We’re free to fly the crimson sky;
the sun won’t melt our wings tonight.
— U2 (“Even Better than the Real Thing”, Achtung Baby)
A few years ago I woke up in Georgia, drove all day, and arrived home in Ontario just before dark. The day before I arrived home, an ice storm had blown through. I put my shorts on in 80 degree weather, and returned home to ice.
One of the things I like about my southwestern Ontario home it is the stand of ten or so jack pines in the back yard. They remind me of the north—the type of trees that Tom Thompson painted. When I walked into my backyard fresh out of Georgia, I found one of my largest pines had toppled.
It was tall, and its crown was covered in needles. Unfortunately, the ice from the previous day’s storm clung to the needles, making it top-heavy. The winds that accompanied the storm knocked it down.
. . .
Ezekiel 31 is a satirical look at a majestic tree—a cedar, to be precise. The tree represents Pharaoh. If this chapter 31 was not judgment oracle number five of seven, you would think from the first nine verses that all was well. Listen to how this tree was praised:
The deep made it grow tall. (v. 4, NRSV)
All the birds of the air made their nests in its boughs. (v. 6, NRSV)
It was beautiful in its greatness,
in the length of its branches;
for its roots wend down
to abundant water. (v. 7, NRSV)
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it. (v. 8, NRSV)
Cedars were symbols of majesty. Cedar wood was used in the construction of temples and palaces. Majestic wood grown for holy and magisterial places.
Then Ezekiel hits us with verse 10.
. . .
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because it towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, I gave it into the hand of the prince of the nations; he has dealt with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out. (vv. 10-11, NRSV).
This is a cleverly worded oracle. If an Egyptian heard it before the fall of Egypt, they would assume it was a hymn of praise to their Pharaoh’s majesty. Until verse 10.
Yahweh’s condemnation of Egypt in this chapter reminds me of the tower of Babel:
Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves. . . . So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:4, 8, NRSV)
Egypt tried to do just what all humanity tried to do at Babel. With their roots firmly planted in the earth, they tried to stick their heads into the heavens.
In Ezekiel 31, Yahweh reveals himself as the empowerer of Babylon, the lumberjack. And look how far the tree fell: “I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the Pit” (v. 16, NRSV). This tree didn’t just hit the ground—it fell through the ground into the Pit, just like Tyre a few chapters earlier was pushed down into the Pit by Yahweh.
. . .
There are many events, stories, and parables in scripture that show the folly of hubris. These stories are not even limited to scripture. Icarus comes to mind—in Greek mythology, he flew too close to the sun and the wax holding his wings together melted.
I think we need so many warnings against pride because we are so susceptible to it. Of course, it’s not often called “pride” today. It’s cloaked in commercial-driven platitudes like “you deserve . . .”, or “you’re worth it”. Here’s what I believe: we deserve death, and discover our infinite worth only as we see ourselves reflected in the eyes of our scarred-yet-glorious Elder Brother.
. . .
Lord Jesus, help me to always find my self-worth in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.