17 In the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre. Every head was made bald, and every shoulder was rubbed bare, yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labor that he had performed against her. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army. 20 I have given him the land of Egypt as his payment for which he labored, because they worked for me, declares the Lord God.
21 “On that day I will cause a horn to spring up for the house of Israel, and I will open your lips among them. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 29:17-21 ESV
Some 17 years later, Ezekiel received yet another oracle from God concerning Egypt, and this one came sometime around his 50th birthday. The prophet placed it immediately after the prior message to identify Babylon as the source of Egypt’s fall. King Nebuchadnezzar would be the one wielding the sword against Pharaoh and his people. The same nation that brought about the end of Judah and Tyre would sweep down on the unsuspecting citizens of Egypt, “and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste” (Ezekiel 29:9 ESV).
The amazing thing about this passage is its insistence that Nebuchadnezzar acted as an agent of God Almighty. He was an instrument in the hands of God, carrying out the divine will exactly as God had intended. Unknowingly serving as God’s instrument of judgment, Nebuchadnezzar would lay siege to Tyre for 13 long years, forcing his army to endure a lengthy and costly campaign that resulted in little benefit.
“Son of man, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon fought so hard against Tyre that the warriors’ heads were rubbed bare and their shoulders were raw and blistered. Yet Nebuchadnezzar and his army won no plunder to compensate them for all their work.” – Ezekiel 29:18 NLT
This kind of expenditure against a relatively small coastal city made no sense for a global juggernaut like Babylon. It had little to gain from pouring such much time and resources into a single campaign against a city-state that posed little threat to its empire. But Nebuchadnezzar was doing God’s bidding. He was serving as God’s agent of wrath against Tyre, and he would perform the same role against Egypt.
In fact, God makes it clear that the Egyptian campaign would be a form of payback for Nebuchadnezzar’s losses suffered at Tyre.
“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He will carry off its wealth, plundering everything it has so he can pay his army.” – Ezekiel 29:19 NLT
The wealth of Egypt made that of Tyre pale by comparison. Nebuchadnezzar’s plunder of the vast Egyptian empire would more than compensate for any losses he suffered in his capture of Tyre.
In ancient days, plunder was one of the primary sources of payment for a nation’s armed forces. A soldier’s base salary was relatively small but the appeal of military service was in the sense of adventure it provided and the potential windfall of booty a successful campaign might bring. The conquest of a wealthy city could result in a sizeable bonus for the average footsoldier. Part of the incentive for defeating their enemies was the right to ransack and loot at will. Victorious soldiers were free to take whatever riches they could carry off as plunder, and the cities and towns of Egypt would prove to be a boon for the Babylonian forces.
“The scant historical data indicates that Egypt and Tyre became allies under Pharaoh Hophra (Apries). The extended siege of Tyre was perhaps due to the aid Tyre received from the Egyptians. In such an act Hophra was going contrary to God’s purposes. Not only was the siege prolonged by Egyptian support, but some also surmise that Egypt’s maritime aid enabled Tyre to send away her wealth for security during the siege. When Tyre surrendered about 573 B.C. . . ., Babylonia gained almost no spoils from the long siege.” – Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel
God rewarded Nebuchadnezzar for services rendered. This pagan king and his army would receive ample compensation for their role in the defeat of Tyre and it would come in the form of a successful military campaign against one of the greatest nations on earth at that time: Egypt.
This stunning victory against a perennial powerhouse in the region would be directly attributable to God, and this insight was meant to bring a sense of joy and hope to the exiled people of Judah.
“I have given him the land of Egypt as a reward for his work, says the Sovereign Lord, because he was working for me when he destroyed Tyre.” – Ezekiel 29:20 NLT
As the Jewish refugees living in Babylon heard this oracle from the lips of Ezekiel, they couldn’t help but recall the long and storied history of Israel’s relationship with Egypt. Their ancestors had lived as exiles in the land of the Pharaohs for more than 400 years. In the land of the pyramids and sphinxes, the descendants of Jacob had labored as slaves, building the very edifices that made Egypt the envy of the world (Exodus 1:8-14). They had heard the stories of how the Pharaoh had ordered the enslavement of their forefathers and foremothers. They knew the chilling details concerning the royal edict that ordered the infanticide of all the male children born to the Israelites (Exodus 1:15-22). The stories of Pharoah’s repeated refusals to allow Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt would have been seared into their collective conscience. The people of Judah had no reason to love the Egyptians, so the report of their demise at the hands of the Babylonians should have come as welcome news to the exiles. Any time an oppressor nation got a taste of its own medicine was music to the ears of all those who had suffered at their hand.
And to add a further ray of hope to the exiles’ dark and difficult existence, God informs them that the day is coming when they will experience His undeserved grace and mercy as He restores them to their former glory as a nation.
“And the day will come when I will cause the ancient glory of Israel to revive, and then, Ezekiel, your words will be respected. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 29:21 NLT
God had predicted the falls of Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, and now, Egypt. The nations would fall like dominoes under the divinely ordained hand of King Nebuchadnezzar. Even Judah would succumb to Babylon’s insatiable and unstoppable quest to expand its empire and secure its place as the world’s most powerful nation.
But the Babylonians wold prove to be just another pawn in God’s strategic unveiling of His sovereign will for mankind. And while Babylon would enjoy its moment in the sunlight, it would prove to be shortlived. God’s real interest was in the well-being of His chosen people, and back in chapter 28, He revealed His intentions to restore them to the land He had given them.
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Israel will again live in their own land, the land I gave my servant Jacob. For I will gather them from the distant lands where I have scattered them. I will reveal to the nations of the world my holiness among my people.“ – Ezekiel 28:25 NLT
God exists outside of time. He is transcendent and all-knowing, possessing the unique ability to see past, present, and future all at the same time. Time means nothing to Him. As the eternal God, a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8). For the exiles, their stay in Babylon seemed endless and hopeless. They couldn’t see past the next morning. And all this news of Judah’s destruction just seemed to make matters worse. But God was letting them know that He had plans and was working those plans to perfection. He was in control of all things, including their future. The nations were under His rule and operated according to His sovereign will. Their rise and fall were His doing. Their victories and defeats were ordained from His throne room in heaven. And the exiles living in Judah needed to understand that their God was more powerful than their captor. Their circumstance was not a sign of God’s demise. The news of Jerusalem’s pending fall was not to be read as His abandonment of them. He was still on His throne and fully in control of all things at all times. And the day was coming when they would know that He is and will always be the Lord.
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.