I have recently finished a Christian evidences class in my congregation. In that class we learned several proofs of the validity of the Bible including prophecies that eventually came true. One of these prophecies was Ezekiel 26. We learned that God became angry at the people of Tyre in that time and after that they were continually defeated at war. King Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of the mainland of Tyre occurred around 573 BC. The island portion of the city still existed until about 332 BC. This is when Alexander the Great came and created a land bridge that connected the island to the mainland. The island portion of the city was ransacked by Alexander and dumped into the sea so that "Tyre was scraped free of rubble and become bare rock." When an attempt was made to rebuild the city, an earthquake occurred, which sunk the southwestern portion of the island fulfilling the prophecy "I will I bring the ocean depths over you and its vast waters cover you." I'm puzzled, because just a few chapters ahead in chapter 18 is where he finishes talking about the soul who sins is the soul who dies. "The son shall not share the guilt of his father." Since Tyre was punished for several generations, Ezekiel seems to be contradicting himself with this prophecy and I'm wondering if you can help me understand it. -- Edward Chiu (Burnaby, British Columbia)
The doom oracle on Tyre was definitely fulfilled and I am familiar with the aquatic fulfillment. Yet I would be cautious when it comes to interpreting such prophecies literally. (Literally does not mean "seriously.") Very, very often, the details of a prophecy picture the destruction that will come -- yet these details should not be pressed. There is often a poetic aspect to prophecies. (Have you ever noticed what a large portion of prophecy is poetry?) For example, Isaiah 14, Isaiah 34, and other passages contain doom oracles that were fulfilled but not literally! Babylon fell peaceably; Edom is not still smoking. (Peruse the passage and you will see what I mean.)
As for the deeper theological matter, the Old Testament repeatedly says that punishment because of sin passes through the generations. Since Ezekiel 18 insists that the son does not share the guilt of the father, we are forced to reconcile what on the surface appears to be conflicting evidence.
We must distinguish between the effects or consequences of sin and the actual guilt. Sin causes suffering, and often it affects other people than the sinner himself. Not infrequently, it exhibits generational effects. Exodus 20 speaks of "three or four generations." The word punish(ment) is often used to describe what is happening, not always discriminating whether the recipients of the misfortune are guilty (like a drunk driver who crashes) or innocent (like his victims on the road). Presumably it is possible for person A to hurt person B either physically or by influencing B to replicate or wrongly react to A's sin. I hope this distinction helps.
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