Isaiah 23


Prophecy denouncing the destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar,

delivered upwards of one hundred and twenty years before its

accomplishment, at a period when the Tyrians were in great

prosperity, and the Babylonians in abject subjection to the

Assyrian empire; and, consequently, when an event of so great

magnitude was improbable in the highest degree, 1-14.

Tyre shall recover its splendour at the termination of seventy

years, the days of ONE king, or kingdom, by which must be

meant the time allotted for the duration of the Babylonish

empire, as otherwise the prophecy cannot be accommodated to

the event, 15-17.

Supposed reference to the early conversion of Tyre to

Christianity, 18.


Verse 1. The burden of Tyre] Tyre, a city on the coast of Syria,

about lat. 32� N. was built two thousand seven hundred and sixty

years before Christ. There were two cities of this name; one on

the continent, and the other on an island, about half a mile from

the shore; the city on the island was about four miles in

circumference. Old Tyre resisted Nebuchadnezzar for thirteen

years; then the inhabitants carried, so to speak, the city to the

forementioned island, Isa 23:4. This new city held out against

Alexander the Great for seven months; who, in order to take it,

was obliged to fill up the channel which separated it from the

main land. In A.D. 1289 it was totally destroyed by the sultan of

Egypt; and now contains only a few huts, in which about fifty or

sixty wretched families exist. This desolation was foretold by

this prophet and by Ezekiel, one thousand nine hundred years

before it took place!

Howl, ye ships of Tarshish] This prophecy denounces the

destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar. It opens with an address to

the Tyrian negotiators and sailors at Tarshish, (Tartessus, in

Spain,) a place which, in the course of their trade, they greatly

frequented. The news of the destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar

is said to be brought to them from Chittim, the islands and coasts

of the Mediterranean; "for the Tyrians," says Jerome on Isa 23:6,

"when they saw they had no other means of escaping, fled in their

ships, and took refuge in Carthage and in the islands of the

Ionian and AEgean sea." From whence the news would spread and

reach Tarshish; so also Jarchi on the same place. This seems to be

the most probable interpretation of this verse.

Verse 2. Be still-"Be silent"] Silence is a mark of grief and

consternation. See Isa 47:5. Jeremiah has finely expressed this


"The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the

ground, they are silent:

They have cast up dust on their heads, they

have girded themselves with sackcloth.

The virgins of Jerusalem hang down their

heads to the ground."

La 2:10.

Verse 3. The seed of Sihor-"The seed of the Nile"] The Nile is

called here Shichor, as it is Jer 2:18, and 1Ch 13:5. It had

this name from the blackness of its waters, charged with the mud

which it brings down from Ethiopia when it overflows, Et viridem

AEgyptum nigra fecundat arena; as it was called by the Greeks

Melas, and by the Latins Melo, for the same reason. See Servius

on the above line of Virgil, Georg. iv. 291. It was called Siris

by the Ethiopians, by some supposed to be the same with Shichor.

Egypt by its extraordinary fertility, caused by the overflowing of

the Nile supplied the neighbouring nations with corn, by which

branch of trade the Tyrians gained great wealth.

Verse 4. Be thou ashamed, O Zidon] Tyre is called Isa 23:12,

the daughter of Sidon. "The Sidonians," says Justin, xviii. 3,

"when their city was taken by the king of Ascalon, betook

themselves to their ships, and landed, and built by Tyre." Sidon,

as the mother city is supposed to be deeply affected with the

calamity of her daughter.

Nor bring up virgins-"Nor educated virgins."]

veromamti; so an ancient MS. Of Dr. Kennicott's prefixing the

vau, which refers to the negative preceding, and is equivalent

to velo. See De 23:6; Pr 30:3. Two of my own MSS. have

vau in the margin.

Verse 7. Whose antiquity is of ancient days-"Whose antiquity is

of the earliest date"] Justin, in the passage above quoted, had

dated the building of Tyre at a certain number of years before the

taking of Troy; but the number is lost in the present copies.

Tyre, though not so old as Sidon, was yet of very high antiquity:

it was a strong city even in the time of Joshua. It is called

ir mibtsar tsor, "the city of the fortress of Sor,"

Jos 19:29. Interpreters raise difficulties in regard to this

passage, and will not allow it to have been so ancient; with what

good reason I do not see, for it is called by the same name, "the

fortress of Sor," in the history of David, 2Sa 24:7, and the

circumstances of the history determine the place to be the very

same. See on Isa 23:1.

Whose antiquity is of ancient days, may refer to Palaetyrus, or

Old Tyre.

Her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn.] This may

belong to the new or insular Tyre; her own feet, that is, her own

inhabitants, shall carry her-shall transport the city, from the

continent to the island. "But the text says it shall be carried

far off, and the new city was founded only half a mile distant

from the other." I answer, merachok does not always signify

a great distance, but distance or interval in general; for in

Jos 3:4

rachok is used to express the space between the camp and the

ark, which we know to have been only two thousand cubits. Some

refer the sojourning afar off to the extent of the commercial

voyages undertaken by the Tyrians and their foreign connexions.

Verse 10. O daughter of Tarshish] Tyre is called the daughter of

Tarshish; perhaps because, Tyre being ruined, Tarshish was become

the superior city, and might be considered as the metropolis of

the Tyrian people; or rather because of the close connexion and

perpetual intercourse between them, according to that latitude of

signification in which the Hebrews use the words son and daughter

to express any sort of conjunction and dependence whatever.

mezach, a girdle, which collects, binds, and keeps together the

loose raiment, when applied to a river, may mean a mound, mole, or

artificial dam, which contains the waters and prevents them from

spreading abroad. A city taken by siege and destroyed, whose walls

are demolished, whose policy is dissolved, whose wealth is

dissipated, whose people is scattered over the wide country, is

compared to a river whose banks are broken down, and whose waters,

let loose and overflowing all the neighbouring plains, are wasted

and lost. This may possibly be the meaning of this very obscure

verse, of which I can find no other interpretation that is at all


Verse 13. Behold the land of the Chaldeans] This verse is

extremely obscure; the obscurity arises from the ambiguity of the

agents, which belong to the verbs, and of the objects expressed by

the pronouns; from the change of number of the verbs, and of

gender in the pronouns. The MSS. give us no assistance, and the

ancient Versions very little. The Chaldee and Vulgate read

samoah, in the plural number. I have followed the interpretation

which, among many different ones, seemed to be most probable, that

of Perizonius and Vitringa.

The Chaldeans, Chasdim, are supposed to have had their origin,

and to have taken their name, from Chesed, the son of Nachor, the

brother of Abraham. They were known by that name in the time of

Moses, who calls Ur in Mesopotamia, from whence Abraham came, to

distinguish it from other places of the same name, Ur of the

Chaldeans. And Jeremiah calls them an ancient nation. This is

not inconsistent with what Isaiah here says of them: "This people

was not," that is, they were of no account, (see De 32:21;) they

were not reckoned among the great and potent nations of the world

till of later times; they were a rude, uncivilized, barbarous

people, without laws, without settled habitations; wandering in a

wide desert country ( tsiyim) and addicted to rapine like the

wild Arabians. Such they are represented to have been in the time

of Job, Job 1:17, and such they continued to be till Assur, some

powerful king of Assyria, gathered them together, and settled them

in Babylon in the neighbouring country. This probably was Ninus,

whom I suppose to have lived in the time of the Judges. In this,

with many eminent chronologers, I follow the authority of

Herodotus, who says that the Assyrian monarchy lasted but five

hundred and twenty years. Ninus got possession of Babylon from the

Cuthean Arabians; the successors of Nimrod in that empire

collected the Chaldeans, and settled a colony of them there to

secure the possession of the city, which he and his successors

greatly enlarged and ornamented. They had perhaps been useful to

him in his wars, and might be likely to be farther useful in

keeping under the old inhabitants of that city, and of the country

belonging to it; according to the policy of the Assyrian kings,

who generally brought new people into the conquered countries; see

Isa 36:17; 2Ki 17:6, 24. The testimony of Dicaearchus, a Greek

historian contemporary with Alexander, (apud. Steph. de Urbibus,

in voc. χαλδαιος,) in regard to the fact is remarkable, though he

is mistaken in the name of the king he speaks of. He says that "a

certain king of Assyria, the fourteenth in succession from Ninus,

(as he might be, if Ninus is placed, as in the common chronology,

eight hundred years higher than we have above set him,) named,

as it is said, Chaldaeus, having gathered together and united all

the people called Chaldeans, built the famous city, Babylon, upon

the Euphrates."-L.

Verse 14. Howl, ye ships] The Prophet Ezekiel hath enlarged upon

this part of the same subject with great force and elegance:-

"Thus saith the Lord JEHOVAH concerning Tyre:-

At the sound of thy fall, at the cry of the wounded,

At the great slaughter in the midst of thee, shall

not the islands tremble?

And shall not all the princes of the sea descend from

their thrones,

And lay aside their robes, and strip off their embroidered


They shall clothe themselves with trembling, they shall

sit on the ground;

They shall tremble every moment, they shall be astonished

at thee.

And they shall utter a lamentation over thee, and shall say

unto thee:

How art thou lost, thou that wast inhabited from the seas!

The renowned city, that was strong in the sea, she and her


That struck with terror all her neighbours!

Now shall the coasts tremble in the day of thy fall,

And the isles that are in the sea shall be troubled at thy


Eze 26:15-18.

Verse 15. According to the days of one king] what is, of one

kingdom; see Da 7:17; 8:20. Nebuchadnezzar began his conquests

in the first year of his reign; from thence to the taking of

Babylon by Cyrus are seventy years, at which time the nations

subdued by Nebuchadnezzar were to be restored to liberty. These

seventy years limit the duration of the Babylonish monarchy.

Tyre was taken by him towards the middle of that period; so did

not serve the king of Babylon during the whole period, but only

for the remaining part of it. This seems to be the meaning of

Isaiah; the days allotted to the one king or kingdom, are seventy

years; Tyre, with the rest of the conquered nations, shall

continue in a state of subjection and desolation to the end of

that period. Not from the beginning and through the whole of the

period; for, by being one of the latest conquests, the duration of

that state of subjection in regard to her, was not much more than

half of it. "All these nations," saith Jeremiah, Jer 25:11,

"shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years." Some of them were

conquered sooner, some later; but the end of this period was the

common term for the deliverance of them all.

There is another way of computing the seventy years, from the

year in which Tyre was actually taken to the nineteenth of Darius

Hystaspis; whom the Phoenicians, or Tyrians, assisted against the

Ionians, and probably on that account might then be restored to

their former liberties and privileges. But I think the former the

more probable interpretation.-L.

Sing as a harlot] Fidicinam esse meretricum est, says Donatus in

Terent. Eunuch. iii. 2, 4.

Nec meretrix tibicina, cujus

Ad strepitum salias.

HOR. I. Epist. xiv. 25.

"Nor harlot minstrel sings, when the rude sound

Tempts you with heavy heels to thump the ground."


Sir John Chardin, in his MS. note on this place, says:-C'est que

les vielles prostituees,-ne font que chanter quand les jeunes

dancent, et les animer par l'instrument et par la voix. "The old

prostitutes do nothing but sing, while the young ones dance; and

animate them both by vocal and instrumental music."

Verse 17. After the end of seventy years] Tyre, after its

destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, recovered, as it is here foretold,

its ancient trade, wealth, and grandeur; as it did likewise after

a second destruction by Alexander. It became Christian early with

the rest of the neighbouring countries. St. Paul himself found

many Christians there, Ac 21:4. It suffered much in the

Diocletian persecution. It was an archbishopric under the

patriarchate of Jerusalem, with fourteen bishoprics under its

jurisdiction. It continued Christian till it was taken by the

Saracens in 639; was recovered by the Christians in 1124; but in

1280 was conquered by the Mamelukes, and afterwards taken from

them by the Turks in 1517. Since that time it has sunk into utter

decay; is now a mere ruin, a bare rock, "a place to spread nets

upon," as the Prophet Ezekiel foretold it should be, Eze 26:14.

See Sandy's Travels; Vitringa on the place; Bp. Newton on the

Prophecies, Dissert. xi.

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