Thursday, March 15, 2012

is satan a fallen angel?

I honestly don't know, but I've spent the past month exploring Ezekiel 28, the text that (supposedly) depicts the fall of satan. During my research I came across an excellent resource that lays out the issues involved in interpreting this text and the others that have been understood to refer to the fall of satan. You might be surprised to hear that the Bible never teaches that satan was an angel who sinned and was later expelled from heaven. Several passages describe the fall of a human ruler using rather fantastic metaphorical language. In the early church many interpreters read those passages as if they contained two layers of meaning, one "physical" and another deeper "spiritual" sense. This allowed them to see both the fall of the literal king of Tyre and the fall of Satan in the same narrative.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia (A Tyrian Ship)
A Phoenician Cherub (
I agree with those early interpreters that there are spiritual realities at work in the world, but I have a difficult time seeing Ezekiel 28 as a narrative account of satan's fall. In fact, the more I learn about ancient Tyre, the more Ezekiel's prophecies against Tyre make perfect sense as a reference to the physical nation and her leader. Tyre was the shipping capital of the ancient world, enjoying lavish wealth as a result, with access to every kind of precious stone imaginable. Tyrian art regularly depicts cherubim (winged beasts, sometimes with human heads) and by the time of Ezekiel Tyre was known for the production of quality engraved stamp seals. Ezekiel uses fitting metaphors for the ruler of Tyre, calling him a "seal of perfection" and a "cherub" covered with precious stones. Though he appears to be perfect and unassailable, Ezekiel says that he will be expelled from his position of authority on his lavish paradise island, just as Adam was expelled from Eden. This extended metaphor should not surprise us, because just prior to this Ezekiel has described the whole nation of Tyre as a ship (Ezek 27), and just after this he calls Pharoah a crocodile (Ezek 29) and Assyria a cedar (Ezek 30). Ezekiel delights in extracting parallels from these extended metaphors and using them to creatively describe the subjects of his oracles. We should not expect that he is referring to a literal cherub any more than we should expect that Tyre was a literal ship or Pharoah was really a river monster.

Context is key to setting the right kinds of expectations for our interpretation of this and any passage. In this case the presence of extended metaphors in Ezekiel's other oracles gives us the interepretive key. And knowing the history of Tyre helps us understand why Ezekiel would choose these particular metaphors and what he means by them. I am not necessarily trying to disprove the idea that satan is a fallen angel (if he is, I wasn't around to see it!), but I am suggesting that if satan did fall, God did not see a need to give us a detailed account of that event. For a longer article about the 'fall of Satan' I recommend checking out this website:

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