Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,1–10. The riddle of the great eagle
(1) Ezekiel 17:1-4 introduction. The great, broadwinged, speckled eagle came to Lebanon, and broke off the top of the cedar, carrying it to the merchant-land, Babylon—the captivity of Jehoiachin by Nebuchadnezzar.
(2) Ezekiel 17:5-6. He took also of the seed of the land and planted it beside the waters that it might be a spreading vine, and might turn its branches towards him who had planted it—the elevation to the throne by Nebuchadnezzar of Zedekiah as a feudatory monarch.
(3) Ezekiel 17:7-8. There was another great eagle, and the vine bent its roots and sent out its branches towards him—Zedekiah sought the alliance and protection of the king of Egypt.
(4) Ezekiel 17:9-10. Denunciation of the vine for its treachery. The east wind shall blow on it and it shall wither.
Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel;2. a riddle] As requiring interpretation; the passage is also called a “parable,” as containing a similitude or comparison. The eagle is Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Conquerors are often compared to the eagle, Deuteronomy 28:49; Isaiah 46:11; Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 48:40; Hosea 8:1; Lamentations 4:19.
And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; A great eagle with great wings, longwinged, full of feathers, which had divers colours, came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar:3. longwinged] With long pinions. The eagle was also of “divers colours” or speckled, with reference possibly to the very diverse nationalities included in the Babylonian empire.
came unto Lebanon] The figure of the eagle coming to Lebanon and cropping off the highest branch and top of the young twigs (Ezekiel 17:4) represents the carrying off of those highest in the land of Israel. Lebanon as opposed to Babylon is the mountain of Palestine; the cedar, the tree of Lebanon, appears to represent the royal Davidic house (Ezekiel 17:12; Ezekiel 17:22), and its highest branches king Jehoiachin and the princes who were carried away to Babylon (Ezekiel 17:12). On “land of traffic” (Ezekiel 17:4), cf. ch. Ezekiel 16:29.
He cropped off the top of his young twigs, and carried it into a land of traffick; he set it in a city of merchants.
He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field; he placed it by great waters, and set it as a willow tree.5. Nebuchadnezzar then took Mattaniah, son of Josiah, and made him king under the name of Zedekiah. The “seed of the land” is the native royal house.
he placed it] The unknown form so rendered might be a verb, cf. Hosea 11:3. LXX. omits; Ew. conjectures slip, or cutting. The comparison to the willow (the sense is not certain, the word not occurring again) is suggested by the place where it was planted, beside great waters. “Water” is the requisite of every tree in the East, and “great waters” are the favourable conditions granted to Zedekiah. “They that drink water” is a name for trees, ch. Ezekiel 31:16.
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.6. of low stature] This refers to the dependent nature of Zedekiah’s kingdom, as tributary to the lord superior. Cf. Isaiah 16:8 : Hosea 10:1.
whose branches turned] Or, that its branches might turn … and the roots thereof be.
There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers: and, behold, this vine did bend her roots toward him, and shot forth her branches toward him, that he might water it by the furrows of her plantation.7. The other great eagle, which however is not described with such imposing epithets as the former, is the king of Egypt. The vine bent its roots toward him—sought to draw nourishment from him.
by the furrows] Rather: from the beds of its plantation—i.e. where it was planted. The words are connected with “did bend her roots.” The comparative sense: to water it more than the beds, has less probability; though it would express the uneasiness of Zedekiah and his vain political dreams.
It was planted in a good soil by great waters, that it might bring forth branches, and that it might bear fruit, that it might be a goodly vine.8. The happy condition of Zedekiah’s monarchy under the king of Babylon, had he been content with his subordinate role as a feudatory prince.
Say thou, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Shall it prosper? shall he not pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof, that it wither? it shall wither in all the leaves of her spring, even without great power or many people to pluck it up by the roots thereof.9. Threat of punishment because of his treachery. The vine shall be pulled up and utterly withered—Zedekiah’s monarchy shall be taken away before the king of Babylon.
shall he not pull up] The subject is most naturally the king of Babylon, who planted it; the words might be used in the sense of the pass.: shall it not be pulled up?
it shall wither … her spring] As R.V., all her fresh springing leaves shall wither.
even without great power] It will be a light thing for the king of Babylon to pluck up this vine by the roots. Both the words and construction are peculiar; cf. Ezekiel 17:17.
Yea, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither, when the east wind toucheth it? it shall wither in the furrows where it grew.10. Destruction under another figure, that of the east wind, before which vegetation crumbles into dust. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 19:12; Hosea 13:15; Isaiah 27:8; Isaiah 40:7; Job 27:21.
Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Say now to the rebellious house, Know ye not what these things mean? tell them, Behold, the king of Babylon is come to Jerusalem, and hath taken the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and led them with him to Babylon;11–21. Interpretation of the riddle
12. the rebellious house] i.e. Israel, ch. Ezekiel 2:5.
king of Babylon is come] Better past tenses throughout: came … and took; so Ezekiel 17:13 and took. On the captivity of Jehoiachin, cf. 2 Kings 24:11 seq.; Jeremiah 24:1; Jeremiah 29:1.
And hath taken of the king's seed, and made a covenant with him, and hath taken an oath of him: he hath also taken the mighty of the land:13. the king’s seed] the royal seed, lit. seed of the kingdom. See on Ezekiel 17:5; cf. 2 Kings 24:17; Jeremiah 37:1.
an oath of him] Cf. 2 Chronicles 36:13.
he hath also taken] he took also. On “mighty of the land,” cf. Ezekiel 17:12. Probably the more influential classes are included, those who if left might be uneasy under the yoke and likely to stir up revolt; cf. 2 Kings 24:14-15; Jeremiah 29:1-2.
That the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping of his covenant it might stand.14. might be base] i.e. humble, and without pretension; cf. ch. Ezekiel 29:14. It was with this purpose that Nebuchadnezzar carried away the mighty of the land. He also hoped that the kingdom would “stand;” it was no doubt his policy to have a dependent, friendly state on the frontier of Egypt. The word “stand,” however, may refer to the covenant: to keep his covenant, that 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? or shall he break the covenant, and be delivered?15. Cf. 2 Kings 24:20. The king of Egypt referred to was Pharaoh Hophra, Jeremiah 44:30; Jeremiah 37:5 seq. The indignation of Ezekiel against Zedekiah arises greatly from his regarding the subjection of Jerusalem to Babylon as a thing determined by Jehovah. Hence the covenant broken by Zedekiah is not merely the covenant of the king of Babylon but that of Jehovah (Ezekiel 17:19). The prophet follows Jeremiah. He had possibly read the words of the latter spoken in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah, ch. Ezekiel 27:9-17, “serve the king of Babylon and live;” and probably he had heard his words to the same effect spoken in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, ch. 25. His advice to the exiles also was no doubt known to him, ch. Ezekiel 29:4.
As I live, saith the Lord GOD, 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.16. Zedekiah, being carried to Babylon, shall die there.
Neither shall Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company make for him in the war, by casting up mounts, and building forts, to cut off many persons:17. The aid of Pharaoh shall be in vain; cf. Jeremiah 37:5, and the pathetic references to the hopes and disappointments of the besieged during the last days of Jerusalem in Lamentations 4:17.
On “mounts,” &c., cf. ch. Ezekiel 4:2.
Seeing he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, when, lo, he had given his hand, and hath done all these things, he shall not escape.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; As I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense 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 plead with him there for his trespass that he hath trespassed against me.20. spread my net] Cf. ch. Ezekiel 12:13; Hosea 7:12.
plead with him] i.e. there subject him to the consequences of his treachery, bringing it thereby to his knowledge that he is suffering the penalty of it, cf. Ezekiel 20:35-36, Ezekiel 38:22; Jeremiah 2:35.
And all his fugitives with all his bands shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered toward all winds: and ye shall know that I the LORD have spoken it.21. all his fugitives] The form of word does not otherwise occur, but has been so understood by some ancient versions. Others as Targ., Syr., assume a transposition of two letters and render: his choice men; and so many moderns (cf. ch. Ezekiel 23:7; Daniel 11:15). This last reading is found in a number of MSS. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 5:2; Ezekiel 5:12, Ezekiel 6:10; Ezekiel 6:13, Ezekiel 12:12 seq.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent:22. I will also take] I will take—“I” emphatic. The figure refers to the house of David, cf. Ezekiel 17:2-3; Isaiah 53:2.
high mountain] This belongs partly to the figure of the cedar, but indicates also the conspicuousness to the eyes of the nations of this great cedar; Isaiah 2:2.
22–24. Promise of a new and universal Messianic kingdom in Israel
The attempt of the king of Babylon to set up a kingdom in Israel miscarried; he who set up the kingdom took it away. The shoot planted by him was smitten by the east wind and withered. But Jehovah himself will plant a shoot of the high cedar, the Davidic house, on a high mountain that all nations may see it (Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 11:10), even on the height of the mountain land of Israel, and it shall become a great cedar, so that all the fowls of heaven shall lodge in the branches of it. This kingdom shall be imposing and universal, and all peoples shall find protection under it. And then shall it be known that Jehovah is king among the nations, that kingdoms are in his hand, to set one up and pull another down; that he can make the green tree wither and the dry tree blossom and bear fruit.
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 fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell.23. mountain of the height] Cf. ch. Ezekiel 20:40, Ezekiel 40:2.
fowl of every wing] As fowls flock to a great tree so all peoples will put their trust in the shadow of this great monarchy in the land of Israel; ch. Ezekiel 31:6; Daniel 4:12; Matthew 13:32.
And all the trees of the field shall know that I the LORD 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 the LORD have spoken and have done it.24. As this kingdom is compared to a cedar other kingdoms are likewise called trees; cf. ch. Ezekiel 31:5; Ezekiel 31:8; Ezekiel 31:14; Ezekiel 31:16; Ezekiel 31:18. Kings and kingdoms are hardly distinguished, the kingdom is but the expression of the king. Then all shall know that this great result is the work of Jehovah, who worketh contrary to men’s expectations; who overturneth till he come whose right it is to rule. Cf. 1 Samuel 2:4-8; Luke 1:51-53.