Tuesdays with Isaiah (Chapter 23)

Next on the list of nations who receive an oracle from the Lord comes Tyre and its close ally, Sidon.  These two port cities were the commercial centers for the Phoenicians and were located to the north of Israel on Mediterranean coast.  The Phoenicians had gained international renown and immense riches through their fleet of merchant ships.  In this oracle, we see their commercial enterprise destroyed; the economic ripple effect creates distress across from Africa (Egypt—5) to Europe (Tarshish—1, 10, 14).

The oracle opens with the “ships of Tarshish” being summoned to lament for Tyre (1).  Since Jehoshaphat “made ships of Tarshish” (1 Kings 22:48), the reference could be to a type of sea vessel associated with Tarshish (a city that many biblical scholars locate in what is now southern Spain).  The report of the devastation of Tyre and Sidon reaches the fleet of ships while docked in Cyprus (an island nation/state in the Mediterranean).  The “sea” (Mediterranean) is pictured as announcing it has not brought up a new generation (young men or young women—4).  The population of Tyre and Sidon, along with the entire commercial infrastructure, is now gone.

News of the destruction eventually reaches trading partners in Egypt (5) and Europe (Tarshish—6), who respond with anguish (5) and wailing (6). Even then, the world was commercially linked to the extent that Tyre’s demise creates hardship for distant nations.  Tyre had established a long history (“from days of old”) as leaders in commercial trading, resulting in wealth and prestige that allowed Tyre to become an “exultant city” (7).

In verses 8-9, Isaiah raises the question of how and why this has happened.  While later he will get to the human cause (Assyria—13), his first response points to the ultimate answer: God has done this to humble human pride.  “The Lord of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pompous pride of all glory, to dishonor all the honored of the earth” (9).

Isaiah announces the destruction the enveloped Tyre and Sidon results from God’s command “concerning Canaan to destroy its strongholds” (11).  The Lord had determined that the prideful exulting of Sidon (and the Phoenicians) would be replaced by foreign oppression (12).  They may try to escape to Cyprus, but even there they would “have no rest” (12).

The human cause of Tyre and Sidon’s demise is identified as the Assyrians: “Assyria destine it for wild beasts.  They erected their siege towers, they stripped her palaces bare, they made her a ruin” (13). Verse 14 repeats the call to lament: “Wait, O ships of Tarshish, for your stronghold is laid waste.”

The devastation of the Phoenician cities would last for “seventy years, like the days of one king” (15).  As Israel would experience a seventy-year exile, so the Phoenicians would be oppressed and downtrodden for a similar length of time.  When the seventy years are over, Tyre and Sidon would resume their role as sea merchants.  Like a “forgotten prostitute” they would seek to regain business from the nations they once serviced (16).  They would again become a trading partner for many nations (17); however, this time, instead of becoming excessively wealthy, their prosperity would “supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the Lord” (18).  God’s people would benefit from Tyre and Sidon’s resurgence.

Behold Your God

The Lord’s purposes are fulfilled for the nations.  Isaiah asks a question regarding the reason for Tyre and Sidon’s demise: “Who has purposed this against Tyre” (8).  The answer comes quickly: “The Lord of host has purposed it” (9).  Here is a case study showing the reality of Psalm 33: 10-11: “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.  The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”  The same truth is expressed by Paul in his opening prayer of praise in Ephesians; God has a settled, eternal purpose and works “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11).  Here is a reminder that the destiny of entire cities and nations is in God’s plan and God’s hand.

The Lord humbles the pompous pride of nations.  Tyre and Sidon’s downfall can be traced to God’s offense at their “pompous pride” (9).  Having amassed great wealth and world-wide renown because of their commercial trading empire, Tyre and Sidon had become “princes” in the eyes of others and in their own estimation (8).  Human pride offends God as it falsely attributes glory to the wrong source.  He ultimately acts to “defile the pompous pride of all glory” (9).

Here Am I

I must not allow pride a place in my heart, home or ministry.  Pride always offends God and brings His active opposition.  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, citing Prov 3:34).  Even when God allows favour and material blessing, my heart must remain humbly grateful to God, giving Him glory for all blessing.  As Isaiah 26:12 reminds us: “for you have indeed done for us all our works.”

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