Explore the Bible: Warns

The Explore the Bible lesson for January 2nd focuses on Ezekiel 28:11-19, 25-26.

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  • The Explore the Bible lesson for January 2nd focuses on Ezekiel 28:11-19, 25-26.

On occasion, you may hear an employer, teacher, coach or some other person express their dissatisfaction with the work or actions of someone under their charge. They list the mistakes that have been made and the consequences for those mistakes. Then they end with a very forceful, “And that goes for the rest of you all, too!” There is a strength to pointing out the failures and punishments of others to warn a larger group against going down the same path.

In nearly every prophetic book, there is a section that can be identified as “oracles against foreign nations.” In these sections of the prophets, the prophets take us around Israel or Judah’s friends and enemies to outline the sins they have committed and how Yahweh views those sins. One of the big flaws modern interpreters make in interpreting these sections is to assume God is actually addressing the nations in question. The other nations did not hear these sermons of the prophets. They were for Israel’s ears. In these sections, God is offering both a word of hope (he will deal with Israel’s enemies) and warning

Our passage today is in the midst of Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations (Ezekiel 25:1-32:32). The prophet addresses Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and Egypt. Tellingly, there is no oracle against Babylon, the country within which Ezekiel and Israel find themselves. As Ezekiel moves through each oracle, the primary subject seems to be that of arrogance or pride. In this, we can see God letting Israel know the boastfulness of Israel’s neighbors won’t be ignored. But we also hear in these words a warning to any who might look at themselves through a lens that doesn’t see who they truly are before an awesome and powerful God.

Past Glory (Ezekiel 28:11-15)

There is a lot of discussion about what or who is the focus of the imagery of this section.  Without getting mired in the debate, I will simply point out a few realities from the text itself. First, Ezekiel tells us that the passage is about the king of Tyre. Therefore, whatever else we want to say about it, the king of Tyre needs to be front and center in the discussion.

Second, the passage is full of metaphors, hyperbole and symbols. Subsequently, while we may have our views about where those images come from and what they mean, we do well to always proceed with caution about the conclusions we draw. In this section in particular, we often want to identify a referent that may not actually hold up to closer scrutiny.

Third, as noted before, whoever the referent is in the text, the actual audience and subject of the warnings (and comfort) in the text is Israel. Like any other section of Scripture, we can draw our conclusions about how the text applies to us only after asking what it meant to them. Israel had seen itself as the focus of God’s pleasure and above any repercussions for their sins. The prophet steps in to show them that hubris ultimately leads to nothing but destruction.

The prophecy starts, once again, with the reference to the “son of man.” As we have outlined before, this is first and foremost an expression of humility and the limitedness of humanity. It has been used in different ways throughout Ezekiel and seems to serve the role of contrast with the arrogance the king of Tyre epitomizes in the passage.

The imagery of the passage focuses primarily on external adornment and beauty, but it also pulls into the picture the ideas of the special role a king plays in the protection and preservation of his people. The king, however, had betrayed this sacred trust and special standing.

Likewise, Israel had been set up with all that it needed to succeed. It had been set apart for a special purpose and given all that it needed to be the people God wanted them to be. No doubt, Ezekiel’s use of images from Israel’s own iconography and history (stones of the High Priest’s breastplate, Eden and the holy mountain) are meant to remind the people God’s judgment on this pagan king also would be meted out on the people who had received such a grand step up in God’s plan for humanity.

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Rebellion Denounced (Ezekiel 28:16-19)

Not only had the benefits God had used to bless Tyre not kept it from sinning, but the king actually used it to further rebel against God and oppress people. Is there any greater image of rebellion than the one who would use the very gifts a benefactor has given to do just the opposite of what that benefactor desired? Again, prophets like Amos and Micah previously revealed how Israel had turned God’s blessings into weapons of destroying its fellow Israelites. God would judge accordingly.

Hope Stirred (Ezekiel 28:25-26)

God’s judgment is always for the purpose of restoring the relationship. Ezekiel closes his warning with a word about the future God had planned for Israel. He offers hope of a future in which the lessons of arrogance and rebellion will be a thing of the past, because Israel will truly know Yahweh and their place before him.

As we look at the benefits and blessings God has given us, we too must seek to avoid arrogance and seek to minister with those blessings, not use them to empower only ourselves. Years later, Jesus would make the now-and-not-yet of the kingdom of God evident through the Sermon on the Mount. We are called to walk humbly, love others and live at peace with man and God.

Timothy Pierce, Ph.D., is associate professor of Christian studies at East Texas Baptist University. 

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