Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentEZEKIEL 17
THE PARABLE OF THE TWO EAGLES
The prophecy of this chapter was directed against another false hope of the house of Israel, namely, the national conviction that God's promises to the house of David was an unconditional guarantee that the prosperity of Israel would continue forever, no matter what the moral and spiritual condition of the people was. "They thought that God could not fail toward Zedekiah without reversing his ancient promises to the house of David. Here, the prophet revealed that Zedekiah would receive the due reward of his evil deeds; and, that despite that, God would yet fulfill all of his glorious promises to the Chosen People, though, from human observation, all appeared to be lost, the kingdom of David would be exalted in latter times."F1
There would indeed be raised up one to sit upon the throne of David; but that spoke of Jesus' resurrection from the grave, and his ascension to the right hand of God, those glorious events which far more than adequately fulfilled all of God's promises to David (Acts 2:29-35).
Concerning the date of the chapter, the last preceding date mentioned by Ezekiel was in Ezek. 8:1, which was 592 B.C. and the next date mentioned by the prophet (Ezekiel 20:1) was eleven months later. "From Ezek. 17:20, it is clear that this prophecy was uttered a year or two earlier than the date given in Ezek. 20:1, say, about 590 B.C."F2
THE FIRST EAGLE
And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel; and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: A great eagle with great wings and long pinions, full of feathers, which had divers colors, came unto Lebanon, and took the top of the cedar: he cropped off the topmost of the young twigs thereof, and carried it unto a land of traffic; he set it in a city of merchants. He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful soil; he placed it beside many waters; he set it as a willow-tree. And it grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned toward him, and the roots thereof were under him: so it became a vine, and brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs.
The analogy here is called both a riddle and a parable. Indeed, it is both. How the clipping from the cedar became, first "as a willow tree," and later as a vine is not explained.
"The first eagle here represents the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar."F3 "The great eagle' mentioned here is from the Hebrew [~neser], which actually means the griffon vulture; and that is the basis for the Revised Standard Version rendition here."F4 It appears to us that a vulture is more in keeping with the personality of Nebuchadnezzar than an eagle!
The cedar of Lebanon
(Ezekiel 17:3). is a reference to the land of Palestine.
The topmost of the young twigs thereof
(Ezekiel 17:4). refers to the young king Jehoiachin.F5
The seed of the land which was planted
(Ezekiel 17:5). is a reference to Zedekiah.F6
Fruitful soil. many waters, etc...
(Ezekiel 17:5). These express the beauty and fertility of Palestine.
Land of traffic. city of merchants ..
(Ezekiel 17:5). These indicate Babylon, to which Jehoiachin and the first company of deportees were carried away.
And the roots thereof were under him
(Ezekiel 17:6). This means that Zedekiah's dependence upon Babylon would not change.F7 The earlier statement here that his branches turned toward him (the king of Babylon) indicates the same thing. As long as Zedekiah remained true to his sworn allegiance to the king of Babylon, all went well with the kingdom; but his rebellion brought on the swift and total destruction of Jerusalem.
THE OTHER EAGLE
The other eagle depicted here was, of course, another vulture, fitting emblem indeed of the king of Egypt; and the vine bending its roots toward Pharaoh and shooting forth its branches toward him are references to the treachery of Zedekiah against his suzerain overlord, the king of Babylon, as he attempted against all the advice of God's prophets, to form an effective alliance with Egypt.
God here stated the prophecy of the failure of such a maneuver by Zedekiah in the form of questions, the true meaning of which was summed up in Ezek. 17:10, "It shall wither in the beds where it grew." Beasley-Murray identified this second vulture as Pharaoh-Hophra (Jeremiah 44:30).F8
There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers: and, behold, this vine did bend its roots toward him, and shot forth its branches toward him, from the beds of its plantation, that he might water it. 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. Say thou, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Shall it prosper? shall he not pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof, that it may wither; that all its fresh springing leaves may wither? and not by a strong arm or much people can it be raised from the roots thereof. Yea, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither, when the east wind toucheth it? it shall wither in the beds where it grew.
(Ezekiel 17:10). The hot, east wind blowing across the desert here was the armies of Babylon, led by Nebuchadnezzar.F9
Moreover the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Say now to the rebellious house, Know ye not what these things mean? tell them, Behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and brought them to him to Babylon: and 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; that the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand. But he rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people. Shall he prosper? shall he escape that doeth such things? shall he break the covenant, and yet escape? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely in the place where the king dwelleth that made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he brake, even with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die.
GOD EXPLAINS THE MEANING
This heavenly explanation of what the story of the two vultures really meant is crystal clear, and there can be no further doubt of the destruction and death of Zedekiah, accompanied by the total ruin of Jerusalem.
He took of the seed royal, and made a covenant with him
(Ezekiel 17:13). The person mentioned here was, An uncle of Jehoiachin, named Mattaniah, whom Nebuchadnezzar made king of Judah under the name of Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17), and from whom he took an oath.F10
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 persons. For he hath despised the oath by breaking the covenant; and behold, he had given his hand, and yet hath done all these things; he shall not escape. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: As I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, I will even bring it upon his own head. And I will spread my net upon 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 trespass that he hath trespassed against me. And all his fugitives in all his bands shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered toward every wind: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it.
Mine oath he hath despised. and my covenant he hath broken ..
(Ezekiel 17:19). Here is the declaration that it was not merely his oath and covenant with the king of Babylon that Zedekiah had violated and despised, it was the oath and covenant of Jehovah himself. How was this?
"The indignant passion that breathes through this oracle is aroused by the fact that Zedekiah's perfidy toward Nebuchadnezzar was in reality perfidy toward Yahweh himself, whose name he had solemnly invoked when had taken the oath of allegiance to the king of Babylon."F11
This certainly constituted the ultimate aggravation of Zedekiah's shameful guilt. "When Nebuchadnezzar formed that vassal treaty with Zedekiah, he was required to swear loyalty to him in the name of Jehovah. The oath may have been confirmed by the change of names from Mattaniah to Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17). Mattaniah means `gift of God'; "and Zedekiah means `righteousness of Jehovah.'"F12
Up to this point in this chapter, the message has been simple and clear enough. God will indeed punish the treacherous Zedekiah, along with his evil advisers and the rebellious city; but the final three verses speak of something glorious yet in store for Israel.
Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: 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 upon a high and lofty mountain: in the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it; and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all birds of every wing; in the shade of the branches thereof shall they dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, Jehovah, 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, Jehovah, have spoken and have done it.
"This prophecy was fulfilled only in a Messianic sense."F13 "We have here a striking prediction of the kingdom of Messiah."F14 May noted that this scripture corresponds, "with the common designation of the Messiah as the Branch."F15
There is actually another parable here, using the same figures with different interpretations from the same figures in the first part of the chapter. "The `tender one' taken from the topmost twigs is the Messiah of the house of David (Jer. 23:5f; 33:15)."F16 Other Biblical examples of kingdoms sheltering beasts and birds are in Ezek. 31:6,12; Dan. 4:12,21; and Mark 4:32.
The promise here revealed that God would indeed honor all of the sacred promises to David, but that he would do so with entirely different personnel from that of the apostate Israel as represented by the unfaithful and treacherous Zedekiah.
All the trees of the field
(Ezekiel 17:24). These are the rulers of the world and the nations governed by them.F17 The world-wide acceptance of Christ in his Messianic rule is indicated by this, but not in the sense that the nations shall be incorporated into God's kingdom.
Footnotes for Ezekiel 17
1: Thomas H. Leal in The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (Funk and Wagnalls), p. 181.
2: J. B. Thompson, 143.
3: John T. Bunn in the Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1871), p. 279.
4: G. R. Beasley-Murray in the New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 673.
5: John T. Bunn in the Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1871), p. 279.
6: Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 301.
7: Thomas H. Leal in The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (Funk and Wagnalls), p. 182.
8: G. R. Beasley-Murray in the New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 673.
9: F. F. Bruce in the New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 877.
10: Thomas H. Leal in The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (Funk and Wagnalls), p. 184.
11: J. E. McFadyen, Peake's Commentary on the Bible (London: T.C. and E.C. Jack, Ltd., 1924),, p. 510.
12: F. F. Bruce in the New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 877.
13: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 503.
14: Albert Barnes' Commentary, p. 342.
15: H. G. May in the Interpreter's Bible, p. 152.
16: G. R. Beasley-Murray in the New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 673.
17: F. F. Bruce in the New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 877.