The Word Made Fresh
1But now, be in sorrow for the princes of Israel. 2Say:
2“Your mother was a lion among lions.
She lay down among young lions, and raised her cubs.
3One of the cubs she raised became a young lion
who learned to catch prey and to devour people.
4The other nations sounded an alarm and trapped him in a pit.
They tied him and dragged him to the land of Egypt.
5When the mother saw that she was stymied, and her hope lost,
she took another of her cubs and made him a young lion.
6He became a young lion who prowled among the other lions.
He learned to catch prey, and he devoured people.
7He destroyed their fortresses and leveled their towns.
The land and everyone in it were frightened by his roaring.
8From the territories all around, the nations attacked him;
they covered him with their nets and captured him in their pit.
9They dragged him with hooks in a cage to Babylon.
They placed him under custody, and his voice was no longer heard
upon the mountains of Israel.
10Your mother was like a vine in your vineyard, planted beside the water.
She was fruitful and put out many branches near plentiful water.
11The vine’s strongest branch became the emblem of her authority.
Its thick stems towered high among the strong boughs.
It stood out proudly in its height and mass of branches.
12But in fury it was pulled up and cast onto the ground.
Dried by the east wind, its fruit was stripped
and its stem was withered until it was burned up.
13Now it remains in the wilderness where it was transplanted.
It survives, but in a dry and thirsty land.
14The fire has spread from its stem to its branches and fruit.
What remains of it is a weak stem, but no scepter for ruling.
This is a lament, and is to be used as such.
1-9: A confusing chapter: the last line identifies it as a “lament,” a funeral song sung at someone’s death, but also used as a form with which to mourn the “death” of a city or a nation — in this case, Jerusalem and Judah. The reference to “princes” in verse 1 is probably Ezekiel’s way of demeaning the last few kings of Judah, for whom he had little respect. The lioness is probably the city of Jerusalem, Judah’s “bride.” Judah, son of Jacob was referred to as a “lion’s whelp” in Genesis (Genesis 49:9). The reference to her lying down among young lions may be taken as a metaphor of the worship in Jerusalem of the gods of other “lions” (nations). The cub that became a young lion is a reference to Jehoahaz whose rule was judged to be evil. He was the only king of Judah to be exiled to Egypt (2 Kings 23:31-34). His successor was Jehoiakim, who tried to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar. In the resulting war, the nations around Judah — Aram, Moab, and Ammon (verse 8) — were sent by God to harass Judah (2 Kings 24:1-20). Nowhere does the 2 Kings account say that Jehoiakim was deported to Babylon, but that conclusion is nevertheless a likely one.
10-14: The last part of the lament is even more confusing, and we can only guess at the identity of the vine and the historical setting of this strange imagery. Here is my best guess: the vine is Judah. Under David and Solomon, and momentarily under later kings, the “vine” spread and thrived. The agent of destruction in verse 12 is probably to be understood as God. The image of being transplanted in the wilderness I take to be a description of the lands of Judah and Israel after their destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. In verse 14, note that the fire originates in the vine’s stem — a poetic way of saying that Judah was the cause of its own demise.
Basically, Ezekiel is saying that the people of Israel got what they deserved. Most of our difficulties through life fall into the same category. But we can’t help but mourn for the faithful few who suffered because of the sins of others. We can, however, be assured that God will reward them when the time of suffering is over. God will not prevent hardships for us anymore than they were prevented for Jesus; but beyond the cross is the resurrection.