Ezekiel 26-28 comprise an extended prophetic judgment upon (and lament for) the nation of Tyre. Located on the coast to the north of Israel (generally in the area now occupied by Lebanon), Tyre had become a dominant player in world trade. It boasted a fleet of ships that traveled the ancient world, bringing exotic goods back to trade with nearby nations.
The opening verses in chapter 26 begin with a sobering message from the Lord against Tyre. The stated reason for the coming judgment was Tyre’s reaction to Israel’s fall. Instead of compassion, there was only competition. Tyre saw an opportunity in Judah’s obliteration: “Aha, the gate of the peoples is broken; it has swung open to me. I shall be replenished, now that she is laid waste” (2). However, the Lord’s elation is soon to become lament. The Lord promises to send a wave of nations against Tyre that will reduce them to permanent rubble.
Contained in chapter 26 are a series of messages from the Lord against Tyre. While they are related and convey a similar message of coming destruction, they are separated by a variation on the same opening phrase: “Thus says the Lord to Tyre” (1, 7, 15, 19).
The essence of the message is that God will send “many nations” against Tyre, who will crash upon them like waves of the sea (3). The nation specifically named as one of the attackers is Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon” (7). He will lead an expedition of soldiers who will lay siege to the city, bring battering rams against it, and ultimately breach the walls and destroy the city (8-11). Ezekiel trumpets the sad news that Tyre’s daughters and sons will be slaughtered (6, 8, 11). Further, the stones, timbers and soil of the city will be “cast into the midst of the waters” (12), turning the city into a “bare rock,” a “place for the spreading of nets” that will never be rebuilt (14).
What makes this chapter especially potent is how the prophetic word against Tyre was fulfilled with such amazing accuracy. In a fascinating article in Biblical Archaeology, Paul Ferguson argues that a close reading of the text reveals the incredible precision of God’s words. He cites ANE historians who explain that the ancient city of Tyre was actually comprised of two cities. The “old city” was located on the coast; the newer city was located on an island about 1/3 of a mile into the sea.
Nebuchadnezzar was able to besiege and conquer the mainland city, only to find that the true wealth of the nation was located on the island. He was unable to capture the island city, having no ships to access the fortress. However, three hundred years later, Alexander the Great, used the rubble from the old city to build a 60 meter wide causeway to the island. The timbers and rocks from the old city were scraped up and placed into the sea. In the centuries to come, other nations (Ottomans) came and further decimated the island city.
Ferguson points out that a close reading of the text shows a change in pronouns from “they” to “he.” Ezekiel combines speaking of the many nations (“they”) with the attack of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians (“he”).
As Ezekiel proclaimed, the nations did come—like successive waves of the sea—to eventually wear down and destroy both the mainland and island cities of Tyre. It never has been rebuilt to its former glory.
Vision of God
The Lord’s word will be fulfilled with complete accuracy. Liberal critics of the Bible have scoffed at Ezekiel’s prophecies about Tyre, claiming he got it terribly wrong. However, as has always been the case, further discoveries have shown the incredibly reliability of biblical prophecy. The Lord’s words are completely trustworthy.
The Lord’s word will be fulfilled—wait for it. The fullness of the prophecy regarding Tyre would not be witnessed for hundreds of years. The “waves” of nations would not come all at once, but over centuries. The prophetic judgment given in Ezekiel 26 would eventually be precisely accomplished. Here is a reminder to wait and trust God’s Word, even when His promises seem “slow” to materialize (2 Peter 3:9).
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen warn against a callous, opportunistic attitude towards others. Tyre is convinced that it will benefit from the demise of God’s people, Israel. She sees herself rising as Israel falls. However, the Lord hears and responds to Tyre’s pride with deadly judgment. We are foolish to envision ourselves benefitting from others’ sorrows. God is the one who brings down one and brings up another. Watchmen must remind people of the truth of Proverbs 24:17-18: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger form him.”