|Biblical Egypt||by R. David Pogge|
Ezekiel gave seven prophecies against Egypt. They are too long to quote them all, so I will just summarize them, discuss some common points in them, and encourage you to read them in their entirety in Ezekiel Chapters 29 through 32.
The short summary is that God warns the Jews not to trust Egypt to save them. They should trust God instead. God also warns Pharaoh not to trust in his own power. He should trust God instead. Disaster awaits everyone who trusts in Egypt (or any other human power) instead of God.
The seven prophecies are dated as to when they were given—but not dated as to when they will be fulfilled.
The seven prophesies were given to Ezekiel “In the tenth year, in the tenth month on the twelfth day,” 1 “In the eleventh year, in the first month on the seventh day,” 2 “In the eleventh year, in the third month on the first day,” 3 “In the twelfth year, on the fifteenth day of the month ,” 4 “In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month on the first day,” 5 “In the twenty-seventh year, in the first month on the first day.” 6 There is one more prophecy about Egypt that was not dated. 7 So, ignoring the one with the unspecified date, five of them were given in the space of three years, one was given 15 years after that.
The prophecies were not recorded in the order they were given. The first prophecy in Chapter 29 was given in the 10th year; the second prophecy in Chapter 29 was given in the 27th year; the prophecies in the subsequent three chapters were given at various times in the 17 year interval between the two prophecies in Chapter 29.
Perhaps Ezekiel listed the prophecies in this order to emphasize the fact that God kept giving him these prophecies about Egypt over such a long period of time. Although the colorful metaphors change from prophecy to prophecy, the message in all these prophecies is the same: Egypt’s strength is no match for God’s power.
Since the last prophecy was given in the 27th year, we know the prophecies were not fulfilled before then; but we don’t know how soon after the 27th year they would be fulfilled. As we will show in Chapter 17, Daniel prophesies about the sequential rise of the Babylonian Empire, Persian Empire, Greek Empire, Roman Empire, and the crusades, covered about 2,000 years of history; and Daniel’s final prophecy about Egypt is on the verge of fulfillment today. So, Ezekiel’s prophecies about Egypt might not have been fulfilled in Ezekiel’s lifetime, and might still remain to be fulfilled in our lifetimes.
I hope you are wondering, “When was the 27th year?” The Gregorian Calendar did not exist then, so Ezekiel could not use it. To find out what calendar he used, you have to go back to Ezekiel Chapter 1, Verses 1 through 3. Ezekiel said,
In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin— the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was on him. 1
Year 1 was “the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin.” To discover when King Jehoiachin was exiled, you have to go back to 2 Kings 24:1-17, and correlate that with secular history.
In 606 BC, Nebuchadnezzar invaded the Kingdom of Judah, taking Daniel and other people of noble birth back to Babylon. This is referred to in history as the First Deportation. It was 597 BC when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah a second time and captured Jehoiachin, taking him back to Babylon in the Second Deportation. Finally, Nebuchadnezzar finished the job in 586 BC when Jerusalem fell and the Third Deportation took place.
So, the 1st year (by Ezekiel’s reckoning) was 597 BC. The 10th year would have been 588 BC, and the 27th year would have been 571 BC, give or take a year or two. Egyptologists agree that Necho II was pharaoh from 610 BC to 595 BC, which includes the 1st year. Psamtik II was pharaoh from 595 BC to 589 BC, so he would have been pharaoh during the 10th year. Apries (also known as Wahibre and Hophra) ruled Egypt from 589 BC to 570 BC, so his reign ended about the 26th year. Ahmose II (also called Amasis) ruled from 570 BC to 526 BC, so he probably was pharaoh during the 27th year.
Therefore, Ezekiel’s seven prophecies against Egypt (and Pharaoh) came during the reign of Apries, with the last one occurring during the last year of Apries’ reign, or possibly the first year of Amasis’ reign.
Despite the fact that these seven prophecies were given over a 17 year period, they are all recorded together. No doubt Ezekiel proclaimed these prophecies the day they were given. Apparently he also took notes, writing them down so that he could later assemble all of his prophecies into the words we now find in the Bible many years later. Why did he do this? The answer is in Chapters 3 and 33. God assigned Ezekiel the responsibility of being a watchman, and said,
But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood. 9
Ezekiel was not only responsible for the safety of the Jews of his day, he was responsible for our lives, too, and had to warn us of the coming judgment. His message warning us not to trust in Egypt (or any other secular power) but to trust in God, is just as vital to us as it was to the Jews 590 years before Christ. He took his responsibility seriously and wrote down all the warning messages from God to warn us today.
Ezekiel wasn’t the only watchman God appointed to warn the world of the coming judgment. The Day of the Lord was a common theme of the Old Testament prophets—but the responsibility did not end in the Old Testament.
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 10
“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades." 11
The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament disciples were specifically given the task of warning people about the coming judgment and teaching people to obey God. That directive came straight from the mouth of the Lord.
God didn’t assign me the duty of being a watchman, and he probably didn’t specifically tell you to be one, either—but it is generally taught in Protestant churches that warning people of the judgment that will be executed at the Second Coming of Christ, and the necessity of obeying God’s commands previous to that time, is the responsibility of every Christian. So, we would do well to listen to the warning of Ezekiel, and repeat it to others.
Ezekiel tells a parable about two eagles and a vine. It begins with these words:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set forth an allegory and tell it to the Israelites as a parable. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: A great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and full plumage of varied colors came to Lebanon. Taking hold of the top of a cedar, he broke off its topmost shoot and carried it away to a land of merchants, where he planted it in a city of traders. 12
As you read the rest of the parable, it should not be hard for you to figure out that Ezekiel is talking about the Jews being taken captive into Babylon; but you don’t have to try to figure out the meaning of the parable because Ezekiel comes right out and explains it for you.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Say to this rebellious people, ‘Do you not know what these things mean?’ Say to them: ‘The king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and carried off her king and her nobles, bringing them back with him to Babylon. Then he took a member of the royal family and made a treaty with him, putting him under oath. He also carried away the leading men of the land, so that the kingdom would be brought low, unable to rise again, surviving only by keeping his treaty. But the king rebelled against him by sending his envoys to Egypt to get horses and a large army. Will he succeed? Will he who does such things escape? Will he break the treaty and yet escape?
“‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, he shall die in Babylon, in the land of the king who put him on the throne, whose oath he despised and whose treaty he broke. Pharaoh with his mighty army and great horde will be of no help to him in war, when ramps are built and siege works erected to destroy many lives. 18 He despised the oath by breaking the covenant. Because he had given his hand in pledge and yet did all these things, he shall not escape. 13
This parable isn’t a prediction because it had already happened 14 —but it is still a prophecy.
Definition of prophecy
Ezekiel was inspired to declare God’s will and purpose.
In regards to Judah, it was God’s will that the Babylonians should punish the Jews by taking their King and many leading men (such as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednigo) into captivity. That had already happened when Ezekiel said it. But Ezekiel went beyond that and said that King Jehoiachin “shall not escape” captivity—and he didn’t.
That’s what Ezekiel prophesied about Judah. Now, let’s look at what Ezekiel told us about God’s will for Egypt.
As I said before, there are seven prophecies about Egypt in Ezekiel Chapters 29 through 32. They are all similar to this one:
In the tenth year, in the tenth month on the twelfth day, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, “The Nile belongs to me; I made it for myself.”
But I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will pull you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales. I will leave you in the desert, you and all the fish of your streams. You will fall on the open field and not be gathered or picked up. I will give you as food to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the sky. Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am the Lord.
“‘You have been a staff of reed for the people of Israel. When they grasped you with their hands, you splintered and you tore open their shoulders; when they leaned on you, you broke and their backs were wrenched.
“‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will bring a sword against you and kill both man and beast. Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
“‘Because you said, “The Nile is mine; I made it,” therefore I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt a ruin and a desolate waste from Migdol to Aswan, as far as the border of Cush. The foot of neither man nor beast will pass through it; no one will live there for forty years. I will make the land of Egypt desolate among devastated lands, and her cities will lie desolate forty years among ruined cities. And I will disperse the Egyptians among the nations and scatter them through the countries.
“‘Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the nations where they were scattered. I will bring them back from captivity and return them to Upper Egypt, the land of their ancestry. There they will be a lowly kingdom. It will be the lowliest of kingdoms and will never again exalt itself above the other nations. I will make it so weak that it will never again rule over the nations. Egypt will no longer be a source of confidence for the people of Israel but will be a reminder of their sin in turning to her for help. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.’” 16
The image of Apries being a monstrous crocodile, claiming “The Nile belongs to me; I made it for myself,” who is hooked and dragged out of the Nile and left to rot in the desert and eaten by vultures is clearly poetic. We should not expect a literal fulfillment—but the meaning is clear. Egypt will “be the lowliest of kingdoms and will never again exalt itself above the other nations. I will make it so weak that it will never again rule over the nations. Egypt will no longer be a source of confidence for the people of Israel but will be a reminder of their sin in turning to her for help. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” That prediction was certainly fulfilled soon after it was given. Egypt did fall to the Babylonians, and was then ruled by the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Since that time it has never been the world superpower it once was.
Despite that, there might be more to the prophecy than one might suppose at first glance. Biblical prophecies sometimes (but not always) have multiple fulfillments. God apparently likes to use past events as examples of what will happen in the future. Here are just two of many examples.
First, consider the Passover. The Passover Lamb was literally slain and its blood really did save the Israelite children—but that was also a symbolic way for God to explain how the blood of Jesus would save those who believe in Him.
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 17
In the subsequent verses, Jesus tells them not only what would happen in the next 40 years (specifically, the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD, when every stone was thrown down) but also many other things have happened since then, and some things won't happen until Jesus’ Second Coming. They are all mixed together. With our 20/20 hindsight, we know what parts were fulfilled in the past and what is soon to be fulfilled.
Going back to Ezekiel’s prophecy above, remember that he said, “no one will live there for forty years. I will make the land of Egypt desolate among devastated lands, and her cities will lie desolate forty years among ruined cities. And I will disperse the Egyptians among the nations and scatter them through the countries. Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the nations where they were scattered. I will bring them back from captivity and return them to Upper Egypt, the land of their ancestry.”
Yes, Egypt was subsequently conquered by Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, and some of her people were scattered; but I don’t know of any specific forty year period of desolation. That could simply be ignorance on my part. Despite the general consensus, I don’t know everything. It could be that there was a 40-year period of devastation that was lost to history, or that is historically recorded in a book I haven’t read, but I really don’t think so. I think part of this prophecy (like many other Biblical prophecies) deals with end-time events.
The number forty is often associated with judgments, and days and years. It rained on Noah for 40 days when God executed judgment on the Earth. The spies were sent for 40 days into the Promised Land to judge its value. The Israelites had to spend 40 years in the wilderness (a day for a year) before they could enter the land because they judged that they (even with God’s help) were not powerful enough to take the land from the giants living there. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness (a day for a year) before He could enter into His ministry.
Ezekiel proclaimed a 40-year punishment for Egypt, followed by restoration. That is consistent with all those other 40-year judgments.
There is a danger that some might say, “The 40-year judgment on Egypt hasn’t happened yet, so we know Jesus isn’t coming back for at least another 40 years. We have plenty of time to repent.” Well, maybe so. But what if this is one of those times where a prophetic day represents a year?
God told Ezekiel,
“Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the people of Israel.
“Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel.
“After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege. 18
There was the Six Day War on June 5-10, 1967, in which Israel defeated Egypt in just six days. 19 What if Muslim terrorists from Egypt attack Israel, and Israel retaliates and devastates Egypt, but withdraws just 40 days after that. I’m not predicting that will happen. I am just pointing out that there is a very plausible scenario in which Ezekiel’s prophecy could be fulfilled in less than 40 years.
There is a lot more that could be said about Ezekiel’s prophecies about Egypt—but I fear I have said too much about them already. It would be best if you got together in a Bible study group and studied them all for yourselves. But let me remind you of what I said in the second paragraph of this chapter: The short summary is that God warns the Jews not to trust Egypt to save them. They should trust God instead. God also warns Pharaoh not to trust in his own power. He should trust God instead. Disaster awaits everyone who trusts in Egypt (or any other human power) instead of God.
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Footnotes:1 Ezekiel 29:1