The princes of Israel were descendants of king David that ascended to the throne through a selective process that was intended to preserve the royal bloodline until the Messiah was born. Initially, when Jacob blessed his twelve sons, Judah was singled out as the designated leader of the family. It says in Genesis 49:8, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.”
Judah’s blessing foretold of the sovereignty, strength and courage with which the kings of Judah would rule over the people. Judah was portrayed as a lion’s whelp or cub that would be trained to kill (Genesis 49:9). In his prophetic discourse, Jacob declared, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49:10). The scepter was symbolic of authority in the hands of a ruler (7626) and Shiloh was an epithet of the Messiah (7886).
Clearly, it was foreseen that the sons of Jacob would multiply into a nation of people that would be ruled by the Messiah. What was most likely misunderstood about the reign of the Messiah was that it would mark the end of human rulership and was expected to put the entire world under the Messiah’s authority. As the kings of Judah gained strength and became skilled warriors, their power to rule over God’s kingdom became less and less effective, until finally, it was evident that they were unfit to represent God among his people.
In his parable about Israel’s princes, Ezekiel showed that the kings of Judah were acting in their own strength and according to their own human nature. The kings’ exercise of authority drew their enemies attention away from the fact that God was the true leader of Israel and made it seem as if the Nation of Israel could be conquered like any other kingdom. The capture of king Jehoiachin and placement of Zedekiah on the throne was an attempt by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to abdicate God’s sovereign rule over his people.
In order to maintain control over the lineage of the Messiah, God removed the infrastructure that had supported the kings of Israel and Judah. Putting an end to their ability to rule, God showed the kings he would not allow them to usurp his authority. Speaking metaphorically of the royal bloodline, God said, “And now is she planted in the wilderness in a dry and thirsty ground. And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit, so that she hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule” (Ezekiel 19:13-14).