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(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

Neither the prince of Tyre nor the king of Babylon is Satan

I have never understood why the prophecy about the prince of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:1-19 and the taunt against the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:3-23 have traditionally been interpreted as having reference to Satan. I have just come across the argument again in Greg Gilbert’s book Who is Jesus?

Gilbert accepts that the Ezekiel passage is ostensibly about the prince of Tyre but insists that it makes no sense to speak of the ruler of an obscure coastal city in the ancient Near East as an anointed guardian cherub, who was in Eden and on the holy mountain of God: “even as poetry, it would be overkill to the point of absurdity and poetic failure”.

Something else is happening here, he argues, and “the effect is almost cinematic”.

It’s as if the face of the evil king of Tyre is flickering in and out with another face—the face of one who stands behind Tyre’s evil, who drives it and encourages it and whose character it reflects.

Now, in the first place, I’m not sure that someone who is so patently under the spell of a modern “cinematic” aesthetic is fit to judge the success or failure of ancient poetry. Nor is it likely that Ezekiel would have dismissed Tyre as an obscure coastal city. But the basic problem is exegetical. The tradition has read into the texts something that simply isn’t there.

The prince of Tyre is accused of having made himself like a god, of claiming to “sit in the seat of the gods” (28:1, 6). Therefore, the Lord God will bring a ruthless nation against him, and he will die at the hands of foreigners. That will put an end to his boasting: “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?” (Ezek. 28:9).

Ezekiel is then told to “raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre”:

You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 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.

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. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.

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.

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. 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. All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever. (Ezek. 28:12–19 ESV)

The details of this Eden story present a number of difficulties, but the central line of thought is clear enough. The prince of Tyre is compared not with Satan but with Adam. He was originally blameless—a wise king who gained great wealth (28:3-5)—but he became proud and violent; therefore, God cast him from the garden, which is also the “mountain of God”. The fall of Adam is used as a metaphor for the corruption of a king who in the end thought he could become like a god.

The traditional association of this passage with Satan arose, presumably, because in the Hebrew Masoretic Text the king is also said to be an “anointed guardian cherub”, an angelic figure. But if the Hebrew were unpointed, we would naturally read verse 14a thus: “With a winged guardian cherub I set you”; and verse 16b: “the guardian cherub banished you from the habitat of the blazing gems”.1 This is what we have in the Septuagint:

From the day you were created, I placed you with the cherub in a holy, divine mountain…, and the cherub drove you from the midst of the fiery stones.

So the identification of the prince of Tyre with Satan renders the passage incoherent—he is both Adam and Satan—and is exegetically unnecessary. The lamentation concludes with the humiliation of the very human king, and the assurance that he “shall be no more forever”.

Illustration from Milton's Paradise Lost by Gustave Doré

Gilbert also assumes that Isaiah 14:12-14 is a straightforward description of Satan:

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

But again the object of the prophet’s satire is only a human ruler who imagined that he could make himself equal to God. YHWH will eventually give his people rest from their oppressor, and they will “take up this taunt against the king of Babylon” (Is. 14:3-4). The great king, once the “Day Star, son of Dawn”, who laid the nations low, will be cut down to the ground. He will be brought down to Sheol, and people will say, “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who did not let his prisoners go home?” (Is. 14:12-17).

Whereas the prince of Tyre was Adam expelled (metaphorically) from Eden, the king of Babylon is the morning star cast down (metaphorically) from heaven. Hardly a “poetic failure”. The Septuagint translated “Day Star, son of Dawn” as “Eosphoros, who makes the morning rise”, which became in the Latin Vulgate “Lucifer, you who made the morning rise”. There we have the beginnings of a Satan mythology.

  • 1. See L.C. Allen, Ezekiel 20–48 (WBC 29, 1990), 90-91.

Comments

Thank you for this. This came up in my Sunday School several weeks ago, and it’s a good indicator of how, once we have an idea of what the text “should” say, then we see it.

I mean, these two texts form the overwhelming bulk of what people “know” about Satan. Because they “know” that Satan was an angel who wanted to rival God, then these passages must be about him. But all that information comes from these passages. Is there anything else in the Bible that says Satan was an angelic being or that he wanted God’s throne?

Ironically, Phil, it may be that the argument about the kings of Babylon and Tyre works better in the New Testament context. On the one hand, Satan offers Jesus the sort of sovereignty over the nations that the king of Babylon (or Caesar) aspired to. On the other, I think that in 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation in particular we have the idea that the oriental divine ruler is inspired by Satan.

Have you collected your thoughts on Satan in a central post? I would love to better understand how you view Satan in the larger narrative approach.

Here you go. Best I can do.

King of Tyre/Lucifer is refering to morning star/ the masonic occult.. They are human as i or you… They call upon satan and then go to war with you.. They use witch craft, voodoo, dolls, tarot cards etc.. They actually commit the act to someone (evil vile acts) and sacrifice to do so in the spiritual realm to make it real ..They then start turning away from there sins during the 10 days of awww.. They use those in battle that are of Jesus and has him/her cast out demons.. Cause remember who Jesus sets free is free indeed. They have set individual times to be set free.. They pick there main sin that they want to keep. Anyways.. I grew up with family and am experiencing it now..

There may be (in my opinion probably is) a little more to the Ezekiel and Isaiah prophecies than is being proposed. The linking of the Prince of Tyre with Eden, the guardian cherub, and the expulsion of from Eden seems somewhat remarkable in itself, as a unique association of scripture with the Eden story.

In the NT we have two passages which seem to have echoes of Isaiah and Ezekiel.

In Luke 10, there is “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”. The echo of Isaiah 14:12 is unique and striking: “How you are fallen from heaven, O shining one, son of the dawn (in other words, morning star)!”.

Who is the “morning star”? It’s not the same words, but the same referent, in Job 38:7, where “morning stars” in (a) is paralleled with “all the angels” in (b).

In Revelation, stars are metaphors for angels (1:20 and 12:4, more of which anon).

In 2 Peter 1:19, the morning star appears again, this time as a title of Jesus, and a connection with Satan (not the Prince of Tyre, but using an association with Ezekiel prophecy), is suggestive. Jesus takes the title which was once Satan’s. (It is unlikely to hvae been the title which was once Adam’s, though that might be an interesting line of thought to pursue).

in other words, the title and metaphor “star” in “morning star” in Isaiah has the same consistent meaning as elsewhere in scripture (except 2 Peter 1:19) - it refers to an angel.

Then in Revelation 12, there is “the great dragon (Satan)”, who is “hurled to the earth”. The echo of Ezekiel 28:17 here is unique and striking: “So I threw you to earth”.

Both prophecies could be said to share a feature of prophecy in scripture, which is that greater events emerge beyond the immediate events they describe.

If the NT glosses Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 at these particular points in the prophecies as Satan, who are we to argue that they refer to anyone else?

Hey Peter,

Good to see you back around. Good points as usual.

My thought is that there’s a difference between saying an OT prophecy has another referent and saying that an NT author appropriates an OT prophecy to describe their circumstances because certain things connect the two.

So, for instance, instead of saying Ezekiel 28 is “really” about Satan, I’d be more inclined to say it’s “really” about the king of Tyre, but John will take that same apocalyptic imagery and apply it to Jesus’ overthrow of the Satanic-powered regime of his day. As if John were saying, “Just as God cast the King of Tyre and his empire down from its power, so he throws Satan and his empire down from power (Satan’s empire being Rome).”

I find this approach more satisfying than saying that Ezekiel was actually prophesying about the defeat of Satan, but the original audience misunderstood and/or the king of Tyre reference was just incidental to the actual point.

The king of Babylon did not exist originally as a star in heaven. He is described as a man who thought he would ascend to heaven: “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God…” (Is. 14:13). The king is also described as a tree which is cut down to the ground. And of course, Jesus compares Satan to lightning, not to a star. Nolland’s comment is pertinent:

Despite the long history of linking this verse with Isa 14:12 as applied to the fall of Satan…, there is finally no adequate basis for such a connection, or for any early Jewish interpretation of the text from Isaiah as referring to the primordial fall of Satan from heaven. The closest parallel to the imagery here is provided by T. Sol. 20:16–17: “we [demons] … fall … like flashes of lightning to the earth.” (John Nolland, Luke 9:21–18:34 (WBC 35B, 1993), 563)

Your proposal regarding 2 Peter 1:19 is interesting but I would take it differently:

In 2 Peter 1:19, the morning star appears again, this time as a title of Jesus, and a connection with Satan (not the Prince of Tyre, but using an association with Ezekiel prophecy), is suggestive. Jesus takes the title which was once Satan’s. (It is unlikely to hvae been the title which was once Adam’s, though that might be an interesting line of thought to pursue).

If there is is a reference to Isaiah 14:12 here, it is surely more likely that Jesus is thought to take a title that was once the king of Babylon’s—who, after all, is the explicit subject of the passage. It is not Caesar, in other words, who will ultimately rule over the nations but Jesus. The idea that Jesus should take Satan’s title seems a little eccentric.

Then in Revelation 12, there is “the great dragon (Satan)”, who is “hurled to the earth”. The echo of Ezekiel 28:17 here is unique and striking: “So I threw you to earth”.

But there is no suggestion in Ezekiel 28 that the prince of Tyre was in heaven. It is because he is acting violently as a king—not as an angel—that he is cast from the mountain of God and cast to the ground.

In both Isaiah and Ezekiel the whole point of the condemnation is that these men have presumed to elevate themselves to divine or semi-divine status. Satan was not a man,.

Apart from that, I agree with Phil’s account of the relation between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

But yes, nice to have you back.

I didn’t really go away, but thank you for the welcome back. I’m intending not to be so irritatingly frequent in future, especially since I seem to be usually in disagreement with things.

Phil - I’m not actually saying that the King of Babylon is ‘really’ Satan, but that another figure is coming into view through the King of Babylon at the relevant point in the prophecy. I’d say the same with The Prince of Tyre.

I wouldn’t have expected there to be an “early Jewish interpretation of the text from Isaiah as referring to the primordial fall of Satan from heaven” (Nolland). I would suggest still that the phraseology of Luke 10:4 echoes Isaiah 14:12, where, incidentally, the ‘King of Babylon’ is said to have “fallen from heaven” and been “cast down to earth” - the latter also picking up the phraseology of Revelation 12:9 etc, which refers to Satan. A double association with Satan. As for Nolland’s comment, it’s not the OT authors but the NT who make the connection, if any, with Satan. Similar types of augmented meanings by NT authors are made in other OT prophecies used in the NT.

Ezekiel 28 uses the phrase “threw you to earth”. If this meant thrown from Eden, it might be thought odd, since the ‘Prince of Tyre/Satan was already on the earth in Eden. It may be that his (Satan’s) sphere of operations was between earth and heaven, from the latter of which he was, as it were, defenestrated.

Or maybe there is an echo here of the curse on the serpent/Satan, another example of a different figure, Satan, coming into view behind the immediate figure, the serpent. The serpent was deprived of the use of its limbs, and so literally thrown to the earth (though the phrase isn’t used, of course).

By the way, the AV use of ‘Lucifer’ to describe “the King of Babylon” in Isaiah 14:10 was probably the origin of the association of the name with Satan, not as I think you suggest, tapping into a pre-existing Lucifer/Satan association.

Anyway, I’m still struck by the echoes of the OT phraseology in these passages referring to Satan in the NT.

I also had a feeling Caesar might make an appearance in this conversation somewhere.

(It is unlikely to hvae been the title which was once Adam’s, though that might be an interesting line of thought to pursue).

Ezekiel 28 uses the phrase “threw you to earth”. If this meant thrown from Eden, it might be thought odd, since the ‘Prince of Tyre/Satan was already on the earth in Eden.

Just thinking outside the proverbial box…

Is there any scope for understanding these characters in terms of types of Adam… who in Eden (paradise/God’s garden/presence = heaven), having usurped his appointed place of authority for higher realms, was not then summarily cast out/down, in disgrace? IF Peter’s dawning “Day Star” was Christ i.e., “the last Adam” aka “the second man form heaven”, then why could not Isaiah’s “O Day Star, son of Dawn” be “the first Adam” aka “the man from the earth” (garden).

Through faithful obedience Jesus became true Adam/Israel… “the son of God” – a designation given to all three; the last one however through faithful obedience “with power”.

Ezekiel certainly uses the story of Adam’s attempt to be like God and his subsequent downfall and expulsion as a typology for judgment on the prince of Tyre. This is why the identification of the prince of Tyre with Satan makes no sense. He “is” Adam who was tempted not the serpent which tempted him. Echoes of the Adam story are much less pronounced in Isaiah 14.

The phrase “the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet. 1:19) is usually understood as an allusion to Numbers 24:17:

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.

But I rather like the idea that 2 Peter 1:19 depicts Jesus as the new ruler of the nations:

How is fallen from heaven the Day Star which rises (heōsphoros… anatellōn) in the morning! (Is. 14:12 LXX)

…until the day dawns and the morning star rises (phōsphoros anateilēi) in your hearts. (2 Pet. 1:19)

The falling/rising star imagery is not connected with Adam. It is the apocalyptic-political theme which is to the fore: one great blasphemous ruler of the nations is about to fall, a new “morning star” is about to rise to judge and rule over the nations. It’s a bit speculative, but it certainly fits my narrative. A minor variant reading of 2 Peter 1:19 has eōsphoros, perhaps in an attempt to conform it to Isaiah 14:12 LXX.

Thanks Andrew… interesting, and nothing wrong with speculation IMO.

Ezekiel 28 uses the phrase “threw you to earth”. If this meant thrown from Eden, it might be thought odd, since the ‘Prince of Tyre/Satan was already on the earth in Eden.

The expression “throw/cast to the ground” is found quite often in the Old Testament, meaning to overthrow, defeat, humiliate. In terms of vocabulary these are probably the closest:

But the vine was plucked up in fury, cast down to the ground…. (Ezek. 19:12)

And the ram had no power to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. (Dan. 8:7)

The destruction of Jerusalem is described in these terms:

How the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud! He has cast down from heaven to earth the splendor of Israel; he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger. (Lam. 2:1)

But the reference is only to Jerusalem, and “from heaven” is made explicit (as in Is. 14:12). Since it is not said that that prince of Tyre is in heaven—he is in Eden, on the mountain—there can be no question that he is simply thrown to the ground in defeat, “exposed… before kings”.

By the way, the AV use of ‘Lucifer’ to describe “the King of Babylon” in Isaiah 14:10 was probably the origin of the association of the name with Satan, not as I think you suggest, tapping into a pre-existing Lucifer/Satan association.

Was my last paragraph really so unclear? My point was only that the name “Lucifer”, as a translation of heōsphoros, entered the interpretive tradition via the Vulgate—long before the AV:

quomodo cecidisti de caelo lucifer qui mane oriebaris corruisti in terram qui vulnerabas gentes.

Various points taken, Andrew. Thank you for the background work.

I’m still left with an echo of Isaiah 14:12 in Luke 10:18 (lightning aside), and in Revelation 12:7-10, where heaven is more than a metaphor for arrogant thinking, as you might say it was in Isaiah 12.

I’m also left with “cast down to earth” in Revelation 12:10, which attractive as it is to include with the other OT uses of the phrase as meaning simply ‘total defeat and humiliation’, actually seems to be more than a simple metaphor here. In Revelation 12:13, the dragon, Satan, goes off to make war on the saints following his more than meptaphorical ejection from heaven to earth, so is only in a qualified sense totally defeated and humiliated.

No such continuing role for the ‘Prince of Tyre’ following his ejection from Eden of course, but it’s not an exact like for like comparison.

Your interpretation of the Ezekiel passage seemed on further reflection to be fairly watertight, though you did admit some problems with unspecified details. But then I wondered, if the Prince of Tyre was being associated with Adam, not Satan, what was the meaning of verse 16b:

“I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub”.

How does this fit with your interpretation - or is this one of the details which presents a number of difficulties? Could the difficulty be that it mght drive us back to Greg Gilbert’s (and the tradition’s) interpretation?

Clearly Revelation 12:10 speaks of the dragon being expelled from heaven (again this is made explicit). The question is whether there is any allusion here to Isaiah 14:12. I see no reason to think that there is. The mythical background seems quite different, though Aune writes:

The myth of the heavenly battle between Michael and Satan resulting in the defeat and expulsion of Satan and his angels from heaven (vv 7–9) is narrated as an eschatological event in 12:9 (as it is in Luke 10:18; cf. the language of John 12:31), but as an exclusively primordial or protological event in early Jewish and Islamic literature, a motif based on Isa 14:12–15.

I have to say, having glanced at the texts he cites, I’m not at all sure that the supposed Jewish myth of the expulsion of Satan (as part of the creation narrative) owes anything to Isaiah 14:12. But it gets rather murky.

Yes, there is an issue with the reference to a “guardian cherub”. This is what I wrote in the post:

The traditional association of this passage with Satan arose, presumably, because in the Hebrew Masoretic Text the king is also said to be an “anointed guardian cherub”, an angelic figure. But if the Hebrew were unpointed, we would naturally read verse 14a thus: “With a winged guardian cherub I set you”; and verse 16b: “the guardian cherub banished you from the habitat of the blazing gems”. This is what we have in the Septuagint:

From the day you were created, I placed you with the cherub in a holy, divine mountain…, and the cherub drove you from the midst of the fiery stones.

To my mind this makes much better sense of the passage, but it goes against the pointing of the MT, on which our English translations are based.

Andrew, Peter, Hi.

It has been a long time since OST, but I come and peep in at the windows from time to time. At the risk of commenting above my pay grade, or ability, this thread is so familiar I thought it worth a try. I did a piece on this subject a long while ago, at least twenty years, probably under the influence of Winkian dyspepsia. I don’t recall much of it now apart from the title ‘A Mongrel in Heaven’, which rather gives it away.

Like you, Andrew, I never understood how Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 ever came to form the foundation of a story about the Satan. Reactions when I did deny those texts that role were odd, almost as if some sort of blasphemy were implied when I questioned the support for a primordial fall of angels.

One thing I do remember, and would like to check out with you two, or anyone else who knows, is that reading of Luke 12, which of course came well within the range of passages under review. Are you sure, Peter, that the tense is correct? I no longer have access to notes but I do recall translating this as “I was seeing” rather than “I saw”. The point is the location of the statement. The disciples have returned after their adventure and are astonished at their participation in those signs of the kingdom. It is impossible to miss their excitement as they tell Jesus what happened.

Now, according to most readings, Jesus does not respond to what the disciples are talking about, in a sort of metaphysical non sequitur, or is it a past-life flashback? Jesus appears to recall an event whose implication or even relevance is not easy to make out. But if Jesus hears the stories of what the disciples saw and responds directly, in effect saying, “Yes, you saw all that, and I was seeing Satan fall…” A rather different story is implied. Of course it is not necessary for the verb to be continuous, but the assumption that the event Jesus describes is far in the past is more clearly avoided if it is. It seems valid to suggest that there is an implied paraphrase to the disciples “Yes, and when you did that I saw the Satan fall.”

Hi Chris. This made me look at the passage a bit more closely. I think I might agree with you about the contrast between Jesus’ vision and the messengers’ report, but I have a different way of construing it.

Excuse my lack of surprise, Andrew. Well, it’s different from what I didn’t say, but I didn’t want to make too much of a meal of it. It seemed to me that Jesus’ response had to be in the present tense (without being wooden about it). This means it has to be focussed on the eschatalogical implication of what has hust happened. The solemn concern of his response seems to me to fit the text. Lightning, I guess, is never a good sign. With such an exciting adventure, and given how slowly the disciples came to awareness of how deeply Jesus was changing the landscape, it is not surprising that a ‘whoopee’ moment should be followed by ‘Oh shoot, what the heck have we gotten into now?’ Anyway, thanks for picking it up.

You have a real grasp on this subject, thank you for elucidating, as I was thoroughly confused about it :)

The king of Tyre …was not Satan…..but since his name was Ithobaal…one can rightly assume he was Baal worshiper. Therefore it does not take a rocket science to recognize who the real subject is in the text. to make the claim that the reference is not alluding to Satan is ludicrous… that is what happens when man has to take apart and analyze every little thing written in Scripture.

Too much education and information can led any individual to be mirror images of the text they are scrutinizing. The king of Tyre was proud because he thought his wisdom surpassed Daniel”s.

I believe that both Isaiah and Ezekiel books were alluding to the fall of Satan.. and I don’t even have a PHD or BS or MBS after my name„, I just read my Bible and the Holy Spirit gives me all the insight I need… in fact the Bible states that a a believer, one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to lead me in all truth regarding Christ and the Holy Scripture… perhaps that is why I can accept somethings on faith, and know that I do not have to everything God is doing, I just know that He is and has been at work since He first spoke the His Word in Genesis and brought forth all the mankind sees and experiences…blesses be the name of the Lord.

How do you know Satan is the real subject of the text?

And incidentally, if someone disagrees with you about a passage, does that mean they don’t have the Holy Spirit like you do?

1. If the king of Tyre worshipped Satan, then clearly he is not himself Satan, which would support my argument; however:

2. I don’t see any reason to identify “Ethbaal king of the Sidonians” (1 Kings 16:31) with Ezekiel’s prince of Tyre; and:

3. Baal is not Satan in the Old Testament. Baal is a Canaanite god. Satan (“the accuser”) appears to have been a member of the divine council (Job 1:7; 2:2).

I believe Lucifer was a Devine king on earth that was favored by God and became so vain with power that was gave him to overthrow nations .. with the main logic God made the devil satin for us to choose between good and evil .. not to think when we get to heaven we can rebel anytime we want.. that dose not make sense to think Angels and humans alike can ever think to overthrow the lord in heaven dumb ones on earth always but not in heaven…