Two Eagles and Three Kings

Ezekiel 17:1-4 - The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, set forth an allegory and tell the house of Israel a parable. Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: A great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and full plumage of varied colors came to Lebanon. Taking hold of the top of a cedar, he broke off its topmost shoot and carried it away to a land of merchants, where he planted it in a city of traders.

Ezekiel 17:7-8 - But there was another great eagle with powerful wings and full plumage. The vine now sent out its roots toward him from the plot where it was planted and stretched out its branches to him for water. It had been planted in good soil by abundant water so that it would produce branches, bear fruit and become a splendid vine.

Ezekiel 17:22-23 - 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.

Read all of Ezekiel 17


In 586BC, Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of the Babylonian empire conquered the kingdom of Judah and carried off many of the Jewish people as captives to Babylon. Jerusalem was burned and the beautiful Temple of the Lord, built by King Solomon, was completely destroyed. God allowed this terrible judgment to come upon His people Israel because of their sins of idolatry and rebellion. This judgment fulfilled God’s multiple warnings to Israel over many centuries through His prophets. In fact, in the ten years prior to the final fall of Jerusalem, God spoke to His people both from Jerusalem through the prophet Jeremiah, and from Babylon through the prophet Ezekiel.

Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah actually occurred in three phases and spanned about 20 years. In 605BC the Babylonian armies besieged Jerusalem and removed the Temple treasures and many of the promising young men of royal and noble birth. Taking royal hostages was typical strategy in ancient warfare, and limited any threat of a rebellious uprising by the tribute-paying, conquered nation. In this first phase of the Babylonian conquest, Daniel was one of the young men who were taken as captives to Babylon (see Daniel 1).

In 597BC Nebuchadnezzar’s army again invaded Judah because of a broken covenant, and more prisoners were taken away to Babylon. The prophet Ezekiel was included in this group. With the rest of the captives, Ezekiel was settled by the River Chebar in Babylon (see Ezekiel 1). So while Jeremiah continued to prophesy in Jerusalem, Ezekiel prophesied as a captive in Babylon. Both prophets continued to warn the people that the worst was yet to come for Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah because of their blatant sin of forsaking the Lord their God. The final phase of the fall of Judah came in 587-586BC when the defenses of Jerusalem were breached after a siege that lasted more than a year. The Temple was destroyed, the city was devastated, and most of the Jews who were not killed were taken as captives to Babylon.

Doctrinal / Teaching Point

In Ezekiel 15-17, the prophet Ezekiel gave three parables to the captives in Babylon to illustrate God’s dealings with the nation of Judah. In chapter 15 we find the Parable of the Fruitless Vine: Israel had failed to bear fruit for the Lord. In chapter 16 we see the Parable of the Adulterous Wife: Jerusalem, as the capital and leader of the nation, had committed spiritual adultery with the surrounding nations and their gods.

Ezekiel 17 gives us the Parable of Two Eagles and Three Kings. The two eagles (vs1-10) represent Babylon and Egypt, and the parable portrays the political dealings of the last two kings of Judah with these powerful empires. Verses 11-21 help us interpret the first part of the parable. In the remainder of the chapter a future kingdom, the kingdom of the Messiah, is predicted.

King Jehoiachin of Judah is the “top of the cedar tree” that was taken captive by the great eagle of Babylon (v4). After removing Jehoiachin, King Nebuchadnezzar took Zedekiah from the royal line of Judah, set him up as a puppet king in Jerusalem, and made a covenant with him under oath (vs13-14). In the parable, Zedekiah is the royal seed of the land that is planted in fertile soil (v5). The vine (v6) represents the Jews of Judah who were not taken captive in the second phase of the Babylonian conquest, but remained in the land under the puppet king Zedekiah. At first “the vine” turned towards the eagle of Babylon and was subject to Nebuchadnezzar, in accordance with King Zedekiah’s covenant with Babylon. But in verse 7 the second great eagle appeared on the scene, and the vine turned towards him. Breaking his solemn covenant with Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah turned towards Egypt, hoping that an Egyptian alliance would help Judah gain her freedom from Babylonian tyranny.

Zedekiah’s treachery was a serious sin in God’s eyes. In this parable, God predicted that Pharaoh and his great Egyptian army would not intervene on Judah’s behalf, and Judah would be completely conquered by the Babylonians. Furthermore, Zedekiah would be taken as a prisoner to Babylon and would die in exile there.

When Ezekiel wrote this parable, part of the parable had already taken place. King Jehoiachin was already a captive in Babylon and Zedekiah was the puppet king in Jerusalem. However, the second part of the parable was yet to be fulfilled, so the second part is really a prophetic warning. Zedekiah’s political dealings with Egypt would fail, and Nebuchadnezzar would return in anger and deliver the final blow to Jerusalem and Judah. All of this took place (the historical account can be read in Jeremiah 52:3-14), and this emphasizes the great truth that God’s Word is both historically and prophetically accurate.

However, the prophecy of Ezekiel’s parable of two eagles and three kings did not end with the fall of Jerusalem in 586BC. In the concluding verses of the chapter the parable is extended. God Himself takes a tender sprig from the highest branches of the cedar and plants it on a high and prominent mountain in Israel. This is a messianic prophecy—and a message of hope. The “shoot from the cedar tree” is the Lord Himself, from the royal line of David — the third King of Ezekiel 17. He is the “shoot out of the stump of Jesse,” and the “branch that will bear fruit” of Isaiah 11:1.

In the future, the kingdom of our Lord will be planted on this earth, with His capital in the mountain city of Jerusalem. His kingdom will thrive and prosper, bear fruit and become like a splendid, majestic cedar tree. The church is not the fulfillment of this prophecy. This prophecy is not being fulfilled at the present time, while our Lord is rejected by this world. The fulfillment will come when the Lord returns and literally reigns from Jerusalem. Then all the nations, represented by all the trees (v24), will acknowledge the Lord and submit to Him as the rightful King. Then all the inhabitants of the earth will find provision and peace under the branches of the mighty and majestic cedar tree What a blessing to personally know the third King of Ezekiel’s parable right now—-our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! We can look forward with joy to the future time when all the people of the earth will finally bow before Jesus Christ and acknowledge Him as Lord, and we will reign with Him in His future majestic and glorious kingdom.

Practical Application

Do you keep your promises?

Do you keep your promises? Giving your word and then failing to keep your commitment is a sin! King Zedekiah may have thought that he had good reasons for breaking his covenant with Nebuchadnezzar. He may have rationalized his actions by thinking, “Maybe I can gain independence for God’s people with the help of Egypt! And Nebuchadnezzar is a pagan. I don’t have to keep a promise made to an unbeliever!”

But God doesn’t approve of excuses for breaking a commitment. Zedekiah had taken an oath before God that he would submit to Nebuchadnezzar in exchange for being made king and given a kingdom. Notice what God says about Zedekiah’s treacherous actions in verses 18-20. The Lord considered that Zedekiah had despised God’s oath and broken God’s covenant, and had committed treason against God! Why? Because he had made a promise, and promises are to be kept. Breaking a promise is a serious sin. Don’t make promises if you don’t intend to keep your word!

Have you promised to pay back a loan? Have you promised to give back something you borrowed? Have you committed to helping someone with a worthwhile project, or teaching Sunday school, or assisting with a youth program? Have you promised financial support to a local church or missions in other lands? Have you promised to encourage and pray for a friend who is going through tough times? Have you promised to love your spouse? Have you made excuses for your sin when you failed to keep your commitments and promises?

It is critically important for us, as Christians, to faithfully represent our God, who always keeps His promises! There should be no credibility gaps between our words and our behavior. We should stand out as shining lights in an unscrupulous and selfish society (Philippians 2:15).

Let’s be people who honor our commitments. Let’s be people whose word can be trusted. Let’s keep our promises!
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