Ezekiel 27 – The Shipwreck of Tyre
“Ezekiel’s description is considered a classic on the nature, scope and variety of the commerce of the ancient world, together with an invaluable geographic list of the chief cities concerned.” (Charles Feinberg)
A. The glorious ship of Tyre.
1. (1-3a) A lamentation for Tyre.
The word of the LORD came again to me, saying, “Now, son of man, take up a lamentation for Tyre, and say to Tyre, ‘You who are situated at the entrance of the sea, merchant of the peoples on many coastlands, thus says the Lord GOD:
a. Take up a lamentation for Tyre: This continues a series of songs and prophesies of judgment against ancient Tyre, making up Ezekiel 26-28.
i. “The words ‘merchant’ and ‘merchandise’ are used twenty-one times in this chapter, because Tyre was a mercantile city.” (Wiersbe)
b. You who are situated at the entrance of the sea: As noted in Ezekiel 26:1-2, Tyre was a famous commercial center of the Phoenicians, north of Israel.
i. You who are situated: “Tyre is portrayed as the ruler of the seas, occupying the entrances of the seas. In this context the verb yasab, which normally means ‘to sit, dwell,’ speaks of occupying with authority, that is, ruling.” (Block)
2. (3b-11) The kingdom of Tyre represented as a beautiful ship.
“O Tyre, you have said,
‘I am perfect in beauty.’
Your borders are in the midst of the seas.
Your builders have perfected your beauty.
They made all your planks of fir trees from Senir;
They took a cedar from Lebanon to make you a mast.
Of oaks from Bashan they made your oars;
The company of Ashurites have inlaid your planks
With ivory from the coasts of Cyprus.
Fine embroidered linen from Egypt was what you spread for your sail;
Blue and purple from the coasts of Elishah was what covered you.
“Inhabitants of Sidon and Arvad were your oarsmen;
Your wise men, O Tyre, were in you;
They became your pilots.
Elders of Gebal and its wise men
Were in you to caulk your seams;
All the ships of the sea
And their oarsmen were in you
To market your merchandise.
“Those from Persia, Lydia, and Libya
Were in your army as men of war;
They hung shield and helmet in you;
They gave splendor to you.
Men of Arvad with your army were on your walls all around,
And the men of Gammad were in your towers;
They hung their shields on your walls all around;
They made your beauty perfect.
a. I am perfect in beauty: Prosperous and glistening on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Tyre was a proud city. They saw themselves as a city without limits (your borders are in the midst of the seas) and full of beauty (your builders have perfected your beauty).
i. “Three dimensions of her magnificence are highlighted: her superior construction (Ezekiel 27:4b–6), her impressive decoration (Ezekiel 27:7), and her first-class personnel (Ezekiel 27:8–11). Each facet of the description reflects a remarkable geographical and nautical awareness on the part of the prophet.” (Block)
b. Your planks…a mast.… your oars: Tyre was pictured as a beautiful ship, made of the finest and most expensive woods from all around the world and with a sail made of fine embroidered linen from Egypt.
i. They took a cedar from Lebanon to make you a mast: “Attaining a height of 290 ft. or more, cedars provided appropriate raw material for the mast.” (Block)
ii. From the coasts of Elishah: “Elishah is thought by some to be Enkomi on the east coast of Cyprus (also Genesis 10.4).” (Wright)
iii. Spread for your sail: Her sail was like a flag. “Fundamentally, nes denotes a standard or flag raised on a hill around which marshaled troops would rally. Accordingly, this sail served as a symbol of Tyrian self-assurance and pride. Wherever the ship traveled observers would recognize her and marvel at her beauty.” (Block)
c. Inhabitants of Sidon and Arvad were your oarsmen: Not only was the “ship” of Tyre strong and beautiful, but it had the best crew imaginable. The wise men and elders watched over the ship, and they had the best soldiers on board (those from Persia, Lydia, and Libya were in your army).
i. “Sidon, the island city of Arvad, Zemer, and Gebal (known by the Greeks as Biblos), are all Phoenician coastal cities.” (Wright)
ii. Oarsmen: “Large numbers of oarsmen were required to operate the merchant ships of the Mediterranean. According to Sennacherib’s reliefs, Phoenician boats were biremes, having one row of oarsmen visible on the lower deck, and a second invisible row who plied the water from holes in the ship’s hull.” (Block)
iii. “A large Phoenician ship would have as many as 50 oarsmen in a crew of 200.” (Wiersbe)
iv. According to Block, Arvad is modern Ruad, Gebal (also known as Byblos) is modern Jubeil, and Put is modern Libya.
v. To caulk your seams: “Those who repaired their vessels; paying, as it is termed, pitched hemp into the seams, to prevent the water from oozing through.” (Clarke)
vi. The men of Gammad: “The valorous men (literally, gammadim) were perhaps from northern Syria. Certain translations render the word as a common noun – ‘watchmen’ or ‘warriors’ or ‘valorous men.’” (Feinberg)
d. They made your beauty perfect: The combination of it all was overwhelming. The city-kingdom of Tyre was like a mighty, beautiful, well-run ship.
i. The description of such a magnificent ship made the shipwreck described in Ezekiel 27:26 all the more of a disaster. “Fitly here compared to a goodly ship, and her desolation to a dismal shipwreck.” (Trapp)
3. (12-24) Tyre’s trade with many nations and cities.
“Tarshish was your merchant because of your many luxury goods. They gave you silver, iron, tin, and lead for your goods. Javan, Tubal, and Meshech were your traders. They bartered human lives and vessels of bronze for your merchandise. Those from the house of Togarmah traded for your wares with horses, steeds, and mules. The men of Dedan were your traders; many isles were the market of your hand. They brought you ivory tusks and ebony as payment. Syria was your merchant because of the abundance of goods you made. They gave you for your wares emeralds, purple, embroidery, fine linen, corals, and rubies. Judah and the land of Israel were your traders. They traded for your merchandise wheat of Minnith, millet, honey, oil, and balm. Damascus was your merchant because of the abundance of goods you made, because of your many luxury items, with the wine of Helbon and with white wool. Dan and Javan paid for your wares, traversing back and forth. Wrought iron, cassia, and cane were among your merchandise. Dedan was your merchant in saddlecloths for riding. Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your regular merchants. They traded with you in lambs, rams, and goats. The merchants of Sheba and Raamah were your merchants. They traded for your wares the choicest spices, all kinds of precious stones, and gold. Haran, Canneh, Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Assyria, and Chilmad were your merchants. These were your merchants in choice items—in purple clothes, in embroidered garments, in chests of multicolored apparel, in sturdy woven cords, which were in your marketplace.
a. Tarshish was your merchant: The distant city of Tarshish (likely in southern Spain and also Jonah’s intended destination, Jonah 1:3) was a trading partner with Tyre. Tyre sold them luxury goods and bought silver, iron, tin, and lead from them.
i. The long list of goods traded and transported by sea on the ships of Tyre is a remarkable insight into the trade and commerce of the ancient world. A few of note are:
· Judah and the land of Israel: “The Jews traded with the Tyrians in wheat, stacte, balsam, honey, oil, and resin.” (Clarke)
· The choicest spices: “All aromatic wares. Pliny reports of cinnamon that in his time a pound of it was worth a thousand denarii, that is, 150 crowns of our money. Galen writeth that it was hard to be found, except in the storehouses of great princes.” (Trapp)
· “That Damascus traded in qidda, a costly perfume native to east Asia, reflects how well established the trade routes between the Levant and the Far East were in ancient times.” (Block)
· “Eden represents an abbreviated form of Beth-eden, Assyrian Bit Adini, an Aramean state situated west of the Balikh and incorporated into the Assyrian empire by Shalmaneser III in 856.” (Block)
· Adam Clarke rightly noted, “The places and the imports are as regularly entered here as they could have been in a European custom-house.”
b. Javan, Tubal, and Meshech were your traders: The list of trading partners for Tyre was long – at least 20 mentioned in these verses. Though small in territory it was mighty in commerce and in many ways the trade of the world came through Tyre.
i. The long list of trading partners gives a sense that everyone in the world that traded by sea dealt with Tyre. Through the centuries commentators have disagreed on the exact location of many of these places. A few of note are:
· “Javan is the name for the Greek lonians, and Tubal and Meshech are probably peoples to the south of the Black Sea. ” (Wright)
· “Tubal and Meshech were tribes in Asia Minor which are known both from cuneiform inscriptions and from the Histories of Herodotus, where they appear together as Moschoi and Tibarenoi. They were engaged in a flourishing slave trade with Tyre.” (Taylor)
· “The Togarmah that traded horses, war-horses and mules was probably Armenia, for the Armenians were a people in the Taurus country noted for horses and mules according to the historians Xenophon, Strabo and Herodotus (cf. Genesis 10:3; Ezekiel 38:6).” (Feinberg)
c. They bartered human lives: Among the long list of goods bought and sold was this tragic entry – human slaves. Though a kind of slavery existed in ancient Israel, it had nothing to do with the practices of man-stealing and human trading that marked the institution of slavery in many other places. This treatment of human beings like property and mere tools for economic profit was contrary to God’s law and the dignity of all humanity created in His image.
i. It seems that Tyre was especially guilty and cold-blooded in this practice. Long before Ezekiel’s time, Amos rebuked Tyre for their traffic in slaves as a violation of the covenant of brotherhood (Amos 1:9-10).
ii. “That is, they trafficked in slaves. The bodies and souls of men were bought and sold in those days, as in our degenerate age.” (Clarke)
d. Which were in your marketplace: The impressive list of peoples, places, trading, and merchandise shows what an economic powerhouse Tyre was. The absence of any mention of God shows that they cared only for business, with no regard to God their creator and redeemer.
i. “When these various places are located on a map of the ancient Near East, it can be seen that Tyre traded with almost every region: from Tarshish (Spain) to northeast Anatolia (Tubal, Beth Togarmah) on an east-west axis (through the Aegean), and from Arabia through Syria and Palestine on a north-south axis. Each area brought the products of its land to trade with Tyre.” (Alexander)
ii. “What an array of merchandise, what a variety of wares, what a range of places, and all of it for self and pride! God was in none of it.” (Feinberg)
B. The shipwreck of glorious Tyre.
1. (25-28) The sinking of the ship of Tyre.
“The ships of Tarshish were carriers of your merchandise.
You were filled and very glorious in the midst of the seas.
Your oarsmen brought you into many waters,
But the east wind broke you in the midst of the seas.
“Your riches, wares, and merchandise,
Your mariners and pilots,
Your caulkers and merchandisers,
All your men of war who are in you,
And the entire company which is in your midst,
Will fall into the midst of the seas on the day of your ruin.
The common-land will shake at the sound of the cry of your pilots.
a. You were filled and very glorious in the midst of the seas: The scene of a full, glorious ship in the midst of the seas was an appropriate picture of the city-kingdom of Tyre. They were happy and successful, sailed by their oarsmen into many waters (the cities and kingdoms mentioned in Ezekiel 27:12-24).
b. But the east wind broke you in the midst of the seas: Even the best and strongest of ships is vulnerable to the power of the wind and the seas. Everything was fine for Tyre until it wasn’t. All her material prosperity could not help when the east wind broke her.
i. According to Psalm 48:7, God is the one who breaks ships with an east wind. God here is not specifically mentioned, but He is the ultimate cause of this judgment on Tyre.
ii. “The Bible and history make one cause in their revelation of the peril of material prosperity. There is nothing more calculated to destroy a people. And yet how slow man is to learn the lesson.” (Morgan)
c. The entire company which is in your midst, will fall into the midst of the seas: When Tyre eventually sank, everyone and everything would go down with the ship. The day of ruin for Tyre would ruin all those who proudly boasted of her glory, wealth, and strength and the cry of the pilots would be heard as the ship sank.
i. The cry of your pilots: “When the ship was dashed against the rocks by the violence of the winds and the waves, and all hope of life was taken away, then a universal cry was set up by all on board. I have heard this cry, and nothing more dismal can be imagined, when the ship by a violent tempest is driving among rocks on a lee shore. Then ‘All lost! Cut away the boat!’ is more dreadful than the cry of fire at midnight.” (Clarke)
ii. Adam Clarke wrote as one who had experienced the horror of shipwreck: “But what must they have felt who were on board? Reader, wert thou ever shipwrecked? Wert thou ever in a hurricane on a lee rocky shore, where the helm had lost its power, and the sails were rendered useless? Dost thou remember that apparently last moment, when the ship drove up to the tremendous rocks, riding on the back of a mountainous surge? Then what was the universal cry? Hast thou ever heard any thing so terrific? so appalling? so death and judgment-like? No. It is impossible. These are the circumstances, this is the cry, that the prophet describes; disorder, confusion, dismay, and ruin. And this is a scene which the present writer has witnessed, himself a part of the wretched, when all hope of life was taken away, the yawning gulf opened, and nothing presented itself to support body or soul but that GOD who gave to both their being, and ultimately rescued him and his forlorn companions from one of the worst of deaths, by heaving the ship from the rocks by the agency of a tremendous receding wave. My soul hath these things still in remembrance, and therefore is humbled within me.”
2. (29-36) The world mourns over the sinking of the ship, Tyre.
“All who handle the oar,
All the pilots of the sea
Will come down from their ships and stand on the shore.
They will make their voice heard because of you;
They will cry bitterly and cast dust on their heads;
They will roll about in ashes;
They will shave themselves completely bald because of you,
Gird themselves with sackcloth,
And weep for you
With bitterness of heart and bitter wailing.
In their wailing for you
They will take up a lamentation,
And lament for you:
‘What city is like Tyre,
Destroyed in the midst of the sea?
‘When your wares went out by sea,
You satisfied many people;
You enriched the kings of the earth
With your many luxury goods and your merchandise.
But you are broken by the seas in the depths of the waters;
Your merchandise and the entire company will fall in your midst.
All the inhabitants of the isles will be astonished at you;
Their kings will be greatly afraid,
And their countenance will be troubled.
The merchants among the peoples will hiss at you;
You will become a horror, and be no more forever.’”’”
a. All the pilots of the sea will come down from their ships: The sailing men of the world would stand on the shore and loudly mourn the destruction of Tyre. They would display all the traditional signs of mourning (dust, ashes, going bald, and sackcloth).
i. “The people on the mainland are aghast, and the sailors on board other ships are horrified at the sinking of this Tyrian Titanic. Lesser vessels might be expected to perish in a Mediterranean squall, but surely not this proud monarch of the seas!” (Block)
ii. “All over the world a lament arose over the loss of the ship. The countryside quaked in fear over the news. International shipping came to a halt. Tough sailors throughout the world were distraught. Tyre’s clients were confused. Commerce was disrupted. The inhabitants of the coast lands were appalled. Kings were afraid and troubled, merchants astonished.” (Smith)
iii. “There is no gloating over Tyre’s fall here. The fall of Tyre was a forceful reminder to Judah of its own precarious position before God. It is similar to the loss of any ship at sea as a reminder to all sailors of what can happen to them. In the face of this, there is no room for gloating but only for grieving.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iv. “Making oneself bald was a mourning custom which was connected with pagan superstitions and was forbidden in the Mosaic legislation (Deuteronomy 14:1).” (Feinberg)
v. “As every country hath its peculiar manners and customs in mourning, so had these customs that expressed most vehement sorrows in gestures which we are not accustomed to.” (Poole)
b. You are broken by the seas in the depths of the waters: In the midst of her prosperity and commercial success, the ship of Tyre would be broken and sink, losing all merchandise and the entire company.
i. “What a powerful conception of the great ship sinking in silence with all on board! One cry; the waves meet over her; and only a floating spar tells where she sank. O mariner! See to it that Christ is on board; for He only can still the tempest and speak peace, and guide thee out of the great waters.” (Meyer)
ii. “In her apparent invincibility, Tyre represented the glory of human achievement. Because her successes were driven by avarice and pursued in defiance of God, however, she could not stand. The Lord of history always has the last word.” (Block)
iii. “Tyre has a message for our age, and it is that riches without God are unable to satisfy the heart of man and often keep many from dependence upon God. Has not this spirit invaded the church, and does it not pervade the lives of too many Christians?” (Feinberg)
c. All the inhabitants of the isles will be astonished at you: The world would be astonished, afraid, and horrified at the judgment God brought upon Tyre.
i. “This great lamentation is an advance demonstration of what the whole world will do when Satan’s system, ‘Babylon the great,’ collapses before the Lord returns to establish His kingdom (Revelation 18:17-19).” (Wiersbe)
ii. Will hiss at you: “Shall shriek for thee. This powerfully expresses the sensation made on the feelings of the spectators on the shore when they saw the vessel swallowed up.” (Clarke)
iii. “All the seaboard princedoms gasp in astonishment, but the terror on their faces is really selfish fear for the consequences that will come to them before long.” (Taylor)
iv. “As I walked through the ruins of Tyre I heard no music nor laughter. I could not see the buildings or the gold and silver. All I saw were broken pieces of pottery and the wreck and ruin of what had once been a great city.” (McGee)