Ezekiel 17. A Parable For Zedekiah.the Problem of a Gut Reaction.
Key Notes: The crisis from Zedekiah's viewpoint. Obeying God against our natural inclinations.
Ezek.17:1–19 is a parable. A great eagle (Nebuchadnezzar) cut the top off the cedar of Lebanon (Jehoiachin and the princes of Judah) and transplanted it in a land of trade (Babylon) where it became a low vine oriented toward him. (The colony of Israelites in Babylon prospered). The seed of the land (Zedekiah, his nephew and his princes) he planted in the land (Judah) and it also became a vine, also subservient to Nebuchadnezzar. But another great eagle (Pharaoh of Egypt) came and the vine bent toward him and he transplanted it. But it will not thrive; it will be pulled up by the roots and wither away.
Ezek.17:11–21. The interpretation of the parable is given to us. Jehoiachin submitted to Nebuchadnezzar and went to Babylon as a captive along with the elite of Israel. (IIK.24:8–17). [Daniel and his three friends were among those who did well in Babylon.] Zedekiah, on the other hand, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, despised the oath and covenant he made with Nebuchadnezzar, but also the oath and covenant he made with God. (17:19).He asked the Egyptians for help and Pharaoh’s army came out against Nebuchadnezzar in response to his petition. (17:15). For that he would be severely punished and his troops destroyed.
17:22–24. The aftermath.
God would break off a sprig from the cedar and plant it on a mountain where it would shelter all kinds of beasts and birds. This is a Messianic reference to the "branch of Jesse" (Isa.11:1) and to His Kingdom which would be like a big tree sheltering nations or churches. Matt 13:31,32
In order to understand Zedekiah, we need to read more of his history in Jeremiah 37–39.
*From the beginning of his reign, he did not listen to the words of the prophet Jeremiah. Jer.37:1–2
*He did, however, ask Jeremiah to pray for him. Jer.37:3
*At Zedekiah's request, the army of Egypt came up to Jerusalem and the army of Babylon retreated. Jer.37:5
*Jeremiah warned him that the Babylonians would still win. Jer.37:6
*The officers put Jeremiah in the dungeon on the charge that he was a traitor to the Babylonians. Jer.37:11
*Still Zedekiah met with Jeremiah secretly to get word from God. He was told that he would be captured by Nebuchadnezzar. Then Zedekiah had him released from dungeon, to be kept in the palace guard-house. Jer.37:17
*Again Jeremiah prophesied destruction of Jerusalem and encouraged the people to give up to the Babylonians. For that he was let down into a cistern (dry well) and left to die. Jer.38:2
*After an Ethiopian eunuch rescued Jeremiah, he had another audience with the king. Jeremiah advised him to surrender to the Babylonians so that he could save his life and the life of his family. Jer.38:14
*Zedekiah begged him not to tell anyone that information. Jer.38:24
The Babylonians returned to Jerusalem, broke into the city and their nobles set up office. When Zedekiah and his soldiers saw that, they fled from the city at night. The Babylonians caught them, killed Zedekiah's sons in front of him, blinded him and dragged him off to Babylon in chains. Jer.39:3
Zedekiah had several encounters with the prophet Jeremiah and the information he got was painfully clear: "Surrender". What was Zedekiah's problem? Why could he not learn? Why was God so hard on him?
The basic problem was that Zedekiah "did not listen" to the word of God by Jeremiah. He heard Jeremiah repeatedly, but he could not be bent from his purpose.
We can guess at Zedekiah's thinking.
•He was a proud king, a patriot, and no willing servant of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. True, he had promised under oath before God to obey Nebuchnezzar (IIChron.36:13), but that was done under duress, and he kept his promise only as long as there was no other option. When the chance came to get Egyptian help, he took it. Jeremiah's pleas for surrender were simply unacceptable. His gut reaction was, "There is no way that I will give up to the Babylonians" .
•He also had other prophets who disagreed with Jeremiah. Jer.37:19
•He was afraid that surrender to Babylon would put him at the mercy of Jews who had already defected (Jer.38:19), probably in rebellion against him.
•Like many heads of state, he was dependent on his officers. When they wanted to kill Jeremiah, he did not have the moral authority to rebuke them. Jer.38:5
•When Nebuchadnezzar (his boss) came to capture the city, he forced a siege, proving his rebellion against Babylon. He should have declared Jerusalem an open city.
•When Jerusalem is taken, he panicked and ran, rather than confront an angry and powerful king, proving his guilty conscience. He was severely punished.
From God's point of view:
•The exile of Israel from the Land was foretold and was not to be undone. That was the will of God.
•Zedekiah promised to obey God's directive and that of Nebuchadnezzar's--which were the same: be loyal to me and care for the people. He broke his word, and the covenants with Nebuchadnezzar and God.
•He refused Jeremiah's clear instruction.
To save one's people from the Babylonians would seem on the face of it to be a laudable objective. It was not a sin in itself. Some would excuse him from keeping his word, because his decision was not freely made.
Many of the decisions we must make are not based on rules found in the Ten Commandments. And many times the command of God goes against our gut reaction. Would we have done any better than Zedekiah?
We can think of many things God may ask of us that go against our natural impulses:
*forgive the one who hurt me.
•witness to my office partner.
•pray every day.
•reconcile with my spouse.
•open my home to give hospitality to a stranger.
•give a tithe of my income to God.
•pray for my enemy.
•go to Mozambique as a missionary.
•befriend a foreigner.
•visit someone in prison.
One of our people went as a missionary to a difficult field for only one reason: I must obey God.