Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter forms the close of this long series of prophecies, and consists of a lament over the fall of the royal family of Israel and over the utter desolation of the nation itself. It fitly closes the series of warnings, and takes away any lingering hope of escape from the Divine judgments.
Moreover take thou up a lamentation for the princes of Israel,
And say, What is thy mother? A lioness: she lay down among lions, she nourished her whelps among young lions.(2) Thy mother.—Mother stands for the whole national community—the theocracy, as is plain from Ezekiel 19:10. This was represented, since the captivity of the ten tribes, by Judah; and her “princes,” of the line of David, were the legitimate kings of the whole nation. The figure of the lion is a common one in Scripture (see Genesis 49:9; Numbers 23:24; Numbers 24:9), and was also familiar in Babylonia.
And she brought up one of her whelps: it became a young lion, and it learned to catch the prey; it devoured men.(3) It became a young lion.—There can be no doubt (see Ezekiel 19:4) of the reference of this to Jehoahaz. After the death of Josiah, “the people of the land took Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah . . . and made him king” (2Kings 23:30). In Ezekiel 19:6 Jehoiachin is also spoken of particularly. These two are mentioned as examples of all the other kings after Josiah. Jehoiakim and Zedekiah are simply passed over, although it may be that the prophet looked upon them as creatures of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar rather than as legitimate kings of Israel. Jehoiakim, moreover, died in Jerusalem, and Zedekiah was at this moment still upon the throne.
It devoured men.—This at once keeps up the figure, and has also its special justification in the evil courses of Jehoahaz (2Kings 23:32). He is represented as growing up and being like the heathen kings around. See also, in Ezekiel 19:2, Israel as a whole is represented as going aside from her high calling as a theocracy, and making herself “like the nations round about.”
The nations also heard of him; he was taken in their pit, and they brought him with chains unto the land of Egypt.(4) Brought him with chains unto the land of Egypt.—Jehoahaz was conquered by Pharaohnecho, deposed, and carried captive (2Kings 23:33; 2Chronicles 36:4). “Chains” is literally nose-rings, keeping up the figure of the lion. In the first part of the verse also there is allusion to the custom of assembling the neighbourhood to secure a lion or other wild beast.
Now when she saw that she had waited, and her hope was lost, then she took another of her whelps, and made him a young lion.(5) Another of her whelps.—After the three months’ reign of Jehoahaz, his brother Jehoiakim was appointed king by Pharaoh (2Kings 23:34). He was conquered and “bound in fetters” by Nebuchadnezzar, with the intention of carrying him to Babylon (2Chronicles 36:7): he died, however, in disgrace in Jerusalem (2Kings 24:6; comp. Jeremiah 22:18-19), and was succeeded regularly by his son Jehoiachin without foreign interference. His character, as shown in Ezekiel 19:6-7 (comp. 2Kings 24:9; 2Chronicles 36:9), was evil like that of his father.
And he knew their desolate palaces, and he laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the fulness thereof, by the noise of his roaring.(7) Knew their desolate palaces.—This verse continues to describe the abominations of Jehoiachin’s ways. The word “desolate palaces,” although defended by some authorities, should be rendered, as in the margin, widows. The mention of the king’s violation of these is an unavoidable departure from the figure, such as often occurs in Ezekiel.
Then the nations set against him on every side from the provinces, and spread their net over him: he was taken in their pit.(8) The nations.—As in Ezekiel 19:4, for one nation: in that case Egypt, in this Babylon. The plural is naturally used, as several nations were concerned in the whole history, of which single particulars only are here mentioned.
And they put him in ward in chains, and brought him to the king of Babylon: they brought him into holds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel.(9) Brought him to the king of Babylon.—2Kings 24:8-17. Jehoiachin reigned only three months when Jerusalem was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar. He “went out to the king of Babylon,” but only because he could not help doing so, and was carried to Babylon and put in prison, where he was still living at the time of this prophecy. It was not till many years later that he was released (Jeremiah 52:31-32).
Thy mother is like a vine in thy blood, planted by the waters: she was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters.(10) A vine in thy blood.—The figure here changes to the more common one of a vine, yet by no means the “vine of low stature” of Ezekiel 17:6; it is rather a strong and goodly vine. The phrase “in thy blood” is obscure, and has occasioned much perplexity to the commentators. Some of the ancient versions and some manuscripts have modified the text; but the meaning seems to be, if the text is taken as it stands, “Thy mother is like a vine living in the blood (i.e., in the life) of her children.” This would then be a statement amplified in the following, “fruitful and full of branches.” The general sense is plain: Israel is described as having been planted a strong and fruitful vine, with every advantage for growth and full development.
And she had strong rods for the sceptres of them that bare rule, and her stature was exalted among the thick branches, and she appeared in her height with the multitude of her branches.(11) Thick branches should rather be translated clouds. It is a hyperbolical expression in the figure, to express the excellence of the vine of Israel.
But she was plucked up in fury, she was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up her fruit: her strong rods were broken and withered; the fire consumed them.(12) She was plucked up.—With the captivity of Jehoiachin and a part of the people the desolation had begun. Much still remained to be accomplished, but it was now close at hand; and the prophet speaks of it in the past tense, as if he saw it already fulfilled.
And now she is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground.(13) In a dry and thirsty ground.—Such was Babylon to Israel in its national relations, and even after the return from the exile the Jews never rose again to much importance among the nations of the earth; but meantime they were being disciplined, that at least a few of them might be prepared for the planting among them of that kingdom not of this world, spoken of at the close of Ezekiel 16, which should fill the whole earth.
And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit, so that she hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule. This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation.(14) Fire is gone out of a rod of her branches.—The rods, as shown in Ezekiel 19:11, are the royal sceptres of her kings. It was by the sin and folly of these kings, together with the sins and follies of the whole people, that judgment was drawn down upon them. Many of them did their full share of the evil work; but a “rod” is here spoken of in the singular, with especial reference to the last king, Zedekiah, who finally brought on the utter ruin of both himself and his people.
This is . . . and shall be.—It is a lamentation now in the half accomplished desolation; it shall remain for a lamentation when all shall be fulfilled.