August 26, 2021
"‘Your mother was like a strong grapevine planted by the water. It was fruitful and luxuriant because of the abundant water. It had strong branches..."
“‘Your mother was like a strong grapevine planted by the water. It was fruitful and luxuriant because of the abundant water. It had strong branches to be used as scepters by rulers; besides having thick foliage, it grew taller, until its height was noticed with its mass of branches. But it was torn up in fury and flung to the ground. An east wind withered her fruit, her strong branches were broken off; they dried up; and fire consumed the vine. It has been transplanted to the desert, to a dry, thirsty land. Fire has gone out from its own branches, burning up its fruit, so that now it has no strong branch to be a ruler’s scepter.’ This lamentation became very well known.” Ezekiel 19:10-14
Today’s passage is the 2nd half of a lament. The first half used the imagery of a lioness and her cubs to depict the false hopes of Israel to raise up a leader to deliver her. Deliverance comes not from man’s efforts but God’s design. It is not Judah’s “lions,” but the Lion of Judah, who will deliver these people from their bondage.
Moving beyond the lion imagery, Ezekiel chooses a different image: that of a vine and its branches. We should note that the theme is altogether different from the allegory of chapter 17 and the transplanted vine.) The mother of the last kings of Israel, Hamutal, was like a vine planted “by the water.” Her family grew abundantly, sprawled out, and bore the fruit of success. Her branches represent twenty-two kings that appeared from David’s day to Zedekiah’s day. But this vine had been pulled up, left lying on the ground, its roots exposed and dried by the east wind, and burnt. She reminds me of a “lost dog” poster I once saw: Blind, three legs, no tail, goes by the name of “Lucky.”
Grapevines, apart from their fruit, aren’t useful for much more than fire fuel. Even Jesus alluded to Israel’s past as He warned of the consequences of apostasy.
“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who stay united with Me, and I with them, are the ones who bear much fruit; because apart from Me, you can’t do a thing. Unless a person remains united with Me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Such branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, where they are burned up.” John 15:5-6
What happened next to this vine seems impossible; it was planted in a dry and thirsty land. This is, in Babylon. Even assuming that such a thing might be possible, any vestige of hope is removed at a stroke; the vine catches fire, consuming its fruit. Zedekiah’s rebellion against Babylon brought the collapse of Judah; the nation was defeated. Ezekiel was giving a glimpse of what lay ahead of Judah in the not-too-distant future. In a few short years, Judah fell, and this dirge was her song of lament.
At first glance, it appears cruel to tell these Judean exiles that Judah will be destroyed in a few short years. We tend to want to assure people that some hope remains, no matter how dark the circumstances might be. But Judah’s problem lay in the object of her hope: herself! What saves us from our sin is not ourselves or the combined resources of other sinners! Our “Yeshua” (Salvation) comes from the power of the Messiah alone!