God now turns His attention towards Egypt. From the beginning of chapter 29 all the way through chapter 32 we read the seventh Oracle against Egypt, Israel’s old enemy and ally. This is like the oracle against Tyre in that it addresses both the land of Egypt and its ruler. It is also the longest Oracle. Egypt played a central role through the centuries in tempting Israel and Judah away from their allegiance to the Lord. Israel had no sooner departed from Egypt than Egypt’s idolatry became a snare for them. They caused Judah to trust in chariots and horses rather then the Lord, but Egypt proved unreliable when the moment of truth arrived. The Lord judged Egypt for tempting His people. The day on the tenth year of Jehoiachin’s exile was most likely one year after the siege of Jerusalem begun. The beginning of this Oracle is a word of judgement against Pharaoh, who is addressed as a sea monster. Sea monsters were part of the ancient Near Eastern mythology as a manifestation of chaos that had to be tamed by the gods. Ezekiel calls pharaoh a great crocodile, resting comfortably in the streams that criss crossed the delta of the Nile River. This picture prepares the people for the arrival of the Lord as a great hunter. And as with Tyre, a watery fortress would once again prove vulnerable to assault. The outwardly fearsome king of Egypt would be captured just like any other ordinary crocodile. He would be brought out into the wilderness which was the place of judgement, along with his allies, the fish. They would all die in the wilderness and their bodies would be left exposed for the wild animals and birds to eat. It was a horrible end.
Egypt’s sin is associated with Israel. Egypt was as strong as a staff made of reeds that pretended to support Israel. But they lacked the substance and desire to deliver the promised aid. However, they were more than willing to take the compensation for being a trusted ally. Egypt was prone to incite rebellion in Israel against both Assyria and Babylon but they never provided any real help. Israel’s sin was trusting in this wimpy reed but Egypt was also guilty and would face God’s wrath for raising false hopes. God’s punishment of Egypt was devastation of the land, making it into a desolate wasteland. The destruction would stretch from Migdol to Aswan…north to south…leaving Egypt uninhabited for 40 years, an entire generation. Egypt’s fate would be like Judah’s because God would scatter the Egyptians to distant lands and later He would return them home. But Egypt would never be the same again. It seems that the Babylonians invaded Egypt successfully in 568 or 567 B.C., carrying off prisoners of war who remained in exile until Cyrus came to power a generation later. Judah would be fully restored but not Egypt. Egypt would become a small, unimportant kingdom and Israel would never again be tempted to call on them for any type of assistance. Instead, Israel had finally learned to call on the Lord.
Verses 17-21, a message delivered in the 27th year of Jehoiachin’s captivity was the latest recorded date of any of Ezekiel’s messages. It is even later than his vision of the temple recorded in chapters 40-48. We just read about Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign against Tyre. It was a long campaign, some 13 years, and it yielded very little in return in plunder. However, the Lord considered His workers worthy of their hire so to compensate them for their work He rewarded them with the land of Egypt. The phrase that every head was rubbed bare was probably a reference to the loss of hair that came from wearing leather helmets in battle constantly. Perhaps you have noticed that in all of these oracles against the nations, God’s primary interest was with His own people. He would match the downward turn in Egypt’s fortunes by reviving Israel. The horn that would sprout was a sign of strength and dignity. This is a restoration of Israel’s former glory and it would serve to validate Ezekiel’s status as a prophet. Finally Ezekiel would receive the respect the he deserved. Ezekiel had fought hard for the Lord and now people would see that he was indeed a true prophet.
The first 19 verses of chapter 30 represents the third message against Egypt, here using the form of a lament. Ezekiel is essentially repeating the content of the first message, 29:1-16. Judgement was to be poured out on Egypt and her allies. Egypt was completely dependent on the Nile River for her prosperity so having it dry up would be catastrophic. Not only that, but the Egyptians considered the Nile a god. This would threaten everything. Memphis was the most important city in the north and Thebes the most important city in the south of Egypt. That meant all of the cities would be destroyed. Zoan is in the eastern part of the Nile delta where the Israelites had once worked as pharaohs slaves. Thebes was the sacred city of the god Amon and the capital of upper Egypt. Pelusium was a fortress town on the northeastern frontier of Egypt and Heliopolis, meaning the city of the sun, was the Greek name for On, located about six miles northeast of Cairo. Bubastis was once the capital of lower Egypt, located some 40 miles northeast of Cairo. Tahpanhes was a fortress town on the northeastern frontier of Egypt. Ezekiel predicted that Egypt would see its light turned into darkness when God came to judge it, just like the exodus plague. And at the end of the terrible judgement, the Egyptians would once again recognize God’s existence and power, justice like they had at the time of the Passover and exodus. Even when people do not bow down to the Lord, His strength and power are undeniable.
Verses 20-26 are the fourth message against Egypt and we see that God had already begun to act against His old enemy. First of all, God had already shattered the Egyptians strength in the defeats of pharaoh Hophra by Nebuchadnezzar. Had Hophra succeed in his mission, the pressure on Jerusalem would have been relieved temporarily but with Hophra’s defeat all hope was gone for help from Egypt. Judah was on her own. Egypt is referred to as a broken arm that would not heal. In fact God promised to break it again. Egypt would be so helpless they would not even have the strength to hold a sword let alone wield it. The bad news for Israel was that while Egypt was losing strength, Babylon’s strength was growing. This was very bad news for Judah and Jerusalem.
Next, in chapter 31 Ezekiel compares Egypt to Assyria, which was like a great tree in Eden. If that tree was felled and sent down to the netherworld, how did Egypt, whose glory could never compare to Assyria, think it could stand? The cedar of Lebanon was a tree known for its visual splendor and commercial and military value. It was taller than any other trees with its crown rising so tall it was among the clouds. Assyria’s army had once been strong beyond comparison to any other army. Assyria was also like a great tree that provided shelter and safety for all the animals and birds of the earth. This tree was more splendid than all of the trees in the garden of God and her god given beauty and stature was compared to the prince of Tyre. Assyrias power was once so great that all the great nations of the world lived in its shadow. Egypt forgot that God had created her beauty, and she became proud and arrogant. Like proverbs 16:18 that pride would lead to her downfall. God would send a divine lumberjack…a mighty nation that would destroy it as its wickedness deserved. This human agent would simply be carrying out God’s decree. Egypt’s fate would teach other nations that however high they set themselves, eventually they would all end up in the same place…doomed to die and go down to the pit. The mourning over Assyria, the great tree, matched its great size. Everything was clothed in black, a sign of mourning. When Assyria fell, all of the nations shook in fear. Her fall created shock waves that stretched for hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles. The great nations that had preceded Assyria on the road to death and destruction were gratified to find Assyria joining them in disgrace. But those left, who made their living from Assyria, were paralyzed with fear. Verse 18 finally gives us the point of this extended analogy. Although Egypt’s strength and glory were great, it would be destroyed just as Assyria had been, and it would be disgraced along with the other nations that trusted in themselves and in their own greatness.
Chapter 32 marks the end of the long oracle against Egypt. Ezekiel is very specific. On March 3, 585 B.C., two months after the exiles received word of Jerusalem’s fall the people were called to mourn for Egypt. Ezekiel returned to the image of pharaoh as a mighty beast. He has been identified as a lion and a crocodile, both of which could be hunted and killed and that is what would happen to pharaoh. God, using his human agents, would hunt pharaoh, catch him, and haul him in. The destruction would be total. The people would be tossed onto the land and left for the wild animals and birds to eat. Pharaoh’s downfall would be accompanied by global darkness and wide spread mourning. These are images commonly associated with the day of the Lord. In this case the darkness would also remind the Egyptians of the plague of darkness at the time of the exodus. All the surrounding nations would see and be terrified at Egypt’s downfall, fearing for their own future. The sword of the king of Babylon would shatter the power of Egypt once and for all. This would be an even greater devastation than the first Passover. The great sea monster would no longer stir up the mud and waters of Egypt, and the Nile would once again flow as smooth as olive oil, with the untroubled serenity of death. This total and final devastation would result in Egypt recognizing the power of the Lord.
In chapter 31 God had declared to Egypt that they would go down to join the other nations in the underworld. Here that idea is expanded. Not only will Egypt go to the underworld but her destination was with the outcasts and those who were felled by the sword. This place of horror, the pit, was already filling up with many nations that had once wielded power but had now gone down to destruction. Ezekiel goes so far as to list many of those nations Egypt would join. Pharaoh and all the people of Egypt will share a similar fate. For a time Egypt caused terror to fall upon other nations. Now she would experience the same thing but at the hand of God’s agent, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W