1. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
1. Et fuit sermo Iehovae ad me dicendo,
2. Son of man, What is the vine-tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest?
2. Fili hominis, quid erit lignum vitis prae omni arbore rami quae est inter arbores sylvae?
3. Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?
3. An sumetur ex eo lignum ad formandum, ut sit opus, vel an sument, ex eo paxillum, ut suspendatur in eo omne vas?
4. Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devoureth both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burned. Is it meet for any work?
4. Ecce in ignem traditur ad consumptionem, duas extremitates ejus consumpsit ignis, et medium ejus exustum est, an utile erit ad opus?
5. Behold, when it was whole, it was meet for no work: how much less shall it be meet yet for any work, when the fire hath devoured it, and it is burned?
5. Ecce, cum esset integrum non factum fuit ut esset opus: quanto magis postquam ignis consumpsit ipsum et exaruit formabitur adhuc ut sit opus?
The Prophet's intention is to humble the foolish confidence of the people, who boasted of the gratuitous kindness of God, as if they were naturally excellent: hence, also, their obstinacy against his threats was so great. For when the prophets reprove them sharply, they boasted against them the remarkable gifts by which they were divinely adorned: as if they had been so armed by God's benefits to resist his power, for we know that they were so blinded. Since, then, that disease had attacked the people, it is not surprising that the prophets in many places refute such folly. But the Prophet here uses a simile to show the Jews that they were not intrinsically but only accidentally excellent, since God had treated them as worthy of remarkable benefits. Since it is so, their arrogance is easily refuted, when they oppose their superiority to God, as if it were peculiar to them, and not God's special gift. But we must understand the simile which Ezekiel uses: what is the vine more than other trees of the woods? It is certain that the vine produces very good fruit, and therefore is preferred to other trees: the very flower of the vine has a most, delicious scent; but the fruit which it produces proves its excellence. For the wood of the vine is without elegance and shapeless: it does not attain to any thickness; it is slender, pliable, and twisted. In looking at a vine, it. seems scarcely worth numbering among shrubs: if compared with trees, it clearly has no value; but in the excellency of trees something is easily acknowledged which surpasses all vines. For when we cast our eyes upon a branching tree, we are struck with admiration, while the vine lies at, our feet. If, therefore, a tree is compared with the wood of the vine, it will be praised for its beauty, while the vine will be despised as a low and insignificant wood. Hence God collects that the Jews were in no respect more excellent than others, unless because they are planted by himself, as he says in many places in Isaiah, O my vine, I have planted thee. (Isaiah 5.) Then in the 80th Psalm: he brought his vine out of Egypt, and planted and propagated it even to the sea, (Psalm 80:9-12; Jeremiah 2:21.)
Now we understand the Prophet's meaning, namely, that the Jews excelled, indeed, in privileges, but not in nature, nor yet by themselves, but by the gratuitous kindness of God: and if other nations were compared with them, they had greater dignity than the Jews. And we know that other nations flourished in arts and wealth, in population, in warlike valor, and in other respects: the profane nations were like lofty trees which grow up and attract all eyes to themselves. But the Jews were like a vine which, being planted by God's hand, deserved more praise than the trees of the wood which were fruitless. Ezekiel now carries on the comparison at, greater length: if the vine is torn up, can its wood, says he, be fitted to any use? it will not make beams or tables, or any vessels; it will not make a peg or a hook on which to hang a hat or cloak, or anything of the kind. Since, then, the wood of the vine is useless when torn from the soil, and is of no use but for burning, hence the Jews are made acquainted with their condition since their excellence and worthiness depend on the mere good pleasure of God: since, as he planted them, he can pluck them up in a moment; and when they have been torn up, they will be altogether useless, and will be cast into the fire, while trees are of some use. But, the Prophet proceeds another step: if a bundle of twigs were cast into the fire, and the two extreme parts were burnt up, and the middle made dry, that scorched part would be much less useful. For since fire penetrates to the very marrow, wood, which is half consumed, is reduced to powder by the touch alone: He afterwards accommodates what he had said about the vine to the city of Jerusalem; therefore let us go on to the rest of the context.