The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said to me: 2“Son of man, offer a riddle for the people of Israel. 3Tell them this is what the LORD God says:
‘A great eagle with long wings and feathers,
and with rich colors in his feathers,
came to Lebanon and grasped the top of a cedar,
4breaking off its highest branch.
Then he carried the branch to a land known for its trade,
and put it down in a city of merchants.
5Then he took seed from the land
and planted it in rich soil beside abundant water,
and set it up like a twig of willow.
6It sprouted and became a low spreading vine;
its branches spread out,
but its roots remained where it sprouted.
So, it became a vine and put out branches and leaves.
7Then another eagle came
with wide wings and thick plumage.
And look! The vine reached out toward this eagle,
shooting its branches out toward him
so that he might water it.
Then, from the bed where it was planted
8it was transplanted to good soil beside plenty of water
so that its branches grow and produce fruit
and become a rich vine.’
9Tell them this is what the LORD God says:
‘Will it prosper? Will it be pulled up by its roots
and make its fruit withered and inedible,
and its leaves that were fresh and sprouting fade away?
It won’t require a strong arm or powerful army
to pull it up by its roots.
10Will it thrive when it is transplanted?
Won’t it wither in its bed when the east wind strikes it?'”
11Then the word of the LORD came to me, 12and told me to speak to the rebellious family and ask them if they know what these things mean? Remind them that the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, captured its king and officials and took them back to Babylon with him. 13He made an agreement with one of the royal sons, having taken away the most important people in the land, and put him under oath 14in order to make the kingdom meek and not rebel against him, and so that it might survive if it kept his agreement. 15But he rebelled and sent ambassadors to Egypt for horses and a large army. But will he succeed? Can the one who does such things escape the consequences? 16“As surely as I live,” says the LORD God, “in the house of the king who made him king but whose oath he did not keep, and whose agreement he violated, in Babylon he shall die. 17Pharaoh and his mighty army, numerous as they are, will not help him in war when the ramps are built, and the siege takes many lives. 18Because he hated the oath and broke the promise; because he made the agreement and still did these things, he won’t escape.” 19So, the LORD God says: “As I live, I will certainly punish him because of the promise he despised and because he broke my agreement. 20I will spread my net over him and catch him in my trap and bring him to Babylon. I will judge him for the treason he has committed against me. 21Even the best of his soldiers will fall by the sword. The survivors will be scattered in every direction. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken.”
22This is what the LORD God says:
“I will personally take a twig from the top of a cedar tree;
I will then break off a tender twig from the top of it.
Then I will plant it myself on a great and high mountain.
23I will plant it on the high mountain of Israel
so that it might put out branches and bear fruit
and become a noble tree.
24Then all the trees of the land will know that I am the LORD.
I can make the high tree low and the low tree high.
I can make the green tree dry and the dry tree flourish.
I, the LORD, have said this, and I will make it happen.”
1-8: God gives Ezekiel a riddle for his people. It is quite confusing until we read the solution in verses 11-21, and even then, details of the riddle are left unexplained. Basically, though, we can say that the riddle has to do with Nebuchadnezzar conquering Jerusalem, taking Jehoiachin to Babylon (the “city of merchants”) and putting Zedekiah (a “seed from the land”) on the throne in Judah. He becomes a spreading vine, meaning that the area prospered under his administration and with Babylonian assistance. At first Zedekiah “turned toward” Nebuchadnezzar. However, another great eagle appeared, not quite as magnificent as the first. This is clearly Egypt. The “vine,” Zedekiah, turned to Egypt as an ally against Babylon. (This is exactly the situation going on in Jerusalem at the time.)
9-10: Now Ezekiel is to ask a series of rhetorical questions. The positive questions (“Will it prosper?” “Will it thrive?”) are obviously to be answered in the negative: “No.” The negative questions (“Will he not…” etc.) are obviously to be answered in the positive: “Yes.”
11-15: Now God explains the riddle as outlined above, again ending with a series of rhetorical questions — this time all of them are obviously to be answered “No.”
16-21: “… surely in the house (Babylon) of the king (Nebuchadnezzar) who made him (Zedekiah) king (of Judah)” he will be brought to Babylon where he will die because he will have broken his oath to Nebuchadnezzar. His army will be defeated, and the people left in the land will flee in every direction.
22-24: The final portion of this word from God retells the first part, only this time God is the eagle who takes a twig from a tall tree and plants it on a high mountain, obviously Mt. Zion, where it will become a great tree that offers protection to all the birds. If the eagles represent the two most powerful nations of the day, the birds must represent all the other, smaller ones. The “high tree” and “green tree” is Babylon; the “low tree” and “dry tree” is lsrael in its current state. God will take charge of the affairs of nations instead of leaving it up to human empires, and God will choose to raise Israel to a new status. But notice that the act of God “planting” the shoot that will grow into a revitalized Israel is a hint that the nation will be restored not by the remnant that is left there, but by the exiles who will be returned.
Oftentimes things happen in the world, even to us personally, that seem to make no sense, or seem to be undeserved. Let time pass; God will be revealed when the time is right for us to understand the difficult paths we sometimes have to walk.