Chapter 16 is a parable of the unfaithful wife. Jerusalem is exposed as a wanton prostitute. It is hard to read today and in the ancient context it was shocking. Ezekiel was graphically communicating the full ugliness and offensiveness of Judah’s sin. He refused to be polite when discussing the people’s depravity. In fact, Ezekiel’s refusal to tone down Judah’s sins was the point. The offensive nature of Ezekiel’s message was critical to its effectiveness. The people God would bring awful judgement upon needed to hear and feel the full magnitude of their sins in His sight and anything less would not have communicated this message. Ezekiel begins with Jerusalem’s unpromising roots. It came from an Amorite, and a Hittite, Canaanite roots. And Jerusalem retained its Canaanite population even after David conquered it. Jerusalem’s parents were heartless and did not perform the usual practices for a newborn. Ordinarily, someone cut the umbilical cord, washed the infant, smeared salt and oil over her body, and swaddled her tightly in cloth. Instead, as was common with baby girls in the ancient world, Jerusalem was abandoned: dumped in a field and left to die. While Jerusalem was in a helpless and hopeless condition, the Lord intervened with His life giving Word. Without that, she would have certainly died. The Lord had no obligation to rescue this abandoned child. She would have just been one of many facing such a fate. But, out of His mercy and grace, the Lord enabled her to not only survive, but thrive. Instead of dying in the field, she grew up into a plant, beautiful and mature. The city of Jerusalem prospered before becoming an Israelite city, and it was the Lord’s doing.
Wrapping a cloak, or spreading the corner of a garment over someone was an act that represented a commitment to marriage. The Lord made a covenant with Jerusalem, and in the terms of the metaphor, He married her. And, the Lord chose Jerusalem as the place for His name to be honored. The Lord did for Jerusalem what her parents never did, reversing the circumstances of her birth. He provided Jerusalem with adornments fit for a queen, including materials that are elsewhere associated with the tabernacle. This served to remind the people of Jerusalem that she was chosen as the home of God’s sanctuary and the kings palace. Jerusalem was known throughout the world for her beauty and splendor…both gifts from the Lord. But instead of appreciating the good things God had given her, Jerusalem prostituted her fame and beauty to false gods and offered to idols the precious things the Lord had given her. She even went so far as to give her sons and daughters as sacrifices to false gods. This happened in the worship of the pagan gods Molech and Chemosh. Sometimes Israel participate in this detestable sin. It was not unusual for prophets to describe idolatry in terms of adultery but Ezekiel went into significant detail. He depicted Jerusalem not as foolish or misguided but rotten to her very core. She was depraved and insatiable. Her promiscuity came in the form of pursuing Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon…alliances that were financially costly and never delivered the expected benefits. And these alliances demonstrated that God’s people did not trust Him to protect them and watch over them. It also led Israel into worshiping other gods.
Since Jerusalem behaved like an adulteress, it was fitting that she should face an adulteresses death sentence. God would strip her naked in a symbolic act of divorce, reversing the metaphor of the clothing of marriage. The people would stone her, covering her naked body with blood, and she would leave the world just like she entered into. This was fulfilled when the Babylonians destroyed the city in 586 B.C. Ironically it was Jerusalem’s lovers that would turn on her and destroy her, and it would not end until the city had paid for all of her sins. Both the parents had been cut off from the land because of their sins. So, Jerusalem’s behavior was in keeping with her heredity. After the kingdom of Israel separated in to north and south, Jeroboam in the north introduced the worship of golden calves in the national shrines at Dan and Bethel. The downward spiral of idol worship began in earnest. Sodom was a byword for sexual sins, pride, gluttony, lazIness, and the neglect of the poor and needy. But in comparison to Jerusalem, both Samaria and Sodom seemed virtuous. If God had justly destroyed both of Jerusalem’s sisters for their sins, how would Jerusalem even escape God’s coming wrath? The power of God’s grace, even more than His judgement would make Jerusalem feel ashamed of her association with her parents and sisters…Ammonites, Hittites, and sodom. However, we also see God’s infinite grace. Jerusalem’s sins were serious and demanded punishment but judgement was not God’s last word on Jerusalem. Yes, she had broken God’s covenant over and over but God would remember the covenant He had made with her at the beginning. God’s purposes for His people cannot be derailed even by their sins because His covenant commitment is everlasting. His forgiveness of her sins would finally bring Jerusalem to repentance.
Ezekiel followed that parable with a riddle, metaphorical speech that both conceals and reveals. It is also a fable, a story that communicates a moral message about humans by transposing it into the world of plants and animals. Babylon was the city filled with merchants. This parable symbolizes King Zedekiah’s vacillating royal policy that led to his downfall. The parable is presented in verses 1-10, its explanation in verses 11-21, and verses 22-24 are a promise of better times to come. The first great eagle is king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and the topmost shoot of the cedar is Jehoiachin. The seed of the land is king Zedekiah, brother of Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim, and the uncle of Jehoiachin. Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah king of Judah after taking Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He was the one who grew into a low vine. This vine failed to prosper because he made a treaty with Egypt. There was a second eagle like the first though though not quite so glorious. This was the king of Egypt, probably pharaoh Hophra. The east wind refers to the sirocco or khamsin, a hot dry wind that brings sand and dust storms of destruction. These hot winds of judgement blew in from Babylon, uprooting and withering Jerusalem.
The image of the eagle that’s spared no effort in providing for the vine seems to describe God’s care for Israel more than Nebuchadnezzar’s concern for Zedekiah. These connections point us to a fundamental analogy between Zedekiah’s rebellion against his overlord Nebuchadnezzar, and Israel’s rebellion against the Lord. While Zedekiah’s rebellion was foolish, Israel’s was outright ridiculous. God would punish Israel’s king for breaking His covenant with treason against the Lord who had planted him in the land of promise. The last verses, 22-24, turn the fable around. Now the Lord would take a branch from the cedar tree and plant it on Israel’s highest mountain. In the Old Testament trees typically represent the royal line, with a new shoot representing a fresh start. The judgement on the vine would not end the monarchy after all. God would plant a fresh branch that would grow into a more majestic cedar than the first cedar had ever been. What Ezekiel reveals is that God cuts the tall tree down, makes the short tree grow tall, and gives the dead tree new life, enabling birds from all over shelter under its branches. The promise of an eternal throne for David’s descendants would not be thwarted. In Jesus, the dynasty of David would rise up again as the source of blessing for all nations.
The people had been quoting a false proverb that meant innocent children had been suffering because of their parents actions. The people intended to point out that the reason for Jerusalem’s troubles was because of the sins of the their forefathers. The Lord’s response was to deny this was a fact. To the contrary, the Lord punishes only those who are guilty because He is unfailingly just. He explained how His punishment worked with an example spanning three generations. The first generation featured a righteous and obedient man. One who lives like this has no need to fear God’s judgement. The second generation lived just the opposite way. These people will be responsible for their own guilt and suffer God’s judgement. The third generation is also righteous and obedient and they too will be safe from the wrath of God. Ezekiel also introduced two more case studies. Wicked people who turn away from their sins can experience God’s forgiveness and righteous people who begin sinning will be judged. However, God has made it clear that He does not like to see anyone die, so He appointed Ezekiel as a watchman, whose role was to turn the wicked toward a godly life while warning the righteous against falling away. Israel’s problem was not that the Lord wasn’t doing what’s right but that the people were persistently doing what was wrong. The people absolutely deserved God’s judgement. The chapter ends with a passionate plea for God’s people Israel to turn back to the Lord and live. It was not too late for them to repent, turn from their sins, and be forgiven. Gods promised a new heart and a new spirit to all who would turn from their rebellion and humbly come to Him.
Chapter 19 is a funeral song. In the ancient Near East funeral songs had a distinctive rhythm and style and usually extolled the virtues of the person who had died, contrasting past glory with the current loss. In this case the dirge contained a catalogue of their faults. Both the lion and the vine were familiar images for the princes of Israel, the royal dynasty of Judah. The first cub chosen here represents Jehoahaz, who reigned for only three months before being carried in to Egypt by pharaoh Neco. Ezekiel describes his brief reign in entirely negative terms. Lions were traditionally hunted with a net and a pit, here the violent metaphor for the way Jehoahaz would be carried away into Egypt. The behavior of the second cub was similar to the first but even more violent, as he destroyed their cities and towns. This cub could be Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, or Zedekiah. It is not clear which cities and towns the king of Judah destroyed. Ezekiel may have been thinking of the negative effect that the foolish foreign policy had on the cities and towns of Judah. Jehoiakim was captured and killed by the Babylonians in Judah. Jehoiachin was exiled to Babylon along with Ezekiel. Zedekiah’s reign ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The vine in verse 10 is Judah, whom the Lord had planted under optimum conditions. But Judah’s pride led to its downfall as the Lord uprooted it in His wrath. Then He planted Judah in the desert of exile. The final fire is most likely Zedekiah. His reign consumed the people and the land and caused more destruction and sin. After Zedekiah there was no branch strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter. Zedekiah would have no successor.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W