1 And the word of Yahweh came unto me, saying,
2 Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel;
The riddle of the foreign eagles and the Israel cedar. The top twig Jehoiachin plucked off, and carried off by the Babylon-eagle; and Zedekiah set up in his place. The warning is against Zedekiah's treachery and folly in rebelling against Babylon and plotting with the Egypt-eagle.
Then again the bright ray at the end: using the same figure of tree and twig, the glorious Kingdom of Christ is promised. Even in their direst portends, the prophets never go far without promise of blessing.
Bro Growcott - Prophecies in the captivity
3 And say, Thus saith Adonai Yahweh; 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:
Babylon is the one eagle, Egypt the other. The vine, which was planted by the one and which turned to the other, is the kingdom of Judah, which, after being overthrown by Babylon, was re-established by that power as a vassal kingdom in the hands of Zedekiah who took an oath of fealty to Nebuchadnezzar, and was, at the date of the prophecy, looking towards Egypt in hope of being able, with its help, to throw off the yoke of the king of Babylon.
The point of the prophecy lies in the condemnation of the political perfidy of Zedekiah
4 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.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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.
9 Say thou, Thus saith Adonai Yahweh; 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.
To see the precise bearing of this prophecy, we must have in mind the position of Ezekiel and his fellow captives in relation to Jerusalem, and the scornful men who supported Zedekiah in his breach of faith towards Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel and others had been removed from the Holy Land, and settled in the country of Babylon, 'by the river of Chebar' at the time of the first deportation of captives by Nebuchadnezzar, years before the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah.
Those who remained behind gloried against those who had been taken away, as if those who had been taken captive must have been 'sinners above all men', and those who were left behind were favourites with God. The matter is referred to thus in Eze. 11:15,
'Son of man, thy brethren, even thy brethren, the men of thy kindred, and all the house of Israel wholly, are they unto whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, Get you far from the Lord; unto us is this land given in possession. The appearance of things seemed to favour the complacent view entertained by the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The Eliphazes always go by the appearances and shake their heads over the misfortunes of the Jobs. But the appearance is generally contrary to the fact. It was so in this case.
God expressly informed Jeremiah (Ch. 24:5) that those who had been removed to Babylon were the good part of the community, and had been sent to Babylon 'for their good', while those who had been left behind, in apparent prosperity in Jerusalem, were only comparable to the refuse of fruit which had been picked, and that they were left there for calamity which would be 'for their hurt'.
They would, in fact, be given over to destruction, while those who were in Babylon, against whom they harboured jealous and despiteful thoughts, would be divinely visited after a while, and brought back in blessing (see Jer. 29:444; Eze. 11:15-16).
The riddle of the two eagles had a bearing on this situation. It was an intimation that the intrigues in which Jerusalem, under the leadership of Zedekiah, was engaged, would end in calamity for them all (Eze. 11:20-21; 17), and that in fact, the scornful speeches in which that community were indulging would be silenced in desolation and death. But the noticeable feature in the prophecy is the side light it sheds upon all kinds of covenant obligations entered into by men as they are estimated from the divine point of view.
Zedekiah had 'given his hand' to be a faithful vassal to Babylon. Now, according to human principles it would be considered perfectly legitimate and even praiseworthy, to break away from a bargain of this sort. In this particular case, there would not be lacking apparently strong arguments in its favour.
Here was Babylon, a pagan power, imposing its yoke on Judah, a divine people; could it possibly be wrong to throw it off by any means available? Nay, must it not necessarily be a righteous thing to regain independence for Jerusalem on the first opportunity? Such is the way human courtiers would have whitewashed Zedekiah's procedure. But here is the divine view in a directly opposite direction.
...We must be blind if we do not see a lesson for ourselves here. It is the lesson of Psa. 15,
'who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord... He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not.'
Covenant keeping is one of the things God requires in us. He is a covenant- keeping God, and He expects all His children to be the same. They are not His children if they depart from their pledged word to escape an inconvenience. This is the way of the world; they tell the truth and stick to their promises as long as it is to their interest, but as soon as the current sets the other way, their words are flung to the wind. Their word is not their bond. This was Zedekiahs case, and nothing but wrath and ruin came of it, and it will not end differently in any case, though for a while the way of the wicked may prosper.
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.
11 Moreover the word of Yahweh came unto me, saying,
12 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;
13 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:
14 That the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping of his covenant it might stand.
15 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?
16 As I live, saith Adonai Yahweh, 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.
17 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:
18 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.
19 Therefore thus saith Adonai Yahweh; 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.
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 will plead with him there for his trespass that he hath trespassed against me.
21 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 Yahweh have spoken it.
22 Thus saith Adonai Yahweh; 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:
23 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.
24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I Yahweh 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 Yahweh have spoken and have done it.
Yahweh brought down the high tree. But he "has not cast off his people; neither will he forsake his inheritance" (Psal. xciv. 14).
He has only broken off a dry branch from the Hebrew Cedar Tree. The tree remains, though in a very sapless condition. But is anything too difficult for God? "I will", saith he, "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 a high mountain and eminent: 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.
And all the trees of the field shall know that I, Yahweh, have brought down the high tree (as it was under Solomon and his successors), have exalted the low tree (above the Babylonish desolation), have dried up the green tree (by the Roman power), and have made the dry tree to flourish (when Christ returns in power); I, Yahweh, have spoken and have done" (Ezek. xvii. 22-24).
When this is accomplished, there will be a state of things in the East such as has never yet existed there. For, "In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land; whom Yahweh of armies shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and ISRAEL MINE INHERITANCE." Then "shall Yahweh possess Judah his portion in the Holy Land, and shall choose Jerusalem again" (Isai. xix. 23-25; Zech. ii. 10-12).