MEMORY VERSES: ISAIAH 14: 24 The LORD Almighty has sworn, "Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.
40: 15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
Throughout history, we have seen dictators, despots (rulers whose power and authority seemed absolute), and other leaders seize control of countries and regions. At the time, some of these leaders and their groups they led appeared to be invincible. They carried an unchecked arrogance as they gained more power. In Isaiah’s day, Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician cities on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea that had a vast and powerful financial empire. To the human eye, they seemed invincible, but they were no match for God. God is sovereign over ever nation and human seat of power.
THE CONTEXT (ISAIAH 13:1 - 23:18)
Isaiah’s ministry lasted from 739 BC to 701 BC, approximately 40 years. In this part of Isaiah, he mentions the “oracles against the nations” or “judgments on the nations.” God had promised judgment and then eventual restoration for the people of Israel and Judah. King Ahaz of Judah certainly didn’t trust that God could accomplish His promise amidst the looming threat of Assyria and the northern kingdoms. Even the smaller nations bordering Judah, such as Edom, Moab, Philistia, and Aram, presented a substantial threat to God’s people. How could the God of Judah overcome such a barrier?
This concern is easier to grasp if we understand some of the common beliefs of the ancient Near East. In the ancient Near East, gods were thought to be territorial. The gods of the various ancient Near Eastern countries were believed to be the most powerful on their home turf, with their powers waning further from home. The people of the time also believed that when nations fought, their gods fought for them against the gods of the opposing nations. In this view, the gods could win and lose, just like the nations they sponsored. In this cultural context, it was tempting for the Judeans to put their God in the same category as the other gods of the region and wondered whether He could actually deliver them.
In chapters 13-23, Isaiah responded. He presented the oracles against the nations as evidence that the God of Judah can and will judge the other nations. Isaiah sought to remind the people that God was not just Lord of Judah, but Lord of all nations – whether they acknowledged Him or not. He was God of all the created order. The oracles against the nations were a testimony to the power and sovereignty of the God of the Bible.
The oracles start with a declaration of judgment against Babylon and end with the judgment on Tyre. The choice of these places as a starting and stopping point was meant to indicate the area of the world that most impacted Judah. Babylon was to the east and Tyre was on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea to the west. In addition, each nation mentioned in the oracles was likely meant to represent a particular vice. The oracle against Babylon focuses on the pride of their power and importance. The oracle against Tyre focused on the great wealth of their city. The oracles also mentioned the surrounding nations that would be judged by God. Isaiah reminded the people to not put their trust into nations that God would judge and punish. Isaiah shouted that Judah was to trust in God! God in His time would bring about the promised messianic kingdom promised in chapters 9-12. Trust in God!
GOD IS JUST (ISAIAH 23:8-12)
8 Who planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, whose merchants are princes, whose traders are renowned in the earth?
In verses 1-7, Isaiah predicted the lament and fall of Tyre. This city was a major Phoenician center of trade and power during the time of Isaiah’s ministry. The city was situated on the coast north of Israel. Due to the fact there were not many harbors along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Tyre became a major port for trade. It became an extremely wealthy place with a great deal of influence. Its people became known as skilled seafarers and also worshipped the ancient near eastern god Baal.
This predicted fall of Tyre and the loss of wealth would have been astounding to Isaiah’s audience. Tyre had been inhabited and wealthy for a long period of time. Its placement on an island with large fortifications, a sizable population, and a fleet of ships made it appear to be a permanent fixture. Isaiah made it clear that God was in charge of everything. There was nothing in the development of world history that was outside of God’s plan.
Tyre’s wealth and reputation were such that her traders were viewed like royalty with crowns. Her merchants were treated like princes and given great honor because everyone wanted to benefit from trade with her. Everywhere in the known world, the businessmen of Type were known and treated with respect.
9 The LORD Almighty planned it, to bring low the pride of all glory and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.
10 Till your land as along the Nile, O Daughter of Tarshish, for you no longer have a harbor.
Isaiah removed all doubt about who would bring all this about. He stated that the Lord Almighty would do it. Almighty means that God is in charge of all of the armies of the world. Tyre was impressive. As extraordinary as its inhabitants and those associated with them thought themselves to be, they would be no match for the Lord and His armies. Verse nine states that God can humble any nation, no matter how invincible they may seem.
God’s plan was to desecrate and disgrace the city and people of Tyre. The cause for this punishment was a common human failing: pride. The people of Tyre had become haughty and self-reliant in their wealth. The Phoenicians would be punished for their failure to recognize the true source of their wealth and power – God. Tyre would be decimated to the extent that trading would no longer be an option. Her trade relationships with other cities and ports would be over.
11 The LORD has stretched out his hand over the sea and made its kingdoms tremble. He has given an order concerning Phoenicia that her fortresses be destroyed.
12 He said, "No more of your reveling, O Virgin Daughter of Sidon, now crushed! "Up, cross over to Cyprus ; even there you will find no rest."
Isaiah now brought the prime mover of Tyre’s devastation back into the limelight. The picture of God stretching His hand over the sea is one of supreme power and control. The Phoenicians of Tyre were considered some of the finest sailors of the ancient world. They maintained control of much of the shipping traffic between Egypt, Cyprus, and lands as far off as Spain (Tarshish). They were seen as the undisputed master of the sea. On the other hand, in the ancient world, the sea was viewed as a source of chaos, and the gods of the sea were powerful foes to face.
God is the master of the sea (v.11). Isaiah used imagery that harkened back to creation and the Exodus. The Phoenicians of Tyre were not in control of the sea nor their pagan gods. It is the God of Judah who controls everything. The fall of Tyre would cause the surrounding nations to realize that there is nothing on earth that can be trusted to last. Only God is steadfast and forever.
Both Tyre and Sidon were important cities of the Phoenician people. Mentioning the two together was a way to refer to the Phoenicians in general. When the end came for Tyre, some would attempt to flee to the island country of Cyprus, but to no avail. They could not outrun the judgment of the God of the universe.
GOD IS ACTIVE (ISAIAH 23: 13 – 14)
13 Look at the land of the Babylonians, this people that is now of no account! The Assyrians have made it a place for desert creatures; they raised up their siege towers, they stripped its fortresses bare and turned it into a ruin.
14 Wail, you ships of Tarshish; your fortress is destroyed!
Escaping destruction would be the first thought of any person in a besieged city. Isaiah made it clear that no avenue to freedom would be available when the Assyrians invaded. The Chaldeans were a people group who occupied the area of Babylon, which was south of the Assyrian homeland. Isaiah told the citizens of Tyre to look at that society and see that it no longer existed. The Assyrians made war against Babylon at least twice. The most devastating siege was under the Assyrian ruler, Sennacherib, who conquered and destroyed the city of Babylon in 689 BC. It would be many years before Babylon recovered and became the next major empire on the scene because the Assyrians made it a ruin.
The ships were addressed as if they were alive; they were a metaphor for the loss of the port and trade of Tyre. Even though Tyre was a fortress with tall walls, it would not stand against the judgment of God.
This proved to be the case. Tyre was besieged several times in its history and experienced loss each time. Because part of the city was an island fortress, its people did manage to regain some of what was lost and rebuild business over time. However, that would not last. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great used rubble from the ruined part of the city to build a causeway from the shore to the island citadel so he could besiege it. His siege was successful. He brought down the great city, and it did not recover it former glory after that.
GOD IS HONORED (ISAIAH 23:15-18)
15 At that time Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, the span of a king's life. But at the end of these seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute:
16 "Take up a harp, walk through the city, O prostitute forgotten; play the harp well, sing many a song, so that you will be remembered."
Tyre would be forgotten for the perfect amount of time needed for justice to be carried out, the life span of a king’s life. Tyre would receive full justice from the hand of God, and punishment would be in accordance with her crimes.
The song describes a prostitute who was well past her prime and forgotten. Her former clientele no longer desired her, so she picked up a lyre and tried to gain attention as a musician of sorts. Tyre’s former trading partners would no longer be interested in her. With the loss of her wealth, she would lose her power and influence. Like the forgotten prostitute of the song, Tyre would have to do what she could to get a small portion of the attention she once had.
17 At the end of seventy years, the LORD will deal with Tyre. She will return to her hire as a prostitute and will ply her trade with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth.
18 Yet her profit and her earnings will be set apart for the LORD; they will not be stored up or hoarded. Her profits will go to those who live before the LORD, for abundant food and fine clothes.
The Lord would restore Tyre after her time of punishment had been completed. The city would go back into business as the prostitute in the song. Tyre would resume her business and trade – actions described as engaging in prostitution with all the kingdoms of the world throughout the earth.
The primary goal of Tyre had been the ultimate reason for God’s judgment on them. They wanted to become wealthy and independently powerful. They wanted control. They trusted in what their business could secure for them instead of acknowledging the God of the universe. This is a good reminder for us as modern believers! The Bible consistently condemns the human tendency to trust in wealth and the power it brings rather than trust in God.
In an ironic twist, the wages that the citizens of Tyre earned would ultimately be dedicated to the Lord. The Phoenicians intended to provide a lavish level of living for themselves but would ultimately end up supporting those dedicated to the one truly trustworthy being - God Himself. Even as other cities had once supported Tyre as the center of trade, Tyre would support those who serve the Lord in Jerusalem.
God is in control, and those who trust in God should not trust in wealth or power as a source of security. He is the only one we should and can trust.
Psalm 27:1 Of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.
3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.
4 One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.
Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,