Ezekiel – Chapter 17

The Riddler

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Next, G-d spoke to Ezekiel and told him to pose the following riddle to the people of Israel. (The difference between a “riddle” and a “parable” is that in a parable, we are told that A = B. In a riddle, the metaphor is not really spelled out). G-d says that a great eagle with a large wingspan, with feathers of many colors, came to Lebanon and took the top off of the cedar. (In this parable, “Lebanon” refers to Israel rather than the country we call Lebanon.) The eagle brought the top of the cedar to a country of merchants and placed it in a busy city. He took the seed and placed it in a field; the seed took root next to the water and grew into a vine. (Note that the seed grew into a vine, which is lowly, rather than a towering cedar, counter to expectations.) The vine spread out and grew under the great eagle, which represents Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia. Along came a second eagle, also impressive but not nearly as impressive as the first. This eagle represents Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The vine sent its roots towards the second eagle, representing the messengers that were sent by Tzidkiyahu, king of Judah, to Egypt for help in his rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar. Now, G-d says, can the vine prosper relying upon the second, lesser eagle? Won’t the first, greater eagle uproot the vine, which will then wither and die? When the larger eagle uproots the vine the smaller eagle will not try to defend it.

G-d spoke again to Ezekiel saying, “Ask the people of Judah if they understand this riddle.” The king of Babylonia came to Jerusalem and brought their royalty back to Babylonia. He took the royalty and made a covenant with them. Judah would continue to exist as a country but they would be subservient to Babylonia. But the king of Judah rebelled against Babylonia by sending messengers to Egypt asking for horses and soldiers. Can Judah possibly succeed? Can Tzidkiyahu hope to violate the agreement with Babylonia and get away with it? G-d swears that the king of Judah will die in Babylonia, the territory of the one he rebelled against. Pharaoh will not send the requested army to save Tzidkiyahu when he sees Babylonia bringing their siege engines against Jerusalem. Since he broke his agreement with the king of Babylonia, he will not escape. Furthermore, G-d says, “Since Tzidkiyahu made this oath in My name, he also broke an oath against Me. Therefore, I will catch him in My net and bring him to Babylonia to pay for the crime he committed against Me! His supporters will fall to the sword and the survivors will scatter in every direction and you will know that I, G-d, have brought this about.”

G-d says, “I, Myself, will take a branch from the top of the cedar and plant it on a high mountain. It will bring forth fruit and become a sturdy cedar. Birds of all species will dwell safely under the shade off its branches. All the trees of the field will recognize that I, G-d, have brought the high lowly and raised the lowly high. I have dried the greenery and I have made the dry bear fruit. I, G-d, have spoken and I will make it happen.” (This last prophecy speaks of Moshiach, the Messiah, who is a “shoot” or “spout” from the seed of David.)

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