Series on Ezekiel, I The Fall of Jerusalem, H Figures of Failure, Text: 15:-17:24, Title: Knowing God Intimately

Introduction

Here we have the first three of a number of allegories which are true stories disguised by imaginative representations. “Pilgrim’s Progress,” by John Bunyan is an example of an allegory where the story of the Christian life is hidden in a tale in which the characters have revealing names such as Christian, Hopeful, Little Faith, Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliable, Worldly Wiseman, Formalist and Prudence. Through the adventures of these characters truth is conveyed about the course of the Christian life. The allegories here are about a vine, a wife, and a king: the unfruitful vine, the unfaithful wife, and the unsuccessful king.

I The Unfruitful Vine

In Isaiah 5 God speaks of Israel as a vine which he has carefully planted and tended, but then he says, in verses 3-5, Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. The message is the same as here in Chapter 15. There the vine is unfruitful and will be destroyed, but here in 15:3-5 the wood of the vine is useless for anything except burning, Is wood ever taken from it to make anything useful? Do they make pegs from it to hang things on? And after it is thrown on the fire as fuel and the fire burns both ends and chars the middle, is it then useful for anything? If it was not useful for anything when it was whole, how much less can it be made into something useful when the fire has burned it and it is charred? This allegory is continued in the New Testament by Jesus in John 15: 5-7, I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. Here Jesus Himself is the vine rather than  Israel, the people of God, but the message is similar. Those that abide in Him will be fruitful, but those who do not will be unfruitful and will be cut off and then they will be useless except as firewood. Israel did not truly believe in God, did not really know him, and thus they were unfruitful and were destroyed. Jesus warns His disciples not to be like that.

II The Unfaithful Wife

Isaiah 54:5 as well as many other Scriptures remind us that Israel is the wife of Jahweh, For your Maker is your husband-the LORD Almighty is his name. In Ezekiel 16 we have an extended description of this relationship, and perhaps one of the most touching and beautiful stories in verses 3-14 of how the nation became the bride of Yahweh, This is what the Sovereign LORD says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare. Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine. I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD. All of this sovereign electing love and grace is thrown away by Israel and the rest of the chapter is an expansion on verse 15, But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. We read on about the lewd alliances in chapter 16, but In spite of this horrible idolatrous betrayal of God’s love, he will keep his covenant in verses 60-63, Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed... So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD. Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign LORD. The everlasting covenant is kept through Jesus Christ who made the atonement. He is the Savior of both Jew and Gentile. Thus in the New Testament we read that the Church is the bride of Christ, not the wife. The reason is that he has cleansed the sins and adulteries of the past and the people of God are virgin again through His blood. And as Paul treats this theme in Ephesians 5 where he talks about the marriage relationship, he compares it to our relationship to Jesus. He says that Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her  to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church. Here we see that he has not only made a virgin out of his chosen, but He is united with each believer in  a way that is more intimate than husband and wife. Our relationship with Christ effects a spiritual union that is closer and more profound than the physical union between a husband and a wife. We long to know Him more fully.

III The Unsuccessful King

The allegory of chapter 17 contains people and places that are more mysterious to the average reader, but become clear in the history of Israel. This chapter is about the actions of the last cowardly king of Judah, Zedekiah. The first eagle is Babylon that carried off the people of Jerusalem and their king and put another, Zedekiah, in place as a puppet king. The second eagle is Egypt with whom Zedekiah made an unholy alliance breaking his vow to Babylon and angering the Lord. It is reported in verses 11-15, Then the word of the LORD came to me: “Say to this rebellious house, ‘Do you not know what these things mean?’ Say to them: ‘The king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and carried off her king and her nobles, bringing them back with him to Babylon. Then he took a member of the royal family and made a treaty with him, putting him under oath. He also carried away the leading men of the land, so that the kingdom would be brought low, unable to rise again, surviving only by keeping his treaty. But the king rebelled against him by sending his envoys to Egypt to get horses and a large army. Will he succeed? Will he who does such things escape? Will he break the treaty and yet escape?’” Not only did Zedekiah break his vow to the king of Babylon, but he went to another pagan nation for help just as preceding generations had done showing their complete lack of trust in Yahweh. The result is that Zedekiah is blinded and carried off to Babylon to die. God alone is Lord and His glory He will not give to another. In spite of all this we have at the end of chapter 17 a promise, just as we had at the end of chapter 16. In verses 22-24 we read, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the field will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it. Please note that God goes to the same tree, Israel, that the king of Babylon went to when he plucked off the top and carried it away into captivity in verses 3 and 4. However God takes His sprig, His branch and he plants it and it grows into a mighty tree. The birds of the air symbolize the gentile nations and they all take refuge in the new tree. The new tree is none other than Jesus and the Church. The tree of David’s house was reduced to abject shame in Babylon, but out of that same source comes the heir to David’s throne who reigns forever and ever. This is the consistent message of the prophets, For example Isaiah 11:1-4 and 10-12, A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD-and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth...In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel. Jesse is David’s father. This is the same shoot mentioned by Ezekiel and the branch is mentioned again by Jeremiah in 23: 5 and 6, “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness. Jesus is the branch covering the mistakes of the past with His righteousness; the successful king creating a new Israel, the Church. Let us know God really, fully, and uniquely, and incomparably, and not repeat past sins.