“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.” — Ezekiel 17:2-3
Today’s technology makes it possible for people around the world to enjoy many distant sights through webcams. On one such cam, viewers can observe an eagle nest near Decorah, Iowa, and learn a great deal about this fierce and fascinating bird by watching activities in and around the nest.
The eagles nesting in Iowa are bald eagles, one species among many large birds of prey that make up the Accipitridae family; hawks, kites, and vultures are also in this group. Bald eagles boast a wingspan of up to eight feet, making them among the biggest birds on earth. Due to their size and power, these predators are at the top of the avian food chain, sometimes feeding on animals as large as monkeys and sloths. Their amazing eyesight allows them to detect prey up to two miles away, and their hunting method involves surprising and overwhelming their next meal on the ground or the surface of the water.
In today’s text, Ezekiel was told to give an allegory concerning eagles to the house of Israel. The imagery would have been a familiar one to the people as the eagle was used as a symbol of war and imperial power by many ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians, Hittites, and Babylonians. Given the eagle’s intense glare, killer claws, and impressive wingspan, it is not surprising that it was widely regarded as the “king of birds,” similar to the lion’s designation as the “king of beasts.” While a lion typically represented a kingdom, however, the eagle symbolized a whole empire. Roman legions going into battle carried standards with eagles at the top, and that eagle symbolized the legion’s heart and soul. To “lose the eagle” meant the end of the legion, at least until the eagle emblem could be recaptured.
Ezekiel’s prophetic allegory was to be both a riddle (in which a deeper meaning underlies the figurative form), and a parable (in which the illustration teaches a spiritual truth). The two eagles in the allegory represented two world superpowers: Babylon and Egypt. Ezekiel explained that God would bring severe judgment on King Zedekiah because he had not honored the covenant he had made with Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Despite whatever assurances the Egyptian Pharaoh gave to Zedekiah, he and his armies would be of no help at all to Judah against the Babylonians. That alliance had been prohibited by God, and as a result, Zedekiah’s fate was sealed and Judah would be conquered completely.
However, Ezekiel’s prophecy ended in hope. In the concluding verses of our text, God promised that He was not finished with Israel. After the failure of the two great “eagles” to establish the nation of Israel under their powerful supervision, God promised that one day He himself would plant the nation “in the mountain of the height of Israel.” There it would grow and thrive, offering protection to all nations.
We know that day is coming during the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. Then, all who come to the Messiah will find peace and safety. That wonderful hope, first expressed to the captive people of Judah, can be ours as well!
In chapter 17, God once again referred to the kingdom and tribe of Judah as the house of Israel as a whole. While the previous chapter had focused on the nation’s spiritual and moral failure, in chapter 17 the prophet addressed her political folly. Ezekiel presented a prophetic parable (verses 1-10) and explained it (verses 11-21). He also prophesied the restoration of the Davidic line through the coming Kingdom of Christ (verses 22-24).
Ezekiel’s “riddle” was a prophetic warning relayed through symbolism. The “great eagle” was Nebuchadnezzar, pictured as a mighty bird of prey. “Great wings” symbolized Babylon’s extensive reach throughout the land. “Divers colours” referenced the diversity of people, languages, and cultures that made up the Babylonian empire. “Lebanon” referred to Jerusalem, where the royal palace was richly decorated with Lebanese cedar wood. The “highest branch of the cedar” in verse 3 was a reference to Jehoiachin, a descendant of the royal house of David who had reigned briefly in Judah but had already been taken into Babylonian captivity. The “land of traffick” and “city of merchants” of verse 4 symbolized Babylon. “The seed of the land” referred to Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar appointed or “planted” as puppet king of Judah in Jehoiachin’s place. God’s intention was that the vine (Israel) would flourish under the protection of Babylon. The phrases “of low stature” and “turned toward” in verse 6 referred to Israel’s subjection to and dependency on Nebuchadnezzar.
The second eagle, described in verse 7, also had large wings, depicting another powerful empire This bird represented Pharaoh Hophra of Egypt. The vine preferred the second eagle, so its roots and branches began to grow in that direction. In verse 9, the question “Shall it prosper?” was rhetorical and referred to Zedekiah’s breaking of his oath of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar, when he began plotting with Egypt. The second question, “Shall he not pull up the roots thereof?” referred to Nebuchadnezzar’s dethroning Zedekiah.
In verse 12, the king who was taken to Babylon was Jehoiachin, who had been carried captive to Babylon with his princes several years earlier. Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin’s paternal uncle Zedekiah from Jehoiachin’s family (“the king’s seed”) and set him up as king of Judah in Jehoiachin’s place. Zedekiah swore allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar and initially served him.
According to verse 14, God’s purpose, which had been revealed to Zedekiah by Jeremiah, was to humble Judah and to preserve the people through their subjection to Babylon (see Jeremiah 32:1-5, 37). However, Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar’s rule and, therefore, against God’s rule. He conspired with Egypt to overthrow Nebuchadnezzar, but Egypt broke the agreement and did not come to defend Jerusalem. “Given his hand” in verse 18 referred to making a sworn covenant. In verse 19, the Lord referenced “mine oath” because Nebuchadnezzar required Zedekiah to swear in the name of Jehovah; similarly, He alluded to “my covenant” because Israel’s subjection to Babylon was His decreed will, as Zedekiah was aware.
Although Zedekiah would forfeit his sovereignty because of his breach of faith, God would not let the line of David be forever destroyed. Verses 22-24
are widely considered to prophesy the earthly establishment of the Messiah. The use of “I” emphasizes that God alone will fulfill this prophecy, rather than working through an intermediary such as Nebuchadnezzar. The “high cedar” of verse 22 is a reference to the royal house of David, and the tender twig that Jehovah breaks off and plants is the Messiah himself. The high and eminent mountain is Jerusalem where the Messiah will reign, and His Kingdom will become a shelter for all who come to Him.
II. The condemnation of Judah and Jerusalem
C. The cause of Judah’s destruction
3. Parables of Judah’s condemnation
b. The parable of Israel’s unfaithfulness
(5) The judgment of the Lord (16:35-43)
(6) The extreme degradation of Israel (16:44-52)
(7) The restoration of Sodom and Samaria (16:53-59)
(8) The restoration of Israel (16:60-63)
Though the Children of Israel failed God and looked to other nations for help, God will fulfill His promise to establish a kingdom under the Messiah that will grow and become a shelter for all who come to Him.