These two verses are preface to what follows in the chapter.
A riddle; a dark saying, which calls for thorough consideration to understand and apply it, because the meaning is different to the sound of the words.
A parable; the same thing redoubled in different words. And it is likely the prophet is commanded to use a parable, because those Eastern people were much used to and taken with this kind of discourse.
The house of Israel, i.e. the remainders of the house of Israel, whether of the ten tribes, or of the two tribes.
A great eagle; Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as Ezekiel 17:12, compared to a great eagle, king of birds, swift, strong, rapacious, and of a lofty flight.
With great wings; mighty provinces on each side of his kingdom.
Long-winged; his kingdom was vastly extended, as Daniel 3:3 4:1; the greatest king then living.
Full of feathers; his kingdom was very full of people.
Which had divers colours; were of divers nations, languages, and manners, so that this eagle, nay be well thought to be that sort which is greatest in the kind, and best resembleth him, who was the greatest monarch in the world at that time.
Came; invaded with a mighty army; he came not as a traveller to please his curiosity, but as an invader to enlarge his dominion.
Unto Lebanon; either the temple built with cedars of Lebanon; or Jerusalem, the chief city of the country where this great, fruitful, and pleasant hill was; or the whole country set forth by its chiefest hill, which runs about a hundred and twenty-five miles in length, and encloseth the land of Judea on the north side.
Took; took captive and carried away with him.
The highest branch; the king of Judah, Jehoiachin.
Of the cedar; either the royal family, or rather, the whole nation of the Jews.
Cropped off; as a gardener that crops off the goodliest scions, and carrieth them away to graft on some other stock. The top; both the king of Judah, now eighteen years old, and the nobles and chief of the land.
Into a land of traffic; into Babylon, which was a city of mighty trade, explained timber by being a city of merchants, and peculiarly of merchants that traded in sweet spices and odoriferous gums.
Took; chose out one to be king instead of Jehoiachin.
Of the seed of the land; a native, and, which is more, one of the royal family, Mattaniah, whom he called Zedekiah.
Planted it; settled him on the throne of Judah.
A fruitful field; a field fit for such a design, in the land of Judea. The prophet goeth on in his allusion, and explains what he meant, compares this new-made king to a willow, which grows no where so well as in a wet soil, and on banks of great waters.
It grew; both the king and kingdom.
Became a spreading vine; took root, grew up to a tolerable condition of riches, plenty, and prosperity.
Of low stature; but never reached the height of the cedar. Nebuchadnezzar, though he made Zedekiah king, yet kept him subject and dependent.
Turned; they grew and flourished, while they owned their state tributary to Babylon.
Toward him; Nebuchadnezzar, as their protector, benefactor, and sovereign lord.
The roots thereof; all the firmness, fruitfulness, and life of this state was in a subjection to the king of Babylon.
So; thus, in this order and manner of dependence, both the Jews and their king had life, growth, and verdure. Branches; greater and stronger boughs for present strength, beauty, and fruit.
Sprigs; younger and tenderer springles, as children, the hope of future times.
This is the second part of the parable.
Another great eagle, i.e. the king of Egypt, whether Apries, or Hophra, or what other was his name we need not curiously inquire, it was king of Egypt, Ezekiel 17:15.
Great wings: see Ezekiel 17:3.
This vine; Zedekiah, his nobles and people.
Did bend her roots towards him; sought the friendship and help of the king of Egypt.
Shot forth her branches; sent ambassadors, made a covenant, and trusted to the power of Egypt to defend her branches.
That he might water it; that they might add to their greatness and prosperous condition, as trees grow by due and seasonable watering them.
By the furrows; alluding to the manner of irrigation used in Egypt, by furrows or trenches to convey the water unto their plantations from the river Nile.
It was planted by Nebuchadnezzar, in a very hopeful condition, where it might have thrived, been fruitful, and flourished. But they, both king and people, were unthankful, and discontented, and by sinful courses sought to better themselves; they had no great or just cause to complain of Nebuchadnezzar’s usage towards them, but out of pride, ambition, and ingratitude, joined with perjury, they revolt, and provoke God’s wrath and Nebuchadnezzar’s rage against them.
Say thou; tell them what will be the issue of all this, and tell it to them in my name.
Shall it prosper? this vine, shall Zedekiah aud his people thrive by this? it is a question that must be resolved negatively, and with vehemency.
Shall he, Nebuchadnezzar, not pull up, utterly overthrow this kingdom which he had set up, destroy the king thereof?
Cut off the fruit; put to the sword and slay the children of Zedekiah and of the nobles.
Wither; never be in possibility of springing, so much is threatened by the withering of the branches.
All the leaves of her spring; all the promising hope they had shall vanish as the hope of a tree vanisheth, when all its buds and leaves wither in its spring.
Without great power; the king of Babylon shall do this easily, and never need to employ all his power and people to do this, utterly to root up this vine.
Nay, suppose this contrivance were successful, suppose this vine were planted by the help of Egypt, could it possibly prosper? No, no.
When the east wind; when the king of Babylon, which like the blasting wind conms from the north-east, shall but touch it, it will utterly wither.
In the furrows; even amidst its greatest and best helps to make it flourish. This discontent, ingratitude, and treachery will occasion the utter ruin of this people.
Say now: this is the order God gives to his prophet to explain the riddle.
To the rebellious house; to the house of Judah, which have been, and still are, rebellious against me, and are now entering into rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar.
Know ye not? are ye so blockish that you do not know what is meant? or are you so secure that you will not consider it, but run on your own ruin?
The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, is that first great eagle with part of his power.
Jerusalem is the Lebanon which he is come to.
The king thereof; the king of Israel, and his seed, and nobles are the branches and twigs cropped off, these are taken, conquered, made captives.
Led them with him; judging them unfit to be trusted any more, he will, though in chains, carry them to Babylon.
Hath taken of the king’s seed; first taken Jehoiachin and his princes captives, and next taken out from amidst the royal seed Mattaniah, and advanced him to the throne in Jerusalem.
Made a covenant with him, by solemn agreement, and on terms approved and accepted by Mattaniah, for performance of which terms he hath obliged himself by public promise.
An oath; because Nebuchadnezzar would be secure, he made Mattaniah enter into an oath, changed his name into Zedekiah, as a fit memorial who should avenge the crime, if this captive restored should perjure himself.
The mighty; the rich, honourable, valiant, wise, and who might (if rebellion ever arose among the Jews) be able to make head and do mischief against the Babylonian king.
Of the land; of Judea.
So plainly and openly did Nebuchadnezzar deal with the Jews.
The kingdom; the tributary kingdom, whereof Zedekiah is roitelet.
Base; low in power.
Lift itself up; rise up into rebellion, or be so considerable as to encourage any neighbour king to assist and confederate with them against Babylon.
That by continuing faithful, and performing the conditions of his covenant, either Nebuchadnezzar’s, by imposing, or Zedekiah’s, by submitting to it, and obliging himself by it, the kingdom of the Jews might continue and flourish.
But Zedekiah rebelled; endeavoured to cast off the dominion of the conqueror Nebuchadnezzar, who had advanced him and obliged him.
Sending his ambassadors is called bending his roots toward the second eagle.
Egypt; an old bitter enemy, and an impotent and false friend.
That they might give him horses: beside the perjury, here was a cursed trusting to an arm of flesh, of which Isaiah 31:1.
Much people; Zedekiah had not men to set upon his hired horses; Egypt must help here too. How sottishly doth this unhappy Zedekiah act to run himself on the charge and hazard of a new war, in which, whoever is the gainer, he and his are sure to be the losers!
Shall he prosper? see Ezekiel 17:9,10. Can it be likely vengeance should not overtake such ingratitude? Can perjury be the way for any man’s deliverance? Can such notorious sinning end in any thing but misery?
As sure as I am God, and live, I will punish this perjury: and here is a particular account of the punishment.
In the place; Babylon. The king; Nebuchadnezzar.
Made him king; Zedekiah.
Whose oath; the oath Nebuchadnezzar imposed.
He despised; contemptuously, without any just cause given; and therefore this perfidious prince could never expect more favour, but must in reason fear the greatest severities. Under this fear Zedekiah shall spend the rest of his days. He shall rather be always dying, for though he lived a natural life, yet it was in such sadness, it is more properly styled a dying; in blindness, under the memorial of the most afflictlye sight, the murder of his children, which was the last thing his eye ever beheld.
Let his army be made up of ever so many well-disciplined soldiers, if as many as the Egyptian can vainly promise, or the Jews more vainly hope. Great company possibly may refer to the multitudes which usually attended the march of armies, or else it is a doubling the thing in doubled words.
Make for him: if Zedekiah be the person, as our version carrieth it, it foretells the unprofitableness of the Egyptian army, that shall not do him any kindness. If Nebuchadnezzar be intended, as the version which renders the Hebrew particle against, then it foretells the little hurt that the Egyptians shall do to Nebuchadnezzar.
By casting up mounts; when Nebuchadnezzar shall with so much speed and skill east up forts and build mounts, wooden castles, to annoy Jerusalem, secure his own forces, and terrify the Egyptian king from the difficulty of raising the siege, which could not be done without expense of much blood.
To cut off many persons, of the besieged in Jerusalem, and of the Egyptians, if they attempt to raise the siege; this sense it bears in the French version.
This verse gives us the reason of this unhappy enterprise, which is summed up in wilful, presumptuous, and most unparalleled perjury. Zedekiah
had given his hand; a solemn confirming of the oath, or covenant, and it implies the voluntary act of Zedekiah in swearing, which makes the perjury so much the fouler.
All these things; too bad to be named, and most unbecoming any one that was a beneficiary, and had so much from the bounty of one that was not obliged to do any thing for him.
As I live: see Ezekiel 16:48.
Mine oath; made in my name, and of which I am both witness and avenger.
Hath despised: see Ezekiel 16:59 17:18.
I will recompense; I will punish, as it deserveth, and it shall appear by the punishment that my hand doth execute it.
Upon his own head; it is probable some courtiers might advise to it, but this will not excuse Zedekiah, his perjury was his own act; and on his own head, as I charge, so I will punish it.
See Ezekiel 12:13, where the former part of this verse is word for word. Plead with him; or, be judged with him, i.e. the heathen shall both see what I do against this man, they shall consider why I do so, and be judge whether I do more than this perjured king deserves; or, I will punish him with continued punishments from my own hand, or by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, suitable to the greatness of his trespass against me.
Against me: falsehoods to men in breaking oaths and covenants are in a high degree trespasses against God.
All his fugitives; not strictly, but in large sense: all, i.e. the greatest part, as. Jeremiah 13:19 44:22 Matthew 2:3 3:5, of those who, at the taking of Jerusalem, attempt to flee with their king.
His bands; his guards, probably of stoutest men, reserved to convey him in safety from the pursuing enemy.
Shall fall by the sword; the enemy shall overtake, and cut in pieces. The few that do escape shall be scattered abroad among strangers, who will show them very little kindness. The miseries these people shall fall under shall be of such weight and continuance, that all shall know it is the execution of an extraordinary wrath from Heaven against them.
Whereas the judgments threatened might seem to threaten the utter extirpation of the seed of David, now the Lord is pleased to assure its continuance, and the raising of the Messiah from that house according to promise. Nebuchadnezzar took and planted, and I will also take and plant, saith the Lord, of the royal seed of the house of David, of the highest branch that is heir to the throne, in the type Zorobabel, in the antitype Messiah.
And will set it; both set or plant, and give increase to his kingdom, that from a tender one he should grow up to great strength, victory, and glory.
Upon an high mountain; upon Mount Zion, Psalms 2:6, or as Isaiah 2:2,3. Eminent, not for outward splendour, but for spiritual advantages above other nations in the church.
In the mountain; either the church or Jerusalem, whence the law of Christ was to be published, and where the preachers of the gospel were to continue till furnished with abilities for that work. Like a tree that taketh root, and spreadeth forth into branches, so the kingdom of Christ should grow, and be fruitful in good works, not flourishing in boughs and leaves only, but much more in excellent fruits of holiness, justice, and temperance, and in joy, peace, and love.
A goodly cedar; the goodliest that ever grew, most excellent and most durable.
All fowl, all nations, the Gentiles as well as the Jews, shall build, breed, and multiply under the kingdom of Christ; it shall be no more confined to the Jews, but extend to the Gentiles also. There they shall find peace and safety; and this repeated confirms the certainty of the promise.
The trees of the field; the great ones on earth, all considering persons.
Shall know; see and confess.
The high tree; Zedekiah, that would neither hearken to me, my prophets, or to Nebuchadnezzar; or the kingdom of Babylon, which was brought low indeed, when overthrown by Darius and Cyrus.
The low tree; either Jehoiachin’s lineage, or the church, which, from being low, was exalted by the Lord, bending Cyrus to that work of restoring the captivity from Babylon, and building the city and house of God: its meaning is, the advancing the kingdom of Christ, and suppressing the enemies thereof.
Dried up the green tree; the same thing expressed in somewhat different words.
I the Lord have spoken; the power, goodness, and faithfulness of God, who can do what he pleaseth, and will do what he promiseth, is the assurance of the future accomplishment of his word.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ezekiel 17". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://pro.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent