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In this chapter, Assyria is used as an example to Egypt of the fate that will befall them.
Assyria as a Warning Example
In the eleventh year, the word of the LORD comes to Ezekiel again (Ezekiel 31:1). He must again go with a message to Pharaoh and his people, the Egyptians (Ezekiel 31:2). This time he is to present them with a parable. He begins by asking who Pharaoh and his hordes of subjects are comparable to. The answer follows immediately: it is with Assyria (Ezekiel 31:3). Assyria has always competed with Egypt for world domination, a battle sometimes won by one, sometimes by the other. But Assyria, as a world power, still makes the most impression.
There follows a description of the greatness and fall of Assyria. This is done by picturing Assyria as an impressive cedar in Lebanon. This tree is a symbol of majesty and power and at the same time a picture of pride (Daniel 4:20-Hosea :). This is already reflected in its tall trunk and “its top” which is “among the clouds”. This tree is so tall that it looks like an entire forest.
Because he can absorb abundant water, he grows prosperously (Ezekiel 31:4). Because of his greatness, he gains connection with all the trees in the field. Other peoples want to serve him or are subdued by him. Thus he becomes taller than all the trees of the field, which means he becomes greater than all other peoples (Ezekiel 31:5). Just as the branches of the tree provide protection for birds and animals, so he becomes the protector of all kinds of peoples (Ezekiel 31:6; cf. Daniel 4:12; Matthew 13:32).
In his loftiness he is beautiful and in his vastness he is mighty (Ezekiel 31:7). His appearance is reminiscent of the trees in paradise (Ezekiel 31:8). The most beautiful trees in the garden of God cannot measure up to him. With his appearance, he commands the respect of everything around him in creation.
The way he is presented here also expresses his immoderate complacency. As the LORD made the trees in the garden, He also made the cedar (Ezekiel 31:9). In the same way, He also made Assyria great. In Ezekiel 31:10, the LORD briefly addresses Egypt in between, which we see by the words “you are” [“it is” is literally “you are”] (cf. Ezekiel 31:2), as a reminder that the description of Assyria is in fact about Egypt.
But there is no awareness in Assyria, as in Egypt, that he owes his greatness to the LORD. On the contrary, his heart has exalted itself on his height and his power. What God has given him and made of him, he has in pride attributed to himself. Therefore the Lord GOD pronounces His judgment on him and will give him into the hand of “a despot of the nations”, that is, the king of Babylon, the rising world power (Ezekiel 31:11). He has repaid him his wickedness and expelled him from his supreme position. But it is the LORD Himself Who has done that.
The picture of the tree is further used to describe the fall of Assyria (Ezekiel 31:12). Assyria is cut down. There he lies, felled. His branches, by which is meant all the nations associated with him, fall with him and perish. Others move away from him, without further concern for him. There are some, however, who continue to dwell with him and sit on his branches (Ezekiel 31:13; Ezekiel 31:6). These are nations who first shared in Assyria’s prosperity and now see some profit in his fall.
The fall causes such a startling effect that all the trees are careful not to exalt themselves (Ezekiel 31:14). None of the ‘water drinkers’, that is, no tree as a picture of a people, should dare to exalt themselves. Just as a tree cannot grow by itself, but only thanks to water, so a people cannot grow by themselves, but only in dependence on God. Those who want to become great in their own strength are blind to the end that awaits earthly rulers: surrendered to death and going to the lowest places of the earth. There they are nothing more than all the other people who are already there.
That, says the Lord GOD to Egypt, is what happened to Assyria (Ezekiel 31:15). It went down to Sheol. The fall did not bring joy to the LORD, but lamentations. In the picture, the waters mourn over the fall of the cedar, He shrouds Lebanon in blackness [“mourn” is literally “be darkened”], and made all the trees of the field wilt away.
There is dismay among the nations because of the deep fall of Assyria to Sheol because they fear the same fate (Ezekiel 31:16). If Assyria with its awesome military might cannot withstand the Babylonians, who will be able to withstand them? In his fall, he drags others with him into the pit. But in the end it is not the Babylonians who have caused the nations to quake, but the quaking has come from the LORD.
On the other hand, among those who are in the realm of the dead – the dethroned princes and defeated nations – there is a certain satisfaction when the king of Assyria joins them. His power on earth has not protected him from the judgment of God. They had to bow down to him on earth, but now he is equal to them. They are all in Sheol and have ended up there in the same way (Ezekiel 31:17). All have fallen by the sword that has been his powerful weapon, with which he has subdued other nations.
Then the LORD again addresses Pharaoh and his people directly (Ezekiel 31:18; Ezekiel 31:2). He asks him again the question He asked at the beginning. Again, the answer immediately follows. The LORD assures Pharaoh that he and his people will not fare any differently than Assyria and the nations allied with him did. They will lie down in disgrace after being slain by the sword. That is how it will end with Pharaoh and all his hordes. The Lord GOD declares so and therefore it will go that way.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ezekiel 31". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent