Q. Re: The onlookers in Ezekiel 38:13. Who is likely characterized as Sheba, Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish (and all of their young lions) in this passage? I’ve heard that it may be a reference to a placated US government as well as some veiled reference to Revived Rome. It appears by the passage that they are questioning the apparent invasion in an effort to push diplomacy.
A. This is how I view the modern equivalents to these ancient countries.
Sheba and Dedan
These two are first mentioned as grandsons of Cush in Genesis 10:7. Later, in Genesis 25:3, we read of two grandsons of Abraham’s named Sheba and Dedan as well, born to Jokshan, a son of Abraham and his 2nd wife, Keturah. It’s not clear which pair of grandsons is being referenced, but commentaries none-the-less identify these two as probably representing the nations of the Arabian Penninsula, notably Saudi Arabia.
According to archaeologists W. F. Albright and Wendell Phillips, Sheba was on the southwestern edge of the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea from present-day Ethiopia. Sheba is known in history as Saba in Southern Arabia, the Sabaeans of classical geography, who carried on the trade in spices with the other peoples of the ancient world. Dedan was probably the habitat of the Arabs on the northern part of the Arabian Desert, which is modern-day Saudi Arabia. The ancient capital of Saudi Arabia is still called Dedan on many maps today.
Tarshish was a son of Javan, who had settled the area of Southern Greece after the confusion of languages. There are three schools of thought where Tarshish is concerned. One locates Tarshish to the East, accessible from Solomon’s great seaport at Ezion Geber on the Red Sea. Since Javan and his family traveled north and west from Babel at the confusion of tongues, it seems unlikely. Large sea going vessels were often nicknamed “Ships of Tarshish” and more likely this is how Tarshish came to be linked with Ezion Geber, since both Solomon and Hezekiah built such vessels there.
Others see this as a reference to ancient Tartessus, a seaport in southern Spain, near Gibraltar. Still others recall the sea going navies of the Phoenicians, who operated out of nearby Cadiz. The Phoenicians sailed as far north as England for tin, a metal used in the making of bronze and other alloys, which they mined in Cornwall, and which leads some to connect Tarshish with England. It may be that the name Britannia is actually derived from a Phoenician word meaning “source of tin.” If so, this reference could be to Great Britain making the “lions” (KJV) or “villages”(NIV) of Tarshish Great Britain’s colonies, of which the US is most prominent today. The fact that the lion is a symbol of the British Empire lends support to this view.