Today: [Isaiah 23] The Burden of Tyre. In this chapter Isaiah prophesies the burden of a city that was comparable in ancient times to New York city in our day. Tyre was a great ally of Israel from the time of David. They provided shipping and materiel necessary for the building of the temple itself. Their commerce and trade literally built great nations such as Ethiopia and Egypt. Yet the people of Tyre were steeped in idolatry and not only provided Israel with trade goods but also contributed to her history leaders such as Jezebel who brought such wickedness to the northern kingdom. In Isaiah’s day Hezekiah maintain trade relations with Tyre out of necessity. The people of Jerusalem tolerated the idolatry of Tyre because they needed access to her ports. In time Tyre is destroyed, ironically about the same time as the city of Jerusalem is ultimately sacked by the Babylonians.
[Isa 23:1-18 KJV] 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. 2 Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Zidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished. 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 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. 5 As at the report concerning Egypt, [so] shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre. 6 Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle. 7 [Is] this your joyous [city], whose antiquity [is] of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn. 8 Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning [city], whose merchants [are] princes, whose traffickers [are] the honourable of the earth? 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.
In this chapter Isaiah brings a prophetic word over the city of Tyre. The inhabitants of Tyre were a sea faring people, and the city was one of the great trade centers of the ancient world. Why is Isaiah moved to prophesy concerning Tyre? Their land bordered the territory given to the tribe of Asher in Joshua’s day. Over the course of their history they were seldom a serious threat to Israel, and quite often they held very friendly relationships with the kings of the northern and southern kingdom. In David and Solomon’s day they supplies ships and sailors to assist in the building of the temple and establishing trade routes and ports to expand the sea faring interests of the city of Jerusalem.
In the burden of Tyre the prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming destruction of the city and decimation of their people. This happens when the Chaldeans, led by Nebuchadnezzar. This prophecy came to fulfillment years later about the time that Jerusalem was destroyed, as is referenced in Ezekiel 29:18. Isaiah goes on to give very specific time frames for these events, declaring that after 70 years the city will be restored to its former commercial glory which in fact does happen within that time period. The chapter begins with a description of the sailors on their ships howling in despair at the destruction of this great sea port. Isaiah declares that just as Egypt and Ethiopia will be destroyed so shall Tyre have a similar fate and the hands of the Babylonians.
If we were to compare Tyre with a modern-day city we would choose New York. Just as New York is a center of trade and commerce even so was ancient Tyre. It supported many ancient cultures with trade, commerce, facilitating the import and exports that provided the mass goods and services need to sustain great civilizations like Egypt and many other nations. The people who would have heard Isaiah would have responded to him as though someone would be raised up in our day declaring that one day soon New York city would be a waste land without inhabitant and all her economic strength would be destroyed. Can you imagine the people who gave heed to Isaiah rolling their eyes and thinking “here he goes again”. Isaiah was prophesying these things during the rule of Hezekiah, one of the most successful, prosperous times in the southern kingdom outside the reign of Solomon and David themselves. To the people listening Isaiah would have been seen as monumentally out of step with the spirit of revival and restoration that was in the land. Nonetheless Isaiah was faithful to give the words of the Lord as he had received them. His words may not seem important to anyone at the time he spoke but they became life lines of hope to a captive people just a few decades in the future.
10 Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: [there is] no more strength. 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. 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. 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. 14 Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste. 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. 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. 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. 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.
The land of the Chaldeans (ancient Babylonians) was initially a colony established by Assyria but it quickly outgrew Assyrian rule and became usurping world empire. Isaiah declares that once the city is overthrown that it would be lost to history and forgotten for 70 years. Again this took place about the time that Jerusalem was destroyed. The folly of the king of Babylon was that once he drove out all the inhabitants of the land he didn’t have any subjects of his own to replace them and resurrect the economy and commerce of the city to fill his own coffers. Thus the city lies in ruins and is forgotten for a time. This indeed came to pass and then after 70 years when Nebuchadnezzar was displaced by the Assyrians and Cyrus came to power the there was restoration. Just as the city of Tyre fell about the same time as Jerusalem even so when Cyrus commanded that Jerusalem be rebuilt even so about that time Tyre was also given permission to once again become the great economic power she once was.
Isaiah isn’t just passively reporting these events. He is declaring that God Himself is going to bring them about. God is not a spectator to history, He is the orchestrator of it. The great, sweeping changes that occur among nations are by God’s design to fulfill his own purposes. I remember when the Berlin wall came down. I watched people with their sled hammers and the heavy equipment destroying this wall before which so many had been gunned down fleeing for freedom and I knew it meant something so much more than the reporters on the news could ever report. Physical boundaries and borders have spiritual implications. I asked the Father was this meant. He spoke this to me:
“The principalities and powers that have ruled behind the Iron Curtain are now unleashed on the west, and the principalities and powers that have ruled in the west are not unleashed on the former Soviet Bloc nations.”
I asked a follow up question, “what does this mean for the United States”? To which the Lord replied:
“America will no longer be safe from terrorism…”
True enough shortly thereafter the federal building in Oklahoma was blown up by Timothy McVeigh. The first World Trade Center bombing took place not long thereafter and then 911 and all the events that came after. Did God intend to bring about all this destruction? Notice in our chapter that Tyre for all its greatness not only exported goods and commerce but also was described as a harlot fornicating with the nations for hire. Even though the people of Tyre had been a great ally of the people of God for many years yet that did not exempt them from the consequences of their actions. Today we see the church of the living God has become a political voting bloc, seeking to pursuit its agenda through political intrigues and manipulations. Politics make strange bedfellows. Men and women who would never be allowed to lead in our pulpits and proclaimed in those same pulpits to be the saviors of our way of life. This is the same compromise that the southern kingdom made in its trade relations with Tyre. They knew the city was wholly given over to godlessness and idolatry but this was seen as a necessary compromise because of the need of Jerusalem to have access to the sea faring economy of their idolatrous sister city in the north. In time Jerusalem shared the same fate of Tyre and about the same time.
It is a sobering thing for us to look back at these histories and wonder if we in the modern day will be held exempt from the consequences of our societies choices in ways that these once great cities were not. Likewise in our personal lives we often compromise and make very unconscionable decisions all in the name of expediency because we have priorities that give weight to choices that address very practical needs that we have. Does God look the other way? Much of what is taught today defines grace as God doing that same thing. The suggestion is that God will ignore our own compromising ways and not allow us to suffer the consequences even though we plainly believe and in fact expect others outside of Christ to be punished for far lesser offenses. It should occasion in our hearts a cry for clarity and a moment of sober reflection, lest in our own society, and in our personal lives we suffer unnecessarily because we didn’t take our stand for God when we had the opportunity.
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