Bible Commentary: Ezekiel 30:20-31:18

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Ezekiel 30:20-31:18

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Egypt Defeated as a Prelude to Complete Destruction

The prophecy against the Egyptian pharaoh in Ezekiel 30:20-26 comes in the early spring of 587 B.C., just a few months after the prophecy of Egypt in our previous reading (30: 20; compare 29:1). God says He has "broken the arm of Pharaoh" (Ezekiel 30:21) and that He "will break his arms, both the strong one and the one that was broken" to "make the sword fall out of his hand" (verse 22). The "arm" is the symbol of strength. It holds a "sword," meaning that it wields military power. The breaking of the first arm, which had already taken place at this point, refers to Pharaoh Hophra's attempt to relieve the siege of Jerusalem, which we read about in Jeremiah 37:5. The attempt had obviously failed, with Egypt left sorely defeated.

The image of a broken arm was quite suitable. "The flexed arm was a common Egyptian symbol for the Pharaoh's strength. Often statues or images of the Pharaoh have this arm flexed, wielding a sword in battle. A king with great biceps was especially a popular concept under the Saites Dynasty of Ezekiel's day. In addition Hophra took a second formal title that meant 'possessed of a muscular arm' or 'strong-armed'" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on Ezekiel 30:20-26).

The initial defeat of the Egyptian forces by the Babylonians was a mere prelude to the complete destruction Egypt would soon suffer. The nation would be devastated, with its people scattered (verses 23-26), as previously proclaimed in Jeremiah 29:12-13. Also repeated is the intended goal of God's discipline—that the Egyptians would know that He is the true God (30:26). As in other prophecies, this seems to signify that ultimate fulfillment will not come until the end time.

Egypt to Be Felled Like the Great Tree Assyria

Two months later, God gives Ezekiel another prophecy of Egypt's fall (Ezekiel 31:1; compare Ezekiel 30:20). A comparison is made between Egypt and Assyria. Egypt was a powerful and arrogant empire like Assyria. But the Assyrian Empire was even more powerful than Egypt. In fact, Egypt itself had been conquered by Assyria and incorporated into the Assyrian Empire.

In the imagery of chapter 31, Assyria is pictured as a Lebanon cedar—as the cedars of Lebanon were the tallest trees in the Middle East. Great rivers nourished the empire—the Tigris and Euphrates providing Mesopotamia with its fertility of soil and with important commercial traffic routes. Smaller nations, represented as birds and beasts, dwelt in and beneath its boughs. No other "trees," imperial nations, were like it. Still, this great tree was felled—brought down to "hell" or, in Hebrew, sheol, meaning "the grave" (verses 15-17; compare "death" and "the Pit" in verse 14).

Despite the greatness and power of Assyria, God brought it down by means of the forces of Babylon. So why did Egypt think that it could now prevail against Babylon? If the Assyrian Empire had fallen to the Babylonians, so would the much weaker Egypt—especially since the Almighty God was behind it.