal (Ezekiel 17:23) king, nor could the great things mentioned here be said of him, except as a type of Messiah. Messiah alone can be meant: originally "a tender plant, and root out of a dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2); the beginning of His kingdom being humble, His reputed parents in lowly rank, though King David's lineal representative; yet, even then, God here calls him, in respect to His everlasting purpose, "the highest ... of the high" (Psalms 89:27).
And will plant it upon an high mountain - Zion, destined to be the moral center and eminence of grace and glory shining forth to the world, out-topping all mundane elevation. The kingdom, typically begun at the return from Babylon, and rebuilding of the temple, fully began with Christ's appearing, and shall have its highest manifestation at His reappearing to reign on Zion, and thence over the whole earth (Psalms 2:6; Psalms 2:8; Isaiah 2:2-3; Jeremiah 3:17).
In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell.
Under it shall dwell all fowl. The Gospel "mustard tree," small at first, but at length receiving all under its covert (Matthew 13:32); the antithesis to Antichrist, symbolized by Assyria, of which the same is said (Ezekiel 31:6), and Babylon (Daniel 4:12). Antichrist assumes in mimicry the universal power really belonging to Christ.
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 have made the dry tree to flourish: I the LORD have spoken and have done it.
I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree - the very attribute given to God by the virgin mother of Him under whom this was to be accomplished (Luke 1:52, "He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree").
The high ... the low tree - i:e., princes elevated and princes depressed. All the empires of the world, represented by Babylon, once flourishing ("green"), shall be brought low before the once depressed ("dry") but then exalted kingdom of Messiah and His people, the head of whom shall be Israel (Daniel 2:44).
(1) In the form of an allegory the prophet describes the perversity, treachery, and perjury of Zedekiah, and the consequent judgment of God on him and his people. It was by the express appointment of God that Nebuchadnezzar was exalted to an universal empire. God had plainly announced that He had delegated to him and his son and his son's son authority over all nations (Jeremiah 27:6-7). Yet Zedekiah, though raised to the throne of Judea by the special favour of the Babylonian king, and though aware of God's will concerning the duty of all nations to submit to Nebuchadnezzar, in ungrateful and treacherous violation of his own solemn oath of allegiance to him, which he had sworn before God, revolted (2 Chronicles 36:13), and looked to Egpyt for help against the power of Babylon.
(2) What aggravated the heinousness of the act was, the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar had been heretofore of the mildest kind. Judah, under the Babylonian supremacy, though politically lower than formerly, when she was like a lofty "cedar tree," enjoyed a very considerable amount of prosperity and security, so that she might be compared to a spreading vine of low stature (Ezekiel 17:6) planted in a good soil by great waters (Ezekiel 17:8). Thus it was not oppression and want, but the restless spirit of discontent, disregard of God's revealed will, wanton treachery, ambition, ingratitude, and pride, which prompted Zedekiah to revolt, in violation of his own oath. How often men are tempted, through impatience under comparatively light trials, to take unwarranted steps, whereby, instead of bettering themselves, as they hoped, they only plunge themselves in the greatest difficulties. It is generally 'better to bear with ills we have, than flee to those we know not of.' This especially holds good where God plainly, marks it as our duty to remain as we are. But 'vaulting ambition o'erleaps itself, and falls on the other side.' The path of duty is the only path of safety. 'Keep innocency, and take heed to the thing which is right, for that will bring a man peace at the last.'
(3) The prophet asks, Shall such perjured ambition prosper? Impossible. Not all the might of Egypt, with her horses and chariots, could save the perjurer from his justly-merited doom (Ezekiel 17:15-18). When God decrees the punishment of the sinner, it needs no "great power" nor "many people" (Ezekiel 17:9) to effect His will. The very weakest are sufficient as His instruments against the most mighty rebel. For "who hath hardened himself against Him, and prospered?" (Job 9:4.) The subjection which Zedekiah wished to deliver himself from by his treacherous perjury, he thereby brought on himself in its worst form. His wickedness recoiled upon his own head (Ezekiel 17:19). When he might have lived prosperously at Jerusalem, his own city, he, on account of his contempt of the oath, was forced to lead a dishonoured and miserable life of exile in Babylon (Ezekiel 17:16). Let sinners remember, however successful sin may seem for a time, sooner or later it will bring with it its bitter fruit, either in this world, or in the world to come, or in both.
(4) Nothing brings more reproach on the cause of God than when professors of religion act treacherously and dishonourably toward those who make no such profession. Their profession makes their sin ten-fold worse, and will bring down upon them a proportionally heavy punishment.
(5) But the unbelief of man shall not make the promise of God of none effect. When the Jews shall have fully proved that vain is the help of man, the Lord Himself shall stand forward as their Redeemer. The high expectations which they reposed in Zedekiah, and in all the other scions of the root of David (Lamentations 4:20), shall be more than realized in the Godman, whose name is the BRANCH, the root and offspring of David. God Himself set Christ spiritually as His King upon His holy hill of Zion (Psalms 2:6) at His first coming. The full manifestation of His grace and glory is reserved for His second coming. Then shall He reign, "the highest of the high," "upon the high mountain and eminent" (Ezekiel 17:22). Zion shall be raised by Him, as her King, to a moral elevation exceeding all earthly eminence. The kingdom over all nations shall be His, as the rightful Son and Heir of David, to whose seed God has promised the kingdom by an everlasting covenant. All nations shah be brought into willing and happy obedience to Him, rejoicing to abide under His shadow (Ezekiel 17:23). While Antichrist and the God-opposed world powers, once so high, shall be forever brought low, the Lord alone shall be exalted, and with Him His once despised but then glorified people (Ezekiel 17:24). Even so, Lord Jesu, Thy kingdom come!
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ezekiel 17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19