“Thus saith the Lord GOD; When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Jacob. And they shall dwell safely therein, and shall build houses, and plant vineyards; yea, they shall dwell with confidence, when I have executed judgments upon all those that despise them round about them; and they shall know that I am the LORD their God.” — Ezekiel 28:25-26
Hope is vital to life. God had given Ezekiel many stern messages of impending judgment for the Hebrew people and their enemies. However, today’s focus verses extended a ray of hope: God said He would eventually restore Israel. This must have been a welcome message to both Ezekiel and those who were heeding the messages he gave.
Centuries after Ezekiel’s time, Ethel Bell experienced the necessity of hope. She and her husband had been missionaries to Africa, but he had died in a bus accident while they were on furlough in the United States. Ethel, accompanied by their two children, went back to Africa but then had to flee the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) because of World War II. They were able to obtain passage on a small American freighter that would take them to safety.
As the ship neared Trinidad, it was hit by two enemy torpedoes and sank within two minutes. The lifeboats were destroyed, but survivors pulled each other onto four rafts. Ethel and her daughter and son, two orphaned missionary children, and fourteen others were crowded onto one raft. Over the next twenty days as they drifted on the ocean, there were many opportunities to lose hope.
Ethel had morning and evening devotions with the children, and some of the shipmen began to appreciate her trust in God as all of them suffered. There was little room for movement, and before long, ulcers developed on their feet and legs from the seawater in the raft. Emergency rations had been secured to the sides of the raft in barrels, so small amounts of food and water were portioned out. After a week of drifting, they sighted an airplane, but the raft was not noticed.
A week later an airplane crew did spot them, and dropped some provisions. Rescue seemed imminent! However, though the survivors saw a ship the next day, no one on board spotted them. By that time, their water supply was nearly gone. In many ways, the situation seemed hopeless.
One of the men asked Ethel to pray. With swollen, cracked lips and her tongue so enlarged it was hard to talk, she prayed, “Our Heavenly Father, if it is Thy will that we should survive to be rescued from this raft, please turn the clouds in our direction and send us the rain we need. We thank Thee. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” A small cloud drifted toward them and grew larger and dark. Then torrents of rain poured down. When the two water kegs were almost full, the rain stopped and the cloud disappeared. Hope revived!
More days passed before a convoy came near. Those on the raft were thrilled when one ship headed toward them, until they realized those on the ship were shooting at them, having mistaken them for an enemy U-boat. Hope changed to despair. The survivors frantically waved a piece of cloth, and as the ship came nearer, the crew realized they were not enemies. Their ultimate rescue brought joy beyond description for everyone on the raft.1
The hope that Ethel Bell placed in God was not a vain hope. No true hope in God is in vain! We may not be drifting on a raft or hearing messages of judgment like those in Ezekiel’s day, but we may face situations that seem hopeless. We can be encouraged by the accounts of faith like Ethel’s and the promise extended to Israel by God. He never fails those who trust Him!
Today’s text covers God’s judgment on Zidon (verses 20-23 of Ezekiel 28), a message of hope for Israel (verses 24-26), and the beginning of the longest judgment message by Ezekiel, which was directed to Egypt (chapter 29).
Zidon was a harbor town located about twenty miles north of Tyre on the Phoenician coast. Based on its proximity and connection to Tyre, some scholars feel these verses should be considered an extension of the judgment pronounced upon that city. Zidon means “fishing town” or “fishery,” and the city was a center of maritime activity. Worship of the goddess Ashtoreth took place in Zidon, and Israel’s King Solomon had been compromised by this influence. (See 2 Kings 23:13 and 1 Kings 11:1, 4.)
In Ezekiel’s day, Zidon was a lesser city than Tyre, though previously it had been more dominant. The Assyrian king Sennacherib had sought to restore the city to its former glory, but it had been completely destroyed by his son Esarhaddon around 678 B.C. At the time of this prophecy, it had been rebuilt to some degree. Unlike Tyre, which battled Nebuchadnezzar for many years, history records that Zidon fully submitted to his rule without protracted war. The sin of Zidon is not named, but verse 24 indicates it may have included contempt for Israel.
In verses 24-26 of chapter 28, the prophet moved away briefly from his messages of judgment against other nations to offer a word of hope for Israel: a day would come when they would no longer be oppressed by their neighbors. In addition, they would be restored to the land that He had given to their ancestor Jacob, and would dwell there in safety.
Verse 1 of chapter 29 likely places the judgment pronounced on Egypt during the tenth year of Zedekiah’s reign, in 586 B.C. Egypt is metaphorically portrayed as a “dragon” (crocodile) lurking in the channel of the Nile river and its tributaries. The crocodile, an apex predator in Egypt, was their national emblem and was routinely worshipped as a god. Reference to “a staff of reed” in verse 6 points to the failure of Egypt to come to Israel’s aid during the incursions by Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar. Though Egypt was powerful militarily, the nation had failed to rescue Israel, so their strength was compared to a building foundation made of straw.
Verse 10 describes the extent of God’s judgment upon Egypt as being from “the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia.” Cush, the land south of Israel, is translated as “Ethiopia” in some Bible versions. The word translated as “tower” is Migdol, a location in the northeast corner of Egypt. Thus, this phrase could be read “from Migdol to Syene to the border of Cush,” indicating the destruction would be from one end of Egypt to the other.
In verses 13-16, God promised mercy and a measure of restoration to Egypt. He would bring back the captives of Egypt, even though they would be the humblest of kingdoms, never reaching their previous heights of influence. This is the only instance in the Book of Ezekiel where the prophet alluded to the restoration of a nation other than Israel.
The prophecy in verses 17-19, in which Ezekiel told of Nebuchadnezzar’s failure to benefit from his lengthy siege of Tyre, occurred long after the prophesy given earlier in this chapter and is the last of the dated prophecies by Ezekiel. It was given sixteen years after the conquest of Jerusalem. It was placed here to indicate whom God would use as His instrument to bring judgment upon Egypt.
The final verse of chapter 29 reiterates the truth that the restoration of Israel would be accomplished by God alone, as a witness to His exclusive relationship with Israel.
III. The condemnation of the nations
F. The condemnation of Sidon (28:20-26)
1. The judgment on Sidon (28:20-23)
2. The restoration of Israel (28:24-26)
G. The condemnation of Egypt
1. The destruction and restoration of Egypt (29:1-16)
a. The destruction of Egypt (29:1-12)
b. The restoration of Egypt (29:13-16)
2. The invasion of Egypt (29:17-21)
When circumstances seem dark and the enemy tempts us to give up hope, we can look to God and His promises. He will not fail those who fully trust Him.
1. Robert W. Bell and D. Bruce Lockerbie, In Peril on the Sea: A Personal Remembrance, (Doubleday, 1984).