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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
This very beautiful chapter relates also to Egypt. The prophet describes to Pharaoh the fall of the king of Nineveh, (see the books of Nahum, Jonah, and Zephaniah), under the image of a fair cedar of Lebanon, once exceedingly tall, flourishing, and majestic, but now cut down and withered, with its broken branches strewed around, vv. 1-17. He then concludes with bringing the matter home to the king of Egypt, by telling him that this was a picture of his approaching fate, Ezekiel 31:18. The beautiful cedar of Lebanon, remarkable for its loftiness, and in the most flourishing condition, but afterwards cut down and deserted, gives a very lately painting of the great glory and dreadful catastrophe of both the Assyrian and Egyptian monarchies. The manner in which the prophet has embellished his subject is deeply interesting; the colouring is of that kind which the mind will always contemplate with pleasure.
1And 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,
In the eleventh year - On Sunday, June 19, A.M. 3416, according to Abp. Usher; a month before Jerusalem was taken by the Chaldeans.
2Son of man, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, and to his multitude; Whom art thou like in thy greatness?
3Behold, 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.
Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar - Why is the Assyrian introduced here, when the whole chapter concerns Egypt? Bp. Lowth has shown that אשור ארז ashshur erez should be translated the tall cedar, the very stately cedar; hence there is reference to his lofty top; and all the following description belongs to Egypt, not to Assyria. But see on Ezekiel 31:11 (note).
4The 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.
The waters made him great - Alluding to the fertility of Egypt by the overflowing of the Nile. But waters often mean peoples. By means of the different nations under the Egyptians, that government became very opulent. These nations are represented as fowls and beasts, taking shelter under the protection of this great political Egyptian tree, Ezekiel 31:6.
5Therefore 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.
6All 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.
7Thus was he fair in his greatness, in the length of his branches: for his root was by great waters.
8The 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.
The cedars in the garden of God - Egypt was one of the most eminent and affluent of all the neighboring nations.
9I 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.
10Therefore 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;
11I 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.
The mighty one of the heathen - Nebuchadnezzar. It is worthy of notice, that Nebuchadnezzar, in the first year of his reign, rendered himself master of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire. See Sedar Olam. This happened about twenty years before Ezekiel delivered this prophecy; on this account, Ashshur, Ezekiel 31:3, may relate to the Assyrians, to whom it is possible the prophet here compares the Egyptians. But see the note on Ezekiel 31:3.
12And 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.
13Upon his ruin shall all the fowls of the heaven remain, and all the beasts of the field shall be upon his branches:
Upon his ruin shall all the fowls - The fall of Egypt is likened to the fall of a great tree; and as the fowls and beasts sheltered under its branches before, Ezekiel 31:6, so they now feed upon its ruins.
14To 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.
To the end that none of all the trees - Let this ruin, fallen upon Egypt, teach all the nations that shall hear of it to be humble, because, however elevated, God can soon bring them down; and pride and arrogance, either in states or individuals, have the peculiar abhorrence of God. Pride does not suit the sons of men; it made devils of angels, and makes fiends of men.
15Thus 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.
I caused Lebanon to mourn for him - All the confederates of Pharaoh are represented as deploring his fall, Ezekiel 31:16, Ezekiel 31:17.
16I 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.
17They 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.
They also went down into hell with him - Into remediless destruction.
18To 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.
This is Pharaoh - All that I have spoken in this allegory of the lofty cedar refers to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, his princes, confederates, and people. Calmet understands the whole chapter of the king of Assyria, under which he allows that Egypt is adumbrated; and hence on this verse he quotes: -
Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur.
What is said of Assyria belongs to thee, O Egypt.