A STUDY OF EZEKIEL 28
The Origin of Satan?
Article description: Ezekiel 28:1-19 is a fascinating
study of the prophetic promise of the fall of ancient Tyre.
Unfortunately, this segment of scripture has become the
seed-bed of two ideas that have no merit in the sacred
text, namely the “fall of Satan” in Eden, or else the “rise
of the Anti-Christ” near the end of the current historical
era. Study this context with us.
Does Ezekiel 28:11-19 have
reference to the “fall of Satan”? Is it a preview of
the so-called Anti-Christ? If not, to what does it refer?
In point of fact, this segment
of Ezekiel’s prophecy has reference neither to a “fall
of Satan,” nor to the alleged rise of a sinister “Anti-Christ” near
the conclusion of the present age—though these ideas have
become popular among some evangelical writers.
Merrill Unger was a respectable
scholar, but one who ventured far afield in this instance.
In his book on demonology, he argued that this segment
of Ezekiel’s work spoke of the ancient fall of Satan (p.
15; cf. Coffman, 285ff). Similarly, C.H. Pember, in his
book Earth’s Earliest Ages, contended for this view
in his defense of the “gap theory,” which was an effort
to harmonize the Genesis record with secular geology.
There is a popular theory among
certain dispensationalists who contend that the imagery
of this segment of Ezekiel’s document previews the “Anti-Christ” (Lindsey
and Carlson, pp. 41-50).
However, as Ellison observed: “Those
who implicitly hold [such views] have generally little
idea of how unknown [these notions are] in wider Christian
circles, or of how little basis there is for [these theories]
in fact” (p. 108).
There is an important principle
of Bible interpretation that must be emphasized at the
commencement of this discussion.
When there is an inspired narrative
that contains a significant portion of symbolism (as several
biblical books do), and there is no specific historical
connection within the immediate context, the conscientious
Bible student must seek to determine, on the basis of a
broader context, what the background of the text may be.
He is not at liberty to extract, from his own imagination,
an “interpretation” that is wholly alien to the historical
text, or that stands in contradiction to information found
elsewhere in the sacred volume.
On the other hand, when the
context specifically identifies the thrust of the
symbolism, the issue is settled. And it is nothing short
of exegetical criminality to substitute one’s personal “expository
agenda” for that which the inspired author has stated explicitly.
The issue pertaining to this
segment of scripture, therefore, is this: what historical
significance has the prophet Ezekiel assigned to the
“Moreover the word of Jehovah
came unto me, saying, son of man, take up a lamentation over
the king of Tyre, and say unto him, Thus says the Lord
Jehovah?” (28:11-12; emp. added).
Could a text be clearer?
Admittedly, the narrative that
follows contains messages that are couched in symbolic jargon.
This is common in biblical literature. Furthermore, it
is clear that in the prophet’s presentation, some figures
of speech have been borrowed from the early chapters of
Genesis to help illustrate the instruction. Unfortunately
this has become the point of confusion for many. Nonetheless,
the sacred declaration as to the historical meaning of
the text must be the prevailing guideline of interpretation.
First, God’s prophet is charged
to utter a curse against the “king of Tyre” (one of the
principal cities of Phoenicia, a pagan city bordering Canaan
to the northwest). The heathen ruler has exalted himself
to the status of “a god,” and manifests his arrogance in
a seemingly unrestrained fashion, amidst the riches he
has amassed (vv. 2-6).
Second, the eventual doom of
the prince of Tyre is pronounced. Jehovah will bring “strangers” against
this egotistical regime, and the beauty of the prince’s
alleged wisdom, together with the brightness of his feigned
glory, will fade into oblivion. He will be killed and buried;
no more will he be able to claim, “I am God.”
The tool in Jehovah’s hand
to be used in this downfall will not be the Jews
(circumcised), but “strangers” (uncircumcised). The Lord
can use even heathen forces to providentially accomplish
his will (vv. 7-10).
It is not unusual in Bible
literature to accompany a divine judgment with a “funeral” dirge
that echoes the predictions of sacred justice upon evil.
See, for example, the lyrics of the book of Lamentations
that accompany Jeremiah’s prophecies of the impending destruction
of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, as well as Ezekiel’s lamentation
over Tyre in chapter 27 of the present document.
Thus, verses 12-19 constitute
a “funeral lament” over the fallen “king of Tyre” (v. 12).
It is paramount that the Bible student keep in view this
point. This discussion is not regarding Satan; rather,
it is about a human king over a material city. To ignore
this fact is to be guilty of the coarsest form of textual
It is not our purpose in this
brief discussion to attempt an explanation of every difficult
and shrouded expression in the following narrative. There
is disagreement among respectable scholars as to the precise
significance of these various phrases. Whatever they signify,
however, such must be compatible with the historical flow
of the record. Here are some facts that are most apparent.
- The king of Tyre had been appointed by Jehovah
to his place of authority (v. 14). God is the ruler
of all nations (Psalm 22:28), and he places the dignitaries
in power, and he likewise removes them—according
to their character (Daniel 2:21; 4:17; cf. Proverbs
glowing imagery, the ruler’s initial administration is
described as analogous to “Eden,” the very “garden of God.” The
illustrious regime is graphically portrayed with dazzling
precious stones (v. 13).
- But the king’s power and riches corrupted him;
unrighteousness consumed him. He became violent and egotistical.
The Sovereign of the earth thus declared his impending
doom, “I have cast you as profane out of the mountain
of God” (vv. 15-17). The verb is a prophetic perfect.
That which is certain to happen is spoken of as
if it were accomplished already (Block, p. 116).
fact that the Lord employed the “creation” motif (e.g.,
the fall of humanity) to convey these ideas should not
be confused with the basic thrust of the message. There
was some parallelism between the fall of man, and the apostasy
of this human ruler.
- The punishment to be inflicted upon the pagan
ruler would be devastating. The city of Tyre would
be overthrown and turned into ashes (v. 18). The
destruction would be complete and final, striking
a note of terror in the hearts of those familiar
with the events
(v. 19). “The idea of the city, of the spirit and activity
of which the king is the embodiment, tend more and more
to take the place of the idea of the king” (Davidson,
p. 208; cf. v. 19 with 27:36).
Did Ezekiel’s prophecies ever
come to fruition? Liberal critics allege they never did;
the prophet was simply wrong. Others contend that the predictions
were never precisely fulfilled, but that this could be
explained upon the basis that the citizens of the city
of Tyre repented (as in the case of Nineveh – Jonah 3:10),
though they acknowledge no such repentance is recorded
Some scholars believe that
the pronounced judgments were accomplished by the invasion
of Nebuchadnezzar (cf. 26:7). Others maintain that the ultimate fulfillment
came with the devastation wrought by Alexander the Great—and
even other invasions that came centuries later (cf. 26:3).
I believe this latter view has the greater weight of evidence.
The fulfillment of Ezekiel’s
prophecies with reference to Tyre is a stunning chapter
in ancient history (cf. 26:1-28:19).
Tyre became the leading city
of Phoenicia. The city was located in the plain of Tyre,
a small region about fifteen miles long from north to south,
and about two miles deep (at most) inland, on the northwestern
Mediterranean coast adjacent to Canaan. Actually, Tyre
was two communities—one was on the coast, another on an
island about a half-mile off the coast.
About a thousand years before
Christ, a Phoenician ruler named Hiram (the Great) fortified
the two small islands just off the Mediterranean coast.
He connected the two bodies, built harbors at the north
and south, reclaimed some territory from the sea on the
east, and constructed a wall some 150 feet high on the
mainland side. It was a strong fortress, about two and
a half miles in circumference (about 150 acres).
Though Tyre paid tribute to
Assyria at times, and was assaulted by Assyrian forces
on occasion, she always seemed to be resilient. In 605
B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon marched into Palestine
and took captive the Phoenician city states, though these
communities were still allowed substantial independence
with their own rulers, though required to pay tribute to
Babylon. At this time Jerusalem also was attacked, and
a number of Jews were taken to Babylon (cf. Daniel 1:1-3).
Subsequent uprisings brought
Nebuchadnezzar back to Palestine. In 597 B.C. he assaulted
Jerusalem again and took more hostages to Babylon, including
Ezekiel. An Egyptian/Judean revolt prompted the Babylonian
ruler to return to Canaan again in 586 B.C. This time he
destroyed the temple, burned the city, and took more captives
The Babylonian king subsequently
directed his attention to Phoenicia. He took Sidon and
began an assault upon Tyre. For thirteen years (585-572
B.C.) he besieged the coastal city. He was able to destroy
mainland Tyre, but because he lacked a navy, he could not
conquer the island portion of the community (see Ezekiel
The Lord was not through with
haughty Tyre, however.
In 334 B.C. Alexander the Great
commenced his ambitious project of conquering the Persian
Empire. He subjugated Syria and then turned southward,
down the Mediterranean coast. Sidon and some of the other
coastal cities meekly submitted to the Greek warrior. Tyre,
however, refused to capitulate and dug in. Their hope of
victory was grounded in the fact that the island-city was
well fortified and Alexander had no navy.
Not to be out-maneuvered, Alexander
decided to build a road-bridge from the mainland to the
island, a half-mile away. Dredging up the ruins of old,
mainland Tyre, he constructed a causeway, some 200 hundred
feet wide. This would accommodate his war machines to be
used in battering down the eastern wall protecting the
Likely the conquest would not
have been achieved strictly by foot soldiers. But Alexander
was able to secure ships from Sidon, Cyprus, and some of
his Greek allies. Thus, attacking from the east by land,
and the west by sea, the brilliant young Greek commander
finally took Tyre. He achieved in seven months what Nebuchadnezzar
was unable to accomplish in thirteen years. It is reported
that 8,000 Tyrians were killed in the assault, another
2,000 subsequently executed (by crucifixion on the beach),
and 30,000 were sold into slavery (Fleming, p. 64; Usher,
pp. 223-226). Alexander lost only some 400 men.
The island city does not exist
today. Apparently it “sank below the surface of the Mediterranean,
in the same subsidence that submerged the port of Caesarea
that Herod had built up with such expense and care. All
that remains of it is a series of black reefs offshore
from Tyre, which surely could not have been there in the
first and second millennia B.C., since they pose such a
threat to navigation. The promontory that now juts out
from the coastline probably was washed up along the barrier
of Alexander’s causeway, but the island itself broke off
and sank away when the subsidence took place…” (Archer,
While there appears to have
been some revival of the area in subsequent years, in time
it was hammered over and over by invading powers (Newton,
174-175). The old Tyre, the real Tyre, was but a memory.
The modern Tyre (Sur) bears no relation to the ancient
city that fell under the curse of God.
It is utterly amazing that
several of the prophets, writing centuries before the actual
events, were able to foretell the destruction of wicked
Tyre. Those interested in pursuing an in-depth study of
these prophecies in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah
may consult the works of Rollin, Newton, and Keith.
The immediate context of the
ancient prophetic work clearly reveals the significance
of Ezekiel 28:11-19, and there is no need to foist upon
the sacred text an illusory meaning that has its basis
in neither history nor sound interpretative methodology.
There is no hint in this narrative of a “fall of Satan,” or
a “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and verse 2. And there is no
projected rise of a sinister “Anti-Christ” who ushers in
the concluding epoch of human history. These notions are
fantasies of perhaps well-meaning, but unsteady students
Archer, Gleason (1982), Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids:
Block, Daniel I. (1998), The
Book of Ezekiel—Chapters 25-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Coffman, James Burton (1991), Ezekiel (Abilene,
TX: ACU Press).
Davidson, A.B. (1892), The
Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (Cambridge: University
Ellison, H.C. (1968), Ezekiel:
The Man And His Message (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
Fleming, W.B. (1915), History
of Tyre (New York: Columbia University Press).
Keith, Alexander (1840), Evidence
of the Truth of the Christian Religion from Prophecy (Edinburgh:
William Whyte & Co.).
Lindsey, Hal C. and Carlson,
C.C. (1972), Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth (Grand
Newton, Thomas (1831), Dissertations
on the Prophecies (London: B.Blake, Bell-Yard, Temple-Bar).
Pember, C.H. (1907), Earth’s
Earliest Ages (London: Hodder and Stoughton).
Rollin, Charles (1857), Ancient
History (New York: Harper & Brothers), Vol. I.
Unger, M.F. (1952), Biblical
Demonology (Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press).
Usher, James (2003 ed.), The
Annals of the World, Larry & Marion Pierce, Revisers
(Green Forest, AR: Master Books).
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