Isaiah 23

The Word Made Fresh

1An oracle concerning Tyre:

Cry out, you ships of Tarshish;
Your fortress has been destroyed!
They learned of it when they returned from Cyprus.
2Quiet now, you people who live on the coast,
  you merchants from Sidon.
Your sailors have enriched you.
3They were on the wide waters,
and you received grain from Shihor
which was harvested by the Nile,
for you were the traders of the nations.
4But you, Sidon, fortress of the sea, you should be ashamed.
The sea has spoken: “I have not labored, nor have I birthed.
I have not raised young men nor brought up young women.”
5When the news comes from Egypt
they will be upset over the report from Tyre.
6But go and cross over to Tarshish
and weep, you who live on the coast.
7Is this your city that celebrates,
whose beginning was in days of old,
and whose feet carried her far away to settle?
8Who planned this against Tyre, the giver of crowns,
whose merchants were princes
and whose traders were famous around the world?
9The LORD Almighty planned it to bring down their pride of glory
and put to shame all who are honored on the earth.
10Go back to your land, daughter of Tarshish,
for you no longer have a harbor.
11God has reached out over the sea and shaken the kingdoms;
  the LORD has commanded Canaan to destroy its fortresses.
12The LORD said, “You will celebrate no longer,
virgin daughter of Sidon.
Rise now, and cross over to Cyprus;
but even there you will find no rest.”

13Look at the land of the Chaldeans (Babylonians). They are now a people of no account. The Assyrians have made Tyre a place for wild animals. They built their tall siege towers and tore down their palaces and ruined Tyre.

14Weep, ships of Tarshish, for your fortress is no longer.

15Beginning on that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, which is the lifetime of one king. After seventy years Tyre will suffer the fate of the song about the prostitute:

16“Take up the harp and go about the city, you forgotten prostitute! Sing a sweet melody. Sing many songs that you may be remembered.”

17When the seventy years have ended the LORD will come to Tyre, and Tyre will return to her trade, and will be a prostitute with all the nations on the face of the earth. 18Her goods and her earnings will be dedicated to the LORD. The profits she receives will not be hoarded but will supply abundant food and clothing for those who live in the LORD’s presence.


1-12: You were wondering what would happen to Tyre, weren’t you? Tyre and Sidon were cities on the Mediterranean Sea just north of Israel. They were seafarers and merchants of renown. David and Solomon were allied with the king of Tyre and contracted with the Tyreans for cedar to use in building projects. The “ships of Tarshish” were ocean-going vessels capable of making the long trip, the length of the Mediterranean. Tarshish is believed to have been on the western coast of Spain, so these ships would have actually navigated part of the Atlantic coastline. Tyre was the “traders of the nations” (verse 3). Isaiah foresees the destruction of Tyre and Sidon and pictures trading vessels from Tarshish and Egypt coming to trade and finding no port. He insists that the LORD is sovereign of the seas as well as of Canaan and all the other nations and peoples of the world.

13-18: This section is suddenly cast in the past tense, as if the destruction of Tyre was already a fait accompli. It is the Chaldeans (Babylonians), and not the Assyrians who are responsible for the fall of Tyre. The Babylonians displaced Assyria as the world power of that era. The destruction of Tyre will not be permanent, however. Isaiah sees a restoration taking place after 70 years have passed. Tyre’s trade with the world will be re-established, but they will be under the sway of Jerusalem, her profits to provide food and clothing for “those who live in the LORD’s presence.”


Over and over Isaiah sees a disturbing future of brutal events. That is what will happen when the world is run by those who seek only profit for themselves. The people of God are allowed to suffer for a season, but the outcome is that they will have abundant food and clothing. Not great wealth. Not great possessions. But enough to sustain them comfortably. Should we ask for more? Should we strive for more?