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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 23


This is the last of the prophecies by Isaiah relating to the heathen. Tyre and Zidon, cities of Phoenicia, were associated, being only twenty miles apart. Tyre was the chief city, the commercial mart of the world, at that time. By her maritime wealth she had become proud and oppressive. She cultivated base idolatries, and thus needed reproof such as this prediction offers.

A slight notice of Tyre’s history and fate must suffice. Sieges against her were made by different enemies: by Shalmanezer B.C. 720, without success; by Nebuchadnezzar, with no known result; by Alexander, with temporary conquest, though he struck gradual death into her commerce when he built Alexandria; finally by the Saracens in 1290. Much of the chapter will be hard of explanation unless scope for the fulfilment of its prediction be assumed.

Verse 1

1. Ships of Tarshish The Mediterranean fleet, especially the larger vessels which plied between the Phoenician coast (for all cities and towns on the coast were sea-faring,) and Tartessus in Spain.

Is laid waste This is spoken of Tyre. It is so seen in vision.

From… Chittim it is revealed Cyprus, or Citium, a chief port in Cyprus. The vision takes in seamen returning and hearing from the colony at Cyprus bad news of Tyre.

Verse 2

2. Be still Or, dumb with astonishment.

Isle In Hebrew, this word applies to the coast, whether of island or mainland. Therefore, the inhabitants of the towns on the Mediterranean are here addressed, who were enriched by commerce with Phoenicia. Zidon was a city of honour, not because greater, but because more ancient, than Tyre.

Verse 3

3. By great waters Across the sea to Egypt. The grain of the Nile land (called here Sihor, black, the black deposits of yearly fertile mud) is Tyre’s revenue. Egypt was the great emporium of the nations.

Verse 4

4. Ashamed Zidon, or the whole Zidonian coast, is called to be confounded, mortified, because the sea… the strength of the sea, or Tyre the rock fortress of the sea, the sea’s objective point in commerce has waned in population because of wars, and she is for the future as good as barren.

Verse 5

5. Concerning Egypt The translation seems better thus: “At what time the report cometh to Egypt they shall bewail at the report of Tyre.” For the loss of Tyre is the loss of Egypt’s market for her products.

Verse 6

6. Tarshish Tyre’s remote colonies, especially Tartessus, near the Straits of Gibraltar. In the stress upon Tyre her people are advised to seek refuge there. The siege by Nebuchadnezzar, and still more by Alexander, was sufficient occasion for such advice.

Verse 7

7. Joyous city… ancient days The question form here is from poetic fervour. Joyousness is supposed to imply luxury, recklessness, and pride of antiquity. Undisturbed prosperity for many years made them exultant and even arrogant.

Feet… carry Tropically, cities are sometimes called mothers, and Tyre is presented here as wandering (by means of ships) to her far-off children. For history of the Phoenicians see Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Kenrick, Renan, and others.

Verses 8-9

8, 9. Who hath taken… counsel Of whose purpose come results such as these upon great Tyre? Is it possible any one can bring such things about? The irony is withering, yet solemn and stately. Jehovah, to stain the glory of man not at Tyre alone hath done it. So always.

The honourable Solid men and families, as society calls them, sooner or later come down.

Verse 10

10. Pass through… as a river As freely as a river flows, overflows, and rushes, so let the population go hence.

Daughter of Tarshish Dependent, henceforth, on the colonies for existence and a home.

No more strength Girdle is the word a figure of strength. No more home girding of the loins or fortifications. The cincture of beauty and strength is gone from Tyre.

Verse 11

11. He stretched out his hand The subject of the verb is Jehovah. The gesture here, quite a common representation with Isaiah, intends punishment and correction.

Over the sea Over the domain of Tyrian commerce, more especially Phoenician cities on the sea.

Shook the kingdoms The whole of Phoenicia, by means of noted warriors whose selfish aims at conquest were divinely overruled for correction.

Verse 12

12. He said Jehovah said, as in Isaiah 23:9.

No more rejoice Because doomed to be crippled; yes, nearly destroyed.

Daughter of Zidon Zidon was the older city, hence addressed as the mother city.

To Chittim To Tyrian colonies in Cyprus. Yet even there they would find no rest, because too near and too accessible to the conquering power.

Verse 13

13. Behold Something important to be said.

Land of the Chaldeans Originally these were wild tribes in the mountains of Armenia. (Gesenius.)

Was not Had no existence as an organized nation.

Till the Assyrian founded it That is, transplanted colonies of them on the plains of Babylonia. If this be the meaning, the event was in the very earliest days of Assyrian power and conquest, and remnants of those ancient tribes have survived to this day under the name of Koords. Xenophon, in his Anabasis, says these primitive tribes followed a nomadic life in Armenia. By some they are held to be of Cushite origin.

Set up… towers… raised… palaces They established, or were blended in with, Babylonian civilization, and became, under Nebuchadnezzar, warriors to set up siege “towers” in Tyre and to destroy her “palaces.”

He The Chaldean general and army. Though the results of that siege are not historically known, this verse declares the city crippled, and for the time being destroyed; destroyed beyond immediate regain of her old prestige.

Verses 14-15

14, 15. Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years Shall be of comparatively no account as an object for re-conquest. “Seventy years” is a compact series of decades, denoting at least a full long time; possibly, the figure here is a symbol for the period of a strong dynasty. Prophetic vision takes in things as wholes, be they as to periods longer or shorter. Historically there was nothing to hinder Tyre going on in her commerce, in unostentatious ways, under the Persian rule, till Alexander arose, some two hundred years later than Nebuchadnezzar. Alexander then attacked Tyre, but completed the ruin of her and her commerce more by establishing a great commercial rival, the city of Alexandria, in the western delta of the Nile, B.C. 332, than by his mere conquest of the city.

Verse 16

16. Take a harp This verse indicates the continuance of the city, but so humbled, that, to make herself believe that she is something like her former self, she is told to put on extra simulations to sing, play the harp, and make a big show of happiness and prosperity.

Verse 17

17. After… seventy years Return of commercial prosperity is here really promised after a time, and she is again to makes large figure in the world.

Commit fornication Why is this figure so much used by our prophet? Because harlotry and whoredom were terms applied to idolatry, and expressed the extreme contempt felt by the pious Jews for that abomination. In her coming again into prosperity Tyre would re-enact her old practices.

The Lord will visit Tyre Under divine providential auspices she is to become rich again, but, through her own renewed excesses, to be only again doomed to more overwhelming calamity.

Verse 18

18. Her merchandise… be holiness to the Lord The diffusion of the good seed of Messianic truths must produce not a little fruit among the Phoenician populations. Christ in a solitary mission there found the soil good for scattering that seed. Seagoing communication to all parts of the Gentile world was another overruled result of Tyrian commerce to carry the Gospel messengers to far off ports. The trade of commerce, first learned in Phoenicia, is now transferred to all parts of the world. All men are made near neighbours by means of it. See chapter 60.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 23". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.