18 August 2010

Ezekiel 28:1-10

"Your heart is proud and you have said, 'I am a god ...' yet you are but a mortal, and no god, though you compare your mind with the mind of a god." (v.2)


The state of Tyre (at the time an island, now part of the mainland of southern Lebanon) was Israel's western neighbour and was rich and powerful. Its trading ships travelled the length of the Mediterranean. Relations with Israel were often friendly, but Tyre was seen as a threat, not least because its religion exercised a powerful attraction. Several Old Testament prophets made it the target of criticism.

Interestingly, in today's passage it is not the religious practices of Tyre that are condemned but a general attitude to life. In attacking its ruler, Ezekiel attacks the nation as a whole.

The people of Tyre were clever. ('Daniel' in verse 3 is evidently not the central character of the book of that name but a proverbially wise man.) Their technical, trading and navigational skills enabled them to accumulate great wealth. They may, as some ancient cultures did, actually have regarded their ruler as divine, but if so in Ezekiel's eyes it is just a symptom of a general and fatal arrogance. They see themselves as a superpower, untouchable. But being human calls for humility.

After the recent world banking crisis it is easy to focus on Ezekiel's criticisms of wealth and arrogance, but his words cut deeper. Knowledge and technology, trade and wealth bring great benefits, but they may also bring a false sense of security. We are unlikely to think of ourselves as gods but prosperity may blind us to our human limitations.

What is striking about Ezekiel's words, as about similar passages elsewhere in the Old Testament, is that he sees not just his own people, Israel, who have a special calling and have received God's law through Moses, but all nations, small and great, as morally answerable to God. Ezekiel's words are not just for religious believers.

To Ponder

Where in our society may we be tempted to 'play God'?

To what extent is wealth, and the security it brings, a blessing from God or a hindrance to faith?

How might a proper sense of humility express itself in daily living?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..