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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 23:1-5

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, February 11, 2008

Prophecy About Tyre

Isaiah uses two nations, Egypt and Tyre, to bring messages out of the past and make prophecies about the future. Earlier in the book, Egypt (once Israel’s oppressor) became a bringer of blessing and hope (Isaiah 19:24-25). Now God brings a message about Tyre (which in Solomon’s time corrupted Israel’s religion, 1 Kings 11:1-5) to bring his people another message of blessing and hope.

23 An oracle concerning Tyre:
Wail, O ships of Tarshish!
     For Tyre is destroyed
     and left without house or harbor.
From the land of Cyprus
     word has come to them.

The coastal city of Tyre was a seaport; a shipping center that did not always worry about the morality of what was being traded. Slaves and stolen goods too often brought profits to Tyre.

The city, partly on an island, was attacked many times over the years, once by Nebuchadnezzar in 572 BC (cf. Ezekiel 26:7-11) and finally by Alexander the Great in 332 BC (and there were others in between). The problem for most attackers was that the main city was on an island half a mile out in the Mediterranean Sea—which Alexander overcame by simply taking months to build a causeway out to the island and marching his troops right up to the walls.

The Siege of Tyre (Unknown Artist)
The Siege of Tyre (Unknown Artist)

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

It’s hard to imagine any seaport—and Tyre was one of the busiest on the Mediterranean—being completely silent. Egypt was once called the breadbasket of the Middle East, and here Tyre (fed by the grain of the Nile, also called Shihor, Joshua 13:3) is the marketplace of the nations.

4 Be ashamed, O Sidon, and you, O 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.”
5 When word comes to Egypt,
     they will be in anguish at the report from Tyre. (NIV)

A nation might count its cities as its “children,” and a city-state like Tyre might well count its people as children. But Tyre has no more. A disaster has come that has left Tyre as childless as Job (Job 29:3), and the city cries out “It’s as if I never had any children at all!” Of course the downfall of Tyre made Egypt grieve. It wasn’t just that Egypt’s economy would fall with Tyre—although that was probably what Egypt was most worried about. But the people of Tyre had once embraced Israel and befriended king Solomon. They sent the lumber that helped build the temple itself.

When people come into contact with the gospel, their sinful nature doesn’t just switch off like a light bulb. The sinful man can still say “no” to God—and that is why we keep reaching out with that gospel. It is a quick step from Solomon’s friend Hiram, king of Tyre, to the wicked queen Jezebel who brought Baal worship to the court of king Ahab (1 Kings 16:31). But that doesn’t mean that all people from this place were lost—as Jesus showed us when he reached out with forgiveness to a woman he met from this same place (Mark 7:26). He drove a demon from her daughter, and showed that even the crumbs from master’s table are enough to bring us healing, peace, and eternal life.

Note: The Shihor river is mentioned often enough in the Old Testament that the place must have marked an important boundary. See 1 Chronicles 13:5 and Jeremiah 2:18. It is not the Shihor-Libnath, a river running down from Mount Carmel in the northwest of Israel (Joshua 19:26).

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.