Lamentation for the Princes of Israel (Ezekiel 19) September 15-16
Chapter 19 follows right on from chapter 18. God directs His prophet to bewail the uprooting of the nation. "The exiles' last hope was that Zedekiah could be trusted to throw off the Babylonian yoke. Ezekiel now demolishes that in a funeral dirge chanted over Judah's leaders" (Bible Reader's Companion, chaps. 19-21 summary).
That the term "princes of Israel" (verse 1) refers to Judah's leaders in Ezekiel's time is apparent from the details given about particular individuals, though it is possible that there are dual references here that could also apply to the end-time fall of Israel and Judah.
In the imagery of the first part of the lament, the "mother" of the people is portrayed as a lioness. Israel as a whole had been pictured as a lioness: "It now must be said of Jacob and of Israel, 'Oh, what God has done!' Look, a people rises like a lioness, and lifts itself up like a lion; it shall not lie down until it devours the prey, and drinks the blood of the slain" (Numbers 23:23-24; compare Micah 5:8-9). The tribe of Judah had been similarly portrayed in the context of it possessing Israel's royal lineage: "Judah...your father's children shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey...you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion who, shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah..." (Genesis 49:8-10). Jerusalem, the nation's capital, was referred to as Ariel ("Lion of God") in Isaiah 29:1.
In verses 3-4 of Ezekiel 19, the lioness (i.e., the nation) sets up one of her cubs as a lion, a national leader. As The Expositor's Bible Commentary explains: "The first whelp was Jehoahaz (vv. 3-4), who had been placed on the throne by the Judeans following the death of his father, Josiah (2 Kings 23:31). Jehoahaz learned, as a young lion, to tear and devour mankind, doing evil in the sight of the Lord (v. 3; 2 Kings 23:32). Becoming world renowned for the violence in his reign of three months, he was seized in 609 B.C. like a hunted lion and brought bound to Egypt where he ultimately died (v. 4; 2 Kings 23:33-34; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4; Jer 22:10-12)" (note on verses 1-9).
The lioness then sets up a new lion cub. The next king of Judah was Jehoahaz's brother Jehoiakim. But he was set up as ruler not by Judah itself but by the Egyptian pharaoh. And though Jehoiakim was brought before Nebuchadnezzar in chains as described in verse 9, he was not removed from office or taken from the Holy Land as described here. Rather, "the second whelp was Jehoiakim's son, Jehoiachin [or Jeconiah, who became king upon his father's death and not by foreign appointment] (vv. 5-9; cf. 2 Kings 24:8-17; 2 Chronicles 36:8-10); Jehoiakim [a foreign appointment] was bypassed...[Jehoiachin's] reign was not substantially different from his father's, for Jehoiachin too learned to devour mankind. Jehoiachin destroyed cities and desolated the land (v. 7). Yet he also did not escape the snare of the 'lion-hunting' nations that trapped him in their 'pit' and brought him to Nebuchadnezzar in a 'cage' in 597 B.C. Later he was released (2 Kings 25:27-30; 2 Chronicles 36:9-11). No longer would he 'roar' in Judah" (same note).
For the second part of the lamentation (Ezekiel 19:10-14), the imagery shifts to that of the vine, another symbol of the nation as we've seen in chapters 15 and 17.
Where Ezekiel 19:10 says, "Your mother was like a vine in your bloodline," the word translated as "bloodline" in the New King James Version literally means "blood" (KJV). The exact meaning here is debated. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary prefers the meaning of "'in the blood of thy grapes,' i.e., in her full strength, as the red wine is the strength of the grape" (note on verse 10). The Ferrar Fenton Translation says "vigorous vine plant."
The nation, explains The Expositor's Bible Commentary in its note on verses 10-14, "had grown large and fruitful during the kingdom period with many branches for ruling scepters (or kings) (vv. 10b-11). Yet this vine was finally plucked up and cast to the ground, where its exposed roots withered under the blasts of the east wind (Babylonia) (cf. 17:6-10, 15). The vine (or nation) was transplanted into a desert place—into captivity (v. 13). The 'fire' that 'spread from one of its main branches' [NIV throughout quotation] was the destruction that Zedekiah, Judah's current ruler, had brought on Judah ('consumed its fruit') (v. 14a). Judah's present condition was the responsibility, in part, of Zedekiah. Ezekiel had answered the exiles' question (in this chapter) by demonstrating the foolishness of trusting in Zedekiah, for he was partially responsible for the imminent judgment. In fact, there was not a 'strong branch' in Judah at all—no one 'fit for a ruler's scepter' (v. 14b), not even Zedekiah, who would be deported in 586 B.C. There was no hope! Judgment was coming!"