A reader recently asked me about these references. I’m asked this question often enough I thought I’d blog on it. Let me say from the outset that, though I will disagree (with a high degree of security in my mind) with common interpretations, particularly those of Tom Horn and Dave Flynn, I do not regard their identification of the stones of fire with planets wacky. It’s just not right. I’ll try to explain why.
Here is the passage in Ezekiel (28:14-16; ESV):
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.
The passage is part of the diatribe of Ezekiel against the prince of Tyre, in which Ezekiel utilizes the story of a divine being in the garden of Eden who was expelled from the garden. Many scholars think the language speaks of Adam. I believe it refers to the Shining One (the nachash – in my view incorrectly understood as a snake) in Genesis 3.
The context makes it quite clear that we aren’t talking about planets. How? Because the “stones of fire” are on the holy mountain of God, a reference to the Garden of Eden. Eden? Yes – if you look at Ezek 28:13 (one verse before the citation above) you’ll see that the anointed cherub is also said to be in Eden (the verse should pup up for you here in this blog). Anyone familiar with divine council imagery knows that there are two places where Yahweh and his council (like all deities with councils in ancient literature) meet for business and, in fact, “live”–mountains and well-watered gardens. Eden is where Yahweh lived, and that is why Eden is described as both in the Old Testament. I have a whole chapter on this in my book, but suffice it to say here that imagery from Eden is carried on through to other holy (cosmic) mountains ON EARTH – Sinai and Zion. Recall that Sinai was a mountain (a large “stone”) whose top was afire, and where God met people in/with fire (think of the burning bush here, among other scenes on Sinai; Exod 3, Deut 33; Ezekiel 1, 2 Sam 22:4ff., etc.). God often meets people with fire or in association with fire. Additionally, the divine beings associated with Yahweh’s throne room are referred to as “flames of fire” (Psa. 104:4; see also Ezekiel 1’s references to fire). It’s all very familiar within Old Testament scholarship and the study of Israelite religion. Whoever this is, they are in Eden / the mountain of God – i.e., the place where Yahweh lived at the beginning after he created humans on earth. Nothing unusual.
There is a lot of supporting material for this view. Other than works on the cosmic mountain imagery in the Old Testament and the ancient Near East, we can look at the visions of Enoch in the book of 1 Enoch. During his flight through the sky over earth (not on another planet), Enoch sees certain geographical places that are described very similarly to the language in Ezekiel. Note the wordings in the passage below that also appear in Ezekiel 28: fire, precious stones, flame.
1 Enoch 18:6-11
6 I came and saw a place that was burning night and day, where (there were) seven mountains of precious stones-three lying to the east and three to the south. 7/ And of those to the east, <one was> of colored stone, and one was of pearl, and one was of <jasper>. And those to the south were of flame-colored stone. 8/ And the middle one of them reached to heaven like the throne of God-of antimony; and the top of the throne was of lapis lazuli. 9/ And I saw a burning fire. 10 And beyond these mountains is a place, the edge of the great earth; there the heavens come to an end. 11/ And I saw a great chasm among pillars of heavenly fire. And I saw in it pillars of fire descending; and they were immeasurable toward the depth and toward the height.
19:1 And Uriel said to me, “There stand the angels who mingled with the women. And their spirits-having assumed many forms-bring destruction on men and lead them astray to sacrifice to demons as to gods until the day of the great judgment, in which they will be judged with finality. 2/ And the wives of the transgressing angels will become sirens.”
It’s quite obvious Ezekiel is viewing the earth – he gets as far as the place where the firmament of heaven meets the earth (recall that, in ancient thought — including the Bible — the earth was thought to be round and flat, with a solid dome over its top, the edges of which met the earth’s edge or was “held up” by the mountains)..
Enoch’s description is actually a striking description of the “world tree” mythology – that the dome over the top of the earth was held up by a huge tall tree (or mountain), which went through the center of the earth, and down into the abyss (note the abyss [“chasm” language in the above citation). The stones of fire = the cosmic mountain, the place where heaven and earth meet, where the gods (or in this case, the God of Israel) lives and renders judgment. At the bottom of that mountain, in its deep recesses, the sons of God who committed the sin of Genesis 6 are kept imprisoned (read on to 1 Enoch 19:1ff.). This has nothing to do with outer space.
There is a pile of material written on this passage and its associated topics. The best books is: Kelley Coblentz Bautch, A Study of the Geography of 1 Enoch 17-19: ‘No One Has Seen What I Have Seen’ (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003). It is very expensive and very technical. Likewise for the discussion of the passages cited above in the best 1 Enoch commentary in print, George Nickelsburg’s (cited below in footnote 3).
Luckily, Google Books allows a preview of some pages in Bautch’s book. I was able to piece together screen shots of 12 pages corresponding to the above discussion. Since these pages are available to public viewing on the web, I felt I could PDF them for you all and link to them HERE.