Isaiah 23 – The Burden Against Tyre
A. The promise of coming judgment against Tyre.
1. (1-5) The sailors of Tyre agonize when they hear of the destruction of their home port.
The burden against Tyre.
Wail, you ships of Tarshish!
For it is laid waste,
So that there is no house, no harbor;
From the land of Cyprus it is revealed to them.
Be still, you inhabitants of the coastland,
You merchants of Sidon,
Whom those who cross the sea have filled.
And on great waters the grain of Shihor,
The harvest of the River, is her revenue;
And she is a marketplace for the nations.
Be ashamed, O Sidon;
For the sea has spoken,
The strength of the sea, saying,
“I do not labor, nor bring forth children;
Neither do I rear young men,
Nor bring up virgins.”
When the report reaches Egypt,
They also will be in agony at the report of Tyre.
a. The burden against Tyre: To the north of Israel, Tyre was the leading city of Phoenicia, the great maritime power of the ancient world. Because it was such an important harbor and center for shipping, Tyre was synonymous with commerce and materialism.
i. Tyre was the “Babylon of the Sea.” Because of their excellent harbor and seamanship, they established a commercial empire far greater than one would expect given their size and military power.
ii. Tyre was a city in two parts – an inland city, and an island city. The inland city was conquered by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, just as Isaiah prophesied. The island city was conquered later by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.
iii. Tyre was a mixed bag for Israel. King Hiram of Tyre supplied David and Solomon great timbers for the building of the temple and other projects. Hiram gave Solomon sailors, so Israel could build their commerce by sea. But later, Tyre gave Israel one of the worst rulers Israel ever had: Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab of Israel.
b. There is no house, no harbor: Isaiah pictures sailors from Tyre in the land of Cyprus and in Egypt hearing of the destruction of the harbor of Tyre. When they hear the news, the wail and are in agony at the report of Tyre.
2. (6-9) The proud city of Tyre is humbled.
Cross over to Tarshish;
Wail, you inhabitants of the coastland!
Is this your joyous city,
Whose antiquity is from ancient days,
Whose feet carried her far off to dwell?
Who has taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city,
Whose merchants are princes,
Whose traders are the honorable of the earth?
The LORD of hosts has purposed it,
To bring to dishonor the pride of all glory,
To bring into contempt all the honorable of the earth.
a. Wail, you inhabitants of the coastland: Tyre was a city where money ruled. The merchants are princes, and the traders are the honorable of the earth. To be a leader or honorable, one didn’t need to be of royal heritage, a good or a honest man. The only thing needed was success in business!
b. The LORD of hosts has purposed it, to bring dishonor the pride of all glory: Because of its great success, Tyre had become proud and full of self-glory. But the LORD of hosts has purposed to judge and humble Tyre, and Isaiah announces it.
i. “Pride, pride, pride, is that basic sin to which God is ever opposed, and man is ever expressing.” (Jennings)
3. (10-14) The destruction of the city of Tyre.
Overflow through your land like the River,
O daughter of Tarshish;
There is no more strength.
He stretched out His hand over the sea,
He shook the kingdoms;
The LORD has given a commandment against Canaan
To destroy its strongholds.
And He said, “You will rejoice no more,
O you oppressed virgin daughter of Sidon.
Arise, cross over to Cyprus;
There also you will have no rest.”
Behold, the land of the Chaldeans,
This people which was not;
Assyria founded it for wild beasts of the desert.
They set up its towers,
They raised up its palaces,
And brought it to ruin.
Wail, you ships of Tarshish!
For your strength is laid waste.
a. The Chaldeans… Assyria: The mainland city of Tyre was defeated by both the Assyrians and the Babylonians. They were used by God to bring the city to ruin.
B. A promise of restoration to the city of Tyre.
1. (15-16) Seventy years of desolation for the city of Tyre.
Now it shall come to pass in that day that Tyre will be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king. At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the harlot:
“Take a harp, go about the city,
You forgotten harlot;
Make sweet melody, sing many songs,
That you may be remembered.”
a. Tyre will be forgotten seventy years: God’s judgments are so precise that He decrees the exact number of years Tyre will be forgotten.
b. That you may be remembered: Quoting what may have been a well-known song in his day, Isaiah makes the point that at the end of the seventy years appointed by God, Tyre will be remembered again.
2. (17-18) God’s purpose in restoring the city of Tyre.
And it shall be, at the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre. She will return to her hire, and commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. Her gain and her pay will be set apart for the LORD; it will not be treasured nor laid up, for her gain will be for those who dwell before the LORD, to eat sufficiently, and for fine clothing.
a. She will return to her hire: God will allow Tyre, symbolized by a prostitute, to continue her gross materialism with all the kingdoms of the world. But Her gain and her pay will be set apart for the LORD; ultimately, the riches Tyre so desperately sought will be given to the LORD anyway.
b. The LORD will visit Tyre: Many commentators think this refers to the presence of Christianity in Tyre in the days of the early church.
i. “Tyre, after its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, recovered, as it is here foretold, its ancient trade, wealth, and grandeur; as it did likewise after a second destruction by Alexander. It became Christian early with the rest of the neighboring countries. St. Paul himself found many Christian there, Acts 21:4. It suffered much in the Diocletian persecution. It was an archbishopric under the patriarchate of Jerusalem, with fourteen bishoprics under its jurisdiction. It continued Christian till it was taken by the Saracens in 639; was recovered by the Christians in 1124; but in 1280 was conquered by the Mamelukes and afterwards taken from them by the Turks in 1517. Since that time it has sunk into utter decay; is now a mere ruin, a bare rock, ‘a place to spread nets upon,’ as the Prophet Ezekiel foretold it should be, chapter 26:14.” (Clarke)
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