|@September 21, 2023||ESV (2016)||ESV Prophets Plan 2023|
- Pharaoh to Be Slain
The chapter opens with a word coming to Ezekiel to prophesy about Pharaoh and his multitude.
In Ezek. 31:2-9, Egypt is compared to Assyria in its greatness, who “was a cedar in Lebanon” (Ezek. 31:3). The cedar was a renown ancient Near Eastern symbol of royalty and majesty. In the Bible, it is frequently mentioned in texts describing the production of palaces and temples. The fall of Assyria, who “towered high above all the trees of the field” (Ezek. 31:5) and whose cedars the garden of God could not rival (Ezek. 31:8), forms the precedent and paradigm for the fall of Egypt.
In Ezek. 31:10-14, God declares judgment on Egypt, whose heart had grown proud of its height. God would thus give them to Babylon in retributive justices “as its wickedness deserves” (Ezek. 31:11). They were all given to “the world below, among the children of man, with those who go down to the pit” (Ezek. 31:14, an image of descent into the underworld.
Ezek. 31:15-17 is the effects of God’s judgment on Pharaoh who, like Assyria, would be delivered into the depths of the pit and cast down to Sheol. Throughout the OT, the godly express their fear of being abandoned by God to Sheol (ex. Ps. 88:3), but nowhere is a righteous person said to actually have gone to Sheol. The contrast between the destiny of the righteous and the unrighteous after death is clearly apparent in Ps. 49.
The final verse (Ezek. 31:18) is of Pharaoh’s being brought down with the “trees of Eden to the world below”. The trees would die disgracefully as uncircumcised foreigners without a decent burial. This characterization of uncircumcised would have been insulting to the Egyptians who employed its practice and abhorred the uncircumcised. In the final statement, God reiterates how this will all come to “Pharaoh and all his multitude”, creating somewhat of a book end from the beginning of the chapter.
Egypt is here compared to Assyria and a cedar in Lebanon, that the “waters nourished it” and “the deep made it grow tall” (Ezek. 31:4). But, they had become proud in their own height and so would be cut down by the Babylonians. They would be given over to death, to the world below, with those who go down to the pit, to Sheol.
The concept of Sheol seemed timely to explore based on its focus in this chapter. According to the Lexham Bible Dictionary, Sheol is the most common word for the afterlife in the Bible, appearing 65x in the OT. It says that the origins of the Hebrew word are unknown, but there are two prominent theories; one that describes it as a desolate land—literally “no land” or “unland”—and another that refers to the practice of necromancy and consultation of the dead.
Most interesting for me was the comment by the CSB Study Bible on Ezek. 31:15-17 that no one who is described as righteous in the Bible is said to have actually gone to Sheol, only that they feared they were going or were close to it. As every word in the Bible is purposeful and by the Spirit’s inspiration, the absence of a righteous person being sent to Sheol seems to point to God’s grace in the protection of His elect. It is humbling to think about how God preserves such a path to Himself despite our waywardness and rebellion; an incomprehensible reality that should stoke our most fervent gratitude and praise.
Scripture Journal Notes
Commentaries & Resources Used
- ESV Study Bible. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008)
- Faithlife Study Bible (Lexham Press, 2016)
- Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 2016)
- CSB Study Bible Notes (Holman Bible Publishers, 2017)
- Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Guardian Press, 1976)
- The Bible: A Reader’s Guide (Sterling Publishing, 2011)
- The Infographic Bible (Zondervan, 2018)
- ESV Digital Scripture Journal (Crossway, 2019)
- John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).