Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel.
Prophecy in parable
The word “riddle” may in this connection mean parable, picture, symbol; whatever will excite and interest the imagination. If the zephyr has not voice enough to arrest us, God will employ the thunder; if the little silvery streamlet, hurrying through its green banks, has nothing to say to us, the great floods shall lift up their voices and compel us to attend. Who will say there is only one way of preaching, teaching, educating young men? There are a thousand ways: what we want is that a young man shall say when his way is not being adopted. This will suit a good many: God bless the teacher in this effort; he is not now speaking to me, but to persons who can understand that way alone; let heaven’s grace make hearts tender as he unravels his parable, as he takes up his harp and discourses upon its sweet, mysterious music. When a preacher is setting forth riddle and parable, the man who falsely thinks himself a logician--for there can only be a logician once in a generation--should pray that the parable may be blessed. When the preacher or teacher is seeking by hard, strong argument to force home a truth, those who live on wings should carry themselves as high as possible that they may bring down a larger, riper blessing upon the teacher and his method. This is God’s administration: this is the many-coloured robe of providence with which He would clothe our naked shoulders. What has come to us--a riddle, a parable, a dream, a process of logic, a historical induction? Take God’s gift, and through it find the Giver. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Truth taught through the imagination
The imagination is the grand organ whereby truth can make successful approaches to the mind. Some preachers deal much with the passions: they attack the hopes and fears of men; but this is a very different thing from the right use of the imagination, as the medium of impressing truth. Jesus Christ has left perfect patterns of this way of managing men; but it is a distinct talent, and a talent committed to very few. It is an easy thing to move the passions: a rude, blunt, illiterate attack may do this; but to form one new figure for the conveyance of truth to the mind is a difficult thing. The world is under no small obligation to the man who forms such a figure . . . The figure of Jesus Christ (the Parables) sink into the mind, and leave there the indelible impress of the truth which they convey. (Cecil’s Remains.)
Illustrating the truth
The subject matter of Christian teaching preeminently requires illustration. The barrister has, in a new case, that which stimulates attention, while the preacher has an oft-told tale to set before his people. (Andrew Fuller.)
I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar.
These verses have been accepted by Jewish commentators and by Christian commentators alike as referring to the Messiah, to be read and pondered and grasped as to their inner meaning and effect. God winds up the whole parable and its application by some marvellous words; He says, “And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree,” etc. Then what mistakes we have to correct! What a revelation there will be at last, what a different view, what a correction of our misinterpretations of Providence: Everything has been of God. Is the high tree down? God felled it. Is the low tree exalted? God lifted it upwards to the blue heavens. Is the green tree dry, withered, utterly desiccated? God hath sucked its juice, and left it a barren, blighted thing in the meadow. Is the dry tree flourishing? Is the tree that men thought dead beginning to show signs of vitality? Are there spring buds upon it? Are the birds looking at it curiously, as if by and by, mayhap, they may build even there? The Lord hath made the dry tree to flourish. This is Divine sovereignty. The God of the riddle and the God who works His will among the trees must be regarded as the same God. What is true in this verse is true to all human life. Is one man successful? God made him so, in the degree in which his success was legitimate, healthy, righteous. Is a man vainly, viciously successful? The green tree shall be dried up. Is a man humbled, laid low in the dust? God may have done that for the man’s salvation; after a day or two who can tell what may happen, if the overthrow has been accepted in the right spirit, and if, instead of being turned in the direction of despair, it has been turned in the direction of self-examination and self-accusation and penitence and broken-heartedness? Is the nation suffering from singular visitation? Is trade going away? God is looking on, and He will know when to send the ships back to the ports, and when to revive commerce, and when to make the desert blossom as the rose. Is an enemy hard upon me? It is not the enemy, it is God: I have been doing wrong; when I have opposition to encounter I must ask myself serious questions; as for any man that can assail me, who is he? what faculty has he? what can he do? Have no fear of enemies, but interpret their enmity aright. If a man’s ways please the Lord He will make even his enemies to be at peace with him; if a man shall try to be right and good, virtuous, generous, and to live a Divine life, no weapon that is formed against him shall prosper; it shall be forged, it shall be whetted, it shall be lifted up, but it shall never come down upon the head of him for whom it was intended. How joyous would be our life if we could live in this strong conviction! (J. Parker, D. D.)
God’s overrule among the kingdoms of the earth
The attempts of the king of Babylon to set up a kingdom in Israel miscarried; He who set up the kingdom took it away. The shoot planted by him was smitten by the east wind, and withered. But Jehovah Himself will plant a shoot of the high cedar, the Davidic house, on a high mountain, that all nations may see it (Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 11:10), even on the height of the mountain land of Israel, and it shall become a great cedar, so that all the fowls of heaven shall lodge in the branches of it. This kingdom shall be imposing and universal, and all peoples shall find protection under it. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
The reign of the Son of God
I. The beautiful and appropriate symbol by which the Son of God is here represented. “The highest branch of the high cedar.”
1. Because it was the remotest from the root.
2. Because the loftiest of all. He was at once the mightiest and the meanest: rooted in the earth, yet elevated to the skies.
II. The place where this was to be planted. “In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it.”
1. The truth of the promises God had made.
2. A striking evidence of the almighty power of God. This is the triumph of wisdom over folly--of holiness over sin--of the goodness of God over the malice of men. Its being planted at Jerusalem may be regarded--
3. As the last expression of unrequited kindness and love.
4. As an evident demonstration of the truth and power of the Gospel.
III. The rapid growth of this plant. There are few things more delightful and instructive than to observe the commencement of that which has risen to eminence. As the traveller in America steps over a stream which he may almost dry up with his foot, he is struck with astonishment to know that it is the same fountain, fed by tributary streams, which becomes a mighty river and rolls on to empty itself into the sea. Here is the planting of the tree that is to fill the world. Though Christ is now enthroned in glory, filling heaven with a splendour surpassing that of ten thousand suns, He was once a babe in Bethlehem’s manger. Tertullian could say, within a short time after the introduction of Christianity, “Your towns, your cities, your camps, your palaces, your courts, your army, your senate, your forum--all swarm with Christians.”
IV. The productiveness of this tree. It was to “bring forth boughs, and to bear fruit.”
1. This fruit is varied in its character, etc. Are you ignorant? Here are truths to instruct, wisdom that makes wise unto salvation. Are you guilty? Hero is pardon full, free, and everlasting. Are you forlorn? Are you dying, and recoiling from the prospect of futurity? Behold, “the gift of God is everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
2. It is satisfying in its enjoyment. As Christ united the glories of the Godhead with humanity, in the sacrifice He made, it must prove all-sufficient to supply the wants of the soul for which He made it. His grace can reach and heal all the maladies of the soul, and save it forever.
3. It is free in its gift.
V. The ultimate blessings which this tree is designed to diffuse through the world. “It shall be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell,” etc. Have we not numerous indications of this in our day? Never since that sun, which is now setting, began its course--never since he first lightened this earth--have there been such proofs of the increase of the glory of the Gospel as in the day in which we live. (T. Adkins.)
The goodly cedar and the birds of every wing
A glorious prophecy of the Messiah concludes this chapter! Recurring to the cedar of Lebanon, as the type of the people of God, in its noble growth and far-extending shade, Ezekiel foretells how God would take a stem or branch from that tall cedar, which should be “the root of David,” that, planted by the Divine Hand, it should grow up a goodly cedar tree, and under its boughs the birds “of every wing should dwell.” So was the Saviour, as to His lineage, of the ancient people, and a branch taken from the noble cedar tree, which typified the Hebrew race. He was born in humility, and cradled in the rude manger of Bethlehem, but from this lowly origin He becomes like the mighty cedar tree of the prophecy, the very perfection of our humanity, in righteousness and nobility of character! Then, as He invited weary souls to come unto Him, we read how they drew nigh and found peace, and “dwelt under His shadow.” The words of this prophecy also apply to the Church, which is the visible representative of Jesus upon earth! It, like a little plant or cutting, began in weakness. The number of the names, it is written, was but one hundred and twenty. But soon, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, the microscopic organisation developed and grew into the mighty cedar, under which dwelt the “fowl of every wing,” and found refuge under “the shadows of its branches.” That the cedar was to be planted “on the mountain of Israel” foretold that the later, the Christian Church, should grow out of, and be a development from, the older dispensation! But how remarkable to find that the prophet anticipates the admission of the Gentiles. “The fowl of every wing” are to find a shelter under the boughs of the Gospel cedar. Now, that which was prophecy is being fulfilled. The birds of brightest plumage, the feathered songsters of sweetest voices, the noblest intellects, the most melodious souls that earth has produced, have found in the religion of Jesus peace and satisfaction, and have dwelt restfully under its shadow! The Church must take up her missionary work. Whether it be the ease of our own countrymen, “for whose souls no man cares,” or the heathen, who abide where overhead flutters the flag of England--the duty lies at our door! (J. W. Hardman, LL. D.)
Refuge for all in Christ
Christ is the cedar, and all kinds of people seek rest in Him, as birds of every wing. Young and old, rich and poor; men high-soaring as the eagle, fierce as the raven, gentle as the dove. The young, just learning to try their wings; the old, weary, and lonely; those who have kept all the commandments from their youth, and those who have broken them all. It does not matter with what wing we come to Jesus, so long as we come. The practised eye can easily recognise the birds by their flight; each bird has its own wing; so every soul has its own disposition and temperament--one feverish, the other languid and lethargic; one impetuous, the other dilatory; one affectionate and warm, the other cool and shy. But the Lord Jesus knows our frame, and understands us afar off. He does not chide the dove because it cannot breast the storm and face the sun like the eagle. He does not expect the sustained flight of the seagull from the sparrow; or the song of the nightingale from the chaffinch. Do not imitate another: be yourself. Do not go about the world counting that you are useless and a failure, because you cannot do what is done by others. Learn how to be abased, and how to abound. Only rest in Christ. Out of the windy storm and tempest, make for your roosting place under the shelter of His wing. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree.
The trees of the field and their appointed destiny
“The field” seems to set forth the visible Church of God; and “the trees of the field” seem to set forth all the professors of Divine truth, whether they are possessors or not. All these “trees of the field” shall know a certain truth. Now, what is tiffs certain truth? That the Lord will do a certain work in characters, which He Himself has delineated; and that it shall be visible to the Church of God what He does to those characters.
1. The first character of which the Lord speaks is “the high tree”; which “high tree” is to be “brought down.” That expression--“a high tree”--seems to bear two significations.
2. And now we come to the “exalting the low tree.” Here we have a striking contrast. “The low tree is one who has always the lowest, meanest thoughts concerning himself; who can find in his heart nothing spiritually good; who is continually afraid of presumption; who starts back from every appearance of being more than he really is. Now, “this low tree” the Lord has promised to exalt. But He will never “exalt the low tree” in self. The wise man shall not “glory in his wisdom, the strong man shall not glory in his strength”; but “he that glorieth” shall “glory in this, that he knoweth the Lord.” “In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” When “the low tree,” therefore, is “exalted,” it is by some sweet manifestation of the blood and love of Jesus to his soul; it is by lifting him up out of the mire, and out of the dunghill, and “setting him among princes,” and making him “inherit the throne of glory”; it is by Jesus sweetly coming into his heart and conscience, sprinkling it with His atoning blood, bedewing it with the drops of His favour, discovering His glorious righteousness, and binding up every bleeding wound.
3. But consider another tree of which the Lord speaks, and another work which the Lord here promises to do. “I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree.” Now, just in the same way as “the high tree” seems to shadow forth two characters (that is, the presumptuous professor, and a child of God drawn aside by Satan’s subtlety into presumption), so “the green tree” seems to set forth both a professor of religion and also a child of God in the warmth of youthful zeal.
4. Oh! what a state it is in which to stand before God--a “dry tree”! To feel as though there was not a single particle of spiritual sap or heavenly moisture in us; to feel as though we had no religion worth the name; to feel as though we had no real work of the Spirit upon our soul, and no real grace in our heart given by God Himself! Now, to this “dry tree” the Lord has given a promise. He says this dry tree shall be “made to flourish.” How He frustrates and disappoints all the expectations of nature! What! to “dry up a green tree,” and to “make a dry tree to flourish”! Would not nature say, “Oh! the ‘green tree,’ make it greener still: oh! the ‘dry tree,’ cut it down, and cast it into the fire!” But the Lord’s “ways are not our ways,” neither are the Lord’s “thoughts our thoughts”; but “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways, and His thoughts than our thoughts.” Cut it down! No; “make it to flourish”! Then the Lord’s work is made manifest, as much in “drying up the green tree” as in “making the dry tree to flourish.” And how does He “make the dry tree to flourish”? Why, by dropping in His own blessed dew into it; by shedding his own Divine favour into the barren and parched heart; by dropping in some testimony from His own blessed and gracious lips, so as to cause the soul to “revive as the vine,” and to flourish as the herb; by causing “showers of blessing” to fall upon the wilderness, and turn it into a standing pool, and so make the rose of Sharon sweetly and blessedly to blossom and flourish therein. (J. C. Philpot.)
To the rescue
Methinks I see a great forest which reaches for many a league. The trees are of divers growths, and of various ages. Some are very lofty. Here a towering cedar, and yonder the storks have made their nests among the tall fir trees. Stout oaks there are that laugh at storms, and elms that will not be twisted with the tempest. See how they rival each other! And there are lowlier trees; some bearing fruit, though scarcely seen, others, like the vine, creeping upon the ground--so obscure they can hardly be observed.
I. “Thus saith the Lord, the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree.” Look over history, and you will see that everything gigantic in stature and colossal in dimensions; whatsoever has been great to human apprehension, grasping at earthly fame, has become an Object for God’s penetrating arrows, and a subject for His withering blight. The Lord of hosts always cuts down the high tree, humiliates the creature that exalts itself, and suffers no flesh to glory in His presence. That is the Law of His government. The question arises, How does it concern us? Doubtless it opens a sad prospect to those who are lifted up with pride, or inflated with self-opinion. Among the seven abominations your order ranks highest. No liar or murderer can claim a preeminence over you in vice so long as the Proverbs stand. Ere long the heel of the Almighty shall be lifted higher than thy haughty head. He will cast thee down, be thy look never so proud; for the Lord hath purposed it to stain the pride of all glory, to bring into contempt all the excellency of the earth. There is, again, an arrogance of mind, of judgment, of opinion, just as ignorant--if not quite so grotesque--as his who dreams that his birth is of higher caste and his blood of richer hue than other men. Humanity in the bulk is the idol of some people; and yonder I see the man who quotes himself as an illustrious specimen. He does not believe in the total depravity of human nature. The Lord will abase thee, whosoever thou mayest be; He will shame thee: the axe is ready to be laid at thy root even now. Thy goodness is not God’s goodness, and thy righteousness is not Christ’s righteousness; therefore shall the moth consume it, and it shall be eaten away. Or shall it fare better with another class? There is our friend who says, “Well, well, I do not believe in forms and ceremonies; but, mark you, I always judge and weigh everything.” He estimates himself as all independent thinker; he is bound by no precedents, fettered by no creeds, and considers that he is amenable to no judgment but his own. Strong in his self-assertion, he makes light of the Word of God, and the will of God, while he holds prophets and apostles in little esteem. Ah, well, brother! God is against you, He will make a fool of you one of these days, if you are so wise as to exalt yourself above His revelation. The world shall see your folly. I tell thee, captious questioner, that the Lord will bring thee down.
II. Furthermore the Lord says, “I will exalt the low tree.” Here is a word of comfort to some who specially need it. The low trees are those poor in spirit who think others better than they are themselves; who, instead of carving their names high, are willing to have them written low, because they feel they have nothing whereof to glory, nought wherein to boast. The low trees are the penitents, those who take their stand afar off with the publican, and say, “God be merciful to me, a sinner”; you that feel your own weakness to do anything aright. You that feel your ignorance, and are willing to be instructed; you that are modest as children, and ready to sit at the feet of Jesus; you that have been broken in pieces till you feel that a crumb of mercy would be more than you deserve, and are willing to take any dole He is pleased to give--you are the low trees. And you that are despised, who walk in darkness and see no light; slandered for Christ’s sake, reproached with crimes you never committed; you of whom the world is not worthy, though the world accounts you to be unworthy of its esteem--you are the low trees, and God shall exalt you.
III. The Lord has also declared that He will dry up the green tree. Whether that green tree be high or low it does not matter; if it be green in itself, He will cut it down. Mark you, a man may be as high as heaven; if it is God that makes him high, he will stand; but if he be high in creature strength, and creature merits, and creature glory, he shall be brought down; and a man may be low without merit, if he is merely mean and meagre, paltry and pitiable, not worth a straw. That is not the spirit of lowliness that God blesses. In like manner a man may be green because he is planted by the rivers of God’s living waters, that is healthy enough; but those that are like the green bay tree of the Psalmist, trees growing in their own soil, never transplanted by grace, green in the verdure of worldly prosperity, and taking all their delight in earthly things--those are the trees God will dry up.
IV. Lastly, the Lord makes the dry tree to flourish. How many of God’s people may be fitly compared to a dry tree! They have little joy; they have not got to full assurance. They are afraid to say, “My beloved is mine, and I am His.” They think they are of no use to the Church; they are half inclined to suspect it was a mistake for them to be baptized, and they were to blame for uniting themselves with the people of God. They come to the assembly of believers, and though they do sing with their lips, the heart cannot sing as it would. There are times, too, when walking home they say, “I go where others go, but I get no comfort; if I were really the Lord’s, should I be thus; if I did trust Christ, should I ever be so languid?” If it is of your own bringing about that you are thus dry, I do not offer you any comfort; but if the Holy Spirit has led you to see your weakness, your nothingness, your deadness, then I am glad you have been brought to this pass, for God will cause the dry tree to flourish. When we are weak, then are we strong. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The advantage of the kingdom of Christ
I. In the carrying on the interest of Christ and the Gospel, God will work wonderful providential alterations. There are three principal seasons of the Lord’s eminent appearance to carry on the kingdom of Christ and the Gospel, and all attended with dreadful providential alterations; and unto one of these heads may all particular actings be reduced.
1. The first is, the promulgation of the Gospel among the Jews by the Lord Christ Himself and His apostles: what this was attended withal is graphically described (Matthew 24:6-7).
2. The second is, in the further carrying on of the Gospel, after the destruction of Jerusalem, throughout the world of the Gentiles, subject then in a great proportion to the Roman Empire.
3. The most signal is, the coming of the Lord Christ to recover His people from antichristian idolatry and oppression; which of all others is and shall be attended with the most astonishing alterations and desolations, pulling down of high trees, and exalting them that are low: thence is that war, described Revelation 17:14, and that mighty vengeance poured out by the Lord Christ on the nations, their kings and captains, chap. 19:11 to the end. Now the reasons of this are--
(i) He hath great revenges to take.
(ii) He hath great deliverances to work.
(iii) He hath great discoveries to make.
1. Of His own, that they may be purged.
2. Of hypocrites, that they may be discovered.
To discover where dwells that spirit that actuates all the great alterations that have been in these nations.
Use 2.--To magnify the goodness of God, who unto us hath sweetened and seasoned all His dreadful dispensations, and all the alterations in those nations, with this His gracious design running through them all; this is that which puts all their beauty and lustre on them, being outwardly dreadful and horrible.
II. The actings of God’s providence, in carrying on the interest of Christ, are and shall be exceedingly unsuited to the reasonings and expectations of the most of men. Some reasons of this may be given; and--
1. The first is taken from the corruptions of the hearts of men squaring the works of God to their fleshly reasonings, corrupt interests, and principles. They are bold with the wisdom of God, and conclude, thus and thus things ought to be, ordering their thoughts for the most part according to their corrupt and carnal advantages.
2. God chooseth thus to do things above and besides the expectations of men, that His presence, and the presence of the Lord Christ, may be the more conspicuous in the world.
3. God will do it for the hardening of many false empty professors, and others in the world, that the judgments appointed may come upon them to the uttermost. Use.--It serves, then, to discover the vanity of those men who, because the works of God have not been carried on in ways suitable to their reasonings and expectations, do utterly reject them, disown them, and oppose Him in them. Can these men give any one instance, of any one eminent work of God, that He hath brought about by such ways and means as men would rationally allot thereunto, especially in things that are in immediate subserviency to the kingdom of the Lord Christ? (J. Owen, D. D.)
The proud abased and the lowly exalted
Consider the text as exemplified--
I. In the history of God’s providence.
1. The Antediluvians and Noah. They were the high and green trees,--Noah and family, the low and the dry.
2. Pharaoh and the Israelites.
3. Goliath and David.
4. Haman and Mordecai.
II. In the history of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jews expected the high green tree,--earthly magnificence, worldly power and authority. But Christ fulfilled the sayings of the prophets (Isaiah 53:1, etc.) In all things He was the opposite of their desires, etc. Hence they killed Him. Yet Christ, the low tree, etc., did God exalt, etc. He hath made Him to flourish, etc. His name shall endure as long as the sun, etc.
III. In the triumphs of the apostolic labours. Look at the persons of the apostles,--plain, illiterate, poor men. Not the high green tree. Not learned, affluent, or influential. Hearken to their message. What is it? Christ crucified. Not a religion of metaphysical subtleties. Not elaborate doctrines or profound dogmas of philosophy. Not a splendid system of pompous ceremony. But the lowly doctrines of the cross. Humility, self-denial, spirituality, etc. And what is the result? The high tree of paganism is brought down. The green tree of Judaism is dried up. The low tree of Christianity is exalted and flourishes, and blesses every known civilised land, etc. (1 Corinthians 1:21-29).
IV. In the experience of the haughty, and of the penitential sinner. The man of proud heart, exalted self-esteem, etc. “God, I thank thee,” etc. The poor publican self-convicted, self-abhorred. He is the dry tree, nothing to trust in, or to plead. “God be merciful,” etc. Mark the result. God rejects the high tree; He despises his work,--He brings him low. He beholds with approbation the low tree, etc. He goes down to his house justified.
V. In the lives of the high-minded and of the lowly Christian. Pride and self-sufficiency are the great temptations of the human heart. To be something. To do something. To he thought something. To exalt ourselves. How prone we are to this. Well, what, is the result? God knows it will ruin us if not eradicated. We must be brought low in mercy or judgment. He blights the worldly prospects. He reverses the dazzling scene. He sends repeated disappointments. Troops of crosses and troubles. Perhaps keen bereavements. And thus brings down the high tree, dries up the green tree, etc. But behold the low tree, the dry tree. The lowly Christian says, “I am nothing.” He lives by faith on the Son of God, etc. He abases Himself, etc. He glories in the cross, etc. He makes mention of Christ’s righteousness, etc. He dwells in the dust. God exalts, blesses, makes fruitful, etc., lifts them up forever. Application--
1. Learn the evil of self-exaltation. Avoid it. Watch against it. Pray against it.
2. Be clothed with humility. What peace, safety, and honour are here.
3. God must have all the glory. See the text; also Daniel 6:34. (Anon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent