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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 23

Verses 1-18

Isaiah 23:1 . The burden of Tyre. This was one of the most ancient cities of Phœnicia, situate on a rock, seven hundred paces from the shore, though now joined to the land by the working of the sea. The Zidonians built and fortified Tyre for safety in time of war. It was rebuilt and improved by king Agenor, father of Cadmus. Genesis 11:4. In Joshua’s time it was called the strong city, and fell to the lot of Aser; but being deemed impregnable, no conquest was attempted. After the destruction of Troy, Æneas found protection with the Tyrians and sailed to Carthage, and finally to Italy. Tyre was the mother of navigation, the emporium of merchandise, and covered the seas with her ships. It had part of its city on the opposite shore. The inhabitants, though Canaanites at first, would by commerce presently become mixed nations.

Nebuchadnezzar besieged this strong place for thirteen years; during which time the redundant population were sent away to Carthage, and to the Grecian ports. When the Tyrians could hold out no longer, the merchants fled with their ships and riches to Carthage. When the city was stormed, eight were put to death, and two thousand crucified, the conquerors being enraged that they found no reward for their long siege.

Isaiah 23:3 . The seed of Sihor, the river which limited the southern boundary of the promised land. 2 Chronicles 13:5. The harvest of the river, the Nile. The reference is to the manner of sowing corn, as the inundation retired. Ecclesiastes 11:1. The harvests of the rivers formed a principal source of Tyrian wealth.

Isaiah 23:6 . Pass ye over to Tarshish. The LXX read, Καρχηδονος , Carthage, and correctly no doubt. There is however another opinion given, 1 Kings 10:22; which is favoured by Bochart, and by Poole; but the navy of Hiram, king of Tyre, and the navy of Tarshish are distinctly named. Carthage was a daughter of Tyre, built, according to Boiste’s chronology, in the year of the world 2398, and embellished by queen Dido in 2480. It stood on a neck of land between Tunis and Utica, and became the metropolis of a powerful republic, comprising Tunis, Sardinia, Sicily, and a great part of Spain. In the space of a hundred and fifty years, she maintained three Punic wars with Rome; and Hannibal her general marched an army from Spain into the heart of Italy, and menaced the gates of Rome with fire. At length the senate passed the severe decree, Delenda est Carthago. Let Carthage be destroyed. When Scipio announced his orders, the inhabitants ran about the streets in a frantic manner, tearing their hair, and uttering piercing cries to their gods. But Carthage rose again by Roman colonies, and became a grand seat of christianity. It was finally ruined by the Arabs, and left to this day like Babylon, in a mass of confusion. BOISTE.

Isaiah 23:8 . Who hath taken counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, as to riches, splendour, architecture and commerce. Her merchants were princes, living in regal style, and loaded with wealth. Who could dare to storm the impregnable fortress, and ravage the queen of the seas. Ah, it was thy pride which made the Lord take counsel against thee, and decree to put the virgin’s neck under the rude yoke of the king of Babylon. The council of a senate should always act in subordination to the council in heaven.

Isaiah 23:12 . Thou shalt no more rejoice, oh thou oppressed virgin. The title of virgin was delicately applied to all primitive cities that had never been stormed and ravaged by conquest. Thou must now fly for refuge to all the isles of Chittim, now called Greek Islands, and to the shores of the Mediterranean sea, and sing for bread.

Isaiah 23:14 . Howl, ye ships of Tarshish. These spread themselves on the western shores of Europe and Africa. In the Saxon chronicle, edited by Ingram, 1823, we have an account of a Trojan or a Phœnician colony who came in five long ships to the north of Ireland, and west of Scotland. Tha comon of Armenia.

Isaiah 23:16 . Take a harp, go about the city, thou harlot. The perfection of thy music, and thy melodious airs of Phœnician song, may procure thee a pittance of bread in exile. What a contrast between the princely mansions, and the Tyrian purple, now changed for garbs of shame.

Isaiah 23:17-18 . It shall come to pass, after the end of seventy years, as in Isaiah 23:15. The days of one king, or the expiration of the Assyrian empire. Daniel 7:17; Daniel 8:20. The Lord shall visit Tyre, and cause her gradually to rise again; and her hire of merchandise shall be holiness to the Lord. As but little of this occurred after the seventy years captivity, in the worship of the God of Israel, the ultimate bearing of this prophecy must regard the conversion of the people to the christian religion. Bishop Lowth adds here, “that after its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, and after being taken by Alexander, Tyre recovered its commerce, and wealth, and grandeur. St. Paul found disciples here. Acts 21:3-4. Christianity flourished in Tyre till the city was taken by the Turks, in the year 639. It was retaken by the Christians, in the crusade of 1124. But in 1280 it was conquered by the Mamelukes, and taken from them by the Turks in 1516. Since that time it has sunk into utter decay, and is a mere rock.” A French traveller, who visited the place since the revolution, remarks, “I saw fishermen spreading their nets on Tyre.” See Ezekiel 26:14. Surely then, the holy men who were allowed to see the fate of Tyre, beheld it with the eyes of heaven. Had the prophets speculated as merchants, or divined as wizards, their presumption had been their destruction. From Jeremiah’s sending his scroll to Babylon, we may infer that Isaiah made his vision known to Tyre.


Alas, alas! Oh virgin daughter of the seas, and pride of all the east! Thy merchants were princes; thy armies guarded thy country. Ezekiel 27:10-11. Thy ships swept the seas, the masts of thy harbour were like a forest of trees, thy commerce reached to Britain, and made the nations rich. The land and isles of Thule (Scotland and her isles) were visited by thy ships. Why, oh virgin, living on a rock, didst thou forget the rock of ages! Why wast thou deaf to the Hebrew prophets? Why didst thou forget thy relations to a God! Why wast thou blind to the vengeance which sported on all the western nations, till at last the destroyers appeared under thy walls? There is a point when national repentance is too late.

In the fall of Tyre the proud and licentious cities of the earth may see the cloud suspended over their heads, and they should read in every tempest which shakes their towers divine instruction. Tyre was in alliance with all the nations of the earth, except the king of Babylon, and this king she little feared because of her insular situation, and maritime strength. Yet mark how she fell from the summit of her splendour. God gave Nebuchadnezzar a heart to persevere in the siege till the heads of his soldiers were bald, and their shoulders peeled with burdens. Her riches, instead of saving her, were the boon which tempted the army to persevere; and all her allies, by supplying her with corn, did but prolong the sore calamities of the siege. How vain to take counsel against the Lord, and promise ourselves security out of his protection.

Rich and proud individuals ought to be instructed, as well as cities and nations; for though the scale be smaller, the principles of equity are the same. Let us read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the sacred scriptures, that we may hence derive a thousand arguments for repentance, piety, and the fear of the Lord.

Above all, let us mark the glimmerings of mercy behind the dark cloud. When the Lord showed favour to Zion, he would show favour to Tyre, the first builders of his temple. Hear the gracious words: Her merchandise and her hire shall no more be prostituted in whoredom, and to her idols, but shall be holiness to the Lord. Temporal glory shall yet smile on her port and commerce, and the worship of Jehovah resound in her synagogues and churches. Let christians attend this tragic school; let them hearken to Jehovah’s voice, that their peace may flow as a river, and their righteousness abound as the waves of the sea, in all the plenitude of covenant grace.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 23". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.