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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 27

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-36


Ezekiel 27:1-36; Ezekiel 28:1-26

THE remaining oracles on Tyre (chapters 27, Ezekiel 28:1-19) are somewhat different both in subject and mode of treatment from the chapter we have just finished. Chapter 26 is in the main a direct announcement of the fall of Tyre, delivered in the oratorical style which is the usual vehicle of prophetic address. She is regarded as a state occupying a definite place among the other states of the world, and sharing the fate of other peoples who by their conduct towards Israel or their ungodliness and arrogance have incurred the anger of Jehovah. The two great odes which follow are purely ideal delineations of what Tyre is in herself; her destruction is assumed as certain rather than directly predicted, and the prophet gives free play to his imagination in the effort to set forth the conception of the city which was impressed on his mind. In chapter 27, he dwells on the external greatness and magnificence of Tyre, her architectural splendour, her political and military power, and above all her amazing commercial enterprise. chapter 28, on the other hand, is a meditation on the peculiar genius of Tyre, her inner spirit of pride and self-sufficiency, as embodied in the person of her king. From a literary point of view the two chapters are amongst the most beautiful in the whole book. In the twenty-seventh chapter the fiery indignation of the prophet almost disappears, giving place to the play of poetic fancy and a flow of lyric emotion more perfectly rendered than in any other part of Ezekiel’s writings. The distinctive feature of each passage is the elegy pronounced over the fall of Tyre; and although the elegy seems just on the point of passing into the taunt-song, yet the accent of triumph is never suffered to overwhelm the note of sadness to which these poems owe their special charm.


Chapter 27 is described as a dirge over Tyre. In the previous chapter the nations were represented as bewailing her fall, but here the prophet himself takes up a lamentation for her; and, as may have been usual in real funeral dirges, he commences by celebrating the might and riches of the doomed city. The fine image which is maintained throughout the chapter was probably suggested to Ezekiel by the picturesque situation of Tyre on her sea-girt rock at "the entries of the sea." He compares her to a stately vessel riding at anchor near the shore, taking on board her cargo of precious merchandise, and ready to start on the perilous voyage from which she is destined never to return. Meanwhile the gallant ship sits proudly in the water, tight and seaworthy and sumptuously furnished; and the prophet’s eye runs rapidly over the chief points of her elaborate construction and equipment (Ezekiel 27:3-11). Her timbers are fashioned of cypress from Hermon, her mast is a cedar of Lebanon, her oars are made of the oak of Bashan, her deck of sherbin-wood (a variety of cedar) inlaid with ivory imported from Cyprus. Her canvas fittings are still more exquisite and costly. The sail is of Egyptian byssus with embroidered work, and the awning over the deck was of cloth resplendent in the two purple dyes procured from the coasts of Elishah. The ship is fitted up for pleasure and luxury as well as for traffic, the fact symbolised being obviously the architectural and other splendours which justified the city’s boast that she was "the perfection of beauty."

But Tyre was wise and powerful as well as beautiful; and so the prophet, still keeping up the metaphor, proceeds to describe how the great ship is manned. Her steersmen are the experienced statesmen whom she herself has bred and raised to power; her rowers are the men of Sidon and Aradus, who spend their strength in her service. The elders and wise men of Gebal are her shipwrights (literally "stoppers of leaks"); and so great is her influence that all the naval resources of the world are subject to her control. Besides this Tyre employs an army of mercenaries drawn from the remotest quarters of the earth-from Persia and North Africa, as well as the subordinate towns of Phoenicia; and these, represented as hanging their shields and helmets on her sides, make her beauty complete. In these verses the prophet pays a tribute of admiration to the astuteness with which the rulers of Tyre used their resources to strengthen her position as the head of the Phoenician confederacy. Three of the cities mentioned-Sidon, Aradus, and Gebal or Byblus-were the most important in Phoenicia; two of them at least had a longer history than herself, yet they are here truly represented as performing the rough menial labour which brought wealth and renown to Tyre. It required no ordinary statecraft to preserve the balance of so many complex and conflicting interests, and make them all co-operate for the advancement of the glory of Tyre; but hitherto her "wise men" had proved equal to the task.

The second strophe (Ezekiel 27:12-25) contains the survey of Tyrian commerce, which has already been analysed in another connection. At first sight it appears as if the allegory were here abandoned, and the impression is partly correct. In reality the city, although personified, is regarded as the emporium of the world’s commerce, to which all the nations stream with their produce. But at the end it appears that the various commodities enumerated represent the cargo with which the ship is laden. Ships of Tarshish-i.e., the largest class of merchant vessels then afloat, used for the long Atlantic voyage-wait upon her, and fill her with all sorts of precious things (Ezekiel 27:25). Then in the last strophe (Ezekiel 27:26-36), which speaks of the destruction of Tyre, the figure of the ship is boldly resumed. The heavily freighted vessel is rowed into the open sea; there she is struck by an east wind and founders in deep water. The image suggests two ideas, which must not be pressed, although they may have an element of historic truth in them: one is that Tyre perished under the weight of her own commercial greatness, and the other that her ruin was hastened through the folly of her rulers. But the main idea is that the destruction of the city was wrought by the power of God, which suddenly overwhelmed her at the height of her prosperity and activity. As the waves close over the doomed vessel the cry of anguish that goes up from the drowning mariners and passengers strikes terror into the hearts of all seafaring men. They forsake their ships, and having reached the safety of the shore abandon themselves to frantic demonstrations of grief, joining their voices in a lamentation over the fate of the goodly ship which symbolised the mistress of the sea (Ezekiel 27:32-36):-

"Who was like Tyre [so glorious]-

In the midst of the sea?

When thy wares went forth from the seas-

Thou filledst the peoples;

With thy wealth and thy merchandise-

Thou enrichedst the earth.

Now art thou broken from the seas-

In depths of the waters;

Thy merchandise and all thy multitude-

Are fallen therein.

All the inhabitants of the islands-

Are shocked at thee,

And their kings shudder greatly-

With tearful countenances.

They that trade among the peoples-

Hiss over thee; Thou art become a terror-

And art no more for ever."

Such is the end of Tyre. She has vanished utterly from the earth; the imposing fabric of her greatness is like an unsubstantial pageant faded; and nothing remains to tell of her former glory but the mourning of the nations who were once enriched by her commerce. Ezekiel 28:1-19 -Here the prophet turns to the prince of Tyre, who is addressed throughout as the impersonation of the consciousness of a great commercial community. We happen to know from Josephus that the name of the reigning king at this time was Ithobaal or Ethbaal II But it is manifest that the terms of Ezekiel’s message have no reference to the individuality of this or any other prince of Tyre. It is not likely that the king could have exercised any great political influence in a city "whose merchants were all princes"; indeed, we learn from Josephus that the monarchy was abolished in favour of some sort of elective constitution not long after the death of Ithobaal. Nor is there any reason to suppose that Ezekiel has in view any special manifestation of arrogance on the part of the royal house, such as a pretension to be descended from the gods. The king here is simply the representative of the genius of the community, the sins of heart charged against him are the expression of the sinful principle which the prophet detected beneath the refinement and luxury of Tyre, and his shameful death only symbolises the downfall of the city. The prophecy consists of two parts: first, an accusation against the prince of Tyre, ending with a threat of destruction (Ezekiel 27:2-10); and second, a lament over his fall (Ezekiel 27:11-19). The point of view is very different in these two sections. In the first the prince is still conceived as a man, and the language put into his mouth, although extravagant, does not exceed the limits of purely human arrogance. In the second, however, the king appears as an angelic being, an inhabitant of Eden and a companion of the cherub, sinless at first, and falling from his high estate through his own transgression. It almost seems as if the prophet had in his mind the idea of a tutelary spirit or genius of Tyre, like the angelic princes in the book of Daniel who preside over the destinies of different nations. {Daniel 10:20-21; Daniel 12:1} But in spite of its enhanced idealism, the passage only clothes in forms drawn from Babylonian mythology the boundless self-glorification of Tyre, and the expulsion of the prince from paradise is merely the ideal counterpart of the overthrow of the city which is his earthly abode. The sin of Tyre is an overweening pride, which culminated in an attitude of self-deification on the part of its king. Surrounded on every hand by the evidences of man’s mastery over the world, by the achievements of human art and industry and enterprise, the king feels as if his throne on the sea-girt island were a veritable seat of the gods, and as if he himself were a being truly divine. His heart is lifted up; and, forgetful of the limits of his mortality, he "sets his mind like the mind of a god." The godlike quality on which he specially prides himself is the superhuman wisdom evinced by the extraordinary prosperity of the city with which he identifies himself. Wiser than Daniel! the prophet ironically exclaims; "no secret thing is too dark for thee! By thy wisdom and thine insight thou hast gotten thee wealth, and hast gathered gold and silver into thy treasuries: by thy great wisdom in thy commerce thou hast multiplied thy wealth, and thy heart is lifted up because of thy riches." The prince sees in the vast accumulation of material resources in Tyre nothing but the reflection of the genius of her inhabitants; and being himself the incarnation of the spirit of the city, he takes the glory of it to himself and esteems himself a god. Such impious self-exaltation must inevitably call down the vengeance of Him who is the only living God; and Ezekiel proceeds to announce the humiliation of the prince by the "most ruthless of the nations"-i.e., the Chaldaeans. He shall then know how much of divinity doth hedge a king. In face of them that seek his life he shall learn that he is man and not God, and that there are forces in the world against which the vaunted wisdom of Tyre is of no avail. An ignominious death at the hand of strangers is the fate reserved for the mortal who so proudly exalted himself against all that is called God.

The thought thus expressed, when disengaged from its peculiar setting, is one of permanent importance. To Ezekiel, as to the prophets generally, Tyre is the representative of commercial greatness, and the truth which he here seeks to illustrate is that the abnormal development of the mercantile spirit had in her case destroyed the capacity of faith in that which is truly divine. Tyre no doubt, like every other ancient state, still maintained a public religion of the type common to Semitic paganism. She was the sacred seat of a special cult, and the temple of Melkarth was considered the chief glory of the city. But the public and perfunctory worship which was there celebrated had long ceased to express the highest consciousness of the community. The real god of Tyre was not Baal nor Melkarth, but the king, or any other object that might serve as a symbol of her civic greatness. Her religion was one that embodied itself in no outward ritual; it was the enthusiasm which was kindled in the heart of every citizen of Tyre by the magnificence of the imperial city to which he belonged. The state of mind which Ezekiel regards as characteristic of Tyre was perhaps the inevitable outcome of a high civilisation informed by no loftier religious conceptions than those common to heathenism. It is the idea which afterwards found expression in the deification of the Roman emperors-the idea that the state is the only power higher than the individual to which he can look for the furtherance of his material and spiritual interests, the only power, therefore, which rightly claims his homage and his reverence. None the less it is a state of mind which is destructive of all that is essential to living religion; and Tyre in her proud self-sufficiency was perhaps further from a true knowledge of God than the barbarous tribes who in all sincerity worshipped the rude idols which represented the invisible power that ruled their destinies. And in exposing the irreligious spirit which lay at the heart of the Tyrian civilisation the prophet lays his finger on the spiritual danger which attends the successful pursuit of the finite interests of human life. The thought of God, the sense of an immediate relation of the spirit of man to the Eternal and the Infinite, are easily displaced from men’s minds by undue admiration for the achievements of a culture based on material progress, and supplying every need of human nature except the very deepest, the need of God. "For that is truly a man’s religion, the object of which fills and holds captive his soul and heart and mind, in which he trusts above all things, which above all things he longs for and hopes for." The commercial spirit is indeed but one of the forms in which men devote themselves to the service of this present world; but in any community where it reigns supreme we may confidently look for the same signs of religious decay which Ezekiel detected in Tyre in his own day. At all events his message is not superfluous in an age and country where energies are well-nigh exhausted in the accumulation of the means of. living, and whose social problems all run up into the great question of the distribution of wealth. It is essentially the same. truth which Ruskin, with something of the power and insight of a Hebrew prophet, has so eloquently enforced on the men who make modern England-that the true religion of a community does not live in the venerable institutions to which it yields a formal and conventional deference, but in the objects which inspire its most eager ambitions, the ideals which govern its standard of worth, in those things wherein it finds the ultimate ground of its confidence and the reward of its work.

The lamentation over the fall of the prince of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:11-19) reiterates the same lesson with a boldness and freedom of imagination not usual with this prophet. The passage is full of obscurities and difficulties which cannot be adequately discussed here, but the main lines of the conception are easily grasped. It describes the original state of the prince as a semi-divine being, and his fall from that state on account of sin that was found in him. The picture is no doubt ironical; Ezekiel actually means nothing more than that the soaring pride of Tyre enthroned its king or its presiding genius in the seat of the gods, and endowed him with attributes more than mortal. The prophet accepts the idea, and shows that there was sin in Tyre enough to hurl the most radiant of celestial creatures from heaven to hell. The passage presents certain obvious affinities with the account of the Fall in the second and third chapters of Genesis; but it also contains reminiscences of a mythology the key to which is now lost. It can hardly be supposed that the vivid details of the imagery, such as the "mountain of God," the "stones of fire," "the precious gems," are altogether due to the prophet’s imagination. The mountain of the gods is now known to have been a prominent idea of the Babylonian religion; and there appears to have been a widespread notion that in the abode of the gods were treasures of gold and precious stones, jealously guarded by griffins, of which small quantities found their way into the possession of men. It is possible that fragments of these mythical notions may have reached the knowledge of Ezekiel during his sojourn in Babylon and been used by him to fill up his picture of the glories which surrounded the first estate of the king of Tyre. It should be observed, however, that the prince is not to be identified with the cherub or one of the cherubim. The words "Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth, and I have set thee so" (Ezekiel 28:14) may be translated "With the cherub I set thee"; and similarly the words of Ezekiel 28:16, "I will destroy thee, O covering cherub,’" should probably be rendered "And the cherub hath destroyed thee." The whole conception, is greatly simplified by these changes, and the principal features of it, so far as they can be made out with clearness, are as follows: The cherub is the warden of the "holy mountain of God,’" and no doubt also (as in chapter 1) the symbol and bearer of the divine glory. When it is said that the prince of Tyre was placed with the cherub, the meaning is that he had his place in the abode of God, or was admitted to the presence of God, so long as he preserved the perfection in which he was created (Ezekiel 28:15). The other allusions to his original glory, such as the "covering" of precious stones and the "walking amidst fiery stones," cannot be explained with any degree of certainty. When iniquity is found in him so that he must be banished from the presence of God, the cherub is said to destroy him from the midst of the stones of fire-i.e., is the agent of the divine judgment which descends on the prince. It is thus doubtful whether the prince is conceived as a perfect human being, like Adam before his fall, or as an angelic, superhuman creature; but the point is of little importance in ideal delineation such as we have here. It will be seen that even on the first supposition there is no very close correspondence with the story of Eden in the book of Genesis, for there the cherubim are placed to guard the way of the tree of life only after man has been expelled from the garden.

But what is the sin that tarnished the sanctity of this exalted personage and cost him his place among the immortals? Ideally, it was an access of pride that caused his ruin, a spiritual sin, such as might originate in the heart of an angelic being.

"By that sin fell the angels: how can man, then

The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?"

His heart was lifted up because of his beauty, and he forfeited his godlike wisdom over his brilliance (Ezekiel 28:17). But really, this change passing over the spirit of the prince in the seat of God is only the reflection of what is done on earth in Tyre. As her commerce increased, the proofs of her unjust and unscrupulous use of wealth were accumulated against her, and her midst was filled with violence (Ezekiel 27:16). This is the only allusion in the three chapters to the wrong and oppression and the outrages on humanity which were the inevitable accompaniments of that greed of gain which had taken possession of the Tyrian community. And these sins are regarded as a demoralisation taking place in the nature of the prince, who is the representative of the city; by the "iniquity of his traffic he has profaned his holiness," and is cast down from his lofty seat to the earth, a spectacle of abject humiliation for kings to gloat over. By a sudden change of metaphor the destruction of the city is also represented as a fire breaking out in the vitals of the prince, and reducing his body to ashes-a conception which has not unnaturally suggested to some commentators the fable of the phoenix which was supposed periodically to immolate herself in a fire of her own kindling.


A short oracle on Sidon completes the series of prophecies dealing with the future of Israel’s immediate neighbours (Ezekiel 28:20-23). Sidon lay about twenty miles farther north than Tyre, and was, as we have seen, at this time subject to the authority of the younger and more vigorous city. From the book of Jeremiah, {Jeremiah 25:22; Jeremiah 27:3} however, we see that Sidon was an autonomous state, and preserved a measure of independence even in matters of foreign policy. There is therefore nothing arbitrary in assigning a separate oracle to this most northerly of the states in immediate contact with the people of Israel, although it must be admitted that Ezekiel has nothing distinctive to say of Sidon. Phoenicia was in truth so overshadowed by Tyre that all the characteristics of the people have been amply illustrated in the chapters that have dealt with the latter city. The prophecy is accordingly delivered in the most general terms, and indicates rather the purpose and effect of the judgment than the manner in which it is to come or the character of the people against whom it is directed. It passes insensibly into a prediction of the glorious future of Israel, which is important as revealing the underlying motive of all the preceding utterances against the heathen nations. The restoration of Israel and the destruction of her old neighbours are both parts of one comprehensive scheme of divine providence, the ultimate object of which is a demonstration before the eyes of the world of the holiness of Jehovah. That men might know that He is Jehovah, God alone, is the end alike of His dealings with the heathen and with His own people. And the two parts of God’s plan are in the mind of Ezekiel intimately related to each other; the one is merely a condition of the realisation of the other. The crowning proof of Jehovah’s holiness will be seen in His faithfulness to the promise made to the patriarchs of the possession of the land of Canaan, and in the security and prosperity enjoyed by Israel when brought back to their land a purified nation. Now in the past Israel had been constantly interfered with, crippled, humiliated, and seduced by the petty heathen powers around her borders. These had been a pricking brier and a stinging thorn (Ezekiel 28:24), constantly annoying and harassing her and impeding the free development of her national life. Hence the judgments here denounced against them are no doubt in the first instance a punishment for what they had been and done in the past; but they are also a clearing of the stage that Israel might be isolated from the rest of the world, and be free to mould her national life and her religious institutions in accordance with the will of her God. That is the substance of the last three verses of the chapter; and while they exhibit the peculiar limitations of the prophet’s thinking, they enable us at the same time to do justice to the singular unity and consistency of aim which guided him in his great forecast of the future of the kingdom of God. There remains now the case of Egypt to be dealt with; but Egypt’s relations to Israel and her position in the world were so unique that Ezekiel reserves consideration of her future for a separate group of oracles longer than those on all the other nations put together.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ezekiel 27". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/ezekiel-27.html.
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