Ezekiel 29 – God Against “King Crocodile”
A. Against Egypt.
1. (1-3) God opposes the pride of Egypt and her Pharaoh.
In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him, and against all Egypt. Speak, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD:
“Behold, I am against you,
O Pharaoh king of Egypt,
O great monster who lies in the midst of his rivers,
Who has said, ‘My River is my own;
I have made it for myself.’
a. In the tenth year: This prophecy regarding Egypt came to Ezekiel before the fall of Jerusalem. At this time there were still some in Judah and Jerusalem who hoped that Egypt would rescue them from the powerful Babylonians.
i. Ezekiel 29 begins a four-chapter series of prophecies against Egypt. This was necessary because even though Egypt held Israel in slavery for 400 years, Israel also had an impulse to look to Egypt in times of crisis that predated their years of slavery, going all the way back to Abraham’s earliest days in Canaan (Genesis 12:10-20). Isaiah warned God’s people, Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help (Isaiah 31:1). Even in Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s days, they still looked to Egypt for help instead of trusting God and His plan.
ii. “As we have realised in reading this prophecy and that of Jeremiah, the political peril had been that created by the look of these people toward Egypt. This accounted for the length and definiteness of these messages.” (Morgan)
iii. “The date given in Ezekiel 29:1 is explicit. It was a year and two days after Nebuchadnezzar had invaded Jerusalem (Ezekiel 24:1-2; II Kings 25:1), and seven months before its destruction (II Kings 25:3-8).” (Feinberg)
b. Set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt: Egypt had long been an enemy of the people of Israel, both as the place of their long slavery and as a constant temptation both spiritually and politically. Ezekiel was to set his face against Pharaoh king of Egypt because God said, “Behold, I am against you.”
i. It might seem strange that an exiled prophet of little Israel thought he had the place to speak to great kingdoms like Egypt. Yet Ezekiel represented the God of the whole earth. “The secular historian saw Israel dwarfed into insignificance by mighty neighbours; the religious commentator, the prophet, saw the great powers held firmly in the hand of little Israel’s mighty God.” (Taylor)
ii. “Although the prophet does not mention him by name, the pharaoh at the time was Hophra who attacked Nebuchadnezzar in the spring of 588. This forced the Babylonians to lift their siege of Jerusalem.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iii. This is the same Pharaoh mentioned in Jeremiah 44:30: Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, his enemy who sought his life.
c. O great monster who lies in the midst of his rivers: God likened Egypt to one of the great crocodiles that lived in the Nile and other associated rivers.
i. Great monster: “The term refers concretely to a marine creature, in this instance a crocodile, the ruler of the Nile, sprawled out in the channels of the river.” (Block)
ii. “Crocodile, the figure of Pharaoh; whose princes also and people are fitly compared to lesser fishes, and Egypt to waters, wherewith it aboundeth.” (Trapp)
iii. “Egyptian prayers encouraged the pharaoh to be a crocodile to his enemies.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iv. “Pharaoh was compared to a ferocious crocodile, guarding the waters of the land—the Nile and all the canals—and attacking anybody who dared to challenge his claims.” (Wiersbe)
d. My River is my own; I have made it for myself: This was the proud boast of Egypt and her Pharaoh. They believed that the great Nile River both belonged to them and was created by them. They refused to recognize and honor the God of Israel as the creator and owner of all.
i. “The river Nile watereth Egypt, and maketh it fruitful beyond credulity. They do but cast in the seed, and have four rich harvests in less than four months, say travellers. Hence the Egyptians were generally proud, riotous, and superstitious above measure.” (Trapp)
ii. “The Nile was the source of Egypt’s greatness. It provided rich alluvial soil along its banks, beyond which was desert. It provided a continuous supply of water to irrigate the land and to slake the thirst of the Egyptians and their animals. It provided a means of transportation that made it possible for Egypt to bring its bountiful harvests to market. There would be no Egypt without the Nile.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iii. “The Nile was in every way the secret of the wealth and power of that land and people. Here Pharaoh is represented, not as worshipping the River, but claiming to possess it, and to have created it.” (Morgan)
iv. “Actually, instead of his making the river, the river made him, for without it the land would have been a desert.” (Feinberg)
v. “It is a graphic method of again drawing attention to the fact that all forgetfulness of God amounts at last to self-deification. That is the sin of every king and of every people who fail to recognise God and to deal with Him.” (Morgan)
2. (4-5) God’s promise to capture Egypt and Pharaoh like a great crocodile.
But I will put hooks in your jaws,
And cause the fish of your rivers to stick to your scales;
I will bring you up out of the midst of your rivers,
And all the fish in your rivers will stick to your scales.
I will leave you in the wilderness,
You and all the fish of your rivers;
You shall fall on the open field;
You shall not be picked up or gathered.
I have given you as food
To the beasts of the field
And to the birds of the heavens.
a. But I will put hooks in your jaws: Speaking like a great hunter of crocodiles, Yahweh announced that He would stop, capture, and displace Egypt. They would be terribly disrupted, as a crocodile pulled out of the Nile with a hook.
i. “The crocodile normally was caught with hooks in the jaws and then pulled on dry land where it would be slaughtered (cf. Herodotus 2.70). This is the figure used in these verses. The crocodile god, Sebek, was very important to the Egyptians in the Nile delta area. He was considered Egypt’s protector and at times was identified with the solar deity, Re (cf. Diodorus 1.35).” (Alexander)
ii. “For all his arrogant pretensions, the glorious lord of the Nile is no match for Yahweh, who toys with him as a fisherman plays with his catch, then throws him away as carrion, unfit for human consumption.” (Block)
b. All the fish in your rivers will stick to your scales: Their prosperity and sustenance would be greatly affected. It was a coming wilderness season for Egypt, as if a crocodile were taken from the river and cast into an open field.
i. The fish:“The fish spoken of were the followers of the king. The king would involve his people in his fall because of their loyalty to him.” (Feinberg)
c. I have given you as food to the beasts of the field: Pharaoh and Egypt would be disgraced, treated as something that others prey and feed upon. The great concern for burial and memorial among the pharaohs is evident from their still existing tombs. God promised their disgrace would be so great it would be as if they were not buried at all.
i. “The Egyptian pharaohs were diligent to prepare their burial places, but Hophra would be buried like an unwanted dead animal. What a humiliating way to bury a man who claimed to be a god!” (Wiersbe)
3. (6-7) God will glorify Himself through His judgment of Egypt.
“Then 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.
When they took hold of you with the hand,
You broke and tore all their shoulders;
When they leaned on you,
You broke and made all their backs quiver.”
a. Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD: The coming judgment upon Egypt would show them that Yahweh, the God of Israel, did in fact rule.
b. When they leaned on you, you broke: Judah hoped to rely on Egypt’s power to help them against the Babylonian Empire, but they were like a staff of reed to the house of Israel. Egypt was a target of God’s judgment and could never help Judah who was also appointed for God’s judgment.
i. “This is a clear reference to the half-hearted response of Pharaoh Hophra to Zedekiah’s appeal for help (cf. Jeremiah 37:7). Little is known of this action except that it produced only a temporary lull in the siege of Jerusalem, but we can presume that it was little more than a token foray on the Egyptians’ part.” (Taylor)
ii. “The Egyptians had a reputation for making promises and not keeping them (2 Kings 18:20-21; Isaiah. 36:6).” (Wiersbe)
iii. “It was the sin of the Jews to trust Egypt; it was Egypt’s great sin to falsify promise with the Jews, and for this God now punisheth Egypt.” (Poole)
4. (8-12) A sword upon Egypt.
‘Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Surely I will bring a sword upon you and cut off from you man and beast. And the land of Egypt shall become desolate and waste; then they will know that I am the LORD, because he said, ‘The River is mine, and I have made it.’ Indeed, therefore, I am against you and against your rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Ethiopia. Neither foot of man shall pass through it nor foot of beast pass through it, and it shall be uninhabited forty years. I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate; and among the cities that are laid waste, her cities shall be desolate forty years; and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them throughout the countries.”
a. Surely I will bring a sword upon you and cut off from you man and beast: God’s judgment would come through the sword of warfare, and it would lay waste to both man and beast. This judgment would come because of Egypt’s pride, especially as it focused on the Nile (The River is mine).
i. Trapp on the repetition of the River is mine, and I have made it: “With this proud speech he is twice twitted. The Egyptians so trusted in their river Nile, as if they needed no help from heaven.”
ii. From Migdol to Syene: “Like Israelite ‘from Dan to Beer-sheba,’ the expression ‘from Migdol to Syene as far as the border of Cush’ defines the borders of the country.” (Block)
b. Neither foot of man shall pass through it nor foot of beast pass through it: God promised that there would be great devastation to Egypt lasting forty years. It would be a desolate nation, with cities that are laid waste.
i. Desolate forty years: “Because no such forty-year period is known in Egyptian history, some claim a literal fulfillment of the prophecy was never intended and that it is to be taken as hyperbole. But there is nothing in the context that would indicate a shift from the literal to the figurative.” (Feinberg)
c. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations: As the leaders and people of Judah would be conquered and scattered, so would the Egyptians. God promised to disperse them throughout the countries.
i. “Berosus, the historian of Babylon, states that Nebuchadnezzar, after he had conquered Egypt, took great numbers of the captives to Babylon. Others, undoubtedly, fled to neighboring areas as in similar cases.” (Feinberg)
5. (13-16) A promise to restore Egypt.
‘Yet, thus says the Lord GOD: “At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the peoples among whom they were scattered. I will bring back the captives of Egypt and cause them to return to the land of Pathros, to the land of their origin, and there they shall be a lowly kingdom. It shall be the lowliest of kingdoms; it shall never again exalt itself above the nations, for I will diminish them so that they will not rule over the nations anymore. No longer shall it be the confidence of the house of Israel, but will remind them of their iniquity when they turned to follow them. Then they shall know that I am the Lord GOD.”’”
a. I will gather the Egyptians from the peoples among whom they were scattered: God promised mercy and restoration to Egypt. He would bring back the captives of Egypt, even though they would be the lowliest of kingdoms, not reaching their previous heights of empire and influence.
i. “This is the only instance in the book where the prophet speaks of the restoration of a nation other than Israel and Judah.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
ii. Wright explained his understanding of this promised and limited restoration: “The restoration of Egypt came under Greek rule, and Alexandria especially became an important centre of Judaism and Christianity, thus probably fulfilling Isaiah 19:19-25.”
iii. The lowliest of kingdoms: “Egypt did suffer from Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion, and its rule over the nations was broken and never regained. They declined under the Persians, the Ptolemies and Rome. Egypt has been a weak country in the centuries since except for a momentary revival of power during the Middle Ages.” (Feinberg)
b. No longer shall it be the confidence of the house of Israel: One reason God would bring Egypt low and diminish them was so that Israel would no longer put their misplaced trust in Egypt. The lowly, diminished state of Egypt would remind them of their iniquity when they turned to follow them.
B. Nebuchadnezzar will plunder Egypt.
1. (17-18) Nebuchadnezzar’s lack of reward from the plunder of Tyre.
And it came to pass in the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon caused his army to labor strenuously against Tyre; every head was made bald, and every shoulder rubbed raw; yet neither he nor his army received wages from Tyre, for the labor which they expended on it.
a. It came to pass in the twenty-seventh year: Ezekiel received this prophecy long after the one previously recorded in this chapter.
i. The twenty-seventh year: “That is, of the captivity of Jeconiah, fifteen years after the taking of Jerusalem…. The preceding prophecy was delivered one year before the taking of Jerusalem; this, sixteen years after; and it is supposed to be the last which this prophet wrote.” (Clarke)
ii. “Thus this is the latest of his dated prophecies, two years after the vision of Ezekiel 40-48 (cf. Ezekiel 40:1), almost seventeen years later than the previous oracle (Ezekiel 29:1-19), and almost sixteen years later than the next dated oracle in the book (Ezekiel 30:20).” (Block)
b. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon caused his army to labor strenuously against Tyre: Nebuchadnezzar conducted a long siege against Tyre, one that in the end was not worth all he had invested in the siege. It could be said, neither he nor his army received wages from Tyre.
i. “The first-century A.D. Jewish historian and apologist Flavius Josephus stated that the Babylonian siege of Tyre lasted for thirteen years (Antiquities x. 11.1). Tyre consumed its treasures in its own defense or otherwise made them unavailable to the Babylonians.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
ii. “The Tyrians, finding it at last impossible to defend their city, put all their wealth aboard their vessels, sailed out of the port, and escaped for Carthage; and thus Nebuchadnezzar lost all the spoil of one of the richest cities in the world.” (Clarke)
iii. According to secular histories, “We do not know whether Tyre was captured by the Babylonian force or not, though a few years later Babylonian officials were in residence in the city and Babylonian suzerainty was acknowledged. All that Ezekiel tells us is that the rewards of the siege were not commensurate with the effort involved.” (Taylor)
iv. “Though some perceive that this passage demonstrates the incomplete fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecies against Tyre, such a position rests on silence. On the contrary, these verses demonstrate that God faithfully executed his word against Tyre through Babylonia as he promised. The Scriptures do not demand that complete fulfillment lay in this one siege alone.” (Alexander)
v. Every head was made bald, and every shoulder rubbed raw: “These expressions could refer to the chafing effects of helmets and armor, but since the Babylonian strategies involved a siege rather than a battle, it is preferable to think in terms of the backbreaking work involved in carrying out a siege. The baldness and raw shoulders were the effects of carrying the vast amounts of dirt required to construct siege mounds and ramps, and probably also an unsuccessful attempt to build a causeway to the island fortress.” (Block)
2. (19-21) God will give Egypt as plunder to Nebuchadnezzar.
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Surely I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; he shall take away her wealth, carry off her spoil, and remove her pillage; and that will be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt for his labor, because they worked for Me,’ says the Lord GOD. ‘In that day I will cause the horn of the house of Israel to spring forth, and I will open your mouth to speak in their midst. Then they shall know that I am the LORD.’”
a. Surely I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar: Because the Babylonian king had received so little from his conquest of Tyre, God promised to compensate him by giving Nebuchadnezzar the wealth, spoil and pillage of Egypt.
i. “A fragmentary cuneiform text refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s thirty-seventh year (568 B.C.) when the king of Babylon marched against Egypt, that is, within three years of this prophecy.” (Block)
ii. “One fragmentary Babylonian text from the chronicles of the Chaldean king (B.M. 33041) implies that Babylonia invaded Egypt about 568/567 B.C. This is corroborated by Josephus (Antiquities X, 180–82 [ix.7]).” (Alexander)
b. Because they worked for Me: There was a real sense in which Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon worked for God as His instruments of judgment. It was completely within God’s rights to reward these workers according to His will and wisdom.
i. F.B. Meyer connected this reward God promised to a pagan king to the reward God promises to those who build His church: “If He gave Egypt to a heathen king for his service in respect to Tyre, we may also expect Him to bestow a reward on those who have built gold, silver, and precious stones, into His holy temple.”
c. In that day I will cause the horn of the house of Israel to spring forth: As God allowed Egypt to be pillaged, He would also restore strength to Israel. In all this work, God would reveal Himself to Israel and the world (they shall know that I am the LORD).
i. Psalm 132:17 also makes mention of the horn of the house of Israel: There I will make the horn of David grow; I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed. Yet the context here seems to be more the restoration of Israel than the emergence of the Messiah.
ii. “The prophet added a word of promise for the Jews (Ezekiel 29:21), assuring them that there would come for them a time of restoration when He would give them new strength (the budding horn) for their new challenges.” (Wiersbe)
iii. “No Messiah—or any other ruler—came in Israel around 586 B.C. The symbol must refer to the strength and encouragement that Israel was to receive when she observed God’s faithfulness to execute his judgment on her enemy, Egypt, in accord with both these prophecies and the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:3).” (Alexander)
iv. I will open your mouth to speak in their midst: “This seems to mean that the skepticism of the captives regarding Ezekiel would be removed and they would come to regard him as a true prophet.” (Smith)