This prophecy bears date the month before Jerusalem was taken, as that in the close of the foregoing chapter about four months before. When God’s people were in the depth of their distress, it would be some comfort to them, as it would serve likewise for a check to the pride and malice of their neighbours, that insulted over them, to be told from heaven that the cup was going round, even the cup of trembling, that it would shortly be taken out of the hands of God’s people and put into the hands of those that hated them, Isa. 51:22, 23. In this prophecy,
I. The prophet is directed to put Pharaoh upon searching the records for a case parallel to his own (Ezek. 31:2): Speak to Pharaoh and to his multitude, to the multitude of his attendants, that contributed so much to his magnificence, and the multitude of his armies, that contributed so much to his strength. These he was proud of, these he put a confidence in; and they were as proud of him and trusted as much in him. Now ask him, Whom art thou like in thy greatness? We are apt to judge of ourselves by comparison. Those that think highly of themselves fancy themselves as great and as good as such and such, that have been mightily celebrated. The flatterers of princes tell them whom they equal in pomp and grandeur. “Well,” says God, “let him pitch upon the most famous potentate that ever was, and it shall be allowed that he is like him in greatness and no way inferior to him; but, let him pitch upon whom he will, he will find that his day came to fall; he will see there was an end of all his perfection, and must therefore expect the end of his own in like manner.” Note, The falls of others, both into sin and ruin, are intended as admonitions to us not to be secure or high-minded, nor to think we stand out of danger.
II. He is directed to show him an instance of one whom he resembles in greatness, and that was the Assyrian (Ezek. 31:3), whose monarchy had continued from Nimrod. Sennacherib was one of the mighty princes of that monarchy; but it sunk down soon after him, and the monarchy of Nebuchadnezzar was built upon its ruins, or rather grafted upon its stock. Let us now see what a flourishing prince the king of Assyria was. He is here compared to a stately cedar, Ezek. 31:3. The glory of the house of David is illustrated by the same similitude, Ezek. 17:3. The olive-tree, the fig-tree, and the vine, which were all fruit-trees, had refused to be promoted over the trees because they would not leave their fruitfulness (Jdg. 9:8), and therefore the choice falls upon the cedar, that is stately and strong, and casts a great shadow, but bears no fruit. 1. The Assyrian monarch was a tall cedar, such as the cedars in Lebanon generally were, of a high stature, and his top among the thick boughs; he was attended by other princes that were tributaries to him, and was surrounded by a life-guard of brave men. He surpassed all the princes in his neighbourhood; they were all shrubs to him (Ezek. 31:5): His height was exalted above all the trees of the field; they were many of them very high, but he overtopped them all, Ezek. 31:8. The cedars, even those in the garden of Eden, which we may suppose were the best of the kind, would not hide him, but his top branches outshot theirs. 2. He was a spreading cedar; his branches did not only run up in height, but run out in breadth, denoting that this mighty prince was not only exalted to great dignity and honour, and had a name above the names of the great men of the earth, but that he obtained great dominion and power; his territories were large, and he extended his conquests far and his influences much further. This cedar, like a vine, sent forth his branches to the sea, to the river, Ps. 80:11. His boughs were multiplied; his branches became long (Ezek. 31:5); so that he had a shadowing shroud, Ezek. 31:3. This contributed very much to his beauty, that he grew proportionably large as well as high. He was fair in his greatness, in the length of his branches (Ezek. 31:7), very comely as well as very stately, fair by the multitude of his branches, Ezek. 31:9. His large dominions were well managed, like a spreading tree that is kept in shape and good order by the skill of the gardener, so as to be very beautiful to the eye. His government was as amiable in the eyes of wise men as it was admirable in the eyes of all men. The fir-trees were not like his boughs, so straight, so green, so regular; nor were the branches of the chestnut-trees like his branches, so thick, so spreading. In short, no tree in the garden of God, in Eden, in Babylon (for that stood where paradise was planted), where there was every tree that was pleasant to the sight (Gen. 2:9), was like to this cedar in beauty; that is, in all the surrounding nations there was no prince so much admired, so much courted, and whom every body was so much in love with, as the king of Assyria. Many of them did virtuously, but he excelled them all, outshone them all. All the trees of Eden envied him, Ezek. 31:9. When they found they could not compare with him they were angry and grieved that he so far outdid them, and secretly grudged him the praise due to him. Note, It is the unhappiness of those who in any thing excel others that thereby they make themselves the objects of envy; and who can stand before envy? 3. He was serviceable, as far as a standing growing cedar could be, and that was only by his shadow (Ezek. 31:6): All the fowls of heaven, some of all sorts, made their nests in his boughs, where they were sheltered from the injuries of the weather. The beasts of the field put themselves under the protection of his branches. There they were levant—rising up, and couchant—lying down; there they brought forth their young; for they had there a natural covert from the heat and from the storm. The meaning of all is, Under his shadow dwelt all great nations; they all fled to him for safety, and were willing to swear allegiance to him if he would undertake to protect them, as travellers in a shower come under thick trees for shelter. Note, Those who have power ought to use it for the protection and comfort of those whom they have power over; for to that end they are entrusted with power. Even the bramble, if he be anointed king, invites the trees to come and trust in his shadow, Jdg. 9:15. But the utmost security that any creature, even the king of Assyria himself, can give, is but like the shadow of a tree, which is but a scanty and slender protection, and leaves a man many ways exposed. Let us therefore flee to God for protection, and he will take us under the shadow of his wings, where we shall be warmer and safer than under the shadow of the strongest and stateliest cedar, Ps. 17:8; 91:4. 4. He seemed to be settled and established in his greatness and power. For, (1.) It was God that made him fair, Ezek. 31:9. For by him kings reign. He was comely with the comeliness that God put upon him. Note, God’s hand must be eyed and owned in the advancement of the great men of the earth, and therefore we must not envy them; yet that will not secure the continuance of their prosperity, for he that gave them their beauty, if they be deprived of it, knows how to turn it into deformity. (2.) He seemed to have a good bottom. This cedar was not like the heath in the desert, made to inhabit the parched places (Jer. 17:6); it was not a root in a dry ground, Isa. 53:2. No; he had abundance of wealth to support his power and grandeur (Ezek. 31:4): The waters made him great; he had vast treasures, large stores and magazines, which were as the deep that set him up on high, constant revenues coming in by taxes, customs, and crown-rents, which were as rivers running round about his plants; these enabled him to strengthen and secure his interests every where, for he sent out his little rivers, or conduits, to all the trees of the field, to water them; and when they had maintenance from the king’s palace (Ezra 4:14), and their country was nourished by the king’s country (Acts 12:20), they would be serviceable and faithful to him. Those that have wealth flowing upon them in great rivers find themselves obliged to send it out again in little rivers; for, as goods are increased, those are increased that eat them, and the more men have the more occasion they have for it; yea, and still the more they have occasion for. The branches of this cedar became long, because of the multitude of waters which fed them (Ezek. 31:5, 7); his root was by great waters, which seemed to secure it that its leaf should never wither (Ps. 1:3), that it should not see when heat came, Jer. 17:8. Note, Worldly people may seem to have an established prosperity, yet it only seems so, Job 5:3; Ps. 37:35.