Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Eze 17:1-24. Parable of the Two Great Eagles, and the Cropping of the Cedar of Lebanon. Judah Is to Be Judged for Revolting from Babylon, Which Had Set Up Zedekiah instead of Jehoiachin, to Egypt; God Himself, as the Rival of the Babylonian King, Is to Plant the Gospel Cedar of Messiah.
The date of the prophecy is between the sixth month of Zedekiah's sixth year of reign and the fifth month of the seventh year after the carrying away of Jehoiachin, that is, five years before the destruction of Jerusalem [Henderson].
Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel;
2. riddle—a continued allegory, expressed enigmatically, requiring more than common acumen and serious thought. The Hebrew is derived from a root, "sharp," that is, calculated to stimulate attention and whet the intellect. Distinct from "fable," in that it teaches not fiction, but fact. Not like the ordinary riddle, designed to puzzle, but to instruct. The "riddle" is here identical with the "parable," only that the former refers to the obscurity, the latter to the likeness of the figure to the thing compared.
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. eagle—the king of birds. The literal Hebrew is, "the great eagle." The symbol of the Assyrian supreme god, Nisroch; so applied to "the great king" of Babylon, his vicegerent on earth (Jer 48:40; 49:22). His "wings" are his great forces. Such symbols were familiar to the Jews, who saw them portrayed on the great buildings of Babylon; such as are now seen in the Assyrian remains.
long-winged—implying the wide extent of his empire.
full of feathers—when they have been renewed after moulting; and so in the full freshness of renovated youth (Ps 103:5; Isa 40:31). Answering to the many peoples which, as tributaries, constituted the strength of Babylon.
divers colours—the golden eagle, marked with star-like spots, supposed to be the largest of eagles [Bochart]. Answering to the variety of languages, habits, and costumes of the peoples subject to Babylon.
came unto Lebanon—continuing the metaphor: as the eagle frequents mountains, not cities. The temple at Jerusalem was called "Lebanon" by the Jews [Eusebius], because its woodwork was wholly of cedars of Lebanon. "The mountain of the Lord's house" (Isa 2:2). Jerusalem, however, is chiefly meant, the chief seat of civil honor, as Lebanon was of external elevation.
took the highest branch—King Jeconiah, then but eighteen years old, and many of the chiefs and people with him (2Ki 24:8, 12-16). The Hebrew for "highest branch" is, properly, the fleece-like tuft at the top of the tree. (So in Eze 31:3-14). The cedar, as a tall tree, is the symbol of kingly elevation (compare Da 4:10-12).
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.
4. land of traffic … merchants—Babylon (2Ki 24:15, 16), famous for its transport traffic on the Tigris and Euphrates. Also, by its connection with the Persian Gulf, it carried on much commerce with India.
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. seed of the land—not a foreign production, but one native in the region; a son of the soil, not a foreigner: Zedekiah, uncle of Jehoiachin, of David's family.
in a fruitful field—literally, a "field of seed"; that is, fit for propagating and continuing the seed of the royal family.
as a willow—derived from a Hebrew root, "to overflow," from its fondness for water (Isa 44:4). Judea was "a land of brooks of water and fountains" (De 8:7-9; compare Joh 3:23).
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. vine of low stature—not now, as before, a stately "cedar"; the kingdom of Judah was to be prosperous, but not elevated.
branches turned toward him—expressing the fealty of Zedekiah as a vassal looking up to Nebuchadnezzar, to whom Judah owed its peace and very existence as a separate state. The "branches" mean his sons and the other princes and nobles.
The roots … under him—The stability of Judah depended on Babylon. The repetition "branches" and "springs" is in order to mark the ingratitude of Zedekiah, who, not content with moderate prosperity, revolted from him to whom he had sworn allegiance.
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. another … eagle—the king of Egypt (Eze 17:15). The "long-winged" of Eze 17:3 is omitted, as Egypt had not such a wide empire and large armies as Babylon.
vine … bend … roots towards him—literally, "thirsted after him with its roots"; expressing the longings after Egypt in the Jewish heart. Zedekiah sought the alliance of Egypt, as though by it he could throw off his dependence on Babylon (2Ki 24:7, 20; 2Ch 36:13; Jer 37:5, 7).
water it by … furrows of … plantation—that is, in the garden beds (Judea) wherein (the vine) it was planted. Rather, "by" or "out of the furrows." It refers to the waters of Egypt, the Nile being made to water the fields by means of small canals or "furrows"; these waters are the figure of the auxiliary forces wherewith Egypt tried to help Judah. See the same figure, Isa 8:7. But see on Eze 17:10, "furrows where it grew."
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. It was planted in a good soil—It was not want of the necessaries of life, nor oppression on the port of Nebuchadnezzar, which caused Zedekiah to revolt: it was gratuitous ambition, pride, and ingratitude.
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. Shall it prosper?—Could it be that gratuitous treason should prosper? God will not allow it. "It," that is, the vine.
he … pull up—that is, the first eagle, or Nebuchadnezzar.
in all … leaves of her spring—that is, all its springing (sprouting) leaves.
without great power or many—It shall not need all the forces of Babylon to destroy it; a small division of the army will suffice because God will deliver it into Nebuchadnezzar's hand (Jer 37:10).
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. being planted—that is, "though planted."
east wind—The east wind was noxious to vegetation in Palestine; a fit emblem of Babylon, which came from the northeast.
wither in … furrows where it grew—Zedekiah was taken at Jericho, on Jewish soil (Jer 52:8). "It shall wither, although it has furrows from which it expects continual waterings" [Calvin], (Eze 19:12; Ho 13:15).
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;
12. Know ye not—He upbraided them with moral, leading to intellectual, stupidity.
hath taken the king—Jeconiah or Jehoiachin (2Ki 24:11, 12-16).
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—Zedekiah, Jeconiah's uncle.
taken … oath of him—swearing fealty as a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar (2Ch 36:13).
also taken the mighty—as hostages for the fulfilment of the covenant; whom, therefore, Zedekiah exposed to death by his treason.
That the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping of his covenant it might stand.
14. That the kingdom might be base—that is, low as to national elevation by being Nebuchadnezzar's dependent; but, at the same time, safe and prosperous, if faithful to the "oath." Nebuchadnezzar dealt sincerely and openly in proposing conditions, and these moderate ones; therefore Zedekiah's treachery was the baser and was a counterpart to their treachery towards God.
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. he rebelled—God permitted this because of His wrath against Jerusalem (2Ki 24:20).
horses—in which Egypt abounded and which were forbidden to Israel to seek from Egypt, or indeed to "multiply" at all (De 17:16; Isa 31:1, 3; compare Isa 36:9). Diodorus Siculus [1.45] says that the whole region from Thebes to Memphis was filled with royal stalls, so that twenty thousand chariots with two horses in each could be furnished for war.
Shall he prosper?—The third time this question is asked, with an indignant denial understood (Eze 17:9, 10). Even the heathen believed that breakers of an oath would not "escape" punishment.
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. in the place where the king dwelleth—righteous retribution. He brought on himself in the worst form the evil which, in a mild form, he had sought to deliver himself from by perjured treachery, namely, vassalage (Eze 12:13; Jer 32:5; 34:3; 52:11).
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. Pharaoh—Pharaoh-hophra (Jer 37:7; 44:30), the successor of Necho (2Ki 23:29).
Neither … make for him—literally, "effect (anything) with him," that is, be of any avail to Zedekiah. Pharaoh did not act in concert with him, for he was himself compelled to retire to Egypt.
by casting up mounts, &c.—So far from Pharaoh doing so for Jerusalem, this was what Nebuchadnezzar did against it (Jer 52:4). Calvin Maurer, &c., refer it to Nebuchadnezzar, "when Nebuchadnezzar shall cast up mounts."
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.
18. given his hand—in ratification of the oath (2Ki 10:15; Ezr 10:19), and also in token of subjection to Nebuchadnezzar (1Ch 29:24, Margin; 2Ch 30:8, Margin; La 5:6).
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.
19. mine oath—The "covenant" being sworn in God's name was really His covenant; a new instance in relation to man of the treacherous spirit which had been so often betrayed in relation to God. God Himself must therefore avenge the violation of His covenant "on the head" of the perjurer (compare Ps 7:16).
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. my net—(Eze 12:13; 32:3). God entraps him as he had tried to entrap others (Ps 7:15). This was spoken at least upwards of three years before the fall of Jerusalem (compare Eze 8:1, with Eze 20:1).
plead with him—by judgments on him (Eze 20. 36).
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 soldiers that accompany him in his flight.
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. When the state of Israel shall seem past recovery, Messiah, Jehovah Himself, will unexpectedly appear on the scene as Redeemer of His people (Isa 63:5).
I … also—God opposes Himself to Nebuchadnezzar: "He took of the seed of the land and planted it (Eze 17:3, 5), so will I, but with better success than he had. The branch he plucked (Zedekiah) and planted, flourished but for a time, to perish at last; I will plant a scion of the same tree, the house of David, to whom the kingdom belongs by an everlasting covenant, and it shall be the shelter of the whole world, and shall be for ever."
branch—the peculiar title of Messiah (Zec 3:8; 6:12; Isa 11:1; 4:2; Jer 23:5; 33:15).
a tender one—Zerubbabel never reigned as a universal (Eze 17:23) king, nor could the great things mentioned here be said of him, except as a type of Messiah. Messiah alone can be meant: originally "a tender plant and root out of a dry ground" (Isa 53:2); the beginning of His kingdom being humble, His reputed parents of lowly rank, though King David's lineal representatives; yet, even then, God here calls Him, in respect to His everlasting purpose, "the highest … of the high" (Ps 89:27).
I … will plant it upon an high mountain—Zion; destined to be the moral center and eminence of grace and glory shining forth to the world, out-topping all mundane elevation. The kingdom, typically begun at the return from Babylon, and the rebuilding of the temple, fully began with Christ's appearing, and shall have its highest manifestation at His reappearing to reign on Zion, and thence over the whole earth (Ps 2:6, 8; Isa 2:2, 3; Jer 3:17).
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. under it … all fowl—the Gospel "mustard tree," small at first, but at length receiving all under its covert (Mt 13:32); the antithesis to Antichrist, symbolized by Assyria, of which the same is said (Eze 31:6), and Babylon (Da 4:12). Antichrist assumes in mimicry the universal power really belonging to Christ.
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. I … brought down the high—the very attribute given to God by the virgin mother of Him, under whom this was to be accomplished.
high … low tree—that is, princes elevated … depressed. All the empires of the world, represented by Babylon, once flourishing ("green"), shall be brought low before the once depressed ("dry"), but then exalted, kingdom of Messiah and His people, the head of whom shall be Israel (Da 2:44).