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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 28

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 28 The Oracles Against the Nagid and King of Tyre, and Against Zidon.


Verse 1-2

‘The word of Yahweh came to me again saying, “Son of man, say to the prince (nagid) of Tyre, thus says the Lord Yahweh.”

This new oracle comes with a deliberate contrast between ‘a prince’ in contrast with a Sovereign Lord. The King of Tyre is to recognise that before the Lord Yahweh he is but a ‘prince’, a warleader subject to an overall commander, as the early ‘princes’ of Israel were to Yahweh. It is a deliberate downgrading of the king because of the king’s own upgrading of himself.


Verses 1-10

Oracle Against the Nagid of Tyre.

Here the King of Tyre is called ‘the Nagid of Tyre’. Nagid (prince) is a title elsewhere restricted in the singular to princes and leaders of Israel. (Some see Daniel 9:26 as an exception, but that might tell us something about their interpretation of Daniel 9:26). Thus the use here would seem to be a sarcastic one, comparing him to a Prince of Israel. But in contrast to princes of Israel he saw himself as a god. Thus he is further condemned. The prince referred to was probably Ithobal II.

Note how the charges against Tyre have built up. Firstly she gloated at the riches she would receive now that Jerusalem was destroyed (Ezekiel 26:2). Then she proclaimed herself ‘perfect in beauty’ (Ezekiel 27:3) and as almost invincible. Now her king claims godlikeness. And Tyre shares in his god-like status. All that is said about the king also applies to his people.


Verse 2

“Because your heart is lifted up, and you have said, ‘I am a god (or ‘I am El’), I sit in the seat of the gods (or ‘of God’), in the midst of the seas’. Yet you are a man and not a god (or ‘not El’), although you set your heart as the heart of the gods.”

There has been much debate about what this king actually claimed for himself. Usually Mediterranean kings, in contrast with Egyptian pharaohs, did not see themselves as fully divine, but rather as chosen servants of the gods. However, there were exceptions, and taking it at face value this was one. Certainly he was guilty of overweening pride. But this king also appears to have seen himself as a god, or at least as a godlike figure (there were various levels of gods), and Tyre as the seat of the gods. And this view would have been expected of his people. This in itself brought Tyre under condemnation. They had usurped the throne of God.

But he is warned that he is in fact only a man. He is not a god (compare Isaiah 31:3), even though he has set his heart on god-like status..

El was the father figure among the gods, but the word also simply meant ‘a god’, or sometimes God, especially in poetry. The plural ‘elohim’ could mean ‘gods’, or when applied to Yahweh ‘God’ (the plural showing intensity), or even ‘heavenly beings’.


Verse 3

“Behold, you are wiser than Daniel. There is no secret that they can hide from you.”

Again we are confronted by the question as to who is meant by Dani’el (compare on Ezekiel 14:14; Ezekiel 14:20). It is quite possible that Ezekiel is comparing him with that great contemporary figure Daniel (Daniyye’l, an alternative form. Compare Do’eg (1 Samuel 21:7; 1 Samuel 22:9) spelled Doyeg in 1 Samuel 22:18; 1 Samuel 22:22) who had risen so high in the court of the king of Babylon and had become a folk-hero to his people. He was renowned for his wisdom (Daniel 1:17; Daniel 1:20) and vision (Daniel 2:19) and as the one to whom the secrets of God were revealed (Daniel 2:22; Daniel 2:28; Daniel 2:30; Daniel 2:47). As the message of the prophecy was for Israel and not for Tyre, who would probably never receive it, the fact that Tyre might not have known much about Daniel is irrelevant, although Daniel was by now such a powerful figure (Daniel 2:48) that he had probably already become a legend in his own time, even in Tyre.

Alternately there may be in mind some patriarchal figure like the Dan’el described at Ugarit, the Dispenser of fertility, who was seen as upright and as judging the cause of the widow and the fatherless. That Dan’el would certainly be known to the Tyrians.

Either way the point is that he claimed to have supernatural knowledge, to a knowledge of all secrets greater than Daniel’s, and that Ezekiel is deriding him for it, while agreeing that he has a certain kind of wisdom. There is wry sarcasm here, for had he been a knower of all secrets he would have known the secret of his own downfall.


Verse 4-5

“By your wisdom and by your understanding you have obtained for yourself riches, and you have obtained gold and silver into your treasuries. By your great wisdom and by your trading you have increased your riches, and your heart is lifted up because of your riches.”

The wisdom the king and his subjects had was the wisdom as to how to make themselves rich through trading. He knew how to accumulate the riches that would destroy him by making him too presumptious, and he had put all his efforts into it. The world stood back and admired, for the world admires nothing more than the ability to become rich, but he and they would be much wiser if they considered their end (Psalms 73:17).


Verses 6-8

‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because you have set your heart as the heart of the gods, therefore behold I will bring strangers on you, the terrible of the nations, and they will draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and they will mar your brightness. They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die the deaths of those who are slain in the heart of the seas.”

His whole attitude towards Yahweh and towards his own exalted status, and that of his city, was such that he had brought on himself his own punishment. He had set his heart to be one among the gods, so he and his people would be destroyed bymen, by ‘strangers’, by the most terrible of the nations (Babylon - Ezekiel 30:11; Ezekiel 31:12; Ezekiel 32:12). He had claimed to be perfect in beauty, a beauty revealed in wisdom, as one who shone before the world, so this beauty will be destroyed by the swords of men, and this brightness defiled by men, and he will go down into the grave where all men go. He will die as so many of his seamen have died before him, swallowed up by the sea, which in his case is represented by the enemy hosts. (Although many would no doubt be tossed into the harbour and literally be swallowed up by the sea). Such will be his ‘god-like’ end.


Verse 9-10

“Will you yet say before him who slays you, ‘I am a god’. But you are a man and not a god in the hands of him who wounds you. You will die the deaths of the uncircumcised by the hand of strangers. For I have spoken it says the Lord Yahweh.”

His protestation to be a god will not help him when he meets his slayers. To them his exalted claims will mean nothing. To them he will be but a man who bleeds. And he will die an ignominious death at their hand, the hand of strangers. To an Israelite to die uncircumcised was to die in shame, it was the worst of all deaths for it indicated that men died outside the covenant.


Verse 11-12

‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, take up a lamentation for the King of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord Yahweh.”

‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me --.’ The introduction demonstrates that this is a new oracle, in the form of a lamentation. ‘King of Tyre’ was probably the title the king took for himself as king of a city state, and the first part of the poem then emphasises his extravagant claims.

‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh.’ However the king may see himself he must recognise, as must Israel, that he is subject to the word of the Lord Yahweh to Whom he is subject.


Verses 11-19

Lamentation for the King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:11-19).

This oracle is in the form of a lamentation for the King of Tyre, with his great, exaggerated claims and his certain destruction. There are no good grounds for applying it to Satan except in the sense that extreme evil and arrogance stems from him. It rests on a ‘glorified’ view of Eden based on man’s own estimate of what is desirable, riches and wealth, and must probably be seen as illustrating the extravagant claims of the King of Tyre in connection with the primeval ‘garden’, as interwoven with the story of Eden to bring out that he was but human and had shared in the fall.

The King of Tyre probably spoke in terms of Dilmun (the Sumerian Eden), or some other form of ‘original Paradise’, where gods and men intermingled, describing his own glorious origin. The point is probably that he claimed for himself a pre-existence and semi-divine status in that mythical world of prehistory, possibly though an ancestral line whom he saw as ‘godlike’ from the beginning of time and reproduced in each succeeding king. This view could well have been supported by his musings in the temple as he walked in the holy temple garden, founded on an artificial mountain of the gods, and containing statues of the cherubim. Such exaltation in men can always produce dangerous ideas.

Excavations at Gebal (Byblos) have revealed a carved representation of cherubim supporting the throne of the king, and similar winged creatures are found abundantly around the ancient world.

The king’s view of himself is then taken by Ezekiel and his God, and interwoven with the story of Eden, the real primeval Paradise, to depict his true status, this being for the consumption of the house of Israel as they contemplated the glory that was Tyre and the extreme claims of its king, which they may have half believed.

We must remember that sacred gardens were often connected with temples, as were ‘mountains’ of the gods. Thus ‘the garden of the gods’ and ‘the mountain of the gods’ may simply in the end have been a sacred temple garden on an artificial mountain in which the king walked as the representative of deity, thought of by him, as he exalted himself in his thoughts and before his people, in terms of an original Paradise.


Verses 12-14

“You seal up the sum, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty,

You were in Eden, the garden of the gods (or ‘of God’)

Every precious stone was your covering,

The sardius, the topaz and the diamond,

The beryl, the onyx and the jasper,

The sapphire, the carbuncle and the emerald,

Gold were the workings of your tabrets and pipes in you.

In the day that you were created they were prepared.

You (along with) an anointed covering cherub, and I established you,

And you were on the holy mountain of God,

You walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.”

Having nothing to go on except this description we must beware of becoming too fanciful. It is describing the king’s view of himself (and Tyre’s), but found here as interwoven by Ezekiel in terms of Eden. The connection between this and the original Eden is found in the name, in the fact of the garden, in the presence of a cherub, in the fact of the king’s being ‘created’, and in his final fall and expulsion. The Israelites would recognise immediately that this whole scenario diminished him to being simply a created and fallen man.

The garden and cherub (or similar creatures) and holy mountain could be found frequently in pagan temples. We are probably therefore to see this in terms of the king walking in bejewelled splendour in the hallowed temple gardens, arranged on an artificial mountain as found in such temples, where there was an image of a cherub, and musing proudly on his deity in terms of the original Paradise of the gods. But as reinterpreted by Ezekiel for the sake of the house of Israel.

‘You seal up the sum (or ‘plan’ or ‘blueprint’ or ‘example’, compare Ezekiel 43:10), full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.’ RSV has ‘you were the signet of perfection’. This would depict his claim as being that of someone of total perfection, full of wisdom and beautiful in his perfection.

Others would translate as ‘you were the one sealing the plan.’ Here the idea would seem to be of the one who finalised and established the grand plan on which Tyre’s prosperity was built. ‘Full of wisdom’ would tie in well with this (see Ezekiel 28:4) and ‘perfect in beauty’ is used of the glorious ship of trade (see Ezekiel 27:3) which originally carried out the plan. Possibly both ideas, that of absolute perfection, and that of the glorious planner, were thought of as included.

‘You were in Eden, the garden of the gods (or ‘of God’).’ Possibly the king boasted of having walked in the primeval garden (through his ancestors?), but we must probably also connect this claim with the holy temple garden which he saw as its present manifestation and in which he walked continually. Ezekiel tacks on ‘Eden’ to relate this primeval garden to the Garden of Eden.

It may however be that Lebanon was known as ‘the garden of the gods’ (compare on Ezekiel 31:8-9; Ezekiel 31:18) because of the splendour of its trees, especially the cedars of Lebanon.

‘Every precious stone was your covering --.’ He was clothed in splendour, surrounded by precious stones. This was man’s view of glory and perfection as it would be experienced in the mythical garden. And it left him without excuse, for with these blessings what excuse could there be for sin? But in the real garden what mattered was innocence, riches and clothes were irrelevant. That is the contrast. Thus the connection in Ezekiel’s mind may well have been that instead of nakedness and then the fig leaf, he had bejewelled garments, but they served him no better. He did not avoid sin and his nakedness was not covered.

The stones listed are nine (three sets of three indicate completeness and perfection), and were reminiscent of the high priest’s breastplate except that there there were twelve stones (Exodus 28:17-20). In fact LXX has twelve here, but that was probably an expansion with the high priest’s breastplate in mind.

‘Gold were the workings of your tabrets and pipes in you.’ The idea of splendour continues. The meaning of the word for ‘pipes’ (nekeb) is unknown. Its only other use is in Joshua 19:33 (in the name Adami-nekeb) where a ‘pass’ or ‘hollow’ has been suggested, but tabrets or timbrels were musical instruments, thus the suggestion of a musical instrument as a translation for nekeb (something hollowed out?) Golden musical instruments may well have been in use in a pagan temple, and have been connected with a primeval Paradise.

‘In the day that you were created they were prepared.’ The reference to his being originally ‘created’ is a further reminder of his earthliness. These things only became available when he was created. They were not his permanent right. It may be that the king saw himself as the reproduction of a long line of divine kings (as with the Pharaoh), stretching back to the primeval garden from where he ‘came’ , thus the reference may be back to the first king. But Ezekiel stresses that it is a reminder that his source was earthly, for the primeval garden, the Garden of Eden was prepared for a created man, not a demi-god.

‘You (‘were’ or ‘were with’ understood) an anointed covering cherub, and I established you, and you were on the holy mountain of God. You walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.’ Mountains were seen as the abode of the gods, and many a temple had within it an artificial mountain representing the home of the gods. Does this mean that the king had depicted himself as a guardian cherub, a demi-god committed to the protection of the gods, especially Baal Melkart the Tyrian god? Or is the idea that he claimed to be a god, even a personification of Melkart, protected by a guardian Cherub and that he is being reminded that he was set in the garden on the holy mountain by Yahweh, for all that is done, is done by Yahweh? Either way it represents his proud assumption of some kind of divinity as he walked in the temple garden on the mountain of the gods, so that Yahweh here has to remind him that anything he has, has come from Yahweh, for Yahweh is the Creator, and in all Yahweh is in control.

His claim to be a divinity protected by a guardian cherub, or that he was himself a guardian cherub, no doubt also encouraged the Tyrians with the thought that it made their fortress even more impregnable.

‘The stones of fire.’ This is probably a reference to the covering of jewels previously mentioned. There may also be the thought that precious stones fell around him from the skies. But some have suggested connection with Phoenician cult practises where an effigy of the god was burned so as to bring about his resuscitation. This ritual of burning a god has been suggested from depictions on a bowl from Sidon and is said to be evidenced in the cult of Melkart at Tyre.


Verse 15

‘You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created until unrighteousness was found in you.’

The theme of Eden continues. The king probably depicting his own continuing perfection. But Ezekiel brings him down to earth and likens him to Adam and connects him with the fall, and then illustrates it from reality. The same phrase could of course been said of Adam, perfect in his ways until unrighteousness was found in him. So the fall of the king and of Tyre, which their ways reveal, is likened to that of Adam. They share in the fall of mankind.


Verse 16

“Therefore have I cast you as profane from the mountain of God,

And I have destroyed you (by means of the) covering cherub from the midst of the stones of fire.”

Note that he is not said to be cast out of the Garden but out of ‘the mountain of God’. That is because his proud boast was to dwell among the gods. Thus his punishment fits his claim. And he loses not only his supposed divinity, but also his glorious apparel. He is to be totally humiliated. (This would be particularly apposite if ‘the garden of the gods’ was seen as Lebanon).

The reading in of ‘by means of the’ is required by the parallelism, both poetically and in comparison with the story of Eden. Having demonstrated that in spite of all his pretensions the King of Tyre was created by Yahweh and was a fallen sinner, he will now be called on to follow the fallen sinner’s fate. He will be driven out by the very guardian cherub whose protection he had boasted about.

Thus the downfall he was about to experience is likened to being cast out and stripped of his bejewelled clothing (the stones of fire). He will be left ‘naked’, revealed as what he really was.

(This problem as to exactly what the king represented himself to be arises because of the requirements of metre in poetry. Words had to be omitted to maintain the metre. Possibly at the time conventions made clear what was meant).


Verse 17

“Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty,

You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendour,

I have cast you to the ground, I have exposed you before kings,

That they may see you (as you are).”

The great advantage Tyre had had did not have good consequences, it corrupted her rather than uplifting her. It caused her to become proud and vain, so that she forgot true wisdom. It is the fear of Yahweh that is the beginning of wisdom, and they had forgotten it. So she will be cast to the ground and exposed before kings, those very kings over whom she had lorded herself. They would see her as she really was.


Verse 18-19

“By the great quantity of your iniquities,

In the wrong behaviour resulting from your trade,

You have profaned your sanctuaries,

So I have brought forth a fire from the midst of you,

It has consumed you,

And I have turned you to ashes on the earth,

In the sight of all those who saw you.

All those who know you among the peoples,

Will be appalled at you,

You are become a frightening warning (literally ‘terrors’),

And you will never be any more.”

The doom of Tyre is now portrayed. It comes not only from her pride but from all her sins of greed, and dishonesty, and violence, and jealousy, and lack of concern for others, revealed through her activities. Thus her very sanctuaries were profaned. This was very much an Israelite thought. Other gods were not concerned about morality, but Yahweh was. But it confirms that we are to see ‘the king of Tyre’ as a human king who had made extravagant claims, but had revealed his humanness by his behaviour, thus profaning the sanctuaries that he had seen as evidence of his divinity.

Thus Tyre is to be destroyed by a fire from within her. The seeds of her own destruction came from within her because of her sins. The fire, instead of revivifying her, will destroy her. She will be turned to ashes and all the nations will look on appalled. And her total extinction will be a warning for ever.


Verses 20-22

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards Zidon, and prophesy against it, and say ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh. Behold I am against you O Zidon, and I will be glorified in the midst of you.’ ” ’

Zidon is to be included in the condemnation of her co-partner. By what would happen to Zidon Yahweh would be glorified, as He would by what happened to Tyre. The great partnership that exalted itself against Yahweh would be destroyed. The antipathy between the gods of Tyre and Zidon and the God of Israel was a long running one, continuing since the days of Elijah, when Phoenician religion under Ahab and Jezebel had reduced the true worship of Yahweh to dire straits. Now the final triumph of Yahweh would be revealed.


Verses 20-24

The Oracle Against Zidon (Ezekiel 28:20-24).

This short oracle against Zidon seems almost tacked on to those to Tyre as a postscript. Perhaps it was in order to make up the number seven, or perhaps it was simply in order to make clear that Zidon shared Tyre’s condemnation, but it makes clear that after the first four nations, condemned together, the two important targets were Tyre and Egypt. Zidon, who through the centuries had been twinned with Tyre, is included as a co-partner with Tyre, sharing her fate, and in fact no charge is laid against her, probably because that is seen as included in the oracles against Tyre with which she had such close relations. If we keep bad company we must accept the consequences.


Verse 22-23

“And they will know that I am Yahweh when I have executed judgments in her and am sanctified in her. For I will send pestilence into her, and blood in her streets, and the wounded will fall in the midst of her, with the sword at her from every side, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”

Yahweh’s servant Nebuchadnezzar, and his army, will devastate Zidon revealing that Yahweh is different from all gods and fulfils His purposes as the all-powerful One (is ‘sanctified in her’ - compare Ezekiel 38:16; Ezekiel 36:23). They will suffer pestilence and slaughter, regular accompaniments to warfare, and will perish under the sword. The sword may be that of Yahweh (Ezekiel 21:5) or simply represent the swords of Nebuchadnezzar’s army.

Thus will they too realise Who and What Yahweh is, repeated twice at beginning and end for emphasis.


Verse 24

“And there will be no more a pricking brier to the house of Israel, nor a grieving thorn from any that are round about them, who did them harm. And they will know that I am Yahweh.”

This general statement applies to Zidon, but it also applies to all the nations yet mentioned. All had constantly at various times tormented Israel, picture vividly in terms of prickly bushes and thorns (compare Numbers 13:55; Joshua 23:13). Soon they would do so no more. So Israel too, along with them, will know that He is Yahweh.

A Promise of Restoration for His people (Ezekiel 28:25-26).

As so often Ezekiel again reminds Israel that God has yet a future for them (Ezekiel 11:17-20; Ezekiel 14:11; Ezekiel 16:60-63; Ezekiel 18:30-31; Ezekiel 20:41-44). In all that is happening He has not deserted them, indeed in the final analysis He only purposes good for them. There is no mention of judgment. This is now seen as technically accomplished, and He looks beyond to future blessing.


Verse 25-26

‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “When I have gathered the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and am sanctified in them in the sight of the nations, then will they dwell in their own land which I gave to my servant Jacob. And they will dwell securely in it. Yes they will build houses and plant vineyards and will dwell securely, when I have executed judgment on all those that do them harm round about them, and they will know that I am Yahweh their God.” ’

This promise and its remarkable fulfilment is witnessed in history. Israel was again gathered from the nations and established in Jerusalem, and it once again dwelt safely in the Promised Land (1 Maccabees 14:8-15), and even enjoyed its own independence, although because of its sins and because it had not learned its lessons the period was not very long. The continued fulfilment of the promises always depended on obedience.

But the promise has an even greater fulfilment which Ezekiel could not even have dreamed of, and could only present in terms familiar to himself. For one day God’s people, God’s Israel, will dwell securely in a far better land where they will enjoy far greater blessings, in everlasting contentment (Revelation 22:1-3 based on Ezekiel 47). That is the final fulfilment of the promise.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 28:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-28.html. 2013.

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