In this series of historical investigations, looking at the wisdom and folly of rulers and potentates from the ancient past, I want you to discover what the leading minds and most powerful people of history have understood, or failed to understand. If you can glean wisdom from the wisest and most powerful you will be well placed to better understand what is going on in our day and with today’s rulers.
The Ancient Kingdom of Tyre
While Tyre (Tyrus) is an unknown empire to most people today it stands out on several significant accounts. This was a leading kingdom in its day, due to great commercial cunning. It was also a kingdom that at one time acknowledged the sovereignty of Almighty God (as Great Britain, Australia and the United States do). Its ruler became so evil that he was one of only two kings directly identified with Satan. The city of Tyre has suffered serious attack three times in its history: by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar for 13 years from 585-572BC; by Alexander the Great in 332BC; and again by Muslim forces in 1291AD.
The Wisdom of Tyre
Tyrus is an ancient Phoenician city on the Mediterranean coast, to the north of Israel. The city came to great strength and prominence at the time of King David of Israel, through its godly leader, King Hiram, 980-947BC. Hiram traded with King David, being a near neighbour, and provided timber from the forests of Lebanon, which he controlled.
When King David died and Solomon took the throne of Israel, King Hiram acknowledged the goodness of God and willingly offered the service of his nation to help Solomon build the great Temple to Jehovah.
It seems that Tyre prospered in the centuries following Hiram, culminating in the reign of King Ittobaal II. This evil king was none-the-less gifted with great wisdom. He had commercial cunning which promoted his kingdom to impressive influence and wealth. The Jewish prophet, Ezekiel, said of Ittobaal II, “You are wiser than Daniel!” (Ezekiel 28:3), which is an outstanding claim.
It seems that Ittobaal was not only wise in human terms, but accessed spiritual wisdom, as Daniel received wisdom from God. Ittobaal used his wisdom to build a commercial empire.
With strength in shipping and trade, the coastal empire of Tyre was able to ship goods to and from many places. The island city was a treasure store of exotic goods from around the known world.
The Foolishness of Tyre
Tyre’s early king, Hiram, and Israel’s Kings David and Solomon were known for their great achievements. Yet they acknowledged their place of humility under God. They accepted God’s lordship. Thus their kingdoms were blessed by God.
Ittobaal II inherited the past successes of Tyre and used his own wisdom to conceive of commercial strategies which catapulted the kingdom to the lead in international trade. But Ittobaal II, unlike Hiram 300+ years before, did not acknowledge God. Instead, he communicated with evil spirits and sought to exalt himself against God.
This is where Ittobaal came into parallel with Satan. Satan had also been in a place of greatness, but he became corrupted and sought to exalt himself against God. Satan’s wisdom corrupted him, and so too did Ittobaal’s. Satan was lifted up with pride, and so too was Ittobaal.
Wisdom for commerce became the power to manipulate the markets, control the trade routes and exploit others. Violence and abject self-serving took over Ittobaal’s commercial activities. He did not use his resources for the purposes of God, as Hiram had done. He did not care for the needy and underprivileged, as Solomon taught man to do. He simply magnified his own place and power for more of the same, seeking to exalt himself to the highest place.
Commerce Gone Mad
We see in today’s global corporations and nations examples of people who have lost the plot. They have no idea of what ‘enough’ means, but are driven to excel beyond their previous wildest dreams, in a never ending quest to accumulate wealth and power. Instead of honouring God with it and for it, or using it for God’s kingdom and God’s prescribed purposes, these wealth and power mongers do as Ittobaal II did. They simply multiply their significance until all the world is dependent on them.
This is commerce gone mad. It is bigger and better just for the sake of it. It is commerce that has lost sight of moral responsibility and the very meaning of life. It is like the rich man in a parable given by Jesus. That man had a bumper harvest and could only think about storing it up as insurance for his future. Yet that very night he would die and leave it all behind. That rich man did not give his wealth to the poor, nor see it as a resource for God’s kingdom. So Jesus called him a “fool”!
Ittobaal II the Fool
By his self-serving ambitions and wrong use of wisdom Ittobaal II made great gains in human terms, but brought his entire kingdom under God’s judgement. Thus his trading empire was brought down, his kingdom besieged by Babylon and then the city of his pride scraped into the sea by Alexander the Great.
Tyre is no more. The great trading kingdom which controlled the seas and led international commerce is not even known by most people today. What Hiram and succeeding kings of Tyre had built up over centuries was torn down and dumped in the sea, because of Ittobaal the fool. The master of dark arts, user of wisdom for selfish gain, and master manipulator of global markets brought divine wrath upon his kingdom. The once favourite ally of Israel became the target of God’s judgement.
Ittobaal’s Slavery to Satan
In Ezekiel’s prophetic description of God’s judgement on Tyre we find a mixed description of the ruler (Ittobaal II) and satan. The two personalities have become entwined and are spoken of interchangeably. This signifies how Ittobaal had come under the power of satan and was a slave to the devil.
In Ezekiel 28 we have pronouncements against the human ruler of Tyre and the spiritual ruler as well. The Hebrew language gives a real clue to what had happened to Ittobaal in the process of his journey into the dark arts of his satanic wisdom. He had come under the power of the devil, who was his ruler.
In Ezekiel 28:2 Ittobaal II is identified as the “prince of Tyrus”. Prince means commander, such as a military commander leading his section of troops in a battle. Then, in Ezekiel 28:12 a new section starts, speaking about things which Ittobaal could not identify with, such as being in Eden and being an anointed cherub. The personality addressed in this section is called the “king of Tyrus”.
“Son of man, say to the prince of Tyrus, Thus says the Lord GOD; Because your heart is lifted up, and you have said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet you are a man, and not God, though you set your heart as the heart of God….” Ezekiel 28:2
“Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD; You seal up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. You have been in Eden the garden of God ….. You are the anointed cherub that covers” Ezekiel 28:12-14
While Ittobaal was the human and visible ruler of Tyre, he was only a prince under the real king, who was satan. Ittobaal had lost his personal sovereignty, in a deal with the devil which gave him access to devilish wisdom, which ultimately brought him down. (Here we have echoes of Faust.)
Lessons for Us
Greatness in responsibility and power, wisdom and success is a gift which we need to hold in humility before God. No matter how great our own grand achievements we are still subject to God’s moral sovereignty over us and our kingdom.
When we acknowledge and serve God we are blessed. When we make our own aggrandizement and success more important than our humility before God we come under His judgement and stand to lose all that we have.
There are dark forces that are full of pride, devilish wisdom, violence and self-exaltation. When people tap into those same values they come under the power of those forces. Whatever benefit the person may think they have received from that connection the person will be undone and destroyed for their rebellion against God, just as the devil and his hoards will also be in due time.
The best place for anyone to stand is in the fear of God.