Ezekiel 29 is a very difficult passage of Scripture to unravel, in part because the chapter divisions are so wonky in comparison to the text. Verses 1-16 were given, “In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth of the month,” or winter of 587 BCE. Verses 17-21, on the other hand, were given, “in the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first of the month,” or two weeks before Passover in 571 BCE. Chapter 30 begins with the phrase, “The word of Hashem came to me, saying . . .” indicating that a whole new prophecy is being given, but does not contain a date, the next dated prophecy beginning in verse 20. And finally, just to complete the confusion in the parsing of the text, we have halfway through chapter 29, verse 9 the phrase, “Then they will know that I am Hashem/the Eternal,” which typically ends a prophecy (cf. chapter 6, where the phrase is used to conclude four distinct, though related, prophecies).
Here then is how I would parse the prophecies:
- Chapter 29:1-9a, a “near” prophecy to Pharaoh Hophra, which may or may not have a future application
- Verses 9:b-16, a “far” prophecy of the End Times (since we cannot find a past fulfillment) which may or may not have a near application
- Verses 17-20, a periscope prophecy that Ezekiel’s disciples placed into the midst of this passage for a specific reason that we will explore later.
- Verse 21, which is usually considered part of the prophecy of verses 17-20, but which may actually belong to 9b-16 instead.
- Chapter 30:1-19, a prophecy given at the same time as that of 29:1-20.
- Chapter 30:20-26, a prophecy given about a year after the main prophecy of chapter 29.
The reason that careful parsing of the prophecy is so important is that several of the prophecies contain specific references to Nebuchadnezzar (29:18, 30:10) and the King of Babylon (30:24f). Therefore, most commentators assume that all of the prophecies of this passage must be fulfilled in the same period of time. This has led to confusion as some commentators assume that the forty-year exile predicted in 29:11 was fulfilled, while others who have delved into Egypt’s history know that this is not the case. These will try to explain away the 40 years specifically prophesied as some vague metaphor for a period of judgment. However, as we saw in the previous entry, Ezekiel’s prophecies are extremely literal in their fulfillment, so this cannot be the case without doing violence to the text.
Carefully outlining the prophecies and recognizing that there is not just one single prophecy, but at least five distinct prophecies against Egypt that were clustered here together even though some of them were given years apart resolves the problem. The forty year exile predicted in 29:9b-16 is not recorded in history because it hasn’t happened yet–but the prophecies above and below it which actually predict the downfall of Pharaoh Hophra and the subjugation (but not relocation) of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar did.
Why is 29:17-20 so out of sequence, we wonder. We are meant to. Perhaps Ezekiel or his scribes wanted to make it clear that even seventeen years after the prophecy had first been given, the Holy One had not forgotten His promise to punish Egypt. Perhaps by putting in this periscope in the midst of two End Times passages, we are simply being reminded not to overlook the historical. Perhaps it is a warning to Egypt in the End Times not to forget the lesson learned in the prophet’s own time: The King of Babylon (i.e., the King of the North) may be delayed in coming against Egypt, but he will come at last to fulfill the judgment of the God of Israel.
Next time, we will actually get into the meat of the prophecy. Until then,
- Egypt’s Dossier, Part 4: Introduction to Ezekiel (returnofbenjamin.wordpress.com)
- Egypt’s Dossier, Part 3: Isaiah 19 (returnofbenjamin.wordpress.com)
- A Prophetic Dossier of Egypt – Part 1: Introduction and Caveat (returnofbenjamin.wordpress.com)
- Blast From the Past: On Multiple Fulfillments of Prophecy (returnofbenjamin.wordpress.com)