And it came to pass in the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, in the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Verse 1. - In the twelfth year, etc. March, B.C. 584, nineteen months attar the destruction of Jerusalem. The two sections of the chapter, Vers. 1-16 and 17-32, belong to the same year, and probably, though the date of the month is net given for the second, were written within a fortnight of each other. The thoughts of the prophet still dwell upon the downfall of Egypt, and he is stirred, as by a special inspiration, to write an elaborate "lamentation" over its departed greatness. It would seem, from the repetition of the word in Ver. 16, as if the elegy had originally been intended to end there. Possibly it may have occurred to the prophet that what he had written was rather a prediction of coming evil than a lamentation, and therefore needed to be completed by a second, coming more strictly under that title.
Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas: and thou camest forth with thy rivers, and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers.
Verse 2. - Thou art like a young lion; rather, with the Revised Version, thou wast likened unto a young lion. The two clauses of the verse stand in direct contrast to each other. Flatterers, orators, courtiers, had used the usual symbolism of the animal world. The King of Egypt was as the king of beasts. Ezekiel rejects that comparison, and likens him rather to the whale, the dragon (Revised Version), in the seas, i.e. to the crocodile of his own river (compare the use of the "dragon" for the King of Egypt, in Ezekiel 29:3; Isaiah 51:9). Ewald and Smend, however, translate, "young lion of the nations, thou art brought to naught;" but there is no adequate reason for abandoning the Revised translation. Troubledst the waters. As in Ezekiel 34:18, the act is used as the symbol of all selfish and aggressive rule, defiling the streams of righteousness and judgment. Thou camest forth with thy rivers. Ewald and Smend translate, "Thou didst spurt out the water," as describing the act of the crocodile when it raises its head out of the water as in the "neesings," or "sneezings" of Job 41:12, Hebrew [English version, 18].
Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will therefore spread out my net over thee with a company of many people; and they shall bring thee up in my net.
Verse 3. - I will spread out my net. The imagery of Ezekiel 29:3 is repeated, with a variation as to the mode of capture. There is no evidence that the crocodile was ever taken with a net; but Ezekiel may have chosen the comparison for that very reason. What was impossible in the parable, according to its letter, was possible when it received its application.
Then will I leave thee upon the land, I will cast thee forth upon the open field, and will cause all the fowls of the heaven to remain upon thee, and I will fill the beasts of the whole earth with thee.
Verse 4. - The picture is carried out to its completion. The carcass of the crocodile becomes the prey of unclean birds and beasts. The carcass of the Egyptian greatness was to satiate the appetite of the invading hosts. Were the words of Psalm 74:14, as to leviathan being "given for meat to the people in the wilderness" floating in Ezekiel's mind (compare the strange reference to leviathan in 2 Esdr. 6:49, 52, and in later Jewish traditions)? Greek writers describe the ichthyophagi of Africa as feeding on the flesh of sea-monsters (Died. Sic, 3:14; Herod., 2:69; Strabo, p. 773), and the word may possibly include the crocodile.
And I will lay thy flesh upon the mountains, and fill the valleys with thy height.
I will also water with thy blood the land wherein thou swimmest, even to the mountains; and the rivers shall be full of thee.
Verse 6. - I will water with thy blood. Was the plague of the water of the Nile turned to blood (Exodus 7:19, 20) present to Ezekiel's mind? Such an inundation of the Nile, in all its horrors, was a fit symbol of the deluge of invaders by whom Egypt was laid waste.
And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light.
Verse 7. - When I shall put thee out; better, with the Revised Version, extinguish. The verb is used of lamps in 2 Chronicles 29:7. The change of metaphor is at first startling, but I follow Ewald, Hitzig, and Smend, in thinking that there is a traceable sequence of ideas. The "dragon of the Egyptian waters" suggested the "dragon" which was conspicuous between Ursa Major and Minor among the constellations of the heavens, and the name of which, probably derived by the Greek astronomers from a remote past, suggested that of an enemy of God (comp. Isaiah 51:9). So taken, the new comparison finds a parallel in that of the King of Babylon to Lucifer, the morning star, in Isaiah 14:12. Upon this there follows naturally the imagery of Ezekiel 30:18; Isaiah 34:4. As the other trees of the forest had mourned for the cedar (Ezekiel 31:15), so the other lights of heaven mourn for that particular star which has been quenched for ever (comp. for the general imagery. Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:10; Joel 3:4, Hebrew ['English version, Ezekiel 2:31].
All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord GOD.
I will also vex the hearts of many people, when I shall bring thy destruction among the nations, into the countries which thou hast not known.
Verse 9. - I will also vex the hearts. The words intensify the bitterness of the downfall. The prophet passes out of the region of metaphors into that of facts. The fall of Egypt will cause pity among the nations. They shall simply be "vexed" in heart, terrified at the thought (Ver. 10) that the sword which had laid her low was "brandished" also against them.
Yea, I will make many people amazed at thee, and their kings shall be horribly afraid for thee, when I shall brandish my sword before them; and they shall tremble at every moment, every man for his own life, in the day of thy fall.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon thee.
Verses 11-14. - The sword of the King of Babylon, etc. The effects of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion are now described in language which seems plain enough, but in which we may read between the lines an allusive reference to the previous symbolism. Thus in Ver. 13 we are thrown back upon the thought of the "troubled waters" of Ver. 2. The Nile was no longer to be troubled by the foot of beasts; the streams of justice were no longer to be defiled with a selfish corruption, but were to run smooth and calm, even as the "rivers of oil" which were the symbols of ethical blessedness (Job 29:6; Deuteronomy 32:13). So Ewald and Keil, for once agreeing. The rule of Nebuchadnezzar was to be a righteous rule, in spite of its severity. I am unable, however, to follow these commentators further in seeing in the words a prediction of the Messianic kingdom. The Egyptians were to "know the Lord," as the other nations addressed by Ezekiel were to know him, as a righteous Judge, not as yet as a Deliverer (comp. Ezekiel 28:26; Ezekiel 29:21; Ezekiel 30:26).
By the swords of the mighty will I cause thy multitude to fall, the terrible of the nations, all of them: and they shall spoil the pomp of Egypt, and all the multitude thereof shall be destroyed.
I will destroy also all the beasts thereof from beside the great waters; neither shall the foot of man trouble them any more, nor the hoofs of beasts trouble them.
Then will I make their waters deep, and cause their rivers to run like oil, saith the Lord GOD.
When I shall make the land of Egypt desolate, and the country shall be destitute of that whereof it was full, when I shall smite all them that dwell therein, then shall they know that I am the LORD.
This is the lamentation wherewith they shall lament her: the daughters of the nations shall lament her: they shall lament for her, even for Egypt, and for all her multitude, saith the Lord GOD.
Verse 16. - This is the lamentation, etc. The work of mourning for the dead was for the most part assigned to women (2 Samuel 1:24; Jeremiah 9:17; 2 Chronicles 35:25), and is therefore appropriately assigned to the daughters of the nations. He hears, as it were, their wailing over the fallen greatness of Egypt, even in the solitude of Tel-Abib.
It came to pass also in the twelfth year, in the fifteenth day of the month, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Verse 17. - For yet fourteen days the mind of the prophet brooded over the fall of Egypt, and his thoughts at last found utterance in another lamentation, based upon that of Isaiah 14. Taken together, the two passages give a vivid picture of the thoughts of the Hebrews as to the unseen world, and we find in them the germs of the later belief of Judaism in Paradise and Gehenna. What I have called the Dante element in Ezekiel it seen here raised to its highest power. Ver 18. - Cast them down, etc. The prophet thinks of himself as not only the predictor, but the minister, of the Divine judgments. So it was given to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:10) "to root out and to pull down," and to Amos (Amos 9:1) to "smite" and to wound. He executes the sentence, not on Egypt only, but on the other daughters of the famous nations, sc. on the nations themselves, especially those that are named in the verses that follow.
Son of man, wail for the multitude of Egypt, and cast them down, even her, and the daughters of the famous nations, unto the nether parts of the earth, with them that go down into the pit.
Whom dost thou pass in beauty? go down, and be thou laid with the uncircumcised.
Verse 19. - Whom dost thou pass in beauty? The lamentation, as might be expected from Ezekiel's standpoint, is an illustration of irony and triumph rather than of sorrow. The question implies a negative answer. Glorious as Egypt had been, other nations had equaled her. They had passed away, and so should she. With the uncircumcised. The words, as in Ezekiel 31:18, suggest the thought that Israel, so far as it was faithful to its calling, circumcised in heart as well as flesh (Jeremiah 9:26), had a higher and happier dwelling in Hades than the uncircumcised heathen. As the Egyptians practiced circumcision, the language of the prophet had a special significance. Their place in Hades was among the heathen to whom that hereto was unknown.
They shall fall in the midst of them that are slain by the sword: she is delivered to the sword: draw her and all her multitudes.
Verse 20. - She is delivered to the sword; better, with the margin of the Revised Version, the sword is appointed - possibly, as Ewald suggests, with reference to the practice of burying a warrior with his sword beneath his head (comp. Ver. 27). Draw her, etc. The command would seem to be given, so to speak, to the warders of Sheol. They am to receive the new comers and take them to their appointed place.
The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell with them that help him: they are gone down, they lie uncircumcised, slain by the sword.
Verse 21. - The strong among the mighty. Those already in Sheol watch the new arrival, and make their scornful comments (comp. Isaiah 14:9, 18), at once classing them with the uncircumcised. Had they heard, we ask, of the downfall of Egypt?
Asshur is there and all her company: his graves are about him: all of them slain, fallen by the sword:
Verses 22, 23 - Asshur is there. The verses that follow contain, as it were, the prophet's retrospect of the history of the past, as far as he had knowledge of it. Foremost in those is Assyria, which the prophet had already chosen (Ezekiel 31:3) as the pattern instance of a fallen greatness. There in the sides of the pit (i.e. in its remotest and deepest regions) lie the graves of the rulers surrounded by those of their subjects. They had caused terror, the prophet adds, with a keen irony, in the land of the living. They can cause no terror now.
Whose graves are set in the sides of the pit, and her company is round about her grave: all of them slain, fallen by the sword, which caused terror in the land of the living.
There is Elam and all her multitude round about her grave, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, which are gone down uncircumcised into the nether parts of the earth, which caused their terror in the land of the living; yet have they borne their shame with them that go down to the pit.
Verse 24. - There is Elam etc. The nation so named appears grouped with Asshur in Genesis 10:22; in Isaiah 11:11 it stands between Cush and Shinar; in Isaiah 22:6 its warriors form part of the host of Sennacherib; in Ezra 4:9 they are named as having been among the settlers in Samaria; in Isaiah 21:2 as joining with the Medes in the attack on Babylon; in Jeremiah 25:25 again coupled with the Medes among the enemies of Nebuchadnezzar; in Daniel 8:2 as the province in which Shushan was situated, and therefore subject to Babylon. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:34-39) had uttered a special prophecy against it. From Ezekiel's point of view it might well take its place among the powers that had received their death-blow at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet have they borne their shame; sc. the disgrace of being uncircumcised, and therefore taking their place with the lower circles of the dead.
They have set her a bed in the midst of the slain with all her multitude: her graves are round about him: all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword: though their terror was caused in the land of the living, yet have they borne their shame with them that go down to the pit: he is put in the midst of them that be slain.
Verse 25. - They have set her a bed. The noun is used for the sleeping-place of the dead - the cemetery, if we trace that word to its root in Isaiah 57:2; 2 Chronicles 16:14. In the rest of the verse Ezekiel reiterates what had been said in Ver. 24 with an emphatic solemnity. In the Hebrew, as in the English, there is a constant variation in the pronouns used, now masculine, now feminine, now singular.
There is Meshech, Tubal, and all her multitude: her graves are round about him: all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword, though they caused their terror in the land of the living.
Verse 26. - There is Meshech, Tubal. (On the ethnological relations of the two tribes, see note on Ezekiel 27:13, and later on in Ezekiel 38, and 39.) Ezekiel obviously speaks of them as one of the powers that bad been conspicuous in his own time, and had been, in part at least, overthrown by the Chaldean monarchy. We may probably connect his words with the great irruption of the Scythians mentioned by Herodotus (1. 103; 4:11) as having swept over Asia even to Palestine and Egypt, in the time of Josiah, and which, after compelling Cyaxares to raise the siege of Nineveh, left traces of itself in the name of the city of Scythe-polls. Many commentators find a reference to that invasion in the "evil from the north" of Jeremiah 1:14; Jeremiah 4:6; and in Zephaniah 1:13-16. They also, once the terror of the nations, are now represented by the prophet as in the shadow-world of Sheol.
And they shall not lie with the mighty that are fallen of the uncircumcised, which are gone down to hell with their weapons of war: and they have laid their swords under their heads, but their iniquities shall be upon their bones, though they were the terror of the mighty in the land of the living.
Verse 27. - And they shall not lie with the mighty. The words seem at first to contradict Ver. 26. The LXX. meets the difficulty by omitting the negative; Ewald and Havernick, by taking it as an interrogative, "Shall they not lie," etc.? Probably the explanation is laying stress on the word "mighty." Meshech and Tubal have a lower place in Hades; they are buried without the honors of war. Their swords are not placed beneath their heads (for the practice thus referred to, see Died. Sic., 18:26; Arrian, 1:5; Virg., 'AEn.,' 6:233). For the Scythians, who worshipped the sword (Herod., L 62), this would be the extremest ignominy. In this way their iniquities should be upon their bones as they lay dishonored.
Yea, thou shalt be broken in the midst of the uncircumcised, and shalt lie with them that are slain with the sword.
Verse 28. - Yea, thou shalt be broken. The words are obviously addressed to Pharaoh. He must prepare himself for a like doom. His place, proud as he was of his magnificence, shall be with the wild nomad hordes of Scythia.
There is Edom, her kings, and all her princes, which with their might are laid by them that were slain by the sword: they shall lie with the uncircumcised, and with them that go down to the pit.
Verse 29. - There is Edom, her kings and her princes. (For the political relations of Edom at this time, see Ezekiel 25:12-14.) Whatever shadow of power might yet remain to it, Ezekiel, from his standpoint, could yet declare that her greatness had departed. The exultation which the Edomites had shown over the fall of Jerusalem (Psalm 137:7) would naturally tend to accentuate the prophet's language. The "princes" of Edom are probably identical with the "dukes" of Genesis 36:15-43 and 1 Chronicles 1:51, where the word means literally the heads or captains of thousands, i.e. of tribes, as in Judges 6:15 (comp. Zechariah 9:7; Zechariah 12:5).
There be the princes of the north, all of them, and all the Zidonians, which are gone down with the slain; with their terror they are ashamed of their might; and they lie uncircumcised with them that be slain by the sword, and bear their shame with them that go down to the pit.
Verse 30. - There be the princes of the north. The noun for "princes" is different from that of Ver. 29, and has the sense of "vassal rulers," as in Joshua 13:21; Micah 5:4. So we have the "kings of the north" in Jeremiah 25:26. The fact that they are coupled with the Zidonians (it is suggestive that Ezekiel names these rather than the Tyrians) points in the direction of Northern Syria, including cities like Damascus, Hamath, Arpad, and others.
Pharaoh shall see them, and shall be comforted over all his multitude, even Pharaoh and all his army slain by the sword, saith the Lord GOD.
Verse 31. - Shall be comforted, etc. (comp. for the thought, Ezekiel 31:16). That shall be all that he will have to console him. As before, other nations were comforted by the downfall of Egypt, so Egypt in her turn finds her comfort in their downfall. All are sharers alike in the fiend-like temper which exults in the miseries of others. Ewald and Hitzig, here as there, take the word as in the sense of "mourning over." As to the extent and manner in which the predictions of the chapter have been fulfilled, see notes on Ezekiel 29. - 31. Sufficient evidence has been given that Egypt was probably invaded and conquered by Nebuchadnezzar. The silence of the Greek historians, and notably of Herodotus, as to any such invasion goes for little or nothing. He could not read the Egyptian records, and derived his knowledge from the priests through an interpreter. They, after their manner, would draw a veil over all disasters, and so, while he records the revolution which placed Amasis upon the throne of Hophra, he is silent as to any invasion, and does not even mention the battle of Carchemish.
For I have caused my terror in the land of the living: and he shall be laid in the midst of the uncircumcised with them that are slain with the sword, even Pharaoh and all his multitude, saith the Lord GOD.