Isaiah 23 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of Isaiah 23)


MENANDER, the historian, notices a siege of Tyre by Shalmaneser, about the time of the siege of Samaria. Sidon, Acco, and Old Tyre, on the mainland, were soon reduced; but New Tyre, on an island half a mile from the shore, held out for five years. Sargon probably finished the siege. Sennacherib does not, however, mention it among the cities which the Assyrian kings conquered (thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh chapters). The expression, "Chaldeans" (Isa 23:13), may imply reference to its siege under Nebuchadnezzar, which lasted thirteen years. Alexander the Great destroyed New Tyre after a seven months' siege.

1. Tyre--Hebrew, Tsur, that is, "Rock."
ships of Tarshish--ships of Tyre returning from their voyage to Tarshish, or Tartessus in Spain, with which the Phœnicians had much commerce (Eze 27:12-25). "Ships of Tarshish" is a phrase also used of large and distant-voyaging merchant vessels (Isa 2:16; 1Ki 10:22; Ps 48:7).
no house--namely, left; such was the case as to Old Tyre, after Nebuchadnezzar's siege.
no entering--There is no house to enter (Isa 24:10) [G. V. SMITH]. Or, Tyre is so laid waste, that there is no possibility of entering the harbor [BARNES]; which is appropriate to the previous "ships."
Chittim--Cyprus, of which the cities, including Citium in the south (whence came "Chittim"), were mostly Phœnician (Eze 27:6). The ships from Tarshish on their way to Tyre learn the tidings ("it is revealed to them") of the downfall of Tyre. At a later period Chittim denoted the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean (Da 11:30).

2. Be still--"struck dumb with awe." Addressed to those already in the country, eye-witnesses of its ruin (La 2:10); or, in contrast to the busy din of commerce once heard in Tyre; now all is hushed and still.
isle--strictly applicable to New Tyre: in the sense coast, to the mainland city, Old Tyre (compare Isa 23:6; Isa 20:6).
Zidon--of which Tyre was a colony, planted when Zidon was conquered by the Philistines of Ascalon. Zidon means a "fishing station"; this was its beginning.
replenished--with wealth and an industrious population (Eze 27:3, 8, 23). Here "Zidon," as the oldest city of Phœnicia, includes all the Phœnician towns on the strip of "coast." Thus, Eth-baal, king of Tyre [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 8.3,2], is called king of the Sidonians (1Ki 16:31); and on coins Tyre is called the metropolis of the Sidonians.

3. great waters--the wide waters of the sea.
seed--"grain," or crop, as in 1Sa 8:15; Job 39:12.
Sihor--literally, "dark-colored"; applied to the Nile, as the Egyptian Jeor, and the Greek Melas, to express the "dark, turbid" colors given to its waters by the fertilizing soil which it deposits at its yearly overflow (Jer 2:18).
harvest of the river--the growth of the Delta; the produce due to the overflow of the Nile: Egypt was the great granary of corn in the ancient world (Ge 41:1-57; 42:1-38; 43:1-34).
her revenue--Tyrian vessels carried Egyptian produce obtained in exchange for wine, oil, glass, &c., into various lands, and so made large profits.
mart-- (Eze 27:3). No city was more favorably situated for commerce.

4. Zidon--called on, as being the parent country of Tyre (Isa 23:12), and here equivalent to Phœnicia in general, to feel the shame (as it was esteemed in the East) of being now as childless as if she never had any. "I (no more now) travail, nor bring forth," &c. "Strength of the sea," that is, stronghold, namely, New Tyre, on a rock (as "Tyre" means) surrounded by the sea (Eze 26:4, 14-17; so Venice was called "Bride of the sea"; Zec 9:3).

5. As, &c.--rather, "When the report (shall reach) the people of Egypt, they shall be sorely pained at the report concerning Tyre" (namely, its overthrow). So JEROME, "When the Egyptians shall hear that so powerful a neighboring nation has been destroyed, they must know their own end is near" [LOWTH, &c.].

6. Pass . . . over--Escape from Tyre to your colonies as Tarshish (compare Isa 23:12). The Tyrians fled to Carthage and elsewhere, both at the siege under Nebuchadnezzar and that under Alexander.

7. Is this silent ruin all that is left of your once joyous city (Isa 23:12)?
antiquity--The Tyrian priests boasted in HERODOTUS' time that their city had already existed 2300 years: an exaggeration, but still implying that it was ancient even then.
her own feet--walking on foot as captives to an enemy's land.

8. Who--answered in Isa 23:9, "The Lord of hosts."
crowning--crown-giving; that is, the city from which dependent kingdoms had arisen, as Tartessus in Spain, Citium in Cyprus, and Carthage in Africa (Eze 27:33).
traffickers--literally, "Canaanites," who were famed for commerce (compare Ho 12:7, Margin).

9. Whoever be the instruments in overthrowing haughty sinners, God, who has all hosts at His command, is the First Cause (Isa 10:5-7).
stain--rather, "to profane"; as in Ex 31:14, the Sabbath, and other objects of religious reverence; so here, "the pride of all glory" may refer to the Tyrian temple of Hercules, the oldest in the world, according to ARRIAN (Isa 2:16); the prophet of the true God would naturally single out for notice the idol of Tyre [G. V. SMITH]. It may, however, be a general proposition; the destruction of Tyre will exhibit to all how God mars the luster of whatever is haughty (Isa 2:11).

10. a river--Hebrew, "the river," namely, Nile.
daughter of Tarshish--Tyre and its inhabitants (Isa 1:8), about henceforth, owing to the ruin of Tyre, to become inhabitants of its colony, Tartessus: they would pour forth from Tyre, as waters flow on when the barriers are removed [LOWTH]. Rather, Tarshish, or Tartessus and its inhabitants, as the phrase usually means: they had been kept in hard bondage, working in silver and lead mines near Tarshish, by the parent city (Eze 26:17): but now "the bond of restraint" (for so "strength," Margin, "girdle," that is, bond, Ps 2:3, ought to be translated) is removed, since Tyre is no more.

11. He--Jehovah.
kingdoms--the Phœnician cities and colonies.
the merchant city--rather, Canaan, meaning the north of it, namely, Phœnicia. On their coins, they call their country Canaan.

12. he--God.
rejoice--riotously (Isa 23:7).
oppressed--"deflowered"; laying aside the figure "taken by storm"; the Arabs compare a city never taken to an undefiled virgin (compare Na 3:5, &c.).
daughter of Zidon--Tyre: or else, sons of Zidon, that is, the whole land and people of Phœnicia (see on Isa 23:2) [MAURER].
Chittim--Citium in Cyprus (Isa 23:1).
there also . . . no rest--Thy colonies, having been harshly treated by thee, will now repay thee in kind (see on Isa 23:10). But VITRINGA refers it to the calamities which befell the Tyrians in their settlements subsequently, namely, Sicily, Corcyra, Carthage, and Spain, all flowing from the original curse of Noah against the posterity of Canaan (Ge 9:25-27).

13. Behold--Calling attention to the fact, so humiliating to Tyre, that a people of yesterday, like the Chaldees, should destroy the most ancient of cities, Tyre.
was not--had no existence as a recognized nation; the Chaldees were previously but a rude, predatory people (Job 1:17).
Assyrian founded it--The Chaldees ("them that dwell in the wilderness") lived a nomadic life in the mountains of Armenia originally (Arphaxad, in Ge 10:22, refers to such a region of Assyria near Armenia), north and east of Assyria proper. Some may have settled in Mesopotamia and Babylonia very early and given origin to the astrologers called Chaldees in later times. But most of the people had been transferred only a little before the time of this prophecy from their original seats in the north to Mesopotamia, and soon afterwards to South Babylonia. "Founded it," means "assigned it (the land) to them who had (heretofore) dwelt in the wilderness" as a permanent settlement (so in Ps 104:8) [MAURER]. It was the Assyrian policy to infuse into their own population of the plain the fresh blood of hardy mountaineers, for the sake of recruiting their armies. Ultimately the Chaldees, by their powerful priest-caste, gained the supremacy and established the later or Chaldean empire. HORSLEY refers it to Tyre, founded by an Assyrian race.
towers thereof--namely, of Babylon, whose towers, HERODOTUS says, were "set up" by the Assyrians [BARNES]. Rather, "The Chaldees set up their siege-towers" against Tyre, made for the attack of high walls, from which the besiegers hurled missiles, as depicted in the Assyrian sculptures [G. V. SMITH].
raised up--rather, "They lay bare," namely, the foundations of "her (Tyre's) palaces," that is, utterly overthrew them (Ps 137:7).

14. strength--stronghold (compare Eze 26:15-18).

15. forgotten--Having lost its former renown, Tyre shall be in obscurity.
seventy years--(so Jer 25:11, 12; 29:10).
days of one king--that is, a dynasty. The Babylonian monarchy lasted properly but seventy years. From the first year of Nebuchadnezzar to the taking of Babylon, by Cyrus, was seventy years; then the subjected nations would be restored to liberty. Tyre was taken in the middle of that period, but it is classed in common with the rest, some conquered sooner and others later, all, however, alike to be delivered at the end of the period. So "king" is used for dynasty (Da 7:17; 8:20): Nebuchadnezzar, his son Evil-merodach, and his grandson, Belshazzar, formed the whole dynasty (Jer 25:11, 12; 27:7; 29:10).
shall Tyre sing as . . . harlot--It shall be to Tyre as the song of the harlot, namely, a harlot that has been forgotten, but who attracts notice again by her song. Large marts of commerce are often compared to harlots seeking many lovers, that is, they court merchants of all nations, and admit any one for the sake of gain (Na 3:4; Re 18:3). Covetousness is closely akin to idolatry and licentiousness, as the connection (Eph 5:5; Col 3:5) proves (compare Isa 2:6-8, 16).

16. Same figure [Isa 23:15] to express that Tyre would again prosper and attract commercial intercourse of nations to her, and be the same joyous, self-indulging city as before.

17. visit--not in wrath, but mercy.
hire--image from a harlot: her gains by commerce. After the Babylonian dynasty was ended, Tyre was rebuilt; also, again, after the destruction under Alexander.

18. merchandise . . . holiness--Her traffic and gains shall at last (long after the restoration mentioned in Isa 23:17) be consecrated to Jehovah. Jesus Christ visited the neighborhood of Tyre (Mt 15:21); Paul found disciples there (Ac 21:3-6); it early became a Christian bishopric, but the full evangelization of that whole race, as of the Ethiopians (Isa 18:1-7), of the Egyptians and Assyrians (Isa 19:1-25), is yet to come (Isa 60:5).
not treasured--but freely expended in His service.
them that dwell before the Lord--the ministers of religion. But HORSLEY translates, "them that sit before Jehovah" as disciples.
durable clothing--Changes of raiment constituted much of the wealth of former days.