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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Ezekiel 19

Verse 1


This chapter is a dirge written by Ezekiel as a prophetic funeral for the earthly end of the House of David. As Cooke stated it:

"Ezekiel could write fine poetry when he chose; and on this occasion the impulse came from a mixed emotion, his pride in the royal house of Judah, and his pity for the misfortunes of the young princes."[1]

Evidently, Cooke overlooked the fact that it was upon the express commandment of the Lord himself that Ezekiel wrote this dirge; and although it may not be doubted that Ezekiel did himself experience deep emotions in the expression of this lament, the prior experience of God Himself participated in the sorrow at the earthly failure of the house of David.

There are actually two laments here, the first under the allegory of a lioness and her whelps, and the second under the figure of a vine, a rod of which caused its total destruction. The first is in Ezekiel 19:1-9; the second is in Ezekiel 19:10-14.

Dummelow noted that these laments appear to be (1) for the nation as a whole, (2) for the royal house of David, or (3) for Hammutal, the mother of Zedekiah.[2] Actually, the lament is for all of Israel, about to suffer the irrevocable loss of their status as God's Chosen People, the final end of their racial status in God's sight, and their integrity as an independent nation, a true independence which they would never more attain.

At this point in Israel's history, there were no rulers of the kingdom that any man could trust. The wickedness of the ungodly men Ezekiel had just described in the preceding chapter was a true picture of Israel's kings, best described as a den of wild animals! All of them were doomed to death; and, "A dirge, normally, was sung or chanted after the death of the deceased and during the funeral; but Ezekiel here expressed the Lord's sadness over the failure of the Judean leadership by chanting this elegy over her terminal rulers before their deaths occurred."[3]

In other words, Ezekiel publicly preached the funeral of Judah's wicked kings while they were still alive! It must have been a very spectacular happening.

There was a special meter reserved in Hebrew literature for the writing of dirges, and it featured a distinctive pattern of one line with three beats, followed by a second line with two beats. Taylor noted that, "Only rarely can an English translation catch that distinctive feature."[4] He illustrated the meter thus:

In-the-midst of lions she-crouched

Rearing her whelps.

The skillful use of this meter by Ezekiel throughout both the laments of this chapter makes the unity and Ezekiel's authorship of it impossible of any intelligent denial.

"This lament, bewailing the overthrow of the royal house and the banishment of the whole nation into exile, forms a climax and finale to the preceding prophecies (Ezekiel 12-19) of the overthrow of Judah, and was well calculated to annihilate every hope that things might not really come to the worst after all."[5] God here preached Judah's funeral!

Ezekiel 19:1-6

"Moreover take thou up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, and say, What was thy mother? A lioness: she couched among lions, in the midst of young lions she nourished her whelps. And she brought up one of her whelps: he became a young lion, and he learned to catch the prey; he devoured men. The nations also heard of him; he was taken in their pit; and they brought him with hooks into the land of Egypt. Now when she saw that she waited, and her hope was lost, then she took another of her whelps, and made him a young lion. And he went up and down among the lions; he became a young lion, and he learned to catch the prey; he devoured men."

"The princes of Israel ..." (Ezekiel 19:1). "Israel here is the whole Jewish nation over which the king of Judah was the only rightful sovereign." The kings of Northern Israel were usurpers; and besides that, the Northern Israel was already in captivity and were no longer a factor in the prophetic considerations.

This paragraph outlines the disasters that befell the final kings of Judah, "in terms of the misfortunes of a brood of lion whelps."[6] Jeremiah discusses the descendants of Josiah in Jeremiah 22:10-30.

The dramatic truth revealed by Ezekiel here is that, "Israel has put herself upon the level of the heathen nations around her, and has adopted the tyrannical and rapacious nature of the powers of the world. Israel has thus struck out upon a course opposed to her divine calling, and will now have to taste the bitter fruits of her heathen ways."[7]

"One of her whelps ..." (Ezekiel 19:3). The first whelp mentioned here is a reference to Jehoahaz II (Shallum). "He was carried into captivity in Egypt after a brief three-months reign, during the year 609 B.C., by Pharaoh-Necco.[8] Jehoiachim succeeded Jehoahaz II, but Ezekiel ignored him in this analogy, skipping over his rather long and bloody reign to the second whelp, which is Jehoiachin, (Jeconiah, or Coniah).

It is the mention of the first whelp's being carried to Egypt that gives us the clue to his identity. Also, in this identification with Jehoahaz II gives us the clue for recognizing Jehoiachin as the second whelp. Neither one of the real "princes of Israel" reigned any more than three months. Both Jehoiachim and Zedekiah were vassals of foreign lords, Jehoiachim of Egypt, and Zedekiah of Babylon. Thus the pitiful termination of the "house of David" is seen in the 90-day reigns of his terminal princes. We are aware that many very learned scholars suppose that Jehoiachim and/or Zedekiah to be one of the two whelps; but Zedekiah is eliminated from consideration because he received a special elegy of his own in Ezekiel 19:10-14, and does not particularly belong in the first one.

There is one very strong objection to our identification of these two whelps, and that was stated by Bruce. "Some scholars see Jehoiachin as the second whelp, but the language of Ezekiel 19:6-8 does not fit him at all."[9] This is true enough, but it does not fit Jehoahaz II either; and even Bruce admits him to be the first whelp.

Although neither Jehoahaz II nor Jehoiachin reigned long enough for their true character to manifest itself, their character is set forth here under the figure of ravaging lions that "devoured men." This is God's estimate of what those kings actually were; and God's judgment of them is confirmed by the enmity of Egypt against the first one, and of Babylon against the second one, leading to their capture and deportation. The mention of their being taken in a pit, and "by hooks" conforms to the imagery of trapping wild beasts, and is not a description of their capture.

Plumptre agreed that Jehoiachim was not the second whelp;[10] and Cooke also recognized that in Ezekiel 19:9, "The allusion is to Jehoiachin, not to Zedekiah."[11]

"Keil likewise identified the two whelps of this passage as Jehoahaz and Jehoachin, who were chosen here merely as examples, because they both fell into the hands of world powers. Moreover their fate showed very clearly what the end would inevitably be when the Jewish kings became ambitious to be "lions" like the kings of the nations around them."[12]

Verse 7

"And he knew their palaces and laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the ruiness thereof, because of the noise of his roaring. Then the nations set against him on every side from the provinces; and they spread their net over him; he was taken in their pit. And they put him in a cage with hooks, and brought him to the king of Babylon; they brought him into strongholds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel."

"He knew their palaces ..." (Ezekiel 19:7). The Revised Standard Version renders this, "He ravaged their strongholds," which is in agreement with the parallel phrase that follows. Apparently, none of this had time to happen in his three months' reign; but his character was such that such deeds of cruelty and tyranny would most surely have happened if he had been permitted to continue as king. In actuality, "the noise of his roaring" was all that came of it!

"They put him in a cage ..." (Ezekiel 19:9) This probably happened literally to Jehoiachin, as it was the custom of ancient kings to display their captive kings, princes, and mighty men as caged captives in their ostentatious victory parades. "After his three months' reign, Jehoiachin was taken by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon in 597 B.C. (2 Kings 24:8-16)."[13]

Verse 10

"Thy mother was like a vine, in thy blood, planted by the waters: it was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters. And it had strong rods for the sceptres of them that bare rule, and their stature was exalted among the thick boughs, and they were seen in their height with the multitude of their branches. but it was plucked up in fury, it was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up its fruit: the strong rods were broken off and withered; the fire consumed them. And now it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land. And fire has gone out of the rods of the branches, it hath devoured its fruit, so that there is in it no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule. This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation."

Here is the second dirge; the imagery is changed. In the first, the likeness of Israel was that of a den of ferocious lion cubs; here the comparison is with a vine that is ripped up from its favorable place, transferred to a dry and thirsty land, and burned up through the fire that comes out of her own branches (the princes), one of whom, namely, Zedekiah, following the advice of the others, rebelled against his suzerain lord and precipitated the ruin of the whole nation.

"The mother in both lamentations is the same, that is, the nation of Israel."[14]

"Strong rods (branches) for sceptres of them that bare rule ..." (Ezekiel 19:11). "This is a reference to the successive kings of Judah."[15]

"Plucked up in fury ... cast down to the ground ... east wind dried up its fruit ..." (Ezekiel 19:12). All of these are references to the destruction of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon.

"Mother was like a vine, in thy blood, planted by the waters ..." (Ezekiel 19:10). Commentators have complained that the phrase, "in thy blood is meaningless,"[16] or that, "This expression can hardly be right."[17] However, Cook seemed to have no trouble with it. He stated that, "the mother, living in the life of her children" was planted favorably by the waters.[18]

The thought is correct, whether or not, this is an accurate rendition. "Ezekiel 19:12-14 describe the final destruction and captivity of Judah. Zedekiah's rebellion was the cause of the total rain of the nation."[19]

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezekiel 19". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.