Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Tyre Quagmire

When I was in college I took a class entitled "The Old Testament Prophets." The professor (an ordained minister and super-nice guy) took it on himself to make sure we students were aware that the Bible was, in his opinion, "unreliable." He used Ezekiel 26 as his primary example. He read verses 3-14:
Artist's rendition of Alexander the Great's siege against Tyre
  "Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declares the Lord GOD. And she shall become plunder for the nations, and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the LORD.
"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers. He will kill with the sword your daughters on the mainland. He will set up a siege wall against you and throw up a mound against you, and raise a roof of shields against you. He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. His horses will be so many that their dust will cover you. Your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen and wagons and chariots, when he enters your gates as men enter a city that has been breached. With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will kill your people with the sword, and your mighty pillars will fall to the ground.
They will plunder your riches and loot your merchandise. They will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses. Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters. And I will stop the music of your songs, and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets. You shall never be rebuilt, for I am the LORD; I have spoken, declares the Lord GOD."

This, he said, was a clear example of biblical fallibility since history shows that Nebuchadnezzar was unsuccessful in his attempt to conquer Tyre, an island city 1/2 mile from the shore in the Mediterranean. He even quoted some other passages from Ezekiel where he said Ezekiel "backed-off" his earlier prophecies about Tyre when he saw they had not been fulfilled.

I left class that day feeling discouraged. He had argued persuasively. I was asking myself, "Do I need to reevaluate my understanding of the Bible? Is it really true? Or are there some parts that are imaginative, speculative, or worse, deceptive? How can I believe any of it if any part is flawed?" I was reeling. After all, if parts of Ezekiel are untrustworthy, how can I know John 3:16 is true?

I got in my truck after class to grab lunch and drive to Knoxville where I worked. My radio was tuned to a religious station and I caught the beginning of Thru the Bible Radio with J. Vernon McGee (something I occasionally listened to). He "just happened" to be talking about Ezekiel 26 that day! I couldn't believe it! On that show he pointed out details in the text that my professor had (conveniently?) overlooked. He also told about Alexander the Great, who with his Greek army (one of the "many nations" who God would "bring up against" Tyre) also besieged Tyre. They quite literally used the ruins of Old Tyre, the part of Tyre that was on the mainland—actually scraping the soil—and threw the rubble into the Mediterranean to make a causeway—a land bridge—to the island city so that Alexander could conquer it! I was amazed, elated, and mad. Before my next class I did some research. I checked the facts for myself and found that McGee was right. Several non-Christian sources confirmed the historical account of Tyre's demise. And I read Ezekiel's account with my own eyes (along with some help from my Ryrie Study Bible notes) and saw the amazing accuracy of the prophecy—down to the details! Far from being an example of inaccuracy, this was an amazing testimony to the Bible's dependability—and a reminder: God means what he says. A quick trip to the campus library uncovered much more about the "many nations" that were brought up against Tyre. Interestingly, ancient Tyre remains ruins to this day. It has never been rebuilt. Ezekiel's prophecy could hardly have been more literally fulfilled.

I went back to class loaded for bear. After his lecture I engaged the professor, sharing with the class what I had learned of Ezekiel 26 and the rest of the story of Tyre's history. Funny, he didn't want to talk about it. He quickly cut off any discussion and dismissed the class! Although I felt victorious, it was also frustrating! Why would a Christian religion professor and minister seek to undermine the veracity of the Bible in the minds of college students? Why not celebrate the accuracy of the Word? It's still a mystery to me.

Here is an article about the supposed "difficulty" regarding Ezekiel 26. Read it and see what you think!


Anonymous said...

Hey, Chad. I've been researching this quagmire myself. I've encountered the arguments for the accuracy of Ezekiel 26 that you mentioned, and they are compelling. But I can't find anyone (including those I've read who believe the prophecy is a failure) who addresses the problems with the last part of this passage, and I'm still uncertain about the veracity of the entire passage:

"He will direct his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. Because of the abundance of his horses, their dust will cover you; your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen, the wagons, and the chariots, when he enters your gates, as men enter a city that has been breached. With the hooves of his horses he will trample all your streets; he will slay your people by the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground." How can this passage (since it still says "He" after mentioning Nebuchadnezzar) be seen as referring to anyone other than the Babylonians? And how can it be understood that Nebuchadnezzar's horses "trampled all" Tyre's streets? Is it not also a problem that it says Neb. will break down Tyre's towers and cause its pillars to fall down?

Anonymous said...

Hey Chad, it's the Anonymous from the last post. I found an answer to the problem! Turns out your professor wasn't the only one making unsubstantiated claims. This is the most well-documented article on the siege of Tyre that I have found yet and addresses this issue comprehensively:

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, the unsubstantiated claims I refer to are that Nebuchadnezzar didn't destroy the shore town of Tyre, which it seems was the chief seat of population until after the siege by Nebuchadnezzar. Historians think that Tyre was referred to as Tsor, the "Rock," (the Hebrew for Tyre also means "Rock") the part that is probably referred to in the prophesy that Tyre will be made like the "top of a rock." There is plenty of evidence that the shore town was in fact taken and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar: "That he (Nebuchadnezzar) took and destroyed Palae-Tyrus can­not be doubted, as it remained a ruin to the time of Alex­ander, and no other event than the attack of Nebuchadnezzar can be alleged as the cause of its being in this state." (Quoted in the article linked above.)

Anonymous said...

Another interesting point: the part that mainly bothered me in the prophecy was the translation that Nebuchadnezzar's horses would trample (or tread) down "all Tyre's streets". I thought, how can this be if his horses did not invade the island part of Tyre. One could suppose that technically since Babylonian officials were put over Tyre that their horses may have tread the streets of the island, or that a garrison of his troops did after the siege. These answers didn't feel totally satisfactory too me at first, but then I found this interesting piece of information:

The word translated streets is usually translated "outside" and even sometimes translated as "fields"! Truly amazing that such a specific prophecy remains true when closely examined. This article on the matter is also worth checking out (particularly for its information about the possible meaning of the "many nations" part of Ezekiel 26):

I now continue on my quest to investigate all claims of Biblical contradictions and prophetic failures!