The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set forth an allegory and tell it to the Israelites as a parable. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: A great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and full plumage of varied colors came to Lebanon. Taking hold of the top of a cedar, he broke off its topmost shoot and carried it away to a land of merchants, where he planted it in a city of traders. “ ‘He took one of the seedlings of the land and put it in fertile soil. He planted it like a willow by abundant water, and it sprouted and became a low, spreading vine. Its branches turned toward him, but its roots remained under it. So it became a vine and produced branches and put out leafy boughs. “ ‘But there was another great eagle with powerful wings and full plumage. The vine now sent out its roots toward him from the plot where it was planted and stretched out its branches to him for water. It had been planted in good soil by abundant water so that it would produce branches, bear fruit and become a splendid vine.’ “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Will it thrive? Will it not be uprooted and stripped of its fruit so that it withers? All its new growth will wither. It will not take a strong arm or many people to pull it up by the roots. It has been planted, but will it thrive? Will it not wither completely when the east wind strikes it—wither away in the plot where it grew?’ ” Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Say to this rebellious people, ‘Do you not know what these things mean?’ Say to them: ‘The king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and carried off her king and her nobles, bringing them back with him to Babylon. Then he took a member of the royal family and made a treaty with him, putting him under oath. He also carried away the leading men of the land, so that the kingdom would be brought low, unable to rise again, surviving only by keeping his treaty. But the king rebelled against him by sending his envoys to Egypt to get horses and a large army. Will he succeed? Will he who does such things escape? Will he break the treaty and yet escape? – Ezekiel 17:1-15 NIV
There is clearly a lot of historical context here that is tied to this specific place and time, but there is also some deeper philosophical water here. God is describing a forcibly transplanted people, the people of Israel. As a gardener this passage holds special meaning to me. Plants are transplanted for a range of reasons. The ones that come to mind are: 1) to increase the success of young plants that may have difficulty starting out; 2) to allow “root bound” plants to continue to grow and send out deep roots to reach water and nutrients; 3) to quickly transform a landscape by planting mature plants. All of these have interesting allegorical significance in light of God’s current and past dealings with His people. Let’s dig into these one at a time.
I have had the blessing of many gardens during my lifetime and I love to plant my own starts in the spring time to get a jump start on gardening before the weather outside is able to support tender plants like tomatoes and peppers. In raising seedlings it is important to time the planting and transplanting right so that they are not too big or too small when it is time to transplant them into the garden. God has a similar challenge with the people of Israel. He knows that in order to grow they need to be moved from their “comfortable coffin” in Jerusalem. The tricky part is timing. Transplant them too early and the tender plants will whither under the strain of their new surroundings. Transplant them too late and they will have become root bound and stuck in their ways — unable to send their roots in the direction they need to send them to reach the real water they need and bear good fruit.
I am a nursery “junky” come spring time. I love to walk through the aisles of young plants dreaming about the gardens and beautiful landscapes they can become. I suspect God looks upon us that way sometimes. We all have such potential when planted in the right location, in good soil, and with access to the Living Water God promises for those who follow Him. All this potential can be lost by stubborn plants who refuse to be moved from their comfortable spot in the greenhouse. Plants left too long in their pots become root bound and/or “leggy”. The green growth is not supported by the improper, or out of proportion, root development. This is an apt description of the people of Israel and their place in Jerusalem, the city of David. It is a comfortable greenhouse and the people of Israel are content becoming root bound in their small pots, but God has dreams of a much more magnificent garden and landscape. He needs to move them to accomplish His “garden”.
God wants to take the these transplants out into the “desert”, i.e. this land of Oblivion, to transform it into a beautiful place. I think the relationship God has fostered and cared for with the people of Israel was never simply because they were special. They had a purpose. That purpose was to bear good fruit and transform the place they were planted into a beautiful place. I think all modern-day God followers have the same position and purpose. We are are meant to transform our world into a beautiful place, or at least try our best to do so.
We are all transplants from a place that is not like earth, the secret place, God’s greenhouse if you will. Here on earth we are subject to harsh winds, scorching heat, and drenching rains. If we are to survive and thrive we need the care and support of the one who planted us here. We must not only survive, but thrive, where God has planted us and bear the fruit were are intended to bear.
Prayer: God help us to thrive where we are planted. Give us the support we need when the place we have been transplanted to is harsh or unfamiliar.