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An Examination of Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Tyre: Part 1

In the last few weeks, I’ve had to delve back into a subject that I haven’t spent much time researching since my initial deconversion. Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyre, which can be found in Ezekiel 26-28, was a major piece of evidence for me in showing that the Bible was not as accurate as I had always thought. I’ve written about it twice before: first in a rather matter-of-fact manner, and later with a touch of sarcasm. The blog Thomistic Bent has recently done a 3-part series on Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyre (1, 2, and 3), and my own posts on the subject have seen a lot of recent activity as well, so I think it’s time that I do a new series on the prophecy in as thorough a fashion as I know how. This will be a lengthy study, so I’ve decided to break it up into several parts.

At Face Value

I think it’s important to state up front that this prophecy simply fails at face value. To me, that’s significant, since God would be powerful enough to ensure that no matter what the prophecy stated, events would unfold exactly as predicted. In the prophecy, Ezekiel states that Tyre would be destroyed:

3 therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. 4 They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. 5 She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. And she shall become plunder for the nations, 6 and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
— Ezek 26:3-6

13 And I will stop the music of your songs, and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. 14 I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets. You shall never be rebuilt, for I am the Lord; I have spoken, declares the Lord God.
— Ezek 26:13-14

21 I will bring you to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more. Though you be sought for, you will never be found again, declares the Lord God.”
— Ezek 26:21

And as you can see, in addition to being destroyed, it’s prophesied that Tyre will never be rebuilt or found again. But this is simply not true. We’ll get into the details later, but the simple fact is that once Tyre was finally destroyed, it was immediately rebuilt. Instead of being a bare rock, or even a ruin, it remained an extremely important trade hub in the region for centuries. And it’s the 4th largest city in Lebanon today.

So the events haven’t worked out exactly as the prophecy claimed they would. And for many people, myself included, that’s enough. I view this prophecy as a failure. Nevertheless, there’s much more that can be said by digging into the details of this prophecy, as well as the geography and history of Tyre and its surroundings. A number of people have found ways to claim that this prophecy has been fulfilled by focusing on the minutiae. I don’t find their arguments persuasive, however, and the next several posts will go into my reasons why.

Part 2

165 thoughts on “An Examination of Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Tyre: Part 1”

  1. nan, you may be right, but i’m having a difficult time understanding how this would help ezekiel’s case regarding tyre.

    whether he’s relaying god’s punishment for tyre or foretelling events, he is still speaking about something that he claims god intends to do; and a perfect, all powerful god at that.

    Since this did not happen as ezekiel stated it would, I think it still points to ezekiel being a false prophet – or either the spokesman for a god with limited powerful or foresight.

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  2. But William … was he (Yahweh) talking to future generations or the people of the time? And was it simply a warning or, as many believe, a prediction?

    To me, this is the defining factor. IF one considers Ezekiel’s words as an actual foretelling, then the arguments for and against its fulfillment are understandable. But what if it was simply a warning to the nation of Tyre?

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  3. We who live in the 21st century tend to see things considerably different than those who lived during biblical times. And further, as I mentioned before, the establishment of Christianity changed a LOT of things related to scripture.

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  4. Honestly, I think Ezekiel was just talking out of his butt, because he was angry that Jerusalem had fallen and Tyre had not. I don’t really think he was trying to warn them. In fact, as one of my future posts will point out, there’s reason to think Tyre was already under siege when this was written.

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  5. You’re much more into studying the OT than I am, Nate, so your outlook is probably closer to the “truth.” My perspective has always been that the OT writers were talking to their own people, not to future generations. Of course, as is obvious, not everyone agrees. 😉

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  6. In fact, as one of my future posts will point out, there’s reason to think Tyre was already under siege when this was written.

    I wondered about that, myself. As far as Ezekiel talking out of his butt, he doesn’t seem to be warning Tyre. He seems to be taking pleasure in/gloating over the fact that they were going to meet their demise. That’s just my opinion, of course, based on the way it reads.

    The rest of that scripture from Deuteronomy is this:

    19And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

    From this I deduce that even if a prophet was predicting some future event it must be some near future event. How would the audience know not to be afraid of a prophet if the prophecy did not come true in the prophet’s/audience’s lifetime?

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  7. Nate, I’ll be looking forward to this series. What strikes me about analyzing prophecy is that we can be biased towards making its meaning so rigid that it presents logical contradiction in almost all possible histories or the opposite towards making its meaning so loose that it could fit basically any possible history. There’s got to be a balance.

    If I had any input, I would hope that you address two things:
    1) If Ezekiel’s prophecy did not come true, why was it not edited by religious scribes to force it to be true? This presents a dilemma for atheist arguments. Some atheists hold to theories that the Pentateuch contains many levels of editing. However, if religious scribes were so biased that they would significantly edit scripture, why not edit prophecy to fit history? This anti-prophetic bend is a leading reason that scholars argue that the gospels were written after the temple was destroyed (no stone left unturned) in Jerusalem. The point is, we can’t have our cake and eat it.

    2) I haven’t looked into this prophecy in depth, but I have read an article on biblicalarchaeology.org that responds to criticism. I would hope that these arguments are examined.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to sound irreverent, I’m seriously looking forward to your series. -B

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  8. and even if ezekiel never meant it as evidence of divine foresight, i believe we can still use it as suck, right? Much like arrowheads and human bones are evidence of an old battle – even when no one was fighting in order to provide evidence of a battle.

    am I over simplifying this?

    In other words, regardless of why or how Ezekiel was saying what he said, he said something and something else transpired. I think this can be significant evidence, no?

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  9. Ruth — How would the audience know not to be afraid of a prophet if the prophecy did not come true in the prophet’s/audience’s lifetime?

    Great question — and I agree.

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  10. No, I actually do agree, Nan. I just don’t think he was taking to Tyre as much as trying to explain why God let Jerusalem fall.

    But I could totally be wrong. 🙂

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  11. And it is interesting that in chapter 29:18-20, God is supposedly talking to Ezekiel talking about “Nebby did a great Service in sieging Tyre, but he didn’t gain anything from it and considerably weakened his army in the effort, so I’m going to give him Egypt as an atta-boy prize for trying so hard to do what I wanted him to do”.

    I mean, really? God prophesied that Nebby will destroy Tyre forever and then later uses Ezekiel to prophecy that Nebby will fail, but he’ll give ol’ Neb Egypt as consolation prize? That’s the only interpretation if Ezekiel is held to have lived before Nebuchadnezzar, otherwise it has to be seen as contemporaneous news reporting w/ the “goddidit” explanation added.

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  12. anaivethinker,

    I’d disagree that if priests edited the scriptures, then they’d have edited every problem or none at all, for a few reasons.

    1) Until google earth came about, i believed that tyre was gone for good. modern technology makes research and proofing so much easier and more convenient now that ever before. Perhaps the alleged editors were unaware of the literal failures, or simply had bigger fish to fry and skimmed over it, in order to address what was pressing in their time… and because they didnt have the internet or search engines, their resources were just very limited…

    2) god is said to be perfect – not people. people make mistakes and miss things despite their best efforts. maybe they just missed a few…

    3) and, “it’s too big on an error to be a real error, or else it would have been fixed” just seems like a last ditch effort in trying to say that something that is plainly erroneous, actually is not.

    and I’m not trying to be rude or short at all, but from my point of view, it’s the religious who try to have it both ways; whether it be selecting what’s literal and what’s figurative without any consistent standard for doing so. Plus, there’s all the “evidence that is so strong for Christianity,” but when other religions provide similar evidences, “well, that’s differnt…”

    But again, that’s only my perspective.

    Ezekiel said certain things, did those certain things come to pass? And considering god’s greatness, should everything that was said was going to happen, actually happen, or does partial fulfillments count?

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  13. @ anaivethinker,

    I think that one possible answer to you first question is that this isn’t meant to be prophecy in the sense that we view prophecy. If we try to understand it from the viewpoint of the audience it was initially intended for it is possible that it was meant for just them for just that time – not something that would be coming true in future generations.

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  14. Brandon, that’s a great question — thanks for the comment. And I’ll check out the link you posted and try to address those points as well.

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  15. Hi Brandon,

    Just a quick follow up. If found the article you were referencing at biblearchaeology.org. Here is is if anyone’s interested:
    http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/12/07/Ezekiel-261-14-A-Proof-Text-For-Inerrancy-or-Fallibility-of-The-Old-Testament.aspx#Article

    I think my series will answer most of his points. At the end of it, if you think of a couple things I overlooked, let me know and we can discuss in the comments.

    Thanks again!

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  16. I think it all makes no difference one way or the other as when the Midden hits the Windmill all these Christians are going to be knee deep in it just like the atheists – they seem to have forgotten that prophecy or no prophecy they are not part of the 144,000 Jewish virgins who are earmarked as ticket-holders for heaven.

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  17. um, it was nothing clever… just that they’re probably expecting hot and young nubile chicks in paradise, but in reality, the virgins they’ll get are the dweebs, dorks and nerds…

    I, uh, i saw it on a family guy…

    then, coupling that with Ark’s point on jewish virgins, I laughed… what a downer for those guys. jews, whom they hate, and nerds whom they dont lust after…

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  18. @william: I agree with you that editing (redaction) may have been selective rather than broad-based, but on something contradictory, the editors must have realized this was not God’s word. I think the skeptic’s interpretive goals (edited versus contradictory) are at tension, and because both of them are in the arsenal, they can appear to be special pleading. The skeptic is tempted to say that the gospels are contradictory yet certain prophecies that appeared to have come true were just later edits or even happened after-the-fact. Because both interpretive goals are in the arsenal, it raises concern for special pleading. Of course, theists are not free of these kinds of problems either. Your point about theists also appearing to go at great lengths to defend the accuracy of these is absolutely true. Both sides are subject to confirmation bias. So, it’s the hard data that is most important, I think you would agree. We’ll see what we can think of throughout the rest of Nate’s series.

    @Ruth: I agree with you that maybe “prophecy” doesn’t always mean accurately predicting the future, but it sure seems like it is in the case of Ezekiel’s prophecy against Tyre!

    @Nate: yeah, that’s the article! I’m looking forward to a good series and discussion.

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  19. You’re right, anaivethinker, using both arguments can at least give the appearance of evil (suspicion of special pleading, as you say). This is why it is important to know exactly when the book (Eze in this case) was written as compared to when the events happened.

    As I mentioned earlier, Eze 29:18-20 has god telling Ezekiel that even though Nebby failed to destroy Tyre, that Nebby still did a great service for God by trying, so God would give Nebby Egypt as spoils for reward. However, Eze 26:7-11 specifically says it is Nebby who will destroy Tyre. So, this brings up the very question–are these two contradictory prophesies, or has there been editing? Was Eze written many years before any of this happened, or was it contemporary writing that noted Nebby’s failure and just attribute’s his eventual success in Egypt to god?

    Why would god prophecy through Eze that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Tyre and then prophecy later that he would fail but that god would give him egypt as recompense?

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  20. @Eric Sell: I’m waiting to see Nate’s breakdown of the issue before I give my detailed opinion. That said, I think there is a reasonable way to conclude that the prophecy was fulfilled. Don’t worry, this is certainly not proof of divine inspiration that would force skeptics to convert! But, it will not something that can just be dismissed as confirmation bias (even if it is). The questions that you raised focus mainly on Nebuchadrezzar entirely fulfilling the prophecy, but I think we all agree that he did not entirely fulfill the prophecy. Some key questions we have to answer are: who are the “many nations” of 26:3? Does Tyre only refer to the island city or could it be both the island city and mainland suburbs? Or, could Tyre refer to the culture? Could the absolute destruction of the walls and towers and sinking of the island into the ocean be hyperbole or metaphor?

    It gets even more complicated from here. If you read chapter 28, which is contiguous with chapter 26, you will find the reason YHWH is judging Tyre is because its culture is committing the sin of hubris and they have corrupt trading practices. This raises the possibility that an abrupt and violent end of the culture itself will be YHWH’s judgment, not necessarily the destruction of its buildings which have no moral agency. We also find a key little verse, 28:7, that states “strangers against [Tyre], the most terrible of the nations” will bring the fulfillment of the entire prophecy. At face value it seems irresponsible to equate the “many nations” (26:3) and “strangers. . . the most terrible of the nations” (28:7) with Babylon. Could this be the Greeks and their military allies?

    So, all of these considerations (and more) need to be weighed to have a comprehensive opinion about whether the prophecy was fulfilled or not. But, it does not seem like it will be a knock down drag out proof for either side. -B

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