Continuing his condemnation of surrounding nations God takes aim at Tyre (and sister city, Sidon) in these chapters. The interesting point for me is not so much in the text but in comparing what’s promised to what history actually records. Essentially, the promise of Tyre’s utter destruction at the hands of Babylon do not come true, and Tyre survives for another couple of centuries until the time of Alexander the Great. What gives?
The ESV Study Bible recognizes this difficulty and puts forward a few hypotheses (as well as their respective drawbacks), which I will be so kind as to reiterate for you here:
- Perhaps Alexander’s destruction of Tyre fulfills the prophecy (but the prophecy specifically says that Ned will be the agent of Tyre’s destruction).
- Perhaps this is a situation like that of Jonah and Nineveh, and Tyre repented and avoided/delayed divine punishment (but there is no record of this, which is uncharacteristic).
- Perhaps the language in the prophecy was more of a promise than a prediction, a general statement about Tyre’s trajectory (but the language is very specific in the passage, and that kind of vague statement would be unique, to say the least).
- Perhaps there’s a figurative element by which this passage predicts a spiritual destruction but not in a physical sense (but, again, there’s that pesky language about Ned).
- Lastly, and most persuasively, perhaps this prophecy works on a dual time horizon (similar to that of God’s promise to David about the Temple). Nebuchadnezzar immediately fulfills the promise by attacking and defeating Tyre, but Alexander ultimately fulfills it by destroying Tyre completely.
I don’t know the answer. This is the hard game that we play once we agree to certain Biblical passages being figurative rather than literal. I do think that faith carries us through these disconnects because we have no reason to think that our knowledge of either the Word or of human history is accurate or complete.
Luckily, in this case, it’s not a passage that supports key theological doctrine. However, we don’t really want to get into the business of declaring certain passages more important or more inspired than others; we also have a claim of scripural inerrancy to uphold.
Like I said, I don’t have an answer.
(Apparently, this passage is the center of much debate because of this very reason. There are many resources and websites that tackle the issues and theories I mention above. I recommend doing a search for Nebuchadnezzar, Tyre, and Ezekiel 26; keep in mind that not all websites are reputable or dependable. Shocking, I know.)