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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 23:6-14

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, February 12, 2008

6 Cross over to Tarshish;
     wail, you people of the island.

This passage begins and ends with calls to “cross over” to some distant place, Tarshish or Cyprus, to escape the coming destruction. The people of Tyre had “offshore accounts” to fall back on if things ever got too rough at home. It was a diversified portfolio of diversified ports. But crossing over wouldn’t help. In God’s judgment, the only refuge we can look to is Christ.

7 Is this your city of revelry,
     the old, old city,
whose feet have taken her
     to settle in far-off lands?
8 Who planned this against Tyre,
     the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants are princes,
     whose traders are renowned in the earth?
9 The LORD Almighty planned it,
     to bring low the pride of all glory
     and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.

Isaiah imitates the language of Psalm 24, which David may have written for the procession bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem for the first time. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle! (Psalm 24:8) Who planned this destruction of Tyre? The LORD Almighty planned it—because our pride in our own accomplishments is useless; if we boast at all, it will be in the Lord.

Even running off to Tarshish (cp. Jonah 1:3) wouldn’t help. The Tyrians had many colonies; one of these may have been Tartessus in western Spain, although the word “Tarshish” could refer to an island such as the Balearic Islands or even to a site in Northwestern Africa. All of Tyre’s allies, her ports of call and her trading posts would be shaken: Tyre was going to fall.

10 Till your land as along the Nile,
     O Daughter of Tarshish,
     for you no longer have a harbor.
11 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.
12 He said, “No more of your reveling,
     O Virgin Daughter of Sidon, now crushed! 
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.
14 Wail, you ships of Tarshish;
     your fortress is destroyed!
“Up, cross over to Cyprus;
     even there you will find no rest.” (NIV)

Students of the Bible might be confused by this passage, since it mentions Babylon being crushed by Assyria. Wasn’t it the other way around? The answer is yes—but not yet. Before Babylon ever rose as a world power, it was crushed by Sennacherib. Babylon had been around since shortly after the Flood (Genesis 11:9) but throughout the rise of Assyria it was more a spiritual center than a military one. When Babylon rose up in rebellion, Sennacherib flattened the city in 689 BC so that “desert creatures” became the inhabitants.

A stone carving of Sennacherib invading Babylon, cut shortly after the events in 689 BC.

The downfall of Tyre in this chapter is a picture of the collapse of anyone under the judgment of God’s law. We have no defense. We have no “offshore accounts.” Whenever we rely on ourselves rather than on God, we condemn ourselves. Our opinions, our preferences, our traditions, and even our dreams will become dust lost in the desert unless we stand on the solid rock of Christ.

When we tell God how sinful we have been, and ask him to forgive us, we can be certain that he is also a compassionate and a forgiving God. And so we do just that. We pray:

Lord God, our God, we are sinful, and we sin every day in what we say, think and do. Forgive us. Don’t let us slip into the devil’s traps. Remind us every day that you are our loving God; and that your Son, Jesus Christ, paid the price that has rescued us from the prison of our sins. Feed us with your saving word, and fill our lives with your blessings. Encourage the grieving, lift up the struggling, comfort the confused and worrying, and bless each of us as you know best. Thank you for your compassion, and thank you for your mercy. Amen.

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.