Isaiah Chapter 23


The Burden of Tyre. What Tyre symbolizes. Significance of Tyre distributing
crowns. The strange recovery of Tyre, as still a harlot and yet her
hire to be "holiness to the Lord"; explanation of the apparent anomaly.

We are now brought to the last "burden" of the series of five. The first was on Babylon, and the last on Tyre. Both have far more than a superficial interest for us, since the one as here seen is the representative of the last imperial world-power, attaining and maintaining its position by military force; and the other, Tyre, the great merchant city of the past, shall also find here its representative in the future in the alternative to the military spirit, that of commerce. Behind both is our terrible foe, Satan.

The fall of any mercantile center necessarily causes widespread distress. In a very true and real sense we can say that no nation today "liveth to itself, or dieth to itself." With the prosperity of each one, that of all is so intertwined, that if one sufferquite irrespective of the cause of the sufferingall suffer with it. Forcibly has this been brought home to us all recently. Grant, if only for the sake of argument, that the guilt of initiating war rests on one nation, the sad effects of that war cannot be confined to that guilty one. Thus in the book of Revelation that gives a prophetic picture of the last days of this age, we hear both the kings and the merchants of the earth bewailing the fall of the spiritual Babylon, which is not to be understood there as a military, but rather a spiritual empire, that is weaving together, by the threads of commerce, the nations of apostate Christendom.

Thus the Tyre of our chapter represents the commercial glory of the world, and in the graphic picture given in her fall, we may see, as in a mirror, some utter disruption of the world's commerce in the future.

I have accepted the divisions of the chapter as in the Hebrew Bible, which is both true to the characteristic "three" of Isaiah, and is confirmed by its correspondence with the value of the numbers, thus:

1: Verses 1 to 9: Tyre's fall the consequence of Jehovah's counsel.
2: Verses 10 to 14: The hostile human agent of Tyre's fall.
3: Verses 15 to 18: The recovery, or resurrection of Tyre; at first in unbelief, then final acceptance.

1: Howl, ye ships of Tarshish, howl!
For wasted lies your home-port.
Every house is broken down,
And ye are barred from ent'ring.
These the tidings they receive
From the land of Chittim.
2: Silence! dwellers of the isle,
Filled with wealth from Zidon,
Brought by sailors over-seas;
Sea-wealth thus has filled thee.
3: By many waters comes the seed
That has been raised on Sichor.
The harvest of that river Nile,
Not only doth enrich her,
But gives wealth to the nations.
4: Be 'shamed, O Zidon, be ashamed,
For list, the sea is speaking
List, thy daughterthe strong one
Of the sea is speaking:
I'm as though I'd travailed not,
Nor bore, nor trained my young men:
Nor had brought up my maidens!
5: When this report to Egypt comes,
The news from Tyre makes trembling.
Thus this "burden" opens with the picture of Tyrian vessels sailing home from Tarshish, and being met with the news that their city has fallen before some invader who has utterly destroyed it, so that its dwellings are levelled, and its very harbor so blocked that entrance is impossible. The news may well be credited, for it comes from the island lying across the sea from Tyre, Chittim, or Cyprus.

Then the Tyrians, here termed "dwellers on an island," on which their city was partly built, are bid to be silent in their desolation and shame, as they remember their past and now lost wealth that came to them by mariners belonging to their mother city, Zidon.

Next, Egypt comes into the picture, for Sichor, meaning the "Black" river, is a name for the Upper Nile, the black slime of which gave such fertility to all the land of Egypt. Thus fertile Egypt pours her wealth into Tyre. It is the harvest of her river, and all her crops come through Tyre to the nations of the earth thus enriched.

Tyre was the daughter of Zidon, and now the "mother" comes to see how fares her daughter, and what does she hear? The wailing alone of the empty sea! Nay, more, the ruin of that once strong fortress, Tyre, mourns to her mother thus: "I am as a barren woman, my sons and my daughters are all gone! I am bereft of all my children; thus indeed I am as a barren woman in my shame and sorrow."

When Egypt hears of the disaster that has befallen Tyre, she, too, trembles at the report, for Tyre is her customer, and the ruin of one's customer sometimes comes very near to being one's own ruin. In a word, this fall of Tyre causes widespread distress, so the lament continues:

6: As ye flee to Tarshish, howl!
Ye dwellers on the island.
7: Can this your joyous city be
In far-off ages founded?
Her feet must carry her afar
To dwell in alien countries.
8: Who hath taken against Tyre
Such an evil counsel?
Tyre, distributor of crowns,
Whose merchants were as princes;
Whose traffickers were in the earth
As very chiefs of glory!
9: 'Tis the purpose of the Lord,
Of Jehovah Tzebaoth,
The pride of beauty all to stain,
Thus to make earth's chief ones
Contemptible, dishonored!
The people of Tyre are counselled to flee as far away as they possibly can; not to stay at Cyprus, but to go on to Tarshish; for what a change has come over that once joyous city, a city that was founded so far back that human history gives no record of it. Now she must flee afar for safety.

Then we hear someone asking a question: Who has purposed this on Tyreon Tyre, the giver of crowns? The answer comes at once: "The Lord of Hosts." And why? "To stain the pride of all beauty"that is, the pride that comes from self-occupation with one's natural endowments. Pride, pride, pride, is that basic sin to which God is ever opposed, and man is ever expressing.

Can we be satisfied with simply stopping at the little comparatively insignificant seaport? Is it straining beyond the intent of the divine Author of the Scriptures to discern behind Tyre some expression of that all-pervasive creature-pride. As we hear her called the "distributor of crowns" can we keep our minds from going to that chief of the children of pride who did, and does indeed, distribute the crowns of earth? As surely as the "King of Tyre" in Ezek. 28 stands for that grand, yet fallen creature, Satan (as practically all Bible students agree), so surely, in this term here applied to that city, do we see him who claimed to be able to give, even to the Lord Himself, the "crown" of all the earth. He showed the Lord all the kingdoms of the world, and said: "All this power will I give Thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me." Think not to say that it was simply a great liar who there spoke, and therefore his word must not be credited. While that is indeed the case, we must bear in mind that his lies are not those of a fool; on the surface, easily seen and refuted; but covered up most skilfully with truth. The lie here is in the tense. Had he said, "All this was delivered me, but I have forfeited it all by my rebellion, even as my human type, King Saul, did later," that would have been quite true; but (also like Saul) he cleaves to what he has lost in title, and still he claims the glory of the world. Surely, then, Tyre as "the distributor of crowns" is in this a very fitting representative of that once glorious creature; nor is that correspondence lessened by the revealed truth that he, too, was created (as was Tyre) in those far-off days before human history began. A third correspondence is in his fall being due to the pride in his own beauty, for that is precisely what is charged against him: "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty" (Ezek. 28:17).

Thus is our chapter lifted out of a dull record of long-past events in which we can have no direct interest, and made worthy of Him who, in inspiring these records, had even us in His mind, "on whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Cor. 10:11). Nor will it be written in vain if we learn the grave danger there is in contemplating with complacency any form of our endowment, whether physical, mental or spiritual, for that is following the path of Satan and of this world. Our own path is marked out for us in Phil. 2:5-8; 1 shall we not ponder it?

But mark that the Lord does not Himself directly touch the corrupt form of evil in the earth, but commissions the other, the "violent," to do that. Thus Chaldea must destroy the unchaste Tyre; and so must "the ten kings and the Beast" hate the "harlot" (now about to come into being by the unification of the religious sects of Christendom) and "burn her with fire," for thus in both cases do they unconsciously carry out the counsel of "the Lord God strong to judge" (Rev. 17).

10: Freely flow o'er all thy land
As the Nile, O daughter
Of Tarshish, now no girdle binds.2
11: His Hand is stretched upon the sea,
Kingdoms hath He shaken.
The Lord hath issued His command
Against the merchant-city3
To destroy its stronghold.
12: And He said: That nevermore
Shall ye have rejoicings,
O Zidon's virgin-daughter,
So humiliated!
Rise and pass to Chittim, pass,
Though there no rest awaits thee.
Tyre continues to be the subject. Jehovah has again stretched His hand over the sea (cf. Exod. 14:21),4 putting it into fear and commotion. Kingdoms, too, has He stirred up; but why? That they may carry out His purposes, and it is to destroy the merchant-city of Tyre, here called "Canaan," which means "merchant."

Then He again addresses Tyre direct: "O thou disgraced virgin, thou daughter of Zidon, thy rejoicings have come to their end; go, cross the sea to Cyprus; but if thou thinkest there to find rest, thou shalt only find fresh disappointment."

13: See the land of Casidim,
This a people were not;
(Asshur founded it of old
For the desert-dwellers).
Towers they set up for its siege;
They destroyed its mansions,
He brought it down to ruin!
14: Howl, ye ships of Tarshish, howl!
For wasted is your fortress.
The prophet directs attention to a power that is to figure large in connection both with the whole earth, and specially his own people, "Chaldea," or, as the word is written, the Casidim. Now while this people must certainly have been in existence in the days of Nimrod, for he was the founder of Babel, yet Chaldea did not come within the vision of the Spirit of Prophecy until after Assyria had passed out of it, but this Chaldea is to be important in relation to the future fortunes of Israel, so the verse begins by directing the attention to Chaldea in the word "See," for here is a future World-conqueror.

Then the prophecy is rounded off, so to speak, by a return to its first line; again bidding the crews of the ships coming home from Tarshish to Tyre, to howl, for the Chaldean has brought it to ruin.

The third and last part of this prophecy tells, as one would expect from its numerical place, of the recovery of Tyre, but in a very strange way:

15: In that day it comes to pass
Tyre shall be forgotten
For seventy years, as the days
Of a single monarch,
But at close of seventy years
Shall Tyre renew her singing,
Singing as a harlot.
16: Take the harp; go round the town,
O harlot long-forgotten:
Play sweetly and, with many a song,
Seek to be remembered.
17: At the end of seventy years
Jehovah visits Tyre:
To her hire she then returns;
Committing fornication
With the kingdoms of the earth,
On the globe's broad surface.
18: But her traffic and her gain,
Holy to Jehovah,
Shall not treasured be nor stored;
But for people dwelling
In the presence of the Lord;
And shall suffice their eating,
And for their stately clothing.
Difficulties abound here! Grant that Tyre was captured by Nebuchadnezzar; grant that the time of her humiliation corresponded with that of Jerusalem, seventy years; grant that she may have had some measure of commercial revival after that; but granting all this, it could only have been, as verse 17 assures us, like those resurrections of which we are told in the Gospels, a return to a natural life with all its old sin and sorrow resumed, only to pass out of it again by death. For the condition of Tyre today corresponds rather with Ezek. 26:14; it is "like the top of a rock," so bare that it is only fit for the fishermen to spread upon it their nets, and "shall be built no more." It is again as dead as is, at this date, Lazarus, or Jairus' little daughter, or, to give a national parallel, Israel.

But we care little for the political history of ancient Tyre. Our souls hunger, not to know when it was captured by Babylonian, Saracen, Mameluke or Turkthat will not satisfy our deep soul-needs. We want to learn what God would teach, and, whether we can discern it or not, we know well that His teaching will result in abasing all our pride that comes from mere knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1),5 and exalting before us His beloved Son and His interests, wherever they may lie. We will, then, drop the literal Tyre, and accept her only as a symbol of the commercial glory of this world.

That, however, does not dispel all our difficulties, for in this restoration Tyre is morally unchanged; she is still likened to a thoroughly depraved woman, and yet, precisely what was never, under any circumstances, to be offered to the Lord is here said to be "holiness unto" Him, even the very words inscribed on the High-priest's mitre (Exod. 28:36)! For thus reads Deut. 23:18: "Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog into the house of the Lord thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God." Yet here is that very hire, "holiness to the Lord!" Is that not indeed a difficulty?

Are we not compelled to see here another of those strange parentheses, not pointed out, but left for us to discover, as necessitated by the context, and by the light of all Scripture? I need hardly remind my readers of Daniel 9, and that between the contiguous verses 26, 27, whilst the narrative apparently continues in unbroken sequence, we are forced to see an unnoticed interval that has now lasted nearly two thousand years. So, again in Isaiah 61:2, when, in the synagogue at Nazareth, the Lord read this prophecy, He stopped in the middle of the verse, and again we have the same long parenthetical time exactly, even between the words!

Thus there is no reason why, in precisely the same way, there should not be that same unnoticed interval between verses 17, 18, leaving room for precisely the same interval. In verse 17 the commercial wealth of the Gentiles is still unholy and defiled, as being the gain of departure from God and friendship with the world (James 4:4), and thus must refer to a time prior to the Lord's return to the earth; while in verse 18 we have a fulfilment of those prophecies that speak of the wealth of the Gentiles poured into the holy and beloved city Jerusalem in its millennial glory after that return. For thus it is written: "The daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift" (Ps. 45:12); and again: "The wealth of the Gentiles shall come unto thee" (Isa. 60:5), and other scriptures might be added. That is, the wealth of the Gentiles due to commerce, is no longer stored for selfish aggrandizement, but is "holiness to the Lord," it is no longer a harlot's hire.

This brings the verses into perfect harmony with all Scripture, provides us with truth that edifies, and yet gives, as I venture to apprehend, a satisfactory explanation of this difficult part of Holy Writ. It exalts the Lord Jesus in telling the gracious wonders that must await His return to this poor sin-defiled earth, when even that which has been most filthy becomes "Holiness to the Lord." Well may we say in view of it, "What hath God wrought!"


1 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. [Editor's inclusion]

2 This verse is admittedly obscure, but the above rendering gives the accepted interpretation. As the Nile (simply called "the river") is free to overflow its banks, so Tarshish, which stands here for colonies which, having no longer to account to Tyre, may do as they will; they are no longer under restraint.

3 In the Hebrew text, "Canaan."

4 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. [Editor's inclusion]

5 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. [Editor's inclusion]