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Isaiah 55:8-9

Isaiah 55:8-9

Thursday, August 7, 2014


The Phoenicians lived along the coast of what is known today as western Lebanon.  In Greek, "phoenicia" means "red-purple."  Did you know that the great poet Homer gave the Phoenicians their name?  It is unknown whether or not this group of people had a name for itself.  The Phoenicians considered themselves citizens of their particular city-state:

  • Tyrians from Tyre.
  • Sidonians from Sidon, or Carthaginians from Carthage.  
In the Old Testament we come to know them as the "Sidonians" or "Canaanites."

Estimated History Timeline for the Phoenicians

3000 BC First known Phoenician settlements appear
2000 BC The Phoenician alphabet is invented
1600 BC There is conflict between Egyptians and Phoenicians
1500 BC The Phoenicians begin to trade with foreign cities
1400 BC   The Phoenicians as well as the Egyptians establish commercial treaties
1200 BC The city of Tyre becomes the most important Phoenician trading city
980 BC Hiram, king of Tyre, forms an alliance with David and Solomon
854 BC  Phoenicia falls to Assyria
725 BC The city of Tyre defeats the Assyrians in history's first recorded naval battle
695 BC Spain, which was originally colonized by Phoenicians, becomes an independent Phoenician kingdom
612 BC Most of Phoenicia is under the power of Nebuchadnezzar.  The city of Tyre remains independent
538 BC Persia conquers all of Phoenicia including Tyre
333 BC Alexander the Great conquers all of Phoenicia except Tyre.  Tyre falls to Alexander the Great after seven months of siege.  Phoenicia is integrated into the Seleucid kingdom

The Phoenicians were one of the world's first sea peoples.  The built their empire mainly on trade.  They were known as great traders.  Although the land around northern Canaan was poor for agricultural purposes, the location was ideal for trade.  Their cities were well protected.  These cities were surrounded by mountains to the east and sea to the west.  The Phoenicians offered many valuable trade goods to their buying customers around the Mediterranean Sea.  Among these trading goods were:

  1. Fine Lebanon cedar which were on high demand for building around the Mediterranean Sea.
  2. Wine
  3. Metalwork
  4. Glass
  5. Salt
  6. Fish
  7. Purple or "phoenicia" cloth
  8. Fine linen
  9. Wood carvings
  10. Slaves

The Phoenicians were able to establish trading colonies all throughout the Mediterranean.  Carthage was their largest and most strategic colony, located in North Africa known today as Tunisia, founded in 814 BC. They became the best shipbuilders of the ancient world because of their expertise at sea trade.  Their oar-driven ships were built from Lebanese cedar trees.

The Phoenicians created a system of writing which involved “phonetic” symbols rather than pictograms. These symbols became eventually the basis for the Greek Alphabet.

The Phoenician alphabet used a combination of 22 phonetic symbols which represented words.  This was overall an improvement over pictogram languages with their hundreds or thousands of symbols.  Each of their 22 symbols represented a consonant sound.  There were no vowel sounds written, implied or understood. The Greeks added vowels when they adapted the Phoenician alphabet to their own language.  For example "Aleph" became "alpha," "beth" became "beta," and so on.  The word "alphabet" originates from these two words.  Did you know that our own English alphabet has its roots or descended from the Phoenician alphabet?

Most Phoenician writing was done on Egyptian papyrus while hieroglyphics (as well as cuneiform writings) were done on enduring clay.  Most of these writings disintegrated throughout the ages.  Very little Phoenician writing survived.  The Phoenician city of Byblos was well known for its papyrus.  When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated by the Greeks, they called the book "Byblos" from which we get our word "Bible."

When King Solomon was building the Temple in Jerusalem around 980 BC, the Phoenicians supplied him with materials to build the Temple.  King Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre made an alliance negotiating terms for the cedar and pine logs.  We read of this in I Kings 5:6-11.  Solomon bought many of these materials to build God's Temple.
"Now therefore, command that they cut for me cedars from Lebanon, and my servants will be with your servants; and I will give you wages for your servants according to all that you say, for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.”
When Hiram heard the words of Solomon, he rejoiced greatly and said, 'Blessed be the Lord today, who has given to David a wise son over this great people.'  So Hiram sent word to Solomon, saying, 'I have heard the message which you have sent me; I will do what you desire concerning the cedar and cypress timber.  My servants will bring them down from Lebanon to the sea; and I will make them into rafts to go by sea to the place where you direct me, and I will have them broken up there, and you shall carry them away. Then you shall accomplish my desire by giving food to my household.'  So Hiram gave Solomon as much as he desired of the cedar and cypress timber.  Solomon then gave Hiram 20,000 kors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty kors of beaten oil; thus Solomon would give Hiram year by year.'"

The Phoenicians also helped David build his huge royal palace.  "Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David with cedar trees and carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a house for David.  And David realized that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel."  II Samuel 5:11; I Chronicles 14:1.

The Phoenician religion was very similar to that of the polytheistic culture.  They seemed to have borrowed the idolatry and the system of gods and goddesses from Egypt, Canaan, Babylon, Assyria and Persia.  Their main god was El, also known as Baal.  They believed this god to be the protector of the universe.

One of the most ungodly, despised and hated women in the Bible was of Phoenician origin.  Her name was Jezebel.  She was the wife of King Ahab of Israel.  She turned Ahab and Israel away from worshiping their Jehovah God.  She was a big Baal worshiper.  She was so evil that she ordered the murder of several prophets of the LORD,  "Now it happened after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, 'Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth.'  So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria.  Ahab called Obadiah who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly; for when Jezebel destroyed the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water.)'"  I Kings 18:1-4.  She also tried to have Elijah, the great prophet, killed, after he had killed some of Baal's prophets, "Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, 'So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.'  And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.'"  I Kings 19:1-3.  When Elijah had victory over the Baal prophets, Jezebel was thrown out of a window and was being eaten by dogs.
"When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it, and she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out the window.  As Jehu entered the gate, she said, “Is it well, Zimri, your master’s murderer?”  Then he lifted up his face to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” And two or three officials looked down at him.
He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down, and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall and on the horses, and he trampled her under foot.  When he came in, he ate and drank; and he said, “See now to this cursed woman and bury her, for she is a king’s daughter.”  They went to bury her, but they found nothing more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands.  Therefore they returned and told him. And he said, “This is the word of the Lord, which He spoke by His servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘In the property of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel; and the corpse of Jezebel will be as dung on the face of the field in the property of Jezreel, so they cannot say, “This is Jezebel.”’”  II Kings 9:30-37.

One thing to mention is that although the Phoenicians were ungodly people, God used them to help David and Solomon build first the royal palace and then the Temple.  There is no doubt that God's ways are past finding out.  In my next study, I will be considering the history in II Samuel of David's reign and the stain of his sins.