The Sins of the Rulers

Ezekiel 27 begins with a strikingly beautiful paean to commerce and international trade. Let's read the prophecy:

3 This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
"You say, O Tyre,
'I am perfect in beauty.'

4 Your domain was on the high seas;
your builders brought your beauty to perfection.

5 They made all your timbers
of pine trees from Senir;
they took a cedar from Lebanon
to make a mast for you.

6 Of oaks from Bashan
they made your oars;
of cypress wood from the coasts of Cyprus
they made your deck, inlaid with ivory.

7 Fine embroidered linen from Egypt was your sail
and served as your banner;
your awnings were of blue and purple
from the coasts of Elishah.

8 Men of Sidon and Arvad were your oarsmen;
your skilled men, O Tyre, were aboard as your seamen.

9 Veteran craftsmen of Gebal were on board
as shipwrights to caulk your seams.
All the ships of the sea and their sailors
came alongside to trade for your wares.

10 Men of Persia, Lydia and Put
served as soldiers in your army.
They hung their shields and helmets on your walls,
bringing you splendor.

11 Men of Arvad and Helech
manned your walls on every side;
men of Gammad
were in your towers.
They hung their shields around your walls;
they brought your beauty to perfection.

12 Tarshish did business with you because of your great wealth of goods; they exchanged silver, iron, tin and lead for your merchandise.

13 Greece, Tubal and Meshech traded with you; they exchanged slaves and articles of bronze for your wares.

14 Men of Beth Togarmah exchanged work horses, war horses and mules for your merchandise.

15 The men of Rhodes traded with you, and many coastlands were your customers; they paid you with ivory tusks and ebony.

16 Aram did business with you because of your many products; they exchanged turquoise, purple fabric, embroidered work, fine linen, coral and rubies for your merchandise.

17 Judah and Israel traded with you; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections, honey, oil and balm for your wares.

18 Damascus, because of your many products and great wealth of goods, did business with you in wine from Helbon and wool from Zahar.

19 Danites and Greeks from Uzal bought your merchandise; they exchanged wrought iron, cassia and calamus for your wares.

20 Dedan traded in saddle blankets with you.

21 Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your customers; they did business with you in lambs, rams and goats.

22 The merchants of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; for your merchandise they exchanged the finest of all kinds of spices and precious stones, and gold.

23 Haran, Canneh and Eden and merchants of Sheba, Asshur and Kilmad traded with you.

24 In your marketplace they traded with you beautiful garments, blue fabric, embroidered work and multicolored rugs with cords twisted and tightly knotted."

The trouble for this ancient center of civilization is prefigured in the previous chapter:

"On the first day of the… month in the eleventh year, the word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, because of what Tyre said of Jerusalem: "Aha! It is broken, the gateway to the peoples; now that it is ruined, its wealth reverts to me!," therefore thus says the Lord GOD: See! I am coming at you, Tyre; I will churn up against you many nations, even as the sea churns up its waves.'"

Ezekiel 27 ends with a terrible curse on everyone in Tyre because its government had made war.

And Ezekiel 28 describes both the offense and punishment with perfect clarity:

2 This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
"In the pride of your heart
you say, 'I am a god;
I sit on the throne of a god
in the heart of the seas.'
But you are a man and not a god,
though you think you are as wise as a god.

3 Are you wiser than Daniel?
Is no secret hidden from you?

4 By your wisdom and understanding
you have gained wealth for yourself
and amassed gold and silver
in your treasuries.

5 By your great skill in trading
you have increased your wealth,
and because of your wealth
your heart has grown proud."

6 Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
"Because you think you are wise,
as wise as a god,

7 I am going to bring foreigners against you,
the most ruthless of nations;
they will draw their swords
against your beauty and wisdom
and pierce your shining splendor.

8 They will bring you down to the pit,
and you will die a violent death
in the heart of the seas.

9 Will you then say, 'I am a god,'
in the presence of those who kill you?
You will be but a man, not a god,
in the hands of those who slay you."

And so we see here how the glory of a nation whose rulers sin against the divine laws, if it does not repent and mend its ways, is taken away from it.

Some may, perhaps anticipating my point, angrily rush into judgment and compare Tyre to Iraq and the US to the "ruthless nation" that punished it for its attempts to develop WMD or for its support for al-Qaeda. But such interpretation would be implausible for three reasons. First, the "punishment" was mistaken on both counts, because there were, of course, no such weapons, nor was there al-Qaeda in Iraq. Second, Iraq, while a civilized country, especially before the wars, was not "perfect in beauty," at least in the sense that it was not the most prosperous nation. And third, Saddam had little reason to imagine himself a god (first, the country he ruled was simply too small, and second, there was no cult of personality in Iraq), certainly less than America's own "Decider," who oversees a vast empire and has a mass following of those who consider him a great leader. No, this is a story about us.

And what we have done is broken a very important moral law by impoverishing and attacking a country with which we should have been friends and trading partners from the beginning. The effects of sin are corruption of nature, a stain on the soul, and a debt of punishment. Hence (1) the inclination to virtue and truth and wisdom in American public life has been diminished, as, I think, is obvious; (2) the evil we have done has dimmed the light of whatever positive influence America has on the world; and (3) it is quite possible that we will be stripped of our gifts, whichever are left. God protects all those unjustly harmed, not just Jerusalem, as in the passages above. This is not going to be a "splendid little war"; it is a transgression for which we will pay dearly. Those who supported the war and those who still do, may they be forgiven.

June 13, 2006

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