Isaiah Chapter Twenty Three, Sea Of Judgment

In our study of Isaiah chapter twenty three, we see that God will judge people based on how they treat His children.

Isaiah 23:1

A prophecy against Tyre: Wail, you ships of Tarshish! For Tyre is destroyed and left without house or harbor. From the land of Cyprus word has come to them.

Tyre was the chief city of the Phoenicians and they were known for their making and sailing of ships. Cyprus is an island to the west of Tyre in the Mediterranean Ocean. Many of the ships that were heading to Tyre would have passed by Cyprus on their way. Here, we are not told why Tyre was going to be judged but we know the answer from Ezekiel 26. When Judah was taken into captivity by Babylon, Tyre had rejoiced and saw business opportunities. This was, in effect, cursing Israel and, because of God's promise to Abraham (in Genesis 12:3), He was obligated to judge Tyre for it.

Isaiah 23:2 & 3

Be silent, you people of the island and you merchants of Sidon, whom the seafarers have enriched. On the great waters came the grain of the Sihor; the harvest of the Nile was the revenue of Tyre, and she became the marketplace of the nations.

Tyre consisted of settlements of the mainland of Lebanon as well as a fortified island off the coast. Sidon had been the chief city and the mother of Tyre but was quickly surpassed by Tyre as the chief city. The people of Sidon and Tyre were made rich by their shipping empire. Egypt and all of the other nations in the area used the Phoenician ships to transport their grain and other merchandise.

Isaiah 23:4

Be ashamed, Sidon, and you fortress of the sea, for the sea has spoken: 'I have neither been in labor nor given birth; I have neither reared sons nor brought up daughters.'

The Phoenicians thought that they had a natural ability and right to rule the seas. In this verse, they are reminded that it is the God of Israel that gives people their talents and abilities. The same type of thing happens today as many people become famous for one thing or another but do not acknowledge that it is God that gave them the talent. Some even go so far as to ridicule Christians who give God the credit for their success. Like, Tyre, they too will be judged for their treatment of God's children.

Isaiah 23:5

When word comes to Egypt, they will be in anguish at the report from Tyre.

The nations, as represented by Egypt, would mourn the loss of the great Phoenician trading ships.

Isaiah 23:6 & 7

Cross over to Tarshish; wail, you people of the island. Is this your city of revelry, the old, old city, whose feet have taken her to settle in far-off lands?

The first part of the prophecy dealt with the settlements on the mainland of Lebanon. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon laid siege to the city and most of the residents fled to live on the island. Tarshish probably refers to a city in southern Spain called Tartessus which is Tarshish in Aramaic. It seems that God was giving the people of the island city of Tyre a chance to flee to the west. Nebuchadnezzar did not take the city but it was eventually taken and leveled by Alexander the Great. It was taken by connecting the island to the mainland by a causeway which allowed the siege engines to break down the fortified walls of the island city.

Isaiah 23:8 & 9

Who planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, whose merchants are princes, whose traders are renowned in the earth? The Lord Almighty planned it, to bring down her pride in all her splendor and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.

Isaiah makes it clear that this is a judgment from God and that it is a warning to all of the nations of the earth but especially to the proud. Tyre was a great city of the time and its people were respected for their business skills but God humbled her and will humble the nations of the earth. We remember that Tyre had come under judgment for the fact that she rejoiced at the captivity of Judah and wanted to profit from that captivity. This should be a wake-up call for the rich and powerful nations of the earth as Isaiah says that Tyre was brought down to humble all of the renowned of the earth. This is talking about the proud nations that have wealth and power but do not acknowledge that it all comes from the Lord Almighty.

Isaiah 23:10-12

Till your land as they do along the Nile, Daughter Tarshish, for you no longer have a harbor. 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. He said, 'No more of your reveling Virgin Daughter Sidon, now crushed! Up, cross over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest.'

This judgment has far reaching consequences as all of the city states of the Phoenicians depended on Tyre and its harbor. They would be forced to return to farming instead of selling their goods around the world. It is once again made clear that the sea is not a god but the one true God is the one that has brought this about. This judgment has to do with the island of Tyre as it was highly fortified but was conquered by Alexander the Great. He built a causeway and connected the island to the mainland so that he could get his battering rams to the walls.

Isaiah 23:13

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.

The Assyrians under Sennacherib defeated the Babylonians in the year 689 BCE. Babylon was laid waste at that time and the destruction of Tyre is compared to it. We must remember that Isaiah prophesied all of this before the fall. At the time of the destruction of Tyre, they would have been able to look back on what had happened to Babylon.

Isaiah 23:14

Wail, you ships of Tarshish; your fortress is destroyed!

All of the city states that had depended on the Phoenicians would have mourned at its destruction. This same type of thing is described in the last days as the people mourn the destruction of the new Babylon commercial system (see Revelation 18). This will be a system of trade that excludes God's people and the system and its city will be destroyed just like Tyre.

Isaiah 23:15 & 16

At that time Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, the span of a king's life. But at the end of those seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute: 'Take up a harp, walk through the city, you forgotten prostitute; play the harp well, sing many a song, so that you will be remembered.'

For seventy years, Tyre was to be desolate but, at the end of that time, she would once again attract business.

Isaiah 23:17

At the end of the seventy years, the Lord will deal with Tyre. She will return to her lucrative prostitution and will ply her trade with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth.

Today the city is the fourth largest in Lebanon and is a major port as well as a tourist destination. A "prostitute nation" was one that had abandoned the business principles of God and sought only the highest of profits. This could be said of many cities and nations in the world today and speaks of the coming worldwide system of commerce.

Isaiah 23:18

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.

There is a time that is coming when all of the riches of the earth will be brought to the lord. This will be during what is known as the Millennial Reign and all of the nations will bring their finest to Jerusalem.