The Mysterious King of Tyre

Ezekiel 28 is known for its double prophecies against the rulers of the ancient port of Tyre in modern day Lebanon. The first ten verses concern the “prince [nagid] of Tyre” and speak of his fate by God’s judgment. But then comes a lamentation against the “king of Tyre” (Ezek. 28:11-19). The description of this king is curious to say the least. God says that he was the sum of perfection or proportion, wise and utterly beautiful (28:12. Cf. Ezek. 27:3). This seems an over the top way to speak about an earthly ruler, but perhaps this is mere hyperbole? Tyre, after all, was an important city in Phoenicia which rose to prominence in the time of Rameses II and was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar in 573 B.C.1 Its king would have been impressive enough. Ezekiel surely would have had the Tyrean court in mind.

But unless one is bound and determined to look the other way it is very difficult not to see a double reference in the passage.2 Some of the language, like verses 16 and 17, could fit a 6thcentury Phoenician king. But of whom could it be said, “You were perfect [or “whole” tamiyim] in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.” (Ezek. 28:15)? It could be Adam, and indeed many recent Reformed writers identify this figure as Adam; usually in service of their expanding “Cosmic Temple” view3 which they use to shore up their amillennial eschatology.4 Of course, Adam was “in Eden” (28:13), but he was naked until he fell (Gen. 2:25; 3:7, 10-11), and if he had priests garments when he heard the Lord in the garden, why did he not don them?5 In fact, why would he have garments at all if he went about naked? In clothing Adam Beale and others flatly contradict Genesis.

As the prophet continues his description of “the king of Tyre” some things just don’t fit a human person:

You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. (Ezekiel 28:14-15)

There were cherubim in Eden, but not until after Adam had been driven from the garden (Gen. 3:24). The Book of Ezekiel is the place to go for information on the cherubim. Heavenly beings are called by that name in Ezekiel 10. In 10:20 they are equated with the “living creatures” of Ezekiel 1. Interestingly, a comparison of Ezekiel 1:10 with 10:14 would seem to show that the face of a cherub is the same as the face of an ox. In any case, if a cherub looks like the strange angelic beings in the early part of Ezekiel, then it is certain that the “anointed” or “covering cherub” of Ezekiel 28:14, 16 is not Adam, or any man.6

The “stones of fire” are mentioned only here, but there is an interesting reference in the vision of God’s court in Isaiah 6:6 of a seraph who takes a hot coal from the altar of God to press on Isaiah’s lips.7 Whether there is a link to that episode or not, it is not easy to think of Adam as a firewalker. The “fiery stones” are said to be “on the holy mountain of God”. This reference to a mountain is jumped on by advocates of an “Edenic Temple” to try to prove that Eden, like all ancient holy spaces, was a high place.8 But a cherub walking upon fiery stones is more consonant with heaven than earth, even if it is the original earthly Paradise.9 Isaiah 14:13 is worth looking at in this regard:

For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north

Although modern scholarship rejects the identification of “Helel (Lucifer), son of the morning” (Isa. 14:12) as Satan, the fact that Helel fell from heaven and seeks to get back there rules out a human being. Whatismore, a mountain is mentioned in connection with heaven by Isaiah, so it is not reaching too far to surmise that a mountain is indeed in heaven. Why, after all, should heaven be thought of as a flat plain?

If we consider the following description it is very hard to imagine the words as referring to a human being:

The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created. (Ezekiel 28:13c)

The verb “created” translates bara which is always used to refer to God’s creating activity. But we know that Adam was not created with musical instruments around him.10 So by process of elimination it looks as though the correspondence with Adam in the garden is strained. Added to this is the fact that Adam’s sin and the sin of this cherub were different. As Cooper rightly comments,

Furthermore, the cause for his loss of favor and exalted position do not match the biblical account of the fall of humanity. The woman was driven by a desire to gain wisdom and become like God (Gen. 3:5-6). But this character’s sin is said to have arisen from pride on account of his “beauty” (v.17) and “splendor”.11

Adam is the least likely explanation for this enigmatic figure. But if we’re going to scout around Eden for a culprit and Adam doesn’t match, there is another candidate – Satan. The likelihood that he is in view in this enigmatic passage increases if we allow that he was the “covering cherub” who sinned and what we have here is a case of progressive revelation. Who else could it be? Granted we cannot mount a conclusive case, but this still looks like the best option.


1 Richard R. Losch, The Uttermost Part of the Earth, 239-241.

2 There have been many understandings of this passage, and it I do not claim there is any one view without difficulties. Every alternative involves some reading into the text. The best way to proceed is to choose the option which has the least problems matching other texts of Scripture. Among the main positions are: 1. It refers by way of analogy to the actual Tyrean king (e.g. Greenhill, Stuart); 2. It refers to an ideal man (Fairbairn); 3. It speaks both to the real king but also to Satan as the malevolent being behind all rebellion (Cooper, Feinberg, the present writer); 4. It is a reference to Adam (Beale, Gentry & Wellum). Of the four views, the last one is the least likely.

3 See the chapter, “The Coming of the Cosmic Temple.”

4 Based on a too convenient preference for the LXX reading at verse 13, where instead of the Hebrew texts’ seven stones, twelve are mentioned. From this one can make a speculative leap and clothe the naked Adam with the twelve-gemmed priestly vestments and breastplate from Exodus 28. See G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 74, 359-360, 618, 621; T. D. Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 25; Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 212-215. Patrick Fairbairn had a low opinion of the LXX here (An Exposition of Ezekiel, 309-310).

5 If he had such clothing why did he use a fig leaf? And did Eve also have clothes or just Adam?

6 How strange it is that those who so adamantly insist that a whole book of the Bible ought to be thought of as a context as well as the immediate location of a passage fail to apply their rule in such cases as this! For a scholar who takes the Bible’s accounts seriously, see J. Daniel Hays, The Temple and the Tabernacle, 111-123. Hays is clear that, “These beings are alive, and they are not human” (Ibid, 112 cf. 121).

7 Ezekiel 10:2 may also come into play here: “Then He spoke to the man clothed with linen, and said, “Go in among the wheels, under the cherub, fill your hands with coals of fire from among the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.” And he went in as I watched.” Could these coals of fire be the “stones of fire” that the anointed cherub walked upon?

8 See Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 469.

9 The phrase “holy mountain of God” is not used anywhere else to refer to heaven according to Ralph H. Alexander, EBC revised, 803. But it is rarely used at all, so the argument is weak. Alexander does not seem to think this reference puts Eden on a mountain.

10 Cf. Gen. 4:21.

11 Lamar Eugene Cooper, Sr., Ezekiel, 267.

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There are 6 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Paul, thanks for this helpful article.  I find it very insightful.

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

I agree with your basic interpretation.  Ezekiel is using spiritual history to illustrate earthly history (the King of Tyre).  I am a big believer in double (or sometimes multiple) fulfilments.

That Lucifer is Satan, the devil, is also made clear from Jesus' reference to the Isaiah 14 passage, Luke 10:18:

And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.

As far as the mountain goes, there is a connection -- a correlation -- between the earthly Mt. Zion and the heavenly Mt. Zion.

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture


When I read through Ezekiel last year, I was convinced it wasn't referring to Satan. When I read through it again last week, I half-way believed it was! Who knows what'll happen the next time I read it ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jeff Howell's picture

Read it again ... read it again! Smile


Paul Henebury's picture

but I am persuaded it is the best alternative.  I wrote it mainly to offset those who think it refers to Adam because they are pushing an expanding temple motif 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

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