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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Ezekiel 17

 

 

Verses 1-24

EXPOSITION

Ezekiel 17:2

Put forth a riddle, etc. Again there is an interval of silence, till another theme is suggested to the prophet's mind and worked out elaborately. This he describes as a "riddle" (same word as the "dark speeches" of Numbers 12:8, the "hard questions" of 1 Kings 10:1). It will task the ingenuity of his hearers or readers to interpret it, and so he subjoins (Ezekiel 17:12-24) the interpretation. That interpretation enables us to fix the occasion and the date of the prophecy. It was the time when Zedekiah was seeking to strengthen himself against Nebuchadnezzar by an Egyptian alliance.

Ezekiel 17:3

The eagle with great wings and long pinions (Revised Version) probably the golden eagle, the largest species of the genus—stands for Nebuchadnezzar, as it does in Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22. In Isaiah 46:11 the "ravenous bird" represents Cyrus. Possibly the eagle head of the Assyrian god Nisroch (2 Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38) may have impressed the symbolism on Ezekiel's mind. A doubtful etymology gives "the great eagle" as the meaning of Nisroch. The divers colours indicate the variety of the nations under the king's sway (Daniel 3:4 : Daniel 4:1). If the cedar was chosen to t,e the symbol of the monarchy of Judah, then it followed that Lebanon, as the special home of the cedar, should take its place in the parable. Possibly the fact that one of the stateliest palaces of Solomon was known as the "house of the forest of Lebanon" (1 Kings 7:2; 1 Kings 10:17, 1 Kings 10:21) may have made the symbolism specially suggestive. The word for highest branch is peculiar to Ezekiel (here and in verse 22). The branch so carried off was carried into "a land of traffick" (Hebrew, LXX; and Vulgate, "a land of Canaan," the word being generalized in its meaning, as in Ezekiel 16:29), i.e. to Babylon, as pre-eminently the merchant city of the time. This, of course, refers to Nebuchadnezzar's deportation of Jeconiah and the more eminent citizens of Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:8-15).

Ezekiel 17:5

The seed of the land is Zedekiah, who was made king by Nebuchadnezzar in Jeconiah's place. The imagery of the willow (the Hebrew word occurs here only) seems suggested by Ezekiel's surroundings. No tree could stand out in greater contrast to the cedar of Lebanon than the willows which he saw growing by the waters of Babylon (Psalms 137:2, though the word is different). The choice of the willow determined the rest of the imagery, and the fruitful field and the great or "many" (Revised Version) waters represent Judah, possibly with reference to its being in its measure a "land of brooks of waters," of "fountains and depths," of "wheat and barley and wine" (Deuteronomy 8:7-9; Deuteronomy 11:10-12). The kingdom of Zedekiah, i.e; was left with sufficient elements for material prosperity. That prosperity is indicated in verse 6 by the fact that the willow became a vine. It was of "low stature," indeed, trailing on the ground. It could not claim the greatness of an independent kingdom. Its branches turned toward the planter (verse 6); its roots were under him. It acknowledged, that is, Nebuchadnezzar's suzerainty, and so, had things continued as they were, it might have prospered.

Ezekiel 17:7

The other great eagle is, of course, Egypt, then under Apries, or Pharaoh-Hophra (Jeremiah 44:30). We note the absence of the "long pinions" and the "many colours" of the first eagle. Egypt was not so strong, nor did her sway extend over so great a variety of nations as Babylon. To that eagle the vine bent its roots, i.e; as in Ezekiel 17:15, Zedekiah courted the alliance of Pharaoh, and trusted in his chariots, lie was to water the vine, which so turned to him from the beds of her plantation (Revised Version).

Ezekiel 17:8

Ezekiel repeats, as justifying Nebuchadnezzar's action, that his first intention had been to leave Zedekiah under conditions which would have given his kingdom a fair measure of prosperity. The vine might have borne fruit.

Ezekiel 17:9

The prophet, like his contemporary Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:7), like his predecessor Isaiah (Isaiah 30:1-7), is against this policy of an Egyptian alliance. The question which he asks, as the prophet of Jehovah, implies an answer in the negative. The doom of failure was written on all such projects. The he of the next question is not Nebuchadnezzar, but indefinite, like the French on. For leaves of her spring, read, with the Revised Version, fresh springing leaves; or, the leaves of her sprouting. The Authorized Version and the Revised Version of the last clause seems to assert that Nebuchadnezzar would have an easy victory. It would not take great power or much people to pluck up such a vine from its roots. I adopt, with Keil and Hitzig, the rendering, not with great power or much people will men be able to raise it up from its roots; i.e. no forces of Egypt or other allies should be able to restore Judah from its ruins. Its fall was, for the time, irretrievable (comp. verse 17).

Ezekiel 17:10

The question, Shall it prosper? comes with all the emphasis of iteration. The east wind is, as elsewhere, the symbol of scorching and devastating power (Ezekiel 19:12; Hosea 13:15; Jonah 4:8; Job 27:21). For furrows, read beds, with Revised Version. In the ease of the Chaldeans, who came from the east, there was a special appropriateness in the symbolism.

Ezekiel 17:12, Ezekiel 17:13

The parable has been spoken. Ezekiel, after the pause implied in verse 11, now becomes its interpreter. And that interpretation is to be addressed to the "rebellious house" (Ezekiel 2:3, Ezekiel 2:6) among whom he lived. Probably even among the exiles of Tel-Abib there were some who cherished hopes of the success of the Egyptian alliance, and of the downfall of the power of Babylon as its outcome. The tenses are better in the indefinite past—"came," "took," "brought," and so on in verse 13. The history of Jeconiah's deportation and of Zedekiah's oath of fealty (2 Chronicles 36:13) is recapitulated. He dwells specially on the fact that the mighty of the land had been carried off with Jecoutah. It was Nebuchadnezzar's policy to deprive the kingdom of all its elements of strength—to leave it "bare." Even masons. smiths, and carpenters were carried off, lest they should be used for warlike preparations (2 Kings 24:16). It could not lift itself up. It was enough if "by keeping its covenant" it was allowed to stand.

Ezekiel 17:15

That they might give him horses. The "chariots and horses" of Egypt seem, throughout its whole history, to have been its chief element of strength. See for the time of Moses (Exodus 14:7), of Solomon (1 Kings 10:28, 1 Kings 10:29), of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:3), of Hezekiah (Isaiah 31:1 : Isaiah 36:9). Shall he prosper? What had been asked in the parable is asked also, in identical terms, in the interpretation. Ezekiel presses home the charge of perfidy as well as rebellion. Like Jeremiah, he looks on Nebuchadnezzar as reigning by a Divine right.

Ezekiel 17:16

Ezekiel repeats the prediction of Ezekiel 12:13. The prison in Babylon, under the eye of the king against whom he had rebelled; this was to be the outcome of the alliance with Egypt. The prophecy was probably written when the hopes of Zedekiah and his counsellors were at their highest point, when the Chaldeans had, in fact. raised the siege in anticipation of the arrival of the Egyptian army (Jeremiah 37:5-11). Ezekiel, like Jeremiah (loc. cit.), declared that the relief would be but temporary.

Ezekiel 17:17

By casting up mounts, etc.; better, with the Revised Version, when they cast up mounts. The words describe the strategical operations, not of the Egyptians against the Chaldeans, but of the Chaldeans, when they recovered from their first alarm, against Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1; Jeremiah 39:1). The Egyptians, Ezekiel predicts, would be powerless to prevent that second and decisive siege. In verses 18, 19 the prophet emphasizes the fact that this would be the just punishment of Zedekiah's perfidy.

Ezekiel 17:20

The words receive a special significance as being identical with those which Ezekiel had uttered in Ezekiel 12:13, with the addition that the sin against Nebuchadnezzar as the vicegerent of Jehovah, was a sin against Jehovah himself as the God of faithfulness and truth. There, in Babylon, the real character of his sin should be brought home to the conscience of the blind and captive king. What follows in Ezekiel 12:21, in like manner, reproduces Ezekiel 12:14, Ezekiel 12:15.

Ezekiel 17:22

From the message of deserved chastisement the prophet passes to the promise of restoration. The cedar of Israel is not dead. Jehovah would, in his own time, take the highest branch, tender and slender though it might be, the true heir of David's house, and deal with it far otherwise than the Chaldean conqueror had done.

The latter had carried off the branch to the "land of traffick"—sc. had brought Jeconiah to Babylon. Jehovah would plant his branch upon the "mountain of the height of Israel" (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1). It was not to be as a willow in a low place, but to flourish, true to its origin as a cedar, so that "all fowl of every wing" should dwell in the shadow of its branches (comp. Ezekiel 31:3-9, where the same imagery is used of Assyria; and Matthew 13:32). As with like prophecies in Isaiah 11:1 and Isaiah 53:2 (where the "tender one" finds a parallel), the words paint an ideal never historically realized, but finding a partia1 fulfilment in Zerubbabel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, merging in the still unfulfilled vision of the kingdom of the Messiah and the restoration of Israel. To Ezekiel, as to other prophets, it was not given to know the times and the seasons, or even the manner of the fulfilment of his hopes; and when he uttered tile words, the vision may have seemed not tar off, but nigh at hand.

Ezekiel 17:24

All the trees of the field, etc. As the cedar of Lebanon stands here for the royal house of David, so the other "trees" represent the surrounding nations, who are thought of as witnessing, first the strange prostration, and then the yet stranger resurrection of the house and the might of Judah and Israel. The thought, which reproduces that of 1 Samuel 2:7, finds an echo in Luke 1:51, Luke 1:52. Another echo of the words may, perhaps, be traced in the "green tree" and the "dry" of Luke 23:31. Here then, also, as in Luke 16:1-31; the utterance which begins with judgment, ends in mercy. Behind the picture of the blind, discrowned king the prophet sees that of the Divine ideal King in the fulness of his majesty and power.

HOMILETICS.

Ezekiel 17:2

A riddle and a parable.

In the present instance the riddle and the parable are one, the riddle being expressed in the form of a parable. Both of these oblique forms of expression are characteristic of Oriental literature, and appear frequently in the pages of the Bible. Let us consider their advantages.

I. THE RIDDLE. This is not a mere puzzle to amuse; nor is it propounded to vex and perplex the listener. Unlike our idle conundrum, it has a grave purpose.

1. To arrest attention. Ezekiel was required to prophesy to people with blind eyes and deaf ears (Ezekiel 12:2). The methods of direct instruction had failed to impress his somnolent hearers. Called upon to try more rousing means, the prophet now launches into parables and riddles. Novelty of method may be desirable in the expression of old familiar truths. It is useless to preach if we have not the ears of the audience. Yet it is dangerous to shock reverence by frivolous eccentricity. There was nothing frivolous in Ezekiel's riddle,—it was grave, and even sublime; neither was there anything eccentric about it,—it followed a recognized method.

2. To provoke thought. While a direct statement may not be strongly grasped just because it is intelligible in a moment, an oblique phrase, which demands thought for the understanding of it, may sink the deeper into the mind. It is not only requisite that we should see the truth; we need also to take bold of it. An easy comprehension of it does not satisfy all its demands, and we should not only think about it, but think our way into it, using our own minds. Truth that is thus held is most truly our own possession.

3. To endure. The riddle will be easily remembered and readily transmitted. Truth is not the private property of its discoverer nor of his first hearer. It is the heritage of all; it claims eternal remembrance. We want to make the teaching of it tell and stay.

II. THE PARABLE. Ezekiel's riddle was thrown into the form of a parable. Usually the riddle appears to have been of the character of a parable, though perhaps, as a rule, more brief and less easily interpreted than an ordinary parable; e.g. compare Samson's riddle with Jotham's parable ( 14:12 and 9:7-15). The one is curt and enigmatical; the other fuller and more easily understood. The parabolic form of speech has its own peculiar advantages. Sharing the three advantages of the riddle already discussed—i.e. arresting attention, provoking thought, and enduring—though in a milder form when the parable is simpler and less concise than the riddle, it is compensated for any apparent inferiority to the riddle in these respects by the possession of certain good points of its own. Let us consider its special mission.

1. To take possession of the imagination. The parable appeals to the pictorial faculty. It handles truth on its poetic rather than on its philosophical side. It is therefore realistic, for nothing is so realistic as poetry, nothing so paints upon our inward eye the things it is describing in words. Now, it is not enough that we should understand the truth in word and naked idea. We want to see it, to handle it, to feel the glow and power of its presence.

2. To connect truth with present facts. The parable brings heaven down to earth. When dealing with earthly things it draws them into relation with nearer objects. Thus it shows that the subjects it treats of are closely connected with us. Theology is too much discussed as though it belonged to the star Sirius. Parables remind us that it belongs to our earth. Following analogies with nature and life, they indicate links of connection between the material and the spiritual, between nature and God, and also between nature and man.

Ezekiel 17:3-10

The parable of the two eagles.

I. THE FIRST EAGLE AND THE CEDAR. The eagle is the King of Babylon. The cedar is the house of David. Nebuchadnezzar cut off the topmost twigs of this tree when he deported Jehoiakim and his court to Babylon.

1. God uses powerful instruments. The eagle is the king of birds. The one here described is of exceptional splendour, with variegated plumage (Ezekiel 17:3). Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful monarch of his age, and he carried with him the glory of conquest over various nations, together with those resources which he drew from them which added to the sweep of his mighty wings of victory. Yet this awful tyrant was a puppet in the hands of the King of kings, who used him to work out deep designs of providence.

2. Earthly greatness is no security against ruin. The house of David was great, ancient, and glorious, like a cedar of Lebanon among the trees of the forest. No cattle of the field could pluck the topmost twigs that waved proudly in the wind. But the eagle swooped down upon them, tore them off, and bore them away to his distant eyrie, with greater ease than if they had been obscure boughs of lowly shrubs. The greatness of the house of David did not protect Jehoiakim against Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonian monarch seized that wretched king and carried him captive to Chaldea. There is an earthly exaltation which springs from the favour of Heaven. Yet when that favour is lost, all its former glory will not save it. Let no one boast in his privileges and attainments; they are flimsy shields before the fiery darts of judgment.

II. THE SECOND EAGLE AND THE VINE. This eagle is Pharaoh of Egypt. The vine is Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar set up as king in Jerusalem in place of Jehoiachin.

1. It is better to be fruitful than famous. If Zedekiah had acted wisely he might have had a sale, though a humble, reign. He could no longer rule in pride, like Jehoiakim before him, as the top twig of a glorious cedar; but as a lowly young vine, feeble and small, he might bear good fruit. A humble, useful life is better than one of proud pretensions, and safer too; for the vine would not have attracted the destroying eagle if it had grown in quiet.

2. The feeble are tempted to seek inefficient help. The vine appealed to a second eagle. Zedekiah sought an alliance with Pharaoh. This was bad policy, for it was certain to provoke the vengeance of Babylon, and then even the might of the ancient empire of Egypt would be unequal to cope with the enraged power from the Euphrates, even if Pharaoh proved true to his alliance in the hour of need. But Zedekiah was more than politically foolish. He had lost faith in God, the one sure Protector of Israel. Men trust to policy, money, friendship, etc. But no earthly alliance will save in the hour of greatest need.

3. Confidence in a worthless defence will lead to ruin. The vine had better never have appealed to the second eagle. Zedekiah suffered grievously through leaning on Egypt. If we turn from our true Refuge to any earthly supports, we shall not only find them fail us; we shall also provoke wrath and judgment. Deceitful cunning will only aggravate the fate of the sinner. Zedekiah's treachery made his doom the more certain.

Ezekiel 17:10

Shall it prosper?

I. PROSPERITY IS NATURALLY SOUGHT AFTER. False ideas of prosperity may blind us as to its true nature. There is a prosperity which none need covet, a swollen worldly success that leaves the soul starved, barren, and sapless. It may be more blessed to suffer from the stimulating shocks of adversity than to be surfeited with such a false prosperity. But real prosperity is naturally and rightly desired. No one ought to be content to make shipwreck of life. We may not attain to the objects which we set before ourselves, and we may never realize any very great success in the eyes of men. But that our lives should break up in ruin is of all things most to he deplored. The question, "Shall it prosper?" is thus to be asked with natural anxiety. We may ask it in regard to

II. PROSPERITY MAY BE EASILY MISSED. The vine in the parable did not prosper. Zedekiah's diplomacy was a failure. Many men make shipwreck of life. Churches sink into deadness. The inquiry should go back to the possible causes of failure.

1. A false aim. Zedekiah thought only of his own throne. He did not give evidence of the genuine patriotism which would have preferred the welfare of the nation to his own safety. Selfishness may win worldly success. But it is certain to starve the roots of soul prosperity.

2. A false trust. Zedekiah trusted to Pharaoh instead of God. If we are looking for prosperity in any region to the neglect of our trust in God, we are courting failure, for with him are the issues of life.

3. A false character. Zedekiah not only leaned upon a broken reed in trusting to Egypt; he acted treacherously in so doing. Deceit is fatal to the soul. Fraud never secures true prosperity, though it may win earthly pelf.

III. PROSPERITY NEED NOT BE MISSED. Here, again, we must bear in mind the nature of true prosperity. We cannot all be rich or successful in earthly enterprises. But no soul need be wrecked, for it is within the power of all to attain to a life which shall be reckoned successful in the sight of God. We should see to it that we have the secret of this prosperity.

1. Living for God. This will give us a right aim. The soul that lives for self, for the world, for any lower aim, is running for the rocks. But no one who truly lives for God can utterly fail.

2. Trusting in God. It is not easy to pursue this high aim; indeed, it is impossible to do so without the aid of Divine grace. The life of faith is the only perfectly prosperous life. The heroes of faith whose fame is celebrated in Hebrews 11:1-40. were all of them truly successful, though many of them suffered and some died as martyrs.

IV. PROSPERITY IS WORTH INQUIRING ABOUT. Ezekiel's question is pertinent. Everything else may look fair, but if this vital question receives a negative reply, all the other points of excellence count for nothing, or even tell against us in mockery of the one fatal flaw. The life may be comfortable; the Church may be sound and orthodox, or popular and attractive; the plan of work may be clever and original. But what is the use of all these pleasant features if they are to end in failure?

Ezekiel 17:18, Ezekiel 17:19

The broken covenant.

In turning to Egypt for protection Zedekiah had broken faith with Nebuchadnezzar; but he had done worse, for he had broken the covenant between God and the house of David.

I. UNFAITHFULNESS TO MAN IS UNFAITHFULNESS TO GOD. All sin against man is also sin against God. The second table of commandments lies upon the first, and a breach of the one involves a breach of the other. David confesses that he had sinned against God, and God only (Psalms 51:4), though his crime was directly committed against Uriah the Hittite. The penitent prodigal charges himself with having sinned against heaven as well as before his father (Luke 15:18). God enters into all earthly arrangements. The oath is a direct call upon God to do this; but without any such solemn appeal God cannot but take note of all we say and do, and as the Guardian of truth and justice he will consider any earthly unfaithfulness as wrong against himself.

II. THOSE WHO ARE PLEDGED TO THE SERVICE OF GOD ARE ESPECIALLY UNFAITHFUL TO HIM WHEN THEY ARE UNFAITHFUL TO THEIR FELLOW MEN. Zedekiah was the king of a covenant nation, and his throne was bound by God's solemn covenant with David. He was, therefore, in an especial sense a servant of God. If the servant behaves ill in the world his Master must take note of the fact. It is a wrong against the Master, who is dishonoured by his shameful conduct. When a professedly Christian man shows a lack of integrity before the world, his sin is intensified by contrast with his high profession. It is bad for the common person to be faithless, but when a knight of honoured title shows the same failure of character, he brings disgrace upon his order. If one who stands before men as a Christian proves himself to be dishonourable in business, he injures the holy Name of his Master, and he breaks faith with the God whom he has promised to serve.

III. UNFAITHFULNESS TO A COVENANT WITH GOD IS A HEINOUS SIN. The Jews were peculiarly privileged; therefore their sin was especially guilty. They were bound to fidelity by exceptional pledges; their disloyalty was, therefore, the more culpable. Christians now stand in the ancient position of the Jews.

1. Christians are peculiarly privileged. They not only receive the general mercies of God which all men may share. They are partakers of his choicest covenant blessings. Jesus Christ, who has pledged the new covenant in his blood, has brought with it the highest blessings. For Christians to fall into sin is doubly guilty.

2. Christians are especially pledged. If we take the Christian name we incur the Christian obligations. The vows of God are then upon us. We are pledged to loyalty to Christ. It is no common sin to break vows of Christian service. The prophet called this sin in Israel adultery. It carries the shame and guilt of that outrage on honour.

Ezekiel 17:22, Ezekiel 17:23

Christ, the new Cedar.

After words of darkness and ruin, there appears the wonderful Messianic prophecy of restoration and future blessings. Sometimes this prophecy is expressed in general terms; but here the personal Messiah is distinctly predicted under the image of a shoot taken from the fallen cedar.

I. THE PLANTING OF THE NEW CEDAR.

1. It is a cutting from the old cedar. That proud and once venerable tree has been cruelly torn by the fierce eagle. One of its topmost twigs has been carried away, for Jehoiachin has been taken to Babylon. But another shoot from the same tree is destined to a glorious future. Christ is of the stock of David. He is called God's Servant, "the Branch" (Zechariah 3:8). The people hailed Jesus as the "Son of David" (Matthew 20:30). Christ comes as a King, and he comes to fulfil God's ancient promises to David. He unites the present to the past, and accomplishes in himself what the throne of David had failed to attain.

2. It appears as a slender twig. It was said of the Christ, "He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus entered the world in the lowly estate of the infant Child of a poor woman, and his earthly life was one of humiliation and slight visible achievements.

3. It is planted on a mountain.

II. THE GROWTH OF THE NEW CEDAR.

1. It is to grow in size. It shall bring forth boughs. The cutting becomes a cedar tree. The mustard seed grows into a great tree. Christ not only grew in stature, wisdom, and grace as a Child (Luke 2:14). He grew in power afterwards, being made perfect by the things that he suffered (Hebrews 5:8, Hebrews 5:9), and being exalted to the right hand of God on account of his great self sacrifice at the cross. Christ continues to grow in the extension of his kingdom, in the progress of the Church, which is his body.

2. It is to be fruitful. "And bear fruit." This cedar is to share the merits of the vine. Great as the monarch of Lebanon is it is to be fruitful as the tender plants of the vineyard. Christ is not only great and exalted, and ever growing in the power of his kingdom. He gives out grace. His fruit is for the healing of the nations. He is the Bread of life, and his people feed upon him. Christianity is not merely a big success, like Mohammedanism. It is a blessing to the world as beneficent as it is victorious. The great Oriental monarchies were destructive, bringing a blast from the desert over the countries they conquered. The kingdom of heaven is healthful and fertilizing, promoting goodness, enterprise, civilization. We donor simply admire a great Lord in his solitary grandeur, like some awful, barren, Alpine peak. We are grateful to One who is as a fruitful tree.

3. It is to afford shelter. The birds are to roost in its branches, and take refuge from the storm under its foliage. So was it to be with the mustard tree (Matthew 13:31).

Ezekiel 17:24

The great reversal.

The great tree is to be cast down and withered, while the lowly growth is to be planted on high, and is to flourish. This was true of Zedekiah and Christ, as of Saul the king and David the shepherd. It is recognized in the Magnificat (Luke 1:52); for the lowly Mary of Nazareth is honoured, when the great families of Jerusalem are slighted. The principle that it illustrates is pointed out by Christ, who tells us not only the general truth that "the first shall be last, and the last first," but also its moral justification. "Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:12).

I. THE FACT OF THE GREAT REVERSAL.

1. The humiliation of the great. This takes two forms.

2. The exaltation of the low. This also takes two forms, corresponding to the humiliation.

II. THE CAUSE OF THE GREAT REVERSAL.

1. It is attributed to God. He it is who makes great, and he also makes low. The most lofty rank is not above the reach of his terrible hand of justice; the lowest estate is not beneath his condescension. The great sweeper providence embraces all men.

2. It is conditioned by human character. God is not capricious. He does not grudge prosperity to his children. There is no Nemesis threatening human success apart from that of justice against wrong doing. Innocent prosperity is not regarded with disfavour by God. The selfish envy with which the unfortunate are tempted to pursue their more happy brethren can find no justification in the ways of God. On the other hand, present misfortune is not in itself a ground for future favour, though it may be a plea for simple pity and needful mercy. The high are not east down just because they are high, nor are the low exalted solely because they are low. Christ has given us the secret of the great reversal in the passage already quoted, viz. humiliation is to be the punishment of self-seeking, and exaltation is to be the reward of self-sacrifice. That is the great lesson which St. Paul draws from the cross of Christ (Philippians 2:4-11).

III. THE RECOGNITION OF THE GREAT REVERSAL. "All the trees of the field shall know," etc. God's providential judgment is public; so will the great judgment be.

1. The shame of the fall of the great cannot be hidden. High reputations have been trampled in the mire.

2. The fame of the exaltation of the low will not be kept secret.

3. These facts contain warning lessons for the proud and self-seeking, and encouragement for the humble and unselfish. They are meant to be noted.

4. They glorify God, who thus shows himself just and good, and mighty against the strong.

HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON

Ezekiel 17:4

A city of merchants.

An apt designation this of Babylon the great, the very centre and emporium of commerce in the East. The deportation of the chief men among the Jews from their own land to Mesopotamia is pictorially described under the similitude of the highest branch of the cedar of Lebanon carried by the great Assyrian eagle away Eastward "into a land of traffic" and set in "a city of merchants." The description of Babylon is applicable to the great centres of population in our own and other lands, which serve both to concentrate and to diffuse the products which constitute so large a part of the wealth of the world, and which minister to human convenience and luxury. As an important factor in civilization, such cities should be considered in the light of reflection and religion.

I. COMMERCIAL CITIES ARE AN EXPRESSION OF A DEEP-SEATED TENDENCY OF HUMAN NATURE. There are, indeed, impulses which estrange and isolate men; but there are others which draw them together. We are by nature social; we have natural sympathies; we depend one upon another; we only live intellectually and morally in virtue of our mutual intercourse. Not only so; men find their interest and pleasure in close associations of various kinds. It is to their mutual advantage to gather together for the interchange of services. Thus it is in accordance with laws imposed upon our constitution by the Maker of all that men gather together in cities. In such populous centres the busy and active, the laborious and the influential, find scope for the exercise of their powers. Craftsmen and tradespeople, the bees of the social hive, spend in town life almost the whole of their earthly existence. And even those whose vocation is more distinctively intellectual, and who prefer retirement and quiet, still do not allow themselves to be cut off from the busy haunts of men; but ever and anon plunge, if but for a brief season, into the rapid, whirling tide of humanity that sweeps through their country's capital.

II. COMMERCIAL CITIES ARE THE SCENE OF VERY VARIED EXPERIENCES AND OF REMARKABLE FRICTION OF MIND WITH MIND. As compared with those engaged in rural pursuits, the dwellers in cities are quick and enterprising. They are brought more frequently into contact with one another, and each man meets daily a far richer variety of character. They are more ready to take in new ideas and to form new habits. In cities there are great contrasts. The life of the farm labourer and that of the country gentleman are not so contrasted as the life of the artisan and that of the merchant. In civics wealth and luxury are side by side with poverty and wretchedness. The poor have fewer to care for them, and the rich have fewer natural claims and responsibilities There is a rush and scramble for wealth and position, which renders a great city the natural theme of the cynic's sniper and the satirist's invective. Yet beneath all this there is much in city life which cannot but be regarded with interest and admiration; and the contempt which is felt for townspeople is often superficial prejudice.

III. COMMERCIAL CITIES ABOUND WITH TEMPTATIONS TO SIN. There is a bad as well as a good side to city life. In the race for riches there are many opportunities for theft, peculation, embezzlement, and forgery, and the widespread desire for rapid enrichment furnishes motives to which too many sooner or later yield. In a vast population provision is made for amusement and excitement, and for vicious gratification, and in this whirlpool multitudes of the young and heedless and pleasure seeking go down, never to emerge. There is in great cities a possibility of concealment, by which many are encouraged to form habits of self-indulgence and dissipation, from which they might in more favourable circumstances have been restrained by the gentle pressure of home influence and wholesome public opinion. No wonder that, when parents send a son to the metropolis to earn a living or to seek a fortune, their minds are distressed and anxious at the thought of the manifold temptations to which the child of many prayers is to be exposed.

IV. COMMERCIAL CITIES ARE THE CENTRES AND SOURCES OF GREAT INFLUENCE FOR BOTH GOOD AND EVIL. A great capital, the seat of government, of literature, of manufacture, of commerce, is often compared to the heart in the body, whence the streams of life flow constantly and regularly to reach the remotest extremity. In the great monarchies, empires, and republics of the world, how great a part has been played by the cities in which wealth and power have been concentrated, and by which national policy has been so largely shaped! How could the history of mankind be written without reference to Memphis, to Nineveh, to Babylon, to Rome, to Constantinople, to Paris, to London? Intelligence and wealth, luxury and vice, patriotism and public spirit, law and religion, spread from the great centres of population, industry, and prosperity, and affect the remotest regions.

V. COMMERCIAL CITIES AFFORD ESPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR WORKS OF BENEVOLENCE AND EVANGELIZATION. They abound in enterprise and public spirit, and these may be employed as truly in the enlightenment and improvement of men as in the acquisition of wealth. They abound in population, and furnish persons of every grade of natural and acquired qualification for the several departments of Christian usefulness. They abound in wealth; and material means are necessary for the conduct of educational, philanthropic, and missionary plans. They have abundant means of communicating with localities near and far, which it may be desired to reach and affect for good; from them roads radiate to every part of the land, and ships sail to every port. These and other circumstances lead to the belief that our great cities will become in the future, even more than in the past, centres and ministers of blessing to mankind.—T.

Ezekiel 17:5, Ezekiel 17:6

Prosperity in adversity.

In figurative language Ezekiel describes the position of the remnant permitted by the monarch of Babylon to remain in the land of their fathers, and to pursue their industries in peace under their own rulers, enjoying the protection of the Eastern power. The lowly vine is suffered by the mighty eagle to take root in the soil, to spread, and to bear fruit, unmolested and in a measure prosperous. The prophet is aware of the foolish and treacherous conduct of his countrymen, who, instead of accepting and acquiescing in their lot, are intriguing with. the neighbouring state on the south, hoping that Egypt may come to their aid and deliver them from subjection to Babylon. A more false and foolish policy the helpless remnant could not have adopted; and it was a policy Jehovah, the King of nations, Hid not suffer to be successful. Even in their political adversity it was open to them to enjoy some measure of peace and prosperity. Their plotting was against their own interests, their own well being.

I. A NATION'S HUMILIATION IS PERMITTED BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE. God raiseth up one, and setteth down another. It is a foolish and superficial view of political affairs which they take who attribute the rise and fall of nations to chance and accident. The Lord reigneth. There is wisdom and righteousness in his government of the world.

II. NATIONAL HUMILIATION SHOULD BE REGARDED AS A PROBATION AND A DISCIPLINE FOR BRIGHTER DAYS. They who see the hand of God in what happens to them will not be slow to believe that there is a purpose in human experience, and that this principle applies to communities as well as to individuals. There are lessons to be learnt in adversity which prosperity cannot teach. Schooled in the "waste, howling wilderness," Israel was made strong to enter and to possess the land of promise. The same principle has operated in the history of our own and of ether nations.

III. THE RELATIVE PROSPERITY WHICH IS POSSIBLE EVEN IN HUMILIATION MAY BE CHECKED AND DESTROYED BY SELFISHNESS AND TREACHERY. It was the policy of the remnant patiently to wait for better times; and it was their duty to observe the covenant into which they had entered with Babylon. The discontented vine which sought other patronage was to be plucked up and to wither. Increase of prosperity should not be sought by unlawful and forbidden means.

IV. SUBMISSION AND PATIENT IMPROVEMENT OF ADVANTAGES MAY BE THE MEANS OF NATIONAL GOOD. The subject sons of Abraham might not be eminent and majestic as the cedar of Lebanon. But they might he as the fruitful vine, planted in a well placed and well guarded vineyard, which bears abundance of fruit, and does not enjoy its advantages and opportunities in vain.—T.

Ezekiel 17:11-21

The sacredness of treaties.

The Old Testament abounds in illustrations of the bearing of religion upon national and corporate life. In this passage of prophecy Ezekiel rebukes his countrymen for their disc, intent under the Assyrian rule, and for their treacherous intrigues with Egypt. Speaking in the name of the King of kings, he upbraids them for deliberate infraction of a covenant which they were bound to observe. He shows them that political action may be sinful, and that, when such is the case, the Divine Ruler will not suffer it to go unpunished.

I. THE JUSTICE OF GOD IS DISCERNIBLE IN NATIONAL CALAMITIES. This was most evident in the case of Judah and Israel, who by their defection and apostasy incurred the righteous displeasure of the Almighty Ruler, and brought upon themselves the judgment beneath which, in the time of Ezekiel, they were smarting. The King of Babylon had come to Jerusalem, had taken the king thereof and the princes thereof, and had led them with him to Babylon; he had taken of the king's seed, and had established him in authority over the remnant in the land, that the kingdom, though base, might stand. In all this the righteous hand of God was visible to every observant and reflecting mind.

II. THE MERCY OF GOD IS DISCERNIBLE IN THE COVENANT BETWEEN THE CONQUERORS AND THE CONQUERED. Judah would have met with the fate she deserved had she been treated as an ordinary subject province. But God's providence ordered matters otherwise. The King of Babylon was disposed to deal favourably with the conquered sons of Judah. He made a covenant with Zedekiah, and took an oath of him. Thus some semblance of self-government was left with the vanquished. Although their chiefs were carried captive, those who were permitted to remain did so under the sovereignty of a member of the royal house. We are taught to see in this arrangement an evidence of the favour and forbearance of the Most High.

III. THE SANCTION OF GOD RESTS UPON NATIONAL ENGAGEMENTS SOLEMNLY UNDERTAKEN AND RATIFIED. An oath is an appeal to God, and he will not hold him guiltless that taketh his Name in vain. A nation may appeal to Heaven, as may an individual. Peoples come voluntarily into certain relations with each other in the great community of mankind. As surely as there is an Almighty Ruler who sways a righteous sceptre over the nations, so surely does sacredness attach to those obligations which nations take upon themselves with regard to one another. They are not indifferent and trivial matters, but matters with which the moral life of nations is bound up.

IV. THE DISPLEASURE OF GOD IS UPON THOSE WHO VIOLATE SOLEMN TREATIES. In language of truly prophetic indignation, the prophet upbraids the king and those who acted with him in secretly rebelling against the court of Babylon, to whose favour they owed whatever national existence was left to them, and with whom they had entered into sacred and binding treaty. "Shall he prosper? shall he escape that doeth such things? shall he break the covenant, and yet escape?" The Eternal regarded this conduct as a wrong, not so ranch to Babylon, as to himself. "Mine oath he hath despised; my covenant he hath broken." "He hath trespassed against me." It is to be feared that this is a consideration which never enters into the minds of some rulers and statesmen; they think of the effect of their conduct upon the great and mighty of this world, but they do not ask themselves how their falsehood and treachery are regarded by him who rules not in heaven only, but on the earth.

V. THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD WILL OVERTAKE THOSE WHO REGARD INTEREST AND EXPEDIENCY RATHER THAN PRINCIPLE AND PROMISES. It was foretold that Judah should gain nothing by her deceptive and base conduct. Pharaoh should not deliver the people with his mighty army. Judah's conduct should be recompensed by Divine interposition; the king who had rebelled should die in the midst of Babylon, and should not escape; the fugitives should fall by the sword, and they that remained should be scattered toward all winds. The lesson is one of universal import. Be they high or low, men who violate the compacts and disregard the engagements into which they have voluntarily and deliberately entered, shall not be unpunished, shall not escape the righteous judgments of the Judge of all the earth.—T.

Ezekiel 17:22, Ezekiel 17:23

The goodly cedar.

These verses contain a prophecy which can scarcely be deemed susceptible of an interpretation which should refer it to the establishment of the throne of any human, earthly sovereign. It is usually regarded as pointing on to the advent of the Messiah. This hope sprang up with irresistible power in the heart of Israel during the period of depression through which the people passed as a judgment for their defection, rebellion, and idolatry. The less of light the present afforded, the more did the captives and the conquered strain their eyes looking into the dim future. There were those who, like Isaiah and Ezekiel, were inspired to raise the courage and hopes of their countrymen by predicting the coming of a Divine Deliverer who should be raised up as a horn of salvation in the house of his father David.

I. CHRIST'S ORIGIN FROM A DESPISED AND OPPRESSED, YET FROM A ROYAL, STOCK. The members of the royal house of David were, in the lifetime of Ezekiel, reduced to comparative feebleness and obscurity. Either in Eastern exile or in the half-deserted land of their fathers' splendour, they were a deserted and dejected race. Yet from them—from the highest branch of the high cedar—Christ according to the flesh was to come.

II. CHRIST'S SELECTION AND APPOINTMENT THE TOKEN OF GOD'S FAVOUR TO HIS PEOPLE. The Messiah was "the Lord's Christ," and was set to be "a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of God's people Israel" The temporal sovereignty might be lost, but a spiritual sovereignty should be established.

III. CHRIST'S EXALTATION, EMINENCE, AND GLORY. The twig was to be planted upon "a high mountain and eminent"—in "the mountain of the height of Israel." The Son of God was indeed "a Plant of renown." Unto him was given a Name chore every name, a kingdom ruling over all. He has become, and has remained for long centuries, the one great central Figure in the history of mankind. His kingdom is vaster and more glorious than the empire of Rome or of England—a kingdom over human hearts, over human society, over the moral life of man.

IV. CHRIST'S OFFICE AS THE SHELTER OF ALL THE NATIONS, THE PROVISION FOR ALL THEIR SPIRITUAL NEED. The goodly tree is to "bear fruit," and "under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing." This metaphorical and poetical language portrays alike the extent and beneficence of the Saviour's spiritual reign on earth and over the children of men. His influence ever grows. By his bounty myriads are provided with spiritual food. Beneath his loving care men of every race find peace and protection, safety and. life immortal.—T.

Ezekiel 17:24

The sovereignty of the Almighty Ruler.

The Bible abounds in paradox; and this for the simple reason that God does not judge and act as men judge add act. Man looketh upon the outward appearance, whereas God looks upon the heart. In many instances in Scripture history we find the younger preferred to the elder, the insignificant to the imposing. And God deals thus, not only with individuals, but with nations. He raiseth up one, and layeth low another. In the text this principle is apparent in his treatment of Israel. The captives should be restored. Earthly sovereignty might pass away from the house of David, but the Lord and King of men was intended to spring, and did spring, from a stock which seemed dry and dead. The great nations of the East, once so splendid and powerful, have, with their monarchies, passed away. But from Judah sprang the Son of man, who is appointed to reign over the race which he redeemed from sin unto God.

I. DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS TO BE RECOGNIZED IN THE ELEVATION AND DEPRESSION OF THE NATIONS. The changes which interest, amaze, and perplex the student of human history are not accidental; they are wrought by laws imposed by the Divine Creator and Ruler of all the earth.

II. DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS ESPECIALLY OBSERVABLE IN THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF HUMAN EXPECTATIONS AND THE OVERTURNING OF HUMAN PLANS. It is indeed a common proverb, "Nothing is certain but the unexpected." The fortunes of nations are beyond our prediction. Men admire the high tree; and it is brought low. They despise the low tree; and it is exalted. They predict and expect great things of the green tree; and it is dried up. They account the dry tree as fit only for burning; and lo! it flourishes.

III. DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS BY NO MEANS DIRECTED BY UNREASONING CAPRICE. The purposes of God may be hidden from us; but we may be assured that they are all inspired and controlled by infinite reason and flawless righteousness. Nothing occurs among the nations which the Omnipotent does not foresee and permit, which he will not overrule for his glory.

IV. DIVINE PROVIDENCE SO ORDERS THE CHANGES AMONG THE NATIONS THAT HONOUR MAY BE TAKEN FROM MAN AND MAY BE ATTRIBUTED TO GOD HIMSELF. He will be glorified by the work of his own hands; and will not give his honour to another. Universal history, when complete, shall be a full and manifest witness to the wisdom and to the benevolence of God.—T.

HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES

Ezekiel 17:1-21

The parable of the vine.

Sin of every sort has a baneful power of blinding the mind of the transgressor. The thief does not perceive the criminality of his act. He complains only of the law which is so severe. The drunkard does not perceive the culpability of his course. May he not order his life as he pleases? So is it in every case—even in the case of secret sin. The moral sense is blinded, infatuated, indurated. In all such instances some ingenious method is required to convince the judgment of its wrong doing. This can often be done by means of a parable. The persons addressed perceive the incongruity or the folly set forth in the picture, before they perceive that it applies to themselves—condemn their own conduct. This is Ezekiel's purpose in this chapter.

I. THE YOUNG SHOOT PLANTED. In this chapter we have both parable and interpretation; hence there is no scope for conjecture touching the meaning. The tender twig is said to have been plucked from a cedar in Lebanon. For what Lebanon was to Palestine in natural fertility and glory, Jerusalem was in political eminence. What the cedar is among trees, royal princes are among the population. The most promising young men of the royal house had been transplanted to Babylon (see Daniel 1:1, Daniel 1:2). Every endeavour was made to train them for usefulness and eminence.

II. A FERTILE SITUATION. It was planted in "a fruitful field"—placed "by great waters." All that could minister to the growth of the tree was provided. The outward advantages conferred upon Israel were exceptionally favourable. God had dealt with them as he had not dealt with any other nation. Even when the wave of invasion swept over them, he did not allow it at the first to overthrow them completely. The conqueror still made terms with them, which, if honourably maintained on their part, might have led to a recovery of independence and honour. The God of heaven was still their Friend, and it was in his heart to show them every possible favour. No enemy was so formidable as their own selves.

III. ROBUST GROWTH. "It grew and became a spreading vine." "It brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs." It had within itself abundance of life. Interpreted politically, this must mean that Israel had statesmen and warriors competent for the administration of her national affairs. She had men of intellectual gifts—far-sighted prophets—young men of courage and energy. As a nation, Israel had not sunk into the weakness and decrepitude of old age. It was not from any process of natural decay that calamity had overtaken her. The secret of her downfall must be sought in her moral delinquencies—in her want of loyalty to God.

IV. HER INDEBTEDNESS. For this fresh trial of her integrity and fruitfulness, the King of Israel was under obligation to the King of Babylon, here symbolized by the first eagle. Israel had acknowledged this obligation. It had become a matter of international treaty and compact. That Israel's nationality and existence had not, at once, been terminated by the Eastern conqueror was due solely to his clemency. The defeated kingdom had allotted to it another lease of existence, another chance of meriting renown. "It was planted in a good soil, by great waters," and the enjoyment of this privilege was a pure favour. Hence arose a new and distinct obligation—an obligation admitted and defined.

V. FLAGRANT TREACHERY. It is not consistent with the rules of literary composition to speak of a vine as guilty of treachery. But a teacher of religion is more concerned with the substance of his communication than with the form. If only Ezekiel could bring home to Israel's conscience the greatness of her sin he would easily forgive himself mere literary blemish. Earthly metaphors were incompetent to express all the truth. The violation of a positive covenant was a flagrant offence. We can conceive of none greater, especially as it was a covenant made in the name of God. And it was as foolish as it was flagrant. Did he suppose that Nebuchadnezzar would not resent the insult and avenge his outraged honour? Wrong doing is always bad policy, as inexpedient as immoral. If man cannot trust the oath and compact of a fellow man, all the bands of society would be loosed, and this globe would be a perpetual scene of anarchy, war, and misery. Mere might would always reign, and violence would be the only sceptre.

VI. DIVINE INDIGNATION. God himself appears upon the scene, and arms himself against the offender. Since the King of Israel had sworn, in God's name, to observe the covenant, the honour of God was involved. Therefore he will vindicate his own majesty. "As I live, saith the Lord God, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon iris own head." As the interests of a nation are greater than those of a private person, so the violation of a national compact is a sin of blackest hue. It was not simply his own pleasure and advantage Zedekiah was imperilling, but the interests and the lives of all his subjects. Therefore God himself was constrained to leave his secret habitation, and appear as the Avenger of crime.

VII. COMPLETE DESTRUCTION "All his fugitives with all his bands shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered toward all winds." A series of lesser chastisements had been employed, but had proved unavailing to subdue the pride of Israel. Loss, defeat, public humiliation, dismemberment of empire, had in succession been tried. But the medicine had not taken effect. A more drastic measure must now be employed. The kindness, patience, and long suffering of God are signally displayed; and it ought to impress our hearts most deeply to observe with what reluctance he unsheathes the avenging sword. But Justice must have her due. Our God cannot be trifled with, for he is Judge of all.—D.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

Springtime after winter.

After a storm comes a calm. It is a joy for God to turn from "his strange work" of vengeance to his ordinary path of benevolence. Although he is compelled to cut down the barren tree, he allows life to spring again from the root. His course of destruction is only temporary, and beyond it purposes of kindness bud and blossom. The cloud that hides his permanent design shall presently pass, and his Name shall be enblazoned in universal renown. As a word from him started into being the material globes, so a word from him shall "create new heavens and a new earth." The promised good is imaged in a prosperous tree.

I. A TENDER SHOOT PLANTED. "I will take the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it." This is but a variation of Isaiah's prediction that a rod should spring out of the stem of Jesse. and a branch spring from his root. As the cedar was the most renowned among their trees, so the dynasty of David was the most illustrious of their princely families. Of this ancestral tree should the Messiah spring. Commencements are always full of interest. They are pregnant with hope. The appearance of a new child awakens tire imagination; much more the opening of a new epoch, the founding of a new kingdom. In this case the interest is immeasurably enhanced because God himself is the immediate Actor. "I, saith Jehovah, I will do it."

II. THE GARDEN PLOT CHOSEN. "In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it." Mountains me not the best localities in which to plant trees. They flourish better if rooted in shady valleys or on alluvial plains. But, inasmuch as the reference here is to the cedars of Lebanon, it is seemly that a mountain locality should be chosen. Still more is this appropriate when we consider that the language is metaphorical, and carries a spiritual meaning. The mountain here points to Zion—the cradle of the Messianic kingdom. "Out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." We are not to separate between this predicted king and his matchless kingdom. The Church "is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." In Jerusalem this new empire was founded; from the literal Mount Zion the first heralds and ambassadors went forth. And the Church is a moral elevation. It stands above the common level of human life. It holds a conspicuous place in the earth. Still is it true that "the Lord is King in Zion."

III. ITS GROWTH AND BEAUTY. "It shall bring forth boughs.; and be a goodly cedar." From a small beginning it shall steadily develop and increase. Nature is prolific in growth, especially in favoured places; but this growth shall transcend nature—it shall awaken on all sides surprise and admiration. The fulfilment has been equal to the promise. From a feeble and despised beginning it has become already a splendid empire. It has sent its boughs into every land; and, like the drooping branches of the banyan tree, these have taken root and commenced a new life. It has sent its plastic influence into every department and province of human life. It is symmetrical in its proportions, graceful in outline, replete with beauty—"a goodly cedar."

IV. ITS FRUITFULNESS. It shall "bear fruit." It is said of the tree of life, seen in the Apocalyptic vision, that it bore twelve manner of "fruits, and yielded her fruit each month." Of this goodly tree it may with truth be said that it yields an infinite variety of fruits. It would be difficult to enumerate them. Knowledge, wisdom, pardon, hope, joy, peace, gentleness, meekness, temperance, forbearance, strength, love, conquest over sin, victory over death,—these are a few of the fruits gathered from this generous tree. As years roll on, the productiveness of this tree, instead of diminishing, increases. There is no human want that cannot here find a suitable supply.

V. ITS WORLDWIDE USEFULNESS. "Under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing." This description is parallel to the language of our Lord himself, when he likened his kingdom to a grain of mustard seed, which, having sprung into a tree, all the fowls of the heavens lodge in the branches thereof. Under the sceptre of King Jesus every useful thing is sheltered—childhood is protected, womanhood is honoured, good legislation spreads, commerce prospers, art and science grow, every beneficent institution is nurtured. Beneath the regis of this gracious Monarch human life is enhanced in value, lands are recovered from desolation, Music learns to tune her lyre, international concord abounds. The world of man is gradually revolutionized and beautified.

VI. THE CERTAINTY OF THE EVENT. "I the Lord have spoken and have done it." God's word is equivalent to a deed; his promise is equal to a performance. With him a volition is omnipotent; therefore he speaks of things that are not as though they were. At the Creation a single word was sufficient. "He spake, and it was done;" "By the breath of the Lord were the heavens made." So in the redemption of the world a word was enough. Heaven and earth may pass away, but his word—never! When the Son of God walked our earth, a word from him sufficed forevery occasion. If he spake, the tempest slept, the fig tree withered, disease vanished, the grave gave up its dead, vice was conquered. He smiles, and men live. He frowns, and the earth quakes. It' only God has spoken, we may wait with confidence and calmness for the performance.

VII. THE EVENT SHALL BRING UNIVERSAL HONOUR TO JEHOVAH. "All the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord" have done it. In other words, all kings and statesmen shall learn that I Jehovah am supreme—am King over all mankind. "By me kings rule;" "He putteth down one, and setteth up another." And has not this prophecy been fulfilled? Has not faith in idols ceased among most of the civilized nations? Has not our God obtained for himself great renown? There is a more intelligent belief in God today than ever there has been in the past; and this admiration of God grows and strengthens. The number of real atheists is small; they are the units. Men of intelligence and culture confess that there is, behind all the machinery of the visible world, an Unseen Power—the hand of the wonder-working God! Waves of scepticism may now and again pass over the surface of human thought; but these are soon spent; and when they are past, there is seen the solid rock of intelligent belief and reverent faith. His Name shall eventually shine resplendent as the noonday sun.—D.

HOMILIES BY W. JONES

Ezekiel 17:1-21

A parabolic setting forth of the relations of Judah to Babylon and Egypt.

"And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable," etc. Let us notice—

I. THE PARABLE AND ITS INTERPRETATION. It would be unwise to attempt to fix a definite meaning to every minute feature of the parable; and its chief features are interpreted for us by Ezekiel. The great eagle is intended to represent the King of Babylon, and, being a royal bird. it is fitly chosen for that purpose. Its "great wings and long pinions" indicate the wide extent of Nebuchadnezzar's dominions. And the fulness of its feathers and their divers colours denote the great number of his subjects and their various races and tongues. Lebanon sets forth Jerusalem, and is perhaps chosen for that purpose because it is the proper home of the cedar. The top or lofty crown, of the cedar (verse 4) represents the princes of the royal house (verse 12); the topmost of the young twigs, Jehoiachia, the youthful and rightful King of Judah; and the "land of traffic" into which they were carried by Nebuchadnezzar was Babylon. By "the seed of the land" (verse 5) is meant Zedekiah, the uncle of Jehoiachin, whom the Chaldean monarch set upon the throne at Jerusalem, and who was to be, not as a great and stately cedar, but as a vitae needing support, yet flourishing and fruitful. But another eagle, great, yet inferior to the former one, is introduced, and this represents Egypt. Babylon is the great eagle, Egypt is only a great eagle. Now, Zedekiah had taken an oath of fealty to Nebuchadnezzar, but notwithstanding that, he turned to Egypt, seeking an alliance in order that he might become independent of the Babylonian power. Such an alliance was actually formed; and by reason thereof Zedekiah was to be brought to ruin as a vine plucked up by the roots.

II. THE LESSONS WHICH IT ADDRESSED TO THE JEWS OF THE PROPHET'S DAY.

1. The folly of entering into alliance with Egypt. The great aim of this prophecy was to keep the Jews from forming such an alliance. It was communicated between the sixth month of the sixth year (Ezekiel 8:1) and the fifth month of the seventh year (Ezekiel 20:1) of Jehoiachin's captivity, or of Zedekiah's reign. The alliance with Egypt was not actually formed until the close of the eighth or the beginning of the ninth year of his reign (Josephus, 'Ant.,' Ezekiel 10:7, Ezekiel 10:3). To prevent the formation of that alliance, Ezekiel exhibits the folly thereof. Nebuchadnezzar had not treated the conquered Jews with rigour or severity. He had rather dealt with them with marked moderation. He did not attempt to destroy their nationality, but simply to keep them a subject kingdom (verse 14). They might have grown and prospered in the conditions and circumstances in which they were placed (verses 5, 6, 8). Prudence would have dictated the maintenance of their fealty to the Chaldean monarch. "Jerusalem might have remained the bead of the Babylonian province of Judah, and the temple o(Jehovah continued standing, had Zedekiah possessed wisdom and firmness enough to remain true to his allegiance to Babylon." And no insignificant measure of strength and prosperity might have been theirs. But what real benefit could they reasonably hope for by an alliance with Egypt, which would bring down upon them the hostility of the Chaldeans?

2. The sin of entering into alliance with Egypt. It involved base treachery towards Nebuchadnezzar. The prophet speaks of it as despising the oath and breaking the covenant which Zedekiah had made with that monarch. Speaking in the spirit of that alliance as an accomplished thing, he says, "He hath despised the oath by breaking the covenant; and behold, he had given his hand, and yet hath done all these things." Covenant breaking is classed by St. Paul amongst the very worst of sins (Romans 1:31); while one of the features in the inspired portrait of a saint is that "he sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not" (Psalms 15:4). How base, then, would be the treachery of Zedekiah, who had sworn to his own advantage, if he should violate that covenant! Moreover, an alliance with Egypt would involve profane disregard of God, in whose Name the oath had been made. "Nebuchadnezzar had made him swear by God" (2 Chronicles 36:13); and to break that oath would be to despise the Divine Being. "It is not only that every oath," as Schroder says, "and hence also this oath, is of a religions character, and that the despising of it necessarily compromised the God of Israel in the eyes of the heathen; but still further, considering the clemency of Nebuchadnezzar in making such a covenant, as Jehovah's instrument, Jehovah's goodness was turned into lasciviousness."

3. The ruinousness of entering into alliance with Egypt. As a consequence, the kingdom should be destroyed as a vine plucked up by the roots (verses 9, 10). Zedekiah himself should die in the mid-t of Babylon (verse 16). Egypt would prove powerless to help them in the time of their sore distress (verse 17). And God himself would go forth against them to avenge his oath that Zedekiah had despised, and his covenant that he had broken (verses 19-21). Yet, notwithstanding these earnest remonstrances and solemn warnings, and those of the Prophet Jeremiah also, Zedekiah entered into the forbidden alliance with Egypt, and despised the sacred oath which he had sworn unto Nebuchadnezzar. And yet "Zedekiah," to quote the words of Mr. Aldis Wright, "was a man not so much bad at heart as weak in will. He was one of those unfortunate characters, frequent in history, like our own Charles I. and Louis XVI. of France, who find themselves at the head of affairs during a great crisis, without having the strength of character to enable them to do what they know to be right, and whose infirmity becomes moral guilt. The princes of his court, as he himself pathetically admits in his interview with Jeremiah, described in Jeremiah 38:1-28; had him completely under their influence. 'Against them,' he complains, 'it is not the king that can do anything'" (Dr. Smith's 'Bible Dictionary,' art. "Zedekiah"). So he violated his oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, and entered into league with Egypt. And the dread consequences of such conduct announced in our text were terribly accomplished (cf. 2 Kings 25:1-21; Jeremiah 52:4-30).

III. THE UNIVERSAL AND PERMANENT TEACHING OF THE HISTORY.

1. The instability of earthly pomp and power, greatness, and graudeur. Mighty kings have often passed from the throne into exile or the dungeon. And kingdoms once strong and stately as a cedar of Lebanon have been completely rooted up or cut down. Such was the case with the kingdom of Judah. Abounding in vigour and prosperity in the days of David and of Solomon, it was much weakened by different causes and on various occasions, and at this time was fast hastening to its complete overthrow.

"Thus changing empires wane and wax,

Are founded, flourish, and decay."

2. The chief cause of the decline and fall of kings and kingdoms is moral. Sin had already made an end of the kingdom of Israel, and sent her people into exile. Sin had deprived the kingdom of Judah of most of its ancient prestige and power. And it and its king were ruined through the base treachery of that king towards Nebuchadnezzar, to which treachery he was incited by the princes of the court. "It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness;" "Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness;" "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." The luxurious self-indulgence of the rich, the cruel oppression of the poor, the greed of territory, the delight in war, the prevalence of vice,—these are the causes of the overthrow of nations.

3. The heinousness of the sin of disregarding solemn oaths and covenants. This is frequently done in international relations, as though it were quite justifiable. "Princes and politicians are apt to trifle with solemn oaths and treaties," says Scott," and to devise specious pretences for violating them but the Lord will not hold them guiltless who thus take his Name in vain; and few of them will be able to plead more plausibly for perfidy and prying than Zedekiah might have done, against whom these awful threatenings were denounced for breaking his covenant with the King of Babylon, and despising the oath sworn to him." "Think not to whom, but remember by whom, thou hast sworn an oath."

4. The mutations in the kingdoms of this world are all subordinated in the providence of God for the promotion of the progress of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. As soon as Jehovah by his prophet has announced the overthrow of Zedekiah and the destruction of the kingdom of Judah, he at once proceeds to announce the establishment of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus (Jeremiah 38:22-24). Before the setting up of that kingdom in our world all events were made to contribute to its inauguration. And since then all human history has been controlled by God for its growth and increase. And it is destined to advance and extend until it universally prevails. "The kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ: and he shall reign forever and ever."

"His Name shall endure forever;

His Name shall be continued as long as the sun:

And men shall be blessed in him;

All nations shall call him blessed."

W.J.

Ezekiel 17:5-10

Discontent and its disastrous development.

"He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field," etc. Explain the parable as far as is necessary to make application of the text clear.

I. THE CONDITION ALLOTTED TO US IN THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS GOOD FOR US, AND USUALLY AFFORDS SCOPE FOR PROGRESS. "He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field," etc. (Ezekiel 17:5, Ezekiel 17:8). Zedekiah King of Judah is meant by "the seed of the land." He was set upon the throne by Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, and took an oath of fealty to him. In so doing Nebuchadnezzar was the unconscious agent of Divine providence. And the condition in which Zedekiah was placed was a good one, and favourable to progress. But is there forevery one a condition allotted by God? Has he appointed the station and place even of the obscure and feeble? We argue that such is the case, because:

1. The providence of God is universal, including in its vast operations the great and the small, the high and the low. Every person and every event is comprehended in the great plan of the Supreme Ruler; Without a plan such as this his providential government could not possibly succeed. And it is both unscriptural and unphilosophical to look upon that government as dealing only with great things. It is unscriptural, as we see from Matthew 6:26 -80; Matthew 10:29-31. And it is unphilosophical. "Must not the smallest links be as necessary for maintaining the continuity as the greatest? Great and little belong to our littleness; but there is no great and little to God."

2. The sacred Scriptures reveal the care of God forevery person—not only for the great and noble, but for the obscure and lowly. He distributes to some men one talent, to others five; and he looks for the right employment of the one as well as of the five. In fact, the Most High manifests special interest in the weak and the poor and the unregarded (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; James 2:5).

3. This truth is confirmed by the material creation of God. That creation is one grand whole, to the completeness of which every portion is essential. The system of the universe is, "in fact, so perfect," says Bushnell, "that the loss or displacement of any member would fatally derange the general order. If there were any smallest star in heaven that had no place to fill, that oversight would beget a disturbance which no Leverrier could compute; because it would be a real and eternal, and not merely casual or apparent disorder. One grain more or less of sand would disturb or even fatally disorder the whole scheme of the heavenly motions. So nicely balanced, and so carefully hung, are the worlds, that even the grains of their dust are counted, and their places adjusted to a corresponding nicety. There is nothing included in the gross, or total sum, that could be dispensed with. The same is true in regard to forces that are apparently irregular. Every particle of air is moved by laws of as great precision as the laws of the heavenly bodies, or, indeed, by the same laws; keeping its appointed place, and serving its appointed use ….What now shall we say of man? Noblest of all creatures, and closest to God, as he certainly is, are we to say that his Creator has no definite thoughts concerning him, no place prepared for him to fill, no use for him to serve, which is the reason of his existence?" For these reasons we conclude that God has allotted a place and duty for each of us; and that place is best for us. It is that which infinite wisdom and kindness have appointed; and is therefore best suited to the end which God designs in us and for us. And our condition usually, like that of Zedekiah, admits of progress. From the smallest hamlet there is a way to the great metropolis. And the obscurest and meanest lot affords scope for fidelity and diligence and advancement.

II. MAN IS PRONE NOW TO BE CONTENT WITH THE POSITION ALLOTTED TO HIM BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE. Zedekiah was not content. The kingdom had actually made some progress under him. "It grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature," etc. (Matthew 10:6). Further progress was possible to him. At the very least, "he might have kept the fragments of the kingdom of Judah together, and maintained for some generations longer the worship of Jehovah." But he and the princes of his court were not content with this. Judah had formerly been an independent and prosperous and powerful kingdom: why should it now be subject to Babylon? Why should they not discover or devise means for recovering their national independence? Thus we are apt to fail as regards contentment. We look at the bright side of our neighbour's lot in life, and at the dark side of our own, and become dissatisfied and restless. We long for the gifts, the advantages, and the circumstances of others, and in so doing we depreciate the good which we actually possess. We crave freedom from some hindrance or infirmity; we are eager for larger prosperity or speedier progress; we chafe under our restraints, and are impatient for the realization of our wishes, and are heartily discontented with our present circumstances and condition. But, it may be asked, is man to sink into ignoble content, never wishing to increase his attainments, to advance in his character, or to improve his circumstances? Certainly not. Such a state of mind can hardly be called contentment. It is more akin to indolence and slothtfulness; and it leads to stagnation and ruin. The true contentment of man is the contentment of a being created for progress. But such progress should not be based upon discontent with our present condition, and unfaithfulness in our present duties. That man only is fit for a greater position who makes the best use of his present position. "A man proves himself fit to go higher who shows that he is faithful where he is. A man that will not do well in his present place, because he longs to be higher, is fit neither to be where he is nor yet above it; he is already too high, and should be put lower." "Hence it was," as Bushnell says, "that an apostle required his converts to abide each one in that calling wherein he was called; to fill his place till he opens a way, by filling it, to some other; the bondman to fill his house of bondage with love and duty, the labourer to labour, the woman to be a woman, the men to show themselves men, all to acknowledge God's hand in their lot, and seek to cooperate with that good design which he most assuredly cherishes for them."

III. WHEN MAN IS NOT CONTENT WITH THE CONDITION ALLOTTED TO HIM BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE, HE IS PRONE TO USE UNLAWFUL MEASURES TO ALTER THAT CONDITION. Thus did Zedekiah in seeking an alliance with Egypt. "There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers," etc. (Matthew 10:7). He had solemnly sworn fealty to Nebuchadnezzar for himself and the people under him. If there was anything in his circumstances or condition which he wished to be altered, he should have applied to Nebuchadnezzar, not to Pharaoh. Yet in his discontent, and incited by his princes, he sought an alliance with the King of Egypt, violated the sacred oath which he had sworn unto the King of Babylon, and rebelled against him. Supposing that rebellion had been successful, instead of the ruinous failure that it was, it would still have been a great wrong, because it would have been achieved by dishonourable and sinful means. Should discontent ever prompt us to use ways and instruments that are not upright and honourable for the altering of our condition, we may be quite sure that that discontent is wicked. When discontent becomes strong and active, we grow impatient of the evolution of the Divine purposes concerning us, and are tempted to break from our submission to the guidance and control of God's providence, and to take the ordering of our life into our own hands. And if we will take the helm of our life out of God's hands into our own, he will not compel us to yield to his guidance. Moreover, if we will employ questionable means to accomplish our desires when we cannot realize those desires otherwise, we may do so; but it will be to our own injury.

IV. THE USE OF UNLAWFUL MEASURES TO ALTER OUR CONDITION WILL ONLY RENDER THAT CONDITION WORSE. So it was with Zedekiah. "Thus saith the Lord God; Shall it prosper?" etc. (Matthew 10:9, Matthew 10:10). Zedekiah entered into alliance with Egypt, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who came and besieged Jerusalem, and after the people had suffered unutterable miseries by famine and pestilence, the city was taken, the temple was destroyed; Zedekiah, who attempted escape by flight, was captured and brought before the King of Babylon at Riblah, where his sons were slain before his eyes; then his eyes were put out, he was carried captive into Babylon, and died in prison in that land (Jeremiah 52:1-11). Such was the disastrous development of his discontent. And still, if unchecked, discontent leads to ruinous issues, robbing the life of peace and progress, and conducting it to darkness and failure. If we will take the management of our life out of God's hands into our own, we shall certainly come into difficulties and trials, and perhaps even into ruin. We have neither knowledge nor wisdom enough to order our lives aright. "The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps;" "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and not upon thine own understanding: in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." "Be not ambitious to do the highest work, the grandest work, but the work God gives you to do—be it the meanest service, be it what others call drudgery. You may make it beautiful by the spirit in which you perform it. Strive not after the 'many things,' but after the 'one thing needful;' and remember, every part assigned you by God is a good part—be it the servant's part or the mistress's, the teacher's part or the scholar's, the wife's part or the maid's,—the part of action or of suffering, of toil or of tears, of speech or of silence." "And be content with such things as ye have: for himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee."—W.J.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

The planting and progress of the kingdom of Christ.

"Thus saith the Lord God; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar," etc. Introduction. The delightful transition from stem threatenings to gracious promises; from the destruction of the enfeebled and subject kingdom of Zedekiah to the establishment of the mighty and majestic kingdom of the Messiah.

I. THE PLANTING OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST. "Thus saith the Lord God; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it," etc. (Ezekiel 17:22). Notice:

1. The Person by whom this kingdom was planted. The Lord Jehovah declares that he himself will plant the tender shoot out of which the new kingdom is to grow. He comes forward "as the rival of the King of Babylon," or in complete contrast to that monarch.

2. The Person in whom this kingdom was planted. The tender twig from the top of the cedar denotes the Lord Jesus, and the cedar denotes (as in Ezekiel 17:3) the house or family of David. The prophecy looks back to Isaiah 11:1, "There shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit." There is, perhaps, a reference also to Isaiah 53:2, "He grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground." "It is Messiah as an individual," says Fairbairn, "that is here indicated; first, as a tender scion of the house of David, in the direct and proper line, then grown into a stately tree; and, finally, risen to the highest place of honor and power and glory. But the Messiah, who was to appear on earth only for the sake of the Divine kingdom, could not be regarded as apart from the kingdom itself; its fortunes must stand inseparably bound up with his history, and partake along with it of evil or of good." This kingdom cannot exist apart from its glorious King. Christianity is inseparable from Christ.

3. The place in which this kingdom was planted. "I will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent: in the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it." The mountain thus described is Mount Zion, as will be seen by a comparison of this place with Ezekiel 20:40. Yet not because of its natural height is it thus spoken of, but because of its spiritual pre-eminence. So also in Psalms 48:2, "Beautiful for elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion," etc. And in Isaiah 2:3, "Out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." Mount Zion signifies the seat of the throne of the Divine King. "I have set my King upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psalms 2:6). And from Jerusalem the extension of this kingdom began.

II. THE PROGRESS OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST. "And it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar," etc.

1. Its progress will be productive of benefit to men. It will bring forth boughs and leaves for the shelter of men. "In the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell." The idea of finding shelter and safety in the Lord is frequently and variously expressed in the Scriptures. "How precious is thy loving kindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge under the shadow of thy wings;" "Thou hast been a Stronghold to the poor, a Stronghold to the needy in his distress, a Refuge from the storm," etc. (Isaiah 25:4); "And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind," etc. (Isaiah 32:2). There is assured safety under the government of this gracious and almighty King. "My people shall abide in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places." But this tree "shall bear fruit" also. The fruit is the saving power and grace which proceed from Christ. The subjects of his kingdom find sustenance as well as shelter in their King. He is made unto them "Wisdom from God, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption." He gives the living water, which springs up unto eternal life within those who receive him as their Saviour and King (John 4:13, John 4:14). And he is the Bread of life, whereof if any man eat he shall live forever (John 6:32-51). The provisions of Christianity are rich and abundant and free (cf. Isaiah 55:1, Isaiah 55:2; Matthew 22:1-10; Luke 14:15-24).

2. Its progress will be productive of benefit to all men. "Under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing." Men shall flock from all lands into this kingdom. Inspired poet and prophet predicted this in exultant song and thrilling eloquence (cf. Psalms 72:8-17; Isaiah 60:1-14). And the New Testament supplies most abundant and convincing evidence that the blessings of Christianity are for all. peoples. They are adequate for all, suited to all, offered to all, and free for all. Jesus Christ is the Saviour and King of the entire human race.

3. Its progress will produce the conviction of its Divine origin in all men. "And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree," etc. "The trees of the field" are the princes and potentates of this world. Expositors have endeavoured to fix a definite and special meaning to "the high tree,… the low tree,… the green tree, and … the dry tree." But it seems to us that the truth here stated is a general one. In the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms God himself works for the establishment and progress and universal triumph of the kingdom of his Divine Son. "He bringeth princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity."

"For neither from the east, nor from the west,

Nor yet from the south, cometh lifting up.

But God is the Judge;

He putteth down one, and lifteth up another."

And through all changes he is advancing the interests, and promoting the glories and universal supremacy of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. And men will come to see this; they shall know that the Lord Jehovah has been the great Worker in all the changes and revolutions by which the triumph of the kingdom of the Messiah has been brought about. And all this is guaranteed by God. "I the Lord have spoken and have done it." It is well said by Hengstenberg, in his 'Christology,' "These last words point out that what may seem to the outward senses a mere dream, yea, the wildest of dreams, becomes, by virtue of him who promises it, the greatest reality. It is God who gives the promise; it is God who fulfils it." And Matthew Henry: "With men saying and doing are two things, but they are not so with God. What he has spoken we may be sure that he will do, nor shall one iota or tittle of his Word fall to the ground, for he is not a man, that he should lie, or the son of man, that he should repent either of his threatenings or of his promises." Thus gloriously certain is the universal prevalence of his kingdom. And it is perpetual also. "He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end;" "His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him."—W.J.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 17:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/ezekiel-17.html. 1897.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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