Updated: Feb 4
[The presentation shown on the Episcopal Lectionary site has this selection produced in song verse format. I have reduced that to prose, while maintaining their translation.]
Thus says the Lord God, “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the 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. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.”
This is an optional Old Testament selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. In the numbering system that lists each Sunday in an ordinal fashion, this Sunday is referred to as Proper 6. If chosen, it will next be read aloud in church by a reader on Sunday, June 17, 2018. It is important as a narrowed excerpt from Ezekiel as it shows the metaphor present in the accompanying Gospel reading selection from Mark, where servants of God are compared to plants of the earth and their benefit to the lands where they are found.
This portion of Ezekiel 17 represents the final three verses that in total was a chapter where God spoke to His prophet about the fall of Judah and Jerusalem. The king of Babylon captured Jerusalem and disposed the Judean king, appointing a younger sibling (Zedekiah) to be king, after he signed an agreement to serve Babylon. That young king then went against that agreement, causing Jerusalem to be recaptured by Babylonian soldiers; and that was when Solomon’s Temple was destroyed.
God pointed out to Ezekiel how He had a prior “agreement” with the Israelites (which included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin). Therefore, these last three verses are “riddle” and “parable” [instructions from God to Ezekiel in verse 2] that tell about the reseeding of the land with those who will not have a Covenant of stone, but the Law written on their hearts.
The process of transplanting a cutting of a plant becomes similar to the prophecy found in Isaiah 11:1, which states, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” The same forecast of a replacement of God’s “chosen people” is made in both Ezekiel’s and Isaiah’s examples of horticultural metaphor. This would not mean a return from exile of the people from Judah, in captivity in Babylon, although their transplanted tree would grow in Babylon and then grow again in what used to be Judah. However, the prophecy is foretelling of Jesus and those who would follow him as Christians.
This parallels the story in Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus spoke of growth stages of grains and that of a mustard seed. The similarity of this metaphor spoken by God to Ezekiel, where we read, “Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind,” is practically identical to Jesus telling how the mighty mustard tree protects birds.
Cedar tree of Lebanon.
I have a cedar tree in my backyard and it is the home for many different birds and squirrels and rabbit have been seen running under its branches for safety also. Still, the points made by Ezekiel and Jesus are about one specific “tree,” one that “All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord.”
This means that when God told Ezekiel, “On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar,” that “tree” would be the true “religion” – “philosophy” – in a world of many religions and philosophies – that IS Christianity. Still, “religion” or “philosophy” belittles the truth that is “noble” in that “tree.”
This means one must be able to remove the glasses of mortal being that sees the imagery of this “riddle” and “parable” as plants and birds, and put on the glasses of prophecy. Mortals see bird of many kinds as though all are living equally well under the branches of all large, protective trees. While that may be true in mundane life, it misses the spiritual point made by God stating, “In the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.”
Those “winged creatures” are angels of the LORD, which means the “tree of Christianity” will be filled with those who totally serve God, as eternal souls saved. No other “tree’ in the filed can truthfully make that claim.
Under the shade of holy branches.
Certainly, in a world of religions, they all make their claims of superiority. Sheer numbers of believers can catapult Christianity, Islam and Hinduism to the top, in that regard. In a world of many different philosophies, where each becomes the guiding principles of a nation (the DNA of countries), the world’s most numerous adherents of central philosophical beliefs (and the laws thereby generated) can indicate the most popular are Democratic Republics, Communist-Socialist Regimes, and Totalitarian Dictatorships. However, the truth of the United States’ declaration that demands a separation of Church and State is that “religion” acts as the ideal, while “government” becomes the reality.
That reality is that nations bow down before themselves, as self-serving egos that scream, “My philosophy is better than yours.” Never do governments bow down before the LORD, much less to the gods they profess allegiance to.
Comrades in arms at a U.N. get-together.
In the hidden “backstory” of Ezekiel 17, we read the ugliness of governments and their attempts to align with other governments, in pacts and treaties that seem mighty and strong. The adage, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” is summed up now as, “I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.”
The “high” trees that exist in the world now are the United States of America, Russia, and China. Others that seek equal status with those are Great Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Iran and others with nuclear capabilities. None of them consider themselves “high” because their total strength is based on their belief and devotion to the One God, but to the lesser god named “Nuclear weaponry.” All are exactly like the rebellious Judeans that God recalled to Ezekiel, who placed all their bets on the sharpness of their spears and the promised support of others who were paid to be in league with them.
Those plans went awry, as is the greatest flaw in humanity. Alas, it is said, “Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.” And, the world does love reruns.
My two-lettered brother by another mother.
As history always will repeat (similarly) and one plus one will always equal two, the failures of Israel (a nation under one king), as also the failure of Israel and Judah (two nations under two kings), and also the failure of the resuscitated puppet that pretended to return to life – Hebraic Judea and Jerusalem of the Second Temple – those failures project the failures of the United States of America and the re-instituted State of Israel. Any nation that proposed to have God on its side, but then acts as if there were no God that Saves, is doomed to fall by the hand of the godless.
It is a lesson that keeps on teaching.
That failure does not mean the “low” trees of other religions and governments will rise to the heights of being God’s newly chosen people. Instead, the meaning of “I make high the low tree” and “make the dry tree flourish” projects on individuals, those who refuse to follow the paths set for them by their government. Governments will always come and go; but there will always remain those who love God so much they barely realize one dominating tyrant has been replaced by another. Like seeds waiting for the right environment in which to begin new growth, they lay “low” until God commands them.
When this individual aspect is seen, the sprig from the “lofty top of the cedar,” which will be planted “on a high and lofty mountain,” that of “the mountain height of Israel,” IS Jesus of Nazareth. God planted His Christ child to be the “low tree made high,” when disciples became true Christians – Apostles. Those Saints are the ones who has been truly filled with the Holy Spirit of God and reborn as Jesus Christ.
Each individual Apostle – Saint is then reborn in the name of Jesus Christ so he or she “may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar.” “In the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind,” which can now be realized as being the talents of the Holy Spirit – the powers of God given to His Son and his fruit.
Under the Tree of God an angel gets her wings.
As an optional selection from the Old Testament for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s individual ministry for the LORD should be underway, Ezekiel offers the metaphor of song, as the projection of what one should become in service to God. When one sees the Covenant with God as a written legal document, Satan will send in the lawyers that will offer leeway interpretations about what sins are allowable and what sins are clearly forbidden. When one listens to outside influences, then one will become as uncertain of one’s commitment to God, as have all governments whose people call themselves “Christian.” Christianity is not a club one joins and pays membership dues to a specific institution. Christianity is ministry to God, in the name of Jesus Christ.
Even as I write these words, I can see many sheep of the political left, those who hate fellow Americans because they feel their neighbors have sinned by allowing the evil creature that is Donald Trump into the White House. Evil creatures are those who are perfect to serve in the capacity of President of a False Prophet nation. America fits the billing as a “high tree” of self-value that will be made into a “low tree” when one’s individual Judgment Day comes.
The end of the world is when a mortal dies and one’s soul faces judgment for its mortal sins. Hating one’s neighbors (regardless of one’s political persuasion) is not only a sin, as it is a bold statement that says, “I am not in the name of Jesus Christ, because I cannot love my neighbor as myself.”
Paid for by those who sponsors of death of Christianity. A little truth goes a long way towards covering a lie.
In the days of Paul and the other Apostles, ministry was to go out and tell all the scattered remnants of Israel (the Northern Kingdom and the original nation under David) that the Messiah had come. “Jesus was-is the Christ,” they all went out to tell. God did not promise a Savior to all the other nations of the world. Instead, God ended that Old agreement with the ancestors of the Jews.
He did not promise a Savior for the nation that was Israel (the Northern Kingdom and the original nation under David). God promised a Savior for the original premise that led to His choosing human beings [all as flawed as the next] to serve Him as His slaves … His ministers … His teachers of self-sufficiency through Jesus Christ.
The spread of Christianity occurred because of ministers going out into the world producing the same miracles as did Jesus of Nazareth, in Judea and Galilee (and beyond). That spread was deterred when “religion” became a tool of militaristic institutions that sought to control nations by their influence. That spread ceased when heathens were massacred in “the name of Jesus Christ,” and conversion or death were the options.
Today, especially in this world so devoted to the Internet and technology, there is no need to go out into the world “preaching the Gospel.” First of all, few have any real capability to “preach the truth of the Gospel,” as the world has become overrun with mimickers and false prophets that memorize a few tidbits of Gospel Scripture and sell it to the highest bidder.
“Money is evil. Give me your money and I will protect you from evil.”
Second, our nation presently has a pastor-missionary under arrest in Turkey, who has been charged with being a spy for the United States of America. The reality of that situation (regardless of the guilt or innocence of that specific “pastor-missionary”) is the United States government (and its evil agencies of intelligence) has used the aspect of “ministry” as a way to get into hard places and subvert foreign regimes. It becomes reasonable to think that a Christian evangelizing in a Muslim nation is there for the purpose of subversion.
Canadian couple imprisoned in China for spying. Every time something like this happens, it spears the word “Christian” with the stench of government.
Ministry is no longer about telling a world that already has an opinion about what “Christianity” is (real or imagined), as ministry today is about an individual being filled with the Holy spirit and living accordingly. Heal yourself before trying to heal anyone else!
Ministry today is having the world come to an Apostle – Saint, asking, “Why are you smiling in a world of misery?”
Ministry is not about the theatrics of “evangelism” or the solemnity of “ritual.” Ministry is about marriage to God, so His Son can be reborn into a willing sacrifice of self-ego. Ministry does not require a “sheepskin” from a seminary. It does not require a building that has stained-glass windows, spires, bells, and pews. Ministry is not an organizational position, as it is an individual commitment to God.
Because Christianity is not one’s decision, but God’s decision based on His knowing the heart of an individual, the growth required for a “sprig” to grow into a “noble cedar” can take decades or minutes. For it to take place quickly, one should expect a traumatic event, such as a near-death-experience, where the limitations of linear time have been overcome by an out of body experience and the future beyond mortal life has been seen. For it to take decades, this should be understood: A ministry cannot wait long before it is squandered and lost.
Remember, if Israel could fail, so can all moral human beings. Saying one “believes” is as worthless as a signed contract, when a lawyer is always there, willing to tell one how to opt out of a commitment, without lasting repercussions. “Belief” cannot be agreed upon as promise. Belief can only come from personal experience. Being Jesus Christ is the only way one can truly believe in him.
The point Ezekiel made was that each servant to the LORD must be the “lofty top of the cedar.” That means being in direct connection to God, with no “go-betweens.” This is where those in ministry are set into the world by God, so others can find their light. In a dark place, a light can shine a great distance without ever moving.