“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!”
That phrase is an American anthem of sorts, pointing to an idea embedded in our history and culture, that we are individuals who have the power and ability to survive and thrive if we just work hard enough. But is this principle true? Even the task described in the phrase itself, as this article suggests, is impossible! Try it out. As we continue our study of Ezekiel, God has a major caution for those of us who live by the creed “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”.
All week long, we’ve been studying Ezekiel 25-28. So far God has asked Ezekiel to declare prophecies of judgment against the nations that bordered Israel. Let’s see how the prophecy against the king of one of those nations, Tyre, develops in Ezekiel 28, verses 6-10.
God is pretty much saying to the King of Tyre, “Oh, so you think you are wise, do you? You think you are as wise as a god? Well, I have news for you. A foreign army is coming to knock you down to size. You think you’re good-looking? They’re about to slice you up with the sword. Yes, that’s right. You’re going to die. Then will you be going around saying, ‘I am a god,”? Try saying that when the Babylonians show up. Tell them you’re a god, and see how they react. Think they will bow down to you and worship you? No way, buddy. You’re about to learn the harsh truth that you a just a man like everyone else.”
What happened to the King of Tyre is what happens when any person grows a prideful heart. They forget they are like everyone else. They start to think they are special. They start to believe they are different. It is really easy to allow pride to creep into our hearts. Especially when a person starts achieving things. Could be good grades in school. Could be getting a spot on the sports team. Could be a promotion at work. Could be a new boyfriend or girlfriend. The human heart has a way of transforming success into pride. It is a very deceptive temptation.
Instead, we should have the self-control to truthfully call success what it is, success. Maybe giftedness. Maybe a talent, an ability, or maybe it was a lot of hard work that paid off. We should be able to say, “I am good at that.” Or “I did that.” But when we are successful, we should be able to be truthful without it becoming an arrogant belief that we are better than other people. It is so easy to forget that for all of us, it was other people that helped us along the way. I tried to think of a situation in which a person achieved something all by themselves. I submit to you that such a solo effort does not exist. No matter the endeavor, we have all been helped by our parents, friends, co-workers, teammates, government, church or some other benevolent person or group. Perhaps pride is rooted in the false belief of individualism.
I have heard people say that every person has one thing in the world that they are better at than any other person. That idea sounds intriguing, and it might motivate some people to achieve, but I think it is a potentially false statement that we don’t need. That statement can deceive us into thinking that we just need to find the one thing we are better at than anyone else, as if finding that one thing is what will bring fulfillment in life. Is that true? Is it true that a person can be happy and fulfilled only if they find out what they are better at than any other person, as if all of life is a competition, and you need to win it? That perspective on life can lead to pride in the heart, and it is not a faithful way to look at our place in the world. What is the right way to look at our place in the world? Let’s keep reading.
Continuing in Ezekiel chapter 28, verses 11-19, God asks Ezekiel to lament for the King of Tyre.
It is a very poetic description of what God has already said in the previous verses in the chapter. The King of Tyre grew proud of heart, and as a result he is being punished. But these verses have a potential double meaning. Some scholars believe that Ezekiel 28:11-19 is also a description of the devil. Look at verse 14, which describes an angel (“a guardian cherub”) who is with God in heaven (“the holy mount of God”). The angel is blameless, but at some point grew wickedness inside him. What was the wickedness? Verse 17 describes it as pride in the heart. So God says that he kicked the angel out of heaven (“drove you in disgrace from the mount of God and expelled you” verse 16) and sent him to earth (“threw you to the earth” verse 17). Finally, a fire consumes the angel and he is destroyed (verses 18-19). Can you see why some people think that describes Satan? This is one of a few passages where theologians get the idea that Satan was originally an angel in heaven who, like the King of Tyre, came to believe that he was a god. Because of Satan’s proud heart, God banished him from heaven and eventually to hell. Is it possible that Ezekiel’s lament was about both the King of Tyre and Satan?
It’s possible. We don’t know. There is a very similar prophecy against Babylon in Isaiah 14. In both cases we have to remember that the prophecies were written first about a person. In Ezekiel 28, it is a prophecy about the King of Tyre, and God’s primary concern is the King’s proud heart.
Continuing with chapter 28, read verses 20-23.
What we read is one more mini-prophecy about another foreign country that borders Israel, Sidon. Ezekiel is again to unleash the Prophetic Stare at Sidon, and proclaim God’s judgment against her. Twice in those few verses, God says that he wants to be known.
The chapter finishes, though, with a wonderful promise. Read Ezekiel 28, verses 24-26.
God says that once he deals with all the countries surrounding Israel, the ones he gave mini-prophecies to, which we learned in this post, then the people will know that he is the Lord! God will gather the people of Israel who have been exiled, like Ezekiel and his 10,000 fellow Jews in Babylon, and God will bring them back to the land of Israel to be free, to prosper, to own their own houses and gardens, and to dwell in safety. It is a glorious vision that speaks to the longing of their hearts. The exiles have been away from their beloved home country for 11 years. God is now promising a return.
Finally, Ezekiel gets to be the prophet who bears a word of blessing and hope! Throughout Ezekiel chapters 25-28, God says he will deal with each of the city states and nations that surround Israel. God promises that will bring his people home, and then what? What does God really desire in all of this? You guessed it. Then they will know that he is the Lord their God. Please tune in to this. God is a God who wants to be in relationship with us.
In the next post, we’ll examine further how being in relationship with God is the perfect antidote to the prideful ideology of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”.