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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 32

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 32 The Final Oracles Against Egypt.

We may well wonder why seven oracles should be pronounced and recorded against Egypt. But it is a reminder to us that although God might wait a long time in the end He calls all to account. And when He does so He does so in full. In the words of the poet, ‘the mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small’.

No ancient empire in the Near East compared with Egypt. Others came and went but Egypt seemed to go on and on. Always it was there, the one certainty in a changing world. At times it might have seemed somewhat weakened, but it would rise from its weakness and become strong again. It always had to be taken into account. It was like its own pyramids. It seemed bound to last for ever.

So the idea that this was at an end would shake the ancient world. And as far as Israel were concerned the point was that it was Yahweh Who was doing it. He alone was more permanent and more powerful than Egypt. He had watched it from the beginning and now He was calling an end to its ways. It would never again be the principle actor in events. Only Yahweh would go on for ever, He and the people whom He had chosen. The final restoration was in His hands. But even they did not realise just exactly how that would be accomplished. That awaited another prophet who would fix it finally as literally out of this world (Revelation 21-22).

The first part of the chapter (1-16), the sixth oracle, is a lament over Pharaoh. The seventh is a vivid description of Pharaoh’s descent into Sheol to joint the great peoples of the past, all destroyed by Babylon.


Verse 1-2

‘And so it was that in the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, that the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and say to him:

“You were likened to a young lion among the nations,

Yet you are as a monster in the seas.

And you burst forth on your rivers,

And you trouble the waters with your feet, and foul their rivers.

‘The word of Yahweh came to me saying.’ This introduces every oracle. No prophet is quite like Ezekiel in his emphasis that what he received was a direct revelation from Yahweh. He spoke when Yahweh spoke.

The description in the poem is vivid like so much in Ezekiel. Pharaoh was seen among the nations as a powerful young lion in his prime, one to be feared by all. One to be admired for his ferocity. The Egyptian sphinx had the body of a lion, which was thus closely connected with Egypt. But by Yahweh Pharaoh and his people were seen as a sea monster, a large crocodile, dirtying the waters and causing harm and destruction among their own people, and also among others, wherever he went. This Pharaoh (Hophra) had done much interfering, not very helpfully. That was why he had to be dealt with.

There is a dual idea here moving between the great mythological monsters of the myths, defeated by the gods, and the crocodiles of the Nile, feared because of their nefarious activities. Both caused chaos and left problems behind them. The mythological association brings out the world shattering nature of the event, but Ezekiel grounds it firmly in this world.


Verses 1-16

The Sixth Oracle. A Lament Over Pharaoh and Egypt (Ezekiel 32:1-16).

The date of the oracle is March 585 BC. It follows the destruction of Jerusalem. The versions vary, seeking to alter the date to before that in Ezekiel 33:21 (probably to maintain a smooth chronology). But there is no valid reason to do so.


Verses 3-7

“Thus says the Lord Yahweh,

I will throw my dragnet over you, with a large group of many peoples,

And they will bring you up in my net.

And I will leave you on the land,

I will cast you out on the open field,

And will cause all the birds of the air to settle on you,

And I will satiate all the beasts of the earth with you.

And I will strew your flesh on the mountains,

And fill the valleys with your tossed out carcass.

I will also water with your blood the land in which you swim,

Even to the mountains,

And the watercourses will be full of you.”

The description is of the hunting and capture of a large water monster, and parallels the description of the capture of the chaos monster by Marduk. But here it is taken in the net by a large group of peoples. This is an earthly battle, although initiated by Yahweh. Apart from Him no gods are involved. Then (as previously described - Ezekiel 29:5) he is cast out on dry land well away from water so that the scavengers, both bird and beast, can come and eat his flesh. But here the description goes further for he is torn into pieces to fill the mountains and the valleys, and the land and rivers are watered with his blood (compare Exodus 7:20-24). The description is dramatic and conclusive. Pharaoh’s power is broken. The supposed god is no more.


Verse 7-8

“And when I blot you out I will cover the heavens,

And make their stars dark,

I will cover the sun with a cloud,

And the moon will not give her light.

All the bright lights of heaven will I darken over you,

And set darkness on your land,

Says the Lord Yahweh.”

This is not strictly the language of apocalyptic but it is comparative. Here, however, it is certainly by natural means (‘with a cloud’). The demise of Pharaoh and the greatness of Egypt is so great an event that even nature responds to it. It is so solemn that it must be accompanied by the lights going out. Sun, moon and stars will respond to the moment. It reminds us of another time when the lights in Egypt went out at the exodus (Exodus 10:21-23). And it is the same God has intervened again. It had added significance in that Pharaoh was believed to be connected with the sun god, thus his supposed relatives will mourn for him.


Verse 9-10

“I will also vex the hearts of many peoples, when I bring your destruction (LXX ‘carry you captive’) among the nations, to the countries which you have not known. Yes, I will make many peoples astonished at you, their kings will be dreadfully afraid for you, when I brandish my sword before them. And they will tremble every moment, every man for his own life, in the day of your fall.”

Not only the heavens but far nations (countries which you have not known) will be deeply affected by his fall. All will see and wonder, and be afraid because of the awfulness of what is coming on Egypt, and lest the same come on them. For they will see the sword of Yahweh brandished against Egypt, and fear His wrath (compare Ezekiel 21:3; Ezekiel 21:9-11; Ezekiel 21:28; Ezekiel 30:25).


Verses 11-14

‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “The sword of the king of Babylon will come on you. By the swords of the mighty will I cause your mass of people to fall. They are all the terrible of the nations, and they will spoil the pride of Egypt, and all its mass of people will be destroyed. I will also destroy its beasts from beside many waters, nor will the foot of man trouble them any more, nor the hooves of beasts trouble them. Then I will make their waters clear, and cause their rivers to run like oil,” says the Lord Yahweh.’

The full significance of what has gone before is now brought home. All this will occur through the swords of the king of Babylon and his hosts. For they are Yahweh’s sword. He holds them in His hand. And there will be massive destruction of both men and beast. Irrigation (carried out by foot of man and beast through their irrigation equipment) will cease. Nor will the waters be muddied by other activity of man and beast, for the population will be decimated. Thus the rivers and streams will run clear, and smoothly like oil.

While we do not know the details the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar would be resisted to the hilt. The Egyptians were fighting for their own land, and they had been a constant pain in his side. Neither would give up easily. We need not doubt that it would result in destruction on a large scale, similar to that in Judah but greater, as Egypt was itself far larger and more populated than Judah. And Egypt would have itself been suffering from civil war.

Note the repetition again of the words ‘says the Lord Yahweh’. The stress is on the fact that all comes about at His word.


Verse 15

“When I make the land of Egypt desolate and waste, a land destitute of its fullness, when I smite all those who dwell in it, then will they know that I am Yahweh.”

For millenniums the Egyptians had ignored Yahweh, even though they had had every chance to know Him through men like Abraham, Joseph and Moses. But they had mocked at Yahweh, and had turned His people from Him. Now they would learn Who and What He is by hard experience, as they had done under Moses (Exodus 7:5; Exodus 7:17; Exodus 8:22; Exodus 14:4; Exodus 14:18), even though they would not finally accept it. To hear of the living God and to ignore Him is the greatest of sins, and they had committed it.


Verse 16

‘ “This is the lamentation with which they will lament, the daughters of the nations will lament with it. They will lament with it for Egypt and for all her multitude of people,” says the Lord Yahweh.’

All the women of the nations will lament for Egypt, so great will be its demise, and they will lament in the fashion described. For they will recognise the greatness of its fall. Possibly the thought is for calling on the professional wailing women (compare Jeremiah 9:17-18).


Verses 17-20

“And so it was also in the twelfth year, on the fifteenth day of the month, that the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, wail for the numerous people of Egypt, and cast them down, even her and the daughters of the famous nations, into the nether parts of the earth, with those who go down into the pit. ‘Whom do you surpass in beauty? Go down and be laid with the uncircumcised.’ They will fall in the midst of those who are slain with the sword. She is delivered to the sword. They have drawn her away and all her numerous people.”

Egypt’s boasts were ended. She had exalted herself and her beauty, but where was it now? She lay in the grave with the lowest of the low, the uncircumcised nations. Such was her beauty. And she and other famous nations shared Sheol together. Her people were numerous, but the sword had delivered them to the pit, drawn there by those slain by the sword before her. The dead attract the dead, and Egypt as it was was dead.

‘Cast them down.’ Ezekiel would do it by his prophecy and by his lament.

‘Even her and the daughters of the famous nations.’ This must represent Egypt’s allies. They all descend together. But it may be that we should translate ‘you and the daughters of the famous nations’ (same Hebrew text but different vowel pointing) interpreting it of the mourning women of Ezekiel 32:16 as aiding Ezekiel in his mourning.

‘Whom do you surpass in beauty? Go down and be laid with the uncircumcised.’ The question is put by Ezekiel in his lament.


Verses 17-32

The Seventh Oracle Against Egypt. Pharaoh’s Final Farewell (Ezekiel 32:17-32).

The descriptions here are not to be thought of as illustrating what the afterlife will be like. The ancients looked on death as the end of life leading to a shadowy half-existence. They could not conceive of nothingness, but did not look for anything joyous beyond the grave. Man went into the grave, and the combination of all graves combined was called Sheol. It was like some huge unearthly interconnected burial chamber, and those who were there were but shadows, enduring a joyless non-existence. (See note on Ezekiel 31:17). Notice that they all lie there. It is not a place of movement and life. And here the nations themselves are seen to be present as well as their population. It is not to be taken too literally.

It is the place to which all nations go, and it has opened its mouth to receive the nations subjugated by Nebuchadnezzar, for many have fallen by the sword, and by pestilence and famine, and now they endure their end. And Egypt will share their fate.

The dating omits the month and this may be because it was seen as in the same month as the previous oracle, and thus again March 585 BC a fortnight later.


Verse 21

“The strong among the mighty will speak to him from the midst of Sheol with those that help him. ‘They have gone down, they lie still, even the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’

The dead, those who had once been mighty, also mock Egypt. The Egyptians are no longer active, they point out, they lie still and share their grave with the uncircumcised, those slain by the sword.


Verse 22-23

“Asshur (Assyria) is there and all her company, his graves are round about him. All of them slain, fallen by the sword. Whose graves are set in the uttermost parts 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.”

Assyria had caused terror in the land of the living, but now she is silent in the grave. It is twice stressed that she and her people are gathered there, slain by the sword. Israel had good cause to be pleased about that. Assyria had been a bitter enemy and a cruel overlord. They were the mighty empire destroyed and taken over by Babylon.

Of course Assyria still flourished above ground, although subject to Babylon. The idea would seem to be that the Assyria of the past, the powerful overlord, had died, along with those slain by Babylon, those who had once distressed Israel.


Verse 24-25

“There is Elam and all her multitude round about her grave. All of them slain, fallen by the sword, who are gone down uncircumcised into the nether parts of the earth, who caused their terror in the land of the living, and have borne their shame with those who go down to the pit. They have prepared her a bed in the midst of the slain with all her multitude. Her graves are round about her, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword. For their terror was caused in the land of the living, and they have borne their shame with those who go down to the pit. He is put in the midst of those who are slain.”

Elam were an ancient people east of Babylon, known for their warlikeness and had been part of the Assyrian empire. They were probably prominent as bowmen in assisting the Assyrians against Israel for Jeremiah calls down judgment on them (Jeremiah 49:34-38). They survived better than Assyria the effects of the Babylonian invasion and were later strong enough to assist Cyrus in defeating Babylon. But they too had spread terror along with the Assyrians, and had suffered at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s armies. Effectively that generation of Elam had joined Assyria in the world of the dead.


Verses 26-28

“There is Meshech, Tubal and all her multitude, her graves are round about her, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword. For they caused their terror in the land of the living. And they will not lie with the mighty who are fallen of the uncircumcised, who are gone down to Sheol with their weapons of war, and have laid their swords under their heads, and their iniquities are on their bones, for they were the terror of the mighty in the land of the living. ‘But you will be broken in the midst of the uncircumcised, and will lie with those who are slain by the sword’.”

Meshech and Tubal were Anatolian nations who had harried the Assyrians on their northern frontier. They were fierce fighters who deliberately engaged in slave-trading (Ezekiel 27:13) and had also spread terror, sufficiently to be worthy of mention here.

It would seem that they were not to lie with the mighty because they had themselves been the terror of the mighty. Their iniquities were on their bones, that is, they were separated because they had been at enmity with all, including the mighty Assyrian empire, and were seen as particularly evil. They were fiercely independent nations. This assumes that ‘the mighty’ were Assyria and their allies, which is quite probable. The Assyrians were mentioned first here, and were overlords of the other nations. The mighty are described in terms of burial practises. They have their weapons with them and their swords were laid under their heads.

The mention of Meshech and Tubal here confirms that we are to see these nations as within the same general area as the others, and not distant peoples in far off lands.

‘But you will be broken in the midst of the uncircumcised, and will lie with those who are slain by the sword.’ The change of person suggests that this was spoken to Egypt. Egypt had allied itself with Assyria to face up to the Babylonians. They thus joined them in the grave.


Verse 29

“There is Edom, her kings and all her princes, who in their might are laid with those who are slain by the sword. They will lie with the uncircumcised and with those who go down to the pit.”

Inscriptions tell us that Edom became a vassal-state of Assyria in around 736 BC. They may well have assisted them against Israel and Judah which would have helped to nurture the undying hatred shown to them by Israel (Psalms 137:7; Isaiah 34:5-15; Isaiah 63:1-6; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Lamentations 4:21-22; Joel 3:19; Amos 1:11-12; Obadiah 1:7-9). It seems that they had a policy of turning back Israelites when they fled for refuge from invading enemies, a callous and cynical attitude (Ezekiel 35:5). They too finally suffered at the hands of the Babylonians. They are probably mentioned here because of Israel’s undying hatred. They have joined their erstwhile masters. They probably practised circumcision, but like Egypt they joined the uncircumcised.


Verse 30

“There are the princes of the north, all of them, and all the Zidonians who are gone down with the slain. In the terror that they caused by their might they are ashamed, and they lie uncircumcised with those who are slain by the sword, and bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.”

The princes of the north were probably the Phoenician princes of the various Phoenician cities north of Palestine (often spoken of as ‘Canaanites’). Possibly the Tyrians are not mentioned because they were seen as buried in the sea (see Revelation 20:12-13), which explains why the Zidonians were mentioned instead. They too had caused terror and therefore joined with the uncircumcised and those slain by the sword in Sheol, and bear their shame.

So the list of nations is composed in the main of those who were seen as ‘causing terror’, probably mainly in association with Assyria, although Meshech and Tubal are partly excepted and therefore lie alone. However, their fearsome activities had ensured their mention. All were or would be destroyed by Babylon, and so Egypt will also shortly join them in their fate. Babylon are not mentioned. At this stage they are the champions of Yahweh. This excludes us from making this description signify the time of the end. Notice the continual stress on those ‘slain by the sword’, the sword of Yahweh in the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.


Verse 31-32

“Pharaoh will see them and will be comforted over all his multitude, even Pharaoh and all his army, slain by the sword, says the Lord Yahweh. For I have caused (or ‘allowed’) his terror in the land of the living, and he will be laid in the midst of the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword, even Pharaoh and all his multitude, says the Lord Yahweh.”

The sight of the other opponents of Babylon in the same predicament, who have also been ‘slain by the sword’ of Yahweh/Nebuchadnezzar, will bring comfort to Pharaoh. But this very fact confirms his descent there. The mighty Pharaoh joins all the rest in Sheol. He is no different from them in spite of Egypt’s claims.

‘For I have caused (or ‘allowed’) his terror in the land of the living.’ Just as previously Yahweh had hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, so now He had caused, or allowed, his terrorising of others, so that he might suffer his due fate. Pharaoh was in the final analysis totally under the influence and power of Yahweh. The point is not that Yahweh is to blame for the terror, but that in His sovereignty it could not have happened had He not allowed it. The option was His and not Pharaoh’s. And it was in His purpose because He purposed to destroy Egypt.

So end the oracles against the nations, demonstrating Yahweh’s power over all the nations round about Israel, and especially over the divine pretenders of Tyre and Egypt. And it ends with the reminder that all empires die. There could now be no doubt in the minds of Israel about His supreme power, and it would give them hope for the future.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 32:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-32.html. 2013.

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