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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 29

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


E. Judgment on Egypt chs. 29-32

Ezekiel concluded his oracles against foreign nations with seven messages the Lord gave him concerning the fate of Egypt, one of Israel’s most ancient and powerful enemies (cf. Isaiah 31:1; Jeremiah 9:25-26; Jeremiah 25:17; Jeremiah 25:19; Jeremiah 46:1-26). The seven oracles against Egypt are equal in length to the preceding six oracles against Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, and Sidon. Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel showed great interest in Egypt, because of Egypt’s significant role in Judean affairs at this time. God controls everything, even the fate of Israel’s most notorious antagonist. One of these messages is out of chronological order (29:17-21) and another one appears to be (30:1-19). Since the Lord gave these oracles to Ezekiel over several years, it may be helpful to chart them in relation to other important events in Egypt’s history.

Ezekiel’s Oracles against Egypt in the Context of
Egypt’s Chronological History
Egypt’s domination of Israel605-609
Babylonia’s defeat of Egypt at Carchemish605
Egypt’s offers of assistance to Israel against Babylonia605-586
The beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s second siege of Jerusalem5882 Kings 25:1;
Ezekiel 24:1-2
Pharaoh Hophra’s interruption of the siege of Jerusalem588Jeremiah 37:5-11
The continuing siege of Jerusalem587Jeremiah 32:1-5
The fall of Jerusalem and King Zedekiah’s capture5862 Kings 25:5-7
The exiles’ reception of the news of Jerusalem’s fall585Ezekiel 33:21

"The fact of so many prophecies on the same subject should be a reminder to the modern communicator that the truth of a message is conveyed only when the audience actually pays attention to it. Since audiences often change gradually and/or constantly, and people don’t always pay attention the first time-or the next time-the communicator may have to repeat the message many times before some people really hear it." [Note: Stuart, pp. 298-99.]

Verse 1

This is another dated prophecy. It came to Ezekiel in the year before his first oracle against Tyre (26:1), namely, in 587 B.C. The specific date is January 7, 587 B.C. [Note: Parker and Dubberstein, p. 28.]

Verses 1-16

1. An introductory prophecy of judgment on Egypt 29:1-16

Verse 2

The Lord directed His prophet to turn his attention to the south, to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and to all of Egypt, and to announce a message of judgment. As often in such prophecies, the king is a metonym (figure of speech) for his nation.

Verse 3

Like the king of Tyre and his people, Pharaoh and Egypt had also been guilty of pride. He had become like a great river monster (Heb. tannim, probably a crocodile of which there were many in the Nile) because he had taken credit for the Nile River, the lifeblood of the nation. Tannin, a variant spelling of tannim, is translated "serpent," "leviathan," and "sea-monster" (Genesis 1:21; Exodus 7:9-10; Job 9:13; Job 26:11-13; Psalms 89:10; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9; Amos 9:3). It describes real animals as well as mythological monsters in the Old Testament. In ancient Near Eastern mythology this word referred to the monster of chaos destroyed in Creation. Egyptians believed Pharaoh conquered this chaos-monster, but here God called Pharaoh this monster. Rather than giving God thanks for the Nile as a resource, the king had proudly claimed responsibility for it.

"This was [Pharaoh] Hophra’s ([Gr.] Apries’) arrogant self-image. Herodotus implied that Pharaoh Apries was so strong in his position that he felt no god could dislodge him. [Note: Herodotus, 2:169.] In his reign he sent an expedition against Cyprus, besieged and took Gaza (cf. Jeremiah 47:1) and the city of Sidon, was victorious against Tyre by sea, and considered himself master over Palestine and Phoenicia. . . . This arrogance had also shown itself in an attempt to interrupt Babylonia’s siege of Jerusalem-an attempt thwarted by God." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 891.]

Verse 4

The Lord promised to remove Pharaoh and his people from their land, as a fisherman pulls a crocodile out of the water with hooks. He would remove the river-dragon along with the lesser fish that would cling to it. These fish probably refer to the neighbor nations and allies of Egypt that relied on her. Normally people caught crocodiles by placing hooks in their jaws and then dragging them onto land where they killed them. [Note: Herodotus, 2:70.] In the delta region of Egypt, the Egyptians worshipped the crocodile as a god, Sebek, which they believed protected their nation (cf. 32:2; Psalms 74:13; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9). Thus God promised to destroy Pharaoh, Egypt, and the god supposedly responsible for their protection.

Verse 5

The Lord would carry the dragon into a wilderness along with its dependent fish where they could not return to water. There the beasts and birds would devour Egypt. Hophra (588-569 B.C.) would not receive a royal burial, which was extremely important to the Pharaohs and all the Egyptians. History records that Ahmose II (Gr. Amasis), another Egyptian leader, strangled Hophra and took his place. [Note: Feinberg, p. 169.]

Verses 6-7

When God did this the Egyptians would know that Yahweh is the only true God. He would also do this because Egypt had been unfaithful to follow through on its promises to help the Israelites. They had proved to be as weak a support as one of the reeds that grew along the banks of the Nile (cf. Exodus 2:3). People used a staff as a cane or walking stick for support when they walked on rough terrain (cf. Zechariah 8:4; Mark 6:8; Hebrews 11:21). But when the Judahites had relied on the Egyptians this ally had broken and had even injured God’s people (cf. 2 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 36:6; Jeremiah 37:7). As a crutch, Egypt was worse than useless. The Israelites, of course, should not have trusted in Egypt, but this did not excuse the Egyptians for breaking their covenants with Israel.

Verses 8-9

As punishment, Yahweh would bring war into Egypt that would slay man and beast. Egypt would become desolate and waste, and people would learn that the Lord is God.

Verses 9-10

The Lord repeated that He would devastate Egypt for her pride and self-sufficiency. The whole land would suffer destruction, from Migdol, in the northeast delta, to Syene, in the south near modern Aswan, and to the very border of Ethiopia, at the extreme southern end of the land. [Note: See the maps at the end of these notes.] Ancient Ethiopia (Cush, Nubia) corresponds to modern southern Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and northern Ethiopia.

Verses 11-12

Egypt would not be inhabited for 40 years, and other desolated lands would surround her. Her cities would lie waste, and her people would disperse among other nations and live in other countries. Egypt’s fate was like a repetition of Israel’s in the wilderness (cf. 4:6). Egypt did indeed fall to the Babylonians in 568-567 B.C.

Verses 13-14

At the end of 40 years, the Lord promised to gather the Egyptians back to their original land, the land of Pathros, Upper (southern) Egypt, from the countries where they had fled (cf. Isaiah 11:11). There the Egyptians would become a lowly kingdom in contrast to the great kingdom that they had been in former centuries (cf. Daniel 11:36-45). Forty years after Egypt fell to the Babylonians, the Persians, who had by that time defeated the Babylonians, allowed the Egyptians to return to their homeland. This was the foreign policy of the Persians under which the Israelites were also able to return to their land. No extrabiblical evidence has yet come to light to substantiate this forty-year captivity of Egypt, but that is not unusual since it was rare for ancient Near Eastern rulers to admit defeats much less document them for future generations. Chisholm suggested that the prophecy may not have been fulfilled as prophesied here because the Egyptians repented. [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., pp. 272-73.] We have no evidence of such repentance, but it could have happened.

Verses 15-16

Egypt would be the lowest of the kingdoms and would never again be a superpower in the world. The Egyptians would not even rule over other nations. Egypt would then be no temptation for Israel to rely on. Her lowly state would remind the Israelites of their folly in trusting in Egypt earlier. Then all would know that the Lord is God.

Verse 17

Ezekiel received another message from the Lord about Egypt’s judgment on April 26, 571 B.C. (on his New Year’s day). [Note: Parker and Dubberstein, p. 28.] This was probably the second to the last recorded prophecy of Ezekiel, and the prophet would have been about 50 years old at this time (cf. Ezekiel 1:1-2). The writer evidently inserted this oracle in the text here to group it with the other prophecies against Egypt. Its placement here informs the reader that the destruction of Egypt foretold in the first message would come through Nebuchadnezzar. This enables us to understand better the remaining oracles against Egypt.

Verses 17-21

2. The consummation of Egypt’s judgment 29:17-21

Verse 18

The Lord revealed to Ezekiel that Nebuchadnezzar, as Yahweh’s instrument of judgment, had worked hard at defeating Tyre. "Every head was made bald, and every shoulder was rubbed bare" describes the chafing of helmets and the carrying of burdens for the siege-works. The siege of Tyre took 13 years (ca. 586-573 B.C.). However, Nebuchadnezzar received little compensation for his labor; the spoil he took was hardly worth all the time and effort he expended.

"In ancient times armies were not paid as they are today. Soldiers might receive a small allowance along with their rations, but it would have been foolish to join an army just for the pittance paid as wage. Instead, a special incentive system made army life attractive and often exciting. Soldiers successful in battle were allowed to take and keep anything they could lay hands on and carry away. Many battles took place at or near large cities or in prosperous lands where wealth was concentrated. Indeed, ancient wars of conquest were launched precisely so that the conquerors could acquire the wealth of other nations. After defeating an enemy, an army would dig into the spoils. Those fortunate enough to find gems, precious metals, or other great valuables among the possessions of their defeated foes might become instantly rich. Almost all could at least supplement their income handsomely." [Note: Stuart, pp. 283-84.]

Verses 19-20

Yahweh announced that He would give Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar as payment for executing His judgment against Tyre. Nebuchadnezzar would carry off the wealth of Egypt as spoil and plunder because he had labored for the Lord by defeating Tyre.

"The scant historical data indicates that Egypt and Tyre became allies under Pharaoh Hophra (Apries). The extended siege of Tyre was perhaps due to the aid Tyre received from the Egyptians. In such an act Hophra was going contrary to God’s purposes. Not only was the siege prolonged by Egyptian support, but some also surmise that Egypt’s maritime aid enabled Tyre to send away her wealth for security during the siege. When Tyre surrendered about 573 B.C. . . ., Babylonia gained almost no spoils from the long siege (Ezekiel 29:18)." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 893.]

The absolutely consistent justice of God shines through in this prediction. He would even pay back an evil pagan king for serving Him, unconscious as Nebuchadnezzar was of his role. How much more can we count on God being fair with His own (cf. Genesis 18:25; Mark 9:41; Galatians 6:7).

Verse 21

When Nebuchadnezzar defeated Egypt, the defeat would provide hope for Israel because Egypt was Israel’s ancient enemy. Evidently Nebuchadnezzar invaded and defeated Egypt about 568-567 B.C. [Note: See Josephus, Antiquities . . .,10:9:7.] It would be as though a horn began to grow on Israel, the sign of new strength to come (cf. 1 Samuel 2:1; 1 Kings 22:11; Psalms 92:10; Jeremiah 48:25). A horn is also a symbol of Messiah in some passages, and a branch is a symbol in others (cf. Psalms 132:17; Isaiah 4:2; Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:8; Luke 1:69), but the context argues against a messianic interpretation here. Furthermore, no Messiah or any other notable ruler appeared in Israel at this time. Some commentators, nevertheless, see a messianic reference here. [Note: E.g., Cooper, pp. 275-76.]

The Lord also promised to open Ezekiel’s mouth then in the midst of the exiles. Formerly the Lord had restrained the prophet from speaking (Ezekiel 3:26), but he long since (since 585 B.C.) had resumed speaking (cf. Ezekiel 33:21-22). The Israelites would be more open to messages from the Lord and more able to assert themselves because their old nemesis had suffered humiliation.

All these events would teach people Yahweh’s unique deity. This is one of the main lessons of the book. The promise occurs in the two oracles in this chapter three times (Ezekiel 29:6; Ezekiel 29:9; Ezekiel 29:16) and in the book more than 40 times.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 29". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ezekiel-29.html. 2012.
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