Isaiah Chapter 23
A Panorama of the Future of Tyre
Chapter 23: Isaiah sees a Panorama: Or more accurately he saw a collage of future events. Some commentators get lost trying to decide whether Isaiah sees the Assyrians' subjugation of Tyre and the rest of Phoenicia or the destruction of Tyre by the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar. The former was accomplished under Sargon II beginning about 720 BC and the latter about 120 years later close to 600 BC. Actually Isaiah mentions conditions and events that can only be described as a panorama or collage of the whole of the future history of Tyre. This has caused some skeptics to assume interpolations and spurious additions which satisfy the offended minds of these critics. That kind of solution is always easy as it requires zero scholarship. All that is needed is confusion fed by doubt. For the critic it does clear up the contradictions easily so that route is taken by not a few. The reason for the confusion is that Isaiah not only mentions events in the future history of Tyre that are contemporary with his life time; (for instance the futile flight of the rulers of Tyre to Cyprus in the face of the Assyrian invasion) but he also cites events that are in the Chaldean and Persian periods as well. Tyre did not become an island city until after the destruction by the Chaldeans. Isaiah calls Tyre an isle. Alexander destroyed an island city. The Chaldeans are mentioned in this chapter as the instruments of her first destruction. Her colonies assisted in her rebuilding during the Persian Period when the second commonwealth of Judah was helped by the economic revival brought to the region by Tyre's being restored as an international trade center. Isaiah sees and records a panorama of all these events. Seeing this more correctly removes the confusion . Dismissing the skeptics and their cynical approach and placing confidence in the integrity of the text of Isaiah is not only more reasonable it makes the section meaningful.
1. The burden of Tyre. Howl, you ships of Carthage; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them.
Verse 1: Carthage: Hebrew "Tarshish" ( ) is rendered as Carthage in Greek: "Karchadon" () so rendered by the LXX each time it occurs. In Isaiah Tarshish is also mentioned in vs. 6, 10; 23:14; 60:9; 66:19.
Virgil notes in his Aeneid
Against the Tiber's mouth, but far away,
An ancient town was seated on the sea;
A Tyrian colony; the people made
Stout for the war, and studious of their trade:
Carthage the name;
(Book 1 line 26)
that Carthage is a city founded by Tyre. The LXX translators, through their close acquaintance with the ancient world, make better commentators than some more recent commentators who identify Tarshish with Tartessus a small Carthaginian colony on the coast of Spain. Carthage was the major colony of the Phoenicians. The Phoenician ships therefore took on the generic name of the foremost colony. Tartessus as a distant and minor colony of Carthage would have been serviced by Carthaginian ships. "Ships of Tarshish" are ships of Punic Carthage.
Verse 1: "It is laid waste:" The history of Tyre before the Christian Era would include two major destructions. One under Nebuchadnezzar about 100 years after Isaiah's time (about 600 BC) and the other during the conquest of Alexander the Great around the year 330 BC. During the life of Isaiah Tyre and the whole of Phoenicia was occupied by Assyrians. This was contemporary with the fulfillment of Isaiah's predictions of the Assyrian punishment of Israel and Judah in the early eighth century BC. The flight of many Tyrians to Cyprus here called Chittim brought about the occupation of that island also by Sargon II and his Assyrian successors. Tyre was located on the sea coast when it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar which is predicted in verse 13 and is elaborately predicted in Ezek 26. When the city was later restored it was rebuilt on a shoal reef about a mile off shore with some of the remains of the original city being used for fill. It's walls were thick to the point of being impenetrable and they were of an extreme height, reported by Arrian (classical biographer of Alexander) to have been 150 feet above high tide. Alexander razed the city to the ground after building a causeway with the remains of the city destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The ruined city and the causeway have collected silt through the centuries and the site is now a peninsula that for many years has been a place where fishermen dry their nets, predicted in Ezekiel 26:5. The destruction of the island fortress of Tyre by Alexander was predicted by Zechariah about 515 BC. (Zec. 9:3,4) After being destroyed by Alexander Tyre was rebuilt again but never regained the prominence described by Isaiah and Ezekiel as the center of old world mercantile activity. It is currently a small town of about 20,000 inhabitants. It was not an island when Isaiah wrote nor when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it but is described in verses 2 and 6 in the island form in which it was restored. Tyre is called "daughter of Carthage" in verse 10 which could not be true until after her restoration helped by the Carthaginians. Thus Isaiah's prediction of Tyre's future includes a broad sweeping scope while Ezekiel and Zechariah have different specific events in view. Ezekiel sees the city of Tyre destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar as a place to spread nets while Zechariah sees Tyre as an island city overthrown by Alexander "in the midst of the sea." Thus to Isaiah the future of Tyre includes the Assyrian occupation of Phoenicia and its territories in the eastern Mediterranean and then this was followed in a little over 100 years by the overthrow of Tyre by the Chaldeans and a 70 year lapse after which it was rebuilt on an island as a prosperous trade center. He further sees that during this time it was a blessing to the Jewish nation for almost 300 years. Then the island city was destroyed by Alexander and it was never rebuilt again on the same site. The city that would be called Tyre after this would be of small consequence and be at a considerable distance on the mainland. This total outline is in Isaiah's vision. No wonder skeptics are confused.
Verse 1: Chittim: Cyprus may be meant. Ships coming from the west, Carthage and beyond, would land at Cyprus first and hear the news of the fall of Tyre when it was destroyed by the Chaldeans. Before this, contemporarily, in the life time of Isaiah, Tyrians fled to Cyprus when attacked by the Assyrians but Cyprus was conquered by Sargon II so there was no escape for the rulers of Tyre. This is mentioned in verse 12 below.
Verse 1: Chittim or Rome may be meant. The city of Rome was established about 30 years before the giving of this prophecy thus it is not as likely, however there are events that are involved in the interaction of Rome and Carthage during the rise and final domination of the Mediterranean world by the Roman Empire that match the events predicted here relative to "Chittim.". Carthage was the major trading city in the west and as the "daughter" of Phoenecian Tyre she was the main obstacle of the rise of Rome as a world power. The Punic wars which lasted from 264 to 201 BCE ended with the destruction of Carthage which insured the rise of Rome as the only world power in the Mediterranean by the mid-first century BCE and as a result also the gradual diminishing of Tyre as a world trading power. Ancient Bible commentators which are quoted by the editors of the Pesher to Habakkuk spoke of Rome by the name of Chittim. See the Pesher to Habukkuk. The Pesher is dated during the Herodian period about 50 BCE and the editor of the Pesher refers to Rome as Chittim several times in his own comments (1:6 2 Xs, 1:7; 1:9)but in several other verses he quoted the comments of earlier commentators (Hab. 1:10, 11, 17 and 2:8.) who would therefore have had greater antiquity than the editor himself. How much earlier they were can not be determined. But they are cited in the Pesher comments about the Romans.
2 Be still, you inhabitants of the isle; you whom the merchants of Sidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished.
Verse 2: Isle: When Isaiah wrote, Tyre was located on the coast. It did not become an island until after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the original city.
3 And by great waters the seed of Sihor, the harvest of the river, is her revenue; and she is a mart of nations. 4 Be you ashamed, O Sidon: for the sea has 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. 5 Just as at the report concerning Egypt, so shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre.
Verse 3: Sihor: A reference to the Nile. (see Jer: 2:18)
Verse 5: Just as the report of Egypt: The "report" is to be considered as either like or just as the shock waves which accompany the news of the tragedy which is to prophetically strike Egypt. Or, as some say: it was disconcerting to those in Egypt who heard of the fall of Tyre. A Hebrew form [Ka-asher...K] () which can be translated "as when ... so" a comparative (like "either or,") is placed before both the words Tyre and Egypt in this verse. The use of the comparative makes the meaning more likely that the news report of the fall of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar (mentioned in verse 13 below) is compared with the shock waves which accompany a similar report of a tragedy involving Egypt. Such an event concerning Egypt did just precede the fall of Tyre. One of the greatest history changing battles of the western world had just been fought at Carchemish which marked the decisive end of Egyptian power. The Chaldeans overthrew the Egyptians under Pharaoh Necho as a result of which Egypt lost self rule not to be regained until 1955, having been ruled successively by foreign powers from 600 BC. Thus the "shock waves" accompanying the news of the fall of Tyre would be compared to the Egyptian "report." .
6 Pass over to Carthage; howl, you inhabitants of the isle 7 Is this your joyous city; from her earliest antiquity her own feet carried her afar off to sojourn.
Verse 7: Antiquity: Already spoken of above this verse confirms the antiquity of Tyre whose founding is unrecorded. Joshua 19:29 mentions Tyre as a border city in the inheritance of Asher. This confirms that Tyre was a "strong city" as described in Joshua already at the time of the Exodus. Other historical references make Tyre an old ancient city before the fall of Troy which was 1200 to 1400 BC. The NIV correctly assumes this verse refers to Tyre's colonial activity from her earliest periods in unrecorded history.
8 And now who has taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traders are the honorable of the earth? 9 The LORD of hosts has purposed it, to profane the pride of all pomp, and to show as trifling all the glories of the earth.
Verse 9: The Lord Purposed it: This verse is one of many in the scriptures that answer the question of why a merciful God allows tragic events to happen. Why do the innocent suffer with the guilty? Why do great events of horror erupt? Who is ultimately responsible? This verse makes it plain again that God allows such events to happen to bring us to see where real and eternal values lie. The pursuit of happiness in material things or in human achievement. or pride of station is empty in the day of calamity when eternal values are forced into focus. Then we are brought low so we can see what is truly high. God used the destruction of Tyre to force men of every nation to consider what is important in life,
10 Pass through your land as a river, O daughter of Carthage: there is no more strength. 11 He stretched out his hand over the sea, he shook the kingdoms: the LORD has given a commandment against Punic Palestine, to destroy her strong holds.
Verse 10: "Daughter of Carthage." Josephus says that Carthage was built by the Phoenicians "143 years after Solomon built the Temple." (Against Apion I:17) The Roman tradition is that a sister or daughter of Pygmalian king of Tyre about 815 BC fled from Tyre and established Carthage. Virgil, who lived just at the time of Julius and Augustus Caesar wrote an epic poem, the Aeneid, about the founding of the Roman race derived according to him from the fusion of Latin and Trojan ancestors. In the introduction of the Aeneid he notes that the Phoenicians of Tyre founded Carthage:Against the Tiber's mouth, but far away,Virgil makes Aeneas the beloved of Dido, the above mentioned daughter-founder of Carthage. Aeneas had fled from the fall of Troy. However, the Trojan extinction is more likely closer to 1200 B.C than 800. The exact date of the founding of Carthage is therefore lost in the shades of antiquity but is acknowledged as ancient. The coast of Spain beyond the straits of Gibraltar was colonized 700 to 800 BC and settled long before the events were recorded historically. Jonah's flight to Carthage which some confuse with Tartessus, a colony of Carthage on the coast of Spain is before the Fall of Nineveh. Very early Carthage had become the leading city of the Phoenician peoples and after the first and second destructions of Tyre would have played an important part in the restoration of Tyre. It is in this sense, because the Carthaginians rebuilt her, that Isaiah calls Tyre (the city which is actually the "mother" of Carthage) the "daughter of Carthage."
An ancient town was seated on the sea;
A Tyrian colony; the people made
Stout for the war, and studious of their trade:
Carthage the name; belov'd by Juno more
Than her own Argos,
Verse 11: Palestine: The KJV has "merchant city" while the NIV offers the interpretive translation of "Phoenicia," which is probably a correct conclusion but is not the reading in Hebrew. The Hebrew Masoretic text has "Canaan" which is assumed to mean the Phoenician portion of the land of Canaan. This is evidence of the Canaanite and therefore Hamitic origin of Phoenicia. The Qumran text has some minor variations in this verse but also reads Canaan. Canaanite origins for Phoenicia were still recognized in New Testament times. Mt. 15:22 calls the woman who besought Jesus who resided in the region of Tyre and Sidon a "woman of Canaan."
12 And he said, You shall no more rejoice, O you oppressed virgin, daughter of Sidon: arise, pass over to Chittim; there also shall you have no rest.
Verse 12: Daughter of Sidon: This is an accurate description of Tyre in that Sidon is a an older city. Tyre came out of Sidon to become the major city of the Phoenicians.
Verse 12: Chittim: See note on Chittim under verse 1 above.
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 its towers, they raised up its palaces; and he brought it to ruin.
Verses 13-18: Chaldeans: The Chaldean kingdom owes its founding to the Assyrians who set Babylon as the center of Chaldean government but tributary to Nineveh. Here Isaiah predicts that the Chaldeans over 100 years later would be the agents in the destruction of Tyre. Isaiah accurately states that Tyre would be overthrown by the Chaldeans and suffer a 70 year hiatus (verse 15 below) after which she would return to be a great mercantile center again. After the fall of Assyrian power (the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC) Nebuchadnezzar led the Chaldeans to the status of world empire and Tyre was reduced to rubble (a place to spread nets Ezek 26:5) after which it was rebuilt with the help of her colonials and was again a mercantile center. Carthage was still subject to Tyre during the Persian period which followed the Chaldeans and was the major link to a far flung system of trading colonies. The restoration of Tyre as a major center would have been of great benefit to the restored nation of Judah during the Persian period which is probably what is meant in verse 18. That is, that after the 70 years of Chaldean exile for Tyre she would be restored and through her trade be a blessing for God's people in Judea. That is what happened. The seventy years correspond to the same seventy years of Jewish captivity under the same king Nebuchadnezzar and the return is consistent with the policy of Cyrus to return the captive nations to their own lands.
14 Howl, you ships of Carthage: for your strength is laid waste. 15. And it shall be 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. 16 Take a harp, go about the city, you harlot that has been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, so you may be remembered. 17 And it shall be 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. 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.
See the introductory comments above as to whether these verses refer to the Assyrian or Chaldean attack on Tyre. The seventy years correspond to the same time the Jews were taken captive
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