William Kelly Major Works Commentary
The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them.Isaiah Chapter 23
The last of these local judgements here comes before us - "the burden of Tyre." This city is the type of the world's commercial glory; wealthy, corrupt, and self-confident, but taken though not destroyed after a long siege by Nebuchadnezzar. Such historically is the destruction announced not here only but in Ezek. 26-28. Tyre and the Tyrians formed the centre of the merchandise of the ancient world, the emporium of all the commodities and the luxuries of that day, the link through "the ships of Tarshish" between the west and the east. Its fall therefore could not but affect painfully and universally the dwellers on the earth; and the rather, as trading rivals were fewer than now. Yet how would not in our day the overthrow of the proudest seat of modern commerce make itself felt to the ends of the earth? We know from elsewhere that the siege was prolonged for a term quite unusual, thirteen years; indeed we need not travel beyond the prophetic record (Ezek. 29)* to learn how severe a task it was for the Chaldean conqueror; but so much the greater was the moral effect of its fall. So that Tyre and Sidon remained the proverbial and most striking warning of divine judgement, as may be gathered from our Lord's reference.
*Zechariah 9:3-4 alludes rather, It would appear, to the Macedonian chief who ravaged the sea-board cities of Phoenicia, and of Palestine north and south, so ruthlessly. This at least is the historic occasion, for the Holy Ghost, there, as everywhere has the closing conflicts in His eye, and the future triumph of Israel under the Messiah Some it may be added, think that Isa 23 refers to Shalmaneser's siege of Tyre; but this seem's to the last degree improbable as the city is seen soon after in an opulent and powerful state. Others even deny its capture by Nebuchadnezzar; but Ezekiel 29:18 teaches not that he failed to take it, but that its results did not compensate for the time and toil the Tyrian ships having carried off the treasures elsewhere.
"The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish, for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them" (v. 1). There seems to be no need for departing from the ordinary sense of Chittim, either here or in ver. 12, in which the learned Bochart understands the Cutheans or Babylonians, and the meaning here to be "from the land of the Cutheans doth their captivity come." Neither is there in Chittim any necessity to refer this burden to the sack of new or insular Tyre by Alexander the Great, as do Luther and others. The prophet calls the far-famed ships of Tarshish, first and repeatedly, to take up the dirge of the ruined mart for their merchandise, and intimates that though there was no house to receive them, nor haven for their ships to enter, the ill news would be revealed in the far west (primarily Cyprus).
"Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle (or, coast); the merchants of Zidon that pass over the sea have replenished thee. And on great waters the seed of Shihor, the harvest of the river, [was] her revenue; and she was the market of nations" (vv. 2, 3) What a change, when silence reigned where once had thronged their neighbours, the merchants of Zidon, where the treasures of the enriching Nile were gathered, "the market of nations," now a waste! "Be thou ashamed, Zidon, for the sea hath spoken, the strength of the sea, saying, I have not travailed, nor brought forth, neither have I nourished young men, [nor] brought up virgins. As at the report concerning Egypt, they were sorely pained at the report of Tyre" (vv. 4, 5). Zidon was too nearly allied to Tyre, too intimately bound up with it, not to feel and suffer keenly; and as Tyre had been its boast heretofore, so now its degradation could not but darken their neighbours; since the very sea is by bold but happy figure made to bewail her desolation: whom had she pertaining to her lineage, now that Tyre was no more? And so it was with Egypt also. The Zidonians, though directly profited by Egypt more than all other foreign nations, did not more grieve over the ruin of Tyre than of their great southern ally.
Verses 6, 7 finish these addresses with a direct appeal to the Tyrians themselves, taunting their haughty merchants with the reverse that awaited them, the just recompense of their deeds "Pass over to Tarshish: howl, ye inhabitants of the isle (or; coast). [Is] this your joyous [city], whose antiquity [is] of ancient days? Her feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn" (vv. 6, 7). Far from being an attraction to the ships of Tarshish, they must go and howl there themselves, they the men of the sea-girt land, whose city rang with gaiety, and whose years of proud security were only less ancient than Zidon, and yet more prosperous and eminent! Yes, they must go, and trudge sadly, painfully, in quest of some asylum in a strange land.
And why was this? Who would smite and prostrate the proud city of Phoenicia? "Who hath purposed this against Tyre, that giveth crowns, whose merchants [were] princes, whose dealers [were] the honourable of the earth?" (v. 8). The answer follows in verse 9. "Jehovah of hosts hath purposed it, to stain (or, profane) the pride of all glory, to bring to naught all the honourable of the earth. Overflow thy land as the Nile, daughter of Tarshish: [there is] no more restraint. He stretched out his hand over the sea, he shaketh the kingdoms. Jehovah hath given a commandment on Canaan [or, the merchant city], to destroy the strongholds thereof, and hath said, Thou shalt no more exult, oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon: arise, pass over to Chittim; there also shalt thou have no rest" (vv. 9-12). Here the moral reasons are not given in full; we must search other prophets for all. But Jehovah's opposition to the proud is stated, His scorn for the glory of man, His slight of all trust in earthly strongholds. Even in exile the Tyrians should find no rest. In the next verse we have the instrumental means He meant to-employ: "Behold the land of the Chaldeans: this people existed not. The Assyrian founded it for the dwellers in the wilderness: they set up their towers, they destroyed the palaces thereof; he brought it to ruin" (v. 13). The Chaldeans, who, in contrast with old Tyre, were nationally a people but of yesterday, are seen by the prophet bringing Tyre to ruin. Such appears to be the meaning, which is confirmed by the fresh call to grief of the ships of Tarshish in verse 14: "Howl, ships of Tarshish, for your fortress is laid waste."
But the conqueror himself yields to an avenger. Babylon falls; and the full term of seventy years, which beheld the returning remnant of Judah, had a revival in store for Tyre but a revival of her meretricious ways, pandering for gainful trade to all the luxurious habits and corruptions of the nations. "And it shall come to pass in that day that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the end of seventy years it shall be for Tyre as a harlot's song. Take a harp, go about the city, thou forgotten harlot, make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered. And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that Jehovah will visit Tyre, and she will return to her hire, and will commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the ground" (vv. 15-17). Nevertheless the last verse intimates that even this prophetic scene, though so largely accomplished in the past, is not without its bright side in the day of Joy to the whole earth. "And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to Jehovah: it shall not be treasured nor laid up [as in former days, when conscienceless tricks of avarice dictated the manner and objects of her trade]; for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before Jehovah, to eat sufficiently and for durable clothing" (v. 18). The daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift, when the King shall greatly desire the beauty of His earthly bride (Psalm 45:12).
That God was thus pleased to reveal, not only about Babylon and the Assyrian, but about Philistia and Moab and Damascus about Egypt and Tyre, may seem little in the eyes of unbelieving philosophy; but what a favour to His people of old, the centre of all, and not the less because they were weak and worthless and continually turning aside from Him like a deceitful bow! What will it be to that people when they are His in a truer and fuller sense than ever, as they can only be when they judge their apostasy, both in seeking every idol, and in rejecting His Messiah and theirs? Then they will know, as petty and pedantic rationalists cannot through their false starting-point (at bottom the same unbelief as Israel's), that all these prophecies form parts of a vast harmonious system, converging on His future kingdom over all the earth, when He receives it of God in association with Israel, then made willing in the day of His power, and strikes through kings in the day of His wrath, and judges amongst the nations (Psalm 110:5-6). Meanwhile the pride of commerce was judged in Tyre, as the pride of nature was in Egypt.
Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Zidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished.
And by great waters the seed of Sihor, the harvest of the river, is her revenue; and she is a mart of nations.
Be thou ashamed, O Zidon: for the sea hath spoken, even the strength of the sea, saying, I travail not, nor bring forth children, neither do I nourish up young men, nor bring up virgins.
As at the report concerning Egypt, so shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre.
Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.
Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn.
Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth?
The LORD of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth.
Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.
He stretched out his hand over the sea, he shook the kingdoms: the LORD hath given a commandment against the merchant city, to destroy the strong holds thereof.
And he said, Thou shalt no more rejoice, O thou oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon: arise, pass over to Chittim; there also shalt thou have no rest.
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.
Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot.
Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.
And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.
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.