Isaiah 23


‘A prophecy against Tyre: Wail, you ships of Tarshish! For Tyre is destroyed and left without house or harbour. From the land of Cyprus word has come to them. Be silent, you people of the island and you merchants of Sidon, whom the seafarers have enriched. On the great waters came the grain of the Shihor; the harvest of the Nile was the revenue of Tyre, and she became the marketplace of the nations. Be ashamed, Sidon, and you fortress of the sea, for the sea has spoken: “I have neither been in labour nor given birth; I have neither reared sons nor brought up daughters.” When word comes to Egypt, they will be in anguish at the report from Tyre. Cross over to Tarshish; wail, you people of the island. Is this your city of revelry, the old, old city, whose feet have taken her to settle in far-off lands?’ Isaiah 23:1-7

A Prophecy Against Tyre

This chapter speaks of a prophecy concerning Tyre.

Tyre was an ancient, wealthy city situated upon the sea and celebrated for its trade and commerce. It was seldom a dangerous enemy to Israel and usually a faithful ally as in the reigns of David and Solomon.

Trading cities maintained their grandeur not by the conquest of their neighbours but by commerce with them, Ezekiel 27:9-23. King Hiram, who was contemporary with Solomon, made Tyre one of the best port cities in of all Palestine, and throughout the Mediterranean Sea.

De Hoff, in his commentary, says the following.

‘This prophecy was written one hundred twenty years before its fulfilment.’

The chapter begins with eh announcement that Tyre will be destroyed. The ‘ships of Tarshish’, Isaiah 2:16, were Phoenician, sailing the Mediterranean and going as far west as Spain.

As they docked at Cyprus on their eastward voyage, they learned that the harbour to which they were sailing had been laid waste. ‘Sidon’ was the older city or mother city of Phoenicia, located around 25 miles north of Tyre.

The Nile river is here called ‘Shihor’, Jeremiah 2:18 / 1 Chronicles 13:5. The fertility of the Nile Valley was controlled by the overflowing of the river. A good corn crop in Egypt meant good trade for the people of Tyre.

Great anguish would prevail in Egypt at the report of Tyre because of the great effect it would have on the shipping and sale of Egyptian goods. In other words, Egypt would also mourn and everyone who profited from Tyre would also mourn.

Isaiah exhorted the inhabitants of the Phoenician coastlands to flee as far away as Tarshish which was the main colony of Tyre. From Tarshish, the Phoenicians imported silver, iron, tin, and lead, Ezekiel 27:12. Tyre had been a joyous city and knew nothing about hard times, Isaiah 22:2.

‘Who planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, whose merchants are princes, whose traders are renowned in the earth? The LORD Almighty planned it, to bring down her pride in all her splendour and to humble all who are renowned on the earth. Till your land as they do along the Nile, Daughter Tarshish, for you no longer have a harbour. The LORD has stretched out his hand over the sea and made its kingdoms tremble. He has given an order concerning Phoenicia that her fortresses be destroyed. He said, “No more of your revelling, Virgin Daughter Sidon, now crushed! “Up, cross over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest.” Look at the land of the Babylonians, this people that is now of no account! The Assyrians have made it a place for desert creatures; they raised up their siege towers, they stripped its fortresses bare and turned it into a ruin. Wail, you ships of Tarshish; your fortress is destroyed!’ Isaiah 23:8-14

These verses show us that God purposed the destruction because of the pride of Tyre, Amos 1:9-10.

It was God who gave Tyre its beauty and He would take it away again. They were proud but God will humble them. The colonists of Tarshish are now called upon to exert their full independence of Tyre which no longer provided competition.

Unrest will go with them wherever they go. Even the nations who depended upon Phoenicia to distribute the goods would be affected.

The Babylonians are the ones who will carry out God’s purpose, Deuteronomy 32:21. Babylon never existed so strong until the Assyrians produced circumstances for them to become the world power but as Babylon was brought to ruin, so will Tyre, Ezekiel 26:16-21.

‘At that time Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, the span of a king’s life. But at the end of these seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute: “Take up a harp, walk through the city, you forgotten prostitute; play the harp well, sing many a song, so that you will be remembered.” At the end of seventy years, the LORD will deal with Tyre. She will return to her lucrative prostitution and will ply her trade with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. Yet her profit and her earnings will be set apart for the LORD; they will not be stored up or hoarded. Her profits will go to those who live before the LORD, for abundant food and fine clothes.’ Isaiah 23:15-18

After seventy years, Tyre will be restored and her goods used to serve God.

Pledge, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The Tyrians used their goods, as did all other people in areas adjacent to Israel, in subjection to the command of the Persian kings, to help the Jews rebuild the temple. Once proud Tyre who devoted her goods to her own selfish means and purposes will now humbly offer them to God’s people that they might abound to the glory of God.’

Lowth, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Nebuchadnezzar began his conquests in the first year of his reign, from thence to the taking of Babylon by Cyrus are seventy years, at which time the nations taken by Nebuchadnezzar were to be restored to liberty. Some of the nations were conquered sooner, some later but the end of the seventy years was the occasion for the deliverance of all of them.’

It’s as though the people would forget Tyre once it was destroyed, Daniel 7:17 / Daniel 8:20 / Jeremiah 25:11, but after 70 years she will continue to be a prostitute. This is indicating the seriousness of Tyre’s destruction. God declared that He would again visit Tyre only because what she had to offer might be used to His glory, Psalm 45:12 / Acts 11:19.

After it was rebuilt they helped the Israelites to rebuild Jerusalem. The words, ‘she will return to her lucrative prostitution,’ literally means she will return to her hire as a fornicator and will continue her trade with other kingdoms.

In other words, as a prostitute, she would rejoice in the restoration of her financial gain, so Tyre would be restored once again to prosper from her trade among the nations.

However, her trade would be restored only because God was working in the nations. Tyre’s merchandise shall be holy to the Lord in that they will help rebuild Jerusalem, 1 Corinthians 16:1.

Tyre was visited by the Saviour, Matthew 15:21, and Paul found many Christians in Tyre, Acts 21:4, after the establishment of the church.

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