Tyre's Human Ruler and the Power Behind the Throne (Ezekiel 28) November 21-22
Having foretold, at God's direction, the destruction of Tyre in chapters 26 and proclaiming a lament or dirge over it in chapter 27, Ezekiel in chapter 28 now relays God's word concerning the "prince," or "ruler" (NIV), of Tyre (verses 1-10). The Expositor's Bible Commentary suggests that the reference on one level is to "Ittobaal II of those days [of the Babylonian conquest], though the speech is in many ways not against any one particular king but Tyre's kings per se" (note on verses 1-5).
Expositor's goes on to comment in its note on the same passage: "Tyre's king is described as a very wise man. Through his wisdom and insight in commercial sea-trade, he was able to amass Tyre's great abundance of wealth (vv. 4-5; cf. ch. 27). However, the accumulation of riches and its accompanying splendor and importance created a haughty pride in this ruler (v. 5b; cf. 27:3). He was so impressed with himself that he actually began to think that he was a god—perhaps even El, the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon (v. 2). Ancient Near Eastern thought often viewed the king as the embodiment of the god(s)... He was sitting on the 'throne of a god in the heart of the seas' [NIV]. Most likely Tyre's well-known, magnificent temple of Melkart, Tyre's patron deity, was in the prophet's mind. It was not uncommon for a city or a temple to be called the throne of a god, even in the O[ld] T[estament] (cf. Ps 132:13-14; Jer 3:17 et al.). On ancient bas-reliefs of Tyre, the city and its temple are seen projecting high out of the surrounding sea."
This kind of thinking will likely also characterize the ruler of end-time Tyre or Babylon, a powerful dictator referred to in the book of Revelation as "the Beast" (a name that also applies to his empire). Consider that Adolf Hitler, a ruler in this tradition and forerunner of the final dictator, saw himself as a superhuman messianic figure who would reign over a "Thousand-Year Reich."
Returning to the passage, mention is again made in Ezekiel's book of the prophet Daniel (28:3; compare 14:14), showing that Daniel was already famous for his wisdom while he lived. This, of course, helps support the authenticity of Daniel's book as a product of the sixth century B.C., a fact many now seek to deny. In the King James and New King James Versions of Ezekiel 28:3, it is stated that the Tyrian ruler is wiser than Daniel. This could be a sarcastic statement. But notice the NIV translation, which gives this as a question: "Are you wiser than Daniel? Is no secret hidden from you?"
Clearly this ruler is not as wise as he thinks. He sees himself as a god when he is, in fact, just a man—and a man who will be humbled for his supreme arrogance by the true God. Strangers will invade and devastate his land, and he will die at the hands of aliens or foreigners (verses 7, 10). This applied to the ruler of ancient time. But it is also the fate of the end-time Beast ruler. His European empire will be devastated by a ruthless wave of invasion from the east (Revelation 9:13-19). And he himself will be slain in the ultimate "alien" invasion—at the coming of Jesus Christ and His saints (verses 19-21), who were strangers and foreigners in this world and will certainly be seen as foreigners from the vantage point of this "uncircumcised" ruler (see Ezekiel 28:10).
God then tells Ezekiel to take up a lamentation for the "king" of Tyre (verses 11-19). Though a large number of scholars argue that the poetic imagery of this passage merely emphasizes the downfall of the Tyrian ruler given in the beginning of the chapter, "many take the shift from 'ruler' to 'king' to indicate a shift of prophetic focus from a literal [human] ruler to a being he typifies, Satan" (Bible Reader's Companion, chapters 27-28 summary).
The latter interpretation becomes especially compelling when we consider the specific descriptions in the lament. Notice these points from The Bible Reader's Companion:
"(1) The description 'model of perfection' [NIV], and 'blameless...from the day I created you' seems an inappropriate description of any human ruler.
"(2) 'Eden, the garden of God' is described as the gem-filled center of earthly rule, and is taken as the province of Satan before Adam's creation. [It could also refer to the heavenly paradise of God, especially given the mention of this being walking among the fiery gems 'on the holy mountain of God,' signifying the place of God's throne.]
"(3) 'A guardian cherub' [(NIV) or 'anointed cherub who covers' (NKJV)] again is hardly an appropriate description of a pagan king. But it would fit Satan's pre-fall role as an important angelic being [being evidently one of the two cherubim whose wings overshadowed the throne of God, as represented in the earthly copy of God's throne, the mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant].
"(4) 'Till wickedness was found in you' does not fit the [fact that no human beings are sinless]...but seems to indicate a specific act of sin which corrupted the being described.
"(5) 'I expelled you...I threw you to earth' [NIV] seems to fit Christ's words about Satan's expulsion from heaven, as recorded in Luke 10:18. While these same verses admit metaphorical and poetic interpretation references to the human rulers of Tyre, those who see Satan in this passage believe they are more appropriately rooted to him" (note on verses 11-19).
It is most fascinating to consider that the patron God of ancient Tyre was Melkart. This name means "king of the city" (Expositor's, note on verse 13a). His great temple in Tyre was seen as his throne, as earlier mentioned. So the "king" of Tyre that God addresses would naturally seem to be the false god Melkart. Consider that a false god could represent an actual demonic power. The apostle Paul said of pagan temple sacrifices, "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God" (1 Corinthians 10:20). And Scripture makes it clear that demonic forces are the real rulers of this world (Ephesians 6:12; Daniel 10:10-21), with Satan the devil as the chief ruler or king of this world, the "god of this age" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
Satan, then, is the real power behind the throne—of both ancient and future Tyre. Ezekiel 28, then, is parallel to Isaiah 14, which addresses the human ruler of Babylon (both ancient and future) as well as the ultimate spirit ruler of Babylon, Satan. (Readers may wish to review that passage and the Bible Reading Program's comments on it in context of the current reading.) The lament over the king of Tyre probably does refer to the human ruler in a metaphoric sense—but the primary reference is to Satan. Consider that Satan may actually possess the Beast dictator at times (as seems to have occurred on a few occasions with Hitler). So there could actually be a blending of personalities. Even short of actual possession, there will clearly be evil spiritual influence. The supreme arrogance and blasphemy of the human ruler, of both ancient and end-time Tyre, ultimately comes from Satan—"the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2). (To learn more about the powerful evil spirit who dominates the present age, send for or download our free booklet Is There Really a Devil?
In the next section of Ezekiel 28, God pronounces judgment on Sidon (verses 20-24). Sidon was a sister city to Tyre. In fact, Tyre began as a colony of Sidon. The name Sidon is mentioned in the table of nations in Genesis 10 as the firstborn son of Canaan (verse 15). Thus, it may be that Sidon is used in Ezekiel 28 to portray the Phoenician people generally—with Tyre as the political, economic and religious power that has sprung up from among them. Recall that many of the Phoenicians today, along with the modern Babylonians, are scattered throughout southern Europe. Sidon was also the origin of Canaanite idolatry, which so infected the Israelites over the centuries—and this could be another reason it is singled out for special mention.
The chapter ends with God's promise to return the Israelites to their land. Expositor's states in its note on verses 25-26: "The judgment of the nations around Israel was given to encourage the exiles that God would faithfully exercise his righteousness against the nations as well as Judah. Ezekiel encouraged the Judeans further with a reminder that the Lord would regather them from among all the nations where they had been scattered by God's judgment. This restoration to Palestine would take place when God executed his judgments on the nations, judgments that would not be completed fully till the end times. By regathering Israel God would demonstrate to all nations that he was the holy God, unique and distinct. None of man's proposed deities had ever been able to accomplish a restoration such as this, and they never would; for the Lord alone was God and none other."