The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Isaiah 23

Isa 23:1

The word "oracle" or "burden" (Isa 13:1; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1; 22:1; 23:1) is from the Heb "to lift up", in foreboding or expectation; it implies something that God has planned for another. More often than not, it speaks of a coming punishment; but at times it simply means an important event involving a particular people. The distinction must be determined by the context. Often, the "burden" begins with warnings of judgments to come, and then proceeds with prophecies of something beneficial arising out of the dark times. Zec 12 illustrates this: it begins with a "burden... for Israel... in the siege", but then quickly speaks of a time of blessing succeeding the time of affliction: Jerusalem inhabited again in her own place (Zec 12:6,7). The burdens of Isaiah generally follow this same pattern, with special ref to the LD of Gentile times and the establishment of "Israel in their own land" (Isa 14:1) and Christ as the "ruler of the land... upon the mount of the daughter of Zion" (Isa 16:1). Also the roles of various Gentile powers, esp in relation to Israel and God's plans for the LD, are outlined. What might first appear to be a dry and unrewarding study becomes in reality a promise of God's deliverance for His people (in typical prophecies) and a glorious assurance (in initial fulfillments) that God's purpose stands firm (Isa 14:26,27).

Vv 1-5: "A dramatic picture of Phoenician ships of their way home from a long voyage, learning with dismay when they touch at Cyprus that their home harbor is now in enemy hands" (WIsa 253).

TYRE: An ancient Phoenician city-state on the Mediterranean between Acre and Sidon. In control of only the plain of Tyre (c 15 miles long and two miles wide) in the early days, the city eventually established leadership over all the cities of the Phoenician coast, but did not unify them into a national state. Origins of Tyre date to very early times, prob the 3rd millennium BC. During the Amarna age (1400-1360 BC) Sidon successfully besieged the town and maintained an ascendancy over it thereafter. The temple of Asherah in Tyre was well known to the people of ancient Ugarit. When sea raiders left Sidon largely in ruins about 1200 BC, many of her people migrated to Tyre, contributing to this ascendancy. Thus it could be said that Tyre was the "daughter of Sidon" (Isa 23:12).

SHIPS OF TARSHISH: "Trading ships" (NIV of Isa 60:9). The use of "Tarshish" prob expresses type of ship, not origin (MNIV 97,98) See Lesson, Tarshish.

Isa 23:4

SIDON: An ancient Phoenician city located about 20 miles north of Tyre and a like distance south of Beirut. Backed by the Lebanon Mountains, Sidon faces the Mediterranean and controlled the Plain of Sidon, a strip of coastal plain about 20 mi long and two mi wide. Apparently the oldest of Phoenician cities, Sidon was founded by the son of Canaan (Gen 10:15). Gradually it assumed domination of the Phoenician coast and maintained it for several centuries, finally losing it to Tyre. So great was this ascendancy that "Sidonian" and "Phoenician" largely became interchangeable terms. This was true for the early period when Sidon was predominant in Phoenicia (Deu 3:9; Jos 13:4,6), as well as long after Tyre attained the headship. Thus Ethbaal, king of Tyre, is called king of the Sidonians in 1Ki 16:31.

THE SEA HAS SPOKEN...: The sea laments the loss of her "children", ie Tyre and Sidon, the great seafaring peoples of the ANE.

Isa 23:5

Egypt and Tyre were trading partners: Tyre handling the shipping of Egypt's huge grain crops (v 3).

Isa 23:6

TARSHISH (Psa 48:7) was a son of Javan (Gen 10:4); it is a name which came to ref to the Phoenicians, a sea-faring and trading people (hence such refs as Jon 1:3; Eze 27:12; 1Ki 9:26; 10:22; 2Ch 9:21). That Tarshish represents a latter-day power is evident both here and in Eze 38:13 (where it appears as an ally of Sheba and Dedan). In Isa 23 -- a prophecy concerning Tyre, there is plainly a strong link with "the daughter of Tarshish" and "the ships of Tarshish" (vv 1,6,10,14) -- this leads to the reasonable conclusion that Tarshish is another name for Tyre. (The proposed identification of Tarshish with England merely on the basis that the latter is -- or rather was -- a significant sea power is extremely tenuous at best.)

CROSS OVER TO TARSHISH: "Archaeological evidence suggests that although Sennacherib overran Phoenicia and subjugated Sidon, he did not entirely capture Tyre. Doubtless the mainland city became his. Psa 83:7 points to this, and no doubt the Tyrians sought Assyrian favour by contributing fighting men and naval aid down the coast for the furthering of Sennacherib's campaign against Judah. But until the time of Alexander the Great, island-Tyre was inviolate" (WIsa 253).

So this v suggests that refugees fled from mainland Tyre at the attack of Sennacherib, and made their way to the island city, where they were safe.

Isa 23:7

FAR-OFF LANDS: Deportation of Tyrians by Sennacherib.

Isa 23:8

TRADERS: Lit, "Canaanites". Zidon was a son of Canaan (Gen 10:15). Later the traders of Tyre became the best-known of all the Canaanites (cp Zec 14:21).

Isa 23:9

TO BRING LOW THE PRIDE OF ALL GLORY: Lit, "to profane..." The Tyrian worship of Melkart was modeled on that of Yahweh, as a consequence of the close friendship between Solomon and Hiram. {Friendly relations had once existed between the Hebrews and Tyrians. Hiram provided carpenters, masons, and wood for the construction of David's palace (2Sa 5:11-12; 1Ch 14:1-2), and he provided men and materials for the construction of Solomon's palace and the temple (2Ch 2; 1Ki 5:1-12).]

Isa 23:13

"And if you depart [being led away captive: v 7] to the land of the Chaldeans [ie, to Babylon], this also is laid waste by the Assyrians, for their wall is fallen" (LXX). That is, 'Wherever you may go, you cannot escape the depredations of the Assyrians!'

Isa 23:15

Vv 15-18: A very difficult passage. Poss interpretation: For 70 years, Tyre had abandoned her previously close association with Jerusalem. But now, driven by the defeat by Assyria, Tyre seeks once again "fellowship" with Judah (cp Psa 87:4; 45:12; 2Ch 32:23). Thus the "wages of a harlot" (ie, her mercantile profits) are, in some measure, given to the LORD. "It is remarkable that whereas certain of the Arab powers seem to be marked out for hard discipline or even utter destruction in the time of the end (eg Isa 34; Oba), there is to be a willingness on the part of others to acknowledge God's King in Jerusalem. Is it relevant that there are more (nominal) Christians among the Arabs of Lebanon than in any other part of the Arab world? Then, although there has been no friendship in Lebanon for the new state of Israel, perhaps this 70-year estrangement is due to be replaced with a new spirit of amity and service" (WIsa 255).

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