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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Ezekiel 27

Verse 1

PROPHECY OF THE SINKING OF THE MAJESTIC SHIP; TYRE

The prophet Ezekiel suddenly emerges in this chapter as a man of almost unbelievable ability, information, and knowledge of world geography, agricultural and manufacturing products associated with the nations of the whole world, and of the art of ship-building. It is not known just how much of this incredible store of knowledge was due to the divine inspiration of the prophet, and how much of it was derived from his own personal knowledge. We do not pretend to know the full answer to that question.

It is evident, as McFadyen noted that, "The dirge over Tyre is a brilliant poem, the central paragraph of which is in prose, containing a gorgeous account of the commercial commodities featured in the commerce of Tyre, together with the various origins of the commodities and the goods for which they were exchanged!."[1]

Plumptre called this chapter "without parallel in the history of literature."[2] Cooke labeled it, "One of the finest of Ezekiel's compositions."[3]

Keil divided the chapter into three sections: a presentation of the glory of Tyre under the figure of a majestic Merchant Ship (1-11), an account of the commodities involved in Tyre's extensive commerce with the nations of the world (12-25), and the dramatic prophecy of her sudden disaster (26-36).[4]

THE GLORY OF THE MAJESTIC SHIP TYRE

Ezekiel 27:1-11

"The word of Jehovah came again unto me, saying, And thou, son of man, take up a lamentation over Tyre; and say unto Tyre, O thou that dwellest at the entry of the sea, that art the merchant of the peoples unto many isles, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Thou, O Tyre, hast said, I am perfect in beauty. Thy borders are in the heart of the seas; thy builders have perfected thy beauty. They have made all thy planks of fir trees from Senir; they have taken a cedar from Lebanon to make a mast for thee. Of the oaks of Bashan have they made thine oars; they have made thy benches of ivory inlaid in boxwood, from the isles of Kittim. Of fine linen broidered work from Egypt was thy sail, that it might be to thee for an ensign; blue and purple from the isles of Elishah was thine awning. The inhabitants of Sidon and Arvad were thy rowers: thy wise men, O Tyre, were in thee, they were thy pilots. The old men of Gebal and the wise men thereof were in thee, thy calkers: all the ships of the sea with their mariners were in thee to deal in thy merchandise. Persia and Lud and Put were in thine army, thy men of war: they hanged the shield and helmet in thee; they set forth thy comeliness. The men of Arvad with thine army were upon thy walls round about; they have perfected thy beauty."

"O thou that dwellest at the entry of the sea ..." (Ezekiel 27:3). Here we have another example of scholarly fiddling with the Biblical text in which they perverted the Word of God, changing what the sacred text says into what the translators thought the Holy Spirit should have said! This passage reads entrances into the sea, not entry.[5] Tyre had two great harbors, the Sidonian on the north, and the Egyptian harbor on the south. Thus "entrances of the sea" is correct.

Another example of the same type of error by translators appears in Acts 17:40 (KJV), where translators changed "rudders" to "rudder," erroneously believing that ancient ships had only a single rudder. (See a full comment on this in our New Testament Series, Vol. 5 (Acts), pp. 503,504.)

Please do not misunderstand this comment as downgrading the efforts of scholars to aid us in the understanding of the Bible. Their work is absolutely indispensable. It is true that errors like the ones cited here occur, but the scholars are confronted with a nearly impossible task. The sacred text of this very chapter, in its transmission to us through many centuries has been severely damaged and obscured in some places, leaving part of it unintelligible until emendations and corrections of it have been studied in order to arrive at the meaning. "This very chapter is remarkable for its textual difficulties."[6]

Also, it should be remembered that, in those cases where the scholars have added words, those additions appear in the versions as italics; and in instances where a presumably better term is substituted for a word in the original, the original word is generally given as an alternate reading in the margin, or in a footnote. Then, also, there are many cases in which former errors are corrected in subsequent versions, as in the case of Acts 27:40.

Nevertheless, a word of warning should be issued with regard to many "corrupt translations," especially of the New Testament, which are, in many passages, intentional perversions of the truth, slanted to favor the theological bias of certain groups.

"I am perfect in beauty ..." (Ezekiel 27:3). "Simply put, her pride and self-adulation knew no bounds, and she was inordinately arrogant."[7]

"Fir-trees from Senir ..." (Ezekiel 27:5). "Senir was the Amorite" name for Mount Hermon (as in Deuteronomy 3:9)."[8]

"Of the oaks of Bashan... thine oars ..." (Ezekiel 27:6). Special varieties of trees were sought for every part of the magnificent ship. We are reminded that the hulk of The Mayflower was made of the "Oaks of Devonshire."

"Benches of boxwood inlaid with ivory ..." (Ezekiel 27:6). The word which is here translated as "benches" is also rendered as "deck,"[9] or "boards,"[10] or "cabin." That the wood was precious is seen in the fact that it was used in the framing of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:15,16; and Numbers 3:36; 4:31). The exact kind of wood here called "boxwood" is not certainly known. Skinner thought that it was probably, "A variety of cedar imported from Cyprus."[11] Kittim in this verse is the same as Cyprus.

"The isles of Elishah ..." (Ezekiel 27:7). "This is the equivalent of the Greek Aeolis on the western coast of Asia Minor."[12] Tyre, having somewhat depleted the supply of the murex mollusk in the waters of Phoenicia, found an additional, abundant supply of these in the Greek isles. They were important in the making of purple dye.

"Inhabitants of Sidon and Arvad were thy rowers ..." (Ezekiel 27:8). "'Arvad' was an island off the coast of Sidon, now called Ruad (Genesis 10:18)."[13]

Some radical critics would like to delete the prose section which immediately follows Ezekiel 27:11, as some kind of a later addition to the prophecy; but as Beasley-Murray said, "That is not sufficient reason for denying its authenticity."[14]

"Persia and Lud and Put were in thine army, thy men of war: they hanged the shield and buckler in thee ..." (Ezekiel 27:10).

"We should seek Lud in Africa (Jeremiah 46:9; Genesis 10:13; Isaiah 66:19); and Put is on the African coast of the Red Sea."[15]

The great riches of Tyre enabled her to employ mercenary soldiers from as far away as Persia. From Jeremiah 46:9, it appears that Egypt also employed mercenaries from these same sources. "Thus Tyre had become a magnificent world-wide empire, which was able to procure the commerce and cooperation of the nations all over the world of that era."[16]

"Thine army upon thy walls ..." (Ezekiel 27:11). Keil called attention to the fact that, "A distinction is made between the mercenaries from Lud, Put, etc., called `men of war' in 5:10, and the other soldiers who 'manned the walls" of the city. These from the local Arvad would have been considered more loyal to Tyre. The more distant mercenaries were entrusted with battles more removed from the city itself."[17]

Verse 12

"Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kinds of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded for thy wares. Javan, Tubal, and Mesheck, they were thy traffickers; they traded the persons of men and vessels of brass for thy merchandise. They of the house of Togarmah traded for thy wares with horses and war-horses and mules. The men of Dedan were thy traffickers; many isles were the mart of thy land: they brought thee in exchange horns of ivory and ebony,"

MERCHANDISE AND SUPPLIES TRADED IN BY TYRE (Ezekiel 27:12-25)

"Tarshish ..." (Ezekiel 27:12). This is the same city to which Jonah intended to flee "from the presence of Jehovah." It is thought to have been located upon the southern coast of Spain.

"Javan, Tubal, and Mesheck ..." (Ezekiel 27:13). "'Javan' refers to the Ionian Greeks; `Tubal and Mesheck' are the names used by the Assyrians and Greeks for the nations dwelling in Cappadocia between the Black Sea and the Taurus mountains."[18]

This verse is important as the confirmation of the charge by Amos against Tyre (Amos 1:9) that these heartless old slave-traders had even sold Israelites to Edom; and also as the confirmation of the fact of the Greeks themselves having been involved in this contemptible "trading in the persons of men," as Joel charged in Joel 3:6.

The extent of the Tyrian commercial empire should be noted. From Tarshish on the south coast of Spain to the area eastward from the Black Sea and beyond just about covers the entire Mediterranean world of that era.

"The house of Togarmah ..." (Ezekiel 27:14). "This is the same as Armenia."[19] Work animals (horses and mules), saddle-horses, and war-horses were extremely valuable commodities in the ancient world; and it continued to be so for many centuries.

"The men of Dedan ..." (Ezekiel 27:15). "This is the same as `the men of Rhodes'; they were the merchants who traded in ivory and ebony with the North African tribes,"[20] much of which merchandise would also have passed through the hands of Tyrian merchants.

Verse 16

"Syria was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of thy handiworks: they traded for thy wares with emeralds, purple, broidered work, fine linen, and coral, and rubies. Judah and the land of Israel, they were thy traffickers: they traded for thy merchandise wheat of Minnith, and pannag, and honey, and oil, and balm. Damascus was thy merchant for the multitude of thy handiworks, by reason of the multitude of all kinds of riches, with the wine of Helbon, and white wool. Vedan and Javan traded with yarn for thy wares: bright iron, cassia, and calamus were among thy merchandise. Dedan was thy trafficker in precious cloths for riding."

All commentators speak of the difficulty of the text in these verses; and some of the renditions are based, at least, partially upon emendations and conjecture. The over-all truth of the immensity of Tyre's commerce is clear enough.

"Syria ... Damascus ..." (Ezekiel 27:16,18). Damascus, of course, was the capital of Syria; and Helbon, the district just north of Damascus was famous for the production of wine, "Which was one of the chief exports of Damascus."[21]

Several of the place-names in Ezekiel 27:19 are disputed; but Plumptre believed they were references probably to little-known Arabian cities.

"Bright iron, cassia, calamus ..." (Ezekiel 27:19). "The bright iron was `alloyed steel' used in the making of swords; the `cassia, and calamus' both belonged to the class of perfumes for which Arabia was famous (Exodus 24,23)."[22] One remembers the lament of Lady Macbeth that, "All the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten this little hand!"

"Precious cloths for riding ..." (Ezekiel 27:19). This is a reference to saddle blankets, not blankets to go under saddles, but to be used as saddles. Judges 5:10 has a reference to these: "Tell of it, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit on rich carpets." from The Song of Deborah.

"Dedan ..." (Ezekiel 27:20). "Unlike the `Dedan' identified above as Rhodes, this one appears to have been located in NW Arabia."[23] "It was a caravan city."[24]

Verse 21

"Arabia and all the princes of Kedar, they were the merchants of thy hand; in lambs, and rams, and goats, in these were they thy merchants. The traffickers of Sheba and Raamah, they were thy traffickers; they traded for thy wares with the chief of all spices, and with all precious stones, and gold. Haran and Canneh and Eden, the traffickers of Sheba, were thy traffickers, Asshur and Chilmad, were thy traffickers. These were thy traffickers in choice wares, in wrappings of blue and broidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords and made of cedar, among thy merchandise. The ships of Tarshish were thy caravans for thy merchandise: and thou wast replenished, and made very glorious in the heart of the seas."

"Traffickers ..." (Ezekiel 27:22-24). This word is used seven times in this brief paragraph; and the connotations of the term are not at all complimentary. On the contrary, the term means "crooked trader," using false balances and other `tricks of the trade.' Like the ancient term "Corinth," which gave the ancient world the term "Corinthianize," meaning to corrupt morally, the term `trafficker' came to mean a crooked Canaanite dealer. (See a full documentation of this in Vol. 2 of my Minor Prophets Series (Hosea), pp. 198,199.)

The skillful organization of the ancient evil world appears in this passage. There was a single, sprawling, net-work of traders under the leadership of Tyre and her navy of "the ships of Tarshish." Her comparison with a majestic ship was certainly appropriate, because her wealth and glory were derived from and continually dependent upon the ships. Just as Britannia once ruled the waves in modern times, Tyre ruled them of old.

Here is terminated the catalogue of merchandise and products; and in the following verse, the metaphor of the ship is again resumed.

"If one traces the location of the place-names in this section on a map, it will appear that Tyre traded with practically every known nation in the western world from Spain to Armenia, the Black Sea and beyond. Each area, taking advantage, of the available shipping, brought the products of its land to trade with Tyre. The commercial operations of that city were truly vast!"[25]

Verse 26

"Thy rowers have brought thee into great waters: the east wind hath broken thee in the heart of the seas. Thy riches, and thy wares, thy merchandise, thy mariners, and thy pilots, thy calkers, and the dealers in thy merchandise, and all the men of war that are in thee, with all thy company that is in the midst of thee, shall fall into the heart of the seas in the day of thy ruin. At the sound of the cry of thy pilots the suburbs shall shake, And all that handle the oar, their mariners, and all the pilots of the sea, shall come down from their ships; they shall stand upon the land, and shall cause their voice to be heard over thee, and shall cry bitterly, and shall cast up dust upon their heads; they shall wallow themselves in the ashes: and they shall make themselves bald for thee, and gird them with sackcloth, and they shall weep for thee in bitterness of soul and with bitter mourning."

THE SINKING OF THE MAJESTIC SHIP; TYRE (Ezekiel 27:26-36)

"The east wind hath broken thee ..." (Ezekiel 27:26). The destruction of Tyre is here spoken of as something already done; but the future tense of verbs in the following verse (Ezekiel 27:27) shows that we are dealing with a prophecy of what will happen, not with a summary of what has already happened. The event indicated by this, of course, is the 13-year siege of Tyre about to be initiated by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar.

"(They) shall come down from their ships; they shall stand upon the land ..." (Ezekiel 27:29). The "ships" here are the smaller ships that accompanied the great ship Tyre and were dependent upon her. "The dependent cities and states are represented by these smaller ships. They were terrified by the great storm, called here `the East Wind,' namely the approach of the Babylonians.

The weeping, making themselves bald, wallowing in the ashes, and clothing them in sackcloth were all actions commonly associated with funerals.

Verse 32

"And in their wailing they shall take up a lamentation for thee, and lament over thee, saying, Who is there like Tyre, like her that is brought to silence in the midst of the seas? When thy wares went forth out of the seas, thou filledst many peoples; thou didst enrich the kings of the earth with the multitude of thy riches and of thy merchandise. In the time when thou wast broken by the seas in the depths of the waters, thy merchandise and all thy company did fall in the midst of thee. All the inhabitants of the isles are astonished at thee, and their kings are horribly afraid; they are troubled in their countenance. The merchants among the peoples hiss at thee; thou art become a terror, and thou shalt never more have any being."

All lamentation and weeping eventually give way to the spoken word; and "What city is like Tyre? What parallel in history can be found, either for her magnificence or her dramatic fall."[26]

The fall of every great wicked city in the history of mankind always came at the very height of the city's power and glory; all such events were usually considered to be impossible, and they all came suddenly and dramatically.

"The record of Tyre has a peculiar relevance for our day. The areas in which Tyre excelled were the very areas where all the nations of our own times are striving for superiority. The message of Tyre for us is: that riches without God are unable to satisfy the heart."[27]

The type of material prosperity that Tyre achieved led them to develop an arrogant and conceited pride, of which God Himself has said, "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). Pride also interferes with men's depending upon and trusting in God. "Has not this spirit invaded the church, and does it not appear in the lives of many Christians?"[28]

Speaking of the shock which the fall of Tyre brought to the ancient world, Howie said that, "The psychological shock was almost too much for the ancient world to bear."[29]

"The merchants of the peoples hiss at thee ..." (Ezekiel 27:36). How fickle are the people of mankind! The same mob that shouted Hosannas for Jesus on Sunday, also shouted `Let him be crucified' on Friday! Tyre was the most popular nation on earth; but the very merchants who were delighted to be "her traffickers" are here revealed as "hissing at their former leader." "They totally disowned her; they hissed at her in a derogatory manner, perhaps thinking thereby to gain favor with the Babylonians."[30]

Some have misunderstood the prophecy as claiming that the fall of Tyre would come in the near future from the times of Ezekiel, pointing out that Tyre was still an important city centuries later during the times of Alexander the Great. See our discussion of this earlier in the chapter. We wish to observe here that, as regards that world-wide network of commercial subordinates, the 13-year siege of Nebuchadnezzar ended that in the matter of only a few weeks after these lines were written by Ezekiel. No world commerce whatever went on with Tyre during the siege! The glory of that indeed "nevermore returned."

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezekiel 27". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/ezekiel-27.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.