Tyre reminds us that God keeps His promises
Tyre was an island 800m (0.5 miles) off the coast north of Israel with two harbors, which was part of Phoenicia, an ancient civilization of the eastern Mediterranean, primarily located in modern Lebanon. It was noted for its wealth, pleasant environment and security (Ezek. 27:3-25; Hos. 9:13). Tyre was wealthy because it was a great trading center (Isa. 23:8; Ezek. 27:12-14; 28:4-5). In Semitic languages, the name of the city means “rock” after the rocky formation on which the city was originally built.
A strong fortress
The ancient city was divided into two parts: an older city on the mainland, and a small rocky island where most of the population resided. There was a defensive wall around the island (Ezek. 26:4; Amos 1:10).
The city of Tyre was allocated to the tribe of Asher, but it was never occupied by the Israelites (Jos. 19:29). The Bible refers to it as a fortress and a fortified city (2 Sam. 24:7). Joshua was unable to capture Tyre (Josh. 13:3–4).
Friendly with Israel
Tyre was dependent on Israel for much of its food. This was also true in the first century AD (Acts 12:20). Israel also dominated the inland trade routes to Tyre.
After David became king over Israel, the king of Tyre sent tradesmen and cedar logs to build David’s palace in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:11; 1 Chron. 14:1). The king of Tyre “had always been on friendly terms with David” (1 Ki. 5:1NIV).
This friendly relationship continued during the reign of Solomon when they supplied timber and craftsmen to prepare “the timber and the stone for the building of the temple” (1 Ki. 5:1-18; 2 Chron. 2:3-16). In return king Solomon supplied food to the workers and to the royal household. Huram from Tyre cast all the bronze items in the temple (1 Ki. 7:13-47). King Solomon also gave the king of Tyre 20 towns in Galilee as payment for the supply of timber and gold for the temple and the royal palace (1 Ki. 9:10-14).
About 430 years later, Israel “gave food and drink and olive oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar logs by sea from Lebanon to Joppa” for the rebuilding of the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians (Ezra 3:7).
Pagan influence on Israel
In about 930 BC the nation of Israel was divided into the kingdoms of Israel (in the north) and Judah (in the south). Israel was closer to Tyre than Judah, so it was more likely to be influenced by the people of Tyre. Omni ruled Israel 885-874 BC and his son Ahab ruled Israel 874-853 BC (1 Ki. 16:25-33). Omni’s alliance with Ethbaal, king of Tyre and Sidon, lead to widespread Baal worship in the kingdom of Israel and the near extinction of the Davidic line in Judah (2 Ki. 8:18; 11:1-21). Omni’s son Ahab married Ethbaal’s daughter Jezebel to seal this alliance. Jezebel brought Baal worship to the kingdom of Israel.
There is evidence that Tyre changed from being a friend of Israel to an enemy. Before Assyria became a major threat, Tyre is included in an enemy alliance (Ps. 83:5-8). And they were accused of selling the people of Judah into slavery to the Greeks (Joel 3:6).
Later, after Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in about 440 BC, the Israelites confessed their sins and renewed their allegiance to God. And they observed the Sabbath once again. But “people from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah” (Neh. 13:16). So Nehemiah rebuked the Jews and closed the city gates on the Sabbath day.
Prophecies against Tyre
There are many prophecies in the Old Testament about God’s judgment of Tyre. God planned to destroy the city of Tyre because of their pride (Isa. 23:1-18; Jer. 25:22). They will serve the Babylonians or be destroyed (Jer. 27:3; 47:4). And they will be judged because of their harsh treatment of Israel (Joel. 3:4-6, Amos 1:9-10).
The book of Ezekiel predicts God’s judgment on many nations (Appendix A). This includes prophecies against Tyre (Appendix B).
The main reason for God’s judgment was their pride in their wealth and strategic location (Ezek.28:1-10). There was religious idolatry and sexual immorality. They were notorious for their wickedness and idolatry. The people of Tyre also developed a feeling of jealousy and rivalry toward Jerusalem and they rejoiced when Judah was invaded because it would be good for their business (Ezek. 26:2).
In 520 BC, Zechariah predicted the judgment of Israel’s enemies, which included Tyre (Zech. 9:1-4). This was fulfilled by the Greek forces of Alexander the Great.
What happened at Tyre?
Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Tyre began after the siege of Jerusalem, not long after Ezekiel’s prophecies against the city. It lasted 13 years from 585-573 BC.
The mainland portion of the city fell to the Babylonians – its walls and towers were levelled along with the homes within. But lacking a significant navy, Babylon was incapable of taking the fortified island city.
So, Nebuchadnezzar choose to lay siege to the island, cutting it off from provisions from the mainland and to the extent they could, cutting it off from resupply by sea. In this way they hoped to starve the city into submission.
Yet the prophecy concerning Tyre at this point could only be said to be partly fulfilled. Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the mainland city, but the island city had not been destroyed let alone thrown in the sea. The fulfilment of this part of the prophecy would wait over 250 years for the ascent of Alexander the Great.
Demolishing the ruins of mainland Tyre, Alexander had the stones thrown into the sea at the point where the distance between the mainland and the island of Tyre was the shortest. His forces began to build a massive causeway to the island. Alexander’s soldiers became engineers and construction workers. Their material was timber from the cedar forests of Lebanon and the abundant stone and soil from the old city of Tyre that had lain in ruins since its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar over two centuries before.
In 332 BC, after a 7-month siege, Alexander used the causeway to invade Tyre and afterwards it was razed to the ground. It was standard practice for a victorious army to reduce the walls of a conquered city to rubble, lest the city be refortified and again used against them. This was the case with Tyre. So the island was converted into a peninsula which was for a time only fit for fishermen to dry their nets on the bare rock. The prophecy was fulfilled about 250 years after it was spoken. The city was eventually rebuilt, although never again would it enjoy its former political importance.
In the New Testament
The city of Tyre is also mentioned in the New Testament when it was a maritime port (Acts 21:3).
People travelled from Tyre and Sidon to near the lake of Galilee to hear Jesus teach and be healed of their diseases (Mk. 3:8; Lk. 6:17). And Jesus used the cities of Tyre and Sidon to teach that there will be degrees of punishment in hell (Mt. 11:20-22; Lk. 10:13-14).
Because of her mother’s great faith, Jesus healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman who lived near Tyre of demon possession (Mt. 15:21-28; Mk. 7:24-30).
King Herod died after he accepted the praise of the people of Tyre and Sidon who claimed he was a god (Acts 12:19-23).
A church was established in Tyre when many Christians left Jerusalem because of persecution by the Jews (Acts 11:19; 21:2-4).
In 1291 A.D., even the newest mainland city was taken (by the Muslims) and totally destroyed, remaining a desolate ruin for many centuries.
You might say that these prophesies about Tyre are not surprising because all cities eventually end up in rubble. That could be another lesson from Tyre. The material things we have don’t last forever. We can’t take them with us in our life after death.
The people of Tyre had the revelation of what God had done for the nation of Israel, but they were unrepentant and continued to worship idols instead of the God who created the universe. Likewise, today in the Bible we have the revelation of what God had done across history. We have the choice to continue worshiping idols or repent and worship the God who created the universe. What’s your choice?
Also, although the people of Tyre were notorious for their wickedness and idolatry, a church was later established in the city. This shows that Christianity can thrive in any city or region despite its reputation.
Lessons for us
God fulfilled the prophecies made in the Bible about the demise of the city of Tyre. This gives us confidence that He will also fulfill other prophecies in the Bible that have not yet been fulfilled.
The people of Tyre were judged because of their pride and idolatry. These are examples of sins that God will judge unless we have trusted that Jesus has already taken the punishment of these for us.
Christians can also be proud and act independently of God, which severs their daily fellowship with God. But this can be restored when they confess and repent of their sins (1 Jn. 1:9).
Appendix A: God’s judgment in Ezekiel
The book of Ezekiel predicts God’s judgment on the sinful ways of humanity.
- Israel was to be invaded because of their idolatry (Ch 1-24). They were unfaithful to God. Because of this Jerusalem would be destroyed and they would be captured and go into exile as prisoner of war.
- Countries to the east – Ammon and Moab.
- Countries to the south – Edom and Egypt.
- Countries to the west – Philistia, Tyre (26:1 – 28:19) and Sidon.
Appendix B: God’s judgment against Tyre
Prophecies in Ezekiel.
“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, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. She will become plunder for the nations, and her settlements on the mainland will be ravaged by the sword” (Ezek. 26:3-6).
“From the north I am going to bring against Tyre Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, with horsemen and a great army. He will ravage your settlements on the mainland with the sword; he will set up siege works against you, build a ramp up to your walls and raise his shields against you. He will direct the blows of his battering rams against your walls and demolish your towers with his weapons. His horses will be so many that they will cover you with dust. Your walls will tremble at the noise of the warhorses, wagons and chariots when he enters your gates as men enter a city whose walls have been broken through. The hooves of his horses will trample all your streets; he will kill your people with the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground. They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea. I will put an end to your noisy songs, and the music of your harps will be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will never be rebuilt” (Ezek. 26:7-14).
Written, January 2022
Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho
Rebellion and deception at Samaria
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice
Worshipping God and idols at Bethel
Many battles at Megiddo
Outsiders became insiders at Damascus