Three types of literature are used in chapter seventeen: a parable, an allegory, and a fable. Normally, a parable is a story that can be true, but may not be. A fable normally cannot be true, but involves animals and plants taking on human characteristics and speech. An allegory is a story where each part stands for something else. There is a hidden meaning in all three.
Remember that Ezekiel is writing for Jewish captives in Babylon who expect help and deliverance from their countrymen. When Nebuchadnezzar carried king Jehoiachin into captivity, he appointed Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, as vassal king of Judah. The monarchy and Judah flourished during Zedekiah’s rule and eventually, he began to feel a degree of independence. He rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and sought to effect an alliance with Egypt.
This is the story of chapter seventeen. The great eagle Nebuchadnezzar came and broke off the top shoot of the great cedar (Jehoiachin) and carried it away, replanting it (Jehoiachin) in Babylon. Then, he took some of Jehoiachin’s family (Zedekiah, the seed of the land of Judah) and planted it. It grew not into a cedar, but into a vine (less than a tree). The vine seemed to favor its benefactor (Nebuchadnezzar), but its loyalties (roots) were elsewhere. Later, the vine’s loyalties spread toward another great eagle (Pharaoh of Egypt). The very thought of such was absurd. Why send out your roots to a land so far away when you have all you need where you are?
The point to the parable is that this action of Zedekiah really didn’t make sense and would only make him weaker, enabling and encouraging Nebuchadnezzar to rip him up by his roots and replant him in Babylon – where he would die.
In all these stories God is repeatedly making a lengthy point: No one is coming to rescue Judah. They are in “time out” and will remain there until God decides to release them. Longing for another way, for an exit, is but further rebellion. They may as well take their punishment, endure it, and hope in the Lord for His promised “turn around.”
When God lays his hand on you, in a good way or bad, it’s best to find comfort in its presence — no matter how painful — and know that the same Lord who took the time to touch your life is the one who did so because He wants to bless it.