This chapter contains a “riddle” or “parable “(Ezekiel 17:3-10), with its explanation (Ezekiel 17:11-21), closing with a clear Messianic prophecy couched in language taken from the parable (Ezekiel 17:22-24). While it is a distinct communication, it belongs to the same series of prophecies which began with the vision of Ezekiel 8-11, and is continued through Ezekiel 19. The meaning of the parable is made entirely clear by the explanation the first eagle (Ezekiel 17:3-6) is Nebuchadnezzar; “the top of his young twigs” is Jehoiachin, carried to Babylon; the “vine of low stature” is Zedekiah; the second eagle is Pharaoh (Ezekiel 17:7). The historical facts on which the parable is based are recorded in 2 Kings 24:8-20; 2 Chronicles 36:9-13; Jeremiah 37 and Jeremiah 52:1-7.
Came unto Lebanon.—Jerusalem is called Lebanon, as in Jeremiah 22:23; because Lebanon is the home of the cedar, and the royal palace in Jerusalem was so rich in cedar as to be called “the house of the forest of Lebanon” (1 Kings 7:2).
The highest branch.—This is a word occurring only in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 17:22, and Ezekiel 31:3-4; Ezekiel 31:10). It is of uncertain etymology, but is explained in Ezekiel 17:4 as meaning “the top of his young twigs.” The English branch hardly conveys the exact idea, and it would be better to translate “topshoot.”
Whose branches turned towards him.—Better, That its branches might turn towards him, and its roots might be under him. This was Nebuchadnezzar’s object—to make of Israel a flourishing kingdom, which should yet be entirely dependent upon himself and helpful to him in his great struggle with the power of Egypt; and hence his especial rage when his politic arrangements were frustrated by Zedekiah’s treachery and folly.
Pluck it up by the roots.—The word here is a different one from the “pull up “in the earlier part of the verse, and has rather the sense of raise up from the roots.” The whole clause would be better translated, “not even with great power and many people is it to be raised up from its roots again.” The meaning is explained in Ezekiel 17:17, that the strength of Pharaoh would be utterly insufficient to restore the people whom God had blighted.
With Ezekiel 17:21 the explanation of the parable ends. What follows is a distinct Messianic prophecy, which, although couched in the same figurative language, has nothing corresponding to it either in the parable or in its explanation.
A tender one.—This epithet is used of the Messiah in reference to the lowliness of His immediate human origin and condition. (Comp. Isaiah 53:2.) David applies the same expression to himself (2 Samuel 3:39), and to Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:5; 1 Chronicles 29:1), in reference to their want of strength for the work required of them as the heads of Israel. This figure of the Messiah as a scion of the royal tree of David, though naturally growing out of the allegory here, had been used by the prophets long before, as in Isaiah 11:1, and the name “the Branch” had almost become a distinctive title for Him (Isaiah 4:2; Jeremiah 23:5, &c).
Be a goodly cedar.—Not like the vine of low stature; this shall grow into a strong and great tree, under whose shadow all the inhabitants of the earth shall find sustenance and protection. A similar figure is used by the contemporary prophet Daniel (Daniel 4:20-21), and by our Lord Himself in the parable (Matthew 13:32). The universality of the blessings of the Christian dispensation, in contrast with the narrowness of the Jewish, is one of its features most frequently dwelt upon both in prophecy and in the New Testament, and shall still enter into the burden of the songs of the redeemed (Revelation 5:9). The last clause of the verse repeats and emphasises the permanence of the connection of the believer with Christ.
Have brought down the high tree.—Comp, the song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and that of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:52-55). In all alike there is the acknowledgment that all power is from God, and that He, in the working out of His purposes, gives and takes away as to Him seems good. Very precious to His Church of old in its desolation and distress must have been the announcement of this truth, and very precious it is still to all who pray “Thy kingdom come.”