Tyre was a great and powerful commercial city, made up of two parts: Old Tyre, situated on a plain on the mainland, and New Tyre, built on a rocky island, or rather two islands joined together, lying about half a mile from the shore. Its territory was insignificant, but it was so strong in its wealth, its ships, and its colonies, that it was able to employ mercenaries (Ezekiel 27:10-11) in numbers, and being strongly fortified, resisted for five years, and with final success, the siege by the whole power of Assyria under Shalmaneser. According to the Assyrian records, however, it was afterwards captured by Assurbanipal. A few years after the fall of Jerusalem it was again besieged by Nebuchadnezzar for thirteen years. There is no express mention in the histories of the time of the result of this siege, although it is implied in the statement of the ancient historians (Jos. 100 Apion, i. 20;. Antt. x., 11, §1) that Nebuchadnezzar made himself master of all Phœnicia. It is also asserted by St. Jerome that he captured Tyre, and he describes the method by which it was accomplished; it is also very unlikely that such a monarch as Nebuchadnezzar would have allowed himself to be baffled after such effort. (On the difficulty suggested by Ezekiel 29:18, see the Note there.) In the days of David and Solomon, the king of Tyre was the close friend of Israel; afterwards the two nations became alienated, and the Tyrians sold Hebrew captives to the Greeks and the Edomites (Joel 3:4-8; Amos 1:9-10). Tyre was probably greatly offended when Josiah, in the course of his reformation, defiled the images of their god Baal, and destroyed his sacred vessels, both at Jerusalem and in Samaria. It was subject to the Persian Empire, was captured by Alexander, remained a large city under the Romans, was still flourishing in the time of St. Jerome, was great at the era of the Crusades, but soon afterwards was totally destroyed by the Saracens, and has since remained so utterly desolate that its site might not even be observed by the passing traveller. Besides the prophecies against Tyre just mentioned, that of Isaiah 23 has already been spoken of in the introductory Note to chapter 25.
Ezekiel’s denunciation of Tyre occupies nearly three chapters, and each of these forms a distinct prophecy, the last verses of Ezekiel 28 constituting a separate prophecy against the associated Phoenician city of Sidon. The first of these (Ezekiel 26) is occupied with the threat of the destruction of Tyre; the second (Ezekiel 27) is a lamentation over this destruction; while the third (Ezekiel 28:1-19) is divided into two parts (which may indeed be separate prophecies), of which the former (Ezekiel 26:1-10) is a threat specifically against the king of Tyre, and the latter (Ezekiel 26:11-19) is a lamentation over his fall.
Chapter 26 consists of four sections, each introduced with “Thus saith the Lord,” the whole preceded by the mention of the sin of Tyre in exulting over the fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 26:2). The first of these (Ezekiel 26:3-6) describes the ultimate desolation of Tyre by “many nations;” the second (Ezekiel 26:7-14) describes circumstantially its more immediate conquest by Nebuchadnezzar; the third (Ezekiel 26:15-18) the effect upon the islands and coasts, doubtless with especial reference to her colonies and those with whom she was commercially connected; while the fourth (Ezekiel 26:19-21) is an energetic repetition and summary of her doom.
This exultation is described as of a purely selfish and commercial character, and shows nothing of the spitefulness and religious animosity of the nations mentioned in the previous chapter. Jerusalem had been made in the days of Solomon the great commercial emporium of the inland trade from Arabia, and even from India, as well as the negotiator of products between Egypt and the Hittites and other northern nations. Doubtless something of this commercial importance still remained to Jerusalem in her decay, of which we have already seen evidence in Ezekiel 16; but however this may have been, a considerable city, situated as Jerusalem was, must of necessity have been the centre of many of those transactions between the surrounding nations which Tyre would gladly have monopolised for herself. Hence her exultation: “Jerusalem being destroyed, all that gave her importance among the nations must come to increase my prosperity.”
In Ezekiel 26:7-11 the particular and now impending conquest by Nebuchadnezzar is graphically described, and then, with the change to the plural in Ezekiel 26:12, there seems to be again a looking forward to the long vista of successive devastations.
A king of kings, from the north.—He is called a “king of kings” because of the many countries subject to his sway, whose kings were his vassals; and he is described as “from the north,” because, as often before said, it was from this direction that his armies must approach Tyre, although Babylon itself was in actual latitude to the south of Tyre.
The buckler is that sort of roof made with shields used in ancient warfare by besiegers to defend themselves from the missiles of the besieged. Herodotus (ix. 61, 99, 102) mentions its use among the Persians.
Axes in the original is swords. It may either be used, the specific for the general, swords for all instruments of war; or it may be a poetic hyperbole, to express the power of the swords of Nebuchadnezzar’s army—they shall even break down the towers.
In Ezekiel 26:15-21 the effect of the fall of Tyre upon other maritime people is set forth. It is to be remembered that these people were either her own colonies, or else in close commercial relations with her.
Which cause their terror.—This clause has occasioned much difficulty. The literal translation is, she and her inhabitants, which gave their fear to all her inhabitants. “Fear” is here used in the sense of that which causes fear; and the meaning is, that the power of Tyre was so feared that every Tyrian was respected for her sake, just as at a later day every Roman bore about with him something of the majesty of Rome, or, as now, the citizen of a great Power is respected among foreigners for his country’s sake. (Comp. Ezekiel 32:24; Ezekiel 32:26.)
Set glory in the land of the living.—The word for “glory” is the same as that used in Ezekiel 20:6; Ezekiel 20:15; Daniel 8:9; Daniel 11:16; Daniel 11:41, in connection with Palestine. The prediction is that when Tyre, who is now rejoicing in the calamity of Judah, shall be past and forgotten, numbered with the dead, then God will establish His people as a living Church to Himself. A ray of Messianic promise shines through the prediction, although, for the time, it might seem nothing more than a foretelling of the restoration from the Captivity.