Isaiah 23 is a prophecy against the city of Tyre, which was a rich commercial port. I’m going to point out a few interesting things and puzzling things about this chapter.
1 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.
2 Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Zidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished.
3 And by great waters the seed of Sihor, the harvest of the river, is her revenue; and she is a mart of nations.
4 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.
5 As at the report concerning Egypt, so shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre.
6 Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.
7 Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn. (Isaiah 23:1-7)
If the prophecy is about Tyre, why are all these other places mentioned—Tarshish, Chittim, Zidon, and Sihor? I suppose those other places had ports that depended upon Tyre to buy their goods, or received the goods they needed from Tyre. You can imagine that if your market for your goods disappeared, you’d be distressed. Likewise, if your main supplier disappeared, you would be very worried.
“she is a mart of nations” – Tyre was like a Wal-mart for countries.
Verse 4 is very interesting to me. It implies that some of these people needed a reminder that the sea—the way they transported or received their goods—was not as important as their families. The sea might provide a living, but wasn’t the entity that birthed their children, or taught them, or nurtured them. They might have been so focused on making money, that they forgot their families were the important thing. This is like an ancient wake-up call for workaholics, isn’t it?
The next section tells us who decided this destruction should happen and why.
8 Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth?
9 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.
10 Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.
11 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.
12 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.
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.
14 Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste. (Isaiah 23:8-14)
The Lord decided to bring that destruction in order to humble the proud and the rich. Humbled people are more likely to repent, and the Lord wanted to save them, but their riches had created a feeling of self-sufficiency that precluded that kind of humility. Sudden destruction and financial set-backs would humble them.
The principles still apply today. Too comfortable circumstances tend to make us more hard-hearted and deaf to the Lord’s appeals. Financial set-backs tend to humble us. How much better is it to humble ourselves regardless of our circumstances!
The next part has some puzzling elements:
15 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.
16 Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.
17 ¶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.
18 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. (Isaiah 23:15-18)
The puzzling thing here is the idea that Tyre would sing as a harlot, turn to her hire, and commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world—all of which has a very negative connotation—but at the same time the Lord would visit Tyre and her merchandise would be holiness to the Lord (consecrated), and her merchandise would be for them that dwell before the Lord—all of which as a very positive connotation and implies following the law of consecration.
What are we to make of this? The question we might ask ourselves is, is it possible for people committing fornication to follow the law of consecration? Probably not. Even the early Saints of this dispensation had a hard time with consecration, so it doesn’t make sense for people committing sins of immorality to succeed at it.
This means there is an alternate meaning for fornication in this instance. I suspect Isaiah uses it as a particularly crude way of referring to “doing business” because of the way business contracts and agreements tend to be temporary and continue only so long as both parties want them to. Kind of a gross comparison, but that makes it a little easier to see what Isaiah is trying to say here.
So, I think Isaiah’s message is that though Tyre would be forgotten for a generation or two after destruction, eventually Tyre would rebuild itself and regain its commercial status. It would sing as an harlot (advertise enticingly to get business) and regain status as a center of commerce. And the Lord would visit it. This might mean the Lord would favor the city, or it might mean that the Lord would have many believers there. At any rate, the people of Tyre would have learned an important lesson, and instead of hoarding their wealth, they would consecrate it to the Lord, and that wealth would be used to help the poor.
The overall lesson from this chapter for us today is that financial crashes and destruction are a wake-up call, an opportunity to humble ourselves, reexamine our priorities, and repent. Then, in the rebuild, if we can keep from setting our hearts on riches and instead consecrate, we will be part of bringing Zion again.