The downfall of Tyre (Ezekiel 26)

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Illustration: Ancient Tyre 10th Century BC

The Phoenician city of Tyre, in modern Lebanon, was an important commercial centre located on the Mediterranean coast. It consisted of both a mainland city and an island city 3,2 km offshore, both well fortified.

Tyre was occupied by the middle of the third millennium B.C. It is first mentioned in the records of the Syrian city of Ebla and again in the Egyptian execration text of the eighteenth century B.C.; it also appears in the Amarna Letters and in the Ugaritic texts. The city suffered from the invasions of the Sea Peoples around 1200 B.C. but became highly prosperous during the Iron Age. It sent its ships all over the world during the early first millennium B.C. and was instrumental in founding the city of Carthage in northern Africa in the ninth century B.C. Hiram of Tyre provided workmen and cedar trees for the construction of David’s palace in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:11) and also supplied cedars (1 Kings 5:1-12) and craftsmen (1 Kings 7:13-47) for Solomon’s temple.

Ahab, king of the northern kingdom of Israel from approximately 874 to 853 B.C., married a princess from Tyre, the infamous Baal worshiper Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31-32). Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal I, who seized the throne of Tyre in 887 B.C. and ruled there for 32 years. He had been a priest of Astarte, and Jezebel appears to have shared his devotion to the fertility gods of Canaan. This was a high point in Tyre’s history; thus it is not surprising from a political point of view that the Israelite house of Omri desired to be on good terms with the Tyrians and so arranged the marriage between his son Ahab and Jezebel.

During the seventh century B.C. Tyre struggled to remain independent of Assyria. It was defeated at Ashkelon when, with support of the Tirhakah of Egypt, it sought to resist Esarhaddon of Assyria.

Ezekiel wrote his prophecy against Tyre during the eleventh year of Jehoiakim’s captivity (586 B.C.), predicting that Nebuchadnezzar would march against the city (Ezekiel 26). Nebuchadnezzar did indeed turn his attention to the affluent city of Tyre following his destruction of Jerusalem and proceeded to besiege the city for 13 years, from 585 to 572 B.C. The Babylonians succeeded in capturing the mainland city but were unable, without a navy, to defeat the island fortress. Tyre was exhausted by the long struggle, however, and with the rise of the Persian empire came under the domination of the Persians.

The next major event of Tyre’s history occurred when Alexander the Great invaded the Persian empire in 332 B.C. Probably because the city served as a centre for the Persian fleet, Alexander attacked Tyre. Not wishing to undergo a long siege, as had Nebuchadnezzar before him, Alexander constructed a causeway (200 – 300 yards wide) from the mainland to the island fortress. Pulling down the buildings on the mainland, he repurposed the stones, timer and debris to build the causeway. Ezekiel had stated with respect to Tyre that God would “scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock” (Ezekiel 26:4) and “throw (her) stones, timer and rubble into the sea” (26:12). Tyre was literally scraped bare like a rock. Today, the famed causeway is an isthmus as a result of encroaching sand.

With the death of Alexander, Tyre fell under the influence of the Greek kingdoms (first the Ptolemies of Egypt and then the Seleucids of Syria). She began to emerge again as an important trade city during the Seleucid period and once again exerted considerable influence over the Jewish state. By the time the Romans had assumed control of the eastern Mediterranean, Tyre was a major city of the region and a transportation centre (see Acts 21:3-7). The region of Tyre and Sidon served as something of a retreat area for Jesus and His disciples (Matthew 15:21), and people flocked from Tyre to hear His message (Mark 3:8).


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