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5. Egypt’s fall compared to Assyria’s fall ch. 31
This chapter is a whole oracle composed of three sections.
"The argument the prophet presented was simple. Egypt boasted in its greatness, yet Egypt wasn’t as great as Assyria, and Assyria was conquered by Babylon. Conclusion: if Babylon can conquer Assyria, Babylon can conquer Egypt." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 220.]
The Lord gave Ezekiel a third oracle against Egypt on June 21, 587 B.C., less than two months after the previous one (Ezekiel 30:20-26). [Note: Parker and Dubberstein, p. 28.]
A poem extolling Assyria’s glory 31:1-9
The prophet was to speak this one to Pharaoh Hophra and to the Egyptians. Obviously Ezekiel was in Babylon and they were in Egypt, but he was to speak publicly as though he were addressing them in person. He asked rhetorically who the Egyptians were like in their greatness.
They were similar to the Assyrians who had towered among the nations as a beautiful cedar of Lebanon (cf. Ezekiel 17:1-10; Ezekiel 17:22-24; Ezekiel 19:10-14; Ezekiel 26:19-21; Ezekiel 28:11-19; Isaiah 14:3-21). Some of the Lebanese cedars grew 80 feet high, were beautifully symmetrical, and contained thickly interwoven branches. [Note: Feinberg, p. 178. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, p. 125, wrote an interesting paragraph on the motif of the cosmic tree in ancient mythology, which Ezekiel may have had in mind.]
Assyria had been one of the greatest nations in history before its fall in 612 B.C., perhaps the greatest nation. It was of particular interest to the Egyptians for two reasons. It had been the only Mesopotamian nation to invade Egypt successfully. The Assyrians destroyed Thebes in 633 B.C. (cf. Nahum 3:8-10) and eventually incorporated Egypt into its empire. Second, Assyria had fallen to the Babylonians, the same enemy that now threatened Egypt. The city of Nineveh fell to Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar’s father, in 612 B.C., and Nebuchadnezzar crushed the rest of the Assyrian army at Haran in 609 B.C.
Like Egypt, Assyria received much of its strength and power from the waters that surrounded it, the Nile in Egypt’s case and the Tigris in Assyria’s. The waters that nourished these nations enabled them to grow strong and to tower above many others. The network of supporting nations that surrounded both Assyria and Egypt contributed to their strength and growth in another way.
Many peoples and nations benefited from the mighty kingdom of Assyria symbolized by the birds and beasts that took refuge under this tree (cf. Ezekiel 31:12-13; Ezekiel 17:23; Daniel 4:12; Matthew 13:32).
Assyria was beautiful and graceful because of the waters that sustained it, waters that were solely a gift of God’s grace. No tree in God’s garden of nations could compare with it. The other kingdoms were jealous of Assyria, which was preeminent in God’s Eden-like collection of nations.
However, because Assyria was a proud nation, the Lord had determined to turn it over to a strong individual who would cut it down, namely, Nebuchadnezzar. God had driven it out of His Eden as He had driven Adam and Eve out for their pride.
The felling of Assyria 31:10-14
Alien tyrants from other nations had cut off parts of Assyria and left it laying like a tree with its limbs chopped off in a valley. Assyria had a reputation for being an extremely cruel nation, and the other nations had dealt with it ruthlessly. The people of the earth who had taken refuge in Assyria like birds and beasts under a tree had fled from under it but continued to use its remains to their own advantage.
This fate had befallen Assyria in part so other greatly blessed, proud nations would learn not to exalt themselves. All nations, like trees, eventually fall down and return to oblivion like human corpses do to the dust.
On the day that God humbled Assyria, He caused many people and nations to mourn her demise. He made it impossible for that nation to revive; He did the same thing as burying it in the sea, and He kept its life-giving waters from revitalizing it. The people in the area from which Assyria had come, Mesopotamia, mourned for it, and other nations (trees) wilted because of its fall.
The end of Assyria and the application to Egypt 31:15-18
The fall of Assyria created the same reaction among the nations as the felling of a mighty tree does in the forest; all the other nations (trees) quaked. The other nations also were able to grow better themselves since they no longer had to live in the shadow of mighty Assyria.
Some other nations fell when Assyria did; this great tree fell on other trees and took them down with it. Some of them had even sustained Assyria and profited from Assyria’s greatness, but she fell on them.
For the Lord Ezekiel asked Pharaoh and the Egyptians which of the trees (nations) in God’s garden they resembled. Egypt was obviously like Assyria in its greatness and pride and may have thought of itself as Assyria’s equal. Nevertheless God would cut down Egypt as He had felled Assyria. The people would die among the uncircumcised, like barbarians (cf. Ezekiel 28:10; Ezekiel 29:5; Ezekiel 32:19; Ezekiel 32:21; Jeremiah 9:25-26). This was a terrible fate for people who regarded a proper burial as preparation for life beyond the grave, as the Egyptians did. The Egyptians practiced circumcision, but the Babylonians did not. They also despised foreigners. They would die by the sword in war. This would be the fate of Pharaoh and the Egyptians that Almighty God promised. If Assyria could not escape Yahweh’s judgment, how could Egypt?
"The story of the cedar revisits several familiar themes that occurred in the prophecies against foreign nations. First, God hates pride because it leads people and nations to ruin (Ezekiel 27:3; Ezekiel 28:2; Proverbs 16:18). Second, the mighty fall as do the weak (cf. Ezekiel 27:27-36). When the mighty fall, it is also a loss for the weak and dependant [sic dependent]. Third, the fall of the tree was a reminder of the mortality of human beings and individual accountability to God (cf. Ezekiel 3:16-21; Ezekiel 18:1-21)." [Note: Cooper, p. 284.]
If the Jewish exiles still entertained any hope that Egypt would save them from captivity, this prophecy would have encouraged them to abandon such a dream.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 31". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent