Scripture Text – Ezekiel 18-21
Responsibility is one of the major themes of these four chapters. By dealing with the subject of personal and national responsibility, Ezekiel was able to answer the frequent complaints of the people that the Lord was treating them unfairly. Responsibility and accountability are needed themes in our own day. Irresponsibility is rampant and very few people are willing to take the blame for wrongs committed or mistakes made.
Please read Ezekiel 19:1-14 for the background to this section.
Ezekiel had made it clear that individual Jews were responsible for their own sins, but it was also true that their leaders had led them astray because they had all rebelled against God. Jeremiah had told the kings of Judah to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar because he was God’s chosen servant to chasten and discipline Israel, but they had refused to obey. Zedekiah, Judah’s last king, had agreed to a treaty with Nebuchadnezzar but then had broken it and sought help from Egypt. It was this foolish act that moved Nebuchadnezzar to send his army to Jerusalem and destroy the city and the temple.
Whether you read secular or sacred history, you soon discover that people become like their leaders. If you have had any experiences with leadership in the business world, or leadership in churches, you will see that the same thing applies and a business or a church, takes on the “likeness” or personality of the leaders. It was the same with the people who applauded Solomon when he built the temple, they also applauded Jeroboam when he set up the golden calves and instituted a new religion. One of the hardest tasks of Christian leaders today is to keep our churches true to the Word of God so that people don’t follow every religious celebrity whose ideas run contrary to Scripture. It appears that being popular and being “successful” are more important today than being faithful and obedient to the Lord’s will.
In discussing the sins of the leaders, Ezekiel used two familiar images, the lion and the vine, and he presented his message in the form of a funeral lament for “the princes of Israel.” David’s exalted dynasty had come to an end, and the men holding the scepter were nothing at all like David. Ezekiel wouldn’t even call them “kings” but instead referred to them as “princes” (see Ezekiel 7:27; 12:10, 12). Instead of lamenting their demise, the “funeral dirge” actually ridiculed the rulers of Israel; but later (Ezekiel 21:27) Ezekiel would announce the coming of Messiah, the Son of David, who would be a worthy King.
Israel is like a lioness (Ezekiel 19:1-9). The lioness represents the nation of Israel, or at least the royal tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9; Numbers 23:23; 24:9; 1 Kings 10:18–20; Micah 5:8). The first royal “whelp” as the King James Version puts it, was Jehoahaz, who reigned over Judah for only three months (see also 2 Kings 23:31–35). He was also known as “Shallum” (Jeremiah 22:10–12). Pharaoh Neco took him captive to Egypt where he died. The second royal “whelp” was Jehoiachin, who reigned three months and ten days (see also 2 Kings 24:8–16; 2 Chronicles 36:9–10). Ezekiel describes him as “roving” and “roaring” among the princes and the nations. Nebuchadnezzar took him to Babylon along with 10,000 captives and the temple treasures, and there he died. Jehoiachin turned a deaf ear to the preaching of Jeremiah, and the prophet didn’t have anything good to say about him (Jeremiah 22:18–19). 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. They were nothing more than untrained and undisciplined young lions, “whelps”!
Israel is like a vine (Ezekiel 19:10–14). This is a familiar image in Scripture (Genesis 49:9–12; Isaiah 5; Psalm 80:8–13; Jeremiah 2:21) and in Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ezekiel 15; 17:1–10). The fruitful vine produced many kings who rebelled against God and were punished by being transplanted to Babylon, from “many waters” to a “wilderness” (see also Jeremiah 31:27–28). The last king of Judah, Zedekiah, broke his treaty with Babylon, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, and lost the scepter and the throne (2 Kings 24:17–25:7). With Zedekiah the Davidic dynasty ended, and he too died in captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 52:11).
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. Israel would have been a “light unto the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6) and many would have trusted in the true and living God because of them. Israel didn’t keep the terms of the covenant however, but the Lord did; and that’s why He chastened them and scattered them. God’s chosen people have no temple, priesthood, sacrifice, or king (Hosea 3:4–5). Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, came as the lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5) and the true vine (John 15:1), “a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32), and the rightful heir to the throne of David (Luke 1:68–69), and His own people rejected Him. One day they shall see Him return in those same roles and then they will receive Him, and God’s gracious covenant with David will be completely fulfilled (2 Samuel 7) when Jesus reigns in His kingdom (Ezekiel 34:23–24; 37:24–25; Matthew 1:1).
To Be Continued