DESCENT INTO SHEOL ELIMINATES ALL BOASTING FOR EGYPT AS SHE IS NO BETTER OFF THAN ANY NATION THAT WAS JUDGED FOR VIOLENCE
The judgment oracles directed against the powerhouse nation of Egypt trace her demise all the way down to the humiliating stripping of all prestige and privilege alongside the uncircumcised in the bowels of Sheol. There is no longer any cause for boasting in beauty or power or wealth or impact on the world scene. She is mocked and reviled by those former terrorist nations who have already been vanquished by Babylon.
Peter Pett: The descriptions here are not to be thought of as illustrating what the afterlife will be like. The ancients looked on death as the end of life leading to a shadowy half-existence. They could not conceive of nothingness, but did not look for anything joyous beyond the grave. Man went into the grave, and the combination of all graves combined was called Sheol. It was like some huge unearthly interconnected burial chamber, and those who were there were but shadows, enduring a joyless non-existence. Notice that they all lie there. It is not a place of movement and life. And here the nations themselves are seen to be present as well as their population. It is not to be taken too literally.
It is the place to which all nations go, and it has opened its mouth to receive the nations subjugated by Nebuchadnezzar, for many have fallen by the sword, and by pestilence and famine, and now they endure their end. And Egypt will share their fate.
Galen Doughty: Sheol in the Old Testament is a shadowy place where the dead go. They have no real existence and at this time in Israel’s history Sheol does not represent eternal life or eternal punishment. It appears that Ezekiel is not talking here about Sheol being like Hades or Gehenna in the New Testament, a place of punishment. The hordes of Egypt will lose their life and all the blessings of life. However, there is a hint of the pit or the grave being a place where there is suffering and pain. The beginnings of the New Testament concepts of the Hades and Paradise sides of Sheol may be here but it is tentative at best.
Feinberg: The king of Egypt was seen as descended into Sheol where the other nations would address him, speaking to him to taunt him because now he is on the same plane as they. . .
In reading this chapter, one cannot fail to be impressed with the monotony of the oft-reiterated punishment from the Lord on one nation after another. There is nothing beautiful in the matter of sin, for it is sin then judgment, just as effect follows cause. And think of the boundless and unrelieved calamity of it all. Such awaits every soul out of Christ.
Iain Duguid: The final oracle against Egypt, and the final oracle in the sequence of oracles against the nations, sums up everything that has gone before by means of a comprehensive tour of the underworld, which is to be Egypt’s new home. . .
Though all these other nations were once mighty and had administered a reign of terror while they lived, now they bear the reproach for their iniquity. A place of punishment—“the pit” (32:24)—is prepared for all such, and Pharaoh certainly qualifies to join the club (32:28). For the time of the Lord’s appointing, he too spread terror in the land of the living (32:32), but soon he will become merely a part of the terror that is the land of the dead. The Sovereign Lord has spoken (32:32).
(:17) PRELUDE TO THE LAMENT
A. (:17a) Dating of the Prophecy
“And it came about in the twelfth year, on the fifteenth of the month,”
David Guzik: This last of the seven prophecies against Egypt also happened in the twelfth year, the year after the fall of Jerusalem. Most agree that since no month is specifically mentioned, this happened the same month as the previous oracle (Ezekiel 32:1). This would be about two weeks later.
B. (:17b) Authoritative Word of Prophecy
“that the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
I. (:18-21) HUMILIATING RECEPTION AS EGYPT DESCENDS TO SHEOL
A. (:18) Mourning Commanded as Egypt Descends to Sheol
“Son of man, wail for the multitude of Egypt, and bring it down,
her and the daughters of the powerful nations,
to the nether world, with those who go down to the pit;”
Constable: The meter of this mourning song is two plus two rather than the three plus two meter of the more common funeral dirge (the qinah meter). Thus while this lament is similar to the one in the preceding oracle (32:1-16), it is not exactly the same.
Feinberg: Whatever excellence Egypt may have imagined herself to possess would be as nothing, for her body would be consigned to the grave as with all the rest.
Leslie Allen: The “mighty nations” are the three to be enumerated as the poem is developed. The phrase ארץ תחתיות “land of nether places” here and in v 24, with its intensive genitive plural and contextual distinction from Sheol proper (vv 21, 27) seems to refer to a deeper level, the lower regions (Tromp, Primitive Conceptions 181; cf. Isa 14:15). Egypt was to occupy a place that distinguished it from the generality of those who went down to the Pit or Sheol. Such a concept is found in Isa 14:15–20, and Ezekiel may be depending on that text and developing it.
John Taylor: As this section is another funeral dirge (cf. 32:16), Ezekiel is commanded to chant it as a kind of incantation which will have the effect of sending Egypt and her multitude down into the nether world.
B. (:19) Boasting Eliminated as Egypt Descends to Sheol
1. Preeminence Gone
“Whom do you surpass in beauty?”
Peter Pett: Egypt’s boasts were ended. She had exalted herself and her beauty, but where was it now? She lay in the grave with the lowest of the low, the uncircumcised nations. Such was her beauty. And she and other famous nations shared Sheol together. Her people were numerous, but the sword had delivered them to the pit, drawn there by those slain by the sword before her. The dead attract the dead, and Egypt as it was was dead.
2. Privilege Removed
“Go down and make your bed with the uncircumcised.”
Constable: Even though Egypt had been unsurpassed in her beauty as a nation, she would lie in the grave with the most ordinary and barbarian dead nations. God would not favor Egypt over the uncircumcised peoples that she proudly disdained.
Daniel Block: The actual words of greeting are taunting and harsh, challenging Egypt’s self-esteem as the most delightful nation on earth. . . The Egyptians would have found this announcement of their fate shocking. The nation that perceived itself as the epitome of culture, greatness, and glory is hereby sentenced to the most ignominious fate in the netherworld.
C. (:20) Violence Slaughtered as Egypt Descends to Sheol
“They shall fall in the midst of those who are slain by the sword.
She is given over to the sword;
they have drawn her and all her multitudes away.”
D. (:21) Reputation Mocked as Egypt Descends to Sheol
“The strong among the mighty ones shall speak of him and his helpers
from the midst of Sheol,
‘They have gone down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’”
MacArthur: The prophet followed Egypt and her people beyond the grave. The king of Egypt is addressed by the other nations in “Sheol,” taunting him as he is on the same level with them. This shows that there is conscious existence and fixed destiny beyond death. See Lk 16:19-31.
Daniel Block: The actual words of greeting are taunting and harsh, challenging Egypt’s self-esteem as the most delightful nation on earth.
II. (:22-30) VANQUISHED ROSTER OF FORMER VIOLENT POWERHOUSE NATIONS LYING ALONGSIDE EGYPT IN SHEOL
A. (:22-23) Presence of Assyria
“Assyria is there and all her company; her graves are round about her. All of them are slain, fallen by the sword, 23 whose graves are set in the remotest parts of the pit, and her company is round about her grave. All of them are slain, fallen by the sword, who spread terror in the land of the living.”
Daniel Block: The bulk of the oracle (vv. 22–30) represents a formal roll call of nations already in Sheol that welcome the arrival of Egypt.
Constable: Assyria and her allies were already in the grave having perished in war. Even though the Assyrians had struck terror into the hearts of other peoples in their day, they now lay in the grave while others viewed them and marveled.
Peter Pett: Assyria had caused terror in the land of the living, but now she is silent in the grave. It is twice stressed that she and her people are gathered there, slain by the sword. Israel had good cause to be pleased about that. Assyria had been a bitter enemy and a cruel overlord. They were the mighty empire destroyed and taken over by Babylon.
Of course Assyria still flourished above ground, although subject to Babylon. The idea would seem to be that the Assyria of the past, the powerful overlord, had died, along with those slain by Babylon, those who had once distressed Israel.
Leslie Allen: The short Assyria strophe envisages the Assyrian figurehead and his once invincible army now lying in dishonor in a vast cemetery-like place where the troops are ranged around their leader. For the living the Assyrian empire was now only a bad memory. A contrast is posed between their present state and their former position of awesome power on earth. Now they are classed with the victims of violent death, to which the language of the second line refers.
B. (:24-25) Presence of Elam
“Elam is there and all her multitude around her grave; all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who went down uncircumcised to the lower parts of the earth, who instilled their terror in the land of the living, and bore their disgrace with those who went down to the pit. 25 They have made a bed for her among the slain with all her multitude. Her graves are around it, they are all uncircumcised, slain by the sword (although their terror was instilled in the land of the living), and they bore their disgrace with those who go down to the pit; they were put in the midst of the slain.”
Constable: The Elamites, another formerly mighty people who lived east of Babylonia, were also in the grave having died in warfare (cf. Jer. 49:34-38). The people from this region later became a significant part of the Persian Empire, but the Elamite kingdom of former years is in view here. Ashurbanipal the Assyrian had destroyed Elam about 645 B.C.
Neither the Assyrians nor the Elamites practiced circumcision, and now the Egyptians, a circumcised people, would join them in the same grave. The end of Egypt would be no different or better even though they considered themselves superior to the uncircumcised nations of the world (cf. Gal. 5:6).
Peter Pett: Elam were an ancient people east of Babylon, known for their warlikeness and had been part of the Assyrian empire. They were probably prominent as bowmen in assisting the Assyrians against Israel for Jeremiah calls down judgment on them (Jeremiah 49:34-38). They survived better than Assyria the effects of the Babylonian invasion and were later strong enough to assist Cyrus in defeating Babylon. But they too had spread terror along with the Assyrians, and had suffered at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s armies. Effectively that generation of Elam had joined Assyria in the world of the dead.
C. (:26-28) Presence of Mesheck, Tubal et al
“Meshech, Tubal and all their multitude are there; their graves surround them. All of them were slain by the sword uncircumcised, though they instilled their terror in the land of the living. 27 Nor do they lie beside the fallen heroes of the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war, and whose swords were laid under their heads; but the punishment for their iniquity rested on their bones, though the terror of these heroes was once in the land of the living. 28 But in the midst of the uncircumcised you will be broken and lie with those slain by the sword.”
Constable: The nations of Meshech and Tubal in eastern Anatolia (modern western Turkey, cf. 27:13) along with their neighbors, other uncircumcised peoples, had also perished in war and were now dead powers. They had produced terrifying warriors, like the Nephilim, the ancient legendary warriors of Genesis 6:4, but they were not able to escape their fate, and Egypt would join them. It was customary in some countries to bury honored warriors with their swords and other weapons of war (v. 27; cf. 1 Macc. 13:29).
Peter Pett: Meshech and Tubal were Anatolian nations who had harried the Assyrians on their northern frontier. They were fierce fighters who deliberately engaged in slave-trading (Ezekiel 27:13) and had also spread terror, sufficiently to be worthy of mention here.
It would seem that they were not to lie with the mighty because they had themselves been the terror of the mighty. Their iniquities were on their bones, that is, they were separated because they had been at enmity with all, including the mighty Assyrian empire, and were seen as particularly evil. They were fiercely independent nations. This assumes that ‘the mighty’ were Assyria and their allies, which is quite probable. The Assyrians were mentioned first here, and were overlords of the other nations. The mighty are described in terms of burial practices. They have their weapons with them and their swords were laid under their heads.
Douglas Stuart: Meshech and Tubal (vv. 26–28) are more distant powers. Meshech occupied a region in the Fertile Crescent southeast of the Black Sea. In conjunction with Tubal (about whom little is known), it was a former great Indo-European nation that had conquered what is now eastern Turkey, demolishing much of what was originally the Hittite Empire in the process. As people of an entirely different culture and language family, Meshech and Tubal were especially awesome to the Semitic Israelites. Nevertheless, they, too, were in hell when Pharaoh and the Egyptians got there. The Assyrians had wiped out their power in a long series of wars before themselves falling prey to the Babylonians.
D. (:29) Presence of Edom
“There also is Edom, its kings, and all its princes, who for all their might are laid with those slain by the sword; they will lie with the uncircumcised, and with those who go down to the pit.”
Peter Pett: Inscriptions tell us that Edom became a vassal-state of Assyria in around 736 BC. They may well have assisted them against Israel and Judah which would have helped to nurture the undying hatred shown to them by Israel (Psalms 137:7; Isaiah 34:5-15; Isaiah 63:1-6; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Lamentations 4:21-22; Joel 3:19; Amos 1:11-12; Obadiah 1:7-9). It seems that they had a policy of turning back Israelites when they fled for refuge from invading enemies, a callous and cynical attitude (Ezekiel 35:5). They too finally suffered at the hands of the Babylonians. They are probably mentioned here because of Israel’s undying hatred. They have joined their erstwhile masters. They probably practised circumcision, but like Egypt they joined the uncircumcised.
E. (:30) Presence of Phoenician City-States
“There also are the chiefs of the north, all of them, and all the Sidonians, who in spite of the terror resulting from their might, in shame went down with the slain. So they lay down uncircumcised with those slain by the sword, and bore their disgrace with those who go down to the pit.”
Daniel Woodhead: The final group in verse thirty are the Sidonians and the princes of the north. They were essentially the Phoenician city-states. All of them will suffer disgrace.
(:31-32) POSTLUDE – RECAPITULATION – EGYPT HAS JOINED THE OTHER SLAIN NATIONS IN SHEOL
A. (:31) Strange Comfort as Misery Loves Company
“’These Pharaoh will see, and he will be comforted for all his multitude slain by the sword, even Pharaoh and all his army,’ declares the Lord God.”
MacArthur: A strange comfort coming from the recognition that he and his people were not alone in misery and doom.
Morgan: The prophet’s declaration that ‘Pharaoh shall see them, and shall be comforted,’ is appalling, as it reveals that the only comfort that can come to him is the profound sense of the operation of infinite justice in the punishment of all, himself included, who have been guilty of the abominations which have issued in the judgment of Jehovah.
Daniel Block: In typical Ezekielian fashion, the motif of consolation in the netherworld is given a new twist. Instead of the lesser finding consolation in their solidarity with the suffering of the greater, the roles are reversed. The fate of the king of Egypt may be humiliating, but he is not alone. Other nations have lost their hordes as well; they will commiserate with him.
Ralph Alexander: Ezekiel was to wail for the Egyptians because they too would descend into the pit of death, as had all other mighty nations that had preceded them. Egypt would not be favored over the uncircumcised nations she had proudly disdained. . . God had wrought his terror on [the nations listed here], and he would continue to bring his terror on any nation that dealt violently with others in this world. That is why God quickly brought his terror through the Babylonians against Egypt (vv. 31-32).
B. (:32) Divine Emasculation of Once Powerful Egypt
“’Though I instilled a terror of him in the land of the living, yet he will be made to lie down among the uncircumcised along with those slain by the sword, even Pharaoh and all his multitude,’ declares the Lord God.”
Daniel Block: this verse affirms the divine hand in Pharaoh’s fate. Yahweh will have the last word. Borrowing vocabulary from the dishonor role, he announces his intentions.
– First, as the nations have inflicted their terror on their victims, so Yahweh will terrorize Egypt. Although the manner of action is not specified, Ezekiel is undoubtedly thinking of Nebuchadnezzar as the divine agent (cf. 30:20–26).
– Second, Pharaoh and all his hosts are sentenced to lie in disgrace among the uncircumcised and victims of dishonorable slaughter. The immutable word of Yahweh, reaffirmed by a new signatory formula, has sealed Egypt’s fate.
Douglas Stuart: Verses 31–32 conclude the lament with a reminder that Egypt, too, will be there in hell along with all the other once-great, uncircumcised nations who were beaten by other nations in war. It will be a consolation of sorts for the Egyptians to know that they will have plenty of friends in hell—and that is not to be lost on the hearer/reader. It is a major point of the entire prophecy: all the once-great dominating powers, many of whom oppressed relatively tiny Israel, will be destroyed. They will not forever dominate the world scene. Their influence lasted only as long as God allowed it, and they did only what God permitted them to do, including killing one another off. When God decrees it, they take their turn in the pit.
If this control of God over the events of nations through history could be understood, then it could be believed that God had the power to restore little Israel, who in Ezekiel’s day stood shamed before the other nations of the world as a destroyed, deported, “dead” nation. That is what the exiled Israelites needed desperately to realize: God was running history, controlling the states of earth. The Babylonians were not in charge. God was. He would eventually shame the other nations, at whose hands Israel now felt ashamed, and make an end of the powers that had seemed to human eyes to have brought about Israel’s end. The prophecies that follow in the remainder of the book build upon the certainty that God will restore His people and protect them from the greatest dangers the powers of the world can throw at them, bringing them to a glorious eternal end. Not only can He do it, but Ezekiel’s prophecies against the nations show to the faithful a reassuring glimpse of the fact that it will indeed happen.