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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 23:15-18

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Battle of Gettysburg lasted for three days. All throughout the first day, Robert E. Lee was looking for his cavalry, but no one knew where they were. Finally when night fell, General Stewart and his cavalry came riding into Lee’s camp, and Lee was furious. The cavalry had failed completely in their duty. He gave Stewart a dressing-down so severe that Stewart actually resigned. But then Lee turned and said, “Come on, it’ll be all right.”

God had been giving Tyre a dressing-down so that they would understand that by God’s standard, they had failed completely. But now, with Tyre helpless to justify themselves, God turns in his mercy and shows us how great his mercy is: “Come on, it’ll be all right.”

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.”

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. (NIV)

At first glance, Isaiah’s inclusion of The Song of the Prostitute can be a head-scratcher. If we remove the idea of “prostitute” and supply “sinner,” it will begin to dawn on us what the prophet is talking about. Tyre is a picture of sinners, doing what sinners so often do. Sinful man is crushed by God’s law, and then, when the gospel raises him up again and restores his life, he tries to serve God (like the old, forgotten prostitute who takes up singing) to bring himself a new reputation, not as the old sinner, but as the new singer.

But the new, saved singer is still a sinner, and he so easily forgets his gracious Lord and he returns to his sinning. Throughout the Old Testament, the image of the prostitute is used to illustrate sins against the First Commandment. Just as prostitutes sell their bodies to many men, idolaters sell their souls to different gods—breaking their pledge to God and turning their backs on their Husband (cf. Hosea 1:2). Isaiah’s audience would also have remembered that the wages of a prostitute could not be given to God as an offering: “You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both” (Deuteronomy 23:18). In the Deuteronomy 23 passage, the word for “male prostitute” is the Hebrew word for “dog,” a term of contempt in Bible times (Matthew 15:26: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs”). God does not look at offerings given from the wrong motivation as offerings that are acceptable to him.

And yet the Matthew passage brings us back to this prophecy about Tyre…

Tyre sometimes turned to the Lord, and sometimes turned away, and the people of Sidon and Tyre—the Phoenicians—were rarely thought of as part of God’s people. But perhaps the prostitute in our text wanted to sing songs and “be remembered” so that she would have a different reputation than the one she earned in her youth. The lasting impression of Tyre that the Bible presents is that although they were sinful, sometimes they helped God’s people (2 Chronicles 2:13-14; Ezra 3:7). And the Canaanite woman from Tyre (Matthew 15:22-28) put her faith in Jesus.

What God looks for in us is faith in him: we give him our trust, and we know that we are saved through faith in him alone.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.