Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter consists of two prophecies: the first and larger one against the prince of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:1-19); the second, a very brief one, against Zidon (Ezekiel 28:20-26). The first prophecy consists of two parts, corresponding to Ezekiel 26, 27; in the former of these the pride of the prince is described, and he is warned of his approaching death (Ezekiel 28:1-10), and then follows a lamentation (Ezekiel 28:11-19). It has been thought surprising that so commercial a nation should have been governed by a monarch; but not only is this a fact of Phœnician history, but the name of the prince who sat on the throne at this time, Ithobal II., has been preserved.
The whole prophecy is full of most varied and striking imagery, and there is no other passage in Scripture where there is such detailed and peculiar irony. It brings out most powerfully “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.”
The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying,
Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet thou art a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God:(2) I am a God.—The arraignment of the prince occupies Ezekiel 28:2-5, his consequent doom Ezekiel 28:6-10. The point of the charge is inordinate pride, begotten of great prosperity; this prosperity, being attributed to his own powers instead of to its true source, led him to imagine himself almost more than mortal. Similar instances of what may be called “the insanity of prosperity” may be seen in the case of Sennacherib (2Kings 18:33-35); of the then living monarch of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, to whom this prophecy might well serve as a warning (Daniel 3:15; Daniel 4:30; comp. also Daniel 7:25, Daniel 11:36-37); of Pharaoh (Ezekiel 29:3); of Herod (Acts 12:21-23); of the one foretold in 2Thessalonians 2:4; to which list might be added the names of some more modern conquerors, and, in their degree, of many who have been eminently successful in other walks of life, and have consequently sacrificed to their own net (Habakkuk 1:16). It is not to be supposed that the king of Tyre, like some Oriental monarchs and later Roman emperors, actually claimed for himself religious homage; but he had that proud sense of elevation and self-sufficiency which is only translated into words in the expressions of the text.
The seat of God.—This expression is chosen not merely with reference to the great natural beauty and apparently impregnable position of Tyre, but also to the fact that it was called “the holy island,” and looked up to by all its colonies as the central sanctuary of their worship. The Temple of Melkarth was said by the priests to have been founded as far back as 2750 B.C., and Arrian speaks of it as the oldest sanctuary in the annals of mankind. (See also Note on Ezekiel 28:6.)
Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that they can hide from thee:(3) Wiser than Daniel.—This is ironically spoken. Daniel was so famed for his wisdom in the great Chaldæan Empire (Daniel 1:20; Daniel 2:48; Daniel 4:18; Daniel 5:11-12; Daniel 6:3, &c.) that the report must have already reached Tyre. He had been twenty years in Nebuchadnezzar’s court when Jerusalem fell, and the siege of Tyre was five years later.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thou hast set thine heart as the heart of God;(6) Set thine heart as the heart of God.—The same expression as in Ezekiel 28:2. (Comp. Obadiah 1:3, “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee.”) The meaning is plain: thou hast entertained thoughts and purposes fitting only to the Supreme.
Behold, therefore I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations: and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of thy wisdom, and they shall defile thy brightness.(7) Against the beauty of thy wisdom.—The figure seems incongruous, but it is to be remembered that the expression is only a form of designating Tyre itself. The description of the Chaldæans as “the terrible of the nations” is repeated in Ezekiel 30:11; Ezekiel 31:12 (comp. also Ezekiel 26:7 and Isaiah 47:6; Habakkuk 1:6). The term, however, is by no means necessarily confined to them.
They shall bring thee down to the pit, and thou shalt die the deaths of them that are slain in the midst of the seas.(8) Deaths.—The plural accurately represents the rare form of the original, and indicates emphatically a violent death.
Wilt thou yet say before him that slayeth thee, I am God? but thou shalt be a man, and no God, in the hand of him that slayeth thee.(9) Thou shalt be a man.—The future, added to the text by the words in italics, should be omitted. The original form is exactly the same as in Ezekiel 28:2, and should be so translated. In both cases the article is better omitted. The contrast between the weakness of man and the power of God is strongly brought out: “yet thou art man, in the hand of him that slayeth thee.”
Thou shalt die the deaths of the uncircumcised by the hand of strangers: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD.(10) The uncircumcised.—To the Jew this term conveyed all, and more than all, the opprobrium which the Greeks and Romans attached to barbarians. (Comp. Ezekiel 31:18; Ezekiel 32:19; Ezekiel 32:21; Ezekiel 32:24-28, &c.) It is equivalent to saying “the profane and impious.”
Ezekiel 28:11-19 contain the doom upon the prince of Tyre. He is represented as like the first man, perfect, and placed in Eden, until, upon his fall (Ezekiel 28:15-16), he is ignominiously driven forth. The passage is strongly ironical.
Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.(12) Thou sealest up the sum.—Thou markest it as complete or perfect. (Comp. Daniel 9:24; Job 9:7.) The word for sum occurs only here and in Ezekiel 43:10, where it refers to the well measured and arranged building of the Temple.
Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.(13) Every precious stone.—There is some uncertainty in regard to the names of some of these stones (as sardius may be carnelian, and beryl chrysolite), but the general fact is an allusion to the profuse use of precious stones as ornaments of their royal apparel by Oriental monarchs. The stones mentioned are the same with those in the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 39:10), the third row being omitted; this is supplied in the Greek.
Thy pipes.—The word occurs only here, and its most probable sense is females, those who played upon the tambourines. All these things did not need to be collected by the king of Tyre, but were ready prepared to his hand at the moment of his accession to the throne, just as everything was made ready for Adam in Eden.
Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.(14) Thou art the anointed cherub.—The tense is not expressed in the Hebrew, and it is better to supply the same simple past as is used throughout the passage: thou wert. The imagery is taken from the Temple upon Mount Zion: not that the king of Tyre had at this time any special connection with this, but that these terms were natural to the prophet in this ironical description of him. “The cherub that covereth” the mercy-seat is spoken of as anointed, with reference to Exodus 30:26; Exodus 40:9.
Upon the holy mountain of God.—The prophet still has his mind upon Mount Zion (comp. Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 56:7), but yet the words are ironically spoken of Tyre as a venerated sanctuary, rising up from the sea.
Stones of fire.—An obvious explanation of this expression, given by many writers, is that it refers to the brilliant sparkling jewels on the robes in which the king walked. But if this were the case, the expression would be a strange one, and the connection implies a deeper and a religious meaning. It is better, therefore, to understand the imagery as similar to that in Revelation 2:1, and to suppose the prophet to have had in mind such a passage as Exodus 24:10, where a paved work of sapphire stone appears as beneath the feet of God, while His glory is “like a devouring fire.” This would then be one of the ways in which the king of Tyre is ironically represented as assuming to himself God-like attributes.
Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.(15) Till iniquity was found in thee.—This and the following verse renew still more clearly the comparison with Adam. The king was altogether prosperous until his sin became manifest; then, when his heart was corrupted by his prosperity (Ezekiel 28:16), he was cast out for ever, like Adam from his paradise.
By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.(16) Filled the midst of thee.—The language passes very naturally here from the king himself to the state over which be presided, and with which he was identified, immediately recurring, however, to the king personally. He, as polluted, should be cast out of his imagined mountain of God: he, the cherub covering the mercy-seat, forsooth, shall be destroyed: his fancied God-like walking amid the stones of fire shall for ever cease.
Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.(18) Defiled thy sanctuaries.—These are not to be understood so much of the actual temples of Tyre as of the ideal “holy mountain of God,” in which the prophet has represented the prince of Tyre as “a covering cherub.” Yet still, doubtless, even in the former sense, it was true that the Tyrians, like the Gentiles of whom St. Paul speaks in Romans 1:21, did not act up to the religious light they had, and violating their own consciences and sense of right, defiled even such representation of the true religion as still remained in their idolatrous worship. The main thought, however, is the former one, and it is in accordance with this that the fire is represented as going forth to consume the king. Many of the Hebrew manuscripts have sanctuary in the singular.
By the iniquity of thy traffick.—Here, as so often in other cases, the sin is represented as consisting in the abuse of the very blessings which God had given, and this sin as leading directly to its own punishment. No fact is more striking in history, whether of Israel or of the heathen, than that the gifts of God, which should have been to their blessing and His glory, are perverted by the sinfulness of man: first to their own guilt, and then, in consequence, to their ruin.
Ezekiel 28:20-26 constitute another distinct prophecy, of which Ezekiel 28:20-24 are occupied with the denunciation of judgment upon Zidon, and Ezekiel 28:25-26 with promises to Israel. There are several obvious reasons, besides that of making up the number of the nations to seven, why at least a word of prophecy should have been directed especially against Zidon, notwithstanding her forming a part of Phœnicia and contributing to the mariners of Tyre (Ezekiel 27:8). In the first place, Zidon (situated about twenty-five miles north of Tyre) was the more ancient city from which Tyre had sprung, and always maintained her independence. Hence she might seem not to be exposed to the judgment of God upon Tyre, unless especially mentioned. Then also Zidon (rather than Tyre) had been peculiarly the source of corrupting idolatrous influences upon Israel. This had begun as early as the times of the Judges (Judges 10:6); it had been continued and increased in the days of Solomon (1Kings 11:33); it reached its consummation under the reign of Ahab, who married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Zidon and high priest of Baal (1Kings 16:31), and who set up the worship of Baal as the state religion of Israel. That this influence was still powerful in Judah also in the days of Ezekiel is plain from the reference to the Thammuz worship in Ezekiel 8:14.
There is only one mention (Judges 10:12) of the Zidonians as coming into armed conflict with Israel; but they had rejoiced in her fall. As this prophecy closes the circle of the nations who had thus exulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, there is appropriately placed at the end a promise of restoration to Israel when all these judgments upon her enemies shall have been accomplished.
And there shall be no more a pricking brier unto the house of Israel, nor any grieving thorn of all that are round about them, that despised them; and they shall know that I am the Lord GOD.(24) A pricking brier.—The language refers back to the threat of Numbers 33:55, of the reality of which Israel had long had such bitter experience. Nothing is said of the special sins of Zidon, and very little of the detail of her overthrow; these were already sufficiently known, or else included in what has been said of Tyre. It is noticeable that no such utter desolation is foretold as in the former case.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Jacob.(25) Sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen.—The course of God’s providence is very distinctly marked out in these verses of promise. The judgment upon Judah had already come, in the fall of their holy city and the captivity of the people. This leads them to repentance, and thus God is “sanctified in the sight of the heathen;” His holiness and justice are exhibited to the world. Then comes the promise of the return, and the judgment of the ungodly enemies who have despised Judah (Ezekiel 28:26). This, too, shall be accomplished in its time, and then peace and prosperity shall return to Israel.
The immediate point of this prophecy is the return of the Jews to their own land; yet, as the struggle between them and their enemies has been a struggle between the Church of God and the powers of the world, and as this particular struggle thus in some sort symbolises the greater contest between religion and the world in all ages, so this promise of rest looks forward in some sense to the final victory over all evil.