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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 28

Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral EpistlesFairbairn's Commentaries

Verses 1-5

CHAPTER 28:1-19.


THE portion of Ezekiel 28:0 which relates to Tyre, may be regarded as a kind of episode to the prophecy of the two preceding chapters. It properly adds nothing to the great theme of the prophecy, but only presents it in a somewhat new aspect, by bringing prominently forward the king of Tyre, and viewing all the prosperity, the self-elation it produced, the condemnation thence arising, and the subsequent desolation and ruin as embodied in his personal condition and history. It is rather a matter of surprise to find that a state so thoroughly commercial as Tyre, and possessed of so limited a territory, should have had a king at all; but in the regions of the East, and, indeed, generally in the earlier ages of the world, royalty seems to have been regarded as an indispensable element to the right management and proper dignity of a state. In such an active, bustling, and enterprising state as Tyre, however, it could not exist in the same absolute and despotic form, nor could it surround itself with the same circumstances of imposing grandeur and majesty as usually distinguished it in the larger monarchies of the East.

That proper scope and security might be found for the active energies of the Tyrians, it was necessary that a certain amount of freedom should be enjoyed by the citizens, and even a considerable share obtained in the administration of civil affairs. The king there must have been a limited, not a despotic sovereign, and could only rule as a prince among merchants, who were themselves princes.

It is not only certain that there was a hereditary king in Tyre, but the fragments of Phoenician history already referred to in the preceding chapters have also preserved the name of the king who at that precise time occupied the throne Ithobal II. And in the king, as the natural head and representative of the whole state, the prophet sees the full embodiment, the extreme culmination, of the spirit by which the state in general was pervaded the spirit of self-sufficiency, carnal security, and immoderate pride. These feelings, the natural product of unsanctified prosperity, penetrated the whole community of Tyre; but in the bosom of its monarch they might justly be supposed to find their chosen seat, and their ripest development. And assuming, as they necessarily did, an attitude of lofty indifference, or even of high disdain, in respect to the God of Israel, whose cause seemed then to be sinking amid deep waters while Tyre still held on her majestic course, the prophet’s bosom heaved with violent emotion, and in a vein of severe and cutting irony, he exhibits the fancied superhuman greatness, the godlike independence and ascendancy of the king of Tyre, that he might magnify the more the infinite power and supremacy of him whose overruling providence was to lay all prostrate in the dust. It is substantially the same form of representation with that which was adopted by Isaiah respecting the king of Babylon, in the 14th chapter of his writings, where the proud heart of that aspiring monarch is described as scaling the very heavens, and claiming to be as the Most High, but only that it might be cast down to the stones of the pit, and trodden upon as a carcase under feet of men. But here, as usual, our prophet is not satisfied with depicting in a few lively strokes the towering ambition of the earthly prince; he ransacks alike the past and the present for the most varied and striking imagery, under which to body forth its pretensions, that so he might present, in more vivid contrast, what it impiously aspired to be, with what it really was. While it was neither new nor peculiar to our prophet to speak in ironical language on such a subject, there is no single passage of Scripture, either in the Old or in the New Testament, where the irony is of so detailed a form, and is cast in altogether so peculiar a mould. Yet it is the Spirit of God that breathes in the words, revealing to our souls the impiety of all ambition, and the vanity of all greatness, which seeks its foundation and support elsewhere than in the power and goodness of the Eternal.

Ezekiel 28:1 . And the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 28:2 . Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because thy heart is lifted up, and thou sayest I am God (El), a God’s seat I occupy in the midst of the seas; and (though) thou art man and not God, thou settest thy heart as the heart of God.

Ezekiel 28:3 . Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel; no secret is hid from thee.

Ezekiel 28:4 . By thy wisdom and by thy understanding thou hast gotten to thee power; and thou hast gotten gold and silver in thy treasures.

Ezekiel 28:5 . By thy great wisdom in thy traffic thou hast increased thy power, and thy heart is lifted up on account of thy power.

It is the feeling of superhuman might and strength which the prophet evidently means to ascribe to the king of Tyre in the first part of this representation. Hence it is God as the El, the Supreme in power, the Mighty One, whose name and prerogative he is described as impiously arrogating to himself. And the idea is further expanded by the thought that he sits as a God, or occupies a God’s seat in the midst of the seas; holding his place, as it were, in impregnable security amid the stormiest elements of nature, and knowing how to wield and control them so as to render them subservient to his own ends and interests. To ascribe this sentiment, with Hitzig, to the king of Tyre, “because his residence juts up out of the water, much as the palace of God does out of the heavenly ocean above” (Psalms 104:3), is indescribably flat, and a palpable misapplication besides of the passage of Scripture referred to. The Psalmist is there speaking not of the throne or habitation of God standing out from the boundless ocean of immensity (of which there is nowhere a word in Scripture), but of his constructing a sort of visible habitation for himself out of the watery vapours of the sky the clouds, which he makes his chariots. The idea also of Hävernick, though in better taste than that of Hitzig, that respect is had, in the language here ascribed to the king of Tyre, to the species of Divine honour paid to Oriental monarchs (notice of which is taken in Curtius, x. 11. 1; Josephus, ix. 6. 1), is fanciful. It was scarcely possible in a city like Tyre, where the subjects necessarily pressed so close upon the king, that he could be the subject of properly religious homage. There was no room there for those wonderful personal exploits, or that mysterious seclusion and grandeur, which always formed the ground and nutriment of such profound veneration. What is here spoken as from the heart of the king of Tyre, is the proud consciousness of strength and security, which was engendered by the naturally strong position and the immense maritime resources of the state over which he reigned. This gave him such a sense of elevation and independence, as is only put into words when he is represented as claiming for himself the name and posture of Deity. It might certainly tend to foster and strengthen this feeling, as Hävernick not improbably conceives, that the island, which was the seat and stronghold of the Tyrian state, possessed somewhat of a sacred character, and was regarded as peculiarly connected with the powers above. It is expressly called “the holy island” by Sanconiathon (p. 36, ed. Orelli); and, as already noticed, was so distinguished for the worship of Hercules, that the Tyrian colonies all reverenced it as the mother-city of their religion, not less than the original source of their political existence. And it was only in the spirit of ancient heathenism to conclude that a state, which was considered to stand in so close a connection with the Divine, might be warranted in claiming, through its head, exemption from the common casualties of fortune, and even something like supernatural strength and absolute perpetuity of being.

In the succeeding verses (Ezekiel 28:3-5) the prophet merely follows out, and ironically applies the thought which he had already ascribed to the king of Tyre. Exalting himself as a God, he was of course, in his own imagination, superior in intelligence and sagacity to the wisest of mortals; wiser even than Daniel, who, by special assistance received from Heaven, was known far and wide to have put to shame the renowned wisdom of Chaldea; and so unerring in counsel, so far-reaching in discernment, as to have surrounded the smallest territory with the most extensive commerce and the amplest resources. Not perceiving that this is spoken ironically by the prophet, and for the purpose merely of giving a tongue to the foolish thoughts which swelled the heart of the king of Tyre, that their folly and wickedness might appear to all, the ancient interpreters have given some of the sentences an interrogative turn: Art thou wiser? etc.; and most of the earlier commentators have supposed that the words here, and afterwards in Ezekiel 28:12-14, were not properly ]used of Tyre, but were rather to be understood mystically of Satan. (The views of the Fathers who held this opinion, comprehending those of Origen, Tertullian, Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine, are carefully brought together in Villalpandus, who himself agrees with those who took a middle course, ascribing what was said partly to the prince of Tyre and partly to Satan.) It is not necessary now, however, to defend the plain sense of Scripture from such arbitrary modes of interpretation, which need only to be applied to other portions, to extract from the Bible any doctrine or meaning that the capricious fancies of men might wish to find in it. Even Jerome silently admits as much; for however differently he has expressed himself elsewhere, when he comes to write his commentary on the passage, he understands the whole discourse of the prince of Tyre, though he still could very imperfectly find his way to a correct explanation of the import. Let only the real character of the description be borne in mind, and there will be no difficulty in perceiving its fitting application to the king of Tyre. It belongs to that species of composition common to all languages, and frequently resorted to, especially by those who have to deal with the errors and delusions of men, in which instead of directly disputing the mistaken views they hold, or arguing with the false spirit that actuates them such a graphic representation is given of these as carries its own exposure or refutation along with it. Thus, here, when the prophet has asserted of the king of Tyre that while he was but a man he bore himself as God, and then proceeds to give utterance to the sentiments that necessarily grew out of this absurd and impious pretension, that he was wiser than Daniel, that he could reveal all secrets, that his own intelligence and sagacity had secured for him the possession of all his wealth, this could not fail to convey to every reflecting mind an impression of the thoroughly profane and godless spirit that reigned in the bosom of the king of Tyre, and of his ripeness for the judgment of Heaven. The carcase manifestly was there; now, therefore, must the eagles be gathered together.

Verses 6-10

Ezekiel 28:6 . Therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because thou hast set thine heart as the heart of God,

Ezekiel 28:7 . Therefore, behold, I bring upon thee strangers, the terrible of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of thy wisdom, and pierce through thy splendour:

Ezekiel 28:8 . To the pit shall they bring thee down, and thou shalt die the deaths (Why deaths here, and in Ezekiel 28:10, and not rather death? Because, say some, various kinds of death are referred to; or, because the abstract idea (as made up of the several particulars) is thus denoted when raised to its highest form. No, says Häv., “the plural is only used of death when several persons are spoken of.” This is not so clear. Isaiah 53:9 is not quite easily explained on that principle. And certainly the apostle Paul, whose style of thought was quite Hebraistic, used the plural in reference to different kinds, when he says, “in deaths oft.” ) of the pierced-through in the midst of the seas.

Ezekiel 28:9 . Wilt thou indeed say, I am God, in the presence of him that slays thee? and thou art man (that is, thou art assuredly man), and not God, in the land of him that pierces thee through. 10. The deaths of the uncircumcised thou shalt die by the hand of strangers: for I have spoken, saith the Lord Jehovah.

The judgment to be executed on the king of Tyre was thus to be exactly adapted to his guilt; it was to be such as would force on him the conviction that he had not the might and wisdom of God at his command, but, like other frail and erring mortals, was liable to be overcome and brought to destruction. This judgment, it is simply declared, was going to be executed by the hand of strangers, the terrible ones of the nations an epithet elsewhere given to the Chaldeans (Ezekiel 30:11, Ezekiel 31:12); though there is no necessity here for absolutely confining it to them. Here it only intimates that terrible instruments of vengeance should be provided, fit for executing the Divine purpose of retribution; so that destruction would surely come in its appointed time the death, as of persons given up to the slaughter, or as of the uncircumcised, who had no interest in the covenant of Heaven, and were doomed to perish.

The delineation we have considered, first of the high presumption and peerless glory of the king of Tyre, and then of his Divine chastisement and utter ruin, is followed by another in which precisely the same topics are again handled, and in the same order. The representation, however, at the beginning, of the king’s greatness and glory, while it is drawn in the same ironical vein as in the former case, is cast in an entirely different mould, and is intended to exhibit this proud monarch as a kind of normal or primeval man, the type of humanity in its best and most divine-like form; but only for the purpose of showing how incapable he was of bearing the glory, and how necessary it was that he should be visited with Divine chastisement, and brought to final ruin. The passage is not without its difficulties; but these have often been greatly aggravated by not perceiving the exact point of view from which the delineation is drawn; and hence, from the LXX. downwards, all manner of liberties have been taken with the original.

Verses 11-19

Ezekiel 28:11 . And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 28:12 . Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Thou sealest completeness, (Literally, according to the present text and punctuation, which I take to be correct, “Thou art the one sealing exactness.” For חוֹתֵם is the participle, and consequently means obsignans, sealing, the person sealing. Instead of תָּכְנִית , all the ancients appear to have read תָּבְנִית , as they give the sense of similitude or resemblance, and many moderns still prefer this to the received text. But this, of course, necessitates the further change of חוֹתָם for חוֹתֵם , seal for sealing; and is to be rejected as arbitrary. The noun is from הָּכַן , to weigh, to measure exactly, to level, etc.; hence applicable to any thing that is of an exact or perfect nature. In chap, 43:10, the prophet uses it of the complete or perfect pattern he had exhibited of the temple; and here more generally, of what is every way exact or complete. To say of the king of Tyre that he sealed up this, was, in other words, to declare him every way complete: he gave, as it were, the finishing stroke, the seal, to all that constitutes completeness; or, as we would now say it, he was a normal man one formed after rule and pattern. Hence it is immediately explained by what follows: “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty;” in this stood his sealing completeness. Thus, without any alteration in the text, or even in the punctuation, we get a much more suitable meaning than can be obtained even by conjectural emendations. Take, for example, Hitzig’s: “Thou art a curiously wrought seal-ring,” a seal-ring full of wisdom. No wonder that, with such a commencement, he should have had to resort to many other alterations, and should have held the whole passage to be very corrupt.) full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.

Ezekiel 28:13 . In Eden, the garden of God, thou wast; every precious stone was thy covering, the ruby, the topaz, and the diamond, the chrysolite, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the carbuncle, and the emerald, and gold; (The representation of the king of Tyre as the normal or perfect man, not unnaturally led the prophet back to the garden of Eden, where the man that really was such had his abode; and so he ironically represents this assumed pattern of perfection as having his local habitation there, in the normal land just as afterwards (Ezekiel 31:8-9; Ezekiel 36:35) the garden of Eden is variously employed by him as the region of ideal beauty and perfection. But occupying such a blessed region, all objects of natural preciousness and beauty of course lay at the king’s command; and as we are told in Genesis (chap. 2.) of the gold and the jewels with which that land originally abounded, so here the prophet speaks of them as forming the very apparel of the king. How much also Oriental monarchs are in the habit of bespangling and almost literally covering themselves with such things, is well known. A notion very early prevailed, that the precious stones here mentioned were those of the high-priest’s breastplate; and on that account, it is supposed, the LXX. translator made up their number to twelve. Even still Ewald and Hitzig think that respect was had to those sacred gems in this enumeration, and the former even regards the mention of them here as connected with an instrument of oracular wisdom and purposes of divination. The idea in any form is entirely gratuitous and out of place. The rendering of the names for the different jewels is what is now generally adopted. We deem it needless to enter into details.) the service of thy tambourines and of thy females were prepared with thee in the day when thou wast created. (Endless changes and arbitrary meanings have been resorted to from the earliest times, to lighten the difficulty of this last clause of Ezekiel 28:13. I adhere to the received text, and the most natural meanings. תֻפִּים has no other signification in Scripture than tambourines, or kettle-drums, an instrument of music in frequent use among the Orientals, and commonly played on by women. נְקָבִים , on the other hand, is never found of a musical instrument, such as pipes, the rendering adopted by our translators and, many others. Indeed, as a plural word it never occurs at all; and the only single word which can be thought of is נְקֵבָה , female. Elsewhere, however, it is used only to denote the female sex, not precisely women; and there is besides the anomaly of a masculine instead of a feminine termination. Yet this is not without a parallel, as appears from such examples as נשים , women, and on the other side, אבות , fathers, the first with a masculine, the other with a feminine termination. I think, therefore, with Hävernick, that the objects denoted here are the musical instruments, tambourines, and the women who played on them; and that this peculiar word נְקֵבָה , female, rather than any other, was used, because of the reference, which the passage bears to Genesis 1:27, “Male and female created he them.” Tambourines, and female musicians to play on them, were provided for this king of Tyre on the day of his creation; that is, from the very first, from the period of his being a king, he was surrounded with the customary pleasures, as well as the peculiar treasure, of kings. The royal house of Tyre (for it is of this at large that the discourse must be understood) had not, like many others, to work its way with difficulty and through arduous struggles, but started at once into the full possession of royal power and splendour; no sooner formed than, like Adam, surrounded with fitting attendants and paradisiacal delights. So already Michaelis: “All things poured in around thee which could minister to thy necessities, thy comfort, or even thy pleasure, as they did formerly to Adam in the garden of Eden, which God granted to him.”)

14. Thou art the cherub of anointing (an anointed or consecrated cherub) that overshadows; and I did set thee so; upon the holy mount of God thou wert, and thou didst walk among stones of fire. (Here, again, a great many expedients have been resorted to, both in the way of textual alterations, and extraordinary meanings. The chief verbal difficulty hangs on מִמְשַּׁח , which nowhere else occurs; and the Vulgate rendering of extentus (the LXX. omits it altogether) has led to the supposition that it was derived from some Aramaic root, signifying to extend. But there is no solid ground for this, though it has the authority of Gesenius. The Chaldaic version gives the sense of anointing, taking it as a derivative from מָשַׁח in its usual meaning. And one does not see why there might not be מָשַׁח , anointing, from מָשַׁח , as well as מִמְכָּר , sale, from מָכַר , or מִמְשַׁל , government, from מָשַׁח . Indeed, in this very chapter, in Ezekiel 28:24, we have a verbal adjective formed in precisely the same way, מַמְאִיר from hiphil of מָאַר , bitter or painful, from to make bitter. Cherub of anointing would thus make substantially the same sense as the anointed cherub, כְּרוּב חַמַּשְׁחִית ; the cherub that is consecrated to the Lord by the anointing oil. In regard to the next difficulty in the passage, which respects “the holy mountain of God on which he was,” Hävernick says, it would indeed be a wonderful representation, if the prophet described the king of Tyre as having been placed on Mount Sion, and he therefore renders a holy God’s mount, on which he was raised aloft, as a being of a higher nature, as one of those hill-gods, whom the Syrians worshipped (1 Kings 20:23). But the holy hill of God can only be understood of a mount which has been consecrated by peculiar manifestations of Godhead therefore, either Mount Sinai, or Mount Sion, which is elsewhere named” the holy hill of God.” And if the king of Tyre could be placed in God’s garden, surely he might also be placed on God’s hill. The objection proceeds on a misapprehension of the nature of the representation. Hävernick is no happier in regard to the next expression, the stones of fire, amid which the king is said to have walked. He considers it to have respect to the worship of the Tyrian Hercules as the fire-god, and to the two pillars in his temple, the one of gold, the other of emerald, which were kept shining by night. But as Hitzig justly remarks, these were not stones, but pillars, and only one of them of stone, and even that not fiery, though resplendent. Besides, what a confusion would it make to throw together in one sentence God’s holy mount and any emblems of fire-worship in the city of Tyre! The reference seems to be to the description in Exodus 24:0, where Moses and the elders of Israel are said to have gone up to the mount to meet God, and to see “under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire-stone,” while “the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount.” It is just another mode of expressing the peculiar nearness of the King of Tyre to God: he was on God’s holy mount, where he trod, as it were, the very stones that are beneath the feet of God stones of fire; for all is fire where God has his dwelling.)

15. Perfect wert thou in thy ways from the day of thy creation until iniquity was found in thee.

Ezekiel 28:16 . By the greatness of thy traffic they have filled thy midst with violence, and thou hast sinned; and I profane thee from the mount of God (i.e. cast thee from it as a polluted thing), and I destroy thee, thou cherub that overshadowest from the midst of the stones of fire. (This 16th verse also contains several difficulties; at least what have been regarded as such. The clause, “they have filled thy midst with violence,” which beyond all question is the literal rendering of the text, has been thought to give an unsuitable meaning one applicable rather to the city as a whole than personally to the king and hence supposed corruptions in the text, and also violent renderings. We refer only to Hävernick’s, who abides by the existing text, but forces it into a meaning strictly applicable to the king; therefore תָּוֶכְ must denote middle in the physical sense of venter, belly, or the body with respect to its middle part; and the plural verb must be explained by a peculiar construction, according to which an active is sometimes substituted in the place of a passive, even where it is not quite suitable; thus the sense is obtained, “they have filled thy body,” for “thou art filled as to thy body, with violence.” It is not sense after all. If it had been lust, or wickedness generally, that was represented as filling him, one could have made something of such an interpretation. And so, indeed, Hävernick shoves in frevei, wickedness, instead of violence, when he comes to give the general import, but without any right to do so. The Vulgate long ago gave substantially the same rendering: in multitudine negotiationis tuæ repleta sunt interiora tua iniquitate. But besides, no example can be produced of תָּוֶךְ ever signifying either the inward parts of a man or his body in general; though used with great frequency, it is always in the sense of midst the middle of a great city, a people, or such like. Therefore I adopt, as the only natural rendering,” they have filled thy midst with violence;” which undoubtedly has respect to the city, but not, it must be remembered, without at the same time implicating the king. He, as head of the state, is to a certain extent identified with the whole of it; and he is evidently viewed in that light here. For when the prophet says, “by the greatness of thy traffic,” he plainly includes the state along with the king; and when he says further, that through this “his midst was filled with violence,” what does it indicate but that he had not ruled as he should have done, for righteousness? He had become the head of a state that was filled with violence; and so it is immediately added, “and thou hast sinned.” Thou hast not restrained the iniquity that prevails around thee; so far from it, thou art thyself also a transgressor. Thus understood, there is quite a natural meaning, and a regular progression of thought. It is admitted on all hands that the מָלוּ of the received text is for מָלְאוּ (which also stands in many codices), as מָלֵתִי for מָלֵאתִי in Job 32:18. The expression, “and I profane thee from the mount of God,” is quite similar to, “thou hast profaned his crown to the ground,” in Psalms 89:39. In both cases it is a pregnant construction, and means that the person was dealt with as no longer sacred but profane, and as such was driven from the position of honour he had hitherto held to a despicable place.)

17. Thy heart hast been lifted up through thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom together with thy splendour; I throw thee down to the earth, I lay thee before kings, that they may look upon thee. 18. Through the multitude of thine iniquities, by the dishonesty of thy traffic, thou hast profaned thy sanctuaries; (The sanctuaries which the king of Tyre is charged with having profaned, are to be understood of the sacred places with which the prophet had in the preceding verses associated him, viz. the holy mount of God, and the garden of God. It is his ideal position there, not his actual position in the city of Tyre, that is meant; for the latter could in no proper sense be called his sanctuary, still less, in the plural, his sanctuaries. And the fire, that is presently afterwards represented as going out of his midst and reducing him to ashes so different as an instrument of destruction from the violent hands of strangers shortly before mentioned was doubtless suggested by the stones of fire amid which in those ideal sanctuaries he had his abode. So far from finding it a good thing for him to have dwelt there, now that he had sinned, there would proceed thence, as it were, a consuming fire against him; his very elevation, having been abused, carried with it the element of his destruction.) and I make fire to go out from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will turn thee into ashes upon the earth before all that see thee.

Ezekiel 28:19 . All that know thee among the peoples shall be astonished at thee; thou shalt be ruins, and shalt be no more for ever.

It is clear from the very commencement of this singular passage, from the mention made here of the garden of Eden, that the representation contained in it is of an ideal character; that it is, in short, an historical parable. The kings of Tyre are first personified as one individual an ideal man, and one complete in all natural excellence, perfect manhood. Not unnaturally so, since Tyre having sprung from a barren rock, and grown till she had become the mistress of the world’s commerce, was a kind of new creation in the earth as a state the most singular product in existence of human energy and enterprising skill. Therefore this ideal man, the representative of whatever there was of greatness and glory in Tyre, and in whom, consequently, the Tyrian spirit of self-elation and pride appear in full efflorescence, is ironically viewed by the prophet as the type of humanity in its highest states of existence upon earth. All that is best and noblest in the history of the past he sees, in imagination, meeting in this so-called beau-ideal of humanity. It was he who in primeval time trod the hallowed walks of paradise, and used at will its manifold treasures, and regaled himself with its corporeal delights. It was he who afterwards assumed the form of a cherub ideal compound of the highest kinds of animal existence type of humanity in its predestined state of ultimate completeness and glory; and as such, had a place assigned him among the consecrated symbols of God’s sanctuary in the holy mount, where, in the immediate presence of the Most High, he overshadowed the mercy-seat. Thus occupying the highest spheres of created life, and familiar even with the sight of the Divine glory, he knew what it was to dwell amidst the consuming fire, and to walk as on burning stones of sapphire. Whatever humanity has had, or has been typified to have, of dignity and honour in the past history of God’s administration, it has been thine to possess. So thou thinkest, thou ideal man, thou concentration of human excellence, thou quintessence of human greatness and pride. Thou thinkest that manhood’s divinest qualities, and most honourable conditions of being, belong peculiarly to thyself, since thou dost nobly peer above all and standest alone in thy glory. Let it be so. But thou art still a man, and, like humanity itself in its most favoured conditions, thou hast not been perfect before God, thou hast yielded thyself a servant to corruption. With creaturely waywardness and inconstancy thou hast gone astray on thy high places, and hast abused to the gratification of thine own lust and vanity the ample gifts and resources which should have been all employed in subservience to the will and glory of God. Therefore thou must be cast down from thy proud elevation; thou must lose thy cherubic nearness to God; the sacred and blissful haunts which thou hast defiled with thy abominations shall no longer know thee; and thou shalt henceforth be a monument to all of forfeited honours, abused privileges, and hopeless ruin.

Such we take to be the style and import of this vision. It is one of the most highly figurative representations in prophecy, and is only to be compared with Isaiah’s lamentation (in Isaiah 14:1.) over the downfall of the king of Babylon. It characteristically differs from this, however, in that while it moves with equal boldness and freedom in an ideal world, it clothes the ideal according to the usage of our prophet in an historical drapery, and beholds the past revived again in the personified existence of which it treats. But it is no wild play of fancy, or arbitrary indulgence of a lawless imagination. A sublime moral runs through the parable. It reads over again the great lesson of man’s weakness and degeneracy, and shows how inevitably the good, when unaccompanied by a really Divine element, turns in him to corruption and ruin. In the royal head of the state of Tyre a new trial was made of humanity with the greatest earthly advantages, he being endowed with the amplest resources of wealth and art, and placed on the loftiest pinnacle of the world’s wisdom and prosperity. But all in vain. The good only served, as in other cases, to feed the well-spring of human depravity; and the day of retribution could not fail to come with its recompenses of evil, and God’s justice be as conspicuously displayed in the overthrow of Tyre as his goodness had been in her singular rise and prosperity. So that the cry which the prophet would utter through this parabolical history in the ears of all is, that man in his best estate with everything that art or nature can bring to his aid is still corruption and vanity. The flesh can win nothing for itself that is really and permanently good. It carries in its bosom a principle of self-destruction, and the more that it can surround itself with the comforts and luxuries of life, the more does it pamper the godless pride of nature, and draw down upon itself calamity and destruction. Therefore “let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercises loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”

Verses 20-26

CHAPTER 28:20-26.


WE have already remarked, in the introduction to this series of prophecies, that Sidon was not so properly an independent state, as rather an integral portion of the great maritime power of which Tyre was the centre. Hence in the description given by the prophet in Ezekiel 27:0 of the resources of Tyre, Sidon is mentioned as contributing of her mariners to man the Tyrian vessels. Though thus, however, politically merged in Tyre, Sidon had possessed a religious connection with the covenant-people, which does not appear to have extended to Tyre, and which furnished an historical reason for the separate mention of Sidon, in addition to the circumstance of its being necessary to complete the number seven. Whether it arose from Sidon being the elder city, or from her citizens having more frequent intercourse with the Israelites, or, finally, from the character of the religion prevalent in Sidon being of a more seductive and infectious character, the fact is certain, that a corrupting influence flowed in upon Israel from Sidon such as is never mentioned in connection with Tyre. So early as the time of the Judges, the gods of Sidon are named among the false deities that had acquired an ascendency over the children of Israel (Judges 10:6). In the days of Solomon, the worship of Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, was again openly practised (1 Kings 11:33). And that this influence never became wholly extinct, and continued even to the times of the prophet, is evident from the scene described in Ezekiel 8:0, of women sitting in the attitude of mourners, and weeping for Tarnmuz. This was undoubtedly an importation from the territory of Sidon, where the Tammuz or Adonis-worship had its origin. And that the circumstance now referred to was not without its weight in determining the prophet to give a separate place to Sidon, may be certainly inferred, not only from the strongly historical bias of the prophet’s mind, but also from the express mention at the close, of the freedom that was to be acquired for Israel, by the overthrow of such neighbours as the Sidonians, from the corrupting influences that had vexed and troubled them in times past.

The prophecy itself against Sidon is of the most general description:

Ezekiel 28:20 . And the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

Ezekiel 28:21 . Son of man, set thy face toward Sidon, and prophecy against it; and say,

Ezekiel 28:22 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold I am against thee, Sidon, and shall be glorified in the midst of thee: and they shall know that I am Jehovah, when I shall have executed judgments in her, and shall he sanctified in her.

Ezekiel 28:23 . And I will send against her pestilence, and blood shall be in her streets, and the slain shall be judged in her midst by the sword against her from every side; and they shall know that I am Jehovah.

It was the less necessary to enter here into particulars, as from the nature of Sidon’s relation to Tyre it would naturally be understood that the fortunes of the larger city must be shared in by the less. If Tyre was to fall before the adverse influences that were to assail her, and become a scene of desolation, much more should Sidon, which had far inferior resources to meet the danger. It passed through many a siege, and consequently suffered many successive blows; and though it has never altogether ceased to be an inhabited place, it has possessed for ages nothing of the relative greatness and importance which belonged to it in the time of Ezekiel. God has indeed been sanctified in her by means of the humiliating reverses she has been made to undergo.

And now the prophet turns from these scenes of desolation to the prospect of better days to come for the covenant-people, to whom the downfall of these neighbouring heathen powers betokened good, as it indicated the purpose of God to rid them of what had hitherto vexed and troubled their condition.

Ezekiel 28:24 . And there shall not be any more to the house of Israel a vexing brier (The only verbal peculiarity in the passage, is in the epithet here applied to brier, מָמְאִיר . Gesenius derives it from מָאַר taken as synonymous with מָרַר , to be bitter; hence the word here, anything causing bitterness, vexing. מַמְאֶרֶת is applied to the leprosy, when found to be fixed and settled (Leviticus 13:51-52), where our translators have rendered it fretting. The ancient versions, Vulgate, Syriac, express the sense of bitterness in the passage before us; the noun evidently requires something of that sort.) and a grieving thorn of all that are round about them, that despise them; and they shall know that I am the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 28:25 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because I will gather the house of Israel from the peoples whither they are scattered, and I shall be sanctified in them in the eyes of the nations, and they shall sit down upon the land which I gave to my servant Jacob;

Ezekiel 28:26 . And they shall dwell upon it securely, and build houses, and plant vineyards, and dwell securely, since I execute judgments upon all that hate them round about them; and they shall know that I am Jehovah their God.

This concluding part of the prophecy evidently has respect to what was said by Moses, in Numbers 33:55, regarding such of the original inhabitants of Canaan as the Israelites in their unfaithfulness might fail to drive out: “They shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein you dwell.” Such in sad experience they found to be the case, and in regard to the Sidonians not less than others. The territory of Sidon lay within the bounds of the tribe of Asher; and it is expressly recorded that this tribe could not dispossess the inhabitants of Sidon (Judges 1:31). A peaceful relation in process of time sprung up between the Sidonians and their Israelitish neighbours; but this only opened the way, as we have seen, to a more pernicious and destructive influence than the open assaults of war. In leading them to depart from the pure worship of Jehovah, by the introduction of the foul rites of Ashtoreth and Adonis, the Sidonians proved in the worst sense thorns in the side of the covenant-people. But the result of those judgments which God was now going to execute should be to put an end to these vexatious and perverting influences. What the people themselves had failed to do, on account of their unfaithfulness to the covenant, the faithful Jehovah would accomplish by the execution of his judgments; he would extirpate these annoying briers and thorns, and allow the people to enjoy in undisturbed freedom and repose the heritage he had given in covenant to their father Jacob.

The latter part of the prediction, which foretells a future period of peace and security to Israel, is a promise of coming good thrown into the form of the past a prophecy cast in the mould of history. That the good would be realized to the full extent promised, we must certainly hold; but not, therefore, that it would be realized to the full in the precise form here adopted. For if our past investigations into the meaning of this prophet have taught us anything, it is that we must know how to distinguish between the form and the reality. Even the immediately preceding vision respecting the king of Tyre is remarkable for nothing so much as the tendency displayed in it to use the historical as the merely ideal form of the thoughts and feelings sought to be conveyed by the prophet. In the earlier part of it a completely ideal representation is given us, though under the form of history, of the pre-eminent greatness and glory of the king of Tyre; while in the latter part the form is changed, and is neither so boldly figurative nor is it thrown into the historical type. How far, therefore, in this concluding prophecy regarding Israel the historical form should be regarded, cannot be pronounced on with absolute certainty from the words themselves, but must be gathered from the course of Divine providence. The positive element in the promise that which must be found in history, otherwise the word fails is, that God’s future dealings with his covenant-people should be such as to rid them from the annoyance and the danger to which in past times they had been exposed from the worldly greatness and the idolatrous spirit of their immediate neighbours; so that they should enjoy the peculiar blessing of the covenant in comparative peace and security. And doubtless the Lord might fulfil this promise, while all the ancient relations were allowed to stand Israel restored to their proper territory, and the surrounding nations either entirely driven from their possessions, or so completely changed in their feelings toward Israel, and so reduced in outward circumstances, as to be no longer snares to Israel’s peace and prosperity. To a very considerable extent this was the case. Such of the people as afterwards returned from their dispersions, and settled in the land of Canaan, had comparatively few struggles with their old neighbours, either as political or religious adversaries. Those neighbours had themselves become too broken and enfeebled by the reverses they experienced to exert religiously the deleterious influence, or politically to inflict the evils which in their former flourishing condition they were quite able to produce. And though for a period there were trials and contests which Israel was obliged to maintain with them, yet these proved only occasional interruptions to the general peace; and for generations before the coming of our Lord it might justly be said, that Israel had no longer a thorn or a brier to plague them in their immediate neighbours. In a religious point of view which is the one here chiefly meant the Jews were even enabled to make reprisals upon the heathen; and it was not so much the worship of Jehovah that had to be afraid of the corrupting influence of heathenism, as rather the religions of heathenism that were endangered by the knowledge and worship of Jehovah. For instead of melting away, as of old, under the pernicious agency of surrounding idolatries and corruptions, Judaism could number its converts out of all lands, rescued from the crumbling superstitions of heathendom.

It thus appears that even in regard to the historical form of this prediction, it received a very striking and wonderful degree of fulfilment ages after he who uttered it had slept with his fathers. The Lord did bring back Israel to their own land, and by reason of the judgments he executed upon those who in past ages had troubled and vexed them, they were permitted to dwell in comparative peace, and even attained to a place of relative strength and moral ascendancy. But the prophecy should not be limited to that temporary and partial fulfilment. We see its full extent and compass of meaning only when, looking through the historical drapery and the shell of ancient relations, we contemplate Israel rising in Christ and the Church of the New Testament to be the head and centre of all that is great, permanent, and good in the world, before which everything that is adverse must fall. The heritage of Jacob is now no longer the narrow stripe of territory which was given to the seed of blessing as a temporary type and earnest, but the whole ransomed earth, which to its uttermost bounds is the destined possession of Christ and his Israel offspring. Till this great consummation is reached, the prophecy still waits for its full realization. And believing that it shall be realized, that it is the purpose of God to humble and destroy every adverse power, and exalt the saints with Christ to possess the kingdom, let the Church of God ply with every means at her command the blessed work of the world’s regeneration, and “bate not a jot in heart or hope” on account of the evil influences against her. Since it is the cause of truth and righteousness for which she contends, the victory cannot fail to be ultimately on her side.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 28". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-28.html.
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