Isaiah part 17: The Second Cycle of Oracles - Tyre: Pride and Holiness (chapter 23)
Isaiah part 17: The Second Cycle of Oracles - Tyre: Pride and Holiness (chapter 23)
In this installment we conclude Isaiah’s second cycle of oracles. The first cycle (chapters 13-20) shows the world to be in the Lord’s hands and that nothing can stop His promises from being fulfilled. This second cycle is much darker. It began with a vision of judgment and a prediction of great darkness to come. It reveals a Gentile world seeking help amongst themselves, but finding none. It shows the people of God depending on human solutions while rejecting God as their sole provider and protector, which sin God calls unforgivable. That definitive announcement does not mean that no one in Israel could be saved, but that the nation would not be spared the coming destruction. Jerusalem and Judah would be destroyed. We now come to the final piece of the second oracle, Tyre the religious corrupter who will one day bring holy treasures to Israel.
While the first cycle of oracles placed the people of God amid the political upheavals of the world, the second cycle has been religious: the fall of the idols of Babylon (21:9) and the unforgivable sin of Judah (22:14). Throughout history political upheaval and idolatry blend together in the hearts of people from one generation to the next. As the people look to their external world they desire power and wealth, but then they look inward upon themselves and realize that they lack the ability to attain them. This inward look results in idolatry, a petition for help to something other than God, with the usual sacrifices that the false-god demands, in the hope of getting greedy fingers on the external prize and the dream of personal fulfillment. The insufficiency of self that everyone sees when they look within does not always open their hearts to the gospel, as God’s good news does not offer wealth and power, i.e. deliverance from worldly inabilities. The gospel offers deliverance from sin and death, which so many in the world do not see as adversaries. So, we open the cranium of the worldling and our eyes fall upon two people trying to strike a deal - the inadequate self and the desiring self pooling their few bits of coin to offer to the closest and cheapest god.
This final part of the oracle consists of a poem on Tyre’s fall (vv. 1-14) and an appendix on Tyre’s revival and ultimate allegiance to the Lord and His people (vv. 15-18). Just like Egypt and Assyria would one day be aligned with the Lord and His people, so will Tyre. The Gentiles will come.
Prophecy affects real people - Tyre.
This is the only oracle contained in chapters 13-27 which has a direct rather than a cryptic title (“concerning Tyre”). This title is an anchor from the distant cryptic future to the present reality. The prophet is probing the distant future more and more, but he is careful in this title to make all aware that eschatology happens to real people - Tyrians.
The proven strength of Tyre made it a good test of the Lord’s sovereignty over human history. The ships of Tarshish were the largest class of merchantmen in ancient fleets. Without Tyre, much of the Mediterranean trade would have been lost, and in the first line of the poem the ships of Tarshish, sailing from nearby Cyprus, find that everything, the city and harbor alike, are all gone.
The oracle concerning Tyre.
Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
For Tyre is destroyed, without house or harbor;
It is reported to them from the land of Cyprus.
Then there is the vivid imagery of the sea itself speaking. The silence of the once busy port of Tyre is matched by the disappointed hopes of the sea mourning its loss.
Be silent, you inhabitants of the coastland,
You merchants of Sidon;
Your messengers crossed the sea
3 And were on many waters.
The grain of the Nile, the harvest of the River was her revenue;
And she was the market of nations.
4 Be ashamed, O Sidon;
For the sea speaks, the stronghold of the sea, saying,
"I have neither travailed nor given birth,
I have neither brought up young men nor reared virgins."
5 When the report reaches Egypt,
They will be in anguish at the report of Tyre.
It was a public embarrassment in that day to have no children or to rear bad children. The sea is pictured speaking of its own public shame in the same regard. The supply of wealth is cut off because Tyre, the center of that trading alliance throughout the Mediterranean, from the granary of Egypt and her linens to the gold and wares of western Africa and southern Europe, was gone. Without Tyre, the whole lucrative market broke down along with the wealth of the players within it.
Conquering worlds through influence.
Tyre was never a city of conquest, but always a city of trade, of wealth. She did not reach out with imperialistic ambitions to settle in far-off lands. She only wanted to trade with far off lands, and as such, she represents the influences of the world rather than, like Egypt (chapters 19-20) the conquering of the world.
One underlying reason for all things.
The poem then shifts from what happened to why it happened. The Lord is the disposer of all prideful beauty. The Lord’s chosen weapon is typical of His way. He uses another power on the earth to do His bidding; Canaanites shall crush Tyre and her sister city Sidon. She will lose her joy, peace, and tenure.
Who has planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns [influence in other kingdoms],
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 [Tyre no longer influences you].
11 He has stretched His hand out over the sea, He has made the kingdoms tremble;
The Lord has given a command concerning Canaan to demolish its strongholds.
12 And He has said, "You shall exult no more, O crushed virgin daughter of Sidon.
Arise, pass over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest."
*[brackets are my own]
The refugees will flee to the island of Cyprus, but they will find no rest, for rest can only come from the Lord. Just like in the oracle of Arabia (of the first set of oracles; 21:13-17) the Gentiles seek help among their own and find none.
Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
19 To deliver their soul from death,
And to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
In 701 B.C. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, laid waste to the mainland and did vast damage to Tyrian trade. This has to be the events that Isaiah is looking to.
Tyre’s rise and renewal.
The period referred to by Isaiah, seventy years (23:15), lay between the campaigns of Sennacherib in 701 and the decline of Assyria, with the consequent recovery of Tyrian strength, around 630. Tyre is depicted as a forgotten harlot. Harlotry is chosen because Tyre was forever about making money first and foremost, and nothing, neither human pity or moral obligations, stood in its way.
Now it will come about in that day that 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 And 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 And 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.
The new Tyre would be there to supply materials for the construction of Zerubbabel’s temple at the time of their return from Babylon (EZR 3:7), but like the return of Israel, that supply was but a token of a deeper fulfillment yet to come.
And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it.
“Then you (Zion) will see and be radiant,
And your heart will thrill and rejoice;
Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you,
The wealth of the nations will come to you.”
In order for Tyre to give to the Lord and His people, she has to be transformed, for the earnings of prostitution (her old way) was strictly forbidden as an offering for the Lord (DEU 23:18). The picture Isaiah gives is of a converted prostitute consecrating all of her old life, now gone and forgotten, and giving her new life to the Lord and His people. It is really a beautiful picture. Tyre becomes the future of grace bestowed upon man. Even in great wickedness, the grace of God causes her to weep on the Lord’s feet, dry them with her hair, and anoint them with costly perfume, to which she hears the beautiful words:
LUK 7:48, 50
"Your sins have been forgiven." … And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
In ISA 23:18, her offering is “set apart to the Lord,” or “holy to the Lord.” This same phrase (qodesh la-Yavah) adorned the high priest’s turban.
“You shall also make a plate of pure gold and shall engrave on it, like the engravings of a seal, 'Holy to the Lord.' 37 And you shall fasten it on a blue cord, and it shall be on the turban; it shall be at the front of the turban. 38 And it shall be on Aaron's forehead”
Everything that belongs to the Lord falls under these two words, Qodesh la-Yavah.
Secondly, there is a new spirit. The wages, holy to the Lord, will not be stored up or hoarded. The old worldly system of mercenary greed will disappear and the right way of generosity will prevail.
Thirdly, there will be a concern for the people of God, rather than the old hatred. Generosity will be for “those who dwell in the presence of the Lord.”
This holy way is the determined end for the world of men. God has done it through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to God that all of us who are God’s elect through faith in Christ are a part of it. May we be bold as Isaiah and speak and live in the love, grace, and generosity of our Lord, and continue to shine as lights to the world, even though others may persecute us for it. There is nothing to fear. One day the entire universe will thrive in the will of God alone.
Come Lord Jesus,
Pastor Joe Sugrue