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A Warning to the Proud from Ezekiel 28

Pride *always* leads to a fall.


Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Ezekiel 28:11-26

In the middle of God's condemnations of Israel's sinful neighbors, God singles out a man -- the king of Tyre. This king somehow represented everything wrong with humanity, a man who left his morals in pursuit of profit and power. He would meet his end at the hands of the Babylonians. Today, we must remember that our sins will find us out!

Then they will know that I am the Lord their God. (28:26)

Happy new year to all!


Getting Started: Things to Think About


2020 vs. 2021 vs. 2022

Even though I don’t believe in “New Year’s Resolutions” (as I tend to say this time of year, although my 2020 post is somewhat misguided), I do believe in “looking back”. Seeing where you’ve come from helps you realize where you’re going. And let’s be honest – I don't think everybody did that last year. Everyone was so happy to see 2020 end that we all just kinda threw it out. (Is it possible to take a mulligan on a year?) In lieu of new year’s resolutions, there were mainly jokes about how 2021 couldn’t be anything like 2020. Right?


And then 2021 happened.


There are two or three ways you could go with this. The first way is to keep it light. (Don’t focus on the many tragedies just yet. We will have the opportunity to get serious.) What is a word or a phrase or a picture you would use

  • To sum up 2020?

  • To sum up 2021?

  • To compare 2020 to 2021?

The internet is an endless source of cynical humor. These popped up a lot.


Here’s my point – if we “skipped” our year-end reviews last year (thinking that 2020 was a one-off), hoping to just move on, then we really need to slow down and be thoughtful. That leads us to the next idea.


The second way is to get introspective. Looking back at 2021, what are the lessons God taught you? In what ways did you grow in your relationship with Him? How did your circumstances affect your spiritual walk? (There’s no point in selectively remembering how hard things might have been for you – take a hard look at your year, and come on Sunday with an idea of what you are comfortable sharing with your group.)


One thing we know for certain is that God will never leave us nor forsake us. Those people who walked hand-in-hand with God through 2020 probably handled 2021 pretty well. And those people who tried to pretend like 2020 didn’t happen probably had some real trouble getting through 2021. (They jumped out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire.) How was it for you?


There’s a third approach you could take, one that jumps into the main idea of this week’s lesson.


The Great Falls of 2021

2021 was a bad year for a number of people because of circumstances that they created for themselves. Perhaps they thought they could take advantage of the instability. Perhaps they thought they understood what the future would bring. Perhaps they had just gotten a little too big for their britches. If you’re one of those who really slows down to look at an accident on the highway, then this topic is probably for you.


What are some noteworthy failures you saw in 2021, and what made them noteworthy to you? What lessons did you take away from someone else’s poor decisions? Here are some broader interest ones that came to mind; you might have some much closer to home:

  • Facebook – don’t worry, we have our data leak fixed.

  • Facebook and Instagram – “beauty filters” are a great idea.

  • Facebook – our community is completely healthy and wholesome.

  • Facebook – we’re changing our name to Meta. No reason, why?

  • Zillow – let’s use AI to make investment decisions.

  • Credit Suisse – why would we need management oversight?

  • Biogen and the FDA – who actually reads those advisory recommendations?

And that’s not to mention names like Theranos, Toyota, Activision, RobinHood, and Dogecoin.


Every year is filled with examples of people thinking they’ve become too big to fail. 2021 was no different. Pride goeth before the fall, as they say.


In this week’s passage, we’re going to learn about an archetypical example. But first…


Where We Are in Ezekiel

You might be surprised to learn that we only have two (and a half) lessons left in Ezekiel. Seeing as how there are three major sections in the book --

  1. You're Wrong about God: God *Will* Destroy Jerusalem (1-24)

  2. You're Wrong about God: God *Will* Destroy the Nations (25-32)

  3. You're Wrong about God: God Will Do Those Things *And* Still Restore His People (33-48)

that means we only have one lesson for each of parts two and three. (Note: the third remaining lesson is for sanctity of human life Sunday, so it doesn’t follow the flow of the book.) That works well enough; here is the outline for this second section:

  • Ammon will be destroyed (25:1-7)

  • Moab will be destroyed (25:8-11)

  • Edom will be destroyed (25:12-14)

  • Philistia will be destroyed (25:15-17)

  • Tyre and Sidon will be destroyed (26:1-28:26)

    • Tyre will be destroyed (26:1-21)

    • Lament for Tyre (27:1-36)

    • Lament for Tyre’s king (28:1-19)

    • Sidon will be destroyed (28:20-24)

    • Result: Israel will be saved from her neighbors (28:25-26)

  • Egypt will be destroyed (29:1-32:32)

So, yeah, we get the picture. Notice the emphasis on Tyre and Egypt. Egypt we can guess at. But why Tyre? Well, we have to find that out because that’s the passage Lifeway chose to cover!


This Week’s Big Idea: The Siege of Tyre

Looking at that outline, I have two big questions:

  1. why did God care so much about Tyre, and

  2. what did Tyre do that was so terrible?

This is not the first time God has expressed interest in Tyre. We covered this about a year ago when we studied Isaiah 23:

Of course, I don’t expect anyone to have perfect recall from that Sunday, so let’s hit the highlights again.

Tyre was the hub of a great trading empire (think Phoenicia). It had influence far above its weight class (I used the British empire and the Dutch empire as analogies). And by the time Ezekiel gave this prophecy, it was really big for its britches. The Assyrians certainly thought Tyre was important! Look at this list of recent failed attempts to conquer the city:

  • (724–720 BC) by the Assyrians under Shalmaneser V and Sargon II

  • (701 BC) by the Assyrians under Sennacherib

  • (671 BC) by the Assyrians under Esarhaddon

  • (663 BC) by the Assyrians under Ashurbanipal

That basically every important king of Assyria. Tyre was definitely having a moment.


But let’s take a step back; that’s not reason God was so upset with them. God had given Tyre every conceivable natural advantage. A perfect (and beautiful) location for a naval empire – an easily-defended island just off the coast large enough for a full-sized city that had two large natural harbors. And the famed “forests of Lebanon” were just inland, perfect for them to build their impressive trading vessels. Read chapter 27 to see everything God had given them.


They had a good relationship with Jerusalem in the past. King Hiram sent David massive cedars to build a palace (2 Sam 5), and he sent Solomon the same to build his own palace. Tyre sent bronze-workers to beautify Jerusalem.


I think that’s where things went wrong for them. God had given them everything they needed to be successful and secure. And He had given His own people as good neighbors. But that wasn’t enough for Tyre. When Jerusalem fell, Tyre saw it as an opportunity for additional profit. (This makes me think of some of the harsher judgments we’ve read about others of Israel’s neighbors – in each case, they had taken advantage of Israel’s misfortune rather than attempt to help them. “Whoever blesses you, I will bless; whoever curses you, I will curse.”)


(Quick aside about dates. According to 26:1, Ezekiel gave this prophecy “in the eleventh year” or “in the eleventh month of the twelfth year”, depending on which manuscript you use. That would put it in early 586 or early 585. For context, Jerusalem fell in the middle of 586. Either Ezekiel gave this prophecy right after Jerusalem fell, or right before (thus predicting Tyre’s reaction). The meaning doesn’t change either way. Just one of those ancient manuscript questions.)


But let’s take this a step further by looking at the next siege of Tyre:

  • (586–573 BC) by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II

Almost immediately after Ezekiel gave this prophecy that Nebuchadnezzar would besiege and destroy Tyre (26:7), Nebuchadnezzar indeed besieged Tyre. This would seem to indicate fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy in chapter 26. But there are very few historical records giving any details of what happened. According to the prophecy, Tyre would be razed to the ground and never rebuilt. That doesn’t seem to be what happened. We know this because a more famous, final siege happened later:

  • (332 BC) by the Macedonians under Alexander the Great

Alexander built a causeway (using the stones of the mainland city) to the island and conquered it. Those records are fascinating. But back to Nebuchadnezzar.

The records we have indicate that Nebuchadnezzar indeed destroyed the mainland city. Further, the length and severity of the siege so weakened Tyre that they eventually surrendered. Worse for them, Sidon filled the vacuum and became the more dominant trading city for the region. But Nebuchadnezzar never actually “conquered” the island city. Does that count as fulfillment?


As we’ve said many times, biblical prophecy is very elusive. Nebuchadnezzar indeed destroyed part of the city of Tyre. Their maritime empire never recovered. Those things count as fulfillment in my book (whatever that’s worth). The long-term future of the city seems to bear this out. Tyre is today described as "a city of ruins, built out of ruins" by historian Ernest Renan. The future conquering empires would continue to use the location of Tyre (for all of the natural advantages listed above), but the independent trading empire was no more.


Bonus Big Idea: Is Chapter 28 Talking about Satan?

The Lifeway material barely mentions this (which helps you know where they stand). But in certain interpretive communities of Christians, there is a belief that chapter 28 is actually about Satan, not the king of Tyre. Here’s why they say this:

  • Verse 2: Your heart is proud, and you have said, “I am a god”

  • Verse 13: You were in Eden, the garden of God.

  • Verse 14: You were an anointed guardian cherub.

  • Verse 15: From the day you were created you were blameless in your ways.

  • Verse 17: Your heart became proud because of your beauty … So I threw you down to the ground.

Those are some pretty lofty words, right?


What’s the problem with believing these words are about Satan? Well, you lose the point of the prophecy when you inject Satan into it. God in this section, is tossing out warnings of the imminent destruction of Israel’s wicked neighbors, and then in the middle of it takes a swipe at Satan?


No – believing this chapter is about Satan, in addition to missing what God is saying, really underestimates Satan. God makes it clear that this section is about “The King of Tyre”. While some could argue that that’s a metaphor for Satan, nowhere else in the Bible is Satan labeled that way. God makes it clear that this king is a mortal (verse 9) who will be killed by foreigners (verse 10). The reason God expelled him from His presence is his violent trade (verse 16), and he would become a spectacle for kings (verse 17). That’s way, way short of a proper view of Satan – the chief of God’s angels (not a cherub) who led a rebellion against God. Yes, pride was the cause of his downfall, but that had nothing to do with earthly activity. Satan has power on this earth – all of the kingdoms of the world are his/under his influence. Until the bitter end, Satan will lead the fight against God. He will not go out with a whimper, like this king of Tyre. He will not be made a spectacle until the very end when he is cast into the lake of fire.


So, what do we do with all of that lofty language? Let’s find out.

 

Part 1: Past Glory (Ezekiel 28:11-15)

11 The word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, lament for the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord God says:
You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every kind of precious stone covered you: carnelian, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and emerald. Your mountings and settings were crafted in gold; they were prepared on the day you were created. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub, for I had appointed you. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 From the day you were created you were blameless in your ways until wickedness was found in you.

Really, what do we do with this? (And of all of the passages, why did Lifeway pick this one?) Here’s my take: God intends us to draw the parallel between the King of Tyre and Adam, not Satan. (I also see some bleed-over between the King of Tyre the man, and the King of Tyre as representative for Tyre as a whole.) In any event, we should see that God has blessed the King of Tyre with all sorts of natural advantages – wisdom, strength, good looks, great character. This king had it all.


(Just forthefunofit, I wondered about modern analogies. Who can you think of?)


There are two major background images in play: the garden of Eden (explicitly mentioned in verse 13, but alluded to in verse 14), and the high priest of Israel (verse 13 also applies to the high priest’s garments). But it’s not “The Garden of Eden Proper” because there’s nothing about a mountain or about fiery stones in Genesis 2. Rather, we should read those details as proof of the immense wealth of Tyre (think rubies and emeralds lining the streets). (Note: we aren’t exactly sure what kinds of precious stones some of these words refer to.)


God had given this king every conceivable advantage, and he had used them well to build Tyre into an even greater empire.


(Note: I also see parallels with David and Solomon – two men who had “won the genetic lottery” and started extremely well as leaders … until they fell catastrophically.)


God is just using very lofty language to describe “what could have been” for the king of Tyre. That’s what makes the final phrase so stark – “until wickedness was found in you”.

 

Part 2: Rebellion Denounced (Ezekiel 28:16-19)

16 Through the abundance of your trade, you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I expelled you in disgrace from the mountain of God, and banished you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud because of your beauty; For the sake of your splendor you corrupted your wisdom. So I threw you down to the ground; I made you a spectacle before kings. 18 You profaned your sanctuaries by the magnitude of your iniquities in your dishonest trade. So I made fire come from within you, and it consumed you. I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of everyone watching you. 19 All those who know you among the peoples are appalled at you. You have become an object of horror and will never exist again.’”

Yes, Satan rebelled and was cast down, but the same can be said of Adam. And Adam’s experience is much more relatable to human readers. In his pride, Adam believed he knew better than God, and that pride because the blueprint of human sin in every generation since.


We really don’t know much about the inner workings of Tyre’s trading empire. With the Syrians and Assyrians and Babylonians, we have extensive artifacts describing just how many human rights violations they committed. We don’t have that for Tyre. This suggests that Tyre – under the direction of its king – had started doing some awful things with its power and money. Certainly something worse than kicking Jerusalem while Jerusalem was down! Unfortunately, we just don’t know what it was; we can only speculate. It involved greed, pride, violence, idolatry, and dishonesty, so let your imagination run wild.


I think there’s one more level to this. Remember this promise to Abraham:

And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as a permanent possession, and I will be their God. (Gen 17:8)

And remember this warning to the Israelites in the wilderness:

Do not follow the practices of the land of Egypt, where you used to live, or follow the practices of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. You must not follow their customs. (Lev 18:3)

And then finally this command:

You must completely destroy them—the Hethite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite—as the Lord your God has commanded you. (Deut 20:17)

We’re talking about all of the ancient neighbors of Israel – the ones whose idolatry and opposition to the Israelites made them opprobrious to God. But Tyre, an ancient coastal Canaanite city, had maintained good relations with God’s people and apparently even been somewhat righteous in their dealings. (Ezekiel 47:20 explains that Tyre is part of Israel’s allotted land.) Earning, I suppose, a measure of God's mercy.


Until now.


Now, in fulfillment of an ancient command, Tyre would finally fall. Tyre was the most successful and influential of Israel’s neighbors, but this would be their end. Again, attempting to take advantage of Jerusalem’s calamity was the trigger, but it certainly wasn’t the only thing. Tyre, under the leadership of its king, had started doing the kinds of things that made God want Israel to destroy the ancient inhabitants of the land of Canaan. Israel did not, and so God would use Nebuchadnezzar as His instrument of judgment (as He did multiple times).


The lesson part is pretty simple: your sins will find you out. Tyre had built a vast empire, the kind of empire that couldn’t be conquered by traditional means. And they had done so with a rather good reputation. They were faithful, trustworthy traders held in very high regard. But eventually their unrighteousness led them into bad actions, and their empire could not save them.


Like with the examples I mentioned at the top, no one is too big to fall. No one can escape the consequences of their choices. And no one can hide their sin from God.


Today, we know the ultimate fulfillment of this happens at the final judgment before Christ, but this passage is a warning that judgment can also find us in this life.

 

Part 3: Hope Stirred (Ezekiel 28:25-26)

25 “‘This is what the Lord God says: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples where they are scattered, I will demonstrate my holiness through them in the sight of the nations, and they will live in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob. 26 They will live there securely, build houses, and plant vineyards. They will live securely when I execute judgments against all their neighbors who treat them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.’”

The lesson skips the few verses dedicated to Sidon. Sidon was a little north of Tyre (in fact, Sidon “planted” Tyre before being eclipsed by Tyre). It would fill the vacuum created by Tyre’s siege. But it also never had much of an independent identity once Greece rolled around. It, like Tyre, mainly existed simply because the conquering empires liked its location.

It also skips the verse that more or less explains this entire section:

24 “‘The house of Israel will no longer be hurt by prickly briers or painful thorns from all their neighbors who treat them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord God.”

This section is about God’s judgment on Israel’s neighbors who had treated her badly over the generations. Never again.


This is not to say that God is excusing Israel or blaming Israel’s failures on her neighbors (even though the Bible is also clear that Israel adopted the idolatry and unrighteousness of her neighbors)! No, God punished Israel severely for her sin. Rather, this is God holding everyone accountable.


BUT –


God does not leave things at the punishment stage. There’s a deeper purpose. By punishing Israel’s neighbors, when God brings the remnant back into the land, they will be able to dwell there in safety.


You shouldn’t need me to tell you why words like those would be so necessary and encouraging to people living in exile! But you should probably wonder how these verses were fulfilled. We know that when the first exiles returned from Babylon at the leave of the new King Cyrus, they were opposed by the people living in the land (read Ezra 4 for example). And then they were bandied about by the Greek. And the Romans. And then Jerusalem would be completely destroyed by the Romans.


Rather, we should see these verses as a glimpse of the “New Jerusalem” that will come down out of heaven when Christ returns. We have plenty of references to this “Mount Zion” in the Old Testament, like in Isaiah 65 or Jeremiah 31. My personal favorite is from Zechariah 8:

3 The Lord says this: “I will return to Zion and live in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City; the mountain of the Lord of Armies will be called the Holy Mountain.” 4 The Lord of Armies says this: “Old men and women will again sit along the streets of Jerusalem, each with a staff in hand because of advanced age. 5 The streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in them.” 6 The Lord of Armies says this: “Though it may seem impossible to the remnant of this people in those days, should it also seem impossible to me?”

It's hope. And it’s a sneak peek at the final section of Ezekiel – hope for the future.

  • God will restore righteous leadership to Israel (ch 34)

  • God will restore the land (ch 36)

  • God will restore the people (ch 37)

  • God will restore worship (ch 40-46)

And it comes with a restoration of God’s original intent of Eden. Ezekiel 47: “Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I had returned, I saw a very large number of trees along both sides of the riverbank. 8 He said to me, “This water flows out to the eastern region and goes down to the Arabah. When it enters the sea, the sea of foul water, the water of the sea becomes fresh. 9 Every kind of living creature that swarms will live wherever the river flows, and there will be a huge number of fish because this water goes there. Since the water will become fresh, there will be life everywhere the river goes. … 12 All kinds of trees providing food will grow along both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. Each month they will bear fresh fruit because the water comes from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be used for eating and their leaves for healing.”


And it gets better: Ezekiel 48:35 – “The perimeter of the city will be six miles, and the name of the city from that day on will be The Lord Is There.”


So, the end of Ezekiel is clearly talking about a time that has not yet happened. God’s people will indeed live securely in their own land, but this is talking about the end of days, the new heavens and earth.


[If I have time next week, I will talk about Ezekiel’s “New Jerusalem” and how it compares with what John sees in the Revelation.]


This is a message of hope, particularly appropriate as we face a new year. 2022 could bring good things or bad, but nothing can change God’s sure promise of a future day when God’s people will dwell in peace and safety in the presence of God.


That’s encouraging, is it not?


As you close this week’s lesson, ask everyone to think about their hopes for the new year. Most importantly, ask if anyone needs to fix a damaged relationship with God. God resists the proud, like the king of Tyre, but He gives grace to the humble – are you proud or humble right now?


Finally, let’s focus on one line: “I will demonstrate my holiness through them in the sight of the nations.” Jesus said that His followers should point the world to Him, and one of the ways we do so is through our “holiness” – in other words, how we are “set apart” from the patterns and behaviors of the wicked world. When people look at you, do they see just another person, or do they see Jesus? (Okay, that was a bit dramatic. How about this – does your lifestyle attract people to Jesus or make people think less of Jesus?) We need to choose to live holy lives. May as well start now!

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