Best for Last
In today’s text, Ezekiel is providing for us a new image of God as a tree planter and a tree tender. He talks about how God will take a spring from one tree, plant it and tend it it until it grows. We are also invited to see the new ways that God is tending to our lives and the world around us.
Scripture: Ezekiel 17:22-24
Thus says the Lord God:
I myself will take a sprig
from the lofty top of a cedar;
I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
on a high and lofty mountain.
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Best for Last
Sometimes we come across passages in scripture that are more obscure — less well known to our ears and this may be one of those for you. It may be helpful for us as we think about it to know a little bit about the time line. You will see an image below that may help you make sense of it all.Get Map PDF
In the 6th century BC, Babylon was bearing down heavily on the southern kingdom of Judah and in 597 BC, Babylon attacked Jerusalem, nearly crippling the city. When this happened, they took several of the most elite Israelites into exile in Babylon. The prophet Ezekiel was a part of this group. He received his call to be a prophet in 593 BC and was the first prophet to receive a call from God outside of the promised land. In 587 and 586 BC, Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem and effectively destroyed the city, the temple, and the Davidic monarchy. There is no way to overstate what a terrible event this was in the life of these ancient Israelites. This event is the event that defines a great deal of the Old Testament.
Understanding the weight of this event is key to understanding today’s passage. If I were teaching this passage, I would try to get my group to make some connections to events like this in our own world. I would try to get them to name the events in recent history or in their life time that changed the way they saw the world. This can be done on a personal level or on a national or global level. As we consider how the Israelites experienced the prophecy of Ezekiel, it will be helpful for us to be connected to the events in our own lives that have shaken us to our core.
This passage introduces us to an image of God that we do not often use in teaching and in worship, the image of God as one arborist. Trees are magnificent creations and it is no wonder that the Bible often uses the image of trees to signify great groups of people or the work of God. It may be worth a quick search to see other ways that scripture uses trees.
(Editor’s note: check out the podcast for this session to hear the team discuss this issue).
Nikki’s Video Script
Best for Last
This week, we are looking at Ezekiel 17:22-24, though you may want to read through the whole chapter to appreciate the poetry and to understand the context.
This book is about the visions, prophecies, and actions of the prophet Ezekiel who served and prophesied among the Israelites during their exile in Babylon. Remember for a moment that when the Israelites were taken into exile, they lost everything that mattered to them as a community. They lost their land that had been promised to them through their ancestor Abraham, they lost the monarchy that gave them validity among other nations in their time, and their temple which housed the very presence of God was destroyed. Now, they are in Babylon, trying to understand all that has happened to them and what it means for them as a community.
Ezekiel speaks into this time and tries to help the Israelites make sense of these experiences. He is most well known for his vision of the valley of dry bones, and for all of the abnormal and, well, crazy things he did and said. Of all the prophets, Ezekiel is the most extreme. Though for today’s text, he is relatively tame.
In this text, Ezekiel is providing for us a new image of God as a tree planter and a tree tender. He talks about how God will take a spring from one tree, plant it and tend it it until it grows. In this particular context, the tree represents the monarchy that fell when the Israelites were defeated. The symbol is of a great tree that stands over all and provides shelter and protection to all. Earlier in the book, both Egypt and Assyria have been portrayed as thinking of themselves as great trees that rule over all.
But in today’s text, God reclaims control over the monarch and offers assurance that no more will others have control, but God will tend to Israel’s next king and will remain in control because God is the one who will care for the king.
This is significant, because, until this point, the people have lived in exile with the understanding that God has place them there. But now, Ezekiel is telling them, that God is getting ready to do a new thing. His words are intended to bring comfort. Here God is asserting that while exile is a terrible thing, it will not last forever. God is working and there will come a day when he will plant and tend new beginnings.
Fredering Buechner has said, “The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring.”
Today’s passage seeks to convey this truth to the Israelites. And the passage is also inviting the Israelites to think differently about God, who they believe, in many ways has abandoned them. Though it may seem dark, God is always at work, doing something.
As we allow the truth of this theme to become clear to us, we are also invited to see the new ways that God is tending to our lives and the world around us. When we find ourselves facing what seems to be the absolutely worst thing, are we able to imagine how God is working to bring the best thing. Can we live with that kind of hope for ourselves and for this world?