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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 23

A.M. 3289. B.C. 715.

In this chapter is foretold,

(1,) The lamentable desolation of Tyre, by the Chaldeans, to the consternation of the Tyrians themselves, and their neighbours, Isaiah 23:1-14 .

(2,) The restoration of Tyre after seventy years, when their trade and commerce should flourish again, Isaiah 23:15-17 .

(3,) The conversion of the Tyrians to God, Isaiah 23:18 .

Verse 1

Isaiah 23:1. The burden of Tyre Tyre was an ancient and wealthy city, situated upon the Mediterranean sea, and for many ages one of the most celebrated cities in those parts of the world. The Greek geographer, Strabo, says, that after Sidon, it was the greatest and most ancient city of the Phenicians. Accordingly, Bishop Lowth makes no question but it is meant Joshua 19:29, where mention is made of the strong city Tyre, as existing when Canaan was divided by lot to the tribes of Israel. And it is mentioned also in the fragments of Sanchoniathon, the Phenician historian, who is reckoned to have lived about the time of Gideon, or somewhat later. In the days of David and Solomon it evidently appears to have been a place of great note, and it continued and increased in its commerce, wealth, population, and power, during the reigns of the subsequent kings of Israel and Judah. When Isaiah uttered this prophecy respecting its desolation, (which he did one hundred and twenty-five years at least before its accomplishment,) it stood firm in its strength and glory, abounded in riches, and was especially mighty in naval power, having lately conquered the navy which the Assyrians had brought against it. Yet this city, according to this prophecy, was destroyed, and that twice; first by Nebuchadnezzar, and long afterward by Alexander the Great. The former it withstood thirteen years, at the end or which time the inhabitants, wearied out by endless efforts, resolved to place the sea between them and their enemy, and accordingly passed into an island about half a mile from the shore, where, as Vitringa has proved at large from good authorities, a smaller city already stood, accounted a part of Tyre, and where had long been the principal station for ships. The city on the island was by this means greatly enlarged, and was afterward termed New Tyre. This stood out against Alexander seven months; and before he could take it he was obliged to fill up the strait which separated the island from the continent. Although this prophecy first and more directly respects the former destruction, yet it seems to have some reference to the latter also; only it is here foretold, that seventy years after the former destruction, and before the latter, Tyre should recover her former power and glory, which came to pass accordingly. This is the eighth and last discourse of the second part of Isaiah’s prophecies.

Howl, ye ships of Tarshish By Tarshish, it seems, Tartessus in Spain is meant, a place which, in the course of trade, the Tyrians greatly frequented: see note on Isaiah 2:16. Howling and lamenting are ascribed to the ships by a known figure; for it is laid waste It shall shortly be laid waste; so that there is no house, &c. Every house, or warehouse, shall be shut up, and all trade shall cease. From the land of Chittim it is revealed to them Namely, to the ships, that is, the negotiators and mariners of Tarshish, whose gain proceeded principally from Tyre, and whom the prophet here addresses; as if he had said, “Lament and deplore the mournful fall of this city, which you shall hear of while you are trafficking in the most distant parts of the Mediterranean sea.” Chittim, in Scripture, signifies all the countries lying upon that sea; and the words import that the news of the siege of Tyre should be dispersed through them all. Indeed, according to Jerome on Isaiah 23:6, when the Tyrians saw they had no other means of escaping except by sea, while some of them fled in their ships to the adjoining island, as mentioned above, others of them took refuge in Carthage, and in the islands of the Ionian and Ægean seas, from whence the news would easily reach Tarshish.

Verses 2-3

Isaiah 23:2-3. Be still, ye inhabitants of the isles Hebrew, דמו , be silent; as persons confounded, and not knowing what to say, or as mourners use to be. Silence is a mark of grief and consternation: see Isaiah 47:5; Lamentations 11:10. The prophet here addresses the people of Tyre now fled to the island. The title of island, however, is often given by the Hebrews to places not surrounded by the sea, but only bordering upon it; whom the merchants of Zidon have replenished With mariners and commodities. Tyre and Sidon, being cities near each other, and both famous for merchandise and navigation, helped to enrich each other. And by great waters the seed of Sihor, &c. Sihor here means the river Nile, so called, as it is also Jeremiah 2:18, and 1 Chronicles 13:5, from the blackness of its waters charged with the mud, which it brings down from Ethiopia, when it overflows; as it was called by the Greeks Melas, and by the Latins Melo, for the same reason. “The English translation,” says Lowth, “published under Queen Elizabeth, gives us a clearer sense of this verse thus: The seed of Nilus, growing by the abundance of waters, and the harvest of the river was her revenues.” Egypt, by its extraordinary fertility, caused by the overflowing of the Nile, supplied the neighbouring nations with corn, by which branch of trade the Tyrians gained great wealth.

Verse 4

Isaiah 23:4. Be thou ashamed, O Zidon Tyre is called the daughter of Zidon, Isaiah 23:12, being built and first inhabited by a colony of the Zidonians. Or, rather, as Justin says, “The Zidonians, when their city was taken by the king of Ascalon, betook themselves to their ships, and landed and built Tyre.” Zidon, therefore, as the mother city, is here supposed to be deeply afflicted with the calamity of her daughter. For the sea hath spoken That part of the sea in which Tyre was, and from which ships and men were sent into all countries; even the strength of the sea This is added to explain what he meant by the sea, even Tyre, which might be called the strength of the sea, because it was strong at sea, both by its situation, and the strength of its naval forces; saying, I travail not, &c. I, who was so fruitful that I sent forth colonies into other countries, (of which Carthage was one,) am now barren and desolate.

Verse 5

Isaiah 23:5. As at the report concerning Egypt, &c. “The words, as they stand in our translation, imply, that the Zidonians, spoken of Isaiah 23:4, or in general other neighbouring places, should be as much concerned at the news of the destruction of Tyre as they were at the calamity of Egypt, mentioned chap. 19. But there is a difficulty in admitting this sense, because the destruction of Tyre here spoken of was before that of Egypt, if we mean that calamity of Egypt which is usually joined with the destruction of Tyre in the prophets: see Jeremiah 25:19; Jeremiah 25:22; Ezekiel 29:18-20. Therefore others read this verse thus: As soon as the report of Tyre shall come to, or be heard in, Egypt, they shall be in great pain for it; namely, because they exported their corn to Tyre, and made a gainful trade by it.” Lowth.

Verses 6-7

Isaiah 23:6-7. Pass ye over to Tarshish Flee from your own country to Tartessus in Spain, and there bewail your calamity. Or, betake yourselves for refuge to some of the parts to which you used to traffic. The LXX. say, εις Καρχηδονα , to Carthage, which was a colony transplanted from Tyre. Howl, ye inhabitants of the isle Of Tyre, as Isaiah 23:2. Is this your joyous city? That formerly lived in so much pomp, and pleasure, and security? Whose antiquity is of ancient days See on Isaiah 23:1. Tyre, though not so old as Zidon, yet certainly was of very high antiquity. Justin, in the passage above quoted, had dated the building of it at a certain number of years before the taking of Troy; but the number is lost in the present copies. Her own feet shall carry her Whereas before, like a delicate lady, she would not set her foot to the ground, but used to be carried in stately chariots; afar off to sojourn To seek for new habitations.

Verses 8-9

Isaiah 23:8-9. 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, and not of man. The crowning city Which was a royal city, and carried away the crown from all other cities: whose merchants are princes Equal to princes for wealth, and power, and reputation. The Lord of hosts hath purposed it This is the Lord’s own doing; to stain the pride of all glory God’s design is, by this example, to abase the pride of all the potentates of the earth, that they may see how weak they are when he sets himself against them.

Verse 10

Isaiah 23:10. Pass through thy land Tarry no longer in thy own territories, but flee through them, into other countries, for safety and relief. As a river Swiftly, lest you be prevented; continually, till you be all gone, and in shoals and multitudes. O daughter of Tarshish Tyre is here called the daughter of Tarshish, because it was enriched and increased by trade to that place: or, rather, as Bishop Lowth supposes, “because of the close connection and perpetual intercourse between the two cities, according to that latitude of signification in which the Hebrews used the word son and daughter, to express any sort of conjunction and dependance whatever.” There is no more strength Or, no more a girdle, as in the margin: the girdle which strengthens the loins of a man being here put for strength, as frequently elsewhere, as if he had said, It behooves you, O Tyrians, to flee away, as I advise, for your city is unable to defend you; your wealth, the sinews of war, is lost; your walls are broken down; and your former friends and allies have forsaken you.

Verses 11-12

Isaiah 23:11-12. He Namely, the Lord, mentioned in the latter part of the verse; stretched out his hand over the sea That is, Tyre, called the sea, (Isaiah 23:4,) to overthrow it. He shook Hebrew, הרגיז , he made to tremble, the kingdoms Either the two kingdoms of Tyre and Zidon, or the neighbouring and confederate kingdoms, which might justly quake at her fall, for the dreadfulness and unexpectedness of the event, and because Tyre was a bulwark and a refuge to them. The Lord hath given a commandment, to destroy, &c. Hath put this design into the hearts of her enemies, and given them courage to attempt, and strength to execute it. Thou shalt no more rejoice, oppressed virgin He calls her a virgin, because she had hitherto never borne the yoke of a conquering enemy; though withal he signifies that she should be oppressed, and, as it were, ravished, by her enemies. Daughter of Zidon Tyre is called the daughter of Zidon, because she was first built and inhabited by a colony of the Zidonians; as Pliny calls Carthage the daughter of Tyre, because she was built by a colony of Tyrians. “It is certain,” says Lowth, “that of the two cities, Zidon was much the most ancient, being mentioned by Moses in his account of the peopling of the world after the flood, Genesis 10:19; and again, chap. 49:13. Afterward it is called by Joshua, great Zidon, Joshua 11:8: Homer likewise takes notice of Zidon, but not of Tyre; and the authority of Strabo is express to the same purpose.” Arise, pass over to Chittim, &c. See on Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 23:6. “Of all the Phenicians,” says Bishop Newton, “the Tyrians were the most celebrated for their shipping and colonies. Tyre exceeded Zidon in this respect, as Strabo testifies, and sent forth colonies into Africa and Spain, unto and beyond the pillars of Hercules: and Quintus Curtius says that her colonies were diffused almost over the whole world. The Tyrians, therefore, having planted colonies at Tarshish, and upon the coasts of Chittim, it was natural for them, when they were pressed with dangers and difficulties at home, to flee to their friends and countrymen abroad for protection. That they really did so, St. Jerome asserts, upon the authority of Assyrian histories, which are now lost. But,” it is here foretold, that, “though they should pass over to Chittim, yet even there they should find no quiet settlement; There also shalt thou have no rest Megasthenes (an historian who lived about 300 years before Christ) is quoted by several ancient authors, for saying that Nebuchadnezzar subdued a great part of Africa and Spain, and proceeded as far as the pillars of Hercules. After he had subdued Tyre and Egypt, we may suppose he carried his arms further westward; and if he proceeded as far as Megasthenes reports, the Tyrians might well be said to have no rest, their conqueror pursuing them from one country to another. But besides this, and after this, the Carthaginians, and other colonies of the Tyrians, lived in a very unsettled state. Their history is made up of little but wars and tumults, even before their three fatal wars with the Romans, in every one of which their affairs grew worse and worse. Sicily and Spain, Europe and Africa, the land, and their own element, the sea, were theatres of their calamities and miseries; till, at last, not only the new, but old Carthage too, was utterly destroyed. As the Carthaginians sprung from the Tyrians, and the Tyrians from the Zidonians, and Zidon was the firstborn of Canaan, (Genesis 10:15,) so the curse upon Canaan seems to have pursued them to the most distant parts of the earth.”

Verse 13

Isaiah 23:13. Behold the land of the Chaldeans, &c. This verse, in which there is much obscurity, will admit of different interpretations. One adopted by Dr. Lightfoot and some others, is to this purpose. Behold, how easily the land of the Chaldeans was destroyed by the Assyrians, though their own hands founded it, set up the tower of Babylon, and raised up its palaces; yet he, the Assyrian, brought it to ruin: the king of Assyria having lately taken Babylon, and made it tributary to the Assyrian empire. Another and more probable interpretation is thus stated by Poole, and adopted by Lowth: “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 become more glorious and potent, yet shall certainly be brought to utter ruin: and therefore your presumption is unreasonable and vain.” The last clause especially, in the original, שׂמה למפלה , he hath placed, or appointed, it for ruin, seems evidently to favour this interpretation. Bishop Newton, however, (with whom Bishop Lowth, Dr. Waterland, and many others agree,) understands the prophet as speaking in this clause, not of the ruin of Babylon, but of Tyre. He therefore interprets the verse thus: “Behold An exclamation, that he is going to utter something new and extraordinary; the land of the Chaldeans That is, Babylon, and the country about Babylon; this people was not Was of no note or eminence; till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness They dwelt before in tents, and led a wandering life in the wilderness, till the Assyrians built Babylon for their reception. They set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof Herodotus, Ctesias, and other ancient historians agree, that the kings of Assyria fortified and beautified Babylon; and he That is, this people,” (as Bishop Lowth renders it,) “mentioned before, the Chaldeans or Babylonians, brought it to ruin That is, Tyre, which is the subject of the whole prophecy. The Assyrians were at that time the great monarchs of the East; the Chaldeans were their slaves and subjects; and therefore it is the more extraordinary that the prophet should, so many years beforehand, foresee the successes and conquests of the Chaldeans.”

Verses 15-17

Isaiah 23:15-17. And it shall come to pass, &c. Here begins the second part of this discourse, which contains an alleviation of the judgment decreed against Tyre. The prophet foretels, 1st, “That God would circumscribe within certain bounds his severity to Tyre, and within seventy years restore it to its former state;” and, 2d, “That in process of time the Tyrians should be converted to the true religion,” Isaiah 23:18. The former particular is predicted, first literally, and then figuratively. Tyre shall be forgotten Neglected and forsaken by those who used to traffic with her; seventy years, according to the days of one king “Or kingdom, meaning the Babylonian, which was to continue seventy years.” After the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as a harlot, &c. The plain meaning of this metaphorical passage, says Bishop Newton, in which Tyre is represented as a harlot, “is, that she should lie neglected of traders and merchants for seventy years, as long as the Babylonian empire lasted, and after that she should recover her liberties and her trade, and draw in several of all nations to deal with her, and particularly the kings of the earth to buy her purples, which were worn chiefly by emperors and kings, and for which Tyre was famous above all places in the world. Seventy years was the time prefixed for the duration of the Babylonian empire. So long the nations were to groan under that tyrannical yoke, though these nations were subdued, some sooner, some later than others, Jeremiah 25:11-12. Accordingly, at the end of seventy years, Cyrus and the Persians subverted the Babylonian empire, and restored the conquered nations to their liberty.” The bishop observes further, that these seventy years may also be computed after another manner. “Tyre was taken by Nebuchadnezzar in the thirty-second year of his reign, and in the five hundred and seventy-third before Christ. Seventy years from thence will bring us down to the year five hundred and three before Christ, and the nineteenth of Darius Hystaspis. At that time, it appears from history that the Ionians had rebelled against Darius, and the Phenicians assisted him with their fleets: and, consequently, it is reasonable to conclude that they were now restored to their former privileges. In the succeeding reign we find that they, together with the Sidonians, furnished Xerxes with several ships for his expedition into Greece. And, by the time of Alexander, the Tyrians were grown to such power and greatness that they stopped the progress of that rapid conqueror longer than any part of the Persian empire besides. But this is to be understood of the insular Tyre; for, as the old city flourished most before the time of Nebuchadnezzar, so the new city flourished most afterward, and this is the Tyre that henceforth is so much celebrated in history.”

Verse 18

Isaiah 23:18. And her merchandise, &c., shall be holiness to the Lord. The meaning of the prophet is extremely clear, namely, “that the time should come, after the restoration of Tyre, in which the Tyrians, out of reverence to the true God, would consecrate their wealth and gain to him, and would readily contribute that gain and wealth to the support of the teachers of true religion. In short, that the Tyrians should become converts to that religion. The reader will easily observe that the passage is metaphorical.” “The Tyrians were much addicted to the worship of Hercules, as he was called by the Greeks, or of Baal, as he is denominated in Scripture; but, in process of time, by the means of some Jews and proselytes, living and conversing with them, some of them also became proselytes to the Jewish religion; so that we find a great multitude of people from the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon came to hear our Saviour; and he, though peculiarly sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, yet came into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon; and the first fruits of the gospel there was a Tyrian woman, a woman of Canaan, as she is called, a Syro-phenician by nation. When St. Paul, in his way to Jerusalem, came to Tyre, he found disciples there, who were inspired by the Holy Ghost, and prophesied; and with them he tarried seven days. In the time of Dioclesian’s persecution, the Tyrians were such sincere converts to Christianity that they exhibited several glorious examples of confessors and martyrs; and when the storm of persecution was blown over, under their Bishop Paulinus, they built an oratory, or rather a temple, for the public worship of God, the most magnificent and sumptuous in all Palestine. Eusebius produces this last occurrence in proof of the completion of Isaiah’s prophecy; and St. Jerome is of the same opinion. To these proofs we will only add, that as Tyre consecrated its merchandise and hire unto the Lord, so it had the honour of being erected into an archbishopric, and the first under the patriarchate of Jerusalem, having fourteen bishops under its primacy; and in this state it continued several years.” Bishop Newton.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 23". Benson's Commentary. 1857.