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.