Ezekiel 17 begins with these familiar words: “Now the word of the Lord came to me”. Ezekiel got regular words from God. This time, God gives him the words of a parable or illustration to point out the significance of the political and leadership developments that were happening in Jerusalem. In Ezekiel’s illustration, a giant eagle broke off the top branches of a young cedar tree and carried them into a land of trade. The eagle then planted a native seed that grew into a vine, but it was low-spreading and was obedient to the eagle. This represents Zedekiah who was put on the throne to replace Jehoiachin by the Babylonians and given very limited independence – basically was under their thumb as a leader.
As the story goes here, another giant eagle, equally as impressive as the first, appeared on the scene and the vine transferred its allegiance from its former master to this new eagle. Zedekiah rebelled agains Babylon and chose to side with Egypt. Ezekiel’s illustration continued with the first eagle pulling up the vine and cutting off its branches, leaving it to wither and die. “Will he not pull up its roots and cut off its fruit, so that it withers—so that all its sprouting leaves wither”? Exactly what happened to Zedekiah who was taken into exile by the Babylonians for his disobedience and dies a prisoner there.
Ezekiel’s interpretation of the illustration gives special emphasis to Zedekiah’s defiant choices in breaking his treaty with Babylon. “Surely in the country of the king who put him on the throne, whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke, in Babylon he shall die”. Zedekiah had put a covenant in place with Nebuchadnezzar in the name of God, but he broke that covenant when he sought Egypt’s help and moved his allegiance. In punishment he was taken captive to Babylon and God dealt with Zedekiah’s decision to ignore the covenant as if it were against Himself. “My oath which he despised and My covenant which he broke, I will inflict on his head”.
Ezekiel finishes explaining the illustration which now shows that God, not an eagle, will now take a branch from the top of the cedar tree and plant it on the top of a mountain, where it will grow into a huge and magnificent tree. “On the high mountain of Israel I will plant it, that it may bring forth boughs and bear fruit and become a stately cedar”. It will bring benefits to birds and animals of all kinds. From David’s lineage of kings, God will take one, the Messiah, and through him establish a kingdom that will bring blessing to the whole world. Everyone will know that He is Messiah. “All the trees of the field will know that I am the Lord; I bring down the high tree, exalt the low tree, dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will perform it”. High trees will be made low and green trees will dry up, but God’s tree will flourish.