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Chapter 19 A Lament for The Kings of Judah.
Having faced all Israel up to their personal responsibility Ezekiel now brings the lesson home by writing a lament for the kings of Judah (called ‘the princes of Israel’), Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin. These were the men to whom Israel had looked but in each case they had failed. Israel is likened to a lioness producing cubs, and the cubs are the princes of Judah (Israel). Their fate is then lamented, a fate which was the result of the fact that they ‘did evil in the sight of Yahweh’ . This is followed by a poem of the withering of the vine of Israel and the cessation of kingship.
The Young Lions of Israel-Judah.
“Moreover take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, and say.’
Those who represent Judah now represent Israel, for Israel has been taken up into Judah. So the lamentation is for ‘the princes of Israel’. The princes in mind are those who reigned only shortly and were made captive by foreign kings, first by Egypt and then by Babylon, for Ezekiel is bringing home the miserable state of the pride of Israel who had turned away from Him.
“What was your mother? - a lioness,
In the midst of the lions she couched - rearing 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 pits,
And they brought him with hooks into the land of Egypt.”
Israel (Judah) is likened to a lioness, strong and powerful, rearing her cubs. This was how she saw herself. And she was proud of her kings, and their warlike abilities, and looked to them to keep her safe.
Lions were a familiar feature of life in Palestine throughout the Old Testament and beyond. They were seen as fierce and noble beasts and were used to symbolise powerful control and rule (Genesis 49:9; Micah 5:8; Numbers 23:24; Numbers 24:9 compare 1 Kings 10:19-20). A royal lion was found on the seal of Shema from Megiddo.
So here Jehoahaz is likened to a lion descended from the lioness of Israel (Judah). Ezekiel is bringing out how Israel saw herself and her kings, in contrast with what happened to them. But Israel was wrong. He only reigned for three months before being carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho (2 Kings 23:31-33) where he eventually died (Jeremiah 22:10-12), but the description is not of his reign but of how he was trained in warlike qualities. It explains that he was a warlike man, but that in spite of that he was made a captive. Why? Because he had forsaken Yahweh.
‘He was taken in their pits, and they brought him with hooks into the land of Egypt.’ His defeat and capture is described in terms of the ancient lion hunt.
“Now when she saw that she had 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.
And he humbled (or ‘knew’ - the root yth‘ can mean either as we know from Ugarit) their palaces, and laid waste their cities,
And the land was desolate, and the fullness of it,
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,
On the mountains of Israel.”
Jehoahaz was succeeded by Jehoiakim, who reigned for eleven years, but he is ignored for he does not illustrate the point of the disaster that came on their princes. Thus the next prince in mind is Jehoiachin. He is described as being powerful and trained up in war, and some of his exploits prior to becoming king are indicated, even though he was only eighteen years old when he began to reign.
Again he only reigned for three months, for he took the throne while Nebuchadnezzar was attacking Jerusalem due to his father’s refusal of tribute, and yielded it to Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:8-15). He was still rated as king in Babylon and we have archaeological evidence concerning the rations of his household there (2 Kings 25:27-30), where he is referred to as ‘Ya’u-kinu, -- king of the land of Yahudu’.
‘Now when she saw that she had waited, and her hope was lost.’ Judah had ‘waited’ in a brief hope that God would step in and give them victory, either by the return of Jehoahaz from Egypt, which never happened, or through Jehoiakim, but she soon realised that there was no hope in either of them. ‘Her hope was lost’. Thus they looked to the young Jehoiachin as their future deliverer.
‘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. And he knew (or ‘humbled’) their palaces, and laid waste their cities, And the land was desolate, and the fullness of it, because of the noise of his roaring.’
Jehoiachin was a warlike young man and gained a certain local reputation, raising hopes. The result of his warlikeness was devastation for his neighbours’ land. But he quickly turned out not to be the expected deliverer.
‘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, on the mountains of Israel.’ Like Jehoahaz before him he was attacked by forces of a foreign king, this time loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, hunted down like a lion, captured and handed over to a king, but this time it was the king of Babylon. He was no more a free man ‘on the mountains of Israel’. There may be an indication here of his idolatry (see Ezekiel 6:3-5). The word rendered ‘cage’ may also mean ‘prisoner’s neck band’.
So the mighty princes of Israel had proved a disappointment, and all Ezekiel and the people could do was sing a song of despair and lament over them. It was a reminder that Israel-Judah was a small nation and without God’s protecting hand could do nothing against the wider world.
The Withering of the Vine.
“Your mother was like a vine in your blood, planted by the waters.
She was fruitful and full of branches, by reason of many waters.
And she had strong rods for the sceptres of those who bare rule, and their stature was raised high among the thick boughs.
And he was seen in his height with the multitude of his branches.”
The concentration now comes off the kings to Israel-Judah as a whole, and to its destiny. It is likened to a fruitful vine with many thick boughs, prominent and strong among which were the branches that represented the kingship. ‘Strong rods’ came from the vine to provide their sceptres. Thus they ruled in power, raised high among the thick boughs. Here we are taken back to such days as those of David and Solomon. The change from plural to singular may indicate reference to the current king, Zedekiah, as a representative of that royal household. The mixture of lion, sceptre and vine is not new. It is found in Genesis 49:9-12 speaking of Judah and kingship.
The likening of Israel to a vine is a well known one in the Old Testament, sometimes favourable as a picture of fruitfulness, as initially here (Genesis 49:11-12; Isaiah 27:2-6; Psalms 80:8-11), and sometimes derogatory because wild and unfruitful (Ezekiel 15:1-8; Ezekiel 17:1-10; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21). It depicts fruitfulness, or when failing, blameworthy lack of fruitfulness. So Israel were previously strong and its kings were mighty.
‘Like a vine in your blood planted by the waters.’ For ‘in your blood’ we can compare Ezekiel 16:6; Ezekiel 16:22. Birth in blood was not an uncommon sight. This vivid mixed metaphor connects the lament with the parable in chapter 16. It indicates here that although Israel was a flourishing vine, she had grown so out of poor beginnings and from suffering. (The phrase is admittedly difficult but no widely acceptable alternative suggestion has been made). For planting by the waters see Ezekiel 17:5. To be planted by waters was to be highly blessed and fruitful (compare Psalms 1:0).
“But she was plucked up in fury, she was cast down to the ground,
And the east wind dried up her fruit,
Her strong rods were broken off and withered,
The fire consumed them.
And now she is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land,
And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, it has devoured her fruit,
So that there is in her no strong rod, to be a sceptre to rule.”
Here is the depiction of the failure of the kingship, and of the people. The glory of Israel-Judah was plucked up and cast down, and her rulers (‘strong rods’) were broken off and withered, and consumed by fire. Israel-Judah was transplanted to an unfruitful desert place, and her misfortunes will have resulted from her king who had brought about her misery (fire has gone out from him), leaving her with no one to rule her. And the whole finally resulted from the failure of Zedekiah to obey God and remain in submission to Babylon (Jeremiah 27:12-13).
The whole lament is a stark recognition of failure, both of their kings and of the people. What God had made prosperous had languished, and finally withered, through their disobedience to His covenant.
‘This is a lamentation, and will be for a lamentation.’
A lamentation is a suitable ending to chapters 12-19. They have depicted the failure of Israel-Judah to respond to God’s goodness and gracious love. And now all that remains is lamentation, a dirge for their failure and the failure of their kings in whom such hopes had rested.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 19". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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