Last year I posted an article to this blog about Ezekiel's failed prophecy regarding the destruction of the city of Tyre.
I thought it might be good to revisit this prophecy and fill in a few details that I missed last time.
The prophecy is in Ezekiel 26.
Island or mainland city?
It is commonly argued by apologists that the city of Tyre referred to in Ezekiel 26 is the mainland city. The primary reason that they must insist on it being the mainland city is very simply that Nebuchadnezzar did not defeat the island city. If apologists are going to claim that this prophecy is in any way fulfilled, they need it to be referring to the mainland city. Otherwise all they are really left with is a prophecy that an ancient city would be destroyed one day in the future. This is about the most certain thing you could ever prophesy about any city, and especially cities back in the time when this was written. The fact that Tyre was eventually destroyed is not remarkable at all. So was Babylon, and so was Jerusalem for that matter. Not to mention almost every other major city in the wider region.
So were Ezekiel's prophecies referring to the mainland city or the island city?
I'm not going to deal with any extra-biblical sources here. There are some powerful clues in the Bible itself. All quotes are from the NET.
"O Tyre! I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves."
Ezekiel 26:3 (emphasis mine)
"They will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers"
Ezekiel 26:4 Only the island city of Tyre was famous for its high walls. The mainland city was unfortified.
"She will be a place where fishing nets are spread, surrounded by the sea."
Ezekiel 26:5 (emphasis mine)
"They will sing this lament over you:
'How you have perished – you have vanished from the seas,
O renowned city, once mighty in the sea,
she and her inhabitants, who spread their terror!'"
Ezekiel 26:17 (emphasis mine)
"Say to Tyre, who sits at the entrance of the sea, merchant to the peoples on many coasts"
Ezekiel 27:3 (emphasis mine) - also note the contrast with "peoples on many coasts".
"Your borders are in the heart of the seas"
Ezekiel 27:4 (emphasis mine)
"So you were filled and weighed down in the heart of the seas."
Ezekiel 27:25 (emphasis mine)
"Your rowers have brought you into surging waters.
The east wind has wrecked you in the heart of the seas."
Ezekiel 27:26 (emphasis mine) - this one is metaphorical but the analogy is one of a ship, which would be more fitting for an island city than a mainland one.
"and all your fighting men within you,
along with all your crew who are in you,
will fall into the heart of the seas on the day of your downfall."
Ezekiel 27:27 (emphasis mine) - the analogy continues. Note that by way of analogy this is claiming that all of the inhabitants of the city would be killed. Obviously this never happened.
"When your products went out from the seas,"
Ezekiel 27:33 (emphasis mine)
"Your heart is proud and you said, 'I am a god;
I sit in the seat of gods, in the heart of the seas'"
Ezekiel 28:1 (emphasis mine)
"They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die violently in the heart of the seas."Where it speaks about "coastlands" it always seems to be in contrast to Tyre.
Ezekiel 28:8 (emphasis mine)
"Oh, how the coastlands will shake at the sound of your fall, when the wounded groan, at the massive slaughter in your midst! All the princes of the sea will vacate their thrones. They will remove their robes and strip off their embroidered clothes; they will clothe themselves with trembling."
Ezekiel 26:15-16 This one could be read either way I suppose. However it could be argued that the princes of the sea are lamenting the fall of one of their own.
"Now the coastlands will tremble on the day of your fall;
the coastlands by the sea will be terrified by your passing."
"Now you are wrecked by the seas, in the depths of the waters;Also note that much of the language of Ezekiel 26 is that of a siege. This makes no sense against the mainland city which was, to the best of my knowledge, unfortified. Note the many references to the "walls" and "towers" of Tyre, which are references to the notorious fortifications of the island city. The walls of the island city were said by one historian to have been some 150 feet (46 metres) tall!
your merchandise and all your company have sunk along with you.
All the inhabitants of the coastlands are shocked at you"
Ezekiel 27:34-35 Note the contrast between "you are wrecked...in the depths of the waters" compared to "All the inhabitants of the coastlands" (which necessarily precludes the inhabitants of Tyre).
Further, the prophecy twice states that Tyre would be scraped bare like a rock. The only rock in that area was on the island. The mainland was already flat and mostly sandy, being near a beach.
I could also mention the copious references to Tyre's trade via the seas. The island city was a major sea port for trading many types of goods, which are listed for us in Ezekiel 27. The island city had access to 2 harbours. The mainland city had none. Destroying the mainland city had no effect on Tyre's trading capabilities, and the island city was a major trading city well after Nebuchadnezzar's conquests.
Ezekiel 26:12 says that Nebuchadnezzar's army would steal Tyre's wealth, yet practically all of Tyre's wealth was in the island city, and remained untouched by Nebuchadnezzar (unless you consider tribute to be "stealing").
All of the above evidence strongly points towards the 'Tyre' of Ezekiel 26-28 being the island city. I'm not going to push the point any further than this. Clearly the biblical apologists aren't convinced by such evidence, otherwise there would be very little to discuss. If Ezekiel 26 only referred to the island city of Tyre, then the prophecy with respect to Nebuchadnezzar's involvement was quite clearly a failure.
The quote from my previous article on Tyre is relevant here:
In 585 BCE, just two years after besieging and destroying Jerusalem, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Tyre to capture its trading resources. His siege would last thirteen years and would prove unsuccessful - although it was probably around this time that residents of Tyre began to abandon the mainland part of the city in favor of the island city where the walls were said to be 150 feet high. Some believe that Nebuchadnezzar was primarily interested in containing rather than destroying Tyre, but what it clear is that Tyre came through largely unscathed and with significant autonomy - a much better fate than what Jerusalem experienced.Admitting that Nebuchadnezzar failed to defeat Tyre, apologists will then claim that the prophecy was fulfilled in 332BCE by Alexander the Great.
Not only does Ezekiel not make any mention of Alexander the Great (even a reference to the "Greeks" would have sufficed), he doesn't specify a time period either. Even if the city had been defeated 1000 years later, there would still be apologists claiming success. In fact, the biblearchaeology.org website claims that the prophecy was fulfilled in 1291CE! Better late than never I suppose.
The lack of a definitive end date for the prophecy makes any claim of a later fulfilment vague and therefore unconvincing.
Still, I do have some questions for those who insist that Alexander the Great fulfilled the prophecy in 332BCE.
"“For this is what the sovereign Lord says: When I make you desolate like the uninhabited cities, when I bring up the deep over you and the surging waters overwhelm you, then I will bring you down to bygone people, to be with those who descend to the pit. I will make you live in the lower parts of the earth, among the primeval ruins, with those who descend to the pit, so that you will not be inhabited or stand in the land of the living. I will bring terrors on you, and you will be no more! Though you are sought after, you will never be found again, declares the sovereign Lord.”Who or what did Alexander the Great's former general, Antigonus, defeat when he besieged Tyre in 315BCE?
Ezekiel 26:19-21 (emphasis mine)
In 126BCE Tyre regained its independence, and later became a Roman province in 64BCE. How is this possible if it was uninhabited? If it was inhabited, where did the island's inhabitants live if the city was never going to be rebuilt?
Clearly the city of Tyre has always been inhabited and is still inhabited today. I guess that part of the prophecy must be still future. You know, the "get out of jail free" card of prophecy apologetics. Sigh.
Update 25 March 2015
Going by the stats on this blog, it seems that many Christadelphians are familiar with the Tyre prophecy but almost no one is aware of the prophecy against Egypt just a few chapters later. I have written two articles on that prophecy, which you can read here and here.