Mountain range in Czech

Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 Are Not about Satan


Once upon a time I set out to figure out what the Old Testament had to say about Satan. It turns out that it does not say very much. Although, it has a lot to say about the fallen angels and the council of gods, which we will see below. Some verses that people believe are about Satan actually are not. Two prime examples of passages that are said to be about Satan but clearly are not are Isaiah 14:12-22 and Ezekiel 28:1-19.

Isaiah and Ezekiel are tapping into some ancient ideas from Genesis and also from folklore, but these are merely glancing allusions, as I shall demonstrate. In other words, the oracles use imagery from literature previously know but they are not actually “about” Satan or any fallen angel. There is no hidden message within the text. The passages must be read as oracles to the kings of Assyria and Tyre, which allude to known cosmic themes but the oracles are not an exposition on those cosmic themes. In other words, they are not intended to contain direct teachings about anything other than their primary context. Lastly and most importantly, the sources of those cosmic themes are not necessarily biblical. They are from foreign mythologies that are only hinted at in the biblical texts.


Taunt of the Assyrian King:
Isaiah 14:1-24


When the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and again choose Israel, and settle them in their own land, then strangers will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob. 2 The peoples will take them along and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them as an inheritance in the land of the Lord as male servants and female servants; and they will take their captors captive and will rule over their oppressors.

3 And it will be in the day when the Lord gives you rest from your pain and turmoil and harsh service in which you have been enslaved, 4 that you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon, and say,

“How the oppressor has ceased,
And how fury has ceased!
5 “The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
The scepter of rulers
6 Which used to strike the peoples in fury with unceasing strokes,
Which subdued the nations in anger with unrestrained persecution.
7 “The whole earth is at rest and is quiet;
They break forth into shouts of joy.
8 “Even the cypress trees rejoice over you, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low, no tree cutter comes up against us.’
9 “Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come;
It arouses for you the spirits of the dead, all the leaders of the earth;
It raises all the kings of the nations from their thrones.
10 “They will all respond and say to you,
‘Even you have been made weak as we,
You have become like us.
11 ‘Your pomp and the music of your harps
Have been brought down to Sheol;
Maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you
And worms are your covering.’

“How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
13 “But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.
16 “Those who see you will gaze at you,
They will ponder over you, saying,
‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
Who shook kingdoms,
17 Who made the world like a wilderness
And overthrew its cities,
Who did not allow his prisoners to go home?’
18 “All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
Each in his own tomb.
19 “But you have been cast out of your tomb
Like a rejected branch,
Clothed with the slain who are pierced with a sword,
Who go down to the stones of the pit
Like a trampled corpse.
20 “You will not be united with them in burial,
Because you have ruined your country,
You have slain your people.
May the offspring of evildoers not be mentioned forever.
21 “Prepare for his sons a place of slaughter
Because of the iniquity of their fathers.
They must not arise and take possession of the earth
And fill the face of the world with cities.”

22“I will rise up against them,” declares the Lord of hosts, “and will cut off from Babylon name and survivors, offspring and posterity,” declares the Lord. 23 “I will also make it a possession for the hedgehog and swamps of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,” declares the Lord of hosts.
24 The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand, 25 to break Assyria in My land, and I will trample him on My mountains.


About the Assyrian King and Lebanon


The Assyrian Empire rose after the collapse of nearly all of the Levant and Anatolia, around 1170. Before then, the major power in Mesopotamia was the Old Babylonian empire, not to be confused with the Neo-Babylonian empire that put Judah into Exile. It was during this dark age that the Assyrians were able to gain a stronghold in the western portion of Mesopotamia and then eventually in northern Canaan. The hated biblical king Tiglath-Pilezer III (AKA Pul) was the first Assyrian ruler who effectively pushed the Assyrian kingdom west of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and over the mountainous border of Lebanon. The mountain ranges operated as a natural border to invaders from the east. In fact, the mount ranges had two long ridges, so invaders had to scale both ridges or go around them.

Map of Lebanon showing the Biqā' valley and the localities related to the wetlands (drawing by G. Abou Diwan).

Map of Lebanon showing the Biqā’ valley and the localities related to the wetlands (drawing by G. Abou Diwan).

The region between the ridges was home to some of the best farm lands and forests in all of Lebanon and it was home to many cedar trees. The western edges of Lebanon, along the coast, was also full of cedar trees and they were regularly cut down and shipped via boat. This was how king Solomon received the cedars from Hiram for his temple. These cedar forests were considered a garden of the gods. Nearby was Mount Hermon which was the mountain of the gods. Mount Hermon was on the south eastern border of Lebanon, where Assyria, Lebanon, and Israel all merge. It’s directly north of Galilee.

Mount Hermon in Labanon

Mount Hermon in Labanon

Because of the Mount Hermon’s location, it’s gods were worshiped in Canaan, Lebanon, and Assyria. It was home to Ba’al and was often referred to as Ba’al Hermon. Ba’al was also known as Ba’al Hadad or often just Hadad. The leaders from Aram (in Assyria) often took on names containing either Ba’al or Hadad. In the Bible we see multiple Ben Hadads, which translates into Son of Hadad. In addition, the father of Jezebel was a Phoenician priest to Ba’al. The northern tribes of Israel were often accused of worshiping Ba’al which was likely influenced by their proximity to Mount Hermon and the cedar forest. The cedar forest was also known as the garden of the gods in the Hittite and Assyrian versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which will be explored below. Even the biblical writers are aware of this notion which we can see in Amos’ judgment on Damascus, which was on the border of Assyria and Lebanon.

I will send fire on the house of Hazael
that will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad.
5 I will break down the gate of Damascus;
I will destroy the king who is in the Valley of Aven (Beth-El)
and the one who holds the scepter in Beth Eden.
(Amos 1:4-5a)

In the oracle by Amos, we see a reflection of the beliefs of the people near the mountains. There was a Ba’al temple (Ba’al-Hadad) and a prominent city was named Beth-El (also called Aven) which translates to “house of El”. El was the father of the pantheon, and ancestor of Ba’al Hadad. There is also a mention of Beth Eden, which translates to “house of Eden”. Thus, Amos also connects the cosmic mountains and the forests to the garden of Eden, the garden of the gods.

This garden is spoken of in a number of old texts from Assyria, Ugarit, and other sites. In one tablet belonging to the Gilgamesh Epic from Old Babylonian period, the forests that make up the garden are said to the home of the Anunaki, which were the warrior offspring of the god Anu and the gooddess Ki. The Anunaki are also related to the angels from Genesis 6 and the book of the Watchers (Enoch).

He slew the ogre, the forest’s guardian,
at whose yell were split asunder Sirion and Lebanon.
… the mountains…,
all the uplands trembled.

He slew the ogre, the cedar’s guardian,
the broken … […].
As soon as he had slain (all) seven,
the war-net of two talents and dirk of 8 talents,
a burden of 10 talents he took up,
he went down and trampled through the forest.
He discovered the secret abode of the Anunaki,
(Iraq Museum, Seal 1.1.7.6)

Lebanon was also considered a land of the gods by the Egyptians who imported it’s cedars, resins, and precious stones from the mountains. Inscriptions from Kings Thutmose III and Thutmose IV speak of the items which they exported from the “land of God.”

Presenting the tribute of Retenu (Palestine) and the produce of the northern countries: silver, gold, turquoise, and all the costly stones of God’s Land
(Pritchard, ANET, 249)

I brought away (timbers of) 60 cubits in [their] length. … They were sharper than the beard of grain, the middle thereof as thick … I [brought] them [down] from the highland of God’s Land. They reached as far as the forest-preserve. … [I sailed on the] Great [Green] Sea with a favorable breeze, land[ing in Egypt] …
(Pritchard, ANET, 243)

The view that the cedar forest was a garden of the gods, rich in resources, will be revisited later in this article as it becomes relevant to the passages.


Verse-by-Verse Explanation of Isaiah 14


One might notice that the passage above starts at verse 1 and not verse 12. I did this because passages that often are said to have “hidden” meanings tend to only reveal the hidden message when its divorced from its original context. While reading the full passage above, one can see why it is strange to think that Isaiah just randomly inserted a bunch of verses about Satan in the middle of an oracle to the king of Babylon (really Assyria at this time). However, there is a lot more than meets the eye.

When the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and again choose Israel, and settle them in their own land, then strangers will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob. 2 The peoples will take them along and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them as an inheritance in the land of the Lord as male servants and female servants; and they will take their captors captive and will rule over their oppressors.
(Isaiah 14:1-2)

The first point of detail that will set the stage for the oracle is that the object of the Lord’s compassion will be Jacob/Israel. It’s easy to confuse Israel to mean ALL of the Israelite tribes but the message is intended for the northern tribes (Israel) who were in the captivity of the Akkadian/Assyrian empire. However, while Assyria was in power, it was not uncommon to refer to the king as the King of Babylon. This is because the Assyrian empire had to defeat the Old Babylonian empire to gain it’s power. During the time of Ahaz (732-715 BCE), both Tiglath-pileser III and Shalmaneser V were referred to as the King of Babylon, even though they were Assyrian kings. Thus, the geographical information from the opening of this oracle is setting up the oracle for the peoples of northern Canaan and Assyria. This is further evidenced by the reference to Jacob and by the inclusion of Lebanon in the oracle. Lebanon shared a border with Assyria. The border was a mountain range that was said to the be the mount of the gods and it contained also the garden of the gods; both topics will be heavily discussed in this article.

Jacob was affiliated with the tribes that lived in Samaria, as one will recall from the gospel of John, that Jacob’s well was in the northern provinces. The identification with of Jacob with the northern tribes is also shown in when Isaiah uses the phrase “house of Israel”. The traditional view that Jacob was the patriarch of the Northern Tribes is seen in a number of biblical passages.

Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
(John 4:4-6)

Jacob was said to have “pitched his tent” in Shechem which is where Sychar (Samaria) is located. Its also the location of Mount Ebal, another cosmic mountain.

And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he (Jacob)b for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent.
(Genesis 33:19)

The audience of this particular oracle now knows that the topic of the oracle is the liberation of the northern tribes from their oppressors in Assyria. The oracle is looking forward to the time when Israel turns the tables on Assyria. When their liberation is finally realized, they should take up a taunt against the king of Babylon (Assyria).

And it will be in the day when the Lord gives you rest from your pain and turmoil and harsh service in which you have been enslaved, 4 that you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon
(Isaiah 14:3-4)

The oracle continues in verse 4 by beginning the taunt against Babylon (Assyria).

“How the oppressor has ceased,
And how fury has ceased!
5 “The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
The scepter of rulers
6 Which used to strike the peoples in fury with unceasing strokes,
Which subdued the nations in anger with unrestrained persecution.
(Isaiah 14:4-6)

The imagery of verses 4-6 is that of a vicious ruler being subdued. Assyria was one of the most vicious militaries on the planet. They were known to deport exiles chained one by one from nose rings like wild animals. Captured victims would be paraded and tortured in front of the king ,in his palace. The Assyrian king Ashurbanipal recorded that he literally flayed people alive.

“I built a pillar at the city gate and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up inside the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes.”
(Nimrod Temple Inscription)

There is nothing here that would lead one to believe the taunt is meant for Satan. Certainly Satan was no ruler nor was he defeated when Israel was out of the control of the Assyrians. In the coming verses it will become clear who the taunt is against.

7 “The whole earth is at rest and is quiet;
They break forth into shouts of joy.
8 “Even the cypress trees rejoice over you, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low, no tree cutter comes up against us.’
(Isaiah 14:7-8)

The reference to the whole earth is bombastic. Its characteristic of ancient near eastern (ANE) taunts and victory annals. Clearly the whole earth is not at rest. The ANE was usually dominated by a single power. When that power began to fall it was usually followed by a period of peace; at least for those who were once oppressed. Of course, this is not universally true, just generally.

The second point of reference that is important are the “cypress trees” and the “cedars of Lebanon”. North Canaan was filled with various trees. Tyre was full of Cedar trees, which was in Lebanon. Both locations are in the northern-most reaches of Canaan, just west of Assyria, overlapping the Phoenician coastal region. In the oracle from Ezekiel to Assyria, God likens Assyria to a great cedar of Lebanon (Ezekiel 31:3). In later times, these northern territories would be merged with Syria, which is what the region is called in the New Testament. Once again, I remind the reader that the geographical references to North Canaan is important for understanding the nature of the oracle.

9 “Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come;
It arouses for you the spirits of the dead (רְפָאִים֙), all the leaders of the earth;
It raises all the kings of the nations from their thrones.
10 “They will all respond and say to you,
‘Even you have been made weak as we,
You have become like us.
11 ‘Your pomp and the music of your harps
Have been brought down to Sheol;
Maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you
And worms are your covering.’
(Isaiah 14:9-11)

The reference to Sheol is why people start to imagine the hidden message about Satan, within the text. However, the reference to Sheol is not related to Satan. Additionally, it is not the same as the New Testament concept of hell; the abode of Satan. The beginning of the taunt is basically welcoming the king of Assyria to the place of the dead. By the time this oracle was recorded the image of Sheol was a shadowy underworld where the spirits went. Often mountains were considered to have passage ways to the depths of Sheol. The mountain/Sheol connection will become more obvious as we go.

The mention of Sheol in this passage might have a connection also to the fact that Bashan was an Assyrian location that was where many Canaanites thought was a gate to Sheol, or Hades. Dr. Michael Heiser best explains the significance of Bashan, as follows:

Bashan and its two capital cities also had an ominous reputation in the wider Canaanite world. Mythological and ritual texts from Ugarit describe Ashtaroth and Edrei as the abode of the god mlk (Milku, or Molech), a long dead (and deified) king. Molech’s name appears in a series of snake charms associated with Ashtaroth; he was also connected to child sacrifice in the OT (1 Kgs 11:7; Lev 20:1–5; Lev 18:21). Furthermore, the plural form of the name mlk (mlkm) means “kings.” As result, the cities of Ashtaroth and Edrei (and, more broadly, all of Bashan) came to be associated with the broader Underworld population of deified ancestors and ancient warrior-kings, such as the Rephaim. Canaanite (Ugaritic) peoples, then, literally believed Bashan to be the gateway to the Underworld—the dwelling place of the dead. More broadly, Akkadian god lists from the Old Babylonian period onward associate a deity named Malik, and its plural, maliku (“beings”; the Igigi and Anunnaki gods), with the Underworld cult of dead ancestors. (Sermon)

Nevertheless, the main point of the Sheol taunt was to remind the king that he will meet the same fate as the rulers before him. He will die and be greeted by the kings before him as he enters Sheol. This would be familiar imagery to the king of Assyria. To put Satan in the middle of this taunt makes little sense. Why would the kings of the earth welcome Satan as his spirit goes to Sheol? How would this apply to Satan who doesn’t have a spirit because he wasn’t human? If verses 9-11 remain attached to verse 12, its very difficult to read Satan into verses 12-22.

“How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
(Isaiah 14:12)

The opening of verse 12 declares that the object receiving the taunt has fallen from heaven. We must avoid the temptation to think of the term “heaven” in 21st century notions. Heaven was a reference to “the heavens”, such as they were called in the account of creation. It’s a reference to the skies, not the modern idea of an invisible otherworldly location. In ancient thought, the heavens and the skies were the location where the gods lived. There is little doubt that this passage is eerily similar to modern notions of Satan but we must recall that the literature about Satan’s fall comes much later than this oracle by Isaiah. They are superimposed over Isaiah’s oracle, not the other way around.

Many have endeavored to see Satan as the Day Star and the theory is not without merit. The early church fathers nearly all thought of Satan as the reference to the Day Star in Isaiah 14. However, the Day Star was usually a foreign deity, such as Inanna (Babylonian) or Ishtar(Assyrian & Canaanite). In the oracle, it’s clearly referring to the human king, however, it’s tapping into ANE imagery. Another reason why people see this passage as being about Satan is because it’s in past tense (“How you HAVE fallen….”). However, this is because God directed Isaiah to deliver the taunt after Assyria falls. Hence, the taunt is mocking the recently fallen king.

The reference to the heavens and being “cut” down to earth is important to the taunt. The word “cut” in English hardly captures the full meaning of the Hebrew. The Hebrew the word is “נִגְדַּ֣עְתָּ” which is usually translated as “cut down”. But Hebrew has other words for “cut”. The word used in Isaiah specifically refers to the act of hewing; that is, cutting rock. In modern language we just say “mining”. The reason why this is important is because the king who is being cut down is said to be on a mountain, in verse 13, which is the object that is being cut down. God is saying that the king was “hewn” down to earth, not “cast” down.

13 “But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
(Isaiah 14:13-14)

The 13th and 14th verses are the key to understanding this taunt. If one does not understand these two verses then the imagination can run amok. When the taunt says ” I will ascend to heaven”, the imagery must be understood in the context of the mountain of assembly and the “heights of the clouds”. In northern Canaan and Assyria mythology was abounding with mountain mythology. In fact, it was the home of the mountain El, as in Elohim. It was also known as the meeting place for the divine assembly. Mount Zaphon was where El made his abode and made judgments. El’s mountain was not just a Canaanite view but also a biblical one. Psalm 82 is especially a great example of El’s mountain.

God (אֱלֹהִים) stands in the congregation of God (בַּעֲדַת-אֵל);
in the midst of the gods (אֱלֹהִים) He passes judgement.
אֱלֹהִים, נִצָּב בַּעֲדַת-אֵל;
בְּקֶרֶב אֱלֹהִים יִשְׁפֹּט
(Psalm 82:1)

I said: you are godlike beings (אֱלֹהִים אַתֶּם), and all of you sons of the Most High.
Nevertheless ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
אֲנִי-אָמַרְתִּי, אֱלֹהִים אַתֶּם; וּבְנֵי עֶלְיוֹן כֻּלְּכֶם.
אָכֵן, כְּאָדָם תְּמוּתוּן; וּכְאַחַד הַשָּׂרִים תִּפֹּלוּ.
(Psalm 82:6-7)

In the scriptures, Yahweh is said have made his abode on Mount Zion.

“Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
12 You stretched out Your right hand;
The earth swallowed them.
13 You in Your mercy have led forth
The people whom You have redeemed;
You have guided them in Your strength
To Your holy habitation.

……….

17 You will bring them in and plant them
In the mountain of Your inheritance,
In the place, O Lord, which You have made
For Your own dwelling,
The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.
(Exodus 15:11-13, 17)

Furthermore, the holy mountains are where the angels or deities descended to the earth. The mountains are a cosmic portal between heaven and earth. In 1 Enoch it’s said that the Nephilim came from the heavens to the Earth by descending Mount Hermon.

And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jaredon the summit of Mount Hermon
(1 Enoch 6:6)

The great Ziggurats of the Sumerian culture were built specifically with the intention that it would be used by the gods as a place to visit, rest, and even decent to the earth. They often had a single room on the top of the tower which would have a bead and dining table set with food. The towers were also named descriptive of their functions. One in Babylon was named “Temple of the stairway to pure heaven”. Another one at Larsa was called “Temple that links heaven and earth”.

Thus, the context of Isaiah 13-14 is hearkening back to the tower of Babel where men wanted to ascend to the heavens and achieve immortality. It is cosmic imagery. This is echoed in the accusation placed on the lips of the accused, “I will make myself like the Most High.”. It was thought in ancient times that one could ascend to the heavens and gain immortality.

Who can climb to the heavens and become immortal? Only a member of the Divine Assembly live forever.
(Gilgamesh Tablet III)

The specific mountain in reference to Isaiah was probably not Mount Zion or Zaphon, but Mount Hermon which was on the border of Assyria and Lebanon. It was known as the mountain of Ba’al. Recall also that Mount Hermon was the location that Enoch described the fallen gods descending. The Bible refers to this mountain as a cosmic mountain in 1 Chronicles.

The people of the half-tribe of Manasseh were numerous; they settled in the land from Bashan to Baal Hermon, that is, to Senir (Mount Hermon)
(1 Chronicles 5:23)

However, there is more to the story than just mythological nuances. It’s clear that the king wanted to elevate himself as a deity upon the mountain. This is echoed in the phrase “I will sit on the mount of assembly“. Does he see himself as one of the divine council? Perhaps. It was not uncommon for rulers in the ANE to hold themselves as a minor deity, doing the work of a greater deity. This was true of a number of Mesopotamian characters, such as Naram-Sin of Akkad. Nearly all of the ANE rulers from 2000-539 BCE had a name of a deity as part of their own name. This was to reinforce their deified nature or imply that they were selected by a deity. The victim of Isaiah’s taunt is just one of many rulers seeking deification.

Verses 15-16 take on a less mythical nature, simply reflecting on the eventual fall of the king.

15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.
16 “Those who see you will gaze at you,
They will ponder over you, saying,
‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
Who shook kingdoms
(Isaiah 14:15-16)

Since the ancients believed that the depths of Sheol could be accessed from the mountain, it’s perfectly normal to connect the ascension of the king on the mountain to being sent to Sheol. Hardly anyone could justify a hidden message about Satan from the clear statement in verse 16. The taunt envisions the peers of the king taunting him with the phrase “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook the kingdoms“. Isaiah pictures the leader as a fallen tyrant. What type of tyrant was the leader of Babylon? The next verse paints the picture.

17 Who made the world like a wilderness
And overthrew its cities,
Who did not allow his prisoners to go home?’
(Isaiah 14:17)

The many military campaigns of the Assyrians is clearly the topic of verse 17. The Assyrian king exiled Israel and many others in Northern Canaan, taking their leaders away from their homelands. The next verse moves back to the imagery of Sheol by telling the king that even in death he will be embarrassed and dethroned. This was a great offense in the ANE.

18 “All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
Each in his own tomb.
19 “But you have been cast out of your tomb
Like a rejected branch,
Clothed with the slain who are pierced with a sword,
Who go down to the stones of the pit
Like a trampled corpse.
(Isaiah 14:18-19)

The king’s removal from hos own tomb serves as a taunt against him because he cast out Israel from their own land. The imagery of being cast out of a tomb is one of great disgrace. The rest of the taunt just continues more of the post-mortem deprivation of the king. Even his sons will be disgraced.

“Prepare for his sons a place of slaughter
Because of the iniquity of their fathers.
They must not arise and take possession of the earth
And fill the face of the world with cities.”
(Isaiah 14:21)

However, the last part of verse 21 is one of the most telling, where the idea of filling the world with cities is considered evil. Only a cursory reading of the Old Testament will reveal that the city was revered by the Babylonians and Assyrians but reviled by the Israelites and Jews. Even in Genesis the seeds of scorn for city dwellers is planted. Cain’s disgraced lineage is credited with building cities and creating the arts; something that was a point of pride for Mesopotamians.

The last note in the passage should dispel any notion that the oracle was about Satan.

“Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand, 25 to break Assyria in My land, and I will trample him on My mountains”
(Isaiah 14:24-25)

The Lord ends the taunt the same way it starts, by defending His mountains. It is not Ba’al’s mountain or anyone else’s mountain, but God alone. The kings ascension on the mountain only resulted in embarrassment, not deification.


The Oracle to the King of Tyre:
Ezekiel 28:1-19


As with Isaiah, Ezekiel taps into the themes of the cosmic mountain of the gods, the divine assembly, and the desire of a ruler to elevate themselves to the status of a god. However, Ezekiel is more steeped with language of the Assyrian and Babylonian mythology.

The word of the Lord came again to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord God,

“Because your heart is lifted up
And you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of gods
In the heart of the seas’;
Yet you are a man and not God,
Although you make your heart like the heart of God—
3 Behold, you are wiser than Daniel;
There is no secret that is a match for you.
4 “By your wisdom and understanding
You have acquired riches for yourself
And have acquired gold and silver for your treasuries.
5 “By your great wisdom, by your trade
You have increased your riches
And your heart is lifted up because of your riches—

6 Therefore thus says the Lord God,
‘Because you have made your heart
Like the heart of God,
7 Therefore, behold, I will bring strangers upon you,
The most ruthless of the nations.
And they will draw their swords
Against the beauty of your wisdom
And defile your splendor.
8 ‘They will bring you down to the pit,
And you will die the death of those who are slain
In the heart of the seas.
9 ‘Will you still say, “I am a god,”
In the presence of your slayer,
Though you are a man and not God,
In the hands of those who wound you?
10 ‘You will die the death of the uncircumcised
By the hand of strangers,
For I have spoken!’ declares the Lord God!”’”

11 Again the word of the Lord came to me saying, 12 “Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God,

“You had the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering:
The ruby, the topaz and the diamond;
The beryl, the onyx and the jasper;
The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald;
And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you.
On the day that you were created
They were prepared.
14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers,
And I placed you there.
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 “You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created
Until unrighteousness was found in you.
16 “By the abundance of your trade
You were internally filled with violence,
And you sinned;

Therefore I have cast you as profane
From the mountain of God.
And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the stones of fire.
17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
I put you before kings,
That they may see you.

18 “By the multitude of your iniquities,
In the unrighteousness of your trade
You profaned your sanctuaries.
Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you;
It has consumed you,
And I have turned you to ashes on the earth
In the eyes of all who see you.
19 “All who know you among the peoples
Are appalled at you;
You have become terrified
And you will cease to be forever.”’”


About the Oracle to the King of Tyre


The oracle from Ezekiel to the king of Tyre is, for sure, echoing an oral tradition that describes the garden of the gods and various events that took place there. By the time Ezekiel 28 was written, various mythologies about Genesis had been created. Much lore was created around the early figures in Genesis, such as Enoch, Adam, Eve, Noah, and the Serpent. One legend can be found in the book of Enoch, which speaks of God’s garden on the holy mountain, and a special tree there.

And I proceeded beyond them, and I saw seven glorious
mountains, all differing each from the other, whose stones
were precious in beauty.
And all (the mountains) were precious and glorious and beautiful in appearance—three to the
east were firmly set one on the other, and three to the south,
one on the other, and deep and rugged ravines, one not
approaching the other. 3 The seventh mountain (was) in the
middle of these, and it rose above them in height, like
the seat of a throne.

And fragrant trees encircled it. 4 Among
them was a tree such as I had never smelled, and among them
was no other like it.
It had a fragrance sweeter smelling than
all spices, and its leaves and its blossom and the tree never wither.
Its fruit is beautiful, like dates of the palm trees
(1 Enoch 24:2-4)

The idea that Satan had fallen from heaven was also a popular theme at the time, as well as stories about other fallen angels. However, the mythology expressed in Ezekiel 28 is more about the mountain and garden of the gods as they existed in Babylonian mythology, not about Satan. However, writers in the first century and later would interpret Ezekiel to be speaking of Satan. The 2nd book of Enoch draws heavily on Ezekiel and Isaiah as parallels for Satan. It also tried to make sense of Ezekiel 28:14, “you walked in the midst of the stones of fire”. The 1st book of Enoch has a far more naturalistic explanation for the stones of fire, which were merely fire colored stones. 1 Enoch was much closer to Ezekiel’s lifetime than 2 Enoch.

1 And for all the heavenly troops I imaged the image and essence of fire, and my eye looked at the very hard, firm rock, and from the gleam of my eye the lightning received its wonderful nature, (which) is both fire in water and water in fire, and one does not put out the other, nor does the one dry up the other, therefore the lightning is brighter than the sun, softer than water and firmer than hard rock.

2 And from the rock I cut off a great fire, and from the fire I created the orders of the incorporeal ten troops of angels, and their weapons are fiery and their raiment a burning flame, and I commanded that each one should stand in his order.

3 And one from out the order of angels, having turned away with the order that was under him, conceived an impossible thought, to place his throne higher than the clouds above the earth, that he might become equal in rank to my power.

4 And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless.
(2 Enoch 29:1-4)

To be clear, though, 2 Enoch was not an influence for Ezekiel or Isaiah. Ezekiel and Isaiah were influences for 2 Enoch. 1 Enoch was not likely written yet by the time Ezekiel delivered his oracle but the oral legends likely existed. There is little doubt that Ezekiel is echoing an existing legend about the garden of Eden. However, any thoughts about Satan’s fall are later placed over-top of Ezekiel’s oracle.

The legends surrounding the cedar forest and the mountain of god was, for sure, sourced from the Assyrian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh.


Verse-by-verse Explanation of Ezekiel 28


The word of the Lord came again to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord God
(Ezekiel 28:1-2a)

The introduction to the oracle makes it clear that the message is intended for the king of Tyre. Tyre is west of Assyria, in NW Canaan. and once had a thriving trade relationship with Israel and Judea. King Solomon had a trading relationship with Tyre to provide wood for the new Temple. In return, the king of Tyre received grain and oil.

King Hiram of Tyre had always been friends with Solomon’s father David. When Hiram learned that Solomon was king, he sent some of his officials to meet with Solomon.
(1 Kings 5:1)
Hiram gave Solomon all the cedar and pine logs he needed. 11 In return, Solomon gave Hiram about one hundred twenty-five thousand bushels of wheat and about one thousand one hundred gallons of pure olive oil each year.
12 The Lord kept his promise and made Solomon wise. Hiram and Solomon signed a treaty and never went to war against each other.
(1 Kings 5:10-12)

The real offense committed by the king of Tyre was aligning with foreign powers and breaking the pact with Solomon that they would never go to war with each other. The Lord says in Ezekiel 26 that he was against Tyre to turning on Jerusalem.

“Son of man, because Tyre has said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gateway of the peoples is broken; it has opened to me. I shall be filled, now that she is laid waste,’ 3 therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against you, O Tyre,
(Ezekiel 26:2-3)

Additionally, Amos also speaks of the treachery done to Israel by breaking the covenant between Tyre and Solomon.

“For three sins of Tyre,
even for four, I will not relent.
Because she sold whole communities of captives to Edom,
disregarding a treaty of brotherhood,
10 I will send fire on the walls of Tyre.
(Amos 1:9-10a)

There is more that can be said about the disintegration of the relationship between Tyre and Jerusalem but it is not in the scope of this article. However, I encourage the reader to read through all the interactions with Tyre in the historical books of the Old Testament.

“Because your heart is lifted up
And you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of gods
In the heart of the seas’;
Yet you are a man and not God,
Although you make your heart like the heart of God—
(Ezekiel 28:2b)

The biblical text starts by stating that the king is a mere mortal. It’s easy to gloss over a long oracle like the one in Ezekiel but then you miss the important features. The king of Tyre want’s to elevate himself which is seen in the oracle to him. Again we see a theme of geographical places if myth, as the “seat of the gods” is in the “heart of the sea”. While most scholars already know that Tyre was a place of worship for Baal and Ashteroth (1 Kings 6), we don’t often get told about the gods of the seas.

The city of Tyre was on the Mediterranean sea coast, in North Canaan. They took part in the trade and the religions of the nations that they bartered with. From the west, they learned of the many sea deities and legends. The Greek Pantheon was believed to arise from the primordial waters of the Mediterranean sea. Oceanus and Tethys are the father and mother of the gods and their dwelling was in the seas. Of course, aquatic gods were not unique to the ANE. The Assyrians and Babylonians knew a water deity named Tiamat, whom the Hebrew Bible refers to as Tahom. Thus, the king of Tyre is elevating himself because he has virtually mastered navigating the seas so that it can trade with the Mediterranean cities. The king has mastered the domain of the gods.

God does not come to the same conclusion that the king of Tyre does. In an earlier oracle to the king of Tyre, God mocks the king by stating that the sea will swallow him up.

For thus says the Lord GOD, “When I make you a desolate city, like the cities which are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep over you and the great waters cover you.
(Ezekiel 26:19)

Yahweh is the ruler of the seas and no one else.

3 Behold, you are wiser than Daniel;
There is no secret that is a match for you.
4 “By your wisdom and understanding
You have acquired riches for yourself
And have acquired gold and silver for your treasuries.
5 “By your great wisdom, by your trade
You have increased your riches
And your heart is lifted up because of your riches—
(Ezekiel 28:3-5)

The reference in verse 3 to Daniel is either the biblical Daniel or the Canaanite deity Danel. Given that the name occurs in Ezekiel 14:14 along side biblical heroes (Noah, Daniel, and Job), it seems like the author was referring to the biblical Daniel. However, one would have to wonder if the king of Tyre was at all familiar with the Biblical Daniel. Nevertheless, the Jewish readers of the text would see how the wise Daniel is being compared to the foolish wisdom of the king of Tyre. The by great wisdom of the king, Tyre has become rich.

6 Therefore thus says the Lord God,
‘Because you have made your heart
Like the heart of God,
7 Therefore, behold, I will bring strangers upon you,
The most ruthless of the nations.
And they will draw their swords
Against the beauty of your wisdom
And defile your splendor.
(Ezekiel 28:6-7)

Here the Lord is saying that other nations are going to do His dirty work. Nations other than Israel will defeat Tyre. This is not an uncommon notion as Persia was said to be delivering the Lord’s divine judgement at various times (Isaiah 44:23-45:8). So far, nothing about this oracle seems to have anything to do with Satan. It’s merely a political oracle. The next 5-10 verses is where the oracle starts to allude to legendary themes outside the Bible that echo the stories of Satan’s fall.

8 ‘They will bring you down to the pit,
And you will die the death of those who are slain
In the heart of the seas.
9 ‘Will you still say, “I am a god,”
In the presence of your slayer,
Though you are a man and not God,
In the hands of those who wound you?
10 ‘You will die the death of the uncircumcised
By the hand of strangers,
For I have spoken!’ declares the Lord God!”’”
(Ezekiel 28:8-10)

Again, God is condemning a real king to Sheol, this time being refereed to as “the pit”. Like His oracle to the king of Tyre in Ezekiel 14:14, God informs the king that at the place of his pride he will meet his death. On the seas which he has mastered he will be slain. The reference to dying the death of the uncircumcised is an indicator that there was a difference between dying as one of God’s chosen people and the death of those who are not. They both go to Sheol but only one leaves behind glory, posterity, and even the hope of resurrection in the last day. The reader must keep in mind that Ezekiel wrote very late, in a time where the concept of heave, hell, and a resurrection was being made known. Ezekiel is the earliest biblical reference to any type of afterlife that includes some type of resurrection (Ezekiel 37:14). However, many scholars have concluded that Ezekiel was using the term “resurrection” metaphorically. I tend to agree with those scholars but it’s clear that post-exilic authors thought of Ezekiel’s resurrection to be literal.

11 Again the word of the Lord came to me saying, 12 “Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God,
(Ezekiel 28:11-12)

Verse 11 is just a separator between the two oracles in Ezekiel 28.

“You had the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God;
(Ezekiel 28:12-13a)

The reference to the seal of perfection is not saying that he was perfect. The Hebrew actually says “חוֹתֵ֣ם תָּכְנִ֔ית” which means seal of completion or measure. תָּכְנִ֔ית can also mean a program, system or a pattern. The Hebrew idiom implies that the king “had it all”. He had it all made, being full of wisdom and beauty. Here in verses 12 and 13 Ezekiel starts to weave in allusions to other texts such as 1 Enoch and Jubilees, both likely in the oral stage at this time.

The reference to Eden has stirs up an image of the serpent in the garden which could very well be the image that Ezekiel was going for. However, it’s also probable that he was just using a known story to make a point. Being in the garden of Eden goes along with the idea that the king of Tyre “had it all made”. In other words, he was on easy street. He had everything he could ever want or need. Just as Adam and Eve were before the fall. The LXX translates the phrase “ἀποσφράγισμα ὁμοιώσεως” meaning a “seal of likeness”, possibly an idiom for beauty, which is the topic of verse 13. It seems that perhaps the LXX translators sought to smooth out the complexities between verses 12 and 13.

The connection of the Garden of Eden with north Canaan is not a new association. Both Ezekiel and Isaiah are masters at using a people’e culture against them within their prophecies. Tyre was the principle city in Phoenicia and one of the prides of the region was Mount Hermon, the mountain of the gods, the cedar forest which was the forest the mountain gods, and also for the many exports of gems and jewelry. At the foot the mountains was vast forests of cedar trees and greenery which was considered the garden for the gods. The garden of the gods, in the cedars of Lebanon was mentioned more than a few times in ancient literature but the legend most probably being referenced by Ezekiel was the later Epic of Gilgamesh.

They stood still and gazed at the forest,
They looked at the height of the cedars,
They looked at the entrance to the forest.
Where Humbaba was wont to walk was a path;
Straight were the tracks and good was the going.
They beheld the cedar mountain, abode of the gods, Throne-seat of Irnini.
From the face of the mountain the cedars
(Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet V)

The oracle against Tyre routinely reuses legendary claims of the region and then smashes that claim. Another fanciful motif in this oracle also comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is a dazzling array of precious stones found in the Garden of the gods.

Every precious stone was your covering:
The ruby, the topaz and the diamond;
The beryl, the onyx and the jasper;
The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald;
And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you.
On the day that you were created
They were prepared.
(Ezekiel 28: 13b)

The reference to stones in Ezekiel has perplexed many. None of these turn up in the garden described in Genesis. Some commentators have attempted to use this description as referring to the many colors of Satan, assuming he was a colorful serpent. But this is not at all what Ezekiel was referring to.

Where did this imagery come from if not from the Bible? The Phoenicians were known to supply gems and jewelry. They supplied the vast majority of the known scarabs seals and amulets, especially the ones made with jasper. They carved all manner of gems into seals and jewelry. Among the jewelry artifacts from the region, a number of the precious stones from Ezekiel are seen. These precious stones are also connected to the Garden of the gods in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Twelve leagues he traveled and it (the cedar forest) grew brilliant.
…it bears lapis lazuli as foliage,
bearing fruit, a delight to look upon.

(25 lines are missing here, describing the garden in detail.]

… cedar
… agate
… of the sea … lapis lazuli,
like thorns and briars … carnelian,
rubies, hematite,…
like… emeralds (!)
… of the sea,
Gilgamesh … on walking onward,
raised his eyes and saw …

While the imagery of Ezekiel’s garden is open to interpretation, it’s clear that it’s tapping into a widely known tradition which combines the cedar forests of Lebanon/Phoenicia with the abode of the gods and brilliant precious gems.

The Phoenicians were also known for their carvings, which have been unearthed all over the Mediterranean, Assyria, and Mesopotamia. These ivory carvings were the epitome of wealth and luxury. Recall the prophet Amos berating the Judah for laying on “bed adorned with ivory” (Amos 6:4). The Phoenicians also produced beads for jewelry out of the Onyx, Crystal, agate, and others. The location of these stones were usually in the mountains. This is also seen in an inscription in the palace of Nabopolassar which describes the building of a temple.

“I deposited [in the foundation] under the bricks, gold and silver, and precious stones from the mountains”.
(Temple Inscription of Nabopolassar)

The rest of the oracle deals with more imagery of God’s garden.

14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers,
And I placed you there.
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 “You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created

Until unrighteousness was found in you.
16 “By the abundance of your trade
You were internally filled with violence,
And you sinned;

Therefore I have cast you as profane
From the mountain of God.
And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the stones of fire
(Ezekiel 26:14-16)

I would be easy to attempt linking this passage with the fall of Satan because so many before us already have. However, there is no way that Satan fits the motif. Was Satan a serpent or a Cherub? He wasn’t both. What exactly was the ambulance of his trade? This isn’t biblical imagery, it’s Mesopotamian and Canaanite imagery. The cherub was not a unique figure to the Bible. In the case of Ezekiel, I submit that it’s an allusion to Humbaba, the guardian of the garden of the gods. We have already discussed the garden being at the foothills of mount Hermon which was in eastern Lebanon. As we have seen that it was a mythological place where the trees grow precious gems. However, it was also where a great ogre lived, Humbaba. Humbaba was placed there by the gods to protect the forest.

The biblical Cherub was also set in the garden to guard it, so that man could not access the tree of life. In the Gilgamesh epic Humbaba was a cherub. It was human-like with various animals parts. The Babylonian and Assyrians had a number of stories involving cherubs. We have today many carvings and reliefs of these cherubs also.

 

 

 

 

The next part of the passage refers to stones of fire. This is a topic that is picked up in other Jewish writings, such as 1 Enoch. 1 Enoch was written about 200-300 years after Ezekiel 28 but the author attempts to explain both the garden of God and he makes mention of the stones of fire. To understand the imagery of Enoch one has to remember that these mountain stones are where the gods live. Just like the cedar forest (garden of the gods) was full of precious stones, so is the mountain of the gods.

I came and saw a place that was burning night and day, where (there were) seven mountains of precious stones-three lying to the east and three to the south. 7 And of those to the east, [one was] of colored stone, and one was of pearl, and one was of [jasper]. And those to the south were of flame-colored stone. 8 And the middle one of them reached to heaven like the throne of God-of antimony; and the top of the throne was of lapis lazuli. 9 And I saw a burning fire. 10 And beyond these mountains is a place, the edge of the great earth; there the heavens come to an end. 11 And I saw a great chasm among pillars of heavenly fire. And I saw in it pillars of fire descending; and they were immeasurable toward the depth and toward the height.
(1 Enoch 18:6-11)

While it’s clear that Enoch is building on an existing narrative about the mountain of the gods and the garden of the gods, it’s also clear that Ezekiel is also aware of the legendary nature of the mountains of the gods. Here, however, Ezekiel is using this imagery as a rebuke against the king of Tyre, who was full of pride given that the mount of the gods and the garden of the gods was located within his borders. The judgment results in God removing the king from said garden.

Therefore I have cast you as profane
From the mountain of God.
And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the stones of fire.


Conclusion


Once the biblical reader is familiar with the many mythological references in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14, it’s quite clear that they are both referring to mythology related to the mount Hermon and the cedar forest. That is not to say that later biblical authors did not attempt to create their own lore from these places, however, those came long after the oracles of Isaiah and Ezekiel. Moreover, the oracles have nearly no resemblance to any biblical descriptions that were known in the time period in which they were delivered. However, the Assyrian, Canaanite, and Babylonian myths were already well known and documented.

The fact that much of the oracles of Ezekiel and Isaiah are polemics against Assyria and Babylon, it should come as no surprise that their own mythologies are used against them. Had the oracles be referring to biblical themes it’s not likely that the recipients of the oracles would even understand the message. Rather, the oracles to Tyre and Assyria are steeped in a language specific to their own culture which makes the oracles that much more powerful.


Helpful resources

Studies in Gems and Jewellery (Vol II), Classical Phoenician Scarabs: A Catalogue and Study

https://www.ancient.eu/Phoenician_Art/

Tiglath Pileser III, By Anspacher, Abraham Samuel

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