Ezekiel 17:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, set forth an allegory and tell it to the Israelites as a parable. 3Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: A great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and full plumage of varied colors came to Lebanon. Taking hold of the top of a cedar, 4he broke off its topmost shoot and carried it away to a land of merchants, where he planted it in a city of traders.
The parable of the two eagles and the vine is explained later in the same chapter of Eze 17, specifically, V11-21. The explicit symbols are:
- The first great eagle is Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar in particular (V12-14)
- The cedar whose transplanted top branches and seed became a vine is Judah, more specifically Judah's king. (V12-14)
- The second great eagle is Egypt (V15)
All this is summed up in Ellicott's comments:
(3) A great eagle with great wings.—In the original “the great eagle.” This is explained in Ezekiel 17:12 of “the king of Babylon.” Nebuchadnezzar is compared to an eagle also in Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22; and Cyrus to a bird of prey in Isaiah 46:11. He has great and long wings, because he has already flown victoriously over wide-spread lands; and he is “full of feathers which had divers colours,” because he had embraced in his empire a variety of nations differing in languages, manners, and customs.
Came unto Lebanon.—Jerusalem is called Lebanon, as in Jeremiah 22:23; because Lebanon is the home of the cedar, and the royal palace in Jerusalem was so rich in cedar as to be called “the house of the forest of Lebanon” (1Kings 7:2).
The highest branch.—This is a word occurring only in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 17:22, and Ezekiel 31:3-4; Ezekiel 31:10). It is of uncertain etymology, but is explained in Ezekiel 17:4 as meaning “the top of his young twigs.” The English branch hardly conveys the exact idea, and it would be better to translate “topshoot.”
Almost all commentators say very similar things here - see Pulpit commentary, Barnes, Benson, Cambridge, etc.
First of all, it is not a Great Eagle, but rather a Great Griffon Vulture. People often mistranslate נשר to conform to the Western notion that the Eagle is the king bird, but this was not the case in ancient Israel.
As for the explanation of the vision, later, G-d explains this vision to Ezekiel, saying "אֱמָר־נָא֙ לְבֵ֣ית הַמֶּ֔רִי הֲלֹ֥א יְדַעְתֶּ֖ם מָה־אֵ֑לֶּה אֱמֹ֗ר הִנֵּה־בָ֨א מֶֽלֶךְ־בָּבֶ֤ל יְרוּשָׁלִַ֙ם֙ וַיִּקַּ֤ח אֶת־מַלְכָּהּ֙ וְאֶת־שָׂרֶ֔יהָ וַיָּבֵ֥א אוֹתָ֛ם אֵלָ֖יו בָּבֶֽלָה׃ וַיִּקַּח֙ מִזֶּ֣רַע הַמְּלוּכָ֔ה וַיִּכְרֹ֥ת אִתּ֖וֹ בְּרִ֑ית וַיָּבֵ֤א אֹתוֹ֙ בְּאָלָ֔ה וְאֶת־אֵילֵ֥י הָאָ֖רֶץ לָקָֽח׃ לִֽהְיוֹת֙ מַמְלָכָ֣ה שְׁפָלָ֔ה לְבִלְתִּ֖י הִתְנַשֵּׂ֑א לִשְׁמֹ֥ר אֶת־בְּרִית֖וֹ לְעָמְדָֽהּ׃ וַיִּמְרָד־בּ֗וֹ לִשְׁלֹ֤חַ מַלְאָכָיו֙ מִצְרַ֔יִם לָֽתֶת־ל֥וֹ סוּסִ֖ים וְעַם־רָ֑ב הֲיִצְלָ֤ח הֲיִמָּלֵט֙ הָעֹשֵׂ֣ה אֵ֔לֶּה וְהֵפֵ֥ר בְּרִ֖ית וְנִמְלָֽט׃" "Say to the people: 'Do you not know what this means?' Tell them: 'The King of Babylon has come to Jerusalem and he took its king and its officers, and brought them to him in Babylon. Then, he took one of the decedents of the monarchy, created a pact with him, and brought him under and oath and took the nobles of the land, for it to be a small kingdom not to exalt itself but to keep its covenant and endure, but [that prince] rebelled against him, sending messengers to Egypt to give him horses and many men [to fight]. Will he succeed? Will he break free? Will the one who does this and breaks the covenant escape?'" (Ezekiel 17:12-15). Thus we see that the Great Griffon Vulture is the king of the Babylon Nebuchadnezzar, who took the nobles and king (see the books of Daniel and Kings) and who placed Zedekiah as king of the land (see the book of Kings). The topmost shoot are these nobles who he took away. The city of Merchants is Babylon (again, see the books of Daniel and Kings). Then this other Great Griffon Vulture is Pharaoh, who Zedekiah sought to form an alliance with, breaking his oath with Nebuchadnezzar (see the books of Jeremiah and Kings).