New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Ezekiel 31:1 It happened in the eleventh year, in the third month, in the first day of the month, that the word of Yahweh came to me saying- Two months after the previous pronouncement of woe upon Egypt. The length of these prophecies against Egypt may appear to us a mere droning on, but there was an urgent need for God's people to realize that Egypt was not to be their help; and we need the same message repeated.

Ezekiel 31:2 Son of man, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt and his multitude: Whom are you like in your greatness?-
Presumably this prophecy was to be taken to Pharaoh. This involved no small effort for an exile and asylum seeker in Babylon to achieve. The reason for commanding Ezekiel to go this effort was presumably because like Nineveh, had Pharaoh repented, the threatened judgments need not have happened. Perhaps the fact they did not all work out as stated could reflect some degree of repentance in Egypt. See on :10.

Ezekiel 31:3 Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with beautiful branches, and with a forest-like shade and of high stature; and its top was among the thick boughs-
We may wonder why Egypt is addressed (:2) through a description of Assyria's fall some time previously. We have here a classic idea of what I term 'prophetic transference', whereby the prophetic words about a certain person or entity at one stage of history are transferred or reapplied to another person or entity at another point. Thus we noted on Ez. 26-28 that the prophecies about the fall of Tyre and her king never came exactly true, but they are quoted in Rev. 18 about the fall of latter day Babylon. The fulfilment of the words about Tyre was reapplied or transferred to Babylon. Likewise the specific prophecy that Tyre would fall to Nebuchadnezzar was reapplied or transferred to the victory of Alexander the Great against Tyre. This feature also explains why the New Testament appears to quote Old Testament prophecies quite out of context. This makes perfect sense once we understand this ability of God to transfer prophetic burdens from the initially intended person or entity to another, perhaps at another time- often in the last days. In the first year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had declared himself master of Nineveh (Assyria), and so the allusion to Assyria's fall was to remind Egypt that they would likewise fall before Babylon.

Ezekiel 31:4 The waters nourished it, the deep made it to grow. Its rivers ran all around its plantation; and it sent out its channels to all the trees of the field-
The reference is to the Nile being the source of Egypt's prosperity. But the reference is to how rivers, especially the Tigris, were also the source of Nineveh's strong position, although rivers giving nourishment to other trees also suggests military support for the "trees" under her dominion. But Assyria's fall was to be that of Egypt. And Judah were to believe this and therefore not trust in Egypt.

Ezekiel 31:5 Therefore its stature was exalted above all the trees of the field; and its boughs were multiplied, and its branches became long by reason of many waters, when it shot them forth-
Assyria like Egypt appeared to have influence far beyond its home area, represented by the long branches. And Judah were tempted to take refuge in it. But like Assyria, Egypt would fall.

Ezekiel 31:6 All the birds of the sky made their nests in its boughs; and under its branches all the animals of the field brought forth their young; and all great nations lived under its shadow-
This is exactly the language of Ez. 17:23 and Mt. 13:32 about the Kingdom of God, which will be, and could then have been, the Kingdom of Israel reestablished as God's Kingdom on earth. Instead of trusting in the kingdom of Egypt as their salvation, they were to raise their spiritual horizons and believe that if they repented, then they would not only survive Babylon's threat but would become the reestablished Kingdom of God on earth, under whose branches all the nations would come to live in fellowship with Yahweh- including Babylon and Egypt.

Ezekiel 31:7 Thus was it beautiful in its greatness, in the length of its branches; for its root was by many waters-
The beauty and strength of the tree is associated with its root being by "many waters"; referring to the Tigris for Nineveh, and the Nile for Egypt. But Ezekiel will go on to describe a situation when living waters flow out from Zion and water the entire area, bringing life from the God of Israel to all the surrounding nations. This was where they should have been focused, on the promised restoration of the Kingdom of God in Israel, rather than trusting in the kingdom of Egypt. Like Assyria, this was to fall; see on :6.

Ezekiel 31:8 The cedars in the garden of God could not hide it; the fir trees were not like its boughs, and the plane trees were not as its branches; nor was any tree in the garden of God like it in its beauty-
The nations around Assyria are defined as the other trees in Eden, the garden of God. This confirms my suggestions on Gen. 2 that Eden was in fact the eretz promised to Abraham. The same idea is found in describing Tyre as having been in Eden (Ez. 28:13). The language of unequalled beauty however is applied to Zion in Lam. 2:15; Ez. 16:14. It is also used of Tyre in Ez. 28:12,17. So we conclude that as often in the Bible, we are reading things from how they seemed to men at the time. Hence the language of demon possession in the New Testament. Tyre considered herself the perfection of beauty, and so did Egypt and so did Assyria. But the true perfection of beauty from God's viewpoint was Zion.


Ezekiel 31:9 I made it beautiful by the multitude of its branches, so that all the trees of Eden that were in the garden of God envied it-
The beauty and power of the nations was given by God. The God of Israel, Yahweh, who was using all the nations towards the possible reestablishment of His Kingdom in Israel. It was for Israel to cooperate with this rather than resist it by trusting in Egypt as if it were Assyria.

Ezekiel 31:10 Therefore thus said the Lord Yahweh: Because you are exalted in stature and he has set your top among the thick boughs and his heart is lifted up in his height-
Again, pride is identified as the prime reason for the judgment to come. We note the change of pronouns. Now the individual, "you", is addressed. This whole prophecy was directed to Pharaoh personally (see on :2). The similarity with the language of Daniel about Nebuchadnezzar as a great tree was because Daniel was using this kind of parable to urgently appeal for that man's repentance, lest he be cut down. And so Ezekiel was appealing for Pharaoh's.

Ezekiel 31:11 I will even deliver him into the hand of the mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with him. I have driven him out for his wickedness-
The tenses vary here between future and past (:12). This is because the allusion is to the past downfall of Nineveh and Assyria, but that is being used as a warning to Egypt. The singular "mighty one of the nations" is not named, because we are intended to see the term as referring to God. But "mighty one" is the same word translated "ram", and this same word in this sense is used as a symbol of the Medes, who along with the Babylonians destroyed Assyria (Dan. 8:20).And the fall of Assyria is being here transferred to Egypt.

Ezekiel 31:12 Gentiles, the terrible of the nations, have cut him off and have left him: on the mountains and in all the valleys his branches are fallen, and his boughs are broken by all the watercourses of the land; and all the peoples of the earth are gone away from his shadow, and have left him-
All the big powers were only powerful by reason of the other nations who were under them, and whose mercenaries formed the bulk of their military strength. The collapse of support for Assyria was to be seen for Egypt too. And it was this apparent strength which was so attractive to Judah. "The terrible of the nations" is the word used for how Assyria appeared to Judah at the time of Hezekiah; but they were destroyed by just one Angel (Is. 25:3-5; 29:5, 20). And now, other nations appeared "terrible" to Assyria and had destroyed her; and the same cycle was about to happen to Egypt. Yet somehow human nature doesn't think that the inevitable cycle will reach us personally, and so Pharaoh and his supporters in Judah didn't want to see that in fact Egypt was set to follow the path of Assyria, and all apparent strength would evaporate. In the end, Yahweh would be the "terrible one" (Jer. 20:11).

Ezekiel 31:13 On his ruin all the birds of the sky shall dwell, and all the animals of the field shall be on his branches-
In the parable of the tree, the birds and animals which once lived in its branches will now prowl around over those dead branches once they are fallen to the earth. This was how fickle were the supporters of the superpowers; and so Judah should not consider that Egyptian military might was that great, because it depended upon the tribes and smaller nations who supported her. And such support was unreliable and fickle at best.

Ezekiel 31:14 So that none of all the trees by the waters exalt themselves in their stature, neither set their top among the thick boughs. Their mighty ones shall not stand up on their height, even all who drink water; for they are all delivered to death, to the lower parts of the earth, in the midst of the children of men, with those who go down to the pit-
The GNB clarifies: "And so from now on, no tree, no matter how well-watered it is, will grow that tall again or push its top through the clouds and reach such a height. All of them are doomed to die like mortals, doomed to join those who go down to the world of the dead". The prophetic scenario envisaged was that the Babylonian judgments of the nations would lead to their repentance and 'knowing Yahweh', coming into relationship with Him. The judgment of Assyria had been intended to teach all the trees, the nations, the utter folly of pride. But this lesson wasn't learnt, there wasn't repentance, Egypt didn't learn the lesson from Assyria and neither did Judah and the other nations. And so the potential scenario just didn't happen, which explains why not everything predicted in these prophecies came strictly true. It was a potential scenario.

Ezekiel 31:15 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 mourn for him, and all the trees of the field fainted for him-
I suggested on :14 that the intention of the fall of Assyria as that of Nebuchadnezzar in Dan. 4 was in order to elicit repentance amongst the nations. But this didn't happen. Even though God arranged things to provoke sorrow and mourning amongst the nations, it seems they didn't mourn Nineveh's fall, and neither would they mourn that of Egypt nor Judah. Because the hoped for repentance hadn't been elicited.

Ezekiel 31:16 I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to Sheol with those who descend into the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the lower parts of the earth-
I suggested on :14 that the intention of the fall of Assyria as that of Nebuchadnezzar in Dan. 4 was in order to elicit repentance amongst the nations. But this didn't happen. The nations didn't tremble and fear because Assyria had been cast down by God because of her pride. The image of comforting doesn't have to mean that the previous nations in the eretz promised to Abraham, "Eden", were conscious after death. The idea is that they would all alike be unconscious in sheol, they would all meet the same end. And the purpose was that Judah would realize that Egypt would go the way of Assyria and of all earth's proud empires and pass away. And therefore they would not trust in them, but in God.

Ezekiel 31:17 They also went down into Sheol with him to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were his arm, that lived under his shadow in the midst of the nations-
The arm or strength of Assyria as of Egypt was not God, but rather her associated, supportive nations. And this was the arm or strength which Judah was tempted to depend upon rather than the revealed arm of Yahweh their God. Death is presented here as the great equalizer; the minions of Assyria [and Egypt] came to the same end in death. Appreciating the mortality of Egypt ought to have helped God's people realize the futility of trusting in Egypt rather than Yahweh.

Ezekiel 31:18 To whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? Yet you will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the lower parts of the earth: you shall lie in the midst of the uncircumcised with those who are slain by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, says the Lord Yahweh
- As explained on :18, Pharaoh and her supporting nations were revealed as sharing the same fate. It is emphasized that all the trees of Eden, the nations in the eretz promised to Abraham, all went to the same place in death. Those who had been the minions or colonies of Egypt and Assyria were the same as their masters in death; Pharaoh himself would lie in the midst of the other nations. In death they were all alike, and the ideas that a Pharaoh went to live somewhere else were just fiction. Judah were being invited to share this perspective and therefore not trust in their apparent strength. And for us too, appreciating the fundamental mortality of man helps us realize the folly of trusting in man. For Pharaoh, to whom this message was personally addressed (:2), this would have been a very hard message. Because death was a major theme if not obsession with the Egyptians. The pyramids reveal how much of life was spent preparing for the death of the Pharaoh, involving detailed claims about the journeys of the Pharaoh after death. But Ezekiel is turning all that on its head, and asking Pharaoh to accept that death is death, and he will be amongst the uncircumcised, and all go unto one place- the grave. The only way out was through relationship with Israel's God and the hope of bodily resurrection at the last day.