Isaiah 23:13
Behold the land of the Chaldeans; this people was not, till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness: they set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof; and he brought it to ruin.
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(13) Behold, the land of the Chaldeans.—Heb., land of Kasdim. The prophet points to the destruction of one power that had resisted Assyria as an example of what Tyre might expect. The Assyrian inscriptions record the conquests referred to. Sargon relates his victory over the “perverse and rebellious Chaldæans,” who had rebelled under Merôdach-baladan (Records of the Past, vii. 41, 45). Towns were pillaged, 80,570 men carried away captive from a single city. Sennacherib (ibid., p. 59) boasts of having plundered Babylon itself, and all the “strong cities and castles of the land of the Chaldæans”; and again, of having crushed another revolt under Suzab the Babylonian (ibid., i. 47-49). The words that follow on this survey are better rendered: This people is no more: Asshur appointeth it for the desert beasts. They set up their towers, they destroy its palaces. The “towers are those of the Assyrian besiegers attacking Babylon; the palaces, those of the attacked. The words have, however, often been interpreted as pointing to the origin and migration of the Chaldæans, as having had scarcely any national existence till Assyria had brought them into the plains of the Euphrates. The English version seems based upon this interpretation of the passage. It is obvious, however, that such a fragment of ethnological history does not cohere well with the context, and gives a less satisfactory meaning. It is doubtful, too, whether the supposed history itself rests on any adequate evidence.

Isaiah 23:13. Behold the land of the Chaldeans, &c. — This verse, in which there is much obscurity, will admit of different interpretations. One adopted by Dr. Lightfoot and some others, is to this purpose. Behold, how easily the land of the Chaldeans was destroyed by the Assyrians, though their own hands founded it, set up the tower of Babylon, and raised up its palaces; yet he, the Assyrian, brought it to ruin: the king of Assyria having lately taken Babylon, and made it tributary to the Assyrian empire. Another and more probable interpretation is thus stated by Poole, and adopted by Lowth: “You Tyrians, who think your city impregnable, cast your eyes upon the land and empire of the Chaldeans, or Babylonians; which though now it be a flourishing kingdom, and shall shortly become more glorious and potent, yet shall certainly be brought to utter ruin: and therefore your presumption is unreasonable and vain.” The last clause especially, in the original, שׂמה למפלה, he hath placed, or appointed, it for ruin, seems evidently to favour this interpretation. Bishop Newton, however, (with whom Bishop Lowth, Dr. Waterland, and many others agree,) understands the prophet as speaking in this clause, not of the ruin of Babylon, but of Tyre. He therefore interprets the verse thus: “Behold — An exclamation, that he is going to utter something new and extraordinary; the land of the Chaldeans — That is, Babylon, and the country about Babylon; this people was not — Was of no note or eminence; till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness — They dwelt before in tents, and led a wandering life in the wilderness, till the Assyrians built Babylon for their reception. They set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof — Herodotus, Ctesias, and other ancient historians agree, that the kings of Assyria fortified and beautified Babylon; and he — That is, this people,” (as Bishop Lowth renders it,) “mentioned before, the Chaldeans or Babylonians, brought it to ruin — That is, Tyre, which is the subject of the whole prophecy. The Assyrians were at that time the great monarchs of the East; the Chaldeans were their slaves and subjects; and therefore it is the more extraordinary that the prophet should, so many years beforehand, foresee the successes and conquests of the Chaldeans.”23:1-14 Tyre was the mart of the nations. She was noted for mirth and diversions; and this made her loth to consider the warnings God gave by his servants. Her merchants were princes, and lived like princes. Tyre being destroyed and laid waste, the merchants should abandon her. Flee to shift for thine own safety; but those that are uneasy in one place, will be so in another; for when God's judgments pursue sinners, they will overtake them. Whence shall all this trouble come? It is a destruction from the Almighty. God designed to convince men of the vanity and uncertainty of all earthly glory. Let the ruin of Tyre warn all places and persons to take heed of pride; for he who exalts himself shall be abased. God will do it, who has all power in his hand; but the Chaldeans shall be the instruments.Behold the land of the Chaldeans - This is a very important verse, as it expresses the source from where these calamities were coming upon Tyre; and as it states some historical facts of great interest respecting the rise of Babylon. In the previous verses the prophet had foretold the certain destruction of Tyre, and had said that whoever was the agent, it was to be traced to the overruling providence of God. He here states distinctly that the agent in accomplishing all this would be the Chaldeans - a statement which fixes the time to the siege of Nebuchadnezzar, and proves that it does not refer to the conquest by Alexander the Great. A part of this verse should be read as a parenthesis, and its general sense has been well expressed by Lowth, who has followed Vitringa:

'Behold the land of the Chaldeans;

This people was of no account;

(The Assyrian founded it for the inhabitants of the desert;

They raised the watch towers, they set up the palaces thereof;)

This people hath reduced her to a ruin.'

Behold - Indicating that what he was about to say was something unusual, remarkable, and not to be expected in the ordinary course of events. That which was so remarkable was the fact that a people formerly so little known, would rise to such power as to be able to overturn the ancient and mighty city of Tyre.

The land of the Chaldeans - Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Chaldea or Babylonia. The names Babylon and Chaldea are often interchanged as denoting the same kingdom and people (see Isaiah 48:14, Isaiah 48:20; Jeremiah 50:1; Jeremiah 51:24; Ezekiel 12:13). The sense is, 'Lo! the power of Chaldea shall be employed in your overthrow.'

This people - The people of Babylonia or Chaldea.

Was not - Was not known; had no government or power; was a rude, nomadic, barbarous, feeble, and illiterate people. The same phrase occurs in Deuteronomy 32:21, where it also means a people unknown, rude, barbarous, wandering. That this was formerly the character of the Chaldeans is apparent from Job 1:17, where they are described as a nomadic race, having no established place of abode, and living by plunder.

Till the Assyrian - Babylon was probably founded by Nimrod (see the notes at Isaiah 13), but it was long before it rose to splendor. Belus or Bel, the Assyrian, is said to have reigned at Babylon A.M. 2682, or 1322 b.c., in the time of Shamgar, judge of Israel. He was succeeded by Ninus and Semiramis, who gave the principal celebrity and splendor to the city and kingdom, and who may be said to have been its founders. They are probably referred to here.

Founded it - Semiramis reclaimed it from the waste of waters; built dikes to confine the Euphrates in the proper channel; and made it the capital of the kingdom. This is the account given by Herodotus (Hist. i.): 'She (Semiramis) built mounds worthy of admiration, where before the river was accustomed to spread like a sea through the whole plain.'

For them that dwell in the wilderness - Hebrew, לציים letsiyiym - 'For the tsiim.' This word (from צי tsiy or ציה tsiyah, a waste or desert) denotes properly the inhabitants of the desert or waste places, and is applied to people in Psalm 72:9; Psalm 74:14; and to animals in Isaiah 13:21 (notes); Isaiah 34:14. Here it denotes, I suppose, those who had been formerly inhabitants of the deserts around Babylon - the wandering, rude, uncultivated, and predatory people, such as the Chaldeans were Job 1:17; and means that the Assyrian who founded Babylon collected this rude and predatory people, and made use of them in building the city. The same account Arrian gives respecting Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, who says, that 'Philip found them wandering and unsettled (πλανήτας καὶ ἀπόρους planētas kai aporous), feeding small flocks of sheep upon the mountains, that he gave them coats of mail instead of their shepherd's dress, and led them from the mountain to the plain, and gave them cities to dwell in, and established them with good and wholesome laws.' (Hist. Alex vii.)

They set up the towers thereof - That is, the towers in Babylon, not in Tyre (see the notes at Isaiah 13) Herodotus expressly says that the Assyrians built the towers and temples of Babylon (i.continued...

13. Behold—Calling attention to the fact, so humiliating to Tyre, that a people of yesterday, like the Chaldees, should destroy the most ancient of cities, Tyre.

was not—had no existence as a recognized nation; the Chaldees were previously but a rude, predatory people (Job 1:17).

Assyrian founded it—The Chaldees ("them that dwell in the wilderness") lived a nomadic life in the mountains of Armenia originally (Arphaxad, in Ge 10:22, refers to such a region of Assyria near Armenia), north and east of Assyria proper. Some may have settled in Mesopotamia and Babylonia very early and given origin to the astrologers called Chaldees in later times. But most of the people had been transferred only a little before the time of this prophecy from their original seats in the north to Mesopotamia, and soon afterwards to South Babylonia. "Founded it," means "assigned it (the land) to them who had (heretofore) dwelt in the wilderness" as a permanent settlement (so in Ps 104:8) [Maurer]. It was the Assyrian policy to infuse into their own population of the plain the fresh blood of hardy mountaineers, for the sake of recruiting their armies. Ultimately the Chaldees, by their powerful priest-caste, gained the supremacy and established the later or Chaldean empire. Horsley refers it to Tyre, founded by an Assyrian race.

towers thereof—namely, of Babylon, whose towers, Herodotus says, were "set up" by the Assyrians [Barnes]. Rather, "The Chaldees set up their siege-towers" against Tyre, made for the attack of high walls, from which the besiegers hurled missiles, as depicted in the Assyrian sculptures [G. V. Smith].

raised up—rather, "They lay bare," namely, the foundations of "her (Tyre's) palaces," that is, utterly overthrew them (Ps 137:7).

Behold the land of the Chaldeans; you Tyrians, who think your city impregnable, cast your eyes upon the land and empire of the Chaldeans, or Babylonians; which though now it be a flourishing kingdom, and shall shortly grow far more glorious and potent, even the glory of kingdoms, as it is called, Isaiah 13:19, yet. shall certainly be brought to utter ruin; and therefore your presumption is most vain and unreasonable.

This people was not: the Chaldeans at first were not a people, not formed into any commonwealth or kingdom.

Till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness; till Nimrod, the head and founder of the Assyrian monarchy, built Babel, Genesis 10:10, now the head of the Chaldean monarchy, which he built for those people, who then lived in tents, and were dispersed here and there in wild and waste places, that he might bring them into order, and under government, and thereby establish and promote his own empire.

They set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof; the Chaldeans being by this means brought together into a body, fell to the work of building their city, and its towers and palaces, and thereby got power and dominion over their neighbours, till at last they grew the greatest of all the monarchies that then were upon earth.

He; the Lord, who is expressed before, and is frequently designed in Scripture by this indefinite pronoun he, as hath been many times observed; whereby he insinuates the true reason why neither the Chaldeans nor the Tyrians should be able to stand, because the Almighty God was engaged against them. Brought it to ruin; will infallibly bring that great empire to ruin. He speaks of a future thing as if it were already past, as the prophets use to do. The Chaldeans shall now return to their first nothing, and become no people again. Behold the land of the Chaldeans,.... Not Tyre, as some think, so called, because founded by the Chaldeans, who finding it a proper place for "ships", so they render the word "tziim", afterward used, and which is so interpreted by Jarchi, built the city of Tyre; but the country called Chaldea is here meant, and the Babylonish empire and monarchy, particularly Babylon, the head of it:

this people was not; a people, or of any great note and figure:

till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness; Nimrod was the first builder of Babel, in the land of Shinar, and from that land went forth Ashur, and built Nineveh, the city Rehoboth, and Calah, which were built for people that lived scattered up and down in fields and desert places; so that the Assyrians were the first founders of Chaldea; and after it had been inhabited by the Chaldeans, it was seized upon by the Assyrians, and became a province of theirs:

they set up the towers thereof; the towers of Babylon, not of Tyre. Jarchi interprets it of building bulwarks against Tyre:

they raised up the palaces thereof; the stately buildings of Babylon; or razed them; so Jarchi; also the Targum,

"they destroyed the palaces thereof:''

and he brought it to ruin: or he will do it; the past tense for the future, i.e. God will bring Babylon to ruin; and therefore it need not seem strange that Tyre should be destroyed, since this would be the case of Babylon. Sir John Marsham (g) interprets the words thus,

"look upon Babylon, the famous metropolis of the Chaldeans; the people, that possess that city, not along ago dwelt in deserts, having no certain habitation; Nabonassar the Assyrian brought men thither, the Scenites (the inhabitants of Arabia Deserta, so called from their dwelling in tents); he fortified the city, he raised up towers, and built palaces; such now was this city, founded by the Assyrian; yet God hath brought it to ruin; Babylon shall be destroyed as Tyre;''

and this instance is brought to show that a city and a people, more ancient and powerful than Tyre, either had been or would be destroyed; and therefore need not call in question the truth or credibility of the prophecy relating to Tyre; but the sense of the whole, according to Vitringa, seems rather to be this: "behold the land of the Chaldeans"; the country they now inhabit; take notice of what is now about to be said; it may seem strange and marvellous: "this people was not"; not that they were of a late original, for they were an ancient people, who descended from Chesed, the son of Nahor, but for a long time of no account, that lived scattered up and down in desert places: till "the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness"; he drove out the Arabians from Mesopotamia, and translated the Chaldeans thither, who before inhabited the wilderness: "they set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces"; that is, the Assyrians fortified and adorned the city of Babylon, the metropolis of the country; so Herodotus (h) says the Assyrian kings adorned the walls and temples of Babylon; now behold this land of the Chaldeans, or the people that inhabit it, as poor and as low as they have been, who owe their all to the Assyrians, even these "shall bring" Tyre "to ruin"; so that the instruments of the ruin of Tyre are here described; which, when this prophecy was delivered, might seem improbable, the Assyrians being possessors of monarchy.

(g) Canon. Chronic. Egypt, &c. p. 509. Ed. 4to. (h) Clio, sive l. 1. c. 184.

Behold the land of the Chaldeans; this people was not, till the {q} Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness: they set up its towers, they raised up its palaces; and he {r} brought it to ruin.

(q) The Chaldeans who dwelt in tents in the wilderness were gathered by the Assyrians into cities.

(r) The people of the Chaldeans destroyed the Assyrians: by which the prophet means that seeing the Chaldaeans were able to overcome the Assyrians who were so great a nation, much more will these two nations of Chaldea and Assyria be able to overthrow Tyrus.

13. Every attempt to extract a meaning from the verse as it stands is beset by insuperable difficulties. Perhaps the best suggestion is that the fate of Chaldæa is mentioned as a warning example to Tyre: “Behold the land of the Chaldæans; this people is no more; the Assyrian hath appointed it for the beasts of the wilderness, &c.” (so R.V.). This is a fairly good sense; only, “this people is no more” is hardly a possible rendering of the Hebrew. The reference is supposed to be to one (probably the last) of Sennacherib’s three conquests of Babylonia, which were certainly carried out with a thoroughness which would justify the terms of the prophecy. But is there any evidence that Babylonia was known as the “land of the Chaldæans” before the rise of the Chaldæan Empire? There is none in the Bible.—The text is certainly in disorder, and there is little hope of recovering the original reading. Ewald’s attractive emendation of “Canaanites” for “Chaldæans” fails to meet the case, for the exclamation “Behold the land of the Canaanites” surely comes too late after so much has been said of the ruin of this very land. The most acute analysis of the verse is that of Duhm, although, as is usual with this commentator, it involves an extensive manipulation of the text. To the original prophecy he assigns only the first and last clauses, and for “Chaldæans” he substitutes “Chittim”: Behold the land of Chittim, he (Jehovah) hath made it a ruin”—a continuation of the thought of the preceding verse. The intermediate clauses are regarded as an interpolation and are ingeniously explained as follows: “this is the people that was founded by the sea-farers (cf. Numbers 24:24), they erected its watch-towers, its cities and its palaces.” It seems a pity that so good a sentence should be denied to the prophet.Verse 13. - Behold the land of the Chaldeans (comp. Isaiah 13:19; Isaiah 47:1, 5; Isaiah 48:14, 20). Like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Isaiah knows the people as Chahleans (Kasdim), the capital as Babylon. Kaldi, in the inscriptions, is a rare word, and the name of a not very important tribe. Yet Berosus uses the term to designate the whole nation. This people was not; rather, is not; i.e. "is no more a people" - "has ceased to exist." Sargon conquered Babylon in B.C. 710, and made himself king, ruling it, together with Assyria, until B.C. 705, when it rebelled and recovered its independence. Sennacherib reconquered it in B.C. 704, and again in B.C. 700, when he made his eldest son viceroy. Esarhaddon ruled over both countries, as did Asshur-bani-pal. Though later (about B.C. 620-610) Babylon reasserted her independence, and became a great empire, yet Isaiah was justified, at almost any period of his life after B.C. 710, in speaking of her as non-existent. Till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness. There is no "till" in the original. The clause is separate and independent, not connected grammatically with the preceding. Nor does it assert that the Assyrians "founded" Babylon for any one, but only that they "established" it, or "appointed" it to be a habitation for "the beasts of the desert" (comp. Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14; Jeremiah 1:39, etc.). The prophet views the Assyrians as intending to reduce Babylon to ruins, and leave it waste and uninhabited. The towers thereof; i.e. the siege-towers requisite for reducing so strong a city. They raised up; rather, they made bare (cf. Habakkuk 3:9). He brought it to ruin. "He" is "the Assyrian." The case of Babylon is adduced to increase the alarm of Tyro, by reminding the inhabitants of what the Assyrians had done to a town greater and stronger than their own. The allusion is probably to certain severities of Sargon's in B.C. 710, which, however, are rhetorically exaggerated. It was never the policy of the Assyrians to depopulate or destroy Babylon. The inhabitants of Tyre, who desired to escape from death or transportation, are obliged to take refuge in the colonies, and the farther off the better: not in Cyprus, not in Carthage (as at the time when Alexander attacked the insular Tyre), but in Tartessus itself, the farthest off towards the west, and the hardest to reach. "Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the coast! Is this your fate, thou full of rejoicing, whose origin is from the days of the olden time, whom her feet carried far away to settle? Who hath determined such a thing concerning Tzor, the distributor of crowns, whose merchants are princes, whose traders are the chief men of the earth? Jehovah of hosts hath determined it, to desecrate the pomp of every kind of ornament, to dishonour the chief men of the earth, all of them." The exclamation "howl ye" (hēillu) implies their right to give themselves up to their pain. In other cases complaint is unmanly, but here it is justifiable (compare Isaiah 15:4). In Isaiah 23:7 the question arises, whether ‛allizâh is a nominative predicate, as is generally assumed ("Is this, this deserted heap of ruins, your formerly rejoicing city?"), or a vocative. We prefer the latter, because there is nothing astonishing in the omission of the article in this case (Isaiah 22:2; Ewald, 327, a); whereas in the former case, although it is certainly admissible (see Isaiah 32:13), it is very harsh (compare Isaiah 14:16), and the whole expression a very doubtful one to convey the sense of לכם אשר עליזה קריה הזאת. To ‛allizâh there is attached the descriptive, attributive clause: whose origin (kadmâh, Ezekiel 16:55) dates from the days of the olden time; and then a second "whose feet brought her far away (raglaim construed as a masculine, as in Jeremiah 13:16, for example) to dwell in a foreign land. This is generally understood as signifying transportation by force into an enemy's country. But Luzzatto very properly objects to this, partly on the ground that רגליה יבלוּה (her feet carried her) is the strongest expression that can be used for voluntary emigration, to which lâgūr (to settle) also corresponds; and partly because we miss the antithetical ועתּה, which we should expect with this interpretation. The reference is to the trading journeys which extended "far away" (whether by land or sea), and to the colonies, i.e., the settlements founded in those distant places, that leading characteristic of the Tyro-Phoenician people (this is expressed in the imperfect by yobiluâh, quam portabant; gur is the most appropriate word to apply to such settlements: for mērâchōk, see at Isaiah 17:13). Sidon was no doubt older than Tyre, but Tyre was also of primeval antiquity. Strabo speaks of its as the oldest Phoenician city "after Sidon;" Curtius calls it vetustate originis insignis; and Josephus reckons the time from the founding of Tyre to the building of Solomon's temple as 240 years (Ant. viii. 3, 1; compare Herod. ii. 44). Tyre is called hammaēatirâh, not as wearing a crown (Vulg. quondam coronata), but as a distributor of crowns (Targum). Either would be suitable as a matter of fact; but the latter answers better to the hiphil (as hikrı̄n, hiphrı̄s, which are expressive of results produced from within outwards, can hardly be brought into comparison). Such colonies as Citium, Tartessus, and at first Carthage, were governed by kings appointed by the mother city, and dependent upon her. Her merchants were princes (compare Isaiah 10:8), the most honoured of the earth; נכבּדּי acquires a superlative meaning from the genitive connection (Ges. 119, 2). From the fact that the Phoenicians had the commerce of the world in their hands, a merchant was called cena‛ani or cena‛an (Hosea 12:8; from the latter, not from cin‛âni, the plural cin‛ânim which we find here is formed), and the merchandise cin‛âh. The verb chillēl, to desecrate or profane, in connection with the "pomp of every kind of ornament," leads us to think more especially of the holy places of both insular and continental Tyre, among which the temple of Melkarth in the new city of the former was the most prominent (according to the Arrian, Anab. ii. 16, παλαιότατον ὧν μνήμη ἀνθρωπίνη διασώζεται). These glories, which were thought so inviolable, Jehovah will profane. "To dishonour the chief men:" lehâkēl (ad ignominiam deducere, Vulg.) as in Isaiah 8:22.
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