In Ezekiel chapter 17, God gives Ezekiel an allegory involving two eagles and a vine to illustrate how the kings of Judah had broken their covenant with God and would face judgment. This allegory contains important truths about God’s sovereignty, justice, and faithfulness. In this blog post, we will summarize the allegory, analyze its meaning, and draw out key theological implications.
Overview of the Allegory
The allegory begins with Ezekiel telling the exiles that the word of the Lord came to him (Ezekiel 17:1). God instructs Ezekiel to pose a riddle to the house of Israel involving two great eagles, a cedar tree, a vine, and branches (Ezekiel 17:2-4).
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The first eagle represents Babylon. This eagle comes to Lebanon, breaks off a sprig from a cedar tree, and plants it in a city of merchants (Ezekiel 17:3-4). The sprig represents King Jehoiachin of Judah who was taken captive to Babylon.
Later, a second eagle appears representing Egypt. This eagle takes a seedling from the land and plants it in fertile soil near abundant water (Ezekiel 17:5-6). This seedling represents Zedekiah who was placed on the throne of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
The vine then turns toward the first eagle, Babylon, even though it was planted by the second eagle, Egypt (Ezekiel 17:7). This represents how Zedekiah continued to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar even though Egypt had installed him as a vassal king.
The allegory concludes with God declaring that He will punish this vine by uprooting it and leaving it to wither without strong branches or an abundant root (Ezekiel 17:8-10). The eagle who first planted it will also bear the consequences.
Key Takeaways from the Allegory
- God is sovereign over all earthly kingdoms and directs the course of history according to His divine plan. The eagles act only by His permission.
- God keeps His covenant promises, but Judah broke their covenant with Him through idolatry and disobedience.
- God will rightfully judge and discipline His people, uprooting them from the land because of their unfaithfulness.
- No foreign power like Egypt can save God’s people from His disciplinary judgment when they turn away from Him.
- Zedekiah and the kings of Judah brought judgment upon themselves by breaking their oath of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar.
Detailed Analysis of the Allegory
Let’s now walk through this allegory section by section to understand its meaning and implications in more depth.
The First Eagle Plants a Sprig (Ezekiel 17:3-4)
3 and say: ‘Thus says the Lord God:
“A great eagle with large wings and long pinions,
Full of feathers of various colors,
Came to Lebanon
And took from the cedar the highest branch.
4 He cropped off its topmost young twig
And carried it to a land of trade;
He set it in a city of merchants.
The first eagle represents King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Lebanon symbolizes Jerusalem, and the cedar tree represents the kings of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem in 597 BC, detained King Jehoiachin, and carried him off to Babylon along with other exiles. This fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy that Judah would serve the king of Babylon for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11).
The allegory conveys how God used Babylon to discipline His people Judah. Jeremiah warned that Submitting to Nebuchadnezzar was submitting to God’s will:
“`This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. For they have not listened to my words,’ declares the Lord, ‘words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,’ declares the Lord. Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says about Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying lies to you in my name: ‘I will deliver them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will put them to death before your eyes. Because of them, all the exiles from Judah who are in Babylon will use this curse: “The Lord treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon burned in the fire.” For they have done outrageous things in Israel; they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and in my name they have uttered lies—which I did not authorize—which I do not approve.’ (Jeremiah 29:17-23)”
Thus, Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem was an act of divine judgment through a pagan nation. This illustrates God’s sovereign control over all nations.
The Second Eagle Plants a Seedling (Ezekiel 17:5-6)
5 “He also took some of the seed of the land
And planted it in a fertile field;
He placed it by abundant waters
And set it like a willow tree.
6 And it grew and became a spreading vine of low stature;
Its branches turned toward him,
But its roots were under it.
So it became a vine,
Brought forth branches,
And put forth shoots.
The second eagle represents Egypt. After Jehoiachin was exiled, Nebuchadnezzar installed Mattaniah as a puppet king in Jerusalem and changed his name to Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17). Later, Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon by forming an alliance with Egypt. So Nebuchadnezzar came again to Jerusalem, blinded Zedekiah, killed his heirs, and took the people captive to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-21).
The seedling represents Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar had placed in power under an oath of loyalty. The parable conveys that while Egypt tried to influence Judah’s politics, ultimately Babylon controlled her destiny because of God’s decree.
The Vine Turns Toward the First Eagle (Ezekiel 17:7)
7 “But there was another great eagle with large wings and many feathers;
And behold, this vine bent its roots toward him,
And stretched its branches toward him,
From the garden terrace where it had been planted,
That he might water it.
Though Egypt had elevated him, Zedekiah continued paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar, his original overlord. The vine turning illustrates Zedekiah’s vacillating political allegiance between these two pagan empires. But since Zedekiah had sworn an oath of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar, his rebellion was treachery meriting judgment.
God Will Uproot the Vine (Ezekiel 17:8-10)
8 It was planted in good soil by many waters,
to bring forth branches, bear fruit,
and become a majestic vine.”’
9 “Say, ‘Thus says the Lord God:
“Will it thrive?
Will he not pull up its roots,
Cut off its fruit,
And leave it to wither?
All of its spring leaves will wither,
And no great power or many people
Will be needed to pluck it up by its roots.
10 Behold, it is planted,
Will it thrive?
Will it not utterly wither when the east wind touches it?
It will wither in the garden terrace where it grew.”’”
Because of Judah’s rebellion and treachery, God decrees that He will discipline her. He will pluck up the vine, leaving it to wither and die. No foreign power will be able to prevent Babylon from conquering Jerusalem, because it will happen according to God’s sovereign will.
This illustrates how God keeps His covenant promises. He blesses obedience but disciplines disobedience. Though He is patient, He will judge impenitent sinners.
- God is sovereign over the nations. As Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, God raises up kingdoms and tears them down for His purposes. All earthly powers owe their existence and authority to Him.
- God keeps His covenant promises. God blessed Israel when she obeyed but disciplined her when she rebelled. He is faithful to reward and punish.
- Judgment begins with God’s people. Though all deserve judgment, God disciplines those under His covenant first. His children receive both blessings and discipline.
- True safety is found only in obeying God. Foreign powers cannot protect people from God’s judgments. Repentance and faith are the only refuge.
- God patiently warns before judging. Through Ezekiel and other prophets, God repeatedly warned Judah to turn from idolatry. Judgment came only after centuries of patience.
- God uses pagan nations to discipline His people. Nebuchadnezzar was an imperial aggressor, but God directed his actions to discipline Judah for her sins.
- Disobedience brings self-destruction. Judah thought allying with Egypt against Babylon would bring deliverance. In reality, it brought destruction because it opposed God’s revealed will.
Ezekiel’s allegory contains profound theological truths about God’s sovereignty, justice, faithfulness, and patience. It warns us not to rebel against God’s revealed will, for only obedience brings blessing and protection. Most of all, it points to our need for a perfect and faithful covenant representative. This representative is Jesus Christ, the true vine and eternal king from the line of David (John 15:1, Revelation 22:16). By His righteousness, He secures the blessings of God’s covenant and everlasting kingdom for all who repent and believe in Him.