Today the Lord calls us to ponder parables of a vine, two eagles, and a tree. The first eagle, representing the king of Babylon, plants a vine in fertile soil by abundant waters. When the vine, representing the king of Judah, turns its branches toward another eagle, Egypt, God warns that the rebellious vine will suffer consequences for breaking its covenant with the first eagle. The vine will wither, we are told, and the last of the kings will have the broken covenant brought down upon his head. God says, “I am the Lord; I have spoken” (Ezek.17:21).
Following this devastating proclamation of final destruction on the king and his people, God speaks a new parable of a tree: God promises that he himself will plant a cedar tree. His covenant with David will continue, for God’s tree will also be a shoot from the royal line. Unlike the low-growing, rebellious vine, God’s tree will provide shelter for birds of every sort. It will “bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar” (Ezek. 17:23).
When I read of the birds nesting in the branches, I remember the tree house I built as a child, where I could be safely away from the demands of the world, fed by the fruit my good tree gave me, and given a fresh perspective on life. And I think of the tree of life in Revelation, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2). Trees are an essential part of life, giving us good things. The parable of the tree is a picture of redemption that we can know intimately, and remember every time we enjoy a bit of shade, or the sunlight through leaves, or food that falls into our hands.
And the promise is perfectly true: “I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it” (Ezek. 17:24). The people are in exile; their world has been demolished, but they have been given a new start: freedom from the sins of their ancestors and a promise to live by. God’s promise is for the future, but it is also for the present, so sure and certain is the word of the Lord.
As he proclaims the people’s release from the sins of their fathers, God describes the ways we are faithful, showing mercy and kindness. And, God names the ways we sin—self-love and its offspring: idolatry, adultery, extortion, and on and on. He calls on his people to repent, to turn and live.
We cannot live on our own. When we rely on ourselves, we fight each other for power and provisions; we live and die by the sword—including the fight to make ourselves feel worthwhile. So we must learn to live in repentance, which is to say, we live by remembering that we ourselves are not the center of the universe. This is very good news – to learn that our lives belong to God, whose love and faithfulness are everlasting.
God’s parable of a tree of redemption is an idea that we can envision and believe. But God’s love is more than a parable; his love is utterly personal to every one of us. We know this because he sent his son to live and die as one of us in order that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).
There in God’s garden stands the Tree of Wisdom,
whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations;
Tree of all knowledge, Tree of all compassion, Tree of all beauty.
Its name is Jesus, name that says, “Our Savior!”
There on its branches see the scars of suffering;
see where the tendrils of our human selfhood feed on its lifeblood.
See how its branches reach to us in welcome;
hear what the voice says, ” Come to me, ye weary!
Give me your sickness, give me all your sorrow, I will give blessing.”