My five year old daughter came sulkily out of her preschool classroom. This was unusual—normally she is as bouncy as her mop of curls…thriving off the energy from the little community her class has built. In the car I asked what the matter was.
“Mom, everyone liked Kerrera’s dress better than mine!” her voice was huffy—the tone of someone who had been seriously injured. “Tomorrow I’m wearing the blue one…then they will like mine the best!”
“Honey,” I said. “It’s not a competition. It’s okay if everyone liked her dress the best. You should be happy for her—not trying to be the best.”
Unsurprisingly, she did not appear mollified. I fumed inwardly about how early the competition between girls starts and then it occurred to me that perhaps, like everything else, this is beyond gender and had more to do with the community at large. Ezekiel, I hoped, would help me understand.
“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, propound a riddle, and speak an allegory to the house of Israel; say, Thus says the Lord God; A great eagle with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colors, came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar; he broke off the topmost of its young twigs and carried it to a land of trade, and set it in a city of merchants. Then he took of the seed of the land and planted it in fertile soil; he placed it beside abundant waters. He set it like a willow twig, and it sprouted and became a low spreading vine, and its branches turned toward him, and its roots remained where it stood. So it became a vine, and brought forth branches and put forth foliage.” (Ezekiel 17:1-6)
Here we begin. An eagle comes and takes the top of the cedar tree… “young twigs”. Not big strong branches, not the whole tree…just twigs. As parents, we are cultivating our children for life. We do our best to put them in the right circumstances in order for them to thrive. They sprout and their branches “turn towards” us while their roots remain.
“But there was another great eagle with great wings and much plumage; and behold, this vine bent its roots toward him, and shot forth its branches toward him that he might water it. From the bed where it was planted he transplanted it to good soil by abundant waters, that it might bring forth branches, and bear fruit, and become a noble vine. Say, Thus says the Lord God: Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots and cut off its branches, so that all its fresh sprouting leaves wither? It will not take a strong arm or many people to pull it from its roots. Behold, when it is transplanted, will it thrive? Will it not utterly wither when the east wind strikes it—wither away on the bed where it grew?” (Ezekiel 17:7-10)
This passage amused me…it gave me visions of children trailing after someone else in the fanciest dress. Children so often rebel against those who have planted them and go seeking after new management—especially someone who has better plumage…or better promises. Oh wait, grownups do that too. Political candidates, anyone? I’m no gardener, but I have a suspicion that not all transplanted plants do well in the care (or lack thereof) of “another” gardener, no matter how fertile the soil.
“Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Say now to the rebellious house, Do you not know what these things mean? Tell them, Behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took her king and her princes and brought them to him to Babylon. And he took one of the seed royal and made a covenant with him, putting him under oath. (The chief men of the land he had taken away, that the kingdom might be humble and not lift itself up, and that by keeping his covenant it might stand.) But he rebelled against him by sending ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and a large army. Will he succeed? Can a man escape who does such things? Can he break the covenant and yet escape?” (Ezekiel 17:11-16)
Now the allegory becomes clear. A young prince made a covenant with the king of Babylon and broke the promise because Egypt had better horses and a bigger army. I’d like to say children are much more susceptible to these things but it seems unfair to pretend we adults are superior. Aren’t we all lured in by those with fancy promises and large armies? Politically, don’t we love the candidate who makes the best assurances?
“Pharaoh with this might army and great company will not help him in war, when mounds are cast up and siege walls built to cut off many lives. Because he despised the oath and broke the covenant, because he gave his hand and yet did all these things, he shall not escape. Therefore thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely my oath which he despised, and my covenant which he broke, I will requite upon his head. I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon and enter into judgment with him there for the treason he has committed against me. And all the pick of his troops shall fall by the sword, and the survivors shall be scattered to every wind; and you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken.” (Ezekiel 17:17-21)
Is anyone surprised by this? The great eagle with the better plumage turned out to be not so awesome. And the rebellious prince is punished. It does not do to go chasing after things that seem better when God is providing for us. We think as adults we are above such things, but we are not. Like children, we want to be the biggest and the strongest and the fanciest. We want the candidate who is going to give us everything we want. God wants us to be humble and trust in Him. But like I said in my last post, humility and submission are not popular defense strategies. Or campaign platforms.
“Thus says the Lord God: ‘I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar, and will set it out; I will break off the from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it upon a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bring forth boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar; and under it will dwell all kinds of beasts; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.” (Ezekiel 17:22-24)
This is the story that I told my daughter. I told her that God takes small, humble trees and turns them into big strong ones, but the proud trees get cut down. She liked the idea of something small being turned into something strong. Don’t we all love a good underdog story? The trouble is nobody wants to be the underdog. I’d love to be able to tell you that my daughter successfully overcame her competitiveness with her friend and has learned the value of enjoying someone else’s success. It was barely a week later and she was once again planning a fabulous outfit to outshine her peers. Once again I reminded her about the tree and she sulkily acquiesced. Submission and suffering is hard.
“What does God do to the proud tree?”
“Cuts it down.”
Head droop. I think we all do.