1 In the eleventh year, in the third month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude:
“Whom are you like in your greatness?
3 Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade,
and of towering height,
its top among the clouds.
4 The waters nourished it;
the deep made it grow tall,
making its rivers flow
around the place of its planting,
sending forth its streams
to all the trees of the field.
5 So it towered high
above all the trees of the field;
its boughs grew large
and its branches long
from abundant water in its shoots.
6 All the birds of the heavens
made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the beasts of the field
gave birth to their young,
and under its shadow
lived all great nations.
7 It was beautiful in its greatness,
in the length of its branches;
for its roots went down
to abundant waters.
8 The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
neither were the plane trees
like its branches;
no tree in the garden of God
was its equal in beauty.
9 I made it beautiful
in the mass of its branches,
and all the trees of Eden envied it,
that were in the garden of God.
10 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because it towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, 11 I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out. 12 Foreigners, the most ruthless of nations, have cut it down and left it. On the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen, and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land, and all the peoples of the earth have gone away from its shadow and left it. 13 On its fallen trunk dwell all the birds of the heavens, and on its branches are all the beasts of the field. 14 All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to towering height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height. For they are all given over to death, to the world below, among the children of man, with those who go down to the pit.
15 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day the cedar went down to Sheol I caused mourning; I closed the deep over it, and restrained its rivers, and many waters were stopped. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it. 16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the world below. 17 They also went down to Sheol with it, to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were its arm, who lived under its shadow among the nations.
18 “Whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? You shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below. You shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.
“This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 31:1-18 ESV
The Egyptians had a pride problem. They had enjoyed a long tenure as a world superpower and had grown accustomed to throwing their weight around. But their days of glory were about to come to an ignominious end. While they still considered themselves to be a major player on the global stage, God held a different opinion. He invites them to consider the Assyrians, whom He compares to “a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade, and of towering height” (Ezekiel 31:3 ESV). This well-watered “tree” thrived and grew to unimaginable heights, towering “high above all the trees of the field” (Ezekiel 31:5 ESV).
This horticultural metaphor portrays the Assyrian empire as a towering tree that overshadows every other tree in the forest. The upstart Assyrians had asserted their influence in a major way, having expanded their domain throughout that region of the world. At one point, they had no rival and faced no threat to their hegemony. Like the Egyptians, they reveled in their military superiority and took pride in their seeming invincibility. And God took full credit for their meteoric rise to power and prominence.
“Because I made this tree so beautiful,
and gave it such magnificent foliage,
it was the envy of all the other trees of Eden,
the garden of God.” – Ezekiel 31:9 NLT
They could not claim responsibility for the dominating nature of their expansion. It had all been God’s doing. He had sovereignty ordained their global expansion, even ordering their invasion of Egypt and the destruction of Thebes 45 years earlier in 633 B.C. The prophet, Nahum, describes the fall of Thebes in graphic detail.
Are you any better than the city of Thebes,
situated on the Nile River, surrounded by water?
She was protected by the river on all sides,
walled in by water.
Ethiopia and the land of Egypt
gave unlimited assistance.
The nations of Put and Libya
were among her allies.
Yet Thebes fell,
and her people were led away as captives.
Her babies were dashed to death
against the stones of the streets.
Soldiers threw dice to get Egyptian officers as servants.
All their leaders were bound in chains. – Nahum 3:8-10 NLT
What right did the Egyptians have to boast of their great power when they had fallen to the Assyrians? And what hope did the Egyptians have of escaping the Babylonians, the very nation that had destroyed and supplanted the Assyrians? Nebuchadnezzar’s forces had thoroughly trounced the mighty Assyrian army at Haran in 609 B.C., effectively bringing an end to the Assyrian empire.
God hates pride in all its forms. And His hatred of pride is expressed throughout the Scriptures.
Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT
Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. – Proverbs 11: 2 NLT
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6 NIV
All throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of Israel’s arrogance and pride. He blasts them for their extreme self-importance and attitude of insufferable self-worth. God hates pride in His people, but He won’t tolerate it among the nations either. Pride is what caused Satan’s fall. Just before God cast him out of heaven, Satan’s attitude reflected his unparalleled pride and arrogance.
“For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.'” – Isaiah 14:13-14 NLT
He wanted to be like God. It was the same temptation he used on Adam and Eve in the garden.
The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NASB
Self-reliance and independence lay at the root of pride. We begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We begin to believe our own press and think that we are something special. Our seeming successes only act to feed our insatiable thirst for recognition, reward, and self-advancement. We even begin to take credit for what God has done and all those things He has made it possible for us to do. You see this reflected in the words of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as he stood gazing over his royal capital from his palace balcony.
“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
At that very moment, God took away Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom as well as his sanity. And it wasn’t until he looked up and acknowledged the rule and reign of God, that his sanity returned.
In today’s reading, we see God’s anger expressed toward Egypt for her pride and arrogance. Even nations can exhibit an over-inflated sense of self-worth. And Egypt suffered from the same case of bloated ego as the Assyrians. Assyria had once been beautiful, strong, self-reliant, and the envy of the nations. But they had fallen. And so would Egypt. Both failed to recognize that their beauty and greatness were God’s doing, not their own. God had given them their lofty position, and He could remove them from it. God had already used the Babylonians to defeat the Assyrians, and now he would use the very same nation to knock the props out from under Egypt.
Humility is a rare commodity these days. Even among believers. We tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We take credit for things that are the result of God’s handiwork and not our own. We compare and contrast ourselves with others, looking for those with whom we stack up positively. We want to come out on the winning side, so we look for those with more flaws and weaknesses than we possess. We celebrate their failures and revel in our own successes. But Paul warns us, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3 NLT).
Egypt’s pride was going to be its downfall. Its arrogance would bring about its demise. Because God hates pride. But He loves to extend His grace to the humble. When we refuse to lift up ourselves and, instead, give Him the credit, we receive His grace. He exalts us at the proper time and in the proper way. Peter put it this way:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. – 1 Peter 5:6 NIV
It is far better to humble ourselves than to be humbled by God. It is far healthier to let God exalt us when and how He sees fit than to attempt to preemptively promote ourselves. Because God hates pride.
And God makes sure to clarify for Ezekiel that Egypt’s fate will be just like that of Assyria. There was no reason for the Jews living in Judah or in exile in Babylon to place any hope in receiving salvation from the Egyptians because their days were numbered and their fate was sealed.
“O Egypt, to which of the trees of Eden will you compare your strength and glory? You, too, will be brought down to the depths with all these other nations. You will lie there among the outcasts who have died by the sword. This will be the fate of Pharaoh and all his hordes. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 31:18 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.