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In the tenth year, etc. The precision with which the dates of the several portions of the prophecy against Egypt are given, here and in Ezekiel 29:17; Ezekiel 30:20; Ezekiel 31:1; Ezekiel 32:1, Ezekiel 32:7, shows that each was called forth by the political events of the time, and has to be studied in connection with them. It will be well, therefore, to begin with a Brief survey of the relations which existed at this period between Judah, Egypt, and Babylon. After the great defeat of Pharaoh-Necho by Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish, on which Jeremiah (46.) dwells fully, he was succeeded in B.C. 594 by his son Psammetik II. the Psammis of Herodotus 2.160, who invaded Ethiopia, and died in B.C. 588, leaving the throne to his son Uah-prahet, the Pharaoh Hophra of Jeremiah 44:30, the Apries of Herod; 2.161. The Greek historian tells us that he attacked Tyre and Zidon, failed in an enterprise against Cyrene, and was deposed by Amasis. Zedekiah and his counselors, following in the steps of Hezekiah (Isaiah 30:1-33.) and Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 46:1-28.), had courted his alliance against the Chaldeans. As Ezekiel had prophesied (Ezekiel 17:11-18), they found that they were once more leaning on a broken reed. We have now come to B.C. 589, when Jerusalem was actually besieged, but was still dreaming of being relieved by an Egyptian army.
The great dragon. The word is cognate with that used in Genesis 1:21 for the great "whales," monsters of the deep. The "dragon," probably the crocodile of the Nile (compare the description of "leviathan" in Job 41:1-34.) had come to be the received prophetic symbol of Egypt (Psalms 74:13; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9). The rivers are the Nile-branches of the Delta. My river is mine own. The words probably imply that Hophra, like his grandfather Necho, in his plan of a canal from the Nile to the Red Sea, had given much time and labor to irrigation works in Lower Egypt. The boast which rose to his lips reminds us of that of Nebuchadnezzar as he looked on Babylon (Daniel 4:30). He, like the kings of Tyre and Babylon, was tempted to a self-apotheosis, and thought of himself as the Creator of his own power. The words of Herodotus, in which he says that Apries believed himself so firmly established in his kingdom that there was no god that could cast him out of it, present a suggestive parallel.
Ezekiel 29:4, Ezekiel 29:5
I will put hooks in thy jaws. So Herodotus (2. 70) describes the way in which the Egyptians caught the crocodile by baiting a large hook with swine's flesh. Jomard ('Description de l'Egypt,' 1.27) gives a similar account (comp. also Job 41:1, Job 41:2, though there the capture seems represented as an almost impossible achievement; probably the process had become more familiar since the date of that book). The fish that stick to the scales of the crocodile are, of course, in the interpretation of the parable, either the Egyptian army itself or the nations that had thrown themselves into alliance with Egypt, and the destruction of the two together in the wilderness points to some great overthrow of the Egyptian army and its auxiliaries, probably to that of the expedition against Cyrene (Herod; 2.161) which led to the revolt of Amasis, and which would take the wilderness west of the Nile on its line of march. The beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven (we note the recurrence of the old Homeric phrase, as in 'Iliad,' 1.4, 5) should devour the carcasses of the slain, the corpses of the fallen and prostrate nation.
A staff of reed unto the house of Israel. Ezekiel reproduces the familiar image of 2 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 36:6. The proverb had not ceased to be true, though the rulers were different. Here, again, the imagery is strictly local. The reeds were as characteristic of the Nile as the crocodiles (Exodus 1:3; Job 40:21). The image of the reed is continued in Isaiah 36:7, and the effect of trusting to its support is described in detail.
Behold, I will bring a sword upon thee. The words are probably addressed to the nation personified rather than to the king. The sentence of doom is now pronounced, no longer figuratively. And the special guilt for which it was inflicted, a guilt which the nation shared with its ruler, is emphatically repeated in Ezekiel 29:9.
From the tower of Syene, etc. The Authorized Version is misleading, as Syene was itself on the border of Ethiopia. Better, with the Revised Version margin, from Migdol to Syene, even to the border of Ethiopia. The Migdol (equivalent to "tower") so named is mentioned in the 'Itinerarium' of Antoninus, and was about twelve miles from Pelusium, and thus represented the northern extremity of Egypt; as Syene, identified with the modern Assouan, represented the southern, being the last fortified town in Egypt proper. The expedition of Psammis against Ethiopia, as above, had probably given prominence to the latter fortress. So taken, the phrase corresponded to the familiar "from Dan to Beersheba" of Judges 20:1, etc.
Neither shall it be inhabited forty years. It need hardly be said that history reveals no such period of devastation. Nor, indeed, would anything but the most prosaic literalism justify us in looking for it. We are dealing with the language of a poet-prophet, which is naturally that of hyperbole, and so the "forty years" stand, as, perhaps, elsewhere (Judges 3:11; Judges 5:31, etc.), for a period of undefined duration, and the picture of a land on which no man or beast sets foot for that of a time of desolation, and consequent cessation of all the customary traffic along the Nile. Such a period, there is reason to believe, did follow on the conquests of Nebuchadnezzar. It is implied in Ezekiel 29:17-21, which carry us to a date seventeen years later than that of the verse with which we are now dealing; and also in Jeremiah 43:10-12. Josephus ('Contra Apion,' 1.20) speaks of Nebuchadnezzar as having invaded Libya. The reign of Amasis, which followed on the deposition of Hophra, was one of general prosperity as regards commerce and culture, but Egypt ceased to be one of the great world-powers after the time of Nebuchadnezzar and fell easily into the hands of the Persians under Cambyses. It is noticeable that Ezekiel does not, like Isaiah (Isaiah 19:18-25), connect the future of Egypt with any Messianic expectations.
I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations. As before, records are silent as to any such dispersion. All that we can say is that such a deportation was uniformly the sequel of the conquests of an Oriental king, as in the ease of the captivities of Samaria (2 Kings 17:6) and Jerusalem, and of the nations that were settled in Samaria (2 Kings 17:6), and of the Persians by Darius; that if we find reason to believe that Egypt was invaded by Nebuchadnezzar after the destruction of Jerusalem, we may assume, with little risk of doubt, that it was followed by what Ezekiel describes.
At the end of forty years. The restoration described may probably be connected with the policy of the Persian kings. There may have been a parallel, as regards Egypt, to the return of the Jewish exiles under Cyrus and his successors, though it has not left its mark on history.
Into the land of Pathros. (For the land of their habitation, read, with the Revised Version, the land of their birth.) (For Pathres, see Genesis 10:13, Genesis 10:14; 1 Chronicles 1:12; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 44:1.) Its position is somewhat doubtful, but the balance of evidence is in favor of placing it in the Thebaid of Upper Egypt, which Herodotus (2. 4, 15) describes as the original seat of the Egyptian monarchy. Its name may be connected with the Pathyrite name in which Thebes was situated (Pliny, 'Hist. Nat.,' Ezekiel 5:9). The LXX. gives the form Pathures, and is followed by the Vulgate, with a slight change, Phathures.
It shall be the basest of the kingdoms. The words describe vividly the condition of Egypt under the Persian monarchy, after its conquest by Cambyses. With the Ptolemies it rose again to something like eminence, but that, it must be remembered, was an alien dynasty. The nationality of Egypt was suppressed, and Alexandria, practically a Greek city, took the place of Memphis, Sais, and Thebes.
It shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel. Throughout the history of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, as in the ease of Hoshea (2 Kings 17:4), Hezekiah (Isaiah 30:2, Isaiah 30:3; Isaiah 36:4, Isaiah 36:6), and Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:35), their temptation had been to place its "confidence" in the "chariots and horses" of Egypt as an ally. That temptation should not recur again. Egypt should not in that way bring the iniquity of Israel to the remembrance of the Judge, acting, as it were, as a Satan, first tempting and then accusing. There should be no more looking after Egypt instead of Jehovah, as their succor and defense.
In the seven and twentieth, etc. The section that follows has the interest of being, as far as the dates recorded enable us to determine, the latest of Ezekiel's prophecies, and brings us to B.C. 572. It was manifestly inserted at a later date, seventeen years after those which precede and follow it, either by the prophet, as he collected and revised his writings, or by some later editor, as a proof that his earlier predictions had already received, or were on the point of receiving, their fulfillment. The fact that the special word of the Lord came on the first day of the year is not without significance. Then, as now, the beginning of a new year was a time for men generally to look before and after, for a prophet to ask himself what new stage in the order of the Divine government the year was likely to produce.
Nebuchadnezzar, etc. The words carry us to the close of the thirteen years' siege of Tyro referred to in the notes on Ezekiel 28:1-26; and enable us to refer the commencement of that siege to the fourteenth year of Jehoiachin's captivity, circ. B.C. 586, two years after the destruction of Jerusalem. This agrees with the report of the Tyrian Annals given by Josephus ('Contra Apion,' Ezekiel 1:21), who gives the names of the kings of Tyro from Ithobal to Hirom, in the fourteenth year of whose reign Cyrus became King of Persia. Josephus, however, gives the seventh, in. stead of the seventeenth, year of Nebuchadnezzar as the date of the beginning of the siege. Here the point dwelt on is not the success of the siege, but its comparative failure. The labors and sufferings of the besiegers had been immense. Jerome (in loc.) states (not, however, giving his authority) that these labors consisted mainly in the attempt to fill up the strait between the island-city and the mainland with masses of stone and rubbish. These were carried on the heads and shoulders of the troops, and the natural result was that the former lost their hair and the latter their skin, and the whole army was in a miserable plight. And after all, the king had no wages for his labors. The city indeed, was taken, but the inhabitants made their escape by sea, with their chief possessions, and the hopes of spoil were disappointed.
Behold I give the land of Egypt, etc. For this disappointment, Ezekiel, writing, so to speak, the postscript which he incorporates with his earlier oracles, promises compensation. Egypt, as he had said seventeen years before, should be conquered, and its cities plundered, and so there should be wages enough for the whole thirteen years of fruitless labor in the siege of Tyre. In that labor, the prophet adds (Verse 20), they, though they knew it not, had been working out the will of the Supreme. They also had been servants of Jehovah, as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:9) had described Nebuchadnezzar himself.
The horn of the house of Israel. The "horn" is, as always (1 Samuel 2:1; Psalms 92:10; Psalms 112:9; Psalms 132:17), the symbol of power. Jeremiah's use of it (Lamentations 2:3) may well have been present to Ezekiel's thoughts. That horn had been cut off, but it should begin to sprout again, and the prophet himself should resume his work as the teacher of his people, which had apparently been suspended for many years after the closing vision of the restoration of the temple and of Israel. The words justify the conclusion that Ezekiel resumed his labors after B.C. 572. Was he watching the growth of Saiathiel or Zerubbabel?
The doom of Egypt.
I. AN INSPIRED PREACHER PROPHESIES CONCERNING A GREAT FOREIGN NATION. The Hebrew prophet did not confine his attention to the little strip of territory on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, which we call the Holy Land. He was God's messenger to the world.
1. The heathen are concerned with God's messages. God notices them and has intentions concerning them. Therefore:
2. It is the duty of the Church to make God's truth known to the heathen. Ezekiel was not a Jonah; he was not called upon to visit the heathen as a prophet of Jehovah. But his written words might be read by some of the more inquiring Egyptians. It is well to take large views of God's thoughts, our duties, and the world's needs.
II. GOD CALLS A MIGHTY EMPIRE TO JUDGMENT. Tyro was greater and more famous than the little Ammonite and Moabite countries; but even Type was small compared with Egypt—one of the great world-empires.
1. No people can be above the rule of God. The biggest earthly kingdom is beneath the King of kings. Egypt is compared to one of its monster crocodiles (Verse 3). But it is not the less to be called to account by God.
2. No people can be too strong to be overthrown. Even great Egypt is to fall. The strongest have their weak places. Mighty citadels may be shaken by earthquakes. All man's grandest works and most imposing institutions are frail, and may be broken up by the rod of the Unseen.
III. THE GREATNESS OF ANTIQUITY IS NO SAFEGUARD AGAINST THE DANGERS OF FUTURITY. After China, Egypt seems to be about the most ancient empire in the world. In the region of its influence and among its neighbors Egypt was venerable with age before any of its rivals had made an appearance on the world's stage. Its known history goes back to four thousand years before Christ. For tens of centuries this hoary old empire of the Pharaohs held on its course amidst the rising and falling of many ambitious but short-lived neighbors. Yet Egypt was not immortal. Dynasty succeeded dynasty, and Egypt long stood the shock of war and change. But at last her hour of reckoning drew near. Then her long past afforded her no shelter. England cannot live in the future on her past history. The Church of the coming age cannot stand strong and safe on no better foundation than the glory of saints and martyrs in earlier ages.
IV. INTELLECT IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR A GOOD CONSCIENCE. Egypt was famous for her learning and her science. Long before the Babylonian and Persian astronomical science arose by the Euphrates, there were schools of literature, philosophy, and physical science on the banks of the Nile. It was a help in the training of Israel's great deliverer that he was educated in the greatest center of light of his age (Acts 7:22). Yet the great intelligence of ancient Egypt did not preserve its sons from gross moral corruption, and no worldly wisdom was able to provide against the descending arm of judgment. Culture will not dispense with the need of conscience. University honors are not passports to heaven. Knowledge and thought will not shield the sinful against the wrath of future judgment.
Ezekiel 29:6, Ezekiel 29:7
A staff of reed.
Egypt is here compared to a staff of reed that had been trusted by Israel and had failed her in the hour of need. Earlier than this the Jews were warned not to trust Egypt because the old empire of the Nile had become weak as one of the reeds that grew by her sacred river. The confidence would be fatal, for the staff would break and pierce the hand of one who leaned upon it (Isaiah 36:6). It was common for the prophets to warn the Jews against the mistake of going down to Egypt for help (Isaiah 31:1). Now, however, Egypt is blamed for being so false and treacherous an ally as she proved herself in the time of Judah's need.
I. WEAKNESS IS CULPABLE. Egypt ought not to have been weak as a Nile reed. In her friendship, at all events, she should have shown more stamina. Moral weakness is certainly blameworthy. There is a great mistake in pleading weakness as an excuse for failure of duty. God never calls upon any one to do more than he is able to accomplish. If, therefore, his strength fails, and he cannot perform his task or face his temptations, the blame lies at his own door. We ought to be strong in soul. We have not even the excuse of Egypt—a heathen nation that knew not the true God. With inexhaustible fountains of spiritual strength within our reach in the gospel of Christ, it is our own fault if we become as worthless reeds when we should be like strong trees of the Lord.
II. FAILING FRIENDSHIP IS OF THE NATURE OF TREACHERY, We can wrong our friend without lifting a finger to hurt him, if we are found wanting in the time of need. Of all places friendship is the last in which weakness should be discovered. A true friend will make it a point of honor to be at his very best to give expected help, ever- though he be weak and suffer defeat in pursuing his own interests. He is a trustworthy friend of Christ who is weak as a reed when called upon to do any service or make any sacrifice for his Master. It is treason to Christ to be found wanting in the day of duty or danger.
III. THERE IS NO PROTECTION IN THE PLEA OF WEAKNESS. Egypt was not saved on account of her weakness. She found no excuse in her inability to help her allies. She ought to have been able to help them. They who refuse to go into the Lord's battle because they have not moral strength with which to fight the will not therefore be permitted to shelter themselves in peace and quiet. They may escape the wounds of the field, but they will encounter the ills of an attack at home. No soul can be safe in neglecting duty, shunning peril, or fleeing from the place where Christ would have him stand.
IV. WEAKNESS MAY BE CONQUERED. The reed-like character may be made stout as an oak. God can make the feeble strong. "To them that have no might he increaseth strength" (Isaiah 40:29). Thus St. Paul could say, "When I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). Christ will not break the bruised reed; but he will not leave it bowed and useless. He will strengthen it. The secret of this transformation from weakness to strength is faith. They were the heroes of faith who, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, "out of weakness were made strong" (Hebrews 11:34).
The pride of creation.
In the insanity of his pride, Pharaoh is supposed even to claim the mighty Nile, that great work of nature on which the wealth and even the very life of his people depended, as a creation of his own imperial power. Such a foolish boast illustrates in an extreme form the common mistake of claiming to create what has in fact been received as a gift of God.
I. NOTE THE PREVALENCE OF THE PRIDE OF CREATION. This is seen with many kinds of success.
1. National greatness. The proud nation glories in having built up its own greatness. The mighty monarch regards himself as the maker of his empire.
2. Private fortune. One who has risen from the ranks regards himself as a self-made man. His success he attributes to his own ability and energy; and his ability and energy he regards as springing from himself.
3. Skilful inventions. Man does indeed seem to create with his brain. We say that Homer created the 'Iliad;' Phidias, the Elgin Marbles; Watt, the steam-engine; Stephenson, the locomotive. The thought that constituted or shaped these great works of genius was bred in the brains of the men who originated them.
4. Personal character. Men commonly regard themselves as the architects of their own characters. If there is growth in wisdom or strength, the strong temptation is to think that this growth is due to their own thought and effort. But—
II. CONSIDER THE FOLLY OF THE PRIDE OF CREATION. This pride springs from a delusion. Certainly it did with Pharaoh. He make the Nile! The Nile made him! Egypt was just the child of the Nile. Her wealth depended on the ministry of the mighty river. Floods gathered from melting snows on distant African mountains far beyond the territory or even the knowledge of the Pharaohs, swelled its waters so that they overflowed their banks and spread fertility on the narrow strips of river-side called Egypt. But this is but an evident instance of what is true in less conspicuous ways. All great things, all new things, all things that exist, come from God. They spring from God, and they depend on him.
1. In nature. God is the Creator and Preserver of nature. He not only made the stone that the sculptor chisels; he made the laws of matter and the fundamental principles of art along which the sculptor must work. National greatness largely depends on geographical and other physical conditions of Divine creation.
2. In providence. God is still in the world, ruling it according to his own thought for his own great purposes. He overrules the government of kings. In private life he helps one on to prosperity, and sends another needful adversity through those turns of events, those conjunctions of circumstances, which the wisest cannot foresee and which the ablest cannot modify.
3. In grace. For the higher good of life spiritual attainments are necessary. Without these attainments Fra. Angelico could not have painted his beautiful angels, Milton could not have written his grand epics, Luther could not have wrought his Titanic revolution. God's inward grace makes souls and characters good and great.
III. AVOID THE SIN OF THE PRIDE OF CREATION. This pride is positively wicked. It robs God of his rightful honor. It is distinctly ungrateful. Indeed, it is atheistic; and practical atheism of this character is far worse morally than the intellectual atheism that denies the being of God as a proposition in academic discussions. Such a sinful pride destroys a man's sense of dependence, his remembrance of obligations, his consciousness of responsibility, that admission of his own littleness which is necessary for humility as well as that feeling of God's greatness and goodness which is at the root of religion.
The meager restoration of Egypt.
I. GOD HAS MERCY ON THE HEATHEN. Egypt is to be conquered by Nebuchadnezzar; but in course of time the Chaldean yoke shall be broken off its neck and Egypt shall be restored to national existence. There is here a promise somewhat similar to that which the prophets repeatedly gave in God's name to the Jews. Now, this promise is offered to a heathen people. God is not only the Judge of the heathen; he is also their Savior. He does not deal only in one way with any people. He cannot confine his relations with any to one side of his nature. He must be ever himself, his true and whole self. But the judicial, and that only in condemning to punishment, by no means includes the whole nature of God. God is essentially love. Therefore whenever God is dealing with any of his creatures, since he is always true to his nature and approaches them in the totality of his character, he must come in love, though at first this love may be hidden behind the clouds of wrath and judgment. In the gospel God shows his mercy to the heathen. Christ came because of God's love for the whole world. It is now the desire of Christ that his gospel should be preached to every creature.
II. THERE ARE IRREPARABLE LOSSES WHICH ARE BROUGHT ABOUT BY SIN. The proud pre-eminence of the empire of the Pharaohs was never recovered. The restored Pharaohs were feeble shadows of their awful predecessors. Cambyses the Persian king asked and received the daughter of one of them, not as a wife, but in the lower rank of a concubine. To the present day Egypt has been a weak and dependent nation. Ezekiel predicts that it shall be the "basest of the kingdoms."
1. The temporal consequences of sin are unavoidable. Repentance does not bring back the spendthrift's squandered fortune. A shattered constitution cannot be restored to sound health.
2. Without a return to God the worst consequences of sin must continue. There is a striking difference between the predictions of the glorious restoration of Israel and this prophecy of the meager and uninviting restoration of Egypt. The conditions of the two peoples were very different. Israel humbled herself and returned in faith and devotion to God. Egypt remained a heathen nation, and as far as we know underwent no moral reformation. God was still merciful to her, but she could not reap the full blessings of restoration. We must believe that the heathen will be judged according to their light, and certainly not be punished for being heathen when they have no opportunity of knowing the truth. But the fact remains that while they lie sunken in moral corruption they cannot be also enjoying the heavenly blessedness of the pure in heart.
III. IT IS WELL THAT FALSE GROUNDS OF CONFIDENCE SHOULD BE EXPOSED. In the past the Jews continually hankered after the Egyptian alliance. They will do so no longer. "Egypt shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel"
1. When the nature of false hopes is exposed we are driven to the truth for our refuge. No longer going down to Egypt for help, restored Israel will know that God is the Lord, and learn to trust him better. God wins us by disillusioning us.
2. The ruin of false hopes is a perpetual warning. Egypt is not to be swept to permanent destruction like Tyre, on whose rocks the fishermen are to hang their nets. She is to continue in existence, but no longer as a ruling nation. Thus Israel will have the spectacle of her neighbor's humiliation perpetually bringing her own iniquity to remembrance. Ruins are a melancholy sight; but they are an instructive one. It is well to study the sadder lessens of history.
Nebuchadnezzar was used as God's servant in the work of destroying Tyre. But he got little profit out of that expedition. Therefore he was to receive his wages in the possession of the fertile and wealthy land of Egypt. This curious rendering of history in the light of Hebrew prophecy and poetry is suggestive.
I. THE GREATEST KING IS BUT GOD'S HIRELING. Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as a common laborer whose wages must be provided for. The pomp and ceremony of royalty are nothing in the sight of Heaven. Religion, like death, is a great leveler.
II. GOD MAKES USE OF SELF-SEEKING MEN. Nebuchadnezzar was called upon to work out Divine decrees. But it was not pretended that he did this of set purpose or with any disinterested motives. His aims and ends were selfish, his views and ideas dark and heathenish. Yet he was a useful instrument of Providence. Thus the greatest selfishness may be converted into a means of doing God's will.
III. GOD IS A JUST MASTER WHO PAYS GOOD WAGES. NO man shall lose by entering his service. At first there may be no advantage, and the service is found to be disappointing. Tyre does not pay. Then Egypt must be thrown in. The beginning of the service seems to be unprofitable; the end of it will certainly be amply rewarded. The laborer is not paid hour by hour. He must wait for his wages. God's laborers often seem to be kept long waiting. But they will surely see their payday, and then receive their dues with interest.
IV. HE DEGRADES HIMSELF WHO SERVES FOR NOTHING BETTER THAN WAGES. The servant needs, earns, and has a right to expect and enjoy, his wages. But he has a gross and selfish mind if he has no other interest in his work than the prospect of making a living out of it. Every man's work should be valued by him on its own account as a contribution to the good of society. Especially is this true of spiritual work. In that there is a prospect of rewards for which even Christ looked forward (Hebrews 12:2). Therefore it is not wrong to expect rewards; every lawful stimulus that can be had is needed to encourage cur service. But he is no true Christian who only serves his Lord for the sake of what he can get. Nebuchadnezzar the heathen, not Paul the Christian, is his model.
V. THE HIGHEST SERVICE IS DISINTERESTED. Nebuchadnezzar, king as he was, had degraded himself to the level of a common hireling in the sight of Heaven by carrying out his great expeditions in a mean and mercenary spirit. But the lowliest Christians rise to the rank of "kings and priests" (Revelation 1:6) when they give the royal service that seeks for no selfishness. This condition does not contradict that previously mentioned, in which a reward is expected. All depends on its quality. It is the working for self-seeking ends that degrades Christian work. Christ's reward was unselfish—to "see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied." The true Christian should learn to say
"And I will ask for no reward,
Except to serve thee still."
The budding horn.
We are not to think of a full-grown horn putting forth buds, like Aaron's rod—in this case a useless monstrosity of growth. The idea is that of a young horn first appearing as in a bud and then growing. A horn is to bud and grow on the house of Israel.
I. THE PROMISE.
1. In the nature of the horn. This signifies three things.
(1) Strength. The horn is a symbol of strength. God promises an end of weakness, a time of power and energy.
(2) Defense. The horn is a weapon, and by means of it its possessor wards off attack. The people of God have been harassed and oppressed. But this time of helplessness is to be succeeded by one of security.
(3) Glory. The horn is an ornament. The stag's antler is the animal's pride and beauty. Women wore horns as part of their head-attire. The exalted horn (Psalms 112:9) stands for the raising up of honor and dignity.
2. In the growth of the horn. It buds:
(1) With a small beginning. The budding horn is at first only discovered as a slight swelling on the head of the animal from which it grows. The best things begin in a small way—the obscure spring of the great river, the grain of mustard seed, the little child, the Christian experience.
(2) With continuous advance. The horn buds, pushes forward, develops into maturity. The best things are living and growing. They cannot remain in a stationary condition. The type to be followed is not the fossil horn in the museum, but the budding horn on the living head. All things of worth have a future towards which they press onward.
II. THE FULFILMENT.
1. In Israel. A horn budded on the head of the restored Israel. From the doleful captivity by the waters of Babylon the Jews returned to their own land. At first they were but a small and feeble folk—like the first appearance of the horn. But the horn was present in the bud. Israel was alive and growing, and she had yet a great destiny before her.
2. In Christ. Christ appeared like a horn growing out of Israel. He came as
(1) the strength,
(2) the defense, and
(3) the glory of Israel.
He was born an infant in a lowly condition. Elsewhere he is compared to a sprout from the stem of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1). Christ was a Jew, and he grew up quietly in the Jewish nation. His beginning was humble; but his complete life is beyond all description in its greatness and glory. All the hope of the future is with him.
3. In the Church. Christ lives in his people. He is born again in his Church, and he grows again in the growth of this his new, mystical body. Thus on the weary, faded world there is seen to grow a new and surprising life. The Christian Church came in strength and promise as a horn of salvation to the old world. It is still a growing horn. All Christians may enjoy its great advantages, and all men may be Christians. Thus there is for all the threefold promise of the budding horn—its strength, its defense, and its glory. No man enjoys these privileges to the full at first. The horn appears as a bud. The Christian life begins in lowly spheres. But it grows like Israel's horn.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The prophet, interdicted from prophesying concerning his own nation, directs his regard to one and another of the neighboring states, with all of which the Jews were in some way connected. With Egypt, Israel had from the earliest period of its history been related and associated. During the epoch of the Captivity, the attention of those Jews who were left in Jerusalem and in Judah was turned towards Egypt, from which source they thought they might obtain assistance against the power of Babylon. The prophets who lived and prophesied about this period had occasion again and again to warn their countrymen against alliance with Egypt, against looking to Egypt for help and deliverance. They regarded Babylon as fulfilling with respect to the Jewish people the decrees of Jehovah himself, and counseled submission and a willingness to learn the Divine lessons of calamity and of exile. It was this just view of the position of their countrymen which led Ezekiel and others to warn the Jews against seeking the aid of Egypt. But the offence of Egypt, on account of which the prophet in the passage denounces the indignation of the Divine Ruler, was the sin of pride and haughty self-confidence.
I. EGYPT'S GROUNDS FOR SELF-CONFIDENCE. There was very much in the position, the strength, and the history of Egypt which seemed to men to justify the nation's pride and assumption of superiority.
1. The river Nile is alluded to by Ezekiel in this passage—a river in some respects the most marvelous in the world. The mystery of its source, the remarkable rise and fall of the stream, occasioning the extraordinary fertility of the soil, the stately temples and the lordly cities upon its banks, the harbor and port at its entrance into the Mediterranean,—all invested the Nile with a peculiar interest. In fact, as has often been said, it is the Nile which made Egypt what it was—the birthplace of civilization and the granary of nations.
2. Hence the wonderful fruitfulness of the laud, and the wealth of every kind which in its ages of prosperity Egypt enjoyed by reason of its teeming products, by which not only were its own inhabitants supplied, but distant peoples were fed. The territory was narrow, hemmed in by the desert on either side, yet abounding in most of the necessaries and luxuries of life.
3. The antiquity and fame of Egypt were unparalleled. A great nation before the other famous monarchies and empires of the ancient world came into being, a nation renowned wherever civilization existed, Egypt was prone to count herself the mother of nations, and to look upon all others as parvenus. A genealogy lost in remote antiquity not unnaturally inspired much pride and self-confidence, much haughty contempt for those who had their position still to make among the nations.
4. Add to all this the consciousness of great military power. The armies, and especially the cavalry and the war-chariots of Egypt, were such as to render her both formidable as a foe and desirable as an ally. These several circumstances account for the conviction cherished by the Egyptians that they were of all nations the greatest, and the least exposed to calamity and disaster.
II. THE WICKEDNESS OF EGYPT'S SELF-CONFIDENCE.
1. This appears from the fact that Egypt assumed the prerogative of the Creator himself. "The river is mine!" was the proud boast of Pharaoh, who herein proved himself to have lost sight of the dependence and feebleness which are attributes of humanity. God's river, given for their use, was by the arrogant Egyptians claimed as their own.
2. Egypt failed to recognize its dependence for material and social advantages upon the superhuman Source and Giver of all good. God was not in all their ways.
3. On the contrary, the people of Egypt took credit to themselves for national greatness and prosperity. It is, indeed, a sin common among the mighty, the wealthy, the flattered; who are too much given to assume first that they deserve credit for the powers of body and of mind with which they are endowed; and then, secondly, that all the results of the exercise of those powers are due to themselves. But nothing is clearer than that our humanity is bound both to gratitude and to humility. The appeal may well be addressed to every individual and to every nation, "Who made thee to differ? What hast thou that thou didst not receive?"
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF EGYPT'S SELF-CONFIDENCE. Such a temper of mind, such language, and such confidence as the prophet here describes, could not be allowed to pass unchecked, unrebuked. The Egyptians were preparing humiliation for themselves; for if there is one scriptural principle more than another enforced by the lessons of history, it is this: "He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart; he hath put down princes from their thrones." The facts recorded agree with the predictions of the inspired prophet. Egypt was speedily
(1) subdued by her Babylonian the;
(2) humiliated by defeat; and
(3) enfeebled in her military power, crippled, and rendered impotent.—T.
Mightier than the mighty.
It is ever the vocation of the prophet, and indeed of every religious teacher, to counteract the superficial views and to expose the worldly standards which too often obtain among men. In the time of Ezekiel there were certain States of great wealth, power, and renown, which men were wont to regard with feelings of reverence amounting to superstition. One office which he was called upon to discharge was to shake the confidence of men in the great secular world-powers which seemed capable of enduring for ever, and of defying the assaults of human arms and even the decaying power of time itself. In this passage the prophet concedes the greatness of Egypt, and yet affirms the superiority and supremacy of Jehovah, the God of nations.
I. THE POWER OF A MIGHTY STATE REPRESENTED UNDER AS IMPRESSIVE SIMILITUDE. By the dragon we are to understand the crocodile, the powerful and monstrous creature which haunts the river Nile, and which is the terror of the population. An appropriate emblem of Egypt in its ancient, settled, and formidable strength.
II. THE REPUTATION OF THAT STATE AS INVULNERABLE AND IRRESISTIBLE. As the giant crocodile seems to make the river its own, lording it over all beside, devouring the fish, terrifying the dwellers upon the river's banks, so Pharaoh King of Egypt, in his haughty self-confidence and defiant fearlessness, regarded himself as the great potentate of the world, secure from all molestation, able to carry out all his schemes of aggrandizement, ready to meet in battle, and certain to overcome, the forces of any nation that might be foolhardy enough to challenge his supremacy. As "the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers," so the power of Egypt dwelt secure and proud, claiming dominion, and dreading no disturbance from any foreign rival or foe.
III. THE ALMIGHTY GOD CONTROLS AND VANQUISHES THE POWER OF THE MIGHTIEST or NATIONS AND OF KINGS. The language attributed to Jehovah, who is represented as addressing Pharaoh, is very graphic: "I will put hooks in thy jaws and I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers." God uses his own agents, but he always accomplishes his own purposes. He saw the need of humbling Egypt's pride, and he employed Babylon to do this work. It was done, and done effectively. The arms of Nebuchadnezzar were turned against Egypt, and God gave the land of Egypt to the King of Babylon, as a spoil and prey, and as his hire and wages for the service he had rendered in the siege and destruction of Tyre.
IV. THE MIGHTY OF THIS WORLD, WHEN DEALT WITH BY THE MIGHTIEST, IS LEFT DEFENSELESS, HUMILIATED, AND ASHAMED. The picture here, in the fourth and fifth verses, painted by the prophet, is painful, but it is effective. The mighty, monster of the Nile is dragged by hook and line from the depths of the river it has been wont to call its own, is flung into the wilderness, and is "given for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven." Egypt, and all her dependents who trusted in her and boasted of her patronage, are brought low, their helplessness is made apparent; and those who but lately were an object of envy and of fear are now regarded with pity or with derision.—T.
Ezekiel 29:6, Ezekiel 29:7
The staff of reed.
The figure is a very striking and effective one, however it may have been distasteful to the house of Israel, and even more so to the vaunted prowess of Egypt.
I. THE SINFUL AND FOOLISH TRUST OF ISRAEL IN EGYPT. The circumstances in which Judah was placed at the time were such as to make it madness on the part of the remnant at Jerusalem to seek help from Egypt. Not only so; they were strictly forbidden upon Divine authority to act in this manner. In quietness and confidence lay their safety, in returning and rest, as Isaiah most powerfully and urgently represented to the people;—not in the horsemen and the chariots of Egypt.
II. THE HELPLESSNESS OF EGYPT AS A FRIEND AND DELIVERER. Why Egypt was at this time so powerless to help those who sought her alliance may not be perfectly clear to us; but the fact is so, and of this the events are sufficient evidence. It was a vain confidence which the Jews placed in the great and ancient world-power on the banks of the Nile. They thought they grasped a staff strong and trustworthy, and they found it "a staff of reed."
III. THE INJURY INFLICTED UPON ISRAEL BY THE FAILURE OF EGYPT'S AID. Not only did the helper prove helpless; not only did the staff, when leant upon, bend and break. Those who applied for help received hurt instead of aid; the reed broke and pierced the hand that grasped it and trusted in its support. Jerusalem was all the worse for turning to Egypt for assistance against Babylon, the victorious and, just then, irresistible power.
IV. THE COMMON CONFUSION OF THOSE WHO FOOLISHLY TRUSTED AND OF THOSE WHO PLACED CONFIDENCE IN THEM. Babylon rose; but Egypt and Judah fell. "All their loins shook;" i.e. the consequences of their policy were trouble, fear, and misery to both. Both incurred the hostility of the power which they in vain leagued with each other to resist.
V. THE MORAL AND RELIGIOUS LESSON OF THE INCIDENT AND EXPERIENCE HERE DESCRIBED. There is a proneness among all nations to be guided in their alliances, aims, and efforts by considerations of worldly policy and expediency. Too seldom do they ask themselves—What is right? What is in accordance with the eternal Reason and Righteousness which rule the world? What, in a word, is the course which God approves and enjoins? The proceedings undertaken at the instigation of worldly expediency, and in violation of Divine law, may meet with apparent and temporary success. But the Lord reigneth; and sooner or later action which he disapproves shall issue in disappointment and disaster.—T.
The humiliation of Egypt's pride.
It certainly gives a reader a somewhat dark and gloomy view of the state of the world in the time of Ezekiel, to read, as we have to do in his prophecies, one almost uninterrupted series of reproaches and condemnations. The prophet spares no man and no nation; and his writings are a monument to human iniquity, and especially to the faults and errors of the nations that flourished and fell in pre-Christian antiquity. In this passage he foretells the approaching humiliation of Egypt.
I. THE GROUNDS OF THIS HUMILIATION. It is a law of eternal justice that they who exalt themselves shall be made low and brought to the ground. The faults with which Egypt, as a state, are particularly charged are the faults of self-confidence, pride, and boasting—sins peculiarly offensive to the Most High, who will be acknowledged as God alone, and who will not give his honor to another.
II. THE POWER AND CAUSE OF THIS HUMILIATION. We are taught by the prophet—and the lesson is in harmony with the teaching of Scripture generally—to attribute this to the Eternal King and Judge, who is supreme over all nations. His sway is sometimes questioned and disputed, and is too often forgotten and practically repudiated. But behind and above all human powers there is a Power supreme and universal, not cognizable by sense, but discerned by the reason and the conscience. To this the working of moral law in the affairs of individual men and of nations is to be referred; to leave this out of sight is to leave much that we meet with in history and experience obscure and perplexing.
III. THE INSTRUMENT OF THIS HUMILIATION. The sword that was to cut off man and beast out of the land of Egypt, that was to lay waste and desolate the cities, was the sword of Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, himself a heathen, doubtless stained with the errors and crimes of heathenism, yet employed as a suitable agent in the chastisement of many rebellious peoples. It is remarkable that the same power should be employed to chasten Israel, Israel's allies, and Israel's foes!
IV. THE CHARACTER OF THIS HUMILIATION. The armies of Egypt were defeated; the land was laid waste; the cities were dismantled; and the Egyptians themselves were scattered and dispersed among the nations. Scarcely an element of disgrace was omitted; the chastisement was complete.
V. THE EXTENT AND DURATION OF THIS HUMILIATION. It was to affect the whole land, from the mouth of the Nile to the southernmost boundary. And it was to last for the space of forty years—a limit of time which is not, perhaps, to be taken literally, but, as is usual in Hebrew writings, as representing a long period.
VI. THE LESSONS OF THIS HUMILIATION.
1. It was a rebuke to haughty self-confidence.
2. It was a summons to penitence and contrition on account of sin.
3. It was an inducement to submission.
4. It was a clear voice from heaven, calling the nations to put their trust, not in an arm of flesh, but in the living God. "Some put their trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the Name of the Lord, our God"—T.
Light out of darkness,
The case of Egypt was very different from that of Tyre. For inscrutable reasons, Tyre was destined to destruction, and Egypt to recovery and revival. The destruction of one city occupying a rock upon the seashore was the extinction of Tyre. Egypt was a vast territory, peopled by a widespread and prolific race; it might be humiliated, but could not easily be politically annihilated. The fortunes of the land of the Pharaohs were gloomy in the immediate future; but the remoter prospect was not without relief and even brightness.
I. THE PROMISED RECOVERY AND RESTORATION. The prophet was instructed to foretell, first Egypt's defeat, dispersion, and captivity, and then Egypt's restoration to the land of Pathros, the land of their origin. We are not told, and we do not know how large was the section of the army or of the inhabitants of the country affected by these predictions. The fact only concerns us, and we recognize that in the midst of judgment the Lord remembered mercy, that banishment was not perpetual, and that the national, life was appointed for revival.
II. THE QUALIFICATION AND TEMPERING OF THE BOON THUS GRACIOUSLY VOUCHSAFED. Lest Egypt should be again puffed up, the prophet was directed to utter an assurance that the nation, though spared utter humiliation and extinction, should nevertheless never resume its former greatness. Two points are expressly mentioned.
1. The restored Egypt should be "a base kingdom." It should not take the rank among the nations which it had been entitled to hold aforetime. Its power should be crippled, and its splendor should be dimmed.
2. It should no more bear rule over other nations. Such had in former times been subject to its authority, as dependents, subjects, and tributaries. Egypt's might should no longer avail to reduce surrounding peoples to subjection.
III. THE MORAL AND POLITICAL LESSONS OF THE PROVIDENTIAL ACTION OF GOD TOWARDS EGYPT. These also are very explicitly stated by Ezekiel.
1. Israel should no more look to Egypt for aid, as, in defiance of express warnings from Jehovah, she had been wont to do in times past.
2. Both Israel and Egypt should know that the Lord is God. This was a truth with which Israel was speculatively well acquainted, but which Israel was too ready to forget. Egypt had not enjoyed the same opportunity of learning the wisdom, the authority, the compassion, of Jehovah. Yet lessons may be learnt in adversity which prosperity cannot teach. Egypt was taught by stern discipline; but some impression was doubtless made. It was not for Israel's sake alone that Egypt's calamities were permitted; but that the smitten nation might bow beneath the rod, and acknowledge the justice of the King of men.—T.
The King of kings.
By the very remarkable events here foretold, viewed in the light of the very remarkable interpretation which Ezekiel was inspired to add, we are taught some lessons of wider application and deeper interest than those which appear upon the surface of the prophet's writings.
I. GOD IS OVER ALL.
(1) The hearts of kings,
(2) the power of armies, and
(3) the fortunes of nations, are in his hand.
II. GOD USES ALL.
1. He has and directs his own instruments of work, kings and nations being at his service.
2. He has his own resources from which to provide wages and rewards for those whom he employs as his ministers of righteousness and retribution.
III. GOD IS GLORIFIED IN ALL.
1. In the submission of the rebellious.
2. In the chastisement of the proud.
3. In the recovery of the erring but penitent.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The world-power doomed.
The work of the prophet is clear and definite, He does not declare his own speculations, nor the conclusions of his own judgment. He can specify the day and the hour in which God makes known to him his supreme will. Nor is the work so pleasant to the flesh as to induce men to adopt it of their own accord. The true prophet has to set himself against wickedness everywhere, of every sort and kind. He has to forego all human friendships, if he will publish God's Word.
I. THE WORLDLY KING IS SELF-DEGRADED. He is likened here to a crocodile. This is a fitting emblem for the King of Egypt. As the crocodile flourishes in the rivers of tropical lands, so the prosperity of Egypt depended wholly on the Nile. Without the Nile, Egypt would be a desert. So, instead of rising to the dignity of a true king, a representative of God, he sank into a condition of self-indulgence, i.e. to the level of an animal. To grovel in the mire, to find satisfaction in earthly possessions, to gratify the lower nature,—this was the supreme aim of Pharaoh. This is animalism; this is self-degradation.
II. THE WORLDLY KING IS VAINGLORIOUS. "My river is mine own: I have made it for myself." Self-degradation leads to ignorance, ignorance to pride, pride to empty boastfulness. A man must divest himself of his intelligence and his reason before he can say, "I have made this river for myself." This is an abuse of intellect, a prostitution of conscience. Not even a crocodile has said this. To depart from God is to wander into darkness, folly, madness. Such a state of mind is practical atheism. It is a direct challenge to God to display his judicial might and to vindicate his rule. Such a vain-glorious temper of mind is profane, insolent, little short of the Satanic mind.
III. THE WORLDLY KING IS A DANGEROUS ALLY. "They have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel." As a man maimed or invalided rests his weight, when walking, upon some mechanical support, and suffers grievous injury if his support breaks, so was it when Israel foolishly leant upon Egypt for support. The prospect of succor was specious and plausible. Egypt promised friendly aid, but when the hour of trial came the support collapsed, and both Israel and Egypt were injured. It is perilous to trust in any godless power. We are often decoyed into a fatal ambush by appearances. Friendship, if not a real advantage, is a bane. It is an injury to us personally, if the one on whom we trusted fails; it is a hundredfold more injurious to an empire. Test your allies before you trust them.
IV. THE WORLDLY KING IS EASILY VULNERABLE. Carnal security is weakness incarnate. It is a rampart of cobwebs. The King of Egypt trusted wholly in his river with its seven branches; yet nothing was easier than for God to dry up the sources of that stream, and leave the crocodile on the dry land, with dead fish sticking to his scales. This is a graphic picture of defeat, a sudden collapse of brag. The river having failed, the prophecy would speedily be verified, "I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven." Achilles was said to have been vulnerable only in the heel, but every world-power is vulnerable in a thousand points. God's favor is the only known shield that is impregnable.
V. THE DEFEAT OF THE WORLD-POWER WILL BE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF GOD'S KINGDOM. "All the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord." This is a difficult lesson for men to learn, and the task is long. Yet God is not impatient. He calmly waits his time. Slowly, yet surely, the foundations of his empire are being laid. The idols of Egypt have been completely overthrown, and gradually God is being acknowledged. "He must reign." It is a grand necessity.—D.
God's frown, a chill of death.
Men have very erroneous ideas of God when they think lightly of making him their foe. They have a vague idea that he is as impotent as one of their idols. Did they but know the magnitude of his power, and his complete supremacy over human affairs, they would feel that his frown was blackest death. The fruits of God's hostility are—
I. DISASTROUS WAR. "I will bring a sword upon thee." It would not be true to say that God takes part in every war. In many cases both combatants are to blame, and God cannot take sides with either. But, in every case in which one of the combatants is impelled to fight for an unrighteous cause, clearly God will aid the other side. Not always then. For although a combatant may have a righteous cause to defend, he may defend it in a vindictive spirit and with unhallowed weapons. It is well to note that God does fight with his trusty servants against evildoers. He does employ the sword of men in his cause; and when he is behind the sword, "it will cut off man and beast."
II. WIDESPREAD DESOLATION. "The land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste." Nothing is easier with God than to make waste the land of Egypt. He has but to diminish the water-supply of the Nile, and the territory becomes a desert. To him it must be a grievous pain to make the fair face of nature desolate. He who delights in beauty, and caused the "sons of God to sing for joy" when earth was first robed in leafy vesture, must be pained when the verdure of forests and cornfields is blasted. Yet his desire for human good, and for the development of righteousness in the earth, is stronger far. This gives him a deeper joy; and, in order to promote moral loveliness, it is sometimes worth while to sacrifice the fair face of nature.
III. EQUITABLE REPRISALS. "Because he hath said, The river is mine … therefore I am against thy rivers." This is language which men everywhere can understand. This is argument which leaves deep impression in the human breast. If men despise and treat with contempt God's messages sent in the form of human speech, God will speak to them in language they will not contemn. The strict equity of God's dealings has often been written in largest capitals. The prohibited thing has become a scourge. The quails lusted after became disease in the intestines. The Nile, worshipped as a god, was changed into blood. God is never in haste to vindicate his rights, because at any moment he can cast a bombshell of alarm in his enemies' camp. If men must needs trifle, let them trifle with Satan—never with God.
IV. ANOTHER FRUIT OF GOD'S DISPLEASURE IS TEMPORARY DISPERSION. "I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations I will bring again the captivity of Egypt." Compulsory banishment is a serious disgrace, a heavy calamity. The poor, no less than the rich, have tender attachment to their homes. The tendrils of strong affection twine round the cottage in which one is born. To be compelled to turn away from the familiar scenes—to be compelled by a foreign conqueror—is galling to every sentiment, is like a fire in one's bones. Such enforced separation means loss, hardship, uncertainty, dishonor. Defeat in war is affliction sore enough; banishment is tenfold worse. How insane on the part of men to provoke God into such necessity of chastisement!
V. ANOTHER EFFECT OF GOD'S ANGER IS, PERPETUAL DEGRADATION. "It shall be the basest of the kingdoms, neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations." To have a friend who is cultured and refined is to have an elevating power at our side, lifting us up to a better life. God is wise; and to have God as a Friend is to gain wisdom steadily. God is pure; and to have God's friendship is to become pure also. God is love; and he who is much in God's society becomes lovely and loving. All good flows from God as its Fount; and to cut off one's self willfully from that fount is to sink into ignorance and misery. The friends of God must rise; the foes of God must deteriorate. Today this prophecy is signally fulfilled. For centuries past Egypt has been the tool and the slave of other empires. She has been ground to the dust by the oppressor, nor is there at present any prospect that she will rise again. The word of the Lord by Ezekiel, although then improbable, has been performed.—D.
A New Year's gift to a king.
There is a common proverb, that "he who gives quickly gives double." But this is not always true. A deferred gift is sometimes the best gift. God may to us seem to forget, but it is only seeming. The memory never fails, nor yet his good will.
I. ROUGH WAR IS SOMETIMES SERVICE DONE FOR GOD. "They wrought for me, saith the Lord God." Men of delicate sensibility cannot understand how God can allow the rough business of war to serve his cause. Nevertheless, he does. If a warrior-king is actuated by a desire to vindicate righteousness or to redress a wrong, he is fighting in the cause of Jehovah. Probably his motives and ambitions may be of a mixed and conglomerate character. Love of self may be commingled with love of justice; yet so far as a righteous purpose appears, he may expect the benediction of God. If our Lord Jehovah did not bless human endeavor until it was free from every admixture of selfishness, he would never bless at all. Abundant generosity marks all his action. By so doing he encourages youngest efforts in the right direction.
II. IN WAR, GOD IS THE SUPREME ARBITER. Possibly Nebuchadnezzar did not know Jehovah—did not know that he was rendering a service to the God of heaven. This happens sometimes. Isaiah was commissioned by God to say to Cyrus, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." Ignorance, if not preventible, is excusable. Ignorance that is willful is a crime. God does not always take sides in war. Very often both sides are actuated simply by malice or some equally base passion. Temporary success in war cannot, therefore, be accepted as the approval of Jehovah. The devil does, now and again, obtain a transient triumph—at least a seeming triumph. But, on the whole, God acts as Arbiter, and often quickly reverses the effect of a visible conquest. In every battle he sees much to condemn, sometimes much to approve.
III. GOD IS THE UNDISPUTED DISPOSER OF EMPIRES. Without question, he gave the empires of Canaan to the seed of Abraham. He gave the territory of North America to the British. He gave Egypt for a time to the kings of Persia. "He setteth up one, and putteth down another." As he claims supreme control over individual persons, so he does also over empires, large and small. "The earth is the Lord's." He alone may rule with a high hand, and give to men no account of his doings.
IV. HIS REWARDS, THOUGH SEEMINGLY DELAYED, ARE TIMELY AND GENEROUS. In this passage God does not stint his praise to Nebuchadnezzar. He generously styles it "a great service." He has noted carefully all the hard toil which his army endured. Not an item of hardship or fidelity is overlooked. Every tear of the widow, every sorrow of the orphan, was lodged in his memory. To have rewarded the king immediately might have been to do him injury. It might have unduly elated him. It might have fed his pride. It might have fostered an ambition for further conquests. Ambition of this sort is a terrible passion in man, and needs to be held in with a strong curb. But when danger of abusing the reward is past, God will give it, and give it in an ample measure. To possess Egypt was wealth, honor, fame. It was to gain a notable place in the history of the world. Be quite sure that when God rewards a man it will be with generosity more than royal—generosity not to be measured. Having done good service, we can afford to wait.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Egypt: a guilty vaunt.
Notwithstanding that Judah was now looking to Egypt for deliverance, Ezekiel uttered his strong and unqualified condemnation of that idolatrous power. The Hebrew prophet was always entirely unaffected by considerations of worldly policy. What is here energetically rebuked is the sinful pride of that self-sufficient people. "My river is my own. I have made it for myself," said the Egyptian "crocodile." Whether that tone be taken by Pharaoh or by the country over which he ruled, by the minister or the Church, by the individual or the community, anywhere and at any time, it is—
I. A PIECE OF FOLLY. In a purely political sense a country does belong to its inhabitants, and they have made it what it is. But in no other sense. That noble river Nile, the strength and the glory of the land, flowed in its channels and enriched the soil, not because Pharaoh or because Egypt had done anything remarkable, but because he who "sendeth forth the springs into the valleys" and "watereth the hills from his chambers" made the streams to run from the mountain-sides and to meet and flow in the great river-bed. Heaven sent the rains and the showers which fed the river which fertilized the laud. And if we will but go back far enough and trace our treasures and our joys to their ultimate source, we shall see and we shall feel the folly of appropriating to ourselves the wealth, the knowledge, the spiritual capacity, the material or moral resources, which proceed from God himself. From him they come and to him they belong. To say, "My river is my own, is to speak with falsehood on our tongue; such language is the utterance of foolish thoughtlessness.
II. As ACT OF SIN. Iris positively wrong; for is it not "robbing God?" When we speak in this strain, because we think and feel in this habit of mind, we assume to ourselves that which we should be freely and continually offering to our Creater. We are denying to him that which is his due. We are showing ourselves to him as the irreverent, ungrateful, undutiful subjects and recipients that we are. Thus that which is foolish and false is also that which is guilty; it is accumulating Divine displeasure. It is taking up a position in which God, just because he loves us and. wishes our true and lasting welfare, is compelled, to say to us, "I am against yea"(Verse 3).
III. THE WAY TO DISILLUSION AND HUMILIATION. For the interpretation or application of the solemn threatenings here pronounced (Verses 4-6), see Exposition. But however we explain the prophet's words, it is clear that Egypt was awakened from its dream of absolute authorship and ownership, and that it had to stand down from its proud position of protector, and wear, for some time and in some degree, the yoke of subjection. Pride preceded a fall beneath those skies as beneath the heavens everywhere. Everywhere, to the proud country, to the pretentious power in Church or state, to the arrogant individual, there is sure to come the hour when the fond dream of lasting superiority is dispelled, when the pedestal on which it (he) stood is broken, when the homage once rendered it turns to defiance, and. the honor it once enjoyed is lost in shame. How excellent, on the other hand, is that humility which leads ever upwards and ends in immortal glory!—C.
The confidence which is condemned.
To whatever straits and to whatever desolation Egypt was actually reduced—that is a question to be decided by our principle of interpretation and by our knowledge of history—it is clear that it was to be brought so low that it would be incompetent to play the part of deliverer to Israel or Judah, as it had done before (see Ezekiel 17:15-17). It would never again be "the confidence of the house of Israel, bringing iniquity to remembrance" (Revised Version). For that misplaced hope in Egypt was iniquity in the sight of God (see Isaiah 30:2, Isaiah 30:3; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 36:4, Isaiah 36:6). It was a sinful failure to trust in its one true Refuge, and it was a blind and sensuous confidence in mere numbers and military prowess. The "iniquity" to which Egypt would never again tempt the people of God, or even bring to their remembrance, was, as we thus see, an unwarrantable and God-forgetting trust. We ask—Where do our temptations to this same folly lie, and how are they to be shunned or to be defeated?
I. WHERE OUR TEMPTATIONS LIE. We are continually invited to look for our resources or for our refuge in other beings than in God, in other things than in his Word and in his service.
1. In man; in the human counsel which proves to be short-sighted and shallow folly, and not the profound wisdom which it purported to be (see Jeremiah 17:5).
2. In money; in that which commands many valuable things (Ecclesiastes 10:19), but which conspicuously fails in the hour of darkest trouble and deepest need, which cannot enlighten the mind, or cleanse the conscience, or heal the heart, or amend the life: it is ill indeed to "trust in uncertain riches" (1 Timothy 6:17).
3. In numbers; it is very common delusion that we are right and safe if we have a great majority on our side. But what are all the hosts that man can gather when God is "against" us (Ezekiel 29:3)? How often in human history have great numbers proved to be utterly vain, and to have done nothing but stamp and signalize defeat?
4. In our own intelligence. The proud of heart say within themselves, "We shall discern the danger, we shall distinguish between the faithful and the false, we shall be able to defeat the enemy and to secure ourselves; others may have failed, but our sagacity will suffice." But they go on their way of false confidence, and they are rudely awakened from their dream (see Proverbs 3:5; Jeremiah 9:23, Jeremiah 9:24). All these false trusts are temptations to us. For they
(1) lead us away from the one true source of strength and safety; and they
(2) conduct us to defeat and to disaster. The hour comes when we recognize our folly, and see that we must suffer seriously for our fault.
II. How WHEY ARE TO BE MET AND MASTERED.
1. Not by attempting to avoid them altogether. Those who have sought to shun all temptation to seek safety or satisfaction in lower objects by placing themselves wholly out of their range, have found that they have only put themselves within range of other evils, less apparent but more subtle and quite as serious.
2. By a studious and strenuous endeavor to moderate our trust in the human and the material according to its worth. But chiefly:
3. By careful and constant cultivation of our trust in the living God, by seeking his face, by worshipping in his house, by consulting his Word, by daily addressing ourselves to him in the still hour of private, personal communion.—C.
Speech, silence, and prophecy.
"I will give thee the opening, of the mouth." We may be led up to the proper subject of the text by reference to—
I. THE GIFT OF SPEECH. We wonder how animals succeed in communicating with one another; that they are supplied with some method of making known and passing on is unquestionable. But whatever their means may be, they fall very short of the great gift of speech which it is our priceless advantage to possess. So common and so familiar has it become, that we little heed its value or the goodness of God in bestowing it. But when we dwell in thought upon all the difference it has made to human life, and the extent to which it has enriched us, we may well bless God with fervent feeling that he has given to our race "the opening of the mouth" in speech and in song. How has it multiplied our power to instruct and enlighten, to warn and save, to comfort and to heal, to cheer and to gladden, to pray and to praise and to exhort, to prepare for all the duty and the burden of life, to make ready for the brighter scenes and ampler spheres of immortality! And as this is so,
(1) how carefully should we guard, how earnestly pray, how seriously admonish, against its abuse!
(2) how studious should we be to make the best and wisest use of this inestimable gift of God.
II. THE GRACE OF SILENCE. If there is a great value in "the opening of the mouth," so also is there much virtue in keeping it closed when "only silence suiteth best." To spare the stinging but severe retort that rises to the lips; to delay the accusation until more knowledge has been gained; to bear without rebuke the sound that tries our nerves, but is the delight of others; to refuse to pass on the unproved default; to refrain from the commonplaces of comfort in presence of some fresh, acute, overwhelming sorrow; to wait our time and. our turn until others have spoken who should, precede us, or until we have earned the right to speak; to "be dumb, to open not our mouth" under the chastening hand of God, and to retire into the sanctuary of the inner chamber that we may think and understand;—this is a true "grace," which they who seek the best in human character and life will not fail to desire and to pursue.
III. THE PRIVILEGE OF PROPHECY. No nobler order of men ever rose and wrought than the Hebrew prophets. They were "men that spoke for God" as their name indicates they should have been. And they" opened their mouth" fearlessly, faithfully, even heroically. They were to be found in the front when there was unpalatable truth to be spoken, uninviting duty to be done, serious danger to be dared. They did not shrink from speaking the straightforward truth to the people, the army, the sovereign. The Lord "before whom they stood," and in whose near presence they felt that they were safe, gave them the wisdom to speak and the courage to act. He "gave them the opening of the mouth;" and hence these strong, brave, searching, sometimes scathing, sometimes cheering words, which we still read in our homes and in our sanctuaries, which still help to form our character and to shape our life. Their true successors are found in those Christian ministers, and in those who do not call themselves by that name, who "speak for God," and who do speak for him because, like their prototypes, they
(1) are enriched by him with knowledge and insight—under-standing of his will and insight into the nature and character of their fellowmen;
(2) are endowed by him with the power of utterance—such utterance as constrains attention and secures reflection and emotion;
(3) are impressed, if not oppressed, with an inextinguishable impulse to speak what they have learned of God (Jeremiah 20:9; Psalms 39:3; Acts 4:20; 1 Corinthians 9:16).—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 29". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany