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Isaiah 23


The Fall of Tyre Proclamation Against Tyre The Oracle Concerning Sidon A Message About Phoenicia Against Tyre
23:1-3 23:1-14
  (4-5)   23:4  
      23:5 (5-6)
  (6-7)   23:6-9  
  (10-12)   23:10-13  
23:13-18 (13) 23:13-18    
(14) (14) (14) 23:14  
  23:15-18   23:15 23:15
(16) (16) (16) 23:16
      23:17-18 23:17-18

READING CYCLE THREE (see introduction)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. This condemnation of Phoenicia is paralleled in Ezekiel 26-28; Amos 1:9-10. Tyre (capital of Phoenicia) was a powerful and wealthy maritime nation, which caused them to be prideful and self-reliant.


B. Because it was such a widespread empire several nations and geographical areas mourned for the loss of trade.

1. ship of Tarshish (i.e., western Mediterranean area), vv. 1,6,14

2. coastlands, vv. 2,6

3. merchants of Sidon (i.e., second largest Phoenician city), v. 2

4. Egypt, vv. 3,5

5. Canaan, v. 11

6. Cyprus, vv. 12


C. Notice the number of imperatives directed at Tyre/Phoenicia.

1. wail, v. 1, BDB 410, KB 413, Hiphil imperative, cf. 13:6; 14:31; 15:2,3; 16:7 (twice); 65:14

2. be silent (lit. "be still"), v. 2, BDB 198, KB 226, Qal imperative

3. be ashamed, v. 4, BDB 101, KB 116, Qal imperative, cf. 1:29; 19:9; 20:5; 24:23; 26:11; 29:22; 30:5; 37:27; 41:11; 42:17; 44:9,11; 45:16,17,24; 49:23; 50:7; 54:4; 65:13; 66:5; Micah 3:7; 7:16

4. pass over, v. 6, BDB 716, KB 778, Qal imperative, cf. 23:2

5. wail, v. 6, same as #1

6. overflow (lit. "pass over"), v. 10, same as #4

7. arise, v. 12, BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal imperative

8. pass over, v. 12, same as #4,6

9. wail, v. 14, same as #1,5

10. take your harp, v. 16, BDB 542, KB 534, Qal imperative

11. walk about the city, v. 16, BDB 685, KB 738, Qal imperative

12. pluck the strings (lit. "play skillfully"), v. 16, BDB 405, KB 408, Hiphil imperative, cf. I Sam. 16:17; Ps. 33:3; Ezek. 33:32

13. sing many songs, v 16, BDB 915, KB 1176, Hiphil imperative


D. As always in trying to interpret the poems of Isaiah the historical setting would be very helpful in understanding the details and allusions, but these poems could fit several different invasions. The book of Isaiah is a collection of messages from throughout his life combined at some future date. They are structured in non-chronological ways based on

1. related words

2. related geographical areas

3. word plays

4. themes

5. and more

Moderns do not know how, when, or by whom the OT books were finally compiled/edited.


1The oracle concerning Tyre.
Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
For Tyre is destroyed, without house or harbor;
It is reported to them from the land of Cyprus.
2Be silent, you inhabitants of the coastland,
You merchants of Sidon;
Your messengers crossed the sea
3And were on many waters.
The grain of the Nile, the harvest of the River was her revenue;
And she was the market of nations.
4Be ashamed, O Sidon;
For the sea speaks, the stronghold of the sea, saying,
"I have neither travailed nor given birth,
I have neither brought up young men nor reared virgins."
5When the report reaches Egypt,
They will be in anguish at the report of Tyre.
6Pass over to Tarshish;
Wail, O inhabitants of the coastland.
7Is this your jubilant city,
Whose origin is from antiquity,
Whose feet used to carry her to colonize distant places?

23:1 "Wail, O ships of Tarshish" "Wail" (ילל, BDB 410, KB 413, Hiphil imperative) denotes loud shrieking. It is used often in Isaiah (cf. 13:6; 14:31; 15:2,3; 16:7 [twice]; 23:1,6,14; 52:5; 65:14 and a related term [יללה] in 15:8 [twice]). See SPECIAL TOPIC: GRIEVING RITES at 15:2-3.

Note this same phrase appears in v. 14. Often a repeated phrase marks a literary unit, but here that does not fit well.

The ships of Tarshish were large commercial grain carriers, usually from Egypt. They became an idiom (as did "Phoenicia" and "Canaanite") for merchants.

▣ "Tarshish" This place name (BDB 1077) could refer to

1. a city in southern Spain on the Atlantic side, which was a Phoenician colony (i.e., Tartessus, v. 7)

2. the island of Sardinia (cf. Gen. 10:4)

3. a city on the north African coast (Carthage was a colony of Phoenicia)

4. a metaphor for a far distant port

5. a type of large sea-going commercial ship

6. a rival maritime nation (cf. I Kgs. 10:22)


▣ "without house or harbor" The city of Tyre had two divisions.

1. most of the houses and shops were located on the mainland coast (cf. Josh. 19:29; II Sam. 24:7)

2. the palace, temple, and fortress were on an island (originally two small islands) just off the coast (cf. Ezek. 27:32)

This made it almost invulnerable until Alexander the Great in 332 b.c. destroyed the coastal part and used the debris to build a causeway to the island fortress (cf. Ezek. 26:3-5).

The ships from Tarshish had no where to offload their cargo, nor receive different cargo to take home.

There is a textual issue connected to "harbor." It is literally "come in" (NJB, "no way of getting in," BDB 97, KB 112, Qal infinitive construct), which may denote a harbor or haven.

It is parallel to v. 14, so NRSV translates the line as "for your fortress is destroyed."

▣ "Cyprus" The MT has "Kittim" (BDB 508), possibly taken from the name of a Roman city on the island of Cyprus called "Citium," which was originally a Phoenician colony (cf. v. 7).

Some identify the inhabitants with one of the sons of Javan, Elishah (cf. Gen. 10:4; Ezek. 27:7).

23:2 "Be silent" This Qal imperative is parallel to "wail" in v. 1 (BDB 198 I). There is speculation based on a Ugaritic root that it reflects a separate root (BDB 199 II) "lament" ("wail," TEV; "lament," REB).

▣ "Sidon" This was a coastal city (cf. Gen. 10:19) of Phoenicia about twenty-five miles north of Tyre. It was originally the main city (cf. Josh. 13:4,6). The name seems to have come from the eldest son of Canaan, son of Ham (cf. Gen. 10:15). Tyre and Sidon are often linked together in the NT in reference to the nation of Phoenicia (cf. Matt. 11:21,22; 15:21; Acts 12:20).

NJB"Your messengers crossed the sea"
NKJV"Whom those who cross the sea have filled"
TEV"You sent agents"
JB"whose goods traveled over the sea"

The NASB follows the Isaiah scroll from the DSS. The MT has "passed over the sea (BDB 569, KB 583, Piel perfect) they replenish you." The term "your messengers," in its inflected form, is very similar in Hebrew to the verb "fill."

1. verb, מלאוך ("fill,"BDB 569, NKJV)

2. noun, מלאכיך ("messenger," BDB 521, NASB)



NASB, JB"the grain of the Nile"
REB"the grain of Shihor"
NJB"the grain of the Canal"
Peshitta"the harvest of the river"

The MT has "grain of Shihor, harvest of the Nile." Shihor (BDB 1009) means "the pond of Horus" (KB 1477). It referred to

1. an eastern branch of the Nile (BDB 1009)

2. a canal of black (BDB 1007 I) water

3. a lake in the eastern delta region

It is spelled differently in

1. Josh. 13:13; I Chr. 13:5, שׁיחור

2. Jer. 2:18, שׁחור

3. Isa. 23:3, שׁחר

but all refer to the same area in Egypt.

▣ "she was the market of nations" See Ezek. 27:3-23.

23:4 "Be ashamed" The verb (BDB 101, KB 116, Qal imperative) is used of God's judgment on idols (cf. Jer. 50:2). Here it denotes the shame of a defeated nation (cf. 1:29; 19:9; 37:27; 41:11). These nations can experience forgiveness and restoration if they will turn to YHWH (cf. 49:23); this is also true of His own people (cf. 29:23; 45:17; 54:4).

Sidon is personified. The NRSV footnote says "Ruined Sidon is barren like the sea without sailors (i.e., young men)."

23:7 This describes Tyre (cf. v. 5)

1. jubilant city (i.e., prideful and self-satisfied, cf. 22:2; 24:8; 32:13)

2. very old city (i.e., pride in their antiquity)

3. colonizing nation (pride in their international influence)


8Who has planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
Whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?
9The Lord of hosts has planned it, to defile the pride of all beauty,
To despise all the honored of the earth.
10Overflow your land like the Nile, O daughter of Tarshish,
There is no more restraint.
11He has stretched His hand out over the sea,
He has made the kingdoms tremble;
The Lord has given a command concerning Canaan to demolish its strongholds.

23:8-12 This strophe is united by the use of the verb "planned" (lit. "advised" or "purposed," BDB 419, KB 421, Qal perfect, cf. vv. 8,9; 14:24, 26, 27; 19:12,17). There is an intentionality behind history-YHWH! The kingdoms of this world make their plans (v. 8), but the God of creation also makes His (v. 9).


NASB, NRSV"the bestower of crowns"
NKJV, Peshitta"the crowning city"
TEV"the imperial city"
NJB"who used to hand out crowns"
REB"the city with crowns in its gifts"

The verb (BDB 742, KB 815, Hiphil participle) means "to crown." It could refer to

1. crown bestower (NASB, NRSV, NJB, REB)

2. crown wearer (TEV, NKJV, Peshitta)


23:10 The rival maritime empire of Tarshish is invited to expand and overflow because of the destruction of Phoenicia.

An alternate understanding of the phrase is in the Septuagint, "Till your land; for no more ships come out of Carthage." This is followed by the REB, "Take to the tillage of your fields, you people of Tarshish; for your market is lost." Your trading days are over, just settle down and farm your own land.

23:11 "He has stretched His hand out over the sea" See note at 14:26.

▣ "He has made the nations tremble" The verb (BDB 919, KB 1182, Hiphil perfect) is used of YHWH "shaking" several things.

1. mountains, 5:25

2. heavens, 13:13

3. Sheol, 14:9

4. sea, 23:11

5. YHWH Himself, 28:21

6. those who feel secure, 32:10,11

7. nations, 64:2

and once of Judah as she opposes YHWH in 37:29.

▣ "Canaan" This could refer to Tyre as the only good fortress/harbor on the Canaanite coast or Canaan as a way of referring to the merchant kingdom of Phoenicia.

12He has said, "You shall exult no more, O crushed virgin daughter of Sidon.
Arise, pass over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest."

23:12 In this chapter Phoenicia (NIV) is called by the name of its old capital, "Sidon," and its new current capital, "Tyre."

▣ "Arise, pass over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest" Some see this as referring specifically to the king of Sidon, "Lulli," fleeing from the Assyrian army to Cyprus in 701 b.c., where he was killed (JB footnote, p. 1177). This is surely possible, but not certain. Hebrew poetry is ambiguous.

13Behold, the land of the Chaldeans-this is the people which was not; Assyria appointed it for desert creatures-they erected their siege towers, they stripped its palaces, they made it a ruin.
14Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
For your stronghold is destroyed.
15Now in that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the harlot:
16Take your harp, walk about the city,
O forgotten harlot;
Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs,
That you may be remembered.
17It will come about at the end of seventy years that the Lord will visit Tyre. Then she will go back to her harlot's wages and will play the harlot with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. 18Her gain and her harlot's wages will be set apart to the Lord; it will not be stored up or hoarded, but her gain will become sufficient food and choice attire for those who dwell in the presence of the Lord.

23:13 "the land of the Chaldeans" This seems to refer to the destruction of Babylon (not Neo-Babylon) by Assyria (cf. chapters 13-14). There are two "Babylons" mentioned in the Prophets.

1. small semi-autonomous region close to the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that rebelled against Assyria and was invaded and their capital "Babylon" destroyed by Sargon II (722-705 b.c.), who took the Babylonian throne name "King of Babylon." Then it would refer to the Babylonian kings

a. Merodach-baladan, reigned 721-710 and again 703-702 b.c. (He sent messengers to Hezekiah in 712 b.c., cf. II Kgs. 20:12-21; Isaiah 39)

b. Shamash-shum-ukim, son of Esarhaddon, 681-669 b.c. and rival brother to Ashurbanipal [669-633 b.c.] who was made king of Assyria

2. a new (i.e., "new") Babylon appeared on the scene in 626 b.c. with the rise of Nabopolassor (626-605 b.c.), the father of Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 b.c.). Nabopolassor was instrumental in the fall of Asshur (one Assyrian capital) in 614 b.c. and Nineveh (the main Assyrian capital) in 612 b.c. (see of "Brief Historical Survey of the Powers of Mesopotamia" in Appendix Three).


▣ "it" Does this refer to the Chaldean capital Babylon or Sidon/Tyre? In context it refers to Babylon destroyed by Sargon II in 710 or Sennacherib in 689 b.c. Tyre would look like Babylon. Assyria, Neo-Babylon, and Alexander the Great are coming!!!

▣ "for desert creatures" This term (BDB 850 II) denotes wild desert animals of some kind. It has the added connotation of being inhabited by the demonic (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 79, and NEB, REB translations).

23:15 "for seventy years" The time designation appears here and in v. 17. It seems to allude to a complete time (from 7 x 10, see SPECIAL TOPIC: SYMBOLIC NUMBERS IN SCRIPTURE at 11:12). Notice some of its usages in Scripture.

1. revenge, Gen. 4:24

2. age of Terah when Abram was born, Gen. 11:26

3. seventy in Jacob's family moved to Egypt, Exod. 1:5

4. seventy elders during the Wilderness Wandering Period, Exod. 24:1,9; Num. 11:16,24,25 (also Ezek. 8:11)

5. number of Abimelech's brothers who were killed, Jdgs. 9:56

6. expected life span, Ps. 90:10 (double is a special blessing from God, Job 42:16)

7. the plague of YHWH killed 70,000, II Sam. 24:15; I Chr. 21:14

8. Ahab's seventy sons, II Kgs. 10:1,6,7

9.  seventy year judgment

a. Judah in Babylon, Jer. 25:11; Dan. 9:2; Zech. 7:5

b. Tyre, Isa. 23:15

10. Jesus sent out seventy, Luke 10:1,17

11. forgiveness 70 times 7, Matt. 18:22


▣ "like the days of one king" This phrase designates the expected reign of a monarch. Seventy years was the time span for a normal life, but here it refers to a very long reign, which probably shows the symbolic nature of the round number.

23:17-18 The riches of Phoenicia will flow to God's restored people (note also 18:7 and 45:14, which denote similar actions). Phoenicia will not respond to the witness of Israel, but will remain pagan (i.e., Ba'al worship).


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