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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 27

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 27 The Second Oracle Against Tyre.

In this oracle Tyre, who is seen as describing herself as ‘perfect in beauty’, is likened to a mighty ship which being overloaded will finally become a wreck and will sink beneath the waves at which all will bewail her loss. It is in the form of a poem, with a prose section inserted. The poetic metre is found in Ezekiel 27:3-9 and Ezekiel 27:25-36. In the previous oracle it was her greed that was condemned, here it is her vanity. Tyre had great pride and conceit in herself, and this was a further reason for her judgment by God (compare Psalms 10:4; Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 16:18).

Tyrian ships had keels (unlike Egyptian ships) and carried large cargoes. A document from Ugarit (c 1200 BC) refers to one as having a cargo of 450 tonnes as though it was nothing unusual. It would thus have to depend largely on sail power with oars only used for a fairly short time in emergency situations. As regards rigging, the Tyrian ships in the time of Ezekiel, as seen in Assyrian representations, had one mast with one yard and carried a square sail. The planks, masts and yards were made of fir, pine or cedar, and the sails of linen, but the fibre of papyrus was employed as well as flax in the manufacture of sail-cloth. The sail had also to serve "for an ensign". The flag proper does not seem to have been used in ancient navigation. Its purpose was served by the sail.

The description here is magnificent. Tyre is seen as the centre and shipmaster of world trade, trading north, south, east and west. It brings out her own view of herself. (Translation is not always certain, partly due to the unusual technical terms used and the metric requirements of poetry).


Verses 1-9

‘The word of Yahweh came to me again, saying, “And you, son of man, take up a lamentation for Tyre. And say to Tyre:

“You, O Tyre, have said,

‘I am perfect in beauty.

Your borders are in the heart of the seas,

Your builders have perfected your beauty.

They made all your planks, of fir trees from Senir,

They took cedars from Lebanon, to make a mast for you.

Of oaks of Bashan, they made your oars

They made your benches (or ‘decks’) of ivory, inlaid in boxwood, from the isles of Kittim (Cyprus)

Of fine embroidered linen from Egypt was your sail, that it may serve for an ensign.

Blue and purple from the coasts of Elishah was your awning,

The inhabitants of Zidon and Arvad were your rowers,

Your skilled men, O Tyre, were in you, they were your rope-pullers (those who manned the sail and steering),

The elders of Gebal and its skilled men were in you as your caulkers (seam repairers),

All the ships of the sea with their mariners were in you,

To exchange for your merchandise.’

This opening of the lamentation describes Tyre in her splendour as she saw herself. Perfect in beauty, surrounded by sea, made perfect by her shipbuilders, manufactured of the finest materials, supplied and moulded by the best sources and workmen, and crewed by the most expert sailors. And always crowded with merchants from other ships bartering for their goods. It was an idealistic picture of Tyre in her pride.

Senir (see Deuteronomy 3:9) was Mount Hermon, supplying the fir trees. The cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan were famous for their size and strength. Egypt were clearly expert sail-makers. Elishah may be the Alasia of extra-Biblical sources such as the Amarna letters and Egyptian and cuneiform inscriptions (Ugarit; Alalah; Boghaz Koi). It was an exporter of copper. Some have identified it with Enkomi and its surrounding area on the east coast of Cyprus where excavations have revealed an important trading centre of the late Bronze age.

Arvad is modern Ruad, a small island three kilometres (two miles) off the coast of Syria, and eighty kilometres (fifty miles) north of Byblos (Gebal). It was a barren rock covered with fortifications and houses. The island was about 245 metres (800 feet) long by 150 metres (500 feet) wide, later certainly surrounded by a massive wall, and an artificial harbour was constructed on the East toward the mainland. It was a sailing and trading centre, full of skilled seamen and spoken of admiringly by the Assyrians who earlier dominated it. Gebal, whose ruins lie at Jebeil, was known in Greek as Byblos. It was another Phoenician maritime city. Its inhabitants were clearly especially skilled at caulking vessels.


Verse 10-11

Tyre’s Mercenaries.

Tyre was wealthy and could pay for her own defence by hiring mercenaries from distant places.

“Persia and Lud and Put were in your army, your men of war,

They hung the shield and helmet in you. They set forth your splendour.

The men of Arvad with your army were on your walls round about, and the Gammadim were in your towers,

They hung their shields on your walls round about, they have perfected your beauty.”

These were mercenaries from places as widespread as Persia, Lydia in Anatolia (eastern Turkey) and Put in North Africa (part of Libya? - the Babylonian for Libya is puta, and see Nahum 3:9), from Arvad to the north (see above) and from Gamad, possibly the Kumidi of the Amarna letters between Byblos and Arvad. ‘With your army’ should possibly be repointed as Helech (Cilicia). These all protected Tyre and contributed to her fearsomeness and splendour.


Verse 12

Tyre’s Trading Contacts and Colonies.

Ezekiel then goes on to describe Tyre’s ‘worldwide’ network of trading contacts in a listing of places and what they traded. It is an extensive list and brings out their remarkable activity. They set up trading colonies in many of these places. They were ‘an empire of the seas’.

“Tarshish was your co-merchant by reason of your great wealth of all kinds,

Silver, iron, tin and lead they exchanged for your wares.”

Tarshish bordered on the sea (Jonah 1:3; Jonah 4:2) and was rich in metals. It was probably a land in the Western Mediterranean, and many have identified it with Tartessus in Spain. The mineral wealth of Spain attracted the Tyrians who founded colonies there. Monumental inscriptions in Sardinia, erected by the Phoenicians in 9th century BC, also bear the name Tarshish, so that some identify it with the ancient city of Nora in Sardinia.


Verse 13

“Javan, Tubal and Meshech, they traded with you,

They exchanged the persons of men and vessels of bronze for your merchandise.”

Javan (compare Isaiah 66:19) originally indicated the Ionians (Assyrian Iamanu), but came to refer to the Grecian empire as a whole (Daniel 8:20; Daniel 10:20; Daniel 11:2). The three names mentioned are fairly closely connected, especially the last two (Genesis 10:2; 1 Chronicles 1:5; Isaiah 66:19). Tubal and Meshech (Ezekiel 32:26; Ezekiel 38:2-3; Ezekiel 39:1) were a warlike people, named in Assyrian inscriptions as Tabal and Musku. They probably came from south east of the Black Sea, establishing themselves in Anatolia. They traded in slaves and bronze. (Any connection with Moscow and Tobolsk is extremely tenuous).


Verse 14

“They of Beth-Togarmah traded for your wares,

With horses and warhorses and mules.”

Beth-Togarmah (Ezekiel 38:6) is connected with the Anatolian/Armenian region. It is possibly the Tegarama of old Assyrian and Hittite texts, the Til-garimmu in the annals of Sargon and Sennacherib, the capital of Kammanu on the border of Tabal.


Verse 15

“The men of Dedan (LXX and some MSS have Rhodes, very similar in Hebrew, and see Ezekiel 27:20) traded with you, many coastlands were your markets (‘the market of your hand’),

They brought you in payment ivory tusks and ebony.”

The placing here among northern nations may suggest that we should read the island of Rhodes which was in an important position on the sea trade routes. In Ezekiel 27:20 Dedan is rightly placed in Arabia. In Hebrew r and d are easily confused, being almost identical. The Hebrew texts used by LXX may well have read an r. Or there may have been a Dedan in that area.


Verses 16-18

“Syria (Aram) was your merchant by reason of your plentiful handyworks,

They traded for your wares with emeralds, purple and embroidered work, and fine linen and coral and rubies.

Judah and the land of Israel, they were traders with you,

They traded for your merchandise, wheat of minnith, and pannag, and honey, and oil, and balm.

Damascus was your merchant by reason of your plentiful handyworks,

By reason of the plentifulness of all kinds of riches, with the wine of Helbon and white wool.”

Having covered places to the west and north we now come to those east of Tyre. The mention of Damascus separately from Syria accentuates the deliberate absence of Jerusalem, which is no more. It would normally be mentioned spearately. Possibly Damascus was to be seen as partly taking Jerusalem’s place tradewise. Note how its own riches are emphasised. It was rich at the expense of Jerusalem.

‘Wheat of minnith, and pannag.’ We do not know what these specifically were but pannag may have been a kind of confection. Minnith was a place in Ammon (Judges 11:33) and possibly Judah/Israel handled their wheat trade.

‘Helbon’ (fat, fruitful). Clearly famous for its wines. Probably Khalbun, twenty five kilometres north of Damascus.


Verse 19

“Vedan and Javan traded with yarn for your wares,

Wrought iron, cassia and calamus were among your merchandise.”

Vedan and this Javan are both unknown. The latter may have been a Greek conclave in Arabia. They would appear in context to lie between Syria/Israel and Arabia.

However alternative renderings have been suggested. ‘we dan’ could be read as ‘and casks’ (we danne) and ‘we jawan me’uzal’ as ‘and wine (jayin) from Uzal (or Izalla)’, thus continuing the theme of wine from Damascus. Uzal may be connected with modern Sana, the capital of Yemen.

However, cassia was a fragrant aromatic substance used in the anointing oil of Exodus 30:23-24, as was calamus, or ‘sweet cane’ (compare Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20). In Jeremiah the latter is connected with Arabia which favours reading ‘Vedan and Javan’ as places in Arabia.


Verses 20-22

“Dedan was your trader in saddlecloths for riding,

Arabia and all the princes of Kedar, they were your merchants (the merchants of your hand - compare Ezekiel 27:15),

In lambs and rams and goats, in these were they your suppliers.

The traders of Sheba and Raamah, they were your dealers,

They traded for your wares with the best of all spices, and with all precious stones and gold.”

The various cities of Arabia are now mentioned, well known for their trading caravans. Tyre dealt with them all. Every known luxury passed through her hands.


Verse 23-24

“Haran and Canneh and Eden, the traders of Sheba, Asshur and Chilmad were your traders,

These were your traders in choice wares, in wrappings of blue and embroidered work, and in chests of rich apparel (or ‘coloured carpets’), bound with cords and made of cedar, among your merchandise.

The list ends with a miscellany of places and products. It could have gone on and on. Haran was on the main route from Nineveh to Aleppo, and after the fall of Nineveh became the capital of Assyria until taken by the Babylonians. Canneh was in Mesopotamia, probably in the area of the middle Euphrates. Eden may be connected with Beth-Eden - see Amos 1:5 - and Bene-Eden, ‘sons of Eden’ - 2 Kings 19:12; Isaiah 37:12, which were probably the Aramean state of Bit-Adini, south of Haran. Or it may be related to Hindanu (‘Iddan) on the middle Euphrates. Sheba was in eastern Arabia, but ‘the traders of Sheba’ may hint at a well known trading station in Mesopotamia. Asshur (Assyria) was in Mesopotamia, and Chilmad unknown. They exchanged garments, carpets, and finely crafted clothing materials.


Verse 25

The Shipwreck.

The ship of Tyre is depicted as setting out fully loaded, only to meet a strong east wind and be sunk, with all her merchandise, her crew, her traders, and her guards, with the result that those ashore bewail her passing.

“The ships of Tarshish were your caravans for your merchandise.”

Instead of camels, the ‘ships of the desert’, Tyre used seagoing ships for carrying their merchandise. It has been suggested that the name ‘ships of Tarshish’ refers to a type of refinery ship, or an ore-carrier, but it more probably refers to large long distance vessels which could go even as far as Tarshish.


Verses 25-27

“So you were loaded (replenished) and heavily laden (made very glorious), in the heart of the seas.

Your rowers have brought you out, into great waters,

The east wind has broken you up, in the heart of the seas.

Your riches and your wares, your merchandise,

Your mariners and your rope-pullers,

Your caulkers and your dealers in merchandise,

And all your men of war who are in you,

With all your company, who are in your midst,

Sink into the heart of the seas, on the day of your ruin.”

The ship that set out so well equipped, and heavily laden with its goods, had proudly pulled out into deep waters. Then the east wind arose, tore at the mast and the sail and broke up the ship, while the waves pounded against them. And everything went to the bottom, their wealth and their wares, all their merchandise, their crew and their tradesmen, and all their military guard, the whole ship’s company.

Note the stress on the loss of what they lived for, first their merchandise. That was the pride and joy of Tyre. And then the ship’s company. So would Tyre be destroyed by the wind of God, the armies of Nebuchadnezzar.


Verses 28-32

“At the sound of the cry of your rope-pullers, the countryside will shake,

And all that handle the oar, the mariners, all the rope-pullers of the sea,

Will come down from their ships, they will stand on the land,

And will cause their voice to be heard over you, and will cry bitterly,

And will cast up dust on their heads, they will wallow themselves in ashes,

And they will make themselves bald for you, and clothe themselves with sackcloth,

And they will weep for you in bitterness of soul, with bitter mourning.

And in their wailing, they will raise up a lamentation for you,

And lament over you, ‘Who is like Tyre?

Like her who is brought to silence, in the midst of the sea?’ ”

In awareness of their distress the other ships’ crews will gather on the shore, and they will cry out and weep bitterly and mourn over their passing. The dust and ashes, the baldness and sackcloth, are all signs of distress. And she who ruled the waves will find herself destroyed by the waves. She had said, ‘I am perfect in beauty’, but now the cry is, ‘Who is like Tyre, who has come to nothing in the midst of her kingdom the sea?’ How were the mighty fallen. Thus will Yahweh do to proud and greedy Tyre. She will lose everything.


Verse 33-34

“When your wares went forth from the seas, you satisfied many peoples,

You enriched the kings of the earth, with your abundant wealth and your merchandise,

At the time that you were broken by the seas, in the depths of the waters,

Your merchandise and all your company, sank in the midst of you.”

Now the poem contrasts what they accomplished with what they have come to. They went out over the seas and satisfied the world with their merchandise and their trading riches, but now they have been broken up by those seas, and all their wealth is engulfed by the sea, along with their ship’s company. Triumph has turned into disaster because she exalted herself, and challenged Yahweh.


Verse 35-36

“All the inhabitants of the coastlands, are appalled at you,

And their kings are horribly afraid, their countenance is troubled,

The merchants among the people hiss at you, you have become terrors ( a dreadful warning to men),

And you will be no more for ever.”

Their doom will shake the world. They will be for ever a dreadful warning to men and from it there is no escape. They will be a byword forever. The hissing of the merchants indicates not contempt but appalled awareness.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 27:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-27.html. 2013.

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