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Ezekiel 17:1 The word of Yahweh came to me saying- Chapters 17-22 form an ABABAB structure. Chapters 17,19 and 21 speak of Babylon, and chapters 18,20 and 22 of Judah's sins which warranted the Babylonian involvement.

Ezekiel 17:2 Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable to the house of Israel- A "riddle" is Heb. 'that which is sharp'. This was now painless riddle, but as the crude language of Ez. 16 was intended to grab their attention and elicit repentance, so this parable was intended to be "sharp". And indeed it is so- that a parable, a story expressing a challenge, can be sharper than bald statements.

Ezekiel 17:3 And say, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: A great eagle with great wings and long feathers, full of feathers of various colours- Literally, the great eagle, a symbol of Babylon (Jer. 48:40; 49:22), perhaps alluding to their god Nisroch, the eagle. The great wings spoke of his armies, the long wings / feathers of the extent of his empire. The feathers of various colours refer to the nations confederate with her.

Came to Lebanon- Eusebius says that the temple at Jerusalem was called 'Lebanon' by the Jews, because its woodwork was of cedars of Lebanon.

And took off the top of the cedar- King Jeconiah, then only 18 years old, and many of the leaders with him (2 Kings 24:8, 12-16). They were taken as hostages to Babylon, whilst Zedekiah became the puppet king under covenant with Babylon.

Ezekiel 17:4 He cropped off the highest of its young twigs and carried it to a land of commerce where he set it in a city of merchants- Babylon was famous for its transport traffic on the Tigris and Euphrates; also, by its connection with the Persian Gulf, it traded even with India.

Ezekiel 17:5 He also took the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful soil. He placed it beside many waters and set it as a willow tree- We must remember that Ezekiel was teaching this parable to the depressed exiles as they sat by the rivers / waters of Babylon by the Chebar river. What seemed a hopeless, dead end situation was in fact fruitful soil for their spiritual growth and the development of God's purpose. The "seed of the land" were the royal family. The implication is that the kingly line would revive; "the prince" of Ez. 40-48 could have been literally in the line of David, and Zerubbabel was just such a candidate, although it seems he didn't live up to the potential. "Willow" can be "vine", which would connect with the parable of the destroyed, useless vine of Ez. 15. Those charred, useless branches were to be enabled by the spiritually fruitful soil of Babylon to miraculously revive. If we insist upon "willow", then we see the connection with Ps. 137:2, where the depressed captives sit by the waters of Babylon under willow trees. But they were to realize that their apparently hopeless situation was in fact upon spiritually fruitful soil. And we can perceive dead end situations in life the same way. Indeed it could be that the willow tree, symbol of their mourning in Babylon, became a vine.

Ezekiel 17:6 It grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned toward him, and its roots were under him: so it became a vine, and brought forth branches, and young shoots- It "became a vine" in that it was planted a willow tree; see on :6. This speaks of the power of the Spirit to transform the most depressive situations into spiritual fruitfulness. The "low stature" may refer to the humility there would be in the revived community. But it was deformed, just as Israel had been at their birth (see on Ez. 16:5)- its branches turned inwards, and the roots did not spread far out, accounting for its low height. This vine would be humble. Or we can read the "him" as referring to the eagle of Babylon. Zedekiah and the royal seed of the land (:5) were to be loyal to Babylon. His roots were under "him", Babylon.

Ezekiel 17:7 There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers. This vine bent its roots toward him, and shot forth its branches toward him, from the beds of its plantation, that he might water it- This is interpreted later in that chapter as Egypt (:15). The partially revived vine looked to Egypt for help to throw off the Babylonians; we see here how in their hearts, God's people always yearned toward Egypt. It could be that it was from exile in Babylon that the royal seed sought to reach out to Egypt and make a covenant with them to throw off the Babylonian yoke. They refused to accept Ezekiel's message, that exile there was required and was part of their spiritual reformation. The reference is to the Nile being made to water the fields by means of small canals or AV "furrows;" these waters are the figure of the auxiliary forces wherewith Egypt tried to help Judah.

Ezekiel 17:8 It was planted in a good soil by many waters that it might bring forth branches, and that it might bear fruit, that it might be a goodly vine- This laments how it was really possible that the exile in Babylon could have quite quickly brought forth spiritual fruit to God. The apparently bad situation was ideally suited to their becoming "a goodly vine". Fruit bearing is what God seeks of us; contrary to what we often think, He places us in situations which are optimal for our spiritual development. And yet by seeking a better material situation we can ruin all that potential.

Ezekiel 17:9 Say, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Shall it prosper?- Spiritually, the vine would not prosper, just as we will not spiritually prosper if we refuse to accept the situations God places us in for our spiritual good. Nehemiah uses this same word "prosper", as if he realized that the exiles had not prospered as intended, but he wished to put that right at the restoration (Neh. 1:11; 2:20). The plan of God didn't ultimately prosper at that time, but it will in the hands of the messiah Jesus, the fulfilment of the twig which becomes a cedar later in the chapter (Is. 53:10). Jeremiah's parable of the girdle demonstrated that the Jews would not "prosper" (Jer. 13:7,10) even when taken into captivity at the Euphrates (i.e. Babylon), using the same word as in the parable of the vine in Ez. 17:9. Babylon, according to Ez. 17:8, was potentially fruitful soil for their spiritual revival. But they would not "prosper", Jeremiah says, because of their deep seated love of idolatry and lack of true repentance. The parable of the vine has just stated that the burnt and charred vine tree is not "suitable for any work", using the same word translated here "prosper" (Ez. 15:4). Only Divine grace could make it prosper and be useful to Him. 


Shall he not pull up its roots, and cut off its fruit, that it may wither; that all its fresh springing leaves may wither? and not by a strong arm or many people can it be raised from its roots- Even a small Babylonian army could do the job of destroying Judah (Jer. 37:10). The withering of the fruit is emphasized because the whole idea was that the vine could have brought forth spiritual fruit in the early days of the exile, even whilst Zedekiah was still puppet king in Jerusalem. But that was all to be destroyed by the uprooting.

Ezekiel 17:10 Yes, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? Shall it not utterly wither, when the east wind touches it? It shall wither in the beds where it grew- For "prosper", see on :9. The focus is not so much upon the physical destruction, but upon the withering of the fruit and the tragedy of the loss of potential spiritual fruit. Babylon is likened to the east wind, coming from the north east to destroy that which had been planted.

Ezekiel 17:11 Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me, saying- The apparent gap between the riddle and the interpretation was to encourage them to work it out for themselves.

Ezekiel 17:12 Say now to the rebellious people, Don’t you know what these things mean? Tell them, Behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took its king, and its princes, and brought them to him to Babylon- The parable is not hard to interpret. They surely saw the point. But apparently they acted dumb, as if it was all a mystery; and so the obvious interpretation is given. This shows that apparent intellectual failure to understand God's word, or at least His moral demands, has a moral basis. They refused to understand the parable because they were a "rebellious people", not because of some purely intellectual block.

Ezekiel 17:13 He took of the seed royal, and made a covenant with him. He also brought him under an oath, and took away the mighty of the land- These were the very people who were with Ezekiel in captivity in Babylon. The parable was highly relevant to them. "The seed royal" were as it were hostages in Babylon.

Ezekiel 17:14 That the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand- The idea may be that it was God's plan that through keeping the covenant, the royal family and leadership would be humbled, and this would bring about God's favourite paradox- the brought down could then be exalted, "that... it might stand". See on :24. But they refused to repent, to be humbled, to be ashamed, and instead sought to wriggle out of the covenant by making agreements with Egypt to attack the Babylonian forces, liberate Jerusalem and perhaps later themselves from Babylon itself. Yet all these things had been explicitly promised to Judah; God would do all these things, if they repented. But instead of doing so, they sought by all manner of desperate means to bring about this liberation in the strength of Egypt. This is so typical of human behaviour. It is for us to learn the lesson.

Ezekiel 17:15 But he rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors to Egypt that they might give him horses and many people. Shall he prosper?- For "prosper", see on :9. We wonder whether it was yet public knowledge in Babylon that Zedekiah and the royal family had sent these ambassadors and had these plans. If not, Ezekiel's message would have been tantamount to a betrayal of serious secrets which would have directly led to the Babylonian invasion and fury with the royal family who were already with Ezekiel in captivity in Babylon. It would have been a very hard message for Ezekiel to deliver, and would have made him hated and at risk for his life amongst the captives.

Shall he who does such things escape? Shall he break the covenant, and yet escape?- This is the language of Judah breaking covenant with God, just used in Ez. 16:59. God had designed the covenant between Zedekiah and the Babylonians, for the spiritual growth and repentance of the Jews. To break it was therefore to effectively break covenant with God. Or we could instead perceive that covenant breaking with God is reflected in covenant breaking with men. Our attitude to God becomes our attitude to men.

Ezekiel 17:16 As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he broke, even with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die- The very opposite would happen to that which Zedekiah hoped. He is presented in Jeremiah as wanting to do the right thing before God, earnestly seeking God's word, yet fearing the opinion of his princes. But here Ezekiel sees to the essence; that fear of the opinion of others was effectively a despising of covenant relationship with God. 

Ezekiel 17:17 Neither shall Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company help him in the war, when they cast up mounds and build forts, to cut off many people- The "they" appears to be the Babylonians. No amount of human might could alter the purpose of God, which required repentant trust in Him rather than hope in the human strength of Egypt. The Egyptian forces were destroyed and had to return to Egypt (Jer. 37:7; 44:30).

Ezekiel 17:18 For he has despised the oath by breaking the covenant; and behold, he had given his hand, and yet has done all these things; he shall not escape- To give the hand was a metaphor for making a covenant agreement. Jeremiah appears to justify the way Judah had done this by saying that they did it "for bread" (Lam. 5:6), as if the famine sent by God to bring about their repentance was so severe that the alliances were not just for political and military protection, but for basic food. This was how low the one time beautiful prostitute of Ez. 16 had fallen; just "for bread" she made the agreements which meant that she had to have the idols of these people in the Jerusalem temple. Clearly these 'givings of the hand' were wrong, and yet Jeremiah laments as if they were somehow justifiable. But Ez. 17 clearly condemns them as immoral acts. For God as Judah's husband would surely provide her with bread. The lack of it was to bring her back to Him, but instead she responded by madly making more spiritually adulterous covenants. We too can respond to God's chastening hand either by total repentance and casting ourselves upon Him, or by madly seeking to get around His chastisement by yet further sin and unfaithfulness.

Ezekiel 17:19 Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh: As I live, surely My oath that he has despised, and My covenant that he has broken, I will even bring it on his own head- This is the language of Judah breaking covenant with God, just used in Ez. 16:59. God had designed the covenant between Zedekiah and the Babylonians, for the spiritual growth and repentance of the Jews. To break it was therefore to effectively break covenant with God. Or we could instead perceive that covenant breaking with God is reflected in covenant breaking with men. Our attitude to God becomes our attitude to men. Judah were light hearted in their attitude to everything; they "gave the hand" in :18 in order just to get "bread" (Lam. 5:6). They were in need, and instead of turning to God in repentance, they madly made promises of total loyalty to various peoples and their gods. It is this light hearted, not serious attitude, seeking for the immediate for the total sacrifice of principle, which dominates our age today.

Ezekiel 17:20 I will spread My net on him, and he shall be taken in My snare, and I will bring him to Babylon and will enter into judgment with him there for his sins that he has committed against Me- Zedekiah was to be taken by the net of the Babylonian armies. We marvel that he was not immediately slain by God. But there in Babylon God says in the AV that "I will plead with him there". In his blindness, God appealed to him. We marvel at God's continual effort to save this man; it is the loving initiative of the shepherd who searches for the lost with the attitude that He will search until He finds it. God doesn't give up with people, and neither should we.


Ezekiel 17:21 All his fugitives in all his bands shall fall by the sword, and those who remain shall be scattered toward every wind: and you shall know that I, Yahweh, have spoken it- The prophecy would be written down, and would be later seen to have fulfilled exactly. Zedekiah's accompanying soldiers were slain, but his life was preserved. This would surely have been reflected upon by him; it was part of God's special pleading with that man to realize His grace (see on :20).

Ezekiel 17:22 Thus says the Lord Yahweh: I will also take of the lofty top of the cedar, and will set it. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I will plant it on a high and lofty mountain- When Zedekiah was taken into captivity (Ez. 17:20), it was prophesied that “a tender one” (Messiah- Is. 11:1; 53:2) would be planted “upon an high mountain”, and grow into a tree in whose shadows all animals would live (Ez. 17:21,22). This is clearly the Messianic Kingdom (Lk. 13:19). This young twig at the time of the captivity [when Zedekiah was taken into captivity, :20] was surely Zerubbabel, and the “high mountain” upon which his Kingdom could have been established is surely the “high mountain” of Ez. 40:2 where the temple could have been built. Yet the prophecy had to suffer a massive deferment until its fulfilment in Christ. See on Zech. 6:12.

Ezekiel 17:23 In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it; and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar. Under it shall dwell all birds of every wing; in the shade of its branches shall they dwell- The parable opened by describing the various nations within the Babylonian empire as wings and feathers (:3). The potential was that the Babylonian empire would be converted to Yahweh by the repentant exiles, and would come to dwell under the shadow of the reestablished Messianic kingdom of God in Israel. So much potential was wasted by Zerubbabel and the exiles.

 Ez. 17:22,23 had spoken of how at the restoration, Babylon would fall and a “tender one” arise, who would grow into a tree under whose branches all the birds would find shelter. This is the very language of the Kingdom of Jesus in Mt. 13:32. The Kingdom of Babylon- also likened in Daniel to a tree with birds beneath it- could have been replaced with God’s Kingdom when it fell soon after the restoration of Judah. But no Messiah figure arose (see on Ez. 37:25- Zerubbabel could have fulfilled it), and so the prophecy had a changed fulfilment- the tree that was abased and then lifted up could have been Israel, but it was re-applied to the Lord Jesus, the ultimate “servant” of Yahweh. Ezekiel 19:13,14 help us perceive this more clearly- Judah in Babylon were as it were “planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground”. She had “no [Messianic] strong rod to be a sceptre to rule”, and this was “for a lamentation”. But the prophecy was fulfilled in another way- for the Lord Jesus was the root out of a dry ground who sprang up and did fulfil God’s intention (Is. 53:1).

Ezekiel 17:24 All the trees of the field shall know that I, Yahweh, have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish. I, Yahweh, have spoken and have done it- In the first context, the high tree was that of Babylon. The low tree was the deformed vine of :6 (see note there). This humiliated kingdom could have arisen to eclipse the Babylonian empire. As explained on Dan. 2, the vision of the image can be understood as a sequence of kings rather than kingdoms which could have been destroyed by the little stone of restored Judah under a Messianic ruler. But this was precluded by Judah's lack of repentance and spiritual vision, and so the prophecies were rescheduled and reapplied to the Lord Jesus. He was to be the root out of a dry ground who through the humiliation of the cross was to establish the Divine kingdom of :23.

It was God's plan that through keeping the covenant, the royal family and leadership would be humbled, and this would bring about God's favourite paradox- the brought down could then be exalted, "that... it might stand" (see on :14).

This lack of humility led to the prophecy being reapplied to the Lord Jesus. And His mother seems to have perceived this. The humility of Mary was the pattern for the Lord’s self-humiliation in the cross. Here above all we see the influence of Mary upon Jesus, an influence that would lead Him to and through the cross. Her idea of putting down the high and exalting the lowly (Lk. 1:52) is picking up Ez. 17:24: “I have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish”. And yet these very words of Ezekiel were quoted by the Lord in His time of dying. With reverence, we can follow where we are being led in our exploration and knowing of the mind of Christ. His dear mum had gone around the house singing her Magnificat. He realized that she felt the lowly who had been exalted [and perhaps in some unrecorded incident before her conception she had been recently humbled?]. And Jesus had realized her quotation of Ez. 17:24. And He had perceived His linkage and connection with her, and how she saw all that was true of Him as in some way true of her, and vice versa. And now, in His final crisis, He takes comfort from the fact that like His dear mother, He the one who was now humbled, would be exalted. How many other trains of thought have been sparked in men’s minds by the childhood instructions of their mothers…?

The Lord’s words as He carried the cross "If they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" is packed with allusion to O.T. Scriptures (Ez. 17:24; Jer. 11:16,19; Ps. 1; Jer. 17:5-8). His preceding words to the women were likewise; his quotation from Hos. 10:8 is set in a context so appropriate to the situation He was in. If they did these things to Him, the green and healthy shoot, what would be done to the dry dead wood of Israel…? His concern was always with the sufferings others would experience rather than being lost in His own introspection. Without getting too deeply involved in the actual exposition, a simple lesson emerges: He was not so overpowered by the terrible physicality of His human situation that He ceased to be spiritually aware. His mind was full of the word, not just out of place quotations flooding His subconscious, but real awareness of the spirit of the Father's word and its' intensely personal relevance to Himself. In this He sets a matchless example.