Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Humiliation and Exaltation of the Davidic Family
The contents of this chapter are introduced as a riddle and a parable, and are divided into three sections. Eze 17:1-10 contain the parable; Eze 17:11-21, the interpretation and application of it to King Zedekiah; and Eze 17:22-24, the promise of the Messianic kingdom.
Eze 17:1. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Eze 17:2. Son of man, give a riddle, and relate a parable to the house of Israel; Eze 17:3. And say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, A great eagle, with great wings and long pinions, full of feathers of variegated colours, came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar: Eze 17:4. He plucked off the topmost of its shoots, and brought it into Canaan's land; in a merchant-city he set it. Eze 17:5. And he took of the seed of the land, and put it into seed-land; took it away to many waters, set it as a willow. Eze 17:6. And it grew, and became an overhanging vine of low stature, that its branches might turn towards him, and its roots might be under him; and it became a vine, and produced shoots, and sent out foliage. Eze 17:7. There was another great eagle with great wings and many feathers; and, behold, this vine stretched its roots languishingly towards him, and extended its branches towards him, that he might water it from the beds of its planting. Eze 17:8. It was planted in a good field by many waters, to send out roots and bear fruit, to become a glorious vine. Eze 17:9. Say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Will it thrive? will they not pull up its roots, and cut off its fruit, so that it withereth? all the fresh leaves of its sprouting will wither, and not with strong arm and with much people will it be possible to raise it up from its roots. Eze 17:10. And, behold, although it is planted, will it thrive? will it not wither when the east wind touches it? upon the beds in which it grew it will wither.
The parable (mâshâl, corresponding exactly to the New Testament παραβολή) is called chīdhâh, a riddle, because of the deeper meaning lying beneath the parabolic shell. The symbolism of this parable has been traced by many commentators to Babylonian influences working upon the prophet's mind; but without any tenable ground. The figure of the eagle, or bird of prey, applied to a conqueror making a rapid descent upon a country, has as little in it of a specifically Babylonian character as the comparison of the royal family to a cedar or a vine. Not only is Nebuchadnezzar compared to an eagle in Jer 48:40; Jer 49:22, as Cyrus is to a bird of prey in Isa 46:11; but even Moses has described the paternal watchfulness of God over His own people as bearing them upon eagle's wings (Exo 19:4; Deu 32:11). The cedar of Lebanon and the vine are genuine Israelitish figures. The great eagle in Eze 17:3 is the great King Nebuchadnezzar (compare Eze 17:12). The article is simply used to indicate the species, for which we should use the indefinite article. In Eze 17:7, instead of the article, we have אחד in the sense of "another." This first eagle has large wings and long pinions; he has already flown victoriously over wide-spread countries. אשׁר־לו , literally, which is to him the variegated ornament, i.e., which he has as such an ornament. The feathers of variegated ornamental colours point to the many peoples, differing in language, manners, and customs, which were united under the sceptre of Nebuchadnezzar (Hitzig, etc.); not to the wealth and splendour of the conqueror, as such an allusion is altogether remote from the tendency of the parable. He came to Lebanon. This is not a symbol of the Israelitish land, or of the kingdom of Judah; but, as in Jer 22:23, of Jerusalem, or Mount Zion, with its royal palace so rich in cedar wood (see the comm. on Hab 2:17 and Zac 11:1), as being the place where the cedar was planted (compare the remarks on Eze 17:12). The cedar is the royal house of David, and the top of it is King Jehoiachin. The word tzammereth is only met with in Ezekiel, and there only for the top of a cedar (compare Eze 31:3.). The primary meaning is doubtful. Some derive it from the curly, or, as it were, woolly top of the older cedars, in which the small twigs that constitute their foliage are only found at the top of the tree. Others suppose it to be connected with the Arabic dmr, to conceal, and understand it as an epithet applied to the foliage, as the veil or covering of the tree. In v. 4, tzammereth is explained to be ראשׁ רניקותיו, the topmost of its shoots. This the eagle plucked off and carried אל־ארץ כּנען, an epithet applied to Babylonia here and in Eze 16:29, as being a land whose trading spirit had turned it into a Canaan. This is evident from the parallel עיר רכלים, city of traders, i.e., Babylon (compare Eze 17:12). The seed of the land, according to Eze 16:13, is King Zedekiah, because he was of the land, the native king, in contrast to a foreign, Babylonian governor.
קח, for לקח, after the analogy of קחם in Hos 11:3, and pointed with Kametz to distinguish it from the imperative. לקח אל is used as in Num 23:27. The ἁπ. λεγ.צפצפה signifies, in Arabic and the Talmud, the willow, probably so called because it grows in well-watered places; according to Gesenius, it is derived from צוּף, to overflow, literally, the inundated tree. This meaning is perfectly appropriate here. "He set it as a willow" means he treated it as one, inasmuch as he took it to many waters, set it in a well-watered soil, i.e., in a suitable place. The cutting grew into an overhanging vine, i.e., to a vine spreading out its branches in all directions, though not growing very high, as the following expression שׁפלת קומה more clearly shows. The object of this growth was, that its branches might turn to him (the eagle), and its roots might be under him (the eagle). The suffixes attached to אליו and תּחתּיו refer to נשׁר. This allusion is required not only by the explanation in Eze 17:14 (? Eze 17:14, Eze 17:15), but also by Eze 17:7, where the roots and branches of the vine stretch to the (other) eagle. In Eze 17:6, what has already been affirmed concerning the growth is briefly summed up again. The form פּארה is peculiar to Ezekiel. Isaiah has פּארה sah h = פּארה in Ezekiel 10:33. The word signifies branch and foliage, or a branch covered with foliage, as the ornament of a tree. - The other eagle mentioned in Eze 17:7 is the king of Egypt, according to Eze 17:15. He had also large wings and many feathers, i.e., a widely spread and powerful kingdom; but there is nothing said about pinions and variegated colours, for Pharaoh had not spread out his kingdom over many countries and peoples, or subjugated a variegated medley of peoples and tribes. כּפן, as a verb ἁπ. λεγ.., signifies to yearn or pine after a thing; in Chaldee, to hunger. להשׁקות, that he (the eagle-Pharaoh) might give it to drink, or water it. The words מערגות מטּעהּ are not connected with להשׁקות, but with שׁלחה and כּנפה, form the beds of its planting, i.e., in which it was planted; it stretched out roots and branches to the other eagle, that he might give it to drink. The interpretation is given in Eze 17:15. The words להשׁקות אותהּ, which are added by way of explanation, do not interrupt the train of thought; nor are they superfluous, as Hitzig supposes, because the vine had water enough already (Eze 17:5 and Eze 17:8). For this is precisely what the passage is intended to show, namely, that there was no occasion for this pining and stretching out of the branches towards the other eagle, inasmuch as it could thrive very well in the place where it was planted. The latter is expressly stated once more in Eze 17:8, the meaning of which is perfectly clear, - namely, that if Zedekiah had remained quiet under Nebuchadnezzar, as a hanging vine, his government might have continued and prospered. But, asks Ezekiel in the name of the Lord, will it prosper? תּצלח is a question, and the third person, neuter gender. This question is answered in the negative by the following question, which is introduced with an affirmative הלוא. The subject to ינתּק and יקוסס dna is not the first eagle (Nebuchadnezzar), but the indefinite "one" (man, they). In the last clause of v. 9 משׂאות is a substantive formation, used instead of the simple form of the infinitive, after the form משּׂא in Ch2 19:7, with the termination ות, borrowed from the verb ה'ל (compare Ewald, 160b and 239a), and the construction is the same as in Amo 6:10 : it will not be to raise up = it will not be possible to raise it up (compare Ges. 132, 3, Anm. 1). To raise it up from its root does not mean to tear it up by the root (Hvernick), but to rear the withered vine from its roots again, to cause it to sprout again. This rendering of the words corresponds to the interpretation given in Eze 17:17. - In Eze 17:10 the leading thought is repeated with emphasis, and rounded off. The east wind is peculiarly dangerous to plants on account of its dryness (compare Gen 41:6, and Wetstein on Job 27:21 in Delitzsch's Commentary); and it is used very appropriately here, as the Chaldeans came from the east.
Interpretation of the Riddle
Eze 17:11. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Eze 17:12. Say to the refractory race: Do ye not know what this is? Say, Behold, the king of Babel came to Jerusalem and took its king and its princes, and brought them to himself to Babel. Eze 17:13. And he took of the royal seed, and made a covenant with him, and caused him to enter into an oath; and he took the strong ones of the land: Eze 17:14. That it might be a lowly kingdom, not to lift itself up, that he might keep his covenant, that it might stand. Eze 17:15. But he rebelled against him by sending his messengers to Egypt, that it might give him horses and much people. Will he prosper? will he that hath done this escape? He has broken the covenant, and should he escape? Eze 17:16. As I live, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah, surely in the place of the king, who made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he broke with him, in Babel he will die. Eze 17:17. And not with great army and much people will Pharaoh act with him in the war, when they cast up a rampart and build siege-towers, to cut off many souls. Eze 17:18. He has despised an oath to break the covenant, and, behold, he has given his hand and done all this; he will not escape. Eze 17:19. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, As I live, surely my oath which he has despised, and my covenant which he has broken, I will give upon his head. Eze 17:20. I will spread out my net over him, so that he will be taken in my snare, and will bring him to Babel, and contend with him there on account of his treachery which he has been guilty of towards me. Eze 17:21. And all his fugitives in all his regiments, by the sword will they fall, and those who remain will be scattered to all winds; and ye shall see that I Jehovah have spoken it.
In Eze 17:12-17 the parable in Eze 17:2-10 is interpreted; and in Eze 17:19-21 the threat contained in the parable is confirmed and still further expanded. We have an account of the carrying away of the king, i.e., Jehoiachin, and his princes to Babel in Kg2 24:11., Jer 24:1, and Jer 29:2. The king's seed (זרע המּלוּכה, Eze 17:13, as in Jer 41:1 = זרע המּלך, Kg1 11:14) is Jehoiachin's uncle Mattaniah, whom Nebuchadnezzar made king under the name of Zedekiah (Kg2 24:17), and from whom he took an oath of fealty (Ch2 36:13). The strong of the land (אילי = אוּלי, Kg2 24:15), whom Nebuchadnezzar took (לקח), i.e., took away to Babel, are not the heads of tribes and families (Kg2 24:15); but the expression is used in a wide sense for the several classes of men of wealth, who are grouped together in Kg2 24:14 under the one term כּל־גּבּורי ח (אנשׁי חיל, Kg2 24:16), including masons, smiths, and carpenters (Kg2 24:14 and Kg2 24:16), whereas the heads of tribes and families are classed with the court officials (סריסים, Kg2 24:15) under the title שׂריה (princes) in Eze 17:12. The design of these measures was to make a lowly kingdom, which could not raise itself, i.e., could not revolt, and to deprive the vassal king of the means of breaking of the covenant. the suffix attached to לעמדהּ is probably to be taken as referring to ממלכה rather than בּריתי, although both are admissible, and would yield precisely the same sense, inasmuch as the stability of the kingdom was dependent upon the stability of the covenant. But Zedekiah rebelled (Kg2 24:20). The Egyptian king who was to give Zedekiah horses and much people, in other words, to come to his assistance with a powerful army of cavalry and fighting men, was Hophrah, the Apries of the Greeks, according to Jer 44:30 (see the comm. on Kg2 24:19-20). היצלח points back to תּצלח in Eze 17:9; but here it is applied to the rebellious king, and is explained in the clause 'הימּלט וגו. The answer is given in Eze 17:16 as a word of God confirmed by a solemn oath: he shall die in Babel, the capital of the king, who placed him on the throne, and Pharaoh will not render him any effectual help (Eze 17:17). עשׂה אותו, as in Eze 15:1-8 :59, to act with him, that is to say, assist him, come to his help. אותו refers to Zedekiah, not to Pharaoh, as Ewald assumes in an inexplicable manner. For 'שׁפך סללה , compare Eze 4:2; and for the fact itself, Jer 34:21-22, and Jer 37:5, according to which, although an Egyptian army came to the rescue of Jerusalem at the time when it was besieged by the Chaldeans, it was repulsed by the Chaldeans who marched to meet it, without having rendered any permanent assistance to the besieged.
In Eze 17:18, the main thought that breach of faith can bring no deliverance is repeated for the sake of appending the further expansion contained in Eze 17:19-21. נתן ידו, he gave his hand, i.e., as a pledge of fidelity. The oath which Zedekiah swore to the king of Babel is designated in Eze 17:19 as Jehovah's oath (אלתי), and the covenant made with him as Jehovah's covenant, because the oath had been sworn by Jehovah, and the covenant of fidelity towards Nebuchadnezzar had thereby been made implicite with Jehovah Himself; so that the breaking of the oath and covenant became a breach of faith towards Jehovah. Consequently the very same expressions are used in Eze 17:16, Eze 17:18, and Eze 17:19, to designate this breach of oath, which are applied in Eze 16:59 to the treacherous apostasy of Jerusalem (Israel) from Jehovah, the covenant God. And the same expressions are used to describe the punishment as in Eze 12:13-14. נשׁפּט אתּו is construed with the accusative of the thing respecting which he was to be judged, as in Sa1 12:7. Jehovah regards the treacherous revolt from Nebuchadnezzar as treachery against Himself (מעל); not only because Zedekiah had sworn the oath of fidelity by Jehovah, but also from the fact that Jehovah had delivered up His people and kingdom into the power of Nebuchadnezzar, so that revolt from him really became rebellion against God. את before כּל־מברחו is nota accus., and is used in the sense of quod adtinet ad, as, for example, in Kg2 6:5. מברחו, his fugitives, is rendered both by the Chaldee and Syriac "his brave men," or "heroes," and is therefore identified with מבחרו (his chosen ones), which is the reading in some manuscripts. But neither these renderings nor the parallel passage in Eze 12:14, where סביבותיו apparently corresponds to it, will warrant our adopting this explanation, or making any alteration in the text. The Greek versions have πάσας φυγαδείας αὐτοῦ; Theodoret: ἐν πάσαις ταῖς φυγαδείαις αὐτοῦ; the Vulgate: omnes profugi ejus; and therefore they all had the reading מברחו, which also yields a very suitable meaning. The mention of some who remain, and who are to be scattered toward all the winds, is not at variance with the statement that all the fugitives in the wings of the army are to fall by the sword. The latter threat simply declares that no one will escape death by flight. But there is no necessity to take those who remain as being simply fighting men; and the word "all" must not be taken too literally.
The Planting of the True Twig of the Stem of David
Eze 17:22. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, And I will take from the top of the high cedar, and will set it; from the topmost of its shoots will I pluck off a tender one, and will plant it upon a high and exalted mountain. Eze 17:23. On the high mountain of Israel will I plant it, and it will put forth branches, and bear fruit, and become a splendid cedar, so that all the birds of every plumage will dwell under it. In the shade of its branches will they dwell. Eze 17:24. And all the trees of the field will learn that I Jehovah have lowered the lofty tree, lifted up the low tree, made the green tree wither, and the withered tree become green. I Jehovah have said it, and have done it. - Although the sprout of David, whom Nebuchadnezzar had made king, would lose the sovereignty because of his breach of faith, and bring about the destruction of the kingdom of Judah, the Lord would not let His kingdom be destroyed, but would fulfil the promise which He had given to the seed of David. The announcement of this fulfilment takes its form from the preceding parable. As Nebuchadnezzar broke off a twig from the top of the cedar and brought it to Babel (Eze 17:13), so will Jehovah Himself also pluck off a shoot from the top of the high cedar, and plant it upon a high mountain. The Vav before לקחתּי is the Vav consec., and אני is appended to the verb for the sake of emphasis; but in antithesis to the acting of the eagle, as described in Eze 17:3, it is placed after it. The cedar, which it designated by the epithet râmâh, as rising above the other trees, is the royal house of David, and the tender shoot which Jehovah breaks off and plants is not the Messianic kingdom or sovereignty, so that Zerubbabel could be included, but the Messiah Himself as "a distinct historical personage" (Hvernick). The predicate רך, tender, refers to Him; also the word יונק, a sprout (Isa 53:2), which indicates not so much the youthful age of the Messiah (Hitzig) as the lowliness of His origin (compare Isa 11:1; Isa 53:2); and even when applied to David and Solomon, in Sa2 3:39; Ch1 22:5; Ch1 29:1, expresses not their youthfulness, but their want of strength for the proper administration of such a government. The high mountain, described in Eze 17:23 as the high mountain of Israel, is Zion, regarded as the seat and centre of the kingdom of God, which is to be exalted by the Messiah above all the mountains of the earth (Isa 2:2, etc.). The twig planted by the Lord will grow there into a glorious cedar, under which all birds will dwell. The Messiah grows into a cedar in the kingdom founded by Him, in which all the inhabitants of the earth will find both food (from the fruits of the tree) and protection (under its shadow). For this figure, compare Dan 4:8-9. צפּור כּל־כּנף, birds of every kind of plumage (cf. Eze 39:4, Eze 39:17), is derived from Gen 7:14, where birds of every kind find shelter in Noah's ark. The allusion is to men from every kind of people and tribe. By this will all the trees of the field learn that God lowers the lofty and lifts up the lowly. As the cedar represents the royal house of David, the trees of the field can only be the other kings or royal families of the earth, not the nations outside the limits of the covenant. At the same time, the nations are not to be entirely excluded because the figure of the cedars embraces the idea of the kingdom, so that the trees of the field denote the kingdoms of the earth together with their kings. The clauses, "I bring down the high tree," contain a purely general thought, as in Sa1 2:7-8, and the perfects are not to be taken as preterites, but as statements of practical truths. It is true that the thought of the royal house of David in its previous greatness naturally suggests itself in connection with the high and green tree, and that of Jehoiachin in connection with the dry tree (compare Jer 22:30); and these are not to be absolutely set aside. At the same time, the omission of the article from עץ and the objects which follow, is sufficient to show that the words are not to be restricted to these particular persons, but are applicable to every high and green, or withered and lowly tree; i.e., not merely to kings alone, but to all men in common, and furnish a parallel to Sa1 2:4-9, "The bows of the mighty men are broken; and they that stumbled are girded with strength," etc.