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Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 31

Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral EpistlesFairbairn's Commentaries

Verses 1-18



THE discourse in this chapter, which is dated two months later than the concluding portion of the immediately preceding one, is formally an address to Pharaoh; but in its great object and design it is a confirmation of the doom already pronounced upon Pharaoh and his kingdom, by a reference to what had befallen the once magnificent king and empire of Assyria. To the eye of reason it seemed a very bold and scarcely credible announcement that such a kingdom as Egypt, so ancient in its origin, so strong in its foundations, so extensive in its dominion and resources, was destined to fall from its proud ascendancy, and become, compared with what it had been, a desolation and a ruin. Therefore the prophet seeks to establish the faith of God’s people in what had been spoken respecting Egypt, by directing their attention to the parallel case of Assyria, which within a comparatively recent period had been a vast and flourishing empire, while now its place was no more found in the earth. And having thus told the story of Assyria’s past greatness and present desolation, he concludes with declaring that what had been Assyria’s fate shall now be Egypt’s; the same mournful reverse, and the same instrument too in accomplishing it. It was the Chaldean sword which had given the fatal blow to the Assyrian monarchy, and the same sword was to prostrate the power and glory of Pharaoh. Thus the past contributed to establish the certainty of the future.

It will easily be understood that it is only in the general that the resemblance between the two monarchies is here traced. The Assyrian empire was entirely supplanted by the Babylonian, and not a fragment, we may say, remained of its existence as an empire. But in respect to Egypt, the prophet had already declared that the desolation was not to be by any means so complete; that it was not to cease altogether to be a kingdom, but was to lose for ever its ascendancy in the affairs of the world, and to sink into a low and enfeebled condition. So far as its grand ambition was concerned of ruling the destinies of the world it was to vanish even as Assyria had done; its Pharaohs were no longer to bear sway as great masters of empire. But the kingdom within its own narrow limits was still to be prolonged, and depression, not annihilation, was to be the portion of its cup. The comparison, therefore, must be understood with this obvious difference.

It is scarcely necessary to add that the whole of the present chapter, with the exception of the last verse, has immediate respect only to Assyria. There have not been wanting commentators who have understood the prophet as speaking throughout of Egypt, under the image of an Assyrian, or some particular kind of cedar. But this is so palpably against the sense and connection of the passage, that it has never received any general concurrence. (The author of this opinion seems to have been one Meimbomius. Horsely speaks of Bishop Lowth as agreeing with it; if he ever did, it must have been in the first edition of his Preelections, for in the second, Michaelis’ edition, he expressly refers the cedar to the king of Assyria. Hävernick also quotes Michaelis as supporting the same view. But he renounces it in his note on the passage in Lowth’s Tenth Prælec.; he adheres, he there says, to the common view, Meibomianam deserens.) The cedar is unquestionably the king of Assyria; and the parabolical representation under this image is one of the most striking and beautiful in Ezekiel, though not without the occasional intermixtures of the real with the figurative, which usually occur in the parabolical delineations of our prophet. Bishop Lowth says of it, that, “if we consider the image itself, none can be found more appropriate or graceful; if the features and colouring, none more elegant or more polished; though the prophet has introduced some literalities into the figure Ezekiel 31:11; Ezekiel 31:14-16), whether from the nature of this sort of parable admitting it, or from his own fervent disposition leading him to disregard perfect accuracy of style, I can scarcely take upon me to say” (Prælec. x.).

Ezekiel 31:1 . And it came to pass, in the eleventh year, in the third month, in the first day of the month, that the word of Jehovah came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 31:2 . Son of man, say to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and to his multitude, To whom art thou like in thy greatness?

Ezekiel 31:8 . Behold the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon, beautiful in branches, and with an overshadowing thicket, and of an high stature, and his topmost shoot was among the clouds. (See on Ezekiel 19:11.)

Ezekiel 31:4 . The waters nourished him; the deep raised him aloft with its streams going round about its plantation (viz. that which belonged to the deep), and its channels sending forth to all the trees of the fields.

Ezekiel 31:5 . Therefore his height was increased above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were enlarged and his foliage extended, because of the many waters in his shooting forth (i.e., the many waters that accompanied him wherever he shot forth).

Ezekiel 31:6 . In his boughs nestled all the fowls of heaven, and under his foliage all the beasts of the field brought forth, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations.

Ezekiel 31:7 . And he was beautiful in his greatness, in the length of his branches, for his root was beside great waters.

Ezekiel 31:8 . The cedars obscured him not (those that are) in the garden of God the fir-trees did not equal his boughs, and the planes were not like his foliage; no tree in the garden of God was equal to him in beauty.

Ezekiel 31:9 . I made him comely by the multitude of his branches, and all the trees of Eden, which are in the garden of God, envied him.

Ezekiel 31:10 . Therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because thou art exalted, in height, yea, he sent up his topmost shoot among the clouds, and his heart was lifted up in his greatness.

Ezekiel 31:11 . So I delivered him into the hand of the Lord (the El, the mighty prince or leader) (The אֵל here has by some been thought too strong, and they would substitute אֵיל a ram, then a powerful person, a leader or prince; so also some MSS. But perhaps the El might rather be chosen to denote the kind of divine-like power of judgment given to Nebuchadnezzar.) of the nations; he did what he would with him: I have driven him away for his wickedness.

Ezekiel 31:12 . And strangers, the terrible of the nations, have cut him off, and left him; by the hills and upon all heights have his branches fallen; and his leafy twigs are broken beside all the rivers of the land; and all the people of the land have gone from his shade, and have left him.

Ezekiel 31:18 . Upon his ruins abide all the fowls of heaven, and upon his foliage are all the beasts of the field.

Ezekiel 31:14 . To the end that none of the trees of the waters (those, namely, which have plentiful supplies of water) may magnify themselves for their height, nor send forth their topmost shoot among the clouds, and that no drinkers of water may stand upon their own greatness; (Literally: may stand for, or on themselves, because of their greatness. For I agree with Hitzig and some others, that the אֵלֵיהֶם of the text should be pointed thus, אֵלֵּיהֶם , so as to make the preposition with the pron. suffix, and not: their terebinths, or trees (taking it generally). The latter makes a very awkward and unnatural sense. The meaning is, that the trees were to be taught not to stand as by themselves, upon their own greatness, as if this, with their plentiful supply of water, could do all for them.) for they are all delivered to death, to the lower regions of the earth, in the midst of the children of men, with those that go down to the pit.

Ezekiel 31:15 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, In the day that he went down to Sheol I made to mourn, I covered against him the deep, (The most literal rendering is here the best. Ewald and, after him, Häv. have missed the precise shade of meaning by throwing the two verbs together, and rendering as if it were: and I covered with mourning over him the deep. The prophet rather personifies the deep; God causes it to wrap itself in mourning, to cover up its fulness against him who had abused its treasures, and to withhold the streams which it had hitherto poured forth with joyfulness; for it is of the nature of grief to contract and seal up the flowing streams of plenty.) and I restrained its floods, and the great waters were stayed; and I made Lebanon mourn for him, and all the trees of the field faint for him.

Ezekiel 31:16 . At the sound of his fall I made the nations shake, when I made him go down to Sheol with those that go down to the pit; and these were comforted in the lower regions of the earth, all the trees of Eden, the choice and good of Lebanon, all that drink water.

Ezekiel 31:17 . They also went down to Sheol with him, to the pierced-through with the sword, and, his arm, they dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the nations. (It cannot be denied that the latter clause of this 17th verse is very peculiar in its construction and obscure in its import. Various emendations have been proposed in the text, but, as usual, with no satisfactory result; so that the last emendator, Hitzig, has still his own to propose, and, we have no hesitation in saying, with no better success than his predecessors. Many, after the LXX., with a slight difference in the punctuation, read his seed, for his arm; but the king of Assyria, as here considered, had no seed; he was the last of his race. I take: and, his arm, they dwelt, for: even they who as his arm had dwelt, or: though being his arm (the instruments of his power and glory) they had dwelt. Their connection with him was such that they could not but share his fate.)

Ezekiel 31:18 . To whom art thou so exactly like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? and art to be brought down with the trees of Eden to the lower regions of the earth; in the midst of the uncircumcised thou shalt lie with the pierced-through with the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, saith the Lord Jehovah.

This parabolical representation, it will be observed, is marked by the same peculiarity which we had occasion to notice in the ideal delineation of the king of Tyre; it combines the historical with the figurative. While the cedar that represents the king of Assyria is called a cedar in Lebanon, Lebanon being by way of eminence the region of cedars, it is presently transferred in the prophet’s imagination to the land of primeval beauty and perfection, the Eden in which was the garden that God had planted. There this cedar is described as flourishing, and growing till it overtopt in magnificence and beauty all the trees of the field around it; because fed in a manner quite peculiar with the waters of that deep flood which, rising somewhere in Eden, divided itself into four branches and watered the whole garden. Thus happily circumstanced, the exuberance and glory of paradise appeared to revive in this singular tree, and none even there could be compared with it. But it was only that it might afford another specimen of that instability and transitoriness which belongs to all on earth, when the good bestowed by Heaven is abused to purposes of selfishness, and the creature begins to thrust himself into the place of his Creator. Thus the incomparable cedar, forgetting as it were its own place, is given to destruction, and its place is no more found.

Transferred to the king of Assyria, whom the cedar represented, this parabolical history tells us, in the first instance, of his unparalleled greatness; he was the head and centre of a vast monarchy, which was fed by the tributary streams of surrounding nation?, and gathered within its ample bosom the resources of the civilised world. But its peerless grandeur proved the occasion of its overthrow; for it only served to nurse into fatal maturity that “pride which goeth before a fall.” How thoroughly the loftiness of spirit in the head of that monarchy kept pace with the growth and magnitude of his dominion, may be seen from the heaven-daring language of Sennacherib to Hezekiah, when before the gates of Jerusalem his servants openly blasphemed and defied the God of Israel. Most truly was his heart lifted up in his greatness; and the hand of a righteous God must cast him down. When God’s purpose is formed, the proper instrument is sure to be forthcoming at the appointed time; and in an amazingly brief period the mighty fabric of Assyrian glory fell, an irrecoverable ruin. It was a lesson on a gigantic scale to the world that then was, how God in his providence abases the proud, and scatters the mighty from their seats; how all power and glory that is of the world is destined to vanish away as a dream of the night! And connected, as it here is, with the guilt and the doom of Pharaoh, it was to him, and to those who knew the will of God concerning him, an instructive warning and example of that which certainly awaited him; for in the government of an unchangeable God, that which has been is the sure index to what in like circumstances shall again be.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 31". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-31.html.
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