Ezekiel 17:1-24

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YHWH’s “word” or message came to Ezekiel. The Targum refers to this message as a “word of prophecy from before the Lord.” (17:1) Ezekiel was addressed as “son of man,” reminding him that he was a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. The prophet was directed to “propound a riddle” and to “speak a proverb” or likeness (literally, “liken a likeness”). In the Hebrew text, the verb translated “propound” is the verb form of the word rendered “riddle,” and the verb “speak” translates the verb form of the word for “proverb” or likeness. “Riddle” and “proverb” are parallel expressions. A riddle, like a proverb, can make a deeper impression on the mind than would a mere statement. This is because it requires thought and reflection to ascertain its meaning. (17:2)

YHWH is identified as the author of the riddle or the proverb. The Lord YHWH is quoted as telling about a “great eagle with great wings” or a large wingspan and “long pinions [full of talons (LXX),” abundant in variegated plumage. This eagle “came to Lebanon and plucked off the top of the cedar” there. The “great eagle” represented King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and the large outstretched wings suggested that many peoples were subject to him. “Lebanon” designated Jerusalem, for the palace complex contained impressive buildings of extensive cedarwood construction. Like a tall cedar on a lofty location, the royal administration in the line of David towered above the people. The topmost part of the cedar (“select parts of the cedar” [LXX]) primarily represented King Jehoiachin. King Nebuchadnezzar removed him and his princes from their elevated position and took them as captives into exile. (17:3) Among those taken into exile were the king, members of the royal household, princes or officials, skilled craftsmen, and other prominent persons. (2 Kings 24:12, 15, 16) Accordingly, the topmost part of the “young twigs” or “shoots” (“tops of the tender part” [LXX]) could include all the elite members of society who were exiled. The “great eagle” or King Nebuchadnezzar took this “topmost part” to the “land of Canaan” and placed it “in a city of merchants.” The designation “Canaan” also was used to refer to traders. In this context, “land of Canaan” evidently designates Chaldea or Babylonia as a land of merchants. A number of modern translations are specific in making this meaning explicit. “He carried it away to a city filled with merchants. He planted it in a city of traders.” (NLT) “[He] brought it to a land of merchants, set it in a city of traders.” (NAB, revised edition) “[He] carried it to a nation of merchants and left it in one of their cities.” (CEV) “He carried it off to a land of traders, and planted it in a city of merchants.” (REB) The “city of traders” or “merchants” was Babylon. (17:4; see the Notes section.)

King Nebuchadnezzar, the “great eagle,” took “from the seed of the land and planted it in a field [as] seed.” This “seed” was planted by “abundant waters” and so could grow like a willow. In the Septuagint, the reference is to a “plant by abundant water” and one that was set out “for attention,” suggesting that the plant would be attentively tended and observed. The “seed” was Zedekiah, the uncle of King Jehoiachin. He owed his position to the “great eagle,” for King Nebuchadnezzar elevated him to the kingship to replace Jehoiachin. Although in a secure position as if planted by a source of much water, Zedekiah did not come to enjoy the standing of a lofty cedar. He was but a vassal king and thus resembled a willow, a tree that does not attain a great height. (17:5) According to the riddle, the seed sprouted and became a “spreading vine” (a “weak vine” [LXX]) that was “low of height.” Its “branches turned toward him,” apparently the “great eagle,” and the roots came to be or remained under the vine. The planted seed developed into a mature vine and “brought forth branches and put out boughs,” shoots, or foliage (“spread its climbers” [LXX]). While subject to the “great eagle” or King Nebuchadnezzar, King Zedekiah resembled a low, spreading vine in a secure position and with the potential for continued growth, comparable to producing branches and shoots or leafage. (17:6)

When another “great eagle with great wings” or a large wingspan and “much plumage” (“many talons” [LXX]) came, the vine hungrily extended its roots toward this eagle and sent forth its branches toward him for him to water it, “away from the bed where it had been planted.” This other “great eagle” was the Egyptian Pharaoh Hophra, and King Zedekiah turned to him, desiring not to continue to be subject to King Nebuchadnezzar, the stronger “great eagle.” (17:7) Zedekiah’s secure position as a vassal of King Nebuchadnezzar was comparable to a vine in good soil and supplied with abundant water, a vine that had been transplanted so that it might grow branches, bear fruit, and develop into a majestic or impressive vine (a “big vine” [LXX]). (17:8)

The Lord YHWH is quoted as raising questions about how matters would turn out for the “vine” or King Zedekiah for turning to the other “great eagle,” the Egyptian Pharaoh Hophra. “Will it thrive? Will not one pull up its roots and strip off its fruit? [Will not its tender roots and the fruit rot? (LXX)] And will [not] all the leaves of its growth wither? [And will not all its early sprouts wither? (LXX)] It will wither.” The ruinous end for the vine would not require a “great arm” or mighty power nor many people to pull it up from its roots. In a weak position on account of his rebellion and without effective aid from Egypt, Zedekiah would not escape having King Nebuchadnezzar, the “great eagle,” rip him away from his kingship and his land. Zedekiah would prove to be like a vine that is easily pulled up from the roots. (17:9) The questions regarding the vine continued. “And look, upon being transplanted, will it thrive? Will it not completely wither [literally, to wither, wither] when the east wind strikes it? It will wither away on the bed where it sprouted.” The word “look” serves to focus attention on the questions, and the answer is that the vine will not flourish but will dry up completely. Like the searing wind coming from the arid region in the east, the Babylonian military force that would be coming to take punitive action against Zedekiah would bring him in his position as vassal king to an inglorious end like a vine that withers. (17:10; see the Notes section.)

Again YHWH’s “word” or message came to Ezekiel. The Targum refers to this message as a “word of prophecy from before the Lord.” (17:11) Ezekiel was to ask the “rebellious house,” exiles from the kingdom of Judah who were then in Babylon, “Do you know what these things [the things the riddle conveyed] mean?” The word “look” then focuses attention on the explanation that follows. The “king of Babylon,” Nebuchadnezzar, “came to Jerusalem and took her king and her princes” (the “top of the cedar” [verse 3]) and brought them to him [as captives] to Babylon” (a “city of traders” [verse 4]). (17:12; see the Notes section.) “And he took [one] of the royal seed [Zedekiah, the uncle of King Jehoiachin] and made [literally, cut] a covenant with him and put him under an oath [evidently to be loyal to him as vassal king]. And the principal men of the land he took away” (as captives into exile). (17:13) The reason for King Nebuchadnezzar’s action was for the kingdom of Judah to “become low” or a “weak kingdom” (LXX), unable to “lift itself up” to its former position of strength. It would only be able to “stand” or continue to exist if Zedekiah kept the covenant or agreement that King Nebuchadnezzar had made with him. In this way, Zedekiah, with the kingdom over which he ruled, came to be like a vine that was dependent on a water source to thrive (verses 5 and 6) or was dependent upon King Nebuchadnezzar who had placed him in his position as vassal king. (17:14)

Zedekiah rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar by “sending his messengers” or ambassadors to Egypt to request “horses and a multitude of people” (a large military host) to support his objective to free himself from being subject to Nebuchadnezzar. That Zedekiah would fail in his attempt to turn to the other “great eagle [verse 7],” the Egyptian Pharaoh Hophra, is conveyed by means of rhetorical questions. “Will he succeed? Can he who does such things escape? Can he break the covenant and escape?” (17:15; see the Notes section.)

The word of the Lord YHWH starts with the solemn declaration, “As I live,” indicating that the judgment against Zedekiah would indeed take place. King Nebuchadnezzar had made Zedekiah king, and Zedekiah despised “his oath,” the oath he had taken to be a loyal vassal, and broke “his covenant” or agreement with Nebuchadnezzar. Therefore, with Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah would die in Babylon. According to the Septuagint rendering, the reference is to “my oath” and “my covenant. The oath and the covenant are attributed to God, apparently from the standpoint that Zedekiah took the oath and entered the covenant in God’s name. (17:16)

At the time a siege rampart (a “palisade” [LXX]) would be cast up and a siege wall (“engines of war” [LXX]) built to “cut off many souls” or the lives of many persons, Zedekiah would receive no effective help from Pharaoh Hophra’s military force and his great company or many assembled warriors, to counter the threat from the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar. (17:17; Jeremiah 44:30) King Zedekiah had despised his oath when he broke the covenant that obligated him to remain subject to King Nebuchadnezzar, and he had “given his hand” to indicate his agreement with the terms of the covenant. “All the things” Zedekiah did included despising his oath, refusing to act in harmony therewith, and violating his covenant obligations. Consequently, he would not be able to escape from the punitive action of King Nebuchadnezzar. (17:18)

Again with a solemn declaration (“as I live”), YHWH declared that he would bring upon the head of Zedekiah the merited punishment for despising the oath and breaking the covenant. The oath and the covenant are identified as YHWH’s covenant (“my oath” and “my covenant”), for it was in God’s name that Zedekiah swore and entered the covenant with Nebuchadnezzar. (17:19) Using the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, YHWH purposed to spread his net over Zedekiah, capture him in this net, bring him to Babylon, and judge him there for being unfaithful to him in his rebellious actions. Although King Nebuchadnezzar judged Zedekiah at Riblah, the punitive judgment continued in Babylon, for he remained imprisoned there until the day of his death. (17:20; 2 Kings 25:6, 7; Jeremiah 52:10, 11; see the Notes section.)

As for “all the fugitives” of Zedekiah “with all his troops,” they would fall by the sword, and the survivors would be scattered to “every wind” or in every direction. At the time this occurred, the people would know or recognize that YHWH was the God who had spoken or made these developments known in advance through his prophets. (17:21)

The destruction of Jerusalem and the end for the kingdom of Judah did not mean that there would never again be a king in the royal line of David. YHWH purposed to take a tender twig from the topmost twigs of the lofty cedar and transplant it “upon a high and lofty mountain.” In the Targum, the application is made specific. It refers to the “kingdom of the house of David” as being “likened to the lofty cedar,” and that from there God would bring near a “child” and “anoint and establish him on a high and lofty mountain.” (17:22; see the Notes section.) YHWH would plant the “twig” (establish the “child” [Targum]) on a mountain, a height of Israel,” so that it would flourish, producing branches, bearing fruit, and growing into a majestic cedar. Under this cedar, birds of all kinds would dwell (“every beast” or wild animal would rest [Rahlfs’ printed Greek text]) and nest (“every fowl” or winged creature would rest [LXX]) in the shade of its branches. According to the Targum, the child would be established on the holy mountain of Israel and become a mighty king. The righteous ones would rely on him, and the lowly ones would dwell “in the shade of his kingdom.” (17:23; see the Notes section.)

At the time the prophetic words would be fulfilled, “all the trees of the field” (“all the kings of the nations” [Targum]) would “know” or recognize that YHWH had abased the “high tree” (the “kingdom that was mighty” [Targum]) and elevated the low tree (the “kingdom that was weak” [Targum]) and dried up the green tree (“humbled the kingdom of the nations that was strong like a green tree” [Targum] and caused the dry tree to sprout or flourish (“made mighty the kingdom of the house of Israel that had been as weak as a withered tree” [Targum]). YHWH had declared that this would take place, and it would most assuredly happen. (17:24)


In its interpretation of the words in verse 4, the Targum preserves the meaning “land of Canaan.” It refers to a land that was not subject to servitude like the land of Canaan prior to the time the Israelites entered it.

Verse 10 in the Septuagint departs somewhat from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “And look, it thrives [literally, is fattened]. Will it prosper? Will it not be dried up in dryness as soon as the searing wind touches it? It will wither together with the lump [or soil] of its sprouting.”

In verse 12, the Septuagint starts with the expression “son of man,” reminding Ezekiel of his position as a mortal in the service of the eternal God.

The oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967) words the last phrase of verse 15 as a statement, not a question.

In verse 20, the Septuagint does not include the reference to Babylon and to God as entering into judgment.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 22 indicates that the Lord would take twigs or branches “from the choice parts of the cedar.” It then quotes him as saying, “I will snip off from the top of their heart, and I will plant on a high mountain.” The words “top of their heart” do not convey an understandable meaning and may involve an early scribal error. The quotation continues from verse 22 to verse 23, “And I will hang him on a lofty mountain of Israel …” This appears to be an interpretive rendering that alludes to the death of Jesus Christ while in a suspended position on an elevated location in the land of Israel. (Compare John 3:14; Galatians 3:13.)

In verse 23, numerous Greek manuscripts, including P967, do not mention “every beast” but refer to “every bird.”

The Targum interpretation of the words in verse 23 also indicates that the child would become a king who is victorious in warfare, assembling armies and building fortresses. This portrayal of the Messianic king is also one that is conveyed in Revelation 19:11-16, where the “King of kings and Lord of lords” is depicted as leading heavenly armies against the nations.