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The Visions and Oracles of the Prophet Ezekiel (11)

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

Installments:

      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 Young Lions and the Rods of Judah

Ezekiel began the prophecy contained in chapter 19 by calling it a lamentation. Our prophet used this term frequently. Especially did he employ it with reference to Tyre and her King. A lamentation is a weeping and mourning over a situation. In the present case, the word, lamentation, may refer to the entire chapter or simply to the first nine verses. I am inclined, however, to believe that it refers to the entire passage.

The prophet begins speaking of the young lions of Judah in verse 1 and continues from this point of view through verse 9. In verses 10-14, however, he changes his representation and speaks of the nation of Israel as being a vine and her kings as being rods. As we shall see by an investigation, both comparisons are dealing with a like situation.

The reader should turn to Jeremiah, chapter 22, and study carefully the revelation which that prophet made to the kings of the house of Judah. In this chapter Jeremiah spoke of Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin. But Ezekiel, in chapter 19, spoke of Jehoahaz, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. But it is interesting to study both passages and see that each supplements the other.

I. The Young Lions of Judah

Since the passage which we have for consideration is so very short in this study, let us read the first nine verses:

Moreover, take thou up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, 2 and say, What was thy mother? A lioness: she couched among lions, in the midst of the young lions she nourished her whelps. 3 And she brought-up one of her whelps: he became a young lion, and he learned to catch the prey; he devoured men. 4 The nations also heard of him; he was taken in their pit; and they brought him with hooks unto the land of Egypt. 5 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. 6 And he went up and down among the lions; be became a young lion, and he learned to catch the prey; he devoured men. 7 And he knew their palaces, and laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the fulness thereof, because of the noise of his roaring. 8 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. 9 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.” (Ezekiel 19:1-9)

This language is either figurative or literal. Taken literally, it has no significance whatsoever; but when taken figuratively or metaphorically and interpreted in the light of related passages, it becomes very intelligible and has a profound message. Since one of the young lions was taken to Egypt and the other was taken to Babylon, one immediately thinks of Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, who reigned only three months, and who was taken by Pharaoh-Necco to Egypt. Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim, was carried by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon. Since two of these young lions were taken — one to Egypt and the other to Babylon — and since obviously the passage is used symbolically, one naturally understands that these lions are symbols of kings.

An animal, when it is used symbolically in the Scriptures, always signifies a civil government and its sovereign. That this is true is evident from the study of Daniel, chapter 7. In the night visions this prophet saw a great sea, the waters of which were disturbed. Out of it there first emerged a lion like beast which came upon the land, and which dominated all that it surveyed. Following this one, when the waters were again agitated, there came forth a second beast, which was like a bear. It too came upon the land and became master. Again the waters were troubled and there emerged a beast like a leopard, which took the place of the second one. Finally, the waters were disturbed the fourth time, and there rose from them a nondescript beast. Daniel was eager to know the significance of these beasts. The interpreting angel gave him the desired information, for in 7:17 he told the prophet: “These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, that shall arise out of the earth.” Each of those beasts represented a world empire. They came up in succession, each succeeding one conquering its predecessor and taking its place.

The fourth one emerges and takes the place of the third one, continuing until the Ancient of Days takes His seat upon the throne and pronounces judgment upon its ruler, who speaks great swelling words against the Almighty. Thus Gentile world dominion is portrayed in the most graphic manner by the four symbolic beasts, that came up out of the troubled waters before the prophet's eyes. These four beasts, by general consent of all conservative, biblical scholars, are recognized as representing Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Sometimes the floodlight is flashed over the entire empire and one sees it as a whole. At other times, the spotlight is used by the prophet, figuratively speaking, and one sees the ruler or sovereign only. This is seen in comparing Daniel 7:17 and 7:23. In Psalm 80:13 the boar out of the forest and other beasts are likewise used symbolically to refer to the Gentile powers that had trodden down the Jewish people. Again we see beasts used symbolically in Jeremiah 2:15 to represent nations. To interpret Ezekiel 19:1-9 symbolically as thus setting forth the historical facts of the latter part of the last days of the monarchy is intelligible.

“What was thy mother?” asked the prophet of his auditors. “She couched among lions, in the midst of the young lions she nourished her whelps.” The representation here is that of a number of lions lying around. There is a lioness among them. She nourishes her whelps that become young lions. Evidently these lions are symbols of the nations lying around about the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The kingdom of Judah was a lioness who had nourished her whelps and made young, strong lions out of them. These whelps that were made into young lions were the leaders of the people, namely, the kings.

A study of the history as contained in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles shows that there were a number of brave, great, and mighty kings who reigned in Jerusalem. Of course David and Solomon were the greatest. Asa was a good king and a great man. So was Jehoshaphat. Hezekiah and Josiah likewise were great and noble men, powerful kings. The Babylonians recognized that Jerusalem had had many mighty and powerful kings. Different ones of these young lions “learned to catch the prey; he devoured men.” This language is a reference to those kings of Judah who were aggressive in their relations with other nations and who got gain thereby.

But in verse 4 we read of one of these young lions that was caught — taken in a pit, and then carried with hooks into the land of Egypt. It is true that in the days of Shishak, king of Egypt, Rehoboam was conquered by Egypt and taken there temporarily; but he was restored to his kingdom. Ezekiel is not speaking of that incident. That which he had in mind was doubtless the dethroning of Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, and his being taken to Egypt to remain there until his death.

After Jehoahaz was taken to Egypt, Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah, mounted the throne and reigned for eleven years. He is passed over in this symbolic representation by Ezekiel. After the lioness, the kingdom of Judah, saw that one of her young lions had been taken into captivity, “she took another of her whelps, and made him a young lion” — he became king. “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 their palaces, and laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the fulness 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.” He was captured, put in a cage with hooks, and deported to Babylon. He remained a prisoner of the Babylonians until the day of his death. Nevermore was his voice heard “upon the mountains of Israel.” This can be none other than Jehoiachin, who reigned only three months and then was dethroned and carried into captivity.

II. The Rods or the Scepters of Judah

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. 11 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. 12 But it was plucked up in fury, it was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up its fruit: its strong rods were broken off and withered; the fire consumed them. 13 And now it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land. 4 And fire is gone out of the rods of its 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.” (Ezekiel 19:10-14)

In these verses the prophet has changed his symbolical representation or picture. This was common among the Orientals. For instance, in Psalm 23 David spoke of the relationship of Jehovah to His people under the symbolic representation of a shepherd and his flock. In the last two verses of his psalm, he changed his figure and compared God to a host who prepared a banquet for his people. Thus two entirely different symbolical representations appear in the short space of the six verses of Psalm 23. When we come to verse 10 of Ezekiel, chapter 19, we see that our prophet has changed his symbolism. He no longer compares the kingdom of Judah to a lioness and her kings to young lions. Here he reverts to the familiar method of comparing the nation to a grapevine. This imagery is familiar. We see it in Psalm 80:8-16, Isaiah, chapter 5, and Matthew 21:33-46. The kingdom of Judah is here represented as a vine that has been planted by the waters. It therefore was fruitful and full of branches by reason of the fertility of the soil and the abundance of water.

Since it was thus in a productive soil and had sufficient watering, it naturally had strong rods for scepters 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.” These rods that grew on the vine are called rods or scepters “of them that bare rule.” The scepter of a kingdom is a symbol of the rule and authority that the king has in his position as sovereign.

When we take this language and strip it of its symbolical character, we see here presented the thought that the kingdom of Judah had been planted beside many waters, had been established in a very favorable location, and as a result she had become strong and powerful. She produced strong and mighty kings who bore rule over the people and who guided the destiny of the nation. These rods or scepters were the very highest part of the vine and towered above all the rest of the vine. These rods or scepters, by metonymy, were the strong and mighty kings in Judah of the Davidic dynasty who had borne rule in the land.

In verse 12 we are told that “it was plucked up in fury, it was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up its fruit; its strong rods were broken off and withered; the fire consumed them.” When Ezekiel spoke this prophecy the nation had not actually been plucked up, but it was on the very verge of being overthrown by the Chaldeans. The time for the fulfillment was so very close at hand that the prophet represented it as an accomplished fact. Thus he saw this vine pulled up out of its native soil cast down to the ground, and then there came forth out of the desert a burning, scorching east wind that withered the vine and dried up its fruit. At the same time its strong rods were broken off and withered. The fire consumed them.

The strong east wind that scorched and withered this vine when it was pulled up could be nothing less than the Babylonian forces under Nebuchadnezzar, that came from the east against Jerusalem. This language becomes especially forceful to the one who recognizes that the scorching east wind from the Arabian Desert causes vegetation to wither in the Holy Land. Thus Israel herself and her civilization was withered and scorched by the Babylonians. The nation was pulled up from its native soil by the roots and thrown down, and two of her kings, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah, were broken off.

In verse 13 the prophet sees this vine of Israel after it has been pulled up out of its native soil and has been planted out in the desert, in a dry and thirsty land. This sentence of course refers to the overthrow of the nation and the Exile.

The cause of all this conflagration and the burning of this vine was that “fire is gone out of the rods of its branches, it hath devoured its fruit, so that there is in it no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule.” The fire which consumed the vine in this symbolic representation refers to the wickedness and the evil of the kings of Judah who led the nation into sin and caused the fire kindled from God's wrath to burn and consume the nation.

Certainly the rulers of a people have a marvelous, profound, and far-reaching influence upon the people and upon the destiny of a nation. This has always been true and will continue to be. The welfare of the people of Israel was indeed wrapped up with their rulers. The welfare of the American people is, in a similar manner, wrapped up with our political leaders. Let us therefore pray that they may enact proper laws and rule in such a manner that we may lead quiet and peaceful lives in all gravity and godliness, serving the Lord and pushing forward the interests of the kingdom of God until Jesus comes.

Next: Israel's Past and Future Experiences

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