Ezekiel is pretty creative. He uses a variety of tactics to get across God’s message. In chapters 15-17, Ezekiel turns into the Riddler. Riddles use coded language to conceal as they reveal. Clues create images, that when pieced together, offer profound revelations from the Lord.
In the riddle of the vine, we find no grapes (Ezek 15). In a land littered with vineyards, it is not surprising that the vine would represent its people. However, if God’s people bear no fruit, they are useless when it comes to participating in God’s mission. Jesus continues the vineyard theme—but he adds a twist: “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5). By identifying himself as the vine, Jesus claims that fruitful participation in God’s mission is possible only for those who “abide in” him.
In the riddle of the bride, we find a wife leaving her husband to become a prostitute (Ezek 16). In the ancient world, people entered prostitution either by force or by choice. Many cultures devalued female babies; so little girls were often left to die and then picked up by people who raised them to be prostitutes. In Ezekiel’s riddle, God saved Israel from a probable life of forced prostitution and blessed her with the finest gifts.
But in a repulsive twist, God’s people turned into Bridezilla and began to pay others to solicit her. With shockingly crude X-rated metaphors (which our English versions have toned down for us), Ezekiel exposes the gravity of betraying the Lord. Amazingly, instead of rejecting her, God promises to transform her into a spotless bride! How? “Abiding in” the Bridegroom through an “everlasting covenant” enables the Bride to join in God’s mission (Ezek 16:59-60; cf. Rev 19:7-9; Col 3:4).
In the riddle of the two eagles, we find the vines looking to them for deliverance (Ezek 17). The eagle is a large solitary bird of prey known for its keen eyesight, long wingspan, and great strength and speed. The Israelites were forbidden from eating such birds and yet many of the 30-some references in Scripture depict the eagle, not as detestable, but as a symbol of speed and power to deliver (e.g., Ex 19:4; Is 40:31). In Ezekiel’s riddle, the first eagle plucks a twig from a cedar tree and plants it in Babylon where it grows as an exiled “vine.” But God’s “vine” foolishly looks to another eagle to deliver it, that is, the Jews look to Egypt, who did nothing to help them. What does God do?
He takes a Branch from the same cedar tree and plants Him “on the mountain height of Israel” where He becomes a noble cedar in which “birds of every sort will nest” from every nation and participate in His mission (Ezek 17:22-23; cf. Mark 4:32).
Piecing together all three images from Ezekiel’s riddles, the main point is that God will never abort his mission, a mission that included all the nations, not just Israel. Israel’s election, like ours, is not the rejection of others; election is for the sake of others. As ones who belong to Christ, as birds that “abide in” the noble Branch, we are transformed, Cinderella-like, from wretch to Bride, to be the vehicle of God’s blessing to the world.