1 The oracle concerning Tyre.
Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
for Tyre is laid waste, without house or harbor!
From the land of Cyprus
it is revealed to them.
2 Be still, O inhabitants of the coast;
the merchants of Sidon, who cross the sea, have filled you.
3 And on many waters
your revenue was the grain of Shihor,
the harvest of the Nile;
you were the merchant of the nations.
4 Be ashamed, O Sidon, for the sea has spoken,
the stronghold of the sea, saying:
“I have neither labored nor given birth,
I have neither reared young men
nor brought up young women.”
5 When the report comes to Egypt,
they will be in anguish over the report about Tyre.
6 Cross over to Tarshish;
wail, O inhabitants of the coast!
7 Is this your exultant city
whose origin is from days of old,
whose feet carried her
to settle far away?
8 Who has purposed this
against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes,
whose traders were the honored of the earth?
9 The Lord of hosts has purposed it,
to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
to dishonor all the honored of the earth.
10 Cross over your land like the Nile,
O daughter of Tarshish;
there is no restraint anymore.
11 He has stretched out his hand over the sea;
he has shaken the kingdoms;
the Lord has given command concerning Canaan
to destroy its strongholds.
12 And he said:
“You will no more exult,
O oppressed virgin daughter of Sidon;
arise, cross over to Cyprus,
even there you will have no rest.”
13 Behold the land of the Chaldeans! This is the people that was not; Assyria destined it for wild beasts. They erected their siege towers, they stripped her palaces bare, they made her a ruin.
14 Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
for your stronghold is laid waste.
15 In that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute:
16 “Take a harp;
go about the city,
O forgotten prostitute!
Make sweet melody;
sing many songs,
that you may be remembered.”
17 At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. 18 Her merchandise and her wages will be holy to the Lord. It will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the Lord. – Isaiah 23:1-18 ESV
While Babylon and Assyria represent large nations whose powerful military forces allowed them to dominate that region of the world and expand their respective kingdoms through conquest, Tyre represents the much small Phoenician state that had amassed great wealth through commerce. Located along the Mediterranean Sea, Tyre was a bustling commercial port whose ships plied the Mediterranean, carrying goods to and from foreign ports, transforming the city and region into a major economic force.
In this oracle, God pronounces a judgment against Tyre, that will impact the entire Phoenician region. Tyre is singled out and made the focal point of God’s pronouncement because it was the most renowned of all the Phoenician cities. What God predicts will happen to it will take place throughout the region.
God describes Tyre as being laid waste, its homes and harbor being completely destroyed. And the news of Tyre’s fall will spread fast, reaching the shores of the island of Cypress, where sailors on large ships hailing from as far away as Tarshish in Spain, will hear the devastating report and mourn the loss of this great seaport. Sidon, located just to the north of Tyre will also mourn the loss of its neighbor. In fact, God gives Sidon and the rest of the coast of Phoenicia two words of warning: damam and buwsh. The first warns that they will be made silent, dumbfounded at the news. The second warns that they will grow pale with astonishment and terror upon hearing what has happened to Tyre.
Even the sea gives voice to its concern over the loss of Tyre. Like a childless woman, unable to give birth, the sea will be unable to replace the loss of its child, Tyre. And while Sidon had enjoyed the same economic success as its sister city, trading with Egypt and other lands, it too would be negatively impacted by Tyre’s loss.
We know that, in 585-572 BC, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre. Then, in 322 TC, Alexander the Great completely destroyed the city. Sidon would later fall to the Persian king Artaxerxes. Everything God predicted in this oracle eventually happened just as He said. And in verse 9, God provides the reason for Tyre’s eventual demise.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has done it
to destroy your pride
and bring low all earth’s nobility. – Isaiah 23:9 NLT
Tyre, while not a military power, was an economic power broker, wielding tremendous influence in the world of Isaiah’s day. In a sense, the sea had made Tyre what it had become. Its entire economy was based on its location on the sea. It was known for its ships and had used its vantage point along the coast to amass great wealth and influence over the world. It stands as a symbol of man’s obsession with financial success and the power that comes with it. But Tyre had become proud and puffed up by its seemingly boundless prosperity. The merchants of Tyre lived like princes, and its traders were treated like dignitaries around the world. Yet, God would bring them low.
While Tyre had been the master of the sea, plying its waters and using it as a highway to bring back great wealth to its port, God warns that it is He who rules the waves.
The Lord held out his hand over the sea
and shook the kingdoms of the earth.
He has spoken out against Phoenicia,
ordering that her fortresses be destroyed. – Isaiah 23:11 NLT
Once again, God is revealing that He is the one who is in control of all things. He controls that wind, the waves, the armies of the world, and the fates of the nations. And all of this was meant to remind the people of Judah that no one stood outside of God’s will and immune from His judgment. Tyre was a symbol of mankind’s love affair with material wealth and financial success. They saw themselves as invincible because their resources were seemingly immeasurable. Even with all the instability in the land caused by the actions of Assyria, the Phoenicians probably thought they were safe because they were critical to continued trade with the nations of the world. But God would prove them wrong.
And when the destruction began, the people of Tyre could attempt to escape, sailing for Cypress or other distant ports, but they would soon discover that God’s judgment is relentless and His reach, limitless.
Yet, in the midst of all the news of doom and gloom, God reveals that Tyre will experience a rebound in their fortunes. After 70 years of suffering, God will allow Tyre to regain some of its former splendor.
At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. – Isaiah 23:17 ESV
Notice the indictment contained in this snippet of good news. Tyre will be allowed to enjoy some of its former glory, but they will do so using the same strategy they used before. They will prostitute themselves to all the kingdoms of the world, selling their services and their wares for financial gain. But there will be one glaring difference.
Her merchandise and her wages will be holy to the Lord. It will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the Lord. – Isaiah 23:18 ESV
This is speaking of a day that has not yet occurred. It is a prophecy concerning the last days when the nations of the earth will join in the worship of God. The apostle John was given a vision of this future day and recorded it in his Revelation.
I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. – Revelation 21:22-26 NLT
And Isaiah will go on to record a similar description of this scene, addressing the joy of Israel over its future restoration by God.
…for merchants from around the world will come to you.
They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
and will come worshiping the Lord.
The flocks of Kedar will be given to you,
and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars.
I will accept their offerings,
and I will make my Temple glorious.
“And what do I see flying like clouds to Israel,
like doves to their nests?
They are ships from the ends of the earth,
from lands that trust in me,
led by the great ships of Tarshish.
They are bringing the people of Israel home from far away,
carrying their silver and gold.
They will honor the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has filled you with splendor. – Isaiah 60:5-9 NLT
God’s immediate plans for Tyre will involve its destruction. But God’s future plans for Tyre and the nations of the earth will be much different. He is not done. He has plans to redeem and restore His people, Israel, and create a new era on earth when His Son will rule and reign, and the kingdoms of the world will worship God alone.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.