2 Samuel 12; 2 Corinthians 5; Ezekiel 19; Psalms 64-65
THE LAMENT FOR ISRAEL’S PRINCES (Ezek. 19) is at one level pretty straightforward. The lioness in the opening verses of the psalm is the nation as a whole, which gave birth to the kings. Then as now, the lion was the king of beasts, and so it readily served as a symbol for the royal Davidic line (e.g., Gen. 49:9; Mic. 5:8). In Ezekiel 19:10-14 the nation is the vineyard.
The kings Ezekiel has in mind in each section are pretty obvious. Jehoahaz is the first in view. He was captured and taken to Egypt in 609 B.C. (19:4). Jehoiakim is skipped, but the fate of Jehoiachin is made clear in Ezekiel 19:5-9. He was taken to Babylon in 597 (Ezek. 19:9). The fate of Zedekiah is played out in Ezekiel 19:10-14. If this poem was written about the same time as the surrounding chapters (i.e., about 592 or 591), then of course Zedekiah had not yet been destroyed (587). In that case, this section of the poem is predictive. Alternatively, Ezekiel may have completed the lament after the events of those days.
It is striking that the words do not simply portray the overthrow of a minor power by superior force, but the decline of the line and even the decline of the nation. That is part of the picture of the vine in Ezekiel 19:12-14. The nation itself became pathetically weak: “No strong branch is left on it fit for a ruler’s scepter” (Ezek. 19:14). The worst irony is that the fire that consumed the vine’s fruit “spread from one of its main branches”: the allusion is to Zedekiah’s rebellion, which in turn attracted the punitive expedition of the Babylonians. This not only put an end to the Davidic line, but virtually destroyed Israel’s national identity for many years. Within the theology of Ezekiel’s prophecy as a whole, of course, the ultimate cause of Israel’s overthrow was God himself, acting in judgment. But here it is clear that the mediate cause of the nation’s destruction was within itself.
That is neither the first nor the last time that a nation or an institution was destroyed from within. Readers of history may call to mind the Roman Empire, the Russian years under Communism, certain local churches, Christian universities, confessional seminaries, and on and on. They know that human institutions can never be so safely constructed that outcomes are guaranteed. For the heart of the human dilemma is so deeply rooted in personal sin that no structure can finally reform it. The lament for Israel’s princes becomes a lament for the human race, which desperately needs a solution far deeper and more effective than princes, presidents, and structures can ever provide.