After an extended series of messages for Tyre (26-28), the Lord now gives Ezekiel a longer series of messages for Egypt—seven messages in total (29-32). As was the case with Tyre, the prophetic word given to Ezekiel includes both announcements of upcoming devastation at the hand of the Babylonians as well as laments over the destruction. As Babylon had been God’s tool of choice to humble the nation of Tyre, so it will be for Egypt.
Chapter 29 comprises two messages for Egypt, both marked off by the date on which the message was given Ezekiel. The first (1-16) “word of the Lord” comes to Ezekiel on the twelfth day of the tenth month of the tenth year (of the exile). The second (17-21) comes on the first day of the first month of the twenty-seventh year (seventeen years later). The first message predicts the coming destruction. The second announces its fulfillment.
Egypt is judged for two primary reasons: its arrogance towards God and unreliability towards Israel. The pride of the Pharaoh is seen in his boast, “My Nile is my own; I made it for myself” (3). Notice the abundance of first person pronounces in that one sentence! Pharaoh claims to be both owner and originator of the mighty river created by God. This boast bothers God, as seen by the fact it is twice said to be the reason God is against Egypt and its leader (3, 9-10).
Egypt’s unreliability comes into focus in verses 6-9 where the nation is compared to a “reed” that Israel tried to lean on as a walking staff. Like a fragile reed, Egypt splintered causing damage to Israel, who had foolishly (and rebelliously) trusted Egypt for support (6-7). While Israel disobeyed in relying on unreliable Egypt, the Lord still holds Egypt to account for failing His people.
The Lord pledges to make Egypt an “utter waste and desolation” (12) for forty years. Those people ruled by Pharaoh (“the fish of your streams that stick to your scales”—4) will be likewise scattered and devoured (5). But unlike Tyre whose destruction is unending (27:36; 28:19), Egypt has a future. The Lord promises to “restore the fortunes of Egypt” (14), but in a limited way. Never again will Egypt rule the nations (15), but it will survive as a national entity in its land.
The second message in chapter 29, dated seventeen years after the first message (17), is given when Nebuchadnezzar and his armies are about to defeat and despoil Egypt (19), taking its wealth as plunder. The Lord declares that He is giving Egypt into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands as recompense for doing His work (“they worked for me”—20). The Babylonians had done God’s work in defeating Tyre, but had little to show for their prolonged efforts (historians say the Babylonian armies besieged the mainland city of Tyre for thirteen years). So now the Lord gives Egypt to the Babylonians as “payment” for serving Him in attacking Tyre (20).
The chapter ends with a brief but hopeful comment regarding Israel. In the final verse, the Lord promises to “cause a horn [ruler] to spring up for the house of Israel” and to “open” Ezekiel’s lips among His people (21). When all this happens, the Lord declares, the Israelites will once again know that “I am the LORD” (21).
Visions of God
The Lord is against those who claim ownership or take credit for what is His. One of the reasons stated for Egypt’s judgment is their proud self-exaltation. Pharaoh makes the ludicrous claim, “My Nile is my own; I made it for myself” (3, 9). They claim ownership and oversight that belongs to God alone. Whenever humans do this, watch out. God tells Pharaoh, “I am against you” (3). And if God is against us, who can be for us!
The Lord can do His work through those who don’t acknowledge Him as Lord. When the Lord says the Babylonians work for Him (20), He does not mean they consciously are seeking to accomplish His will. Rather, they are pursuing their own agenda, advancing their own national goals. However, in a compatibilist way, they are unknowingly carrying out God’s larger agenda. They are doing His will while they go their own way. God works through human wills to accomplish divine ends.
The Lord can reward those who do His work—even if they will later be judged. The Lord sees Babylon’s defeat and plundering of Egypt as recompense for their labour in defeating Tyre. Amazingly, the Lord claims that Babylon works for Him. This doesn’t mean they are pleasing to Him, for other prophets (Isaiah and Jeremiah) announce that Babylon will be severely judged by God.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen wait for the Lord’s word to be fulfilled—for it will come to pass. The prophecy about Egypt’s demise is at least seventeen years in the making. Perhaps some who heard the prediction doubted its veracity when years rolled by without evidence of its fulfillment. But the word of the Lord always proves true in God’s time and way. Trust and wait for the Lord!
Watchmen see God’s purposes fulfilled by unlikely, unwitting accomplices. Ezekiel is given a behind-the-scenes look at the world. God reveals His ways when He declares that Babylon was working for Him in attacking and defeating Tyre. Though Babylon did not purposefully seek to fulfill God’s will, they accomplished His purposes. Watchmen understand that God sometimes draws straight lines with crooked sticks.
Watchmen warn God’s people against relying on the wrong saviour! One of the implied messages in this chapter is the folly of Israel’s “reliance” on Egypt (16). Egypt looked large and powerful but turned out to be a broken reed that hurt Israel when she leaned on it for support. The lesson: Only the Lord is the Saviour of His people.