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This prophecy respects Tyre, and extends only to the end of this chapter. It is made up of a succession of “apostrophes” directed either to Tyre itself, or to the nations with which it was accustomed to trade. The first part of the prophecy Isaiah 23:1-13 is occupied with the account of the “judicial sentence” which God had passed upon Tyre. This is not done in a direct and formal manner, but by addresses to the various people with whom the Tyrians had commercial contact, and who would be particularly affected by its destruction. Thus Isaiah 23:1 the prophet calls on the ships of Tarshish to ‘howl’ because their advantageous commerce with Tyre must cease. This intelligence respecting the calamities that had come upon Tyre, he says would be brought to them ‘from the land of Chittim’ Isaiah 23:1, that is, from the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean. In Isaiah 23:2, the calamity is described as coming directly on the island on which Tyre was built. In the subsequent verses, the prophet describes the sources of the wealth of Tyre Isaiah 23:3, and declares that her great luxury and splendor would be destroyed Isaiah 23:5-12. In Isaiah 23:13, the prophet says that this would be done by the ‘Chaldeans;’ and this verse serves to fix the time of the fulfillment to the siege of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar. In this all commentators probably (except Grotius, who supposes that it refers to Aexander the Great) are agreed. Indeed, it seems to be past all doubt, that the events here referred to pertain to the siege of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar. In the remainder of the prophecy (Isaiah 23:14 to the end of the chapter), the prophet declares the “time” during which this calamity would continue. He declares that it would be only for seventy years Isaiah 23:14, and that after that, Tyre would be restored to her former splendor, magnificence, and successful commerce Isaiah 23:16-17; and that then her wealth would be consecrated to the service of Yahweh Isaiah 23:18.
The “design” of the prophecy is, therefore, to foretell the calamities that would come upon a rich, proud, and luxurious city; and tries to show that God was Governor and Ruler over the nations of the earth. Tyre became distinguished for pride, luxury, and consequent dissipation; and the destruction that was to come upon it was to be a demonstration that wicked nations and cities wound incur the displeasure of God, and would be destroyed.
Tyre, the subject of the prophecies, particularly of Isaiah and Ezekiel, who both predicted its overthrow Isaiah 23:0; Ezek. 26–29, was a celebrated city of Phenicia, and is usually mentioned in connection with Sidon Matthew 11:21, Matthew 11:22; Matthew 15:21; Mark 3:8; Mark 7:24, Mark 7:31; Luke 10:13-14. It was on the coast of the Mediterranean, about lat. 33 degrees 20’ N., and was about twenty miles south of Sidon. It was one of the cities allotted to the tribe of Asher Joshua 19:29, but it is probable that the ancient inhabitants were never driven out by the Israelites. It seems to have been occupied by the Canaanites, and is always mentioned as inhabited by a distinct people from the Jews 2 Samuel 24:7; 1 Kings 7:13-14; 1 Kings 9:12; Ezra 3:7; Nehemiah 13:16; Psalms 83:7; Psalms 87:4. It was probably built by a colony from Sidon: since Isaiah Isaiah 23:12 calls it the ‘daughter of Zidon,’ and it is said Isaiah 23:2 to have been replenished by Sidon. That Sidon was the most ancient city there can be no doubt. “Sidon” was the oldest son of Canaan Genesis 10:15, and the city of Sidon is mentioned by the patriarch Jacob Genesis 49:13, and in the time of Joshua it is called ‘Great Sidon’ Joshua 11:8. Strabo affirms that “after Sidon,” Tyre was the most celebrated city of the Phenicians. Justin (xviii. 1, 5), expressly declares that the Sidonians, being besieged by the king of Ascalon, went in ships and built Tyre. But though Tyre was the ‘daughter’ of Sidon, yet it soon rivaled in importance, and in commercial enterprise.
Among the ancient writers, Tyre is mentioned as Palaeo-Tyrus (Παλαίτυρος Palaituros) or ancient Tyre, and as Insular Tyre. The former was built on the “coast,” and was doubtless built first, though there is - evidence that the latter was early used as a place for anchorage, or a harbor. In Old Tyre, or Tyre on the coast, undoubtedly also the most magnificent edifices would be built, and the principal business would there be at first transacted. Probably Insular Tyre was built either because it furnished a better harbor, or because, being inaccessible to an invading army, it was more secure. Insular Tyre, as the name imports, was built on an island, or a “rock,” about three quarters of a mile from the coast, or from Old Tyre. Probably the passage from one to the other was formerly by a ferry, or in boats only, until Alexander the Great, in his siege of the city, built a mole from the ruins of the old city to the new. This mole, or embankment, was not less than 200 feet in breadth, and constituted a permanent connection between Tyre and the mainland. Insular Tyre was remarkably safe from the danger of invasion. It commanded the sea, and of course had nothing to dread from that quarter; and the only mode in which it could become accessible to Alexander, was to build this gigantic causeway from the mainland.
Tyre was distinguished for its enterprise, its commercial importance, its luxury, and its magnificence. Few, perhaps none, of the cities of antiquity, were more favorably situated for commerce. It was the natural seaport of Palestine and Syria, and it was favorably situated for commerce with all the cities and states bordering on the Mediterranean, and, indeed, with all the known world. The luxuries of the East passed through Tyre (see Ezekiel 27:0, where there is an extended description of the various nations that trafficked with and enriched it), and the productions of distant climes from the West were introduced to the East through this sea-port. It rose, therefore, to great opulence, and to consequent luxury and sin.
It was also a place of great strength. Old Tyre was defended by a wall, which was regarded as impregnable, and which is said to have resisted the attacks of Nebuchadnezzar for thirteen years. New, or Insular Tyre, was inaccessible, until Alexander constructed the immense mole by which he connected it with the mainland, and as they had the command of the sea, the city was regarded unapproachable. Alexander could not hare taken it had he not possessed resources, and patience, and power, which perhaps no other ancient conqueror possessed; and had he not engaged in an enterprise which perhaps all others would have regarded as impracticable and hopeless. Josephus, indeed, states, that Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, made war against the Tyrians, with a fleet of sixty ships, manned by 800 rowers. The Tyrians had but twelve ships, yet they obtained the victory, and dispersed the Assyrian fleet, taking 500 prisoners. Shalmaneser then besieged the city for five years, but was unable to take it. This was in the time of Hezekiah, A.M. 3287, or about 717 b.c.
Nebuchadnezzar took the city after a siege of thirteen years, during the time of the Jewish captivity, about 573 years before Christ. This was in accordance with the prophecy in this chapter (see the note at Isaiah 23:13), and according to the predictions also of Ezekiel. The desolation was entire. The city was destroyed, and the inhabitants driven into foreign lands (see Isaiah 23:7, note; Isaiah 23:12, note). The city lay desolate for seventy years (see Isaiah 23:15, note; Isaiah 23:17, note), and Old Tyre was in ruins in the time of the invasion of Alexander the Great. A new city had risen, however, on the island, called New Tyre, and this city was taken by Alexander, after a siege of eight months. Near the shore the water is said to have been shallow, but near the new city it was three fathoms, or nineteen feet in depth. The city of Tyre was taken by Alexander 332 b.c. and 241 years after its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, and consequently about 170 years after it had been rebuilt.
It was not, however, entirely destroyed by Alexander, and became an object of contention to his successors. It was successively invested by Antigonas and Ptolemy, and fell into the hands of the latter. In the apostolic age it seems to have regained somewhat of its ancient splendor. There were some Christians here Acts 21:3-4. At present it belongs to Syria. It was often an object of contention during the crusades, and was distinguished as the first archbishopric under the patriarchate of Jerusalem. It gradually sunk into decay, lost its importance, and became a place of utter ruin. Volney noticed there, in 1784, the choir of the ancient church, the remains of the walls of the city which can still be traced, and some columns of red granite, a species unknown in Syria. In the time when it was visited by Volhey and Maundrell, it was a miserable village, where the inhabitants subsisted chiefly by fishing.
Its exports consist only of a few sacks of corn and cotton; and the only merchant of which it could boast in the time when Volney was there, was a solitary Greek, who could hardly gain a livelihood. At present, Tyre, or, as it is called, “Sur,” is nothing more than a market town, a small seaport, hardly deserving the name of a city. Its chief export is the tobacco raised on the neighboring hills; with some cotton, and also charcoal and wood from the more distant mountains. The houses are for the most part mere hovels, very few being more than one story high, with flat roofs. The streets are narrow lanes, crooked, and filthy. Yet the many scattered palm trees throw over the place an oriental charm; and the numerous Pride of India trees interspersed among the houses and gardens, with their beautiful foliage, give it a pleasing aspect. It has a population of less than three thousand souls. In 1837, an earthquake was felt here to a very considerable extent. A large part of the eastern wall was thrown down, and the southern wall was greatly shattered, and several houses were destroyed (see Robinson’s “Bib. Researches,” vol. iii. p. 400; Robinson’s Calmet; “Edin. Ency.;” Newton, “On the Prophecies,” vol. xi.; Keith, “On the Prophecies;” and the “Travels” of Volney and Maundrell. On the ancient commercial importance of Tyre, also, and its present situation, and the “cause” of its decline, the reader may consult an article in the “Amos Bib. Rep.” for October 1840).
The burden of Tyre - (see the note at Isaiah 13:1)
Howl - This is a highly poetic description of the destruction that was coming on Tyre. The ships of Tarshish traded there; and the prophet now addresses the ships, and calls upon them to lament because the commerce by which they had been enriched was to be destroyed, and they were to be thrown out of employ.
Ye ships of Tarshish - (see the note at Isaiah 2:16). The ‘Tarshish’ here referred to, was doubtless a city or country in Spain (Ταρτησσὸς Tartēssos), and was the most celebrated emporium to which the Phenicians traded. It is mentioned by Diod. Sic., v. 35-38; Strabo, iii. 148; Pliny, “Nat. Hist.” iii. 3. According to Jeremiah 10:9, it exported silver; according to Ezekiel 27:12, Ezekiel 27:25, it exported silver, iron, tin, and lead, to the Tyrian market. In this chapter Isaiah 23:1, Isaiah 23:6, Isaiah 23:10, it is represented as an important Phenician or Tyrian colony. All the circumstances agree with the supposition that “Tartessus” in Spain is the place “here” referred to. The name ‘Tartessus’ (Ταρτησσὸς Tartēssos) is derived from the Hebrew תרשׁישׁ tarshiysh by a change simply in the pronunciation (see Bochart, “Geo. Sacra,” iii. 7, and John D. Michaelis, “Spicileg. Geo. Heb.” i. 82-103).
For it is laid waste - Tyre is laid waste; that is, in vision it was made to pass before the mind of the prophet as laid waste, or as it “would” be (see the notes at Isaiah 1:1).
So that there is no house - It would be completely destroyed. This was the case with old Tyre after the conquest by Nebuchadnezzar, and it remained so. See the analysis of the chapter.
No entering in - No harbor; no port; where the ships could remain, and with which they could continue to trade. Tyre was once better situated for commerce, and had greater natural advantages, than any port in the Mediterranean. Those advantages have, however, to a great extent passed away, and natural causes combine to confirm the truth of the divine predictions that it should cease to be a place of commerce. The merchandise of India, which was once conveyed overland through Babylon and Palmyra, and which found its natural outlet at Tyre, is now carried around the Cape of Good Hope, and will never again be restored to its old channel. Besides, Tyre itself, which once had so fine a harbor, has ceased to be a safe haven for large vessels. Robinson (George) says of its harbor, in 1830, ‘It is a small circular basin, now quite filled up with sand and broken columns, leaving scarcely space enough for small boats to enter.
The few fishing boats that belong to the place are sheltered by some rocks to the westward of the island.’ (“Travels in Syria and Palestine,” vol. i. p. 269). Shaw, who visited Tyre in 1738, says of the harbor, ‘I visited several creeks and inlets, in order to discover what provision there might have been formerly made for the security of their vessels. Yet, notwithstanding that Tyre was the chief maritime power of this country, I could not discover the least token of either “cothon” or harbor that could have been of extraordinary capacity. The coasting ships, indeed, still and a tolerably good shelter from the northern winds, under the southern shore, but are obliged immediately to return when the winds change to the west or south; so that there must have been some better station than this for their security and reception. In the N. N. E. part, likewise, of the city, we see the traces of a safe and commodious basin, lying within the walls; but which, at the same time, is very small, scarce forty yards in diameter.
Yet even this port, small as it is at present, is, notwithstanding, so choked up with sand and rubbish, that the boats of those poor fishermen who now and then visit this renowned emporium, can, with great difficulty, only be admitted’ (“Travels,” pp. 330, 331. Ed. fol. Oxon. 1738). Dr. Robin son says of the port of Tyre, ‘The inner port Dr basin on the north was formerly enclosed by a wall, running from the north end of the island in a curve toward the main land. Various pieces and fragments of this wall yet remain, sufficient to mark its course; but the port itself is continually filling up more and more with sand, and now-a-days boats only can enter it. Indeed, our host informed us, that even within his own recollection, the water covered the open place before his own house, which at present is ten or twelve rods from the sea, and is surrounded with buildings; while older people remember, that vessels formerly anchored where the shore now is’ (“Bib. Researches,” vol. iii. p. 397).
From the land of Chittim - This means, probably, from the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean. In regard to the meaning of the word “Chittim,” the following is the note of Gesenius on this verse: ‘Among the three different opinions of ancient and modern interpreters, according to which they sought for the land of Chittim in Italy, Macedonia, and Cyprus, I decidely prefer the latter, which is also the opinion of Josephus (“Ant.” i. 6, 1). According to this, Chittim is the island Cyprus, so called from the Phoenician colony, Kition, (Citium), in the southern part of the island, but still in such a sense, that this name Chittim was, at a later period, employed also in a wider sense, to designate other islands and countries adjacent to the coasts of the Mediterranean, as, e. g., Macedonia (Daniel 11:30; Daniel 1:0 Macc. 1:1; 8:5). This is also mentioned by Josephus. That Κίτιον Kition (Citium) was sometimes used for the whole island of Cyprus, and also in a wider sense for other islands, is expressly asserted by Epiphanius, who himself lived in Cyprus, as a well-known fact (“Adv. Haeres.” xxx. 25); where he says, “it is manifest to all that the island of Cyprus is called Κίτιον Kition (Citium), for the Cyprians and “Rhodians” (Ῥόδιοι Rodioi) are called “Kitians” Κίτιοι Kitioi.”
It could also be used of the Macedonians, because they were descended from the Cyprians and Rhodians. That most of the cities of Cyprus were Phenician colonies, is expressly affirmed by Diodorus (ii. 114; compare Herod. vii. 90), and the proximity of the island to Phenicia, together with its abundant supply of productions, especially such as were essential in shipbuilding, would lead us to expect nothing else. One of the few passages of the Bible which give a more definite hint in regard to Chittim is Ezekiel 27:6, which agrees very well with Cyprus: “Of the oaks of Bashan do they make them oars; thy ships’ benches do they make of ivory, encased with cedar from the isles of Chittim.” The sense of this passage is, that the fleets coming from Tarshish (Tartessus) to Tyre, would, on their way, learn from the inhabitants of Cyprus the news of the downfall of Tyre.’
It is revealed to them - If we understand “Chittim” to denote the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean, it means that the navigators in the ships of Tarshish would learn the intelligence of the destruction of Tyre from those coasts or islands where they might stop on their way. Tyre was of so much commercial importance that the news of its fall would spread into all the islands of the Mediterranean.
Be still - This is the description of a city which is destroyed, where the din of commerce, and the sound of revelry is no longer heard. It is an address of the prophet to Tyre, indicating that it would be soon still, and destroyed.
Ye inhabitants of the isle - (of Tyre). The word ‘isle’ (אי 'iy) is sometimes used to denote a “coast or maritime region” (see the note at Isaiah 20:6), but there seems no reason to doubt that here it means the island on which New Tyre was erected. This may have been occupied even before Old Tyre was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, though the main city was on the crest.
Thou whom the merchants of Zidon - Tyre was a colony from Sidon; and the merchants of Sidon would trade to Tyre as well as to Sidon.
Have replenished - Hebrew, ‘have filled,’ that is, with merchandise, and with wealth. Thus, in Ezekiel 27:8, Tyre is represented as having derived its seamen from Sidon: ‘Theinhabitants of Sidon and of Arvad were thy mariners.’ And in Ezekiel 27:9-23, Tyre is represented as having been filled with shipbuilders, merchants, mariners, soldiers, etc., from Gebal, Persia, Lud, Phut, Tarshish, Jayvan, Tubal, Mesheck, Dedan, Syria, Damascus, Arabia, etc.
And by great waters - That is, by the abundant-waters, or the overflowing of the Nile. Tyre was the mart to which the superabundant productions of Egypt were borne (see Ezekiel 27:0)
The seed of Sihor - There can be no doubt that by ‘Sihor’ here is meant the river Nile in Egypt (see Joshua 13:3; 1 Chronicles 13:5; Jeremiah 2:18). The word שׁחר shichor is derived from שׁחר shachar, “to be black” Job 30:30, and is given to the Nile from its color when it brings down the slime or mud by which Egypt is rendered so fertile. The Greeks gave to the river the name Μέλας Melas (“black”), and the Latins call it “Melo” - (Serv. ad Virg. “Geor.” iv. 291. It was called “Siris” by the Ethiopians; perhaps the same as Sihor. The upper branches of the Nile in Abyssinia all receive their names from the “color” of the water, and are called the White River, the Blue River, etc.
The harvest of the river - The productions caused by the overflowing of the river. Egypt was celebrated for producing grain, and Rome and Greece derived no small part of their supplies from that fertile country. It is also evident that the inhabitants of Palestine were early accustomed to go to Egypt in time of scarcity for supplies of grain (see Genesis 37:25, Genesis 37:28, and the history of Joseph, Gen. 41–43) That the “Tyrians” traded with Egypt is also well known. Herodotus (ii. 112) mentions one entire quarter of the city of Memphis that was inhabited by the Tyrians.
Is her revenue - Her resources are brought from thence.
She is a mart of nations - How true this was, see Ezekiel 27:0. No place was more favorably situated for commerce; and she had engrossed the trade nearly of all the world.
Be thou ashamed, O Zidon - Tyre was a colony of Sidon. Sidon is here addressed as the mother of Tyre, and is called on to lament over her daughter that was destroyed. In Isaiah 23:12, Tyre is called the ‘daughter of Sidon;’ and such appellations were commonly given to cities (see the note at Isaiah 1:8). Sidon is here represented as ashamed, or grieved - as a mother is who is bereft of all her children.
The sea hath spoken - New Tyre was on a rock at some distance from the land, and seemed to rise out of the sea, somewhat as Venice does It is described here as a production of the sea, and the sea is represented as speaking by her.
Even the strength of the sea - The fortress, or strong place (מעוז mā‛ôz) of the sea. Tyre, on a rock, might be regarded as the strong place, or the defense of the Mediterranean. Thus Zechariah Zechariah 9:3 says of it. ‘And Tyrus did build herself a stronghold’ (מצור mâtsôr).
Saying, I travail not - The expresssions which follow are to be regarded as the language of Tyre - the founder of colonies and cities. The sense is, ‘My wealth and resources are gone. My commerce is annihilated. I cease to plant cities and colonies, and to nourish and foster them, as I once did, by my trade.’ The idea of the whole verse is, that the city which had been the mistress of the commercial world, and distinguished for founding other cities and colonies, was about to lose her importance, and to cease to extend her colonies and her influence over other countries. Over this fact, Sidon, the mother and founder of Tyre herself, would be humbled and grieved that her daughter, so proud, so rich, and so magnificent, was brought so low.
As at the report concerning Egypt - According to our translation, this verse would seem to mean that the Sidonians and other nations had been pained or grieved at the report of the calamities that had come upon Egypt, and that they would be similarly affected at the report concerning Tyre. In accordance with this, some (as Jarchi) have understood it of the plagues of Egypt, and suppose that the prophet means to say, that as the nations were astonished at that, so they would be at the report of the calamities that would come upon Tyre. Others refer it to the calamities that. would come upon Egypt referred to in Isaiah 19:0, and suppose that the prophet means to say, that as the nations would be amazed at the report of these calamities, so they would be at the report of the overthrow of Tyre. So Vitringa. But the sense of the Hebrew may be expressed thus: ‘As the report, or tidings of the destruction of Tyre shall reach Egypt, they shall be pained at the tidings respecting Tyre.’ So Lowth, Noyes, Rosenmuller, Grotius, Calvin. They would be grieved, either
(1) because the destruction of Tyre would injure the commerce of Egypt; or
(2) because the Egyptians might fear that the army of Nebuchadnezzar would come upon them, and that they would share the fate of Tyre.
Sorely pained - The word used here (יחילוּ yâchı̂ylû) is commonly applied to the severe pain of parturition.
Pass ye over - That is, ye inhabitants of tyre. This is an address to Tyre, in view of her approaching destruction; and is designed to signify that when the city was destroyed, its inhabitants would flee to its colonies, and seek refuge and safety there. As Tarshish was one of its principal colonies, and as the ships employed by Tyre would naturally sail to Tarshish, the inhabitants are represented as fleeing there on the attack of Nebucbadnezzar. That the inhabitants of Tyre did fire in this manner, is expressly asserted by Jerome upon the authority of Assyrian histories which are now lost. ‘We have read,’ says he, ‘in the histories of the Assyrians, that when the Tyrians were besieged, after they saw no hope of escaping, they went on board their ships, and fled to Cartilage, or to some islands of the Ionian and AEgean Sea’ (Jerome in loc.) And again (on Ezekiel 29:0) he says, ‘When the Tyrians saw that the works for carrying on the siege were perfected, and the foundations of the walls were shaken by the battering rams, whatever precious things in gold, silver, clothes, and various kinds of furniture the nobility had, they put them on board their ships, and carried to the islands. So that the city being taken, Nebuchadnezzar found nothing worthy of his labor.’ Diodorus (xvii. 41) relates the same thing of the Tyrians during the siege of Alexander the Great, where he says that they took their wives and children to Carthage.
Howl - Deep grief among the Orientals was usually expressed by a loud, long, and most dismal howl or shriek (see the note at Isaiah 15:2).
Ye inhabitants of the isle - Of Tyre. The word ‘isle,’ however, may be taken as in Isaiah 20:6 (see the note on that place), in, the sense of coast, or maritime country in general, and possibly may be intended to denote Old Tyre, or the coast of Phenicia in general, though most naturally it applies to the city built on the island.
Is this your joyous city - Is this the city that was just now so full of happiness, of revelry, of business, of gaiety, of rejoicing? (see the note at Isaiah 22:2)
Whose antiquity is of ancient days - Strabo (xvi. 756) says, ‘After Sidon, Tyre, a splendid and most ancient city, is to be compared in greatness, beauty, and antiquity, with Sidon.’ Curtius (Hist. Alex. iv. 4) says, ‘The city was taken, distinguished both by its antiquity, and its great variety of fortune.’ Arrian (ii. 16) says, that ‘the Temple of Hercules at Tyre was the most ancient of those which the memory of people have preserved.’ And Herodotus (ii. 44) says, that in a conversation which he had with the priest of that temple, he informed him that it had then existed for 2300 years. Josephus, indeed, says (Ant. viii. 3. 1) that Tyre was built but 240 years before the temple was built by Solomon - but this was probably a mistake. Justin (xviii. 3) says that Tyre was founded in the year of the destruction of Troy. Its very high antiquity cannot be doubted.
Her own feet shall carry her afar off - Grotius supposes that by feet here, the ‘feet of ships’ are intended, that is, their sails and oars. But the expression is designed evidently to stand in contrast with Isaiah 23:6, and to denote that a part of the inhabitants would go by land into captivity. Probably many of them were taken prisoners by Nebuchadnezzar; and perhaps many of them, when the city was besieged, found opportunity to escape and flee by land to a distant place of safety.
Who hath taken this counsel? - To whom is this to be traced? Is this the work of man, or is it the plan of God? - questions which would naturally arise at the contemplation of the ruin of a city so ancient and so magnificent. The object of this question is to trace it all to God; and this perhaps indicates the scope of the prophecy - to show that God reigns, and does all his pleasure ever cities and kingdoms.
The crowning city - The distributer of crowns; or the city from which dependent towns, provinces, and kingdoms had arisen. Many colonies and cities had been founded by Tyre. Tartessus in Spain, Citium in Cyprus, Carthage in Africa, and probably many other places were Phenician colonies, and derived their origin from Tyre, and were still its tributaries and dependants (compare Ezekiel 27:33).
Whose merchants are princes - Princes trade with thee; and thus acknowledge their dependence on thee. Or, thy merchants are splendid, gorgeous, and magnificent like princes. The former, however, is probably the meaning.
Whose traffickers - (כנעניה kı̂ne‛âneyhâ, Canaanites). As the ancient inhabitants of Canaan were “traffickers or merchants,” the word came to denote merchants in general (see Job 41:6; Ezekiel 17:4; Hosea 12:7; Zephaniah 1:1 l). So the word Chaldean came to mean astrologers, because they were celebrated for astrology.
The Lord of hosts hath purposed it - (see the note at Isaiah 1:9). It is not by human counsel that it has been done. Whoever is the instrument, yet the overthrow of wicked, proud, and vicious cities and nations is to be traced to the God who rules in the empires and kingdoms of the earth (see the notes at Isaiah 10:5-7).
To stain, the pride of all glory - Margin, ‘Pollute.’ The Hebrew word (חלל chalēl) means properly to bore, or pierce through; to open, make common Leviticus 19:29; then to profane, defile, pollute, as, e. g., the sanctuary Leviticus 19:8; Leviticus 21:9, the Sabbath Exodus 31:14, the name of God Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 19:12. Here it means that the destruction of Tyre would show that God could easily level it all with the dust. The destruction of Tyre would show this in reference to all human glory, because:
(1) it was one of the most ancient cities;
(2) it was one of the most magnificent;
(3) it was one: of the most strong, secure, and inaccessible;
(4) it was the one of most commercial importante, most distinguished in the view of nations; and
(5) its example would be the most striking and impressive.
God often selects the most distinguished and important cities and people to make them examples to others, and to show the ease with which he can bring all down to the earth.
To bring into contempt ... - To bring their plans and purposes into contempt, and to show how unimportant and how foolish are their schemes in the sight of a holy God.
Pass through thy land as a river - This verse has been very variously understood. Vitringa supposes that it means that all that held the city together - its fortifications, walls, etc., would be laid waste, and that as a river flows on without obstruction, so the inhabitants would be scattered far and near. Everything, says he, would be leveled, and the field would not be distinguishable from the city. Grotius thus renders it: ‘Pass to some one of thy colonies; as a river flows from the fountain to the sea, so do you go to the ocean.’ Lowth understands it also as relating to the time of the destruction of Tyre, and to the escape which the inhabitants would then make.
‘Overflow thy land like a river,
O daughter of Tarshish; the mound (that kept in thy waters)
Is no more.’
The Septuagint renders it, ‘Cultivate (Ἐργάζον Ergazon) thy land, for the ships shall no more come from Carthage’ (Καρχηδόνος Karchēdonos) Probably the true meaning is that which refers it to the time of the siege, and to the fact that the inhabitants would seek other places when their defense was destroyed. That is, ‘Pass through thy territories, thy dependent cities, states, colonies, and seek a refuge there; or wander there like a flowing stream.’
As a river - Perhaps the allusion is to the Nile, as the word יאר ye'or is usually given to the Nile; or it may be to any river that flows on with a mighty current when all obstructions are removed. The idea is, that as waters flow on when the barriers are removed, so the inhabitants of Tyre would pour forth from their city. The idea is not so much that of rapidity, as it is they should go like a stream that has no dikes, barriers, or obstacles now to confine its flowing waters.
O daughter of Tarshish - Tyre; so called either because it was in some degree sustained and supplied by the commerce of Tarshish; or because its inhabitants would become the inhabitants of Tarshish, and it is so called by anticipation. The Vulgate renders this, “Filia marias” - ‘Daughter of the sea. Juntos supposes that the prophet addresses those who were then in the city who were natives of Tarshish, and exhorts them to flee for safety to their own city.
There is no more strength - Margin, ‘Girdle.’ The word מזח mēzach means properly a girdle Job 12:31. It is applied to that which binds or secures the body; and may be applied here perhaps to that which secured or bound the city of Tyre; that is, its fortifications, its walls, its defenses. They would all be leveled; and nothing would secure the inhabitants, as they would flow forth as waters that are pent up do, when every barrier is removed.
He stretched out his hand - That is, Yahweh (see Isaiah 23:9). To stretch out the hand is indicative of punishment (see the notes at Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 9:12), and means that God has resolved to inflict exemplary punishment on Tyre and its dependent colonies.
Over the sea - That is, over the sea coast of Phenicia; or over the cities that were built on the coast. This alludes to the fact that Nebuchadnezzar would lay siege to these cities, and would ravage the maritime coast of Phenicia. It is not improbable also that, having taken Tyre, he would extend his conquests to Citium, on the island of Cyprus, and destroy as many of the dependent cities of Tyre as possible.
The Lord hath given a commandment - The control here asserted over Nebuchadnezzar is similar to that which he asserted over the Assyrian Sennacherib (see the note at Isaiah 10:5).
Against the merchant city - Hebrew, ‘Against Canaan’ (על־כנען 'el-kena‛an). The word ‘Canaan’ may here be used as in Isaiah 23:8, to denote a place given to merchandise or traffic, since this was the principal employment of the inhabitants of this region; but it is rather to be taken in its obvious and usual sense in the Scriptures, as denoting the land of Canaan, and as denoting that Nebuchadnezzar would be sent against that, and especially the maritime parts of it, to lay it waste.
To destroy the strongholds thereof - That is, the strongholds of Canaan; as Tyre, Sidon, Accho, etc. Tyre, especially, was strongly fortified, and was able long to resist the arms of the Chaldeans.
And he said - God said Isaiah 23:9.
Thou shalt no more rejoice - The sense is, that Tyre was soon to be destroyed. It does not mean that it should never afterward exult or rejoice, for the prophet says Isaiah 23:17, that after its destruction it would be restored, and again be filled with exultation and joy.
O thou oppressed Virgin - Lowth renders this, ‘O thou deflowered virgin,’ expressing the sense of the word המעשׁקה hame‛ushâqâh.
O daughter of Zidon - Isaiah 23:4. “Pass over to Chittim” (see the note at Isaiah 23:1). The idea is, that under the siege the inhabitants of Tyre would seek refuge in her colonies, and the cities that were dependent on her.
There also shalt thou have no rest - It is not improbable that Nebuchadnezzar would carry his arms to Cyprus - on which the city of Citium was - where the Tyrians would take refuge first. Megasthenes, who lived about 300 years before Christ, says of Nebuchadnezzar that he subdued a great part of Africa and Spain, and that he carried his arms so far as the Pillars of Hercules (see Newton, On the Prophecies, xi. 11). But whether this refers to the oppressions which Nebuchadnezzar would bring on them or not, it is certain that the colonies that sprung from Phenicia were exposed to constant wars after this. Carthage was a colony of Tyre, and it is well known that this city was engaged in hostility with the Romans until it was utterly destroyed. Indeed all the dependent colonies of ancient Tyre became interested and involved in the agitations and commotions which were connected with the conquests of the Roman empire.
Behold the land of the Chaldeans - This is a very important verse, as it expresses the source from where these calamities were coming upon Tyre; and as it states some historical facts of great interest respecting the rise of Babylon. In the previous verses the prophet had foretold the certain destruction of Tyre, and had said that whoever was the agent, it was to be traced to the overruling providence of God. He here states distinctly that the agent in accomplishing all this would be the Chaldeans - a statement which fixes the time to the siege of Nebuchadnezzar, and proves that it does not refer to the conquest by Alexander the Great. A part of this verse should be read as a parenthesis, and its general sense has been well expressed by Lowth, who has followed Vitringa:
‘Behold the land of the Chaldeans;
This people was of no account;
(The Assyrian founded it for the inhabitants of the desert;
They raised the watch towers, they set up the palaces thereof;)
This people hath reduced her to a ruin.’
Behold - Indicating that what he was about to say was something unusual, remarkable, and not to be expected in the ordinary course of events. That which was so remarkable was the fact that a people formerly so little known, would rise to such power as to be able to overturn the ancient and mighty city of Tyre.
The land of the Chaldeans - Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Chaldea or Babylonia. The names Babylon and Chaldea are often interchanged as denoting the same kingdom and people (see Isaiah 48:14, Isaiah 48:20; Jeremiah 50:1; Jeremiah 51:24; Ezekiel 12:13). The sense is, ‘Lo! the power of Chaldea shall be employed in your overthrow.’
This people - The people of Babylonia or Chaldea.
Was not - Was not known; had no government or power; was a rude, nomadic, barbarous, feeble, and illiterate people. The same phrase occurs in Deuteronomy 32:21, where it also means a people unknown, rude, barbarous, wandering. That this was formerly the character of the Chaldeans is apparent from Job 1:17, where they are described as a nomadic race, having no established place of abode, and living by plunder.
Till the Assyrian - Babylon was probably founded by Nimrod (see the notes at Isaiah 13:0), but it was long before it rose to splendor. Belus or Bel, the Assyrian, is said to have reigned at Babylon A.M. 2682, or 1322 b.c., in the time of Shamgar, judge of Israel. He was succeeded by Ninus and Semiramis, who gave the principal celebrity and splendor to the city and kingdom, and who may be said to have been its founders. They are probably referred to here.
Founded it - Semiramis reclaimed it from the waste of waters; built dikes to confine the Euphrates in the proper channel; and made it the capital of the kingdom. This is the account given by Herodotus (Hist. i.): ‘She (Semiramis) built mounds worthy of admiration, where before the river was accustomed to spread like a sea through the whole plain.’
For them that dwell in the wilderness - Hebrew, לציים letsiyiym - ‘For the tsiim.’ This word (from צי tsiy or ציה tsiyah, a waste or desert) denotes properly the inhabitants of the desert or waste places, and is applied to people in Psalms 72:9; Psalms 74:14; and to animals in Isaiah 13:21 (notes); Isaiah 34:14. Here it denotes, I suppose, those who had been formerly inhabitants of the deserts around Babylon - the wandering, rude, uncultivated, and predatory people, such as the Chaldeans were Job 1:17; and means that the Assyrian who founded Babylon collected this rude and predatory people, and made use of them in building the city. The same account Arrian gives respecting Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, who says, that ‘Philip found them wandering and unsettled (πλανήτας καὶ ἀπόρους planētas kai aporous), feeding small flocks of sheep upon the mountains, that he gave them coats of mail instead of their shepherd’s dress, and led them from the mountain to the plain, and gave them cities to dwell in, and established them with good and wholesome laws.’ (Hist. Alex vii.)
They set up the towers thereof - That is, the towers in Babylon, not in Tyre (see the notes at Isaiah 13:0) Herodotus expressly says that the Assyrians built the towers and temples of Babylon (i. 84).
And he brought it to ruin - That is, the Babylonian or Chaldean brought Tyre to ruin: to wit, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of a people formerly unknown and rude, would be employed to destroy the ancient and magnificent city of Tyre.
“Howl ... Isaiah 23:1.
For your strength - That which has been your support and strength; to wit, Tyre (compare Ezekiel 26:15-18).
Tyre shall be forgotten - Shall cease to be a place of importance in commerce; shall be unheard of in those distant places to which ships formerly sailed.
Seventy years, according to the days of one king - ‘That is, of one kingdom (see Daniel 7:17; Daniel 8:20).’ (Lowth) The word ‘king’ may denote dynasty, or kingdom. The duration of the Babylonian monarchy was properly but seventy years. Nebuchadnezzar began his conquest in the first year of his reign, and from thence to the taking of Babylon by Cyrus was seventy years. And at that time the nations that had been conquered and subdued by the Babylonians would be restored to liberty. Tyre was, indeed, taken toward the middle of that period, and its subjugation referred to here was only for the remaining part of it. ‘All these nations,’ says Jeremiah Jeremiah 25:11, ‘shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.’ Some of them were conquered sooner, and some later; but the end of this period was the common time of deliverance to them all. So Lowth, Newton, Vitringa, Aben Ezra, Rosenmuller, and others, understand this. That ‘the days at one king’ may denote here kingdom or dynasty, and be applied to the duration of the kingdom of Babylon, is apparent from two considerations, namely,
(1) The word ‘king’ must be so understood in several places in the Scriptures; Daniel 7:17 : ‘These great beasts which are four, are four great kings which shall arise out of the earth,’ that is, dynasties, or succession of kings (Daniel 8:20; so Revelation 17:12).
(2) The expression is especially applicable to the Babylonian monarchy, because, during the entire seventy years which that kingdom lasted, it was under the dominion of one family or dynasty. Nebuchadnezzar founded the Babylonian empire, or raised it to so great splendor, that he was regarded as its founder, and was succeeded in the kingdom by his son Evil-Merodach, and his grandson Belshazzar, in whose reign the kingdom terminated; compare Jeremiah 27:7 : ‘And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son.’ The period of seventy years is several times mentioned, as a period during which the nations that were subject to Babylon would be oppressed, and after that they should be set at liberty (see Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10; compare Jeremiah 46:26).
Shall Tyre sing as an harlot - Margin, as the Hebrew, ‘It shall be unto Tyre as the song of an harlot.’ That is, Tyre shall be restored to its former state of prosperity and opulence; it shall be adorned with the rich productions of other climes, and shall be happy and joyful again. There are two ideas here; one that Tyre would be again prosperous, and the other that she would sustain substantially the same character as before. It was common to compare cities with females, whether virtuous or otherwise (see the note at Isaiah 1:8). The same figure which is used here occurs in Rev. 17:3-19 (compare Isaiah 47:1; Nahum 3:4; Revelation 18:3, Revelation 18:9).
Take an harp - This is a continuation of the figure commenced in the previous verse, a direct command to Tyre as an harlot, to go about the city with the usual expressions of rejoicing. Thus Donatus, in Terent. Eunuch., iii. 2, 4, says:
‘Fidicinam esse meretricum est;’
And thus Horace:
‘Nec meretrix tibicina, cujus
Ad strepitum salias.’
1 Epis. xiv. 25.
Thou harlot that hast been forgotten - For seventy years thou hast lain unknown, desolate, ruined.
Make sweet melody ... - Still the prophet keeps up the idea of the harlot that had been forgotten, and that would now call her lovers again to her dwelling. The sense is, that Tyre would rise to her former splendor, and that the nations would be attracted by the proofs of returning prosperity to renew their commercial contact with her.
The Lord will visit Tyre - He will restore her to her former wealth and magnificence.
And she shall turn to her hire - The word ‘hire’ here denotes the wages or reward that is given to an harlot; and the idea which was commenced in the previous verses is here continued - of Tyre as an harlot - frivolous, splendid, licentious, and holding intercourse with strangers and foreigners. The gains of that commerce with other nations are here represented as her hire.
And shall commit fornication ... - Shall again be the mart of commerce Isaiah 23:3; shall have contact with all the nations, and derive her support, splendor, luxury, from all. The idea is, that she would be restored to her former commercial importance, and perhaps, also, the prophet intends to intimate that she would procure those gains by dishonest acts, and by fraudulent pretexts. After the destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar, it remained desolate until the close of the Babyloian monarchy. Then a new city was built on the island, that soon rivaled the former in magnificence. That new city was besieged and taken by Alexander the Great, on his way to the conquests of the East.
And her merchandise - The prophecy here does not mean that this would take place immediately after her rebuilding, but that subsequent to the seventy years of desolation this would occur.
Shall be holiness to the Lord - This undoubtedly means, that at some future period, after the rebuilding of Tyre, the true religion would prevail there, and her wealth would be devoted to his service. That the true religion prevailed at Tyre subsequently to its restoration and rebuilding there can be no doubt. The Christian religion was early established at Tyre. It was visited by the Saviour Matthew 15:21, and by Paul. Paul found several disciples of Christ there when on his way to Jerusalem Acts 21:3-6. It suffered much, says Lowth, under the Diocletian persecution. Eusebius (Hist. x. 4.) says that ‘when the church of God was founded in Tyre, and in other places, much of its wealth was consecrated to God, and was brought as an offering to the church, and was presented for the support of the ministry agreeable to the commandments of the Lord.’ Jerome says, ‘We have seen churches built to the Lord in Tyre; we have beheld the wealth of all, which was not treasured up nor hid, but which was given to those who dwelt before the Lord.’ It early became a Christian bishopric; and in the fourth century of the Christian era, Jerome (Commentary in Ezekiel 26:7; Ezekiel 27:2) speaks of Tyre as the most noble and beautiful city of Phenicia, and as still trading with all the world. Reland enumerates the following list of bishops as having been present from Tyre at various councils; namely, Cassius, Paulinus, Zeno, Vitalis, Uranius, Zeno, Photius, and Eusebius (see Reland’s Palestine, pp. 1002-101l, in Ugolin vi.) Tyre continued Christian until it was taken by the Saracens in 639 a.d.; but was recovered again by Christians in 1124. In 1280, it was conquered by the Mamelukes, and was taken by the Turks in 1516. It is now under the dominion of the Sultan as a part of Syria.
It shall not be treasured ... - It shall be regarded as consecrated to the Lord, and freely expended in his service.
For them that dwell before the Lord - For the ministers of religion. The language is taken from the custom of the Jews, when the priests dwelt at Jerusalem. The meaning is, that the wealth of Tyre would be consecrated to the service and support of religion.
For durable clothing - Wealth formerly consisted much in changes of raiment; and the idea here is, that the wealth of Tyre would be devoted to God, and that it would be furnished for the support of those who ministered at the altar.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 23". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28