We have seen that there has been a pattern of 2+2+2+1 for the seven oracles. Indeed, we might simplify this to say that there is a pattern of 6+1. And the +1 is the final punch. So it is no surprise that there is a pattern of 6+1 cycles for this seventh oracle. And that the +1 cycle itself follows a 6+1 pattern. The +1 is Egypt. This is the structural pattern of the text, but the structure also points to another pattern suggested by Davidson’s article. In this pattern the oracles against the first four nations are answered by the oracle against Sidon and the oracle against Tyre follows the same pattern as the oracle against Egypt. Whether he is correct that the rest of chapter 28 is the climactic center of the oracles against foreign nations or not, I am not yet sure. But either way, it is instructive that there are seven parts for each panel. This only works because the seven cycles against Egypt includes one that is undated so that cycles 2 and 3 if combined still allow for seven parts in the second panel. Take a look at these pages of the class handout I have prepared to understand what I am attempting to describe.
Six of the cycles are dated, but they are not in chronological order primarily because of the outlier of the second cycle — dated considerably later than the rest. All seven of the cycles of the seventh oracle open with “the word of YHWH came to me: ‘Son of man….'” Next we will turn to looking at a summary of the content of the cycles.
Cycle I: Ezekiel 29:1-16 makes fun of the myth comparing Pharaoh to the great sea monster but saying that YHWH will go fishing for him and catch him with a hook and feed him to the animals in the wilderness (apocalyptic picture) and do the same with the other fish of his streams. There is a 40 year exile for Egypt and then restoration but they will be so small that Israel will not rely upon them any more.
Cycle II: Ezekiel 29:17-21 explains that Nebuchadnezzar has nothing to show for all the wealth of Tyre after its siege. But because YHWH holds that the laborer deserves his wages, Nebuchadnezzar will carry off the wealth of Egypt. Ends with line of promise regarding Israel.
Cycle III: Ezekiel 30:1-19 shows that the minor nations in league with Egypt will fall. The wealth of Egypt will be plundered by Nebuchadnezzar. The daughters of Egypt will go into captivity (exile). It includes lamentation.
Cycle IV: Ezekiel 30:20-26 uses a story where YHWH has broken Pharaoh’s arm but will now break both of Pharaoh’s arms so that he drops the sword and scatter the Egyptians among the nations (exile) and strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon and give him the sword of YHWH.
Cycle V: Ezekiel 31 is an allegory of Assyria as a cedar in Lebanon, which was even the envy of the Garden of Eden, but now has been cut down. The picture of what happened to Assyria is a lesson for Egypt because they are next.
Cycle VI: Ezekiel 32:1-16 is an allegory where Pharaoh is like the sea monster that YHWH will catch in a net. It includes lamentation.
Cycle VII: Ezekiel 32:17-32 is a tour of the underworld itself in a six plus one pattern.
Like the cycles of the Book of Revelation, these seven cycles cover the same territory, so to speak, but they increasingly stress the end until you get to the seventh, which is all about the end. The cycles also appear to increase in intensity of message — early cycles stressing the theme of exile and later cycles stressing the world below. The handout includes a chart with some sample words and ideas that appear in different cycles. There is much in common between cycles 1 and 6, 2 and 3, 4 and 6, and 5 and 7, which is interesting in and of itself. Cycles one and six use different solutions for the sea monster of Pharaoh — in one he is like a fish caught with a hook and the other he is like a fish caught in a net — but they are clearly related cycles. Cycles 2 and 3 are clearly related, and in Davidson’s structural analysis, they are even one section. Both focus on the plunder of Egypt going to the king of Babylon. Oracles 5 and 7 both look at the underworld.
Cycles 1-4 appear, upon initial explorations of the structure, to follow alternating structures, then cycles five and six are chiastic, and the seventh oracle then follows the 6+1 pattern (perhaps itself a complicated alternating structure). Thus the structure complements what the content is doing. That is, the structure becomes more and more serious and punching as the content does the same.
The alternating structure of Cycle I is given away by the repetition of the phrases and ideas of Ezekiel 29:3 in Ezekiel 29:9 and the repetition of this idea of Israel relying on Egypt (Ezekiel 29:6-7) with saying that Israel will never again turn to Egypt for aid (Ezekiel 29:13-16) and both halves ending with the concluding formula “then they will know that I am YHWH.” This means that the content of Ezekiel 29:4-6a is parallel to the content of Ezekiel 29:10b-12. In the former we see some apocalyptic language where YHWH fishes for the sea monster Pharaoh and catches him on a hook and throws the sea serpent onto the ground in the desert for birds to feed upon him. In the latter we see the land of Egypt is uninhabited and uninhabitable for 40 years. So the former has more to do with the king of Egypt and the latter for the people.
The second cycle has a clear alternating structure where each line in the first half is compared and contrasted by the corresponding line in the second half. Thus we see that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre but in the latter half YHWH says He will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. This suggests that while taking Tyre was hard, taking Egypt will be comparatively easy. Furthermore, in Tyre “every head was made bald, and every shoulder was rubbed bare” but in Egypt the king of Babylon will be able to “carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it.” Then we see the next part “yet neither (1) he nor (2) his army go anything from Tyre” — the siege did not leave anything to plunder — but for Egypt it says, “and it shall be the wages for (2) his army. I have given (1) him the land of Egypt.” So the order of Nebuchadnezzar and his army is reversed in these parallel lines. In the former, they did not get paid by plunder; in the latter he and his army will get paid. This is spelled out in the next line, “to pay for the labor that he had performed against her” and “as his payment for which (1) he labored, because (2) they worked for me.” Thus we see the Biblical principle that the “laborer deserves his wages” applied to the siege of Tyre — because he and his army was employed by YHWH to take Tyre and it yielded no plunder, YHWH will give him Egypt and its treasures as the wages for him and his army. Note that we have seen this chiastic pattern before in Ezekiel where the parallel lines are related to each other by chiastic order and then the second line is related to the next in chiastic order.
The structure of Cycle III appears to probably also be an alternating structure. In any case, it is four sub-cycles covering the same ground in each and all marked by the same introduction (long form for the first is “Thus says the Lord YHWH” but short form for the other three “Thus says YHWH”).
The structure of Cycle IV is more interesting. In it the alternating structure compares and contrasts Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar. Thus the first half shows Pharaoh with a broken arm and it was not bound up to heal so that he could use it to wield a sword. The second half shows that YHWH will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon. The repeated line that gives away the structure is “I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them through the countries.” The lines between these show in the former the sword falling from the hands of Pharaoh because both of his arms are broken by YHWH and in the latter the sword of YHWH put into the hand of the king of Babylon. The first two points open similarly “the word of YHWH came to me…” and “therefore thus says the Lord YHWH.” Likewise the second two points open similarly, “And I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon,” and “I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon.”
The opening and closing of Cycle V suggest that we are looking at a chiasm. It begins, “Say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude” and it ends “This is Pharaoh and all his multitude.” The order of the words only makes sense when one understands that is an inclusio. And the second thing in the outline is the question “Whom are you like in your greatness?” and the second to last section begins “Whom are you like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden?” The second to last section continues with language you will see again in Cycle VII. The third section begins with “Behold” and the center section with “Therefore thus says the Lord YHWH” and the third to last section begins “Thus says the Lord YHWH.” In the center of the chiasm the allegory nearly falls out of the picture. But in the other two sections it is at the forefront. In the former, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon with beautiful branches and forest shade. In the latter, the cedar went down to Sheol as did those who lived under its shadow. In the former, no tree in the garden of God (Eden) was its equal in beauty and they envied it. In the latter, all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, were comforted in the world below. At the center it is cut down and cast out. This was done by “the most ruthless of nations,” which is a phrase often used for Babylon. Cutting down Assyria is an appropriate climax to the text. The point of the cycle is that as went Assyria, so goes Egypt.
Cycle VI also appears to be a chiasm. It begins, “Raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt,” and ends “This is a lamentation that shall be chanted…over Egypt, and over all her multitude, shall they chant it, declares the Lord YHWH.” The third part begins, “Thus says the Lord YHWH” and ends “Declares the Lord YHWH!” The third to last part does the same thing. The third part lays out the heart of the allegory and the third to last part lays out the interpretation of that allegory. To back up for a moment, the second part sets the stage: “You consider yourself a lion of the nations but you are a sea monster, you burst forth in your rivers, trouble the waters with your feet, and foul their rivers” (Ezekiel 32:2). Here the allegory is describing Egypt using the imagery of the sea with Pharaoh as a sea monster. The second to last part describes what will happen to Egypt in terms of the land: “When I make the land of Egypt desolate, and when the land is desolate of all that fills it, when I strike down all who dwell in it, then they will know that I am YHWH” (Ezekiel 32:15). The comparison then is between Pharaoh and YHWH Himself. Like the other cycles, the entire oracle reminds the reader of the book of Exodus. The way that the allegory and its interpretation line up is clear on the outline linked above. The net that YHWH will throw on the sea monster allegorically represents the sword of the king of Babylon coming upon Egypt. We have seen before in Ezekiel that the allegory may describe fire, for example, but the interpretation reveals that the fire represents the sword. Likewise here, the allegory describes a net, but the interpretation reveals that the net represents the sword. That YHWH will cause all the birds of the heavens to fall upon the sea monster is interpreted to mean that the multitude of Pharaoh will fall by the swords of mighty ones. This is an apocalyptic image we saw earlier of vultures and similar birds devouring the people left out in the desert/wilderness. And other elements of the allegory are also interpreted, even if they leave more questions for us readers today. Remember that the opening and closing of the cycle told us there was a lamentation, the climax (Ezekiel 32:9-10) is the heart of that lamentation. “I will trouble the hearts of many peoples…I will make many peoples appalled at you…they shall tremble every moment…”
And then the final cycle is a tour of the underworld that is very repetitive in order to lay out the tour where you see that already there were Assyria, Elam, Meshech-Tubal, Edom, the Princes of the North, Sidonians, and then climatically, in the seventh place, is Egypt. This last section exhibits two parts, both ending with “declares the Lord YHWH.” And elements of the two parts are in chiastic order: all his multitude, Pharaoh and all his army, slain by the sword and then for the second part: slain by the sword, Pharaoh and all his multitude. This cycle uses several ways of referring to the underworld including the pit, Sheol, and the world below.
Sure the structure is neat to see, but more than that, part of understanding the message of Ezekiel is seeing this structure. When you see the structure you are understanding more clearly the message.