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A Closer Look
Was Satan a Worship Leader?      


A popular claim these days, especially among worship leaders, is that the Bible identifies Satan as a one-time worship leader, indeed the "lead worshiper" of heaven. Is this an accurate portrait? What, in fact, do we know about Satan's "pre-history"? And how do we apply it all to us?


The main passage behind this idea is Ezekiel 28.

Ezekiel 28 and its Neighbors

Ezekiel 28 contains two oracles against the king of Tyre --the first is a straightforward prophecy against the king, mocking him for his pretensions, telling him that he is just a man and not a god, and that he will die like a man (vv. 2,9).

The second continues the ideas of the first, but takes the form of a lament at the death/downfall of the King of Tyre and the city itself.

Some suggest that the first part of Ezekiel 28 speaks to the human ruler of Tyre, but the second part of the chapter is something different, addressing (or at least "really" being about) Satan. Does the odd 'doubling' support this idea?

Not really. Instead, a glance at the surrounding chapters shows that this pair of prophecies is just one of a whole series of pairs.

  • Prophecy against Tyre (Ezk 26)
  • Lament over Tyre (27)

  • Prophecy against King of Tyre (28:1-10)
  • Lament over King of Tyre (28:11ff)

  • Prophecy against Egypt and its king (29)
  • Lament over Egypt (30)

  • Prophecy against Pharaoah, king of Egypt (31)
  • Lament over Pharaoh king of Egypt (32)
  • In other words, this passage fits the pattern. That suggests that this lament is, like all the others, directed to the same person as the prophecy just before it.

    The Language of Lament

    Now a lament at the death of a king or great man is expected to extol his great virtues and accomplishments --just as a modern day eulogy might do. A fine example of this is David's lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1). Though its final purpose is to taunt and condemn, the lament of Ezekiel 28 (as the somewhat similar lament over the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14) uses just this sort of language. So, if some of the language may seem to be too 'high' to speak of a mere man does not mean it isn't really about a man. That's how laments and eulogies work!

    (Compare too some of the exalted language in the other prophecies in this section of Ezekiel. For example --in the prophecy against Pharaoh Assyria is called a great cedar in Lebanon "the envy of all the trees of Eden in the garden of God" (31:9))

    The lament describes the king of Tyre in language drawn from the clothing of the high priest and of the Garden of Eden --the garden on God's mountain. Then it speaks about his pride and downfall. Now the language is being directed against the king of Tyre and his kingdom --let's not forget that. But what about the imagery Ezekiel borrows to describe his/their prior glory? That is the key question.

    "Guardian cherub" and Priest

    Some believe that the language about this one who was in Eden and was its 'guardian cherub' as referring to Satan before his fall. But is there good reason to think so?

    Consider the following:

    1. No names! Only the King of Tyre is specifically referred to. The "special" language applied to the King of Tyre may certainly be based on the story of some other individual, but since no one is mentioned by name, we have to be very careful to determine who it is. Please note: Satan is not mentioned by name.

    2. Whose Fall? Many suggest this "sounds like" the fall of Satan. But how can we say that? Though Scripture tells us that Satan fell, there is no Scripture passage that specifically names Satan and gives the details of his fall!
      In fact, one critical detail of Ezekiel 28 does not fit this suggestion very well. The one who rebelled and fell from his position of privilege in the Garden of God/Eden was not Satan . It was Adam, the first man!

    3. Who is the Priest? The description of this person's clothing is drawn from that of the high priest's robes. In particular, the set of stones corresponds to the set of stones in the high priest's breastpiece (Exodus 28:15-21)
      The description of priestly clothes suggests this is about man, not about an angelic being. And the call of mankind to act as "priest" is found already in Genesis 2. The Garden was the holy place where God met with man --and Adam was charged (as priests are) with guarding/keeping that holy place for God.
      On the other hand, we do not anywhere read a clear description of Satan ever functioning in this role.

    4. Royal Priest This idea of a king acting as priest was quite common in the lands surrounding Israel (we see the connection in Israel too, as we see in Psalm 110). So language about his being a priest would be appropriate in a prophecy against a king of Tyre
      The language associating a king with the glory of Eden is not unique. Compare how other kings are called "trees of Eden" (29:9,16-18 ).

    How do we apply this?

    1. We don't really know the details about Satan's pride and fall, and Scripture actually is not very interested in satisfying our curiosity about this. It is, in fact, far more interested in speaking to and about mankind --what God has created us to be, how we have rebelled, and what God in his grace is doing to restore us.

    2. Scripture shows us that, from the beginning in the Garden, our call has been to be "kings and priests" to God, ruling over all things for him (as Gen 1:26ff commands) and consecrating all things to him (as Adam is charged to do in 'guarding'/caring for the Garden of God in Gen 2).

    3. We can apply the ideas of Ezekiel 28 --about human pride and rebellion and about what God actually created us to be-- to us!
      • here there is sober language about falling from 'great heights'
      • there is also reason for hope. . . for God will accomplish his original purpose. He has redeemed a people to be "kings and priests" to him (1 Peter 2:9-10, Rev 5:9).

    "Musician"?    "Worship Leader?"

    The idea that this person was a musician is based on a difficult line in v.13. The verse describes how this exalted person is adorned. The debated phrase appears alongside a list of jewels he wears. The KJV speaks of 'tabrets [tambourines] and pipes' but the language, connected to that of the 'stones' may well be describing something like the 'settings and mountings', a further description of his 'high priestly breastpiece'.

    Of course, if the language of this chapter is not based on a story about Satan but on that of the first man who was 'king and priest' to God, then even if the phrase refers to instruments, there is nothing here about Satan being a musician or worship leader. Instead, it would just add a little to the picture of mankind acting as "priest" to God.

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    2000 Bruce L. Johnson
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