“The Evil Prince”
October 12, 2014
Seeing the deep judgment of pride makes us want to run from it.
I. Human Pride (Ezekiel 28:1-10)
II. More than human pride? (Ezekiel 28:11-19)
In 1532 a book called ‘The Prince’ by an Italian author named Niccolò Machiavelli was published in Verona, Italy. The book is a classic, read by high school and college students for generations. It describes the techniques a person should use to become the ruler of a nation or state, and to maintain that position. The book is also notorious. It gives us the word ‘machiavellian’ because of the author’s ethic-less realism about power, authority, and appeasing the masses.
A few quotes will give you the idea. Machiavelli says “Men must be either pampered or annihilated. They avenge light offenses; they cannot avenge severe ones; hence, the harm one does to a man must be such as to eliminate any possibility of revenge.” Nice. Self-interest is to be pursued ruthlessly. How about this? “A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war, its methods and its discipline.” Here’s his take on generosity: “The expenditure of one’s own resources is harmful; nothing feeds upon itself as generosity does. The more it is indulged, the fewer are the means to indulge it. As a consequence, a prince becomes poor and contemptible.”
Perhaps the most famous quote from The Prince: “Here a question arises: whether it is better to be loved than feared? . . . The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved. . . . Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break . . . but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present.”
So Machiavelli’s prince is a proud ruthless warlord, covetous and cultivating the fear of his people. Nice. But an amazing number of princes have been just this way, from Biblical times until now. And this arrogance is not limited to those with political ambitions. We could give an endless list of those who have allowed pride and power to corrupt every area of life. The truth is none of us is entirely humble, entirely self-forgetful. Each of us, in both subtle and painfully obvious ways, is tempted to the pride and arrogance, to the ruthless realism of The Prince. Our Scripture this morning reminds us that such pride, such arrogance is a fist shaken in God’s face. It leads to judgment. In fact, seeing, the deep judgment of pride should make us want to run from it.
Ezekiel 28 is the last of three chapters of prophecy against the city of Tyre. In chapter 26 Ezekiel brings a charge against Tyre that is typical of this section of the book, these nine chapters of prophecies against the nations that have opposed or oppressed Israel. Chapter 26 gives us the prophetic background:
“In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, because Tyre said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gate of the peoples is broken; it has swung open to me. I shall be replenished, now that she is laid waste,’ 3therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. 4They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. 5She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. And she shall become plunder for the nations, 6and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord. 7For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers.”
Tyre was one of the major cities of Phoenicia, an ancient enemy of Israel, located along the north coast in an area never conquered by God’s people. The city itself was an island fortress, 600 yards from the mainland. When David and Solomon ruled Israel, Tyre was friendly to Israel. Her king, Hiram, sent men, ships and material to the building of Solomon’s temple. And Tyre was still a focal point of trade. Her ships sailed the Mediterranean to the west, north and south, and brought in great profits. This wealth led to pride, self-sufficiency and arrogance. The verse we just read tells us that when Jerusalem fell Tyre saw it as an opportunity to expand its trade. Jerusalem was a crossroads city, which it could plunder, and from which it could buy and sell across the region.
But this exploitation will not continue. God says the city of Tyre will be scraped off its island sanctuary into the sea, becoming a flat place where fishermen dry their nets. He then says that the Babylonians will besiege and subjugate the city. And Nebuchadnezzar did. He conquered Tyre after a 13 year siege. But the conquest fell short of complete destruction. It took, as God said, many nations, coming in waves, and culminating in 432 B.C. with Alexander the Great. He built a causeway across the water to attack Tyre. He pulled it down and made it a waste place. So substantial was the causeway that it became a breakwater, sand built up, and Tyre became a peninsula rather than an island.
In the rest of Chapters 26 and 27 Ezekiel expands on the judgment of Tyre and pens a funeral lament for the city. Ezekiel 27:1”The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Now you, son of man, raise a lamentation over Tyre, 3and say to Tyre, who dwells at the entrances to the sea, merchant of the peoples to many coastlands, thus says the Lord God: “O Tyre, you have said, ‘I am perfect in beauty. . . .’” But all your beauty will be destroyed. All your trade will be torn from you, and like a great ship foundering, you will sink beneath the waves.
For most of the nations against which Ezekiel prophesies, that structure, judgment and lament, would be the complete prophecy. But for Tyre, Ezekiel goes one step farther and in Chapter 28 he pronounces judgment on the ruler of the city, and laments his fall. And in doing so he uses language which reinforces our sense that pride and arrogance are deeply judged, and that we don’t want to allow ourselves to be guilty of these characteristic sins.
Ezekiel 28:1-10 The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God: “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god— 3you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you; 4by your wisdom and your understanding you have made wealth for yourself, and have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries; 5by your great wisdom in your trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth— 6therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you make your heart like the heart of a god, 7therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you, the most ruthless of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. 8They shall thrust you down into the pit, and you shall die the death of the slain in the heart of the seas. 9Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’ in the presence of those who kill you, though you are but a man, and no god, in the hands of those who slay you? 10You shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of foreigners; for I have spoken, declares the Lord God.”
In verse 2 Ezekiel addresses the prince of Tyre, using a relatively rare word for prince, similar in meaning to Machiavelli’s word. The Prince in Machiavelli and here is not the son of the king, but the ruler of the nation or state. And like Machiavelli’s prince, this ruler of Tyre is wildly proud. “You say, ‘I am a god. I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the sea.’” This is ultimate pride, but it wasn’t unusual in the ancient world for rulers to set themselves up as gods. The Pharaohs did it. The Caesars did it, and one could argue persuasively that Hitler and Stalin and others have done the same thing. As Lord Acton said “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There is no corruption greater than to make the absurd claim that he is a god. Or even worse, that he is the God.
But the God will not have this. Verse 2: you are a man and no god even though your heart makes that claim. Then God through Ezekiel compares this ruler of Tyre to Daniel, the prophet whose ministry overlapped Ezekiel’s, and who had already made a name for himself in Babylon for both secular and religious wisdom. And Ezekiel seems to acknowledge that the prosperity of the city of Tyre was in part due to the wisdom of its ruler:
“By your wisdom and your understanding you have made wealth for yourself. By your great wisdom in your trade you have increased your wealth.” But, he say, “your heart has become proud in your wealth.” Anytime a man looks at what he supposes he has gathered and does not acknowledge God or give thanks, that man is in trouble. God says to this proud ruler. “I will bring foreigners upon you, the most ruthless of the nations.” He is going to destroy Tyre’s works and put to death this proud ruler. And God gets sarcastic about it. Verse 9: “Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’ in the presence of those who kill you?”
The point is, arrogance and pride lead to judgment. Proverbs says “pride goes before destruction,” and this ruler of Tyre will learn that. And he’s not alone. My favorite example from Scripture is Herod Agrippa, one of Herod the Great’s sons. Acts 12 tells us that after settling a dispute with Tyre and Sidon, “on an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration. 22And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” If you don’t give God the glory, watch out.
So I was talking about this with Bobby, and he mentioned this famous rapper, Kanye West, who’s won all kind of Grammys for his innovative, filthy rap, and is married to somebody who is famous for being famous. On his most recent album he has a song called “I am a god.” I can’t play it for you because every other word is filthy, but the chorus is ‘I am a god; I am a god I am a god.” He says he talked to Jesus “he’s the most high, but I’m a close high.” Why the Most High puts up with that I don’t know. But power, fame and celebrity lead to pride and arrogance. There will be an accounting for these sins in the end.
And sometimes that accounting occurs now. Recently on the Forbes web site, Steve Forbes said “Hard-driving corporate leader Linda Wachner is an example of what happens when lack of self-discipline and arrogance converge in a leader. Rising quickly from department store buyer to be CEO of clothing manufacturer Warnaco, she led a leveraged buyout of the company in 1986. Through acquisitions and strong marketing, Wachner quadrupled the company’s size. Warnaco luxury brands such as Chaps by Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein jeans, and Speedo swimwear were sold world-wide. The company had $1.95 billion in revenue by 1998. Wachner became one of the highest-paid executives in her time, pocketing more than $158 million in salary, bonuses, dividends, and stock deals between 1993 and 1999. “But,” Forbes says, “Wachner’s intense hunger for money, combined with an abrasive and abusive style of management by ego, resulted in her undoing.”
When she pushed the brand names into discount stores, consumers and investors lost confidence, and revenue declined. Calvin Klein, who called her his “personal enemy,” filed a lawsuit. Wachner won, but the company went bankrupt, and she was fired. Even then she demanded $25 million in severance. She ended up receiving only $200,000 and a little stock, but she had to pay $13 million to settle fraud accusations. This is Machiavelli’s prince, playing the game in real life. Not all princes are heads of state; some heads of corporations; some heads of churches; some heads of families. Arrogance, self-exaltation, and pride lead to tragedy, for the prideful person, and for those around him or her. I hope that as we see the deep judgment of pride we want to run from it.
Ezekiel laments this tragedy in verses 11-19: 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. 13You 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. 14You 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. 15You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. 16In 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. 17Your 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. 18By 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. 19All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever.
This section of Scripture is troubling because God himself seems to give this king of Tyre a place and position he clearly did not have. “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering . . . You were a cherub, on the holy mountain of God, blameless in your ways until you turned to unrighteousness.” What can it mean that the king of Tyre was in Eden, perfect, wise, and beautiful, his clothing covered with every priestly precious stone? What can it mean that he was a blameless and perfect cherub, dwelling in the presence of God?
In the end there are only two possibilities. This is either a highly poetic and perhaps sarcastic description of an earthly king, or a literal description of someone else. And both positions have been ably argued. Scholars point out that the phrase ‘you were in Eden’ would have been understood as simply ‘you were in a paradise garden.’ The palace gardens of Tyre were well known. “You were on the holy mountain of God” can be taken with a small g, the holy place of “a” god, and thus the citadel of Tyre, home of the Phoenician deity Melkart. So Ezekiel would be saying ‘You exalted yourself in pride. You saw yourself in the perfect position of privilege and power. You enjoyed that luxury in the safety of your citadel, and you grew vain and turned to unrighteousness.
Honestly, that’s what I do think it meant in context and to Ezekiel’s hearers. But the other side would say ‘No, you’ve got Eden, you’ve got a cherub, you’ve got ‘blameless until you chose unrightouesness,’ you’ve got being cast down from the mountain of God. This is a description of the fall of Satan. They point to the way it agrees with Isaiah 14 where Satan, probably, says ‘I will make myself like the most high,” but God says ‘you are brought down to Sheol.”
Warren Wiersbe agrees “As you read these verses, you get the impression that this "king" is much more than a human regent and that this could be a description of Satan. The use of the word "cherub" suggests that we're dealing here with an angelic creature, also the fact that he had been "upon the holy mountain of God." Satan began as an obedient angel but rebelled against God and led a revolt to secure God's throne. The text describes his great beauty and names nine jewels that were a part of that beauty. This suggests that in "Eden, the garden of God" and upon "God's holy mountain," this person was specially honored. But his pride and selfish ambitions led him into sin and God judged him by casting him out.”
This does sound a lot like Satan. But mixed in with those things are references back to the evil trade practices of Tyre, references to this ruler dying as a man, amid the nations, and fulfilled prophecies of judgment against the city by the Babylonians. So I can only conclude that the immediate description is of the pride and arrogance, the avarice and ruthlessness of this Tyrian king, perhaps the one known as Ittobaal the second. But I think this description captures the essence of all pride and arrogance, especially its tendency to make one greedy and ruthless. And in this sense it is a fitting description of Satan, the one who opposed God, tempted Eve, fell from heaven to become the prince of this world, battled Jesus, was defeated at the cross and who will be judged and thrown into the pit for eternity at the end of the Last Days. Warren Wiersbe agrees. He says “While the original description refers to the ruler of Tyre, it certainly applies to the god of this age, Satan, the enemy of the Lord.”
Pride and arrogance will be judged. Verse 17 “I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. 18By 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. . . you shall be no more forever.” That’s judgment. That was the judgment against Tyre. It will be the judgment against Satan and against all who shake their fists at God. .
But I want to bring this home this morning by emphasizing that even if we are not politically powerful, or the object of celebrity worship or a money-grabbing bully, we can and do struggle with arrogance and pride. And seeing God’s judgment, we should and do want to stay far away from them.
In practice the first step is to pray for awareness of our pride. Pride is often nearly invisible to the prideful. We need God’s help to see these things. Are we like Machiavelli’s Prince? Would we rather rule by fear than by love? Would we rather be ruthless than self-sacrificing? Would we rather gain than give?
Do we hear ourselves saying, inwardly or in words, things like “I’m not always right, but I usually am,” or “Everyone’s out to get me,” or “I thank God I’m not like so-and-so,” or “I’m different than ordinary people. Those rules don’t really apply to my circumstance.” Do we look down on others while taking full credit for our little skills and gifts? Do we walk past people we should greet, seek out people we think can help us get ahead, criticize and gossip against those we think oppose us? Do we always have a better story, a more pitiable circumstance, a greater fatigue than the people we’re supposed to be listening to and caring about? Do we always have to have the better car, the better phone, the bigger raise, the next promotion, the most successful kids. All of these and many more can be personal-sized servings of Satan’s own pride and arrogance, little ways that we make ourselves our own god, to our hurt.
But if recognizing these things is step 1, step 2 is even more important. We have to run from these things, not in our own strength, but in dependence on Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament both James and Peter paraphrase Proverbs 3:34, saying “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” When we humble ourelves, when we turn from prideful thoughts and behaviors and self-justifications, we find grace, and favor in God’s eyes, which is the only opinion that really counts. Peter says it this way “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”