Ezekiel 27 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Ezekiel 27
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

This chapter has been very well called “The Dirge of Tyre.” It is a lamentation over its fall, not because the prophet could wish it to be otherwise, but simply because of the terror and sorrowfulness of the event itself. It is unique among Scripture representations in the fulness of detail with which the greatness of Tyre is described; but this is quite in accordance with the peculiarity of Ezekiel’s mind. The description is carried out under the figure of a well-built ship, thoroughly manned and equipped, sailing everywhere, engaged in lucrative commerce; but at last, brought into rough seas and storm, she is wrecked, and sinks. This prolonged figure is generally well sustained, although, after the manner of this prophet, the reality is occasionally allowed to break through for the sake of clearness and emphasis.

The whole lamentation so much explains itself that it will only be necessary to subjoin brief notes on passages that, in our version especially, are not altogether clear.

The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying,
Now, thou son of man, take up a lamentation for Tyrus;
And say unto Tyrus, O thou that art situate at the entry of the sea, which art a merchant of the people for many isles, Thus saith the Lord GOD; O Tyrus, thou hast said, I am of perfect beauty.
(3) At the entry of the sea.—The word for “entry” in the original is plural, and means the approaches to the sea, or harbours. Tyre had two of these, both remarkably good: the “Egyptian,” facing the south, and the “Sidonian,” facing the north, the latter having also an outer harbour or roadstead, formed by a ledge off the north-west extremity of the island. The former is now completely, and the latter nearly, filled up with sand and ruins.

Thy borders are in the midst of the seas, thy builders have perfected thy beauty.
They have made all thy ship boards of fir trees of Senir: they have taken cedars from Lebanon to make masts for thee.
(5) Ship boards.—Planking for the sides of the ship. The word in the original is in the dual, with reference to its two sides. Senir was the Amorite name of Hermon, or Antilebanon, called by the Sido-nians Sirion (Deuteronomy 3:9). Ezekiel wished to use a foreign name, and the latter may at this time have become obsolete. The timber brought thence for the ship’s planking, and called fir, was the same with that furnished by Hiram to Solomon for the floor of the Temple (1 Kings 6:15), and may have been either “fir” (spruce?) or cypress. The Scripture names of trees are not always well identified. Both were esteemed among the ancients for ship-building, especially the cypress, on account of its lightness, durability, and freedom from the attacks of worms.

Of the oaks of Bashan have they made thine oars; the company of the Ashurites have made thy benches of ivory, brought out of the isles of Chittim.
(6) The company of the Ashurites have made thy benches of ivory.—The literal rendering of this clause (with two words of doubtful meaning left blank) is, they made thy . . . of tooth (ivory), daughter of . . . The sense will depend upon the filling up of these blanks. For the first there need be no difficulty. The word is used in Exodus 26:16 of the boards of the tabernacle, and here it is undoubtedly used of some planking about the ship; but it is in the singular number. It is hardly likely, therefore, to mean “benches” (i.e., seats for the oarsmen), since there were usually two or three tiers of these on each side of the ship. It is now generally taken collectively of the planking of the deck. If the Hebrew text, as it stands, is quite correct, we must read the other word “daughter of Ashurites,” for there is no authority for rendering “daughter” by company. It is difficult or impossible to make any intelligible sense of this; but if the two Hebrew words now written separately be joined together, we shall have “in box-wood,” the word being the same as in Isaiah 60:13. There will still be a little doubt, as there is so often in Scripture, as to the exact wood intended, whether box-wood or the sherbin-cedar; but the general sense is plain—“ they have made thy deck of ivory, inlaid in box-wood.”

Isles of Chittim.—Chittim is the Old Testament name for Cyprus, and hence “isles of Chittim” (as in Jeremiah 2:10) stands for the islands and coasts whose fleets, in coming to the East, made their rendezvous at Cyprus. Thither were brought both the ivory from the African coast and the precious woods from various quarters.

Fine linen with broidered work from Egypt was that which thou spreadest forth to be thy sail; blue and purple from the isles of Elishah was that which covered thee.
(7) Fine linen with broidered work.—To a modern sailor “fine linen “may seem both an extravagant and an insufficient material for a ship’s sails, but the State ships of antiquity were often fitted out in this way, and the sails embroidered in colours in place of a pennon. The clause literally is, Linen with embroidery from Egypt was for thy spreading out (sail), to be to thee for a sign.

Isles of Elishah.—In Genesis 10:4, 1 Chronicles 1:7, Elishah is mentioned among the sons of Javan, or Ionia. The regions here referred to are the coasts of Asia Minor, where an abundant supply of the murex (from which came the famous purple dye) was obtained, when the quantity on the Tyrian coast was insufficient for its manufactures. “That which covered thee” is the awning spread over the ship’s deck.

The inhabitants of Zidon and Arvad were thy mariners: thy wise men, O Tyrus, that were in thee, were thy pilots.
(8) Arvad.—The description now turns to the sailors. The Arvadite is mentioned among the family of Canaan in Genesis 10:18, and corresponds to the Greek Aradus. There were two islands of this name: one in the Persian Gulf, the other (the one here intended) a rocky island north of the coast of Tripoli, on which a city was built like Tyre. The Phœnician cities of Zidon and Arvad furnished the oarsmen, but Tyre itself the superior captains and pilots.

The ancients of Gebal and the wise men thereof were in thee thy calkers: all the ships of the sea with their mariners were in thee to occupy thy merchandise.
(9) The ancients of Gebal.—“The ancients” is a thoroughly Semitic expression for the prominent men of a city. Gebal, the ancient Byblos, the modern Gébeil, and the Gu-ba-lu of the Assyrian inscriptions, was a famous Phœnician town just north of Beirût. Its site is still rich in ruins. Its people were famous builders, and according to the margin of 1 Kings 5:18 (so also the Septuagint and Vulgate) were employed by Solomon on the work of the Temple. The representation is that the whole widely-dispersed Phœnician race were tributary to the works of Tyre. At this point the figure of the ship gives place for a time to plain language, the better to set forth the military resources and power of this great city.

They of Persia and of Lud and of Phut were in thine army, thy men of war: they hanged the shield and helmet in thee; they set forth thy comeliness.
(10) Of Persia and of Lud and of Phut.—Tyre, like most commercial nations, depended chiefly on mercenaries for the rank and file of its army. Persia, more anciently called Elam, was just now rising into prominence. Its soldiers were probably obtained by the Tyrians from their commerce in the Persian Gulf. Lud is not the one mentioned among the children of Shem (Genesis 10:22), but the Ludim (Lydians) of Hamite family, descended from Mizraim (Genesis 10:13). Phut was also an African tribe (Genesis 10:6). Both are repeatedly mentioned on the Egyptian monuments as furnishing mercenaries to the army.

The men of Arvad with thine army were upon thy walls round about, and the Gammadims were in thy towers: they hanged their shields upon thy walls round about; they have made thy beauty perfect.
(11) The Gammadims were in thy towers.—No people of this name is known, and it is extremely unlikely that the responsible posts upon the watch-towers would have been entrusted to foreigners. The word occurs only here, and is probably not a proper name, but should be translated brave men.

Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kind of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded in thy fairs.
(12) Traded in thy fairs.—Tarshish, Tartessus in Spain, was famous in antiquity for the metals enumerated, especially silver. The word for “fairs” occurs only in this chapter (Ezekiel 27:14; Ezekiel 27:16; Ezekiel 27:19; Ezekiel 27:22; Ezekiel 27:33). In the last case it is translated wares, as it should be throughout. The idea of the word is “something left with another in place of something else given in exchange,” in accordance with the habits of ancient commerce, which consisted chiefly in barter. Translate the clause, exchanged for thy wares.

Ezekiel 27:12-23 give a general survey of the nations with whom the Tyrians were connected in commerce, omitting those already mentioned in the previous section. To avoid monotony, the prophet also constantly alternates in the use of synonymous words.

Javan, Tubal, and Meshech, they were thy merchants: they traded the persons of men and vessels of brass in thy market.
(13) Javan, Tubal, and Meshech.—Javan is strictly Ionia, more generally Greece. Tubal and Meshech are the classic Tibareni and Moschi, between the Black and Caspian Seas. They were famous for dealing in slaves and in brass, or rather copper, of which their mountains still contain abundant supplies.

They of the house of Togarmah traded in thy fairs with horses and horsemen and mules.
(14) Togarmah.—A name for the Armenians, a race of Japhetic descent (Genesis 10:3). They dealt from most ancient times in horses and asses.

The men of Dedan were thy merchants; many isles were the merchandise of thine hand: they brought thee for a present horns of ivory and ebony.
(15) Dedan.—This Dedan is a descendant of Ham through Cush (Genesis 10:7). The tribe was located in Arabia, probably upon the shores of the Persian Gulf (Isaiah 21:13). The Dedan of Ezekiel 27:20, on the other hand, is a Semitic tribe, spoken of also in Ezekiel 25:13; Jeremiah 49:8. The “many isles” of this Dedan were the islands in the Persian Gulf, on the Arabian coast, and they were “merchandise” in the sense of supplying material for the commerce of Tyre. “Brought thee for a present” might seem to imply tribute, but the original rather conveys the idea of return payment. “Horns of ivory” is, literally, horns of teeth; the name “horn” being simply a commercial term derived from the shape of the elephant’s tusk. “Ebony” is a word used only here. It was brought both from India and Ethiopia, the wood from the latter being preferred.

Syria was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of the wares of thy making: they occupied in thy fairs with emeralds, purple, and broidered work, and fine linen, and coral, and agate.
(16) Emeralds.—The precious stone intended here, and in Exodus 28:18, is now generally understood to be the carbuncle. The word for “fine linen” is not that of Ezekiel 27:7, but a Phœnician word, occurring only in the books written in the time of the captivity. It is thought to mean cotton, for the woven fabrics of which Babylon was famous. Agate (marg., chrysoprase) is probably the ruby, or certainly some stone of brilliancy (Isaiah 54:12)

Judah, and the land of Israel, they were thy merchants: they traded in thy market wheat of Minnith, and Pannag, and honey, and oil, and balm.
(17) Minnith, and Pannag.—Minnith was in Ammon (Judges 11:33), rich in wheat (2 Chronicles 27:5), and the Tyrians obtained its products through the Israelites. Pannag is unknown; it is even uncertain whether it is a proper name at all, or some sweet confection, as grape syrup.

Damascus was thy merchant in the multitude of the wares of thy making, for the multitude of all riches; in the wine of Helbon, and white wool.
(18) Wine of Helbon.—Helbon is identified with a village of the same name, three and a half hours north of Damascus, rich in ruins, and still devoted to the culture of the vine, from which the costliest wine of the country was made. It was probably the same with the wine of Chalybon, so much prized in Persia.

Dan also and Javan going to and fro occupied in thy fairs: bright iron, cassia, and calamus, were in thy market.
(19) Dan also and Javan.—This is the only instance in this enumeration in which the name of a people is introduced with a conjunction. Besides this structural difficulty, there seems no appropriateness in the name Dan, a tribe of Israel long since carried into captivity. The city Dan was of quite too little prominence to be mentioned here. It is probable, therefore, that what our translators have taken for the conjunction is really a part of the name Vedan, a place in Arabia not elsewhere mentioned, but which some suppose to be Aden. Javan does not here stand for Greece, but for an Arabian place or tribe, which there is reason to think is Yemen.

Going to and fro.—The margin is better, Menzal, or rather—the first letter being a preposition—front Uzal, the ancient Sanaa, afterwards the capital of Yemen. Yemen was famous for its sword-blades, which may be meant by the bright (literally, wrought) iron, and also for its spices brought from India.

Dedan was thy merchant in precious clothes for chariots.
(20) Dedan.—See note on Ezekiel 27:15. “Precious clothes,” literally, clothes of spreading, by which saddlecloths are probably meant.

Arabia, and all the princes of Kedar, they occupied with thee in lambs, and rams, and goats: in these were they thy merchants.
(21) Arabia . . . Kedar.—Arabia is never used in the Old Testament for the whole of the country now called by that name, but only for the desert part of it occupied by nomadic tribes. Kedar is the name of a nomadic pastoral race descended from Ishmael (Genesis 25:13; comp. Isaiah 60:7).

The merchants of Sheba and Raamah, they were thy merchants: they occupied in thy fairs with chief of all spices, and with all precious stones, and gold.
(22) Sheba and Raamah were both Hamites, descended from Cush (Genesis 10:7). They occupied that part of Arabia in the south-east which lies on the Bay of Oman, in the Persian Gulf, and were famous in antiquity for the products mentioned in the text, and which, with the exception of gold, are still found there.

Haran, and Canneh, and Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad, were thy merchants.
(23) Haran, and Canneh, and Eden.—The description now turns from Arabia to the Tyrian trade with Mesopotamia. Haran, important in the story of Abraham (Genesis 11:31-32; Genesis 12:4), the Charræ of the Romans, was in north-western Mesopotamia, at the junction of two great caravan routes, the one along the Tigris, the other along the Euphrates. Canneh, a contraction for the Calneh of Genesis 10:10, was the most important commercial city on the former, and was later known as Ctesiphon. Eden was an unknown town on the Euphrates (2 Kings 19:12; Isaiah 37:12), and is to be distinguished from the Syrian Eden.

Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad.—Sheba is still the same Sheba before mentioned; for Pliny (Hist. Nat., xii. 40) says that the Sabœans brought their goods from the spice country to Carrhæ, where they held markets, and went thence to Syria and Phœnicia. They were, therefore, traders between Mesopotamia and Phœnicia. Asshur is here not the country of Assyria, but the commercial city Sura (modern Essurieh), on the banks of the Euphrates, above Thapsacus. Chilmad is supposed to be the Charmande of Xenophon (Anab., i. 5, 10), “a great city beyond the Euphrates, in the neighbourhood of the desert.” Others identify it with Kalwada, near Bagdad. It is mentioned only here.

These were thy merchants in all sorts of things, in blue clothes, and broidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords, and made of cedar, among thy merchandise.
(24) All sorts of things.—The margin, excellent things, is better. The word means “that which is perfect.” In Ezekiel 23:12 it is “most gorgeously,” and in Ezekiel 38:4, as here, “all sorts.” In all “excellent” or “excellently” is the true sense. “Clothes”—literally, foldings—refers to the purple embroidered cloaks for which Babylonia was famous.

Chests of rich apparel.—Rather, treasures of twisted yarn; and for “made of cedar” read strong. An extensive trade in yarns was kept up from Babylonia to Tyre, where they were dyed and woven, or sold for weaving.

The ships of Tarshish did sing of thee in thy market: and thou wast replenished, and made very glorious in the midst of the seas.
(25) Ships of Tarshish means simply, ships of the largest size, such as were fitted for the voyage to Tarshish: as we now say, “East Indiaman.” (Comp. 1 Kings 22:48; Psalm 48:7.) “Did sing of thee in thy market” is, literally, thy—, thy trade, the blank being an uncertain word, supposed by our translators to mean singers. Opinion is now divided as to whether the meaning is bulwarks or caravans; either gives a good sense. “Thy great ships were at once thy defence and the means of thy commerce,” or “were thy caravans of the sea, &c.” The former is preferable.

Thy rowers have brought thee into great waters: the east wind hath broken thee in the midst of the seas.
(26) Thy rowers.—As the chief means of propelling vessels when the art of sailing was imperfectly understood. The figure of the ship is here resumed. “The east wind” is powerful, gusty, and dangerous in the Levant. (Comp. Psalm 48:7 : “Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.”)

Thy riches, and thy fairs, thy merchandise, thy mariners, and thy pilots, thy calkers, and the occupiers of thy merchandise, and all thy men of war, that are in thee, and in all thy company which is in the midst of thee, shall fall into the midst of the seas in the day of thy ruin.
(27) And in all.—Better, as in the margin, with all. The thought is that all that went to make up the strength and the glory of Tyre perished in one great catastrophe. Many classes are enumerated, and the statement is made general by adding “with all thy company.” All are represented as going down together with the ship. (Comp. Ezekiel 27:34.)

The suburbs shall shake at the sound of the cry of thy pilots.
(28) Suburbs.—This word means an open place around a building or city. There was no land around Tyre, and it is here used, therefore, in a general sense—all thy surroundings.

And all that handle the oar, the mariners, and all the pilots of the sea, shall come down from their ships, they shall stand upon the land;
(29) Shall come down from their ships.—The colonies and dependencies of Tyre are, in keeping with the figure, the smaller craft which escape to the shore, and there lament the fall of their mistress.

And shall cause their voice to be heard against thee, and shall cry bitterly, and shall cast up dust upon their heads, they shall wallow themselves in the ashes:
(30) Against thee.—Rather, over thee. The commercial nations were not inimical to Tyre, but rather caused their wail for her to be heard over the seas where she had been engulphed. The usual signs of mourning are poetically attributed to them (Ezekiel 27:30-31), and then a dirge is put in their mouths (Ezekiel 27:32-34).

And they shall make themselves utterly bald for thee, and gird them with sackcloth, and they shall weep for thee with bitterness of heart and bitter wailing.
And in their wailing they shall take up a lamentation for thee, and lament over thee, saying, What city is like Tyrus, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea?
When thy wares went forth out of the seas, thou filledst many people; thou didst enrich the kings of the earth with the multitude of thy riches and of thy merchandise.
In the time when thou shalt be broken by the seas in the depths of the waters thy merchandise and all thy company in the midst of thee shall fall.
All the inhabitants of the isles shall be astonished at thee, and their kings shall be sore afraid, they shall be troubled in their countenance.
The merchants among the people shall hiss at thee; thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt be any more.
(36) Shall hiss at thee.—In Ezekiel 27:35 the prophet again drops the figure of the ship, and looking forward (as in Ezekiel 26:4-6; Ezekiel 26:12-14) to the end, speaks of the final and utter overthrow which shall come upon Tyre. The word hiss is used, as in Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 7:18; Zechariah 10:8, &c., in the sense of calling for. The prophet tells us that the people who have had commercial connection with Tyre shall call for her in vain; she shall be (not a terror, but, as in Ezekiel 26:21) a sudden destruction, and shall not be for ever.

Courtesy of Open Bible