Ezekiel 26:1—28:19 is a prophecy against the ancient Phoenician city-state and commercial center of Tyre. Because of Tyre’s pride and exploitation of God’s people, Israel, their judgment was ensured. Writing between 593 and 565 BC, the prophet Ezekiel warns of the devastation that would come upon Tyre.
In Ezekiel 26:3–6, the Lord says to the wicked city, “I am against you, Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers; I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock. Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets. . . . She will become plunder for the nations, and her settlements on the mainland will be ravaged by the sword.” In verse 14, the Lord makes this startling promise: “I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will never be rebuilt.”
These prophecies came true in amazing detail. In analyzing the passage and its fulfillment, a little geography is helpful. The name Tyre was associated with two locations of the city: one location was on the mainland, and we could call it “continental Tyre,” “coastal Tyre,” or “Old Tyre.” The other location was on a nearby small island, and we could call it “insular Tyre” or “New Tyre.” Insular Tyre had two harbors and was a major center of commerce in the Mediterranean. The island on which New Tyre was built was separated from the mainland by a shallow strait only about 540 yards wide.
God said that “many nations” would come against Tyre, and that’s what history records:
• King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged coastal Tyre (585—573 BC), and the city on the mainland fell. Babylon was unable to conquer insular Tyre, however, and so only partially fulfilled Ezekiel’s prophecy.
• Greece, under Alexander the Great, besieged insular Tyre (332 BC), destroyed the city, and killed about 8,000 men. In besieging the island, Alexander used rubble from the demolished buildings of coastal Tyre to build a causeway across the channel to insular Tyre. In this way, the prophecy of Ezekiel 26:12 came true in literal fashion: “They will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea.” Tyre was razed to the ground, and from then on the island on which Tyre was built was no longer an island but a peninsula.
After Alexander’s conquest, Tyre never regained its glory and went through long periods of being totally uninhabited. At various times, other settlements have been established near the site of Tyre, but those, too, have suffered invasion:
• The Muslims conquered Tyre in AD 638.
• Crusaders from Europe conquered the area in AD 1124.
• The Mameluke Muslims retook the area in AD 1291 and reduced Tyre to ashes. The place remained uninhabited for the next 300 years.
In 1894 the population of Tyre was reported to be about 200 people living in an obscure fishing village. In more recent times, the country of Lebanon has been rebuilding Tyre and rebranding it as a tourist attraction. The city now has an estimated population of 135,000. Tyre’s southern harbor has been long unusable, but the northern harbor is still used for small fishing operations and recreation.
True to Ezekiel’s prophecy, the city of Tyre was at one time completely destroyed, and, due to Alexander the Great’s determination to conquer insular Tyre, the place became “a bare rock, . . . a place to spread fishnets” (Ezekiel 26:14).
However, the prophecy of Ezekiel 26:14 also says that Tyre “will never be rebuilt,” and this has caused some critics to claim the Bible contains a false prophecy, since there does exist a village of Tyre today. In answer to this, we’ll focus on the word rebuilt. If Tyre were to be truly “rebuilt,” then everything mentioned in Ezekiel 27 would have to be restored:
– national prominence and regional influence (see Ezekiel 27:3)
– national strength and security (see Ezekiel 27:10–11)
– wealth and prosperity and opulence (see Ezekiel 27:3–4, 33)
The prophecy of Ezekiel 26:14 does not mean there would never be anything built on the island. It means that, after its final defeat by wave after wave of conquerors, Tyre would never regain the status it held in Ezekiel’s day. Tyre would never again be a commercial superpower, a world trader, or a colonizer. Tyrians would never again possess the riches and prosperity they had in their city’s heyday.
When God told Tyre, “You will never be rebuilt,” He did not lie. Ancient Tyre was stripped of its glory and strength. Modern Tyre is but a shadow of its former reality. The businesses and dwellings that now stand on the ancient site are a far cry from the luxury, greatness, or influence of the original city-state. That Tyre—the Tyre judged by God—will never be reconstituted or rebuilt.