Ezekiel 31 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Ezekiel 31
Pulpit Commentary
And it came to pass in the eleventh year, in the third month, in the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Verse 1. - In the eleventh year, etc. June, B.C. 586. Two months all but six days had passed since the utterance of Ezekiel 30:20-26, when Ezekiel was moved to expand his prediction of the downfall of Egypt into a parable which is partly a replica of these in Ezekiel 17. and Ezekiel 19:1-14, and which also finds a parallel in Daniel 4:10-14.
Son of man, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, and to his multitude; Whom art thou like in thy greatness?
Verse 2. - The parable is addressed, not to Pharaoh only, but to his multitude i.e., as in Ezekiel 30:4, for his auxiliary forces. It opens with one of the customary formulae of an Eastern apologue (Mark 4:30), intended to sharpen the curiosity and win the attention of the prophet's hearers or readers. It is significant that the question is repeated at the close of the parable, as if the prophet had left the interpretation to his readers, as our Lord does in saying, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs.
Verse 3. - Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon. The Hebrew text, as rendered in all versions and interpreted by most commentators, gives us, in the form of the parable of the cedar, the history of the Assyrian empire in its glory and its fall. That had passed away in spite of its greatness, and so should Egypt. The question in Ver. 18 takes the place of "Thou art the man!" in Nathan's interpretation of his parable (2 Samuel 12:7), or the mutato nominee de te fabula, narratur of the Roman satirist. Some recent commentaters, however, either like Ewald, taking the Hebrew word for, Assyrian" as describing a particular kind of cedar or fir tree, or, like Comill and amend, adopting a conjectural emendation of the text which actually gives that meaning (Tasshur for Asshur), refer the whole parable primarily to Egypt, and dwell on the fact that the words of Vers. 10, 18 are addressed to the living representative of a great monarchy, and not to a power that has already passed away into the Hades of departed glory. The former view seems to me the more tenable of the two, and I therefore adopt it throughout the chapter. It may be admitted, however, that the inner meaning of the parable at times breaks through the outward imagery, as was indeed to be expected, the prophet seeking to apply his apologue even before he had completed it. The "cedar in Lebanon" has already met us as the symbol of s kingdom, in Ezekiel 17:2. The shadowing shroud may be noted as a specially vivid picture of the peculiar foliage of the cedar rendered with singular felicity. His top was among the thick boughs; better, clouds, as in the margin of the Revised Version. So Keil, Smend, and others (comp. Vers. 10, 14).
The waters made him great, the deep set him up on high with her rivers running round about his plants, and sent out her little rivers unto all the trees of the field.
Verse 4. - The waters made him great. The scenery is hardly that of Lebanon, but finds its counterpart in that of the Nile, perhaps also of the Tigris, with the waters of the river diverted into streams and channels by a careful system of irrigation. The cedar grew close to the river itself; the other trees of the field were watered only by the smaller channels, and so were inferior to it in the fullness of their growth. (For the general imagery, comp. Ezekiel 17:5; Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8; Numbers 24:6.)
Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth.
All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations.
Verse 6. - All the fowls of heaven as in Ezekiel 17:23; Daniel 4:9; Matthew 13:32, was the natural symbol of the fact that all the neighboring nations owned the sovereignty of Assyria and were sheltered by her protection. In the great nation we have the parable passing into its interpretation.
Thus was he fair in his greatness, in the length of his branches: for his root was by great waters.
The cedars in the garden of God could not hide him: the fir trees were not like his boughs, and the chesnut trees were not like his branches; nor any tree in the garden of God was like unto him in his beauty.
Verse 8. - The cedars in the garden of God. As in Ezekiel 28:13, the thoughts of the prophet dwell on the picture of Eden in Genesis 2:8. Far above all other trees, the cedar of Assyria rose high in majesty. All the trees that were in the garden of God envied him. The trees specially chosen for comparison are

(1) the fir tress - probably, as in Ezekiel 27:5, the cypresses; and

(2) the chestnut trees, for which the Revised Version, following the Vulgate and the LXX. of Genesis 30:97, gives the "plane," which held a high place in the admiration of Greek and Roman writers. Of this we have a special instance in the story of Xerxes, who decorated a plane tree near the Meander with ornaments of gold (Herod., 7:31; 'AElicon,' 5:14; also comp. Ecclus. 24:14; Virg., 'Georg.,' 4:146; Cicero, 'De Ont.,' 1:7, 28).
I have made him fair by the multitude of his branches: so that all the trees of Eden, that were in the garden of God, envied him.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thou hast lifted up thyself in height, and he hath shot up his top among the thick boughs, and his heart is lifted up in his height;
Verses 10, 11. - Because thou hast lifted up thyself. The second and third persons are curiously mixed; probably the former was in the nature of a warning addressed to the King of Egypt, while the latter continues the parable of the history of Assyria. For boughs read clouds, as in Ver. 3. Ezekiel writes as with the feeling which led Solon to note that the loftiest trees are those which are most exposed to the strokes of the thunderbolts of Zeus (Herod., 7:10). The Assyrian's heart was "lifted up with pride" (Isaiah 10:5), and therefore he was delivered to the mighty one of the nations; sc. to Nebuchadnezzar.
I have therefore delivered him into the hand of the mighty one of the heathen; he shall surely deal with him: I have driven him out for his wickedness.
And strangers, the terrible of the nations, have cut him off, and have left him: upon the mountains and in all the valleys his branches are fallen, and his boughs are broken by all the rivers of the land; and all the people of the earth are gone down from his shadow, and have left him.
Verse 12. - Strangers, the terrible of the nations. We note the recurrence of the phrase of Ezekiel 30:11, as pointing, here as there, to the Chaldean invaders. The branches of the tree were broken, the people of the earth no longer dwelt under its shadow (Daniel 4:11).
Upon his ruin shall all the fowls of the heaven remain, and all the beasts of the field shall be upon his branches:
Verse 13. - Upon his ruin. The prophet, as it were, corrects his imagery. The birds and beasts are still there, but instead of dwelling in the boughs, they (vultures and owls, jackals and hyenas) hover and creep as over the carcass of the dead, decaying trunk.
To the end that none of all the trees by the waters exalt themselves for their height, neither shoot up their top among the thick boughs, neither their trees stand up in their height, all that drink water: for they are all delivered unto death, to the nether parts of the earth, in the midst of the children of men, with them that go down to the pit.
Verse 14. - To the end that none, etc. With a characteristic amplitude of style, Ezekiel preaches the great lesson of the mutability of earthly greatness. This was the lesson that the history of Assyria ought to have taught the nations of the earth, and it was just that lesson that they refused to learn. They are all delivered to death. The scenery of the parable passes from Eden to Sheol, the Hades of the nations, and the prophet gives the first stroke of the imagery afterwards more fully developed in Ezekiel 32:17-32.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when he went down to the grave I caused a mourning: I covered the deep for him, and I restrained the floods thereof, and the great waters were stayed: and I caused Lebanon to mourn for him, and all the trees of the field fainted for him.
Verse 15. - I covered the deep for him. The face of the whole world of nature is painted by the prophet as sharing in the awe and terror of that tremendous fail Lebanon was made to mourn (literally, to be black), the waters failed in their channels, the trees (all that drink water) shuddered. They formed part, as it were, of the pageantry of woe at the funeral of the fallen kingdom. It is as if the prophet felt, in all its intensity, what we have learnt to call the sympathy of nature with the sorrows of humanity. It would, perhaps, be over-literal to press details; but the picture, in one of its features at least, suggests a failure of the inundation of the Nile, like that indicated in Ezekiel 30:12.
I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth.
Verse 16. - Shall be comforted, etc. The Dante-like imagination of the prophet points the contrasts between the impression made by the fall of Assyria on the nations that yet survived, and on those that had already perished. The former mourn and shako with fear, for it is a warning to them that their turn also may come. On the other hand, the tress of Eden - the great monarchies that are already in Sheol - shall he "comforted" with the thought that yet another kingdom mightier than they has fallen as they fell (comp. Isaiah 14:4-20; Ezekiel 32:17-32, where the thought is elaborately expanded).
They also went down into hell with him unto them that be slain with the sword; and they that were his arm, that dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the heathen.
Verse 17. - They that were his arm. The words point to the allies, in the first instance of Assyria, and secondly of Egypt. The last words of the verse present a striking parallel to Lamentations 4:20.
To whom art thou thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? yet shalt thou be brought down with the trees of Eden unto the nether parts of the earth: thou shalt lie in the midst of the uncircumcised with them that be slain by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, saith the Lord GOD.
Verse 18. - To whom art thou thus like, etc.? As in Ver. 10, the prophet passes from the past to the present, from the third person to the second, and as it were says to Hophra, "Thou art the man! all that I have said of Assyria is true of thee." This is Pharaoh and all his multitude. In the midst of thin uncircumcised (see note on Ezekiel 28:10). As a matter of fact, the Egyptians practiced circumcision, and Ezekiel must be thought of as using the term as simply an epithet of scorn.

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