Ezekiel 19 – Two Laments
A. The lamentation of the lions.
1. (1) A lamentation for the leaders of Israel.
“Moreover take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel,
a. Take up a lamentation: Ezekiel 19 is the collection of two laments, two sorrowful songs over the condition of Israel in Ezekiel’s day. It is a lamentation both by its poetic arrangement and by its subject matter.
i. Lamentation: “Qina is a technical term for a special kind of musical composition, the dirge, which was composed and sung at the death of an individual, though it is also used of laments at the destruction of a nation or people.” (Block)
ii. “This pattern apparently attempted to imitate the drumbeat (or its equivalent) of a funeral dirge: BOOM BOOM BOOM-pause-BOOM BOOM.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iii. “Ezekiel expressed the Lord’s sadness over the Judean leadership’s failure by chanting this elegy over her final rulers prior to their deaths.” (Alexander)
b. For the princes of Israel: This lamentation mainly concerns the later kings of Israel. Significantly, God here called them princes rather than kings, even though it refers to three of the later kings of Judah. It is also significant that God referred to them as princes of Israel, even though the northern kingdom was long before conquered and scattered.
i. This lamentation for the princes of Israel was fitting considering how badly the last several kings ruled and the judgment that answered their wickedness. “His zeal for the Davidic covenant, however, did not allow him to see three of its inheritors disappear into exile without profound sorrow and emotion. This was no taunt-song. The judgment of the Lord could be very grievous, and Ezekiel felt it keenly.” (Taylor)
ii. “So long as a descendant of David occupied the throne in Jerusalem, the Judeans could hope in divine protection. After all, Yahweh had made an eternal covenant with David (2 Samuel 7); he would surely not abandon his designated ruler or the people he represented. Ezekiel’s aim in this ‘dirge’ is to demolish another false theological pillar on which the nation’s sense of security was based. Yahweh’s covenant with David is hereby suspended.” (Block)
2. (2-4) The lioness, and the mighty lion taken to Egypt.
‘What is your mother? A lioness:
She lay down among the lions;
Among the young lions she nourished her cubs.
She brought up one of her cubs,
And he became a young lion;
He learned to catch prey,
And he devoured men.
The nations also heard of him;
He was trapped in their pit,
And they brought him with chains to the land of Egypt.
a. A lioness: The lioness was mother to the princes mentioned in the previous verse. The lioness is best understood as Israel or Jerusalem itself, who lay down among the lions by taking her place in the community of nations.
i. “The lioness must have been a personification of Judah, just as in Ezekiel 19:10 (cf. Genesis 49:9; Numbers 23:24; 24:9; Revelation 5:5; and Isaiah 29:1- used of Jerusalem).” (Feinberg)
ii. “‘The lion of Judah’ was probably as proverbial a term in Ezekiel’s days as ‘the Russian bear’ or ‘the American eagle’ is in our own times.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iii. “Lions, incidentally, were common in Palestine until shortly after the Crusades, and Hebrew had five different words to describe them (all of which occur in Job 4:10f., and three of which are found here in Ezekiel 19:2).” (Taylor)
b. She brought up one of her cubs: This refers to Jehoahaz, the son of King Josiah (also called Shallum in Jeremiah 22:10-12). Jehoahaz reigned only for a few months in 609 B.C. His reign was short but evil and brutal (he devoured men).
i. Jehoahaz “soon showed his fierce, haughty, cruel, and bloody disposition, as appears 2 Kings 23:30-32, though he continued but three months, and some odd days, wherein to play his pranks.” (Poole)
c. They brought him with chains to the land of Egypt: King Jehoahaz of Judah was taken prisoner to Egypt in 609 B.C. (2 Kings 23:31-33), after a three-month reign.
i. He was trapped in their pit: “Just as it was customary for a community to gather together to catch a lion or wild beast, so Jehoahaz was taken by force by Pharaoh Necho to the land of Egypt.” (Feinberg)
3. (5-7) The second lion’s power.
‘When she saw that she waited, that her hope was lost,
She took another of her cubs and made him a young lion.
He roved among the lions,
And became a young lion;
He learned to catch prey;
He devoured men.
He knew their desolate places,
And laid waste their cities;
The land with its fullness was desolated
By the noise of his roaring.
a. She took another of her cubs and made him a young lion: This was King Jehoiachin of Judah, who reigned from 609 to 597 B.C. He also learned the ways of lions and devoured men.
i. Another of her cubs: “A brat of the same breed, and of no better condition. Judea changed her lords oft, but not her miseries.” (Trapp)
b. He knew their desolate places, and laid waste their cities: For a time Jehoiachin seemed to rule with power and authority. Others heard and were affected by the noise of his roaring.
4. (8-9) The young lion’s capture.
Then the nations set against him from the provinces on every side,
And spread their net over him;
He was trapped in their pit.
They put him in a cage with chains,
And brought him to the king of Babylon;
They brought him in nets,
That his voice should no longer be heard on the mountains of Israel.
a. The nations set against him from the provinces on every side: When Jehoiachin rebelled against his Babylonian overlords Nebuchadnezzar brought an army against him from the many nations and provinces under his empire.
i. “Again the nations about Israel were aroused into action against the perpetrator of these deeds, not because of their superior righteousness, but because of the judgment of God on the king.” (Feinberg)
b. They put him in a cage with chains, and brought him to the king of Babylon: Jehoiachin was taken as a prisoner to Babylon in 597 B.C. He never returned, that his voice should no longer be heard on the mountains of Israel.
i. “Perhaps the most remarkable detail in the story so far is the nations’ motive for capturing this lion: to silence the sound of his roar, that is, to stop his terrifying predatory behavior on the mountains of Israel. The surrounding peoples pose as liberators of Israel from this lion!” (Block)
ii. “The cage was that used for a dog or a lion. Ashurbanipal of Assyria said of a king of Arabia, ‘I put him into a kennel. With jackals and dogs I tied him up and made him guard the gate, in Nineveh.’” (Feinberg)
iii. “The term (sugar, ‘cage’) is probably a loanword from the Akkadian sigaru, which can mean an animal cage or a neckband for prisoners. It is very likely that Ezekiel played on the word, using it literally for a neckband for Jehoiachin and at the same time using the sense of ‘animal cage’ in the imagery of the passage.” (Alexander)
iv. “He was carried that long journey in chains, enough to change his roaring lion-like into the roarings of a desperate, miserable captive.” (Poole)
v. “In this brief parable, the Lord made it clear that these two kings of Judah thought themselves to be great leaders, but they ignored the Word of God and He cut them down after their brief reigns.” (Wiersbe)
B. The lamentation of the vine.
1. (10-11) The fruitful vine.
‘Your mother was like a vine in your bloodline,
Planted by the waters,
Fruitful and full of branches
Because of many waters.
She had strong branches for scepters of rulers.
She towered in stature above the thick branches,
And was seen in her height amid the dense foliage.
a. Your mother was like a vine: Ezekiel returned to the familiar image of the vine as a representation of Israel. The picture is of a fruitful and strong kingdom (fruitful and full of branches).
i. “The vine traditionally symbolized Israel itself (cf., e.g., Isaiah 5:1-7; Zechariah 8:12-13), especially as it was destined for resurgence. For Ezekiel at this point, there is no resurgence in sight.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
b. She had strong branches for scepters of rulers: Ezekiel probably had in mind the most glorious years of Israel’s monarchy, the reigns of David and Solomon. In those years God lifted Israel up among the nations and she towered in stature.
i. Strong branches: “This kingdom equaled, if not excelled, the greatest neighbour kingdoms, and her kings, as David, Solomon, &c. exceeded all their neighbour kings in riches and power.” (Poole)
2. (12-14) Plucked up and planted in the wilderness.
But she was plucked up in fury,
She was cast down to the ground,
And the east wind dried her fruit.
Her strong branches were broken and withered;
The fire consumed them.
And now she is planted in the wilderness,
In a dry and thirsty land.
Fire has come out from a rod of her branches
And devoured her fruit,
So that she has no strong branch—a scepter for ruling.’”
This is a lamentation, and has become a lamentation.
a. But she was plucked up in fury: There came a day when God no longer blessed Israel and her kings. When they persistently rebelled against Him, she was cast down to the ground. As a result of God’s judgment, her strong branches were broken and withered, with the strong branches representing her later kings.
b. Now she is planted in the wilderness: God transplanted the vine and took it to an unpleasant place, Babylon. Babylon wasn’t a literal wilderness, but it was certainly one for God’s exiled kings and people.
i. Planted in the wilderness: “Nebuchadnezzar planted them in policy and for his advantage, they planted themselves out of necessity, and God planted them there in just correcting mercy, and will give them root, and make them thrive, and transplant them after seventy years, and set them on the mountains of Israel again.” (Poole)
ii. In the wilderness: “Babylon was no wilderness, but fruitful beyond credulity, But the poor captive Jews had little joy from it, for some time at least.” (Trapp)
c. Fire has come out from a rod of her branches and devoured her fruit: The worst damage to the vine came from one of her own branches. The corruption and destruction came from within. This particular rod of her branches represents Zedekiah, who was king at the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.
i. “Note that the destructive fire comes from the stem of the vine itself. Thus Jerusalem and the royal house are the cause of their own destruction.” (Wright)
ii. “Plucked up in fury, her strong rulers ceased, and out of her rods went forth a fire that destroyed. That is to say, Judah’s final destruction had come through those having rule over her, and the reference undoubtedly was to Zedekiah.” (Morgan)
d. So that she has no strong branch, a scepter for ruling: Zedekiah was the last of the kings of the line of David, until the Messiah establishes His reign as promised to David in 2 Samuel 7:11-16. From Zedekiah until Jesus the royal line of David went underground.
i. “None to speak of till Shiloh come. Rulers indeed they had after this and governors, [Haggai 2:21] but no kings of their own nation.” (Trapp)
ii. “The foolish rebellion of Zedekiah against Babylon was the cause of the ruin which befell Judah. No strong branch remained on the vine to serve as a scepter to rule. The deportation of Zedekiah brought a temporary halt to the rule of the house of David.” (Smith)
e. This is a lamentation, and has become a lamentation: These two parables described and prophesied the tragedy of the last few kings of Judah. When kings and leaders over the people of God are ungodly and become rightful targets of God’s judgment, there is truly a reason for lamentation.
i. “His message was a lamentation for the destruction already carried out; it would be a lamentation for the desolation yet to be accomplished.” (Feinberg)
ii. “Had the nation of Israel obeyed the Lord, it would have become and remained a mighty lion and a fruitful vine that would have brought glory to the name of the Lord.” (Wiersbe)