Where Does Success Come From? (Ezekiel 26-28)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
Ezekiel 26 28

The oracles against Tyre in Ezekiel 26-28 give a further example of unrighteous living. The Tyrians gloat over Jerusalem's destruction, anticipating profit in the absence of a trade competitor (Ezek. 26:2). God promises their punishment and humiliation (Ezek. 26:7-21) for failing to aid Judah in time of need. "Tyre may be taken to represent the pursuit — through affluence, political prominence, even culture — of a security and autonomy that contradict the nature of created reality."[1] In reality, no person or nation can truly assure its own security and prosperity. Yet Tyre boasts of its commercial success, perfection and abundance (Ezek. 27:2-4). This maritime powerhouse had become such by trading with (or taking advantage of) a plethora of peoples across the Mediterranean world (Ezek. 27:5-25), only to sink under the weight of its profuse cargo. Tyre's overconfidence and selfish dealings end with a shipwreck that draws the ridicule of the nations' merchants (Ezek. 27:26-36). God calls Tyre to account for her arrogance and material craving, climaxing with a poem against the king of Tyre in chapter 28. The king credits his own godlike status for having the ingenuity and wisdom to garner great prominence and material achievements.

The lessons from chapters 26-28 for working in the world are significant. God forbids us from imagining that we are the primary source of success at work. While our hard work, skill, perseverance and other virtues contribute to success at work, they do not cause it. Underlying even the most successful self-made person is a universe of opportunities, fortuitous circumstances, others' labor, and the fact that our very existence comes from beyond ourselves.

Attributing success solely to ourselves leads to a hubris that breaks our relationship with God. Instead of thanking God for our success and trusting him to continue to provide for us, we think that we have succeeded on our own merits. But we don't have the power to control all circumstances, possibilities, people and events on which our success depends. By attributing our success to ourselves, we force ourselves to try to control uncontrollable factors, creating severe pressure to stack the deck in our favor. While we may have succeeded in the past through honest, legitimate business dealings, we may now try to improve the odds by shading the truth in our favor, by rigging the bidding behind the scenes, by manipulating others into doing our will, or by currying favor with others with a few well-placed bribes. Even if we manage to stay on the right side of the law, we may become ruthless and "violent" (Ezek. 28:16) in our pursuit of trade.

The truly wise behave righteously and in their thinking do not usurp the place of God while waiting for God to fulfill his promises. They remain true to their covenant with God who will reward faithful living with the benefits appropriate to fulfilling the covenant (see the hope for Israel in Ezek. 28:22-26). God will ultimately separate the righteous and the wicked (Ezek. 34:17-22; cf. Matthew 25:31-46). This gives great hope to "exiles" who await the consummation of God's kingdom, whether they live in the ancient world or the modern world, especially when asking questions of justice and despair.[2]

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