This is the sixth part in a series of blog posts I’ve been doing about prophecies in the Bible (part 1 is here). The one I’d like to talk about today was one of the first ones that really hit me like a hammer when I first started examining the Bible’s claims critically. In my opinion, it’s extremely strong evidence that the Bible was not really inspired by God.
Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyre is very interesting to look at. In fact, it’s one that is often used as evidence by both sides of the inerrancy debate. Ezekiel 26-28 details a prophecy against the island city of Tyre. It was a great trade center and features fairly prominently throughout the Bible.
Once Judah was led into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Ezekiel prophesied destruction for Tyre, since they were glad at the destruction that had been wrought on Jerusalem. And the benefit of this prophecy is that it is very specific. Chapter 26 says that many nations would come against Tyre, and in verse 4, Ezekiel says that their walls and towers would be torn down, and it would be made a bare rock.
Then, in verses 7-14, Ezekiel is even more specific by saying that Nebuchadnezzar would come against the city. He will kill Tyre’s “daughters on the mainland” (vs 8 ) and direct a siege wall against them to destroy their walls. He would enter the city with his army and kill, plunder, and cast the debris into the sea. They would be a bare rock and never be rebuilt.
In fact, Nebuchadnezzar did bring his army against Tyre. And he did destroy the mainland suburbs of Tyre, just as was predicted in verse 8. He also besieged the city, as was predicted. But the similarities end there. He besieged Tyre for 13 years without success. Tyre finally signed a treaty with Nebuchadnezzar, but their city remained unharmed. Ezekiel even admits as much in 29:17-18 when he says that Nebuchadnezzar got nothing in his efforts against Tyre.
About 250 years later, Tyre did finally fall to Alexander the Great. And many Christians view this as the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. But then why didn’t Ezekiel prophesy that Alexander would do it? God could have easily revealed that to him. Also, verses 7-14 show no apparent break in speaking about Nebuchadnezzar’s attack. Where is the indication that the actual destruction wouldn’t come for another 250 years?
And furthermore, Tyre was rebuilt shortly after Alexander defeated it. It was still a prominent trade center during the times of Jesus and Paul. In fact, Tyre is the 4th largest city in Lebanon today. That is a problem since Ezekiel says it would be utterly destroyed (26:14) to the point that no one would be able to find it again (26:21), and it would be “no more forever” (27:36).
Prophesying that Tyre would be gone forever is an immensely bold claim, and it’s also extremely important. It is one of the few biblical prophecies that we would actually be able to verify today, if it were true. So how do people answer it?
Taking the prophecy at face value isn’t going to work. That’s a shame, because if Tyre was still a “bare rock” as Ezekiel says, then it would be great proof of prophecy fulfillment. So instead, we have to think of other ways to explain it. One is to say that Ezekiel was only talking about the mainland portion of Tyre. This one is used quite often – some apologists even claim that Tyre was only on the mainland at this time and moved out to the island once Nebuchadnezzar besieged them. But this seems unlikely because Ezekiel often refers to Tyre as being “in the midst of the sea,” or “on the sea,” or “borders are in the heart of the seas,” etc (26:5, 17, 18; 27:4, 25, 26, 32; 28:2, 8). In fact, chapter 27 compares Tyre to a ship that will sink because of the destruction that God is bringing upon it. So trying to say this is the mainland is somewhat ridiculous. It also goes against the historical and archaeological evidence [src].
Sometimes, people try to explain the prophecy by noting that the city that exists today in that spot is actually called Sur. Therefore, it’s not the same city, and Ezekiel was right. However, “Sur” is the way Tyre is spelled in Arabic, and in Hebrew it’s “Tzur.” In fact, the Old Testament essentially spells it as “Tzur” – just check an interlinear Bible for the Hebrew translation of this passage. So the city still has the same name that it had back then.
Another explanation is that this is a prophecy against the people of the city, so when it says Tyre would never be rebuilt it’s just saying that it will never be those same people. But when you really start to think about it, this is also silly. Ezekiel himself says that Nebuchadnezzar was unable to take the city (Ezek 29:18-20), so God would give him Egypt instead (this is also something that doesn’t appear to have happened, by the way). But anyway, Nebuchadnezzar was unable to take Tyre. So those inhabitants were not defeated, and we have to wait for Alexander the Great to take the city. But this happened two or three hundred years later. So how could Ezekiel have been talking about the people of the city in his prophecy? All those people were dead and gone by the time the city fell to Alexander. Besides that, why bother even making the prophecy that the city would never be rebuilt if you’re only talking about the inhabitants? Who would possibly think those people would re-inhabit a city once they were dead?
Instead, about the only possibility we’re left with is that Ezekiel was merely being figurative. He didn’t really mean that the city would never be rebuilt. He simply meant that they would be punished in some way (this is where Alexander the Great fits in) and never come back to their former glory. I guess we can see why Ezekiel didn’t phrase it this way because it does seem to lose some of its grandeur. Of course, even then it’s hard to put your finger on exactly when this was fulfilled, because Tyre still enjoyed some prominence for a long time after Alexander took it.
But the benefit of saying that the prophecy is just figurative is that you can’t disprove it. Ezekiel could have said almost anything and it wouldn’t matter – whatever reality actually occurred would be the prophecy fulfillment. Everything is vague and non-specific so that we have no problem reading the fulfillment into whatever happens. It’s much like the fortune from a fortune cookie. They give a vague pronouncement that’s supposed to happen over an unspecified time so that if you really try, you can find the fulfillment to your fortune. The problem with this view is that there was no point in Ezekiel’s prophecy at all. The specific things he mentioned don’t really happen in the way he described. And even though he seems emphatic in at least 3 different places that Tyre would never be rebuilt, people just say that he didn’t mean that. What else could he have said if his true intention was that the city would never be rebuilt in any fashion at all? People who use this excuse in order to maintain the inerrancy of the Bible aren’t viewing this prophecy as any kind of proof (which is at least part of the reason it would have been given). Instead, they’ve made up their mind that it must be true, regardless of the facts. So there was really no point in even recording it.
This is one of the most blatant and obvious examples of a failed prophecy in the Bible. It is clear and specific, yet it did not come to pass. The conclusion is obvious: at the very least, Ezekiel was not a true prophet. At most, the entire Bible is uninspired. If you’re a firm Bible-believer (as I was), are you honest and brave enough to accept it for what it is? I hope you’ll think about it.
We’ll continue our study of Bible prophecies in the next post.