Reading through the Bible together
This is the third straight chapter that has been given to us a parable. Most of the times in Scripture parables are very obvious in their meaning. Very few parables have hidden meanings. When Jesus was on the earth preaching and teaching, He often spoke in parables, most of which everyone understood. But there were a couple of times when Jesus gave a parable, the disciples came to Him and said, "Lord, tell us, what does this parable mean?"
The same thing is true about OT parables. Most of the time in the OT a parable is very obvious in what it means. In chapter 15, we saw the parable of the unfruitful vine applied to Israel. God had called the nation of Israel to bear spiritual fruit in His name and for His honor. But Israel did not bear fruit. They were an unfruitful vine. Then in chapter 16, we saw the parable of the unfaithful wife. Israel is that unfaithful wife. God had set His heart on Israel. The people were His bride. He loved them and cared for them. And yet, they were not faithful in their commitment to God. They committed spiritual adultery. These parables are easy to understand.
When we come to chapter 17, it is not at all obvious what this parable means. That’s why in verse 2 it is spoken of not only as a parable, it is spoken of as a riddle. It is a parable in the sense that it has spiritual meaning, but it is a riddle in the sense that it has to be explained.
In Ezekiel’s illustration a giant eagle broke off the top branches of a young cedar tree and carried them into a different land. In 597 BC Babylon captured Jehoiachin, the Judean king, along with the best of the people of Jerusalem, and carried them to Babylon. Back in the land of the cedar tree, the eagle planted a native seed that grew into a vine. It was low-spreading, but obedient to the eagle. Back in Jerusalem, Babylon appointed another member of the Judean royal family, Zedekiah, to be king instead of Jehoiachin. Zedekiah was allowed only a limited independence, and had to remain submissive to Babylon.
Then another giant eagle, equally as impressive as the first, appeared on the scene, whereupon the low-spreading vine transferred its allegiance to this new eagle. Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon by entering into an anti-Babylon military treaty with Egypt. The first eagle (Babylon) will therefore pull up the vine and cut off its branches, leaving it to wither and die. Babylon will destroy Jerusalem and take Zedekiah into humiliating exile where he will die.
Ezekiel’s interpretation of the illustration gives special emphasis to Zedekiah’s treachery in breaking his treaty with Babylon. Zedekiah had sworn an oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar in the name of Yahweh, but he broke that oath in seeking Egypt’s aid. In punishment he was taken captive to Babylon. Ezekiel then shows that God, not an eagle, will take a branch from the top of the cedar tree. He will plant it on the top of a mountain, where it will grow into a huge and magnificent tree, bringing benefits to birds and animals of all kinds. From the Davidic line of kings God will take one, the Messiah, and through Him establish a kingdom that will bring blessings to the whole world. High trees will be made low and green trees will dry up, but God’s tree will flourish. Nations such as Babylon and Egypt will perish, but God’s kingdom will be exalted. This is the message for us today.
Mohanraj Israel, D.Min
Dean, School of Religion
Spicer Memorial College, Pune India