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Isaiah chapter 23

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

Christian Standard Bible

1A pronouncement concerning Tyre: Wail, ships of Tarshish, for your haven has been destroyed. Word has reached them from the land of Cyprus. 2Mourn, inhabitants of the coastland, you merchants of Sidon; your agents have crossed the sea 3over deep water. Tyre’s revenue was the grain from Shihor— the harvest of the Nile. She was the merchant among the nations. 4Be ashamed, Sidon, the stronghold of the sea, for the sea has spoken: "I have not been in labor or given birth. I have not raised young men or brought up young women." 5When the news reaches Egypt, they will be in anguish over the news about Tyre. 6Cross over to Tarshish; wail, inhabitants of the coastland! 7Is this your jubilant city, whose origin was in ancient times, whose feet have taken her to reside far away? 8Who planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, whose traders are princes, whose merchants are the honored ones of the earth? 9The Lord of Armies planned it, to desecrate all its glorious beauty, to disgrace all the honored ones of the earth. 10Overflow your land like the Nile, daughter of Tarshish; there is no longer anything to restrain you. 11He stretched out his hand over the sea; he made kingdoms tremble. The Lord has commanded that the Canaanite fortresses be destroyed. 12He said, "You will not celebrate anymore, ravished young woman, daughter of Sidon. Get up and cross over to Cyprus — even there you will have no rest!" 13Look at the land of the Chaldeans— a people who no longer exist. Assyria destined it for desert creatures. They set up their siege towers and stripped its palaces. They made it a ruin. 14Wail, ships of Tarshish, because your fortress is destroyed!
New Living Translation

King James Version

New King James Version

1The burden against Tyre. Wail, you ships of Tarshish! For it is laid waste, So that there is no house, no harbor; From the land of Cyprus it is revealed to them. 2Be still, you inhabitants of the coastland, You merchants of Sidon, Whom those who cross the sea have filled. 3And on great waters the grain of Shihor, The harvest of the River, is her revenue; And she is a marketplace for the nations. 4Be ashamed, O Sidon; For the sea has spoken, The strength of the sea, saying, “I do not labor, nor bring forth children; Neither do I rear young men, Nor bring up virgins.” 5 When the report reaches Egypt, They also will be in agony at the report of Tyre. 6Cross over to Tarshish; Wail, you inhabitants of the coastland! 7 Is this your joyous city, Whose antiquity is from ancient days, Whose feet carried her far off to dwell? 8Who has taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, Whose merchants are princes, Whose traders are the honorable of the earth? 9The Lord of hosts has purposed it, To bring to dishonor the pride of all glory, To bring into contempt all the honorable of the earth. 10Overflow through your land like the River, O daughter of Tarshish; There is no more strength. 11He stretched out His hand over the sea, He shook the kingdoms; The Lord has given a commandment against Canaan To destroy its strongholds. 12And He said, “You will rejoice no more, O you oppressed virgin daughter of Sidon. Arise, cross over to Cyprus; There also you will have no rest.” 13Behold, the land of the Chaldeans, This people which was not; Assyria founded it for wild beasts of the desert. They set up its towers, They raised up its palaces, And brought it to ruin. 14 Wail, you ships of Tarshish! For your strength is laid waste.

What does Isaiah chapter 23 mean?

Isaiah's prophecy against the city of Tyre is the final last of his series of oracles against the nations nearby Judah. The point of these oracles has been to show Judah that none of these nations—who they may have been tempted to turn to for help— was strong enough to protect them. Even the great wealth and natural defenses of a city like Tyre would not be enough to protect it from destruction.

Tyre was a great port city on the Mediterranean coast, about 12 miles, or 19 kilometers, north of the modern border of Israel. During Isaiah's time, it was a thriving center of trade and shipping. The city's natural defenses made it difficult to conquer. Twin islands stood not far off the coast, and natural deep-water harbors made it easily accessible to boats of all sizes from around the world.

This oracle about Tyre's future destruction begins by describing the reaction of various groups. They are responding to the idea that this ancient and powerful city has been wiped out. It is not clear which destruction of Tyre Isaiah is pointing to in this chapter. However, most commentators suggest it is either an attack by the Assyrians during Isaiah's era or the decimation of the city by Alexander the Great in 332 BC.

The prophecy calls for the ships of Tarshish to wail and mourn because everything on Tyre has been destroyed. This includes everything from the harbor to the houses. The sailors get the news when putting in at the large island of Cyprus, about 75 miles, 120 kilometers, off the Phoenician coast. The ships of Tarshish would sail from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. Isaiah pictures these sailors returning from a long voyage only to find their home port obliterated (Isaiah 23:1).

Next, the oracle instructs the inhabitants of the coast, including Sidon to be still, or to mourn, because the source of their enrichment is gone. No more would Egypt's grain be arriving to provide sustenance and revenue. The sea itself seems to grieve the loss of the sailors since it has no children of its own. Egypt's farming economy will be devastated. The people of Tarshish, likely in modern-day Spain, will wail, unable to believe the ancient city has been destroyed (Isaiah 23:2–7).

Regarding who has caused this destruction, Isaiah is clear: It is the Lord of hosts. God has defiled the pompous pride of Tyre and turned its honor to dishonor. He has stretched His hand over the sea, showing it belongs to Him and not to the Canaanite sea god. He has given the command to destroy all the strongholds of Canaan. He tells Sidon, 25 miles, or 40 kilometers, north of Tyre, that the party is over. Running away won't help. The Lord God's judgment has come (Isaiah 23:8–12).

As evidence that the destruction is coming, the Lord tells the people of Tyre to remember Babylon, in the land of the Chaldeans. That once great city and its people have been reduced to nothing since the Lord sent the Assyrians. This invading army set a siege on the city and destroyed it. Tyre, too, will be destroyed (Isaiah 23:13–14).

The city of Tyre will be forgotten, a shell of its former self, for 70 years. When it returns it will make its wages as a prostitute to the all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. This time, however, the Lord declares that her merchandise and wages will be used to supply abundance for the Lord's people. The city's wealth will not just be stored up in Tyre (Isaiah 23:15–18).
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