Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”
Ezekiel was given the tough task of communicating a word from God to God’s people who had ears to hear, but were spiritually deaf and hard hearted because of their rebellion and worship of other gods.
God has asked Ezekiel to speak tough words and do street theater actions that illustrate His messages. Many of the messages from God to His people used powerful tools of communication like allegories, metaphors, and parables. When God uses these methods of communication, they bring fresh perspectives on familiar situations and bring to light unrecognized parallels and similarities.
Ezekiel 17 includes a lesson using two eagles and a vine. It is both a parable and a riddle. A parable illuminates a truth by putting it in a fresh light. A riddle is a statement that hides the truth it imparts and makes one think of the less obvious lessons and application. The story is set out in verses 3-10, and then the explanation is immediately given in verses 11-21.
On the parable side, most hearers would have seen immediately a political and historical interpretation concerning Nebuchadnezzar and Zedekiah. It shows Zedekiah’s futile flirting with Egypt for support against Babylon, which ultimately led to his demise. These events eventually came true and only strengthened Ezekiel’s credibility when they did.
On the riddle side, God himself is the first eagle who planted “the cedar in Lebanon” and established the vine of Israel with great conditions and provision. There is a parallel between Zedekiah’s rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar and Israel’s rebellion against her covenant God. Ezekiel was prophesying judgement on both situations of rebellion.
If you could summarize this sermon in one sentence, it would be: God has a plan to cause His people to flourish forever!
We Are Covenant Breakers
Ezekiel uses the political reality of Zedekiah’s impending breach of covenant with Nebuchadnezzar to bring home the spiritual reality of Israel’s broken covenant with the Lord and its impending consequences. Old Testament listeners were aware that to break your oath of covenant loyalty was to call down on your own head all of the curses attached to that covenant.
God’s people were looking to politics and armies and turning their backs on their one true refuge, the Lord Himself. They were trusting in things other than God to make the world a better place. We often think that the problem with our world is essentially political. We erroneously adopt a humanistic view of the world thinking that science and technology will fix the world’s problems. We work for a better future for ourselves while neglecting our personal and corporate spiritual life with God. Working, planning, researching, advancing science and technology, seeking knowledge are all good things to do personally and as a society - but we cannot buy into the thinking that it is the answer to the world’s problems. Like the vine in our text, we turn away from the One that planted us on good soil to flourish (verses 7-8). Man is incapable of solving the brokenness of the world. We often would like to think that we can change the world through our own efforts.
Many people have tried to plan for every possible thing that may happen to them in life, yet have not faced the reality of their coming great encounter with God in death. God will not simply be impressed with our goodness and righteous acts. We are helpless sinners on a collision course with a God of absolute purity and holiness, in whose presence sin cannot be tolerated. We are all covenant-breakers in Adam as well as covenant-breakers on our own account. How will we ever stand before Him?
God has a plan to cause His people to flourish forever!
God’s Answer to Our Hopeless Situation
Verses 22-24 make it clear that Israel will ultimately have security and fruitfulness - not from human empires, but from God Himself. God will intervene and reverse the fortunes of His people and then the world. The redemptive work of God for His people will result in a tree of truly cosmic dimensions.
The fulfillment of this prophecy is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the coming King who will reverse the fortunes of Israel by His covenant keeping. Jesus is a radically different kind of ruler:
He comes as a king - but rides a donkey (Matthew 21:5)
He comes as the Prince of Peace - yet meets a bloody death on the cross
He is the Holy One of Israel - yet He eats with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:11)
The One who was by nature exalted humbles Himself. In the Incarnation, He takes on human form and carries it all the way to the cross. The humbled One is exalted.
His kingdom is like the small mustard seed which grows into a great tree, in whose branches the birds of the air find shade (Mark 4:30-32). Those that come to Him receive in Him every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). As Jesus is lifted up on a cross, He draws to Himself not only God’s own people, Israel, but men and women from all nations as well (John 12:32). He has been given the highest place of authority and the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9).
Christ’s kingdom continues to grow and develop in spite of our weakness. The kingdom grows due to His goodness and covenant faithfulness, not ours. Our rebellion and failure may have negative consequences in our own lives, but it cannot prevent God from achieving His purposes in the world. God has a plan to cause His people to flourish forever!
His tree provides perfect shelter and security for His people!
Our Via Communities are our primary discipleship tool. This section is to help you as you discuss the sermon with others in your life. It is designed for communities to utilize but can be used to facilitate a conversation between spouses, good friends, co-workers, etc., as we live to be faithful to God’s mission in his world.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
The Gospel is powerful. The good news of Jesus changes us. This section is to record the ways you are noticing the good news of Jesus transforming your life. Jot notes to help you remember.
As we examined God’s Word, in what ways was His Word examining you?
Describe how Jesus is becoming more central in your life.
What does trusting in Jesus look like for you this week?