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PARABLE OF THE TWIG OF A CEDAR PLANTED IN THE HEIGHT OF ISRAEL
Ezekiel 17:22-24. 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 wilt plant it upon an high mountain and eminent: 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. 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.
THE promises of God to his Church are not unfrequently connected with, and, as it were, made to arise out of, his judgments denounced against his enemies. Of this we have a very striking example in the chapter before us, where the very images which are used to represent the guilt and punishment of the king of Judah are employed to prefigure the establishment and increase of the Church of Christ.
To understand the text aright, the preceding context should be considered.
The prophet was commanded to deliver a riddle, or parable, that should set forth the conduct of the Jewish people in a mysterious, but just, light: and then, lest it should not be fully understood, he was to give them the true interpretation of it. Nebuchadnezzar, having taken Jeconiah king of Judah and all his princes captive to Babylon, would not entirely destroy Jerusalem, but made Mattaniah (whom he named Zedekiah) king in the place of Jeconiah his uncle, and suffered him to enjoy all the rights and honours of royalty, on the express condition of his holding them, not as an independent sovereign, but as tributary to the king of Babylon. All this was quite a gratuitous act; and it lay Zedekiah under the strongest obligations to fulfil towards his benefactor all the engagements that he had entered into, more especially as they were confirmed by a solemn oath. But Zedekiah, unmindful of his oaths, sought the aid of the king of Egypt, that so he might be delivered from what he considered as a disgraceful vassalage, and enjoy a sovereignty independent and uncontrolled. This treachery is represented by God under the image of a twig, cropt off a lofty cedar by a great eagle, and planted by him in a fruitful field, and growing so as to be highly respectable, though inferior in grandeur to the parent stock. This young cedar, dissatisfied with its state, spreads its roots towards another great eagle, (the king of Egypt,) in hopes that through his influence it shall attain a far greater eminence and fertility. But God, whose oath was thereby violated, declared, that the attempt should not prosper, but that, on the contrary, the perjured monarch, who was thus described, should bring ruin, irreparable ruin, on his own head [Note: This was preached within about three weeks of Buonaparte being sent to St. Helena. The extraordinary resemblance between his fate and Zedekiah’s, as well as of the grounds and occasions of it, cannot fail to strike the attentive reader, who compares them together. See ver. 18–21.]. From hence it might be supposed, that David’s throne should never be re-established; but God promises, under precisely the same figure that had been employed to represent these things, that he will restore the kingdom of David, partly under Zerubbabel, but principally under the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ; and that, instead of being ever subverted, like the Jewish polity, or the kingdoms of this world, it shall stand for ever and ever, a glorious monument of his power and truth.
We propose to consider this prophecy,
As already accomplished—
The Church, though low in its origin, is become exceeding great—
[The Lord Jesus Christ, the Founder of it, was brought into the world when the family of David was reduced to a very low and abject state. He is fitly called “A rod out of the stem of Jesse [Note: Isaiah 11:1.],” that “grew up as a tender plant, as a root out of a dry ground [Note: Isaiah 53:2.].” During the whole time of his sojourning on earth, he existed in a state of the deepest humiliation: and his Church which he established, consisted only of himself and a few poor fishermen. However, this twig, being planted in the height of Israel, grew, and “brought forth boughs, and bare fruit, and speedily became a goodly cedar.” Great and vehement were the storms which menaced its existence; but it withstood them all; and in a little time it spread its branches throughout all the Roman empire. Then “birds of every wing (that is, Jews and Gentiles) came to dwell under its shadow,” and to be nourished by its fruits. At this hour its growth is visible from year to year: and in due season it will fill the whole earth, and be the one centre of union, and source of happiness, to all mankind.]
And thus far God is greatly glorified in it—
[“Every tree of the field must know” whose work this is, and to whom all the glory of it belongs. Who can survey the Church in its infancy, and not wonder that it was not rooted up as soon as ever it was planted? Every arm was lifted up against it: all the powers of the world combined for its destruction; and not one friend or ally was found for it on the face of the whole earth. The great empires of the world, the Assyrian, Chaldean, Persian, Grecian, Roman, all successively fell to ruin, notwithstanding the efforts made for their preservation: but the Church, without any sword but the word of God, or any shield that was visible to human eyes, stood, and stands to this day, deriding all the efforts of men or devils to subvert it. Who then, we would ask, Who is it that has thus “brought down the high tree, and exalted the low? Who is it that has thus dried up the green tree, and made the dry tree to flourish?” Is not all this the work of God? Verily, the burning bush has been a just and lively exhibition of the Church in every age: God was in it, and therefore it was not consumed. In like manner we may speak of every individual branch or twig that grows upon this tree; Who is it that has preserved even the meanest of the saints, in the midst of all the difficulties and trials he has had to contend with? Must it not be said of all, “He that hath wrought us to the self-same thing is God?” Yes, in every tree of righteousness which is the planting of the Lord, God, and God alone, must be glorified [Note: Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3.]. If St. Paul himself was constrained to say, “Not I, but the grace of God that was with me,” it will scarcely be thought that any one else can arrogate to himself the honour of his own growth, stability, or fruitfulness.”]
Gloriously as this prophecy has been already fulfilled, it should be contemplated by us,
As yet further to be accomplished—
The Church will doubtless be yet more widely extended through the earth—
[In truth, this cedar has attained at present but a small measure of its destined growth. It is but in a small part of the world that even the name of Christ is known: and, where his religion is professed, there are but few, very few indeed, who experience its renovating power. But it shall not be always thus: the time is coming when “he will multiply them that they shall not be few, and will glorify them that they shall not be small [Note: Jeremiah 30:18-19.] Then, in a far different sense from what can be affixed to the words at this time, shall it be said, that “fowl of every wing come to dwell under the shadow of this goodly cedar;” for “all shall know the Lord, from the least even to the greatest:” “all kings shall fall down before him, all nations shall serve him:” “the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”]
Then shall God be more abundantly glorified in it—
[The whole Church, and every individual in it, is to God “for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory.” It is in his hands “a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty [Note: Isaiah 62:3.].” But how greatly will his power and goodness appear, when “all flesh shall see the salvation of God,” yea, and actually enjoy it! If now, when the attainments of his people are so low, he is honoured, how will he be glorified when “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun sevenfold, as the light of seven days!” And how will he be exalted in that day, when all his saints from the beginning of the world shall be gathered in one bright assembly, and shall join together in one general chorus; how, I say, will he then “be glorified in his saints, and admired in all that believe!” — — —]
Viewing now the Lord Jesus Christ, or rather his holy religion, as this goodly cedar, let us, in conclusion,
Come and rest under his shadow—
[Verily there is no rest for us any where else: we are like “the dove which Noah sent forth from the ark, and which could find no rest for the sole of her foot but in the ark itself.” But if we feel our need of a Saviour, if we are sensible that without an interest in him we must for ever perish, then let us attend to his inviting voice, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!” — — —]
Give him the glory of all the rest we enjoy—
[Nothing can be more offensive to God than “the sacrificing to our own net, and burning incense to our own drag.” This is a provocation which God will not endure: he will not give his glory to another, nor will he suffer “any flesh to glory in his presence.” Let us in particular remember, that by the law of faith, that is, by the Gospel, “boasting is, and must for ever be, excluded.” For the Saviour that he has given, for the inclination and ability which we have to trust in him, and for all the grace that we have derived from him, we must say, “Not unto me, O Lord, but unto thy name be the praise.” Let us remember, that by covenant and by oath we are bound to trust in him alone: let us not then, like Zedekiah, be bending our roots towards any other, or be looking to any other confidence; but let us seek to please him only whose servants we are, and to glorify him only who hath done so great things for us.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ezekiel 17". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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