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The Phoenicians

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The Phoenicians were a loose federation of coastal city-states at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea that included Sidon (the oldest, and the name the Bible sometimes uses to refer to all the Phoenician people), Tyre (the most powerful and leading city-state), Akko, Byblos, Ugarit, and Berytus (now called Beirut). Their federation was arguably as much commercial as political. Together they formed the greatest maritime commercial empire the world had ever seen—from about 1200 to 600 BC. Their trade colonies included nearly every port city of the Mediterranean, plus colonies as far away as Spain and Britain and down the Atlantic coast of Africa. According to George Rawlinson, there was hardly a place in the Mediterranean-Atlantic world that they had not at least visited and probably traded with.11

The main Phoenician subject of Bible prophecy is the city-state of Tyre. There is some prophecy about Sidon as well, but we will focus mostly on those predictions concerning Tyre.


Prophecy—The beginning verses of Ezekiel 26 foretell of some of Nebuchadnezzar exploits, which have all been fulfilled. However, some might question whether these prophecies were actually made before their historic fulfillments. Thus, we will skip these earlier verses and go right to the long-term predictions, which begin in verse 12: “ ‘And they shall plunder your riches and make a pillage of your merchandise. And they shall break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses. And they shall lay your stones and your timber and your dust in the midst of the waters. And I will cause the noise of your songs to cease; and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. And I will make you like a bare rock. You shall be a place to spread nets on: you shall be built no more: for I the LORD have spoken,’ says the Lord GOD” (Ezek. 26:12-14).

Fulfillment—For well over two centuries after Nebuchadnezzar had conquered and destroyed the mainland part of Tyre, the inhabitants continued to occupy an island off the coast—which they fortified, and from which they continued their maritime dominance of the seas virtually unabated. It seemed during that time that Ezekiel’s prophecy was going to remain only partially fulfilled. “So far the prophecy had been fulfilled, but only so far. Tyre was overthrown and spoiled; the noise of her songs had ceased; the sound of her harps was no more heard (verse 13); the great and joyous city was abased and desolate. But the ruins still stood. The words which declared that the stones and timber should be cast into the sea, and [that] the very dust should be scraped from the city’s site, had not been fulfilled; and it seemed most improbable that they ever would be.”12

The next stage of fulfillment of God’s prophecy through Ezekiel waited over two centuries for the legendary “conqueror of the known world,” Alexander the Great. When the inhabitants of the island city of Tyre refused to surrender to him, Alexander mounted a successful assault and conquered it—initiating a new phase in the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy.

In his book Phoenicia, historian George Rawlinson gives a 24-page detailed account of the back-and-forth successes and failures of both Alexander’s forces and the defenders of Tyre during his seven-month siege of the city in 332 BC. The following excerpts are relevant to our discussion:

“Alexander now took his resolution … [in which] he resolved on the construction of a solid mole—two hundred feet wide—across the strait, from the mainland to the islet, whereby he should actually join it to the continent, and so be able to bring his engines to its walls, and to press the siege in the usual way. Having requisitioned the services of thousands of labourers, he began the work where it was easiest, in the shallow water near the shore. Here piles were driven into the soft mud which formed the sea bottom at this point, and stone, rubbish, boughs of trees, and whatever material came to hand was precipitated into the water, from the shore and from boats, to fill up the intervals between the piles, and make a solid structure. The work was, comparatively speaking, easy at first, for the water was shallow, the shore at hand, and the Phoenician ships unable to approach near enough to do the labourers employed much harm. There was a plentiful supply of materials in the near vicinity, for [the ruins of the mainland city of Tyre] … and the crumbling houses and walls were easily pulled down and the stones conveyed to the edge of the mole as it advanced…. The fate of Tyre was now certain…. Alexander’s workmen … rapidly completed the mole, and brought it up to the walls of the town. Its towers were advanced close to the walls, and were armed with more formidable and more numerous engines. Other engines … [were used] against the walls north and south of the mole, while the main attack was delivered from the mole itself. Every device for assault and defense known in ancient warfare was brought into play on both sides…. Alexander, after one or two failures, organized a general assault, from which he anticipated success, and which succeeded…. He then quitted the city, which was half-burnt, half ruined, and almost wholly without inhabitants, content, as it would seem, with his work….”13

The excerpt presented here may imply an easy conquest for Alexander’s army, but Rawlinson’s account reveals that it was an arduous and complex event. There were subsequent invasions, with the final conquest coming in 912 AD. From that time the site fulfilled the words “like the top of a rock” (Ezek. 26:4). Those visiting the site to this day still find it so. Current photos and documentary footage show fishermen spreading their nets upon the otherwise bare site.


Prophecy—While the complete and permanent destruction of Tyre was prophesied, the sister city of Sidon was not to be destroyed. Ezekiel, in chapter 28, quotes God this way: “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am against you, O Sidon, and I will be glorified in your midst…. For I will send a plague into her, and blood into her streets. And the wounded shall fall in her midst by the sword upon her on every side. And they shall know that I am the LORD ” (verses 22-23).

Fulfillment—“No doom of extinction is pronounced against her. She is to be spared, but she is to suffer. One or two facts from her long history will show how the words have been fulfilled. Under the Persian dominion, when Tyre was deserted, Sidon was still great and populous. It rebelled under Artaxerxes Ochus, and, after a successful resistance, was betrayed to the enemy. When all hope of saving their city was gone, 40,000 citizens chose to die rather than submit to Persian vengeance. They shut themselves up with their wives and children, set fire to their dwellings, and perished amid the flames. The ashes of the city were sold for an immense sum. It was soon rebuilt by the citizens who were absent at the time of the siege; but the doom of suffering still rested on it.

“During the Crusades it was taken several times and sacked. It was firmly retaken by Bibars, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, in 1290. But, in every commotion which has troubled that unhappy land, Sidon has had her share. It has been the scene of struggles between the Druses and the Turks, and again between the Turks and the French. So late as 1840, when Ibrahim Pasha was driven out of Syria, it was bombarded by the combined fleets of England, Austria, and Turkey, and captured by Admiral Napier, when again blood was sent into her streets, and her wounded fell in the midst of her.”14

Again, we must ask: Could the two quite different prophecies for the respective “sister” cities of Tyre and Sidon “just happen” to have been fulfilled down through the centuries? Isn’t it more likely that their respective fates have been the result of divine intervention—that what was foretold in the Scriptures was actually brought to pass by an all-powerful God?