Is Satan in Ezekiel 28?

For this week I've got an entry from my e-book answering Mark Fairley's FUEL Project.
I’ll have to be fair here. The idea that Satan’s “biography” is told in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 isn’t some sort of fringe position. Many serious scholars think it is correct, and I won’t take anything away from them on that account; however, many serious scholars also doubt the identification, and for good reasons. The first and most obvious problem is that this identification of the figures in Isaiah and Ezekiel was first made in the 3rd and 4th century AD, by early Christian writers and notably not by Jews of the Biblical era. Of course, this doesn’t automatically mean it is wrong, but it does place a greater burden of proof on those who say that Satan is in mind in those passages.

The passage in Ezekiel is more detailed, and is most often used to support the interpretation of the one in Isaiah, and as such dealing with Ezekiel will address the matter sufficiently. Let’s run through Ezekiel a bit at a time, and we’ll do it from the perspective of anyone who sees all of Ezekiel 28 as referring to Satan, as well as addressing any points unique to Fairley’s report.

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.

This portion, by itself, is not determinative. Ancient kings were regarded as the repositories of wisdom, so that’s no reason to identify the person in this passage as anyone but the king of Tyre.  What about the beauty of this figure? The king of Tyre possessed significant honor as the leader of one of the wealthiest nations in the ancient world. So, you can be pretty sure he decked himself out appropriately. So, there is no reason to read Satan into this text.

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. 
Here’s where some Satan identifiers get really cooking. Generally, they say that since the literal king of Tyre could not have been in the Garden of Eden, this must be alluding to someone who actually was there. But, that’s not at all the case. Eden for Ezekiel is a type of, or analogus to, the wealthy city of Tyre. The city was a sort of a virtual "paradise" for its residents and for the king of Tyre. In other words, the point is that the luxurious city of Tyre is like Eden in terms of being a comfortable paradise.

What about the stones? That could be either a representation of Tyre’s wealth, or else an allusion to the king of Tyre also being a priest, as part of his office. Like Israel’s priests, the pagan priests often wore jewels as part of their outfits.

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. 

This passage makes the strongest case for an equation with Satan, since Satan was a cherub, or angel. But the reference to the ruler of Tyre as a "cherub" no more means an actual cherub is in view, than it means a real dragon is in view in the next chapter about Pharaoh (29:3). In reality, cherubs were a key symbol of Phoenician and Tyrian iconography, which means that the ruler of Tyre would also be properly described in terms of a cherub. It’s sort of like the way Americans in the early 20th century described Teddy Roosevelt as a bull moose. Cherubs were Tyre’s “mascots”.

What about the references to a holy mountain and stones of fire? Those represent a puzzle with any interpretation we offer. Those who suggest Satan is the subject are compelled to suggest a vivid anthropomorphism, because obviously, a spirit being is not walking on an actual mountain or among actual stones. On the other hand, if this is the literal king of Tyre, then this could be another allusion to an Edenic paradise, but only from a version of the story the residents of Tyre would be familiar with. The fiery stones, for example, would relate to a story in the pagan Gilgamesh Epic of a garden in which fruit and leaves took the form of jewels. That would be an appropriate image to use of Eden when addressing a pagan king. 

Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. 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.

In terms of our report so far, this repeats images from above and suggests nothing new, although it is an area where Fairley tries a little too hard to strain Satan out of the account. 

If this passage does refer to trade or merchandise, then we have a perfect match for the king of Tyre, which was one of the leading trade cities in the ancient world. In Fairley's view, however, the word we translate here as “merchandise” or “trading” is mistranslated. Rather, he says it means to go up and down as an agitator, or to slander. 

That won’t work for a couple of reasons. First the Hebrew word for “merchandise” (rekullah) is used just four times in the Old Testament. All four uses are in Ezekiel, and two of those uses make it quite clear that the word has to do with commercial traffic (26:12, 28:5), not agitation or slander:

And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise: and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy thy pleasant houses: and they shall lay thy stones and thy timber and thy dust in the midst of the water. By thy great wisdom and by thy traffick hast thou increased thy riches, and thine heart is lifted up because of thy riches...

A related verb refers several times to what are obviously commercial merchants (1 Kings 10:15, Neh. 3:32, Ez. 27:3, 13, several times in Ez. 27) So, where does Fairley get this idea that it means “campaigning” or slandering?
Fairley doesn’t give his source for this, so I can’t say and will not guess. I did find the same claim repeated in an article by Richard Davidson, and nowhere else except another article by Davidson. That means it’s likely the original source for Fairley’s claim, even if not the direct source. [Richard M. Davidson, "Cosmic Metanarrative for the Coming Millennium," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 11 (2000) 1-2:108]

In his articles, Davidson tells us that while studying, he came to a “startling and exciting discovery” that the verb related to the word in Ezekiel means, to go about, while the noun derivative means “slanderer” or “talebearer.” Now in fact, that is true. The related word is used in Ezekiel 22:9:

In thee are men that carry tales to shed blood: and in thee they eat upon the mountains: in the midst of thee they commit lewdness.

However, this does nothing to bring the same meaning to the other form of the word used in Ezekiel 28. It is clear that the original root of the word refers to “carrying” or “travelling around.” That’s why we get words from it that refer to both merchants and talebearers: Both are “carrying” something. That in turn means that the only reason to assume that what the figure in Ezekiel 28 “carries around” is slander is because we assume, in the first place, that it must be Satan that Ezekiel is talking about. Unfortunately, that won’t work, both because of the contrary meaning found in the two other clear uses of the same word by Ezekiel, as well as the frequent references to material trade in the prior chapter (Ezekiel 27).

The reality is that serious scholars don’t buy this reading of Ezekiel 28:16, and even those who do think Satan is to be found in Ezekiel 28 are compelled to suggest "a shift of focus back and forth" between the king of Tyre and Satan throughout the chapter.  

Fairley tries for a variation on this, seeking to make a distinction between the “prince” of Tyre (28:2) and the “king” of Tyre (28:12), whom he sees as different personages i.e., the first to be a human, the second being Satan. But that doesn’t work either. The word used in verse 2 is a broad one. Though often translated “prince,” it doesn’t carry our connotation of one who is the son of a king. It simply means a leader or ruler, in generic terms. In fact, there are places where it used to designate someone who is obviously a king (1 Sam. 13:12-13, 25:30; 2 Sam 5:2, 1 Kings 14:7). So, those two words will not serve to get two different personages out of Ezekiel 28.

Another point made by Fairley is that the same word used in Ezekiel 28:16 is also found in Leviticus 19:16, where it is translated “talebearer.” But, that’s not the same word at all. It’s what Davidson called the noun derivative, which is also found in Ezekiel 22:9.

Now let's pick up where we last left off with Ezekiel. 

Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffic; 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. All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.

There's little new here. It may be noted that there is little chance that a spirit being will be brought to literal ashes, or will be seen by people. A king, of course, won't likely be made literally ashes either. Saying you’ll turn someone to “ashes” would reflect a kind of “trash talk" that was used by kings in the Ancient Near East when they went to war.

So, here’s the bottom line. Finding Satan in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 is an excellent exercise in midrashic typology, but in terms of actual justification from the intent of the text, there is little that can be found. So, while it may well be that Satan fell because of pride, Isaiah 14 isn’t a reason to think so; and while it may be that he used to be in charge of music in heaven, Ezekiel 28 isn’t evidence of that.


Jason Pratt said…
On the criticism of Satan being a spirit being who wouldn't be bodily doing X or be bodily affected by Y -- I'm not sure that criticism fits contemporary beliefs at the time of Ezekiel, or a wider canonical exegesis. (Incidentally, it definitely doesn't fit Christian philosophy in the 2nd and 3rd century, where proto-trinitarians contended against Gnostic ideas of bodiless spirits, that all creatures require a body of some kind even if radically different from the animal body of humans. Yep, even Origen, despite gnostics importing and twisting his ideas later the way they did with GosJohn. I mention this mainly as it might have some connection to 3rd and 4th century appeal to Ezekiel and Isaiah as reflecting Satan's biography: those theologians were pulling hard from Origen and his immediate predecessors.)

Having said that, I'm not sure I understand the target: is MF's position that Ezek 28 and Isaiah 14 only talk about Satan and not also about someone being compared poetically to Satan like comparing somewhere with Eden?

J. P Holding said…
With MF it's often hard to know what his point is, since he believes in stuff written by Alexander Hisloppy. He did say he think's they'
re about Satan though.

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