The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is written in the book of the prophet Ezekiel. The text, Ezekiel 17:22-24, is quite short, only three verses, but quite interesting in the larger context of chapter 17. The chapter begins with a riddle/allegory, which is introduced by, “The Word of Yahweh came to me.” Note also how this phrase is repeated in verse 11 which begins the second major portion of the chapter and contains our periscope. 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 there is little in the way of Church usage which indicates them as such. Not many others have supported his statement here but I would join him in arguing for the Messianic character of this pericope. Apart from the fact that I would contend all of the Old and New Testaments are, indeed must be, Messianic in character, there are other aspects of these verses which 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, 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. Zechariah 3:9 speaks of “my servant, the Branch.” We also see the earlier use of “root” in this chapter which reminds us of the root of the stump of Jesse, etc. Then we observe 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 as well. This is far too prevalent a 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 verse, 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 contend it would be hard 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. One of the best, if not the best commentary on Ezekiel available.
Apart from the fact that I would contend all of the Old and New Testaments are, indeed must be, Messianic in character, there are other aspects of these verses which help us see this character clearly.
17:22 Note the redundancy of the אָנִי (A-ni) “I, even I, will…”, “I myself will…” This places the focus on the speaker, Yahweh.
מִצַּמּרֶת (mitz-tzam-Me-ret) from: צַמֶּרֶת (tsam-meh-reth) “top; tree-top”
הָאֶרֶז (ha-E-rez) A rare word probably meaning “cedar; fir.” Here especially we have the idea of a very tall cedar.
הָרָמָה וְנָתָתִּי (ha-ra-Mah ve-na-Tat-ti) “high... and set it out” These words are not included in the LXX and thus frequently left out of English translations.
יֹנְקוֹתָיו (yo-ne-ko-Tav) “sprig; shoot; twig” רַךְ (rach) “tender”
אֶקְטֹף (ek-Tof) root: קטף(kaw-taf) Qal: “to break off; to pluck off”
וְשָׁתַלְתִּי (ve-sha-Tal-ti) root: שׁתל (shaw-thal) Qal: “to plant; transplant”
הַר־גָּבֹהַ וְתָלוּל (har ga-Vo-ha ve-ta-Lul) “A mountain high and lofty” The תָּלוּל (ta-Lul) is a Hapax: “Lofty” is the usual, most common guess.
*Note the similarity to the language of 17:3-4. The subject is Yahweh, and the elements are similar. Again, make note of all the horticultural references. The Vulgate translates, “I will break off from the topmost of all its branches a tender one and stretch it out and plant it on the most high and prominent mountain.” It seems to be an allusion to Jesus stretching out His arms on the cross of the Mountain of Calvary.
17:23 מְרְוֹם (me-Rom) “height; top” It can refer to any kind of “height,” even to the heights of Heaven. However, because of its connection to “Mountain” it is a reference to the redemptive work of God in Jerusalem (Hummel, 511).
עָנָף (a-Naf) “twigs; branches”
אַדִּיר (ad-Dir) “mighty; magnificent; majestic”
צִפּוֹר (tzip-Por) “bird; winged creature”
בְּצֵל דָּלִיּוֹתָיו (be-Tzel da-li-yo-Tav) “In the shade of its branches; it the shade of its foliage”
*Note again the similarity to the previous words of this chapter—specifically verse 8. Hummel suggest Ezekiel was familiar with the “branch and sprout” prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and incorporates the imagery here, which does seem quite likely.
17:24 As we look at this last verse, note the string of Hiphil verbs and the causative nature of the form. Also, pay attention to the language of “reversal” which is definitely eschatological.
הִשְׁפַּלְתִּי (hish-Pal-ti) root: שׁפל (shaw-fale) Hiphil: “to cause to be brought low; to lay low”
הִגְבַּהְתִּי (hig-Bah-ti) root: גבה (gaw-bah) Hiphil: “to cause to make high; exalt; to let grow tall”
שָׁפָל (sha-Fal) “low in height; low in size”
הוֹבַשְׁתִּי (ho-Vash-ti) root: יבשׁ(yaw-bash) Hiphil: “to cause to wither; make dry”
וְהִפְרַחְתִּי (ve-hif-Rach-ti) root: פרח (paw-rakh) Hiphil: “to cause to sprout; cause to bud”
יָבֵשׁ (ya-Vesh) “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 covenantal promise alive and bring it to fruition.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Ezekiel 17:22-24.
Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ezekiel 17:22-24.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Ezekiel 17:22-24.