Tyre—City Where Mammon Was God
A PHOENICIAN ship of ancient times—picture one in your mind. Picture it as the most magnificent ship afloat. Constructed of the finest materials, it is manned by a crew renowned as the most skilled sailors in the world. The ship is heavily laden with a cargo of costly merchandise. This proud ship, described in the twenty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel, represents the ancient city of Tyre, market of the world and city where commerce reigned supreme. The future for this resplendent ship, God’s prophet foretells, is shipwreck.
Tyre was a city whose inhabitants were materialists; they worshiped Mammon. The Greeks called these Canaanites with whom they traded “Phoenicians” (purple red) because of the purple dye and cloth that made up an important item of their merchandise.
The city’s religion, then, was the Canaanite false religion. Tyre’s inhabitants worshiped a female deity called Ashtoreth. Like that of Baal, the corresponding male divinity, the name is often found in the Bible. The Baal of Tyre was called Melkarth, the city’s patron deity. Tyre thought she worshiped Ashtoreth and Melkarth; she primarily worshiped Mammon.
God’s Word describes Tyre as having “abundant wealth of every kind.” (Ezek. 27:12, AT) The city itself was an exposition of the finest products; it was the commercial center of the ancient world. Tarshish sent silver, iron, tin and lead. Armenia furnished Tyre’s markets with horses of a celebrated breed. Dedan sent ivory and ebony. Edom sent emeralds, embroidered work, fine linen and coral. Judah and Israel supplied Tyre with wheat, honey and balm. From Damascus came the famous Helbon wine. Arabia sent lambs and goats, the finest of all kinds of spices and the finest of all kinds of precious stones and gold. Tyre’s markets abounded with exquisite articles of finery; there were cedar chests of rich apparel.
PROUD METROPOLIS OF THE SIDONIANS
That ancient Canaanite city of Sidon mothered Tyre. Sidon stamped her coins with the legend, “Mother of Kambē, Hippo, Kition, Tyre.” Since a colony from Sidon founded Tyre, Tyre’s inhabitants continued to call themselves Sidonians. The Bible calls Tyre the “virgin daughter of Sidon” and its commercial inhabitants “the merchants from Sidon.” (Isa. 23:12, 2, AS) On its coins Tyre called itself “the Metropolis of the Sidonians.” In time this “daughter of Sidon” eclipsed its mother in glory and grandeur.
This Sidonian metropolis exulted in its wealth, its strength, its fame and its antiquity. In the eighth century B.C., Isaiah spoke of Tyre as a city “that was exultant from days of long ago.” (Isa. 23:7) It was a strong city even as early as Joshua’s time; Joshua called it “the fortified city of Tyre.”—Josh. 19:29.
With the rich and costly things of the earth within her walls, Tyre’s pride knew no bounds. Puffed up with pride, Tyre trusted in her own wisdom, her riches, her alliances and her military strength. Most of Tyre’s male inhabitants were too busy worshiping at the shrine of Mammon to serve in the army. So Tyre used its wealth to hire soldiers from foreign lands to do its fighting: “Men of Persia, Lud, and Put were in your army, serving as your soldiers.” (Ezek. 27:10, AT) Tyre believed herself impregnable. For five years the Assyrian king Shalmaneser besieged Tyre; yet he failed to take the city. Little wonder that Tyre, on her coins, described herself as “sacred and inviolate.”
TYRE’S SINS AND JEHOVAH’S DECREE
In three chapters of Ezekiel (twenty-six through twenty-eight) we read of God’s decree upon Tyre. God’s prophet says that Tyre is like a ship that will be caught in a tempest and sunk with total loss of cargo and crew. What had Tyre done to provoke the wrath of the true and living God, Jehovah? To the king of Tyre God said: “Because of your wealth you are puffed with pride.”—Ezek. 28:5, AT.
It was more than Mammon-produced pride that provoked the wrath of Jehovah. Tyre’s greediness for wealth led to another sin: Tyre sold Israelites as slaves. It had not always been that way. When Hiram was king of Tyre, relations between Jerusalem and Tyre were friendly. Hiram sent David timber and workmen for his palace and material to Solomon for Jehovah’s temple. But after the division of the kingdom, relations deteriorated, primarily because Mammon-minded Tyre “did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.” God’s prophet Amos said this because Tyre filled its slave markets with Jews, selling them to distant heathen countries. Declared Jehovah through the prophet Joel: “The people of Judah, and the people of Jerusalem, you have sold to the Greeks. . . . I will requite your deed upon your own head.” Tyre’s punishment would be a severe one. Said Jehovah: “I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, and it shall devour her palaces.”—Joel 3:6, 7; Amos 1:9, 10, AT.
There was even more to Tyre’s guilt in God’s eyes. Again it was the love of Mammon that led to Tyre’s undoing. When the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 607 B.C., the Tyrians rejoiced! Jerusalem had attracted many merchants. Now with Jerusalem out of the way Tyre expected more trade for herself. Tyre exulted: “Aha! the gate of the peoples is broken, she is thrown open to me; I shall be filled, while she is laid waste.”—Ezek. 26:2, AT.
Feeling herself impregnable and feeling certain that increased commercial trade was coming her way, Tyre expected a glorious future. But the God of heaven had determined Tyre’s future. At a time when Tyre could envision only prosperity ahead, Jehovah said through his prophet: “I am against thee, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth its waves to come up. And they shall destroy the walls of Tyre, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her a bare rock. She shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea; for I have spoken it, saith the Lord Jehovah.”—Ezek. 26:3-5, AS.
What an awful future for Tyre—to be scraped so thoroughly as to be like a bare rock and to become a place upon which fishermen would spread their nets to dry!
What was the first of the “many nations” that God would cause to come against Tyre? “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will bring upon Tyre Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon.”—Ezek. 26:7, AS.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S LONG SIEGE
True to the prophecy, not long after the fall of Jerusalem, the king of Babylon came against Tyre. But Tyre was confident. Had not the city resisted Shalmaneser for five years, causing that king to give up the siege? Nebuchadnezzar attacked confident Tyre, and the siege was on. Five years passed but Nebuchadnezzar did not give up the siege. Seven years passed, ten years, and still Tyre resisted. Surely the king of Babylon would give up the attempt and go home, so the Tyrians must have thought. But the siege went on. Twelve years passed. Tyre still resisted. Finally, after thirteen years, the siege engines of Nebuchadnezzar prevailed. Tyre fell. The city was razed.
How costly was that campaign to the king of Babylon! What hardships for the soldiers: “Every head was rubbed bald, and every shoulder was pealed bare; yet neither he nor his army won any return from the campaign which he directed against Tyre.” (Ezek. 29:18, AT) The treasures of Tyre eluded Nebuchadnezzar. How so? During the long siege the bulk of the treasures had been transferred to a small island about half a mile from the mainland.
Was Nebuchadnezzar to go unpaid? No. He had performed services for Almighty God in destroying Tyre. So Jehovah foretold how he would compensate the king of Babylon: “Behold, I am giving the land of Egypt to Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon; and he shall carry off her abundance, and shall despoil her and prey upon her, to pay his army. As a return for the campaign which he directed against Tyre, I am giving him the land of Egypt, because they rendered a service to me.” (Ezek. 29:19, 20, AT) Shortly afterward the king of Babylon conquered Egypt and received the spoils as payment for reducing proud, Mammon-worshiping Tyre to a heap of rubble.
NEW TYRE, THE ISLAND CITY
The mainland city was no more. The Tyre that existed now was an island city of about 150 acres. To get as many people on the island as possible the Tyrians built their houses several stories high. In time Tyre again became a strong and prosperous city. And again Tyre’s god was mainly Mammon. What riches poured into the city! Describing new Tyre, the island city, God’s prophet Zechariah said: “Tyre built herself a stronghold, and heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the mud of the streets.”—Zech. 9:3, AT.
Tyre once again felt proud and secure. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote: “Tyre had the greatest confidence owing to her insular position and fortifications, and the abundant stores she had prepared.” But the wrath of Jehovah was still upon Tyre. God’s prophet made this pronouncement upon the wealthy island city: “The LORD, however, will dispossess her, and smite her wealth into the sea, and she shall be consumed by fire.”—Zech. 9:4, AT.
The time came for Jehovah Most High to smite Tyre’s “wealth into the sea.” In the year 333 B.C. Alexander of Macedon defeated the Persian king Darius at the battle of Issus. Alexander now turned his attention to Tyre. When Alexander arrived Tyre sent out an embassy with presents. Alexander asked to enter the city to offer sacrifice in the great temple of Melkarth. The Tyrians refused. They were willing to have the Macedonian monarch as friend but not as master. Alexander, enraged at the stubbornness of the Tyrians, determined to take the city. But how? Tyre was an island.
ALEXANDER BUILDS A CAUSEWAY
So as to attack Tyre’s walls, Alexander put his army to work building a causeway to the island. Where did Alexander find materials to build his causeway? Why, from the massive ruins of old Tyre. Alexander’s men salvaged stones and timber and began building a causeway about 200 feet wide. When more construction materials were needed, Alexander ordered all the debris of the ruined city scraped up and dumped into the water. Alexander, as the historian Arrian relates, scraped off the very dust of old Tyre to build his causeway. Thus old Tyre, the mainland city, completely perished, even as God had long before foretold through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will scrape her very dust from her, and will make her a bare rock. . . . Your stones and timber and dust shall be sunk in the heart of the waters.”—Ezek. 26:4, 12, AT.
Alexander continued work on the causeway. Progress was made difficult by repeated attacks by Tyrian naval vessels. Sometimes the Tyrians fired a hail of missiles; sometimes they taunted Alexander’s soldiers, saying that it was a most noble sight to see these conquerors carrying burdens on their backs like so many beasts. Inflamed by the taunts and inspired by the presence of Alexander, the soldiers exerted themselves strenuously. Eventually Alexander realized he could not succeed without a navy.
From Cyprus and Sidon, from Aradus (Arwad) and Byblus, Alexander obtained many naval vessels. Finally the Macedonian conqueror amassed an armada of some 200 ships. He now had a navy stronger than Tyre’s. With the Tyrian navy bottled up in the harbor, Alexander went to work in earnest.
Soon the causeway was extended to the city walls, walls that towered to a height of 150 feet. The battering rams went to work. The battle was tremendous. Both sides fought like lions. Continually the Tyrians hurled red-hot sand down upon the attackers. Alexander brought up siege engines to hurl arrows, stones and burning torches upon the besieged. Alexander constructed enormous towers about twenty stories high; the topmost platforms towered to a height of more than 160 feet. These towers bristled with weapons. At last, after seven months of besiegement, in August, 332 B.C., Alexander’s soldiers scaled the walls, his battering rams breached the walls and his navy forced its way into Tyre’s harbor. Tyre fell.
Because of its stubborn resistance Alexander set the city afire, put 8,000 Tyrians to the sword, impaled 2,000 of them and sold 30,000 into slavery. Thus with the destruction of the island city by Alexander the Great, the words of God’s prophets concerning the downfall of ancient Tyre attained complete fulfillment—nearly two hundred years after Zechariah foretold it, nearly three hundred years after Ezekiel and Jeremiah foretold it, more than three hundred years after Joel foretold it and more than four hundred years after Amos and Isaiah foretold it!
VISITORS TO TYRE
In the years that followed Alexander’s conquest of Tyre, the island city managed to rebuild itself a number of times, only to be conquered by many nations. The last trace of Tyre’s independent existence was taken from it by the Roman emperor Augustus. A.D. 638 Tyre was captured by the Moslems, and in 1124 Tyre was taken by the crusaders. The crusaders lost it in 1291, when the city was razed almost to a heap of stones. After its capture by the Turks in 1516, Tyre soon became a desolation. When Sandys visited Tyre about 1619 he said: “This once famous Tyre is now no other than a heap of ruins.”
In 1697 Maundrell said of Tyre: “Its present inhabitants are only a few poor wretches harbouring themselves in the vaults, and subsisting chiefly upon fishing, who seem to be preserved in this place by Divine Providence as a visible argument how God has fulfilled his word concerning Tyre, viz., That it should be as the top of a rock, a place for fishers to dry their nets on.”
In 1751 the Swedish naturalist Hasselquist visited Tyre and said: “Here are about ten inhabitants, Turks and Christians, who live by fishing.”
In 1838 Dr. Robinson visited Tyre and later wrote in his Biblical Researches: “I continued my walk along the whole western and northern shore of the peninsula, musing upon the pomp and glory, the pride and fall, of ancient Tyre. Here was the little isle once covered by her palaces and surrounded by her fleet. . . . But alas! . . . Tyre has indeed become ‘like the top of a rock, a place to spread nets upon!’ The sole remaining tokens of her more ancient splendour—columns of red and gray granite, sometimes forty or fifty heaped together, or marble pillars—lie broken and strewed beneath the waves in the midst of the sea; and the hovels that now nestle upon a portion of her site present no contradiction of the dread decree, ‘Thou shalt be built no more.’”
Today the inhabitants of Tyre are not many more than when Dr. Robinson made his visit. Called Es Sur (the old name in Arabic), Tyre is a mere village of about 5,000 people and is built around the north end of the former island. Alexander’s causeway is still there; and the ancient island, now a peninsula, is connected right with the mainland by a tongue of land almost half a mile broad. Once a center of world commerce, Tyre now carries on an insignificant trade in cotton and tobacco; and its fishermen have acres of desolate space to spread out their nets to dry.
The Bible reader looks upon Tyre with great interest, for few cities afford more striking evidence of the absolute certainty of Jehovah’s prophetic Word. “Who has been ruined like Tyre in the heart of the sea?” spoke God’s prophet when Tyre was market of the world and mistress of the seas. “Now you are wrecked in the seas, in the depths of the waters; your cargo and all your crew are sunk in the heart of you. . . . You have come to an awful end, and shall be no more forever.”—Ezek. 27:32, 36, AT.
[Map on page 308]
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Probable site of the mainland city of Tyre
TYRE (Island City)
Loose drift sand
Probable line of ancient sea coast