When Men Play God

9 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Tyre,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they delivered up a whole people to Edom,
    and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.
10 So I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre,
    and it shall devour her strongholds.” Amos 1:9-10 ESV

From Philistia in the south, Amos now moves up the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, focusing the reader’s attention on the Phoenician city of Tyre. Tyre was an ancient coastal community that had been in existence long before the descendants of Abraham entered the land of Canaan. Due to their location along the Mediterranean coast, Tyre and its sister city of Sidon became commercial hubs for international trade. Tyre became wealthy and world-renowned for its purple dye. The prophet Isaiah referred to Tyre as “the fortress of the sea” (Isaiah23:4 NLT), most likely because of its impenetrable fortress perched atop the rocky coastline. While Phoenicia was a relatively small state within the region, it had tremendous influence over the lives of its inhabitants and the other nations around it. Isaiah goes to describe Tyre as “that great creator of kingdoms,” and he alludes to her significant financial influence by stating, “Her traders were all princes, her merchants were nobles” (Isaiah 23:8 NLT).

When the Israelites had entered the land of Canaan, God had awarded the tribe of Asher with the region of Phoenicia as part of its inheritance. But the book of Judges indicates that they failed to fully conquer or occupy the coastal communities, including the cities of Tyre and Sidon. When David ascended to the throne of Israel, he formed an alliance with Hiram king of Tyre, negotiating a trade agreement that brought “cedar timber and carpenters and stonemasons” (2 Samuel 5:11 NLT) to Jerusalem for the construction of his royal palace. When David’s son, Solomon, became king, he continued this symbiotic relationship, utilizing the shipping and trading capacities of his northern neighbor to access building materials for his many construction projects, including the temple.

At the end of twenty years, in which Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the Lord and the king’s house, and Hiram king of Tyre had supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress timber and gold, as much as he desired, King Solomon gave to Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee. – 1 Kings 9:10-11 ESV

Israel’s congenial relationship with Phoenicia continued, even after the split of the kingdom after the reign of Solomon. But it took a marked turn for the worse when Ahab become king of the northern tribe of Israel.

But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. And as though it were not enough to follow the sinful example of Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and he began to bow down in worship of Baal. First Ahab built a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him. – 1 Kings 16:30-33 NLT

Like all the other nations that occupied the land of Canaan, the Phoenicians were pagan idolaters. And when King Ahab married Jezebel, he violated the expressed command of God that prohibited intermarriage with the nations living in the land of Canaan.

Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 7:2-6 NLT

And Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel would end up proving the truth behind God’s warning. She would have a strong and devastating influence over the spiritual direction of the nation.

But besides their love affair with false gods, it seems that the Phoenicians had another pressing problem: The pride and arrogance that stemmed from their great wealth and influence. And the prophet Ezekiel delivered a stinging indictment from God against the pride-filled king of Tyre.

“Son of man, give the prince of Tyre this message from the Sovereign Lord:

“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
    I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’
But you are only a man and not a god,
    though you boast that you are a god.
You regard yourself as wiser than Daniel
    and think no secret is hidden from you.
With your wisdom and understanding you have amassed great wealth—
    gold and silver for your treasuries.
Yes, your wisdom has made you very rich,
    and your riches have made you very proud.

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
Because you think you are as wise as a god,
    I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!
They will bring you down to the pit,
    and you will die in the heart of the sea,
    pierced with many wounds.
Will you then boast, ‘I am a god!’
    to those who kill you?
To them you will be no god
    but merely a man!
You will die like an outcast
    at the hands of foreigners.
    I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 28:2-10 NLT

According to Amos, the city of Tyre and, by extension, the nation of Phoenicia, was guilty of unfaithfulness. They had broken their covenantal relationship with the people of Israel.

They broke their treaty of brotherhood with Israel…” – Amos 1:9 NLT

Ever since the days of David and Solomon, the Phoenicians and Israelites had enjoyed a close and mutually beneficial relationship. But it would appear that the Phoenicians were little more than opportunists. At the end of the day, they were business people who entered into agreements and partnerships with other nations with their eyes focused on the bottom line. They were in it for what they could get out of it. Like all good capitalists, they measured success by looking at the return on their investment.

And it appears that they had found a way to profit from their southern neighbors by capturing and selling some of them as slaves to the Edomites. So, they were guilty of the same sin as the Philistines.

The Phoenicians were more interested in amassing wealth than in keeping their word. And they had found a way to take advantage of their peace agreements with Israel, surreptitiously selling out their partners to the highest bidder. And they thought they could get away with it. But God warned the king of Tyre, “you are only a man and not a god, though you boast that you are a god” (Ezekiel 28:2 NLT).

Yes, the king of Tyre had grown incredibly wealthy. And God acknowledges that “your wisdom has made you very rich” (Ezekiel 28:5 NLT). But God also warns that the king’s great wisdom and wealth did not make him a god. He could not do as he wished with the lives of God’s people.

It’s interesting to note that Jezebel made a marriage covenant with Ahab, the king of Israel. In essence, she married into the family of God. But she wanted nothing to do with the God of Israel. Instead, she promoted the worship of her false gods. And at one point she ordered the deaths of the prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:13). But this prideful Phoenician princess would pay dearly for her sins. The book of 2 Kings describes her ignominious end.

When Jezebel, the queen mother, heard that Jehu had come to Jezreel, she painted her eyelids and fixed her hair and sat at a window. When Jehu entered the gate of the palace, she shouted at him, “Have you come in peace, you murderer? You’re just like Zimri, who murdered his master!”

Jehu looked up and saw her at the window and shouted, “Who is on my side?” And two or three eunuchs looked out at him. “Throw her down!” Jehu yelled. So they threw her out the window, and her blood spattered against the wall and on the horses. And Jehu trampled her body under his horses’ hooves. – 2 Kings 9:30-33 NLT

And, speaking on behalf of God, the prophet Amos describes an equally violent end to the people of Tyre.

So I will send down fire on the walls of Tyre,
    and all its fortresses will be destroyed. – Amos 1:10 NLT

Years later, long after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, Jerusalem would be invaded and destroyed by the Babylonians. And the opportunistic Phoenicians would take advantage of Judah’s demise. They would see the fall of Jerusalem as a chance to enrich themselves at Judah’s expense. But the prophet Ezekiel would warn them that such selfish behavior would prove costly.

“Son of man, Tyre has rejoiced over the fall of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Ha! She who was the gateway to the rich trade routes to the east has been broken, and I am the heir! Because she has been made desolate, I will become wealthy!’” – Ezekiel 26:2 NLT

The Phoenicians would attempt to profit from the situation, declaring themselves the self-appointed heirs of Judah’s lucrative trading business. But God had other plans in mind for the capitalistic and opportunistic Phoenicians.

Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am your enemy, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the waves of the sea crashing against your shoreline. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and tear down its towers. I will scrape away its soil and make it a bare rock! It will be just a rock in the sea, a place for fishermen to spread their nets, for I have spoken, says the Sovereign Lord. Tyre will become the prey of many nations, and its mainland villages will be destroyed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 26:3-6 NLT

The Phoenicians made a pragmatic and rationalistic decision to violate their covenantal agreements with Israel and Judah. It seemed like the right thing to do. The numbers added up. The cost-benefits analysis made good business sense. But God let them know that their return on investment would have a dramatically different impact on their bottom line.

“They will plunder all your riches and merchandise and break down your walls. They will destroy your lovely homes and dump your stones and timbers and even your dust into the sea. I will stop the music of your songs. No more will the sound of harps be heard among your people. I will make your island a bare rock, a place for fishermen to spread their nets. You will never be rebuilt, for I, the Lord, have spoken. Yes, the Sovereign Lord has spoken!” – Ezekiel 26:12-14 NLT

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The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson