Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The series of prophecies against Egypt, occupying the four following chapters, and containing seven separate prophecies, were all delivered in regular order, except the short one at the close of this chapter (Ezekiel 29:17-21), which was much later. The prophecy of Ezekiel 30:1-19 is indeed undated, but there is no reason to suppose it is out of its chronological place. Ezekiel 29-31, with the exception just mentioned, were uttered before the fall of Jerusalem, and consequently before the series of prophecies against other foreign nations just considered, the principle of arrangement here being geographical rather than chronological, and the immediate neighbours of Israel being taken up before the more distant Egypt. In the detail this series is arranged substantially on the same plan as that against Tyre: first, a prophecy against Egypt (Ezekiel 29, 30); then a picture of her greatness and fall (Ezekiel 31); and finally a dirge over her (Ezekiel 32).
At the time when the first of these prophecies was uttered the Jews still looked upon Egypt as the great power opposed to the Chaldæans, and still hoped for aid from this source. Hence the teaching of this prophecy was very necessary for them. And even afterwards it was important for them to understand that they were not to rely on any earthly aid, and especially that Egypt, to which they had been disposed to look during so many generations, could never help them.
The monarch now upon the throne of Egypt was Pharaoh-Hophra, the Apries of the Greeks. On the question of his death and the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, see Excursus at the end of this book. It is certain that the period was one of a temporary revival of Egyptian power amid its general course of decadence. Egypt had been conquered by Assyria, and again and again subdued after its revolts. On the fall of Assyria it had thrown off all foreign yoke, and Hophra himself had made a successful attack upon the Phœnicians, and had attempted to raise the siege of Jerusalem, in which he momentarily succeeded, but was driven off by Nebuchadnezzar. Not many years afterwards Egypt was finally subdued by the Medo-Persian power, which succeeded the Chaldæan at Babylon, and never regained its independence for any length of time. It continued a Persian satrapy until it fell successively under the Greek, the Roman, and the Mameluke sway.
In the tenth year, in the tenth month, in the twelfth day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,(1) In the tenth year, in the tenth month.—This was exactly a year and two days after the investment of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 24:1-2; 2Kings 25:1), and about six months before its fall, or seven before its destruction (2Kings 25:3-8). It must have been, therefore, after the time when the siege was temporarily raised by the approach of the Egyptians under Pharaoh-Hophra (Jeremiah 37:5; Jeremiah 37:11), and when Jeremiah prophesied the failure of that attempt (Jeremiah 37:6-10); and probably was just when the news of that relief reached Chaldæa, and gave fresh hope to the exiles of the deliverance of Jerusalem.
Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.(3) The great dragon.—This word is usually translated dragon in the English version, but sometimes whale (Ezekiel 32:2), and (in a slightly modified form) serpent (Exodus 7:9-10; Exodus 7:12). It unquestionably means crocodile, the characteristic animal of Egypt, in some parts hated and destroyed, in some worshipped as a deity, but in all alike feared, and regarded as the most powerful and destructive creature of their country.
Lieth in the midst of his rivers.—Egypt, a creation of the Nile, and dependent entirely upon it for its productiveness, is personified by the crocodile, its characteristic animal, basking upon the sand-banks of its waters. The expression “his rivers,” used of the branches of the Nile near its mouth, is peculiarly appropriate to the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, to which Pharaoh-Hophra belonged, whose capital was Sais, in the midst of the Delta.
My river is mine own.—This is characteristic of the pride of Hophra, who, according to Herodotus, was accustomed to say that “not even a god could dispossess him of power.” The whole dynasty to which he belonged, beginning with Psammeticus, improved the river and encouraged commerce with foreign nations, thereby acquiring great wealth.
But I will put hooks in thy jaws, and I will cause the fish of thy rivers to stick unto thy scales, and I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers, and all the fish of thy rivers shall stick unto thy scales.(4) Hooks in thy jaws.—An allusion to the ancient way of taking and destroying the crocodile, otherwise invulnerable to their arms.
Fish of thy rivers shall stick unto thy scales.—As the crocodile, the lord of the Nile, represents the royal power of Egypt, so the fish represent the people dependent upon him. Pharaoh is not to fall alone, but shall drag his people with him into a common ruin.
And I will leave thee thrown into the wilderness, thee and all the fish of thy rivers: thou shalt fall upon the open fields; thou shalt not be brought together, nor gathered: I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven.(5) Open fields is synonymous with “wilderness” in the previous clause. The crocodile and the fish together, drawn from the river, are to be thrown upon the sands of the neighbouring desert, to be devoured by the birds and beasts of prey: thus representing that Pharaoh and his people, uprooted from their power, are to be given over for a spoil to various nations.
And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel.(6) A staff of reed.—In Isaiah 36:6 the dependence of Judah upon Egypt is described as trust “in the staff of this broken reed;” but notwithstanding all warnings, they still trusted, especially at the time of this prophecy, and proved in their experience the truth of the Divine word. The figure is taken from the reeds, which grew abundantly on the banks of the Nile, and the statement is historically amplified in the following verse, where the reference is to be understood not of any single fact so much as of a continual, often repeated result. There should be a period in the middle of Ezekiel 29:6, the first half forming the conclusion of the previous denunciation, and the second half being closely connected with Ezekiel 29:7-9. Ezekiel 29:7 is parenthetical.
When they took hold of thee by thy hand, thou didst break, and rend all their shoulder: and when they leaned upon thee, thou brakest, and madest all their loins to be at a stand.(7) All their loins to be at a stand.—The expression is a difficult one, but the more probable sense is, all their loins to shake. The reed breaks under the weight of the man who leans upon it, and pierces his shoulder as he falls, while in his consternation his loins tremble.
And the land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste; and they shall know that I am the LORD: because he hath said, The river is mine, and I have made it.(9) Because he hath said.—Again, as in Ezekiel 29:6, the division of the verses is very unfortunate. The expression “shall know that I am the Lord,” so common in Ezekiel, always closes a train of thought. The new sentence begins with the reason for the judgment upon Egypt—because of its pride.
Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia.(10) From the tower of Syene.—The word here translated “tower” is a proper name, Migdol, a town, mentioned in Exodus 14:2, near Suez. Syene has in the original the affix denoting towards, and the translation should therefore be, from Migdol to Syene, even unto the border of Ethiopia; in other words, “the whole length of the land.” Syene was a town on the extreme southern border of Egypt, represented by the modern Assouan, which is situated near its ruins. There is a like error of translation in Ezekiel 30:6.
No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years.(11) Neither shall it be inhabited forty years.—In Ezekiel 29:9-12 a state of desolation is predicted for Egypt, which, if understood in the literal sense of the words, has certainly never been fulfilled. In Ezekiel 29:9 it is said that it “shall be desolate and waste,” and this is repeated with emphasis in Ezekiel 29:10; while in Ezekiel 29:11 it is declared that neither foot of man nor foot of beast shall pass through it. There is also a difficulty in regard to the time of “forty years,” mentioned in Ezekiel 29:11-13. No such definite period can be made out from history. The two difficulties go together, and the former is explained by the latter. It has already been seen in Ezekiel 4:6 that the prophet represents the calamity of Judah in the historic terms of their former suffering in the wilderness, without thereby intending either any specific time or any precise repetition of the same troubles they had then experienced. He does the same thing here in regard to Egypt. The people are to pass into a condition like that of the Israelites in the wilderness, in which they were to endure the judgment of God upon their sins. This is expressed, after the manner of Ezekiel, in strong concrete terms, the literal fulfilment of which was neither intended nor expected.
And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries.(12) Scatter the Egyptians among the nations.—Megasthenes and Berosus state that Nebuchadnezzar on his conquest of Egypt, sent great numbers of the people captive to Babylon; others doubtless, as in similar cases, took refuge in Ethiopia, Libya, and other neighbouring lands. The kind of desolation foretold for Egypt is the same as that for “desolate” cities and countries that fell under the power of the conqueror: they were to be plundered and reduced to subjection.
Yet thus saith the Lord GOD; At the end of forty years will I gather the Egyptians from the people whither they were scattered:(13) At the end of forty years.—See Note on Ezekiel 29:11.
And I will bring again the captivity of Egypt, and will cause them to return into the land of Pathros, into the land of their habitation; and they shall be there a base kingdom.(14) The land of Pathros.—Comp. Isaiah 11:11. Pathros is Upper Egypt, the Thebaid. In the following clause this is described as “the land of their birth” (Marg.). According to ancient testimony and the opinion of many moderns, this was the original seat of Egyptian power. It may, however, be put only as the part for the whole—Pathros for Egypt.
Shall be there a base kingdom.—Egypt should be restored, but not to its former power. Historically this has been eminently true. For a little while Egypt struggled against its oppressors, but its power was already broken, and from the time of its conquest by Cambyses it has never been for any length of time independent. There are few stronger contrasts in any inhabited country than between the ancient glory, dignity, power, and wealth of Egypt, and its later insignificance.
And it shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel, which bringeth their iniquity to remembrance, when they shall look after them: but they shall know that I am the Lord GOD.(16) The confidence of the house of Israel.—Here the result of this judgment in God’s providence concerning His people is brought out: they had hitherto continually transgressed by looking to Egypt for aid; now this temptation should be entirely removed. This trust of Israel in Egypt had continually brought “their iniquity to remembrance when they looked” to them for help, both by its being against the express command of God, and also by its involving treachery and rebellion against Chaldæa.
And it came to pass in the seven and twentieth year, in the first month, in the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,(17) In the seven and twentieth year.—This is the latest date among all Ezekiel’s prophecies, and is more than sixteen years after the prophecy of the former part of the chapter. This date corresponds with the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (see 2Kings 25:2; 2Kings 25:8), and, from Ezekiel 29:18, was evidently uttered after the close of the siege of Tyre. As that siege lasted thirteen years, it must have been begun at least as early as Nebuchadnezzar’s twenty-second year, or within three years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Josephus, however, states (Antt. x. 9, § 7) that in the twenty-third year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar made a successful expedition against Cælosyria, after which he brought the Ammonites and Moabites into subjection, and then conquered Egypt. The two former campaigns are consistent enough with the still progressing siege of Tyre; but hardly the latter. We must, therefore, suppose a considerable interval between these conquests, of which Josephus takes no notice.
The present utterance may have been either simultaneous with or only just before the conquest of Egypt. Its most probable time is during the early part of the campaign against Egypt.
This passage is placed with the other prophecies against Egypt in order to bring them all together, and is assigned to this particular place, after the analogy of Ezekiel 26:7, in order to bring the mention of the agent by whom the conquest is to be effected immediately after the general prophecy of judgment.
Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it:(18) Yet had he no wages.—The siege of Tyre is here represented as a service to God, for which Nebuchadnezzar had not yet received his reward. This is quite in accordance with the whole Scriptural representation of that monarch, as a man raised up to execute God’s judgments. He was himself unconscious of this, and yet did that which had been foretold—a striking instance that “there is a God in history.” It has been argued from this verse, and from the fact that there is no especial mention in history of the result of the siege of Tyre, that Nebuchadnezzar failed in its capture; but all that is meant is that he failed to obtain any considerable booty thereby, the Tyrians having abundant warning and opportunity to convey away their valuables by sea. This St. Jerome expressly asserts to have been done by them, and he further describes the method of the capture of the city by the same means afterwards used by Alexander, that of building a mole from the mainland to the island; thus explaining how in the besieging army “every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled” by the bearing of burdens for the structure. Berosus expressly testifies that Nebuchadnezzar “conquered all Syria and Phœnicia” (Jos. c. Ap., i. 21); and Josephus also cites Philostratus, Megasthenes, and Diocles as mentioning Nebuchadnezzar’s exploits and the siege of Tyre in a way which, while they do not directly mention, yet certainly imply the capture of the city (ibid., and Antt. x. 11, § 1). Besides, it is inconceivable that Ezekiel, who long survived that siege, should have left that prophecy on record if the event was otherwise than as he predicted.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army.(19) I will give.—In the original this is in the form of a participle; literally, I am giving. This form is often used of the future, but with especial appropriateness of the immediate future. The other tenses, according to the Hebrew usage, take the temporal meaning of the principal verb. This seems probably to have been spoken at the very time of Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign and conquest. On the evidence that he did actually conquer Egypt, see Excursus at the end of the book. He must have there found abundant booty, as the kings of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty were commercial, and greatly given to the accumulation of wealth.
EXCURSUS E: ON CHAPTER 29:19.—ON NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S CONQUEST OF EGYPT.
The fact of this conquest having been called in question, it may be well to state very briefly the points of evidence in its favour. It is admitted by all that Pharaoh-Hophra was dethroned, and died a violent death, and was succeeded by Amasis, who was at first little regarded by the people, though he afterwards won their confidence. The account given of this revolution by the Egyptian priests to Herodotus makes no mention of any foreign interference, but represents it as wholly an internal affair, caused by a revolt of the troops of Hophra, He sent Amasis to them to bring them back to their allegiance, but they saluted him as king. This authority is suspicious, since the priests were prone to cover up whatever they considered against the honour of their country; and the two facts of the popularity of Amasis with the troops and his unpopularity with the people are scarcely consistent, since it is said that he spared Hophra for a time, but afterwards, yielding to the wishes of the people, strangled him. Now against this suspicious and interested story stands the much more probable supposition that Hophra was dethroned and Amasis put into his place by the power of Nebuchadnezzar. Megasthenes and Berosus, according to Josephus, expressly testify that “Nebuchadnezzar conquered a great part of Africa, and having invaded Egypt, took many captives, who were committed to the charge of persons appointed to conduct them after him to Babylon.” This conquest, according to the dates already given, must be placed just at the time of the fall of Hophra. Besides this, there is a very full prophecy of the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 46), uttered in the first year of his reign (comp. Jeremiah 46:1 with Jeremiah 25:1). But Jeremiah was himself afterwards carried into Egypt, and while there uttered other prophecies to the same effect (Jeremiah 43, 44). It is altogether probable that he was still living there at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s expedition; and, on the lowest grounds, it is inconceivable that he should have allowed these various prophecies to remain on record if they had been proved false by the event. The same thing substantially may be said also of the present prophecy of Ezekiel, and of that in Ezekiel 30:10, although the prophet was not, like Jeremiah, living where he could be an eye-witness of the result of the attack. Other prophecies against Egypt (Isaiah 18, 19, 31; Joel 3:19) are more general, and may not have in view this particular conquest.
Again, Ezekiel represents Egypt as spoiled by Nebuchadnezzar, while both ancient history and the monuments describe the country as rich and prosperous under Amasis. There is really no inconsistency, but entire harmony between these accounts. The great drain upon the resources of Egypt for many generations had been her foreign wars with the powers of Mesopotamia. Relieved of this, and at peace with Nebuchadnezzar, under the government of his vassal, Egypt would soon have recovered her prosperity in wealth and art, while still politically desolated and no longer able to appear as a great power among the nations. From this time through all subsequent history Egypt was a base kingdom, and never again able to dispute, as in former days, the sovereignty of the world.
There is an apparent difficulty about the date of this conquest, alluded to under Ezekiel 29:17. The prophecy of Ezekiel is in the future, and yet was spoken in the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadnezzar (the twenty-seventh from the accession of Zedekiah). Now, Jerusalem was taken in his nineteenth year (2Kings 25:8). and an interval of sixteen years seems, at first sight, inconsistent with the statement of Josephus. But if that statement be examined, it will be found to be entirely indefinite (see under Ezekiel 29:17), and it is hardly to be supposed that Nebuchadnezzar would have undertaken the conquest of Egypt while still engaged in the siege of Tyre; in fact, Ezekiel 29:18-19 distinctly imply that the one was subsequent to the other. Now, the siege of Tyre appears to have been begun about two years after the capture of Jerusalem, and lasted thirteen years. It closed then fifteen years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and supposing the campaign against Egypt to have followed immediately, in the next year, we get the exact date of this prophecy. (For the references to Josephus, see Antiqq., Bk. x., cap. ix., § 7; Cont. Ap., Bk. 1, § 19, 20.)
In that day will I cause the horn of the house of Israel to bud forth, and I will give thee the opening of the mouth in the midst of them; and they shall know that I am the LORD.(21) In that day.—The tenses here change to the future, indicating that if the conquest of Egypt had already taken place, its consequences to Israel were to be only gradually developed. These consequences were primarily the conviction of the futility of trust in any earthly aid, and hence a turning to their neglected God, and, as a result of this, the giving up of their long cherished idolatries. The prophet speaks of this as only in germ, but looking on to its further development, under the figure of making a horn to bud forth, that is, to sprout or grow. (Comp. Psalm 132:17.) Israel’s reviving prosperity should date from the destruction of its trust in earthly aid.
The opening of the mouth.—This is elsewhere (Ezekiel 24:27) promised to the prophet as a consequence of the fall of Jerusalem, of which he had heard (Ezekiel 33:21-22) more than fourteen years before. There is no recorded prophecy of Ezekiel’s of later date; the expression must therefore be understood of those encouraging and helpful instructions of the prophet, as the people improved under the discipline of the captivity, which it was not seen fitting to put on permanent record.