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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 31

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Ezekiel 31:0


Oracles Against the Nations(Ezekiel 25:1-32)
Pharaoh Warned of Assyria's FateEgypt Cut Down Like A Great TreeAllegory of the CedarEgypt Is Compared to A Cedar TreeThe Cedar Tree
Ezekiel 31:1-9Ezekiel 31:1-9Ezekiel 31:1-9Ezekiel 31:1-9Ezekiel 31:1-9
(vv. Ezekiel 31:2-9)(vv. Ezekiel 31:2-4)(vv. Ezekiel 31:2-9)(vv. Ezekiel 31:2-9)(vv. Ezekiel 31:2-9)
(vv. Ezekiel 31:5-6)
(vv. Ezekiel 31:7-9)
Ezekiel 31:10-14Ezekiel 31:10-14Ezekiel 31:10-14Ezekiel 31:10-14Ezekiel 31:10-13
(vv. Ezekiel 31:13)(vv. Ezekiel 31:13)
Ezekiel 31:14
(vv. Ezekiel 31:14d)(vv. Ezekiel 31:14d)
Ezekiel 31:15-17Ezekiel 31:15-18Ezekiel 31:15-17Ezekiel 31:15-17Ezekiel 31:15-17
Ezekiel 31:18 Ezekiel 31:18Ezekiel 31:18Ezekiel 31:18

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 31:1-9 1In the eleventh year, in the third month, on the first of the month, the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2”Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his hordes, 'Whom are you like in your greatness? 3Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon With beautiful branches and forest shade, And very high, And its top was among the clouds. 4The waters made it grow, the deep made it high. With its rivers it continually extended all around its planting place, And sent out its channels to all the trees of the field. 5Therefore its height was loftier than all the trees of the field And its boughs became many and its branches long Because of many waters as it spread them out. 6All the birds of the heavens nested in its boughs, And under its branches all the beasts of the field gave birth, And all great nations lived under its shade. 7So it was beautiful in its greatness, in the length of its branches; For its roots extended to many waters. 8The cedars in God's garden could not match it; The cypresses could not compare with its boughs, And the plane trees could not match its branches. No tree in God's garden could compare with it in its beauty. 9I made it beautiful with the multitude of its branches, And all the trees of Eden, which were in the garden of God, were jealous of it.'“

Ezekiel 31:1 See note at Ezekiel 29:1. The date is 587 B.C.

Ezekiel 31:2-3 “say to Pharaoh” The literary unit dealing with God's judgment in Egypt began in chapter 29 and continues through chapter 32. Therefore, it is surprising to have Assyria addressed in Ezekiel 31:3. Assyria is mentioned in Ezek. 32:22-33. There are two options.

1. Pharaoh is to view God's judgment on Assyria as an example of what will befall him and his nation (Jewish Study Bible, p. 1101).

2. The Hebrew text, אשׁור (BDB 1677), is corrupt and must be emended to

a. “I will liken you” (RSV), שׁור (BDB 1003, Qal IMPERFECT)

b. a variant spelling of “cypress” (or a type of cedar, KB 1677) and, therefore, parallel to “cedar” (cf. Ezekiel 27:6)

3. “I regard,” תאשׁור (BDB 1003)

Ezekiel 31:3-9 The nation is described as

1. beautiful branches for shade

2. very tall (i.e., MT, NKJV, “among thick boughs' LXX, “among the clouds”)

3. deep roots into good water

4. watered other trees

5. protection for many animals (i.e., nations)

6. greater than the trees of Eden

7. many branches

In essence this is the “global/cosmic tree” metaphor (cf. Psalms 80:0; Daniel 4:0). Trees were places of special reverence and respect. They often served as holy sites (e.g., Genesis 35:4, Genesis 35:8; Joshua 24:26; palm tree, Judges 4:5; oaks of Ophrah, cf. Judges 6:11, Judges 6:19; 1 Kings 13:14; 1 Chronicles 10:12) and also sites of fertility worship (e.g., 1 Kings 14:23-24; Hosea 4:13). However, this one tree symbolized a universal motif. It, of course, is a hyperbole in this context describing Egypt. YHWH allows nations to rise and He causes nations to fall. In YHWH's garden His trees continue to grow and bear fruit (cf. Ezekiel 47:12; Revelation 22:2). Heaven is symbolized as a beautiful, fruitful garden (cf. Genesis 2:0 and Revelation 22:0).

Ezekiel 31:8

NASB, NJB, JPSOA“cypresses” NKJV, NRSV, TEV“fir trees” REB“juniper” LXX, NEB“pines”

The UBS, Fauna and Flora of the Bible, pp. 162-163, identifies this (BDB 141) as an Aleppo pine, which is the largest conifer in the Mediterranean area. They can reach over 50' in height. Its wood is hard enough to use as building material (cf. 1 Kings 5:8, 1 Kings 5:10; 1 Kings 6:15, 1 Kings 6:34; 2 Chronicles 2:8; Isaiah 14:8; Ezekiel 27:5; Ezekiel 31:8). It is used to characterize a nation in Hosea 14:8; Zechariah 11:1-3.

NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB“the plane trees” NKJV“the chestnut trees”

The UBS, Fauna and Flora of the Bible, pp. 166-167, calls this a “plane tree.” The Hebrew (BDB 790) root means “stripped” of bark (cf. Genesis 30:37). It is native to Palestine and grows near a water source. They are large and long-lived.

Ezekiel 31:9 “Eden” Eden is a geographical location (i.e., in Ugaritic, “a plain”) in Genesis 2-3 which contained a special garden planted and prepared by God for His highest creation (i.e., in image and likeness, cf. Genesis 1:26-27), mankind (cf. Genesis 2:8).

The special garden is alluded to in Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 28:13; Ezekiel 31:9, Ezekiel 31:16, Ezekiel 31:18(twice); Ezekiel 36:35; and Joel 2:3.

Apparently the word means “abundance” from an Aramaic root. In Hebrew (BDB 727 III, 792 II) the root means “delight” or “pleasure” (lit). After Genesis the term is a metaphor for a well watered, fruitful place.

Verses 10-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 31:10-14 10'Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Because it is high in stature and has set its top among the clouds, and its heart is haughty in its loftiness, 11therefore I will give it into the hand of a despot of the nations; he will thoroughly deal with it. According to its wickedness I have driven it away. 12Alien tyrants of the nations have cut it down and left it; on the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land. And all the peoples of the earth have gone down from its shade and left it. 13On its ruin all the birds of the heavens will dwell, and all the beasts of the field will be on its fallen branches 14so that all the trees by the waters may not be exalted in their stature, nor set their top among the clouds, nor their well-watered mighty ones stand erect in their height. For they have all been given over to death, to the earth beneath, among the sons of men, with those who go down to the pit.”

Ezekiel 31:10 Again, like Tyre (i.e., Ezekiel 28:2, Ezekiel 28:17), Assyria (cf. Isaiah 10:12), and Babylon (cf. Isaiah 14:11-14; Daniel 4:30; Daniel 5:20-23), the sin which caused YHWH to act was pride, arrogance, hubris! It is the essence of self-centeredness. It is the fruit of Eden. Maybe this is why Ezekiel uses the Garden of Eden metaphors to characterize

1. Tyre, Ezekiel 28:0

2. Egypt, Ezekiel 31:0

The word “greatness” or “magnify” (BDB 152) is most often used of YHWH (e.g., Deuteronomy 3:24; Deuteronomy 5:24; Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 11:2; Deuteronomy 32:3; Ezekiel 38:23), but here it is used of human pride.

1. Israel, Isaiah 9:9

2. Assyria, Isaiah 10:12

3. Egypt, Ezekiel 31:2, Ezekiel 31:7, Ezekiel 31:8, Ezekiel 31:18

4. Edom, Ezekiel 35:13

5. Moab, Jeremiah 48:26, Jeremiah 48:42

6. the king, Daniel 11:36-37

Ezekiel 31:11

NASB“despot of the nations” NKJV“the most terrible of the nations” LXX, NRSV, NJB, REB“the presence of the nations” TEV“a foreign ruler” JPSOA“the mightiest of the nations” PESHITTA“the mighty one of the nations”

The MT has a construct of BDB 18 and 156 (“a mighty one of the nations”). The key term (BDB 18, KB 40) means “leader,” “chief,” originally “ram.” The same term is used of the tree in Ezekiel 31:14 (cf. Isaiah 1:27-31).

“he will thoroughly deal with it” This is an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and an IMPERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 793, KB 889), which denotes intensity or completeness.

“I have driven it away” This same VERB (BDB 176, KB 204, Piel PERFECT) was used of Adam and Eve being driven from Eden (cf. Genesis 3:24) and of Cain (cf. Genesis 4:14). It denotes Egypt exiled from her homeland by YHWH.

Ezekiel 31:12 “alien tyrants of the nations” This is the same phrase that is used in Ezekiel 28:7; Ezekiel 30:11; Ezekiel 32:12 to refer to the army of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.

“all the peoples of the earth have gone down from its shade” This is typical prophetic hyperbole. Egypt did have many allies and many mercenaries in her army (cf. Ezekiel 31:12-13).

Ezekiel 31:14 The destruction of Assyria, Tyre, Egypt, and later Babylon itself should be a graphic warning to other prideful, power-hungry nations (cf. Ezekiel 31:15-18). Death finally sends all fallen humans to their grave (i.e., “to the earth beneath. . .those who go down to the pit”). See Special Topic: Where Are the Dead?.

Verses 15-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 31:15-17 15'Thus says the Lord GOD, “On the day when it went down to Sheol I caused lamentations; I closed the deep over it and held back its rivers. And its many waters were stopped up, and I made Lebanon mourn for it, and all the trees of the field wilted away on account of it. 16I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall when I made it go down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit; and all the well-watered trees of Eden, the choicest and best of Lebanon, were comforted in the earth beneath. 17They also went down with it to Sheol to those who were slain by the sword; and those who were its strength lived under its shade among the nations.”

Ezekiel 31:15-18 This paragraph mixes metaphors.

1. Sheol (i.e., “the deep”), Ezekiel 31:15-18 (cf. Isaiah 14:8-11)

2. Egypt as a river nation (i.e., “held back its rivers”), Ezekiel 31:15


1. Lebanon darkened, Ezekiel 31:15

2. all the trees of the field wilt away, Ezekiel 31:15, Ezekiel 31:16b

The trees of Eden and Lebanon are parallel and represent nations. There is a recurrent play on water in this paragraph.

1. the deep, Ezekiel 31:15

2. rivers, Ezekiel 31:15

3. many waters

4. drinkers of water (i.e., trees of Eden), Ezekiel 31:16

Ezekiel 31:16 “go down to the pit” This idiom is found in Ezekiel 26:20; Ezekiel 32:18, Ezekiel 32:24, Ezekiel 32:29. It denotes Sheol, which refers to the holding place of the dead until judgment day (see Special Topic at Ezekiel 3:18).

The question is, “Are there levels of Sheol?”

Ezekiel 31:1. Ezekiel 26:20, “the lower parts of the earth”

Ezekiel 31:2. Ezekiel 31:18, “in the midst of the uncircumcised”

The first is simply a parallel, but the second may denote a worse place (cf. Ezekiel 28:10; Ezekiel 32:24, Ezekiel 32:29, Ezekiel 32:30).

Verse 18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 31:18 18”To which among the trees of Eden are you thus equal in glory and greatness? Yet you will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth beneath; you will lie in the midst of the uncircumcised, with those who were slain by the sword. So is Pharaoh and all his hordes!'“ declares the Lord GOD.”

Ezekiel 31:18 “the uncircumcised” See note at Ezekiel 28:10.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did Ezekiel use metaphors from the Garden of Eden?

2. What is the symbol of a cosmic tree?

3. How do the metaphors of Ezekiel 31:0 affect one's interpretation of Ezekiel 28:0?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Ezekiel 31". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/ezekiel-31.html. 2021.
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