And I will make thee a bare rock; thou shalt be a place for the spreading of nets; thou shalt be built no more: for I Jehovah have spoken it, saith the Lord Jehovah. (ASV)
Ezekiel's "Tyre Prophecy" is, ironically, often cited by apologists as a successful prophecy AND by skeptics as a failed prophecy. It is actually a failure, as moderate Christians will readily admit (and even Ezekiel himself more-or-less admits later in his book).
Tyre, in Ezekiel's time, was an independent and prosperous city consisting of a strong island citadel (with defensive walls 150 feet high) connected to the mainland by a causeway. There were also settlements on the mainland, including one at the end of the causeway. Josephus referred to this as "Old Tyre", but this is somewhat of a misnomer: "Tyre" is the Greek form of the Phoenician "Sur" meaning "rock", the rock of the island fortress (though the mainland settlement apparently predated the island city, it was called "Ushu", not "Sur").
In the 6th century BC (Ezekiel's time) it was attacked by the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar II. Tyrian forces retreated from Ushu to the more defensible island citadel of Tyre itself, which Nebuchadrezzar failed to take despite a 13-year siege (he had no navy, and the city was resupplied by sea). This ended in a compromise agreement whereby the Tyrian royal family agreed to go into exile in Babylon as hostages but the city would otherwise be left alone. The Tyrians later removed the causeway connecting their city to the mainland.
The Book of Ezekiel was apparently written during this period, and falsely predicts that Nebby would be victorious and would utterly destroy the city, which would never again be rebuilt or reinhabited:
- Ezekiel 26:3 therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I am against thee, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth its waves to come up.
- Ezekiel 26:4 And they shall destroy the walls of Tyre, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her a bare rock.
- Ezekiel 26:5 She shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea; for I have spoken it, saith the Lord Jehovah; and she shall become a spoil to the nations.
- Ezekiel 26:6 And her daughters that are in the field shall be slain with the sword: and they shall know that I am Jehovah.
- Ezekiel 26:7 For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will bring upon Tyre Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and a company, and much people.
- Ezekiel 26:8 He shall slay with the sword thy daughters in the field; and he shall make forts against thee, and cast up a mound against thee, and raise up the buckler against thee.
- Ezekiel 26:9 And he shall set his battering engines against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers.
- Ezekiel 26:10 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 wagons, and of the chariots, when he shall enter into thy gates, as men enter into a city wherein is made a breach.
- Ezekiel 26:11 With the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets; he shall slay thy people with the sword; and the pillars of thy strength shall go down to the ground.
- Ezekiel 26:12 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 waters.
- Ezekiel 26:13 And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard.
- Ezekiel 26:14 And I will make thee a bare rock; thou shalt be a place for the spreading of nets; thou shalt be built no more: for I Jehovah have spoken it, saith the Lord Jehovah.
The future (and permanent) nonexistence of Tyre is also referred to in Ezekiel 26:21, 27:36, and 28:19.
By the time Ezekiel 29 was written, it had become apparent that things had not gone according to plan, and Ezekiel starts making similar grandiose claims for the conquest and destruction of Egypt, as compensation to Nebby for the failure at Tyre:
- Ezekiel 29:17 And it came to pass in the seven and twentieth year, in the first [month], in the first [day] of the month, the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying,
- Ezekiel 29:18 Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyre: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was worn; yet had he no wages, nor his army, from Tyre, for the service that he had served against it.
- Ezekiel 29:19 Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army.
- Ezekiel 29:20 I have given him the land of Egypt as his recompense for which he served, because they wrought for me, saith the Lord Jehovah.
As a result, Egypt is supposed to be uninhabited for 40 years (Ezekiel 29:11): but this never happened either. Indeed, Nebby's subsequent war against Egypt's Pharaoh Amasis II is almost invisible to history, and appears to be nothing more than a border skirmish: it happened near the beginning of his reign, and the subsequent "nonexistence" of the Pharaoh and his subjects does not appear to have inconvenienced them at all.
Apologetic responses to these failures focus on Ezekiel's use of the phrase "many nations" in Ezekiel 26:3. The apologetic interpretation of this is that Nebby is only intended to be the first of many attackers who will finally achieve the prophesied downfall of Tyre. This view is further reinforced by Ezekiel's shift from "he" (referring to Nebuchadrezzar) to "I" (referring to God) from verse 26:13 onwards: an attempt to separate "Nebby's attack" from "God's destruction", as two distinct events. But Nebby's army was itself a force of "many nations" (it was standard procedure to absorb the armies of conquered peoples into your own, making a multinational army: note also that Nebuchadrezzzar is referred to as "king of kings" in 26:7, a ruler over many nations), and it isn't clear that Ezekiel was speaking of future events due to Hebrew's lack of a future tense: Ezekiel 26:3 could also be read as "I have caused many nations..." and could be referring to an assault already underway.
Furthermore, this separation creates two prophecy failures where there was previously one. Even if we assume that Nebby was NOT the one destined to destroy Tyre: he failed to breach Tyre's walls and enter the city. The usual apologetic response to this is to claim that this was done "on the mainland", but in 26:8 Ezekiel refers to the destruction of the "daughters in the field" (mainland settlements) BEFORE addressing the walls of Tyre itself (and 26:5 describes Tyre as being "in the midst of the sea"): furthermore, as the 150-foot-high walls of the island citadel were obviously the greatest obstacle any attacker faced, the implication is that God was deceiving Ezekiel's readers by claiming that "the walls" would be breached (if he actually meant some other set of walls). Note also that Nebby's horses are supposed to go down ALL Tyre's streets (26:11) which has to include those of the island citadel, and their subsequent plundering of riches and merchandise (26:12) directly contradicts Nebby's failure to obtain wages for his army in chapter 29 (unless the apologist seeks to claim that "they" in 26:12 refers to "many nations" in 26:3 rather than Nebby's forces just mentioned in 26:11, which would be quite a stretch).
The second part of this new two-part failure is the lack of permanent destruction: the fact that Tyre still exists. Here, the typical apologetic strategy is to invoke Alexander the Great and exaggerate the "permanence" of his effect on Tyre.
A few decades after the settlement with Nebuchadrezzar, the Babylonian empire fell to the Persians. The Tyrians initially welcomed the Persian overthrow of their oppressors, and voluntarily joined the new Persian Empire. Two centuries later they had second thoughts and tried to rebel, but the Persians crushed the rebellion. Then Alexander arrived, moving down the Mediterranean coast as part of his war against Persia. To the north, Sidon surrendered to him: but Tyre held out for better terms, and Alexander attacked. He destroyed the mainland settlement and used the rubble to rebuild the causeway (which still exists, and has become larger due to silting-up: the former island of Tyre is now a peninsula). This time, Tyre fell. To set an example to others who might defy him, Alexander destroyed "half the city", crucified thousands, and sold everyone else he could catch into slavery (according to the Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus, author of a biography of Alexander, some 15,000 people escaped by sea and returned later).
Tyre recovered from Alexander. Indeed, 18 years later it managed to hold off the Macedonian general Antigonus for more than a year, and it was still a prosperous town when Jesus visited it four centuries later. There is no clear apologetic excuse for this prophecy-failure: rather, different apologists have different excuses, many based on misconceptions. Some say that Alexander "permanently destroyed Tyre" by destroying all the buildings (he did not), or exterminating all the population (he did not), or ending the "sovereign kingdom of Tyre" (he did not: that phase of Tyre's history was long over when Alexander arrived, but Tyre regained its independent status in 126 BC, two centuries after Alexander). It is also often claimed that the modern town of Tyre was "built in a different place" (it isn't: it occupies the former island, the peninsula connecting it to the mainland, and a chunk of the mainland too). Others claim that, even though Ezekiel was "referring to Alexander" (despite no mention of any would-be conqueror other than Nebuchadrezzar), the magnitude of the prophesied destruction was "trash talk", hate-filled exaggeration. Others claim that Tyre will finally be destroyed "when Jesus returns". Perhaps the most bizarre is Gleason Archer's claim that the island of Tyre "is now underwater" (as prophesied in Ezekiel 26:19), which would be somewhat startling news to its current inhabitants and the thousands of tourists who visit it every year. There are also references to "a few people eking out a living among the ruins": Tyre is the fourth-largest town in Lebanon, with a population in excess of 30,000 people.
Another common and somewhat bizarre habit of apologists is to contrast Tyre with its "sister town" of Sidon. Ezekiel also prophesied that Sidon would suffer, but didn't prophesy its destruction. A few unusually clueless apologists will argue that this is why Sidon is still a thriving town whereas Tyre is nothing more than a fishing village: entirely ignoring the inconvenient fact that both towns are of somewhat similar size (Sidon's population exceeds 38,000 people).
Population figures for the region are estimates, as there hasn't been an actual census for many decades. Also, there are large Palestinian refugee camps in the region (whose occupants may or may not be counted in any figures quoted) and urban sprawl makes the borders of "Tyre proper" somewhat poorly-defined. The figures given above are conservative estimates, with some others exceeding the 100,000 mark. However, it is quite certain that Tyre exists, and is today a major metropolis: contrary to Ezekiel's "prophecy". --Robert Stevens 14:41, 20 Mar 2006 (CST)
Edit this section if you doubt error.
Edit this section to note miscellaneous facts.
Till/Hogan debate on Tyre: Farrell Till: Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled
Matthew Hogan: Till's Errors Concerning Tyre
Farrell Till: Hogan's Errors Concerning Pronouns
Matthew Hogan: A Straw House Amid 10-Foot Waves
Farrell Till: The Romans, Greeks, and So Forth
Matthew Hogan's capitulation