The Pursuit of God

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Taking Satan Out of Ezekiel 28

Taking Satan Out of Ezekiel 28

Ezekiel 28 is one of those passages that has become famous for being about Satan. Here we find God railing at the arrogant king of Tyre and because of certain metaphors He uses, many Bible scholars and teachers start hopping up and down with eager enthusiasm saying “Aha! Here is a description of how Satan fell from Heaven!” And yet a closer study of the text will reveal that we’ve been too eager to see a demon where none exists. In this post we’ll take a look at this passage, learn a few things about Tyre, and understand why the mention of Eden and angels has nothing to do with Satan’s personal history with God.

First of all, what was Tyre? It was a port city on an island that was located a good ways above Israel’s northern border. Because of its strategic location in the sea, Tyre became a world center of trade. This led to great wealth. Great wealth led to great arrogance, and that led to God being angry in Ezekiel 28.

Now the prophet Ezekiel lived during the fall of Jerusalem.  Centuries before he was even born, Tyre and Jerusalem discovered that it was in both of their best interests to have friendly relations. So for many years, wealth in many forms moved back and forth between these two great cities.

By the time we get to Ezekiel, Yahweh is fed up with both cities for different reasons and He’s planning to destroy them both using invading armies. These cities will fall at different times to different empires. Jerusalem will be sacked by the Babylonians and many years later Tyre will fall to the Greeks with Alexander the Great leading the charge. Here in Ezekiel 28, we find God delivering a personal message to the current king of Tyre, describing the coming doom of his city. First, God describes where the king went wrong.

“Because you are proud, you say, ‘I am a god. I sit on the throne of a god in the middle of the seas.’ You think you are as wise as a god, but you are a human, not a god. You think you are wiser than Daniel. You think you can find out all secrets. Through your wisdom and understanding you have made yourself rich. You have gained gold and silver and have saved it in your storerooms. Through your great skill in trading, you have made your riches grow. You are too proud because of your riches.” (Eze. 28:1-5)

Clearly this king is a very pompous fellow. Like the Pharaohs of Egypt and the coming Caesars of Rome, he fancies himself to be the equivalent of a god. Just how did he manage to get himself so elevated in the eyes of his people? Well, the king of Tyre who ruled way back during the reigns of David and Solomon was named Hiram I. At that time, the people of Tyre worshiped the standard idol package of their region: a pantheon of gods headed up by the male god Baal and his female counterpart Asherah. We hear about Israel worshiping these same two gods all throughout the Old Testament, because she picked them up from the nations around her. Remember that in Bible times, there were no atheistic nations. The gods were the center of society, and whoever interceded for the people with the gods had a lot of power. The priests who ran the idol temples in Tyre were rolling in wealth. But then King Hiram made a very strategic move. He introduced a brand new god named Melqart and somehow convinced everyone that Melquart was even greater than Baal and Asherah. Melqart was like a deified version of the famous Hercules character (with a name that conveniently meant “king of the city”). Once the people of Tyre accepted this major shift in their worship, the palace became the new center of power. It was the king who had ushered in this new, better god, and he wisely kept control over how this supreme deity should be worshiped. Suddenly those powerful priests of Baal and Asherah found themselves outshined. Now the royal house had gained two major prongs of power: political and religious. It was a very clever move on Hiram’s part, and as the wealth started rolling in (after all, every god needs his tithes), Hiram wisely redistributed the wealth into Tyre’s general economy. Suddenly the wealth of the whole city skyrocketed and things remained quite peachy for many years.

By the time we come to Ezekiel centuries later, Hiram is long dead and gone, but Melqart is still the main god in town and the people of Tyre have come up with a special worship ritual. Every spring, they craft a likeness of their god, then light in on fire and set it adrift in the sea around them. As they watch it burn, they sing songs and imagine that Melqart isn’t dying, just being “reborn” in the smoke. Lame? Yes, but what can you expect from people who worship idols?

Now let’s start the second half of this chapter in Ezekiel. Now that He’s listed off Tyre’s crimes (arrogance), God calls upon Ezekiel to deliver a mocking lament (a funeral song) for the city that will soon be destroyed. This is the section which people try to say is really a description of Satan. It starts like this:

“Tyre, you were an example of what was perfect, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You had a wonderful life, as if you were in Eden, the garden of God. Every valuable gem was on you: ruby, topaz, and emerald, yellow quartz, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and chrysolite. Your jewelry was made of gold. It was prepared on the day you were created.” (Eze. 28:12-13)

Here is where people will try to tell you that Satan was a beautiful, colorful, exotic creature who hung out in the Garden of Eden. They’ll try to tell you that he was that snake who tricked Eve, but prior to being cursed, he was a very majestic creature—quite dazzling to behold.  Well, no. That’s called an overactive imagination. First of all, it wasn’t Satan who deceived Eve, it was a snake. When God dishes out the curses in Genesis, He curses, Adam, Eve and a snake—all creatures of earth, not angelic beings. Satan is not mentioned at all.

The scene we find in Genesis isn’t about Satan’s rotten attitude, it’s about creatures of earth defying their Maker. The snake and the two humans are all guilty of willful defiance and they all receive individual curses. The snake loses its legs (either right then or gradually over time), and changes from a crawling animal to one that has to slither in the dust. God obviously views slithering as a less desirable situation since this is the punishment He doles out. God also speaks of the snake’s offspring being affected by the curse. Satan doesn’t have any offspring. Satan is an angelic being, not an animal of earth.

Now is it weird to think of animals making moral choices? Yes, but in Eden, they did. God clearly expected better behavior from the snake, and the snake clearly chose to rebel against God by slandering Yahweh’s Character to Adam and Eve. Yahweh is extremely gracious—He doesn’t go around punishing creatures for choices that they had no control over.

In the Gospels, we find Jesus cursing a fig tree that fails to produce fruit for Him when it was fruiting season. Why?  Because the tree is intentionally defying Him. Does this sound weird? Yes, but only because we’re not used to thinking of animals and plants as having that level of cognizance. Yet the Bible makes it quite clear that all of nature interacts with our Creators in a far more conscious way that we humans are aware of. Many times we are told that all the elements of creation recognize who their Creators are and choose to worship those Creators. So when Jesus says that the rocks will cry out in praise to God if people refuse to, we assume He’s being metaphorical, yet is He? From the perspective of the real Gods, this whole planet is teeming with life and everything They have made is wired to respond to their Creators. So while you as a human can’t strike up a conversation with a tree (nor should you waste your time trying), Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit can communicate with anything and everything. Let’s not put our Gods in some scrawny little box. They are not  humans, nor does They have our limitations.

In Genesis 6, we read:

“Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” (Gen. 6:11-12)

When we first read this, we assume Yahweh is only talking about humans, but He’s not. He’s talking about all of the animals as well. We know this because of the way He uses the term all flesh later on:

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth… Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish… And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.” (Gen. 6:13, 17, 19)

What did Noah bring onto the ark in pairs? Animals. Notice how Yahweh includes animals in His description of all flesh. All flesh means all living things that have the breath of life. In Genesis 7:21, we read:

All living things that moved on the earth died. This included all the birds, tame animals, wild animals, and creatures that swarm on the earth, as well as all human beings. (Gen. 7:21)

Clearly the snake in Eden was not the only animal to choose to defy Yahweh. The majority of all living things chose to turn away from Him until He was fed up with the whole Creation. From the Genesis account, we learn these two principles: God is far more interactive with His Creation than we realize, and Satan is not a snake.

Now let’s get back to Ezekiel 28. As soon as jewels and Eden are mentioned, people leap to assumptions about Satan. But this isn’t where Yahweh is going at all. Jewels are simply a picture of wealth—a way of emphasizing how bucks up Tyre was. And the reference to Eden is a metaphor of “the good life” that Tyre has been enjoying until this point.

It’s significant that Yahweh brings up Eden when speaking to a non-Jewish culture. God speaks to foreigners using language and metaphors He knows they will understand. When He talks to Babylon, He talks about Babylon’s gods. When He talks to Egypt, He talks about the Nile. Yahweh clearly expects the king of Tyre to understand His reference to Eden. But how could he? The story of Eden is only recorded in the Book of Moses—those first five books of the Bible that the Jews have been preserving for centuries. Well, let’s remember that Tyre and Jerusalem have had a very close relationship for centuries. In that time, the people of Tyre have undoubtedly become quite familiar with the Jewish culture and religion. Yahweh isn’t using code words here, He’s using language the people of Tyre will understand. They know that Eden was a perfect paradise. They also know the story of Adam and Even being driven out of the Garden because of sin and that’s exactly where Yahweh is headed. Let’s continue:

“I appointed a cherub to guard you, Tyre. I put you on the holy mountain of God. You walked among the gems that shined like fire. Your life was right and good from the day you were created, until evil was found in you. Because you traded with countries far away, you learned to be cruel, and you sinned. So I threw you down in disgrace from the mountain of God. And the angel who guarded you forced you out from among the gems that shined like fire.” (Eze. 28:14-16)

The original language in these verses is a bit tricky and as you look up various translations, you’ll notice  major differences in how these verses are interpreted. Some popular versions say “You were an anointed cherub” instead of saying “I appointed a cherub to guard you.” When it sounds like God is talking to an angel, it’s easy to leap into metaphors of Satan. So how do we know which translation is more likely to be the accurate one? Well, God is using the story of Eden as a metaphor for Tyre’s fall from His favor. What happened in Eden? Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden and angels were appointed to keep them from reentering it. Here God is using the familiar account of Eden as a parallel for Tyre. Like Adam and Eve, Tyre started off with a good attitude so Yahweh favored her. But then, like Adam and Eve, Tyre chose wickedness, so now Yahweh is banishing her from the blessed life and cursing her instead.

Notice the reference to “the mountain of God.” This isn’t Heaven, but a very common alternate name for the city of Jerusalem which we find all throughout the Old Testament. Yahweh is going to sever Tyre’s lucrative relationship with His special nation—throwing her down from His city on a hill. Notice the reference to fiery gems—God’s Presence is often associated with fiery gems and flashing jewels in the Bible. Where is God’s Presence located on earth? People assumed that Yahweh resided in His Temple in Jerusalem. With her close relationship to Jerusalem, Tyre was up close to God’s very Presence in His holy House. But now all that is going to come to an end. The happy days of Eden are over, and anguish is coming. Now let’s read the rest of the passage:

“You became too proud because of your beauty. You ruined your wisdom because of your greatness, so I threw you down to the ground. Your example taught a lesson to other kings. You dishonored your places of worship through your many sins and dishonest trade. So I set on fire the place where you lived, and the fire burned you up. I turned you into ashes on the ground for all those watching to see. All the nations who knew you are shocked about you. Your punishment was so terrible, and you are gone forever.’” (Eze. 28:17-19)

Notice the reference to fire. Usually when Yahweh breaks out prophecies of destruction, He talks about disease, war, famine and bloodshed. Yet here He specifically mentions fire, and once we know about Tyre’s sacred ritual of burning a depiction of her favorite god, we can’t help but wonder if God is intentionally bringing this up as a bit of mockery. Up till now, fire has been associated with a very sacred day on Tyre’s religious calendar. Fire and idolatry are closely linked for these people, and fire represents rebirth. Yet when Yahweh brings fire on Tyre, it will be a fire that utterly destroys her.

So what can we take away from this? Well, God hates arrogance. When we stop appreciating Him and start  pompously glorying over the wealth He’s given us, we beg for some Divine discipline to fall upon us. The king of Tyre made the mistake of forgetting where his smarts came from—it is God who gives us the capacity to make wise decisions in life. We can’t take credit for our own intelligence. And of course God hates idolatry, and a king who is soaking up the worship of his people is certainly acting as a major spiritual stumbling block for them.

In keeping with His usual style, Yahweh delivered this prophecy quite some time before it was actually fulfilled. Perhaps some of the citizens of Tyre listened and were moved. After all, if they knew about Eden, they must have known about the ten plagues on Egypt as well. Yahweh was not a God to be trifled with. Perhaps this prophecy succeeded in turning a few hearts in Yahweh’s direction and made some people rethink their worship of both their king and the ridiculous Melqart.

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