Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Tyre was a great and powerful commercial city, made up of two parts: Old Tyre, situated on a plain on the mainland, and New Tyre, built on a rocky island, or rather two islands joined together, lying about half a mile from the shore. Its territory was insignificant, but it was so strong in its wealth, its ships, and its colonies, that it was able to employ mercenaries (Ezekiel 27:10-11) in numbers, and being strongly fortified, resisted for five years, and with final success, the siege by the whole power of Assyria under Shalmaneser. According to the Assyrian records, however, it was afterwards captured by Assurbanipal. A few years after the fall of Jerusalem it was again besieged by Nebuchadnezzar for thirteen years. There is no express mention in the histories of the time of the result of this siege, although it is implied in the statement of the ancient historians (Jos. 100 Apion, i. 20;. Antt. x., 11, §1) that Nebuchadnezzar made himself master of all Phœnicia. It is also asserted by St. Jerome that he captured Tyre, and he describes the method by which it was accomplished; it is also very unlikely that such a monarch as Nebuchadnezzar would have allowed himself to be baffled after such effort. (On the difficulty suggested by Ezekiel 29:18, see the Note there.) In the days of David and Solomon, the king of Tyre was the close friend of Israel; afterwards the two nations became alienated, and the Tyrians sold Hebrew captives to the Greeks and the Edomites (Joel 3:4-8; Amos 1:9-10). Tyre was probably greatly offended when Josiah, in the course of his reformation, defiled the images of their god Baal, and destroyed his sacred vessels, both at Jerusalem and in Samaria. It was subject to the Persian Empire, was captured by Alexander, remained a large city under the Romans, was still flourishing in the time of St. Jerome, was great at the era of the Crusades, but soon afterwards was totally destroyed by the Saracens, and has since remained so utterly desolate that its site might not even be observed by the passing traveller. Besides the prophecies against Tyre just mentioned, that of Isaiah 23 has already been spoken of in the introductory Note to chapter 25.
Ezekiel’s denunciation of Tyre occupies nearly three chapters, and each of these forms a distinct prophecy, the last verses of Ezekiel 28 constituting a separate prophecy against the associated Phoenician city of Sidon. The first of these (Ezekiel 26) is occupied with the threat of the destruction of Tyre; the second (Ezekiel 27) is a lamentation over this destruction; while the third (Ezekiel 28:1-19) is divided into two parts (which may indeed be separate prophecies), of which the former (Ezekiel 26:1-10) is a threat specifically against the king of Tyre, and the latter (Ezekiel 26:11-19) is a lamentation over his fall.
Chapter 26 consists of four sections, each introduced with “Thus saith the Lord,” the whole preceded by the mention of the sin of Tyre in exulting over the fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 26:2). The first of these (Ezekiel 26:3-6) describes the ultimate desolation of Tyre by “many nations;” the second (Ezekiel 26:7-14) describes circumstantially its more immediate conquest by Nebuchadnezzar; the third (Ezekiel 26:15-18) the effect upon the islands and coasts, doubtless with especial reference to her colonies and those with whom she was commercially connected; while the fourth (Ezekiel 26:19-21) is an energetic repetition and summary of her doom.
And it came to pass in the eleventh year, in the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,(1) In the first day of the month.—The year was that in which Jerusalem fell (2Kings 25:2-4; 2Kings 25:8-9), but the month is not given here, and cannot now be ascertained. It is plain from Ezekiel 26:2 that Tyre already felt sure of the issue of the siege; but there is a marked difference between this and the language in Ezekiel 25:3, which could only have been used after the capture of the city. This prophecy may therefore well have been given at any time during the eleventh year. Possibly the Alexandrine Septuagint is right in supplying “the first” month; but as this is omitted in the Roman copy, it is more likely to have been a mere conjecture. There is a similar omission in Ezekiel 32:17, but the number is easily supplied there from Ezekiel 26:1. Probably, in both cases the omission is a mere error of the scribes.
Son of man, because that Tyrus hath said against Jerusalem, Aha, she is broken that was the gates of the people: she is turned unto me: I shall be replenished, now she is laid waste:(2) She is broken that was the gates of the people.—“Gates” is in the plural simply because the word originally means a leaf of a door or gate, and hence the two leaves mean the gate; accordingly the sense would be better conveyed by using the singular in English. On the other hand, “people, both here and in Ezekiel 27:3, is intentionally in the plural =the nations. By omitting all the words in italics in this verse a better idea is obtained of the exultation of Tyre over the fall of Jerusalem.
This exultation is described as of a purely selfish and commercial character, and shows nothing of the spitefulness and religious animosity of the nations mentioned in the previous chapter. Jerusalem had been made in the days of Solomon the great commercial emporium of the inland trade from Arabia, and even from India, as well as the negotiator of products between Egypt and the Hittites and other northern nations. Doubtless something of this commercial importance still remained to Jerusalem in her decay, of which we have already seen evidence in Ezekiel 16; but however this may have been, a considerable city, situated as Jerusalem was, must of necessity have been the centre of many of those transactions between the surrounding nations which Tyre would gladly have monopolised for herself. Hence her exultation: “Jerusalem being destroyed, all that gave her importance among the nations must come to increase my prosperity.”
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up.(3) Many nations.—The prophet here, at the outset, glances down through the ages of Tyre’s future history. He has in mind not merely the conquest by Nebuchadnezzar, of which he will speak more particularly presently (Ezekiel 26:7-11), but all the successive conquests until the proud city should be reduced to utter desolation. Most appropriate to the situation and habits of Tyre is the illustration, “as the sea causeth his waves to come up”: God will bring nation after nation to the destruction of Tyre as the sea throws wave after wave against her rock.
And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock.(4) Her dust.—Comp. Ezekiel 26:12. The dust is that of her ruined walls and palaces and temples. “Scraping” expresses their utter destruction. As an historic fact, the ruins of the ancient city have all been thrown into the sea, and what now remains is of mediaeval construction, although the greater part of even the mediaeval ruins have been carried away.
It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.(5) The spreading of nets.—Such has been the chief use of insular Tyre for ages, and although a miserable village of 3,000 people has sprung up, chiefly within the present century, upon a part of its site, other parts have still no more important use. The Tyre upon the mainland has so utterly disappeared that even its site cannot be exactly identified.
And her daughters which are in the field shall be slain by the sword; and they shall know that I am the LORD.(6) Daughters which are in the field.—Comp. Ezekiel 26:8. A poetic way of describing the dependencies of Tyre upon the mainland.
In Ezekiel 26:7-11 the particular and now impending conquest by Nebuchadnezzar is graphically described, and then, with the change to the plural in Ezekiel 26:12, there seems to be again a looking forward to the long vista of successive devastations.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people.(7) Nebuchadrezzar.—So the name is very often written by Jeremiah and a few times by Ezekiel. It is, perhaps, a closer representation of the Nabu-kudurriuzur of the Babylonian cylinders than the form finally adopted by the Hebrews of Nebuchadnezzar.
A king of kings, from the north.—He is called a “king of kings” because of the many countries subject to his sway, whose kings were his vassals; and he is described as “from the north,” because, as often before said, it was from this direction that his armies must approach Tyre, although Babylon itself was in actual latitude to the south of Tyre.
He shall slay with the sword thy daughters in the field: and he shall make a fort against thee, and cast a mount against thee, and lift up the buckler against thee.(8) A fort . . . a mount.—These and the following particulars of the siege indicate the use of the ordinary methods as in the attack of a city on the mainland. The explanation of this is doubtless partly in the fact that Palæotyrus, Old Tyre, upon the mainland, was approached in the ordinary way, and partly that Nebuchadnezzar must have contrived a bridge of boats, or some other method of approaching the island across the shoal and narrow channel (1,200 yards), which at that time separated it from the mainland. That if he built a mole it was afterwards removed, is plain from the fact that when Alexander built one, 250 years later, sand accumulated upon it, until the island has now become a peninsula, connected with the shore by a beach of considerable width.
The buckler is that sort of roof made with shields used in ancient warfare by besiegers to defend themselves from the missiles of the besieged. Herodotus (ix. 61, 99, 102) mentions its use among the Persians.
And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers.(9) Engines of war.—This is now generally understood to mean battering-rams, although the word is a different one from that used in Ezekiel 4:2; Ezekiel 21:22. There are two words here which may form one compound word.
Axes in the original is swords. It may either be used, the specific for the general, swords for all instruments of war; or it may be a poetic hyperbole, to express the power of the swords of Nebuchadnezzar’s army—they shall even break down the towers.
By reason of the abundance of his horses their dust shall cover thee: thy walls shall shake at the noise of the horsemen, and of the wheels, and of the chariots, when he shall enter into thy gates, as men enter into a city wherein is made a breach.(10) Shall enter into thy gates.—The whole description of this verse again implies that Nebuchadnezzar had contrived some way by which his armies, with horsemen and chariots, could march into the city, and the prophet gives a glowing poetic description of the effect of their entrance.
With the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets: he shall slay thy people by the sword, and thy strong garrisons shall go down to the ground.(11) Thy strong garrisons.—This is the only instance in the Bible in which this common word is so translated, although a word closely akin to it is rendered garrison throughout the Books of Samuel. Both words mean a pillar set up as a monument or memorial. Translate, therefore, the pillars of thy strength. It is probable that the pillars intended are those mentioned by Herodotus (Bk. 2:44) as standing in the Temple of Hercules at Tyre, one of gold and the other of emerald.
And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise: and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy thy pleasant houses: and they shall lay thy stones and thy timber and thy dust in the midst of the water.(12) They shall make.—In Ezekiel 26:12 the nominative changes. It is no longer Nebuchadnezzar who does these things, but “they.” This may intimate that the prophet’s vision now again passes beyond the immediate future to the long succession of calamities, beginning indeed with Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest, with which Tyre was to be visited. The “spoil” and “prey” is to be understood more of what the Tyrians lost than of what the conquerors gained. In the long-continued sieges to which the city was subjected there was great waste of its substance; but their command of the water generally enabled them before the close to send away their moveable wealth, so that the booty of the victor was small. (With the close of the verse comp. Ezekiel 26:4.) The situation of Tyre led naturally to her ruins being thrown into the sea. Robinson saw in one place as many as forty or fifty marble columns beneath the water.
And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard.(13) I will cause.—Here God speaks of His own direct action, and declares that all these calamities are ordered by Him; and in this and the following verse the prophecy of Ezekiel 26:4-5, is repeated that Tyre shall be utterly wasted and desolate, and never be rebuilt.
In Ezekiel 26:15-21 the effect of the fall of Tyre upon other maritime people is set forth. It is to be remembered that these people were either her own colonies, or else in close commercial relations with her.
Thus saith the Lord GOD to Tyrus; Shall not the isles shake at the sound of thy fall, when the wounded cry, when the slaughter is made in the midst of thee?(15) The isles.—This word is constantly used in Scripture, not merely for islands, strictly so called, but for any sea-coasts. The main reference here, no doubt, is to the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean; but as Tyrian commerce extended also beyond, the language need not be entirely restricted to these. The tidings of the conquest of Tyre is poetically represented as “the sound of her fall.”
Then all the princes of the sea shall come down from their thrones, and lay away their robes, and put off their broidered garments: they shall clothe themselves with trembling; they shall sit upon the ground, and shall tremble at every moment, and be astonished at thee.(16) Princes of the sea.—Or, as we should say, merchant princes. (Comp. Isaiah 23:8.) Actual sovereigns are not meant, but those raised by commerce to wealth and power. Their astonishment and grief is poetically described under the figure of the customs of Oriental mourning. (Comp. Jonah 3:6.) “Thrones” should rather be translated seats, as in Judges 3:20; 1Samuel 1:9; 1Samuel 4:13; 1Samuel 4:18.
And they shall take up a lamentation for thee, and say to thee, How art thou destroyed, that wast inhabited of seafaring men, the renowned city, which wast strong in the sea, she and her inhabitants, which cause their terror to be on all that haunt it!(17) Inhabited of seafaring men.—Rather, in-habited from the sea. The word, which is very common, never bears the sense of men. The thought is that the rock of Tyre, built up with dwellings to the water’s edge was like a city rising from the sea.
Which cause their terror.—This clause has occasioned much difficulty. The literal translation is, she and her inhabitants, which gave their fear to all her inhabitants. “Fear” is here used in the sense of that which causes fear; and the meaning is, that the power of Tyre was so feared that every Tyrian was respected for her sake, just as at a later day every Roman bore about with him something of the majesty of Rome, or, as now, the citizen of a great Power is respected among foreigners for his country’s sake. (Comp. Ezekiel 32:24; Ezekiel 32:26.)
Now shall the isles tremble in the day of thy fall; yea, the isles that are in the sea shall be troubled at thy departure.(18) The isles tremble.—“Isles” here, as elsewhere, includes coasts. It must be remembered how numerous the colonies of Phœnicia were. They had been established in Cyprus. Rhodes, Malta, Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, and Africa. In some of these there were several colonies, as Utica and Carthage in Africa, Gades (Cadiz), Kalpe (Gibraltar), and Malaka (Malaga) in Spain. All of these looked up to Tyre as their mother-city, and received from her their high priests. Even Carthage, the greatest of them, sent yearly presents to the Tyrian Hercules.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; When I shall make thee a desolate city, like the cities that are not inhabited; when I shall bring up the deep upon thee, and great waters shall cover thee;(19) Bring up the deep upon thee.—With Ezekiel 26:19 begins the closing section of this prophecy, and in it the other parts are summed up and emphasised. The figurative language by which the overwhelming of Tyre is here described is again appropriate to her natural situation.
When I shall bring thee down with them that descend into the pit, with the people of old time, and shall set thee in the low parts of the earth, in places desolate of old, with them that go down to the pit, that thou be not inhabited; and I shall set glory in the land of the living;(20) With them that descend into the pit.—Comp. Isaiah 14:9-20. Tyre is here represented, as Babylon is there, as joining itself to the dead—a striking figure to indicate its utter and final destruction. This is to be understood of the Tyre that then was, the proud mistress of the sea. The question whether there might or might not ever be other inhabitants on the rock of Tyre is one which does not at all come within the scope of the prophet’s vision. The way of speaking of the place of the dead, as in the lower part of the earth, so common in Scripture (comp. Ephesians 4:9), does not by any means prove that the writers thought this to be the actual place of departed spirits, but only that, as it is a necessity of human thought and expression to indicate some locality, this locality, in association with the burial of the body, is most naturally placed “under the earth.” In the same way, men, even on opposite sides of the globe, always speak of God as “above them,” and their gestures and looks, as well as their words, unavoidably involve the same idea, though they perfectly know that He is omnipresent. (Comp. even the example of our Lord in Mark 6:41; Mark 7:34; Luke 9:16; John 17:1.)
Set glory in the land of the living.—The word for “glory” is the same as that used in Ezekiel 20:6; Ezekiel 20:15; Daniel 8:9; Daniel 11:16; Daniel 11:41, in connection with Palestine. The prediction is that when Tyre, who is now rejoicing in the calamity of Judah, shall be past and forgotten, numbered with the dead, then God will establish His people as a living Church to Himself. A ray of Messianic promise shines through the prediction, although, for the time, it might seem nothing more than a foretelling of the restoration from the Captivity.