Trees, trees, trees. Cedars of Lebannon. Yep that’s a tree too.
This is about Ezekiel chapter 31.
You have to wonder, just a little bit, about Ezekiel’s intention for writing what he wrote. Here we are, smack in the middle of a series of oracles about Egypt. However, Ezekiel is sitting in the middle of a desert, under armed guard. Egypt, the subject of his exposition, is over 1000 miles away. Do you really think that Ezekiel had any expectation that a copy of his newly written prophecy would be instantly carried by Babylonian royal courier across said desert, over the ocean, up the Nile delta and delivered into the eagerly waiting hands of Pharaoh in middle of a massive military campaign? In other words, is the object of this group of chapters to teach Egypt a lesson, or to convey a lesson to the listeners that Ezekiel had sitting with him right there, under occupation, in the middle of the Babylonian desert? I think it is the latter case.
As I mentioned in earlier chapters, it is important to consider the economic ecosystem of the entire region when reading Ezekiel’s work. For that matter, it is also a good practice to keep in mind general geography and topography as well. They are all connected. But from a purely financial point of view, there is a very strong reference to the Phoenician trading empire here in Ezekiel chapter 31. It comes in the image of a tree.
This tree is referred to as “one of the Cedars of Lebanon”. Lebanon is one and the same as Tyre – the great financial trading nation of the Eastern Mediterranean, of which Israel was a primary trading partner. Babylon had a goal of taking over that trading federation – I’m not sure empire is the correct word. The most efficient way to move an army into position to attack the defensive positions of the participants of that trading federation, was to move them along well known water ways rather than trudging across 900 miles of desert. So up the rivers they went which brought them to the gates of the Assyrian empire to the north of both Tyre and Israel. It’s not long before their influence is neutralized and Babylon moves south – first to Jerusalem and then to Tyre.
Why is this relevant? It’s because Assyria was that tree of Lebanon whose roots were fed by the waters of that alliance. That is the imagery used by Ezekiel to describe its economic power. Animals shelter in its branches, its roots go deep. All very good analogies of expansive economic power which we still use today eg. branch offices, etc. So Assyria took advantage of sea-bound trade and financed the growth of their empire. But then they fell hard.
The message to Egypt is that even though you are a strong empire, there is not much difference between you and Assyria. Both of you participated in the same trade with Tyre. Both of you did much to weaken Jerusalem by the introduction of your idol based worship in order to bind Jerusalem to trade agreements (see Ezekiel 16:28 & 23:7). And, Mr. Pharaoh, when Jerusalem reached out for support, you crumbled under the pressure leaving them vulnerable. So much for contracts as a substitute for real friendships.
So by the time Babylon marched to the borders of Egypt and initiated warfare against Pharaoh, the entire economic ecosystem of the region had been demolished – which inadvertently opened the gates for Alexander the Great to come sweeping in at a later time.
Message to the exiles Israelites then under Ezekiel’s care? Egypt is not coming to save you. They physically can not, they geographically can not, they economically can not. Jerusalem was supposed to be a light on a hill, for all to see, to lead the way. Instead, Jerusalem followed and succumbed to pressure, and turned its back on justice for its own people.
In each of the prophecies. NOTICE that there is no condemnation of the actual trade agreement or the practice of fair trade. Tyre is compared with being in the Garden of Eden. Assyria is compared with a tall Cedar of Lebanon.
The question goes to Egypt, Which tree of Eden do you resemble? Because, if I can do this to Tyre, and to Assyria, I can do this to you.
Back to the message to Israel, financial power is not eternal power, financial strength is mercurial and volatile. Where is your faith? Where is your sense of brotherhood? Where is your hunger for fairness? Where is your justice for the marginalize parts of your society?