Turning Sorrow Into Gladness

1 And you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, and say:

What was your mother? A lioness!
    Among lions she crouched;
in the midst of young lions
    she reared her cubs.
And she brought up one of her cubs;
    he became a young lion,
and he learned to catch prey;
    he devoured men.
The nations heard about him;
    he was caught in their pit,
and they brought him with hooks
    to the land of Egypt.
When she saw that she waited in vain,
    that her hope was lost,
she took another of her cubs
    and made him a young lion.
He prowled among the lions;
    he became a young lion,
and he learned to catch prey;
    he devoured men,
and seized their widows.
    He laid waste their cities,
and the land was appalled and all who were in it
    at the sound of his roaring.
Then the nations set against him
    from provinces on every side;
they spread their net over him;
    he was taken in their pit.
With hooks they put him in a cage
    and brought him to the king of Babylon;
    they brought him into custody,
that his voice should no more be heard
    on the mountains of Israel.

10 Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard
    planted by the water,
fruitful and full of branches
    by reason of abundant water.
11 Its strong stems became
    rulers’ scepters;
it towered aloft
    among the thick boughs;
it was seen in its height
    with the mass of its branches.
12 But the vine was plucked up in fury,
    cast down to the ground;
the east wind dried up its fruit;
    they were stripped off and withered.
As for its strong stem,
    fire consumed it.
13 Now it is planted in the wilderness,
    in a dry and thirsty land.
14 And fire has gone out from the stem of its shoots,
    has consumed its fruit,
so that there remains in it no strong stem,
    no scepter for ruling.

This is a lamentation and has become a lamentation. – Ezekiel 19:1-14 NLT

The people of Judah still held out hope that things would change. Even as they lived in forced exile in the land of Babylon, they kept dreaming that someone from the line of David would step up and deliver them from their oppression and restore the glory of Judah. In spite of all the warnings and prophecies of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and others, they kept believing that things were going to turn around any minute. But God wanted them to know that their destruction was unavoidable and their restoration impossible – without His help.

So, He provided Ezekiel with the lyrics to a funeral dirge – a song of lament describing the final days of the once great nation of Judah. Ezekiel was to sing this sorrowful tune to mourn the final days of Judah. From God’s perspective, Judah was already as good as dead. There was little to no life left in them. There was no king waiting in the wings, ready to step up and deliver the nation from the hands of the Babylonians. Her kings had all been killed or taken captive. Zedekiah would prove to be the final monarch to sit on the throne of David and rule over the once-formidable nation. Their glory days were behind them because they had refused to honor God by honoring His right to rule over them as the sovereign King of the universe.

Israel had once been a powerful force in the region. Like a fierce lioness, she had prowled the land of Palestine surrounded by other powerful lions. She was “a lioness among lions” (Ezekiel 19:2 NLT).  She prospered in the midst of a hostile environment and even bore cubs, one of whom became a strong young lion who “learned to hunt and devour prey, and he became a man-eater” (Ezekiel 19:3 NLT). But that “lion” was captured and taken captive to the land of Egypt.

This is a clear reference to King Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, the last righteous king of Judah. As king, Josiah did not share his father’s love for God. Instead, he led the nation back into its former pattern of idolatry and immorality, which led God to forcibly remove him from the throne.

Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah from Libnah. He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestors had done.

Pharaoh Neco put Jehoahaz in prison at Riblah in the land of Hamath to prevent him from ruling in Jerusalem. – 2 Kings 23:31-33 NLT

There were plenty of people in Judah and even some of the exiles in Babylon who held out hope that God would restore Jehoahaz to the throne. But the prophet Jeremiah put that rumor to rest.

For this is what the Lord says about Jehoahaz, who succeeded his father, King Josiah, and was taken away as a captive: “He will never return. He will die in a distant land and will never again see his own country.” – Jeremiah 22:11-12 NLT

Judah, the lioness, bore other cubs to replace the one she lost. Jehoahaz was replaced by his brother Eliakim, who reigned for 11 years in Judah, thanks to the aid of the Egyptian monarch who had deposed his brother.

Pharaoh Neco then installed Eliakim, another of Josiah’s sons, to reign in place of his father, and he changed Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim. Jehoahaz was taken to Egypt as a prisoner, where he died. – 2 Kings 23:24 NLT

Jehoiakim’s reign was also marked by idolatry and fraught with problems.

During Jehoiakim’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded the land of Judah. Jehoiakim surrendered and paid him tribute for three years but then rebelled. Then the Lord sent bands of Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders against Judah to destroy it, just as the Lord had promised through his prophets. – 2 Kings 24:1-2 NLT

This “cub” eventually died and was replaced by his son, Jehoiachin. Ezekiel’s dirge picks up the story with Jehoiachin’s ascension to the throne.

“When the lioness saw
    that her hopes for him were gone,
she took another of her cubs
    and taught him to be a strong young lion. – Ezekiel 19:5 NLT

Like his brothers before him, Jehoiachin proved to be a royal disaster, and he suffered the same fate as his brother, Jehoahaz.

With hooks, they dragged him into a cage
    and brought him before the king of Babylon.
They held him in captivity,
    so his voice could never again be heard
    on the mountains of Israel. – Ezekiel 19:9 NLT

But instead of exile in Egypt, Jehoiachin was banished to the land of Babylon, where he would die an ignoble death.

Nebuchadnezzar led King Jehoiachin away as a captive to Babylon, along with the queen mother, his wives and officials, and all Jerusalem’s elite. He also exiled 7,000 of the best troops and 1,000 craftsmen and artisans, all of whom were strong and fit for war. Then the king of Babylon installed Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, as the next king, and he changed Mattaniah’s name to Zedekiah. – 2 Kings 24:15-17 NLT

As Ezekiel sang the lyrics to his divinely inspired dirge, Zedekiah sat on the throne of David in Jerusalem., but he was little more than a vassal to King Nebuchadnezzar. Yet, there were still those who hoped this powerless and godless monarch would somehow rescue them from their Babylonian oppressors.

But this is where God begins to mix His metaphors and begins to refer to Judah as a fruitful vine.

“Your mother was like a vine
    planted by the water’s edge.
It had lush, green foliage
    because of the abundant water.
Its branches became strong—
    strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter.
It grew very tall,
    towering above all others.
It stood out because of its height
    and its many lush branches.” – Ezekiel 19:10-11 NLT

Despite the nation’s track record of infidelity, God had allowed it to prosper and grow. But that was about to change. With unmistakable clarity, God predicts the coming fall of Judah.

“…the vine was uprooted in fury
    and thrown down to the ground.
The desert wind dried up its fruit
    and tore off its strong branches,
so that it withered
    and was destroyed by fire.” – Ezekiel 19:12 NLT

The funeral song was a bit premature but not inaccurate. God knew the fate of Jerusalem and was letting Ezekiel in on the secret. And the book of 2 Kings describes exactly what happened when God finally destroyed the vine and its branches.

So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s reign. – 2 Kings 25:1-2 NLT

They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:6-7 NLT

The forces of Nebuchadnezzar showed no mercy. They completely ransacked the city, plundering everything of value and destroying all that they could not take with them to Babylon.

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and an official of the Babylonian king, arrived in Jerusalem. He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. – 2 Kings 25:8-10 NLT

With the eventual destruction of Jerusalem, the fall of Judah would be complete. Ezekiel and his fellow exiles would be joined by tens of thousands of other displaced Judahites.

“…the vine is transplanted to the wilderness,
    where the ground is hard and dry.
A fire has burst out from its branches
    and devoured its fruit.
Its remaining limbs are not
    strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter.” – Ezekiel 19:13-14 NLT

With the deportation of Zedekiah, there would be no king to sit on the throne of David. The fortunes of the once-great kingdom of Israel would reach an all-time low. And that would be ample reason for the people of Judah to mourn the loss of their former glory and status as God’s chosen people.

But when all else looks bleak and hopeless, there is always God. Even after their fall from grace, God would be there and completely aware of their weak and helpless condition. He knew that there was no one king left in the line of David to deliver them. But God would do what men could not do. He would eventually restore them to the land from which He had banished them. He would return a remnant to Judah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah would help lead a small group of captives to the land where they would labor to restore the nation. And God would be the one to make it all possible.

In spite of all their sin and rebellion, God would one day show them mercy and grace, returning them to the land and restoring them as a nation. And while there would be no king to rule when they returned, God had plans for a King in waiting – His very own Son – who sits at His right hand in heaven and will one day return to the earth to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem where He will reign in righteousness.

This song has a happy ending because God is faithful. All the sadness will be turned to joy. The darkness will be replaced by light. The hopelessness will be replaced with hope. The song of sadness will be replaced with shouts of joy.

Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. – Psalm 95:1-3 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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