Ezekiel 19:1-14

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Ezekiel was directed to “take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel.” It was a lamentation or dirge, for it focused on the calamities that befell the kings of Judah. In the Septuagint, the singular noun “ruler” appears, possibly alluding either to King Jehoiachin or King Zedekiah, the last monarch. (19:1; see the Notes section.)

The monarchs of the kingdom of Judah were descendants of the first Judean king, David. So it may be that the “mother” of the “princes of Israel” represents the royal line of David. Another possibility is that the “mother” represents Judah, for David was a member of that tribe. Either the royal line of David or Judah appears to be likened to a lioness that made her lair “among young lions,” or was surrounded by the rulers of other kingdoms, and raised “her cubs,” or produced kings. According to the Septuagint, the “mother” was a cub “born in the midst of lions” and made her own “cubs” numerous, coming to be the source of a succession of monarchs The oldest extant Greek text (P967) identifies the mother as a “cub” and then says that this cub made its cubs numerous in the midst of lions. (19:2; see the Notes section.)

Eventually, one of the cubs among the many that the mother reared became a strong lion that learned to seize prey and even devoured man (men or people [LXX]). This lion was Jehoahaz whom the people made king of the realm of Judah after his father King Josiah was killed at Megiddo in a battle with the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho (Neco, Nechoh). The accounts in 2 Kings 23:30-34 and in 2 Chronicles 36:1-4 regarding the reign of Jehoahaz provide few details about his reign that lasted a mere three months. During this time, he may have initiated efforts against Egyptian interests, for Pharaoh Necho made him a prisoner. At Riblah, a considerable distance north of the territory of the kingdom of Judah. Pharaoah Necho confined Jehoahaz. This suggests that he was seized in Jerusalem and taken as a captive to Riblah. The accounts in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles reveal that Jehoahaz conducted himself in an evil or corrupt manner. He may have been responsible for injustices that led to executions. Possibly this is the reason for his being portrayed as a man-eating lion. (19:3)

The “nations” that heard about Jehoahaz may designate the warriors under the command of Pharoah Necho and the foreign troops allied with him. He was caught “in their pit” (“in their destruction” [LXX]) or captured like an animal that falls into a camouflaged pit. Jehoahaz was depicted as being taken to Egypt with “hooks” (literally, “thorns” [“in a muzzle” (LXX)]). Anciently, captives often had their cheeks or noses pierced so that hooks or rings could be inserted, and they would then be led away by means of ropes that were attached to the hooks or rings. (19:4)

When the “mother” saw or came to recognize that she had waited but that her hope had been lost, she took another one of her cubs, making him a lion or king. The waiting may have been for Jehoahaz to be returned from Egypt, but the hope did not materialize. This development required that another king begin to rule over the territory of the kingdom of Judah. The immediate successor of Jehoahaz was Jehoiakim, another son of King Josiah. His reign appears to be passed over, for it was his son Jehoiachin who was taken into Babylonian exile. (19:5; also see verse 9.)

The lion is portrayed as roaming about “in the midst of lions,” suggesting that the kings of other nations surrounded the monarch whom the lion represented and possibly also indicating that this lion acted in the oppressive manner of foreign rulers. No longer a cub, the predator had become a strong lion, had learned how to seize prey, and had even become a man-eating beast. According to 2 Kings 24:9, Jehoiachin continued his father Jehoiakim’s bad practices. Therefore, his reign of three months and ten days (2 Chronicles 36:9) could be regarded as an extension of Jehoiakim’s reign, and the description of the lion’s actions may be viewed as reflecting the rule of both monarchs. Jehoiakim acted like a vicious predator. He proved to be a harsh oppressor, killed the prophet Urijah (Uriah), and made himself guilty of shedding other innocent blood. (Jeremiah 22:13-18; 26:20-23) As one who acted like his father, Jehoiachin fittingly could be represented as a man-eating lion. (19:6)

There is a measure of obscurity about the additional activity ascribed to the king who is represented as a lion. According to the Masoretic Text, “he knew his widows.” This could be interpreted to mean that he knew the widows of the men for whose death he had made himself responsible. Another significance could be that he “knew” these widows from the standpoint of his having ravished or oppressed them. On the basis of the Targum and an emendation of the Hebrew word for “widows,” a number of modern translations convey a different significance. “He destroyed fortresses.” (CEV) “He demolished fortresses.” (NLT) “He ravaged their strongholds.” (NAB, revised edition, NRSV) “He broke down their strongholds.” (NIV) These renderings suggest that he engaged in successful military campaigns, but there is no indication in the books of Jeremiah, 2 Kings, and 2 Chronicles that Jehoiakim participated in warfare or that Jehoiachin continued it. The reading of the Septuagint suggests that the translator read the Hebrew word for “know” as the similar verb for “pasture.” This appears to have led to the rendering, “And he would pasture in his boldness.” It appears preferable to retain the meaning “widows” and to consider the description that follows to relate to the devastating impact the rule of Jehoiachin had when continuing the oppressive measures of his father Jehoiakim. According to Jeremiah 22:17, the “eyes” or focus of Jehoiakim and his “heart” or inner self and thought were on dishonest gain, on the shedding of innocent blood to achieve his unworthy objectives, and on engaging in “oppression.” In view of Jehoiachin’s continuing to imitate the bad example of his father, this would have contributed to the devastation or ruin of “cities” in the territory of the kingdom of Judah, and the “sound of his roaring,” or the harsh and unjust commands proceeding from him, would have had a devastating effect on the land and all the inhabitants. (19:7)

The rebellion of King Jehoiakim against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led to punitive action that culminated in the exile of his son Jehoiachin. After this rebellion, the kingdom of Judah faced attacks from Chaldean, Syrian, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders, and this development would have affected Jehoiachin. (2 Kings 24:1, 2) It appears to be alluded to with the reference that surrounding “nations” from the provinces “set against him” or, based on an emendation, “camped against him.” The attackers, specifically the troops of King Nebuchadnezzar, “spread their net over him.” He was caught in their pit like a lion that is trapped. (19:8)

It appears that Jehoiachin was portrayed as a caged lion controlled with hooks or rings. In this captive state, Jehoiachin was transported to the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. According to the Septuagint, Jehoiachin, under the figure of a lion, was muzzled and caged. As a captive deprived of his position as king, Jehoiachin would no longer be able to let his voice, comparable to the roar of a lion, be heard “upon the mountains of Israel” or anywhere in the realm of the kingdom of Judah. (19:9)

The “mother” of the king could designate the royal line of David or Judah, the tribe to which David and the other monarchs in the dynasty belonged. This “mother” is likened to a “vine.” According to the Targum, the “congregation of Israel” is likened to a vine when it heeded the Torah. After the word for “vine,” the Masoretic Text continues with the phrase “in your blood,” but these words do not convey a comprehensible meaning. A number of modern translations render the words about the vine according to the reading of two Hebrew manuscripts (a “vine of your vineyard”). The Septuagint rendering is, “like a blossom on a pomegranate.” The “vine” flourished, for it was “planted by waters.” Abundant available water made it possible for the vine to be fruitful and come to have many branches. (19:10)

For the vine, the branches came to be “strong staffs, scepters of dominions.” This could mean that branches of the vine represented the men who reigned as kings. They were like strong rods or like men who wielded authority. The Targum says that they were “mighty rulers,” monarchs who were powerful enough to subjugate kingdoms. With the scepter being the symbol of royal authority, they were “scepters” or kings over their realms. It appears that the vine is described as lofty because one of the branches was particularly prominent. This branch would have been a monarch, with his prominence being likened to “his height” that stood out “among the branches” or among other men. The loftiness of the branch caused it to be seen “with the abundance of its boughs,” likely meaning “with its thick foliage.” Although the Hebrew text contains plural nouns, a number of modern translations render the words to apply to one significant branch, with evident reference to one king. “One strong branch grew into a royal scepter. So tall it towered among the clouds, conspicuous in height, with dense foliage.” (NAB, revised edition) “Its strongest stem became a ruler’s scepter; it towered aloft among the thick boughs; it stood out in its height with its mass of branches.” (NRSV) “And she had a mighty rod fit for a ruler’s scepter. It towered highest among the leafy trees, it was conspicuous by its height, by the abundance of its boughs.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) In Hebrew, the word for “vine” is feminine gender, but, starting with the reference to “his height,” the suffixes are all masculine gender. Translations that render the text to apply throughout to the vine do not preserve this gender difference. “It had stout branches, sceptres for those who bear rule. It grew tall, finding its way through the foliage; it was conspicuous for its height and many boughs.” (REB) “Its branches were strong and grew to be royal scepters. The vine grew tall enough to reach the clouds; everyone saw how leafy and tall it was.” (TEV) “Her strong branches became symbols of authority, and she was taller than all other trees — everyone could see how strong and healthy she was.” (CEV) The Septuagint focuses on the vine. “And there came to be for it a rod of strength for a tribe of leaders, and it was elevated in its greatness in the midst of trunks [the principal stems of vines], and one saw its greatness in the abundance of its branches,” twigs, or shoots. (19:11; see the Notes section.)

“In fury,” the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar and his warriors, the vine (the royal line of David, Judah, or the kingdom of Judah) was uprooted and cast down to the “earth” or ground. The searing wind from the east or the arid wilderness region to the east of the kingdom of Judah dried up the fruit of the vine, and its “strong rod” or stem (evidently representing the monarch) “was torn off and dried up. Fire consumed it.” It appears that the “strong rod” here represents Zedekiah, the last monarch of the kingdom of Judah. (19:12; see the Notes section.)

With King Zedekiah and surviving subjects coming to be exiles in Babylon, the vine ceased to be in the territory of the kingdom of Judah. Therefore, it is portrayed as being “planted in a wilderness, in a dry [or waterless] and thirsty land.” The once thriving condition of the kingdom of Judah and the royal line of David ended. (19:13)

From a “rod” of the vine, fire burst forth. The Septuagint says that the fire came from a rod of the “choice parts” (probably meaning “choice twigs”) of the vine. This fire consumed the “fruit” of the vine and left no “strong rod” remaining in it. So there was no “scepter” (“rod of strength” [LXX]) to exercise rulership. King Zedekiah, because of his rebellion against King Nebuchadnezzar, proved to be the “rod” from which the destructive fire burst forth. His refusal to continue to be a loyal vassal king led to punitive action. The warriors under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the kingdom of Judah, destroyed the capital Jerusalem, and took most of the survivors as captives into exile. Thus the “vine” was destroyed as by a raging fire. No “scepter” or monarch of the royal line of David remained in the former territory of the kingdom of Judah. (19:14; see the Notes section.)

The portrayal of the developments regarding the royal line of David and the kingdom of Judah constituted a lamentation or dirge, and the calamitous end that was destined to come would occasion a lamentation or dirge. (19:14; see the Notes section.)


The royal line that began with David exercised dominion over all twelve tribes. This may be the reason for the reference (in verse 1) to the “princes of Israel” instead of the princes of Judah. After ten tribes revolted and established an independent kingdom, the people living in the territory of the kingdom of Judah likely considered only the kings of the royal line of David as legitimate kings of Israel.

In verse 2, the reference to being “in the midst of lions” may also indicate that the lioness chose to have close association with these lions or foreign rulers and adopted their God-dishonoring ways. (Compare 1 Kings 11:1-8; 14:21-24; 2 Kings 21:2-9.)

In verse 11, the oldest extant Greek text (P967) does not use the expression “rod of strength.” It reads, “rod.” Regarding the vine, the Targum indicates that it was elevated by its might over other kingdoms, being superior to them in its military forces and its many valiant warriors.

The Septuagint (in verse 12) refers to the “choice parts” of the vine as being dried up by a “scorching wind.” Then, regarding the “choice parts,” probably meaning choice twigs, the Septuagint continues, “they were punished” (P967). Rahlfs’ printed Greek text says, “it [the vine] was punished.” According to the Targum, a king who was as fierce as the east wind, struck down the people. The “mighty rulers were exiled, and the nations that were as fierce as fire destroyed them.”

The Targum (verse 14) links the fire to the nations that slaughtered the people. They are described as being “as fierce as fire.”

The concluding part of the Hebrew text of verse 14 may be rendered, “This [is] a lamentation and will become a lamentation.” In the Septuagint, the wording is somewhat different. “It is a tribe for a parable [or likeness] of a lamentation, and it will be [or serve] for a lamentation.” Possibly the thought is that what happened to the “tribe,” or the people of the kingdom of Judah, would prove to be a parable, likeness, or illustration of other developments that would become the subject of a lament or dirge. The Targum refers to the prophet Ezekiel as having uttered a lamentation. The words he spoke are identified as a prophecy that would become a lamentation.