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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 28

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-19

B. Judgment on Tyre 26:1-28:19

"When Jerusalem finally fell in 586, the only states that were still resisting the Babylonians were Egypt and Tyre. It is not coincidental, therefore, that of the foreign nations addressed by Ezekiel, these two are singled out for the brunt of his oracular volleys." [Note: Block, The Book . . . 48, p. 32.]

The length of this oracle reflects the great significance of Tyre at this time in Israel’s history. Tyre (lit. "rock") was the principle city of Phoenicia and consisted of two towns: a fortified stronghold on a rocky outcropping one-half mile offshore, and a smaller community on the Mediterranean shoreline opposite this island town. King Hiram I had connected the two population centers with a causeway in the tenth century B.C. [Note: Taylor, p. 189.] Tyre was important because it was a major port, and therefore a commercial center, and a military center. It stood on the Mediterranean coast 35 miles from the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) and 100 miles from Jerusalem. Chapter 25 contains prophecies against nations to the east and west of Israel, but now the Lord looked north.

Ezekiel’s prophecies of Tyre’s destruction are the longest ones against this city-state in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 23; Jeremiah 47:4; Amos 1:9-10; Zechariah 9:3-4). He saw that God would use Nebuchadnezzar to punish all the enemies of Israel, among which Tyre and Egypt (chs. 29-32) were particularly formidable.

"The biblical record first mentions the city as a strong, fortified town that formed part of the boundary of the inheritance of the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:29). Tyre was prominent in the days of David and Solomon and throughout the remainder of OT history. Hiram, Solomon’s contemporary, enlarged and beautified the city. Tyre became an important maritime city of the ancient Near East, being involved in great commercial and colonial enterprises throughout the Mediterranean area, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. With the rise of Assyria to power, Tyre periodically submitted to Assyria’s lordship, paying tribute out of the abundance of her wealth (as in the cases of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal). Whenever possible, however, Tyre rebelled against the Assyrian power and withstood the Assyrian retribution in the security of its island fortress (as in the case of Sennacherib). As Assyria began to decline in strength, Tyre exerted her complete independence. Tyre was in this latter condition when these oracles were delivered." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," pp. 869-70. See also Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2, pp. 22-23, and Feinberg, p. 147, for short histories of Tyre.]

The four major parts that make up this section alternate prophetic speeches (26; 28:1-10) and laments (27; 28:11-19).

Verses 1-2

Ezekiel was to speak an oracle to the contemporary leader (Heb. nagid, prince, ruler, king) of Tyre in the Lord’s name, probably King Ethbaal II (also known as Ittobaal II and Ithobalus II, ca. 590-573 B.C.). As usual in political affairs, the king often represents the kingdom he served and even other kings that preceded him who possessed the same characteristics that he did. In this case, a spirit of pride marked the king as well as his nation.

". . . the attack is not so much a personal criticism of the ruler as a verbal onslaught on the state." [Note: Taylor, p. 195.]

While one particular king is in view, we should view him as the representative head of his city-state. Similarly, the President of the United States personifies the policies of this country. We often speak of him when we are referring to the country as a whole. He is uniquely responsible, but he is also a representative figure. The king of Tyre had become very proud because of the prosperity of his seafaring kingdom (cf. 29:3; 2 Kings 18:33-35; Daniel 3:15; Daniel 4:30; Acts 12:21-23). He had even thought he was in God’s place of control over his own and Tyre’s affairs. Ancient Near Easterners often viewed their kings as the embodiment of their gods, and this king appears to have concluded that he was a god. [Note: See John Gray, "Canaanite Kingship in Theory and Practice," Vetus Testamentum 2 (1952):193-200.] Nevertheless he was only a man.

"As probably nowhere else in Scripture, pride is set forth in this chapter as the destroying sin." [Note: Feinberg, p. 165.]

Verses 1-10

3. A judgment speech against the ruler of Tyre 28:1-10

Verses 3-5

Indeed, the king was a very wise man, wiser even than Daniel, who had revealed divine secrets to Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel had been in Babylon since 605 B.C., almost 20 years, so he was by this time well-known. Another possible interpretation is that the king thought he was wiser than Daniel, not that he knew of Daniel necessarily, but Ezekiel used Daniel as a standard of great wisdom. The king of Tyre had understanding of matters that were obscure to other people, or he believed that he did. His wisdom had enabled him to become rich personally and to make Tyre wealthy. His wise trading had enabled him to increase those riches. He had become very proud because of the success he had enjoyed. Note that the character of Daniel was the opposite of this ruler, though they were both very intelligent. It is not uncommon for people today, even Christians, to deify themselves in their own minds when they experience great success.

Verses 6-7

Almighty God announced that because the king had exalted himself in pride the Lord would bring ruthless strangers against him from among other nations. They would fight against his commercial empire, resist his wisdom, and mar the beauty of Tyre’s splendor. Nebuchadnezzar was one of the first of these strangers (cf. 26:7).

Verses 8-9

The enemy would slay the king and his city-state. Tyre would cease to exist as other empires had also died (cf. 27:26-34). She would no longer be a great sea power. This ruler and his city would then not be able to continue to believe that they were superior and all-powerful like a god.

Verse 10

The king would die a shameful death (cf. 32:30; 1 Samuel 17:26; 1 Samuel 17:36). The Phoenicians practiced circumcision, so to die the death of the uncircumcised meant to die like a barbarian. Strangers would slay him. This is the fate that Yahweh decreed for him and his empire.

Verses 11-12

Ezekiel received instruction from the Lord to lament the king (Heb. melek) of Tyre. Evidently the same person addressed in the previous speech (Ezekiel 28:1-10) is in view in this lament. The writer’s use of a different title from the one in Ezekiel 28:1 has led some scholars to conclude that a different person is in view, possibly the patron god of the city, Melkart. Others believe the Antichrist is in view in Ezekiel 28:1-10 and Satan in Ezekiel 28:11-19. [Note: See L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 2:40; and The New Scofield . . ., p. 869.] But "king" elsewhere in Ezekiel describes a human ruler. He had been the model of perfection in the sense that he was full of wisdom and beauty (cf. Ezekiel 28:2-5; Ezekiel 27:3). "The seal of perfection" is literally "the one sealing a plan." He had been the leader responsible for affixing his seal to the plans that resulted in Tyre’s maritime glory.

Verses 11-19

4. A funeral dirge for the king of Tyre 28:11-19

"This is one of the more difficult passages in the Book of Ezekiel-if not in the whole Bible! The reason for the difficulty lies mainly in the lack of sufficient data to reach precise conclusions. There are many terms and phrases that are only used in these verses in the OT. . . .

"Ancient mythology should be kept in mind, for it shows the Phoenicians’ religious thinking and provides cultural aid in interpreting the passage. However, to interpret the passage as a myth is unwarranted." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 882.]

Verse 13

This king had been in Eden, the garden of God, or Ezekiel was comparing him to someone who had been there. Some authorities believe Ezekiel had Adam in view, but the comparison with Adam quickly breaks down in the passage. Much less likely are the views that the tower of Babel or the Flood is in view or that the prophet was thinking of an ideal man. Eden, the garden of God, is probably a figurative way of describing the blessing that this ruler had enjoyed at God’s hand (cf. 31:9; Genesis 13:10). If we take the statement literally, this must refer to someone who was in the Garden of Eden, probably Satan. The description of this ruler covered with precious gems and gold indicates the extent of his wealth. The suggestion that Israel’s high priest is in view here because he bore such precious stones on his shoulders and breastpiece is farfetched. There are no other connections with the high priest in this passage. God had prepared this king for this privileged destiny from the time that He had created him (cf. Exodus 9:16; Romans 9:17).

"The concept of the Garden of Eden presents one of the major difficulties in interpreting this section as Tyre’s literal human king. A possible solution may be found in understanding ancient Near Eastern temples. These ancient temples normally encompassed a large enclosure with a garden, not just a building (cf. van Dijk, p. 117). If the term for ’God’ in this phrase is understood as ’god,’ then perhaps ’Eden, a garden of a god,’ was an expression used metaphorically to describe the splendor of the temple complex of Melkart, the ’king of the city’ (which was the meaning of the god’s name), with whom Tyre’s human king was seeking identity. Though this interpretation is a hypothesis (as are all others), normal cultural hermeneutics may aid in the explanation of the text and should not be ignored. It is readily admitted that this phrase ’you were in Eden, the garden of God’ is the most difficult obstacle to the interpretation of the king of Tyre as the literal king of the city. The above, however, is certainly a plausible understanding of the phrase." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 883. His reference is to H. J. van Dijk, Ezekiel’s Prophecy on Tyre.]

Verse 14

God had given the king a position as an anointed cherub who covers or guards. This description has suggested to many readers that the king in view may be more than a man. Perhaps the Lord was looking beyond the human king of Tyre to the spiritual ruler behind him, namely, Satan (cf. Daniel 10:13; Matthew 16:21-23). [Note: Cooper, p. 268; Feinberg, p. 161; Freeman, p. 306; Wiersbe, p. 216.] It is more probable that the human king was cherub-like in that God had allowed him to reign, and he exercised a guarding function over his city-state.

"It seems as if Tyre’s king was identifying himself with the patron deity of Tyre, Melkart, directly or symbolically, as the god’s guardian sphinx. The Phoenician male-sphinx (or cherub) was normally bejeweled and sometimes had the head of the priest-king (cf. Barnett, p. 13). The sphinx was considered to be all-wise. Such a description fits well the verses under discussion, for the king is called a guardian cherub (sphinx) and the many jewels listed in Ezekiel 28:13 as his covering befit the many jewels that adorned the Phoenician sphinx (cherub). The passage would then be declaring that the king of Tyre had become as the guardian cherub for the god Melkart and was bejeweled with his riches as cherub-sphinx normally was." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 883. Here his reference is to R. D. Barnett, "Ezekiel and Tyre," in Eretz-Israel, vol. 9.]

This ruler had also been on the holy mountain of God, a title that appears exactly this way nowhere else in the Old Testament. This description suggests Jerusalem (cf. Psalms 99:9; Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 56:7; Isaiah 65:25), but a mountain in Scripture is also a figure for a kingdom (e.g. Psalms 30:7; et al.). What other literal mountain might be in view is hard to imagine since there are no literal mountains that God had uniquely appointed close to Tyre. Perhaps Ezekiel meant that the king of Tyre had been walking in Jerusalem among fiery stones gathering spoils (cf. 26:1-6) shortly after Jerusalem’s destruction. Or perhaps he meant that the king of Tyre was in the domain of the pagan deities ("the mount of god" meaning "the seat of the gods") since he claimed to be a god and was perhaps a guardian cherub of Melkart.

"The lament God inspires Ezekiel to sing over the king of Tyre contains a series of metaphorical references to the story of the Garden of Eden and to the Mountain of God. The king is compared to a guardian angel at the mountain and, in a way, to Adam himself in the garden. The comparisons are not exact, but imagistic-overtones and general allusions rather than straight one-for-one correspondences to the garden story. The allusions to the mountain of God (e.g., Ezekiel 28:14; Ezekiel 28:16) reflect a poetic theme in the Old Testament in which the mountain represents God’s abode." [Note: Stuart, p. 273.]

Allen believed the mountain in view was Mt. Zaphon, in northern Syria, which, in Ugaritic mythology, was the abode of the gods. [Note: Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, p. 95.]

". . . it seems . . . likely that Ezekiel’s imagination wandered freely and drew on a wide variety of symbolical background all interwoven with his message of the fall of Tyre." [Note: Taylor, p. 197.]

Probably the kingdom of God is in view here. Evidently the meaning is that this ruler participated in God’s universal kingdom by ruling as king over Tyre, since all rulers occupy their thrones with the sovereign Lord’s permission (Romans 13:1). This ruler also walked among the stones of fire, or the brightly shining stones, just mentioned (Ezekiel 28:13). That is, he lived in an environment that was glorious and blessed by God.

"The ritual of burning a god has been discovered on a bowl from Sidon and is recorded in the cult of Melkart at Tyre (cf. Barnett, pp. 9-10). Melkart’s resurrection was celebrated by a ’burning in effigy,’ from which he would then be revitalized through the fire and the smelling of the burnt offering. Again, in keeping with the Phoenician religious-cultural background with which the passage is so closely tied by the king’s claim of deity, perhaps the explanation of walking among the fiery stones is a reference to the king’s self-exaltation of himself even as the god Melkart-even to the extent of his claiming resurrection after burning by fire." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 884.]

Verse 15

The king had conducted himself blamelessly from his earliest days until he lifted himself up in pride.

Some interpreters believed that the Old Testament speaks of the fall of Satan in Isaiah 14:12-17 as well as in this passage. [Note: E.g., Paul P. Enns, Ezekiel, p. 131, and W. A. Criswell, Expository Sermons on the Book of Ezekiel, p. 149.] Cooper charted the similarities between these two passages. [Note: Cooper, pp. 269-70.] I think that neither Ezekiel 28:11-19 nor Isaiah 14 contains information about Satan before the Fall. The main reason for this conclusion, among others, is that in both cases a king (of Tyre or Babylon) is the object of the prophecy. A literal interpretation of these "kings" is possible and, therefore, preferable.

Verse 16

Abundant trade had made this king increasingly violent to the point that he sinned against God. The reference to trade supports the view that the earthly king is in view.

Because of this sin, the Lord had cast the king from His mountain as profane or common. The king could no longer rule under God’s permissive authority. The Lord had destroyed His servant in that He had removed him from his privileged place of service and allowed his enemies to defeat him.

Verse 17

The Lord repeated the fact of His judgment and the reason for it, namely, the pride of the king. Yahweh had brought him down from his exalted position to the level of other ordinary people; he would no longer be god-like. He had also demonstrated His humiliation before the king’s peers, other kings, that they might observe and learn.

Verse 18

The king had also multiplied iniquities through the abundant trade he had pursued unjustly thus making what should have been clean common (cf. Ezekiel 28:16). Therefore, God would consume the king with His judgment that would arise from within his own sinful self. He would allow everyone on earth to witness his destruction.

Verse 19

Those who knew him would feel appalled at his end. He would be a source of terror to observers, a horrible warning of the consequences of pride, and he would be no more.

"What Adam and Eve were tempted to try to get was equality with God (Genesis 3:4 [sic 5]). That is exactly what Tyre’s king wanted, too. Whatever he personally may have thought of himself, the passage makes it clear that his actions were those of a person seeking such wealth and power as to be his own god." [Note: Stuart, p. 274.]

Conservative interpreters of this passage divide into three basic groups. Some believe that only the human king of Tyre is in view throughout the passage. [Note: E.g., Alexander, "Ezekiel," pp. 882-85; Taylor, pp. 196-97; Keil, 1:409-25; Ellison, pp. 108-9; Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, p. 95; Block, The Book . . . 48, pp. 118-19; The Nelson Study Bible, notes on Ezekiel 28:12-19; Stuart, pp. 273-74; and myself.] Others believe only Satan is in view. [Note: E.g., Chafer, 2:39-44; Merrill F. Unger, Biblical Demonology: A Study of the Spiritual Forces Behind the Present World Unrest, p. 15; and J. Dwight Pentecost, Your Adversary the Devil, pp. 11-19.] The third view is that both the human king and Satan are in view. Some who hold this opinion believe that the king is the primary referent and that Satan is seen as the power behind his throne. [Note: E.g., Cooper, pp. 265-68; and Feinberg, pp. 159-64.] Others hold that the primary referent is Satan and that the king comes into view only secondarily. [Note: E.g., Dyer, "Ezekiel," pp. 1283-84; idem, in The Old . . ., p. 685.]

As far as I have been able to determine, the view that this passage reveals something about Satan before the Fall (Genesis 3) originated with the church fathers, including Origin, in the third and fourth centuries A.D. They applied the teaching of the passage to Satan and even interpreted it as specifically teaching things about Satan.

Verses 20-21

Another oracle concerning Sidon, Tyre’s neighbor about 20 miles to the north, came to the prophet from the Lord. God may have condemned Sidon because of its close association with Tyre, though it was responsible for its own actions.

Verses 20-24

C. Judgment on Sidon 28:20-24

Verse 22

The Lord announced His antagonism against Sidon and His plan to receive glory through the way He would deal with this town. The people would know that Yahweh was the only true God when He judged Sidon and thus manifested His holiness. Klein believed this verse states the theological key to the oracles against foreign nations, namely, Yahweh would vindicate His holiness and glorify His name when He judged the nations. [Note: Klein, pp. 130, 141.]

Verse 23

God would send disease, bloodshed, and soldiers against Sidon, and many of her people would die in her streets (cf. 6:11-12; 14:21). This would teach the Sidonians that God is the Lord.

Verse 24

The reason for this judgment was that Sidon had been a thorn in the side of God’s people by scorning them (cf. Genesis 12:3). Again the Lord promised that onlookers would learn that He is God.

Verse 25

The Lord also promised to re-gather His people to their land and to manifest His holiness in them so that all the nations would see it (cf. Ezekiel 28:22; Ezekiel 20:41; chs. 33-39). They would then live in the land that God had promised to His servant Jacob (Genesis 35:12; cf. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 26:3).

Verses 25-26

D. Israel’s restoration from the nations 28:25-26

As in numerous other prophetic Scriptures, promises of Israel’s restoration accompanied predictions of judgment on the nations (e.g. 34:27; 38:8; 39:26; Isaiah 65:21; Jeremiah 23:6; Amos 9:14-15).

"The words of hope inserted in 28:24-26 function as a fulcrum, dividing Ezekiel’s oracles against foreign nations into two sensitively balanced halves, virtually identical in length . . ." [Note: Block, The Book . . . 48, p. 4.]

Verse 26

The Israelites would live there securely, building houses and planting vineyards, when the Lord punished all the nations that had scorned His people. This would teach them that He is God.

After the Babylonian Captivity some Israelites returned to live in the Promised Land, but they did not live there in safety. In fact, the Jews have never yet lived safely in their own land. Fulfillment awaits the return of Jesus Christ and His millennial kingdom.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 28". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ezekiel-28.html. 2012.
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