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!

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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).