Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter consists of a single prophecy, uttered a little less than two months after the previous one, and a little less than two months before the destruction of the Temple. It is a further prophecy against Egypt, but so couched in the form of a parable that it all relates to Assyria, except the opening (Ezekiel 31:1-2) and close (Ezekiel 31:18), which bring it to bear upon Egypt. The effectiveness of this comparison with Assyria becomes plain when it is remembered that she had conquered and held Egypt in vassalage, and had then herself been conquered and annihilated only thirty-seven years before the date of this prophecy, and that by the same Chaldæan power now foretold as about to execute judgment upon Egypt. Egypt could not hope to resist the conqueror of her conqueror. There is this great difference between the fate of the two empires: Assyria was to be utterly supplanted by Babylonia, and its nationality blotted out, but Egypt, as the prophet had already foretold (Ezekiel 29:14-15), should continue, though as “a base kingdom,” stripped of its supremacy.
The form of parable whereby a kingdom is represented as a tree has already appeared in Ezekiel 17, and is also used in Daniel 4. It seems to be a Chaldæan mode of representation. As is the custom with Ezekiel, he occasionally interrupts the parable by literal utterances, as in Ezekiel 31:11, and partially in Ezekiel 31:14-16.
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,
Son of man, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, and to his multitude; Whom art thou like in thy greatness?(2) His multitude.—The word means literally tumult, and applies to the multitude as influenced by whatever is the occasion of tumult: their wealth, their idols, their sources of pride of every kind.
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.(3) A cedar in Lebanon.—Lebanon is mentioned only because it was the place where the most famous cedars grew in their greatest perfection. Assyria did, indeed, at one time possess Lebanon, but this was never its home or seat of empire. The word “shroud” in the description refers to the thickness of the shade of the branches.
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.(4) His plants.—Should rather be, his plantation.
Sent out her little rivers.—The thought is that the various surrounding and subordinate nations were nourished from the great stream of prosperity which swelled the power and wealth of Assyria.
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.(6) All the fowls of heaven.—Comp. Ezekiel 17:23; Daniel 4:21.
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.(8) The garden of God.—See Ezekiel 31:9; Ezekiel 31:16; Ezekiel 31:18; also Ezekiel 28:13. This is not a representation of Assyria as being in the garden of God, as in the case of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:13, but only a further expression of its greatness by a comparison of the tree representing it with the trees of Paradise. Yet this comparison may have been suggested by the fact that the traditionary site of Eden was within the bounds of the Assyrian Empire. Fir trees are generally understood to be cypresses, and chestnut to be plane-trees.
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;(10) Among the thick boughs.—The clouds, as in Ezekiel 31:3; Ezekiel 31:14, and Ezekiel 19:11. As Ezekiel 31:3-9 have described Assyria’s greatness, so Ezekiel 31:10-14 speak of her fall. This was now a past event, yet is in part poetically spoken of in the future (Ezekiel 31:11; Ezekiel 31:13), making the whole more graphic and effective. The future may also have been used because the object of this parable is not Assyria, but Egypt, whose fall was still to come. At the outset Assyria is directly addressed in the second person in the vividness of the description, but the third person is used afterwards. The ground of the judgment upon Assyria is its pride, on which 2Kings 18:32-35 may be considered a commentary.
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.(11) The mighty one of the heathen.—The Chaldæan monarch. At the time of the fall of Assyria this was Nabupolassar, Nebuchadnezzar’s father. In this verse, and partially in the next, the prophet drops his figure to make clear literal statements.
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.(12) Gone down.—Because the cedar is represented as growing upon the height of Lebanon. Yet “the people of the earth” is literal.
Upon his ruin shall all the fowls of the heaven remain, and all the beasts of the field shall be upon his branches:(13) Upon his ruin shall all the fowls.—There is no inconsistency between this and the previous verse. At the fall all nations and people rush away, to avoid becoming involved in the catastrophe; but as soon as the giant cedar is prostrate, they gather upon its trunk and branches to fatten upon its ruin.
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.(14) Stand up in their height.—The original is more closely followed by the margin, stand upon themselves for their height, and the thought is that the trees (princes) shall no longer rely on their own strength and be infatuated by the prosperity which has been given them.
All that drink water is only a poetical expression for the trees. (Comp. Ezekiel 31:16.) In the constant mention of water and rivers throughout this parable there may be a covert allusion to Egypt, made fertile by the irrigation of the Nile.
To the nether parts of the earth.—See Note on Ezekiel 26:20. In the latter part of this verse the figurative is again exchanged for literal language.
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.(15) I covered the deep for him.—Ezekiel 31:15-17 describe the effect of Assyria’s fall. Ezekiel 31:15 speaks of the mourning of the nations and of the drying up of the streams, or sources of Assyria’s prosperity. “The deep” is the same as in Ezekiel 31:4, the flood of waters which fertilised the great cedar; this is covered, as in mourning. “Floods” is the same word as “rivers” in Ezekiel 31:4, and “great waters” as “multitude of waters” in Ezekiel 31:5. “To mourn” is, literally, to be black, and the sense is well given in our version, although the original is more appropriate to the figure of Lebanon with its cedars. “The trees of the field” are, of course, the subordinate potentates, who are dismayed, “faint,” at Assyria’s fall. (Comp. Ezekiel 26:15-18.)
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.(16) Hell is here, as generally, Sheol, or Hades, the world of the departed.
Shall be comforted.—Comp. Isaiah 14:9-10, which was probably in Ezekiel’s mind.
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.(18) To whom art thou thus like.—In this closing verse the whole chapter is brought to a point. Egypt, like Assyria in glory, shall be like her in experience of the judgments of God. On “uncircumcised” comp. Note on Ezekiel 28:10.