Isaiah 23

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2006 James Melough

23:1.  “The burden of Tyre.  Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them.”


As the previous chapter has dealt with Jerusalem, the city which is the origin of Christianity, so now does this one discuss Tyre, the city that is biblically representative of the world’s commerce, God’s view of which is ominously indicated in that the message begins with the word Howl.  It is also significant that Tyre means distress.  The burden (prophecy) was of the city’s coming destruction, and as with many of these OT histories, the downfall of Tyre foreshadows the collapse of the world’s commercial system in the now imminent Great Tribulation.


Tarshish is generally believed to have been the ancient name for Spain; as Chittim is for Cyprus, so the message is that Tyrian sailors returning from Spain, stopping at Cyprus on their way to Tyre, heard at Cyprus of Tyre’s destruction.  There being “no house, no entering in” describes the total destruction both of the city and its harbor.


23:2.  “Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Zidon (Sidon), that pass over the sea, have replenished.”


“Be still” is better rendered “be silent.”  It is the equivalent of the modern “being struck dumb,” as with awe or sorrow.


“... inhabitants of the isle” means “inhabitants of the coast lands.”  Their surprise and sorrow would be beyond words to express.


Zidon (Sidon) was the twin city of Tyre, the two ports being just a few miles apart.


23:3.  “And by great waters the seed of Sihor, the harvest of the river, is her revenue; and she is a mart of nations.”


Taylor’s renders these two verses, “Deathly silence is everywhere!  Stillness reigns where once your bustling port was full of ships from Sidon, bringing merchandise from far across the ocean, from Egypt and along the Nile.  You were the merchandise mart of the world.”


Sihor was the ancient name for the upper reaches of the Nile; and the “harvest of the river” was the grain produced in the Nile valley, and shipped to Tyre and Sidon.


23:4.  “Be thou ashamed, O Zidon: for the sea hath spoken, even the strength of the sea, saying, I travail not, nor bring forth children, neither do I nourish up young men, nor bring up virgins.”


The NEB translates this verse, “Sidon, the sea fortress, cries in her disappointment, I no longer feel the anguish of labor or bear children; I have no young sons to rear, no daughters to bring up.”  This records the lament of Sidon upon hearing of Tyre’s destruction.  She laments the fall of the city, for it was she (Sidon) which had founded Tyre, there being sufficient volume of trade to make both cities very prosperous. 


23:5.  “As at the report concerning Egypt, so shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre.”


A better translation of this verse is that of The Jerusalem Bible, “When the Egyptians learn the fate of Tyre, they will be appalled,” for Tyre had been one of the foremost customers for Egyptian grain.


23:6.  “Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.”


This advises the inhabitants of the coastal lands adjoining Tyre, to board ships and flee wailing to Tarshish [Spain] for refuge.


23:7.  “Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days?  Her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn.”


The Jerusalem Bible translates this, “Is this your joyful city founded far back in the past? Whose footsteps led her abroad to found her own colonies?” Taylor’s translation being, “This silent ruin is all that is left of your once joyous land.  What a history was yours! Think of all the colonists you sent to distant lands.”


The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary however, takes it to be “walking on foot as captives to an enemy’s land.”


23:8.  “Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honorable of the earth?”


“... the crowning city” is variously rendered, “the crown-giver, whose merchants were princes,” ATT; “... the crowned queen,” Moffatt; “... empire builder, and top trader of the world,” Taylor.


The question is answered in the next verse.


23:9.  “The Lord of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honorable of the earth.”


Moffatt translates this, “It was the Lord of hosts who planned it, to abase man’s pride, to humble human splendor and whatever earth honors,” the corresponding NT equivalent of this truth being given in Matthew 23:12, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”  It is significant that pride heads the list of things that God hates, see Proverbs 6:16-17, “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look ....”


23:10.  “Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.”


The men of Tarshish (Spain) were commanded to return to their own land, because with Tyre destroyed they would neither have to pay tribute nor customs duties to it, nor was there any longer a market there for their wares.


Their passing through their own land “as a river,” continues to speak of their freedom from Tyre’s dominion.  As a river cuts its own path through the land, so would they be free to choose their own course in life.


Another view is that “they would pour forth from Tyre, as waters flow on when the barriers are removed,” JFB.


“... no more strength” is a synonym for Tyre’s vanished power.


23:11.  “He stretched out his hand over the sea, he shook the kingdoms: the Lord hath given a commandment against the merchant city to destroy the strong holds thereof.”


It was Jehovah’s hand that was stretched out over the sea, to eliminate the maritime traffic of Canaan, and thus destroy Tyre by cutting off the trade that was her very life blood.


23:12.  “And he said, Thou shalt no more rejoice, O thou oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon: arise, pass over to Chittim (Cyprus); there also shalt thou have no rest.”


Tyre, founded by Zidon, was to become like a violated virgin, i.e., worthless, undesirable.


“... oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon” doesn’t imply moral purity of the Tyrian women, but rather that they were cultured and refined in their manner of living, as are many of their modern day immoral counterparts.


No matter where they might seek refuge, they would be unable to escape the judgment of God.  Nor would the fleeing inhabitants find refuge even if they fled to the island of Cyprus.  Once God’s patience is exhausted there is no way to escape His wrath.


23:13.  “Behold the land of the Chaldeans; this people was not, till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness: they set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof; and he brought it to ruin.”


Other translations of this verse are, “Look at the country of the Chaldeans, no longer a nation; the Assyrians have laid its capital in ruins, a place for wild creatures of the desert; they erected their siege-works and overthrew its fortifications,” Moffatt.  “It will be the Babylonians, not the Assyrians, who consign Tyre to the wild beasts!  They will lay siege to it, raze its palaces and make it a heap of ruins,” Taylor.  This latter rendering seems preferable.


23:14.  “Howl, ye ships of Tarshish (Spain): for your strength is laid waste.”


The Tyrian sailors, stopping at Cyprus on their way home from Spain, and learning there of Tyre’s destruction, would lament bitterly and inconsolably, for the devastation of their city spelled their own financial ruin.


23:15.  “And it shall come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot.”


23:16.  “Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.”


Another translation - Taylor’s - reads, “For 70 years Tyre will be forgotten.  Then in the days of another king, the city will come back to life again: she will sing sweet songs as a harlot sings, who, long absent from her lovers, walks the streets to look for them again and is remembered.”


The description is of Tyre’s revival after seventy years, and of her becoming again a populous prosperous port, attracting, as formerly, merchant ships from all over the known world of that day.


23:17.  “And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the Lord will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.”


The Jerusalem Bible translates this verse, “At the end of the seventy years Yahweh will visit Tyre.  Once again she will begin to receive the pay of her whoring.  She will play the whore with all the kingdoms on the surface of the earth,” and the Phillip’s version reads, “At the end of seventy years the Lord will restore Tyre and she will return to her business and she will traffic with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.”


23:18.  “And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord: it shall not be treasured nor laid up; for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the Lord, to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing.”


This clearly points to what will be in the Millennium, for history records no such period in Tyre’s experience.  This verse is a symbolic picture of Millennial conditions relative to world trade (of which Tyre is an OT type) in that fast approaching era that will conclude this present world’s existence.

[Isaiah 24]

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     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
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