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THE HUMILIATION AND EXALTATION OF THE HOUSE OF DAVID (Chap 17)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The word of prophecy in this chapter is introduced in the way of a riddle and a parable (Ezekiel 17:2). The parable itself is told in Ezekiel 17:1-10. In Ezekiel 17:11-21, we have the interpretation of it and its application to King Zedekiah. In Ezekiel 17:22-24, we have the prophecy of the exaltation of David’s house and its necessary connection with the glory of Messiah’s kingdom. By the alliance of Zedekiah with Egypt, the people hoped to regain the ancient glory of Israel. The prophet shows that these hopes are vain. They thought that God could not fail towards the king without reversing the promises which He had made to the house of David. The prophet announces that Zedekiah will meet with the due reward of his deeds; and yet, in a wonderful manner, God will fulfil His ancient promise to the chosen people, though to human observation all seems to be lost. The kingdom of David will assuredly be exalted in the latter days.
THE PARABLE, REPRESENTING THE EMPTINESS OF ALL THE NATION’S EARTHLY HOPES OF THE FUTURE (Ezekiel 17:1-10)
Ezekiel 17:1-2. “Put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel.” “The parable mâshâl, corresponding exactly to the N.T. παραβολή is called chîdhâh, a riddle, because of the deeper meaning lying beneath the parabolic shell.—(Keil.) As far as it described the future of the house of Israel, it was teaching by analogy, and may, therefore, be regarded in the light of a parable. In its immediate bearing upon the fate of Zedekiah, it may be regarded as a riddle.
Ezekiel 17:3. “A great eagle with great wings.” “The symbolism of this parable has been traced by some to Babylonian influences working upon the prophet’s mind, but without any tenable ground. The figure of the eagle, or bird of prey, applied to a conqueror making a rapid descent upon a country, has as little in it of a specifically Babylonian character as the comparison of the royal family to a cedar or vine. Not only is Nebuchadnezzar compared to an eagle in Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22, as Cyrus is to a bird of prey in Isaiah 46:11; but even Moses has described the paternal watchfulness of God over His own people as bearing them upon eagle’s wings (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11). The cedar of Lebanon and the vine are genuine Israelitish figures. The great eagle is the King Nebuchadnezzar (compare Ezekiel 17:12)”—(Keil.) The “great wings” are a symbol of the vastness of Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion. “Long-winged, full of feathers, which had divers colours.” The long pinions signify his large and well-disciplined armies; the abundant “feathers “the numerous populations over which he reigned, and the “divers colours” the variety of races, languages, etc., which were found in his empire. “Come unto Lebanon.” This is not a symbol of the Israelitish land, but of Jerusalem, with its royal palace so rich in cedar wood. This was the place where the cedar was planted (Ezekiel 17:12). “And took the highest branch of the cedar.” The cedar is the Davidic family, and the “highest branch” of it is King Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:12).
Ezekiel 17:4. “The top of his young twigs.” “The youngest and most tender member of that family. Jehoiachin, to whom reference is here symbolically made, was only eighteen years of age when he assumed the reins of government” (2 Kings 24:8).—(Henderson.) “Carried it into a land of traffick; he set it in a city of merchants.” “Not only was the country of Babylon famous for its transport traffic by means of the Euphrates, but the city itself was famous for its manufacturing and mercantile establishments. From the connection of Babylon with the Persian Gulf, the commerce carried on between that city and India must have been immense.”—(Henderson.) “That which is intended is rather the Chaldean diplomacy, the policy of the interests that were thus pursued, just as we speak of political negotiations and international intrigues. From this policy originated the removal of Jehoiachin to Babylon. Self-interest is the point of comparison between politics and trade. This community of principle also explains how both politics and trade are represented in Scripture under the figure of adultery, the self-seeking, that conceals itself under the appearance of love (Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:2); the self-seeking policy (Nahum 3:4); the trade (Isaiah 23:15, etc.). It was, as it were, a profitable stroke of business, that Jehoiachin, who was favourable to Egypt, should be removed to Babylon, and a creature of the King of Babylon set up in his stead, whose fidelity he might count upon, because he had the legitimate sovereign in his custody, and could make use of him according to circumstances.—(Hengstenberg.)
Ezekiel 17:5. “The seed of the land. This expression signifies what we mean by “a son of the soil,” as distinguished from a foreigner. The Chaldeans appointed Zedekiah, who was of the old native royal family (2 Kings 24:17). “He placed it by great waters.” Heb. “Many waters.” The idea is that of a fertile situation. Though, politically, Zedekiah was in a dependent position, yet he had abundant opportunity for exercising his gifts and power as a ruler. “Set it as a willow tree.” This tree is low, and grows near streams (Isaiah 44:4). “This means, that he treated it as a willow tree, inasmuch as he took it to many waters, set it in a well-watered soil, i.e. in a suitable place.”—(Keil).
Ezekiel 17:6. “A spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned towards him, and the roots thereof were under him.” “This figure of the vine is not here in contradiction with that of the willow. The two figures present different aspects. The new king is a vine, not a cedar, as the earlier independent family of David. ‘Spreading,’ so that it grew luxuriantly indeed, but in breadth, not in height, which is still more definitely shown by the addition ‘of low stature.’ Its (Zedekiah’s) roots should be under him—should not be withdrawn from dependence on the king of Babylon.”—(Hengstenberg). “The subjection of Zedekiah to Nebuchadnezzar is significantly expressed by his being turned towards him; while he continued faithful as his vassal, though he never rose to any elevation, yet the affairs of the kingdom went on peaceably, and the subjects increased rather than diminished.”—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 17:7. “Another great eagle with great wings and many feathers.” This second eagle lacks the long pinions and divers colours of the first. It represents the King of Egypt, who, though he ruled over a widely-spread and powerful kingdom, was yet inferior to the King of Babylon in imperial grandeur and disciplined armies. “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.” This vine had water enough already, so that there was no occasion for her to stretch out her branches towards the other eagle. Hereby the conduct of Zedekiah is condemned, who, wearied with subjection to the King of Babylon, applied to the King of Egypt for help, hoping that by this means he might establish the independence of his throne.
Ezekiel 17:8. “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.” “If Zedekiah had remained quiet under Nebuchadnezzar, as a hanging vine, his government might have continued and prospered.”—(Keil.)
Ezekiel 17:9. “Thus saith the Lord God, shall it prosper?” “The subject is the King of Babylon. The roots signify the national existence, the fruit the produce of the land, or the collective gain. The vine becomes dry in all its sprouting leaves. These signify all that by which a prosperous national life is displayed. ‘Not by a great arm or many people will it be taken away with its roots.’ According to Jeremiah 34:0., Nebuchadnezzar led a numerous army to Jerusalem, but there was no need of so great preparations. If a nation have God for its enemy, one can chase a thousand of them, and two can put ten thousand to flight (Deuteronomy 32:30). The Egyptians were quite passive (comp. Ezekiel 17:17). The taking away with the roots signified the total abolition of the national existence.”—(Hengstenberg.)
Ezekiel 17:10. “Shall it not utterly wither when the east wind toucheth it?” “The east wind proving noxious to vegetation in Palestine, is here fitly employed as a symbol of the Chaldean army, which came from that quarter. It was only necessary to bring that army into contact with the Jewish state in order to effect its ruin.”—(Henderson.) The east wind is the searching wind of God’s anger (Jonah 4:8)
TEACHING BY PARABLES
1. The form of the discourse here, just as in the case of our Lord, who has developed the parable into one of His ordinary modes of teaching, is to be explained chiefly from the object in view,—partly as it was designed for a circle of hearers, or rather of readers, which, although mixed up in all sorts of ways with higher interests, is yet to be thought of as living mainly in the world of sense, and especially as bound fast in the misery of the exile, and sympathising in the false and faithless policy prevailing at the time in Jerusalem; partly as it might recommend itself to the prophet in the political circumstances by which he was surrounded. The mashal before us in Ezekiel goes, therefore, far beyond mere popular illustration. Still less is it to be explained away from the æsthetic stand point, as merely another rhetorical garb for the thought.
2. As in the parable the emblematic form preponderates over the thought, so also here. What the prophet is to say to Israel is said by the whole of that mighty array of figurative expression, for which the animal and vegetable worlds furnish the figures. But the eagle does what eagles otherwise never do; and what is planted as a willow grows into a vine; and the vine “is represented as falling in love with the other eagle.”—(J. D. Mich.) The contradictory character of such a representation, and the fact that in the difficulties to be solved (Ezekiel 17:9-10 etc.) the comparison comes to a stand, and the closing Messianic portion in which the whole culminates, convert the parable into a “riddle.” A trace of irony and the moral tendency, such as belong to the fable, are not wanting.—(Lange.)
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PARABLE (Ezekiel 17:11-21)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—From Ezekiel 17:12-17 we have the formal interpretation of the parable. In Ezekiel 17:19-21, the threat contained in the parable is confirmed and still further expanded.
Ezekiel 17:12. “Behold the king of Babylon is come to Jerusalem, and hath taken the king thereof.” The account of the carrying away of the king, i.e., Jehoiachin, and his princes into Babylon is related in 2 Kings 24:11, etc.; Jeremiah 24:1; Jeremiah 29:2.
Ezekiel 17:13. “And hath taken of the king’s seed, and made a covenant with Him, and hath taken an oath of Him.” “The king’s seed is Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah, whom Nebuchadnezzar made king under the name of Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17), and from whom he took an oath of fealty” (2 Chronicles 36:13).—(Keil.)
Ezekiel 17:14. “That the kingdom might be base, that might not lift itself up, but that by keeping of his covenant it might stand.” The design of Nebuchadnezzar was to weaken the kingdom so that it could not revolt against his authority, but, at the same time, to protect them if they continued loyal.
Ezekiel 17:15. “But he rebelled against Him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people.” “Though we have no account of this mission to the King of Egypt anywhere else in the Jewish records we may rest satisfied with the testimony of Ezekiel, who was a contemporary. Egypt was celebrated in ancient times for its herd of horses. According to Diod. Sic. i. 45, the whole region from Thebes to Memphis was filled with royal stalls, and such was the abundance of horses, that no fewer than twenty thousand chariots, each having two, could be furnished in time of war. It was, therefore, natural for Zedekiah to turn to that quarter for aid, and considering the hostile attitude of the two great empires, he might reasonably expect that his application would not be made in vain.”—(Henderson.) “Shall he escape that doeth such things? or shall he break the covenant, and be delivered?” “Such things,”—perjury—breach of covenant. Even Pagan nations had great reverence for an oath, and looked upon these as among the highest crimes. When one enquired of the Delphic oracle whether he might break his oath, he was told that for putting so impious a question he should be punished by the untimely death of his children.
Ezekiel 17:17. “Make for him in the war.” Heb., “Act with him in war,” i.e., be of service to him. “Pharaoh will not render him the expected powerful aid against the Chaldeans; he will leave his protegé in the lurch when he is hard pressed by his enemies. That the Chaldeans need no great military force against Jerusalem, is manifest here from this, that the Egyptians, against whom alone it could be necessary, come not to its aid with any force. Egypt was already at that time worm-eaten, which the Spirit of God showed to his prophets, while the world went no further than the surface.”—(Hengstenberg.)
Ezekiel 17:18. “He had given his hand.” “To give the hand,” is still in the East a pledge of agreement, or fidelity (2 Kings 10:15; Ezra 10:19; Jeremiah 1:15). Zedekiah proved faithless to God, because in pledging his fealty to the King of Babylon he made a solemn appeal to the God of the Jews (2 Chronicles 36:13). The oath which Zedekiah swore to the King of Babylon is designated in Ezekiel 17:19 as Jehovah’s oath, and the covenant made with him as Jehovah’s covenant.
Ezekiel 17:20. “And I will spread my net upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon.” “My net” (Ezekiel 12:13). Nebuchadnezzar was God’s instrument to punish this rebellious king. “And will plead with him there for his trespass.” To “plead” with him signifies to bring him to submission, to work conviction in him by means of suffering (Ezekiel 20:36). This prophecy was fulfilled five years afterwards, when Zedekiah was carried away captive to Babylon, where he died in prison (Jeremiah 52:8-11).
Ezekiel 17:21. “And all his fugitives with all his bands shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered to all winds.” Instead of fugitives the Chaldee reads, “chosen ones,” “his brave men,” or “heroes.” But the ordinary reading yields a suitable sense, and is the one adopted by the LXX. and the Vulgate. “The mention of some who remain, and who are to be scattered towards all the winds, is not at variance with the statement that all the fugitives in the wings of the army are to fall by the sword. The latter threat simply declares that no one will escape death by flight. But there is no necessity to take those who remain as being simply fighting men; and the word “all” must not be taken too literally.”—(Keil).
1. Men look for help from an arm of flesh when in straits. Zedekiah expected that Pharoah’s mighty army, and great company, his chariots and horses, should make for him. We are prone to look unto second causes and creature help more than God’s. Asa, being in distress, did so, “he relied,” saith the text, “on the king of Syria, and not on the Lord his God,” (2 Chronicles 16:7); and “in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians” (Ezekiel 17:12). Confidence in man is a common practice of the sons of men. Ephraim, when he saw his sickness, went to the Assyrian and sent to Jareb (Hosea 5:13). Men’s spirits look any way, turn any whither, for relief, rather than to God. The arm of flesh is more to them than the arm of God. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;” Some in riches (Psalms 52:7); some in falsehood (Jeremiah 23:25); some in strongholds (Zechariah 9:3); some in men (Isaiah 2:22). But it argues atheism, ignorance, pride, unbelief, that men look not unto God at such times; yea, it proclaims the baseness of our spirits, that we fall upon what is visible, weak, unfaithful, at a distance, and neglect God, who is strong, all-sufficient, near; and all because invisible, not seen of us.
2. Divine Providence overrules and orders things so, that wicked men are frustrated and dissappointed of their hopes and expectations. Zedekiah hoped and expected that Pharaoh with his great forces, should make much for him; but “neither shall Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company make for him.” It is not kings, armies, counsellors, and counsels, will do it. Pharaoh’s army came forth of Egypt, raised the seige when Nebuchadnezzar was before Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37:11); yet it did not make for him. The Chaldeans returned again, sat down before the city, took it, Zedekiah, the princes and others. Absalom expected much from the counsel and advice of Ahithophel, but God turned it into foolishness (2 Samuel 17:14); and all the strength he had made not for him (2 Samuel 18:0). He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise” (Job 5:12). Haman could not perform his enterprize. Herod could not accomplish his design to murder Christ when he slew the infants (Matthew 2:0). Kings and people imagine vain things, and the Lord laughs them to scorn (Psalms 2:1; Psalms 2:4). He brings “the counsel of the heathen to nought. He maketh the devices of the people,” princes, armies, “of none effect,” and establisheth His own thoughts and counsels, and that to all generations (Psalms 33:10-11). God served His own will upon Pharoah and his army. Zedekiah was frustrated—he looked for light and met with darkness. He leaned upon Pharoah, a broken reed, that ran into his hand and pierced him (2 Kings 18:21). God’s providence works in all, by all, and overrules all; and He brings to pass His own sacred purposes by kings’ armies, by men’s wits, wills, policies, and powers.
3. The Lord takes notice of the circumstances and aggravations of men’s sins, especially kings’. “He despised the oath by breaking the covenant, when, lo! he had given his hand” (Ezekiel 17:18). I saw him, saith God, reach out his hand, give it as a pawn and pledge of his fidelity to Nebuchadnezzar; he engaged himself thereby to be subject and tributary to him. This aggravated his sin much. It was against the light of nature, special mercy. It was against his superior, Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest king then on earth. It was against the good of the whole Jewish state, for it brought war, famine, plague, captivity upon them all: yea, more than all these, it was a high offence against God and His attributes, and therefore the Lord saith, “he trespassed against me.” God minds with what circumstances men’s sins are clothed. Solomon’s sin had the aggravation nailed to it, “His heart was turned from the Lord God, which had appeared unto him twice” (1 Kings 11:9).
4. Oaths and covenants made with men are divine things, and not to be slighted: “Mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken” (Ezekiel 17:19). It was made with a heathen king, an idolator, yet God owns it as made with Himself, because His sacred and dreadful name was used therein, and judges the breach and violation thereof as bad as if it had been formally made with Himself. Oaths made between man and man are called in Scripture the “oaths of God” (Ecclesiastes 8:2); and the covenant made between Jonathan and David is called “the Lord’s oath” (2 Samuel 21:7). Let not man, therefore, slight covenants and oaths they have made with men, but remember they have to do with God, who is faithful, performing what He swears, and keeping covenant for ever.
5. The Lord hath nets and snares to catch and take perfidious princes and people in. “I will spread my net upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare” (Ezekiel 17:20). There is no evasion when God seeks after sinners. If He throw the net, it shall encompass the greatest leviathan; if He set the snare, it shall take the stoutest lion. God had a net for Pharaoh, and caught that great leviathan in the sea. An oak was the net He caught Absalom in (2 Samuel 18:9). The earth was his net to take Korah, Datham, and Abiram. A heap of stones was His net thrown upon Achan. A cave was the snare He took five kings in (Joshua 10:16-18). The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah were snared in slime pits (Genesis 14:10). Herod could not escape the worms, they were God’s net and snare to catch him. The Babylonish armies were His nets and snares to take Hoshea (2 Kings 17:0); Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:0); Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, who were all kings (2 Chronicles 35:0). Zedekiah had thoughts he should escape, but he did not escape besieging, taking, carrying into Babylon. When the city was taken, he fled by night (Jeremiah 39:4); but God spread His net so, that it fell upon him and all with him. Let men take heed of offending the great God of Heaven and earth, for He hath nets and snares to take them with. If once He throws His net and set His snare, He will take them; and being taken, you may struggle, but shall never get out. Nets and snares are hidden things, they catch suddenly, and hold certainly.—(Greenhill.) Ezekiel 17:17. The help of man is of no avail when God means to destroy. God’s help, on the other hand, avails even against man’s help. Zedekiah with Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar with Jehovah. Look at the co-partneries for thyself, and bestow thy confidence accordingly. The latter firm is the more reliable. Cursed is the man that trusteth in man (Jeremiah 17:0). Men promise, and break their promise; God promises, and does not break His. (Ezekiel 17:19). God’s oath as against Zedekiah’s perjury. God does not swear, and then fail to keep His oath: that shall be learned by experience by those who swear falsely, or who do not keep their oath. If thou appealest to God as a witness, thou summonest Him also as a judge, as an avenger! We have never to do with men alone. (Ezekiel 17:20, etc.). No one can escape God. The enemies’ sword is sharp; God’s sword is sharper still. God’s judgments are always meant to lead to the knowledge of Himself as well, and not merely of ourselves.—(Lange).
THE RESTORATION OF DAVID’S HOUSE (Ezekiel 17:22-24)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The dire judgments of God which had been foretold will do their awful work. But beyond them, the prophet sees God’s merciful purpose to restore the fallen House of David, in the person of His Messiah. The true twig of the stem of David will spring up and flourish, under whose shadow the whole family of man may dwell in safety.
Ezekiel 17:22. “I also will take of the highest branch of the highest cedar, and will set it.” The cedar, as before, is the House of David. That sprout of the House of David, Zedekiah, on account of his rebellion, would lose his sovereignty and bring destruction upon the kingdom of Judah, but God’s kingdom would still be secure. He would fulfil the promise which He had made to the seed of David. “I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon a high mountain and eminent.” “As the highest branch was the furthest from the roots, the reference is to the remote descendants of the royal family, and the tender one beautifully symbolizes the Messiah as the shoot and the sprout, predicted (Isaiah 11:1). The “high and eminent mountain” was Zion (Psalms 2:6). It is here described as the mountain of the height of Israel, as at chap. Ezekiel 20:40, in reference to Jerusalem, which at the time of the Messiah’s advent was to be what it had been, the centre of all the tribes, who, restored to their land, would go up again to the festivals, as they had done before the revolt. It derived its chief glory, however, from its being destined to become the spot where the spiritual kingdom was to be established, and whence it was to extend its blessings throughout the whole world.”—(Henderson).
Ezekiel 17:23. “In the mountain of the height of Israel.” This was Mount Zion regarded as to its spiritual significance. In actual height, it was far behind Lebanon; but it was a symbol of the kingdom of God, the centre from which salvation should go forth (Psalms 48:3; Psalms 68:17). This prophecy reaches it complete fulfilment in the times of the Messiah (Isaiah 2:2). The kingdom of God is to be raised to a supremacy above all the kingdoms of the world. “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” “The Messiah grows into a cedar in the kingdom founded by Him, in which all the inhabitants of the earth will find both food (from the fruits of the tree) and protection (under its shadow). For this figure, compare Daniel 4:8-9. Birds of every kind of plumage is derived from Genesis 7:14, where birds of every kind find shelter in Noah’s ark. The allusion is to men from every kind of people and tribe.”—(Keil)
Ezekiel 17:24. “I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree.” “By this all the trees of the field learn that God lowers the lofty and lifts up the lowly. As the cedar represents the royal house of David, the trees of the field can only be the other kings or royal families of the earth, not the nations outside the limits of the covenant. At the same time, the nations are not to be entirely excluded because the figure of the cedars embraces the idea of the kingdom, so that the trees of the field denote the kingdoms of the earth together with their kings.”—(Keil.) “And have made the dry tree to flourish.” The stem of Judah was dry as regards spiritual promise. The genealogy of the Messiah is traced through such names as Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. “How despicable soever the kingdom of Christ may appear to a worldly mind, and however small it was at its commencement, it is truly prolific; and while all the glory of earthly kingdoms fades and perishes, it affords refuge and nourishment to man of every colour and every clime.”—(Henderson.)
THE GLORY OF MESSIAH’S KINGDOM
I. It is to be erected upon the ruin of the world’s hopes. The prophet had hitherto spoken only of judgments which were to fall upon nations for their sins, and chiefly against Israel for her sin against greater light and privilege. David’s crown is cast to the ground, the kingdom of Judah is undone, all human hope gone. But the prophet now has a brighter vision. He sees the storm-cloud of judgment pass away, and the rainbow of mercy shows itself. From the ruins of the kingdom the family of David is to be revived in the person of the Messiah. It was necessary that there should be a long time of chastisement, affliction, and sorrow, in order to prepare the chosen nation for the purpose of God. And the same preparation for the coming of Messiah’s kingdom was equally necessary for the rest of mankind. Christ was to come in “the fulness of time,” when events were ripe for His coming. It was necessary that the world should have sufficient time to make experiments in order to discover whether men could find all help in themselves. The world’s pride and confidence had to be broken, so that, in the end, it might humble itself under the Cross of Christ, and therein behold the power and the wisdom of God. Two great experiments had to be carried out. The Jew had to find out whether righteousness could come by the law, whether the law could give life, sanctify, and save; or, whether there was not some intractable perversity in man’s nature which would baffle all such attempts. The same kind of process had to be carried on in the Jewish nation, which was accomplished in the life of the individual when Saul, the persecutor, was transformed into Paul, the Apostle. He had tried all that the law could do for him, and from his failure, from the wreck of all his hopes he passed into the kingdom of the grace of God. The Gentile had to make his experiment in order to discover, whether man could unfold his own blessedness out of himself; whether art, or philosophy, or political institutions could completely satisfy all the yearnings of his spiritual nature. The heathen world had time enough, and opportunity allowed for this experiment. God had raised up among them men of great parts, and gifts; and strength of will who could attempt this problem, and solve it, had they been able. If the world could have been redeemed by such means, these men could have accomplished its redemption. But all had failed. The histories of the great nations of old furnish a sad illustration of the truth, that “the paths of glory lead but to the grave”—the grave of political, intellectual, moral conquests and hopes. The prodigal child, far away from his true home, had come to the husks. The soul of man was still hungry. All had failed to satisfy. This was that emptiness of which Christ’s kingdom of grace was the answering fulness. Out of the wrecks and fragments of the old world was to be built up the new.
II. It is to be an omnipotent kingdom. “Thus saith the Lord God; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it.” I, who am mightier than the royal eagle of Babylon; I, who bore Israel from Egypt as upon eagle’s wings. I will lay hold of the seed of David, and raise up my Messiah from thence and establish His kingdom. That kingdom should, indeed, advance from weak beginnings, “I will crop off from the top of his young twigs, a tender one.” But the tree was the planting of the Lord, His omnipotence would uphold it, and it must stand for ever. Christ is to “fill all things.” And His Church is to be “the fulness of Him who filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).
III. Its rule is to be marked by tenderness.” “The high cedar.” “A tender one.” The glory of Lebanon is to be added to the lowly but fruitful vine. Majesty wedded to meekness; a kingdom of immortal strength, but founded upon patience (Revelation 1:9). Its victories were to be the victories of the Lamb. The omnipotence and the love of God were to join hands in the religion of mercy which was to be founded upon Calvary (Matthew 12:19-21).
IV. It is to be a wide kingdom. A large fellowship. Under the shadow of this goodly cedar shall dwell all fowl of every wing. None are to be left out. It is written of Zion’s King that “He shall be favourable to the simple and needy, and preserve the souls of the poor.” His kingdom shall embrace heaven and earth, reconciling all things. Christianity alone has the proper qualities of an universal religion.
V. It is to be an eternal kingdom. Being planted by God Himself, this kingdom could have in it no seeds of decay. It can never be moved, but must stand as long as the sun and moon endure, and of the increase of it there shall be no end.
VI. It is to bring abasement to all human pride. “And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the Lord, 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.” Such has ever been the process and the end of the Lord in His dealings with men (1 Samuel 2:7-8). The rich tree, boasting and promising so much, is withered (Psalms 37:35-36). The sapless stem shall be revived (Isaiah 61:3). It was one of the praises by which the world’s salvation was greeted. “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and hath exalted the humble and meek.” The conquests of David, and the magnificence of Solomon ended in the humiliation and shame of Zedekiah’s reign. But that royal family was raised up again in Christ; and from it sprang Messiah, the King, whose kingdom was destined to put an end to all those of the world which were founded upon force, error, and fraud. The kingdom founded upon love would exalt the good and the true, though in lowly condition; and debase the proud, though surrounded by all the glory which the world could give.
THE TREE CHRIST, WHICH GOD HAS PREPARED FOR US
1. As to its nature.
2. As to its destiny. Summer and winter the cedar is green, and never loses its leaves or its verdure. The everlastingly green Tree of Life is Christ. No wood is more durable; so Christ is the indestructible foundation for our hopes, etc. We are the branches in the cedar of God. Our fruits are Christ’s, who produces them in us and by us. John and Peter, Paul and James, what boughs in that Cedar! and the fathers and the Reformers, and all believers since. What a Tree! What a green, flourishing, fruit-laden array of branches that which sways around it! What a mighty, densely-foliaged far-shadowing-crown! and in the crown what gales, and zephyrs, and rustlings of holy life and divine love! Here there is promised to Christ and His cause nothing less than final triumph over the whole world—the pompous glory of Babylon, Egypt, Rome, and Athens, where is it to be found?—(Krummacher.)
1. After grievous judgments threatened, God comforts His people. When God should root out Zedekiah and his people the kingdom would be laid waste; the faithful should suffer much, lose estates, friends, liberty, country, temple, ordinances, and worship of God. Now for comfort against all these evils, he tells them of the Messiah. The stem of Jesse seemed to be cut down, and the root of Jesse to be pulled up; but the Lord preserved the root and stem, out of which he brought a rod and a branch for the comfort of the faithful, suffering Jews. This promise of the Branch is often mentioned for the purpose of comfort (Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 33:15-16; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12-13).
2. The Lord Christ descended from the highest. “I will take of the highest branch,” etc. He came from the loins of Jeconiah, who was King of Judah, and from fourteen kings before him (Matthew 1:0). He was the son of nobles, and born a king (Matthew 2:12). He was the first-born of the kings of Judah, the right heir to the kingdom which Herod at that time usurped.
3. The beginnings of Christ were mean and low. “I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one.” Christ, at first, was as a little tender shoot of a tree set in the earth; and how weak, mean, low, and inconsiderable is such a thing. Such were the beginnings of Christ. He took flesh of a poor virgin, the wife of a carpenter. He was born in a poor village (Micah 5:2); in a stable, laid in a manger (Luke 2:7). He was subject to his parents (Luke 2:51). He lay in the dark till thirty years of age (Luke 3:23); and then He began with two or three poor fishermen (Matthew 4:18-22); then some others to the number of twelve; and even now, when He seemed to be somebody, He had not a house or bed for Himself or for them (Luke 9:58). And for His maintenance, it was at the good will of others (Luke 8:3).
4. The Lord Christ is planted in the Church, and becomes a fruitful and goodly cedar therein. “I will plant it upon a high mountain,” etc. Christ was planted in Zion, there He grew, there He brought forth fruit. With the timber of this cedar was the Church built, with the fruit of this cedar it is maintained (Isaiah 4:2). The branch was Christ, and He should be for beauty and glory to the Church, and the fruit that should come from Him should be excellent. The Church saith, “His fruit was sweet to my taste.” Wisdom, righteousness, redemption, and sanctification are the fruits of this cedar (1 Corinthians 1:30); the life of the world (John 6:33); the ordinances of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 1:23); “exceeding great and precious promises;” reconciliation (Colossians 1:20); the gift of the comforter (John 16:7); revelation of the counsels of God (John 15:15); fellowship with the Father and the Son (John 14:9; 1 John 1:3); “eternal life” (John 10:28). Such was the fruit this cedar bore. In the midst of the Church He was planted, fruitful, and sang praise to God (Hebrews 2:12). And so high is this cedar grown, that it is now in heaven at the right hand of God (Ephesians 1:20-21). The mountain of the Lord is on the top of all mountains, and this cedar on the top of that mountain.
5. There is safety under Christ, He will protect His people from all harms. “Under it shall they dwell.” Men will not dwell where there is no safety. Those who come under Christ’s shadow, His power and government, shall dwell there in safety. He will protect His Church, and tread down the enemies thereof, whatever their power, politics, and pretences are. He is a cedar in wisdom (Colossians 2:3); a cedar in power (Matthew 28:18); a cedar in His providence and vigilance (Isaiah 28:3); hence saith the Church, “I sat under His shadow with great delight” (Song of Solomon 2:3). It is Christ secures from sin, from the wisdom of the flesh, the storms of the world, temptations of hell, and whatever is dangerous Isaiah 25:4). If you be under the shadow of this cedar, though the winds blow hard, the floods beat sore, and rain fall with strength, yet you shall be as safe as the house built upon the rock (Matthew 7:24-25).
6. Princes that are haughty and proud, God will bring them down though they be in flourishing conditions. “I have brought down the high tree,” etc. Zedekiah was a high tree; the king of Judah, and his spirit was high; he hearkened not to the God of Israel, nor to His prophets; he would not keep covenant and promise with the king of Babylon. But God laid the axe to the root of this tree and hewed it down. No trees are so high, but the Lord who is higher than they, can lay them low. Let them be green with boughs, branches, leaves; let them have many soldiers, many counsellors, many kingdoms, all cannot preserve them from ruin. Nebuchadnezzar was a high tree, his top reached to heaven (Daniel 4:11); but, “A watcher and a holy one came down from heaven, cried aloud and said, Hew down the tree, cut off his branches,” etc. Daniel 4:13-14). There is a watcher who observes the plots and practices of kings, and hews them down at His pleasure. Pharaoh was a high tree, the highest in all Egypt; he said, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.” Here was pride and cruelty, which usually go together; and what followed hereupon? “Thou did’st blow with thy wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters (Exodus 15:9-10.) Saul was a goodly man, a high tree in Israel; he was proud, cruel, false, disobedient to God; and He rejected him, and cut him down by the Philistines and his own sword (1 Samuel 31:0). So Ahab (1 Kings 22:0); Herod (Acts 12:23); Belshazzar (Daniel 5:5; Daniel 5:22-23; Daniel 5:30). The Lord hath days and times to reckon with the high and haughty ones (Isaiah 10:33-34; Isaiah 2:12-17).
7. How low soever the conditions of kingdoms, families, or persons are, God is able to raise them. “I have exalted the low tree,” etc. The kingdom of Judah, the house of David, the person of Jeconiah, were very low in Babylon, like low shrubs, dry trees. But God exalted them, and brought a glorious kingdom and a church out of those low beginnings. Was not Christ like a low and dry tree, when He lay in the loins of Jeconiah, a prisoner, a captive; when He lay in the womb of the Virgin; hewed timber, made houses for His living; especially when He was cut down and laid in the heart of the earth? Was He not a dry tree then? But God exalted Him, set Him at His right hand; and Peter proclaimed it (Acts 2:33; Acts 2:36).
8. God will do all these things so eminently that the world shall take notice, and be filled with the glory thereof. “And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the Lord,” etc. Not only the orchard trees, but the field trees, not domestic alone, but wild ones. Men shall fear and hide themselves, “for the glory of His Majesty, when He ariseth to shake terribly the earth” (Isaiah 2:19)—(Greenhill.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 17". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany