Ezekiel 31:1-18

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YHWH’s “word” or message (“word of prophecy” [Targum] again came to Ezekiel. It was then the first day in the third month (mid-May to mid-June) of the eleventh year (tenth year [P967]) of the exile of King Jehoiachin. This is generally regarded to have been the year 587 BCE. (31:1)

Ezekiel was addressed as “son of man,” a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. The message related to “Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to his multitude,” primarily his troops and probably also his subjects. Both in the Hebrew text and the Septuagint, the question was for Pharaoh. “Whom are you like in your greatness?” (“To whom have you likened yourself in your loftiness?” [LXX]). (31:2) The initial word rendered “look” focuses attention on the answer to the question. This answer was, “An Assyrian, a cedar [cypress (LXX)] in Lebanon,” with beautiful branches and abundant growth for shade. The height of the tree appeared to reach the clouds. Assyria had decades earlier been conquered. Therefore, the reference to an “Assyrian” could recall the time when Assyria was a mighty military power that dominated the region. Although the Septuagint and the Vulgate also refer to the “Assyrian,” a number of modern translations have rendered the text according to an emendation. “I know: a cedar tree in the Lebanon.” (NJB) “You [Pharaoh and his multitude] are like a cedar in Lebanon.” (TEV) “There was once a cedar tree in Lebanon.” (CEV) According to another interpretation, Pharaoh and his multitude were being told that their fate would be like that of Assyria, the mighty power that was compared to a massive tree. “Assyria! It is Assyria! A cedar of Lebanon — beautiful branches, thick shade, towering heights, its crown in the clouds!” (NAB, revised edition) “You [Pharaoh and his multitude] are like mighty Assyria, which was once like a cedar of Lebanon.” (NLT) (31:3)

Abundant “waters” made the cedar grow big; the “deep,” with its boundless supply of water, caused the tree to attain a great height. Streams flowing from the deep surrounded the place where the cedar was planted, and rivulets reached “all the trees of the field [plain (LXX)]” or the surrounding area or forest. In the Targum, the interpretation is based on the one whom the tree represented. With a large force, he subjugated kings and appointed governors over the lands he came to control. (31:4) With the most favorable access to the water from the deep, the cedar grew higher than all the other trees. Its boughs multiplied and its branches lengthened significantly because they were abundantly supplied with water (literally, “from abundant waters in its sending forth”; “from abundant water” [LXX]). The Targum indicates that the one whom the tree represented became loftier than all the kings of other nations. His troops were numerous, and his auxiliaries triumphed over many nations on account of his brilliance. (31:5)

Apparently to indicate the extensive dominion that Pharaoh exercised, the cedar (cypress [LXX]) was portrayed in impressive terms. “All the birds of the heavens” nested on its boughs. “Under [all (P967]) its branches, all the wild animals of the field [plain (LXX)] gave birth,” and “great nations” resided in the region where the cedar cast its shadow. (31:6; see the Notes section regarding the interpretation of the Targum.) “In its greatness,” the cedar was beautiful, including “in the length of its limbs.” This came to be the case because its root system extended downward to “abundant waters.” The Septuagint rendering attributes the beauty of the tall cypress to its many branches and its roots that reached down to much water. (31:7; see the Notes section regarding the Targum.)

When compared with other trees “in the garden of God” (“paradise of God” [LXX]),” the towering cedar (cypress [LXX]) was a tree without equal. Other “cedars” (“cypresses” [LXX]; “and cedars” [P967]) could not rival it. As to the cedar’s (cypress’s) boughs, “firs” or “junipers” (pines [LXX]) did not resemble it in impressiveness. The branches of “plane trees” (“silver firs”[LXX]) were insignificant when compared to those of the cedar. In beauty, no other tree “in the garden of God” (“paradise of God” [LXX]) resembled it. (31:8; see the Notes section regarding the Targum.)

YHWH is quoted as saying regarding this tree, “I made it beautiful in the abundance of its branches, and all the trees of Eden [the trees of the paradise of God’s delight (LXX); “the trees of the delight of God’s paradise” (P967)] envied it.” These words reveal that YHWH had allowed Pharaoh to attain to great wealth and extensive dominion. The Targum indicates that the handsomeness God granted to Pharaoh came from his many valiant warriors. On account of his great power, kings trembled before him. (31:9)

The Lord YHWH made known his judgment against the cedar (cypress [LXX]) that primarily represented Pharaoh. This tree is described as having attained great height, with its top being among the “branches” (“clouds” [LXX]). On account of the tree’s loftiness, its “heart” had become arrogant. This indicated that, as a ruler, Pharaoh, had come to have a dominant position, exercising dominion over other lands, and this made him proud in his inmost self. (31:10) Therefore, YHWH determined to deliver Pharaoh and his warriors and subjects, as represented by the tree, “into the hand [or power] of a mighty one of the nations.” This “mighty one” or “ruler” (LXX) was Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in command of a strong military force. He dealt with Pharaoh as if he were a lofty tree to be cut down. As YHWH used Nebuchadnezzar and the troops under his command as the agency to execute punitive judgment against Pharaoh, YHWH is the one who represents himself as casting Pharaoh out “according to his wickedness” or on the basis of his evil deeds. These deeds would have included aggressive warfare and oppression of conquered peoples. (31:11)

“Foreigners, the terror-inspiring ones of the nations” (ruthless foreign enemies; “foreign pests from the nations” [LXX]), would act against Pharaoh, bringing ruin to him, his subjects, and his land, as if cutting down a lofty tree and leaving it where it fell. The branches of this huge tree would fall “on the mountains and in all of the valleys, and its boughs would “lie broken in all the wadis of the land.” In the Targum, this description is applied to Pharaoh’s armies that fell on the mountains and the auxiliaries that were “scattered among all the rivulets.” “All the peoples of the earth” who had been under the shadow of the tree would leave it and abandon it. The Septuagint rendering appears to represent “all the peoples of the nations” as “coming down from the shelter” of the tree branches and dashing the tree to the ground. (31:12)

“All the birds of the heavens [heaven (LXX)]” would dwell or nest on the fallen tree, and “all the wild animals of the field [earth or land (P967)]” would be on “its branches.” The Targum interprets this to indicate that birds would dwell on the “pile of the slain” and that wild animals would be on the corpses of the troops, with their presence there evidently being to feed on the victims of war. (31:13)

The judgment against the towering cedar (cypress [LXX]) would serve as a warning to the other trees by the waters. They were not to grow high and set their tops “among the branches [clouds (LXX)],” reaching up to them in height, for all of them would be delivered to death. In time, these trees would descend to the land below, among mortals (literally, “sons of man”), with those “going down into the pit.” According to the interpretation of the Targum, kings should not exalt themselves because of being in possession of power and impose tyranny on their respective realms. Those who serve the state should not lord over people by reason of their authority. This is because all of them are doomed to die. (31:14)

The Lord YHWH is quoted as expressing what would happen at the time the lofty cedar (cypress [LXX]) would fall. “In the day when it goes down to Sheol [the realm of the dead; Hades (LXX)], I will prompt mourning.” According to the Septuagint, the “abyss” or the deep would mourn for the cypress upon its descent into Hades. YHWH then represents himself as covering the “deep,” which supplied the tree with abundant water, and restraining the streams that issued forth from it. On account of the fallen cedar (cypress [LXX]), he would darken Lebanon, plunging it into a state of gloom; and because of the fate of the cedar (cypress [LXX]), “all the trees of the field [plain (LXX)],” the surrounding trees, or the forest, would “faint.” (31:15; see the Notes section for the interpretation of the Targum.)

At the sound of the fall of the cedar, YHWH represents himself as causing the nations to tremble, evidently in fear, when he would cast the tree down to Sheol with those descending into the pit. Seemingly because they were not alone in having earlier experienced a like fate, “all the trees of Eden [trees of delight (LXX)” there in the land below, the “choice and best” trees of Lebanon, all those “drinking water” (or all the trees that had previously had an abundant supply of water), were “comforted.” The Septuagint says that, “on earth,” these trees “comforted” the fallen tree. According to the interpretation of the Targum, those who experienced comfort included all the kings, governors, the wealthy, and the servants of the state who were in the realm of the dead. (31:16)

Those having gone down into Sheol (the realm of the dead; Hades [LXX]) “to those slain by the sword” could either refer to the trees that had preceded the cedar (cypress [LXX]) there or other trees (representing allies) who would go down with the cedar. Both meanings are found in modern translations. “They will go with it to the world of the dead to join those that have already fallen.” (TEV) “Its allies, too, were all destroyed and had passed away.” (NLT) “They too like him had gone down to Sheol, to those slain by the sword.” (REB) “They too, like the great cedar, had gone down to the realm of the dead, to those killed by the sword.” (NIV) After the word for “sword,” the Masoretic Text reads, “and his arm; they dwelt under his shadow among the nations.” The “arm” may refer to those who were the “arm” or strength, supporters or allies, of the one whom the cedar represented, and they benefited from his shadow or protection. In this case, the Hebrew word for “arm” has also been rendered according to an emendation meaning “seed” or “offspring.” “And its offspring among the nations, once living in its shade, went down to Sheol with it, to those who have been slaughtered by the sword.” (NJB) The Septuagint supports this rendering (“and his seed [offspring], those dwelling under his shelter”). (31:17)

The application regarding the lofty cedar (cypress [LXX]) is initially introduced with a question, “Whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden?” (“To whom [or what] were you likened?” [LXX]) Although being a magnificent and lofty tree, the cedar (cypress [LXX]) would be “brought down with the trees of Eden [trees of delight (LXX)] to the land below.” Then follows the description of the fate of the one whom the tree represented. “You will lie among the uncircumcised [in a state of disgrace], with those slain by the sword.” The concluding words provide the specific application concerning the cedar (cypress [LXX]). “This [is] Pharaoh and all his multitude [all the multitude (or fullness) of his strength (LXX)], says the Lord YHWH.”


The Targum interprets the words of verse 6 to indicate that the one represented by the tree conquered strongly fortified cities with his troops and subjugated all the lands of the earth under his governors. Many nations resided in the shadow of his kingdom. According to the interpretation of verse 7, he was triumphant with his auxiliaries and numerous valiant warriors, for many nations feared him. The wording of verse 8 continues in the same vein. Powerful kings could not succeed against him. The might he had “from before the Lord” made it impossible for rulers to stand up before his troops. No king was like him in the power that he possessed.

For the wording of verse 15, the Targum represents the developments as affecting the world. It was covered or filled with trouble. Lands were laid waste, and many nations trembled, seemingly in fear of what had happened to the one whom the cedar represented. God is quoted as saying that he made the “faces of kings dark” over that one, and all the monarchs of the nations beat the “shoulder over him.”