There are so many pictures in the scriptures where God is trying to show us who we are, where we have come from, and what God is doing about our circumstances. We are in a section of Ezekiel where God is sharing three pictures to show who we are and what God is doing for us. In chapter 15 we saw the picture of a useless vine. The message was that we only have one purpose: to bear fruit. We can only bear fruit because we are deeply connected to Christ, as Jesus applied this message in John 15. The second picture is in Ezekiel 16 where we are pictured as a people who have used our blessings against God, forgotten what God has done for us, and have been unsatisfied with all God has given to us. But God decides that he will restore his blessings to his people, remember his covenant, and atone for their sins so that we would be ashamed of our sinful ways and turn to God. The final picture is in Ezekiel 17. Notice that Ezekiel is instructed to speak to Israel a riddle and a parable (17:2). So we are going to look at a riddle and a parable and how God speaks to us today about the problem of more.
The Parable (17:1-10)
The parable begins with a great eagle with powerful wings and a colorful plumage came to Lebanon and plucked off the top of the cedar tree. The great eagle takes that top and sets it in a city of merchants. Then the great eagle took a seed and planted it in fertile soil and set it by abundant waters. The seed sprouted and became a low spreading vine, turning its branches toward him. The vine produced branches and shoots. But another great eagle appears and the vine now stretches out its branches and roots toward this new eagle. The vine now desires the new eagle and is not remaining loyal to the first eagle that planted it. So a numbers of questions are asked in verses 9-10. Do you think the first eagle is going to stand for this? Do you think that the eagle will pull up the vine by its roots so that it withers? The eagle will make sure that it does not thrive.
The Parable Explained (17:11-21)
Now the Lord is going to explain the parable through Ezekiel beginning in verse 11. The parable describes the foolishness of the kings of Judah. The king of Babylon captured its king and brought it back to Babylon. This is a reference to Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon capturing Jehoachin, the king of Judah. The instructions were given to humble itself and be loyal to Babylon and they will allow the nation to survive. Zedekiah was then planted as the new king by Nebuchadnezzar. But what did Zedekiah do? Zedekiah did not stay loyal to Babylon. Rather, it turned its desires and allegiance to the king of Egypt, looking for Egypt to care for them. Do you think Zedekiah going to thrive by doing this? Of course not! Look at the words of verse 15. “Can he break the covenant and yet escape?” In verse 17 the Lord proclaims that Pharaoh will not be of any help for Zedekiah and Judah. He despised the oath and broke the covenant (17:16). Therefore, he will not escape.
The Shift to the Riddle (17:15-21)
Now I want to remind you that this chapter began by saying that a parable and a riddle was going to be told. We see the parable. But where is the riddle? Look carefully at verse 19. The Lord starts speaking about how his oath was despised and his covenant was broken. We are told in 2 Chronicles 36:13 that Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah swear by the Lord and yet broke it. But God says that there is a riddle with this parable. The riddle is that the parable has another meaning. On the first pass, the parable refers to how the king of Judah rejected his master, the king of Babylon who appointed him as king. By turning to Egypt, the king and the nation are going to be destroyed. There will be no escape.
But this is also a riddle because Judah has done the same thing to God. They had been planted in the land and had been cared for. But rather than showing their love and devotion to the Lord by keeping the covenant and maintaining loyalty, the people saw another eagle and began to love it instead. In this case, the other eagle that has drawn the attention of the people is idolatry. They are pursuing their passions and desires rather than pursuing the Lord.
This brings us to the heart of the problem. We become a part of destructive discontentment. Let’s apply this idea to Judah as the parable and the riddle and then we will apply it today. All that Zedekiah had to do was be content ruling Judah under the rule of Babylon. But rather than being content in his circumstances, he was discontent, turned to Egypt, and was destroyed. Further, all the Judah had to do was be content with God as their Lord. They just needed to obey the Lord and serve him and he could continue to bless them and provide for them. But they didn’t. Rather than being content their circumstances, they chased after their pleasures and were destroyed for doing so. These are two examples of destructive discontentment.
Now what about us? You know that what God tells us is the same thing. God says that if you will be content with the Lord and allow him to provide for you, you will have nothing to worry about. Remember that Jesus said this very thing in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said to not worry about your life. Just focus your attention on Jesus and his kingdom and everything you might possibly be concerned about will be provided for by God (Matthew 6:32-34). But what do we do? We do just like Zedekiah and just like the people of Israel. We become discontent which leads to our destruction. God is warning us about destructive discontentment. Think about how the writer of Hebrews put this truth.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6 ESV)
Why can you keep your life free from the love of money? Why can you be content with what you have? Because God has said he will not leave you or forsake you. You can be content because you have God. Not only do you have God, but you have God as your helper.
The problem with more is that it proclaims that God is not enough. Contentment says that we are satisfied in God. God is enough. He is all that I need. Discontentment says that God is not good enough to meet our needs. Now that sounds crazy, doesn’t it? To tell God, the Almighty Creator, that he is unable to give us what we need. It is impossible. Yet this is what our discontentment proclaims. This was Israel’s problem and this is our problem. This is why God is so angry. We are the vine stretching out our hands, away from the Lord who made us and gave us all things, toward things that cannot satisfy or help. So what is God going to do about this? Look at the last three verses of chapter 17.
A New Tree (17:22-24)
Notice the picture sounds like a restart. God himself is taking the top of a cedar tree again and planting it. But this time he is planting on a high and lofty mountain (17:22). God will plant it and it will sprout branches and produce much fruit like it is supposed to. Listen to the rest of verse 23. All kinds of birds will live under this new sprig. It will grow and provide shade with its branches and all sorts of birds will nest there. God will cause all the trees of the field to know that he is the Lord. He will dry up the trees that make much of themselves and make the humble trees flourish (17:24). Now what is the Lord talking about? I want you to listen to a story Jesus told.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31–32 ESV)
You will notice that Jesus is telling the same picture and borrowing Ezekiel’s image. So Jesus comes along and says that he is fulfilling this prophecy of a new people with a new opportunity to spread their branches and bear fruit. Your mission is to bear fruit and to be the place of shelter for all kinds of birds. We are pictured as the refuge for the world. What is going to keep us from being the vine that Jesus wants us to be? What is going to keep us from being the tree that flourishes so that we can give refuge and bear fruit to all around us? The problem of more is what is going to hold us back. Israel failed because they were not satisfied in God. We will fail if we are not satisfied in Christ.
To put this another way, we are to be the people that flourish in Christ so that the birds of all kinds can rest in its shade and nest there. If we are not satisfied in Christ, then what do we have to offer the world? Why would the world see our fruit and join in this kingdom if we are advertising that we are not satisfied with what God is doing in our lives? The problem of more is that it nullifies our ability to be the light of the world. If we are trying to find joy in the physical, then what are we offering the world? If our branches are growing toward sin or growing toward a pursuit of this world, then what are we telling everyone else? They will not take shelter in the Lord because we are not taking shelter in the Lord. They are not going to enjoy the shade of the Lord when we are not enjoying the shade of the Lord. We must show people how to put an end to the problem of more by not stretching our branches out to worldly pursuits. We will bring in the birds of the air if we stretch our branches to Jesus and are satisfied. God wants you to pursue joy so that you will pursue him because only he can give you joy. As you flourish because you are enjoying Jesus, then the world will come and see that satisfaction and enjoy Jesus as well. The problem of more is that we completely destroy the gospel message and mission. You can flourish if you kill discontentment that destroys and find your joy in God alone.