In Ezekiel chapter 31, the prophet Ezekiel delivers a message from God in the form of a lamentation, or funeral song, over Egypt’s coming downfall. This lament compares Egypt to a mighty cedar tree that towered over all other trees, representing its power and dominance, but soon faced destruction because of its pride and arrogance before God.
Key takeaways from Ezekiel 31:
- Egypt had grown proud and arrogant, believing its power and resources made it invincible.
- God was going to bring judgment on Egypt, cutting it down like a mighty cedar tree in the forest.
- God would cause a mighty nation, Babylon, to destroy Egypt as punishment for its pride.
- The destruction of Egypt would shock other nations, showing that no kingdom is mightier than God.
- Pride and self-sufficiency apart from God lead to eventual downfall and ruin.
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Background on Ezekiel’s Ministry
The prophet Ezekiel began his ministry around 593 BC, several years after the fall of Jerusalem and the first Babylonian siege and exile. God called Ezekiel to be a watchman and speak God’s words to the Jewish exiles in Babylon (Ezekiel 3:16-21). Much of Ezekiel’s message involved warning Judah about God’s coming judgment for their idolatry and covenant unfaithfulness. However, Ezekiel also delivered messages of hope and restoration for the future.
Ezekiel powerfully acted out God’s messages through dramatic symbolic actions and strange visions. For instance, God had Ezekiel lie on his side for over a year to symbolize the coming siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1-8). He ate a scroll containing lamentations and judgments (Ezekiel 2:8-3:3). Ezekiel saw bizarre and often terrifying visions of God’s glory. Through these dramatic actions and visions, Ezekiel communicated God’s displeasure with continued sin and idolatry, the certainty of His judgment, and the promise of future restoration.
Literary Features of Ezekiel 31
Ezekiel 31 contains a lament or funeral song for Egypt represented as a mighty cedar tree. Laments were common in prophetic books and involved mourning the loss of a nation or city facing destruction (cf. Ezekiel 19, 26-28, 32). Using the metaphor of a tree was also a common prophetic device to symbolize a kingdom’s rise and downfall (cf. Isaiah 2:12-13, Daniel 4:10-12).
The lumbering language and imagery in Ezekiel 31 vividly portray the magnificence of this cedar tree, reflecting Egypt’s power and dominance. However, God announces the tree will be chopped down and stripped of its branches and foliage (Ezekiel 31:11-12). Mythic allusions to trees in Eden’s garden and the “trees of Lebanon” give a grandiose, legendary feel to the cedar metaphor (v. 8-9). Overall, the funeral imagery and mythic tree symbolism powerfully convey the tragedy of Egypt’s impending fall for its proud self-exaltation.
Exposition of Ezekiel 31
Egypt as a Lofty Cedar Exalted in Pride (v. 1-9)
In the eleventh year, in the third month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude:
“Whom are you like in your greatness?
3 Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade,
and of towering height,
its top among the clouds.[^1]
4 The waters nourished it;
the deep made it grow tall,
around its plantation;
and so it towered on high,
its top among the clouds.[^2]
5 So it towered high
above all the trees of the field;
its boughs grew large
and its branches long
from abundant water in its shoots.
6 All the birds of the heavens
made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the beasts of the field
gave birth to their young,
and under its shadow
lived all great nations.
7 It was beautiful in its greatness,
in the length of its branches;
for its roots went down
to abundant waters.
8 The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
neither were the plane trees
like its branches;
no tree in the garden of God
was its equal in beauty.
9 I made it beautiful
in the mass of its branches,
and all the trees of Eden envied it,
that were in the garden of God.
God instructs Ezekiel to confront Pharaoh king of Egypt with a message comparing Egypt to a lofty cedar tree. This cedar was preeminent in its beauty, height, and power, representing Egypt’s former dominance and glory as a mighty kingdom. Verse 3 describes Assyria as this great cedar, indicating Ezekiel is recalling a former empire now surpassed by Egypt in prominence and strength.
The loftiness of this cedar is emphasized, with its top literally in “the clouds” (v. 3, 4, 10, 14). Ample water from springs, streams, and the “deep” nourished its growth, picturing the abundant natural resources that enabled Egypt to develop into a wealthy, powerful kingdom (v. 4). This preeminent cedar towered over the other trees, just as Egypt stood above all other nations in prominence (v. 5). Furthermore, the cedar provided shelter and protection for birds and beasts, representing how other nations lived securely under Egypt’s influence (v. 6).
In verses 8-9, mythic allusions to the trees of Eden and God’s garden further emphasize the unrivaled beauty and glory of this cedar. Ezekiel highlights Egypt’s arrogant pride in its surpassing power and resources. Tragically, this pride made Egypt oblivious to its vulnerability before God, who lifts up and tears down kingdoms (cf. Daniel 4:37).
The Exaltation and Downfall of Egypt (v. 10-14)
10 “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because it[^3] towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, 11 I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out. 12 Foreigners, the most ruthless of nations, have cut it down and left it. On the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen, and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land, and all the peoples of the earth have gone away from its shadow and left it. 13 On its fallen trunk dwell all the birds of the heavens, and on its branches are all the beasts of the field. 14 All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to towering height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height. For they are all given over to death, to the world below, among the children of man,[^4] with those who go down to the pit.
Because of the cedar’s prideful arrogance, God promises to hand it over for destruction by “a mighty one of the nations,” namely Babylon. God had “cast out” Egypt, abandoning it to ruin for its wickedness. Foreign invaders would ruthlessly cut it down, picturing Babylon’s impending conquest (v. 11-12a). Ezekiel highlights the totality of the cedar’s destruction, with its branches fallen and broken throughout the land (v. 12b). Furthermore, other nations previously sheltered under Egypt’s influence would abandon its protection (v. 12c).
Verse 13 signifies Egypt’s downfall and loss of kingdom by noting birds and beasts dwelt on its fallen trunk and branches. Verse 14 explains the reason for the cedar’s destruction was to warn other mighty kingdoms not to exalt themselves proudly like Egypt. All kingdoms, despite their power and resources, face eventual decay and death before God’s superiority. The vivid image of the cedar’s architectural ruin reinforces God’s vengeance on the arrogance of nations that fail to acknowledge His supremacy.
The Impact of Egypt’s Downfall on Other Nations (v. 15-18)
15 “Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day the cedar[^5] went down to Sheol I caused mourning; I closed the deep over it, and restrained its rivers, and many waters were stopped. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it. 16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the world below. 17 They also went down to Sheol with it, to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were its arm, who lived under its shadow among the nations.
18 “Whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? You shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below. You shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.
“This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord GOD.”
When the cedar fell into Sheol, the realm of the dead, it shocked the other nations who relied on Egypt for security and prosperity (v. 15-16). God vividly depicts Lebanon and other nations mourning Egypt’s destruction like trees fainting when the mighty cedar was cut down (v. 15). Furthermore, Egypt’s judgment caused international turmoil and dread as the nations quaked in fear at its downfall (v. 16).
Ezekiel notes the irony that Egypt’s demolition actually comforted lesser kingdoms, like trees relieved at the cedar’s removal (v. 16). Though they benefited from the cedar’s protection, these nations also felt its shadow and burdensome demands. The cedar’s departure freed them from its control.
Verses 17-18 reiterate that Egypt and the nations under its sway would all descend together to Sheol, the realm of the dead. Ezekiel compares uncircumcised foreigners killed in battle to Egypt and its people, emphasizing their spiritual uncleanliness and under God’s wrath (v. 18). The chapter concludes by equating the cedar explicitly with Egypt and its multitudes facing destruction for their proud idolatry of power and resources.
Major Themes of Ezekiel 31
The Sin and Judgment of Arrogance and Pride
A key theme of Ezekiel 31 is arrogance and pride lead to eventual judgment and downfall. Egypt’s power and wealth fostered a sense of invincibility that led to prideful self-exaltation above God’s authority. But God opposes the proud and promises to abase them (Proverbs 16:5, Matthew 23:12). No nation, regardless of its power and resources, can escape God’s sovereign rule and judgment. Babylon served as God’s instrument to humble Egypt for its arrogance before Him.
God’s Sovereignty Over All Nations and Kingdoms
Ezekiel 31 highlights that God holds sovereign control over the rise and fall of nations and empires. The extended cedar metaphor symbolized the natural resources and power enabling Egypt’s development into a prosperous, dominant kingdom. However, God orchestrated its downfall to Babylon as punishment for spiritual rebellion. God alone determines the fate of nations according to His divine purposes and perfect justice (Job 12:23, Psalm 22:28, Daniel 4:17).
The False Hope of Power and Resources to Provide Security
The immense cedar tree represents Egypt’s false trust in its own power and prosperity for security, rather than relying on God. But worldly kingdoms and resources cannot protect against God’s judgment on sin. Only humble repentance and faith in God provide refuge in the day of judgment (Nahum 1:7b-8a). Believers must warn nations and individuals alike not to put their hope in earthly resources or strength for safety and blessing, but to turn to the Lord (Psalm 20:7, Jeremiah 17:5-8).
Applications for Today
Do Not Trust in Earthly Resources for Salvation
Ezekiel 31 warns against following Egypt’s example of trusting in power, wealth, and resources for security apart from faith in God. People still commit this same sin today. Many trust in good works, wealth, accomplishments, philosophy, science, or politics to make progress and make the world better, with no need for God. However, salvation will never come through human resources and ingenuity alone, but only through repentance and trusting in Christ’s atoning work on the cross for forgiveness and restoration.
God Humbles the Proud
Ezekiel 31 reveals God will judge and humble those who become proud and arrogantly rely on their own power and resources. This principle remains true today. God still opposes the arrogant and plans to humble all who exalt themselves against Him and fail to acknowledge His lordship (Isaiah 2:12, 1 Peter 5:5-6). This warning applies equally to nations, leaders, churches, and individuals. We must remember that everything we have comes from God alone, so there is never any ground for pride (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).
True Hope is Found in Eternal Life with God
The powerful image of the cedar descending into Sheol in death and judgment reinforces that earthly power and resources cannot provide lasting security. Our only unshakable hope is eternal life with God by grace through faith in Christ. All the wealth and power of Egypt could not prevent its destruction because of spiritual rebellion against God. We must turn from sin and humility trust in Christ alone for salvation, rather than things of this world. Only those who reject pride and seek the Lord will abide forever in His presence.
Ezekiel 31 delivers a sobering warning against national and individual pride that rejects God’s supremacy. Egypt’s destruction, despite its immense wealth and power, highlights the folly of trusting in earthly resources rather than seeking the Lord. God will certainly humble all who arrogantly oppose Him. This passage calls every nation and person to turn from prideful self-reliance to find security, hope, and salvation in Christ alone through His grace. Though kingdoms and leaders may oppose the Lord for a time, God will ultimately triumph and rule over all forever.