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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Isaiah 23


The destruction of Tyre, from God, for their pride, Isaiah 23:1-14.

The time of her rising again, Isaiah 23:15-17, and conversion to God, Isaiah 23:18.

Verse 1

The burden of Tyre; the prophecy of the heavy calamity and destruction of Tyre; which now stood in its strength and glory, being seated in an island, upon a rock, abounding in riches, mighty in naval power, having lately conquered that navy which the Assyrians brought against them. Yet this city was, according to this prophecy, destroyed; and that twice, first by Nebuchadnezzar, and long afterward by Alexander the Great. And although this prophecy seem directly and properly to respect the former destruction, yet it seems to have some reference to the latter also; only it is intimated, that after seventy years Tyrus should recover her former power and glory, before her second and final destruction.

Howl, ye ships; either,

1. Properly; to which howling and lamenting is ascribed by a known figure called prosopopoeia: or,

2. Metonymically, the merchants and owners of ships, who had much commerce with this illustrious mart.

Of Tarshish; either,

1. Of Tarsus, a great port of Cilicia, which anciently had the dominion of that part of the sea; or,

2. Of the ocean, which is so called, 1 Kings 10:22; Psalms 48:7; Isaiah 2:16.

It is laid waste; it shall shortly be laid waste; which was fulfilled not by Shalmaneser, as some would have it; for though he straitened it for some time, yet he never took it; but by Nebuchadnezzar.

No entering in; so effectually wasted, that there is not a house left in it, nor any merchants or others that go into it, either to trade in it, or to repair it.

It is revealed to them: the sense of the words thus rendered may be this, it, i.e. this burden or destruction of Tyre, is, i.e. shall be, revealed, declared or made known, unto them; either,

1. To the Tyrians, to whom this notice should be sent concerning the preparations of their enemies against them: or,

2. To the ships, by which he means their owners or merchants,

from the land of Chittim; which may be here mentioned, either because they first had and gave them notice of it, as was now said; or because their last and sorest destruction was brought upon them by Alexander, who was of the land of Chittim, as is affirmed by that very ancient and venerable, though apocryphal writer, 1Ma 1:1 8:5. But this place is otherwise rendered, both by ancient and later interpreters, which seems to be more natural and easy, and no less agreeable to the Hebrew text; either thus, that she is laid waste, so that there is no house, nor entering or coming in (to wit, for traffic)

from the land of Chittim, is made known to them, to wit, to the ships or merchants that used to resort thither for traffic: or rather thus, for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, (not any houses left for the citizens to dwell in,) nor entering or coming in (to wit, of merchants) from the land of Chittim; she (to wit, her people) is removed or gone into captivity, as this word properly signifies, and is rendered, Isaiah 38:12. And for the last Hebrew word, lamo, which is rendered to them, (which is the only objection against this interpretation,) it is only added as an elegancy of the Hebrew language, and hath no further signification, as it is also Psalms 58:7, and as the particle lo, which signifies the same thing, and such other pronouns, are frequently redundant and insignificant in the Hebrew text, as hath been oft observed by grammarians and interpreters. He mentions

the land of Chittim, because this was an eminent place for shipping and trading, as is manifest from Numbers 24:24; Ezekiel 27:6; Daniel 11:30, and therefore doubtless had great dealings and commerce with Tyre, and may here be put synecdochically for all other countries which traded with her. It is not necessary, for the understanding of this text, to determine what Chittim is, whether it was Italy, or Greece, or the islands in those parts; it is sufficient to know that it was a seafaring place in the Midland Sea; and so much startled and concerned in the destruction of Tyre.

Verse 2

Be still, Heb. Be silent, as one confounded, and not knowing what to say, or as mourners use to be, Job 2:8,Job 2:13; Isaiah 47:5; boast no more of thy wealth and power, as thou usedst to do.

Of the isle, Heb. of Tyrus, which now was an island, Ezekiel 27:3; Ezekiel 28:2, till Alexander joined it to the continent, as Pithy reports. Although the title of islands is oft given by the Hebrews to places bordering upon the sea.

Zidon; an eminent city of Palestine, nigh unto Tyre, much concerned with her and for her.

That pass over the sea; that are a seafaring people. Have replenished; with mariners, Ezekiel 27:8, and commodities.

Verse 3

By great waters; by the sea, which is very fitly called the great waters, Psalms 107:23; understand, cometh, or is brought to her.

The seed of Sihor; the corn of Egypt, wherewith Egypt abounded, and furnished divers other parts of the world, whence it was called the granary of the Roman empire; which also was easily conveyed by sea from Egypt to Tyre, and thence to divers other countries. This is called seed, here, as also Haggai 1:10, and elsewhere, by a usual metonymy; and the seed of Sihor, because it grew up the more abundantly because of the overflow of the river, as all sorts of authors have noted. For Sihor is nothing else but Nilus, as appears from Jeremiah 2:18, which is called Sihor, as by the Greeks it was called Melas, from its black colour. And this and no other river seems to be that Sihor, which is so oft mentioned as one of the bounds of the land of Canaan, as Numbers 34:5, &c., because that land, at least in that extent which God allotted and gave it to the Israelites, though they through neglect or cowardice might not actually possess it, did reach to one of the branches of that river. And indeed, if Sihor be not Nilus, that great and neighbouring river is not named in all the Scripture, which seems very improbable.

The harvest of the river: this clause explains the former; that plentiful harvest of corn which comes from the influence and inundation of Nilus, which is emphatically called the river, as here, so also Exodus 1:22; Isaiah 19:5; Ezekiel 29:3,Ezekiel 29:9, as Euphrates is in other texts of Scripture.

Is her revenue; is as easily procured and plentifully enjoyed by her, as if it grew in her own territories.

A mart of nations; a place to which all nations resort for traffic.

Verse 4

Be thou ashamed, O Zidon; for Zidon was a great city near Tyre, and strongly united to her by commerce and league, and called by some the mother of Tyre, which they say was built and first inhabited by a colony of the Sidonians; and therefore she must needs be greatly concerned in the destruction of Tyrus.

The sea; that part of the sea in which Tyrus was, and from which ships and men were sent into all countries.

The strength of the sea: this is added to explain what he meant by the sea, even Tyrus, who might be called the strength of the sea, either actively, because it defended that part of the sea from piracies and injuries; or passively, because it was defended and strengthened by the sea, which encompassed it. And this title is here given to Tyrus, to show what great cause of confusion and fear Zidon had from this example, which for strength was much inferior to Tyrus.

I travail not, nor bring forth children, & c.; I, who was so exceeding fruitful and populous, that I sent forth colonies into other countries, (of which the famous city of Carthage was one,) am now become barren and desolate.

Verse 5

According to this translation the sense is, All the neighbouring nations shall be no less terrified at the tidings of lite destruction of Tyrus, than they were of old upon the report of God’s former and dreadful judgments upon the Egyptians, of which see Exodus 15:14-16; Joshua 2:9,Joshua 2:11, because they shall despair of resisting that enemy against whom that vast and potent city, which was deemed impregnable, could not defend itself. But the words are by the LXX., and other both ancient and later interpreters, rendered otherwise, and that very agreeably to the Hebrew text, When the report (to wit, of the destruction of Tyre) came, or shall come, (which word is easily understood, as it is above, Isaiah 23:3, and in other texts of Scripture before mentioned,) to the Egyptians, they shall be sorely pained according to the report of Tyre; their grief shall be answerable to the report; as the report is very dreadful, so their grief and anguish shall be very great: or, they shall fear lest they should be destroyed in like manner as Tyrus was destroyed.

Verse 6

Pass ye over to Tarshish; flee from your own country to Tarsus of Cilicia, and there bewail your calamities. Or rather, as others render the place, Pass over the sea, which is oft called Tarshish; of which See Poole "Isaiah 23:1".

Of the isle; of Tyrus, as before, Isaiah 23:2.

Verse 7

Is this your joyous city, that formerly lived in so much pomp, and pleasure, and security? Whose antiquity is of ancient days; being built before Joshua’s time, as is manifest from Joshua 19:29. Her own feet shall carry her; whereas before, like a delicate lady, she would not set the sole of her foot to the ground, as the expression is, Deuteronomy 28:56, but used to be carried in stately chariots, or magnificent vessels.

To sojourn; to seek for new habitations. For as some of the Tyrians were taken and carried captive into Chaldea, and other places, so others fled by sea into several parts of the world, Carthage, and divers other towns of the Midland Sea, as is recorded by ancient historians.

Verse 8

Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre? words of admiration: who and where is he that could imagine or durst attempt such a thing as this? This is the work of God, as is expressed, Isaiah 23:9, and not of man.

The crowning city; which was a royal city, Jeremiah 25:22, and called a kingdom, Ezekiel 28:2,Ezekiel 28:12, and carried away the crown from all other cities, and crowned herself and her, citizens with glory and delights.

Whose merchants are princes; equal to princes for wealth, and power, and reputation.

Verse 9

The Lord of hosts hath purposed it; this is the Lord’s own doing; therefore do not doubt it, nor wonder at it. God’s design is by this one example to abate and abase the pride of all the potentates of the earth, that they may see and know what weak and wretched creatures they are, when God leaves them, and sets himself against them.

Verse 10

Pass through the land; tarry no longer in thy own territories, but flee through them, and beyond them, into other countries, for safety and relief.

As a river; swiftly, lest you be prevented; and continually, till you be all gone; and in shoals and multitudes.

O daughter of Tarshish; O Tyrus; for of her he speaks both in the foregoing and following words. And Tyrus might well be called the daughter of Tarshish, i.e. of the sea, as that word is used, Isaiah 23:1, and elsewhere, because it then was an island, and therefore as it were born of the sea, and nourished and brought up by it.

No more strength, Heb. no more girdle: the girdle, which strengthens the loins of a man, is put for strength, as Job 12:21; Job 38:3. It behoveth you, O people of Tyrus, to flee away, as I advise you; for your city is unable to defend you; your wealth, the sinews of war, is lost; your walls broken down; the sea, which, like a girdle, surrounded and defended you, is now in part filled up by your enemies, who have joined you to the main land; your former friends and allies forsake you.

Verse 11

He, the Lord, expressed Isaiah 23:9, stretched out his hand to strike it, the antecedent being put for the consequent,

over the sea; or, against the sea, i.e. against Tyrus, the daughter of the sea, as she was now called; and consequently against all those ships and men which used to traffic with Tyrus, and were enriched by that trade, and therefore suffered in her fall.

He shook the kingdoms, Heb. he made the kingdoms to tremble; either,

1. The two kingdoms of Tyre and Sidon; or rather,

2. The neighbouring and confederate kingdoms, as appears by comparing this with Ezekiel 26:15-18, who might justly quake at her fall, partly, for the dreadfulness and unexpectedness of the thing; partly, because Tyre was a bulwark, and a refuge, and a great advantage to them; and partly, because her fall made way for their ruin, as being destroyed by their common enemy.

Hath given a commandment; hath contrived and purposed it, as was said, Isaiah 23:8,Isaiah 23:9; hath put this design into the heads and hearts of her enemies, and given them courage to attempt, and strength to execute, so difficult an enterprise.

Against the merchant city, Heb. against Canaan; the word Canaan being taken either,

1. For a merchant, as it is used, Job 41:6; Hosea 12:7; or rather,

2. For the proper name of a place or people, as it is generally used; for the Tyrians and Sidonians were descended from Canaan, Genesis 10:15, and were the only considerable remainders of that cursed race whom God had devoted to destruction. And so this phrase may be here used both as all evidence and as an argument of their intended and approaching ruin.

Verse 12

O thou oppressed virgin: so he calls her, either for her pride and beauty, and living in great ease and pleasure; or because she had hitherto never borne the yoke of a conquering enemy; though withal he declares that she should be oppressed or defloured very suddenly.

Daughter of Zidon; whereby he understands either,

1. Zidon herself, who suffered in and with Tyre: for so this phrase seems generally to be used,

the daughter of Zion, or of Jerusalem, or of Babel, or Egypt, &c., being nothing else but Zion, Jerusalem, Babel, Egypt, &c. Or rather,

2. Tyrus, as most interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, understand it, of whom this whole context and prophecy speaks; which may well be called the daughter of Zidon, because she was first built and possessed by a colony of the Sidonians; as Pliny calleth Carthage the daughter of Tyre, because she was built by a colony of Tyrians. And the title of daughter is ofttimes given in Scripture to towns or cities which had their being from or dependence upon other cities; in which sense we read of the daughter of Heshbon, Numbers 21:25, and of Rubbah, Jeremiah 49:2,Jeremiah 49:3, and of Sodom, and of Samaria, Ezekiel 16:46,Ezekiel 16:49,Ezekiel 16:53. And the daughter of Tarshish here above, Isaiah 23:10, is not meant of Tarshish itself, but of Tyrus, which had a relation to and dependence upon Tarshish.

Pass over to Chittim; of which place See Poole "Isaiah 23:1". There also shalt thou have no rest; thither thine enemies shall pursue thee, and there shall they overtake thee, although thou wilt think thyself secure when thou art fled to remote parts beyond the sea.

Verse 13

Behold the land of the Chaldeans; you Tyrians, who think your city impregnable, cast your eyes upon the land and empire of the Chaldeans, or Babylonians; which though now it be a flourishing kingdom, and shall shortly grow far more glorious and potent, even the glory of kingdoms, as it is called, Isaiah 13:19, yet. shall certainly be brought to utter ruin; and therefore your presumption is most vain and unreasonable.

This people was not: the Chaldeans at first were not a people, not formed into any commonwealth or kingdom.

Till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness; till Nimrod, the head and founder of the Assyrian monarchy, built Babel, Genesis 10:10, now the head of the Chaldean monarchy, which he built for those people, who then lived in tents, and were dispersed here and there in wild and waste places, that he might bring them into order, and under government, and thereby establish and promote his own empire.

They set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof; the Chaldeans being by this means brought together into a body, fell to the work of building their city, and its towers and palaces, and thereby got power and dominion over their neighbours, till at last they grew the greatest of all the monarchies that then were upon earth.

He; the Lord, who is expressed before, and is frequently designed in Scripture by this indefinite pronoun he, as hath been many times observed; whereby he insinuates the true reason why neither the Chaldeans nor the Tyrians should be able to stand, because the Almighty God was engaged against them. Brought it to ruin; will infallibly bring that great empire to ruin. He speaks of a future thing as if it were already past, as the prophets use to do. The Chaldeans shall now return to their first nothing, and become no people again.

Verse 14

Your strength; the city of Tyre, where you found safety and wealth.

Verse 15

Forgotten; neglected and forsaken by those who used to resort thither.

Seventy years; during the whole time of the Jewish captivity in Babylon. For Tyrus was taken by Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah 27:3,Jeremiah 27:8; Ezekiel 26:7, a little after the taking of Jerusalem, and was restored by the favour of the Persian monarchs after the return of the Jews from the captivity of Babylon.

Of one king; either,

1. Of the kingdom of Babylon, which lasted so long after this time; the word king being put for kingdom, as it is Daniel 7:17; Daniel 8:21; or

2. Of one royal race, of Nebuchadnezzar, including his son, and his son’s son, in whom his family and kingdom were to expire.

After the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot; she shall by degrees return to her former state of prosperity and traffic, whereby she shall easily entice the merchants of the world to converse and trade with her, as harlots use to entice their customers by lascivious songs.

Verse 16

Take an harp, go about the city; as harlots use to do, to allure customers.

Thou harlot; so he calleth Tyre, partly because she enticed merchants to deal with her by various artifices, and even by dishonest practices, as harlots use; and partly because of the great and general uncleanness which was both committed and tolerated in it. That thou mayest be remembered by those who had forgotten thee, Isaiah 23:15.

Verse 17

Visit Tyre, to wit, in mercy, as this phrase is used, Ruth 1:6; Psalms 65:9, and elsewhere.

Her hire: the Hebrew word properly signifies, the hire of an harlot; which agrees well with the

fornication in the next clause; although these phrases are not to be understood properly, but metaphorically, of trading or commerce with others.

Shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world; shall trade promiscuously with people of all sorts of nations, as harlots entertain all comers.

Verse 18

Her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord: he speaks not here of what the Tyrians would do immediately after their restitution, but some time after it, even in the days of the Messiah; of which even some of the Jewish rabbies understand it, and to which the prophets have a special respect in their several prophecies, and Isaiah among and above the rest of them. So this is a prophecy concerning the conversion of the Tyrians to the true religion, of the accomplishment whereof something is said Acts 21:3-5, and more in other authors.

It shall not be treasured nor laid up, either out of covetousness, or for the service of their pride and luxury, as they formerly did; but now they shall freely lay it out upon pious and charitable uses.

For them that dwell before the Lord; for the support and encouragement of the ministers of holy things, who shall teach the good knowledge of the Lord, who dwell in God’s house, and minister in his presence; the support of such persons being not only an act of justice and charity, but also of piety, and of great use and necessity to maintain and propagate religion in the world. Although this doth not exclude, but rather imply, their liberality in contributing to the necessities of all Christians.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Isaiah 23". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.