- An Unfruitful Vine (15:1-8)
- An Unfaithful Wife (16:1-63)
- Two Foreign Eagles (17:1-21)
- A Future Tender Twig (17:22-24)
Ezekiel chapter 17, let's turn to it together. You didn't receive a study sheet in your hymn book this evening because we're still on last week's, we didn't get through it, we only got through the first two parables of Ezekiel - chapters 15 and 16, and we had to leave chapter 17 until this evening. So hopefully you were given a sheet on your way in if you've forgotten last week's sheet, or if you weren't here last week - but don't worry, there's not too much on those sheets because we only got halfway through it. Let's read this chapter together, I did ask you to read it before you came this evening - and I would instruct you, and ask you, to do that every week because it will make it easier for me, and I'm sure it will make it easier for you if you've gone over it before you come here.
Chapter 17: "And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel; And say, Thus saith the Lord God; A great eagle with great wings, longwinged, full of feathers, which had divers colours, came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar: He cropped off the top of his young twigs, and carried it into a land of traffic; he set it in a city of merchants. He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field; he placed it by great waters, and set it as a willow tree. And it grew, and became 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. There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers: and, behold, 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. 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. Say thou, Thus saith the Lord God; Shall it prosper? Shall he not pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof, that it wither? It shall wither in all the leaves of her spring, even without great power or many people to pluck it up by the roots thereof. Yea, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither, when the east wind toucheth it? It shall wither in the furrows where it grew. Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Say now to the rebellious house, Know ye not what these things mean? Tell them, Behold, the king of Babylon is come to Jerusalem, and hath taken the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and led them with him to Babylon; And hath taken of the king's seed, and made a covenant with him, and hath taken an oath of him: he hath also taken the mighty of the land: That the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping of his covenant it might stand. But he rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people. Shall he prosper? Shall he escape that doeth such things? Or shall he break the covenant, and be delivered? As I live, saith the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwelleth that made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he brake, even with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die. Neither shall Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company make for him in the war, by casting up mounts, and building forts, to cut off many persons: Seeing he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, when, lo, he had given his hand, and hath done all these things, he shall not escape. Therefore thus saith the Lord God; As I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own head. 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 plead with him there for his trespass that he hath trespassed against me. And all his fugitives with all his bands shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered toward all winds: and ye shall know that I the Lord have spoken it. Thus saith the Lord God; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent: 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 fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell. 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: I the Lord have spoken and have done it".
Now, last Monday evening the title of our study was: 'A Vine, A Wife, Two Eagles And A Twig'. As I've said already, we didn't get time to deal with all of that last week. We only dealt with the vine in chapter 15, the unfruitful vine, and we dealt in chapter 16 with an unfaithful wife. Therefore that leaves us the remaining two parables in chapter 17, which is the parable to do with two eagles and then in the last few verses the parable to do with the twig. We saw last week - at least I hope we saw - that allegories and parables have a definite power in communication. We saw how the prophets of old, and indeed our Lord Jesus Christ - our Prophet and our King and our High Priest - used parables and used illustrations to communicate biblical and spiritual truth to us. We mentioned Pilgrim's Progress and how, in a contemporary sense, men and women have still used it and preachers of today use it to communicate spiritual truths to our hearts. The illustration, the representation of biblical truth by a story, a parable, or an allegory, tends to shed light upon the truth and lets the penny drop in our intellect, and often deep down into our heart.
Even the world sees this. Harriet Beacher-Stowe's (sp?) famous book, maybe you've heard of it, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' was probably the greatest influence and had the greatest impact on the future of slavery in the United States of America. I'm told by historians that it had a greater effect on that slavery trade than all the political speeches by her contemporaries. By making a story, by making an allegory, she seemed to get right into the hearts of men and women and show them the fallacies and the sin, indeed, of the slave trade. Now as you have seen, and as we have seen together in these studies, Ezekiel has already used a variety of forms of metaphorical language: illustrations, parables, sign acts, dramatical situations that he has performed before the people. Many of them have been subtle in the meaning, some of them not so subtle, some of them glaring in their powerful effect.
This chapter that we're looking at this evening, chapter 17, combines both parable and what I want to call a riddle. So in this chapter you have two types of illustration: the parable and the riddle. Ezekiel takes the two of them and combines them together. This chapter reads like a kind of puzzle, or an enigma that he wants the people of God to work out in their minds. One commentator defines a riddle as this: 'A riddle is a statement that hides the truth it imparts'. A riddle hides the truth that it wants to communicate to you, it wants you to work it out for yourself, whereas a parable is a little different. He says: 'A parable makes the truth clear by putting it in a fresh light'. So a riddle hides the truth to get you to try and work it out, but a parable declares the truth and shines a light upon it. Now in this chapter 17 of Ezekiel you have both of these things: you have a parable - Ezekiel is tending to shine a light on this truth, yet at the same time he seems to be holding it back. I'm sure as you've read this chapter you've been a bit confused and puzzled at some of the things within it.
Now, in this chapter the great prophet assumes the persona of a type of political cartoonist. Many of you read the broadsheets and even the tabloids, and you will see from time to time when something catastrophic takes place in the political world that a man will put pen to paper and draw a cartoon. During the war times you would have had Britain depicted as a bull terrier, or bulldog; you would have America often depicted as a bald eagle. This is similar to what Ezekiel is doing in this passage of Scripture, he's taking up his prophetical pen and he's drawing a caricature of the political events that are taking place in the ancient Near East in his day. He is putting his words into pictures - and in that sense, therefore, this chapter functions both to conceal some truths and to reveal other truths.
So let's look at it: what does it conceal and what does it reveal? Well, you have two eagles and then you have the figure of a cedar tree, and then you have a vine. As I said earlier we looked last week at an unfruitful vine, then an unfaithful wife, and now the last two points - if you still have your sheet - two foreign eagles, and a future tender twig. Now let's look first of all at these two foreign eagles in verses 1 to 21. The passage introduces to us this first political character in illustration. We see a huge eagle with beautiful feathers coming, flying to the land of Lebanon, and landing at the very top, the tip, of a cedar tree. That eagle bends its bald head down, and with its hooked beak breaks off the topmost shoot or twig of that cedar tree. Then it flaps its wings again, and it flies to the land it came from, and it carries this twig - the Bible says - to a land of merchants and a land of riches, as the Bible says: 'a land of traffic'.
Now in the cedar's place, before it leaves and takes that twig to this land of merchants, it plants in place of the twig a vine. Before it goes it farms and it tills that vine, and if you like it gives every possible opportunity and advantage for that little vine to grow, and that little vine to bear fruit one day. The passage tells us that the great, huge, elegant eagle provided for that little vine; that he planted fertile soil; he gave it an abundant water supply; in fact all the conditions necessary for its maximum growth this eagle gave that little vine. The parable goes that, in those great conditions that it was planted in, and the great care that the eagle took over it, that it began to grow. It spread out, it produced branches and limbs - but if you look at verse 6 you will see something very characteristic about it. Look at verse 6, it says: 'It grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature', that's very important.
This vine had everything done to it that any vine could hope for - and it did grow, it did bear fruit - but yet the word of God testifies that it remained of low stature. As we read this parable down the chapter, we find that this vine that the eagle planted desired more for its life than the eagle provided for it. It began to realise that there was an alternative source of life. As we read on we find that the vine turned away from its first provider, that great eagle, and it sent its shoots toward the second eagle that we read of in this passage. The bird, the second eagle, is described in similar language to the first eagle. It's talked about as a huge, powerful eagle; it's described as having beautiful wings, just like the first eagle - but there's one difference between the first and the second eagle, and that's this: the second eagle was not great in its glory and as great in its power as the first eagle. Another difference we find: the first eagle had done everything it could for the vine to grow, for that vine to prosper, the place where it planted it, the water that it supplied for it, the good soil that it was in, how it was tended for - but as we read down this parable we find that the second eagle did absolutely nothing for the vine. Yet this ungrateful vine turned from the first eagle to the second eagle and pledged its allegiance to this one that was really unconcerned for it. Verse 7 tells us that, look at it: 'There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers: and, behold, 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'.
The fate of the vine is predictable. The grass was greener on the other side, and by desiring the life that this other eagle could give this vine it was seeking to gain something more, something that it didn't have, and instead what it really did was to throw away everything that the first eagle had given it. This second eagle did absolutely nothing for it, and all the vine succeeded in doing was to arouse the anger of the first eagle - after putting all its work, all its effort, all its compassion and resources into this vine, it is spurned! The anger of that first eagle, we find, is aroused - and it comes and it will tear the fruit, and uproot that vine from its place, and devour it and destroy it. Look at verse 9: 'Say thou, Thus saith the Lord God; Shall this vine prosper'. After the eagle planting it where he did, and tending it and caring for it, and giving it water and looking after it - and then it begins to grow toward the second eagle, it's ungrateful, it's unthankful, it's going to an eagle that doesn't care for it. God asks the question: 'Shall it prosper? Shall that first eagle not come and pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof, that it wither? It shall wither in all the leaves of her spring, even without great power or many people to pluck it up by the roots thereof'. It'll not take much for that great eagle to come and destroy it.
Now you might say: 'That vine is very foolish, isn't it?'. Well, it's more than that: the vine is not acting foolishly, it is acting absolutely suicidal! Now you might be baffled at what this parable and story actually means, but the hearers in Ezekiel's day probably would have known immediately the true interpretation of this story. Let me give you it: the first eagle, the first great eagle that comes and takes this twig from the top of the cedar tree and then plants a vine and takes the twig to Babylon, speaks to us of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. If you recall the history that we've been learning going through the book of Ezekiel, you will recall how Nebuchadnezzar came into Jerusalem like a huge, great eagle and swooped and went to the top of the tree of Jerusalem and took captive the King of Judah, Jehoiachin. So this huge first eagle speaks to us of Babylon.
Now, let me prove that to you, it's important that you know that this is true. Turn to Jeremiah chapter 48, and remember that Jeremiah is a contemporary of the prophet Ezekiel, Jeremiah 48 and verse 40, speaking of Nebuchadnezzar and indeed the Babylonian Empire: 'For thus saith the LORD; Behold, he shall fly as an eagle, and shall spread his wings over Moab'. If you look at chapter 49 and verse 22: 'Behold, he shall come up and fly as the eagle, and spread his wings over Bozrah: and at that day shall the heart of the mighty men of Edom be as the heart of a woman in her pangs'. If we had time we could turn to Daniel 7 and verse 4, and Daniel in one of his visions sees the Babylonian Empire rising out of the sea, and it was as the form of a lion with eagle's wings.
So this eagle speaks to us of not only the Babylonian Empire, but indeed the King - Nebuchadnezzar. It's pictured in this parable as flying, mighty wings, flying to the top of this cedar tree. Now what is the cedar tree? The cedar tree is the city of Jerusalem, to be more specific the cedar tree is the royal house of King David. Now what does this great eagle do? He flies to the top of the tree, Ezekiel says he breaks with his beak the highest branch of the cedar. So if the cedar tree is Jerusalem, more specifically the house of King David, the highest branch of the cedar tree is the King of Judah at that day. So Nebuchadnezzar comes, what does he do? He goes into Jerusalem and he plucks off the King of Judah. Of course, you know as you've been following the book of Ezekiel that Jehoiachin was carried to Babylon along with the prophet Ezekiel, and they were all held in those concentration camps. That is speaking to us of the eagle flying to the top of the tree, he plucks off that highest twig and branch of the tree, and then he flies back to a land of merchants and a land of traffic. No prizes for guessing the fact that that is speaking of the nation and the empire of Babylon, the commercial centre of the world.
Now let me give you a bit of history. After deposing Jehoiachin, as we've just spoken of, after Nebuchadnezzar took him from Jerusalem and took him into captivity in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin's uncle whose name was Mattaniah. Nebuchadnezzar changed his name to Zedekiah, and he took Jehoiachin's uncle and he set him back in Jerusalem to be like a vassal King, if you like, his puppet King in subservience to himself. Do you see what's happening here? The great eagle comes to the cedar tree, plucks off the sprig, takes Jehoiachin into Babylon - but before he takes Jehoiachin we read in this parable that he sows some seed and he plants a vine where he plucked up that cedar tree in Jerusalem. That seed that he sows is Zedekiah - that puppet that he wants, politically, in the land of Jerusalem.
Zedekiah is pictured as growing into this spreading vine of low stature. Look at verse 5: 'He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field; he placed it by great waters, and set it as a willow tree'. Now, if you know anything about the biography of King Zedekiah you will know this much: he did not possess any of the qualities that make for a successful King or a successful administrator. As we read his life story we find out that he was neither faithful to the God of Israel, nor to his heathen overlord, Nebuchadnezzar. He was faithful to absolutely no-one! Almost immediately he was made King by Nebuchadnezzar and set in Jerusalem to reign there as his puppet, almost immediately he began to plot with Egypt how to overthrow the great empire of Babylon. Immediately he wanted to free himself from the yoke of Babylon.
So that is the first eagle - and it'll all become clear as we go along, bear with me. Then there's the second eagle that we read of in this passage. It's great, but it's not as great as the first eagle - and the reason why that is is that the second eagle speaks to us of Egypt - specifically of Pharaoh Hophra. The reason why we find Egypt in this passage is because King Zedekiah was trying to make an alliance with Egypt to overthrow the Babylonian yoke. This was Zedekiah's foreign policy. Now, you might say it was more than foolish - it is more than foolish, it is absolutely suicidal! For, as you see, this eagle didn't tend for the vine, this eagle didn't care for the vine, it was disinterested - just as Egypt was disinterested in Judah, or disinterested in overthrowing Babylon. In fact this great eagle, great though it was, was no match at all for the Babylonian Empire.
Now all of those things that I have just told you might seem very unclear to you, but to a person living in Palestine, in the ancient Near East in Ezekiel's day, all of that was just like political caricature and cartoons. The bulldog that was Great Britain, the eagle that was the United States of America - as far as they were concerned the penny would have dropped right away. This is what the prophet is speaking of, it would have been so clear - and this is what is the revealed aspect of this parable and this prophecy. If you think that was confusing, that is what is revealed in the passage! What is concealed in it is a different matter! There is a riddle in this passage, and there is an enigma that is even harder to work out and even deeper in its meaning. But if you will come with me tonight, I believe if we delve into it we will find out something intrinsic and fundamental for the church today, for individual Christians today, and indeed for the world today.
Let's unclothe and break down this code within Ezekiel's enigma. Well, if you look at this passage you will see that this great eagle flies to Lebanon. There's something very significant in this, because you might say: 'Well, all the cedars were found in Lebanon' - and that's true, it is proverbially the home of the cedars, but there's more to it than that. God is speaking in code, if you will turn with me for a moment to 1 Kings chapter 7 verse 2 we'll find out and unlock this code - 1 Kings chapter 7 and verse 1 first of all: 'But Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished all his house. He built also the house of the forest of Lebanon; the length thereof was an hundred cubits, and the breadth thereof fifty cubits', and so on, and you get all the details of Solomon's house. What I want you to notice is this: verse 1 speaks of Solomon building his house: 'He built also the house of the forest of Lebanon' - that was the name of Solomon's house, 'The House of the Forest of Lebanon'. If you were to go, we don't have time, but if you were to go to Jeremiah chapter 22 and verse 23 you would find again there with a capital 'L', Lebanon being the name of Solomon's house.
So what I want you to see is Ezekiel, and indeed the Holy Spirit through Ezekiel, is inviting the listeners of this parable to think of Lebanon as not just the tree, in fact not just Jerusalem, but he wanted the people to go back and think of who actually settled the Davidic dynasty in the land of Jerusalem and Judah. Ezekiel is wanting the people to go further back in history and ask the question: 'Who actually give us this king?' - whether it be Zedekiah, whether it be Jehoiachin, whether you go right back to Solomon or David - go right back, who was it that brought us from the land of Egypt into the promised land? Who was it cleared the land and gave us Canaan land? If you think about that, you have to say: 'Well, that was God, it was God'. Think about this - there's a paradox here, for in one sense what is revealed to us is this: this first eagle is flying to the top of the cedar tree, breaking off a branch and taking that branch - King Jehoiachin - into Babylon. It is that first eagle that is spoken to us as Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire that is sowing the seed, planting the vine - King Zedekiah in Jerusalem - to control things for him. But here we have something entirely different, here we have a parallel where God is asking the people to consider who is actually doing this! Yes, this great eagle is King Nebuchadnezzar, but ask yourselves the question, people of Judah: who in the beginning set up the Davidic dynasty? Who in the beginning took you into Canaan land? And then they must ask the question: 'Well, who is operating in our land at the moment? Who is it that is really letting us go into captivity? Who is taking control of all these affairs?'.
I hope you can see that the deeper meaning in this parable is to see that God, God Himself, is actually in partnership with the Empire of Babylon accomplishing His will! That's remarkable! The thing that is revealed in this passage is that the huge first eagle is Nebuchadnezzar and the Empire of Babylon, but the thing that is concealed - and almost abhorrent for us to think of it if it wasn't in Holy Writ - is this: God, God is juxtaposed as that great eagle. God can be seen as Nebuchadnezzar, at this moment, doing God's work! It's baffling, but let me prove this to you in case you're doubting me. The image of this vine being planted is that nothing was spared on it, isn't it? It was planted by waters, it was fed, it was given everything it needed in perfect soil. But if you go to Isaiah chapter 5, turn with me, Isaiah chapter 5 and verses 1 to 7. You have the parable of a vineyard, and if you're not familiar with the imagery of the vineyard get last week's tape, because we spent a bit of time on that. Here we have another parable, and it says: 'Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes'. So you can see in verse 2 that this husbandman that is planting a vineyard, speaking of God planting Israel, did absolutely everything he could. He looked after it, he built a wall around it to protect it. Then in verse three he says: 'And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?'. God is saying of Israel: 'I did absolutely everything I could, yet it still brought forth wild grapes'.
Do you see the parallel? This eagle that is planting the vine in Jerusalem is doing everything it can, the eagle speaking of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet God, in Isaiah, says: 'That is what I did for Israel'. In fact, if you want to go with me to Psalm 80 you will see even further the parallel between this parable and what God is doing. Psalm 80 verses 8 to 11: 'Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river'. Do you see it? Not only is it speaking of how God has looked after Israel in Jerusalem, but it also speaks that God took Israel out of Egypt, cleared the land of Canaan for them, put out all their enemies, settled themselves down, looked after them, and there they are.
This riddle before us describes the history of Israel's relationship with the Lord much better than their history to date with Babylon. Now, the significance of it all is this: Zedekiah absolutely missed the whole point of what was going on in the world at this time. Zedekiah broke his oath of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar. Now, let me bring this all together by turning you to 2 Chronicles chapter 36. Remember the imagery is that the tree was planted by the first eagle, but then the tree began to grow and follow the second eagle and bring its allegiance to it. In 2 Chronicles and chapter 36 and verse 13 we read: 'And he', speaking of Zedekiah, 'also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God' - note that - 'made him swear by God: but he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the LORD God of Israel'. Now listen: that vine that was Nebuchadnezzar planted in Jerusalem, as it stretched toward the King, the Pharaoh of Egypt, before that Nebuchadnezzar had made that King Zedekiah take an oath that he would follow him, that he would be his vassal King in Jerusalem. Not only did he make him take an oath, but he made him take an oath upon the name of the Lord!
Now let me bring this together for you. In Old Testament times, when you made an oath in the name of the Lord, do you know what you were doing? You were inviting God, Jehovah, into the agreement to be the guarantor, to bring into effect the covenant curses attached to it. You're always told to always read the small print at the bottom of any agreement - well, at the bottom of every covenant in the ancient Near East all the curses were underlined and, depending on who you swore by in the covenant, that guarantor was to bring into effect the curses underneath if you didn't fulfil your covenant obligations. This is very hard for us to understand, but let me give you an illustration. There was once a covenant treaty document between a Hittite King, Mursillis, and a man called Duppi-Tessub, and it concludes with these words, listen: 'The words of the treaty and the oath that are inscribed on this tablet, should Duppi-Tessub not honour these words of the treaty and the oath, may these gods destroy Duppi-Tessub together with his person, his wife, his son, his grandson, his house, his land, and all together with everything that he owns'. Do you see that? That is what is at the bottom of the covenant! These pagan men swore by their god, and King Zedekiah in agreement with King Nebuchadnezzar swore that he would have allegiance to him - but what's he doing now? He's looking to Egypt!
I hope it's coming together for you, but it will come together more when you realise that it wasn't just Zedekiah's rebellion against his covenant overlord, Nebuchadnezzar, that was the problem - but we have seen that that great eagle, typifying Nebuchadnezzar, also typified God! Do you see it? When Nebuchadnezzar and Zedekiah swore by the name of God, they invited God to come in and to take upon Himself those curses and act upon them! Go to Deuteronomy 17:16, you don't need to turn to it, and you will find there that Israel was told - in the covenant way back there at Sinai, that was ratified in the plains of Moab - they were told that they were never to return to Egypt for anything, and they certainly were not to return to Egypt for wild horses. That is what they're doing now. William Kelly says these words, and I think they're tremendous, listen to this: 'Had it come to this, that the heathen King Nebuchadnezzar had more respect for the oath of Jehovah than David's son, the King of Judah?'.
Isn't that amazing? Sin is sin, no matter what way we want to look at it or colour it - but it's even worse and inexcusable in those who know God, and those who are in a covenant relationship with God and know His word. The thing about this parable is this, and if you miss this you miss it all, for Zedekiah missed it: Nebuchadnezzar taking over Palestine and bringing them into captivity was God's judgement. Verse 19 bears that out: 'Therefore thus saith the Lord God; As I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own head'. He didn't recognise that this was the plan of God: and Egypt would be destroyed, Zedekiah would be destroyed, the whole vine and the land would be destroyed because of it. He failed to to see it, maybe he didn't want to see it.
One thing is certain and it's this: he failed to humble himself under the mighty hand of God. Let me take you back a wee while. Their forefathers had put their faith in the Ark, do you remember? They ran into battle with the Ark like a talisman, a lucky charm. They put their faith in the Ark, rather than what the Ark represented. Then they say to Samuel: 'Give us a King', and what they're doing now is they're beginning to put their faith in kings instead of who the king represents. I'll take you on further: the top twig is taken into Babylon, the King is gone and they don't have a King - so what does the vassal King, the puppet King do? He starts to put his faith in Egypt instead of putting his faith in Babylon whom God is moving! It's amazing to me that God wanted them to trust Babylon - that's right!
How Israel in the past looked to Egypt. Now this is frightening to me, because the parallel with us today is insurmountable. Egypt, you know, is a type of the world - and we need to ask ourselves the question in the light of this parable, and we've a little bit more to do, but we need to stop and pause and say to ourselves: whenever trouble comes into our life, whenever we have problems, what do we do and where do we go? Whenever the chastening of the Lord comes upon us do we turn to the world? Is that what we do? We can bring it closer to home and we can say: where do we look for our freedom from? Zedekiah just wanted to be free - young people, if you're looking for freedom and you're a believer, you needn't look for it in the world because you'll not get it there! You need to look to God! If you're not saved, you need to look to God for your freedom!
It sounds terrible, doesn't it? It all seems hopeless, but I want to tell you that it wasn't hopeless. I want you to turn with me to 2 Samuel chapter 7 - and this is the last passage you'll turn to tonight, I promise - this is a promise. Second Samuel chapter 7 and verse 16, and you'll remember that David wanted to build the temple and God told him: 'No'. But God also told him something else in verse 16 of 2 Samuel 7: 'Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established'. Let me tell you something: was everything in a terrible state that they couldn't go back? Was everything lost? Was there no hope? Praise God, there was hope! Even though a son of David had been taken into Babylon; even though a son of David, Zedekiah, was in cahoots with Egypt, not looking to God but looking to a foreign superpower - there was hope, why? Because God is a God who honours His promise! Hallelujah! Our sin and our failure doesn't derail the sovereign purposes of God, He is a God of His word - and He promised that there would never be a lack of a man from David's family to sit on His throne, never!
That brings us to this tender future twig in verses 22 to 24 - what a climax! God Himself says: 'I'm going to come and do it' - hallelujah! He's not going to send Nebuchadnezzar as His servant this time to take the twig and to plant another vine in Palestine, Zedekiah. He's going to come Himself and He's going to plant the finest vine, the most tender twig of all Israel. He says in verse 22 that He's going to put it in the highest mountain of all. He'll no longer work through an intermediary, oh no, He's going to come Himself and sort this thing out. If you look at verse 23 you can see that He says this twig would grow into a noble tree, this twig would bring blessing to all who came near by its fruit and shade, it would provide shelter for birds of all kinds. In other words, what thousands of years of politics in Palestine has not been able to do, this King who would sit on David's throne would come and do in a moment of His rule. Verse 23 says that through all of this the entire world would know the plan and the power of God. It says all the trees in the field, the nations, will understand that the rise and fall of the empires are in the hands of the sovereign God.
Is there any hope for Israel after God judges them? Praise God there is! You would think there wasn't after reading this tonight, but there is! As Nebuchadnezzar once installed Zedekiah in Jerusalem, so God says: 'I'm going to come and do the job. I'm going to come and I'll install My own leader on Mount Zion'. In contrast to the rebellious vine, Zedekiah, that would wither; this cedar of God's planting will thrive, it will be fruitful, it will bear grapes unto God. Who is this twig? Who is this vine? One commentator says this: 'Its substance remains a mystery in detail, but gives new grounds to look towards the future' - some men, I think, of their learning they become as fools, don't they? 'This is a mystery' - how's it a mystery? It's staring us plainly in the face! It's not a mystery! It may have been a mystery to these people in this day, how they could get out of it all, but what God is talking about here is not about a matter of sending armies to go into Babylon and bring the King back; it's not about a matter of Him saving Zedekiah from Egypt and setting him up, or even bringing a new King - whether it be Zerubbabel or any King - but what God is speaking of here again is something that will top all the rest!
Praise God that our failure doesn't derail His faithfulness! Listen to these words, let them thrill your heart as they thrilled mine today - the angel came and said: 'He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end'. Remember Mary and her magnificat in Luke 1 as well, what did she say? She said exactly what Ezekiel said in these last verses, listen: 'He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree'. Who are we speaking of? We are speaking of Messiah. David's greater Son, a twig - Isaiah in chapter 11: 'There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots'. Isaiah 53:2: 'For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground'. Zechariah 6:12: 'The BRANCH', that's His name, 'and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD'. And the Lord Jesus Christ in John's Revelation, John's vision of Christ exalted and uplifted in the future, in chapter 22 says: 'I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star'. Praise His name! On that dark, lonely day on Golgotha's Hill as He was lifted up, do you know what He did? In that great nest He brought birds of every feather, and every nation, and every tongue, and every people. To that tree of Calvary He brought the trees of the forest of the world to shelter, not only did He die there for His own people, the Jews, but He said: 'If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me'.
When He came at first He was rejected, He was crucified, and that can't be what Ezekiel's talking about. My friend, when He comes again He will come to rule the world with a rod of iron. He will come and return in power that He might take the kingdom and administer affairs of the universe for the glory of God, for the blessing of all mankind, from Israel, from Jerusalem, from Palestine - and the high tree of Gentile supremacy will be brought low down, and the low tree of Judah will be lifted up again to flourish, and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God and His Christ - hallelujah! It's wonderful!
In 1970 the French celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the third republic, but there was a group that didn't celebrate it - they were the royalists. They thought the monarchy should still be there, and in their newspaper headline it read this: '100 years of the republic, 100 years of calamity'. An editorial in 'Aspects de la France' said this: 'Today more than ever, every thinking patriot, every intelligent man, can only want to put an end to the long period where the King's absence has been cruelly felt'. Praise the Lord: the King's absence is cruelly felt today, but for a world that is crying out for peace and prosperity, the King of kings and the Lord of lords will come, and His presence will be felt!
Preach The Word
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eleventh tape in his Ezekiel series, titled "A Vine, A Wife, Two Eagles And A Twig - Part 2" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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