By Jeff Pulse –
Our text for this Sunday is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. The text, Ezekiel 17:22-24, is quite short, only three verses, but it is quite interesting in the larger context of chapter 17. The chapter begins with a riddle, an allegory, which is introduced by, “The Word of Yahweh came to me.” Note also that this phrase is repeated in verse 11, which begins the second major portion of the chapter and contains our pericope. As we go through these three verses it is interesting and important to see them in the larger context of the allegory in the opening portion of chapter 17.
Horace Hummel points to these verses as Messianic prophecy, although he does admit that there is not much in the way of church usage that indicates this. Not many others have supported his belief here, but I would join him is arguing for the Messianic character of this pericope. Apart from the fact that I would contend that all of the Old and New Testament are, and indeed must be, Messianic in character, there are other aspects of these verse that help us see this character clearly.
The first aspect to consider is Ezekiel’s use of “horticultural” expressions. The “sprig; cedar; branches, etc.” bring to mind other, more famous passages which do much the same and describe the eschatological climax of the line of David in Jesus Christ (Hummel, p.516). Isaiah 11:1 speaks of the sprout or shoot from the stump of Jesse; Jeremiah talks of the “righteous branch” in 23:5; 33:15. We see the earlier use of “root” in this chapter which reminds us of the root of the stump of Jesse, etc., and then the same imagery in Isaiah 53:2 describing the “Suffering Servant.” Of course, Revelation ends with the description of the “tree of Life” in the courts of heaven bearing the fruits of life, etc. This is a far too prevalent theme in the prophets and elsewhere not to make the Messianic connection here in chapter 17 of Ezekiel.
Another theme/motif which contains Messianic hope and is laid out in our verses is the “Mountain” motif. The high and lofty mountain in verse 22 and the mountain height of Israel in verse 23 remind us especially of Calvary and the temple mount, Mount Zion, as well as the eschatological mountain of Isaiah 25, etc. Again, this is strong Messianic content. I would argue that it would be difficult to understand these verses in any other way.
I would like to acknowledge and thank Horace Hummel and his great commentary on Ezekiel 1-20 in the Concordia Commentary Series. It is one of the best, if not the best commentary on Ezekiel available.
17:22 Note the redundancy of the aniy; “I, even I, will…; I myself will…” This places the focus on the speaker, Yahweh.
eshtalenu “top; tree-top”
haerez—A rare word probably meaning “cedar; fir” Especially the idea of a very tall cedar.
haramah wenathatiy “high…and set it out” These words are not included in the LXX and frequently left out of translations.
yonqothayw “sprig; shoot; twig” rak “tender”
eqtol—root: qatal “to break off; pluck off”
weshathaltiy—root: shatal “to plant; to transplant”
har—gavoah wethalul “A mountain high and lofty” The talul is a hapax, so “lofty” is the usual, most common guess.
Note the similarity of language to 17:3-4. The subject is Yahweh, and the elements are similar. Also, again make note of all the horticultural references. The Vulgate translates, “I will break off from the topmost of its branches a tender one and stretch it out and plant it on the most high and prominent mountain.” It seems this is an allusion to Jesus’ arms being stretched out on the cross of the Mount of Calvary.
17:23 maron “height; top” It can refer to any kind of “height”, even the heights of heaven. However, because of its connection to “Mountain” it is a reference to the redemptive work of God in Jerusalem (Hummel, p. 511).
anaph “twigs, branches”
adiyr “mighty; magnificent; majestic”
tsipor “winged creature; bird”
betsel daliyothayw “in the shade of its branches; in the shade of its foliage”
Note again the similarity to the previous words of this chapter, specifically verse 8. Hummel suggests that Ezekiel was familiar with the “branch and sprout” prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah and incorporates the imagery here, which does seem quite likely and probable.
17:24 As we look at this last verse note the string of Hiphils and the causative nature of the form. Also, pay attention to the language of “reversal” which is definitely eschatological.
hishpaltiy—root: shapal—hiphil; “to cause to be brought low; to lay low”
higbahtiy—root: gabah—hiphil; “to cause to make high; exalt; to let grow tall”
shaphal “low in size; low in height”
hobashtiy—root: yabash—hiphil; “to cause to wither; make dry”
wehiphrachtiy—root: parach—hiphil; “to cause to sprout; to cause to bud”
yavesh “dried; dry”
If there is any question as to the identity of the causing agent of this great reversal, the last words of the chapter make it quite clear; “I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it!” His new planting will keep the ancient messianic promise alive and bring it to fruition.