In earlier years, “the cherub in Eden” of Ezekiel 28:13 was frequently identified as Satan. (Compare also the question on Isaiah 14 and “Lucifer”). Although this is less common today, one can see how someone looking for the origin of the ‘fallen angel’ Satan of medieval legend might be drawn to this chapter, if they failed to look at the previous and following chapters for context.
These chapters of Ezekiel tell and foretell events relating to the literal city of Tyre. Ezekiel 26:2 records Tyre’s pride when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 586BC, but according to the 1st Century historian Josephus (confirmed by Babylonian records) Tyre failed to submit to Nebuchadnezzar (Against Apion 1.21, Antiquities 10.11.1). Josephus then records that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre for 13 years (585-572BC) and this is confirmed by Ezekiel (Eze.29:17), along with a record of Babylon’s raiding sorties against Egypt (Eze.29:19). After Tyre fell, the royal family ended up prisoners in Babylon along with the royal family of Judah whom they had mocked. A nominal Tyre puppet-king was permitted to continue to rule in Tyre, as Nebuchadnezzar had earlier permitted in Jerusalem, but as with the last king of Judah, real power was with the Babylonian governor. Finally Tyre’s special status was lost when the Persians took over from the Babylonians.
The full passage of Ezekiel 28:11-19 reads as follows.
11 Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me:
12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:
“You were the signet of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
and crafted in gold were your settings
and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
14 You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
I exposed you before kings,
to feast their eyes on you.
18 By the multitude of your iniquities,
in the unrighteousness of your trade
you profaned your sanctuaries;
so I brought fire out from your midst;
it consumed you,
and I turned you to ashes on the earth
in the sight of all who saw you.
19 All who know you among the peoples
are appalled at you;
you have come to a dreadful end
and shall be no more forever.”
Evidently this chapter has no relevance to a literal cherub, or literal events in Genesis, but is symbolic and allegorical — as shown by comparison with the similar prophecy about Pharaoh and the jealousy of the “trees” in Eden in Ezekiel 31. But to say who exactly is the King of Tyre is more difficult. The identification of the “King of Tyre” depends on several historical questions — and also the question of why is the prophecy in Ezekiel 28 split into three sections: “the Prince of Tyre” (1-10), “the King of Tyre” (11-19) and “Sidon” (20-23)? And what would be the difference between “the Prince of Tyre” and “the King of Tyre”?
Ezek.28:1-2 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God:
Ezek 28:11-12 Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:
Ezek 28:20-22 The word of the Lord came to me: 21 “Son of man, set your face toward Sidon, and prophesy against her 22 and say, Thus says the Lord God:
There are at least two possible answers.
“The prince of Tyre” is “a man” (Ezek 28:2) while the “King of Tyre” is a personification of Tyre itself drawing on King Hiram’s privileged access to King Solomon’s temple, which is why the prophecy describes the “King of Tyre” as being in Eden — relating to the cherubim and jewels of Solomon’s Temple.
“the prince of Tyre” and “king of Tyre” are literally that. Josephus indicates that, after defeat by Babylon, the royal family of Tyre had some advantages compared to that of the defeated royal family of Judah. In particular, Josephus notes that Tyre could bring “the Prince” from Babylon (Against Apion 1.156-159).
Or perhaps the answer is a combination of both of the above answers, or other historical context now lost.