1-3. Why is Ezekiel’s heart heavy, and what is he now inspired to record?
IT IS the sixth year of Ezekiel’s exile.* The prophet’s heart is heavy as he reflects on the sad state of rulership in Judah, his beloved homeland hundreds of miles away. He has seen rulers come and go.
2 Ezekiel was born in the middle of the reign of faithful King Josiah. Ezekiel must have been thrilled when he learned about the campaign Josiah had conducted to destroy graven images and to restore pure worship in Judah. (2 Chron. 34:1-8) But Josiah’s efforts did not lead to permanent reform, for he was followed by kings who for the most part continued to practice idolatry. Not surprisingly, under such bad rulers the nation has sunk ever deeper into the mire of spiritual and moral decay. Is all hope lost? By no means!
3 Jehovah inspires his faithful prophet to record a prophecy—the first of several—about the Messiah, the future Ruler and Shepherd who will permanently restore pure worship and tenderly care for Jehovah’s sheep. We do well to consider those prophecies carefully, for their fulfillment affects our everlasting future. Let us, then, examine four Messianic prophecies found in the book of Ezekiel.
“A Tender Shoot” Becomes “a Majestic Cedar”
4. What prophecy did Ezekiel relate, and how did Jehovah introduce that prophecy?
4 About 612 B.C.E., “the word of Jehovah” came to Ezekiel, and he related a prophecy that shows the scope of Messiah’s rule and the need to trust in his Kingdom. Jehovah introduced the prophecy by directing Ezekiel to tell his fellow exiles a prophetic riddle that illustrated the faithlessness of Judah’s rulers and underscored the need for the righteous Messianic Ruler.—Ezek. 17:1, 2.
5. What is the gist of the riddle?
5 Read Ezekiel 17:3-10. Here is the gist of the riddle: A “great eagle” plucks off the topmost shoot of a cedar tree and sets it down “in a city of traders.” The eagle then takes “some of the seed of the land” and plants it in a fertile field “by abundant waters.” The seed flourishes, growing into a “sprawling vine.” Next, a second “great eagle” appears. The roots of the vine reach “eagerly toward” the second eagle, seeking to be transplanted by it to another well-watered spot. Jehovah condemns the vine’s actions, indicating that its roots would be torn out and that it would “dry up completely.”
6. Explain the meaning of the riddle.
6 What did the riddle mean? (Read Ezekiel 17:11-15.) In 617 B.C.E., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (the first “great eagle”) besieged Jerusalem. He plucked Judean King Jehoiachin (the “topmost shoot”) from his throne and brought him to Babylon (“a city of traders”). Nebuchadnezzar put Zedekiah (one of the royal “seed of the land”) on the throne in Jerusalem. The new Judean king was made to take an oath in God’s name, obligating him to be a loyal vassal king. (2 Chron. 36:13) But Zedekiah despised his oath; he rebelled against Babylon and turned to the Egyptian Pharaoh (the second “great eagle”) for military help, but to no avail. Jehovah condemned the disloyal actions of that oath-breaker, Zedekiah. (Ezek. 17:16-21) In the end, Zedekiah was dethroned, and he died in prison in Babylon.—Jer. 52:6-11.
7. What lessons can we learn from the prophetic riddle?
7 What lessons can we learn from the prophetic riddle? First, as pure worshippers we need to be true to our word. “Let your word ‘Yes’ mean yes, your ‘No,’ no,” said Jesus. (Matt. 5:37) If we find it necessary to swear before God to tell the truth—such as when testifying in a court of law—we view such an oath as a serious matter. Second, we must guard against misplaced confidence. The Bible warns us: “Do not put your trust in princes nor in a son of man, who cannot bring salvation.”—Ps. 146:3.
8-10. How did Jehovah describe the future Messianic Ruler, and how is the prophecy fulfilled? (See also the box “Messianic Prophecy—The Majestic Cedar Tree.”)
8 There is, however, a ruler who is fully worthy of our confidence and trust. After presenting the prophetic riddle about the transplanted shoot, Jehovah drew on the same poetic imagery to describe the future Messianic Ruler.
9 What the prophecy says. (Read Ezekiel 17:22-24.) Now it is not great eagles but Jehovah himself who will take action. He will pluck a tender shoot “from the top of the lofty cedar and plant it . . . on a high and lofty mountain.” This shoot will flourish, becoming “a majestic cedar” providing lodging for “every kind of bird.” Then “all the trees of the field” will know that it is Jehovah himself who has made this majestic tree flourish.
10 How the prophecy is fulfilled. Jehovah plucked his Son, Jesus Christ, from the kingly line of David (“the lofty cedar”) and planted him on heavenly Mount Zion (“a high and lofty mountain”). (Ps. 2:6; Jer. 23:5; Rev. 14:1) Jehovah thus took his Son, who was considered “the lowliest of men” by his enemies, and exalted him by giving him “the throne of David his father.” (Dan. 4:17; Luke 1:32, 33) Like a majestic cedar, the Messianic King, Jesus Christ, will tower over the entire earth and be a source of blessing for all his subjects. Here, indeed, is the Ruler worthy of our trust. In the shade of Jesus’ Kingdom rule, obedient humans earth wide will “dwell in security and be undisturbed by the dread of calamity.”—Prov. 1:33.
11. What important lesson can we learn from the prophecy about the “tender shoot” that becomes “a majestic cedar”?
11 What we can learn from the prophecy. The thrilling prophecy about the “tender shoot” that becomes “a majestic cedar” enables us to answer an all-important question: In whom will we place our trust? It is foolish to trust in human governments and their military might. To find real security, we are wise to place our full confidence and trust in the Messianic King, Jesus Christ. The heavenly government in his capable hands is mankind’s only hope.—Rev. 11:15.
“The One Who Has the Legal Right”
12. How did Jehovah make clear that he had not abandoned his covenant with David?
12 From the divine explanation of the prophetic riddle about the two eagles, Ezekiel understood that Zedekiah, an unfaithful king in the royal line of David, would be dethroned and taken captive to Babylon. Perhaps the prophet wondered, ‘What about God’s covenant with David, which promised that a king from David’s family line would rule forever?’ (2 Sam. 7:12, 16) If Ezekiel did ponder such a question, he did not have to wait long for an answer. About 611 B.C.E., in the seventh year of the exile, while Zedekiah was still ruling in Judah, “the word of Jehovah came” to Ezekiel. (Ezek. 20:2) Jehovah had him relate another Messianic prophecy, one that made clear that God had not abandoned his covenant with David. On the contrary, the prophecy indicated that the future Messianic Ruler would have the legal right to rule as the heir of David.
13, 14. What is the gist of the prophecy recorded at Ezekiel 21:25-27, and how is the prophecy fulfilled?
13 What the prophecy says. (Read Ezekiel 21:25-27.) In no uncertain terms, Jehovah through Ezekiel addresses the “wicked chieftain of Israel,” whose time of punishment has arrived. Jehovah tells this wicked ruler that his “turban” and “crown,” or diadem, (symbols of royal power) would be taken from him. Then, ruling powers that had been “low” would be raised up, and those that had been “high” would be brought low. The ruling powers raised up hold sway, but only until “the one who has the legal right comes,” and then Jehovah gives that one the Kingdom.
14 How the prophecy is fulfilled. In 607 B.C.E., with the destruction of Jerusalem, the “high” kingdom of Judah centered in Jerusalem was brought low when the Babylonians destroyed that city and took captive the dethroned King Zedekiah. Then, with no king in David’s royal line ruling in Jerusalem, the “low” Gentile powers were raised up, leaving them in control of the earth—but only for a limited period of time. The Gentile Times, or “the appointed times of the nations,” ended in 1914 when Jehovah conferred kingship on Jesus Christ. (Luke 21:24) As a descendant of King David, Jesus indeed had “the legal right” to the Messianic Kingdom.* (Gen. 49:10) Hence, in Jesus, Jehovah fulfilled his solemn promise to give David a permanent heir to an everlasting Kingdom.—Luke 1:32, 33.
15. Why can we have the utmost confidence in the King, Jesus Christ?
15 What we can learn from the prophecy. We can have the utmost confidence in the King, Jesus Christ. Why? Because unlike worldly rulers who may be elected by humans or may usurp ruling authority, Jesus was chosen by Jehovah and “given . . . a kingdom” to which he has the legal right. (Dan. 7:13, 14) Surely the King whom Jehovah himself has appointed deserves our confidence!
“My Servant David” Will “Become Their Shepherd”
16. How does Jehovah feel about his sheep, and how were “the shepherds of Israel” in Ezekiel’s day treating the flock?
16 Jehovah, the Supreme Shepherd, deeply cares about the welfare of his sheep—his earthly worshippers. (Ps. 100:3) When he entrusts the care of his sheep to human undershepherds—those in positions of authority—he closely watches how they treat his sheep. Imagine, then, how Jehovah must have felt about “the shepherds of Israel” in Ezekiel’s day. Those leaders shamelessly ruled “with harshness and tyranny.” As a result, the flock suffered, with many abandoning pure worship.—Ezek. 34:1-6.
17. How did Jehovah rescue his sheep?
17 What would Jehovah do? “I will demand an accounting,” he said to the harsh rulers of Israel. He further promised: “I will rescue my sheep.” (Ezek. 34:10) Jehovah always proves true to his word. (Josh. 21:45) In 607 B.C.E., he rescued his sheep by using the invading Babylonians to strip those selfish shepherds of rulership. Seventy years later, he rescued his sheeplike worshippers from Babylon and brought them back to their homeland so that they could restore true worship there. But Jehovah’s sheep remained vulnerable, for they would continue under the domination of worldly powers. “The appointed times of the nations” would run for many more centuries.—Luke 21:24.
18, 19. What prophecy did Ezekiel relate in 606 B.C.E.? (See opening picture.)
18 Back in 606 B.C.E., about a year after Jerusalem’s destruction and decades before the Israelites were delivered from Babylonian exile, Jehovah inspired Ezekiel to relate a prophecy that reflects how deeply the Supreme Shepherd cares about the eternal welfare of his sheep. The prophecy describes how the Messianic Ruler will shepherd Jehovah’s sheep.
19 What the prophecy says. (Read Ezekiel 34:22-24.) God “will raise up one shepherd,” whom he calls “my servant David.” The words “one shepherd” along with the singular use of “servant” imply that the Ruler would not revive a dynasty of kings in David’s line but would be the one permanent heir of David. The Shepherd-Ruler will feed God’s sheep and become “a chieftain among them.” Jehovah will “make a covenant of peace” with his sheep. “Blessings will pour down [on them] like the rains,” and they will experience a delightful condition of security, refreshing prosperity, and fruitfulness. Why, peace will prevail not only among humans but also between humans and animals!—Ezek. 34:25-28.
20, 21. (a) How is the prophecy about “my servant David” fulfilled? (b) What do Ezekiel’s words about “a covenant of peace” mean for the future?
20 How the prophecy is fulfilled. By calling this Ruler “my servant David,” God pointed prophetically to Jesus, the descendant of David who has the legal right to rule. (Ps. 89:35, 36) When on earth, Jesus proved to be “the fine shepherd,” giving his life “in behalf of the sheep.” (John 10:14, 15) But now he is a heavenly Shepherd. (Heb. 13:20) In 1914, God installed Jesus as King and entrusted him with the responsibility to shepherd and feed God’s sheep on earth. Shortly afterward, in 1919, the newly enthroned King appointed “the faithful and discreet slave” to feed the “domestics”—God’s loyal worshippers who have the heavenly or the earthly hope. (Matt. 24:45-47) Under Christ’s direction, the faithful slave has kept God’s sheep well-fed with spiritual food. This food has helped them to promote peace and security in the spiritual paradise that is now taking shape.
21 What do Ezekiel’s words about “a covenant of peace” and rains of blessings mean for the future? In the coming new world, Jehovah’s pure worshippers on earth will experience to the full the blessings of the “covenant of peace.” In a literal, global paradise, faithful humans will never again be threatened by war, crime, famine, sickness, or wild animals. (Isa. 11:6-9; 35:5, 6; 65:21-23) Are you not thrilled at the prospect of everlasting life on a paradise earth where God’s sheep will “dwell in security, with no one to make them afraid”?—Ezek. 34:28.
22. How does Jesus feel about the sheep, and how can those serving as undershepherds reflect his concern?
22 What we can learn from the prophecy. Like his Father, Jesus deeply cares about the welfare of the sheep. The Shepherd-King sees to it that his Father’s sheep are well-fed spiritually and that they enjoy peace and security in the spiritual paradise. How reassuring it is to be under the care of such a Ruler! Those serving as undershepherds need to reflect Jesus’ concern for the sheep. Elders are to shepherd the flock “willingly” and “eagerly” and to be examples that the sheep can imitate. (1 Pet. 5:2, 3) Never would an elder want to mistreat one of Jehovah’s sheep! Remember Jehovah’s words to the harsh shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel’s day: “I will demand an accounting.” (Ezek. 34:10) The Supreme Shepherd keeps a close eye on how his sheep are treated—and so does his Son.
“David My Servant Will Be Their Chieftain Forever”
23. What promise did Jehovah make regarding unifying the nation of Israel, and how did he fulfill it?
23 Jehovah wants his worshippers to serve together in unity. In a prophecy about restoration, God promised that he would gather his people—representatives of both the two-tribe kingdom of Judah and the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel—and reunite them as “one nation,” as if causing two “sticks” to “become one” in his hand. (Ezek. 37:15-23) In a fulfillment of the prophecy, God restored a united nation of Israel to the Promised Land in 537 B.C.E.* But that unity was only a token of a far grander and more lasting unity to come. After promising to unify Israel, Jehovah gave Ezekiel a prophecy about how the future Ruler would bring true worshippers together earth wide in a bond of unity that would last forever.
24. How does Jehovah describe the Messianic Ruler, and what will this King’s rule be like?
24 What the prophecy says. (Read Ezekiel 37:24-28.) Jehovah once again refers to the Messianic Ruler as “my servant David,” “one shepherd,” and “chieftain,” but now Jehovah also calls this Promised One a “king.” (Ezek. 37:22) What will this King’s rulership be like? His rule will be permanent. The use of the terms “forever” and “eternal” suggest that there will be no end to the blessings of the King’s rule.* His rule will be marked by unity. Under their “one king,” loyal subjects will follow the same “judicial decisions,” and “they will dwell on the land” together. His rule will bring the King’s subjects closer to Jehovah God. Jehovah will make “a covenant of peace” with these subjects. Jehovah will be their God, and they will be his people. And his sanctuary will be “in their midst forever.”
25. How is the prophecy about the Messianic King fulfilled?
25 How the prophecy is fulfilled. In 1919, faithful anointed ones were united under their “one shepherd,” the Messianic King, Jesus Christ. Later, “a great crowd” from “all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” became united with their anointed fellow believers. (Rev. 7:9) Together, they have become “one flock” under “one shepherd.” (John 10:16) Whether their hope is heavenly or earthly, they all obediently walk in Jehovah’s judicial decisions. As a result, they dwell together in a spiritual paradise as a united worldwide brotherhood. Jehovah has blessed them with peace, and his sanctuary, representing pure worship, is among them. Jehovah is their God, and they are proud to be his worshippers—now and forever!
26. How can you contribute to the unity of the spiritual paradise?
26 What we can learn from the prophecy. We are privileged to be united in a worldwide brotherhood engaged in the pure worship of Jehovah. But that privilege brings with it a responsibility—we must contribute to the unity. Hence, all of us need to do our part to maintain harmony of belief and of action. (1 Cor. 1:10) To that end, we eagerly feed on the same spiritual food, hold to the same Scriptural standards of conduct, and share in the same vital work of Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making. The real key to our unity, however, is love. As we strive to cultivate and display love in its many facets—including empathy, compassion, and forgiveness—we contribute to our unity. “Love,” the Bible says, “is a perfect bond of union.”—Col. 3:12-14; 1 Cor. 13:4-7.
27. (a) How do you feel about the Messianic prophecies in the book of Ezekiel? (b) What will we examine in the chapters that follow?
27 How thankful we are for the Messianic prophecies found in the book of Ezekiel! Reading and meditating on those prophecies teaches us that our beloved King, Jesus Christ, deserves our trust, has the legal right to rule, tenderly shepherds us, and will preserve us in a bond of unity that will last forever. How privileged we are to be subjects of the Messianic King! Let us remember that these Messianic prophecies are part of an overall theme of restoration that is developed in the Bible book of Ezekiel. Jesus is the one through whom Jehovah collects together His people and restores pure worship among them. (Ezek. 20:41) In the following chapters of this publication, we will examine that thrilling theme of restoration and how it is developed in the book of Ezekiel.
The first year of the exile began in 617 B.C.E. when the initial Jewish captives were taken to Babylon. Hence, the sixth year began in 612 B.C.E.
Ezekiel’s prophecy about two sticks and how it was fulfilled will be discussed in Chapter 12 of this publication.
Regarding the Hebrew term rendered “forever” and “eternal,” one reference work notes: “Along with the sense of duration, the word bears nuances of permanence, durability, inviolability, irrevocability, and immutability.”