Can you interpret the allegorical parable of the Eagles and the Vine in Ezekiel 17? In the previous post, we talked about how this parable is for people that have lost hope, or are feeling it slip away. So it is important that we understand it.
In this second post of a five-part series studying Ezekiel 17 (the series started here), let’s read the parable in verses 3-10, trying to understand it. Please don’t peek ahead! Don’t look at your Bible’s study notes! Like I said, God will eventually explain the parable. Just keep your eyes on verses 3-10 and see if you can figure it out. Go ahead and read the parable in Ezekiel 17, verses 3-10.
Alright. You get all that? It’s a pretty simple story. Most parables are simple. But what is so difficult is understanding their meaning. Let’s review the story to make sure we understand it.
A powerful eagle flies to the country of Lebanon, which is famous for its cedar trees, and there the eagle breaks off the top of a cedar tree and carries it away to another land where the eagle plants it.
Then the eagle gets some seed from “your land.” Whose land? Your land? What land is God talking about? Scan back up to verse 2. Who does verse 2 say that Ezekiel is talking to? The house of Israel. Ezekiel is talking to his fellow Jews living in exile with him there in Babylon, but their homeland is Palestine, the land of Israel. So this eagle scoops up seed from Israel, planting it in the fertile soil of Israel with abundant water. The seed grows into a vine. Notice the detail in verse 6. The vine grows, turning its branches toward him. Toward whom? The eagle. The vine’s roots also stay under the eagle, as the vine grows. It is a picture of peace and prosperity.
Another powerful eagle appears, and things start to change. The vine sends its roots out toward the new eagle, seeking water from the eagle. A detail in verse 8 is important. In verse 8 the parable reminds the listener that the vine had been planted in fertile soil with abundant water, but that wasn’t good enough for the vine, because it sought water from the new eagle.
What will happen to the vine? It will be weakened, stripped of its fruit, and uprooted. Even a rescue operation like transplanting the vine will not work. And that is the end of the parable.
So what does the parable mean? Before we read the next section of verses in Ezekiel, and before you check your Bible’s study notes to try to help you understand what the parable means, let’s meet our cast of characters. We have four primary figures in the parable: the two eagles, the tree and the vine. Can you guess who they represent? Answers are at the bottom of the post! Before you scroll down to reveal the answers, try to guess!
Who is the first eagle?
The top of the tree he breaks off and plants in a different city?
The seed that became a vine?
Hint: We talked all three of these already in previous posts.
The second eagle? This one is tricky because we have not yet talked about it in our study.
Okay…do you have answers for all four? If so, scroll to the bottom of the post and check your guesses! Then return to this spot in the post and keep reading!
Now that we have the cast of characters, do you understand how the parable is a prophecy that is very similar to the prophecies Ezekiel has proclaimed previously? Yes? No? Maybe? Well, thankfully, God explains the parable. But before we read the explanation, see if you can use the identity of the cast of characters to interpret the parable! Then read Ezekiel 17, verses 11-15, for the explanation.
In verses 11-15 God says that the parable is essentially an allegory telling the story of Jerusalem, its two most recent kings and their international political affairs with Babylon and Egypt. This is the history that has been the context of the book of Ezekiel. Here’s a summary: Babylon attacked and defeated the city of Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon forced King Jehoiachin of Jerusalem, along with Ezekiel and 10,000 other Jews from Jerusalem, into exile in Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar installed another member of Jerusalem’s royal family, Zedekiah, as the new puppet king in Jerusalem. To keep peace and thrive, all Zedekiah had to do was follow the decree of Nebuchadnezzar. But Zedekiah rebelled, seeking military help from Egypt.
When Ezekiel was telling this parable to the 10,000 Jews in Babylon, everything he told them thus far in the parable was recent history. Ezekiel and the 10,000 Jews living in exile in Babylon knew all about the various kings and their international politics. But Ezekiel and his fellow Jews in Babylon were left with some troubling questions; the same questions that God asks in verse 15: Will Zedekiah succeed? Will his ploy to enlist help from Egypt work? Will Israel be freed from Babylonian control?
Check back in to the next post as we come to the part of the parable that is a prophecy about the future, and how it can help us when have lost or are losing hope!
Answer Key for Cast of Characters:
First Eagle: King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
The Tree: King Jehoiachin of Jerusalem who was exiled to Babylon at the same time as Ezekiel.
The Vine: King Zedekiah, who was Jehoiachin’s relative, who Nebuchadnezzar installed on the throne of Jerusalem as a puppet king.
The Second Eagle: Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.