Isaiah 23
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verses 1-14. - THE BURDEN OF TYRE. We here reach the last of the "burdens" - the concluding chapter of the series of denunciatory prophecies which commenced with Isaiah 13. It is an elegy "in three stanzas, or strophes" (Cheyne) - the first extending from ver. 1 to ver. 5; the second, thence to ver. 9; and the third from ver. 10 to ver. 14. An undertone of sadness, and even of commiseration, prevails throughout it, the prophet viewing Tyre as a fellow-sufferer with Israel, persecuted and oppressed by the fame enemy, Assyria, which was everywhere pushing her conquests, and had recently extended her dominion even over Babylon (ver. 13). This last allusion fixes the date of the prophecy to a time subsequent to B.C. 710, when the Assyrian monarch, Sargon, first conquered the country, and took the title of king (G. Smith, 'Epanym Canon,' p. 86). Verse 1. - Howl (comp. Isaiah 13:6, 31). The expression is common in the prophets (see Jeremiah 4:8; Jeremiah 25:34, etc.: Ezekiel 21:12; Ezekiel 30:2; Joel 1:5, 11, 13; Zephaniah 1:11; Zechariah 11:2, etc.). Ye ships of Tarshish. "Ships of Tarshish" are first mentioned in connection with the trade carried on by Solomon. Apparently, the term there designates a certain class of ship rather than those engaged in a particular trade (see the comment on 1 Kings 22:48 in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 2. p. 623). Here, however, Phoenician ships, actually engaged in the trade with Tartessus, may be intended. Tartessus was a very ancient Phoenician settlement in the south of Spain, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, and was the center of a most important and lucrative commerce (see 1 Kings 10:22; Herod., i. 163; Ezekiel 27:12, etc.). In the present passage the returning fleet of merchantmen is addressed, and told that the harbour to which they are hastening is closed, the city desolate. From the land of Chittim. "Chittim" here, as in Genesis 10:4, and elsewhere generally, is probably Cyprus, whose most ancient capital was called by the Greeks Kitten (see Joseph, 'Ant. Jud,' 1:6, § 1). The name "Chittim" is not improbably a variant of "Khittim," "the Hittites," who may have been the first to colonize the island. A fleet from the Western Mediterranean would naturally touch at Cyprus on its way to Tyro, and would there learn the calamity.
Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Zidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished.
Verse 2. - Be still; rather, be silent, as in the margin. It would be idle to complain or lament. Ye inhabitants of the isle. Tyro was situated on a small isle, which Alexander joined to the mainland by means of a mole (Arrian, 'Exp. Alex.,' 2:23). It is uncertain, however, whether this isle is meant here, or the strip of Phoenician coast, since the Hebrew 'i has both meanings. Thou whom the merchants of Zidon... have replenished. During the flourishing period of Tyro (B.C. 1025-585), Zidon, though it had generally kings of its own, played a secondary part to Tyre, and for the most part acquiesced in Tyrian supremacy. Its best sailors served in the Tyrian fleet (Ezekiel 27:8), and its merchants were content to enrich the recognized "chief city."
And by great waters the seed of Sihor, the harvest of the river, is her revenue; and she is a mart of nations.
Verse 3. - By great waters; rather, on great waters; i.e. on the waters of the Mediterranean (cf. Psalm 107:23; Ezekiel 27:26). The Egyptian vessels conveyed the corn intended for exportation to the ports at the mouths of the Nile, where it was transhipped aboard Phoenician craft, which carried it on the open sea to the countries needing it. We never hear of the Egyptians disputing the trade of the Mediterranean with the Phoenicians and the Greeks, though they certainly had trading-vessels at times on the waters of the Red Sea. The seed of Sihor; i.e. the corn of the Nile valley. "Si-her," or rather "Shihor," is the only proper name by which the Nile is designated in the Hebrew Scriptures. It means "the dark," "the turbid," and may be compared with the modern "Bahr-el-azrak," used of the Eastern or Abyssinian Nile, and with the term" Nilus" itself, if that signifies "the dark blue stream." It occurs, as the name of the Nile, only in Joshua 13:3; 1 Chronicles 13:5; Jeremiah 2:18; and the present place. Is her revenue; i.e. "produces a portion of her annual income." And she is a man of nations (so Gesenius and Ewald). Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne translate, "It is the gain of the nations," referring "it' to the corn which the Tyrians exported.
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.
Verse 4. - Be thou ashamed, O Zidon. Zidon, the most ancient and venerable of the Phoenician cities (Genesis 10:15; Joshua 11:8; Joshua 19:28; Judges 18:7; Justin, 18:3, etc.), is called upon to feel shame because Tyre is captured. The ruin of the metropolitan city would be felt as a disgrace by all the lesser towns, and by Zidon especially. The sea... even the strength of the sea; rather, the stronghold of the sea; i.e. Tyre herself. Tyre declares that she is childless, has neither son nor daughter, is as if she had never travailed nor brought forth children. I travail not, etc.; rather, I have not travailed, nor brought forth, nor nourished up, etc. My children being dead or taken from me, it is as if I had never borne them.
As at the report concerning Egypt, so shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre.
Verse 5. - As at the report concerning Egypt; rather, when the rumor shall reach Egypt (see the Septuagint, the Vulgate, Gesenius, Knobel, Cheyne, etc.). They shall be sorely pained. The Egyptians bore no great affection towards any foreign nation. They were a people whose charity began and ended at home. But the fall of Tyre was always a shock to them, and was felt to portend evil to themselves. The Asiatic power which was strong enough to capture the island-fortress would be a formidable enemy to Egypt itself, and might be expected at no distant date to attempt the conquest of the Nile valley.
Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.
Verse 6. - Pass ye over to Tarshish. The advice was good, and may, perhaps, have been followed to some extent. When Sennacherib attacked Elulaeus of Sidon ( B.C. 701), that monarch fled across the sea ('Records of the Past,' vol. 1. p. 35), probably to Cyprus. When Alexander finally ruined Tyre, a part of the population made its escape on shipboard to Carthage (Arrian,' Exp. Alex.,' 2:24, § 8). An escape of the kind is represented in the Assyrian sculptures (Layard, 'Monuments of Nineveh,' first series, pl. 7l).
Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn.
Verse 7. - Is this your joyous city? literally, your joyous one; i.e. Can this wretched heap of ruins be the rich and joyous Tyre? Whose antiquity is of ancient days. Though regarded as less ancient than Zidon (Justin, 18:3), Tyro nevertheless claimed a very remote antiquity. Herodotus was told (about B.C. 450) that its temple of Hercules (Melkarth) had been built two thousand three hundred years previously (Herod., 2:44). Q. Curtius makes the city to have been founded by Agenor, the father of Cadmus, who was supposed to have lived three hundred years before the Trojan War ('Vit. Alex.,' 4:4). It must be noted, however, on the other hand, that there is no mention at all of Tyro in Homer, and none in Scripture until the time of Joshua (Joshua 19:29), about B.C. 1300. Her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn (so Lowth, Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Ewald, Kay). Others render the passage, "whose feet were wont to carry her afar off to sojourn." In the one case the coming flight and exile, in the other the past commercial enterprise of the city, is pointed at.
Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth?
Verse 8. - Who hath taken this counsel? Who can have conceived the thought of destroying a city at once so powerful and so conducive to the advantage of other states? The answer is given in the next verse. The crowning city; i.e. "the dispenser of crowns." Either to the governors of her colonies, or perhaps to the other cities of Phoenicia Proper. It is not quite clear whether the kings of those cities needed the sanction of Tyro to confirm them on their thrones, or not. The Hebrew word used must certainly be rendered "crowning," and not "crowned." Whose merchants are princes. Not actually sovereigns, but the chief men in the state under the king. Traffickers; literally, Canaanites. But the ethnic name seems to have early acquired the secondary meaning of "traders" (see Proverbs 31:24; Job 41:6).
The LORD of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth.
Verse 9. - The Lord of hosts hath purposed it; rather, hath counseled it. The word is the same as that used in the opening clause of ver. 8. God has conceived the thought of destroying Tyre, for the reasons which the prophet proceeds to specify:

1. To stain the pride of all glory; or, of all beauty. Not that "glory" or "beauty" are displeasing to him, or provoke his envy, as the heathen thought (Herod., 7:10, § 4) but that those who "pride" themselves on their glory and beauty offend him.

2. To bring into contempt all the honorable of the earth; i.e. to render contemptible those whom the world honors, though they do not deserve honor.
Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.
Verse 10. - Pass through thy laud as a river; rather, overflow thy land, as the Nile. Shake off all restraint; that is, give thy desires free vent - be no longer cramped and confined by the restrictions of the metro-polls. Tartessus is addressed, as the leading colony, and perhaps the one most oppressed; and in her person all the colonies are called on to shake themselves free of the mother city. There is no more strength; rather, there is no more a girdle; i.e. there is nothing that need restrain yon - the power of Tyre is gone!
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.
Verse 11. - He stretched out his hand over the sea, By "he" we must understand "Jehovah" (see ver. 9). God has smitten Tyro - the great maritime power - destroyed its dominion, and set its subject cities free. He shook the kingdoms; i.e. not only Tyre, but the other cities of the Phoenician coast, each of which had its own king (Herod., 7:98; Strab., 16. p. 754). Against the merchant city; rather, against Canaan. Phoenicia is called "Canaan," as England is often called "Britain." So the "SyroPhoenician woman" of Mark 7:26 is "a woman of Canaan" in Matthew 15:22.
And he said, Thou shalt no more rejoice, O thou oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon: arise, pass over to Chittim; there also shalt thou have no rest.
Verse 12. - He said. Jehovah continues his threatenings. The oppressed virgin, daughter of Sidon - or rather, the oppressed virgin-daughter of Sidon - may he either. Tyre, which, according to some, was built by fugitives from Zidon, or Phoenicia generally, of which Zidon, as the "firstborn" (Genesis 10:15), was a sort of mother. Pass over to Chittim (comp. ver. 6). Chittim (Cyprus) was a nearer refuge than Tarshish, and far more easily reached; but, on the other hand, it was much less safe. Sargon and Esarhaddon both of them exercised dominion over it; and when Abdi-Milkut, King of Sidon, fled there in the reign of the latter, the Assyrian monarch pursued him, caught him, and "cut off his head" (G. Smith, 'Eponym Canon,' p. 137). Still, it was so often sought by princes flying from Phoenicia when attacked by Assyria, that cuneiform scholars call it "the usual refuge of the Phoenician kings" ('Transactions of Bibl. Archaeology Society,' vol. 4. p. 86). There also shalt thou have no rest. Cyprus submitted to Sargon ('Records of the Past,' vol. 7. p. 26), and again to Esarhaddon (ibid., vol. 8. p. 108). It was included in the dominions of Asshur-bani-pal (G. Smith, 'History of Asshur-bani-pal,' pp. 31, 32). After Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Tyre, it was annexed by Egypt (Herod., 2:182), on the conquest of which country by Cambyses it became Persian. The Phoenicians had "no rest" there after Assyria had once found her way to the island.
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.
Verse 13. - Behold the land of the Chaldeans (comp. Isaiah 13:19; Isaiah 47:1, 5; Isaiah 48:14, 20). Like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Isaiah knows the people as Chahleans (Kasdim), the capital as Babylon. Kaldi, in the inscriptions, is a rare word, and the name of a not very important tribe. Yet Berosus uses the term to designate the whole nation. This people was not; rather, is not; i.e. "is no more a people" - "has ceased to exist." Sargon conquered Babylon in B.C. 710, and made himself king, ruling it, together with Assyria, until B.C. 705, when it rebelled and recovered its independence. Sennacherib reconquered it in B.C. 704, and again in B.C. 700, when he made his eldest son viceroy. Esarhaddon ruled over both countries, as did Asshur-bani-pal. Though later (about B.C. 620-610) Babylon reasserted her independence, and became a great empire, yet Isaiah was justified, at almost any period of his life after B.C. 710, in speaking of her as non-existent. Till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness. There is no "till" in the original. The clause is separate and independent, not connected grammatically with the preceding. Nor does it assert that the Assyrians "founded" Babylon for any one, but only that they "established" it, or "appointed" it to be a habitation for "the beasts of the desert" (comp. Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14; Jeremiah 1:39, etc.). The prophet views the Assyrians as intending to reduce Babylon to ruins, and leave it waste and uninhabited. The towers thereof; i.e. the siege-towers requisite for reducing so strong a city. They raised up; rather, they made bare (cf. Habakkuk 3:9). He brought it to ruin. "He" is "the Assyrian." The case of Babylon is adduced to increase the alarm of Tyro, by reminding the inhabitants of what the Assyrians had done to a town greater and stronger than their own. The allusion is probably to certain severities of Sargon's in B.C. 710, which, however, are rhetorically exaggerated. It was never the policy of the Assyrians to depopulate or destroy Babylon.
Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste.
Verse 14. - Howl, ye ships of Tarshish (comp. ver. 1). The ships that traded with Tarshish, not those belonging to Tarshish, are intended. Your strength is laid waste; rather, your stronghold; i.e. Tyre itself. The elegy ends as it began, with a statement of the bare fact. Alexander's destruction of the city was the final and complete fulfillment of the prophecy. The captures by Esarhaddou (G. Smith, 'Eponym Canon,' pp. 139-142), by Asshur-bani-pal (ibid., pp. 144.145), and by Nebuchadnezzar, were anticipations of the final one, and partial fulfillments of the prophecy.
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.
Verses 15-18. - TYRE'S RESTORATION TO PROSPERITY AND CONVERSION TO JEHOVAH. After an interval, expressed by the symbolic number of" seventy years," Tyre is to rise from her ashes, and become once more a prosperous state, resuming her former occupation of a "merchant city," and once more making great gains, which she will devote to the service of Jehovah. St. Jerome thought that this prophecy had not been accomplished in his day. If so, it cannot be said to have been accomplished yet; unless, indeed, Tyre may be regarded as representing the commercial spirit, which. under Christianity, is not necessarily alien from religion, but shows itself sometimes altogether friendly to the Church, supplying ways and means for ten thousand philanthropic and praiseworthy enterprises (ver. 18). Verse 15. - Tyro shall be forgotten; i.e. "shall cease to occupy men's thoughts, as a factor in politics - shall pass out of their calculations, and count for nothing." Seventy years. "Forty years" and "seventy years" are the chief representatives in Scripture of an indefinite time. The week of creation seems to have given to seven its quasi-sacred character, which passed from the primary number to the corresponding decimal one. The sacred use of "seventy" appears first in the "seventy elders" who accompanied Moses to the covenant-feast on Sinai (Exodus 24:9). After this, "seventy 'talents are mentioned as the weight of the bronze offerings for the tabernacle (Exodus 38:29), and "seventy" shekels as the weight of the silver bowls offered by the heads of tribes when the tabernacle was set up (Numbers 7:13-85). The "indefinite" us, of "seventy" is most apparent in such expressions as that of Genesis 4:24, "If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, surely Lamech seventy and sevenfold;" and that of Matthew 18:22, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." "Seventy" seems also to be indefinite in Exodus 15:27; Numbers 33:9; Judges 1:7; Judges 12:13; 2 Samuel 24:15; 1 Kings 5:15: 1 Chronicles 21:14, etc. It is absurd to count the "seventy years" of the present passage, as some do, from the accession of Nebuchadnezzar to the death of Nabonidus, for neither did Tyro begin to be forgotten in the first year of the one prince, nor did she immediately recover herself on the death of the other. According to the days of one king; or, like the days of one king. The period, whatever its length, should be to Type "like the days of one king;" i.e. unchanging, without hope. Oriental kings prided themselves on maintaining an unaltered policy (cf. 2 Kings 25:27; Isaiah 14:17). Shall Tyre sing as an harlot; literally, it shall be to Tyre as [in] the song of the harlot. A particular song seems to be meant, part of which the prophet proceeds to quote in the next verse.
Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.
Verse 16. - Take an harp. Harlots in the East, and indeed in the West also in ancient times (Her., 'Epist.,' 1:14, 1. 25), were expected to be musicians. The harp and the guitar were their usual instruments. Forgotten harlot. In addressing. Tyro as a "harlot," the prophet does not seem to mean more than that her aims were, or at any rate had been, selfish and worldly, such as sever between man and God. She had pursued wealth for the enjoyments that it brought her, not in order to make a good use of it. Hers had been the covetousness which is "idolatry" (Colossians 3:5).
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.
Verse 17. - The Lord will visit Tyre. In mercy, not in judgment (cf. Jeremiah 27:22; Jeremiah 29:10). She shall turn to her hire; i.e. "to her commerce," to her former mode of life. But with the difference noted in ver. 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.
Verse 18. - Her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or debasing in commerce. Rightly pursued, and engaged in with the view of devoting the profits made in it to good and pious ends, the commercial life may be as religious, and as acceptable to God as any other. The world has known many merchants who were Christians, in the highest sense of the word. Solomon in his best days was a merchant (1 Kings 9:27, 28; 1 Kings 10:22), but one who employed the wealth which he derived from commerce to the honor and glory of God. It shall not be treasured nor laid up. The merchants shall not lay it up in their own coffers, but expend it wisely and religiously. It shall be for them that dwell before the Lord; i.e. it shall be applied to religious uses - to the sustentation of ministers, the relief of the poor and necessitous among God's people, and other similar purposes. Such an employment of the gains made sanctifies commerce, and makes it a good and a blessed thing.

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