What is the parable of two eagles and a vine in Ezekiel 17?

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By BibleAsk Team


The Parable of the Two Eagles and a Vine is a vivid allegory found in Ezekiel 17. This parable, rich with symbolic imagery, is used by the prophet Ezekiel to convey a message about the political alliances and the fate of Judah during a turbulent period in its history.

The Context of Ezekiel 17

Before delving into the parable itself, it’s important to understand the historical and theological context. Ezekiel was a prophet during the time of the Babylonian exile. He was taken into captivity around 597 B.C., along with King Jehoiachin and other leading citizens of Judah, and he prophesied from Babylon. His messages often addressed the reasons for the exile, the behavior of the exiled community, and the future restoration of Israel.

The Parable Explained

The parable is presented in Ezekiel 17:1-10 and then explained in verses 11-21. Let’s examine the passage in segments, starting with the parable itself.

The Parable: Ezekiel 17:1-10 (NKJV)

Verses 1-6: The First Eagle and the Vine

“And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, pose a riddle, and speak a parable to the house of Israel, and say, “Thus says the Lord God:

‘A great eagle with large wings and long pinions, Full of feathers of various colors, Came to Lebanon And took from the cedar the highest branch. He cropped off its topmost young twig And carried it to a land of trade; He set it in a city of merchants. Then he took some of the seed of the land And planted it in a fertile field; He placed it by abundant waters And set it like a willow tree. And it grew and became a spreading vine of low stature; Its branches turned toward him, But its roots were under it. So it became a vine, Brought forth branches, And put forth shoots.'”

This part of the parable describes a great eagle, symbolizing a powerful ruler, who comes to Lebanon (a metaphor for Judah) and takes the top of a cedar tree (representing the king of Judah). The eagle then plants a seed in fertile soil by abundant waters, which grows into a low-spreading vine that turns its branches towards the eagle.

Verses 7-10: The Second Eagle and the Vine

“But there was another great eagle with large wings and many feathers; And behold, this vine bent its roots toward him, And stretched its branches toward him From the garden terrace where it had been planted, That he might water it. It was planted in good soil by many waters, To bring forth branches, bear fruit, And become a majestic vine.”

“Say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots, Cut off its fruit, And leave it to wither? All of its spring leaves will wither, And no great power or many people Will be needed to pluck it up by its roots. Behold, it is planted, Will it thrive? Will it not utterly wither when the east wind touches it? It will wither in the garden terrace where it grew.”‘”

The second part introduces another eagle, which symbolizes a different power or ruler. The vine, initially planted by the first eagle, now stretches its roots towards the second eagle, seeking water from it instead. The Lord questions whether this vine will prosper and predicts its demise under adverse conditions.

The Explanation: Ezekiel 17:11-21 (NKJV)

In the following verses, God provides the interpretation of this parable, which clarifies the symbolic elements and their real-world counterparts.

Verses 11-15: Identifying the Characters

“Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Say now to the rebellious house: “Do you not know what these things mean?” Tell them, “Indeed the king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and took its king and princes, and led them with him to Babylon. And he took the king’s offspring, made a covenant with him, and put him under oath. He also took away the mighty of the land, that the kingdom might be brought low and not lift itself up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand. But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and many people. Will he prosper? Will he who does such things escape? Can he break a covenant and still be delivered?'”

The first eagle represents Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. The top of the cedar tree, which the eagle takes, symbolizes King Jehoiachin of Judah, who was taken into exile. The seed that is planted and becomes a vine refers to Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar installed as a puppet king in Judah. The second eagle represents Egypt, to whom Zedekiah turns for military assistance in an attempt to rebel against Babylon.

Verses 16-21: The Consequences of Rebellion

“As I live,” says the Lord God, “surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke—with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die. Nor will Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company do anything in the war, when they heap up a siege mound and build a wall to cut off many persons. Since he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, and in fact gave his hand and still did all these things, he shall not escape. Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘As I live, surely My oath which he despised, and My covenant which he broke, I will recompense on his own head. I will spread My net over him, and he shall be taken in My snare. I will bring him to Babylon and try him there for the treason which he committed against Me. All his fugitives with all his troops shall fall by the sword, and those who remain shall be scattered to every wind; and you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken.'”

God declares that Zedekiah’s rebellion against Babylon, which is a breach of the covenant he made under oath, will lead to his downfall. The alliance with Egypt will prove futile, and Zedekiah will face the consequences of his actions, ultimately being taken to Babylon where he will die. This punishment is a direct result of his failure to honor the covenant with Nebuchadnezzar, which, by extension, was an offense against God.

The prophet Jeremiah tried to persuade Zedekiah not to ally with Egypt (Jeremiah 37:7) for that would result in the total ruin of Judah. For at this time, it was God’s will that the Jews should be subject to the yoke of Babylon (Jeremiah 27:12) as a punishment for their apostasy.

God’s Promise of Restoration

Later on,  the Lord Himself promised to bring His people back from exile. He planned to interpose and take a branch of the cedar and plant it upon the “mountain of the height of Israel.” This prediction is clearly about the Messiah (Ezekiel 17: 22). But the failure of the remnant of Israel to follow God’s ways which led them to crucify the Messiah made necessary to transfer His call and covenant to Christian church (1 Peter 2:9; Deuteronomy 10:15). Thus, the New Testament Church became the new nation “Spiritual Israel” through which God would spread the gospel to the world (Matthew 21:33–46).

Theological and Moral Lessons

The Parable of the Two Eagles and a Vine conveys several important theological and moral lessons:

  1. Divine Sovereignty: The parable underscores God’s control over the nations and their rulers. The events described are presented as unfolding according to God’s plan, illustrating His sovereignty over historical events.
  2. Covenant Faithfulness: A key theme is the importance of keeping covenants. Zedekiah’s breaking of the covenant with Nebuchadnezzar is not merely a political misstep but a moral and spiritual failure. It demonstrates the seriousness with which God regards oaths and promises.
  3. Trust in God, Not Alliances: The parable criticizes reliance on human alliances rather than trust in God. Zedekiah’s attempt to seek help from Egypt rather than trusting in God’s sovereignty and the established political order led to his downfall.
  4. Judgment and Mercy: While the parable primarily deals with judgment, it also fits within the broader narrative of Ezekiel, which includes themes of restoration and hope. The ultimate message is that God’s judgment is just, but His ultimate purpose is to bring His people back to Himself.

Broader Implications and Reflection

The Parable of the Two Eagles and a Vine provides a rich source of reflection for contemporary readers. It challenges us to consider the nature of our own commitments and alliances, both personal and communal. Are we faithful to our promises? Do we seek security in human power and alliances, or do we trust in God’s sovereignty and provision?

Furthermore, this parable invites us to reflect on the consequences of our actions. Zedekiah’s story is a cautionary tale about the cost of disobedience and the importance of faithfulness. It also reassures us that, despite human failure, God’s purposes will ultimately prevail.

Conclusion

The Parable of the Two Eagles and a Vine in Ezekiel 17 is a powerful and multifaceted allegory that conveys critical lessons about divine sovereignty, covenant faithfulness, and the futility of relying on human alliances over divine provision. Through the vivid imagery of eagles, cedar trees, and vines, Ezekiel communicates a message of judgment and hope, calling the people of Judah to reflect on their actions and return to a faithful relationship with God. This parable remains relevant today, offering timeless insights into the nature of our commitments and the consequences of our choices.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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