In the first part, we learned that Ezekiel 26 predicts the fall of the city of Tyre, but this prophecy is actually about 17 separate prophecies. Although we will find out that all of them are true, we learned that even if one of them were untrue, it does not follow that we should reject the Bible in its entirety, deny that God exists, or hold the key doctrines false. Today I will respond to the main question about the prophecy in Ezekiel 26 which predicts that Tyre will not be inhabited. The answer has several aspects that we can determine from looking at the text.
First, note that the city was originally very large and well-defended. It had walls and towers (v.4, 9, 11, 12) that forced multiple waves of armies (v.3), including the greatest army in the world at the time, the Babylonians, to have to lay a lengthy siege against it (v.7-8) that required construction and siege equipment (v.8-9). The city was so large that it spawned “daughter villages”(v.6, 8) that would have been there to supply agricultural goods to the city. The city would have provided defenses for the villagers in time of war. It was so large and influential that no single army destroyed it completely, for Tyre took several waves of invading armies (v.3). This was no small insignificant town, but a large and influential city-kingdom.
Second, Ezekiel says that after the invasions the city will be a place for “the spreading of nets” (v.5, 14). There are only two reasons to spread a fishing net. One is for fishing, but the more common use of the term is for drying the fishing nets. Natural fiber nets had to be dried each day or they would mildew and rot. Thus at the end of their workday the fishermen would spread the nets out on the beach, hanging them on poles to dry while the fishermen slept. Spreading the nets also made it easier for the fishermen to mend the nets.
The key point here is that to spread nets, people had to be living there to spread them. No fisherman would spread his nets in a lonely place, then sail away home, then return the next day to the nets. They would spread them next to their home where they slept, and presumably raised their families.
Thus within the text of Ezekiel 26, we have two interesting facets to this prophecy. Verses 5 & 14 tell us people would be there, and verses 19 & 20 say Tyre would not be inhabited. Logically this gives us two and only two possibilities about these passages:
1. The two are incompatible, and Ezekiel was wrong about at least one of these.
2. The meaning of the two are somehow compatible, and Ezekiel was correct about both.
For the first to be true would require the same prophet who is right about many dozens of other very detailed prophecies to be wrong about this one. It would further require him to be right and wrong in the same passage, even the same sentence in v.14.
More significantly, it would also require the ancient Jews to be wrong about their own prophets. The Jews were commanded to not accept false prophets. If anyone knew what Ezekiel meant by what he said, it would be the ancient Jews. The ancient Jews knew Tyre was in existence, for the apostle Paul stayed there for a week in Acts 21:3-7, and Jesus traveled near there in Matthew 15:21. Since the ancient Jews rejected other prophets as false, and knew of both Ezekiel’s prophecy and the existence of Tyre, they must have thought they were compatible. Only the height of credulity would allow a modern critic, who is far removed from the location and culture, to know more about Ezekiel than the natives who were there at the time.
If we can show that the second possibility is true, it would then be more reasonable to reject the first and hold that Tyre can be destroyed, not rebuilt, not inhabited, and still be a minor village or town. Such a conclusion would fit the sense of the passage.
As evidence for this, I give the support of the ancient Jews who held Ezekiel to be a true prophet, the unlikelihood of a prophet contradicting himself in the same sentence, and the further explanations below.
Our third major point is that comparing the Tyre of old to the one that existed afterward, and even the town there today, is a ridiculous comparison that is laughable on the face of it. The Tyre of old was a walled city with towers that required waves of invading armies, including a major siege by Babylon and another from Alexander the Great. The latter Tyre was reduced to a fishing village that had to import food from tiny, non-militarized Israel, and beg the authorities for peace (Acts 12:20). Such town was not prominent, as the critics want us to believe. The Tyre of old was no more.
Fourth, Ezekiel says that the sea will cover Tyre. The topography of the region has changed to some degree over the millennia, In addition to the possibility of sinking into the Mediterranean Sea as the port at Caesarea did, the original island of the fortified city of Tyre has been built up in some areas, and apparently eroded in others.
Surprisingly, part of the change of the landscape involved the fulfillment of one of Ezekiel’s prophecies. Ezekiel claimed the city would be scraped clean (v. 4, 14) and thrown into the sea (v.12). Alexander the Great, in an attempt to reach the island city, spent months scraping the ruins of the old city and throwing them into the sea to make a causeway for his troops. These portions of Ezekiel 26 were clearly literally fulfilled. The resulting causeway has since gathered silt and expanded the land area on one side of the island.
Giving the changing of the topography, the possibility of portions of the old city now being under the sea is distinct and real. While underwater excavations are needed, some old explorers gave reports of evidence of man-made constructions which are now underwater. Therefore it is entirely possible that the sea has claimed part of Tyre, fulfilling Ezekiel 26:16, that the sea will cover her. If this is true, then the prophecies about not being inhabited are at least true for those parts of the city. Again, further underwater archaeology is needed, but it cannot be ruled out at this point.
Fifth, some of the ruins of the old city are there today, with tourists visiting it daily. With the old city having been where these ruins are, the area properly within the old city are indeed not inhabited. The modern city is admittedly nearby, but not in these portions of the old city.
So how far away could a new village be built and still be considered the same? If it were a mile away and named the same, would it be the same? Two miles? Ten? Next door? How far away would a city have to be before it is not the same? I submit that a neighboring fishing village that has to beg authorities to ensure their food supply is not the Tyre of old, no matter what they call themselves.
Sixth, the passage in 26:20 that says “you will not be inhabited” is in an interesting section of the passage. Earlier in the chapter, Ezekiel is clearly speaking of the city proper, for he speaks of dust in the streets, gates and towers falling, horses, wagons, chariots, and other physical things. By the time he reaches v.20, he is speaking of what happens to the people’s souls. He speaks of “descending into the pit” or grave, and “dwell in the lowest parts of the earth” that he contrasts with “the land of the living.” In the midst of this section, he speaks of them not being inhabited. The context of the sentence has moved to what happens to their souls after death, not the physical city. Thus we have the NASB version giving an alternate translation in the footnote, “you will not return.” The NIV (1984) says “you will not return or take your place in the land of the living.” The NIRV says “You will never come back.” The Hebrew lexicon allows for this translation.
At the very least, in the context, the “you” being spoken of in v.20 is not the physical city in the land of the living, but the people’s souls that are already in the grave. In some sense, the term here means that they will not have the same place they did when they were alive.
The evidence here is sufficient to show that Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyre is not a blatant error, but rather was fulfilled as written. At the very least, we have good reason to believe that the people who heard Ezekiel at the time knew what he meant and felt the prophecies were fulfilled. For the few things that we cannot yet prove, Ezekiel’s great track record on other prophecies should give us pause before we accuse him of blatant contradictions in the same passages, even the same sentences.
I’ve already gone too long, so in Part 3 I will deal with some of the other questions about this prophecy.