It is dangerous to read the Bible. I mean the whole Bible cover to cover. It may not live up to your expectations. Of course, if we take Scripture seriously, we should read and consider the whole rather than focus on favored passages. Because I’ve committed to reading (or listening) to the whole thing, I’ve happened upon passages that challenge preconceptions and introduce new ideas. One of these is found in the lament against the king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 (vv.11-19).
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
The king of Tyre is described by the sovereign Lord as blameless in the garden of Eden until he fell. What are we to make of this? The entire passage is quoted at the end of this post.
Ezekiel was a priest from Jerusalem, taken to Babylon in the first wave of exile. He wrote from the banks of the Kebar river in Babylon, 1:1). His visions are impressive. This is one of a number of prophecies against various peoples and rulers. Generally they are among the passages that seem less important. With the exception of a few lasting images (e.g. wheels within wheels and a valley of dry bones) the book of Ezekiel is not often the subject of sermons, or even of bible studies. It contains some fairly graphic sexual imagery in describing the failures of Judah, fantastic apocalyptic imagery, the repeated notion that the righteous can fall away and the wicked can turn to God with a change in final status, a massive rebuilt temple at the end of the book. There are echoes of some of these themes in the New Testament, especially in Revelation. It would seem that any interpretation of The Apocalypse of John that doesn’t take into account the Jewish context, including the book of Ezekiel, will probably miss some important points.
Ezekiel is admittedly a hard book to understand. Daniel Bodi in Ezekiel & Daniel (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary) comments that “Calvin never finished his commentary on Ezekiel and Luther put forth no major effort toward its interpretation.” (p. 403, I have the hard cover edition that includes the prophets from Isaiah to Daniel and page numbers are from this version.)
The king = Satan? According to the word of the Lord in this passage the king of Tyre was in Eden, the garden of God. Clearly this is a problem for any kind of literal interpretation of the passage. Some commentators (only a few) have assumed that the passage must be referring to Satan. After all, the garden was a real place some 3500 years earlier. The only “persons” in the garden were Adam, Eve, and Satan. It isn’t reasonable to assume the passage refers to Adam, therefore it must reference the fall of Satan. Ezekiel 28 along with a passage in Isaiah 14 “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” are the primary references for this idea. It is highly unlikely that this is an appropriate interpretation of either passage, and it is a particularly strained interpretation of Ezekiel 28.