THE PARABLE OF THE TWO GREAT EAGLES, AND THE CROPPING OF THE CEDAR OF LEBANON.
Eze_17:1. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying,
Eze_17:2. Son of man, put forth a riddle, and utter a parable (or similitude) to the house of Israel.
Eze_17:3. And say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, The great eagle, large of wing, with long pinions and full plumage, having many colours, came to Lebanon, and pluckt the topmost branch (The term
is peculiar to Ezekiel, but from the use of it here, and in Eze_31:3-14, there can be no doubt that it means the summit, or top most branch the woolly part of the tree at the farthest extremity.) of the cedar.
Eze_17:4. The top of his young twigs he cropt off, and brought it to a land of traffic; in a city of merchants he set it.
Eze_17:5. And he took of the seed of the land, and committed it to a fruitful field; took (it) beside great waters, set it (as) a willow. (We have here also another word peculiar to Ezekiel,
, which is usually rendered willow, and in that sense has the support of Jewish authority. Indeed, this is the only Rabbinical meaning of the term. If any modification whatever were allowable, it might be supposed, with Hitzig, to denote generally a water-plant, a shrub or tree naturally growing in or be side waters. It was probably applied as a designation of the willow on this account, being derived from
, to flood or overflow. Set where it was, the cedar-twig became a willow for growth, and a spreading luxuriant vine for fruitfulness.)
Eze_17:6. And it grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature, for turning (i.e. of a kind naturally fitted for turning from its need of support) its branches toward him (viz. the eagle that planted it), and its roots were under him: and it became a vine, and brought forth branches, and shot out twigs.
Eze_17:7. And there was another great eagle, large of wing and with full plumage; and, behold, this vine bent her roots toward him, and sent forth her branches to him, that he might water it out of the garden bed in which it was planted.
Eze_17:8. Upon a good field, beside copious streams was it planted, that it might bring forth branches, and might bear fruit, so as to become a goodly vine.
Eze_17:9. Say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Shall it flourish? will he not pull up its roots, and cut off its fruit that it may wither? All its sprouting leaves shall wither, and without great strength or many people to lift it up by the roots.
Eze_17:10. And, behold, though planted, shall it nourish? Shall it not utterly wither as soon as the east wind touches it? Upon the plot where it grew shall it wither.
11. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying,
Eze_17:12. Say now to the rebellious house, Know ye not what these things be? say, Behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took her king and her princes, and brought them along with him to Babylon.
Eze_17:13. And he took of the royal seed, and made a covenant with it, and brought it under an oath; and the mighty of the land he also took.
Eze_17:14. That the kingdom might be in a low condition, that it might not lift itself up, that it might keep his covenant and establish it.
Eze_17:15. But he rebelled against him, in sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people. Shall he flourish? Shall he escape who does this? And shall he break the covenant and escape?
Eze_17:16. As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely in the place of the king that made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he broke, in the midst of Babylon shall he die.
Eze_17:17. Neither shall Pharaoh, with mighty power and a great host, accomplish for him by war, by casting up mounds, and by building towers, to cut off many souls.
Eze_17:18. And he despised the oath, to break the covenant, and lo! he gave his hand; yea, he did all these things; he shall not escape.
Eze_17:19. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, As I live, surely my oath which he despised, and my covenant which he broke, that will I bring upon his own head.
Eze_17:20. And I will spread my net upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon, and I will reckon with him there for his treacherous dealing toward me.
Eze_17:21. And all his fugitives with all his bands shall fall by the sword, and those that are left of them shall be scattered to every wind; and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken.
22. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, And I take (namely, when those things have come to pass) of the topmost branch of the high cedar, and set—from the top of its shoots, I pluck off a slender one, and I plant it upon a mountain high and elevated.
Eze_17:23. Upon the mountain-height of Israel I will plant it; and it shall raise aloft its branch, and bring forth fruit, and become a glorious cedar: and under it shall dwell all birds of every kind (literally, every bird of every wing, as at Gen_7:14), in the shade of its branches shall they dwell.
Eze_17:24. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, Jehovah, bring down the high tree, exalt the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree to nourish: I, Jehovah, speak and do.
THE prophet is here commanded to put forth to the house of Israel a parable or similitude; which is also denominated a riddle, because it was to be fraught with a meaning that should by no means discover itself at first sight, and, even with the aid of an accompanying explanation, would require the most careful thought and consideration to be understood in its profound and wide-reaching import. A great eagle first presents itself in vision to the eyes of the prophet (literally, the great eagle, emblem of the well-known, pre-eminently great king), large and long of wing, very full and variegated in its plumage the noblest of its kind. He sees it directing its course to Lebanon, and when there, plucking off the topmost shoot of the cedar, and the summit of its young branches, which it thence carried away to a land of traffic, and placed in a city of merchants. He sees the same eagle taking of the seed of the land—not a foreign production, but one native to the region—and planting it in a fruitful field, in the immediate vicinity of great waters, where it possessed every natural advantage for growth and fruitfulness. Yet still only within certain limits. Its growth was not to be like that of the strong and lofty cedar, but such merely as belonged to the low and spreading vine,—and a vine whose branches were instinctively turned toward the eagle that planted it, and whose roots shot under him, as if doing fealty to the power to which it owed its separate existence and its flourishing condition.
But another eagle now comes on the field of vision, also of great bulk, with large wings and many feathers, though not of such long pinions and richly-coloured plumage as the former. Yet the vine, as if it descried an attractive beauty in this bird, which the other had not, presently begins to bend its roots, and turn its branches toward him, that he might water it out of the garden-bed in which it was planted. It was ambitious of getting a larger growth, and reaching a greater altitude than it was likely to attain as it stood; and, with this view, sought the agency of a new power to supply it more abundantly with the means of refreshment. An extravagant and vain imagination! For it was already planted in a good soil, on the banks of a copious river, and with everything necessary to render it healthful and flourishing. Therefore, going against nature in this new attempt after enlargement, so far from succeeding according to its wishes, it should be made to feel the withering blast of the east wind, nay, should be plucked up by the roots, and left to perish and die; and that not as a matter of arduous achievement, but without great power, or multitudes of people, as a thing of easy accomplishment.
Such is the parabolical delineation contained in the first section of the chapter, Eze_17:1-10; and in the next, Eze_17:11-21, the interpretation is given. The first eagle, is the king of Babylon, who had come to Jerusalem, the seat of civil honour and dignity in Canaan, as Lebanon was of external elevation and forest grandeur. Like the eagle, in plucking off and carrying away the tops of the highest branch, and of the young shoots of the cedar, so the king of Babylon had taken away the head of the royal house, Jehoiachin, to Babylon, a place renowned from the earliest times for its merchandise; and, along with him, many of the younger members of the seed-royal, the princes of Jerusalem. But while he thus humbled the house of David, he did not entirely overthrow it; he still conceded to it a certain degree of honour; and with one of the king’s seed, his uncle Zedekiah, he made a covenant, and set him on the throne. The kingdom was now unquestionably in a comparatively enfeebled and dependent state,—no longer like a tall and stately cedar, king of the forest; but rather as a low and creeping vine, incapable of rising high, or standing altogether alone. Yet still it was capable of such strength and prosperity as is characteristic of the vine,—if only they had been content with the measure of good allotted them by God,—if they had but seen the overruling Providence of his hand in their depressed condition, and had bowed with chastened hearts to his will. In that case they had resembled a vine-tree planted beside flowing streams, and in a fertile soil. But they acted in an entirely different spirit. Fretting under the thought of their dependence on Babylon, they eagerly grasped at the proffered alliance of the king of Egypt,—represented by the other eagle, less strong in pinion and rich in plumage; and so provoked their former master to visit them with a severe and merciless retaliation. By acting thus, the house of David gave, in its earthly relations, a new manifestation of that treacherous and deceitful spirit which it had already so often and so perversely displayed in regard to the covenant of God. Indeed, as the covenant with Babylon had been sworn to in the Lord’s name, it also was virtually his covenant (Eze_17:19); and he must himself revenge the breach of it, and prevent the infatuated policy from succeeding. “And I will spread my net upon him,”—it is now future time, for the prophecy dates upwards of three years at least before the final downfall of Jerusalem; (The time lies between the two dates, that of the 6th month of the 6th year of Zedekiah’s reign, or Jehoiachin’s captivity, in chap. 8, and that of the 5th month of the 7th year, in chap. 20.) “and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon, and will reckon with him there for his treacherous dealing toward me. And all his fugitives, with all his bands, shall fall by the sword, and those that are left of them shall be scattered to every wind; and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken.”
In the charge that is here brought against the house of David, the radical error evidently stood, first, in their not humbling themselves sufficiently on account of the chastisement they had received, in being subjected to the yoke of Babylon; and then, in what was the natural consequence of this, their resorting to deceitful courses and wretched contrivances of their own to recover their lost standing. Destitute of the true fear of God, they looked upon the disasters that had taken place as the result merely of untoward circumstances, and as such, capable of being retrieved by some more skilful manœuvre, or more propitious turn of the world’s affairs. God, therefore, must keep a jealous and watchful eye upon their movements, and utterly defeat their crooked policy. He must constrain them in deep prostration and abasement of spirit to feel, that as his hand had brought them down, so his hand alone could lift them up again; and that never should the lost glory return to the house of David, or to the people of God through it, till they had effectually learned to cease from man, and had come to put their trust wholly in the grace and power of Jehovah.
But it is from this point of depression that the new and better turn of affairs takes its rise. When the execution of deserved judgment should have accomplished the utter prostration of the house of David, and scattered all their false confidences and hopes to the wind,—when matters should have been reduced so low, that to the eye of man everything would seem finally and irretrievably gone, the Lord himself re-appears upon the scene, to rectify the evil, and in the concluding portion (Eze_17:22-24) gives the assurance of a restoration to the greatest honour and prosperity. “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, And I take (or, I too take) of the topmost branch of the high cedar, and set—from the top of its shoots I pluck off a slender one, and I plant it upon a mountain high and elevated. Upon the mountain- height of Israel I will plant it; and it shall raise aloft its branch and bring forth fruit, and become a glorious cedar: and under it shall dwell all birds of every kind, in the shade of its branches shall they dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, Jehovah, bring down the high tree, exalt the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree to flourish: I, Jehovah, speak and do.”
Here the Lord presents himself as the rival of the king of Babylon, and the doer of a work precisely opposite in its character and effects to that which the earthly potentate had accomplished. Nebuchadnezzar had been allowed for a time to wield a magisterial power and authority regarding the house of David, which, in the nature of things, could yield nothing more than an inferior and temporary good, and in reality issued in a complete prostration. Now, however, the Lord manifests himself for the gracious purpose of reviving the house of David from the state of apparent hopelessness to which it had been reduced, and even of raising it to a degree of power and glory hitherto unknown. But in doing this he would not infuse new vigour into that particular branch of it which Nebuchadnezzar was seeking to protect and foster, the native seed he had planted in a fruitful field—Zedekiah; this was doomed to certain perdition. He would neither revive that, nor take an altogether new seed, but would pluck a slender twig from the summit of the same lofty cedar, which had previously been pluckt by the king of Babylon; that is, a scion of the house of David, to which the kingdom belonged by an everlasting covenant, and of no new or secondary formation, but in the old, direct, and proper line. This slender twig Jehovah would plant upon Mount Zion—by pre-eminence the high and elevated mountain, because morally the grand centre of grace and glory to the world. (“There can be no doubt,” says Calvin, “that God means Mount Zion, which in itself was a little hill. But Isaiah gives us the reason of its being lofty, when he shows it should surpass every elevation in the world in dignity and excellence. The supereminence, indeed, was not to be patent to the eye, for the prophet declares, at the same time, it should consist in this, that the law should go forth from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem. Accordingly we see Mount Zion, though little among the hills, yet raised aloft above the highest mountains; because from it shone forth the glory of God, which has been seen even to the farthest bounds of the earth.”) And there it springs and rises aloft, and becomes a tree so magnificent in stature, and so ample in foliage, that it commands the admiration and homage of the world; every tree of the field owns its superiority, every fowl of heaven seeks its shelter; in other words, all rival powers, and all intelligent creatures, unite in regarding this as the wonderful impersonation of Divine power and glory in the earth.
It is vain to seek the realization of this prophetic image anywhere but in the Messiah. In no other individual do the lines meet of the prophet’s delineation; but in him they meet with the greatest possible exactness—and in him, as the whole tenor of the representation might have led us to expect, primarily as an individual, though not without respect also to his character as the head and representative of the Divine kingdom. The earlier features in the description had each pointed to individuals,—to Jehoiachin, Zedekiah, and through them also to Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh,—but to these as individuals, in whose outward state and condition were reflected those of the whole commonwealth of Israel. So, certainly, it is Messiah as an individual that is here indicated; first, as a tender scion of the house of David, in the direct and proper line, then grown into a stately tree, and, finally, risen to the highest place of honour, and power, and glory. But the Messiah, who was to appear on earth only for the sake of the Divine kingdom, could not be regarded as apart from the kingdom itself; its fortunes must stand inseparably bound up with his history, and partake along with it of evil or of good. So that here, as in our Lord’s own parable of the mustard-seed, the smallness of the promised beginning tells at once of the lowliness of his appearance, and the depressed condition of the kingdom at the time; and the surpassing greatness afterwards to be reached, while it announces his personal elevation to the highest rank of honour and glory in the heavenly places, makes promise also of the world-wide extension of his kingdom, and the prolific fulness of its blessings to all who might seek shelter in its bosom. But when it is said so emphatically, that God himself should do all this, and that all the trees of the field (the other nations or powers of the earth) should thereby be constrained to own that he exalts the humble and abases the high, what could this import? Certainly, that the whole should be effected in a way different from that of nature, and superior to it,—not by fleshly weapons, or any means and appliances of a worldly kind, but by the peculiar operation of the power of God, securing for his own kingdom a gradual and growing ascendancy over everything earthly and human. Whatever glory should come from the accomplishment of the Divine plan, must redound to God, not to man; the pride of all flesh should be stained by it.
Such is the vision here presented to us of God’s future purposes in respect to his kingdom among men—how truly the vision of a Divine seer! What a sublime reach and elevation of soul must have been attained by him who could appear thus at home with the far distant future, and, with such clear foresight and firm assurance, could tell of things that were not as if they were! It is greatness of spirit, too, the more surprising, that it was possessed by one whose outward condition seemed so deeply marred with depression and gloom. Himself but a poor exile on the banks of the Chebar, with the cry perpetually sounding in his ears of shattered fortunes and ruined expectations; yet, like the royal bird, of which he here serves himself as an image, he wings his flight aloft, and in the bright radiance of heaven’s own light looks afar upon the field of Providence, and brings up to view the very shape and aspect of its yet undeveloped movements. If we look to the unerring skill and precision with which he drew so long beforehand the pattern of what was to come, we might have supposed him a mere automaton, unconsciously obeying the impulse of a higher hand; but if we regard the manner in which he does it, never did a poet’s fancy seem to move with more natural and unconstrained freedom in framing its conceptions, or selecting the most appropriate imagery for their expression. And then how divinely strong the faith which could pierce through the dark and portentous cloud of evils that then overhung the spiritual firmament, which could still hold its confidence in the Divine faithfulness, and, instead of being staggered with the signs of approaching desolation, could descry in these but the necessary condition and presage of ultimate good? What a noble superiority does it show him to have reached above that weakness of nature, which is ever apt in times of trouble to raise doubt and despondency in our minds! May such an example of the higher gifts of grace not pass before us in vain! And especially, may the conviction settle itself in our minds, as an abiding ground of consolation, that the word of God is unfailingly true, even in its most peculiar announcements, and that none who trust in it ever can be disappointed!