In the tenth year, in the tenth month, in the twelfth day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Verse 1. - 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 Ver. 17; Ezekiel 30:20; Ezekiel 31:1; Ezekiel 32:1, 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 ( B.C. 604), 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 ( B.C. 569). Zedekiah and his counselors, following in the steps of Hezekiah (Isaiah 30.) and Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 46.), 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.
Son of man, set thy face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him, and against all Egypt:
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.
Verse 3. - 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.) had come to be the received prophetic symbol of Egypt (Psalm 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 (2. 169), 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.
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.
Verses 4, 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, 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.
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.
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.
Verse 6. - 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 Ver. 7, and the effect of trusting to its support is described in detail.
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.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will bring a sword upon thee, and cut off man and beast out of thee.
Verse 8. - 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 Ver. 9.
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.
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.
Verse 10. - 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 (p. 171, edit. Wafael), 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.
No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years.
Verse 11. - 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 Vers. 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.
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.
Verse 12. - 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 case 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.
Yet thus saith the Lord GOD; At the end of forty years will I gather the Egyptians from the people whither they were scattered:
Verse 13. - 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.
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.
Verse 14. - 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, 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.,' 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; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations.
Verse 15. - 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.
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.
Verse 16. - 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 case of Hoshea (2 Kings 17:4), Hezekiah (Isaiah 30:2, 3; Isaiah 36:4, 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.
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,
Verse 17. - 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.
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:
Verse 18. - Nebuchadnezzar, etc. The words carry us to the close of the thirteen years' siege of Tyre referred to in the notes on Ezekiel 28, 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,' 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.
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.
Verse 19. - 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 (Ver. 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.
I have given him the land of Egypt for his labour wherewith he served against it, because they wrought for me, saith the Lord GOD.
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.
Verse 21. - The horn of the house of Israel. The "horn" is, as always (1 Samuel 2:1; Psalm 92:10; Psalm 112:9; Psalm 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?