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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Isaiah 23

 

 

Verse 1

The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them.

Menander, the historian, who translated into Greek the Tyrian archives (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' 9: 14, sec. 2), notices a siege of Tyre by Shalmaneser, shortly after his capture of Samaria - i:e., not long after 721 BC Tyre was then in the height of its prosperity. Since the reign of Hiram it had planted the great colony of Carthage, 143 year and 8 months after the building of Solomon's temple (Josephus, 100: 'Apion.,' 1: 18). It had the island of Cyprus, with its valuable mines of the metal which takes its name, 'copper,' from the island. Sidon, Acco, and Old Tyre, on the mainland, were soon reduced; but New Tyre, on an island half a mile from the shore, held out for five years. Sargon probably finished the siege. Sennacherib does not, however, mention it among the cities which the Assyrian kings conquered, (Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38.) The expression, "Chaldeans" (Isaiah 23:13), implies an ulterior reference to its siege under Nebuchadnezzar, which lasted thirteen years. Alexander the Great destroyed New Tyre after a seven month's siege.

Tyre (Hebrew, Tzor) - i:e., Rock; now Sur.

Ships of Tarshish - ships of Tyre returning from their voyage to Tarshish, or Tartessus in Spain, with which the Phoenicians had much commerce (Ezekiel 27:12-25). "Ships of Tarshish" is a phrase also used of large and distant-voyaging merchant vessels (Isaiah 2:16; 1 Kings 10:22; Psalms 48:7).

There is no house - namely, left: such was the case as to Old Tyre after Nebuchadnezzar's siege.

No entering in - there is no house to enter (Isaiah 24:10). Or rather, Tyre is so laid waste that there is no possibility of entering the harbour: which is appropriate to the previous "ships." Literally, 'it is laid waste, from (Hebrew, min (Hebrew #4480)) there being a house, from there being an entrance:' which probably means, Tyre, once the emporium of all nations, is now laid waste, so that it is no longer a house with an open entrance to all. G. Robinson says, 'The harbour is a small circular basin, now quite filled up with sand and broken columns, leaving scarcely space enough for small boats to enter.'

From the land of Chittim it is revealed to them - Cyprus: of which the cities, including Citium in the South (whence came "Chittim"), were mostly Phoenician (Ezekiel 27:6). The ships from Tarshish on their way to Tyre learn the tidings

(It is revealed to them) of the downfall of Tyre. At a later period Chittim denoted the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean (Daniel 11:30). The Chittians (i:e., the Cyprians) had revolted from Tyre: upon which the Tyrian King Eluloeus sailed against them and reduced them. But the King of Assyria attacked all Phoenicia; and with the help of 60 ships and 800 rowers of Sidon, Acco (Acre), and Old Tyre, and the Phoenicians in general, who submitted to him, he attacked Tyre. The Tyrian archives represent themselves as victorious, and as having still held out five years, in spite of the Assyrian king's placing of guards at their rivers and aqueducts. But national vanity would prompt them to hide their own defeat, which they might the more safely do, as Tyre still remained a powerful state with its own kings (Jeremiah 25:22; Jeremiah 27:3; Ezekiel 28:2-12), after its temporary humiliation, until the siege under Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.


Verse 2

Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Zidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished.

Be still - struck dumb with awe. Addressed to those already in the country, eye-witnesses of its ruin (Lamentations 2:10); or, in contrast to the busy din of commerce once heard in Tyre, now all is hushed and still.

Ye inhabitants of the isle - strictly applicable to New Tyre: in the sense coast, to the mainland city, Old Tyre (cf. Isaiah 23:6; Isaiah 20:6).

Zidon - of which Tyre was a colony, planted when Zidon was conquered by the Philistines of Ascalon (Justin, 18: 3). Zidon means a fishing station: this was its beginning.

Replenished - with wealth and an industrious population (Ezekiel 27:3; Ezekiel 27:8; Ezekiel 27:23). Here "Zidon" as the oldest city of Phoenicia, includes all the Phoenician towns on the strip of 'coast.' Thus, Ethbaal, King of Tyre (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' 8: 3, 2), is called king of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31); and on coins Tyre is called the metropolis of the Sidonians. Zidon was "the first-born of Canaan" (Genesis 10:15), and is called 'Great Zidon' -

i.e., the metropolis Zidon-in Joshua 11:8; Joshua 19:28. In Joshua 13:6; Judges 18:7, "Zidonians" is the generic name for the Phoenicians or Canaanites. Moreover, the reason assigned for there being no deliverer to Laish is, 'they were far from the Zidonians;' whence it follows that Tyre was not then the main city. So Homer does not mention Tyre, but does Zidon ('Odyssey,' 15: 425; 13: 285; 'Iliad,' 23: 743): he praises the Zidonians as skilled workmen; the Phoenicians as skilled mariners.


Verse 3

And by great waters the seed of Sihor, the harvest of the river, is her revenue; and she is a mart of nations. By great waters - the wide waters of the sea.

Seed - the grain, or crop, as in 1 Samuel 8:15; Job 39:12.

Of Sihor - literally, dark-coloured, from shahhar, to be black; applied to the Nile, as the Greek, melas, anciently Kmelas: Latin, melo (Servius, 'Georgics,' 4: 291; 'AEneid,' 1: 745), to express the dark turbid colours given to its waters by the fertilizing soil which it deposits at its yearly overflow (Jeremiah 2:18). The name Nilus is akin to the Sanskrit, Nilah, blue. In hieroglyphics the name of the country is KEM - i:e., black. In painted sculptures the Nile-god is coloured red during the inundation, and during the rest of the year blue.

The harvest of the river - the growth of the Delta; the produce due to the overflow of the Nile: Egypt was the great granary of grain in the ancient world (Genesis 41:1-57; Genesis 42:1-38; Genesis 43:1-34.)

(Is) her revenue. Tyrian vessels carried Egyptian produce, gotten in exchange for wine, oil, glass, etc., into various lands, and so made large profits.

And she is a mart of nations - (Ezekiel 27:3.) No city was more favourably situated for commerce.


Verse 4

Be thou ashamed, O Zidon: for the sea hath spoken, even the strength of the sea, saying, I travail not, nor bring forth children, neither do I nourish up young men, nor bring up virgins.

Be thou ashamed, O Zidon - called on, as being the parent country of Tyre (Isaiah 23:12), and here representing Phoenicia in general, to feel the shame (as it was esteemed in the East) of being now as childless as if she never had any.

I travail not, nor bring forth children - `I (no more now) travail nor bring forth,' etc. 'The strength of the sea' - i:e., the stronghold-namely, New Tyre, on a rock (as "Tyre" means) surrounded by the sea (Ezekiel 26:4; Ezekiel 26:14-17 : so Venice was called 'Bride of the sea;' Zechariah 9:3).


Verse 5

As at the report concerning Egypt, so shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre.

As at the report concerning Egypt, (so) shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre - rather, 'When the report (namely, concerning Tyre) (shall reach) the people of Egypt, they shall be sorely pained at the report concerning Tyre' (namely, its overthrow). So Jerome 'When the Egyptians shall hear that so powerful a neighbouring nation has been destroyed, they must know their own end is near.' So the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Arabic, (Lowth, etc.) The sense of the English version is, As the neighbouring peoples shall be sorely pained at the report of Egypt's disaster, so shall they be at the report of Tyre's. But Tyre's disaster came before that of Egypt, not after it. Ezekiel 29:18-20 translates, therefore, as Jerome above. The disaster was to be to Tyre and Egypt in common: both were enemies of the covenant people-Egypt avowedly; Tyre secretly (Calvin).


Verse 6

Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.

Pass ye over to Tarshish. Escape from Tyre to your colonies, as Tarshish (cf. Isaiah 23:12). The Tyrians fled to Carthage and elsewhere, both at the siege under Nebuchadnezzar and that under Alexander.


Verse 7

Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn.

(Is) this your joyous (city)? Is this silent ruin all that is left of your once joyous city? (Isaiah 23:12.)

Antiquity. The Tyrian priests boasted in Herodotus' time that their city had already existed 2,300 years: an exaggeration, but still implying that it was ancient even then.

Her own feet - walking on foot as captives to an enemy's land.


Verse 8

Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth?

Who - Answered in Isaiah 23:9, "The Lord of hosts."

The crowning city - crown-giving: i:e., the city from which dependent kingdoms had arisen, as Tartessus in Spain, Citium in Cyprus, and Carthage in Africa (Ezekiel 27:33).

Whose traffickers - literally, Canaanites, who were famed for commerce, (cf. Hosea 12:7, margin.)


Verse 9

The LORD of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth.

The Lord of hosts. Whoever be the instruments in overthrowing haughty sinners, God, who has all hosts at His command, is the First cause (Isaiah 10:5-7).

Stain - "to stain:" Hebrew, le-challeel, to profane as in Exodus 31:14, the Sabbath, and other objects of religious reverence: so here, "the pride of all glory" may refer to the Tyrian temple of Hercules, the oldest in the world, according to Arrian (Isaiah 2:16): the prophet of the true God would naturally single out for notice the idol of Tyre (G.V. Smith). But the parallelism between "to stain the pride of all glory," and the following,

To bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth - shows that the former clause refers, like the latter, to the pride of wealth which characterized the Tyrian merchants, The repetition of "the honourable of the earth" in Isaiah 23:9 from Isaiah 23:8 confirms this. The destruction of Tyre will exhibit to all how God mars the luster of whatever is haughty (Isaiah 2:11).


Verse 10

Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.

A river - Hebrew, Cayeor, 'as the river Nile.'

O daughter of Tarshish - Tyre and its inhabitants, about henceforth, owing to the ruin of Tyre, to become inhabitants of its colony, Tartessus: they would pour forth from Tyre, as waters flow on when the barriers are removed (Lowth). Rather, Tarshish, or Tartessus and its inhabitants, as the phrase usually means (cf. Isaiah 1:8, "the daughter of Zion" - i:e., Zion's citizens personified as the daughter of Zion): they had been kept in hard bondage, working in silver and lead mines near Tarshish, by the parent city (Ezekiel 26:17); but now

There is no more strength - i:e., the bond of restraint (for so "strength," margin, girdle, i:e., bond, Psalms 2:3, ought to be translated) is removed, since Tyre is no more. Compare Menander, in Josephus' 'Antiquities,' 9: 14, 2; Diodorus, 5: 38; Herodotus, 1: 163.


Verse 11

He stretched out his hand over the sea, he shook the kingdoms: the LORD hath given a commandment against the merchant city, to destroy the strong holds thereof.

He - Yahweh.

He shook the kingdoms - the Phoenician cities and colonies, Tyre, Sidon, Arad, Arce, etc.

The merchant city - Hebrew, Canaan, meaning the north of it; namely, time Phoenice of the Greeks, at the foot of Lebanon. On their coins they call their country Canaan.


Verse 12

And he said, Thou shalt no more rejoice, O thou oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon: arise, pass over to Chittim; there also shalt thou have no rest.

And he said. "He," God.

No more rejoice - riotously (Isaiah 23:7).

O thou oppressed virgin - `deflowered virgin (Lowth): laying aside the figure, thou city taken by storm. The Arabs compare a city never taken to an undefiled virgin, (cf. Nahum 3:5, etc.)

Daughter of Zidon - Tyre; or else, sons of Zidon; i:e., the whole land and people of Phoenicia (note, Isaiah 23:2) (Maurer).

Chittim - Citium in Cyprus (Isaiah 23:1).

There also shalt thou have no rest - thy colonies, having been harshly treated by thee, will now repay thee in kind (note, Isaiah 23:10). But Vitringa refers it to the calamities which befell the Tyrians in their settlements subsequently-namely, Sicily, Corcyra, Carthage, and Spain, all flowing from the original curse of Noah against the posterity of Canaan (Genesis 9:25-27).


Verse 13

Behold the land of the Chaldeans; this people was not, till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness: they set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof; and he brought it to ruin.

Behold the land of the Chaldeans. Calling attention to the fact so humiliating to Tyre, that a people of yesterday, like the Chaldees, should, first as mercenaries in the Assyrian king's army, then as the army of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, in the next siege, destroy the most ancient of cities, Tyre.

This people was not - had no existence as a recognized nation; the Chaldees were previously but a rude predatory people (Job 1:17.)

(Till) the Assyrian founded it. The Chaldees ("them that dwell in the wilderness") lived a nomadic life in the mountains of Armenia originally (The name "Arphaxad," in Genesis 10:22, refers to such a region of Assyria near Armenia; from Arabic, 'arap, to bind, and kard, kurd - i:e., the stronghold of the Chaldees) north and east of Assyria proper. Some may have settled in Mesopotamia and Babylonia very early, and given origin to the astrologers, called Chaldees in later times. But most of the people had been transferred only a little before the time of this prophecy from their original seats in the North to Mesopotamia, and soon afterward to South Babylonia. "Founded it," means, 'assigned it (the land) to them who had (heretofore) dwelt in the wilderness' as a permanent settlement (so in Psalms 104:8) (Maurer). It was the Assyrian policy to infuse into their own population of the plain the fresh blood of hardy mountaineers, for the sake of recruiting their armies. Ultimately the Chaldees, by their powerful priest-caste, gained the supremacy, and established the later or Chaldean empire.

They set up the towers thereof - namely, of Babylon. Herodotus (I 84) says its towers were 'set up' by the Assyrians (Barnes). Rather, 'the Chaldees set up their siege-towers' against Tyre, made for the attack of high walls, from which the besiegers hurled missiles, as depicted in the Assyrian sculptures (Maurer).

They raised up the palaces thereof - rather [`owr


Verse 14

Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste.

Your strength is laid waste - your stronghold (cf. Ezekiel 26:15-18).


Verse 15

And it shall come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot.

Tyre shall be forgotten. Having lost its former renown, Tyre shall be in obscurity. Seventy years - the duration of the captivity of the Jews in Babylon (so Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10). This proves that the capture of Tyre here meant ultimately is that by Nebuchadnezzar.

Days of one king. - i:e., dynasty. The Babylonian monarchy lasted properly but 70 years. From the first year of Nebuchadnezzar to the taking of Babylon by Cyrus, was 70 years; then the subjected nations would be restored to liberty. Tyre was taken in the middle of that period, but it is classed in common with the rest, some conquered sooner and others later-all, however, alike about to be delivered at the end of the period. So "king" is used for dynasty (Daniel 7:17; Daniel 8:20). Nebuchadnezzar, his son Evil-merodach, and his grandson Belshazzar, formed the whole dynasty (Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 27:7; Jeremiah 29:10).

After the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot - it shall be to Tyre as the song of the harlot-namely, a harlot that has been forgotten, but who attracts notice again by her song. Large marts of commerce are often compared to harlots seeking many lovers - i:e., they court merchants of all nations, and admit any one for the sake of gain (Nahum 3:4; Revelation 18:3). The image is appropriate, as covetousness, the besetting sin of Tyre, is closely akin to idolatry and licentiousness (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5 : cf. Isaiah 2:6-8; Isaiah 2:18).


Verse 16

Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.

Sing ... that thou mayest be remembered. Same figure, to express that Tyre would again prosper and attract commercial contact of nations to her, and be the same joyous, self-indulging city as before.


Verse 17

And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.

The Lord will visit Tyre - not in wrath, but mercy.

Hire - image from a harlot; her gains by commerce. After the Babylonian dynasty was ended, Tyre was rebuilt; also, again, after the terrible destruction under Alexander.


Verse 18

And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the LORD: it shall not be treasured nor laid up; for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the LORD, to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing.

Her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord - her traffic and gains shall at last (long after the restoration mentioned, in Isaiah 23:17) be consecrated to Yahweh. Eusebius, 'History,' 10:, Isaiah 4:1-6, says, 'When the Church of God was founded in Tyre, much of its wealth was consecrated to God, and was brought as an offering to the Church for the support of the ministry.' Jesus Christ visited the neighbourhood of Tyre (Matthew 15:21): Paul found disciples there (Acts 21:3-6): it early became a Christian bishopric; but the full evangelization of that whole race, as of the Ethiopians (Isaiah 18:1-7), of the Egyptians and Assyrians (Isaiah 19:1-25), is yet to come (Isaiah 60:5).

It shall not be treasured - but freely expended in His service.

Her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the Lord - the ministers of religion. But Horsley translates, 'for them that sit before Yahweh' as disciples.

And for durable clothing. Changes of raiment constituted much of the wealth of former days.

Remarks: The 'prince-merchants' of our commercial nation have much to learn from the doom of Tyre, once the "mart of nations." Commerce is, doubtless, one earthly basis of national prosperity; but it affords no safeguard against national ruin, when the favour of the Lord does not accompany it. The largest 'revenue' comes to nought at the command of the Almighty. In vain did Tyre look for help to her many colonies, as well as to the mother city, Zidon, in the day of her distress. Zidon herself was put to shame, so that she could afford no succour; and the Tyrians could only flee to Tarshish and elsewhere, as exiled fugitives. Tyre, that was once so "joyous," as now "still," and void of national life. "Antiquity" will not avail when it has arrayed against it, "the Ancient of days." So far are "the honourable of the earth" from being able to counteract the "purpose" of "the Lord of hosts," that it is their very pride which brings down His wrath; for his 'purpose' is "to stain" or pollute "the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth." Let us learn that the true blessedness of the possession of wealth, great or small, consists in the dedication of it to the glory of God, the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, and the temporal and spiritual relief of our fellow-men.

The four chapters, 24-27, form one continuous poetical prophecy, descriptive of the dispersion and successive calamities of the Jews (Isaiah 24:1-12); the preaching of the Gospel by the first Hebrew converts throughout the world (Isaiah 24:13-16); the judgments on the adversaries of the Church, and its final triumph (Isaiah 24:16-23); thanksgiving for the overthrow of the apostate faction (Isaiah 25:1-12), and establishment of the righteous in lasting peace (Isaiah 26:1-21); judgment on leviathan and entire purgation of the Church, (Isaiah 27:1-13.) Having treated of the several nations in particular-Babylon, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Edom, and Tyre (the miniature representative of all, as all kingdoms flocked into it) - he passes to the last times of the world at large, and of Judah, the representative and future head of the Churches.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 23:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/isaiah-23.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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