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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Ezekiel 28

 

 

Verses 1-10

Ezekiel 28:1-10

Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus.

The causes of national decadence

Who has not sometimes, standing on Brooklyn Bridge, and looking off on the forests of masts, or upon the fleets sailing back and forth upon the river, or at the great warehouses upon one side and the homes beautiful and happy upon the other--who has not sometimes called up in his imagination the picture of Ephesus or Athens or Corinth, where great ships once rode at anchor, whose old-time harbour is now a great morass? Who has not wondered whether the time may not come in some far future age when men shall come and look on the ruins of this great bridge and the ruins of this great city and the harbour filled up with its own filth, and will regret it as we regret the forgotten splendours of Mexico or of Central America? Decay is on all men’s institutions. Persia, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Venice, Spain, all lived out their life as we are living ours, and all fell into their decay, their senility, and their grave. Are we to follow them? I do not know. But this I know: that behind all these institutions, behind all these governments and laws, there is an eternal law manifested and revealed. I know not how long this republic shall endure; but I know this, that behind all kingdoms and republics, in them and by them, is manifested the eternal kingdom of God; nay, the very governments that set themselves against that kingdom to break down and destroy it are speaking, whether they will or they will not, the word that endureth forever. “Tell me what lessons you have to teach us, O you nations of the past!” And Babylon lifts up her voice and says, “I have to teach you this: that any nation that puts its foot on the neck of prostrate humanity seals its death warrant and hastens to its own doom.” And Greece says, “I have this to tell you: that no art, no philosophy, no culture, can save from death the nation that is immoral.” And Rome says, “I have this to tell you: that no power of law will make a nation safe and strong if there be corruption eating out the heart of it.” And Venice says, “I have this to say to you: that no nation is rich, though its fleets sail all seas, if it be poor in manhood.” And Spain says, “I have this to say to you: that pride, for the nation as for the individual, cometh before a fall!” And then I wonder, as I look upon my own dear native land, whether she will learn these lessons writ so large in all the history of the past. Whether we are to illustrate by our own stupendous and awful ruin that, though a nation have power and culture and wealth and law and pride, it perishes without a God; or whether we shall rather teach this: that a nation whose kings are uncrowned kings, and who beckons from far across the sea the ignorant, the unlearned, and the incompetent, is strong and enduring, because it has enshrined God in its heart and has founded itself on that judgment and that justice which are the foundations of His throne. What the history of the future shall have for our dear land, who can tell? But whether this nation is born to teach a lesson by its folly or its wisdom, by its fidelity or by its infidelity, back of all these transitory and decaying nations stands writ the truth of Him who in national life is speaking, and whose word endureth forever. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Pride and folly of accumulation of wealth

H.W. Beecher strikingly compares the great heaps of wealth that some men pile up to the Pyramids of Egypt. There they stand, looking grand on the outside, but within they contain only the dust of kings. So with these fine appearing fortunes which have been heaped up in forgetfulness of God’s service. They contain within only the dust of what might have been a kingly character.

Tyre a sacred city

This feeling of superhuman elevation in the King of Tyre was fostered by the fact that the island on which Tyre stood was called “the holy island,” being sacred to Hercules; so much so that the colonies looked up to Tyre, as the mother city of their religion as well as of their political existence. (A. R. Fausset.)


Verses 1-26

Verse 13-14

Ezekiel 28:13-14

Thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God.

In the garden of God

1. History, it is clear, may be written as poetry; and that, too, without any evaporation of its facts. Ezekiel’s figure gives us the essential spirit of a great age. We see its successes; we feel its pride; we thrill with its joys. “Thou hast exploited life--thou hast had days of heaven upon the earth--thou hast been in the garden of God.” What testimony this is to God’s long-suffering! Tyre did not want Him, though He wanted Tyre. There was no reciprocity; Tyre sang and revelled along its wealthy way, and would not so much as lift its eyes to Heaven, where God sorrowed. She revolted from the pure deep heavens, and vilely dug her gods out of, the hillsides. To have clipped her wings, to have pruned her glories down to life’s bare necessities would have seemed the kindliest discipline. Instead, God gives ages of blandishments for ages of contempt. Till the hour of doom comes.

2. It is not impossible to write much modern history in the same brilliant, revelatory style. The Englishman is as the Tyrian. Life in the cities of our empire is full, splendid with colour, seething with joys. We have been, and are, in Eden. We have had our griefs, but he is a bold man who denies our delights. We have been born amid roses, reared amid songs, and there are hours when we are drunken with the rapture of living.

“Life is a golden cup; God filled it.”

3. He who saunters up through the leafy ways of the Sydenham Palace will come at length to a commanding terrace where, upon its lofty pedestal, rises the bold head of Sir Joseph Paxton. The fruit of Paxton’s genius stretches around him. His ideal was captivating--a palace of light in a paradise of flowers. And now from his high place he looks out upon his gift to his fellows. He looks upon the rosaries, with their crimson and pink buds; upon lawns and bowers; upon fountains and statuary; upon spreading cedars and majestic oaks; upon sunny glades and shady ways, where the white petals of the syringa drop gently to the grass and the mavis sings from the thorn. With garlanded brow the worker stands in the midst of his work, the creator at the heart of his creation. God, the Bountiful One, has given us Eden; have we found a place for Him in the garden? What, then, is God’s place in man’s Eden? Beware lest thine heart be lifted up, and thou catch the trick of the Tyrians, and imagine thyself in the seat of God, It is true, “thou art the anointed cherub.” In the eyes of inert thou shinest like a visitant from heaven. Thou dwellest amid stones of fire, amid stones that flame with rainbow lights. Thou hast made a robe for thyself of diamonds and gold. Burma and Brazil and Kimberley are upon thy gleaming arms and throat. Thou hast mastered the art of amazing by display. The highways of the earth are full of the stir and noise of those who travel to see thy splendours. There is dazzling of eyes and aching of heart when they behold thee. In good sooth, “thou art the anointed cherub.” Well for thee if thou art content in thy cherubic beauty to lay thy heart low before the Giver of every good and perfect gift, for He hath “set thee so.”

“Him that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

4. Let us live up to our Eden. He who lives in the garden of God should have the paradise spirit. Hear St. Paul: “Walk worthy of God, who hath called you to His Kingdom and glory.” A keen observer has told us of the splendid landscape gardening that encircles many a country mansion; he tells us how the lobelia and the verbena and the peony blow, how the thrushes whistle in the trees and feed upon the lawns, and how, from under a covert of blue and scarlet blossoms, the stoat will spring upon the birds. Savage beast and lovely flowers in one bed! This is a parable of human life. The goodness of God makes a paradise about us. Broad spaces are rich with bloom and beauty. And there, amid the flowers His love has planted, crouch human passions. How few are touched by the shocking antithesis. Rodway says that in Guiana he has often scared centipedes and tarantulas that were hiding in the thick of rare and gorgeous orchids. It is to be feared that the underworld in the garden of God is often far from attractive. God gives grace; we supply sin. The one thing needed to perfect our Eden is that Christ should cleanse our hearts and fill them with the light of His love. And if we would live up to our Eden, let us note and live by the true purpose of the paradise. God “giveth us all things richly to enjoy.” The world’s honest laughter does not bore nor offend Him. He reckons it among His pleasures; it goes with the ripple of the tide, the music of the spheres, and the angels’ song. He who makes Eden about us can hardly object to our delighting in it. Yet let us remember what we are Let us not discard our intelligence. Who does not know that joy is not for enjoyment’s sake only? Enjoyment is for refreshing, and refreshing is for service. The hour you elect to live only for the pleasures of Eden, that hour the light of your paradise begins to fade. Lastly, let none but Christ enlarge your fair garden. The devil is forever seeking to draw you out to new ground. He is forever saying he will extend your Eden. Be careful that you annex nothing at his suggestion. Pick no flower he praises. He is a liar from the beginning. He covers his foul meaning with fair advertisements. His object is not delectation, but death. Scorn satanic paradises. Grant Allen says there are some flowers that smell like raw meat, that they may attract “blue-bottles.” The devil’s garden is prepared for flesh flies. Keep a critical eye on your gratifications. (James Dunk.)


Verses 14-16

Ezekiel 28:14-16

Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God.

The religious claims of the British colonies

Let Britain recognise, not merely the elements of her greatness in her commercial relations, but the type of her majesty in a state, planted like itself in the midst of the seas, enthroned queen of the nations whom she overshadowed with her powers. Let her look at the character of her own crimes, and consider the peril of corresponding visitations; let her look to her obligations and her responsibilities; and, as the chief of these, hearken to the claims of her colonies.

I. The obligations arising from her position. “Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth,” etc. If this glowing and magnificent description was true of Tyre, it can lose nothing in its application to Britain. In arts and in arms, in commerce and in agriculture, in facility of local position and fertility of soil--secure from invasion, prolific in produce, rich in cultivation, replenished with merchandise, powerful in political relations, redundant in population--above all, unrivalled in religious advantages; all these secured by a civil constitution peculiar to herself, balancing the national interests, and destroying the elements of internal discord and division: what more can be enjoyed to give national prosperity and preeminence? But whence flows the tide of greatness? and to whom is Britain indebted for her supremacy? It is not self-produced; it cannot be self-sustained: “I have set thee so.” Not to know, not to feel, not to acknowledge this, is the source of national decay and ruin. We are exalted to sovereignty, and entrusted with dominion, that the parent state may be to her widely spread and numerous colonies “the anointed cherub that covereth.” She owes them political protection, to gather them under her wings, like the eagle: but she owes them also religious instruction; she should engage in a holy traffic, infinitely advantageous to them, and, for the wealth which they pour into her bosom, repay them with durable riches and righteousness.

II. The responsibility of her vast extent of territory. The statesman may contemplate this prodigious dependency upon the crown of his country with unmixed emotions of pride and exultation; I see in it, primarily, a corresponding magnitude of national responsibility. It were superfluous here to recount the names and localities of her dominions; but it is of importance to call to mind that the colonial territory of Britain has put under her responsibility not only so many more bodies, but so many more souls; that it is not over inert matter, but over spirit and life, that she rules; that a population vastly surpassing her own is of equal value with her own; that one immortal spirit of all these millions is of more worth than the material universe, and must remain indestructible, in happiness or misery, when the heavens are no more; and that the present all-fluctuating, transient, uncertain existence is the only period to fix its destiny irreversibly and forever. Her responsibility is heightened by the moral condition of that vast extent of territory over which she rules; and which, participating the depravity of fallen nature, common to all presents peculiarities of corruption or of destitution characteristic of the particular states in which they are respectively placed.

III. The reparation due from oppressors. “Iniquity was found in thee. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned.” Ambition has been charged, and justly charged, with trampling upon the rights and liberties of mankind, turning the fruitful land into barrenness, beating down with unsparing force and cruelty whatever withstood its advance, outraging every principle, if expediency required its sacrifice, wasting human life remorselessly in furtherance of its plans, and deluging the earth with blood. What has Commerce to say, in answer to the accusation, should every one of these imputations be alleged against her? Have her crimes been fewer? Have the injuries inflicted upon society been less aggravated, and has the love of money been less powerful than the love of fame? Has the lust of dominion been more persevering and reckless than the cupidity of accumulation? Let the colonies of Britain, even Christian Britain, stand forth and give their testimony, in vindication of the sentiment of the text. It is true, much is without remedy: the early victims of oppression are out of the reach of the oppressor; even a nation’s repentance cannot recall a single departed spirit from its dreadful abode; but the children are in the place of the fathers. A debt of crime is incurred which the consecrated energies of the nation alone can repay; let the inheritors of the wrongs of their ancestors remove and redress all their grievances in the ample compensation which the parent state has it yet in her power to effect, in sending to them the glad tidings of salvation. The slave trade has been abolished in vain, and in vain are you now proclaiming liberty to the captive, if this great obligation be neglected. You have not given freedom to the slave thoroughly until you have given him the Gospel; heavier, invisible, infrangible chains remain when you have taken the yoke from his shoulders and struck the fetters from his limbs.

IV. The sentence pronounced against national guilt. “I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God,” etc. This judgment proceeds on two principles. The one is a personal degradation: “I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God.” It is national irreligion. The privileges of the Gospel have been neglected or despised; they shall be removed; they shall be insulted no longer; the prosperity that made them of no account shall be withdrawn also. The other principle on which judgment proceeds is relative, commercial, colonial, bears expressly upon the point discussed. “Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries,” etc. Every part of this sentence is full of meaning. It is the soul that has been trifled with; it is the blood of souls that is required; it is the blood of the souls of “poor innocents,” who knew not what they did, abandoned to ignorance, to negligence, to misery. The negligence is palpable, multiplied; the consequences deplorable; yet insensibility and security fortify the guilty city, even in the midst of impending retribution; and they justify themselves under the scrutiny of that eye from which nothing can be concealed. The judgment threatened is just. Again, as in a glass, the crimes, the danger, and the duty of the country are alike apparent, and the religious claims of her colonies depicted. Jerusalem is not, because of these oppressions, combined with this other neglect of the souls of those depending upon her; and shall we altogether escape?

V. An irresistible appeal to her christian principles. “Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God.” This is the highest of all possible distinctions; the greatest of all possible blessings. And if it were but a presumptuous imagination in the heart of the king of Tyre, or a figure the strongest that could be imagined, of security and felicity, it is unquestionably a reality with us, a reality in respect to privilege; whether a reality in respect to principle, remains to be perceived, and will be determined by the hold which the appeal, So irresistible in its own nature, made to these principles in reference to these claims, shall have upon the conviction, the concurrence and the energies of the nation at large, and upon the hearts, consciences, and exertions of professors of religion in particular. For it is the work of the nation, and it is the work of the nation in her magnitude, and it has wherewithal to occupy all the labour and talent that can be brought to bear upon it. Here differences should be merged in the prominent object of general concernment, of universal utility, and faithful allegiance to our common Lord. Here, if ever, all envy and strife, all doubts and surmisings, all malice and evil speaking--at all times so unbecoming the Gospel of Christ, so unworthy Christian character, so hateful in themselves, so pernicious in their effects, so opposed to the spirit of our Master--should be laid aside; remembering, that during the time that is consumed in contention the work of God must stand still. Here there should be no emulation, but such as should call forth holy ardour and brotherly affections and stir up to love and to good works. (W. B. Collyer, D. D.)


Verse 18

Ezekiel 28:18

By the iniquity of thy traffic.

Corruption in commerce

The tendency is to measure all things by a money standard. The business that cannot be ruled by Christianity is wrong. What this does for a land, if it grows unchecked, is to make men sell the best things. Phoenicia did, and the spirit of her people died. Her inhabitants became the ministers of vice in every Eastern city. And the man eaten up by love of gain is preparing for himself and all he influences a like fate. Men object that business is a sort of neutral world in which the maxims of New Testament morality cannot come into play. But if this is true, either Christianity cannot be a faith for the whole of a man’s life, or the business that cannot be ruled by it is wrong. It is to rule my eating and drinking, my clothing and housing of myself and mine, my buying and selling, my work am! play. Whatsoever ye do, “buying or booking,” do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. But men object today that the severity of the competition by which they are pressed makes some moral laxity in the conduct of business most difficult to avoid. They have to contend with others who are not hampered by scrupulosity in the methods by which they obtain orders or make profits. Some time ago, the Rev. Mr. Carter, the Secretary of the Christian Social Union, informs us, the Oxford branch of that society sent out a number of queries to practical men on the subject of commercial morality. In answer to the question: “Do you find it difficult to apply the principles of Christian truth and justice to the conduct of business?” two employers write: “Business is based on the gladiatorial theory of existence. If Christian truth and justice is not consistent with this, business is in a bad case.” A commercial traveller writes: “Not only difficult, but impossible, for a man is not master of himself. If one would live, and avoid the bankruptcy court, one must do business on the same lines as others do, without troubling whether, the methods are in harmony with the principles of Christian truth and justice or not. A draper’s assistant answers: “Extremely so. The tendency to misrepresent, deceive, or take unfair advantage under circumstances that daily offer the opportunity of so doing is generally too strong to resist where self-interest is the motive power of action, the conventional morality the only check. To me they appear to be opposing principles--the first of self-sacrifice, the second of self-interest.” Another says: “If it were possible to do away with competition, the excuse and justification for a large proportion of commercial immorality would be gone.” As it is, it is quite plain that honourable trade has to meet with and fight what is unjust. As Arthur Hugh Clough says in one of his poems “Thou shalt not covet, but tradition Approves all forms of competition.” (G. T. Forbes, M. A.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 28:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/ezekiel-28.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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