Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 25
Ezekiel's grim prophecy in the previous chapter (Ezekiel 24) about the coming destruction of Jerusalem was specifically dated to the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, which started on the tenth day of the tenth month (Teves) in the ninth year of the reign of King Tzedekiah (Ez. 24:1) and continued for two years until the destruction of the Temple and the city and the exile of its surviving inhabitants.
Since Judah under David, Solomon and a number of its later kings had been the dominant power from the Nile to the Euphrates, the prospect of its imminent destruction and humiliation elicited great joy among the peoples in the neighboring territories of Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia as well as in the great maritime city of Tyre to the north of Israel and in Egypt to its south. Their relish increased as they watched Nebuchadnezzar tighten his stranglehold on Jerusalem .
The prophecies in the coming eight chapters of Ezekiel (chs 25-32), which date from the period of the siege Jerusalem , all deal with the destined destruction of the above-mentioned nations in retribution for their gloating over the fate of Judah . The prophecies in our present chapter (Ezekiel 25) are directed against Ammon , Moab , Edom and Philistia, while Tyre and its ruler are the subjects of the prophecies in chs 26-28. These are then followed by a series of prophecies against Egypt in chs 29-32. Ezekiel's prophecies against the nations parallel the prophecies about the coming retribution against the nations contained in Isaiah (chs 13-16, 19, 21, 23, 25 & 34 etc.) and Jeremiah (chs 46-51).
A comment in the Midrash may shed some light on the complex issue of whether these prophecies apply only to the specified nations at that time, who may since have simply perished from the face of the earth, or whether they apply to peoples existing until today, either in the same territories or elsewhere. "R. Huna said in the name of R. Acha: All the empires (MALCHUYOS) are called by the name of ASHUR (Assyria) on account of the fact that they have become wealthy (misASHRos) at the expense of Israel . R. Yose bar Chaninah said: All the empires are called by the name of NINIVEH on account of the fact that they took their beauty (misNA'Os) from Israel. R. Yose bar Chalaphta said: All the empires are called by the name of MITZRAIM (' Egypt ') because they oppress (METZIROS) Israel " (Bereishis Rabbah 17:4).
Biblical Egypt , Niniveh, Ashur and Tzur etc. were the archetypal embodiment of certain characteristics that in later history became embodied in other nations (garbs). This while Ezekiel and the other prophets were without doubt on one level referring specifically to these nations as they were in their own times, since all their prophecies came through holy spirit, they simultaneously relate to nations that emerged later on embodying the same archetypal traits.
The "sister" nations of Ammon and Moab were close relatives of the Israelites since their founding father, Lot , was a nephew of Abraham, who saved him from captivity at the hands of the four kings (Genesis ch 14). Thus their joy over the destruction of the Temple and the land of Israel (verses 3 and 8 of our present chapter) was an expression of rank ingratitude. Edom (=Seir) was an even closer relative of Israel since Edom's founding father was Esau, Jacob's brother, and thus when the Edomites handed fugitive Judeans over to Nebuchadnezzar's armies, it was a betrayal of their brotherly ties. Only through the destruction of their peoples and their land would these nations know that HaShem rules (vv 7, 11 and 14).
"And it came to pass in the eleventh year on the first day of the month." (Ezekiel 26:1). This was the eleventh year of the reign of King Tzedekiah. It was in this year that the Temple was destroyed. "The prophet does not reveal to us in which month he received this prophecy, but since he left it unsaid, it would appear that he is referring to the month in which the destruction took place, i.e. the month of Av" (RaDaK ad loc.; cf. Rashi & Metzudas David ad loc.).
The prophecy in this chapter is the first in a series of prophecies running until ch 28 v 19 directed against TZOR, which on the level of PSHAT (the plain meaning) refers to the Lebanese sea-faring city-state of Tyre, which at its height was the center of a highly prosperous maritime empire stretching from one end of the Mediterranean Sea to the other. Yet at the same time as we read these prophecies as relating to Tyre, we should also bear in mind the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer that "every place in the Bible text where TZOR is spelled CHASSER ('defective', i.e. without the letter VAV in the middle), it refers to the kingdom of Edom, while every TZOR that is spelled MALEH ('full', i.e. WITH the VAV) refers to the city of Tyre" (Tanchuma Va-era ch 13; see KNOW YOUR BIBLE Isaiah ch 23). The root TZAR, without a VAV, means a trouble or oppressor, while the root TZOR with a VAV means to form or create. In the Hebrew text of Ezekiel's prophecies against TZOR, the name is sometimes spelled CHASSER (26:2, 26:3, 26:4, 26:7, 27:2, 28:2; 29:18) and sometimes MALEH (27:3, 27:8, 27:12).
Verses 7ff in our present chapter specifically refer to the destruction of TZOR - i.e. Tyre - at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet rabbinic commentary on TZOR's exclamation of glee at the destruction of Jerusalem in verse 2 - "Aha! I shall be filled with her that is laid waste" - refers it to the glee of Rome over the downfall of Israel . "Rav Nachman said: Initially, when they brought wine libations from Judah , their wine never became sour. but now it is the wine of the Edomites that does not become sour" (Pesachim 42b). "If someone tells you that both Caesarea (the Roman colonial capital of Judea) and Jerusalem are in ruins or that both are inhabited, do not believe him. But if he says that Caesarea is in ruins and Jerusalem is inhabited or that Caesarea is inhabited and Jerusalem is in ruins, believe him, as it says, 'I shall be filled with her that is laid waste' - If one is full, the other is in ruins, if one is in ruins, the other is full" (Megillah 6a). The implied see-saw linkage between the destinies of Israel and Edom-Rome is seen as the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy about the descendants of Jacob and Esau that "the one people shall be stronger than the other people" (Genesis 25:23, see Rashi ad loc.).
Verses 1-6 of our present chapter are an overall introduction announcing the coming destruction of TZOR on account of their glee over the destruction of Jerusalem . Verses 7-14 depict the destruction of Tyre at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Verses 15-18 depict the horror that the downfall of TZOR would evoke among the other nations, who would understand that if such a thing could befall such a mighty world power, they were all imperiled.
Verses 19-21 foretell the bitter end of TZOR, which will finally be wiped off the face of the earth. "And I shall bring you down with them that descend into the pit, to the people of old time" (verse 20). Those who "descend into the pit" are those who go down to Gehennom, and the "people of old time" are all the other nations who have been there from before (Rashi ad loc.).
"And I shall set up my ornament in the land of living" (v 20) - "And I shall give beauty to Jerusalem " (Rashi ad loc.).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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