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Isaiah 23:1–18 The Lament of the Destruction of Tyre and Sidon
Isaiah 23 is the last of several prophetic warnings against several nations surrounding Israel. Isaiah began this series of pronouncements in Isaiah 10, with a prophecy against Assyria; in this present chapter he prophesies against the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon, two important Phoenician port cities and trading centers located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The inhabitants of both cities were known for their pride and materialism, and for these reasons they were destroyed. The Lord had planned their destruction (23:9), and He used Assyria’s armies to accomplish His plan (23:13). Similar to many of his prophecies, Isaiah formulates both poetic parallelisms and symbols. For example, he personifies Tyre and Sidon, as if they were women (see 23:4, 10, 12). Similarly, elsewhere in the scriptures, God’s city of Zion is also portrayed as a woman.
Wail, O ships of Tarshish. The “ships,” of course, do not wail; rather, the ships’ sailors and merchants wail because of the destruction of their cities, Tyre and Sidon. It is revealed to them from the land of Kittim. The sailors heard about the destruction of Tyre and Sidon from Kittim, which is an early name of Cyprus, a Mediterranean island controlled by Tyre.
Be silent, O inhabitants of the coast. The first command was to “wail,” but now the order is to “be silent”; the once bustling city of Tyre will be silenced by the destruction of her houses, port, and inhabitants.
grain . . . merchandise of the nations. Tyre and Sidon were powerful commercial cities, and their ships carried merchandise—grain, dyed cloth, horses, wine, metal, wood, and oil—to the various nations.
Be ashamed, O Sidon. Sidon is portrayed as a female; the Hebrew uses feminine forms to portray Sidon as a woman.
they experience labor pains. When sailors and merchants in Egypt heard of Tyre’s destruction, they were in pain, like a woman who is in labor.
whose merchants were princes. Tyre’s merchants were so famous and respected, it was as if they were the sons of kings, or princes.
Lord of Hosts has planned it. The Lord planned Tyre’s destruction. The Hebrew ya‘ats (“to plan”) speaks both of the plans made and of the determination to follow through. Elsewhere in Isaiah the Lord plans the destruction of Babylon (14:24, 27) and Egypt (19:12). honored of the earth. This refers to the honor of humankind, not the honor that God gives.
Pass through your land. DSS Isaiah has “Cultivate your land.”
He stretched out His hand. God is omnipotent; by simply stretching out His hand (see also 5:25), He makes “kingdoms tremble” and destroys their “strongholds.”
The Lord addresses Sidon directly, as if she is a woman. He says, “You will no more exult, O oppressed virgin,” because she is about to be destroyed. He also directly addresses the ships (with their merchants and traders), “Wail, O ships of Tarshish, for your stronghold is destroyed,” meaning the cities of Tyre and Sidon, both strongholds along the coast, will be destroyed.
Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years. The prophecy’s timeframe is specific: “seventy years.” The decline of the Assyrian empire permitted Tyre to rebuild and prosper again as a commercial city, about seventy years after her destruction. lifetime of one king. Said to be seventy years. song about the harlot. Just as a “forgotten harlot” wants to revitalize her image and former occupation, Tyre attempts to rebuild her image as a significant city, attractive and alluring to merchants, traders, and others. Tyre, like a harlot, sought to satisfy the carnal desires of men by selling them immorality, idolatry, or even greed.
Tyre . . . will return to its hire, and will play the harlot. Meaning that Tyre will return to its merchandizing and materialism with other kingdoms and will fulfill the worldly lusts of humankind, like a harlot (see also Revelation 18:3).
Its merchandise and its hire will be holiness to the Lord. How will Tyre’s merchandise become “holiness to the Lord”? There are multiple possible answers: the Tyrians and Sidonians provided goods (including lumber) for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple during the time of Nehemiah (Ezra 3:7; Nehemiah 13:16). Much later, inhabitants of both Tyre and Sidon became disciples of Jesus Christ (Mark 3:8; 7:24–25; Luke 6:17); perhaps they contributed merchandise or wares to the building of the kingdom at that time.
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