Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Glory and Fall of Asshur a Type of Egypt
In two months minus six days from the time when the preceding word of God was uttered, Ezekiel received another threatening word against the king and the people of Egypt, in which the former announcement of the destruction of the might of Egypt was confirmed by a comparison drawn between the power of Egypt and that of Asshur. Ezekiel having opened his prophecy with the question, whom does Pharaoh with his might resemble (Eze 31:2), proceeds to depict Asshur as a mighty towering cedar (Eze 31:3-9) which has been felled and cast down by the prince of the nations on account of its height and pride (Eze 31:10-14), so that everything mourned over its fall, because many nations went down with it to hell (Eze 31:15-17). The question, whom Pharaoh resembles, is then repeated in Eze 31:18; and from the preceding comparison the conclusion is drawn, that he will perish like that lofty cedar. - The reminiscence of the greatness of the Assyrian empire and of its destruction was well adapted to overthrow all reliance upon the might and greatness of Egypt. The fall of that great empire was still so fresh in the mind at the time, that the reminiscence could not fail to make a deep impression upon the prophet's hearers.
The might of Pharaoh resembles the greatness and glory of Asshur. - Eze 31:1. In the eleventh year, in the third (month), on the first of the month, the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Eze 31:2. Son of man, say to Pharaoh the king of Egypt, and to his tumult, Whom art thou like in thy greatness? Eze 31:3. Behold, Asshur was a cedar-tree upon Lebanon, beautiful in branches, a shadowing thicket, and its top was high in growth, and among the clouds. Eze 31:4. Water brought him up, the flood made him high, its streams went round about its plantation, and it sent its channels to all the trees of the field. Eze 31:5. Therefore its growth became higher than all the trees of the field, and its branches became great, and its boughs long from many waters in its shooting out. Eze 31:6. In its branches all the birds of the heaven made their nests, and under its boughs all the beasts of the field brought forth, and in its shadow sat great nations of all kinds. Eze 31:7. And he was beautiful in his greatness, in the length of his shoots; for his root was by many waters. Eze 31:8. Cedars did not obscure him in the garden of God, cypresses did not resemble his branches, and plane-trees were not like his boughs; no tree in the garden of God resembled him in his beauty. Eze 31:9. I had made him beautiful in the multitude of his shoots, and all the trees of Eden which were in the garden of God envied him. - The word of God is addressed to King Pharaoh and to המונו, his tumult, i.e., whoever and whatever occasions noise and tumult in the land. We must not interpret this, however, as Hitzig has done, as signifying the ruling classes and estates in contrast with the quiet in the land, for no such use of המון is anywhere to be found. Nor must we regard the word as applying to the multitude of people only, but to the people with their possessions, their riches, which gave rise to luxury and tumult, as in Eze 30:10. The inquiry, whom does Pharaoh with his tumult resemble in his greatness, is followed in the place of a reply by a description of Asshur as a glorious cedar (Eze 31:3-9). It is true that Ewald has followed the example of Meibom (vanarum in Cod. Hebr. interprett. spec. III p. 70) and J. D. Michaelis, and endeavours to set aside the allusion to Asshur, by taking the word אשּׁוּר in an appellative sense, and understanding אשּׁוּר ארז as signifying a particular kind of cedar, namely, the tallest species of all. But apart altogether from there being no foundation whatever for such an explanation in the usage of the language, there is nothing in the fact to justify it. For it is not anywhere affirmed that Pharaoh resembled this cedar; on the contrary, the question, whom does he resemble? is asked again in Eze 31:18 (Hitzig). Moreover, Michaelis is wrong in the supposition that "from Eze 31:10 onwards it becomes perfectly obvious that it is not Assyria but Egypt itself which is meant by the cedar-tree previously described." Under the figure of the felling of a cedar there is depicted the overthrow of a king or monarchy, which has already taken place. Compare Eze 31:12 and Eze 31:16, where the past is indicated quite as certainly as the future in Eze 31:18. And as Eze 31:18 plainly designates the overthrow of Pharaoh and his power as still in the future, the cedar, whose destruction is not only threatened in Eze 31:10-17, but declared to have already taken place, can only be Asshur, and not Egypt at all.
The picture of the glory of this cedar recalls in several respects the similar figurative description in Ezekiel 17. Asshur is called a cedar upon Lebanon, because it was there that the most stately cedars grew. חרשׁ מצל, a shade-giving thicket (מצל is a Hiphil participle of צלל), belongs to יפה ענף as a further expansion of ענף, corresponding to the further expansion of גּבהּ קמה by "its top was among the clouds." If we bear this in mind, the reasons assigned by Hitzig for altering חרשׁ into an adjective הרשׁ, and taking מצל as a substantive formation after the analogy of מסב, lose all their force. Analogy would only require an adjective in the construct state in the event of the three statements 'יפה ע, 'הרשׁ מ, and 'גּבהּ גּבהּ ק being co-ordinate with one another. But what is decisive against the proposed conjecture is the fact that neither the noun מצל nor the adjective הרשׁ is ever met with, and that, in any case, מצל cannot signify foliage. The rendering of the Vulgate, "frondibus nemorosus," is merely guessed at, whilst the Seventy have omitted the word as unintelligible to them. For עבתים, thicket of clouds, see the comm. on Eze 19:11; and for צמּרת, that on Eze 17:3. The cedar grew to so large a size because it was richly watered (Eze 31:4). A flood poured its streams round about the place where the cedar was planted, and sent out brooks to all the trees of the field. The difficult words את־נהרתיה וגו' are to be taken literally thus: as for its (the flood's) streams, it (the flood) was going round about its plantation, i.e., round about the plantation belonging to the flood or the place situated near it, where the cedar was planted. את is not to be taken as a preposition, but as a sign of the accusative, and את־נהרתיה dna , as an accusative used for the more precise definition of the manner in which the flood surrounded the plantation. It is true that there still remains something striking in the masculine הלך, since תּהום, although of common gender, is construed throughout as a feminine, even in this very verse. But the difficulty remains even if we follow Ewald, and take הלך to be a defectively written or irregular form of the Hiphil הוליך; a conjecture which is precluded by the use of הוליך, to cause to run = to cause to flow away, in Eze 32:14. מטּעהּ, its (the flood's) plantation, i.e., the plantation for which the flood existed. תּהום is used here to signify the source of starting-point of a flood, as in Deu 8:7, where תּהמות are co-ordinate with עינות. - While the place where the cedar was planted was surrounded by the streams of the flood, only the brooks and channels of this flood reached to the trees of the field. The cedar therefore surpassed all the trees of the field in height and luxuriance of growth (Eze 31:5). fגּבהאheb>, an Aramean mode of spelling for גּבהה heb>; and asרעפּתheb>, ἁπ. λεγ.., an Aramean formation with ר inserted, for סעפת, branches. For פּארת, see the comm. on Eze 17:6. בּשׁלּחו cannot mean "since it (the stream) sent out the water" (Ewald); for although תּהום in Eze 31:4 is also construed as a masculine, the suffix cannot be taken as referring to תּהום, for this is much too far off. And the explanation proposed by Rosenmller, Hvernick, Kliefoth, and others, "as it (the tree) sent them (the branches) out," is open to this objection, that בּשׁלּחו would then contain a spiritless tautology; since the stretching out of the branches is already contained in the fact of their becoming numerous and long. the tautology has no existence if the object is left indefinite, "in its spreading out," i.e., the spreading not only of the branches, but also of the roots, to which שׁלּח is sometimes applied (cf. Jer 17:8). By the many waters which made the cedar great, we must not understand, either solely or especially, the numerous peoples which rendered Assyria great and mighty, as the Chaldee and many of the older commentators have done. It must rather be taken as embracing everything which contributed to the growth and greatness of Assyria. It is questionable whether the prophet, when describing the flood which watered the cedar plantation, had the description of the rivers of Paradise in Gen 2:10. floating before his mind. Ewald and Hvernick think that he had; but Hitzig and Kliefoth take a decidedly opposite view. There is certainly no distinct indication of any such allusion. We meet with this for the first time from Eze 31:8 onwards.
In Eze 31:6-9 the greatness and glory of Asshur are still further depicted. Upon and under the branches of the stately tree, all creatures, birds, beasts, and men, found shelter and protection for life and increase (Eze 31:6; cf. Eze 17:23 and Dan 4:9). In כּּל־גּוים רבּים, all kinds of great nations, the fact glimmers through the figure. The tree was so beautiful (ויּיף from יפה) in its greatness, that of all the trees in the garden of God not one was to be compared with it, and all envied it on that account; that is to say, all the other nations and kingdoms in God's creation were far inferior to Asshur in greatness and glory. גּן אלהים is the garden of Paradise; and consequently עדן in Eze 31:9, Eze 31:16, and Eze 31:18 is also Paradise, as in Eze 28:13. There is no ground for Kliefoth's objection, that if עדן be taken in this sense, the words "which are in the garden of God" will contain a superfluous pleonasm, a mere tautology. In Gen 2:8 a distinction is also made between עדן and the garden in Eden. It was not all Eden, but the garden planted by Jehovah in Eden, which formed the real paradisaical creation; so that the words "which are in the garden of God" give intensity to the idea of the "trees of Eden." Moreover, as Hvernick has correctly pointed out, there is a peculiar emphasis in the separation of בּגן אלהים from ארזים in Eze 31:8 : "cedars...even such as were found in the garden of God." Not one even of the other and most glorious trees, viz., cypresses and planes, resembled the cedar Asshur, planted by God by many waters, in its boughs and branches. It is not stated in so many words in Eze 31:8 and Eze 31:9 that the cedar Asshur stood in the garden of God; but it by no means follows from this, that by the garden of God we are to understand simply the world and the earth as the creation of God, as Kliefoth imagines, and in support of which he argues that "as all the nations and kingdoms of the world are regarded as trees planted by God, the world itself is quite consistently called a garden or plantation of God." The very fact that a distinction is made between trees of the field (Eze 31:4 and Eze 31:5) and trees of Eden in the garden of God (Eze 31:8 and Eze 31:9), shows that the trees are not all regarded here as being in the same sense planted by God. If the garden of God stood for the world, where should we then have to look for the field (השּׂדה)? The thought of Eze 31:8 and Eze 31:9 is not that "not a single tree in all God's broad earth was to be compared to the cedar Asshur," but that even of the trees of Paradise, the garden in Eden, there was not one so beautiful and glorious as the cedar Asshur, planted by God by many waters.
The Felling of this Cedar, or the Overthrow of Asshur on Account of Its Pride
Eze 31:10. Therefore thus said the Lord Jehovah, Because thou didst exalt thyself in height, and he stretched his top to the midst of the clouds, and his heart exalted itself in its height, Eze 31:11. I will give him into the hand of the prince of the nations; he shall deal with him: for his wickedness I rejected him. Eze 31:12. And strangers cut him down, violent ones of the nations, and cast him away: upon the mountains and in all the valleys his shoots fell, and his boughs were broken in pieces into all the deep places of the earth; and all the nations of the earth withdrew from his shadow, and let him lie. Eze 31:13. Upon his fallen trunk all the birds of the heaven settle, and all the beasts of the field are over his branches: Eze 31:14. That no trees by the water may exalt themselves on account of their height, or stretch their top to the midst of the clouds, and no water-drinkers stand upon themselves in their exaltation: for they are all given up to death into hell, in the midst of the children of men, to those that go into the grave. - In the description of the cause of the overthrow of Asshur which commences with יען אשׁר, the figurative language changes in the third clause into the literal fact, the towering of the cedar being interpreted as signifying the lifting up of the heart in his height, - that is to say, in his pride. In the first clause the tree itself is addressed; but in the clauses which follow, it is spoken of in the third person. The direct address in the first clause is to be explained from the vivid manner in which the fact presented itself. The divine sentence in Eze 31:10 and Eze 31:11 is not directed against Pharaoh, but against the Assyrian, who is depicted as a stately cedar; whilst the address in Eze 31:10, and the imperfect (future) in Eze 31:11, are both to be accounted for from the fact that the fall of Asshur is related in the form in which it was denounced on the part of Jehovah upon that imperial kingdom. The perfect אמר is therefore a preterite here: the Lord said...for His part: because Asshur has exalted itself in the pride of its greatness, I give it up. The form ואתנהוּ is not to be changed into ואתנהוּ, but is defended against critical caprice by the imperfect יעשׂה which follows. That the penal sentence of God is not to be regarded as being first uttered in the time then present, but belongs to the past, - and therefore the words merely communicate what God had already spoken, - is clearly shown by the preterites commencing with גּרשׁתּיהוּ, the historical tenses ויּכרתהוּ and ויּטּשׁהוּ, and the preterite נפלוּ, which must not be turned into futures in violation of grammar. גּבהּ בּקומה does not mean, to be high in its height, which would be a tautology; but to exalt itself (be proud) in, or on account of, its height. And in the same way is רוּם also affirmed of the heart, in the sense of exultation from pride. For the fact itself, compare Isa 10:5. אל גּוים does not mean God, but a powerful one of the nations, i.e., Nebuchadnezzar. אל is a simple appellative from אוּל, the strong one; and is neither a name of God nor a defective form for איל, the construct state of איל, a ram. For this defective form is only met with once in the case of איל, a ram, namely, in Job 42:8, where we have the plural אלים, and nowhere else; whereas, in the case of אל, אלים, in the sense of a strong one, the scriptio plena very frequently alternates with the defectiva. Compare, for example, Job 42:8, where both readings occur just as in this instance, where many MSS have איל (vid., de Rossi, variae lectt. ad h. l.); also Exo 15:15 and Eze 17:13, אילי, compared with אלי in Eze 32:21, after the analogy of נירי, Sa2 22:29, and גּירים, Ch2 2:16. עשׂו is not a relative clause, "who should treat him ill," nor is the w relat. omitted on account of the preceding עשׂו, as Hitzig imagines; but it is an independent sentence, and יעשׂה is a forcible expression for the imperative: he will deal with him, equivalent to, "let him deal with him." עשׂה ל, to do anything to a person, used here as it frequently is in an evil sense; compare Psa 56:5. בּרשׁעו-or כּרשׁעו, which Norzi and Abarbanel (in de Rossi, variae lectt. ad. h. l.) uphold as the reading of many of the more exact manuscripts and editions - belongs to גּרשׁתּיהוּ: for, or according to, his wickedness, I rejected him.
In Eze 31:12 the figure of the tree is resumed; and the extinction of the Assyrian empire is described as the cutting down of the proud cedar. זרים עריצי גּוים as in Eze 28:7 and Eze 30:11-12. ויּטּשׁהוּ: they cast him away and let him lie, as in Eze 29:5; Eze 32:4; so that in the first sentence the idea of casting away predominates, and in the second that of letting lie. By the casting away, the tree became so shattered to atoms that its boughs and branches fell upon the mountains and on the low ground and valleys of the earth, and the nations which had sat under its shadow withdrew. ויּרדוּ (they descended) is to be explained from the idea that the three had grown upon a high mountain (namely Lebanon); and Hitzig is mistaken in his conjecture that ויּרדוּ was the original reading, as נדד, to fly, is not an appropriate expression for עמּים. On the falling of the tree, the birds which had made their nests in its branches naturally flew away. If, then, in Eze 31:13, birds and beasts are said to settle upon the fallen trunk, as several of the commentators have correctly observed, the description is based upon the idea of a corpse, a מפּלת (Jdg 14:8), around which both birds and beasts of prey gather together to tear it in pieces (cf. Eze 32:4 and Isa 18:6). היה אל, to come towards or over any one, to be above it. The thought expressed is, that many nations took advantage of the fall of Asshur and rose into new life upon its ruins. - Eze 31:14. This fate was prepared for Asshur in order that henceforth no tree should grow up to the sky any more, i.e., that no powerful one of this earth (no king or prince) should strive after superhuman greatness and might. למען אשׁר is dependent upon גּרשׁתּיהוּ in Eze 31:11; for Eze 31:12 and Eze 31:13 are simply a further expansion of the thought expressed in that word. עצי מים are trees growing near the water, and therefore nourished by water. For 'לא , see Eze 31:10. The words 'ולא יעמדוּ are difficult. As אליהם, with Tzere under א, to which the Masora calls attention, cannot be the preposition אל with the suffix, many have taken אליהם to be a noun, in the sense of fortes, principes, or terebinthi (vid., Isa 61:3), and have rendered the clause either ut non perstent terebinthi eorum in altitudine sua, omnes (ceterae arbores) bibentes aquam (Vatabl., Starck, Maurer, and Kliefoth), or, that their princes may not lift themselves up in their pride, all the drinkers of water (Hvernick). But both renderings founder on the simple fact that they leave the suffix הם in אליהם either unnoticed or unexplained. As only the trees of the water have been spoken of previously, the suffix must be taken as referring to them. But the water-trees have neither terebinths nor princes; on the contrary, these are what they must either be, or signify. Terebinths, or princes of the water-trees, would be senseless ideas. Ewald has therefore taken אליהם as the object, and rendered it thus: "and (that) no water-drinkers may contend with their gods in their pride." He has not proved, however, but has simply asserted, that עמד is to endure = to contend (!). The only remaining course is to follow the lxx, Targum, and many commentators, and to take אליהם as a pronoun, and point it אליהם. עמד אל: to station oneself against, or upon = עמד על (Eze 33:26), in the sense of resting, or relying upon anything. The suffix is to be taken in a reflective sense, as in Eze 34:2, etc. (vid., Ewald, 314c), and precedes the noun to which it refers, as in Pro 14:20 for example. בּגבהם, as in Eze 31:10, referring to pride. כּל־שׁתי מים, the subject of the sentence, is really synonymous with כּל־עצי מים, except that the figure of the tree falls into the background behind the fact portrayed. The rendering of the Berleburg Bible is very good: "and no trees abounding in water stand upon themselves (rely upon themselves) on account of their height." The water-drinkers are princes of this earth who have attained to great power through rich resources. "As a tree grows through the moisture of water, so men are accustomed to become proud through their abundance, not reflecting that these waters have been supplied to them by God" (Starck). The reason for this warning against proud self-exaltation is given in Eze 31:14 in the general statement, that all the proud great ones of this earth are delivered up to death. כּלּם, all of them, the water-drinkers or water-trees already named, by whom kings, earthly potentates, are intended. ארץ תּחתּית = ארץ תּח (Eze 26:20). בּתוך בּני אדם: in the midst of the children of men, i.e., like all other men. "Thus the prophet teaches that princes must die as well as the people, that death and decomposition are common to both. Hence he takes all ground of proud boasting away" (Starck).
Impression Made upon the Nations by the Fall of Asshur; and Its Application to Pharaoh
Eze 31:15. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, In the day that he went down to hell I caused a mourning: covered the flood for his sake, and stopped its streams, and the great waters were held back: I caused Lebanon to blacken itself for him, and all the trees of the field pined for him. Eze 31:16. I made the nations tremble at the noise of his fall, when I cast him down to hell to those who go into the grave: and they comforted themselves in the nether world, even all the trees of Eden, the choice and most beautiful of Lebanon, all the water-drinkers. Eze 31:17. They also went with him into hell, to those pierced with the sword, who sat as his helpers in his shade among the nations. Eze 31:18. Whom dost thou thus resemble in glory and greatness among the trees of Eden? So shalt thou be thrust down to the trees of Eden into the nether world, and lie among uncircumcised ones with those pierced with the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his tumult, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah. - In order that the overthrow of the Assyrian, i.e., the destruction of the Assyrian empire, may be placed in the clearest light, a picture is drawn of the impression which it made upon the whole creation. There is no necessity to understand כּה אמר in a past sense, as in Eze 31:10. What God did on the overthrow of Asshur He may even now, for the first time, make known through the prophet, for a warning to Pharaoh and the people of Israel. That this is the way in which the words are to be interpreted, is evident from the use of the perfect האבלתּי, followed by the historical imperfects, which cannot be taken in a prophetical sense, as Kliefoth supposes, or turned into futures. It is contrary to Hebrew usage to connect האבלתּי and כּסּתי together as asyndeton, so as to form one idea, viz., "to veil in mourning" as Ewald and Hvernick propose. The circumstances under which two verbs are joined together to form one idea are of a totally different kind. In this instance האבלתּי is placed first as an absolute; and in the sentences which follow, it is more specifically defined by a detail of the objects which were turned into mourning. כּסּה עליו את־תּהום cannot mean her, "to cover the flood upon (over) him" (after Eze 24:7 and Eze 26:19); for this is altogether unsuitable to either the more remote or the more immediate context. The tree Asshur was not destroyed by a flood, but cut down by strangers. The following clauses, "I stopped its streams," etc., show very plainly that the connection between the flood (תּהום) and the tree which had been felled is to be understood in accordance with Eze 31:4. A flood, which poured its נהרות round about its plantation, made the cedar-tree great; and now that the tree has been felled, God covers the flood on its account. כּסּה is to be explained from כּסּה שׂק, to veil or wrap in mourning, as Raschi, Kimchi, Vatablus, and many others have shown. The word שׂק is omitted, because it appeared inappropriate to תּהום. The mourning of the flood is to be taken as equivalent to drying up, so that the streams which issued from it were deprived of their water. Lebanon, i.e., the cedar-forest (Isa 10:34), and all the other trees, mourned over the fall of the cedar Asshur. הקדּיר, to clothe in black, i.e., to turn into mourning. עלפּה is regarded by Ewald as a Pual formed after the Aramean mode, that is to say, by attaching the syllable ae instead of doubling the middle radical; whilst Hitzig proposes to change the form into עלּפּה. In any case the word must be a perfect Pual, as a nomen verbale appears unsuitable; and it must also be a third person feminine, the termination ־ה being softened into ־ה, as in זוּרה (Isa 59:5), and the doubling of the ל being dropped on account of the Sheva; so that the plural is construed with the singular feminine (Ewald, 317a). עלּף, to faint with grief (cf. Isa 51:20). The thought is the following: all nature was so painfully affected by the fall of Asshur, that the whole of the resources from which its prosperity and might had been derived were dried up. To interpret the different figures as specially relating to princes and nations appears a doubtful procedure, for the simple reason that in Eze 31:16 the trembling of the nations is expressly named.
Whilst all the nations on the surface of the earth tremble at the fall of Assyria, because they are thereby warned of the perishable nature of all earthly greatness and of their own destruction, the inhabitants of the nether world console themselves with the thought that the Assyrian is now sharing their fate (for this thought, compare Eze 32:31 and Isa 14:9-10). "All the trees of Eden" are all the powerful and noble princes. The idea itself, "trees of Eden," is explained by the apposition, "the choice and beautiful ones of Lebanon," i.e., the picked and finest cedars, and still further strengthened by the expression כּל־שׁתי (cf. Eze 31:14). מבחר are connected, as in Sa1 9:2; and both words are placed side by side in the construct state, as in Dan 1:4 (cf. Ewald, 339b). They comfort themselves because they have gone down with him into Sheol, so that he has no advantage over them. They come thither to those pierced with the sword, i.e., to the princes and peoples whom Asshur slew in wars to establish his imperial power. וּזרעו might also belong to ירדוּ as a second subject. In that case ישׁבוּ בצלּו should be taken in a relative sense: "and his arm," i.e., his resources, "which sat in his shadow among the nations." With this explanation זרעו would be different from הם, and could only denote the army of the Assyrian. But this does not harmonize with the sitting in his shadow among the nations, for these words obviously point back to Eze 31:6; so that זרעו is evidently meant to correspond to כּּל־גוים רבּים (Eze 31:6), and is actually identical with הם, i.e., with all the trees of Eden. We therefore agree with Osiander, Grotius, and others, in regarding the whole of the second hemistich as more precisely determining the subject, - in other words, as a declaration of the reason for their descending into hell along with the Assyrians, - and render the passage thus: "for as his arm (as his might) they sat in his shadow among the nations;" so that the cop. w is used in place of a causal particle. In any case, the conjecture which Ewald has adopted from the lxx and the Syriac, viz., וזרעו, and his seed, in support of which appeal might be made to Isa 14:21, is unsuitable, for the simple reason that the statement, that it sat in his shadow among the nations, does not apply. - After this description of the greatness and the destruction of the imperial power of Assyria, Ezekiel repeats in Eze 31:18 the question already asked in Eze 31:3 : to whom is Pharaoh like? כּכה, so, i.e., under such circumstances, when the glorious cedar Asshur has been smitten by such a fate (Hitzig). The reply to this question is really contained in the description given already; so that it is immediately followed by the announcement, "and thou wilt be thrust down," etc. ערלים, uncircumcised, equivalent to ungodly heathen 'הוּא פ, not "he is," as that would require פּרעה הוּא; but הוּא is the predicate: this is (i.e., so does it happen to) Pharaoh. המונו, as in Eze 31:2.