Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Isaiah 23: 1-5

The Fall of Tyre

1 The oracle concerning Tyre.
Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
For Tyre is destroyed, without house or harbor;
It is reported to them from the land of Cyprus.
2 Be silent, you inhabitants of the coastland,
You merchants of Sidon; Your messengers crossed the sea
And were on many waters.
The grain of the Nile, the harvest of the River was her revenue;
And she was the market of nations.
Be ashamed, O Sidon;
For the sea speaks, the stronghold of the sea, saying,
“I have neither travailed nor given birth,
I have neither brought up young men nor reared virgins.”
When the report reaches Egypt,
They will be in anguish at the report of Tyre.

On the far right-hand corner of the map above, you will see the word Phoenicia. You will then see the two noted cities of that territory--Sidon and Tyre. Chapter 23 of Isaiah is the prophecy concerning the fall of Tyre. Today, through our opening verses, we piece together some background about this major trade city.

"Zidon [Sidon] was the more ancient city, situated upon the same sea-coast, a few leagues more to the north, and Tyre was at first only a colony of that; but the daughter had outgrown the mother, and become much more considerable. It may be a mortification to great cities to think how they were at first replenished."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible (addition, mine)

Tyre may have started out as Sidon's child, but it grew to be one of the most important trade route locales on the Mediterranean Sea. This is one of those passages that requires a full read of the text, with supporting background, to appreciate why this is even here in the Bible. Tyre had a perfect location--the far-eastern part of the Mediterranean. Goods from that region would be loaded onto large cargo vessels and sent off to major ports westward, like Cypress, Crete, points in Greece and Italy, and over to Spain, which is where Tarshish may have been located. [The commentaries are all over the place on this one!] Being situated close to Egypt also meant Tyre had access to that country's resources, which we read about here in the text. The young, vibrant, bustling, economically minded city earned its title of "the market of nations." (vs. 3)
"'Tarshish was your customer because of the abundance of all kinds of wealth; with silver, iron, tin and lead they paid for your wares.... Judah and the land of Israel, they were your traders; with the wheat of Minnith, cakes, honey, oil and balm they paid for your merchandise....'"
--Ezekiel 27: 12 and 17 (Chapters 26 and 27 of Ezekiel also prophesy the fall in addition to giving many more details of Tyre's splendor and resources)
Knowing that Isaiah is always speaking to Judah, even when it seems like he isn't, it is helpful to understand the relationship between Judah and Tyre. It had been a very good relationship. We read in I Kings 5 how Solomon had struck an alliance between Judah and Tyre, through its king, Hiram. "...Hiram had always been a friend of David," it says in verse 1. Solomon arranged for his servants to work with Hiram's servants in constructing the Temple. There was also the marriage of the Phoenician Jezebel to Judah's King Ahab. Not that this was a good idea, nor was Ahab a righteous king in the eyes of God. But, this kept the alliance between the nations intact--the prophet, Amos, going so far as to call it "the covenant of brotherhood."

"We seldom find it [Tyre] a dangerous enemy to Israel, but sometimes their faithful ally, as in the reigns of David and Solomon; for trading cities maintain their grandeur, not by the conquest of their neighbours, but by commerce with them."
--Matthew Henry (addition mine)

Yet, the burden, the oracle, has come from Isaiah to Tyre. Let's look at the nations mentioned in today's text and their response to this news:

Tarshish: "Wail, O ships of Tarshish...." (vs. 1) As mentioned, Tarshish was believed to be a city in Spain, located at the southernmost tip, right on the Mediterranean--a logical westernmost point for trading ships headed east or around the peninsula and up to the north. You will recall that Tarshish was the intended destination of a runaway prophet named Jonah. With Tyre destroyed, a major trading post would, literally, be taken off the map. "...Without house or harbor" implies that not only would the traders of the city be unavailable to work commerce, but there would be no rest stop at which the sailors could enjoy a furlough.

Cyprus: From the text, sailors coming from Tarshish, who had stopped at Cyprus as part of their journey, would hear the news about Tyre. Compared to other stops on their journey, Cyprus to Tyre was one of the shorter legs of the trip. I would imagine emotions ranging from disappointment, as in, "I was hoping to enjoy a delicious meal and get off the water for awhile," to fear, as in, "It's been destroyed?! Why are we going to Tyre? Who's going to be there to greet {{gulp}} us?...."

Sidon: God's word for the older, established trade city of Phoenicia was, "Be silent...," and, "Be ashamed...." The Amplified Bible begins verse 4 this way: "Be ashamed, O Sidon [mother-city of Tyre, now a widow bereaved of her children], for the sea has spoken...." Sidon is left speechless, as her "daughter" will not be in the same position of spawning another successful trade city, much less any kind of city. Verse 4 is a lament of things that will never be known. The dreams of one with more to offer, snatched. Of course, there is another side to this story, which we'll unravel as we continue in Isaiah 23. But, for Sidon, the word of the loss is coupled with weightier thoughts: "What now? Is this a time to step in? Is this a time to run?" God says "Be silent. Be ashamed." There is worry, here.

Egypt: "...They will be in anguish...." Recall some of our earlier reading in Isaiah concerning the prophecy against Egypt. (Chapters 19 and 20) Egypt was certainly a key player on the world's trade front. Talk about location! Perfect conditions for growing and perfect avenues by which to export their products. See verse 3: "The grain of the Nile, and harvest of the River was her [Tyre's] revenue...." We learn that Egypt was not the sole exporter of her own crops. For all the wealth and sublime conditions for commerce that Egypt sported, Tyre still held some critical reins in the worldwide marketplace that would be advantageous for Egypt's status.

"Egypt indeed was a much larger and more considerable kingdom than Tyre was; and yet Tyre had so large a correspondence, upon the account of trade, that all the nations about shall be as much in pain, upon the report of the ruin of that one city, as they would have been, and not long after were, upon the report of the ruin of all Egypt...."
--Matthew Henry
Given all of this, why Tyre, Isaiah? 

"Who has planned this against Tyre?" (vs. 8) You can probably guess. ....'Til next time!

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Next time:  Isaiah 23: 6-10
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

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