Pride Before the Fall

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God:

“Because your heart is proud,
    and you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of the gods,
    in the heart of the seas,’
yet you are but a man, and no god,
    though you make your heart like the heart of a god—
you are indeed wiser than Daniel;
    no secret is hidden from you;
by your wisdom and your understanding
    you have made wealth for yourself,
and have gathered gold and silver
    into your treasuries;
by your great wisdom in your trade
    you have increased your wealth,
    and your heart has become proud in your wealth—
therefore thus says the Lord God:
Because you make your heart
    like the heart of a god,
therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you,
    the most ruthless of the nations;
and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom
    and defile your splendor.
They shall thrust you down into the pit,
    and you shall die the death of the slain
    in the heart of the seas.
Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’
    in the presence of those who kill you,
though you are but a man, and no god,
    in the hands of those who slay you?
10 You shall die the death of the uncircumcised
    by the hand of foreigners;
    for I have spoken, declares the Lord God.”

11 Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:

“You were the signet of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
    every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
    and crafted in gold were your settings
    and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
14 You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
15 You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
    from the midst of the stones of fire.
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you.
18 By the multitude of your iniquities,
    in the unrighteousness of your trade
    you profaned your sanctuaries;
so I brought fire out from your midst;
    it consumed you,
and I turned you to ashes on the earth
    in the sight of all who saw you.
19 All who know you among the peoples
    are appalled at you;
you have come to a dreadful end
    and shall be no more forever.” – Ezekiel 28:1-19 ESV

There is an old proverbial saying that states, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This timeless maxim is credited to the the 19th century British politician, Lord Acton. Its simple six-word structure conveys the profound truth, that as a person’s power increases, their moral sense diminishes. The captivating and intoxicating influence of unfettered power can tempt the best of humanity to lower their ethical standards in an attempt to extend their 15 minutes of fame and fortune.

As God continues His indictment of the city-state of Tyre, He singles out its illustrious “prince” or king. This unnamed ruler had reached the zenith of his career and presided over a wealthy and highly influential kingdom. His ships plied the waters of the Mediterranean. His city boasted massive fortifications to protect its affluent citizens and their abundant riches. His kingdom was world-renowned and the envy of the nations. And all that power, prosperity, and popularity had gone to his head. In fact, God accuses him of having delusions of grandeur.

“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
    I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’– Ezekiel 28:2 NLT

This guy had a god complex. His meteoric rise to power and the accolades of his constituents and contemporaries had left him believing his own PR.  Surrounded by all the trappings of success and constantly bombarded by the ego-boosting flattery of his peers and the adoring public, this ruler had developed an overinflated ego. But God brings him down to size by reminding him, “you are only a man and not a god, though you boast that you are a god” (Ezekiel 28:2 NLT).

And not only did this king enjoy unprecedented wealth, but he also boasted of his extraordinary wisdom. He actually attributed his success to his superior intellect.

“With your wisdom and understanding you have amassed great wealth—
    gold and silver for your treasuries.
Yes, your wisdom has made you very rich,
    and your riches have made you very proud.” – Ezekiel 28:4-5 NLT

He had the audacity to take full credit for the preeminent status of his kingdom and the superior state of his financial fortunes.  But the king of Tyre was in for a rude awakening. His illustrious kingdom was about to be exposed as a house of cards that would collapse in ruins with a single blast from God’s righteous breath.

“Because you think you are as wise as a god,
 I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!” – Ezekiel 28:6-7 NLT

This boastful and self-promoting prince of Tyre was going to suffer a devastating demotion – at the hands of the Lord God. His self-deification would come to an abrupt end as God destroyed his kingdom and destined him to an ignoble and humiliating death.

You shall die the death of the uncircumcised
    by the hand of foreigners. – Ezekiel 38:10 ESV

Like the Jews, the Phoenicians practiced circumcision, so to die the death of the uncircumcised was to die like an uncouth and uncultured barbarian. This highly revered leader of a powerful city-state would die in infamy and disgrace.

In the second half of God’s message, He provides Ezekiel with the lyrics to another funeral dirge, dedicated to the demise of the king of Tyre.

“Son of man, sing this funeral song for the king of Tyre. Give him this message from the Sovereign Lord…” – Ezekiel 28:12 NLT

What follows contains one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture. God appears to be addressing the same king He called out in the opening verses, but His description of this individual makes his identity difficult to discern. In particular, God refers to him as having been in “Eden, the garden of God” (Ezekiel 28:13 ESV). If God is talking about the king of Tyre, how could this mere human being have been around when Eden existed on the earth?

The simple answer is that God was using Eden as a metaphor for the splendor and beauty of the kingdom of Tyre. Describing Tyre as Eden “is probably a figurative way of describing the blessing that this ruler had enjoyed at God’s hand” (Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Ezekiel). Just as Eden had been a garden of earthly delights, so Tyre was a veritable wonderland of plenty and fruitfulness. The king lacked nothing. All his earthly needs and wants had been graciously provided by God.

God describes the king’s splendid garments adorned with priceless gems and fine gold. His appearance was like that of “an anointed guardian cherub” (Ezekiel 28:14 ESV), an otherworldly being of divine origin. It would seem that this self-appointed god-king associated himself with Melkart, the patron god of Tyre.

“The passage would then be declaring that the king of Tyre had become as the guardian cherub for the god Melkart and was bejeweled with his riches as cherub-sphinx normally was.” – Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel

It seems that God is describing the king of Tyre as a divine servant to his false god Melkart. Like the cherubim that guarded the entrance to the garden of Eden, preventing Adam and Eve from reentering after the fall (Genesis 3:24), the king of Tyre had been tasked with guarding the “Eden” of Tyre.

But this cherubim would prove unsuccessful in protecting the garden under his care. Despite the fact that God had placed him on the throne, this king would prove unable to protect his God-given domain. It was the prophet, Daniel, a contemporary of Ezekiel, who wrote of God:

He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars. – Daniel 2:21 NLT

God claims to have placed the king of Tyre on His “holy mountain” (Ezekiel 28:14 ESV). This most likely speaks of God’s sovereign will in ordaining the king’s reign. The king had reached the pinnacle of success, rising to power according to God’s will. And there had been a time when the king had reigned in keeping with God’s will. But eventually, his pride got the better of him.

Your rich commerce led you to violence,
    and you sinned.” – Ezekiel 28:16 NLT

“Your heart was filled with pride
    because of all your beauty.
Your wisdom was corrupted
    by your love of splendor.
So I threw you to the ground
    and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings.” – Ezekiel 28:17 NLT

This king, who declared himself divine, would be unceremoniously dethroned and deposed. His kingship would end and his kingdom would be destroyed, never to rise to prominence again. He would learn a painful lesson concerning God’s sovereignty and transcendence. Not only was the king of Tyre a man and not a god, but he was a product of God’s sovereign will and merciful grace. He had ruled as a result of God’s providence and would be removed from power according to God’s indomitable will.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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