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!

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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).