The Folly of Misplaced Trust

1 In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “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,
    Pharaoh king of Egypt,
the great dragon that lies
    in the midst of his streams,
that says, ‘My Nile is my own;
    I made it for myself.’
I will put hooks in your jaws,
    and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales;
and I will draw you up out of the midst of your streams,
    with all the fish of your streams
    that stick to your scales.
And I will cast you out into the wilderness,
    you and all the fish of your streams;
you shall fall on the open field,
    and not be brought together or gathered.
To the beasts of the earth and to the birds of the heavens
    I give you as food.

Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord.

“Because you have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel, when they grasped you with the hand, you broke and tore all their shoulders; and when they leaned on you, you broke and made all their loins to shake. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring a sword upon you, and will cut off from you man and beast, and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

“Because you said, ‘The Nile is mine, and I made it,’ 10 therefore, behold, I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Cush. 11 No foot of man shall pass through it, and no foot of beast shall pass through it; it shall be uninhabited forty years. 12 And I will make the land of Egypt a desolation in the midst of desolated countries, and her cities shall be a desolation forty years among cities that are laid waste. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and disperse them through the countries.

13 “For thus says the Lord God: At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the peoples among whom they were scattered, 14 and I will restore the fortunes of Egypt and bring them back to the land of Pathros, the land of their origin, and there they shall be a lowly kingdom. 15 It shall be the most lowly of the kingdoms, and never again exalt itself above the nations. And I will make them so small that they will never again rule over the nations. 16 And it shall never again be the reliance of the house of Israel, recalling their iniquity, when they turn to them for aid. Then they will know that I am the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 29:1-16 ESV

God’s prophecy concerning Tyre had come to Ezekiel “In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month” (Ezekiel 26:1 ESV). Roughly a year earlier, God had given Ezekiel a message concerning Egypt. The prophet records, “In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me” (Ezekiel 29:1 ESV). For some undisclosed reason, Ezekiel received this oracle from God a year earlier than the one concerning Tyre but, in recording them, he reversed their order.

God had begun His indictment of the surrounding nations with Ammon, then moved to Moab, Edom, and Philistia. Next on His agenda was the Phoenician city of Tyre. Each of these nations and city-states was located in the vicinity of Judah. Now He moves south, turning His attention to a much larger and more formidable actor on the global stage; the nation of Egypt. In this divine oracle, God directs His attention to Pharaoh, as the royal representative of the nation. Like the “prince” of Tyre, Pharaoh struggles with a bit of a pride problem. As the head of a prosperous and powerful nation, this mere mortal had let his own self-importance get the best of him. He had begun to believe that he was responsible for his own success and even claimed to possess the supernatural powers of a god.

“I am your enemy, O Pharaoh, king of Egypt—
    you great monster, lurking in the streams of the Nile.
For you have said, ‘The Nile River is mine;
    I made it for myself.’ – Ezekiel 29:3 NLT

His attitude was similar to that of Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon, who also made the mistake of miscalculating his own self-importance.

As he looked out across the city, he said, “Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

Both of these men were under the self-inflicted delusion that their power and authority rivaled that of a god. They viewed themselves as superhuman and were worshiped by their people as deities in human form. God refers to Pharaoh as “the great dragon” (Ezekiel 29:3 ESV). The Hebrew word is tannîn (תַּנִּין) and it means “dragon, serpent, sea monster.” In ancient Near Eastern mythology, this sea monster represented the chaos that ruled the earth before creation. The Egyptians had attributed the destruction of this “chaos monster” to one of the earlier Pharaohs, which had resulted in the creation of the life-giving Nile.

But Yahweh, the true Creator-God, exposes Pharaoh as a fraud, accusing him of being the source of chaos, not its destroyer. He is the “great dragon that lies in the midst of his streams” (Ezekiel 29:3 ESV). Pharaoh was not a god to be worshiped but a dangerous foe to be feared and avoided at all costs; a deadly predator lurking just beneath the surface of the Nile.

At the time Ezekiel was writing his book, Egypt was considered a superpower in the region. The Egyptians had enjoyed great success in expanding their empire and had set their sights on Palestine as a natural next step in their desire for global dominion. When the Assyrians invaded the region, the Egyptians tried to play the spoiler, doing everything they could to thwart the Assyrian takeover of Palestine. When the Assyrians set their sights on the northern kingdom of Israel, King Hoshea turned to Egypt for help.

King Shalmaneser of Assyria attacked King Hoshea, so Hoshea was forced to pay heavy tribute to Assyria. But Hoshea stopped paying the annual tribute and conspired against the king of Assyria by asking King So of Egypt to help him shake free of Assyria’s power. – 2 Kings 17:3-4 NLT

But Hoshea’s reliance upon the Egyptians proved unsuccessful.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

Later, when the Assyrians moved against the southern kingdom of Judah, King Shalmaneser warned them against making alliances with the Egyptians.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-21 NLT

And the prophet, Isaiah, reveals that King Shalmaneser’s suspicions were justified. King Hezekiah was intending to turn to Egypt for assistance. But God was not pleased with those plans.

“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins.
For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.
But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated,
    and by depending on him, you will be disgraced.
For though his power extends to Zoan
    and his officials have arrived in Hanes,
all who trust in him will be ashamed.
    He will not help you.
    Instead, he will disgrace you.” – Isaiah 30:1-5 NLT

God even uses the same imagery as King Shalmaneser when describing Egypt as an unreliable staff made of reeds. 

All the people of Egypt will know that I am the Lord,
    for to Israel you were just a staff made of reeds.
When Israel leaned on you,
    you splintered and broke
    and stabbed her in the armpit.
When she put her weight on you,
    you collapsed, and her legs gave way. – Ezekiel 29:6-7 NLT

What Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Shalmaneser all failed to understand was that their 15 minutes of fame had been the work of God. The rise to power had been His doing and not their own. But each of these men and the nations they represented had wrongly assumed that they were the masters of their fates and the arbiters of their own futures. Yet, God warns Pharaoh, “Because you said, ‘The Nile River is mine; I made it,’ I am now the enemy of both you and your river. I will make the land of Egypt a totally desolate wasteland, from Migdol to Aswan, as far south as the border of Ethiopia” (Ezekiel 29:9-10 NLT).

God was going to do to Egypt what He had done to His own people. He would judge their pride and arrogance by orchestrating their defeat at the hands of a more powerful nation. Their cities would be destroyed and their people taken captive to foreign lands. But after 40 years had passed, God would return them to their land.

“But this is what the Sovereign Lord also says: At the end of the forty years I will bring the Egyptians home again from the nations to which they have been scattered. I will restore the prosperity of Egypt and bring its people back to the land of Pathros in southern Egypt from which they came. But Egypt will remain an unimportant, minor kingdom. It will be the lowliest of all the nations, never again great enough to rise above its neighbors.– Ezekiel 29:13-15 NLT

The history of this region of the world reveals the sovereign will of God as each of these mighty nations vied for hegemony. Egypt fell to the Babylonians in 568-567 B.C., and many of its citizens were dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire. But the Babylonians were later subsumed by the more powerful Persian Empire, and after 40 years in exile, the Egyptians were allowed to return to their land.

For the Jewish exiles listening to this oracle spoken by Ezekiel, these prophetic pronouncements would have sounded far-fetched and difficult to believe. The thought of Egypt, a perennial powerhouse in the region, falling to the upstart Babylonians was unthinkable. But God was reminding them of His unprecedented power and sovereign control over all nations. He had never intended Egypt to be their savior. The people of Judah were have placed their hope and faith in Him, regardless of what was happening to them or around them. And God makes it clear that Egypt’s fall was meant to provide a powerful lesson for the people of Judah.

“Then Israel will no longer be tempted to trust in Egypt for help. Egypt’s shattered condition will remind Israel of how sinful she was to trust Egypt in earlier days. Then Israel will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 29:16 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.