Wail, You Ships of Tarshish,

Your Fortress is Destroyed

23: 1-14

    DIG: Tyre was the main city of Phoenicia, a prosperous trading country on the Mediterranean Sea. What role did Tyre play in the economy of the surrounding nations? What was the city like before the events of this prophecy? The ships of Tarshish were capable of sailing to the ends of the known world. What message was given to their sailors as they were returning home? Who does Isaiah credit with planning the downfall of Tyre, the kingmaker? How is God’s control over the kings and nations evident here?

   REFLECT: If Babylon represented the height of the world’s culture, and Tyre an apex of its wealth, how would you use Isaiah’s message to challenge people dedicated to power and money? Does this mean power and wealth in themselves are wrong? Why or why not? How does this message serve as an ongoing warning to believers in every age? To your messianic synagogue or church in particular? To you in particular?

    With this pronouncement Isaiah concludes his judgments upon the nations surrounding Judah. It is a fitting conclusion. As Babylon, the great city in the east, opened the section, so Tyre, the great city in the west, closes it. This whole section is written in Hebrew poetry.

    The near historical prophecy against Tyre took place in several stages over 370 years (see Eq – The Timeline for Tyre). In the first stage, Sargon II (721 to 705 BC) and Sennacherib (704 to 681 BC) did not capture Judah over a period of fourteen years. But Sennacherib defeated 46 of her fortified cities and laid siege to Jerusalem before being turned away by the Angel of the LORD (see Gw – Then An Angel of the LORD Put To Death a Hundred and Eighty Five Thousand Men in the Assyrian Camp). In the second stage, Nebuchadnezzar captured and destroyed Tyre after thirteen years, although ADONAI would eventually restore her 70 years later. In the third and last stage, the final destruction of Tyre would be left to the Son of Thunder, Alexander III of Macedon.

    Alexander the Great accomplished the destruction of Tyre in 332 BC. During his campaign in Palestine he requested supplies from Tyre. When they refused to assist him, his army took the rubble that was left from the ancient city of Tyre, threw it into the sea to build a half-mile causeway, marched out to the island fortress, and defeated the city with the assistance of the navies of surrounding nations. The inhabitants paid dearly for trying Alexander’s patience. It is said that he crucified two thousand of the leaders and sold thirty thousand into slavery. Alexander did in seven months what the Assyrian king Shalmaneser IV could not do in five years, or the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar did in thirteen years. Because it was time for God’s judgment, the city came crashing down. Nothing is left today.

    We can learn a great deal from other prophets who prophesied against Tyre. Amos 1:9-10 tells us that Tyre had sold whole communities of Jewish captives to Edom, disregarding a treaty of brotherhood. During the reigns of David and Solomon, Tyre exercised a great influence on the commercial, political, and even religious life of Israel. Hiram, king of Tyre, was a devoted friend of David (Second Samuel 5:11), who helped Solomon and him in their building of the Temple (First Kings 5:1-12; First Chronicles 14:1; Second Chronicles 2:3 and 11). But in later years, they drifted apart. Unmindful of the history of friendly relations between herself and Israel, she had sold Jews as slaves to the Greeks and Edomites (Joel 3:4-8; Amos 1:9-10). In addition, no king of Israel or Judah had ever made war upon Tyre. Arrogant people do not think of others; they merely make decisions based on what is best for themselves, and Tyre was arrogant and ungrateful.

    Zechariah 9:3 tells us that Tyre had built herself a stronghold; she has heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets. The Phoenicians loved money. And the more money they made, the more money they wanted. To those who love money, things become more important than people. They become self-centered and egotistical. The love of money can really destroy us.

    Ezekiel 26:1 to 28:19 treats Tyre more fully than did any other prophet, and the space given to the prophecies against Tyre indicate the importance of the subject from God’s viewpoint. There are two important aspects from Ezekiel’s prophecy that help us to understand God’s judgment against Tyre. First, was the fact that she rejoiced over the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC when she fell to the Babylonians. Tyre looked at Judah’s calamity as a chance to become even wealthier. Judah’s ruin would mean free passage of Tyre’s caravans and greater opportunity in trade. Taxes were doubtless levied by the Jews on caravans and when Judah was strong and had subjugated Edom, she controlled the caravan routes to the Red Sea, thus hindering the Phoenician traders from gaining all the profit they hoped for. So first and foremost, Tyre was motivated by commercial greed. But her sin was that she rejoiced at the calamity of God’s people.

    Secondly, the other sin of Tyre was their pride. Every business, state or nation rots from the head down. In this case, Tyre's sin was modeled by the sin of their king. In short, the king of Tyre had an ego problem. According to Phoenician history, which is confirmed by Josephus, the king at this time was Ithobal II. Riches and power so fed his pride that he claimed that he was a god and assumed he was invincible. When he claimed to be a god, he was displaying the same spirit as the one who promised Adam and Eve that they could be as God (Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:13-14; Second Thessalonians 2:4). Kings of Tyre believed they were descended from the gods, but here was an added emphasis of this king’s intolerable pride and self-sufficiency. The seat of God referred to was Tyre itself that the king considered a divine dwelling place. One suggestion says it was an empty throne in the temple of the god Melkarth at Tyre, which the king thought to have claimed. According to the writer Sanchuniathon, Tyre was called the “Holy Island.”79

    This is an example of double reference, which refers to one person or event, in this case Satan (14:12-15), followed by a second person, here Ithobal II, king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:1-19), blended together in such a way that they form a complete picture. In other words, Ezekiel was not saying that the king of Tyre was Satan or that Satan was the king of Tyre. What he was saying was that he saw the work and activity of Satan being emulated in so many ways by the king of Tyre. When Jesus rebuked Peter in Matthew 16:21-23, He did not mean that somehow Peter had become Satan himself. He was indicating that the motivation behind Peter’s opposition to His going to the cross was from Satan. This appears to be a similar situation.

    An oracle concerning Tyre. Wail, O ships of Tarshish (First Kings 10:22, 22:48; Psalm 48;7; Isaiah 2:16; 60:9; Ezekiel 27:25; Jonah 1:3)! For Tyre is destroyed and left without house or harbor. From the land of Cyprus word has come to them (23:1). Tarshish was the city that was originally colonized by the Phoenicians. The ships of Tarshish learn of Tyre’s destruction while their ships are anchored at Cyprus. There was actually more than one Tarshish; one was on the African coast, south along the Red Sea route. A second Tarshish was on the southern coast of Spain. A third Tarshish was all the way up on the British coast. And now there is new evidence that there was a fourth Tarshish on the North African coast. It is believed that Tarshish was originally Carthage. It seems that when Tarshish established these colonies, they gave them all the same name (like McDonalds) because it was Phoenicia’s private colony.

    Mourn, you people of the island and you merchants of Sidon, whom the seafarers have enriched (23:2). Sidon was one of the oldest and most important Phoenician city. The Phoenicians greatly benefited by the goods they received in international trade, and in turn, Phoenician trade enriched those other countries, like the island of Cyprus. On the great waters came the grain of the Shihor, a branch of the Nile River (Joshua 13:3; First Chronicles 13:5; Jeremiah 2:18); for the harvest of the Nile was the revenue of Tyre and she became the marketplace of the nations, an exciting and cosmopolitan city (23:3). Grain from Egypt was one of the most important products transported through the Phoenician trading centers of Tyre and Sidon.

    Except the wealth of Tyre and Sidon did not come from their own efforts. It came by trading with the nations around the Mediterranean Sea. Be ashamed, O Sidon, and you, O fortress of the sea, for the sea has spoken, “I have neither been in labor nor given birth; I have neither reared sons or brought up daughters” (23:4). Therefore, the sea, personified, could say that Tyre had not gone through the birth experience. She had brought forth quick wealth without going through the pain. But the downfall of Tyre was not only bad news for Phoenicia, it was also bad news for the places where she traded, like Egypt.

    When word comes to Egypt, they will be in anguish at the report from Tyre (23:5). For all of her history Egypt had a commercial alliance with Phoenician cities. The bulk of this trade was by sea. As soon as Tyre fell, all sea connections north of her would be cut off and Egypt’s commerce would dry up. The fall of Tyre is not only a loss for Egypt, but it was also Egypt’s pain because Tyre was the key city blocking an invasion from the north against Egypt. Once Tyre fell, it meant that the Assyrians would be coming after Egypt next.

    Word spread around the Mediterranean, with the lament being carried as far as Tarshish itself. Then came the evacuation of refugees. Cross over to Tarshish; wail, you people of the island (23:6). In a stunning reversal of fortunes, they traveled in their loss, like they once traveled to make a profit. The citizens of Tyre that had established many colonies were then seeking refuge in Tarshish. A part of the lament was the question, “Could this have actually happened to Tyre?” That city of revelry, always on the move, had ceased to exist.

    Is this your city of revelry, the old, old city, whose feet have taken her to settle in far off places (23:7)? Then we see a taunt against Tyre. Today we call Isaiah’s day ancient history. Yet, from Isaiah’s point of view Tyre, which was already 240 years old at the time of his prophecy, was already ancient history even though it would not be destroyed until much later. Tyre was strong enough to withstand Alexander the Great for seven years. So from Isaiah’s standpoint Tyre would not ultimately be destroyed for another 365 years!

    It is difficult to accept change. We hold on to the old and the familiar. But no matter how much we try, we are in the midst of endless change. Only God endures. Everything that is not of the LORD is wood, hay, and straw (First Corinthians 3:10-15) and will be burned up on the Day of Judgment. We need to keep a very light touch on the things of this world.

    Tyre’s reversal of fortune is not accidental. It had been ordained and devised by God. His purposes are being worked out in human affairs. The question could be asked: Who planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, whose merchants are princes, whose traders are renowned in the earth (23:8)? Tyre’s destruction was not in order that Israel might dominate, as the pagan view might suggest (36:13-20). More accurately, ADONAI’s purpose is to show the foolishness of human pride (2:11; 37:26). Another question comes to mind, “Why did He plan it?” The LORD answered through His prophet: To bring low the pride of all glory and to humble all who are renowned on the earth (23:9b). God is not opposed to people being lifted up. ADONAI lifted up Moses and David. What He opposes is that pride which seeks not to rely on God, but to rely on self. Therefore, the LORD opposes it at every turn, because pride prevents men and women from having a relationship with Him.

    Throughout the entire Mediterranean region – from Tarshish in the northwest to the Nile River in the southeast, and to Cyprus in the northeast – people would mourn and weep for the destruction of Tyre. Till your land along the Nile, O Daughter of Tarshish, for you no longer have a harbor (23:10).

    It is at the LORD’s command that Tyre falls. ADONAI has stretched out His hand over the sea and made its kingdoms tremble (23:11a). The sea, which seemed to be Phoenicians’ domain, in fact belongs to the LORD. He, not Tyre, controls the nations around it. He has given an order concerning Phoenicia that her fortresses be destroyed (23:11b). Because of this, Isaiah was able to declare that God would restore His people from the apparent hopelessness of exile. It is He who orders the universe, not the Gentile nations (11:10-12, 48:14-16).

    He said: No more of your reveling, O Virgin Daughter of Sidon, now crushed (23:12). There would be no escape for the Phoenicians. Although the realization of these things was to be hundreds of years in the future, they seemed already completed in Isaiah’s mind. When the prophet looked at Tyre, he didn’t see a rich, exciting young woman to be envied by those countries around her. Instead, he saw a used-up old lady picking over her ruins. This is the long perspective that believers need to have as we look at this world of ours. As a result of Tyre’s fall, her colonies now became independent. To the Phoenicians it seemed like they “owned the sea” because of all their financial success. But in fact, it belonged to God. In addition, He, not they, controlled the nations surrounding their island fortress. Tyre ultimately fell because of the unshakable purpose of God. As a result, Sidon was also affected.

    Look at the land of the Babylonians, this people that is now of no account! The Assyrians have made it a place for desert creatures; they raised up their siege towers, they stripped its fortresses bare and turned it into a ruin (23:13). Keep in mind that Babylon was an empire twice. The first Babylonian Empire was in the days of Abraham, or shortly thereafter, and the Assyrians destroyed it. Then the Assyrians became an empire, but the Babylonians again rose to power and destroyed the Assyrians. So that was the second Babylonian Empire. One hundred and fifteen years later the Babylonians had destroyed the Assyrians, which meant that then Tyre would be vulnerable to attack by the Babylonians. The LORD would restore Tyre after seventy years, and their final destruction would be left to Alexander the Great.

    Wail, your ships of Tarshish; your fortress is destroyed (23:14). The oracle concerning Tyre ends on the same note that it began (23:1a). Zechariah tells us: But the LORD will take away her possessions and destroy her power on the sea, and she will be consumed with fire (Zechariah 9:4). All her wealth had been thrown into the sea. The implication of all this is clear. Since ADONAI had completed all of this, why should Judah seek refuge in Tyre? It would not make any sense! The LORD is the only refuge. He rules the nations; He is our only Hope. You who live in the shelter of Elyon, the Most High, who spend your nights in the shadow of Shaddai, the Almighty, who say to ADONAI, “My refuge! My fortress! My God, in whom I trust” – He will rescue you from the trap of the hunter and from the plague of calamities; He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His truth is a shield and protection (Psalm 91:1-2 CJB).

    Today there is nothing of any significance on the ancient site of Tyre. The American archaeologist Edward Robinson found forty or fifty marble columns beneath the water along the shores of Tyre. There is no mention of Tyre as a nation in the Millennial Kingdom. Believing in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could save individual Phoenicians, but the nation could not be saved. Salvation is personal, not corporate (Ezekiel 18:1-29). Tyre as a nation could not be condemned anymore than Israel as a nation could be saved. Evidently because of their pride and sin against Judah, Tyre as a nation has been totally destroyed. This is why there is no far eschatological prophecy for Tyre.

    Through Ezekiel, ADONAI is saying that pride is a destroying sin. It destroyed the glories given to Lucifer when he was yet anointed as a guardian cherub (Ezekiel 28:14). Did it not also destroy Ithobal II and Tyre? Is there not a warning here for us also?

 

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