“Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth.” — Ezekiel 31:5
A huge tree inspires awe. The desire to capture and preserve the memory of its majesty may prompt a photo, but an image cannot do justice to its magnitude. Standing at the base and looking up causes wonder . . . and perhaps some dizziness.
For example, there is a cedar tree in Northern Idaho that is more than 3,000 years old. It began growing a millennium before Jesus was born! It is 177 feet tall and 18 feet in diameter, and is fed by a small stream.
Another huge tree, the “Cheewhat Giant” on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is a Western Red Cedar that is 182 feet tall and has a 20-foot diameter. This tree was discovered in 1988 in a national park reserve.
On the Olympic Peninsula of Western Washington, the Quinault “Big Cedar Tree” was a landmark for generations. It stood 174 feet tall, was over 19 feet in diameter, and had lived 1,000 years. It was estimated to contain 15,300 cubic feet of wood. In July 2016, this monumental tree fell due to natural causes, and the tourist trail to it has been decommissioned.
Although such massive old trees are amazing, they are not eternal. Time and nature’s forces will eventually cause them to fall.
In today’s text, God instructed Ezekiel to direct a message toward Egypt, a distinguished nation at the time. Assyria had also once been a world power. The Lord compared Assyria to a massive cedar tree that had risen above all the other trees, yet it was cut down because of pride. Similarly, God said Egypt would also fall.
Thousands of years have passed since Ezekiel’s declaration, but God does not change. He continues to hate the type of pride that the Egyptians and Assyrians were judged for — a self-exalting, arrogant feeling of superiority — and He will bring judgment for it in His own time and way. If we are battling pride today, we can open our hearts to the Lord and ask Him to help us have a humble mind and heart. This can only come about with a God-given perspective that is a result of yielding to Him. It is the attitude we want to have!
The message of judgment against Egypt in chapter 31 was delivered as a parable about a great cedar. The cedar trees of Lebanon were symbols of power and longevity, so God used the cedar tree metaphorically. Judah was to see that the fall of the cedar, representing Assyria, was a warning or example of what would happen to proud Egypt. This prophecy was specifically dated, being delivered only about one month before the final fall of Jerusalem.
Egypt had begun its rise to prominence around 3000 B.C., when tribal people from the lower Nile region united with an emerging regional government from the upper Nile. By the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy, the Great Sphinx of Egypt had existed for nearly two thousand years and the dynasty of the Pharaohs for perhaps one thousand years longer. However, beginning in verse 2, God revealed to Ezekiel that the Pharaohs’ rule was nearing an end.
The Assyrian empire was the largest of its time. For much of its history, its capital city was Nineveh. Worship of Ashur, the national god, and Ishtar, the goddess of war, was promoted. Three innovations aided Assyria’s rise to dominance: 1) Military service became compulsory; 2) Tiglathpilezer III initiated the policy of maintaining a standing army; and 3) Conquered people were often resettled in other parts of the empire, depriving them of their homeland. The first Biblical mention of Assyria is Genesis 2:14.
The Lebanon cedar, mentioned in verse 3, is referred to over one hundred times in the Bible. These stately trees were the tallest, most massive living things in the region, and renowned for their natural beauty. They could exceed one hundred feet in height, eighty feet of branch spread, and live for over two thousand years. Phoenicians, Israelites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Romans all used the timber, which was known for its longevity and structural strength. At God’s direction, Ezekiel spoke of the cedar’s greatness and influence, using the destruction of this magnificent tree as a metaphor to instruct Pharaoh and all “his multitude” (verse 2).
Verses 8-11 and 16-18 tie Pharaoh’s pride to the sin in the Garden of Eden. Those versed in the Torah would have readily seen the connection. The destruction of the cedar presented Ezekiel’s hearers with a recognizable representation of God’s hatred of pride and the judgment it would bring. As in Eden, pride was condemned, and final judgment of the mighty Egyptian empire was rendered.
III. The condemnation of the nations
G. The condemnation of Egypt
4. The comparison of Egypt and Assyria (31:1-18)
a. The tree presented: Assyria (31:1-9)
b. The tree destroyed (31:10-14)
c. The descent to Sheol (31:15-17)
d. The application to Egypt (31:18)
Next time you see a massive tree, use it as a reminder of the illustration God gave Ezekiel. Take a moment to thank God for the tree’s beauty and ask Him to keep your heart in the right attitude toward Him.