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‘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 Ezekiel 27:6-11), and who therefore had to bear part responsibility for it.
The Great Crocodile and The Broken Reed.
The First Oracle Against Egypt (Ezekiel 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 (Ezekiel 29:3), 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.
The Oracles Against Egypt (Ezekiel 29:1 to Ezekiel 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.
“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; Job 26:11-13; Psalms 74:13-14; Psalms 89:10; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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 (Ezekiel 21:3-17) which at this time is the sword of Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 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 Ezekiel 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.
“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 (Ezekiel 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; 2 Kings 17:23) and Judah (2 Kings 25:11; 2 Kings 25:26) 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 (Ezekiel 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.
“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.
“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.
‘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.
The Second Oracle Against Egypt (Ezekiel 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.
“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.
“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 ( 1Sa 2:1 ; 1 Kings 22:11; Psalms 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 (Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 29". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18