Here are, I. Orders given to the prophet to bewail the fall of the royal family, which had long made so great a figure by virtue of a covenant of royalty made with David and his seed, so that the eclipsing and extinguishing of it are justly lamented by all who know what value to put upon the covenant of our God, as we find, after a very large account of that covenant with David (Ps. 89:3, 20), a sad lamentation for the decays and desolations of his family (v. 38, 39): But thou hast cast off and abhorred, hast made void the covenant of thy servant and profaned his crown, etc. The kings of Judah are here called princes of Israel; for their glory was diminished and they had become but as princes, and their purity was lost; they had become corrupt and idolatrous as the kings of Israel, whose ways they had learned. The prophet must take up a lamentation for them; that is, he must describe their lamentable fall as one that did himself lay it to heart, and desired that those he preached and wrote to might do so to. And how can we expect that others should be affected with that which we ourselves are not affected with? Ministers, when they boldly foretel, must yet bitterly lament the destruction of sinners, as those that have not desired the woeful day. He is not directed to give advice to the princes of Israel (that had been long and often done in vain), but, the decree having gone forth, he must take up a lamentation for them.
II. Instructions given him what to say. 1. He must compare the kingdom of Judah to a lioness, so wretchedly degenerated was it from what it had been formerly, when it sat as a queen among the nations, Ezek. 19:2. What is thy mother? thine, O king? (we read of Solomon’s crown wherewith his mother crowned him, that is, his people, Song 3:11), thine, O Judah? The royal family is as a mother to the kingdom, a nursing mother. She is a lioness, fierce, and cruel, and ravenous. When they had left their divinity they soon lost their humanity too; and, when they feared not God, neither did they regard man. She lay down among lions. God had said, The people shall dwell alone, but they mingled with the nations and learned their works. She nourished her whelps among young lions, taught the young princes the way of tyrants, which was then used by the arbitrary kings of the east, filled their heads betimes with notions of their absolute despotic power, and possessed them with a belief that they had a right to enslave their subjects, that their liberty and property lay at their mercy: thus she nourished her whelps among young lions. 2. He must compare the kings of Judah to lions’ whelps, Ezek. 19:3. Jacob had compared Judah, and especially the house of David, to a lion’s whelp, for its being strong and formidable to its enemies abroad (Gen. 49:9; He is an old lion; who shall stir him up?) and, if they had adhered to the divine law and promise, God would have preserved to them the might, and majesty, and dominion of a lion, and does it in Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. But these lions’ whelps were so to their own subjects, were cruel and oppressive to them, preyed upon their estates and liberties; and, when they thus by their tyranny made themselves a terror to those whom they ought to have protected, it was just with God to make those a terror to them whom otherwise they might have subdued. Here is lamented, (1.) The sin and fall of Jehoahaz, one of the whelps of this lioness. He became a young lion (Ezek. 19:3); he was made king, and thought he was made so that he might do what he pleased, and gratify his own ambition, covetousness, and revenge, as he had a mind; and so he was soon master of all the arts of tyranny; he learned to catch the prey and devoured men. When he got power into his hand, all that had before in any thing disobliged him were made to feel his resentments and become a sacrifice to his rage. But what came of it? He did not prosper long in his tyranny: The nations heard of him (Ezek. 19:4), heard how furiously he drove at his first coming to the crown, how he trampled upon all that is just and sacred, and violated all his engagements, so that they looked upon him as a dangerous neighbour, and prosecuted him accordingly, as a multitude of shepherds is called forth against a lion roaring on his prey, Isa. 31:4. And he was taken, as a beast of prey, in their pit. His own subjects durst not stand up in defence of their liberties, but God raised up a foreign power that soon put an end to his tyranny, and brought him in chains to the land of Egypt. Thither Jehoahaz was carried captive, and never heard of more. (2.) The like sin and fall of his successor Jehoiakim. The kingdom of Judah for some time expected the return of Jehoahaz out of Egypt, but at length despaired of it, and then took another of the lion’s whelps, and made him a young lion, Ezek. 19:5. And he, instead of taking warning by his brother’s fate to use his power with equity and moderation, and to seek the good of his people, trod in his brother’s steps: He went up and down among the lions, Ezek. 19:6. He consulted and conversed with those that were fierce and furious like himself, and took his measures from them, as Rehoboam took the advice of the rash and hot-headed young men. And he soon learned to catch the prey, and he devoured men (Ezek. 19:6); he seized his subjects’ estates, fined and imprisoned them, filled his treasury by rapine and injustice, sequestrations and confiscations, fines and forfeitures, and swallowed up all that stood in his way. He had got the art of discovering what effects men had that lay concealed, and where the treasures were which they had hoarded up; he knew their desolate places (Ezek. 19:7), where they his their money and sometimes hid themselves; he knew where to find both out; and by his oppression he laid waste their cities, depopulated them by forcing the inhabitants to remove their families to some place of safety. The land was desolate, and the country villages were deserted; and though there was great plenty, and a fulness of all good things, yet people quitted it all for fear of the noise of his roaring. He took a pride in making all his subjects afraid of him, as the lion makes all the beasts of the forest to tremble (Amos 3:8), and by his terrible roaring so astonished them that they fell down for fear, and, having not spirit to make their escape, became an easy prey to him, as they say the lions do. He hectored, and threatened, and talked big, and bullied people out of what they had. Thus he thought to establish his own power, but it had a contrary effect, it did but hasten his own ruin (Ezek. 19:8): The nations set against him on every side, to restrain and reduce his exorbitant power, which they joined in confederacy to do for their common safety; and they spread their net over him, formed designs against him. God brought against Jehoiakim bands of the Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites, with the Chaldees (2 Kgs. 24:2), and he was taken in their pit. Nebuchadnezzar bound him in fetters to carry him to Babylon, 2 Chron. 36:6. They put this lion within grates, bound him in chains, and brought him to the king of Babylon, Ezek. 19:9. What became of him we know not; but his voice was nowhere heard roaring upon the mountains of Israel. There was an end of his tyranny: he was buried with the burial of an ass (Jer. 22:19), though he had been as a lion, the terror of the mighty in the land of the living. Note, The righteousness of God is to be acknowledged when those who have terrified and enslaved others are themselves terrified and enslaved, when those who by the abuse of their power to destruction which was given them for edification make themselves as wild beasts, as roaring lions and ranging bears (for such, Solomon says, wicked rulers are over the poor people, Prov. 28:15), are treated as such—when those who, like Ishmael, have their hand against every man, come at last to have every man’s hand against them. It was long since observed that bloody tyrants seldom die in peace, but have blood given them to drink, for they are worthy.
Ad generum Cereris sine caede et sanguine pauci Descendunt reges et sicca morte tyranni-- How few of all the boastful men that reign Descend in peace to Pluto’s dark domain!JUVENAL.