Avraham ben Yaakov
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 29
All the prophecies in the four chapters from the beginning of our present chapter until the end of chapter 32 relate to the downfall of Egypt at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar some years after the destruction of the First Temple , and to the final downfall of Egypt together with the other nations at the end of days. Egypt was the archetypal oppressor of Israel , and her downfall marks the redemption of Israel . Thus the last two verses of the previous chapter speaking of the ingathering of Israel from the nations (Ez. 28:25-26) together with verses 1-21 of our present chapter prophesying the downfall of Egypt are appropriate reading as the Haftara of Parshas Va-era (Ex. 6:2-9:35) recounting the destruction of Egypt through the plagues at the time of the Exodus.
Ezekiel's opening prophecy in this series is specifically dated to "the tenth year in the tenth month on the twelfth of the month" (verse 1). This was the tenth year of the reign of King Tzedekiah and just over one year since the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. This prophecy was received BEFORE the prophecies against Tyre in the previous three chapters, which are dated to "the eleventh year", the year of the destruction of the Temple (Ez. 26:1). Thus we see that all these prophecies are not written in our text in the strict chronological order in which they were received. Rather, the series of prophecies against Tyre were arranged together because of their thematic unity, and likewise the prophecies against Egypt . From the quotation from the ARI Shaar HaPsukim cited in our commentary on Ezekiel chapter 28 about the kabbalistic conceptual connection between Hiram of Tzor and Pharaoh of Mitzrayim, it is clear why the series about Tyre and that about Egypt come one after the other.
"Son of man: set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt . the great crocodile that crouches in the midst of his streams." (v 2-3). "Because the entire greatness of Egypt and all her abundance were on account of the channels of the Nile, the prophet accordingly metaphorically refers to her king as the crocodile and to her people as the fish of the river" (Rashi ad loc.).
".who has said, My river is my own and I have made it for myself." (v 3) - "I have no need for the ELYONIM (the supreme powers of God), because I have my river which provides all my needs" (Rashi). ".and I have made it for myself" (ibid.) - "through my own might and wisdom I have magnified my greatness and rule" (Rashi). Rashi here concisely brings out the essence of Pharaoh's idolatry of himself, his prosperity and power, believing that as long as his control over his natural resources was intact, nothing could bring him down. The wealthy elite that own and control much of the world today apparently think the same way.
"But I will put hooks in your jaws." (v 4). "On account of his having represented him as a crocodile - which is considered to be a fish - he uses an expression relating to the way a fish is caught by putting hooks in its jaws to haul it out of the water" (Metzudas David ad loc.).
".and I will cause the fish of your streams to stick to your scales" (v 4) - "When they haul you up out of the river, your people will also be taken up out of the river - the fish metaphorically represent the people of Egypt, the ministers, horsemen, warriors as well as the poorer sections of the population, all of whom would be swept away" (RaDaK ad loc.).
The essential reason for the coming downfall of Egypt was "because you have been a STAFF OF REED to the House of Israel ." (verse 6). "Several times they relied on them in the days of Sennacherib and in the days of Nebuchadnezzar but it did not avail them, like a soft reed that does not support one who leans on it" (Rashi ad loc.). RaDaK explains further: "The Egyptians promised Israel that they would save them from the Babylonians but they were unable to do so. as it says in Jeremiah 37:5 recounting how Pharaoh did march out from Egypt causing the Babylonians, when they heard, to go up from Jerusalem, but Pharaoh returned to Egypt and the Babylonians went back to capture and destroy Jerusalem. Thus not only did the Egyptians not support Israel but they actually harmed them because their trust in Egypt led them to rebel against the king of Babylon. and thus Ravshakeh (Sennacherib's lieutenant addressing those under Hezekiah who put their trust in Egypt) said, 'You have trusted in this broken STAFF OF REED'" (II Kings 18:21; RaDaK on our verse).
This first in the series of prophecies about the coming destruction of Egypt does not specify who would bring the sword that would wreak the havoc there, which we only learn in the next prophecy (verses 17ff of our present chapter). The focus in this first prophecy is on the devastation itself, which would spread from one end of the country to the other (v 10ff). This would last for a period of forty years (v 11ff). Our commentators explain the deep thread of divine justice that underlies this forty-year timeframe. "Forty-two years of famine were decreed in Pharaoh's dream (Genesis 41) corresponding to the three times that seven bad cows and seven bad ears of corn are written in the text - once when Pharaoh saw his dream, once when he narrated it to Joseph, and a third time when Joseph explained to him what the seven empty bad cows and seven empty ears of corn were - a total of forty-two years of famine. But in the time of Jacob they suffered only two years of famine, because when Jacob came down to Egypt the famine ceased. The remaining forty years were exacted from them now" (Rashi on v 11).
"And it was in the twenty-seventh year." (verse 17). This cannot mean the twenty-seventh year of the reign of Tzedekiah since he reigned for only eleven years. All our commentators explain on the basis of the ancient historical Midrash "Seder Olam" that the "twenty-seventh year" was the twenty-seventh year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, i.e. eight years after the destruction of the Temple and the death of Tzedekiah, which was when Egypt was delivered into the hands of Babylon (Rashi, Metzudas David, RaDaK). Thus the series of prophecies beginning with that at the end of the next chapter (Ezekiel 30:20-26), which is dated to "the eleventh year" - i.e. of the reign of Tzedekiah, the year of the destruction of the Temple - were received BEFORE this prophecy from Nebuchadnezzar's twenty-seventh year.
Thus again we see that these prophecies are not written in the book in the strict chronological order in which they were received but rather are arranged thematically to bring out the prophet's message with maximum effect. Having prophesied in general about the destruction of Egypt and its reason in the earlier sections of our present chapter (vv 1-16), Ezekiel now "zooms in" and tells how Nebuchadnezzar would do the work, receiving the pillage of Egypt as his "reward" for his "great work" in destroying TZUR (vv17-21), after which, in the prophecy in the first part of the next chapter (Ez. 30:1-19), Ezekiel details the devastation in Egypt city by city. Then in the prophecies that follow from Ezekiel 30:20 until the end of the series about Egypt at the end of Chapter 32, he returns to give more of a "wide angle" perspective on the significance of the downfall of Egypt in comparison with the downfall of other great nations.
"Son of man: Nebuchadnezzar made his army labor hard against Tzor. yet he had no wages, nor his army" (v 18). "The way of those who besiege a city for a long time is that they exert themselves and exhaust themselves carrying great loads of wood and stones. Nebuchadnezzar captured Tzor in the twenty-third year of his reign, as we find in Seder Olam. but after he took all its plunder the sea rose and swept it away from them, because it had been decreed against Tzor and her booty that they should be lost at sea" (Rashi ad loc.).
Having read Ezekiel's prophecies about the downfall of Tzor in the previous chapters (Ezekiel chs 26-28), learning now how Nebuchadnezzar was sent to destroy it but could only receive his "reward" by plundering Egypt provides us with a fascinating insight into how the Almighty plays off one nation against another in order to bring about His inscrutable purpose in His providential government of human history. Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Egypt would be her retribution for having been a broken reed for Israel , and the decree against Egypt would spell redemption for Israel .
"ON THAT DAY I shall cause the horn of the House of Israel to put out roots" (v 21). Rashi comments on this verse that he has neither heard nor found any satisfactory explanation of how the fall of Egypt would bring forth roots for Israel, and refers the phrase "on that day" back to verse 13 which says that God would gather in the Egyptians from their exile "at the end of forty years". Rashi explains that the end of forty years coincided with the short-lived reign of Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon . This was when the star of Persia began to rise, and with Persia's destruction of Babylon not only was Egypt freed from subjection to Babylon but the roots were planted for the rebuilding of the Temple, because Cyrus of Persia authorized the first wave of Judean exiles to return to Jerusalem under Zerubavel.
Verses 1-9 of this chapter wail over the coming destruction of Egypt and her various neighbors and allies at the hands of God's MAL'ACHIM - "agents" and "messengers" (v 9), the executors of His inscrutable plans. Verses 10-19 detail Nebuchadnezzar's systematic destruction of Egypt , its population and their idols city by city.
A new prophecy begins in verse 20, "in the eleventh year" - i.e. of the reign of Tzedekiah, the year in which the Temple was destroyed. This prophecy, running to the end of the chapter, "zooms out" from the detailed description of the devastation of Egypt into a more general summary of the unhealable breach of Pharaoh's power at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, showing how God raises up and God brings down, "and they shall know that I am HaShem".
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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