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Ezekiel 17 continues the prophet’s use of metaphor to describe Judah’s situation before the Lord. In this vision, an eagle (representing Nebuchadnezzar) came to Lebanon (representing Jerusalem) and took “the topmost of [the cedar’s] young twigs” (i.e. King Jehoiachin and the leading people of Judah) back “to a land of trade” and “a city of merchants” (i.e. Babylon). The eagle, however, did not leave “Lebanon” desolate. Verses 5–6 show how he put things in place to ensure that “Lebanon” flourished. He planted a “low spreading vine” (King Zedekiah) in place of the exiled King Jehoiachin and left things in place to ensure that Jerusalem could still flourish.

Verses 7–8 recount how King Zedekiah responded. Rather than maintaining allegiance to King Nebuchadnezzar (the first eagle), he turned for assistance to a second eagle (Egypt), which had done nothing for Jerusalem in the first place.

The Lord then shows the folly of this foreign policy in vv. 9–10. The “low spreading vine” (Zedekiah) believed that it would find hope and deliverance in a second eagle (Egypt), but in fact it would wither. Egypt would fail to deliver, Nebuchadnezzar would return, and Zedekiah would be removed for his rebellion against Babylonian authority.

But the parable was not only about foreign policy. In vv. 11–21, the Lord shows that rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar was but a symptom of rebellion against Yahweh himself. It was, in fact, Yahweh who, through Nebuchadnezzar, had provided the opportunity for Jerusalem to flourish despite two earlier attacks. Jeremiah had, in fact, encouraged the remaining survivors to submit to Babylonian oversight. Rebellion against Babylon was, therefore, rebellion against God’s word, and for that Jerusalem invited divine judgement.

In the closing verses (vv. 22–24), Ezekiel offers a word of hope. It appeared that this rebellion invited irreversible judgement. Jerusalem, it seemed, was done for. But the Lord, in fact, promised that he would provide a continuing dynasty. A new King would arise who would restore Jerusalem’s fortunes. The people of God would not be cast off forever.

The basic meaning of the parable is clear enough, but there are several important principles that underlie the events that Ezekiel addresses. One of those principles is a lack of spiritual vision.

It is historically verifiable that, when Jerusalem came under attack by Babylon, King Zedekiah trusted in Egypt rather than heeding Jeremiah’s counsel to submit to Babylonian oversight.  This was a deadly mistake that was made from pure political strategy. Zedekiah paid no heed to God’s word on the matter. He considered the politico-military might of Babylon and calculated that the best course of action was to ally with the only other world power that could rival that politico-military might: Egypt. It turned out to be a terrible mistake, which cost many lives and the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.

It is easy for us, with the benefit of hindsight, to consider Zedekiah’s folly with disdain. But we often fall into the same trap. We likewise tend to think that the societal problems we face are essentially political. If we can simply get enough votes to dethrone the reigning political party, things will go better for us.

On a more personal level, we often make the same mistakes as Zedekiah made. We believe that if we but invest sufficient time and energy into investigating solutions, we will make the right, wise, life-changing decisions. We do all the necessary homework before making a big purchase, or investing in certain stocks, or planning for the future. Before we know it, our hope rests in our own planning. We are more like Zedekiah than we would like to admit.

On one level, of course, this is good and wise. We dare not think that God will step in to make our problems go away if we have not put any wisdom into our thinking and planning. At the same time, we dare not place so much trust in our own wise planning that we neglect to consider God’s place in all of this. We dare not look at the world through purely political or social lenses and neglect our spiritual responsibility before God. If we do that, we may gain the whole world and yet lose our own soul (Matthew 16:26).

As you think about life in this world, therefore, pray for the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation  to enlighten the eyes of your heart, that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might (Ephesians 1:16–19).

As you meditate on Ezekiel 17 this morning, pray to God for the grace to see life through spiritual lenses. Live life wisely, engage practically, but never to the neglect of your submission of all things to God’s truth.