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Ezekiel Chapter 25-32 Oracles Against Foreign Nations.
The first question we must ask as we consider these chapters is as to why they are included in a prophecy to Israel, and why they are placed here between the first investment of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar (24.2), and the later successful conclusion of the siege by him.
They do in fact present a remarkable message. Here was Jerusalem, surrounded by enemies, about to be crushed, and Yahweh’s land was about to be taken from them. Soon there would be no nation of Israel or Judah. Their surrounding neighbours were already taking advantage of their situation, great Tyre to the north was prospering and magnifying herself, partly at her expense, and Egypt was sitting back after a vain effort at assistance, having fomented many of their problems, and allowing them to be destroyed. Was not this therefore evidence that Yahweh had no more time for His people, that His favour was rather being shown to her neighbours? Did it not further mean that these nations would despise Israel’s God, and see Him of little account?
Ezekiel’s answer here is a resounding ‘No!’. Yahweh was also about to reveal His power against these very nations. They too would come under His judgment precisely because of their attitude towards Him and His people. And they would be made to recognise that Yahweh was still powerful and at work by the judgments which came on them. They would know that He is Yahweh (something constantly reiterated throughout the section) as Egypt had known long before at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 7.5, 17; 8.22; 14.4, 18). They would learn a hard lesson.
This is why Babylon is not included among them. Babylon is as yet the instrument of these judgments, and Nebuchadnezzar is acting under the constraint of Yahweh. What is happening therefore is not disaster, it is the forwarding of His plans by the hand of the supreme king Nebuchadnezzar who but unconsciously does His bidding.
Thus we must see a number of reasons for these oracles, all centred around the above facts.
The oracles are split into a group of four which form a unity and follow a similar pattern (chapter 25), and may well have been given at the same time, and then a further three which are more expansive against Tyre, Sidon and Egypt.
Some of the oracles against the nations are dated and come before the fall of Jerusalem, an oracle against Egypt in 29.1 onwards being in January 587 BC, oracles against Pharaoh in 30.20 onwards, and 31.1 onwards, being in April and June 587/6 BC, while others are dated after the fall of Jerusalem (29.17; 32.1, 17). The oracle against Tyre in 26.1 onwards clearly comes after the siege by its content. We can tentatively date it in February 586/5 BC. This depends on the date given to the fall of Jerusalem (587/6 BC) and the information about the arrival of the newsbearer in 33.21 where there are variant readings (January 586/585 BC).
It is probably noteworthy that seven nations were selected against whom oracles were uttered (Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, Egypt). Aside from Egypt they surrounded Israel in a clockwise direction commencing east of Jordan. The number seven was considered significant throughout the whole of the Ancient Near East as the number of divine perfection and completeness. They may thus in one sense be seen as God’s word to the whole world. That they did not include Babylon arises from the fact that Babylon was temporarily God’s agent (17.20; Jeremiah 32.3-5), and Nebuchadnezzar temporarily His ‘servant’ (Jeremiah 25.9; 27.6) and ‘son’ (see on Ezekiel 21.10), although their final certain punishment had also been declared elsewhere.
The first four oracles, against Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia, are stern and brief and follow a similar pattern of ‘because -- therefore --’. Compare similar oracles of Amos 1.3-2.3 in slightly different format but with a parallel idea. They bear the mark of a prophetic denouncement. These were nations already on the wane, as Israel seemed to be itself. The other three oracles are more colourful and expanded. They were dealing with those thought of as more worthy of notice and therefore deserving of wider treatment. Tyre appears to have been selected for special treatment because, along with Egypt, it symbolised the height of blasphemy against Yahweh, the claim to being divine.
The Oracle Against Ammon (25.1-7).
The Ammonites, while possibly having been joined with Judah and others in an anti-Babylon alliance, were permanent enemies of Israel/Judah (see Judges 3.13; 10-11; 1 Samuel 11; 2 Samuel 10; 2 Kings 24.2; 2 Chronicles 20; Amos 1.13; Zephaniah 2.8-9). They were excluded from becoming Israelites by adoption for ‘ten generations’ (Deuteronomy 23.3). That they were part of an alliance with Jerusalem is suggested by 21.18-22. But that did not prevent them from pouring scorn on Jerusalem’s situation, which made their sin the worse. And later their king would help to arrange the assassination of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40.14-41.2) at the hand of Israelites who had fled to Ammon for protection against the approaching Babylonian armies.
25.1-3 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards the children of Ammon and prophesy against them, and say to the children of Ammon, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, because you said “Aha” against my sanctuary when it was profaned, and against the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and against the house of Judah when they went into captivity.” ’
The opening phrase ‘the word of Yahweh came to me saying’ (compare 26.1; 27.1; 28.1, 11, 20; 29.1, 17; 30.1, 20; 31.1; 32.1, 17) indicates the commencement of a new oracle. Thus the oracles against Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia are as one oracle.
‘Son of man.’ This method of address to Ezekiel continues throughout the book. It is a reminder to him that he is but an earthly man being approached by the God of creation. It is a reminder of his weakness and creatureliness, a warning against presumption. But it also contains within it in its frequency a sense of having been chosen. He is that ‘son of man’ whom God has chosen out as His instrument and mouthpiece and addresses personally. Thus it inculcates humility and loving confidence and response.
‘Set your face.’ While this may be seen only as a general instruction, it may be that Ezekiel did actually ‘set his face’ in that direction to indicate more directly the power of the word of Yahweh going forth.
Verse 3 now introduces the ‘because --’, the charge laid against Ammon. At first sight in context this may well be seen as referring to a time after the destruction of Jerusalem when Ammon shook their heads knowingly because Yahweh had been unable to protect His people and Jerusalem, and the temple lay in ashes and the land lay desolate.
But it could equally apply to the period when Jerusalem was under siege, and the Egyptians who came to offer aid had withdrawn, with the ‘wise’ Ammonites realising that Jerusalem’s situation was hopeless and that Yahweh could no longer help them, and standing aside, and doing nothing but say ‘Aha’.
The descriptions fit both situations. Ezekiel had spoken of the sanctuary as having already been profaned before the final destruction (23.39), along with Yahweh’s holy things (22.26), partly because the Jerusalemites had offered their children through fire to Molech the god of these very Ammonites. This may well have made the children of Ammon say ‘Aha’ as they saw their god triumphing in Jerusalem.
And the land of Israel had been made desolate long before, at which point Ammon had taken advantage of the situation and had been condemned for it (Jeremiah 49.1-6), and it had been made desolate again by Nebuchadnezzar’s approach to Jerusalem. Furthermore the ‘house of Judah’ could be seen as having been taken into captivity twice in previous invasions (2 Kings 24.13-15; 2 Chronicles 36.5-6 with Daniel 1.1-4), both times when Ammon might well have said ‘Aha’ as they themselves took part, (certainly the first time), in the war on Babylon’s side (2 Kings 24.2).
Note in this regard that Ezekiel has up to this point only rarely used the phrase ‘the house of Judah’, and then to specifically distinguish it from Israel in the north (4.6), and usually speaks of ‘the house of Israel’ to include both, seeing both the Jerusalemites and the exiles and all Israel as the house of Israel. Thus the use here may suggest that the previous captivities are in mind. The final captivity would, in Ezekiel’s mind, be ‘of Israel’.
So there are good reasons why this oracle may have been given while Jerusalem was surrounded and before its final downfall.
Either way the point is that God has seen their attitude towards His people and will punish them for it.
25.4-5 “Therefore, behold, I will deliver you to the children of the east for a possession, and they will set their encampments in you, and make their dwellings in you. They will eat your fruit and they will drink your milk. And I will make Rabbah a pasturage for camels, and the children of Ammon a fold for flocks, and you will know that I am Yahweh.”
Their punishment was to be that their country would be taken over by the very people whom they probably despised the most, the desert nomads, the ‘children of the east’, who would simply use their capital city and their land as a pasturage and sheepfold. Civilisation would cease. Ammon would be no more (21.32). It would be total humiliation.
Ammon itself was a wilder country than the more civilised and sophisticated Moabites, but none feel their status more than those who feel the superiority of having risen above their even wilder desert neighbours. The thought that their country, and their proud cities, which had been theirs for centuries, and which distinguished them from their desert neighbours, would become mere pasturage and sheepfolds for such desert-dwellers would have appalled them.
25.6-7 ‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because you have clapped your hands, and stamped with the feet, and rejoiced with all the malice of your heart against the land of Israel, therefore behold I have stretched out my hand on you, and will deliver you for a spoil to the nations, and I will cut you off from the peoples, and I will cause you to perish from among the countries. I will destroy you, and you will know that I am Yahweh.” ’
The charge is extended to the fact that they had not only said the knowing ‘Aha’ but had actually shown great glee and delight in Jerusalem’s misery. Indeed their malice is stressed. And this was against the people of Yahweh, and therefore a slight on Yahweh Himself. Thus Yahweh, Who deals righteously with all nations, would stretch out His hand and hand them over as spoil to the nations, and would have them removed for ever from the list of nations. As this occurred to them they would then know that He is Yahweh, and that they were wrong to say ‘Aha’ at what they thought was His defeat. It would now be His turn to say ‘Aha’.
According to Josephus it was an historical fact that Ammon no longer existed as a nation after Nebuchadnezzar had first destroyed it, and then the Bedouins from the east had plundered it and taken it over. The ‘bringing again’ of the captivity of the children of Ammon (Jeremiah 49.6) may refer to the Persian period (Nehemiah 2.10, 19; 4.7), but more probably it is God’s way of saying that finally none of these nations go beyond His purview even in their extremity. When God reaches out to the new Israel, the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16), with the Gospel (Isaiah 61.1-2), it will include many from all these countries.
The Oracle Against Moab (25.8-11).
When considering this oracle the historic closeness between Moab and Ammon must be kept in mind. Regularly through history they had worked in unison, with sometimes a strong King of Moab in command (Judges 3), and at others a strong King of Ammon (Judges 10.17-11.33 - note how Ammon is closely associated with Moab’s god Chemosh (11.24)), but Moab were the more settled people with a well developed culture, both looked up to and despised by the fiercer Ammonites.
25.8-11 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because Moab and Seir say, ‘Behold the house of Judah is like all nations’, therefore behold I will open the side of Moab from the cities, from his cities which are on his frontiers, the glory of the country, Beth-jeshimoth, Baal-meon, and Kiriathaim, to the children of the East, along with the children of Ammon, and I will give them for a possession, that the children of Ammon may not be remembered among the nations. And I will execute judgments on Moab, and they will know that I am Yahweh.” ’
Moab is here connected with Edom (Seir) as saying that ‘the house of Judah is just like other nations’, and thus that her God is the same. Together they reject the idea that Judah are the favoured of Yahweh Who is all-powerful. They deride Judah from afar.
Thus Moab will share the fate of Ammon with whom she was in continual alliance. Her countryside will be opened up to the children of the East by the destruction of her main fortresses, that were the source of her strength. It will be opened up ‘from the cities, that is the frontier cities’. Its most glorious areas, her pride and joy, will be opened up, Beth-jeshimoth (‘house of the deserts’), a place near the north-east shore of the Dead Sea in the Jordan rift valley, Baal-meon, built by the Reubenites (Numbers 32.38) and captured and held by the Moabites when they became strong, and Kiriathaim, declared by Mesha in his 9th century inscription to have been rebuilt by him when he captured it from Israel.
Note the stress again on the fact that Ammon’s days were numbered. Moab will suffer alongside her as being so closely connected with her that she can be seen as one with her, and indeed she would suffer the same fate, disappearing from history. Thus she too learned too late Who and What Yahweh was. And in her disappearance Yahweh, the everlasting One, was vindicated.
The Oracle Against Edom (25.12-14).
Edom has already been mentioned in the charge against Moab. Ammon and Moab were seen as brother nations descended from Lot (Genesis 19.37-38), while Edom was seen as descended from Esau (Genesis 32.3; 36.8). They were thus related nations, and their land was seen as given to them by Yahweh, which was why Moses had sought to avoid conflict with them (Deuteronomy 2.18-19, 22). But now He was taking it away from them. They had gone too far.
25.12-13 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because Edom has dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and has greatly offended, and revenged herself on them,” therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “I will stretch out my hand on Edom and will cut off man and beast from it, and I will make it desolate from Teman, even to Dedan they will fall by the sword.” ’
Edom is singled out as especially treacherous (Psalm 137.7-9) a fact reflected in the continual animosity revealed against her elsewhere (Obadiah 1.21; Malachi 1.3-5). We do not know quite what she did but she acted positively in some way to bring as much harm on Jerusalem as possible, and there is evidence of Edomite occupation of southern Judah after the exile (1 Maccabees 5.65; Josephus; the Zenon papyri). It seemed that she took full and vicious advantage of Jerusalem’s cruel dilemma.
Because of this her fate was to be severe, although we do not actually have any details of what immediately happened to her. She was to be totally desolated. There is certainly evidence of a later Arab population.
The inhabitants of Teman in northern Edom were renowned for their wisdom (Jeremiah 49.7; Obadiah 1.8-9). Teman may be identified with Tawilan which has been excavated to reveal a large Edomite town of the 8th to 6th centuries BC. Dedan was in north west Arabia and well known for its role in the caravan trade (27.20; Isaiah 21.13), and is mentioned in inscriptions. The site is now known as al-‘Ula
25.14 ‘ “And I will lay my vengeance on Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they will do in Edom according to my anger and according to my fury, and they will know my vengeance”, says the Lord Yahweh.’
Here was a message of hope for Israel. For God’s just judgment on Edom would come through the hand of Israel herself, and if that were to be so she had to be restored to the land. There are two kinds of revenge. One is thoughtless and indiscriminate going beyond what is justified. God would have no part in that. The other is measured and deserved, a measured response to a genuine offence given in accordance with the deserts of those on whom the vengeance is requited. That was what was intended here.
What we do know is that later Edom and its survivors were subdued by Judas Maccabaeus, and then by John Hyrcanus (later Jewish leaders), who incorporated them into the Jewish race by compulsory circumcision. Again they lost their nationhood. And all this would take place because of God’s antipathy against their gross sin.
Oracle Against Philistia (25.15-17).
As against Ammon, Moab and Edom the Philistines, who inhabited the coastal plain, were a foreign nation with no ties of kinship with Israel. Since arriving in Palestine (to which they gave their name) from the Aegean in strength they had continually been at enmity with them, having been first weakened by David after an initial period of strength. This is, however, the only record that we have of their hostility towards Israel during the final downfall of Jerusalem. It was probable. Each of these nations regularly took any opportunity that arose to seize land and obtain booty, and to remain neutral while Nebuchadnezzar was advancing would have been decidedly unwise. But they did not have to be so intensely delighted at the fact.
25.15-17 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because the Philistine have dealt by revenge, and have taken revenge with heartfelt malice to destroy it with perpetual enmity, therefore, thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I will stretch out my hand on the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast. And I will execute vengeance on them with severe rebukes, and they will know that I am Yahweh when I will lay my vengeance on them.” ’
The oracle is short and to the point. ‘Because -- therefore --.’ Those who are at enmity with God’s people are at enmity with God, especially as by their attitude they are declaring their attitude towards Yahweh Himself (for here they were to be made to know that He is Yahweh). Here the enmity of Philistia is depicted as permanent and perpetual. There was no pity, only malice. That I why they were to be punished (compare Zephaniah 2.5). Those who show malice will reap what they sow.
The Cherethites were regularly linked with the Philistines as one. The name probably connects with ‘Cretans’. They had come over together from Crete and the Aegean. They are last mentioned in the Old Testament in Zechariah 9.6. After Maccabaean times the Philistines ceased as a people although the names of their cities were perpetuated. The alliteration ‘the cutting off of the Cherethites’ is more prominent in the Hebrew.
Chapters 26-28 The Oracles Against Tyre and Zidon.
Oracles against Tyre continue throughout the next three chapters in some detail. Tyre seems to have exalted itself to godlike status, its kings making huge claims, and it exulted in the destruction of Jerusalem because Jerusalem was a trade rival. It was indeed so strong that it took Nebuchadnezzar the next thirteen years to subdue it. But it had to recognise that it had no hope. It was under the sentence of Yahweh.
Tyre was a famous seaport divided into island and mainland harbours, and protected by mountains. Its merchant seamen roved widely throughout the ancient world, and it was renowned for its glassware and dyed materials. The island and mainland were connected by a causeway built by Hiram I in the tenth century BC, and the island provided a perfect and strong refuge in times of invasion. It was mentioned in the Amarna letters, at times maintained close relations with Israel and Judah, and was very prosperous. It was, however, regularly subjugated by the Assyrians, who captured the mainland city, and as a wealthy seaport it had had to pay high tribute. It was about a hundred miles from Jerusalem, a journey of a few days by camel. No worthwhile empire was going to leave it alone for long. It was a source of great riches, famed for its imports and exports in a world where sea-going was seen as exceptional.
The oracles can be divided into five, the oracle of her destruction (26.1-21), an oracle likening her to a foundering sea-vessel (27.1-36), an oracle about the self-exaltation and downfall of her king as ‘nagid’ (prince) (28.1-10), a lament over the fate of the king of Tyre (28.11-19), and an oracle against Zidon (28.20-26). The number of the oracles and their content reveal the important position that Tyre held in the ancient Near Eastern world, and the status that she accorded herself.
The First Oracle Against Tyre (26.1-21).
26.1-2 ‘And so it was that in the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, that the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, because Tyre has said against Jerusalem, ‘Aha, she is broken who was the gate of the peoples, she has been turned to me. I will be replenished now that she is laid waste’.”
The dating of the oracle is slightly uncertain as no month is mentioned. This may have been because it was the eleventh month so that it accidentally dropped out due to the scribe picking up at the wrong point. Or it may simply be that there was no record of the month and that what was considered to matter was that it was on the first day of a moon period. It was possibly around February 586/5 BC, just after the fall of Jerusalem. Tyrian traders may well have reached Babylonia with the news of the downfall, and jesting remarks about the benefit it would now bring to them.
But more important is the reason for the coming judgment. Tyre exulted in the downfall of Jerusalem because it would enhance her own profits. It is clear that she had been jealous of Jerusalem’s position as ‘the gate of the peoples’, a major intersection on the trade routes. Now that Jerusalem was no more, much of the trade benefit would come to Tyre. The destruction of Jerusalem brought her nothing but happiness.
It is a woeful thing to rejoice at gaining through the suffering and misery of others.
26.3-5a ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Behold I am against you, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against you, as the sea causes his waves to come up. And they will destroy the walls of Tyre, and break down her towers. I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her a bare rock, she will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken it,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
But she had overlooked the fact that Jerusalem was Yahweh’s own special possession. These ideas are important in that they reveal that Yahweh was still caring for His own even while He was chastising them severely, and that as the Lord of the whole earth He could summon nations to do His bidding.
The picture of the sea crashing against the shore is a vivid one. The sea was ever seen by Israel as an alien element, a destructive and powerful force. And it would overwhelm Tyre in the form of powerful armies, leaving it deserted and barren. The prophecy was literally fulfilled through the activities of Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great and others.
‘I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her a bare rock, she will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea’ This powerful fortress would be levelled to the ground and disappear under the sea. This eventually became literally true.
‘For I have spoken it,” says the Lord Yahweh.’ And it was all to be the result of Yahweh’s word. What He says, happens.
26.5b-6 “And she will become a spoil to the nations, and her daughters who are in the surrounding country will be slain with the sword, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”
‘A spoil to the nations.’ Compare 25.7; also see 7.21. She had rejoiced to see Jerusalem spoiled, now she would be spoiled herself, sharing a similar fate. Thus she too will be made aware of Who Yahweh is. Her ‘daughters’ were the local towns connected with her, who looked to her and depended on her. They would suffer for their allegiance.
26.7 ‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “I will bring on Tyre Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, king of kings (supreme king), from the north, with horses and with chariots, and with horsemen, and a company and much people.”.’
Nebuchadrezzar may have been the ‘king of kings’, but the idea is that the supreme king does Yahweh’s bidding. This variation in name from Nebuchadnezzar is in fact closer to the Babylonian name Nabu-kudurri-usur, while Nebuchadnezzar is closer to the Greek form Nabochodonosor and is a variant form. His early career is described in the Babylonian records known as ‘the Babylonian Chronicle’ which give us valuable information for dating various events.
So Yahweh would bring the supreme king against Tyre with a huge well-armed army.
26.8-9 “He will slay with the sword your daughters in the surrounding countryside, and he will make forts against you, and cast up a mount against you, and raise up the buckler (large body shield) against you, and he will set his battering-engines against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers.”
All the devices of ancient warfare would be applied against Tyre. The villages around would be laid waste. Siege forts/walls would be built and a mount to make the defenders more accessible. Walls of shields would be utilised in the assaults, and battering-rams would be brought against the walls. Axes would be applied to the wooden defence towers. All this against the mainland town for the island could not be reached.
There is a deliberate attempt here to demonstrate that Tyre, with all her pride and claims, is really inferior compared to this supreme king who is Yahweh’s instrument.
26.10-11 “Because his horses are so abundant their dust will cover you. Your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen, and of the wagons, and of the chariots, when he enters into your gates, as men enter a city in which a breach has been made. With the hooves of his horses he will tread down all your streets, he will slay your people with the sword, and the pillars of your strength will collapse to the ground.”
The contrast goes on. The horsemen would be so many that the dust raised by their hooves would cover the city. The multitude of horsemen, wagons and chariots would make the walls shake. The breach would be made and then the slaughter would begin and the strong parts of the city would be pulled down (or ‘the pillars of its strength’ may be its people). What is great Tyre in the light of this?
26.12 “And they will make a spoil of your riches, and make a prey of your merchandise, and they will break down your walls, and destroy your pleasant houses, and they will lay your stones, and your timber, and your dust in the midst of the waters.”
The riches from trade and merchanting would become a spoil for the invaders, their proud buildings a ruin, and these would be tossed into the harbour. This would no doubt be true to some extent under Nebuchadnezzar, but later, in the time of Alexander the Great, this would occur for the specific purpose of enlarging the causeway to the island for the invading troops. The ruins of the mainland city would be utilised. The prophecy telescopes Tyre’s future, for Yahweh’s activities against Tyre will go on and on.
We have here an example of how prophecy can contain two elements, a near and a far. It begins with specifics and then continues with a later outcome, the inexorable march of history. For the prophets were not interested in forecasting particular events but in presenting the total picture of the final purposes of Yahweh.
26.13-14 “And I will make the noise of your songs cease, and the sound of your harps will be heard no more. You will be a place for spreading nets, and you will be built no more. For I Yahweh have spoken it,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
The prophecy looks far into the future, when Tyre’s destiny would be fulfilled. In the end all merriment and music would cease as it became unpeopled and Tyre would disappear from history, and its proud island fortress would become a bare rock for fishermen to spread their nets on. History records how, after long centuries, this was indeed literally fulfilled. Such was the end of the glory of Tyre. And it happened at Yahweh’s word.
26.15-16 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh to Tyre, “Will not the isles/coastlands shake at the sound of your fall, when the wounded groan, when the slaughter is made in the midst of you? Then all the princes of the sea will come down from their thrones, and lay aside their robes, and strip off their bordered garments. They will clothe themselves with trembling. They will sit on the ground, and will tremble every moment and be appalled at you.” ’
The description of their tragedy goes on. Those to whom their seamen regularly sailed, and especially their own colonies, (Tyre had colonies in many Mediterranean coastal regions such as Cyprus, Rhodes, Malta, Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, and Africa), will learn the news of their fall and tremble, and the isles and distant coastlands, the island and city states on the Mediterranean seaboard, themselves will shake when Tyre falls, an exaggerated description of the cataclysmic nature of their fall. The groans of the wounded will, as it were, reach out to them. Then these princes across the sea (the princes of the colonies, and the merchant princes who benefited by them), will mourn for them, stripping off their ordinary clothing and clothing themselves with trembling, i.e. mourning clothes and mourning rites. They will be totally appalled. Such was the myth of Tyre.
26.17-18 “And they will take up a lamentation for you, and say to you,
Tyre is portrayed as having been so powerful as a sea fortress, and through her ships at sea, that all others who sailed and inhabited the sea were afraid of her. Thus her fall makes them afraid too, for who can withstand One who could do this?
(We must remember that her name and her reputation probably far exceeded the reality, as her seamen sang her praises, with the usual exaggeration of seamen to credulous people who would never see the reality, and exalted her to the skies).
26.19 ‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “When I make you a desolate city like the cities which are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep on you, and the great waters cover you, then will I bring you down with those who descend to the pit, to the people of old time, and will make you to dwell in the nether parts of the earth, in the places that are desolate of old, with those who go down to the pit, so that you will not be not inhabited or be given beauty by me in the land of the living. I will make you terrors (a dreadful warning to men), and you will be no more Though you are sought for, you will never be found again, says the Lord Yahweh.” ’
Tyre’s final end is portrayed. She will become a city of the dead, at the hands of those who invade her, who will sweep in like the sea and cover her with their great waves. Her people will become like those who have died long ago, sharing their grave with them, desolate like they are desolate. She will be without living inhabitants, and can expect to be given no beauty by God as would be if she were inhabited by living men. Rather she will be a dreadful portent and warning because she is no more, gone to the land from which no one returns. And though men seek her she will be a lost city, never to be found again as a living city, hidden beneath the waves. The picture given is of the shadowy underworld where all that has ceased to be has gone.
Thus will this pearl of the sea, this mighty shipping nation, finally cease to exist, as a punishment for how she has behaved towards Israel. And it did inexorably happen, bit by bit over many centuries, until through time the island city was no more.
Chapter 27 The Second Oracle Against Tyre.
In this oracle Tyre, who is seen as describing herself as ‘perfect in beauty’, is likened to a mighty ship which being overloaded will finally become a wreck and will sink beneath the waves at which all will bewail her loss. It is in the form of a poem, with a prose section inserted. The poetic metre is found in verses 3b-9 and 25b-36. In the previous oracle it was her greed that was condemned, here it is her vanity. Tyre had great pride and conceit in herself, and this was a further reason for her judgment by God (compare Psalm 10.4; Proverbs 6.17; 8.13; 16.18).
Tyrian ships had keels (unlike Egyptian ships) and carried large cargoes. A document from Ugarit (c 1200 BC) refers to one as having a cargo of 450 tonnes as though it was nothing unusual. It would thus have to depend largely on sail power with oars only used for a fairly short time in emergency situations. As regards rigging, the Tyrian ships in the time of Ezekiel, as seen in Assyrian representations, had one mast with one yard and carried a square sail. The planks, masts and yards were made of fir, pine or cedar, and the sails of linen, but the fibre of papyrus was employed as well as flax in the manufacture of sail-cloth. The sail had also to serve "for an ensign". The flag proper does not seem to have been used in ancient navigation. Its purpose was served by the sail.
The description here is magnificent. Tyre is seen as the centre and shipmaster of world trade, trading north, south, east and west. It brings out her own view of herself. (Translation is not always certain, partly due to the unusual technical terms used and the metric requirements of poetry).
27.1-9 ‘The word of Yahweh came to me again, saying, “And you, son of man, take up a lamentation for Tyre. And say to Tyre:
This opening of the lamentation describes Tyre in her splendour as she saw herself. Perfect in beauty, surrounded by sea, made perfect by her shipbuilders, manufactured of the finest materials, supplied and moulded by the best sources and workmen, and crewed by the most expert sailors. And always crowded with merchants from other ships bartering for their goods. It was an idealistic picture of Tyre in her pride.
Senir (see Deuteronomy 3.9) was Mount Hermon, supplying the fir trees. The cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan were famous for their size and strength. Egypt were clearly expert sail-makers. Elishah may be the Alasia of extra-Biblical sources such as the Amarna letters and Egyptian and cuneiform inscriptions (Ugarit; Alalah; Boghaz Koi). It was an exporter of copper. Some have identified it with Enkomi and its surrounding area on the east coast of Cyprus where excavations have revealed an important trading centre of the late Bronze age.
Arvad is modern Ruad, a small island three kilometres (two miles) off the coast of Syria, and eighty kilometres (fifty miles) north of Byblos (Gebal). It was a barren rock covered with fortifications and houses. The island was about 245 metres (800 feet) long by 150 metres (500 feet) wide, later certainly surrounded by a massive wall, and an artificial harbour was constructed on the East toward the mainland. It was a sailing and trading centre, full of skilled seamen and spoken of admiringly by the Assyrians who earlier dominated it. Gebal, whose ruins lie at Jebeil, was known in Greek as Byblos. It was another Phoenician maritime city. Its inhabitants were clearly especially skilled at caulking vessels.
Tyre was wealthy and could pay for her own defence by hiring mercenaries from distant places.
These were mercenaries from places as widespread as Persia, Lydia in Anatolia (eastern Turkey) and Put in North Africa (part of Libya? - the Babylonian for Libya is puta, and see Nahum 3.9), from Arvad to the north (see above) and from Gamad, possibly the Kumidi of the Amarna letters between Byblos and Arvad. ‘With your army’ should possibly be repointed as Helech (Cilicia). These all protected Tyre and contributed to her fearsomeness and splendour.
Tyre’s Trading Contacts and Colonies.
Ezekiel then goes on to describe Tyre’s ‘worldwide’ network of trading contacts in a listing of places and what they traded. It is an extensive list and brings out their remarkable activity. They set up trading colonies in many of these places. They were ‘an empire of the seas’.
Tarshish bordered on the sea (Jonah 1.3; 4.2) and was rich in metals. It was probably a land in the Western Mediterranean, and many have identified it with Tartessus in Spain. The mineral wealth of Spain attracted the Tyrians who founded colonies there. Monumental inscriptions in Sardinia, erected by the Phoenicians in 9th century BC, also bear the name Tarshish, so that some identify it with the ancient city of Nora in Sardinia.
Javan (compare Isaiah 66.19) originally indicated the Ionians (Assyrian Iamanu), but came to refer to the Grecian empire as a whole (Daniel 8.20; 10.20; 11.2). The three names mentioned are fairly closely connected, especially the last two (Genesis 10.2; 1 Chronicles 1.5; Isaiah 66.19). Tubal and Meshech (32.26; 38.2, 3; 39.1) were a warlike people, named in Assyrian inscriptions as Tabal and Musku. They probably came from south east of the Black Sea, establishing themselves in Anatolia. They traded in slaves and bronze. (Any connection with Moscow and Tobolsk is extremely tenuous).
Beth-Togarmah (38.6) is connected with the Anatolian/Armenian region. It is possibly the Tegarama of old Assyrian and Hittite texts, the Til-garimmu in the annals of Sargon and Sennacherib, the capital of Kammanu on the border of Tabal.
The placing here among northern nations may suggest that we should read the island of Rhodes which was in an important position on the sea trade routes. In verse 20 Dedan is rightly placed in Arabia. In Hebrew r and d are easily confused, being almost identical. The Hebrew texts used by LXX may well have read an r. Or there may have been a Dedan in that area.
Having covered places to the west and north we now come to those east of Tyre. The mention of Damascus separately from Syria accentuates the deliberate absence of Jerusalem, which is no more. It would normally be mentioned spearately. Possibly Damascus was to be seen as partly taking Jerusalem’s place tradewise. Note how its own riches are emphasised. It was rich at the expense of Jerusalem.
‘Wheat of minnith, and pannag.’ We do not know what these specifically were but pannag may have been a kind of confection. Minnith was a place in Ammon (Judges 11.33) and possibly Judah/Israel handled their wheat trade.
‘Helbon’ (fat, fruitful). Clearly famous for its wines. Probably Khalbun, twenty five kilometres north of Damascus.
Vedan and this Javan are both unknown. The latter may have been a Greek conclave in Arabia. They would appear in context to lie between Syria/Israel and Arabia.
However alternative renderings have been suggested. ‘we dan’ could be read as ‘and casks’ (we danne) and ‘we jawan me’uzal’ as ‘and wine (jayin) from Uzal (or Izalla)’, thus continuing the theme of wine from Damascus. Uzal may be connected with modern Sana, the capital of Yemen.
However, cassia was a fragrant aromatic substance used in the anointing oil of Exodus 30.23-24, as was calamus, or ‘sweet cane’ (compare Isaiah 43.24; Jeremiah 6.20). In Jeremiah the latter is connected with Arabia which favours reading ‘Vedan and Javan’ as places in Arabia.
The various cities of Arabia are now mentioned, well known for their trading caravans. Tyre dealt with them all. Every known luxury passed through her hands.
The list ends with a miscellany of places and products. It could have gone on and on. Haran was on the main route from Nineveh to Aleppo, and after the fall of Nineveh became the capital of Assyria until taken by the Babylonians. Canneh was in Mesopotamia, probably in the area of the middle Euphrates. Eden may be connected with Beth-Eden - see Amos 1.5 - and Bene-Eden, ‘sons of Eden’ - 2 Kings 19.12; Isaiah 37.12, which were probably the Aramean state of Bit-Adini, south of Haran. Or it may be related to Hindanu (‘Iddan) on the middle Euphrates. Sheba was in eastern Arabia, but ‘the traders of Sheba’ may hint at a well known trading station in Mesopotamia. Asshur (Assyria) was in Mesopotamia, and Chilmad unknown. They exchanged garments, carpets, and finely crafted clothing materials.
The ship of Tyre is depicted as setting out fully loaded, only to meet a strong east wind and be sunk, with all her merchandise, her crew, her traders, and her guards, with the result that those ashore bewail her passing.
27.25a “The ships of Tarshish were your caravans for your merchandise.”
Instead of camels, the ‘ships of the desert’, Tyre used seagoing ships for carrying their merchandise. It has been suggested that the name ‘ships of Tarshish’ refers to a type of refinery ship, or an ore-carrier, but it more probably refers to large long distance vessels which could go even as far as Tarshish.
The ship that set out so well equipped, and heavily laden with its goods, had proudly pulled out into deep waters. Then the east wind arose, tore at the mast and the sail and broke up the ship, while the waves pounded against them. And everything went to the bottom, their wealth and their wares, all their merchandise, their crew and their tradesmen, and all their military guard, the whole ship’s company.
Note the stress on the loss of what they lived for, first their merchandise. That was the pride and joy of Tyre. And then the ship’s company. So would Tyre be destroyed by the wind of God, the armies of Nebuchadnezzar.
In awareness of their distress the other ships’ crews will gather on the shore, and they will cry out and weep bitterly and mourn over their passing. The dust and ashes, the baldness and sackcloth, are all signs of distress. And she who ruled the waves will find herself destroyed by the waves. She had said, ‘I am perfect in beauty’, but now the cry is, ‘Who is like Tyre, who has come to nothing in the midst of her kingdom the sea?’ How were the mighty fallen. Thus will Yahweh do to proud and greedy Tyre. She will lose everything.
Now the poem contrasts what they accomplished with what they have come to. They went out over the seas and satisfied the world with their merchandise and their trading riches, but now they have been broken up by those seas, and all their wealth is engulfed by the sea, along with their ship’s company. Triumph has turned into disaster because she exalted herself, and challenged Yahweh.
Their doom will shake the world. They will be for ever a dreadful warning to men and from it there is no escape. They will be a byword forever. The hissing of the merchants indicates not contempt but appalled awareness.
Chapter 28 The Oracles Against the Nagid and King of Tyre, and Against Zidon.
28.1-10 Oracle Against the Nagid of Tyre.
Here the King of Tyre is called ‘the Nagid of Tyre’. Nagid (prince) is a title elsewhere restricted in the singular to princes and leaders of Israel. (Only Daniel 9.26 could be an exception, which tells us something about the meaning of Daniel 9.26). Thus the use here would seem to be a sarcastic one, comparing him to a Prince of Israel. But in contrast to princes of Israel he saw himself as a god. Thus he is further condemned. The prince referred to was probably Ithobal II.
Note how the charges against Tyre have built up. Firstly she gloated at the riches she would receive now that Jerusalem was destroyed (26.2). Then she proclaimed herself ‘perfect in beauty’ (27.3) and as almost invincible. Now her king claims godlikeness. And Tyre shares in his god-like status. All that is said about the king also applies to his people.
28.1-2a ‘The word of Yahweh came to me again saying, “Son of man, say to the prince (nagid) of Tyre, thus says the Lord Yahweh.”
This new oracle comes with a deliberate contrast between ‘a prince’ in contrast with a Sovereign Lord. The King of Tyre is to recognise that before the Lord Yahweh he is but a ‘prince’, a warleader subject to an overall commander, as the early ‘princes’ of Israel were to Yahweh. It is a deliberate downgrading of the king because of the king’s own upgrading of himself.
28.2b “Because your heart is lifted up, and you have said, ‘I am a god (or ‘I am El’), I sit in the seat of the gods (or ‘of God’), in the midst of the seas’. Yet you are a man and not a god (or ‘not El’), although you set your heart as the heart of the gods.”
There has been much debate about what this king actually claimed for himself. Usually Mediterranean kings, in contrast with Egyptian pharaohs, did not see themselves as fully divine, but rather as chosen servants of the gods. However, there were exceptions, and taking it at face value this was one. Certainly he was guilty of overweening pride. But this king also appears to have seen himself as a god, or at least as a godlike figure (there were various levels of gods), and Tyre as the seat of the gods. And this view would have been expected of his people. This in itself brought Tyre under condemnation. They had usurped the throne of God.
But he is warned that he is in fact only a man. He is not a god (compare Isaiah 31.3), even though he has set his heart on god-like status..
El was the father figure among the gods, but the word also simply meant ‘a god’, or sometimes God, especially in poetry. The plural ‘elohim’ could mean ‘gods’, or when applied to Yahweh ‘God’ (the plural showing intensity), or even ‘heavenly beings’.
28.3 “Behold, you are wiser than Daniel. There is no secret that they can hide from you.”
Again we are confronted by the question as to who is meant by Dani’el (compare on 14.14, 20). It is quite possible that Ezekiel is comparing him with that great contemporary figure Daniel (Daniyye’l, an alternative form. Compare Do’eg (1 Samuel 21.7; 22.9) spelled Doyeg in I Samuel 22.18, 22) who had risen so high in the court of the king of Babylon and had become a folk-hero to his people. He was renowned for his wisdom (Daniel 1.17, 20) and vision (Daniel 2.19) and as the one to whom the secrets of God were revealed (Daniel 2.22, 28, 30, 47). As the message of the prophecy was for Israel and not for Tyre, who would probably never receive it, the fact that Tyre might not have known much about Daniel is irrelevant, although Daniel was by now such a powerful figure (Daniel 2.48) that he had probably already become a legend in his own time, even in Tyre.
Alternately there may be in mind some patriarchal figure like the Dan’el described at Ugarit, the Dispenser of fertility, who was seen as upright and as judging the cause of the widow and the fatherless. That Dan’el would certainly be known to the Tyrians.
Either way the point is that he claimed to have supernatural knowledge, to a knowledge of all secrets greater than Daniel’s, and that Ezekiel is deriding him for it, while agreeing that he has a certain kind of wisdom. There is wry sarcasm here, for had he been a knower of all secrets he would have known the secret of his own downfall.
28.4-5 “By your wisdom and by your understanding you have obtained for yourself riches, and you have obtained gold and silver into your treasuries. By your great wisdom and by your trading you have increased your riches, and your heart is lifted up because of your riches.”
The wisdom the king and his subjects had was the wisdom as to how to make themselves rich through trading. He knew how to accumulate the riches that would destroy him by making him too presumptious, and he had put all his efforts into it. The world stood back and admired, for the world admires nothing more than the ability to become rich, but he and they would be much wiser if they considered their end (Psalm 73.17).
28.6-8 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because you have set your heart as the heart of the gods, therefore behold I will bring strangers on you, the terrible of the nations, and they will draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and they will mar your brightness. They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die the deaths of those who are slain in the heart of the seas.”
His whole attitude towards Yahweh and towards his own exalted status, and that of his city, was such that he had brought on himself his own punishment. He had set his heart to be one among the gods, so he and his people would be destroyed by men, by ‘strangers’, by the most terrible of the nations (Babylon - 30.11; 31.12; 32.12). He had claimed to be perfect in beauty, a beauty revealed in wisdom, as one who shone before the world, so this beauty will be destroyed by the swords of men, and this brightness defiled by men, and he will go down into the grave where all men go. He will die as so many of his seamen have died before him, swallowed up by the sea, which in his case is represented by the enemy hosts. (Although many would no doubt be tossed into the harbour and literally be swallowed up by the sea). Such will be his ‘god-like’ end.
28.9-10 “Will you yet say before him who slays you, ‘I am a god’. But you are a man and not a god in the hands of him who wounds you. You will die the deaths of the uncircumcised by the hand of strangers. For I have spoken it says the Lord Yahweh.”
His protestation to be a god will not help him when he meets his slayers. To them his exalted claims will mean nothing. To them he will be but a man who bleeds. And he will die an ignominious death at their hand, the hand of strangers. To an Israelite to die uncircumcised was to die in shame, it was the worst of all deaths for it indicated that men died outside the covenant.
Lamentation for the King of Tyre (28.11-19).
This oracle is in the form of a lamentation for the King of Tyre, with his great, exaggerated claims and his certain destruction. There are no good grounds for applying it to Satan except in the sense that extreme evil and arrogance stems from him. It rests on a ‘glorified’ view of Eden based on man’s own estimate of what is desirable, riches and wealth, and must probably be seen as illustrating the extravagant claims of the King of Tyre in connection with the primeval ‘garden’, as interwoven with the story of Eden to bring out that he was but human and had shared in the fall.
The King of Tyre probably spoke in terms of Dilmun (the Sumerian Eden), or some other form of ‘original Paradise’, where gods and men intermingled, describing his own glorious origin. The point is probably that he claimed for himself a pre-existence and semi-divine status in that mythical world of prehistory, possibly though an ancestral line whom he saw as ‘godlike’ from the beginning of time and reproduced in each succeeding king. This view could well have been supported by his musings in the temple as he walked in the holy temple garden, founded on an artificial mountain of the gods, and containing statues of the cherubim. Such exaltation in men can always produce dangerous ideas.
Excavations at Gebal (Byblos) have revealed a carved representation of cherubim supporting the throne of the king, and similar winged creatures are found abundantly around the ancient world.
The king’s view of himself is then taken by Ezekiel and his God, and interwoven with the story of Eden, the real primeval Paradise, to depict his true status, this being for the consumption of the house of Israel as they contemplated the glory that was Tyre and the extreme claims of its king, which they may have half believed.
We must remember that sacred gardens were often connected with temples, as were ‘mountains’ of the gods. Thus ‘the garden of the gods’ and ‘the mountain of the gods’ may simply in the end have been a sacred temple garden on an artificial mountain in which the king walked as the representative of deity, thought of by him, as he exalted himself in his thoughts and before his people, in terms of an original Paradise.
28.11-12a ‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, take up a lamentation for the King of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord Yahweh.”
‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me --.’ The introduction demonstrates that this is a new oracle, in the form of a lamentation. ‘King of Tyre’ was probably the title the king took for himself as king of a city state, and the first part of the poem then emphasises his extravagant claims.
‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh.’ However the king may see himself he must recognise, as must Israel, that he is subject to the word of the Lord Yahweh to Whom he is subject.
Having nothing to go on except this description we must beware of becoming too fanciful. It is describing the king’s view of himself (and Tyre’s), but found here as interwoven by Ezekiel in terms of Eden. The connection between this and the original Eden is found in the name, in the fact of the garden, in the presence of a cherub, in the fact of the king’s being ‘created’, and in his final fall and expulsion. The Israelites would recognise immediately that this whole scenario diminished him to being simply a created and fallen man.
The garden and cherub (or similar creatures) and holy mountain could be found frequently in pagan temples. We are probably therefore to see this in terms of the king walking in bejewelled splendour in the hallowed temple gardens, arranged on an artificial mountain as found in such temples, where there was an image of a cherub, and musing proudly on his deity in terms of the original Paradise of the gods. But as reinterpreted by Ezekiel for the sake of the house of Israel.
‘You seal up the sum (or ‘plan’ or ‘blueprint’ or ‘example’, compare Ezekiel 43.10), full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.’ RSV has ‘you were the signet of perfection’. This would depict his claim as being that of someone of total perfection, full of wisdom and beautiful in his perfection.
Others would translate as ‘you were the one sealing the plan.’ Here the idea would seem to be of the one who finalised and established the grand plan on which Tyre’s prosperity was built. ‘Full of wisdom’ would tie in well with this (see 28.4) and ‘perfect in beauty’ is used of the glorious ship of trade (see 27.3) which originally carried out the plan. Possibly both ideas, that of absolute perfection, and that of the glorious planner, were thought of as included.
‘You were in Eden, the garden of the gods (or ‘of God’).’ Possibly the king boasted of having walked in the primeval garden (through his ancestors?), but we must probably also connect this claim with the holy temple garden which he saw as its present manifestation and in which he walked continually. Ezekiel tacks on ‘Eden’ to relate this primeval garden to the Garden of Eden.
It may however be that Lebanon was known as ‘the garden of the gods’ (compare on 31.8-9, 18) because of the splendour of its trees, especially the cedars of Lebanon.
‘Every precious stone was your covering --.’ He was clothed in splendour, surrounded by precious stones. This was man’s view of glory and perfection as it would be experienced in the mythical garden. And it left him without excuse, for with these blessings what excuse could there be for sin? But in the real garden what mattered was innocence, riches and clothes were irrelevant. That is the contrast. Thus the connection in Ezekiel’s mind may well have been that instead of nakedness and then the fig leaf, he had bejewelled garments, but they served him no better. He did not avoid sin and his nakedness was not covered.
The stones listed are nine (three sets of three indicate completeness and perfection), and were reminiscent of the high priest’s breastplate except that there there were twelve stones (Exodus 28.17-20). In fact LXX has twelve here, but that was probably an expansion with the high priest’s breastplate in mind.
‘Gold were the workings of your tabrets and pipes in you.’ The idea of splendour continues. The meaning of the word for ‘pipes’ (nekeb) is unknown. Its only other use is in Joshua 19.33 (in the name Adami-nekeb) where a ‘pass’ or ‘hollow’ has been suggested, but tabrets or timbrels were musical instruments, thus the suggestion of a musical instrument as a translation for nekeb (something hollowed out?) Golden musical instruments may well have been in use in a pagan temple, and have been connected with a primeval Paradise.
‘In the day that you were created they were prepared.’ The reference to his being originally ‘created’ is a further reminder of his earthliness. These things only became available when he was created. They were not his permanent right. It may be that the king saw himself as the reproduction of a long line of divine kings (as with the Pharaoh), stretching back to the primeval garden from where he ‘came’ , thus the reference may be back to the first king. But Ezekiel stresses that it is a reminder that his source was earthly, for the primeval garden, the Garden of Eden was prepared for a created man, not a demi-god.
‘You (‘were’ or ‘were with’ understood) an anointed covering cherub, and I established you, and you were on the holy mountain of God. You walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.’ Mountains were seen as the abode of the gods, and many a temple had within it an artificial mountain representing the home of the gods. Does this mean that the king had depicted himself as a guardian cherub, a demi-god committed to the protection of the gods, especially Baal Melkart the Tyrian god? Or is the idea that he claimed to be a god, even a personification of Melkart, protected by a guardian Cherub and that he is being reminded that he was set in the garden on the holy mountain by Yahweh, for all that is done, is done by Yahweh? Either way it represents his proud assumption of some kind of divinity as he walked in the temple garden on the mountain of the gods, so that Yahweh here has to remind him that anything he has, has come from Yahweh, for Yahweh is the Creator, and in all Yahweh is in control.
His claim to be a divinity protected by a guardian cherub, or that he was himself a guardian cherub, no doubt also encouraged the Tyrians with the thought that it made their fortress even more impregnable.
‘The stones of fire.’ This is probably a reference to the covering of jewels previously mentioned. There may also be the thought that precious stones fell around him from the skies. But some have suggested connection with Phoenician cult practises where an effigy of the god was burned so as to bring about his resuscitation. This ritual of burning a god has been suggested from depictions on a bowl from Sidon and is said to be evidenced in the cult of Melkart at Tyre.
28.15 ‘You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created until unrighteousness was found in you.’
The theme of Eden continues. The king probably depicting his own continuing perfection. But Ezekiel brings him down to earth and likens him to Adam and connects him with the fall, and then illustrates it from reality. The same phrase could of course been said of Adam, perfect in his ways until unrighteousness was found in him. So the fall of the king and of Tyre, which their ways reveal, is likened to that of Adam. They share in the fall of mankind.
28.16a “In the huge quantity of your trading they filled the midst of you with violence, and you have sinned.”
The vast trading enterprises of Tyre could not be carried out without some violence, both in establishing their colonies and in fighting off rival traders, to say nothing of violence and jealousy among themselves. ‘They’ is the men who represented him, his traders and seamen. And they had filled Tyre with violence. Thus their enterprises resulted in gross sin. They may have seemed glorious, but they were also filled with unwholesomeness. And he must take the blame. This was his ‘perfection’.
(This practical application makes perfectly clear that the one in view is not Satan).
Note that he is not said to be cast out of the Garden but out of ‘the mountain of God’. That is because his proud boast was to dwell among the gods. Thus his punishment fits his claim. And he loses not only his supposed divinity, but also his glorious apparel. He is to be totally humiliated. (This would be particularly apposite if ‘the garden of the gods’ was seen as Lebanon).
The reading in of ‘by means of the’ is required by the parallelism, both poetically and in comparison with the story of Eden. Having demonstrated that in spite of all his pretensions the King of Tyre was created by Yahweh and was a fallen sinner, he will now be called on to follow the fallen sinner’s fate. He will be driven out by the very guardian cherub whose protection he had boasted about.
Thus the downfall he was about to experience is likened to being cast out and stripped of his bejewelled clothing (the stones of fire). He will be left ‘naked’, revealed as what he really was.
(This problem as to exactly what the king represented himself to be arises because of the requirements of metre in poetry. Words had to be omitted to maintain the metre. Possibly at the time conventions made clear what was meant).
The great advantage Tyre had had did not have good consequences, it corrupted her rather than uplifting her. It caused her to become proud and vain, so that she forgot true wisdom. It is the fear of Yahweh that is the beginning of wisdom, and they had forgotten it. So she will be cast to the ground and exposed before kings, those very kings over whom she had lorded herself. They would see her as she really was.
The doom of Tyre is now portrayed. It comes not only from her pride but from all her sins of greed, and dishonesty, and violence, and jealousy, and lack of concern for others, revealed through her activities. Thus her very sanctuaries were profaned. This was very much an Israelite thought. Other gods were not concerned about morality, but Yahweh was. But it confirms that we are to see ‘the king of Tyre’ as a human king who had made extravagant claims, but had revealed his humanness by his behaviour, thus profaning the sanctuaries that he had seen as evidence of his divinity.
Thus Tyre is to be destroyed by a fire from within her. The seeds of her own destruction came from within her because of her sins. The fire, instead of revivifying her, will destroy her. She will be turned to ashes and all the nations will look on appalled. And her total extinction will be a warning for ever.
The Oracle Against Zidon (28.20-24).
This short oracle against Zidon seems almost tacked on to those to Tyre as a postscript. Perhaps it was in order to make up the number seven, or perhaps it was simply in order to make clear that Zidon shared Tyre’s condemnation, but it makes clear that after the first four nations, condemned together, the two important targets were Tyre and Egypt. Zidon, who through the centuries had been twinned with Tyre, is included as a co-partner with Tyre, sharing her fate, and in fact no charge is laid against her, probably because that is seen as included in the oracles against Tyre with which she had such close relations. If we keep bad company we must accept the consequences.
28.20-22a ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards Zidon, and prophesy against it, and say ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh. Behold I am against you O Zidon, and I will be glorified in the midst of you.’ ” ’
Zidon is to be included in the condemnation of her co-partner. By what would happen to Zidon Yahweh would be glorified, as He would by what happened to Tyre. The great partnership that exalted itself against Yahweh would be destroyed. The antipathy between the gods of Tyre and Zidon and the God of Israel was a long running one, continuing since the days of Elijah, when Phoenician religion under Ahab and Jezebel had reduced the true worship of Yahweh to dire straits. Now the final triumph of Yahweh would be revealed.
28.22b-23 “And they will know that I am Yahweh when I have executed judgments in her and am sanctified in her. For I will send pestilence into her, and blood in her streets, and the wounded will fall in the midst of her, with the sword at her from every side, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”
Yahweh’s servant Nebuchadnezzar, and his army, will devastate Zidon revealing that Yahweh is different from all gods and fulfils His purposes as the all-powerful One (is ‘sanctified in her’ - compare 38.16; 36.23). They will suffer pestilence and slaughter, regular accompaniments to warfare, and will perish under the sword. The sword may be that of Yahweh (21.5) or simply represent the swords of Nebuchadnezzar’s army.
Thus will they too realise Who and What Yahweh is, repeated twice at beginning and end for emphasis.
28.24 “And there will be no more a pricking brier to the house of Israel, nor a grieving thorn from any that are round about them, who did them harm. And they will know that I am Yahweh.”
This general statement applies to Zidon, but it also applies to all the nations yet mentioned. All had constantly at various times tormented Israel, picture vividly in terms of prickly bushes and thorns (compare Numbers 13.55; Joshua 23.13). Soon they would do so no more. So Israel too, along with them, will know that He is Yahweh.
A Promise of Restoration for His people (28.25-26).
As so often Ezekiel again reminds Israel that God has yet a future for them (11.17-20; 14.11; 16.60-63; 18.30-31; 20.41-44). In all that is happening He has not deserted them, indeed in the final analysis He only purposes good for them. There is no mention of judgment. This is now seen as technically accomplished, and He looks beyond to future blessing.
28.25-26 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “When I have gathered the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and am sanctified in them in the sight of the nations, then will they dwell in their own land which I gave to my servant Jacob. And they will dwell securely in it. Yes they will build houses and plant vineyards and will dwell securely, when I have executed judgment on all those that do them harm round about them, and they will know that I am Yahweh their God.” ’
This promise and its remarkable fulfilment is witnessed in history. Israel was again gathered from the nations and established in Jerusalem, and it once again dwelt safely in the Promised Land (1 Maccabees 14.8-15), and even enjoyed its own independence, although because of its sins and because it had not learned its lessons the period was not very long. The continued fulfilment of the promises always depended on obedience.
But the promise has an even greater fulfilment which Ezekiel could not even have dreamed of, and could only present in terms familiar to himself. For one day God’s people, God’s Israel, will dwell securely in a far better land where they will enjoy far greater blessings, in everlasting contentment (Revelation 22.1-3 based on Ezekiel 47). That is the final fulfilment of the promise.
The Oracles Against Egypt (29.1-32.32).
This section of the book is composed of seven oracles issued against Egypt. The fact that there are seven is probably deliberate in order to emphasise the divine completeness of the condemnation, for throughout the Near East seven was the number of divine perfection.
Egypt was the great power to the south, as Assyria, Babylon and Persia were successively to the north. Except in very weak times, she had always seen the land of Canaan as hers and under her administration, and had only reluctantly ceded ground when forced to do so for a time by those great powers from the north. Her influence had never been good and she was responsible for much of the idolatry in Israel. This was necessarily so because Pharaoh saw himself as the manifestation of the god Horus, becoming the great Osiris on his death. Thus the destruction of Egypt’s power was necessary if ever Israel was to be free.
This denunciation of Egypt is looking at more than the current situation, although having that in mind. For centuries Egypt had dominated Israel. Again and again she had crushed her and exacted tribute. Now she was to receiver retribution.
Furthermore at this time Egypt was seeking to rally the peoples in and around Canaan, encouraging them to rebel against Babylon with promises of aid. But because of her own comparative weakness this could only lead them into deep trouble. She was not strong enough to lean on. So if His people were to know peace Egypt had to be dealt with, and dealt with thoroughly.
From this time on Egypt would never again rise to be the great power that she had been. And Ezekiel reveals this as being due to the activity of Yahweh.
The First Oracle Against Egypt (29.1-16).
In this oracle Egypt is likened to a monster crocodile which Yahweh will hunt and dispose of (2-5), because of Pharaoh’s pretensions (verse 3), and then to a staff on which those who lean will falter (6-7). And then He prophesies the future destruction and weakness of Egypt.
29.1-2 ‘In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and prophesy against him and against all Egypt.” ’
This prophesy took place in January 587 BC almost a year after the siege of Jerusalem had begun. It was Egypt that had been partly responsible for Zedekiah’s rebellion, contrary to Yahweh’s specific command (e.g. Jeremaih 27.6-11), and who therefore had to bear part responsibility for it.
The Great Crocodile and The Broken Reed.
29.3 “Speak and say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh. Behold I am against you Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great monster (tannin) who lies in the midst of his rivers, who has said, “My river is my own, and I have made it for myself.” ’ ”
To Yahweh Pharaoh (Hophra - Jeremiah 45.30) is but the king of Egypt, but in his own eyes Pharaoh is much more than that. He is the creator of Egypt and of the River Nile which is itself a god and the life blood of Egypt. And he bestrides it and its tributaries like a monstrous crocodile, challenging all who dare to approach, as the self-begotten sun god of Egypt.
There is here a deliberate play on two views, one that Pharaoh is but earthly, a created creature (compare Genesis 1.21), like the crocodile, while in Egypt’s view being godlike and associated with the mythical monsters of the world of the gods and thus undefeatable (compare Job 9.13; 26.11-13; Psalm 74.13-14; 89.10; Isaiah 27.1; 51.9; Amos 9.3 and note that they cannot stand against Yahweh. But the monsters are often but synonyms for their countries e.g. Rahab can be seen as representing Egypt). Ezekiel under Yahweh’s instruction is bringing him down to earth.
It should be noted that while commentators rightly draw attention to this multiplicity of gods, Scripture is regularly silent about them. It does not tend to speak in terms of battles against the gods (compare the Exodus account where mention of them is rare although commentarywise they appear everywhere). It degrades them by not mentioning them, generally leaving them as background knowledge in men’s minds. Yahweh is all, and His opponents but earthly and not worthy of mention.
29.4 “And I will put hooks in your jaws, and I will cause the fish of your rivers, to stick to your scales, and I will bring you up out of the midst of the rivers, with all the fish of your rivers which stick to your scales.”
The picture is of a crocodile hunt, in which hooks were put in the crocodile’s mouth so that he could be pulled ashore, and killed, or left high and dry to die. The fish that stick to his scales may be foreign mercenaries, or allies, or the aristocracy and armies of Egypt. So the great invincible Pharaoh can die like any other, along with all his helpers.
29.5 “And I will leave you stranded in the wilderness, you and all the fish of your rivers. You will fall on the face of the field. You will not be brought together or gathered. I have given you for meat to the beast of the earth and to the birds of heaven.”
The great crocodile and the fish will be left stranded out of their own environment, in the waterless wilderness. Thus they will collapse and die, unable to rally themselves against the enemy, and the scavengers, both beast and bird, will arrive to tear them apart and eat them. Pharaoh and all his allies will be desolated and the Nile god and the other gods of Egypt will not be able to help them.
A further interesting fact is that ‘the crocodile’ Hophra (588-569 B.C.) probably did not receive a royal burial, which was considered extremely important for the Pharaohs and all Egyptians, for history records that Ahmose II (Gr. Amasis), another Egyptian leader, strangled Hophra and took his place.
29.6-7 “And the inhabitants of Egypt will know that I am Yahweh, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel. When they took hold of you by the hand, you broke and badly tore their shoulders, and when they leaned on you, you broke, and made all their loins quiver.”
This is the final act which brought down Yahweh’s wrath on them, that Egypt had promised to be a strong staff on which Israel could lean, but had turned out to be a mere reed which broke when it was leant on, bringing great harm to Israel. Egypt was in fact a land of reeds, which grew along the Nile and its tributaries, and God says that they were symbolic of what Egypt really was. Thus they must be taught the lesson that they have let down Yahweh’s people, and are therefore accountable to Yahweh. God takes constant account of what is done to His people.
29.8-9 “Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I will bring a sword on you, and will cut off from you man and beast. And the land of Egypt will be a desolation and a waste, and they will know that I am Yahweh, because he has said, ‘The River (Nile) is mine, and I have made it’.”
We come back here to the major reason for Egypt’s judgment, because of its overweening pride (compare Tyre - chapter 28) and its claim not to owe anything to the hand of Yahweh. It proclaims its own divine self-sufficiency. So Yahweh will bring against it His sword of judgment (21.3-17) which at this time is the sword of Nebuchadnezzar (21.20; see Jeremiah 46.13-26), but is not limited to that. Nebuchadnezzar did later invade Egypt in 568/7 BC, which would certainly result in devastation and is referred to in a damaged Babylonian tablet, (see also 29.19), but full details are not known and they eventually came to a compromise and became allies. This was later followed by Persian subjugation.
God’s Future Judgment on Egypt.
29.10-12 “Therefore behold, I am against you and against your rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation from Migdol to Seveneh (Syene) even to the border of Ethiopia. No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither will it be inhabited for forty years. And I will make the land of Egypt a desolation in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste will be a desolation forty years, and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and will disperse them through the countries.”
A parallel fate to that of Judah is prophesied for Egypt. It is to be desolated, although the means is not stated, so that it is desolate from north to south. Migdol (meaning watchtower) would be in the Delta on the Egyptian border (compare Exodus 14.2), while Seveneh (probably Syene) meaning ‘marketplace’ (Egyptian swn) was on the border with Ethiopia on the first cataract of the Nile (unless we read as ‘from tower to marketplace’). Syene was a fortress and base for expeditions into Nubia (Cush), a terminus for river traffic and a source of red granite for monumental buildings (syenite).
The desolation would go on for ‘forty years’. ‘Forty years’ was a standard period for trial and testing meaning a fixed and fairly long period, and parallels the period for bearing iniquity endured by Judah (4.6). Thus Egypt would suffer a fairly long period of desolation and weakness, probably at the hand of their enemies.
The description of a land where no one will tread is probably intended as an exaggerated picture to give the impression of the awfulness of the situation rather than as literal (just as descriptions of the devastations of Judah and Israel gave a similar impression; compare also Isaiah 34.10 with Malachi 1.3-4 of Edom). In its devastation it will be like a land totally deserted.
The dispersal among the countries, which may have occurred towards the end of the forty years, also parallels Judah and Israel. As with them the description is not to be taken literally. It is the cream of the country that is in mind, and it is so described to bring out the parallel. The real point is that Egypt will be made to suffer as Israel (2 Kings 17.18, 23) and Judah (2 Kings 25.11, 26) have done. There will be a period when their chief men will be forcibly absent from the land, and when many will flee for refuge into many countries.
We have no record of such an event, as literally described, happening in Egypt although we must remember that there is much of their detailed history hidden to us, and kings did not tend to record their own bad periods. It was clearly to happen at the same time as the devastation of surrounding countries, beginning with invasion by Nebuchadnezzar (30.23-24), but like much prophecy probably also having a far view.
It may be that Pharaoh and his forces and the cream of the aristocracy did have to retreat from their cities beyond their borders at some stage before the fierce invasion of Nebuchadnezzar and later before the Medo-Persians, possibly affected by internal rebellion, later to return, and that many refugees fled to neighbouring countries, remaining there for years, or it may possibly partly point forward to even later invasions and their effects.
29.13-15 “For thus says the Lord Yahweh, At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the peoples where they have been scattered, and I will bring again the captivity of Egypt, and will cause them to return to the land of Pathros, to the land of their origin, and they will be there a base kingdom. It will be the basest of the kingdoms, neither will it any more lift itself above the nations. And I will diminish them that they will no more rule over the nations.”
Many of the Egyptians who left would again be restored to their land, but never again to lord it over their world. They would be restored to the southern part of the kingdom, Pathros, and forever be a lowly kingdom. That this latter has been so is undoubted, for once they had been humbled by the Medo-Persians they were never really strong again. Yahweh had ‘diminished’ them.
29.16 “And it shall no more be the one in whom the house of Israel put their trust, bringing their iniquity into remembrance when they turn to look after them. And they will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.
Thus never again would Israel turn to Egypt for assistance and rely on them. Rather they will look on Egypt with the result that their dire condition will remind them of their folly. And the sight will also bring home to them Who and What Yahweh is.
The Second Oracle Against Egypt (29.17-21).
This is a late oracle introduced here, because it also refers to Tyre, so that it would not be too far from the Tyre oracles, and because it gives information about who would cause desolation to Egypt as described in the first oracle. It is dated on new year’s day 571/0 BC some time after the raising of the siege of Tyre, some sixteen years after the previous oracle.
29.17-18 ‘And so it was in the twenty seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, caused his army to do a great service against Tyre. Every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled. Yet he had no wages, nor did his army, from Tyre, because of the service that he had served against it.” ’
In this oracle attention is turned on Tyre, but only so as to stress what is to happen to Egypt. By now the thirteen year siege of Tyre was over, and although Nebuchadnezzar had technically won, the island city had never been taken by storm and what remained in it was insufficient to compensate for the costs of the long siege, although tribute would be exacted. We may reasonably assume that the Tyrians had ensured that all their treasures had long before been removed by ship, possibly with Egypt’s connivance.
‘Every head was made bald, and every shoulder was rubbed bare.’ The continual wearing of helmets, and the continual demands of the heavy siege had had their effect. The soldiers felt totally ill-used and exhausted.
‘Yet he had no wages, nor did his army, from Tyre, because of the service that he had served against it.’ Nebuchadnezzar’s activity at Tyre was to be seen as service to Yahweh. He had unknowingly been carrying out Yahweh’s judgment on Tyre. But he had received no proper reward for it. Neither had his army, who depended on spoils to supplement their poor wages. By such spoils many became prosperous.
29.19-20 “Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, and he will carry off large numbers of her people, and take her spoil and take her prey. And it will be wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt as his recompense for which he served, because they wrought for me, says the Lord Yahweh.”
So as a reward and recompense for Babylon’s efforts against Tyre on Yahweh’s behalf they were to be given Egypt, where they would find an abundance of spoils and slaves and livestock. Note the suggestion that Egypt was Yahweh’s to give. He is Lord of all.
‘Because they wrought for me, says the Lord Yahweh.’ All Babylon had done they had done for Him. We do know that Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt although we have no details of the consequences (the inscriptions have been damaged) except that the new Pharaoh Ahmose II had finally to agree terms, and pay necessary tribute. It must have been a crushing defeat. But meanwhile the Babylonian army would have been taking spoils as described.
29.21 “In that day I will cause a horn to bud forth to the house of Israel, and I will give you the opening of your mouth among them, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”
A horn is the symbol of strength and power (1 Samuel 2.1; 1 Kings 22.11; Psalm 92.10; Jeremiah 48.25). It was the means by which animals exerted their superiority. Thus in some way Israel were to be given strength at the time of the invasion and victory. Indeed Ezekiel himself may be that horn, for they would begin to listen to his words and take heed to them, and learn Who Yahweh really is. And in the end that was Ezekiel’s purpose.
Alternately it may refer to one of the leaders whom Yahweh would use in their restoration. It does not matter which one. All were horns given by Yahweh, all looking forward to the great Son of David yet to come (34.23-24; 37.24).
Chapter 30 The Third and Fourth Oracles Against Egypt.
The Third Oracle. Judgment on Egypt (30.1-19).
This is an undated oracle which has been variously allocated. It divides into four sections, verses 2-5, 6-9, 10-12, and 13-19.
30.1-5 ‘The word of Yahweh came to me again, saying, “Son of man, prophesy and say, ‘Howl, alas the day, for the day is near, the day of Yahweh is near, a day of clouds, it will be the time of the nations. And a sword will come on Egypt, and anguish will be on Cush, when the slain will fall in Egypt. And they will take away large numbers of her, and the foundations will be broken down. Ethiopia and Put and Lud, and all the mingled people, and Cub and the children of the land which is in league will fall by the sword.”
That this refers primarily to the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar is made clear in verse 10. The ‘day of Yahweh’ is coming for Egypt. ‘The day of Yahweh’ is a phrase used of any time when God visits a nation or nations in judgment after they have incurred His anger. It finally came to signify the final day of Yahweh when he brings about His final purposes (Isaiah 2.12-21; Joel 3.14), but we must not read that into every usage. Here it refers to His day on Egypt.
The awfulness of what is shortly to come on Egypt is brought out by the introduction, ‘Howl, alas the day, for the day is near’. And along with her will suffer those who are in alliance with her. These alliances help to explain how an invasion of Egypt could drive Pharaoh and his forces out of Egypt into allied lands, only to be allowed to return once peace negotiations have succeeded. It would seem that there was defeat on Egyptian soil, with large numbers being taken captive and carried off to Babylon, followed by a withdrawal into allied lands as Egyptian administration collapsed, until peace terms were agreed.
‘A day of clouds.’ Thick clouds were often seen as accompanying Yahweh when He visited in judgment (Judges 5.4; 2 Samuel 22.12; Psalm 18.11-12; 77.17; 97.2; Jeremiah 4.13; Joel 2.2; Zephaniah 1.15).
‘The time of the nations.’ That is the nations in alliance with Egypt who were about to be described.
‘A sword will come on Egypt.’ That is the sword of Yahweh as wielded through Nebuchadnezzar.
‘Anguish will be on Cush, when the slain will fall in Egypt.’ The allies gathered in Egypt to resist the forces of Nebuchadnezzar and many were slain of both Egyptians and their allies so that Cush (Nubia/Northern Sudan) wept.
‘Cush and Put and Lud, and all the mingled people, and Cub and the children of the land which is in league will fall by the sword.’ Cush is Nubia/Northern Sudan, Put is African, but whether Eastern Sudan or Libya is disputed. Babylonian puta became T’ Tmhw (Lybia) in Egyptian which supports the latter. Lud is a descendant of Ham in Genesis 10.13 and thus also an African nation. Cub may well be part of Lybia. These were seemingly in league with Egypt against the threat of Babylon, and many were slain in the invasion. ‘The mingled people’ (compare Jeremiah 25.20) refers to mercenaries.
30.6-9 “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, They also who uphold Egypt will fall, and the pride of her power will come down, from Migdol to Seveneh will they fall in it by the sword, says the Lord Yahweh. And they will be desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities will be in the midst of the cities which are wasted. And they will know that I am Yahweh, when I have set a fire in Egypt, and all her helpers are destroyed. In that day will messengers go forth from before me in ships to make the careless Cush afraid, and there will be anguish on them as in the day of Egypt. For lo, it comes.”
The message of gloom for Egypt continues. Their allies will also fall, and the ‘pride of their power’ (their powerful leadership or cities?) will come down, from northern border to southern border, smitten by the sword. All at the word of the Lord Yahweh. And their desolation will be shared by countries round about. It will be as though a fire has been lit in Egypt which will consume them and their allies. And when this happens all will know by experience that He is Yahweh, the One Who is what He wants to be.
Then Yahweh’s messengers (possibly referring to the Babylonians?) will go by ship up the Nile to Cush who thought they were safe, and they too will suffer anguish. These may be Yahweh’s messengers simply because they carry news of what Yahweh has done, or in the sense that troops are shipped with a ‘message’ of action and destruction.
We do not have external information on how far Nebuchadnezzar went in his invasion before, in the end, he accepted peace terms. But Egypt would not have surrendered easily.
‘Lo, it comes.’ What was to happen was inevitable. Nothing would prevent it.
30.10-11 “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will also make the multitude (of either people or wealth) of Egypt to cease by the hand of Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon. He and his people with him, the terrible of the nations, will be brought in to destroy the land, and they will draw their swords against Egypt and fill the land with the slain.”
Through Nebuchadnezzar God will ‘make the multitude of Egypt to cease’. This may refer to population or to wealth, but in this section of Ezekiel ‘multitude’ tends to mean people. So either the population would be decimated or their wealth would be. In fact in such a war it would happen to both as cattle were slaughtered or run off, spoils were seized and people were put to the sword. For ‘the terrible of the nations’ compare 28.7. Note that Nebuchadnezzar and his hordes ‘will be brought in’, that is by Yahweh. They are seen as under Yahweh’s command.
30.12 “And I will make the rivers dry, and will sell the land into the hands of evil men. And I will make the land desolate, and all that is in it by the hand of strangers. I Yahweh have spoken it.”
Egypt would not only have to cope with invasion but with drought as the level of the Nile fell and many tributaries dried up. The irrigation canals, which required constant attention by the people, would be neglected and silt up. Furthermore as regularly happens in such a war there would be a rise of brigandage, to add to the people’s troubles as the desolation continued through visiting armies. All this would be seen as Yahweh’s doing.
30.13 “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will also destroy the idols, and I will cause the images to cease from Noph (Memphis). And there will be no more a prince out of the land of Egypt. And I will put a fear in the land of Egypt. And I will make Pathros desolate, and will set a fire in Zoan (Tanis), and will execute judgment on No (Thebes). And I will pour out my fury on Sin (Pelusium) , the stronghold of Egypt, and I will cut off the multitude of No (Thebes). And I will set a fire in Egypt. Sin will be in great anguish, and No will be broken up, and Noph will have adversaries in the day time. The young men of Aven (Heliopolis) and Pi-beseth will fall by the sword, and these will go into captivity. At Tehaphnehes (Tahpanhes) also the day will withdraw itself, when I will break there the yokes of Egypt, and the pride of her power will cease in her. As for her a cloud will cover her, and her daughters will go into captivity. Thus will I execute judgments in Egypt, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”
A wide range of cities in Egypt are mentioned to bring home the widespread nature of the devastation. Everywhere would be affected (compare for the approach Isaiah 10.27-32; Micah 1.10-15; Zephaniah 2.4). There is no order to the names, they are selected at random. The many gods of Egypt would be decimated and authority in the land would cease. There would thus be general fear over the whole land. The great cities would be desolated and many set on fire. Anguish would be everywhere. This would be invasion on a large scale. ‘Adversaries in the day time’ reflects this. The city gates would normally be open during the day, but closed at nights. At this time they would be permanently closed.
‘Also the day will withdraw itself, when I will break there the yokes of Egypt, and the pride of her power will cease in her. As for her a cloud will cover her, and her daughters will go into captivity.’ Tehaphnehes was a frontier city (Jeremiah 43.7) and would receive the first onslaught, becoming the first to be ‘freed’ from the Egyptian yoke. But it would be as though there was no more day, as though they were under a permanent cloud. They would be the first whose daughters were taken away as spoil.
Noph is better known as Memphis, modern Mit Raneh, and used to be the capital of Lower Egypt. Pathros was in Upper Egypt, between modern Cairo and Aswan, (compare 29.14). Zoan (Greek Tanis) was a chief city in the northeastern delta. No (Greek Thebes) is modern Karnak and Luxor, Egypt's southern capital, and often capital of all Egypt. It was the cultic centre of the sun god Amon. All the towns mentioned in these verses were important religious centres as well as large cities. Sin (Greek Pelusium), modern Tel Farama on the Mediterranean coast, was one of the northernmost strongholds of Egypt. Aven (also known as On, Greek Heliopolis), was a major religious centre in Lower Egypt, and Pi-beseth (Greek Bubastis), modern Basta, was another capital city sixty five kilometres (40 miles) northeast of modern Cairo. Tehaphnehes (Tahpanes, Greek Daphnai) is modern Tel Defenneh, and was a fortress town and residence of the Pharaohs (Isaiah 30.4; Jeremiah 2.16; 43.7,9; 44.1).
‘Thus will I execute judgments in Egypt, and they will know that I am Yahweh.’ Once again the mocking world would be made aware of Who and What Yahweh is.
The Fourth Oracle Against Egypt (30.20-26). The Breaking of Pharaoh’s Arm.
The date of this oracle is April 587/6 BC and it opens by referring back to the futile attempt by Pharaoh Hophra in the previous year to finally break the siege on Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37.5-10), in terms of the breaking of Pharaoh’s arm. The strength of Pharaoh’s arm was proverbial in Egypt. It then goes on to declare that Yahweh will render him totally powerless and instead give strength to Nebuchadnezzar to enable him to defeat him. Again the emphasis is on the fact that all history is in Yahweh’s hands and conforms to His will.
30.20 ‘And so it was in the eleventh year, in the first month, on the seventh day of the month, that the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and lo, it has not been bound up to apply healing medicines, to put a roller to bind it that it be strong to hold the sword.” ’
The attempt by Pharaoh Hophra to raise the siege of Jerusalem, while bringing a short relief, finally failed, and Pharaoh and his army were repulsed. This is described here as the breaking of his arm, and it was broken in such a way that it could not be healed or repaired to enable him to make another attack. He had proved a vain hope. And this was so because Yahweh Himself was against it.
30.22-23 “Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I am against Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and will break his arms, both the strong and that which was broken, and I will cause the sword to fall out of his hand. And I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries.”
Not only had Pharaoh been defeated and turned back, but God also intended to make him powerless, like a man with two broken bound up arms who tries to wield his sword and finds that it falls out of his hand. When Nebuchadnezzar attacked Pharaoh would be utterly defeated, and the fighting and the defeat would be such that many Egyptians would desert Egypt and be scattered among their neighbours. This was deliberately described like this so as to suggest a parallel to what had happened to Israel and Judah. Egypt will be no better off than they.
In fact by the time Nebuchadnezzar attacked Egypt after the siege of Tyre there was a new Pharaoh. Hophra had been killed in civil war after a disastrous campaign in Libya had caused an internal revolt, and was replaced by the leader of the revolt, Ahmose II. The broken arm was replaced by another broken arm. The civil war left Egypt in no position to defend itself against a powerful enemy. The result would be that many would flee the country for one reason or another.
Statues or images of the Pharaoh often had an arm flexed, wielding a sword in battle, and Pharaoh Hophra was reputed to have taken a second formal title that meant 'possessed of a muscular arm' or 'strong-armed', which may be in mind here.
30.24-25 “And I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, and put my sword in his hand, but I will break the arms of Pharaoh and he will groan before him with the groanings of a deadly wounded man. And I will hold up the arms of the king of Babylon and the arms of Pharaoh will fall down, and they will know that I am Yahweh when I put my sword into the hand of the king of Babylon and he stretches it out on the land of Egypt.”
The success and failure of each side is in the hands of Yahweh. The one whom He strengthens will succeed, the one whom He prevents will fail. Thus because He would make the arms of the king of Babylon strong, and it was His sword that he would bear, the king of Babylon would succeed. And because he would ‘break the arms’ of Pharaoh, Pharaoh would be defeated and groan like a mortally wounded man.
The holding up of the arms can be compared with Exodus 17.11-12. The holding up of the arms resulted in victory and here it is Yahweh who would hold up the arms of the king of Babylon so that he won, and vice versa for Egypt.
‘And they will know that I am Yahweh when I put my sword into the hand of the king of Babylon and he stretches it out on the land of Egypt.’ Again the purpose of all this was so that Yahweh’s power and being may be revealed. The idea is not that men would necessarily recognise Yahweh, but that they would have to accept the evidence of His power. Even if they did not acknowledge it, they would know it in experience.
The fact that Nebuchadnezzar would bear the sword of Yahweh emphasises that he was acting as Yahweh’s servant on Yahweh’s mission.
30.26 “And I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and disperse them through the countries, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”
The importance of this comes out in the number of times it is repeated (29.12; 30.23 compare Jeremiah 46.19). This was what had happened to Israel and Judah and therefore Egypt must outwardly suffer the same. It was not necessary however that it happen in the same way and to the same degree. It was the principle that was important. The war with Babylon would certainly result in refugees fleeing across the borders, and the armies may well have had to retreat into neighbouring allied countries before peace was made.
Chapter 31 The Fifth Oracle Against Egypt. The Great Cypress Tree
This chapter is split into three sections, the parable of the great cypress tree which likens Pharaoh and his people to a great cypress (verses 2-9), its downfall at the hand of foreigners (verses 10-14) and its descent into Sheol (verses 15-18). The oracle is dated June 587/6 BC, two months after the previous oracle.
For the theme compare 17.1-10, 22-24. See also 19.10-14; 26.19-21; 28.11-19.
Pharaoh and His People Are Like a Great Cypress (31.1-9).
31.1-2 ‘And so it was in the eleventh year, in the third month on the first day of the month, that the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, say to Pharaoh King of Egypt, and to his multiplicity of people, ‘Whom are you like in your greatness?’ ” ’
The new oracle from Yahweh challenges Ezekiel to ask what Pharaoh and his large population can be compared to in their greatness. Note that their greatness is emphasised. But that is only so that its destiny then reveals the greatness of Yahweh.
31.3 “Behold a cypress (‘assur’, probably a variant of te’assur, and not therefore Assyria which would be out of place here), a cedar in Lebanon, with fair branches and with a woody shade and of great height, and his top was among the interwoven branches (LXX clouds).”
Pharaoh is likened to a large Cypress which could be compared with a cedar in Lebanon. It had powerful branches, gave good shade, and its top was among the topmost branches of the forest. Te’ assur for cypress is found in Isaiah 41.19; 60.13. It was noted for its protection and shade and provided excellent timber.
Some cedars of Lebanon grew twenty five metres (80 feet) or more high, were beautifully symmetrical, and contained thickly interwoven branches.
However, some would translate assur here as ‘Assyrian’ and see Pharaoh and Egypt as being compared with what had happened to the Assyrians in their pride. In the end the ideas are the same.
31.4 “The waters nourished him, the deep made him grow, her rivers ran round her plantations and she sent out her streams to all the trees of the field.”
The tree was well watered by many streams, by the Nile and its tributaries and channels, so that all the trees and growing things around benefited from their nourishment, resulting in an abundant population. They were in a good place provided by God.
31.5-7 “Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the forest, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long by reason of many waters when he shot them forth. All the birds of the air made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches all the beasts of the field brought forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations. Thus was he fair in his greatness, in the length of his branches. For his root was by many waters.”
The prosperity, greatness and power of Pharaoh and of Egypt in the past is exemplified by the great Cypress. It was great above all others in the area, many found shelter with them, others looked to them for protection, and thus they grew even stronger and more fruitful. And much of their prosperity depended on the blessings of plentiful water from the great Nile.
31.8-9 “The cedars in the garden of God could not hide him, the fir trees were not like his boughs, and the plane trees were not as his branches. Nor was any tree in the garden of God like him in his beauty. I made him fair by the multitude of his branches, so that all the trees of Eden that were in the garden of God envied him.”
This may be hyperbole based on ideas about the trees in Eden, to stress his supreme greatness, or it may be that Lebanon was popularly known as ‘the garden of the gods’ because of its splendid trees (and thus ‘the garden of Eden’ to Israel), and was therefore seen as the measure by which all trees should be measured. Either way Pharaoh and Egypt are seen as exalted above them all because of their great strength, fruitfulness and power, and it was by the hand of Yahweh (‘I made him fair’). As over everything else Yahweh was over this. But being so had given them a great responsibility and in this they had failed.
There may here be a comparison with Tyre. That too had claimed great beauty and to be connected to the garden of the gods (chapter 28). That too had many offshoots. But if so here God is declaring that even great Tyre could not compare with Egypt, none in Tyre could compare with the Egyptians.
The Downfall of Pharaoh and Egypt Because of Their Wickedness (31.10-14)
31.10-12 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because you are exalted in height, and he has set his top among the interweaving boughs, and his heart is lifted up because of his height, I will even deliver him into the hand of the mighty one of the nations. He will surely deal with him. I have driven him out for his wickedness. And strangers, the terrible of the nations, have cut him off, and have left him. On the mountains and in all the valleys his branches have fallen, and his boughs are broken by all the watercourses of the land, and all the people of the earth have deserted his shadow and have left him.” ’
The passage begins by addressing Pharaoh and his great people and then immediately turns into the third person to speak to all. What was to happen was because in their uplifting and plenty they had been over-proud, had exalted themselves above others and had behaved wickedly. Thus they were to be delivered into the hands of ‘the mighty one of the nations’ and ‘the terrible of the nations’. This refers to Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon (compare 28.7; 30.11).
Note that it is Yahweh Who will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, and it will be Yahweh Who has ‘driven him out’ for his wickedness. He is acting as Righteous Judge and Supreme Overlord, (as He will later against Babylon), and Nebuchadnezzar is at present His servant and His means of exacting justice.
The picture is a vivid one. The branches of the great Cypress would be cut off, falling in the mountains and valleys, and into the different rivers and channels, and the Cypress will no longer be great and impressive. Egypt which had for millenniums been great and exalted would be so no more. It would be stunted, and no longer provide shelter for others. Those who do not use what they have for good will eventually lose it.
31.13-14 “On his ruin all the birds of the air will dwell, and all the beasts of the field will be on his branches, to the end that none of all the trees by the waters exalt themselves in their height, nor set their top among the interweaving branches, nor that their mighty ones stand up in their height, even all who drink water. For they are all delivered to death, to the nether parts of the earth, in the midst of the children of men, with those who go down to the pit.”
The humiliation of Egypt has to be seen in the light of what it was and what it claimed to be. It claimed to be ruled by a god on earth, the Pharaoh, so that they were all the chosen of that god. It therefore claimed divine authority over its neighbours and looked down on them as inferior. And yet its behaviour came far short of its claims, and it overexalted itself and impoverished others. Thus it had to be brought low so that the falsehood of its claims would be obvious to all, and it was to be laid low because it deserved to be.
Those who once depended on it will instead be over it, and instead of sheltering under its branches will tread on them. This will be a lesson to all nations not to exalt themselves as Egypt had done. Indeed the humanness of Pharaoh and the Egyptians is stressed. They are of those who ‘drink water’, as are all others. They descend into the grave ‘in the midst of the children of men’. This is a direct denial of the divine destiny that Egypt claimed for Pharaoh. For all, including Pharaoh, have the same destiny, the world of the dead. For all die.
The Descent Into Sheol (31.15-18).
31.15-17 “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, In the day when he went down to Sheol I caused a mourning. I covered the deep for him, and I restrained its rivers, and the great waters were stayed. And I caused Lebanon to be black for him and all the trees of the field fainted for him. I made the nations shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all who drink water, were comforted in the nether parts of the earth. They also went down to Sheol with him, to those who are slain by the sword, yes, those who were his arm, who dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the nations.”
The picture of Pharaoh and his people going down into Sheol is magnificent, and carries a salutary lesson, that Pharaoh and Egypt were like anyone else. But it is really a picture of the downfall of Egypt. (We can compare how elsewhere they are seen as scattered among the nations, another partly exaggerated picture). It was earth-shattering. It was as though a part of the world had died.
Of course all would in the end literally go down to Sheol, for that was the destiny of man, and in the destruction and desolation of the invasion many would immediately. Thus their downfall is depicted in terms of their final end.
It was such a great shock that the world as it were stood still. All the waters, the source of life, were restrained, beautiful Lebanon turned black, the trees collapsed, the nations shook. There was to be no doubt of the mightiness of the collapse of great Egypt. A mighty and seemingly permanent empire had unbelievably fallen. It shook the world. History would never be the same again.
‘And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all who drink water, were comforted in the nether parts of the earth.’ This probably refers to the downfall of Tyre, seen as the trees of Eden (compare 28.13; 31.8, 18), previously prophesied, for the great Cypress represented the people of Egypt, therefore these trees too represent a nation or nations. Tyre would be comforted in her own sinking into the sea because Egypt came to join them in Sheol. They too drank water and were no gods.
‘They also went down to Sheol with him, to those who are slain by the sword, yes, those who were his arm, who dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the nations.’ Tyre and Egypt joined all who had been slain by the sword, they who along with other nations had been his arm and had dwelt underneath his shadow. All finally went to the same end.
Short Note on Sheol.
In most of the Old Testament, where the thought of a ‘beyond’ arises at all it is in the ‘land of Sheol’ (sheol = the grave), the land of shadows, a land of no substance and no joy. It is a land of emptiness (see Isaiah 14.9; 38.18; Ezekiel 32.21; Psalm 6.5; 49.14; 88.5; Job 7.9; 17.13; Ecclesiastes 9.10). The eyes of the people of Israel were concentrated on their future in this life. They had no real understanding of any other future. And the other nations generally, with the exception of the chosen Egypt, looked forward without hope. Here all, including Egypt, are seen as coming to the same end.
End of Note.
31.18 “To whom are you thus like in glory and greatness among the trees of Eden? Yet you will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the nether parts of the earth. You will lie in the midst of the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword. This is Pharaoh and his numerous people.”
A similar question is asked to that in verse 2. Who are Pharaoh and Egypt to compare themselves with? They had been compared with a great Cypress, more wonderful than the trees of Eden (31.9). But comparison with the trees of Eden was meaningless. For they as well as Egypt will be brought down to the nether parts of the earth. This confirms that we are to see the trees of Eden as representing a nation or nations in their glory. And what more likely than that it should refer to the Tyre and her neighbours, so glorified in previous oracles, as we have suggested above?
And again it is emphasised that all come to the same end. In parts of the ancient Near East the ‘uncircumcised’ were frowned on. They were as it were outcasts. They had no part in the religions of those who were circumcised (the great majority). But in the world of the dead all are equal, and Pharaoh would be there with the uncircumcised, and with the slain, a far cry from the idea of his riding daily through the skies as Osiris/Ra.
Chapter 32 The Final Oracles Against Egypt
We may well wonder why seven oracles should be pronounced and recorded against Egypt. But it is a reminder to us that although God might wait a long time in the end He calls all to account. And when He does so He does so in full. In the words of the poet, ‘the mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small’.
No ancient empire in the Near East compared with Egypt. Others came and went but Egypt seemed to go on and on. Always it was there, the one certainty in a changing world. At times it might have seemed somewhat weakened, but it would rise from its weakness and become strong again. It always had to be taken into account. It was like its own pyramids. It seemed bound to last for ever.
So the idea that this was at an end would shake the ancient world. And as far as Israel were concerned the point was that it was Yahweh Who was doing it. He alone was more permanent and more powerful than Egypt. He had watched it from the beginning and now He was calling an end to its ways. It would never again be the principle actor in events. Only Yahweh would go on for ever, He and the people whom He had chosen. The final restoration was in His hands. But even they did not realise just exactly how that would be accomplished. That awaited another prophet who would fix it finally as literally out of this world (Revelation 21-22).
The first part of the chapter (1-16), the sixth oracle, is a lament over Pharaoh. The seventh is a vivid description of Pharaoh’s descent into Sheol to joint the great peoples of the past, all destroyed by Babylon.
The Sixth Oracle. A Lament Over Pharaoh and Egypt (32.1-16).
The date of the oracle is March 585 BC. It follows the destruction of Jerusalem. The versions vary, seeking to alter the date to before that in 33.21 (probably to maintain a smooth chronology). But there is no valid reason to do so.
32.1-2 ‘And so it was that in the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, that the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and say to him:
‘The word of Yahweh came to me saying.’ This introduces every oracle. No prophet is quite like Ezekiel in his emphasis that what he received was a direct revelation from Yahweh. He spoke when Yahweh spoke.
The description in the poem is vivid like so much in Ezekiel. Pharaoh was seen among the nations as a powerful young lion in his prime, one to be feared by all. One to be admired for his ferocity. The Egyptian sphinx had the body of a lion, which was thus closely connected with Egypt. But by Yahweh Pharaoh and his people were seen as a sea monster, a large crocodile, dirtying the waters and causing harm and destruction among their own people, and also among others, wherever he went. This Pharaoh (Hophra) had done much interfering, not very helpfully. That was why he had to be dealt with.
There is a dual idea here moving between the great mythological monsters of the myths, defeated by the gods, and the crocodiles of the Nile, feared because of their nefarious activities. Both caused chaos and left problems behind them. The mythological association brings out the world shattering nature of the event, but Ezekiel grounds it firmly in this world.
The description is of the hunting and capture of a large water monster, and parallels the description of the capture of the chaos monster by Marduk. But here it is taken in the net by a large group of peoples. This is an earthly battle, although initiated by Yahweh. Apart from Him no gods are involved. Then (as previously described - 29.5) he is cast out on dry land well away from water so that the scavengers, both bird and beast, can come and eat his flesh. But here the description goes further for he is torn into pieces to fill the mountains and the valleys, and the land and rivers are watered with his blood (compare Exodus 7.20-24). The description is dramatic and conclusive. Pharaoh’s power is broken. The supposed god is no more.
This is not strictly the language of apocalyptic but it is comparative. Here, however, it is certainly by natural means (‘with a cloud’). The demise of Pharaoh and the greatness of Egypt is so great an event that even nature responds to it. It is so solemn that it must be accompanied by the lights going out. Sun, moon and stars will respond to the moment. It reminds us of another time when the lights in Egypt went out at the exodus (Exodus 10.21-23). And it is the same God has intervened again. It had added significance in that Pharaoh was believed to be connected with the sun god, thus his supposed relatives will mourn for him.
32.9-10 “I will also vex the hearts of many peoples, when I bring your destruction (LXX ‘carry you captive’) among the nations, to the countries which you have not known. Yes, I will make many peoples astonished at you, their kings will be dreadfully afraid for you, when I brandish my sword before them. And they will tremble every moment, every man for his own life, in the day of your fall.”
Not only the heavens but far nations (countries which you have not known) will be deeply affected by his fall. All will see and wonder, and be afraid because of the awfulness of what is coming on Egypt, and lest the same come on them. For they will see the sword of Yahweh brandished against Egypt, and fear His wrath (compare 21.3, 9-11, 28; 30.25).
The full significance of what has gone before is now brought home. All this will occur through the swords of the king of Babylon and his hosts. For they are Yahweh’s sword. He holds them in His hand. And there will be massive destruction of both men and beast. Irrigation (carried out by foot of man and beast through their irrigation equipment) will cease. Nor will the waters be muddied by other activity of man and beast, for the population will be decimated. Thus the rivers and streams will run clear, and smoothly like oil.
While we do not know the details the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar would be resisted to the hilt. The Egyptians were fighting for their own land, and they had been a constant pain in his side. Neither would give up easily. We need not doubt that it would result in destruction on a large scale, similar to that in Judah but greater, as Egypt was itself far larger and more populated than Judah. And Egypt would have itself been suffering from civil war.
Note the repetition again of the words ‘says the Lord Yahweh’. The stress is on the fact that all comes about at His word.
32.15 “When I make the land of Egypt desolate and waste, a land destitute of its fullness, when I smite all those who dwell in it, then will they know that I am Yahweh.”
For millenniums the Egyptians had ignored Yahweh, even though they had had every chance to know Him through men like Abraham, Joseph and Moses. But they had mocked at Yahweh, and had turned His people from Him. Now they would learn Who and What He is by hard experience, as they had done under Moses (Exodus 7.5, 17; 8.22; 14.4, 18), even though they would not finally accept it. To hear of the living God and to ignore Him is the greatest of sins, and they had committed it.
32.16 ‘ “This is the lamentation with which they will lament, the daughters of the nations will lament with it. They will lament with it for Egypt and for all her multitude of people,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
All the women of the nations will lament for Egypt, so great will be its demise, and they will lament in the fashion described. For they will recognise the greatness of its fall. Possibly the thought is for calling on the professional wailing women (compare Jeremiah 9.17-18).
The Seventh Oracle Against Egypt. Pharaoh’s Final Farewell (32.17-32).
The descriptions here are not to be thought of as illustrating what the afterlife will be like. The ancients looked on death as the end of life leading to a shadowy half-existence. They could not conceive of nothingness, but did not look for anything joyous beyond the grave. Man went into the grave, and the combination of all graves combined was called Sheol. It was like some huge unearthly interconnected burial chamber, and those who were there were but shadows, enduring a joyless non-existence. (See note on 31.17). Notice that they all lie there. It is not a place of movement and life. And here the nations themselves are seen to be present as well as their population. It is not to be taken too literally.
It is the place to which all nations go, and it has opened its mouth to receive the nations subjugated by Nebuchadnezzar, for many have fallen by the sword, and by pestilence and famine, and now they endure their end. And Egypt will share their fate.
The dating omits the month and this may be because it was seen as in the same month as the previous oracle, and thus again March 585 BC a fortnight later.
32.17-20 “And so it was also in the twelfth year, on the fifteenth day of the month, that the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, wail for the numerous people of Egypt, and cast them down, even her and the daughters of the famous nations, into the nether parts of the earth, with those who go down into the pit. ‘Whom do you surpass in beauty? Go down and be laid with the uncircumcised.’ They will fall in the midst of those who are slain with the sword. She is delivered to the sword. They have drawn her away and all her numerous people.”
Egypt’s boasts were ended. She had exalted herself and her beauty, but where was it now? She lay in the grave with the lowest of the low, the uncircumcised nations. Such was her beauty. And she and other famous nations shared Sheol together. Her people were numerous, but the sword had delivered them to the pit, drawn there by those slain by the sword before her. The dead attract the dead, and Egypt as it was was dead.
‘Cast them down.’ Ezekiel would do it by his prophecy and by his lament.
‘Even her and the daughters of the famous nations.’ This must represent Egypt’s allies. They all descend together. But it may be that we should translate ‘you and the daughters of the famous nations’ (same Hebrew text but different vowel pointing) interpreting it of the mourning women of verse 16 as aiding Ezekiel in his mourning.
‘Whom do you surpass in beauty? Go down and be laid with the uncircumcised.’ The question is put by Ezekiel in his lament.
32.21 “The strong among the mighty will speak to him from the midst of Sheol with those that help him. ‘They have gone down, they lie still, even the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’
The dead, those who had once been mighty, also mock Egypt. The Egyptians are no longer active, they point out, they lie still and share their grave with the uncircumcised, those slain by the sword.
32.22-23 “Asshur (Assyria) is there and all her company, his graves are round about him. All of them slain, fallen by the sword. Whose graves are set in the uttermost parts of the pit. And her company is round about her grave, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, which caused terror in the land of the living.”
Assyria had caused terror in the land of the living, but now she is silent in the grave. It is twice stressed that she and her people are gathered there, slain by the sword. Israel had good cause to be pleased about that. Assyria had been a bitter enemy and a cruel overlord. They were the mighty empire destroyed and taken over by Babylon.
Of course Assyria still flourished above ground, although subject to Babylon. The idea would seem to be that the Assyria of the past, the powerful overlord, had died, along with those slain by Babylon, those who had once distressed Israel.
32.24-25 “There is Elam and all her multitude round about her grave. All of them slain, fallen by the sword, who are gone down uncircumcised into the nether parts of the earth, who caused their terror in the land of the living, and have borne their shame with those who go down to the pit. They have prepared her a bed in the midst of the slain with all her multitude. Her graves are round about her, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword. For their terror was caused in the land of the living, and they have borne their shame with those who go down to the pit. He is put in the midst of those who are slain.”
Elam were an ancient people east of Babylon, known for their warlikeness and had been part of the Assyrian empire. They were probably prominent as bowmen in assisting the Assyrians against Israel for Jeremiah calls down judgment on them (Jeremiah 49.34-38). They survived better than Assyria the effects of the Babylonian invasion and were later strong enough to assist Cyrus in defeating Babylon. But they too had spread terror along with the Assyrians, and had suffered at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s armies. Effectively that generation of Elam had joined Assyria in the world of the dead.
32.26-28 “There is Meshech, Tubal and all her multitude, her graves are round about her, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword. For they caused their terror in the land of the living. And they will not lie with the mighty who are fallen of the uncircumcised, who are gone down to Sheol with their weapons of war, and have laid their swords under their heads, and their iniquities are on their bones, for they were the terror of the mighty in the land of the living. ‘But you will be broken in the midst of the uncircumcised, and will lie with those who are slain by the sword’.”
Meshech and Tubal were Anatolian nations who had harried the Assyrians on their northern frontier. They were fierce fighters who deliberately engaged in slave-trading (27.13) and had also spread terror, sufficiently to be worthy of mention here.
It would seem that they were not to lie with the mighty because they had themselves been the terror of the mighty. Their iniquities were on their bones, that is, they were separated because they had been at enmity with all, including the mighty Assyrian empire, and were seen as particularly evil. They were fiercely independent nations. This assumes that ‘the mighty’ were Assyria and their allies, which is quite probable. The Assyrians were mentioned first here, and were overlords of the other nations. The mighty are described in terms of burial practises. They have their weapons with them and their swords were laid under their heads.
The mention of Meshech and Tubal here confirms that we are to see these nations as within the same general area as the others, and not distant peoples in far off lands.
‘But you will be broken in the midst of the uncircumcised, and will lie with those who are slain by the sword.’ The change of person suggests that this was spoken to Egypt. Egypt had allied itself with Assyria to face up to the Babylonians. They thus joined them in the grave.
32.29 “There is Edom, her kings and all her princes, who in their might are laid with those who are slain by the sword. They will lie with the uncircumcised and with those who go down to the pit.”
Inscriptions tell us that Edom became a vassal-state of Assyria in around 736 BC. They may well have assisted them against Israel and Judah which would have helped to nurture the undying hatred shown to them by Israel (Psalm 137.7; Isaiah 34.5-15; 63.1-6; Jeremiah 49.7-22; Lamentations 4.21-22; Joel 3.19; Amos 1.11-12; Obadiah 1.7-9). They too suffered at the hands of the Babylonians. They are probably mentioned here because of that undying hatred. They have joined their erstwhile masters. They probably practised circumcision, but like Egypt they joined the uncircumcised.
32.30 “There are the princes of the north, all of them, and all the Zidonians who are gone down with the slain. In the terror that they caused by their might they are ashamed, and they lie uncircumcised with those who are slain by the sword, and bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.”
The princes of the north were probably the Phoenician princes of the various Phoenician cities north of Palestine (often spoken of as ‘Canaanites’). Possibly the Tyrians are not mentioned because they were seen as buried in the sea (see Revelation 20.12-13), which explains why the Zidonians were mentioned instead. They too had caused terror and therefore joined with the uncircumcised and those slain by the sword in Sheol, and bear their shame.
So the list of nations is composed in the main of those who were seen as ‘causing terror’, probably mainly in association with Assyria, although Meshech and Tubal are partly excepted and therefore lie alone. However, their fearsome activities had ensured their mention. All were or would be destroyed by Babylon, and so Egypt will also shortly join them in their fate. Babylon are not mentioned. At this stage they are the champions of Yahweh. This excludes us from making this description signify the time of the end. Notice the continual stress on those ‘slain by the sword’, the sword of Yahweh in the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.
32.31-32 “Pharaoh will see them and will be comforted over all his multitude, even Pharaoh and all his army, slain by the sword, says the Lord Yahweh. For I have caused (or ‘allowed’) his terror in the land of the living, and he will be laid in the midst of the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword, even Pharaoh and all his multitude, says the Lord Yahweh.”
The sight of the other opponents of Babylon in the same predicament, who have also been ‘slain by the sword’ of Yahweh/Nebuchadnezzar, will bring comfort to Pharaoh. But this very fact confirms his descent there. The mighty Pharaoh joins all the rest in Sheol. He is no different from them in spite of Egypt’s claims.
‘For I have caused (or ‘allowed’) his terror in the land of the living.’ Just as previously Yahweh had hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, so now He had caused, or allowed, his terrorising of others, so that he might suffer his due fate. Pharaoh was in the final analysis totally under the influence and power of Yahweh. The point is not that Yahweh is to blame for the terror, but that in His sovereignty it could not have happened had He not allowed it. The option was His and not Pharaoh’s. And it was in His purpose because He purposed to destroy Egypt.
So end the oracles against the nations, demonstrating Yahweh’s power over all the nations round about Israel, and especially over the divine pretenders of Tyre and Egypt. And it ends with the reminder that all empires die. There could now be no doubt in the minds of Israel about His supreme power, and it would give them hope for the future.
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