Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
Lamentation for the Princes of Israel
Israel, the lioness, brought up young lions in the midst of lions. But when they showed their leonine nature, they were taken captive by the nations and led away, one to Egypt, the other to Babylon (Ezekiel 19:1-9). The mother herself, once a vine planted by the water with vigorous branches, is torn from the soil, so that her strong tendrils wither, and is transplanted into a dry land. Fire, emanating from a rod of the branches, has devoured the fruit of the vine, so that not a cane is left to form a ruler's sceptre (Ezekiel 19:10-14). - This lamentation, which bewails the overthrow of the royal house and the banishment of Israel into exile, forms a finale to the preceding prophecies of the overthrow of Judah, and was well adapted to annihilate every hope that things might not come to the worst after all.
Moreover take thou up a lamentation for the princes of Israel,Capture and Exile of the Princes
Ezekiel 19:1. And do thou raise a lamentation for the princes of Israel, Ezekiel 19:2. And say, Why did thy mother, a lioness, lie down among lionesses; bring up her whelps among young lions? Ezekiel 19:3. And she brought up one of her whelps: it became a young lion, and he learned to take prey; he devoured man. Ezekiel 19:4. And nations heard of him; he was caught in their pit, and they brought him with nose-rings into the land of Egypt. Ezekiel 19:5. And when she saw that her hope was exhausted, overthrown, she took one of her whelps, made it a young lion. Ezekiel 19:6. And he walked among lionesses, he became a young lion, and learned to take prey. He devoured man. Ezekiel 19:7. He knew its widows, and laid waste their cities; and the land and its fulness became waste, at the voice of his roaring. Ezekiel 19:8. Then nations round about from the provinces set up against him, and spread over him their net: he was caught in their pit. Ezekiel 19:9. And they put him in the cage with nose-rings, and brought him to the king of Babylon: brought him into a fortress, that his voice might not be heard any more on the mountains of Israel.
The princes of Israel, to whom the lamentation applies, are the king (נשׂיא, as in Ezekiel 12:10), two of whom are so clearly pointed out in Ezekiel 19:4 and Ezekiel 19:9, that there is no mistaking Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin. This fact alone is sufficient to protect the plural נשׂיאי against the arbitrary alteration into the singular נשׂיא, proposed by Houbigant and Hitzig, after the reading of the lxx. The lamentation is not addressed to one particular prince, either Zedekiah (Hitzig) or Jehoiachin (Ros., Maurer), but to Israel as a nation; and the mother (Ezekiel 19:2) is the national community, the theocracy, out of which the kings were born, as is indisputably evident from Ezekiel 19:10. The words from מה to רבצה form one sentence. It yields no good sense to separate מה אמּך from רבצה, whether we adopt the rendering, "what is thy mother?" or take מה with לביּא and render it, "how is thy mother a lioness?" unless, indeed, we supply the arbitrary clause "now, in comparison with what she was before," or change the interrogative into a preterite: "how has thy mother become a lioness?" The lionesses, among which Israel lay down, are the other kingdoms, the Gentile nations. The words have no connection with Genesis 49:9, where Judah is depicted as a warlike lion. The figure is a different one here. It is not so much the strength and courage of the lion as its wildness and ferocity that are the points of resemblance in the passage before us. The mother brings up her young ones among young lions, so that they learn to take prey and devour men. גּוּר is the lion's whelp, catulus; כּפיר, the young lion, which is old enough to go out in search of prey. ותּעל is a Hiphil, in the tropical sense, to cause to spring up, or grow up, i.e., to bring up. The thought is the following: Why has Israel entered into fellowship with the heathen nations? Why, then, has it put itself upon a level with the heathen nations, and adopted the rapacious and tyrannical nature of the powers of the world? The question "why then?" when taken with what follows, involves the reproof that Israel has struck out a course opposed to its divine calling, and will now have to taste the bitter fruits of this assumption of heathen ways. The heathen nations have taken captive its king, and led him away into heathen lands. ישׁמעוּ אליו, they heard of him (אליו for עליו). The fate of Jehoahaz, to which Ezekiel 19:4 refers, is related in 2 Kings 23:31. - Ezekiel 19:5-7 refer to Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim, and not to Zedekiah, as Hitzig imagines. For the fact that Jehoiachin went out of his own accord to the king of Babylon (2 Kings 24:12), is not at variance with the figure contained in Ezekiel 19:8, according to which he was taken (as a lion) in a net. He simply gave himself up to the king of Babylon because he was unable to escape from the besieged city. Moreover, Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin are simply mentioned as examples, because they both fell into the hands of the world-powers, and their fate showed clearly enough "what the end must inevitably be, when Israelitish kings became ambitious of being lions, like the kings of the nations of the world" (Kliefoth). Jehoiakim was not so suitable an example as the others, because he died in Jerusalem. נוחלה, which has been explained in different ways, we agree with Ewald in regarding as the Niphal of יחל equals חוּל, in the sense of feeling vexed, being exhausted or deceived, like the Syriac ̀ewaḥel, viribus defecit, desperavit. For even in Genesis 8:12, נוחל simply means to wait; and this is inapplicable here, as waiting is not equivalent to waiting in vain. The change from חוּל to יחל is established by Judges 3:25, where חוּל or חיל occurs in the sense of יחל. In Judges 3:7, the figurative language passes into a literal description of the ungodly course pursued by the king. He knew, i.e., dishonoured, its (Israel's, the nation's) widows. The Targum reads וירע here instead of וידע, and renders it accordingly, "he destroyed its palaces;" and Ewald has adopted the same rendering. But רעע, to break, or smash in pieces, e.g., a vessel (Psalm 2:9), is never used for the destruction of buildings; and אלמנות does not mean palaces (ארמנות), but windows. There is nothing in the use of the word in Isaiah 13:22 to support the meaning "palaces," because the palaces are simply called ̀almânōth (widows) there, with a sarcastic side glance at their desolate and widowed condition. Other conjectures are still more inadmissible. The thought is as follows: Jehoiachin went much further than Jehoahaz. He not only devoured men, but laid hands on defenceless widows, and laid the cities waste to such an extent that the land with its inhabitants became perfectly desolate through his rapacity. The description is no doubt equally applicable to his father Jehoiakim, in whose footsteps Jehoiachin walked, since Jehoiakim is described in Jeremiah 22:13. as a grievous despot and tyrant. In Ezekiel 19:8 the object רשׁתּם also belongs to יתּנוּ: they set up and spread out their net. The plural מצדות is used in a general and indefinite manner: in lofty castles, mountain-fortresses, i.e., in one of them (cf. Judges 12:7).
And say, What is thy mother? A lioness: she lay down among lions, she nourished her whelps among young lions.
And she brought up one of her whelps: it became a young lion, and it learned to catch the prey; it devoured men.
The nations also heard of him; he was taken in their pit, and they brought him with chains unto the land of Egypt.
Now when she saw that she had waited, and her hope was lost, then she took another of her whelps, and made him a young lion.
And he went up and down among the lions, he became a young lion, and learned to catch the prey, and devoured men.
And he knew their desolate palaces, and he laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the fulness thereof, by the noise of his roaring.
Then the nations set against him on every side from the provinces, and spread their net over him: he was taken in their pit.
And they put him in ward in chains, and brought him to the king of Babylon: they brought him into holds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel.
Thy mother is like a vine in thy blood, planted by the waters: she was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters.Destruction of the Kingdom, and Banishment of the People
Ezekiel 19:10. Thy mother was like a vine, planted by the water in thy repose; it became a fruitful and rich in tendrils from many waters. Ezekiel 19:11. And it had strong shoots for rulers' sceptres; and its growth ascended among the clouds, and was visible in its height in the multitude of its branches. Ezekiel 19:12. Then it was torn up in fury, cast to the ground, and the east wind dried up its fruit; its strong shoots were broken off, and withered; fire devoured them. Ezekiel 19:13. And now it is planted in the desert, in a dry and thirsty land. Ezekiel 19:14. There goeth out fire from the shoot of its branches, devoureth its fruit, so that there is no more a strong shoot upon it, a sceptre for ruling. - A lamentation it is, and it will be for lamentation. - From the lamentable fate of the princes transported to Egypt and Babylon, the ode passes to a description of the fate, which the lion-like rapacity of the princes is preparing for the kingdom and people. Israel resembled a vine planted by the water. The difficult word בּדמך we agree with Hvernick and Kliefoth in tracing to the verb דּמה, to rest (Jeremiah 14:17), and regard it as synonymous with בּדמי in Isaiah 38:10 : "in thy repose," i.e., in the time of peaceful, undisturbed prosperity. For neither of the other renderings, "in thy blood" and "in thy likeness," yields a suitable meaning. The latter explanation, which originated with Raschi and Kimchi, is precluded by the fact that Ezekiel always uses the word דּמוּת to express the idea of resemblance. - For the figure of the vine, compare Psalm 80:9. This vine sent out strong shoots for rulers' sceptres; that is to say, it brought forth powerful kings, and grew up to a great height, even into the clouds. עבתים signifies "cloud," lit., thicket of clouds, not only here, but in Ezekiel 31:3, Ezekiel 31:10,Ezekiel 31:14. The rendering "branches" or "thicket of foliage" is not suitable in any of these passages. The form of the word is not to be taken as that of a new plural of עבות, the plural of עב, which occurs in 2 Samuel 23:4 and Psalm 77:18; but is the plural of עבות, an interlacing or thicket of foliage, and is simply transferred to the interlacing or piling up of the clouds. The clause 'ויּרא וגו, and it appeared, was seen, or became visible, simply serves to depict still further the glorious and vigorous growth, and needs no such alteration as Hitzig proposes. This picture is followed in Ezekiel 19:12., without any particle of transition, by a description of the destruction of this vine. It was torn up in fury by the wrath of God, cast down to the ground, so that its fruit withered (compare the similar figures in Ezekiel 17:10). מטּה עזּהּ is used collectively, as equivalent to מטּות עז (Ezekiel 19:11); and the suffix in אכלתהוּ is written in the singular on account of this collective use of מטּה. The uprooting ends in the transplanting of the vine into a waste, dry, unwatered land, - in other words, in the transplanting of the people, Israel, into exile. The dry land is Babylon, so described as being a barren soil in which the kingdom of God could not flourish. According to Ezekiel 19:14, this catastrophe is occasioned by the princes. The fire, which devours the fruit of the vine so that it cannot send out any more branches, emanates ממּטּה בדּיה, from the shoot of its branches, i.e., from its branches, which are so prolific in shoots. מטּה is the shoot which grew into rulers' sceptres, i.e., the royal family of the nation. The reference is to Zedekiah, whose treacherous breach of covenant (Ezekiel 17:15) led to the overthrow of the kingdom and of the earthly monarchy. The picture from Ezekiel 19:12 onwards is prophetic. The tearing up of the vine, and its transplantation into a dry land, had already commenced with the carrying away of Jeconiah; but it was not completed till the destruction of Jerusalem and the carrying away of Zedekiah, which were still in the future at the time when these words were uttered. - The clause 'קינה היא does not contain a concluding historical notice, as Hהvernick supposes, but simply the finale of the lamentation, indicating the credibility of the prediction which it contains. ותּהי is prophetic, like the perfects from ותּתּשׁ in Ezekiel 19:12 onwards; and the meaning is this: A lamentation forms the substance of the whole chapter; and it will lead to lamentation, when it is fulfilled.
And she had strong rods for the sceptres of them that bare rule, and her stature was exalted among the thick branches, and she appeared in her height with the multitude of her branches.
But she was plucked up in fury, she was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up her fruit: her strong rods were broken and withered; the fire consumed them.
And now she is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground.
And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit, so that she hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule. This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation.