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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ezekiel 31



A relation unto Pharaoh of the glory of Assyria, and the fall thereof for pride. The like destruction of Egypt.

Before Christ 588.

Verse 3

Ezekiel 31:3. Behold, the Assyrian, &c.— This parable, says Bishop Lowth, owes much to Meibomius, who translates אשׁור Ashur, tall, straight, an epithet of the cedar; and not Assyrian, which can have no meaning at all in this passage. The word אשׁור Ashur, is here joined with cedar, as a definitive attribute to denote the highest and most beautiful kind of cedar. See his 9th Prelection. The manner in which the prophet has embellished his description, is full of propriety and elegance; and the colouring is such as fills the mind with the greatest pleasure. The LXX read the latter clause of this verse, His top was among the clouds. The whole is an allegorical description of the greatness and splendour of the Egyptian empire.

Verse 4

Ezekiel 31:4. Little rivers An allusion to the small artificial channels through which water was usually distributed in eastern gardens. See Bishop Lowth on Isaiah 1:30.

Verse 8

Ezekiel 31:8. The cedars in the garden of God Some render this, The cedars in the garden of God were not higher than he. The expression seems only to mean the highest trees. Instead of, I have made him fair, Eze 31:9 we may read, I had, &c.

Verse 10

Ezekiel 31:10. Because, &c.— Because he had been proud on account of his greatness. Houbigant.

Verse 11

Ezekiel 31:11. Into the hand of the mighty one That is, into the hands of the Chaldeans.

Verse 12

Ezekiel 31:12. Have cut him off Cut him down. Virgil has a like comparison with respect to the fall of Troy:

Ac veluti summis antiquam in montibus ornum Quum ferro accisam crebrisque bipennibus instant Eruere agricolae certatim; illa usque minatur, Et tremefacta comam concusso vertice nutat: Vulneribus donec paulatim evicta, supremum Congemuit, traxitque jugis avulsa ruinam. AEN. ii. 626.

So when an aged ash, whose honour's rise From some steep mountain tow'ring to the skies, With many an axe by shouting swains is ply'd, Fierce they repeat the strokes from ev'ry side; The tall tree trembling as the blows go round, Bows the high head, and nods to ev'ry wound: At last quite vanquish'd with a dreadful peal, In one loud groan rolls crashing down the vale, Headlong with half the shatter'd mountain flies, And stretch'd out huge in length th' unmeasur'd ruin lies. PITT.

Verse 13

Ezekiel 31:13. Upon his ruin, &c.— "As birds sit upon the boughs of a tree cut down, and the beasts brouze upon his branches; so shall the dominions of Pharaoh be a prey to the conquerors." It is a common image among the poetical writers, in representing a great national calamity or destruction, to mention animals of prey as fattening on the bodies of the dead. See Hom. Il. 1: and Deuteronomy 32:24.Psalms 78:48; Psalms 78:48. Isaiah 34:7. But our author has advanced farther than any of his predecessors, and by a bold figure gives the trees, which he uses as a symbol for kingdoms, as a prey to the birds; and likewise places their ghosts in the separate mansions of the dead. We cannot sufficiently admire the beautiful novelty of this figure, the art wherewith it is wrought up, and the fertility of the prophet's invention. See Isa 14:9-20 and Michaelis's notes.

Verse 14

Ezekiel 31:14. To the end that none of all the trees "Thy destruction shall be a warning to other kings and potentates, to deter them from insolence in the time of their prosperity." Instead of, Neither their trees stand up, &c. Houbigant reads, Neither any of those which drink the waters apply themselves to it; namely, this lofty tree, while it is high; after they are all thrust down to death, to the lower parts of the earth, to the multitude of the children of men, who are gone down to the pit.

Verse 15

Ezekiel 31:15. I caused a mourning I caused the deep to mourn for him; I restrained his rivers; and the many waters were withheld. Houbigant. Hereby is meant figuratively the confederates and allies of Pharaoh.

Verse 16

Ezekiel 31:16. With them that descend, &c.— To those who have descended, &c. At the same time all the trees, &c. Houbigant. That is to say, all the deceased princes, confederates with Pharaoh.

Verse 17

Ezekiel 31:17. They also went down into hell, &c.— For these also descended with him into hell, to those who had perished by the sword; and whoever among the heathen dwelt under his shadow have perished. Houbigant.

Verse 18

Ezekiel 31:18. This is Pharaoh, &c.— This clause evidently proves the truth of the observation made on the third verse, that this allegory of the cedar refers not to the Assyrian, but to the destruction of Pharaoh king of Egypt, his princes, confederates, and people.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, This prophesy bears date about five weeks before Jerusalem was taken; when judgment, which had begun at the house of God, did not end there; but Egypt must also drink of the cup of trembling.

Pharaoh is bid to consult the records of time, and select the mightier monarch that had gone before him, with whom to compare himself, even the Assyrian;* who, notwithstanding all his ancient greatness, was now fallen. Nimrod had founded that monarchy, and the Babylonian empire had risen on its ruins. A warning to the greatest not to be high-minded, but fear.

* In my Reflections I generally take the sense of the Scriptures according to our own version.

The Assyrian monarch is compared to a tall and spreading cedar. His dignity most exalted, his dominions vastly extensive, and admirably governed, like the regular branches of a lofty tree. No prince or potentate could vie with him of all the surrounding nations, and they secretly envied his greatness, the tribute which merit and prosperity usually must pay. Protected by his power, and safe under his government, multitudes from all nations chose to settle in his dominions. Planted by the Divine Providence, and watered with the abundance of temporal good things, he seemed sufficiently strong to resist every stormy blast; and sent out little rivers unto all the trees of the field; all his subjects received abundant advantages from him. Note; They are truly great who employ their power and influence to promote the good of mankind.

2nd, The Assyrian monarch, whom Pharaoh resembled in greatness, he must resemble in his ruin.
1. They were both puffed up on their prosperity. Thou hast lifted up thyself in height; thou, O king of Egypt; or thou, O king of Assyria; for to either the words may be applied; and they are true of both, pride being the common snare which attends advancement; and few carry with them, into a superior sphere, the humble spirit of their former station. 2. They fall alike, as the just punishment of their pride and wickedness: [1.] The Assyrian by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the mighty one of the heathen; who in the beginning of his reign, in conjunction with Cyaxares king of the Medes, is said to have destroyed that monarchy, with Nineveh the capital, and transferred the seat of empire to Babylon. God had determined his ruin, and therefore it must infallibly come to pass. Already this mighty cedar is broken: the terrible army of Chaldeans and Medes have lopped all his branches, and left them withering on every mountain and valley, and by every river: the provinces of the empire dismembered, the cities and country subdued; so that, as birds from a fallen tree, the several nations, who sought for shelter under the shadow of the Assyrian monarch, are fled, have deserted him in the day of his calamity. His enemies, like birds and beasts of prey, feed upon him; or, literally, the fowls of heaven fall upon the carcases of the slain; or those who envied his greatness, rejoice at his fall. And herein God designed to warn proud monarchs of their danger, not to trust on their power or wealth, as if these could be their protection; but to remember that they are mortal worms, and in an instant, when God strikes, numbered with the dead. This the Assyrian monarch proved, and at his ruin an universal groan was given from all who were in league with him, as the forest echoes with the falling cedar; a general stagnation of trade and commerce for a while prevailed; and, trembling for themselves, his allies fainted, conscious of their own inability to resist the conqueror of their mightier Assyrian friend; while the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, either the kingdoms subdued and ravaged by the Assyrian monarch in times past, or the nations in alliance with him, who shared his fearful destruction, shall in their graves be comforted to see him brought as low as themselves. Note; (1.) Wickedness is the cause of all our wretchedness. (2.) Pride will have a fall. (3.) They who are courted in prosperity, will often be deserted in the day of calamity. (4.) The fall of great men usually involves multitudes in their ruin. (5.) God intends that his providential strokes on others should be warnings to ourselves.

[2.] The Egyptian monarch may expect the same fate. Let him choose the mightiest kingdoms with which to compare himself, nay, were he even as great as the king of Assyria, it would not secure him from ruin: he should be brought to the same wretched state; lie down among the dead, yea, among the uncircumcised, under the eternal wrath of God. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude: such will be the end of all his greatness, grandeur, and numerous subjects. And thus shall the wicked be turned into hell, with all the nations, however many or mighty, that forget God.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ezekiel 31". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.