Bible Commentary: Ezekiel 27

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Ezekiel 27

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The Sinking of the Great Merchant Ship of Tyre

"Ezekiel's prediction of the endless death of Tyre (Ezekiel 26:1-21) is followed by messages about the doomed city [in chapters 27 and 28]. First comes a funeral dirge, picturing the great commercial center as a merchant ship. The prophet describes her construction (Ezekiel 27:1-11) and then lists her trading partners (vv. 12-24)... The prophet completes his metaphor with a vivid description of the sinking of richly laden Tyre (vv. 25-36)" (Bible Reader's Companion, chapters 27-28 summary).

This great "ship of state" is made of the finest materials—including planks of fir trees from "Senir," another name for Mount Hermon or another peak in its range (see Deuteronomy 3:9; Song of Solomon 4:8; 1 Chronicles 5:23).

For "merchant of the peoples on many coastlands" in verse 3, the New Living Translation has "trading center of the world." Like the previous chapter, this one is dual—applying to ancient Tyre as well as Tyre of the last days (modern Babylon), a global economic market and religious empire centered in Europe. The mourning of the participants in the system over the sinking of Tyre is quite similar to the mourning of participants in the Babylonian system of the end time (compare especially verses 29-33; Revelation 18:17-19). The Nelson Study Bible notes on Revelation 18:9-19, "This section is framed like an ancient lament and is especially similar in content to Ezekiel's lament over the destruction of Tyre (see Ezekiel 27)." Moreover, as noted in our previous reading, many in southern Europe are descended from the ancient Babylonians and Phoenician Tyrians, strengthening the identification.

Many nations participated in the international marketplace of ancient Tyre, as their modern counterparts will participate in the Tyrian or Babylonian system of the end time. There was and will be Ashurite or Assyrian involvement (verses 6, 23). "Men of Gammad" in the watchtowers (verse 11) may be a mistranslation. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary offers: "Rather, as the Tyrians were Syro-Phoenician, from a Syriac root, meaning daring, 'men of daring'... It is not likely the keeping of watch 'in the towers' would have been entrusted to foreigners. Others take it from a Hebrew root, 'a dagger,' or short sword...'short-swordsmen'" (note on verse 11).

There is mention of Javan or Yavan (verse 13), the biblical Hebrew word used elsewhere for Greece. Javan is listed in the table of nations of Genesis 10 as the son of Noah's son Japheth, father of the yellow-skinned Mongoloid peoples of the Far East but also of many white and olive-skinned people of the Mediterranean. Many southern Europeans, such as the Greeks, Cypriots, Italians and Spaniards, have traditionally been traced, at least in part, back to Javan's sons Elishah, Kittim and Tarshish—all mentioned in Ezekiel 27 (verses 6-7, 12). (It may be that Japheth himself was Caucasian and his wife Oriental, allowing for offspring to take after either side of the family.)

It appears that the sons of Tarshish originally settled in southern Asia Minor, giving their name to the city of Tarsus. Some later migrated from here to Spain, giving their name to Tartessus, the city of Tarshish to which Jonah fled (and which gave its name to the famed Phoenician and Israelite "ships of Tarshish"). This western branch of Tarshish would today, then, seem to be a significant portion of the people of Spain, Portugal and Latin America. Yet there may well be an eastern branch of this family. The traditions of ancient Japan claim its people were led to the "Land of the Rising Sun" by a three-legged crow—the "sun crow" representing the sun deity in the ancient Far East. Surprisingly, the rare imagery of three-legged birds as sun symbols has also been found on coins of Asia Minor, where sat Tarsus. Might this region be the origin of some of the Japanese?

Interestingly, the Japanese traditionally trace themselves mainly through two peoples, known as the Yamato and the Kumaso. The Kumaso, from whom the lower class is predominantly descended, are believed to be of Malay or Indonesian origin. But the Yamato, ancestors of the ruling class, appear to have come from far in the west. A.L. Sadler, a professor of Oriental Studies at the University of Sydney, wrote in his 1946 book A Short History of Japan: "Judging from the Caucasian and often Semitic physiognomy seen in the aristocratic type of Japanese, the Yamato were mainly of Caucasic, perhaps Iranian, origin. These were...modified to some extent by mingling with the Mongoloid rank and file... The colour of the Japanese does not differ at all from that of the South European races like Spain and Italy... The Alpine or Central European of much the same type as the ordinary Japanese... Some Japanese ethnologists favour the theory that the Yamato came from Central Asia" (pp. xi-xii). Indeed, perhaps they came all the way from Asia Minor.

In the end time, the peoples of Tarshish—encompassing perhaps the Spanish-Latin American world in the west and Japan in the east (each of which has had a great commercial tradition in modern times in its own right)—will merely be merchants for the much greater system of Tyre or Babylon that will dominate the globe (see verse 12).

Tubal, Meshech and Togarmah (verses 13-14) in ancient times dwelt near the Black Sea. Today, as we will later see in our examination of Ezekiel 38-39, these peoples may be found in central, western and eastern Russia respectively. The bartering of human lives mentioned in 27:13 parallels a similar statement about end-time slave trade in Revelation 18:13.

Even Israel and Judah are shown participating in the Tyrian marketplace before their downfall (Ezekiel 27:17). This was true in the ancient world and will come to pass again at the end of this age.

In verse 19, the Israelite tribe of Dan is associated with Javan or Greece, likely because the Danites for a time settled in Greece and plied the seas with the ancient Phoenicians and Greeks (see Appendix 2: Were the Greeks Israelites? of our online publication The Throne of Britain: Its Biblical Origin and Future). Dan today may be found in Ireland and Denmark. Yet, as part of the European Union, they are once more associated with Greece—"traversing back and forth" as they are located on opposite ends of the European continent.

Areas of the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Jordan, Mesopotamia (southeast Turkey and Iraq) and Iran are also shown as participating in this system (verses 15-18, 20-24).

Verse 26 shows the overloaded ship of Tyre broken by "the east wind." The Nelson Study Biblenotes on this verse: "The east wind was often powerful and potentially destructive (see Gen. 41:6; Job 27:21; Ps. 48:7 [where God says He breaks the merchant ships of Tarshish with an east wind]; Is. 27:8). Thus it symbolizes the destruction the [ancient] Babylonian army [from the east] would bring on Tyre. In 26:7, Babylon would come from the 'north.' This was the direction from which the army would invade Phoenicia." In the end time, a great wave of destruction will come on the European empire from forces from the east (see Revelation 9:13-19). And ultimate destruction will come when Jesus Christ returns "as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west" (Matthew 24:27).

As great as it is, the ship of Tyre will ultimately sink—meaning the demise of both ancient Tyre and the future global power bloc it represents. In the description of its finery and vast wealth along with what is to befall it is a lesson for everyone, especially when we consider that, in a broader sense, Babylon—and so Tyre as well—is representative of mankind's entire corrupt civilization. The Bible Reader's Companion states in its note on chapter 27: "The extended metaphor in this poetic description of Tyre and her fall is one of the most powerful to be found in ancient or modern literature. The funeral dirge sums up the world's preoccupation with material wealth and prosperity and the pride success breeds. The sudden sinking of the ship not only portrays the demise of Tyre, but the vulnerability of all material possessions to destruction. The last two verses particularly display the anguish of those who pin their hopes on things—only to see them suddenly, irretrievably, gone."