THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL
Lesson 6
Part II: God's Judgment of the Covenant People
Chapter 16: An Allegorical History of Jerusalem
Chapter 17: The Parables of the Two Eagles
and the Two Shoots from the Cedar Tree
Chapter 18: The Soul That Sins Will Die

Holy and Eternal Lord,
In Your mercy, You have called men and women from every generation and every nation under the sun to eternal salvation. However, every person has an individual responsibility to accept that gift through the saving merit of God the Son. We are to study Scripture and become familiar with the teachings of Jesus' Kingdom of the Church so we will be able to discern truth from lies concerning the path to salvation. We are to reject all forms of divination and the teachings of false prophets as contrary to the truth and to put our hope and trust in the narrow path to salvation that Jesus set before us. Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our study of the prophetic ministry of the prophet Ezekiel as he called Your old covenant people to repentance and the hope of an eternal covenant that promised an eternal reward. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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In Ezekiel, God speaks to Jerusalem: "You were perfect through my beauty." And this is the meaning of the text: "You were not perfect through you own works or through your own knowledge and the boasting of your heart but through my beauty, which I had put on you freely through my mercy."
St. Jerome, Against the Pelagians, 2.25

In Chapter 15, Ezekiel began teaching in parables and allegories. This change in the method of his preaching is the result of the revelation that the elders who came to sit with Ezekiel were not coming because they supported Ezekiel in his mission. Yahweh revealed that the elders were deceitful, hiding the worship of idols "in their hearts" (14:1-3). Like true prophets before and after him, Ezekiel will now begin teaching in parables that the idol-hearted, with their hearts that are closed to God, will not understand.

Jesus' mission and teaching reflected the same change after the rejection of the religious leaders of His time (Mt 13:10-17). The paradox of God's love for humanity and mankind's rejection of Him is made apparent in the life of Jesus Christ. This paradox should challenge us to resist and stand firm against all forms of temptation, especially the temptation to pride. We must allow Christ to clothe us in humility and righteousness expressed in acts of love in His name. We must pray for the gift of interpreting Scripture and to discern the life of the Trinity working in us if we want to avoid the sins of past generations.

Chapter 16: An Allegorical History of Jerusalem

 

This chapter is a vivid allegory of the history of Yahweh's relationship with Israel. The allegory portrays Jerusalem, symbolically representing Israel, as Yahweh's adulterous wife. Israel was Yahweh's chosen bride out of all the other nations of the earth. She was the beloved of her husband until she became unfaithful by worshipping the false gods of her pagan neighbors. God's prophets used four reoccurring symbolic images in four different stages to reflect Israel's covenant relationship or lack of a relationship with Yahweh: covenant marriage, Israel as God's fruitful vineyard or fig tree, domesticated animals led by the divine Shepherd, and drinking the best wine in the liturgy of worship. The covenant marriage imagery portrayed the relationship between God, the husband, and Israel, the bride (see for example Is 8:5-8; Chapters 49-54; 66:7-14; Jer Chapters 2-3; Hos Chapters 1-3; Zeph 3:14-20 and the chart Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets.

The allegory in Chapter 16 is one of the few examples of the symbolic images of the prophets where all four of the different parts of Israel's relationship and lack of relationship with Yahweh are played out in order from covenant fidelity, to rebellion, to judgment, to the promise of restoration. God chose Israel/Jerusalem in her "youth," made her a queen among the capitals of nations, lavishing every blessing upon her. However, in her ingratitude, she was unfaithful to her divine spouse, prostituting herself with every false god of her neighbor states and in her lewd behavior even rivaled the sinful cities of Sodom and Samaria.

The Symbolic Image of Jerusalem/Israel the Unfaithful Bride in Ezekiel Chapter 16
Image Group Part I
Covenant relationship
Part II
Rebellion
Part III
Redemptive Judgment
Part IV
Restoration
Promised*
Covenant Marriage Israel Bride of Yahweh Unfaithful adulteress/harlot Humiliated, abused & abandoned by lovers/false gods The Bride restored to her Bridegroom
  Ezekiel 16:8-14 Ezekiel 16:15-34 Ezekiel 16:23-59 Ezekiel 16:60-63

* Restoration is only promised in the Old Testament and not fulfilled until the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, the divine Bridegroom of His bride, the new Israel of the Church (CCC 877).

 

There are four parts to the covenant marriage imagery:

Chapter 16 is the longest prophecy in the Book of Ezekiel. It divides into three parts after the introduction in verse 1 and an arraignment or bill of indictment against Israel/Jerusalem for her adulteries in verse 2. Each part ends with the formula statement "declares the Lord Yahweh" that affirms the divine authorship of the passage and its divine pronouncements and consequences.

  1. Verses 3-43: An extended metaphor of rescued and unfaithful Israel/Jerusalem.
  2. Verses 44-58: Comparisons of Jerusalem with her "sisters" Samaria and Sodom.
  3. Verses 59-63: The promise of forgiveness and restoration in an eternal covenant.

Ezekiel 16:1-7 ~ Israel's Origins: The Foundling Child
1 The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 2 "Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her loathsome practices! 3 Say, "The Lord Yahweh says this: By origin and birth you belong to the land of Canaan. Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 At birth, the very day you were born, there was no one to cut your navel-string, or wash you in water to clean you, or rub you with salt, or wrap you in swaddling clothes. 5 No one looked at you with pity enough to do any of these things out of sympathy for you. You were exposed in the open fields in your own dirt on the day you were born. 6 I saw you kicking on the ground in your blood as I was passing, and I said to you as you lay in your blood: Live! 7 and I made you grow like the grass of the fields. You developed, you grew, you reached marriageable age. Your breasts became firm and your hair grew richly, but you were stark naked.

Yahweh commands Ezekiel to confront Jerusalem with her sins. The city's early history, her "origins," date to the occupation of the Amorites1(Gen 15:16) and Hittites2(Gen 23:11, 17; Num 13:29; Josh 1:4) in the land of Canaan.3 God suggests there are pagan Amorite and Hittite ancestors that predisposed them to idol worship. The cities of Haran and Nahor (Gen 11:31-32; 12:4-5; 24:10; 28:10) associated with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were Amorite cities. Therefore, Hebrew ancestry must have mixed with the Amorites (Ez 16:3, 45). The Hittites occupied Jerusalem until the Hittite empire fell, then the people identified themselves as Jebusites (Jerusalem Through the Ages, page 4).

In verses 4-5, Israel is graphically compared to an abandoned and exposed baby left to die. The Israelites were a people without a mother country (without parents). They were resident aliens in Canaan and later Egypt. Yahweh became Israel's protector. He rescued her from slavery in Egypt, and watched her grow until she was ready to fulfill her destiny. Israel then became His covenant people and occupied Jerusalem, the holy city of His holy people and the dwelling place for His name (Dt 12:10-12; 1 Kng 11:36; 2 Chr 6:6). Verse 4 describes the typical care of a newborn. Arab women in Middle Eastern villages still rub newborns with salt and oil to clean and toughen the sin. In verse 6-7, God wills the newborn Israelites to live and prosper.

Ezekiel 16:8-14 ~ Part I: Jerusalem/Israel as Yahweh's Covenant Bride
8 Then I saw you as I was passing. Your time had come, the time for love. I spread my cloak over you and covered your nakedness; I gave you my oath, I made a covenant with you, declares the Lord Yahweh, and you became mine. 9 I bathed you in water, I washed the blood off you, I anointed you with oil. 10 I gave you embroidered dresses, fine leather shoes, a linen headband and a cloak of silk. 11 I loaded you with jewels, gave you bracelets for your wrists and a necklace for your throat. 12 I gave you nose-ring and earrings; I put a beautiful diadem on your head. 13 You were loaded with gold and silver and dressed in linen and silk and brocade. Your food was the finest flour, honey and oil. You grew more and more beautiful; and you rose to be queen. 14 The fame of your beauty spread through the nations, since it was perfect, because I had clothed you with my own splendor, declares the Lord Yahweh.

8 ...I spread my cloak over you and covered your nakedness; I gave you my oath, I made a covenant with you, declares the Lord Yahweh, and you became mine.
In the Bible, to "uncover nakedness" is an expression for sexual exploitation while "covering nakedness" suggests covenant marriage. A similar metaphor expresses Boaz's marriage to Ruth (Ruth 3:9). When Jerusalem's "time had come," Yahweh "covered" Jerusalem's nakedness by giving her His oath of fidelity in becoming Israel's divine spouse.

9 I bathed you in water, I washed the blood off you, I anointed you with oil.
With marriage to Yahweh came Israel/Jerusalem's bridal bath of ritual purification in passing through the waters of the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:1-3), her anointing in blood at the covenant ratification at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:6-8; Heb 9:19), and later in oil when Jerusalem became the site of the Temple and a "home for God's name" (Dt 12:11-12; 1 Kng 8). There is also similar water purification imagery in preparation for the covenant ratification ceremony at Mount Sinai, when Moses, at God's command, "made the people sanctify themselves" in a ritual purification bath and to refrain from sexual contact. They were to enter into their corporate covenant with Yahweh as a chaste bride of a divine King (Ex 19:14-15).

God established Jerusalem's place in salvation history. He gave His anointed king, David of Bethlehem, victory over the Jebusites who controlled Jerusalem (2 Sam 5:6-12). David established the nation's capital at Jerusalem, brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and the city became the center of liturgical worship of the One True God of Israel (1 Chr 16:1-3, 37). Yahweh's relationship with Jerusalem, the capital of His covenant people, is also presented in the imagery of a marriage covenant between a Divine King and His wife-queen. As Israel's divine spouse, Yahweh had King Solomon build His Temple in Jerusalem, making her a crown jewel and a queen among the cities of the Levant (2 Chr 3:1). Verses 10-14 describe God's generosity to His Bride, queens wore embroidered dresses and the tapestries of the Sanctuary now located in Jerusalem were also richly embroidered (Ex 26:1-, 31, 36; 27:16).

Ezekiel 16:15-22 ~ Part II: Rebellion, Jerusalem's Fall From Virtuous Bride to Adulteress Wife
15 But you became infatuated with your own beauty and used your fame to play the whore, lavishing your debauchery on all comers. 16 You took some of your clothes to make for yourself high places bright with colors and there you played the whore. 17 You also took your jewelry, made with my gold and silver which I had given you, and made yourself male images to serve your whorings. 18 You took your embroidered clothes and used these to dress them up, and you offered them my oil and my incense. 19 And the bread I gave you, the finest flour, the oil and honey with which I fed you, you offered them as a pleasing smell. What is more," declares the Lord Yahweh, 20 "you took the sons and daughters you had borne me and sacrificed them as food to the images. Was not your whoring enough in itself, 21 for you to slaughter my children and hand them over to be burnt in their honor? 22 And in all your loathsome practices and your whorings you never called your early days to mind, when you were stark naked, kicking on the ground in your own blood."

Becoming "infatuated" in her fame, Jerusalem "played the whore" by rebelling against her exclusive relationship with Yahweh as her One God (Ex 20:3-5, 22; Dt 4:15-16; 5:7-10; 6:4). She sought out the false gods of her neighbors, offering them the intimacy of devotion in liturgical worship, even using the gold and silver from the Temple treasury to create idols and phallic symbols and used other designated Temple offerings for idol worship. In the marriage covenant imagery, idolatry becomes the symbol for marital infidelity.

What is more, declares the Lord Yahweh, 20 you took the sons and daughters you had borne me and sacrificed them as food to the images. Was not your whoring enough in itself, 21 for you to slaughter my children and hand them over to be burnt in their honor?
Question: In addition to offering the blessings of the land to false idols, what else did they offer that belonged to Yahweh? See Lev 12:1-8; 18:21; 20:1-5; 2 Kng 21:1-7.
Answer: They offered Yahweh's children, dedicated to Him after birth according to the Law, in human sacrifice.

In the practice of idolatry, some of her citizens, following the example of Davidic King Manasseh, even offered their children who rightfully belonged to Yahweh, in sacrifice to false gods. Jerusalem/Israel was ungrateful and forgot her early history, the Exodus liberation from slavery, and all the blessings Yahweh lavished upon her as His people.

Ezekiel 16:23-31 ~ Part II: Accusations of Infidelity
23 " To crown your wickedness-disaster upon you, disaster!' declares the Lord Yahweh; 24 you built yourself a mound and made yourself a high place in every open space. 25 At the entry to every alley you made yourself a high place, defiling your beauty and opening your legs to all comers in countless acts of fornication. 26 You have also fornicated with your big-membered neighbors, the Egyptians, provoking my anger with further acts of fornication. 27 So now I have raised my hand against you, I have cut down on your food, I have put you at the mercy of your enemies, the Philistine women, who blush at your lewd behavior. 28Still unsatisfied, you prostituted yourself to the Assyrians; you played the whore with them, but were not satisfied even then. 29 You committed further acts of fornication in the country of merchants, with the Chaldaeans, and these did not satisfy you either. 30 How simple-minded you are!,' declares the Lord Yahweh, for although you do all the things that a professional prostitute would, 31 in building a mound and making yourself a high place in every street, you do not act like a proper prostitute because you disdain to take a fee."

Yahweh compares the sin of idol worship to the sexual sins of adultery, prostitution, and fornication. All these sins were condemned under Mosaic Law, and all of them were part of pagan worship. All these sins, according to the Law of Moses, were death penalty offenses (Ex 20:14, 17; Lev 18:20; 20:10; Dt 5:18; 22:22-27).

Question: What action does God take in verse 27a in an attempt to call Jerusalem to repentance? This pronouncement of judgment should remind them of the covenant blessings and curse judgments in Lev 26:1-17 and Dt 28:1-15, 38-48.
Answer: God will withdraw His blessings on the land by reducing their food supply, and He will withdraw His protection from their enemies.

the Philistine women, who blush at your lewd behavior.
Prostitution or harlotry is also a metaphor for alliances with foreign nations. This passage names four enemies of the Israelites: Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, and Babylonians/Caldaeans. The Israelites have welcomed the worship of the many idols of their enemies. The nations appear in order of Israel's contact with them after possessing the Promised Land. Yahweh says that the behavior of the Israelites is so appalling that even their perennial enemy, the Philistines, known for their lewd sexual rituals, blush at what they hear concerning the Israelite rituals.

Ever since the Assyrian period, Israel and Judah constantly sought an alliance with Egypt against the Assyrians and later the Babylonians. Judah's "affair" with Assyria began when Davidic King Ahaz (736-716 BC) offered himself as a vassal to Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser to seek his help against an Israelite "Aramaean attack (2 Kng 16:7-20).

Ezekiel 16:32-37 ~ Part III: Summary of the Charges Against Israel and Announcement of the Sentence of Judgment
32 An adulteress welcomes strangers instead of her husband. 33 All prostitutes accept presents, but you give presents to all your lovers, you bribe them to come from all over the place to fornicate with you! 34 In fornicating, you are the opposite of other women, since no one runs after you to fornicate with you; since you give the fee and do not get one, you are the very opposite! 35 Very well, whore, hear the word of Yahweh! 36 The Lord Yahweh says this: For having squandered your money and let yourself be seen naked while whoring with your lovers and all the foul idols of your loathsome practices and for giving them your children's blood; 37 for all this, I shall assemble all the lovers to whom you have given pleasure, all the ones you liked and also all the ones you disliked; yes, I shall assemble them round you and strip you naked in front of them, and let them see you naked from head to foot.

In the judicial act of a covenant lawsuit, God pronounces His judgment against His unfaithful covenant people. God's judgment that continues in the next passage is that Israel/Judah's "lovers"/false gods of her neighbor states will turn against her, strip her naked (plunder the city), and destroy her.

Ezekiel 16:38-59 ~ Part III: Redemptive Judgment
38 I shall pass on you the sentence that adulteresses and murderesses receive; I shall hand you over to their jealous fury; 39 I shall hand you over to them; they will destroy your mound and pull down your high place; they will tear off your clothes, take away your jewels and leave you stark naked. 40 Then they will call an assembly of citizens to deal with you, who will stone you to death and hack you to pieces with their swords, 41 and burn down your premises and execute justice on you, while many other women look on; and I shall put an end to your whoring: no more paid lovers for you! 42 Once my fury is exhausted with you, then my jealousy will leave you; I shall be calm and not angry any more. 43 Since you never called to mind your early days and have done nothing but provoke me, now I in my turn shall bring your conduct down on your own head, declares the Lord Yahweh! Have you not added this lewd behavior to your other loathsome practices? 44 So now all dealers in proverbs will apply this one to you: Like mother, like daughter. 45 Yes; you are a true daughter of your mother, who hated her husband and her children; you are a true sister of your sisters, who hated their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. 46 Your elder sister is Samaria, who lives to the north of you with her daughters. Your younger sister is Sodom, who lives to the south of you with her daughters. 47 You never failed to imitate their behavior and copy their loathsome practices, and soon your behavior was more corrupt than theirs was. 48 As I live-declares the Lord Yahweh-your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done. 49 The crime of your sister Sodom was pride, gluttony, calm complacency; such were hers and her daughters' crimes. They never helped the poor and needy; 50 they were proud, and engaged in loathsome practices before me, and so I swept them away as you have seen. 51 And yet Samaria never committed half the crimes that you have. You have done more loathsome things than they have. By all your loathsome practices you have made your sisters seem innocent, 52 and now you bear the shame of which you have freed your sisters; since the sins which you have committed are more revolting than theirs, they are more upright than you are. So now, bear the disgrace and shame of having put your sisters in the right. 53 I shall restore their fortunes, I shall restore Sodom and her daughters, I shall restore Samaria and her daughters, and then I shall restore your fortune with theirs, 54 so that you can bear your shame and disgrace for all you have done, and so console them. 55 When your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, are restored to what they were and Samaria and her daughters are restored to what they were, then you too and your daughters will be restored to what you were. 56 Did you not gloat over your sister Sodom when you were so proud, 57 before you were stripped naked? Like her, you are now the laughing-stock of the women of Edom, of all the women round, of the women of Philistia, who pour out their contempt on you. 58 You have brought this on yourself, with your lewdness and your loathsome practices, declares the Lord Yahweh. 59 For the Lord Yahweh says this: I shall treat you as you have deserved for making light of an oath and breaking a covenant..."

Verses 38-41 refer to the practice of publically degrading a harlot or prostitute (Hos 2:12; Nah 3:5; Jer 13:22, 26; Jn 8:3-5). The nations whose false gods/lovers Israel/Jerusalem publically embraced will publically degrade her when their armies aid in her destruction.

40 Then they will call an assembly of citizens to deal with you, who will stone you to death...41 and burn down your premises and execute justice on you, while many other women look on; and I shall put an end to your whoring: no more paid lovers for you!
Question: Under the Law of the covenant, what was the penalty for adultery? Ex Lev 20:10; Dt 22:22-23; Jn 8:7.
Answer: The penalty was death, usually by stoning.

After she has forfeited all her possessions, she will face the penalty of execution. The executioners are an assemblage of nations/"women" who witness her destruction and the end of her idol worshipping/adultery. The reference to burning in verse 41 recalls the frequent use of fire in judgment warnings and execution of divine judgment. See, for example, Jeremiah's judgment pronouncements in 32:29; 34:22; 37:8; 38:18.

45 Yes; you are a true daughter of your mother, who hated her husband and her children; you are a true sister of your sisters, who hated their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite.
Once again the oracle alludes to Israel/Jerusalem's pagan origin and their depravity that derives from the learned behavior of a bad heredity.

46 Your elder sister is Samaria, who lives to the north of you with her daughters. Your younger sister is Sodom, who lives to the south of you with her daughters. 47 You never failed to imitate their behavior and copy their loathsome practices, and soon your behavior was more corrupt than theirs was.
Samaria was the capital city of the apostate Northern Kingdom, destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Samaria was the "elder," not in the sense of age but rank according to the size of the nation of the Northern Kingdom's ten tribes. Sodom is "younger" or less in size, not age (a city and not a kingdom). God destroyed Sodom for its sexual immorality long before the conquest of Canaan in the time of Abraham (Gen 19:5; 2 Pt 2:6-7; Jude 7). Satellite towns of a major city were called "daughter" towns (Josh 15:15; Ez 26:6; 30:18; Neh 11:25ff). The point is that Jerusalem is bordered north and south by wicked cities that experienced Yahweh's divine wrath. She did not learn to reject the sins that led to their destruction. Then God says, if He restores Jerusalem, He should also restore Samaria and Sodom since their accumulation of sins was not as great as Jerusalem.

59 For the Lord Yahweh says this: I shall treat you as you have deserved for making light of an oath and breaking a covenant...
These are the reasons for Jerusalem/Judah's divine judgment; the people abandoned Yahweh's laws and broke the covenant oath they made when they swore their obedience to Him alone at the covenant ratification ceremony at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:3-7).

Ezekiel 16:60-63 ~ Part IV: The Promise of Future Restoration
60 ... but I shall remember my covenant with you when you were a girl and shall conclude a covenant with you that will last forever. 61 And you for your part will remember your behavior and feel ashamed of it when you receive your elder and younger sisters and I make them your daughters, although this is not included in my covenant with you. 62 I shall renew my covenant with you; and you will know that I am Yahweh, 63 and so remember and feel ashamed and in your confusion be reduced to silence, when I forgive you for everything you have done, declares the Lord Yahweh.

In the four phases of the symbolic images of the prophets, Part IV is only promised at an unspecified time in the future but often in association with the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah. Verses 60-63 contain the promise of an eternal covenant for a spiritually renewed covenant people.

60 "... but I shall remember my covenant with you when you were a girl and shall conclude a covenant with you that will last forever.
In verse 60, Yahweh says He will remember the covenant He made with Israel at Mt. Sinai, but He will replace it with a renewed covenant that "will last forever." God's favor is freely granted to Jerusalem and not as a reward for her repentance, anticipating the New Testament revelation of St. John, Love consists in this: it is not we who loved God, but God loved us and sent his Son to expiate our sins (1 Jn 4:10).

61 And you for your part will remember your behavior and feel ashamed of it when you receive your elder and younger sisters and I make them your daughters, although this is not included in my covenant with you.
"Sisters" refers to Sodom and her "daughters," and Samaria and hers, all of whom will become dependencies of a restored Jerusalem. In the future eternal covenant, the authority of the Church will even extend over Gentile nations.

The promise repeats the promises God makes concerning the restoration of Israel and a new and eternal covenant at about this same time through Jeremiah in Jerusalem:

In the court of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, at about this time, the prophet Daniel will begin his career in the service of King Nebuchadnezzar. He interprets a dream for the king and makes a similar prophecy for the future: In the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not pass into the hands of another race: it will shatter and absorb all the previous kingdoms and itself last forever... (Dan 2:44). All these prophecies point to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and the new and eternal covenant He will bring to mankind. He will announce the new covenant for the first time, fulfilling the prophecies, at the Last Supper: He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you" (Lk 22:20).

Chapter 17: The Parables of the Two Eagles and the Two Shoots from the Cedar Tree

 

This parable concerns three historical events:

  1. King Jehoiachin's exile to Babylon (2 Kng 24:8-12; 2 Chr 36:9-10).
  2. The elevation of his uncle Zedekiah as the Babylonian vassal king of Judah (2 Kng 24:17).
  3. Zedekiah's death after he revolted against the Babylonians and allied himself with Egypt (2 Kng 24:20-25:7).

Ezekiel 17:1-7 ~ The Eagle and the Cedar
1The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 2 "Son of man, put a riddle, propound a parable to the House of Israel. 3 Say, The Lord Yahweh says this: A great eagle with great wings, long-pinioned, rich with many-colored plumage came to the Lebanon. 4 He took the top of the cedar tree, he plucked off the top branch, he carried it off to the country of merchants and set it down in a city of shopkeepers. 5 Next, he took one of the country's seeds and put it in a fertile field; by the side of a generous stream, like a willow tree, he placed it. 6 It grew and became a fruitful vine of modest size, grew up towards the eagle, its roots grew downwards. So it became a vine, branching out and sprouting new shoots.' 7 But there was another great eagle with great wings and thick plumage. And now the vine twisted its roots towards him and stretched its branches towards him, for him to water it away from the bed where it was planted. 8 It was in a fertile field, by the side of a wide stream that the vine had been planted, to branch out and bear fruit and become a noble vine.'"

God commands Ezekiel to tell a riddle or parable to the Israelites in exile. He tells an allegory that has three stages:

Ezekiel 17:9-24 ~ The Parable Explained
9 Say, "The Lord Yahweh says this: Will it succeed? Will the eagle not tear out its roots and strip off its fruit, so that all the new leaves it puts out will wither, and no great strength is needed nor many people to pull it up by the roots? 10 Planted it may be; will it succeed? Will it not shrivel up when the east wind blows? It will wither in the bed where it was growing!'" 11 The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows: 12 "Say to that tribe of rebels, Do you not know what this means?' Say this, Look, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem; he carried away the king and the princes, and took them to his home in Babylon. 13 He took a member of the royal family and made a treaty with him, forcing him to swear loyalty, having already deported the leading men of the country, 14so that the kingdom would remain modest and without ambitions, and would keep and honor his treaty. 15 But the prince rebelled against him and sent envoys to Egypt to procure himself horses and a large number of troops. Will he succeed? Will a man who has done this go unpunished? Can he break a treaty and go unpunished? 16 As I live, I swear it, declares the Lord Yahweh, in Babylon, in the country of the king who put him on the throne, whose oath he has disregarded and whose treaty he has broken, there he will die. 17 Despite the pharaoh's great army and hordes of men, he will not be able to save him by fighting, however many earthworks are raised, however many trenches dug to the loss of many lives. 18 He has disregarded the oath by breaking the treaty to which he had pledged himself and, having done all this, will not go unpunished. 19 "So, the Lord Yahweh says this: As I live, I swear it: my oath which he has disregarded, my treaty which he has broken, I shall make them both recoil on his own head. 20 I shall throw my net over him, he will be caught in my mesh; I shall take him to Babylon and punish him there for being unfaithful to me. 21 All the pick of all his troops will fall by the sword, and the survivors be scattered to all the winds. And you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken."

A review of the first parable:

  1. The first eagle (verse 3) is the king of Babylon.
  2. The "top branch" (verse 4) is Davidic King Jehoiachin, deposed and carried away to Babylon (2 Kng 24:11-16) six years before Ezekiel utters the parable.
  3. The "seed" (verse 5) planted by the eagle/King of Babylon is King Zedekiah (2 Kng 24:17).
  4. The second eagle is the Pharaoh of Egypt (verse 7) with whom Zedekiah sought to make a treaty and to break the hold of the Babylonians on Judah. For his treachery, the Babylonians capture Zedekiah, blind him, take him to exile in Babylon, and destroy Jerusalem (verses 13-21).

This part of the parable recalls King Zedekiah's treachery in breaking his covenant treaty with Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. Yahweh asks in verse 15 Can he break a treaty and go unpunished? The answer is "No," and the irony the destruction of Judah will not come from breaking the treaty with the Babylonians but from breaking the covenant treaty Israel swore to keep with Yahweh at Mount Sinai!

Ezekiel 17:22-24 ~ The Parable of the Second Shoot from the Cedar Tree
22 Thus says the Lord God: I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain; 23 on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it. It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar. Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, every winged thing in the shade of its boughs. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom. As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.

In 2 Samuel 7:8-29, God made an eternal covenant with His servant David in which He promised David that his throne and his kingdom would endure forever (also see 2 Sam 23:5; 1 Kng 2:4; 2 Chr 13:5; Sir 45:25). The prophets, like Isaiah, promised a future Messiah from the House of David: A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, a new shoot [branch] will grow from his roots. On him will rest the spirit of Yahweh...He will strike the country with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips bring death to the wicked...That day the root of Jesse, standing as a signal for the peoples, will be sought out by the nations and its home will be glorious. (Is 11:1-4, 10).

But the Davidic kings became arrogant and took the promise of David's eternal covenant to mean there was no limit to their exercise of royal power. They began to think of themselves as the people's masters rather than God's servants, forgetting God's warning to David that He would chastise the Davidic heirs when needed (2 Sam 7:14). That chastisement began after Solomon's failures when God took ten tribes away from the Davidic heir to humble the House of David (1 Kng 11:11-13; 12:31-39). God broke apart the United Monarchy to humble the line of David. But the punishment will not last forever (1 Kng 11:39), as God will promise through Ezekiel, saying: I shall raise up one shepherd, my servant David, and put him in charge of them to pasture them; he will pasture them and be their shepherd (Ez 34:23). And in Ezekiel chapter 37, Yahweh will promise a restored Israel united to Judah under one Davidic King: the Davidic Messiah.

The symbolic imagery in Ezekiel's parable of the second shoot:

  1. The great cedar tree is the House of David (verse 22a).
  2. The "shoot" is the Davidic Messiah (verse 22b).
  3. The "shoot planted on a high mountain in Israel is Jesus on the Cross outside the gates of Jerusalem, a city 2,500 feet above sea level on Mount Moriah (verse 23a).
  4. The "tree" that grew from the "shoot" is the Church of Jesus Christ (verse 23b).
  5. The "trees of the field" are all the people of the earth (verse 24a).
  6. To bring low the "high tree"/ "green tree" is the humbling of the wealthy, proud and arrogant, while the lifting up of the "lowly tree"/"withered tree" is the salvation of the humble and dispossessed (verse 24b).
  7. It is God's divine will that the Church of Jesus Christ will surpass the Kingdom of David to become a new creation and a new Kingdom that will offer shelter to all peoples of all nations and have dominion over all the earth (verse 24c).

In Ezekiel's prophecies in Chapter 17, the "cedar tree" is a symbolic image of the House of David. The cedar of Lebanon was the greatest of trees that grew in the region, just as the House of David was the greatest of Kingdoms since it possessed an eternal and unconditional covenant with Yahweh. From the "tree" of the House of David, God will take "a tender shoot" from its topmost branches, meaning from the direct Davidic line (Ez 17:22). It is similar to the prophecy of Isaiah where he prophesies the blossoming of a branch or shoot from the House of David: But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom (Is 11:1; Jesse was David's father). Both prophecies refer to the promised Redeemer-Messiah who is to come from the lineage of the great King David. Jesus of Nazareth fulfills both prophecies, as the Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation, saying: "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the House of Jacob [Israel] forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:31-33).

Ezekiel's prophecy is proof that God did not forget His eternal covenant with the House of David. The "shoot" that is Jesus the Messiah will be "planted" on the "high and lofty mountain" of Moriah in the city of Jerusalem where the "tree of hope" becomes the wood of the Cross of Jesus the Messiah. The Cross is not a sign of death but a sign of life that "puts forth branches and bears fruit" and "birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, every winged thing in the shade of its boughs" (Ez 17:23). Now the imagery turns from the wood of the Cross to the Kingdom of the Church which will become a refuge and shelter for people from every nation on earth. The same wording referring to refuge for "all the birds of the air" recalls the birds seeking salvation in Noah's Ark in Genesis 7:14 and also the many nations that were part of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom in Daniel 2:38. The Kingdom of the Messiah will be a new Creation and a greater kingdom than the one ruled over by the Babylonian king. In the prophet Daniel's vision of the final 5th and everlasting Kingdom he prophesied: ... the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever (Dan 2:44). The kingdom won by the "tree" of the Cross is the 5th everlasting, Davidic Kingdom which has dominion over all the earth and in which all peoples of all the nations of the world will be invited to seek shelter. It is the Kingdom of the Church in which all who thrive within the "branches" of her faith communities will bear the fruits of righteousness in service to the Davidic Messiah who is the Son of David and Son of God.

Chapter 18 ~ Individual Responsibility

 

For the second time, Yahweh addresses individual responsibility for one's actions and the consequences of those actions (see 14:12-23).

Ezekiel 18:1-9 ~ The Upright Man Defined
1 The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 2 "Why do you keep repeating this proverb in the land of Israel: The parents have eaten unripe grapes; and the children's teeth are set on edge?' 3 As I live, declares the Lord Yahweh, you will have no further cause to repeat this proverb in Israel. 4 Look, all life belongs to me; the father's life and the son's life, both alike belong to me. The one who has sinned is the one to die. 5 But if a man is upright, his actions law-abiding and upright, 6 and he does not eat on the mountains or raise his eyes to the foul idols of the House of Israel, does not defile his neighbor's wife or touch a woman during her periods, 7 oppresses no one, returns the pledge on a debt, does not rob, gives his own food to the hungry, his clothes to those who lack clothing, 8 does not lend for profit, does not charge interest, abstains from evil, gives honest judgement between one person and another, 9 keeps my laws and sincerely respects my judgements-someone like this is truly upright and will live-declares the Lord Yahweh."

The Lord begins by rejecting the proverb that suggests if the parents are sinners their children will inherit the same dispossession to sin. While sin can become a learned behavior in a family, every person in the family has the free will to choose or reject sin, and each person will be judged according to the choices he or she makes. At about this same time, Jeremiah in Jerusalem receives the same oracle quoting the same proverb that is also tied to a promise of future redemption in Jeremiah 31:27-30, Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall sow the House of Israel and the House of Judah with the seed both of people and of cattle... In those days people will no longer say: "The fathers have eaten unripe grapes; the children's teeth are set on edge." But each will die for his own guilt. Everyone who eats unripe grapes will have his own teeth set on edge. Yahweh addresses the rejection of ancestral guilt and affirms of the law of Deuteronomy 24:16 again in verses 19-24.4

Verses 5-9 define the righteous person who embodies the Ten Commandments in love and fidelity to God and in love of neighbor:

  1. If a person is upright, his actions demonstrate the quality of his life.
  2. He does not worship false gods or attend the ritual meals that honor them.
  3. He does not have adulterous relationships with women.
  4. He observes the laws associated with a woman's menstrual cycles in Leviticus 12:2-5; 15:19-30.
  5. He will not oppress the poor or disadvantaged.
  6. He honors the pledge on a debt.
  7. He does not engage in theft.
  8. He makes food contributions to the hungry.
  9. He provides for those who lack adequate clothing.
  10. He does not practice usury.
  11. He abstains from acts of evil.
  12. He does not show favoritism in rendering justice.
  13. He is obedient to the laws of the covenant.
  14. He respects God's divine judgments.

Ezekiel 18:10-18 ~ The Unrighteous Man Defined
18 "But if he has a son prone to violence and bloodshed, who commits one of these misdeeds, 11 even though the father never has, a son who dares to eat on the mountains, who defiles his neighbor's wife, 12 who oppresses the poor and needy, robs, fails to return pledges, raises his eyes to foul idols, engages in loathsome practices, 13 lends for profit, or charges interest, such a person will by no means live; having committed all these appalling crimes he will die, and his blood be on his own head. 14 But if he in turn has a son who, in spite of seeing all the sins that his father has committed, does not imitate him, 15 does not eat on the mountains or raise his eyes to the foul idols of the House of Israel, does not defile his neighbor's wife, 16 oppresses no one, takes no pledges, does not rob, gives his own food to the hungry, his clothes to those who lack clothing, 17 abstains from evil, does not lend for profit or charge interest, respects my judgements and keeps my laws, he will not die for his father's sins: he will most certainly live. 18 But his father, because he was violent, robbed others and never did good among his people, will most certainly die in his guilt.

The passage defines the person who is not righteous as the reverse of the previously listed qualities. However, whether saint or sinner, every person will be judged on the merits or defects of their life aside from the merits or defects of their parents or siblings.

Ezekiel 18:19-24 ~ The Question of Ancestral Guilt
19 "Now, you say, Why doesn't the son bear his father's guilt?' If the son has been law-abiding and upright, has kept all my laws and followed them, most certainly he will live. 20 The one who has sinned is the one who must die; a son is not to bear his father's guilt, nor a father his son's guilt. The upright will be credited with his uprightness, and the wicked with his wickedness. 21 If the wicked, however, renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws and is law-abiding and upright, he will most certainly live; he will not die. 22 None of the crimes he committed will be remembered against him from then on; he will most certainly live because of his upright actions. 23 Would I take pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord Yahweh, and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live? 24 But if the upright abandons uprightness and does wrong by copying all the loathsome practices of the wicked, is he to live? All his upright actions will be forgotten from then on; for the infidelity of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, he will most certainly die."

This passage rejects ancestral guilt and upholds individual accountability, affirming the law in Deuteronomy 24:16, Parents may not be put to death for their children, nor children for parents, but each must be put to death for his own crime. God does not hold one generation accountable for the sins of past generations. The passage also condemns the ancient practice of holding on to wrongs that generate blood feuds over generations, a common practice in the ancient Near East that continues in the Middle East today.

Ezekiel takes up the question: "If the sinner must live with the consequences of his sins, what is the purpose of repentance?" The answer includes one of the most beautiful summaries of divine mercy in Scripture in which God promises His merciful forgiveness of one's sins and restoration to fellowship with Him through the repentance of a humbled and contrite spirit (Ez 18:21-24).

Ezekiel 18:25-28 ~ Virtue and Repentance
25 "Now, you say, What the Lord does is unjust.' Now listen, House of Israel: is what I do unjust? Is it not what you do that is unjust? 26 When the upright abandons uprightness and does wrong and dies, he dies because of the wrong which he himself has done. 27 Similarly, when the wicked abandons wickedness to become law-abiding and upright, he saves his own life. 28Having chosen to renounce all his previous crimes, he will most certainly live: he will not die. 29 And yet the House of Israel says, What the Lord does is unjust.' Is what I do unjust, House of Israel? Is it not what you do that is unjust? 30 So in future, House of Israel, I shall judge each of you by what that person does, declares the Lord Yahweh. Repent, renounce all your crimes, avoid all occasions for guilt. 31 Shake off all the crimes you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why die, House of Israel? 32 I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord Yahweh, so repent and live!"

To those Israelites who complained that God was not just in harshly judging the sins of a formerly virtuous person, God replies through His prophet that it is rather the sinful ways of the Israelites that are unfair (verse 25). The punishment the Israelites will suffer is because of personal, unrepentant sins or the people's collective unrepented sins that led to God's just personal and collective condemnation (verse 26). And yet, as God's prophet assures the people in verse 27, God in His mercy is always ready to forgive the sinner who repents, turns away from his sins, and turns back to God (verse 28). God, in His mercy, has even promised that He will not remember any of the transgressions which the sinner committed and repented, nor shall those sins be held against him (Ez 18:22). In verses 31-32, the Lord in His mercy makes one final appeal: 31 "Shake off all the crimes you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why die, House of Israel? 32 I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord Yahweh, so repent and live!"

There is a unique connection between God's forgiveness and personal repentance, contrition, and conversion (turning back to God). The Council of Trent quoted verses 30 and 31 from Ezekiel Chapter 18 in section 14 paragraphs 1 and 4 concerning the Sacrament of Penance (the translation varies slightly):

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
When was the last time you offered yourself to Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? What do you do to prepare for the Sacrament? Do you remember to take into account not only what you have done but what you have failed to do?

Endnotes:
1 The Amorites were one of the pre-Israelite tribes in Canaan. The Table of Nations in Genesis Chapter 10 lists the Amorites with other Canaanite peoples as descendants of Noah's dispossessed son Ham and grandson Canaan (Gen 10:16). Genesis 15:16 lists the Amorites as the main inhabitants of the land of Canaan at the time of the future conquest. The pre-Israelite inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem were Canaanites, Amorites, and Hittites before the Jebusites (Gen 10:15ff, Judg 19:11ff; 2 Sam 5:6). After Joshua's death, the city of Jerusalem as razed and the Amorite were wiped out (Judg 1:8ff) to be replaced by Hittites/Jebusites.

2 The Jebusites apparently belonged to the Hittites, a people of Asia Minor and Northern Syria, who migrated into Canaan after the defeat of the Hittite Empire. Abraham purchased a burial site for Sarah from the Hittites (Gen 23:1-20).

3 Judah son of Jacob-Israel married a Canaanite woman named Shua and had children by her. He also had twin sons who carried on his family line by a Gentile woman named Tamar (Gen 38:1-3; 24-30). There were probably other such marriages, for example in Syrian Haran where Jacob married Leah and Rachel who probably had Amorite and Hittite ancestors on their mother's side of the family.

4 An example of abiding by this law is found in the judgment against Korah, the first cousin of Moses and Aaron, who instigated a revolt against Aaron and the priesthood (Num 16:-40). He and the other rebels died but his children were spared and became the Jerusalem Temple's first liturgists/choir masters (Num 26:10-11), and members of the family were among the exiles who returned to Jerusalem (1 Chr 9:19, 31; Ps 42; 44-49; 84; 85; 87; 88).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):
Ez 16 (CCC 219*, 1611*)
Ez 18:5-9 (CCC 2056*)