Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Isaiah 23: 15-18

15 Now in that day Tyre will be forgotten 
for seventy years like the days of one king. 
At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the harlot:

16 Take your harp, walk about the city,
O forgotten harlot;
Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs,
That you may be remembered.

17 It will come about at the end of seventy years that the Lord will visit Tyre. 
Then she will go back to her harlot’s wages and will play the harlot 
with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth.
18 Her gain and her harlot’s wages will be set apart to the Lord
it will not be stored up or hoarded, but her gain will become sufficient food 
and choice attire for those who dwell in the presence of the Lord.

Concluding Isaiah Chapter 23 this week, as the prophecy of Tyre comes to a close. But, as we discover, Tyre itself is not coming to an end, even though the text to this point has suggested that the devastation of the city will bring it to ruin. As God has a plan for the redemption of Judah, He also had a plan for bringing back Tyre.

"Tyre will be forgotten," says verse 15. But, before we can get to that place of redemption, we need to understand that Tyre will temporarily be taken off the map, so to speak. "...For seventy years like the days of one king." History confirms a literal fulfillment of this prophecy. In 572 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon would wipe out Tyre (after the Assyrians had their go years earlier), and the city was left to the "desert creatures." (vs. 13) After 70 years--the same time frame as the destruction and captivity of Judah--the Tyrians were allowed to return to their city to rebuild, just as the Jews under Nehemiah did in Jerusalem.

Although this was a literal fulfillment, that was not the last destruction of Tyre. Alexander the Great had an even greater conquering in 332 B.C. It's important, then, to note not only the multiple fulfillment possible with prophecy, but also that the numbers included with prophecies may not be literal. As '7' is a number that indicates perfection or completion in Scripture, so is '70.' Recall Jesus' use of "70 times 7" (Matthew 18:22) as the number of times in which we are to offer forgiveness (meaning always). When it was time to complete a work, God would put Tyre back on the path of rebuilding.

How many times would Tyre return to this path? Just as we understand that offering forgiveness is a for-always situation, we might understand, too, that Tyre would find itself continuing in a success-sin pattern beyond a mere 70 years. [And we can't relate to that at all, can we?] For Tyre, repeating that pattern meant returning to the ways it knew best--that of the route of successful world commerce. Isaiah turns poetic on us here, using the metaphor of a harlot to represent the city's motivations and actions.

"O forgotten harlot... Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs, that you may be remembered," verse 16 reads. Tyre is not unlike an 80s band on a reunion tour, trying to cash in on its earlier success by playing through sets of the hits that made it famous. [Maybe even with the same hair and costumes!] "Do you remember this one!?!! Sing it out--YEAH!!!!!!!" And, quite often we think, how sad! Why did you turn back when you could have moved forward? It all goes back to the character of the city's leadership, to the spiritual heart of the people.

"The love of worldly wealth is a spiritual whoredom, and therefore covetous people are called adulterers and adulteresses (Jas. 4:4), and covetousness is spiritual idolatry."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

"You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: 'He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us'? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, 'God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Submit therefore to God."
--James 4:4-7

As successful as Tyre was around the world, "the market of nations" had a stone-cold heart, bent on meeting its own needs even as it was engaging many suitors, if you will. The "virgin daughter of Sidon" (vs. 12) may not have had any offspring cities, but it was far from ethical innocence, and quite far from knowing true love. But True Love was not finished with Tyre, and God wove into this prophecy the stipulation that Tyre would not gain from its business as it once had.

"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."
--Verse 18, King James Version

When "the Lord visits Tyre," (vs. 17) which is, again, in an undefined period of time, then shall Tyre's merchandise (profit, commerce, gain) and hire (wages, reward, gift) become holiness to the Lord. [Word meanings from Strong's.] Holiness?! Remember, Tyre was in a cycle, and when the city had its better days, God was working with them, giving them, as James said, "a greater grace." The city did get rebuilt after Nebuchadnezzar's invasion, and some of the Tyrians who returned came back changed people and effected change in how they used the wealth they were regaining.

"Perhaps their being fellow-captives with the Jews in Babylon (who had prophets with them there) disposed them to join with them in their worship there, and turned them from idols, as it cured the Jews of their idolatry: and when they were released with them, and as they had reason to believe for their sakes, when they were settled again in Tyre, they would send gifts and offerings to the temple, and presents to the priests."
--Matthew Henry

Additional Scripture and historical documents also show the evidence of God's presence in Tyre. Recall the story of when Jesus met the Syrophoenician woman with the demon-possessed daughter of whom he said, "Great is your faith." (Matthew 15: 21-28) He met her while traveling through Tyre and Sidon. Paul also traveled to the city, as his ship stopped to unload cargo. Sounds like old Tyre, right? "After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days...." (Acts 21:4a) Disciples in Tyre! Paul stayed a week, spending time in fellowship and prayer with the Tyrian disciples and their families. The Roman historian Eusebius (Hist. 10:4) said that “when the church of God was founded in Tyre..., much of its wealth was consecrated to God... and was presented for the support of the ministry.” (from a footnote in the Amplified Bible)

Tyre may not have been able to shed its old ways completely. We all are hard-pressed to rid ourselves of sin in our lives. Though God brought discipline upon Tyre, as He brought upon even His favored ones, Israel and Judah, He did so not with the intent to obliterate the city but to guide them into an honorable relationship with Him. Hear James' words again: "'He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us.'" Where Tyre could not find it within itself to completely give up its ways to wealth, God would minister from within so that His Kingdom would reign through the "market of the world."

How much better, though, to begin with the calling on our hearts before moving to the callings in our lives? [I LOVE this!....]

"We must first give up ourselves to be holiness to the Lord before what we do, or have, or get, can be so. When we abide with God in our particular callings, and do common actions after a godly sort—when we abound in works of piety and charity, are liberal in relieving the poor, and supporting the ministry, and encouraging the gospel—then our merchandise and our hire are holiness to the Lord, if we sincerely look at his glory in them."
--Matthew Henry 

"Judgment on the Earth"--Chapter 24 is the first of four chapters on the subject. Hold onto your hats! ....'Til next time!

*     *     *

Next time:  Isaiah 24: 1-6
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).

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Isaiah 23: 11-14

11 He has stretched His hand out over the sea,
He has made the kingdoms tremble;
The Lord has given a command concerning Canaan to demolish its strongholds.

12 He has said, “You shall exult no more, O crushed virgin daughter of Sidon.
Arise, pass over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest.”
13 Behold, the land of the Chaldeans—this is the people which was not; 
Assyria appointed it for desert creatures—they erected their siege towers, 
they stripped its palaces, they made it a ruin.

14 Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
For your stronghold is destroyed.

As far as prophecies go, this one that we've been reading about in Isaiah 23 is fairly complete. The beginning set the scene for whom the word was about (Tyre), as well as the response to that word (by the surrounding trade nations). We learned last time why the city was poised for demise (pride) as well as who originated that call (God, of course). Today, we learn more about who would handle the actual devastation. Next week, the chapter concludes.

Verse 11 picks up from last week's passage in which God is established as the one "who has planned this against Tyre." (vs. 8) "He has stretched His hand out...made the kingdoms tremble." One of the cross-reference passages for this verse is Exodus 14, in which Moses stretches out his hand over the Red Sea, and God creates the path that would lead the Israelites to safety. Where God's hand makes a way, it also disciplines others (meaning, Pharaoh and the Egyptians, or, in Isaiah's prophecy, Tyre). The Hebrew for 'stretch' beyond the literal definition means "to bend away (including moral deflection)." [Strong's] I see this as God bending this city away from Himself, because He cannot be in the midst of the pride He has witnessed.

"For Tyre built herself a fortress
And piled up silver like dust,
And gold like the mire of the streets.

Behold, the Lord will dispossess her
And cast her wealth into the sea;
And she will be consumed with fire."

--Zechariah 9: 3 and 4

At the end of verse 11, we read that God has issued a command against Canaan. No confusion here. Tyre and its motherly city of Sidon were both a part of the territory of Canaan. You see the command in verse 12. There will be no more jubilance in Tyre. To whomever remains in the city, the order is given to evacuate. "...Pass over to Cyprus...." Even though Tyre will become, largely, unpopulated, it does not mean that the burden brought upon the city will leave the hearts of those who leave it, and this is an interesting take-away point. "...Even there you will find no rest."

"Note, We deceive ourselves if we promise ourselves rest any where in this world. Those that are uneasy in one place will be so in another; and, when God’s judgments pursue sinners, they will overtake them."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

Try to outrun or outfox or just plain ditch your troubles? Doesn't work, does it? You will find yourself as did one of my favorite movie characters--Maria from The Sound of Music. She tries to flee a big life decision by seeking refuge back in the abbey from whence she came. She learns with some Reverend Mother-ly guidance that you can't "escape your troubles. You have to face them." Tyre was absorbed in its own pride--a state of the heart that was not left behind, even as its inhabitants fled to supposedly safe havens.

"And man, being a part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee, man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that Thou 'resistest the proud,'--yet man, this part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee. Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee...."
--from The Confessions of St. Augustine

We have an alternative to being on the lam, having our hearts constantly condemn us. Why does God discipline? To turn His creation back to Him! He is full of mercy and patience, but, there is a time of divine intervention at His will, which can take the form of discipline. Discipline--out of love, out of grace.

"Have you been walking on a surface that's uncertain?
Have you helped yourself to everything that's empty?
You can't live this way too long.
There's more than this, more than this....You can rest, you will find rest.
Let this old life crumble, let it fade.
Let this new life offered be your saving grace...."

--Lyrics from "Let it Fade" by Jeremy Camp

With verse 13, we are given a picture of the depth of the earthly force Tyre will be facing. God says, "Behold, the land of the Chaldeans—this is the people which was not...." The Chaldeans are also known as the Babylonians. At this time, Assyria was the nation of highest dread. Per my study Bible, Assyria "ravaged" Babylon in 689 B.C. We already know from Isaiah's earlier prophecies of Assyria's conquest of Israel and its take-down of most of Judah (God sparing Jerusalem, under Hezekiah).

"Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation....

Yet it does not so intend,
Nor does it plan so in its heart,
But rather it is its purpose to destroy
And to cut off many nations."

--Isaiah 10:5 and 7

As with the Assyrian conquest of Babylon, the plan for Tyre was to turn the bustling harborfront into a place "for desert creatures." (vs. 13)

"...And their houses will be full of owls;
Ostriches also will live there, and shaggy goats will frolic there."

--Isaiah 13:21
As if to end with a poetic finish, Isaiah returns to his opening call upon the merchant cities of the world, to grieve and mourn over the loss of Tyre. "Wail, O ships of Tarshish...."

"The ships of Tarshish were the carriers for your merchandise. 
And you were filled and were very glorious
In the heart of the seas."
--Ezekiel 27:25

But, Isaiah is not quite finished. We will look at a sort of epilog next week. Had the Tyrians only been able to accept the picture--like that featured above--that the prophet was offering. Had they only been able to see beyond their pride to the sole means of, not escape but, true freedom....

"Look up on the ruins of Tyre, and see all this glory stained, and sullied, and buried in the dust. The honourable ones of heaven will be for ever such; but see the grandees of Tyre, some fled into banishment, others forced into captivity, and all impoverished, and you will conclude that the honourable of the earth, even the most honourable, know not how soon they may be brought into contempt."
--Matthew Henry

The end of Tyre? For certain, the end of Chapter 23. ....'Til next time!

*     *     *

Next time:  Isaiah 23: 15-18
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).

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Isaiah 23: 6-10

Pass over to Tarshish;
Wail, O inhabitants of the coastland.
Is this your jubilant city,
Whose origin is from antiquity,
Whose feet used to carry her to colonize distant places?

Who has planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
Whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?
9 The Lord of hosts has planned it, to defile the pride of all beauty,
To despise all the honored of the earth.
10 Overflow your land like the Nile, O daughter of Tarshish,
There is no more restraint.

The "jubilant" city of Tyre! (vs. 7) The "market of nations," as Isaiah called the city in the beginning of Chapter 23. The undeniable prince of trade is "destroyed," (vs. 1) and the world mourns. In today's passage, more about why the city is facing extinction instead of further distinction.

"Pass over to Tarshish [to seek safety as exiles]!"
--Amplified Bible, vs. 6

Last week, we read of how Tyre's major trade cities responded to the news of this business venture capital coming to ruin. Tarshish, Cypress, Sidon, Egypt--all expressed their shock and "anguish" (vs. 5) over the loss of this incredible business mecca. Tyre's beginnings were "from antiquity," (vs. 7) my study Bible reporting its existence about two millennia before Christ. Despite its longevity and its colossal success, its inhabitants are beckoned to leave and seek shelter in other nations.

"Is this your jubilant city?" Isaiah asks in verse 7. Obviously, something has happened to make Tyre unrecognizable to its natives. The use of 'jubilant' is not unlike the prophet's use of 'exultant' in verse 2 of Chapter 22:

"You who were full of noise,
You boisterous town, you exultant city;
Your slain were not slain with the sword,
Nor did they die in battle."

--Isaiah 22:2 (speaking of Jerusalem)

If you'll remember the reference, Judah had the Assyrians at their gates, ready to take over Jerusalem. City folks were living their regular self-fulfilling lives, busy-bodying themselves, as usual. Tyre was not unlike Jerusalem in this regard. The city's main activity was keeping their harbor hopping. Satisfied traders meant more wealth, activity and happy distractions for all. But, this all comes with a price over which even the savviest traders can't bargain.

"Those that were so disposed might find there all manner of sports and diversions, all the delights of the sons and daughters of men, balls, and plays, and operas, and every thing of that kind that a man had a fancy to. This made them secure and proud, and they despised the country people, who neither knew nor relished any joys of that nature. This also made them very loth to believe and consider what warnings God gave them by his servants; they were too merry to mind them."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible 

"Too merry to mind"--Now, that's a phrase! In today's culture, how easy is it to become too merry over things and circumstances in our lives that we forget (grow tired of, argue around, ignore or replace) what God is saying to us? Our attention is not on what it needs to be. One of the running themes of Isaiah--and, arguably, all of Scripture--is that pride in oneself will be dealt with at the hand of God.

“Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord God,
“Because your heart is lifted up and you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of gods in the heart of the seas’; 

Yet you are a man and not God,
Although you make your heart like the heart of God....'"
--Ezekiel 28:2 (The prophet has his own words on Tyre. We'll get to them one day :-) .)

God's remedy for pride is humbling--humbling the proud! Tyre did not only have an outstanding reputation, but it flaunted and invested in that reputation. Note the descriptors Isaiah uses in verse 8: "the bestower of crowns," "princes," "honored of the earth." Tyre believed with all its heart that it was worthy of all its titles, because it believed it had engineered all its success. The Master Planner saw it all quite differently.

"God did not bring those calamities upon Tyre in a way of sovereignty, to show an arbitrary and irresistible power; but he did it to punish the Tyrians for their pride. Many other sins, no doubt, reigned among them—idolatry, sensuality, and oppression; but the sin of pride is fastened upon as that which was the particular ground of God’s controversy with Tyre; for he resists the proud. All the world observing and being surprised at the desolation of Tyre, we have here an exposition of it.
--Matthew Henry

"Who has planned this against Tyre?..." (vs. 8) The Lord of hosts! (vs. 9) Who else, right? As we talked about last time, Tyre held a very lucrative position among the many trade-oriented cities around the Mediterranean. Might one have thought about conquering Tyre for the sake of gain? Maybe. But, it would make more sense to capitalize, literally, on what Tyre could offer and, thus, gain greater benefits for the home city. Remember, they were in anguish over this loss, because it would carry over into these other cities' wealth and ventures.

But, God's point had nothing to do with changing the Mediterranean trade scene. His desire then, as always, is to turn people toward Him. Pride in things other than God always leaves something in tatters. 

For Tyre, it was the city itself. Verse 10 says, "There is no more restraint." The notes in my study Bible suggest the more literal translation may be, "There is no girdle or shipyard." The King James Version says, "...There is no more strength." The Amplified Bible makes an even more specific suggestion: "...There is no girdle of restraint [on you] any more [to make you pay tribute or customs or duties to Tyre]." Certainly, they all applied.

The word for strength in Hebrew translates to girdle or belt. [Strong's] Besides the idea of holding up one's clothes, to gird implies something that encircles or provides a boundary. We are strengthened, secured, safely hemmed in. 

"Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth...."
--Ephesians 6: 13-14a (italics mine)

At Tyre's core was a prideful heart which could not see the truth. Tyre's loins were girded in its self-made image and success. God said, "No more!" To gird His truth about Tyre would require drastic steps. But, for the world's trade stage, God had no better platform in which to demonstrate His Word than through this "Shark": "When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom." (Proverbs 11: 2)

"As its beauty shall not intercede for it, but that shall be stained, so its strength shall not protect it, but that shall be broken. If any think it strange that a city so well fortified, and that has so many powerful allies, should be so totally ruined, let them know that it is the Lord of hosts that has given a commandment to destroy the strongholds thereof: and who can gainsay his orders or hinder the execution of them?"
--Matthew Henry 

If there were any doubt destruction was coming, God chose to augment His command with evidence. ....'Til next time!

*     *     *

Next time:  Isaiah 23: 11-14
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).