In the tenth year, in the tenth month on the twelfth day, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “ ‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, “The Nile belongs to me; I made it for myself.” But I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will pull you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales. I will leave you in the desert, you and all the fish of your streams. You will fall on the open field and not be gathered or picked up. I will give you as food to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the sky. Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am the Lord . “ ‘You have been a staff of reed for the people of Israel. When they grasped you with their hands, you splintered and you tore open their shoulders; when they leaned on you, you broke and their backs were wrenched. “ ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will bring a sword against you and kill both man and beast. Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord . “ ‘Because you said, “The Nile is mine; I made it,” therefore I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt a ruin and a desolate waste from Migdol to Aswan, as far as the border of Cush. – Ezekiel 29:1-10
I’m not sure why this passage is so specific about timing but the prophecy is reported to the day. This prophecy is directed at Egypt and Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Pharaoh is described as a “great monster lying among your streams.” As we will soon see he has an appointment with a hook and a fisherman named God.
I find it somewhat interesting that Pharaoh is described as a monster lying among streams. In that part of the world there are few streams. The only real water source comes from the Nile. So I guess it is not clear what is meant by “streams”. The passage goes on to partially answer this question when it refers to the Nile and Pharaoh’s wish to take ownership and control it using canals and artificial water sources. It seems like there is more to this metaphor than meets the eye.
The metaphor begins to get a little murky when God goes on to say He “will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will pull you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales.” It sounds like Pharaoh is going to be unceremoniously yanked from his position of power like a fish on a hook, and the people of Egypt are going along for the ride “stuck like scales”.
Just yesterday I was cleaning some fish that I had previously yanked from the water on a hook. I remember distinctly as I was cleaning the fish that the scales did have a nasty habit of sticking to my hands and to the meat even after I filleted the fish. It is not entirely clear what sticky fish scales has to do with pharaoh and his posture towards God, but I’m hoping by the time I’m done pondering this passage it will become more clear.
As I have chewed on this passage it seems as if God is trying use this metaphor to highlight the alternative reality that the Egyptians have created along the Nile. They have created an entire ecosystem apart from God. They have become comfortable and complacent and have no need of God. They are self-sufficient fish, scales and all.
Pharaoh, as king of Egypt, is the biggest fish of all and is partially responsible for creating the alternative reality in which they are living. Perhaps the scales “sticking” to Pharaoh is an allusion to the god-like status he has taken for himself above his people.
God is going to take these fish out of the comfortable “stream” they’ve been living in and place them in a dry and dusty desert where they will not be able to survive. They will be removed from the only god they have known – the Nile. They will die in the desert, separated from their god, “you will fall on the open field and not be gathered or picked up” – fish out of water. It sounds like they will not even have the privilege of becoming someone’s dinner. They will be “as food to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the sky”. They will become part of God’s ecosystem whether they like it or not. In the end God wins.
Although many aspect of this passage remain confusing, the take-home message for me is that we need to be cautious about complacency and becoming too comfortable in the “environments” we create for ourselves that do not include God. God wants us to be a bit uncomfortable here in this land of Oblivion. It is not our home, a place where we will live for a time on our way to the Undiscovered Country.
Perhaps the scales “sticking” to Pharaoh is an illusion to the god-like status he has taken for himself above his people. He fancies himself as Lord of the Dance. In this prophecy God is reminding him that he is not.
Prayer: God help us to remember that we are part of Your “ecosystem”. We can choose to have You at the center or ourselves. Help us choose You.