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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 17

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3411. B.C. 593.

In the preceding chapter God had set forth the wickedness of the Jewish nation, in their treacherously breaking their covenant with him, and apostatizing from his worship to that of idols. Here, in a parable of two eagles and a vine, he represents the wickedness of Zedekiah, in courting the favour of the king of Egypt, after he had solemnly sworn allegiance to the king of Babylon, and had rendered himself and his kingdom tributary to him.

(1,) We have the parable itself, Ezekiel 17:1-10 .

(2,) The explication and application of it, Ezekiel 17:11-21 .

(3,) In the close, by the emblem of planting a top branch on a high mountain, and causing it to flourish exceedingly, is promised the restoration of the honour of David’s family in Zerubbabel, but chiefly in the person and kingdom of Christ, Ezekiel 17:22-24 .

Verse 2

Ezekiel 17:2. Son of man, put forth a riddle A continued metaphor or figurative speech: an allegory. The prophets frequently delivered their instructions in this way, as being well calculated both to engage the attention of their hearers or readers, and to make a deep and lasting impression on their minds. It was a mode of teaching peculiarly adapted to the eastern people, and therefore often adopted by their instructers, whether inspired or uninspired. It is well known that our Lord frequently used it in preaching his gospel.

Verses 3-6

Ezekiel 17:3-6. A great eagle with great wings The eagle is the king of birds, swift, strong, and rapacious. And this great eagle, according to all interpreters, represents Nebuchadnezzar. Its “greatness, long wings, beautiful, abundant, and well-coloured plumage, denote the force and greatness of his empire, the rapidity of his conquests, and the number of his subjects. The Scripture has in other places described this prince under the figure of an eagle. See Jeremiah 48:40-45; Daniel 7:4. By his coming to Lebanon, and taking the highest branch of the cedar, is meant his invasion of Judea, his investing the city of Jerusalem, and taking King Jehoiachin and the princes captive.” Calmet. He cropped off the top of his young twigs Both the king of Judah, now eighteen years old, and the nobles and chief of the land. And carried it into a land of traffic “Babylon, and the country about it, being the seat of a universal monarchy, must needs have been a place of great trade. Strabo takes notice that the merchants who travelled by land to Babylon went through the country of the Abrabians, called Scenitæ, lib. 16. p. 747; and vessels of great burden came up the river Euphrates to the walls of it from the Persian gulf.” See Pliny’s Nat. Hist., 50. 6. c. 26; and Lowth. He took also of the seed of the land Of the king’s seed, as it is explained Ezekiel 17:13: that is, Zedekiah, whom the king of Babylon made king of Judah instead of Jehoiachin; first exacting an oath of him, that he would be true to him, and pay him tribute. And he planted it in a fruitful field Hebrew, בשׂדת זרע , in a field of seed, that is, proper for seed: he placed it by great waters, and set it as a willow-tree Judea was a fruitful country and well watered, (see Deuteronomy 8:7,) where Zedekiah flourished as a willow-tree, that thrives best in moist ground, Isaiah 44:4. And it became a spreading vine of low stature, &c. Though Zedekiah flourished, yet he enjoyed but a tributary kingdom under the king of Babylon, and acknowledged him as his lord and sovereign: see Ezekiel 17:14.

Verses 7-8

Ezekiel 17:7-8. There was also another great eagle Namely, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, with whom Zedekiah made an alliance; whereupon that king sent an army to raise the siege of Jerusalem, 2 Chronicles 36:13; Jeremiah 37:5; Jeremiah 37:7. With great wings and many feathers Having a great army and many people to support him. And this vine (namely, Zedekiah) did bend her roots toward him, &c. Zedekiah sought the assistance and protection of the king of Egypt. Dr. Waterland renders this clause, And shot forth her branches under him, from the furrows where she was planted, that he might water it: that is, give it assistance. The auxiliary forces which Zedekiah expected from Egypt are here intended. It was planted in a good soil, &c. The words are to the same purpose with Ezekiel 17:5, to show that Zedekiah’s condition was so good under the king of Babylon, that he needed not to have broken his oath out of a desire to better it, whereby he involved himself and his country in ruin: see notes on 2 Kings 24:20; and Jeremiah 17:25.

Verses 9-10

Ezekiel 17:9-10. Say Tell them what shall be the issue of all this, and tell it to them in my name. Shall it prosper? Can it be that such breach of faith and such ingratitude should prosper? No, it cannot be: God will never suffer it. Zedekiah, besides the obligation of an oath, was bound to the king of Babylon by the ties of gratitude, as he owed all he possessed to him. Shall he not pull up the roots thereof? Shall not Nebuchadnezzar, in return for this perfidiousness, destroy him and his kingdom? see 2 Kings 25:7. And cut off the fruit thereof Put his children and those of his nobles to the sword? It shall wither in all the leaves of her spring It shall wholly wither: not only the old branch shall wither, but its young shoots also: and all the promising hopes they had shall vanish: even without great power or many people God shall be on the side of the Chaldeans, and he does not need great power or many people to effect his purpose. He can as easily overturn a sinful king and kingdom as a man can root up a tree that cumbers the ground. The king of Babylon, therefore, God being with him, shall easily subdue the land of Judah, and shall not need a large human force to assist him. Yea, shall it not utterly wither when the east wind toucheth it? Here the prophet compares the Chaldean army, which should come against Judea, to a parching wind that blasts the fruits of the earth, withers the leaves of the trees, and makes every thing look naked and bare.

Verses 12-14

Ezekiel 17:12-14. Say now to the rebellious house To the house of Judah, which have been and still are rebellious against me, and are now entering into a rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar. This is God’s order to his prophet to explain the riddle. Know ye not what these things mean? Will you not apply your minds to understand what God speaks to you? And that whether he directs his speech to you in plain words, or delivers his mind in riddles and parables? Behold, the king of Babylon is come Or rather, did come, or came to Jerusalem Namely, some time before the delivery of this prophecy: and hath taken the king thereof, and the princes thereof Namely, Jeconiah and all his princes and officers: see 2 Kings 24:12. And hath led them with him to Babylon Judging them unfit to be trusted any more with any office or power in their own country. And hath taken of the king’s seed Hath taken from among the royal seed Mattaniah, Jehoiakim’s brother, and advanced him to the throne in Jerusalem, 2 Kings 24:17; and made a covenant with him A solemn agreement, on terms acceded to and approved by Mattaniah; and hath taken an oath of him An oath of fealty: when Nebuchadnezzar caused Mattaniah to enter into this covenant and oath, he changed his name to Zedekiah, which word signifies, the justice of God, to express that God would avenge the crime of this restored captive, if he should break the covenant into which he had entered, and perjure himself: see note on 2 Kings 24:17. He hath also taken the mighty of the land Namely, as hostages for Zedekiah’s performance of the covenant agreed on. That the kingdom might be base Or rather, humble; that it might be kept in subjection and obedience. Zedekiah being made only a tributary king, consequently was not in as honourable a condition as his predecessors had been in; but yet the keeping of his covenant was the only means, under present circumstances, to support himself and his government.

Verse 15

Ezekiel 17:15. But he rebelled in sending into Egypt, that they might give him horses Egypt was a country abounding in horses, of which there was great scarcity in Judea. This was not only a violation of his oath and covenant, but likewise a breach of that part of the Jewish law which forbade their king to fetch horses out of Egypt, or strengthen himself with the alliance of that nation. Shall he escape that doeth such things? Shall not the divine vengeance overtake such ingratitude and perfidy? Shall he break the covenant and be delivered? Can perjury and covenant- breaking be the way to any man’s deliverance? Can such notorious sinning end in any thing but misery? From what is said on this occasion we learn, that an oath ought not to be violated though it was taken under unfavourable circumstances, and though the things to which a man bound himself by it were very disagreeable to him.

Verses 16-21

Ezekiel 17:16-21. As I live, saith the Lord, &c. This intimates how highly God resented the crime, and how sure and severe the punishment of it would be. He swears in his wrath, as he did, Psalms 95:11. Observe, reader, as God’s promises are confirmed with an oath, for comfort to the saints, so are his threatenings, for terror to the wicked. Surely in the place where the king dwelleth In Babylon, where Nebuchadnezzar dwells, who made him king, when he might have as easily made him a prisoner. Whose oath he despised Made light of, and perfidiously violated. Even with him he shall die Shall be a prisoner in Babylon the rest of his days, and shall die there. Neither shall Pharaoh make for him See Jeremiah 37:7. But the Hebrew, יעשׂה אותו במלחמה , may be properly rendered, as indeed it is by Bishop Newcome, Pharaoh shall not deal with him, namely, with Nebuchadnezzar, in war: or, shall not make war with him. Accordingly the Vulgate translates the clause, “Et non in exercitu grandi, neque in populo multo faciet contra eum Pharaoh prælium:” neither with a great army, nor with much people, shall Pharaoh fight a battle against him. By casting up, &c. Or rather, When he hath cast up mounts, &c., that is, when Nebuchadnezzar has raised mounts and builded forts to annoy Jerusalem, and destroy its inhabitants, Pharaoh shall not bring any assistance to it. Seeing he despised, &c., when lo, he had given his hand In token of entering into a mutual league and covenant. It was a ceremony used especially when an inferior made profession of his subjection to a superior. My covenant that he hath broken God calls it his covenant, because it was entered into, or promised to be observed, by taking an oath in his name. Even it will I recompense upon his own head I will punish it as it deserves, and it shall appear by the punishment that my hand doth execute it. And I will spread my net, &c. See on Ezekiel 12:13, where this clause occurs word for word. And will plead with him there God is said to plead with men when he places their sins before their eyes, and convinces them of their disobedience by manifest tokens of his vengeance. And all his fugitives All the companions of his flight; with all his bands shall fall by the sword Every thing here denounced by the prophet against Zedekiah exactly came to pass, as the reader may see by comparing these threatenings with the account given Jer 52:8-11 ; 2 Kings 25:5-7.

Verses 22-23

Ezekiel 17:22-23. I will also take of the highest branch, &c. God, having spoken of Jerusalem, in the first part of this chapter, under the figure of a cedar, and the king of it as the highest branch of the cedar, here carries his view to farther scenes, and, after having acquainted his prophet with the fate of Zedekiah, informs him, that as Nebuchadnezzar had taken of the seed of the land, (or the king,) and planted it, so he himself would take of the highest branch of the cedar and set it, &c. This appears plainly to be a prediction of the restoration of the royal family of David; and it was in some degree fulfilled at the return from the captivity, when Zerubbabel, of the lineage of David, had a shadow of kingly authority among the Jews, and by his means their state was again restored. But if the words be properly examined, the expressions will be found to be such as, in their full sense, can only belong to Christ and his kingdom, which shall be extended over all the world. I will crop off from the young twigs a tender one This may fitly be applied to our Saviour, in respect to the low estate to which the family of David was then reduced, and the meanness of Christ’s outward condition and appearance: see Isaiah 53:2. And will plant it upon a high mountain Upon mount Zion, a type of the gospel church; and eminent Not for outward splendour, but for spiritual advantages. In the mountain of the height of Israel In Jerusalem, the capital city of my people, will I plant it I will make him ruler of my church. He alludes to the temple placed on mount Moriah, a part of mount Zion, thence styled God’s holy mountain; which expression is often used in the prophets to denote the Christian Church, which is described as a city set on a hill, and conspicuous to all the world. And it shall bring forth boughs Have many members and subjects; and bear fruit Do much good. The living members of the church are often compared to fruitful trees and flourishing branches. And be a goodly cedar The most happy society in the world, Deuteronomy 33:29; Psalms 144:15. And under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing Persons of all nations shall become members of it. A powerful, especially if it be a mild government, is a shelter and security to all its subjects: compare Ezekiel 31:6; Daniel 4:12. Such shall the kingdom of Christ be to all that submit themselves to his laws.

Verse 24

Ezekiel 17:24. All the trees of the field All the nations of the world; shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree Have subdued and degraded the enemies of my people; have exalted the low tree Have advanced my church, and made it flourish; have dried up the green tree, &c. The same thing expressed in somewhat different words. Although these expressions may partly refer to the overthrow of the mighty Babylonian empire, and the restoration of the Jewish state by their return out of captivity, yet they are so magnificent, that they evidently intend much more than this. The Jewish kingdom did never, after the captivity, arrive at such a pitch of greatness as to give occasion to these magnificent expressions. Some more noble kingdom is undoubtedly here pointed at, namely, the kingdom of Christ, as has been observed above, which will at last be exalted above all the kingdoms of the world, and put an end to them all, while it will continue to all eternity: see Daniel 4:35, 44, and Daniel 7:27; Luke 1:33; 1 Corinthians 15:24. It is under Christ’s kingdom only that people of all nations, signified here by fowls of every kind, shall be gathered together. And the subjects of that kingdom only have a certain and eternal protection, and a supply of every thing necessary. There is therefore no doubt that this was spoken, in its full sense, of the eternal and all-powerful kingdom to be established in Christ, one of the royal seed of Judah according to the flesh. I the Lord have spoken it, and have done it The prophets often speak of future events as if they were already accomplished, to assure us that they shall certainly come to pass.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezekiel 17". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/ezekiel-17.html. 1857.
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