I once heard that an enemy of mine fell face first in a firepit, and my first instinct was to feel glad. I’m not proud of my depravity, but it does help me understand why ancient Tyre rejoiced when their economic rival, Judah, fell, “Now that she lies in ruins, I will prosper! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me!” And because Tyre says them, God says, “I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.” And he does. I sure hope he didn’t notice me.
Tyre was located north of Israel on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, an ancient city of bustling trade with other prosperous nations as far away as Tarshish of Spain, who traded in silver among other metals. It was thought that all of the commerce of the world came through Tyre, and from the list of cities and traded commodities recorded in Ezekiel 27, I can believe it.
Arabia traded in lambs, rams and goats, Aram in fine fabrics and stones, Judah and Israel in wheat, honey, and oil. Sheba traded in spices and fine rugs, gold and precious stones. Greece and others traded in slaves. The inventory here is as impressive as any accounting house of that day, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-27/).
Tyre was situated so that it had two locations, one on the mainland and one on an island just off the coast. Besides great wealth, another strength it possessed lay in the difficulty it posed for invaders to reach the island with armies or artillery. While the mainland city might be taken, soldiers couldn’t cross over to attack the island on foot. And an attack by ship could be seen a long way off with plenty of time to mount a counter attack, (http://biblereadingarcheology.com/2017/09/13/what-happened-to-tyre/).
Well situated, wealthy, and beautiful, Tyre became proud. Its ruler likened himself to a god, claiming to have more wisdom than the prophet Daniel, who was well known and well respected at the time. God addresses its ruler, saying, “In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.’ But you are a man and not a god…Because you think you are wise, as wise as a god, I am going to bring foreigners against you…,” 28:2, 6-7.
A year after the fall of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, comes against Tyre and conquers it 13 years later. Some years after that, Alexander the Great does the same thing, making an ingenious causeway for his army by tossing rubble from prior attacks into the water between the mainland and the island. Even today, columns of marble can be seen beneath the water along this bridge (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-26/), an idea suggested by Ezekiel over 250 years before, “…they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea,” 26:12.
God said, “I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock. Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets, for I have spoken declares the Sovereign Lord. She will become plunder for the the nations, and her settlements on the mainland will be ravaged by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord,” 26:2-6.
The king of Tyre is addressed in Ezekiel 28:12, whose beauty and downfall is described in the context of Eden, and suddenly the scene changes from this seaport city and its human ruler to the realm of heaven and angel guards. And I realize that the king of Tyre isn’t any human ruler. It’s the power behind the human ruler, the “guardian cherub” who was cast out of heaven because of pride in his own beauty and privileged position, Satan himself, 28:12-14.
I remember the cherubim who drew the chariot of God’s throne, with those space-aged wheels that only went forward and never turned or rolled, from the story in Ezekiel 9 and told here: November 4. “Cherubim” is plural for “cherub,” and in Ezekiel 28, Satan is said to have been “anointed as a guardian cherub,” one who would have been near the throne, a significant place of honor, and possibly the most important angel.
In Ezekiel 9, “guards” of the city of Jerusalem are called upon before its destruction to go through and kill everyone who hasn’t been marked as righteous. By the context, it’s clear that these aren’t human guards of the city but spiritual ones. Since Satan is called a “guardian cherub,” I’m guessing that he, too, had cities to guard, but that after his fall, rather than guard a city, he corrupted it.
Interestingly, Satan had something going on that had to do with trade, “Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub…” 28:16. Was it because of his success in trade along with his privileged position and beauty that all went to his head and lead him to believe that defying God and overthrowing heaven could work? Or was his “trade” simply his popular appeal in heaven because of his beauty and position?
Either way, corrupt commerce bears Satan’s mark. His trade produced violence. Influenced by this fallen cherub, there have been plenty of earthly egomaniacs who have used their positions and done the same–the ruler of Tyre is only one. While wealth can be a tremendous blessing, it is full of temptations to kill and oppress. More than a hate crime against other people based on race or religion, financial greed feeds a lust that wants to dollar profit at the expense of others, rising above them in approval, in position, in power. It’s an easy temptation to fall into since its victims–the poor–are so far behind the scene as to be unseen altogether.
At the end of the section about Satan, Ezekiel writes, “I made a spectacle of you before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries,” 28:17-19. It’s not clear here if the person being spoken of is still Satan, the supernatural king of Tyre, or Tyre’s earthly ruler, but maybe it’s both. Dishonest trade is Satan’s stamp on the city of Tyre and is one of the reasons it’s become wealthy and has corrupted itself, seen in the defilement of its sanctuaries.
God says he’ll reduce Tyre to ashes and that all the nations will be appalled because of its horrible end. “You will never be rebuilt, for I the Lord have spoken…Will not the coastlands tremble at the sound of your fall…Then all the princes of the coast will step down from their thrones and lay aside their robes and take off their embroidered garments. Clothed with terror, they will sit on the ground, trembling every moment, appalled at you…,” 26:15-16.
Why are they appalled? Their economies depend on Tyre; they’re financially devastated, maybe even ruined. But I think the horror for these nations goes deeper than money. I think it’s because they’re getting a front row seat into a judgment they didn’t reckon on. With all of the wealth being made in trade, it was easy to focus on managing it rather than in considering where their lives were headed. At Tyre’s demise, they’re forced to face their own fragility and mortality and the reality that there is really nothing left to stand on. Uncontrollable shaking is certainly a by product of terror.
God says it’s because of Tyre’s pride in her wealth and wisdom that he brings her down. It’s not because of her wealth per se. It’s because she forgot who God was. It’s interesting to note that Satan’s seduction of Tyre is through its thriving economy–something we all want–in order to make the ruler and his people forget God. It was Satan’s downfall, after all.
Wealth tempts us to put our trust in it rather than in God. Satan fills our hearts with prosperity and a false sense of security and then delights to watch us flounder. The ruler of Tyre and the rulers around him thought his city was unsinkable, but they all lived to see otherwise. It’s when things shake that we realize we’re on shaky ground. God’s the only steady Rock.
Tyre is just one of the nations God judged for being an enemy of his people. Her judgment occupies more space than the others–nearly 3 whole chapters compared to a few verses– and maybe it’s more instructive because of the spiritual darkness behind this city and the height it reached. Other nations that rejoiced in Judah’s judgment mentioned in chapter 25 are Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia. Edom is denounced elsewhere for actually helping the Babylonians take out Judah, not only for partying in the streets when she falls, and Sidon is added to the list after Tyre. God looks out for his people.
But I don’t think God’s only concerned with judging these nations because of their glorying in Judah’s destruction. “No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns. They will know that I am the Sovereign Lord,” 28:24. There it is again, God’s standard line for why he’s done everything he’s done in the book of Ezekiel thus far, and it holds here as well. He wants everyone–his people and his enemies included–to know that he is God.
Is God an egomaniac? Why does he care that his enemies know that he is the Lord God Almighty?
I look back at Tyre. After many invaders over a long period of time, Tyre never returned to its former glory as the financial hub of the middle east. Today it’s basically just what God said it would become: a place for spreading fishing nets.
But when Jesus was alive, he ministered to Tyre; he brought Tyre the good news of God’s kingdom, Mt 15:21; Luke 6:17. Paul found believers there and ministered to them as well, Acts 21:3-6. I’m guessing that’s a pretty big clue for what God had in mind in wanting folks to know who he is. God’s goal in showing us who he is, is to make sons and daughters out of enemies. Isn’t that what he’s been doing since Adam and Eve in the garden?
God wants Eden-ites and Tyre-ites and Ammonites and Edomites and all other-ites from every tribe and tongue and nation at the marriage supper of the Lamb, Rev 7:9. He makes worshippers out of whores, lovers out of losers, helpers out of haters. That’s what we all once were, but now we are “God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy,” 1 Peter 2:9-10.
Only God, the Sovereign Lord of Skies and Seas and Nations, can do such a scandalous thing and get away with it. Only God finds glory in giving his glory away to rotten wanderers so that we are enabled to give it right back in praise. One day we will all say, “Worthy is the Lamb,” because deep inside, where we know what is most true, we will know that God is God and that our Lamb is so very worthy, Rev 5:12.
The nations and their rulers are in his hands. He raises them up and brings them down as he sees fit. I find it comforting to know that nothing happens outside of God’s control. And just like mighty Tyre was felled, one day Satan, too, will be thrown into the pit. God’s already planned that day as well, Ps 2:1, 22:28; Rev 20:10.
[*Ezekiel 26 is included in today’s comments even though it was part of yesterday’s reading in the One Year Bible. Chapter 26 begins the prophecy against the city of Tyre, the focus of chapters 27 and 28.]
Here are more examples of the faith of the “ancients,” those who believed God existed and that he responds to those who seek him, Heb 11:6. They were given spiritual eyes and ears to do what must have looked crazy in their day:
Noah built a huge boat in the middle of dry land.
Abraham started to sacrifice his son through whom God promised to bring thousands more.
Isaac blessed his twin sons backwards.
Jacob blessed both of Joseph’s sons, his grandsons, equally with his own.
Joseph told his people to dig him up and take his bones with them when they left town.
Moses’ parents defied Pharoah’s orders and hid rather than killed their baby son.
Moses identified with slaves rather than the wealthy family who raised him.
Moses told people to sprinkle lamb’s blood on their doors.
Moses lead God’s people out of Egypt, unafraid of the army that chased them.
Moses then turned around and walked them through the Red Sea.
There’s more listed, but I’ll stop there.
Already I’m overwhelmed by the faith of these people to do what God tells them to do rather than what would have been culturally understood and acceptable in their day, what would have been easier and made more sense.
Go with the flow.
Don’t make waves.
But Moses doesn’t take that road. He stands out as having the most mentions in this Hall of Fame of Faith in the Face of Dead Ends than anyone else. He gets my vote for Ultimate, Earthly B. A, the one who didn’t look at what was in front of him but looked at God instead. He believed God. Pharaoh? The Angel of Death? Egypt’s horses and chariots? The ocean?
All of these ancients were convinced of God and his leading, and their lives showed it.
God, give me this singularity of vision, too. Make me so sure of the things I hope for and don’t see that the reality of you breaks through and moves me to more of you and what you have for me to do.
Let my life rumble, too.
In contrast to Tyre and its materialism comes this psalm, a testimony to God’s reign and rule and to his people who respond to him in praise.
Why do they praise?
–Because his works are great.
–Because his deeds are pondered and remembered forever by those who delight in them.
–Because he’s gracious and compassionate.
–Because he feeds his people and provides for them.
–Because his works are faithful and just.
–Because his words are trustworthy, secure, faithful, and upright.
–Because he’s provided salvation for everyone.
–Because he’s always kept his covenant and always will.
–Because his name is holy and awesome.
–Because fearing him is the way we become wise.
–Because obeying him gives us understanding.
“To him belongs eternal praise,” Ps 111:10.
I have to agree. And I’m feeling pretty lucky to have been yanked out of Tyre and planted here in what sometimes feels like the desert. But you feed me with manna and you give me Living Water from the Rock.
I have everything I need.
My take away today is gratefulness for faith to see you in your words and in my life. Thank you, God, for giving me rebirth and worth, and for the wealth of your words, for your Spirit who comforts and teaches me, and for the Savior who made the way to you (Hebrews and Psalms). Keep me from the temptations of greed and pride and of the desire as I age to clutch at fading beauty rather than to glory in yours (Ezekiel). Because you reign, I have a solid place to stand.
Thank you for answering my cry of “I want more” with more of you.
Yellow leaves are falling like confetti through the woods outside my windows. It looks like my own praise party. This private celebration of the season reminds me of the Creator who gives it and who makes even dying leaves lively and splendid.
If you can make fading leaves beautiful enough to pull praises through my eyes, then surely I can rest in your plans for me. Sometimes falling leaves feel like tears of sadness, but today, they give me tears of joy.