Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ezekiel 28:16: Satan? Adam? Who?

I read four Bible verses each day in Hebrew and Greek.  Right now, I am in the Book of Ezekiel.  I have been reading the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint for that book.  I read it on my BibleWorks, which is less time-consuming because I do not have to plow through lexicons.

I came across something interesting today.  In Ezekiel 28:12-17, the King of Tyre is being addressed, but he is being likened to someone in Eden, the Garden of God.  This figure in Eden was beautiful, until iniquity was found in him.

The view that I got growing up and in churches is that this figure in Eden was Satan.  According to this view, Satan was once an angel named Lucifer, but he rebelled against God and became Satan.

The view that I heard in biblical scholarship was that the figure in Eden in Exodus 28:12-17 was Adam.

In terms of this difference of opinion, a lot hinges on the meaning of Ezekiel 28:16.  The King James Version and the New Revised Standard Version translate this verse differently.

The KJV has:

"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."

Here, the figure in Eden is called a "covering cherub."  That is more consistent with the "Satan" interpretation.

The NRSV, by contrast, has:

"In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you out from among the stones of fire."

Here, the figure in Eden is not the cherub.  Rather, the figure is cast out by a cherub.  This is more consistent with the "Adam" interpretation.  It may be an allusion to Genesis 3:24, in which cherubim guard the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life.

Which translation is correct?  Well, each seems to follow a specific version.

The KJV appears to follow the Masoretic Text.  The MT has "and I will destroy you, cherub, the one covering, from the midst of stones of fire" (my translation).

The NRSV, however, follows the Septuagint, which has "and the cherub led you from the midst of fiery stones" (my translation).

A reason that many scholars may shy away from the "Satan" interpretation is that they do not want to read later ideas about the fall of Lucifer into the Hebrew Bible.  Perhaps, though, a case can be made for some version of the "Satan" interpretation, from a historical-critical standpoint.  Maybe the figure in Eden in Ezekiel 28:16 is the serpent in the Garden of Eden, not Adam.  A serpent in the ancient world could have been considered a cherub.  J.J.M. Roberts, in his comments on Isaiah 6:2 in the HarperCollins Study Bible, states that the seraphim in that verse are "winged cobras (14.29; 30:6) often represented in Egyptian art, in association with Syro-Phoenician thrones, and on Israelite seals with wings outstretched to protect the deity."

The author of Ezekiel 28 could have regarded the serpent in Genesis 3 as that: a beautiful serpent cherub who decided to oppose the will of God by tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden.  The author of Ezekiel 28 may be comparing the prideful King of Tyre with the serpent.

That does not mean that one should read too much about Satan into Ezekiel 28.  The author of Ezekiel 28 did not necessarily regard the serpent as a long-standing archenemy of God throughout history.  That kind of picture hardly ever appears in the Hebrew Bible, and it may have entered Judaism in Israel's exilic or post-exilic period, under the influence of Zoroastrian dualism.  Plus, the Satan in the Hebrew Bible is considered by many biblical scholars to be a prosecuting attorney rather than God's arch-enemy.  Still, Ezekiel 28 may be referring to a renegade cherub who strayed from the will of God.


  1. Hi James - hope the move goes/is going well.

    I wonder if there is some sense in the person of the king of Tyre, standing as a representative of all the people (traders) of Tyre, an image of what happens when anyone has power, beauty, privilege, and gift becomes so obsessed with their market (trade) that they forget (all of them collectively - can't blame the king alone) where riches and beauty etc come from.

    I seems to me that we are all in danger of that especially in our current North American and first world society. We have an atomized view of our individuality but we are all in this together. Think how many 1000s of people enable even this conversation by comment. So does God address us through Ezekiel as America as Canada as Britain as Europe and say - you are so filled with trade that you have profaned yourself before the hill of God and you have sinned I will have you perish from the midst of the stones of fire. This leaves out the cherub - the overshadowing (סכך) (not covering כסה, or cover over כפר) - so how to connect the cherub to the sentence. Is it interpreted as part of a construct chain or in apposition, or after the fact validation that when God does something, there is no going back to the original state.

    I have to admit that I see Adam, Job, and lots of other speakers in the Bible like the poet of Lamentations 3 or Psalms 42-43 as speaking on behalf of everyone, as parables (Job calls himself a parable repeatedly). Jesus of course is such a corporate person - who can say I am the vine and not be seen as encompassing the whole. That's why we rejoice that although 'by man' came death, also by man will all be made alive. We're in a bundle with Adam, or the king of Tyre or the miserable Job, but we are also in a bundle with Christ Jesus.

    I suspect that the LXX translators saw the covering cherub as instrumental or construct or incidental and consequential to the destruction of the king of Tyre.

    Anyway - God help us realize that not everything is for 'me' but we have much to do in responsibility for all we meet (one at a time.)


  2. Actually, we are moving closer to Portland!

    There is a lot to unpack, especially in the middle of your comment.

  3. Great - In Portland at Grace Church the pastor is a very good friend of mine and a fine fellow, Martin Elfort. He has a blog there now that they are settled in - lovely family, wife Phoebe is from Victoria. Her Dad was my pastor for a long time. Recently deceased from cancer.

    Grace Memorial Episcopal Church
    1535 NE 17th Avenue
    Portland, Oregon 97232

    Grace is located between 16th and 17th Avenues in the Lloyd District with parking lot and street parking.

    I see on rereading my comment that it could do with a few commas and quote marks and the correction of a typo (I for It and a missing '?'). Do unpack away - sometimes my fingers and my eyes miss things.

  4. I may check that church out. I'll probably have to learn the bus system to visit it, since it is outside of my zip code. But I have thought of trying Episcopal churches.


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