The Visions and Oracles of the Prophet Ezekiel (9)

Biblical Research Monthly, January 1947 thru September 1950 — by Dr. David L. Cooper


      1. Some Preliminary Observations
      2. The Call and Commission of Ezekiel
      3. The Beginnings of Ezekiel's Ministry
      4. The Final Collapse of Judah Under the Babylonian Siege
      5. Jehovah's Withdrawal from the City and it's Downfall
      6. The Flight and Capture of the King Symbolically Represented and Warning Against a Wrong Attitude Concerning Prophecy
      7. Prophecy and Idolatry
      8. Israel, the Burnt Vine and the Unfaithful Wife
      9. The Riddle of the Two Great Eagles and the Messianic Reign of Christ
      10. God's Reply to the Proverb, “The Fathers have Eaten Sour Grapes, and the Children's Teeth are Set on Edge”
      11. The Young Lions and the Rods of Judah
      12. Israel's Past and Future Experiences
      13. The Sword of Jehovah
      14. Sinful Jerusalem and Her Punishment
      15. The Lewdness of Oholah and Oholibah
      16. The Boiling Caldron
      17. Oracles Concerning Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia
      18. The Oracle Concerning Tyre
      19. The Oracles Concerning Egypt
      20. The Watchman on the Wall (Chapter 33)
      21. The Untrue Shepherds of Israel
      22. The Flock of Jehovah and its Shepherd
      23. The Judgment upon Edom
      24. The Curse Removed from the Land of Israel
      25. Israel's Restoration to the Land of the Fathers and Her Conversion
      26. The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones
      27. The Scattered Nation of Israel Reunited under King Messiah
      28. The Overthrow of the Russian Forces that Invade Palestine (Chapter 38)
      29. The Overthrow of the Antichrist's Forces Invade Palestine (Chapter 39)
      30. The Millennial Jerusalem
      31. The Millennial Temple
      32. The Prince and the Glorified Millennial Temple
      33. The Land of Israel in the Millennium

The Riddle of the Two Great Eagles and the Messianic Reign of Christ

Though the prophecy which we are about to study is not dated, it is in all probability to be assumed as having been uttered between the sixth and seventh years of Jehoiachin's captivity. Chapters 8-11 were given in the sixth year of that era; chapter 20, in the seventh year. The material from chapters 12-19 in all probability was uttered between those two dates. We have come to this conclusion since the prophecies of Ezekiel in the main are all given chronologically — in terms of the captivity of Jehoiachin. The seventh year of Jehoiachin's captivity would be the sixth year of Zedekiah.

The data discussed in 17:1-21 assumes Zedekiah's treacherous act of fostering a conspiracy against his master, Nebuchadnezzar, to whom he owed his crown and to whom he had sworn fidelity. That there was such a conspiracy on the part of Zedekiah with surrounding nations who had sent their delegates to Jerusalem is quite evident from Jeremiah 27:1-11. From Ezekiel 17:7-10 we see that Zedekiah was negotiating with Egypt for assistance in the case of rebellion against Babylon. Thus the circumstances seem to point to a developed political situation in Judah at the time when this oracle was given. Such a situation had developed by the sixth year of Zedekiah's reign.

I. The Riddle of the Great Eagles

In verses 1-10 of this chapter we read of the two great eagles whose influence was brought to bear upon Judah. Immediately the question arises: What is the significance of this riddle and who are the two great eagles? What is meant by Lebanon? What is the significance of the topmost twig on the cedar of Lebanon? Mention is made of the city of merchants. What city is that? What is indicated by “the seed royal”? We know that this language is not literal, that is, not to be understood literally, but is a riddle. A riddle is a conundrum, an enigma. Possibly the word allegory would be more accurate. In defining an allegory Webster says that it is “The veiled presentation, in a figurative story, of a meaning metaphorically implied but not expressly stated. Allegory is prolonged metaphor, in which typically a series of actions are symbolic of other actions.” Obviously that is what we have here in our chapter for consideration. Certain ones are represented under the symbolism of the great eagles. Someone is likewise represented by the twig from the topmost bough of the great cedar of Lebanon. It is quite evident that there is a veiled or hidden meaning attached to this narration. We shall therefore attempt to unravel the mystery.

In verse 3 we read of a great eagle “with great wings and long pinions, full of feathers, which had divers colors,” and which came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar. Nations in ancient times, as in modern days, used birds and animals as their national emblems. For instance, the American eagle is the symbol of the United States of America. That such was the significance is quite evident from Ezekiel's statement in verse 12: “Say now to the rebellious house, Know ye not what these things mean? tell them, Behold, the King of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and brought them to him to Babylon.” This statement points definitely to the symbolic significance of the eagle; namely, that the first one represented the king of Babylon. The specific king here referred to is none other than Nebuchadnezzar, who in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, king of Judah (the same was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon), first came in touch with Judah. See Jeremiah, chapter 25. At this time he began to get a hold upon the Jewish nation. In the reign of Jehoiachin, son and successor of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar again came into Palestine, besieged the country, and took Jehoiachin to Babylon as an exile. He then took Mattaniah, one of the sons of King Josiah, changed his name to Zedekiah, and made him king. The record of these events is found in the historical accounts of Kings and Chronicles.

What is meant by Lebanon? Today the word, Lebanon, applies to the little republic north of Palestine on the Mediterranean coast. Through this territory runs the Lebanon and Ante-Lebanon Ranges, which extend southward through Palestine and Transjordan. In ancient times all of this country consisting of the present Lebanon and Palestine was known as Lebanon. Thus Lebanon in our passage refers to the whole Levant. But of course Ezekiel is speaking of that portion of Lebanon that was in Palestine.

We know that this great, gorgeous eagle with its mighty wings and feathers of various colors came to Lebanon and took the top of a cedar. The cedars of Lebanon were famous in ancient days — and at the present time also. I had the privilege of visiting the place where the cedars of Lebanon are. There was a grove of approximately four hundred of these cedars. The largest one was thirteen feet in diameter, according to reports of the attendant. The cedars of Lebanon were used as symbols of the royal house of Judah. This eagle took the topmost bough of one of its twigs and carried it to the “land of traffic.” This twig symbolized the Jewish king whom Nebuchadnezzar dethroned and took into exile. This one was none other than King Jehoiachin, who was dethroned after a short reign of three months. He was taken to Babylon where he spent the last of his days. Babylon was the land of traffic and the city of Babylon the city of merchants.

Nebuchadnezzar, this great eagle, also took of the seed of the land and planted it in a beautiful soil. When we look at the historical facts, we see that Nebuchadnezzar took Mattaniah, one of the sons of Josiah, and made him king and changed his name to Zedekiah. He was of course of the seed royal and was planted in the fruitful soil with the favor of Babylon shining upon him. Under those conditions this twig became a mighty tree. Zedekiah prospered, having commercial relationships with Babylon and also with Egypt. Thus it was as a willow tree by many waters; it grew and spread and became as a spreading vine of low stature, “whose branches turned toward him, and the roots thereof were under him: so it became a vine, and brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs” (vs. 6). Thus in this symbolic representation we see that Zedekiah was by his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar put in a favorable position of growth and development and expansion.

According to verse 7 “There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers.” This vine, Zedekiah, who in the preceding verses had been compared to the twig of the cedar tree that developed into a vine, began to lean toward the second eagle and to send its shoots toward him and directed its branches toward him in order that it might be watered by this second great eagle. When we look at the historical records and also at the predictions of Jeremiah, the contemporary of Ezekiel, we know exactly who this second great eagle was, namely, Egypt. Pharaoh-Hophra was the then reigning sovereign. Zedekiah began negotiations with Pharaoh with a view of forming an alliance of the powers in Western Asia in order to throw off the Babylonian yoke.

Although the environment in which Zedekiah and his government had been placed providentially under the supervision of Babylon was the very best under the existing conditions, the prosperity, the influence, and prestige were thrown away by Zedekiah in his plotting a revolt against Nebuchadnezzar, to whom he had sworn fealty. Thus Ezekiel was commanded to speak the following oracle: “Shall it prosper? shall he not pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof, that it may wither; that all its fresh springing leaves may wither? and not by a strong arm or much people can it be raised from the roots thereof. 10 Yea, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither, when the east wind toucheth it? it shall wither in the beds where it grew” (vss. 9, 10). Blessed is the man who swears to his own hurt and changeth not. When men assume obligations personally they are honor bound to keep those promises and fulfill conditions to which they give their word. God expects men and nations to ponder well any matter before giving their word of honor regarding the same. When they have pledged their word and sworn that they will do certain things, they are in honor bound to carry out the assumed obligations.

When, however, force is used to impose the will of one upon another, such circumstances might alter the case. It is my conviction that the person or nation that assumes obligations and swears loyalty to others should comply with the conditions of the contract. If, however, there are injustices imposed by the stronger power, those who are servants of God should submit to the injustice, but should look to the Lord to overrule circumstances and change the conditions. “The king's heart is in the hand of Jehovah as the watercourses: He turneth it whithersoever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). Since Zedekiah had sworn his loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar, God expected him to keep his word. As a matter of fact, the Lord had instructed all of those nations that were contemplating the formation of a federation against Nebuchadnezzar to submit to the yoke of Babylon for a period of seventy years. God owns the earth and gives it to whomsoever He will, as He deems right and proper. In urging those nations to submit to Babylon, the Lord said that, at the expiration of the seventy years, many nations and great kings would make Babylon their bondman. Thus the Lord would turn the tables at the proper time.

If only the people of God could realize that the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth, that it is He who changes the course of history, that it is He who gives the rule and the authority over nations to whomsoever He will, and that He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him — those who are called according to His purpose — they could look to Him under all conditions and circumstances and pray for immediate deliverance or for sustaining grace to enable them to endure that which He permits to come to pass. Life for such people would be holy and sacred, even in the midst of persecution, privation, and sufferings.

God had expressed Himself that Zedekiah should be faithful to Nebuchadnezzar. It was best for Western Asia and for Judah especially to be under the yoke of Babylon. The Lord therefore gave Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty over the Jews. For Zedekiah and his political advisers to institute, to foster a coalition of nations for the purpose of rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar was to rebel against the expressed will of God. Could Zedekiah and Judah expect to prosper under those conditions? The answer is a most emphatic negative. No country nor individual can hope to prosper and be blessed that goes contrary to the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, and that goes against one's pledged word of obligation.

The doom which was awaiting Zedekiah and the nation of Israel is expressed in verse 10: “Yea, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither, when the east wind toucheth it? it shall wither in the beds where it grew.” Shall it prosper under these conditions? Absolutely not. It would wither when the east wind of Babylonian armed forces blew against it. It would wither in the place where it had grown prosperously.

II. The Interpretation

God had put His revelation concerning this situation in the form of a riddle or parable. This unique method was evidently designed to impress the lesson upon the minds of the hearers. But God always makes His Word sufficiently plain to people, especially those for whom it is primarily designed, in order that they might be without excuse. It is also true that sometimes the Lord Jesus spoke in parables to a certain group under special conditions. He thus veiled His teaching because those people were not desirous of the truth. When, however, those who wanted to know the facts in the case came to Him privately, He explained thoroughly what He meant. Thus, after giving forth His riddle, Ezekiel was commanded to say to the rebellious house of Israel, “Know ye not what these things mean? tell them. Behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and brought them to him to Babylon.” This refers to the dethronement and exile of Jehoiachin, which had occurred six or seven years earlier.

Then Nebuchadnezzar “took of the seed royal, and made a covenant with him; he also brought him under an oath, and took away the mighty of the land; 14 that the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand.” Mattaniah was the seed royal who was elevated to royal dignity and given the name of Zedekiah. He made a covenant with Nebuchadnezzar and entered into an oath before God and man that he would carry out the stipulations of the covenant. Nebuchadnezzar thus made him swear fealty to him in order that he might not rise up in revolt against his authority. Notwithstanding this oath, he did foster a rebellion. As we see in verse 15 he “rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt that they might give him horses and much people” for the contemplated revolt. “Shall he prosper? shall he escape that doeth such things? shall he break the covenant, and yet escape?” These questions God asked. Then He himself answered: He said that Zedekiah, because of his disloyalty and his failure to keep his oath and his promise, would have to die in the land of the king of Babylon “whose oath he despised.” In verses 17 and 18 God explained that, although Zedekiah was looking to Egypt for deliverance, the hoped-for assistance would never materialize and would avail him nothing.

The Lord is very emphatic in verse 19 regarding the oath which Zedekiah had taken. Here He called it His oath.

As I live surely mine oath that he hath despised and my covenant that he hath broken, I will even bring it upon his own head. 20 And I will spread my net upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon, and will enter into judgment with him there for his trespass that he hath trespassed against me. 21 And all his fugitives in all his bands shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered toward every wind: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it.” (Ezekiel 17:19-21)

Indeed, blessed is the man who sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not!

III. The Promise of the Messianic Kingdom

In verses 22-24 the Lord gave a promise of the Messiah and His great glorious reign. He had taken a topmost twig from the royal cedar of Lebanon and had made him king. That promise had already been fulfilled in the crowning of Mattaniah as king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. But the Lord in this prediction says:

I will also take of the lofty top of the cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I will plant it upon a high and lofty mountain: 23 in the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it; and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all birds of every wing; in the shade of the branches thereof shall they dwell.” (Ezekiel 17:22, 23)

This twig, cropped from the topmost bough of this royal cedar of the house of Judah, is likewise to be planted. But it will be planted in the high and lofty mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel. It will grow and prosper, bear fruit and become a goodly cedar. In the shadow of its boughs, according to the promise, will be birds of every type. When this passage is read in the light of predictions relative to King Messiah, it is seen clearly that this is a prophecy regarding Messiah put in this symbolic language.

“And all the trees of the field shall know that I, Jehovah, 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: I, Jehovah, have spoken and have done it” (vs. 24). With this verse the prophecy of chapter 17 concludes. When this prediction likewise is read in the light of related passages, the high tree, which is brought down, is seen to refer to none other than the Antichrist, the world dictator of the end time. The low tree that is exalted obviously is none other than the meek and lowly Nazarene who was rejected by men when He came the first time, but who will be exalted by the word when He returns in the day of His power and glory. The green trees that are dried up are none other than the nations of the world that will flourish under the Antichrist. And the dry tree that then will flourish is none other than Israel who, when she accepts Christ, will be made the head of the nations instead of being the tail as she is at the present day.

The guarantee that this prophecy will be fulfilled is found in these words: “I, Jehovah, have spoken and have done it.”

Next: God's Reply to the Proverb, “The Fathers have Eaten Sour Grapes, and the Children's Teeth are Set on Edge”