December 1996 - 16:93-95
Like Sidon, its “mother” city twenty-five miles to the north (Isaiah 23:12), Tyre straddled both island and mainland. Although barren and rocky, the offshore portion occupied a seemingly impregnable position, and may have supported as many as forty thousand inhabitants (Pfeiffer, 1966, p. 591). A small bay on the northern end of the island formed one of the best natural harbors along this stretch of the Mediterranean coast. Most important, the city stood at the crossroads of a worldwide trading network stretching from Europe to the Far East, and from Asia Minor to Egypt. Home-grown products included glassware and a fine purple cloth (which was favored by royalty and dyed with an extract of the local Murex marine snail).
Tyre began its rise to prominence with the plundering of Sidon by Philistines around 1200 B.C. The influx of refugees and the temporary loss of competition spurred a period of great growth. Dealers and shipping merchants grew fabulously rich (Isaiah 23:8). They used their wealth to create a “stronghold of Tyre” (2 Samuel 24:7; see also Joshua 19:29), and bought peace by paying hefty tributes to whatever superpower was in control at the time.
Hiram I of Tyre (c. 979-945 B.C.) ushered in a “golden age” by uniting the Phoenician city-states under one rule, building temples to the deities of Melqart and Astarte, constructing a breakwater to create a harbor on the southern side, and connecting the two ports with a canal. In between periods of foreign influence, Tyre continued to expand its economic reach, including the founding of Carthage in 814 B.C.
This growth coincided with the reigns of Israel’s most powerful kings, David and Solomon, so it is not surprising that we should find considerable contact between these neighbors. After all, little more than a hundred miles separated Tyre from Jerusalem. (Facts like these are hard to keep in mind, given the larger-than-life significance of the events played out in this tiny corner of the world.) In fact, the Phoenician port crops up frequently in biblical history, poetry, and prophecy. David relied on Tyre’s resources for the building of his royal palace in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:11). Solomon went further, drawing on its materials and skilled workmen for the construction of the great temple in exchange for territory (1 Kings 9:11), and on their seafaring prowess for the founding of a fleet at the Red Sea port of Ezion-Geber (1 Kings 9:27). It is to Tyre that the repatriated exiles turned for the rebuilding of Jerusalem under the grant of Cyrus (Ezra 3:7). Of all the rulers, Ahab went the farthest by establishing a political alliance with Tyre. This he confirmed by a marriage to Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal (1 Kings 16:31), Tyre’s ruler/high priest who had overthrown King Phelles. As biblical history makes quite clear, this unholy compact had disastrous consequences for Samaria (1 Kings 13:31-33).
Of all the prophets, the book of Ezekiel devotes the most attention to Tyre (chapters 26-28). The revelation begins by citing the city’s notorious opportunism as one reason for its ultimate demise (26:2-3). As noted previously, Tyrian merchants had much to lose by an interruption of regular commerce, and could afford to buy peace with their enemies. Frequently, these treaties brought the city-state into alliance with other nations against Israel (Psalm 83). Despite the mutual respect that existed in the time of Hiram, the king’s successors took advantage of God’s people in their moments of weakness (Joel 3:4-6; Amos 1:9). Of course, divine condemnation would come on all nations, including Tyre, that acted against the people of God (Jeremiah 25:14-29). One of Tyre’s rulers also claimed to be a god, and this individual’s transgression constituted a further indictment against the city (Ezekiel 28:2).
What is most notable about Ezekiel’s prophecy is the accuracy of its fulfillment. Although secular records are not sufficiently complete to provide an independent confirmation of every detail, chapter 26 makes at least seven definite predictions that can be tested against historical data (see table below).
|1. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon shall destroy the mainland (“field” KJV) portion of Tyre (Ezekiel 26:7-8).
||1. Nebuchadnezzar II laid siege to Tyre for thirteen years beginning in 585-586 B.C. During this time, the inhabitants transferred most of their valuables to the island. The king seized Tyre’s mainland territories but returned to Babylon, finding himself unable to subdue the island fortress militarily (cf. 29:18). Tyre, weakened by the conflict, soon recognized Babylonian authority, which effectively ended the city’s autonomy and any aspirations for a greater Phoenicia.
|2. Other nations are to participate in the fulfillment of the prophecy (vs. 3).
||2. Following the Babylonian period, Tyre remained in subjection to Persia from 538-332 B.C. Alexander the Great besieged and captured the port in 332 B.C., and Ptolemies, Seleucids, Romans, and Muslim Arabs all had their turn at rule. After passing briefly into the hands of the Crusaders, the city was destroyed completely by the Mamluks (former Muslim soldier-slaves) in A.D. 1291.
|3. The city is to be flattened, like the top of a rock (vss. 4,14).
||3. Like Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander was stymied by Tyre’s natural moat. The brilliant Macedonian was not so quick to give up, however. He used the building materials of the mainland city, and any other rocks and soil in the immediate vicinity, to build a causeway to the island. His complete conquest of Tyre took only seven months.
|4. It is to become a place for the spreading of nets (vss. 5,14).
||4. The waters around Tyre were renowned in ancient times for their fishing (Liverani, 1988, 5:932). This was all the fame the city could claim after its complete decimation by Alexander.
|5. Its stones and timbers are to be laid in the sea (vs. 12).
||5. As noted in item 3 above, the building of the causeway came from the remains of the mainland city. Sands carried by currents have built up a spit or tombolo around the causeway, forming a permanent connection between the island and the mainland.
|6. Other cities are to fear greatly at the fall of Tyre (vss. 15-18).
||6. Many fortified cities in the region capitulated to Alexander after they saw the genius and relative ease with which he captured Tyre.
|7. The city will not be inhabited or rebuilt (vss. 20-21).
||7. Alexander sold almost all of Tyre’s inhabitants into slavery, and the city forever lost its importance on the world stage. Any vestiges of strength and power disappeared with the destruction of the Crusader fortress. Soűr, as it is known by Arabs today, is a small town in southern Lebanon with a population of about 14,000 (1990 estimate; refugees have inflated that number significantly in the last several years).
Table comparing the prophecy of Tyre with available historical information
In their book, Science Speaks, Peter W. Stoner and Robert C. Newman attempt to attach some real-world, but conservative, probabilities to each of these seven predictions (1976, pp. 72-79). If, for a moment, we assume that Ezekiel made some guesses about Tyre’s fate, what would be the chance that he could get, not just one partially correct, but all correct in every detail? That chance turns out to be 1 in 75,000,000. To give a practical analogy, an individual is twice as likely to be killed on the ground by an airplane during his or her lifetime, than to make these seven predictions and have them all come true. Or, to take a less morbid approach, this probability would be on the same order as flipping a coin and getting heads 26 times in a row (“26” may not seem a big number, but just try it some time!). Truly, the divine judgment of Tyre, and the accuracy of Ezekiel’s prophecy, provide a great demonstration of God’s presence in human affairs.
Liverani, M. (1988), “Tyre,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. G.W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 5:932-934.
Pfeiffer, C.F. (1966), The Biblical World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Stoner, Peter W. and Robert C. Newman (1976), Science Speaks (Chicago, IL: Moody).
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