AGAINST NATIONS Ezekiel 25–32
“All the princes of the north and all the Sidonians are there; they went down with the slain in disgrace despite the terror caused by their power” (Ezek. 32:30).God is Ruler of the whole earth. Those who do not believe in Him, as well as we who do, are subject to His power. And we will be judged.
This series of predictions against foreign nations was apparently given while the exiles in Babylon awaited word of Jerusalem’s fate. Ezekiel had announced the commencement of that city’s siege: now all the Jewish captives in Babylon could do was anxiously await word of what was happening in their homeland, some 700 miles away. During that interim Ezekiel raised his voice against other nations who would become victims of Babylon. The implication for the Jewish captives was twofold. First, their God was God of the whole earth. He was not powerless against the nations that had historically troubled Judah, as Israel’s and Judah’s present subjection might imply. Second, God is Judge of the whole earth. National sins of aggression and atrocity, of treaty-breaking and arrogance, would be punished wherever they might be found! Judah and Jerusalem, about to fall to Babylon, were not being treated unfairly, but were being held accountable to a standard of righteousness that God requires of all humankind. These chapters on the judgment of nations millenniums ago remind us, as they did the Jewish captives then, that countries are morally responsible to God for their international behavior. Nations that support terrorism, that break treaty commitments, that adopt policies of repression, and rely on force to coerce neighbors bring themselves inexorably under the judgment of a God who does act in history, and who will repay.
While awaiting word of Jerusalem, Ezekiel predicted the judgment to fall on pagan nations. He touched on the fate of states close to Judah (25:1–17), and focused in-depth on Tyre (26:1–28:26) and Egypt (29:1–32:32).
Understanding the Text
“Rejoicing with all the malice of your heart against the land of Israel” Ezek. 25:1–7. The Ammonites were one possible victim of the current Babylonian campaign, but were spared when Nebuchadnezzar turned west toward Judah (cf. 21:18–23). Their delight at Jerusalem’s fall, however, was rooted as much in malice against an ancient enemy as in relief. Now Ezekiel announced that their turn would soon come—as indeed it did. The passage also reflects one element of God’s promise to Abraham: those who bless his descendants will be blessed, and those who curse them will be cursed (cf. Gen. 12:3). The rise and fall of nations up to our own time suggests that God continues to bless those who welcome and support His covenant people. “I will inflict punishment” Ezek. 25:8–17. The same thought is emphasized in prophecies against other nations close to Israel and Judah. Moab ridiculed Judah in her disaster (v. 8); Edom “took revenge on the house of Judah and became very guilty” (v. 12); Philistia “with ancient hostility sought to destroy Judah” (v. 15). In each case the nation not only was antagonistic to the Jews but had discounted her God. In each case, God said, “They will know that I am the Lord.” The capitalization of Lord in the English text tells us that the Hebrew reads YAHWEH. This unique personal name of God has great significance, and identifies Him as “The One Who Is Always Present.” This is the name associated with God’s great Exodus miracles, and with His later interventions in history on behalf of His people. It suggests a vision of God as living, active, present, and all-powerful. The pagan nations around Judah, and indeed Judah herself, failed to see God in this way. But when judgment fell, then the true nature of God would be realized. How wonderful that through Jesus you and I know God as living, active, present, and all-powerful in our own lives. With the eyes of faith we see constant evidence of His work in us and for us. Only those who forget who God really is, and behave as though He were not present, need punishment to remind them. “O Tyre . . . I will bring many nations against you” Ezek. 26:1–21. Tyre lay only a hundred miles from Jerusalem, and on a clear day could be seen from its heights. The city was built half on the mainland, and half on an offshore island, and possessed two secure harbors. Tyre was a famous commercial center, and possessed a dominant fleet that was thought to make the sea-wrapped city impregnable. While other states in Syria-Palestine were being crushed by northern powers, Tyre retained her independence and prospered. The prophecy against Tyre is complex, and has five major divisions. Chapter 26 describes the city’s destruction. Chapter 27 is a lament, picturing Tyre as a trading-vessel loaded with goods that is suddenly wrecked. Chapter 28:1–10 is an oracle about the prince of Tyre, verses 11–19 a lament over the king of Tyre, and verses 20–26 a prophecy against nearby Sidon. The date at the beginning of the prophecy (26:1) suggests Ezekiel spoke out against Tyre about a month after the fall of Jerusalem, with word possibly brought by traders from Tyre itself. “I will make you a bare rock” Ezek. 26:14. This is one of the most quoted of Old Testament verses, referred to often by those who study Scripture’s predictive prophecy. It reads, “I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will never be rebuilt, for I the Lord have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord.” Despite the scarcity of good natural harbors on the eastern Mediterranean coast, and despite the natural harbors at that site, Tyre has never been rebuilt. Where the grand city once stood a few fishermen still dry their nets. But the bare rock remains desolate and empty, as the waves roll endlessly against the shore. “Merchant of peoples on many coasts” Ezek. 27:1–36. One of the most fascinating features of this chapter is the trade directory in verses 10–25a. The list of Tyre’s trading partners, beginning with Tarshish in the west and moving east, is the most important existing document used by those who study commerce in the ancient Mediterranean world. What a unique book our Bible is! People often say such things as, “The Bible is not a science textbook,” as if it were all right to find our religion there, but everything else must be discounted. Yet Ezekiel’s writings about Tyre describe in great and accurate detail Nebuchadnezzar’s military campaign, and carefully and accurately reflect trading practices and trade goods of the era. The utter authenticity of such historic detail reminds us that the Bible is not a book of religious myth and mystery. It is a historical and accurate report of what God said and did in space and time. We can trust the Bible completely and in every detail, despite the attempts of some to challenge Scripture’s accuracy and deny its character as a divinely inspired work. “The king of Tyre” Ezek. 28:11–19. The shift in midchapter from addressing the ruler (naged) of Tyre to addressing the king (melek) of Tyre seems significant to many commentators. They believe that the focus of the prophecy shifts at this point from the human ruler of the contemporary city-state to Satan. This conviction is supported by the text’s references to Eden (v. 13), to the subject’s position as a “guardian cherub” (vv. 14, 16), and to the reference to his creation by God (v. 15). If this view is correct, what we have here is an analysis of Satan’s fall, and a unique insight into the entry of evil into God’s universe. Again, if this view is correct, it suggests that even before man’s creation earth was the focus of God’s purposes in our universe. Satan, then a ranking cherub, strode the heavens above earth in a crystal Eden, all asparkle with glorious jewels. Though created “a model of perfection” and “blameless,” pride corrupted this angelic being, and he was cast down to earth’s surface. Untold ages later God refashioned the planet, and beneath original Eden planted a Garden, filled with frolicking beasts, where He placed Adam and Eve. There they were tempted by the deposed angel, and led by this now hostile foe of God and man to make the choice of sin. Is this what we really have here, or are the words and phrases simply poetry, filled with symbols, not intended to be taken literally? Whichever view we hold, we can be sure that the sin of pride, that emphasis on the almighty “I,” remains at the root of Satan’s and man’s fall. (See DEVOTIONAL.) “Set your face against Pharaoh, king of Egypt . . . and against all Egypt” Ezek. 29:1–32:32. The last four chapters of this section, and indeed one twelfth of Ezekiel’s words, are directed against Egypt. Why? Historically tiny Judah was subject to the whims of the great world powers of that time, Babylon and Egypt. Less than a pawn in the game of international chess, Judah had been manipulated and betrayed by Egypt. But as powerless as Judah seemed, the God of Judah is God of the whole earth. Now through Ezekiel the Lord announced that He would use His power to execute judgment on this manipulator of His people. People with power tend to look down on the weak. What can the powerless person do against men of wealth and position? Nothing. But the God of the powerless is unimpressed by any human being. He can, and will, act. Thus, Ezekiel said, Egypt would be destroyed, and her ruler would fall.
The Almighty “I”(Ezek. 28:11–19)
She was crying as she spoke with the late-night hostess of “TalkNet.” She was 17 and pregnant. And things had been going so well. She was home with her dad again, after being sent off to boarding school. She had friends. She was having fun. Real fun. And then this! She had to have an abortion, of course. Everything was going too well to spoil. Her question was, should she tell her dad? He’d tell her to get the abortion, but he might get mad and send her away again. The talk show hostess gushed sympathy. That was really a hard decision. She had a regular therapist? Good. Why not talk it over with the therapist first, and ask him about telling her dad. All I could mutter was, “Poor baby.” No, not the unborn child the caller had already determined to kill. Poor little 17-year-old. Poor little girl, thinking only about her fun, and the pregnancy’s threat to her good times. Never the slightest glimmer of an idea that the life she carried should be considered. Never a thought that possibly she should accept responsibility for the consequences of her fling at sex. Only the tears, only the terror, that she might lose the chance to keep on having fun. Poor baby. How fragile that universe we create, with ourselves as sole inhabitant and every other person just something to use for our amusement. How threatening when only “I” count, and then something comes along to threaten our self-indulgence. Poor baby. How is she ever to discover that God is the center of the real universe. How is she ever to realize that she is a Creature, whose true identity can only be found in putting Him first, and whose happiness depends on choosing to live by the standards He says are right and good. I must confess I was upset by the talk show hostess. She clucked and cooed and sympathized, and never once even imagined that the pregnancy was a chance for this teen to consider another human being. The hostess, never in her wildest dreams, would suppose that putting self aside and acting responsibly might be the way this 17-year-old could find both her better self, and peace. I know. I shouldn’t have expected more. We live in a society where self is assumed to be the rightful center of each person’s life. Why shouldn’t the calling teen have thought only and always of herself? Doesn’t everyone? Poor baby. Who will ever help her realize that the most insidious expression of Satan’s original sin of pride is self-centeredness. That our greatest spiritual flaw, and most persistent enemy, is our own concentration on the almighty “I.”
The old prescription still works: God first, others second, self last.