Ezekiel blog: Purple trilogy part II

Ezekiel 27:  “For what it’s worth”….

Imagine that you grow vegetables and have a produce stand.  You are producing more vegetable stock than you can sell.  What’s more, your gardens are more than slightly vulnerable to the neighbors who like to run their ATV’s through your fields on occassion.  You think you could really make a lot more money than you are pulling in right now because of your abundant produce.  What do you do?

I asked this question to a friend of mine who specializes in business to business consulting.  After a few moments of consideration, he said the strategy mostly likely to be successful was to find a partner to help expand your markets. BINGO!!! It turns out that is exactly what Israel and Judah, and specifically the rulers of Jerusalem had done.

They found a partner, a business partner, in the form of Tyre who we recognize today as the Phoenicians.  There is ample documentation of this business relationship whithin Biblical scripture going all the way back to King David who recieved a shipment of fine wood from Tyre.  Solomon continued the relationship.  We have documentation of Queen Jezebel who was a daughter of Phoenician royalty married to a Prince of Jerusalem.

There is not a lot of detail about the specifics of the Trade Agreement between Jerusalem and Tyre.  Historians make note of the access to Hebrew markets(Note 1 below)  for Tyre’s trade goods as a result of the partnership. This is where Ezekiel steps in (Ezekiel chapter 27) to provide some valuable insight and it is from there that we begin to learn exactly why Ezekiel is mentioning Tyre at all in his writings. It turns out that the situation is more significant that would appear on the surface.  But first, back to our vegetable stand….

I asked my friend, the business to business consultant, how would one go about finding a partner and establishing the partnership? The answer was, “Raise Capital”, capital to attract investors, capital to finance expansion, capital as collateral against investment risk.  Hmmm.  So Tyre, at the time had the greatest trading network in that part of the world.   Ezekiel chapter 27 gives an extensive list of the kind of trade volume that they handled and an explicit list of trade inventory.  It also mentions the types of goods and products being received from both Judah and Israel VS. 17 “Judah and Israel traded with you; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections,[e] honey, olive oil and balm for your wares.”

Along with a healthy trade agreement would come responsibility on the part of both parties to safeguard and protect the investment while goods were in route and payment was being collected and banked upon.  From Jerusalem’s point of view, this would require yet more capital and a commit of military presence for security.

So, it should be striking as more and more apparent that “raising capital” in Bronze Age times (as much as at any point in history) by a ruling aristocracy would come in the form of raising taxes or increasing the burden carried by its people.  Perhaps longer work was required. Perhaps a higher amount of product was required by the state leaving less for the actual population. Perhaps less services were spared for the people of Israel and Judah by their own princes in order to finance and maintain this lucrative trade agreement.  The important thing to meditate upon, here in Ezekiel’s lament, is what it means to raise capital to a landlocked, desert bound country.  What does raising capital mean to a corporation today? How far should one go? When is enough, enough?

In all of these speculative perhap’s, it would be the children who suffered most.  And this is the point that Ezekiel hammered on the most when condemning the atrocities of the rulers of Jersusalem.  Ezekiel called them out graphically for sacrificing their children, children who may have been deprived of food or adequate policing in the streets, children whose parents had to work longer hours to provide food for the table but remained in poverty, and children who grew to young men and inducted into security forces of the state and stationed with the forces of Tyre.  In any regard it is clear that at least  three prominent kings of Israel had extensive dealings with Tyre, and as there was a royal presence, it is plausible that there was a royal guard as well to protect the royal investment.  Funny how times change, but the governmental/business situations do not.

Ezekiel doesn’t tell us in Chapter 27 too much about Tyre’s actions that deserved punishment – though many commentators focus on the wealth and the nature of the trade.  We know from other narratives that Elijah chastised the married queen Jezebel for polluting the faith of the temple, but more on that in the next blog.  All we get to consider here is that Tyre considered herself “Perfect in beauty” on the high sees – a very popular friend to be had.

Yet at the end of this lament, we see that all of those friends who are mentioned verse 33,  “When your merchandise went out on the seas, you satisfied many nations;…”, they all abandon Tyre to her fate of being invaded over and over again.  Ezekiels states that all the kings “…shudder with horror…” at Tyre’s downfall, but do nothing but hide their faces. No one comes to Tyre’s aid as no one came to Jerusalem’s aid.

It would appear that fair weather friends are easy to find, but hard to keep at your side. Ezekiel writes:

“Who was ever silenced like Tyre, surround by the sea?”

CHICAGO STYLE CITATION

As Footnote/Endnote:
1. Joshua J. Mark, “Tyre,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, last modified September 02, 2009, http://www.ancient.eu /Tyre/.

2. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0016_0_15729.html

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Ezekiel blog: A new trilogy of Purple

These next three chapters of Ezekiel provide profound insight into the question of why the Book of Ezekiel in the first place.  These chapters beginning with Ezekiel 26 touch on some very contemporary issues that we face globally today. At the same time, we get some explanation as to why the judgments are pronounced so completely across the population of Judah and Jerusalem specifically during the Babylonian conquest.  Lets set the stage.

Three years after the beginning of the final siege on Jerusalem by Babylon, Ezekiel is given a new oracle regarding the fate of a nation very close to Israel and Judah. It’s not good news either.  Ezekiel chapter 26 begins a small trilogy section on the nation of Tyre.   It goes sort of like this:

Chapter 26 (The brief and blunt pronouncement of Tyre’s fate) –> Chapter 27 (Poetic lament illustrating the finer points of the destruction of Tyre, and just why it is so sad) –> Chapter 28 ( A chapter pretty much dedicated to why the Israelites should care, and what message should they get out of this).

The phrase “like waves of the sea” is used to describe how destruction will come to the nation of Tyre. Now, in historical terms, Tyre is known to us as Phoenicia, the great trading nation of the Mediterranean Sea. So the ocean metaphor is appropriate, but it seems that there is a more practical intention for using that analogy of destruction.  It is often said that no man is an island; meaning that one who stands alone is very vulnerable. Phoenicia was no different and relied upon its extensive trading agreements and alliances to fuel its economic power, and ensure that it had strength to maintain its established domain. More importantly, because of its exuberant prosperity, other nations actively pursued a stable relationship with them. We could say it was a popular thing to do to foster a normalized trading relationship.  Therefore, it would seem that political and military threats were minimized.   To quote Billy Squire:  “….Everybody wants you”.

For destruction to be complete then, Phoenicia would have to become isolated and everyone turn away from them.  To coin another phrase, “…the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”  Phoenicia’s fall (Tyre’s fall) is great indeed. Over time they are invaded by Babylon for 12 years. Alexander the Great’s campaign burns the city and isolates what’s left of them onto their last remaining island.  Egypt and Rome battle over what remains of the area until there is no more Tyre and eventually we are left with what is today’s Lebanon.  So, there are your waves of the sea, one invasion come sweeping in after another.

But why should Ezekiel care?  He’s sitting in the middle of the Babylonian desert along with the thousands of other Jewish captives…over 550 miles away as the crow flies. Not to mention that his entire focus is pretty much on the spiritual condition of his own people and the dire warnings about his own nation’s impending collapse.

Further, why should we care that Ezekiel cared?

The answer to these questions is indeed critical.  It brings perspective to much of what Ezekiel spends so much of his time criticizing the Jerusalem government about.  In the next three blog entries, I’ll go further into this impactful section of the Book of Ezekiel where we will discover a range of socio-economic factors that can be traced directly to the conditions of social injustice that ultimately lead to the downfall of Jerusalem.  It will become painfully obvious as well that, because of these three chapters in Ezekiel, the content and warning of the Book of Ezekiel, is extremely contemporary and revealing into the nature of our culture today.

Next up, What’s it like “getting in bed” with neighboring sailors/businessmen and the ultimate example of “fair weather friends”.     Stay tuned.