The Lord gives Ezekiel a lamentation to say before the people. I am thankful for the notes in my study Bible that give me cultural context that is lost from mere translation of the words. These verses are a form of Hebrew poetry usually used in funeral dirges, and Ezekiel and his listeners would have immediately recognized the meter.
The lament itself concerns the princes of Israel, comparing them to the cubs of a lioness. The first one described grew up to be a man-eater, so the nations captured him and took him off to Egypt. When he did not return, the lioness raised up another cub who also grew up to be a man-eater worse than the one before. He “seized their widows” and “laid waste their cities”. (v. 7) Therefore the nations rose against this young lion as well, trapped him in a pit, caged him, and sent him off to Babylon.
Lions often symbolize the kingship of the tribe of Judah, and this is no exception. The lioness herself represents Israel as a whole, or possibly Jerusalem. The first young lion was Jehoahaz who reigned as king for three months before being captured and taken to Egypt by Pharaoh Neco. The second young lion is either Jehoiakim or his son Jehoiachin. It’s confusing because 2 Kings does not mention an exile for Jehoiakim, but 2 Chronicles (which was written later) said he was put into custody. Perhaps he died before he could be taken to Babylon, and Jehoiachin was given three months to pay tribute to Babylon as he should, and failed. In any case, Jehoiachin was definitely exiled to Babylon and there were no more kings of David’s line after him.
The second half of the lament symbolizes this state of affairs. The princes’ mother is now described as a vine planted and watered, growing to great heights. But she is then “plucked up in fury” (v. 12) and the hot desert wind dries out the branch and fruit on the vine. The stem left in the ground was consumed by fire so that there isn’t even enough left to make a scepter from it. Like a lion, a branch was often used as a symbol for Judah’s kingship, especially for the promised messiah. If this was the end of the story, we would not have any hope left for a king on the throne of David ever again.
You keep Your promises even when it seems all hope is lost, because You can never go back on Your word.