This week on the blog we are studying Ezekiel chapters 29-32, which are all prophecies about the destruction of Egypt. In the previous posts, here and here, we learned that God said in chapter 29, that Egypt, a regional superpower was going to be attacked by Babylon, and would never again have a position of power.
Now look at chapter 30. We’re going to move rather quickly through the next few chapters. In chapter 30 verses 1-19, God asks Ezekiel to say a lament for the destruction of Egypt. It’s a dark section of verses describing an arsenal of destructive methods to be unleashed on many towns and cities of Egypt. Why? In verse 19, no surprise, then they will that he is the Lord.
In verse 20 we’re back to year 11 (as Ezekiel’s prophecies about Egypt are dated), and God gives another prophecy of how Babylon will destroy Egypt, with God playing the role of the metaphorical mobster, breaking Pharaoh’s “arms”. Read it, and I’m guessing you’ll find it gruesome, like I did. Why would God describe his judgment so violently? Because then they will know that he is the Lord, the famous phrase which is mentioned twice in this short section. Though they made bad choices repeatedly, God still wants to be known by the Egyptians.
Now to chapter 31, and the next prophecy is dated a couple months later in the 11th year. The theme continues as the prophecy is again about the destruction of Egypt. This prophecy might sound familiar, as it is a parable of a cedar tree, very similar to the parable in chapter 17. This time Pharaoh, king of Egypt is compared to a great tree that God will cut down. So far, we’ve had God the Crocodile Hunter, God the Mobster, and now God the Lumberjack.
Finally, we move to chapter 32, dated nearly at the end of the 12th year of exile. Verses 1-16 are a lament, a crying out in anguish for the Pharaoh of Egypt, because of his downfall. In verse 17 we have another date, and it is in the 12th year, but Ezekiel doesn’t give us the month. So maybe it was the same month as the previous prophecy. We don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Verses 17-32 change the scene to the underworld, the place of the dead. In Hebrew this place is called Sheol, and it is not the same as the New Testament concept of hell. In this chapter it is referred to as “the earth below,” the “pit”, the “grave”, the “depths.” There in Sheol, in this underworld, God envisions many nations and peoples who have gone there already, and now Egypt will join them. It is a dark, ominous ending to the oracles against Egypt.
So we’ve just had four straight chapters of prophecies of judgement against Egypt. But it is not as though Ezekiel walked out of his house, and just started rattling off all these prophecies in one big long blast against Egypt. Remember the dates? In these four chapters what we read are a bunch of short prophecies, uttered at a variety of moments, some many years apart. They were collected and compiled at a later date because they were all about Egypt. Also, when Ezekiel actually gave the prophecies, we have to remember that Ezekiel is living far, far away from Egypt. He wasn’t like Moses who lived in Egypt and walked into Pharaoh’s palace and confronted him. Instead Ezekiel gave these prophecies to the Jews living in Babylon with him. Think about that: prophecies…about Egypt…given to Jews…in Babylon. Shouldn’t prophecies about Egypt be given to Egyptians living in Egypt? Not in this case. In this case, God wanted the Jews living in Babylon to hear these prophecies about Egypt. Why?
First of all, God wanted the Jews to hear these prophecies because God wants the Jews to know that he wants a relationship with the Egyptians. You and I might think that is obvious. But it wasn’t obvious to the Jews. They considered themselves to be God’s chosen people. God was their God. In their minds God was not the God of other nations. All the other nations had their own gods. So the God of the Jews, whose name is Yahweh, in their thinking, did not need to be shared with other people, especially when those other people were often enemies. In these chapters God makes it very clear that he not only wants to be known by the Jews; he also wants to be known by the other nations. God’s heart is a heart for all people. God’s heart is a heart for the world.
Second, God wants the Jews to hear these prophecies, because he wants them to understand that there is a rise and fall to the nations, and that rise and fall does not hinder God’s desire to be in relationship with all people. Go back to chapter 29, verses 13-16, which we studied in the previous post. When I look at all of the prophetic oracles about Egypt in chapters 29-32, it seems to me that chapter 29, verses 13-16 is the most important section. That’s the section where God says after the attack by the Babylonians, and the people of Egypt are scattered to the nations, God will return them to their homeland in Egypt. But Egypt will not be what it used to be it. It will be lowly.
Imagine you are an Egyptian person living in Ezekiel’s day. The armies of Babylon attack your land, and destroy it, forcing your people to be exiled. In your hearts and minds, you remember the days when Egypt used to be a superpower. It would be completely normal for an Egyptian to long for Egypt to return to those days. It would be completely normal for them to want Egypt to return to its previous power and might. But God says that won’t happen.
Think about that. Egypt was a superpower, but as the world situation developed, a new superpower was on the rise. Babylon. Babylon would sweep through the region, like God swinging his sword, and the all the nations would fall before them, including Egypt. In fact, God says, in chapter 32, verses 17-32 that Egypt is going to the superpower graveyard, Sheol. What we are seeing in these chapters is what some have called the rise and fall of great powers. It is basically the main topic of history.
Check back in to the next post, and we’ll try to go back through world history, laying out the story of the planet by the rise and fall of great powers.