Alongside Isaiah 14:12-15, a common locus for insight into Satan’s supposed backstory is Ezekiel 28:12-19. Traditionally, post-biblical readers have understood Ezekiel 28 to refer to Satan’s heavenly rebellion against God. Yet, while Ezekiel laments over someone whose wealth and sin are an affront to the Almighty, the prophet does not describe the devil. Instead, Ezekiel 28 refers to the king of Tyre, and “Satan” appears nowhere in the passage. Thus, if we ground our theological understanding on Scripture alone, then we have no reason to posit an angelic prehistory for Satan based on Ezekiel.

In Ezekiel 28, God addresses an individual, saying, “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and of perfect beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God… You were an anointed guardian cherub” (28:12-14). Despite his high standing, the addressee exhibited “unrighteousness” (עול; evel) and “sinned” (חטא; hata); therefore, God says, “I banished you, guardian cherub… Your heart was proud because of your beauty… [so] I cast you to the ground” (28:15-17). Many read this passage as a reference to the serpent “in Eden”—which tradition equates with Satan—and then link the satanic snake with an expelled angel. However, immediately before the above verses, God tells Ezekiel to “raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre (מלך צור; melekh tsor)” (28:12). The prophet addresses an earthly king, not a primordial rebel in heaven.

Those who see the figure of Ezekiel 28 as Satan might respond, “But when was the king of Tyre ever ‘in Eden, the garden God’? Doesn’t this show that the prophet is speaking about a spiritual being who rebelled in the primordial past?Ezekiel’s mention of Eden does not denote a reference to Satan, since the prophet also associates other earthly kings with Eden later in the book. Soon after speaking of Tyre’s king “in Eden” (בעדן; b’eden), Ezekiel asks the king of Egypt, “‘Whom are you like in glory and greatness among the trees of Eden? You shall be brought down with the trees of Eden… with those slain by the sword.’ This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 31:18). Of course, Pharaoh was never literally among the trees of Eden, nor were Eden’s trees cut down. Ezekiel places foreign kings “in Eden” metaphorically to ridicule their self-perceived glory; comparing these monarchs with entities in Eden is prophetic hyperbole that highlights the inadequacy of earthly rulers before God.

There are other linguistic and thematic problems with reading Ezekiel 28 as a story about Satan. For instance, the prophecy about Tyre begins at chapter 26, in which Ezekiel tells the people of Tyre that the Babylonians “will plunder your riches and loot your merchandise (רכלה; rekhullah)” (Ezek 26:12). Then, chapter 27 details all of Tyre’s “merchandising” (רכל; rachal) with other nations (27:3, 13-24). Ezekiel declares that in light of the nation’s mercantile wealth, “Tyre… has said, ‘I am of perfect beauty (כלילת יפי; kelilat yophi)’” (27:3). After these descriptions of Tyre in Ezekiel 26-27, the prophet describes its king in the exact same way: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and of perfect beauty (כליל יפי; kelil yophi)…. In the abundance of your merchandise (רכלה; rekhullah)… you sinned” (28:12, 16). Ezekiel is not referring to Satan’s “perfect beauty” or “merchandise,” but to that of Tyre—both people and king.

Finally, Ezekiel calls Tyre’s king a “cherub” (כרוב; keruv) in 28:14-16. If this “cherub” refers to either the deceptive serpent in Eden or to a pre-fall Satan in heaven, then it would be exceedingly odd for God to appoint “cherubim” (כרובים; keruvim) to guard the way to the Tree of Life after Adam and Eve are expelled (Gen 3:24). If a “cherub” had rebelled against God and become Satan, why on earth (or in heaven) would God entrust more cherubim with the security of Eden? The only way that Ezekiel’s lament makes linguistic, contextual, or theological sense is if it refers to the king of Tyre in the prophet’s present, not to Satan in the prehistoric past. Ezekiel 28 is not a story of Satan, but rather an example of God’s sovereignty over all the peoples of the earth.

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42 COMMENTS

  1. Again you are 100% correct. People will continue to be fooled into believing in some fallen angel if they come to scripture with a preconceived idea of his existence rather than letting scripture interpret itself (in context) and ensuring that that interpretation is in harmony with the rest of scripture.
  2. Disagree:) Is14 and Ez28 is about earthly kings and spiritual entities behind kings. Tyre was the city of Baal worshiping. Baal's image was an ox. Ox is one of face of cherub: Ez1:10 "four had the face of an ox", Ez10:14 "the first face was the face of a cherub".
    • Thanks for reading Tauras; you're certainly entitled to disagree. Unlike other prophets (e.g., Hosea and Jeremiah), Ezekiel never mentions Baal worship. Ezekiel's cherubim in chapter 1 have several faces, so isolating one and linking it to the prince of Tyre as Baal is exegetically speculative (i.e., it's not based on much textual data). More, since the entire section of Ezek 24-32 consists of oracles against nations and their kings, in order for the Tyre-as-Baal reading to be coherent, the reader needs to interpret every foreign king as a reference to a god, which the textual data doesn't support.
  3. I also disagree, when you take scripture as a whole, these passages do also describe Satan/Lucifer. Forgive my ignorance, but is this a Messianic website? I do enjoy reading other perspectives but I do want to know where it is coming from. Thank you
    • IBC is a learning institution that offers academic perspectives on a variety of topics around Jewish history, culture, and theology. Sometimes, our interpretations of history and text happen to dovetail with traditional Jewish and Christian views -- as well as Messianic Jewish perspectives -- but (as with the above article) this is often not the case. Our primary goal is to provide students with cognitive tools to approach text and tradition both socio-historically and academically. IBC is an independent entity, and we are not sponsored by, or affiliated with, any particular religious denomination or movement.
  4. Good afternoon Dr. Nicholas,
    Thank you for the article, I sure enjoy the blog of Israel Bible Center.
    A questions? Who is Satan? Who is the devil? Who is Lucifer? Where the devil came from? Where the demons came from? Why people get possessed?
    • Thanks for reading, Gabriel. Lots of good questions, but there's only room for brief answers: (1) "Satan" and the "devil" are two names for the same figure; (2) Satan is a heavenly "accuser" or "adversary" that is part of God's heavenly entourage or divine council (cf. Job 1-2; Zech 3; 1 Chron 21:1); (3) "Lucifer" is the Latin translation of "Morning Star" in Isaiah 14; for more on this text, see https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/does-isaiah-tell-the-story-of-satan/ ; (4) the Bible doesn't offer information on Satan's origins; (5) "demon" comes from the Greek "daimonion," which refers to rebellious heavenly entities or foreign gods; (6) demon possession happens because these rebellious entities in the heavenly realm are against the God of Israel and attempt to disrupt divine creation.

      + More answers (4)
    • It could be, but the text doesn't give us any reason to assume that the king of Tyre is possessed or influenced by demons; the text doesn't refer to "Satan," "demons," or "possession," and the context of Ezekiel clarifies that the "sin" and "beauty" of the king refers to the earthly nation, not to demonic forces.
  5. I guess the real history question is: where (or even who) came up with the idea that Isaiah 14 & Ezekiel 28 is the storyline of Satan's origin and/or rebellion? Did the Israelites of the OT believed this storyline or was it another western invention, like the Gap Theory?
    • Good question. Reading Satan into these texts is a post-biblical phenomenon; there are no references in Israel's Scriptures to Satan's origins or rebellion. Early Christian writers like Tertullian, Augustine, and Cyril of Jerusalem all read Ezek 28 with reference to Satan. Jewish tradition (e.g., Septuagint, rabbinic texts) tends to equate the figure of Ezek 28 with Adam.
  6. How wonderful the Word of God is! The more I read and study it, the more I encounter fresh insights, but also new mysteries. Thank You, Father, for providing us not only with your Word and Torah but also with people like Nicholas and institutions such as this Bible Center to guide us, lead us and enlighten us.
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
  7. Thanks. I always wondered why teachers isolate Isaiah14/Ezekiel28 from the context. But… if we combine this text with other sources, like Daniel, where heavenly princes behind peoples are combatting with Archangel Michael? Isn't it obvious that there are spiritual forces at work behind peoples and their kings?
    • Thanks for these comments, Sybe. You're certainly correct in seeing spiritual forces (i.e., foreign gods) behind Gentile nations and their kings (e.g., Daniel 10:20), but this fact doesn't get us any closer to linking the prince of Tyre with "Satan."
  8. Hi Dr Schaser, great article, re kings as cherub or cherubim. Would it be a stretch of the imagination to associate the "perfect beauty and wisdom" of the king of Tyre as God given, a gift to be used to show natural beauty and humility in wisdom.
  9. As with all kings, this was a choice of the tribes of Israel and not Yahweh.Also the mention of Wisdom and Tyre brings to mind the days of Solomon, Hiram being the king of Tyre and a master Architect, does Ezekiel refer to this time of the king of Tyre?
    • Thanks for your comment, Jon. The description of Tyre and its king in Ezekiel 26-28 certainly mirrors the wealth and technology of Hiram in Solomon's day. The biblical authors would say that all earthly wisdom comes from God.
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