Not too long ago, I came across the following quote: “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” – Christine Caine
I think we need to be exceptionally cautious with adages and clichés, but there is something about this one that might shed light on some theological misunderstandings and truths, if only we treat it carefully.
Have we been buried or planted? It’s a worthwhile question.
Commentaries about this passage often draw a false dichotomy between destruction and redemption, but those who know something about the principles of gardening might see these words of the Lord in a different light. Admittedly, I don’t know much, but I do know that there are appropriate times for pruning—for cutting away that which is dead in order to produce greater fruitfulness and growth.
Strangely, this passage follows some additional allegory in which rulers and leaders have tried this pruning before. Their efforts result in failed horticultural endeavors, but this new pruning is set apart by the one who acts. “Thus says the Lord God, I myself…” then the allegory… then, “I will accomplish it.”
But also strangely, we have what seems to be the exact opposite of pruning happening here. Rather than cutting away what is dead, the gardener is cutting away the new life and then planting it, eventually leading to the demise of the old, large tree, and I have to stop to wonder if we must run with the circle of life illustration as the green tree dries up and the dry tree flourishes.
Perhaps we get too caught up in what all of this ‘in-between’ might mean (peculiar admission for a commentary). Perhaps what matters most here is that the God who covenants with God’s own people will continue to work with them and through them and for them until the promises come to fruition… and beyond. I really like the metaphorical use of the lofty cedar, here, because it represents an entire life cycle. Even in death it seems that there is something to be offered up for new life (think resurrection or at least fertilizer in this odd biblical example).
Interestingly, one particular commentator noted that most pastors hope that when Ezekiel finds its way into the lectionary readings, it will be the passage about dry bones, because “At least there one can reflect on new life and new hope in the midst of exile.” I actually think the same type of reflection is indicated here, as long as we view the Lord God as a loving God, working tirelessly to redeem and restore through the process of planting as opposed to disposing through the process of burial.
 See Ezekiel 17:22
 See Ezekiel 17:24
 John C. Holbert (2009) “Commentary on Ezekiel 17:22-24.” Working Preacher, Retrieved from https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=325