Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 14: Isaiah, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Isaiah Chapter 23:1-18
1. The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them.
1. Onus Tyri. Ululate, naves Tharsis; quia devastatio facta est, ut non sit domus, non sit commeatus e terra Cittim. Revelatum est hoc eis.
2. Be still, ye inhabitatnts of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Zidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished.
2. Tacete incolæ insularum: negotiator Sidonis, trajicientes mare, qui te replebant.
3. And by great waters the seed of Sihor, the harvest of the river, is her revenue; and she is a mart of nations.
3. In aquis multis semen Nili, messis fluminis fruges ejus; et fuit emporium gentium.
4. Be thou ashamed, O Zidon; for the sea hath spoken, even the strength of the sea, saying, I travail not, nor bring forth children, neither do I nourish up young men, nor bring up virgins.
4. Erubesce, Sidon; quia dixit mare, fortitudo maris, dicens, Non parturivi, neque peperi, neque educavi adolescentes, neque extuli virgines.
5. As at the report concerning Egypt, so shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre.
5. Simul atque rumor pervenerit ad Ægyptios, dolebunt secundum rumorem Tyri.
6. Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.
6. Transite in Tharsis; ululate, habitatores insularum.
7 Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? Her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn.
7. An hæc vobis exultans? a diebus antiquis vetustas ejus. Ducent eam pedes ejus, ut peregrinetur in terram longinquam.
8. Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth?
8. Quis cosultavit hoc super Tyrum coronantem? cujus negotiatores sunt Principes, cujus institores nobiles terræ?
9. The Lord of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth.
9. Iehova exercituum ita decrevit ad profanandam superbiam omnium magnificorum, ut vilipendat omnes gloriosos terræ.
10. Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.
10. Transi instar fluminis e terra tua ad filiam Tharsis, quia non amplius cingulum.
11. He stretched out his hand over the sea; he shook the kingdoms: the Lord hath given a commandment against the merchant-city, to destroy the strongholds thereof.
11. Manum suam posuit super mare, concussit regna. Iehova mandavit super Canaan ut enervet robur ejus.
12. And he said, Thou shalt no more rejoice, O thou oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon: arise, pass over to Chittim; there also shalt thou have no rest.
12. Et ait, Non adjicies ultra ut exultes, ubi oppressa fueris, virgo filia Sidon. Surge, ut transeas in Cittim. Atqui etiam illic non erit tibi requies.
13. Behold the land of the Chaldeans: this people was not, till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness: they set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof; and he brought it to ruin.
13. Ecce terra Chaldæorum, hic non fuit populus, Assur fundavit eam deserti incolis; erexerunt arces ejus; excitarunt palatia ejus; redegit eam in vastitatem.
14. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste.
14. Ululate, naves Tharsis; quia vastata est fortitudo vestra.
15. And it shall come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot.
15. Accidet in die illa, ut sit in oblivione Tyrus septuaginta annis, secundum dies regis unius; a fine septuaginta annorum erit Tyro quasi canticum meretricis.
16. Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.
16. Sume citharam, circui urbem, meretrix oblivioni tradita, suavem fac melodiam, multiplica carmen, ut in memoriam revoceris.
17. And it shall come to pass, after the end of seventy years, that the Lord will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.
17. Erit ergo a fine septuaginta annorum, ut visitet Iehova Tyrum; et tunc redibit ad mercedem suam, fornicabiturque cum omnibus regnis terræ quæ sunt super terram.
18. And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord: it shall not be treasured nor laid up; for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the Lord, to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing.
18. Sed (tandem) erit negotiatio ejus et merces ejus sancta Iehovæ; non reponetur neque recondetur; sed negotiatio ejus (addicta) erit iis qui habitabant coram Iehovæ, ut comedant ad satietatem, et habeant densum operimentum.
1. The burden of Tyre. Tyre was very wealthy, and highly celebrated, both on account of the variety and extent of its commercial intercourse with all nations, and on account of the flourishing colonies which sprang from it: Carthage, which was the rival of the Roman Empire, Utica, Leptis, Cadiz, and other towns, which also sent every year a present to Tyre, by which they acknowledged that they looked on Tyre as their mother. Isaiah threatens its destruction, because it had been hostile to the people of God, as we may infer from what is said by Ezekiel; for we ought carefully to attend to the cause of the destruction, because it was the design of the Prophet to shew that God testifies his fatherly regard to his people by opposing all her enemies. (Eze 26:2.) Some think that this refers to the storming of Tyre by Alexander, who took it with great difficulty. But the argument on which they rely, that Isaiah mentions Chittim, 101 has little force. By that name the Hebrew writers unquestionably denote the Macedonians, but under this word they likewise include other nations, such as the Greeks, and the countries that were beyond the sea. Nebuchadnezzar employed in that siege not only his own soldiers, but also foreigners, whom he brought from Greece and other places. It is for a reason altogether different, as we shall immediately see, that he mentions the Greeks, namely, that henceforth they will not take their ships to Tyre for the sake of carrying on merchandise.
But from the conclusion of this chapter I draw an argument for a contrary opinion, for Isaiah speaks of the restoration of Tyre, and it was never restored after having been stormed by Alexander. Besides, when I compare Ezekiel’s words with those of Isaiah, I think that I see one and the same prediction. Now, he does not speak of Alexander, but of Nebuchadnezzar; and I cannot doubt that it must be explained in that manner. Not only so, but in the days of Ezekiel and Isaiah that city was under the dominion of a king, but historians relate that, when it was stormed by Alexander, it had been brought to the form of a republic. And if we consider the object of the prophecy, we shall be sufficiently confirmed in this opinion, for his aim is to comfort the Jews by threatening that the inhabitants of Tyre, by whom they had been oppressed, will not pass unpunished. For it would have been highly inconsistent that the Lord should punish other nations, and that this nation, which had been not less hostile, should escape punishment altogether, or be punished five hundred years afterwards. Every conjecture, therefore, leads us to this conclusion, that we should expound this passage as relating to Nebuchadnezzar.
Howl, ye ships of Tarshish. He employs various figures of speech, according to his custom, in illustrating the ruin of Tyre, in order to obtain greater credit to the prediction; for a plain narrative would have been ineffectual, or would not have exerted a powerful influence on minds naturally dull and sluggish, and therefore he sets before their eyes a lively portrait. This calamity, he declares, will be very grievous, because it will be felt even in distant countries. He bids the “ships howl,” because, when Tyre has been destroyed, they will have nothing to do. The ships of the Cilicians are particularly mentioned by him, because, being neighbors, they traded often and extensively with the inhabitants of Tyre; and Cilicia is called by the Hebrews “Tarshish.” It was impossible that there should not have arisen great inconvenience to that country at the destruction of Tyre; not only because commerce ceased for a time, but also because the articles of merchandise were carried off, and there was a disturbance of commercial relations 102 as usually happens when the fortunes of rich men have been overthrown.
That there may be no entering in from the land of Chittim. What I have translated “that there maybe no entering in,” is explained by some to signify, that there may be no house “into which you can enter,” but I think that I have faithfully conveyed the Prophet’s meaning. And yet he does not mean that the Cilicians or the Greeks will be hindered from entering, but that they will not hold intercourse with Tyre as they were formerly accustomed to do, because it will not be, as formerly, a mart of nations.
Those who think that the Prophet speaks of the defeat accomplished by Alexander, separate this clause of the verse “from the land of Chittim” from what goes before, and connect it thus, “from the land of Chittim it was revealed to them.” But, on the contrary, I join it differently in this way, “From not going from the land of Chittim;” that is, that the Greeks may no more enter as they were formerly accustomed to do. By the word “Chittim,” he means both the Greeks and the western nations; as if he had said “There will be an end put to commerce with the Greeks, so that they will no longer take their ships thither.” Under this designation he includes also the inhabitants of Cyprus, 103 Sicily, and Italy, and other nations.
This was revealed to them. These words may be understood to refer both to the Greeks and to the inhabitants of Tyre. If they refer to the inhabitants of Tyre, the meaning will be, “When the report of the ruin of the city shall reach them, they will put an end to their wonted voyages, for they will avoid that harbour as they would avoid a rock;” and this is the meaning which I more readily adopt. Yet I do not reject the other interpretation, that the Prophet confirms his prediction, as we commonly speak of a thing that is certain, “Let this be regarded as addressed to you.”
2. Be silent, ye inhabitants of the islands. This is intended to place in a more striking light the ruin of Tyre. There is a change of number in the word island; for although he uses the singular number, yet he means the islands of the Mediterranean sea, and the countries beyond the sea, especially the neighbors who frequently performed voyages to Tyre, and traded with it. He enjoins on them silence and stillness, because they will perform no more voyages to Tyre. He bids them “be silent” like persons who are stunned, on account of the grievous calamity which has befallen them, so that they do not even venture to open their mouth; for it was impossible that the nations who traded there should not feel it to be a heavy stroke, when a mercantile city like this was ruined, just as at the present day Venice or Antwerp could not be destroyed without inflicting great injury on many nations.
The merchants of Sidon. He mentions the inhabitants of Sidon in an especial manner, not only on account of their vicinity, but because they had a common origin. Sidon was highly celebrated, but greatly inferior to Tyre. Situated on the sea-shore, it was two hundred furlongs 104 distant from Tyre, and appeared both to be so near it, and to be so closely connected with it by trade, that the poets frequently took Tyre for Sidon, and Sidon for Tyre. The Sidonians, therefore, were unquestionably greater gainers than others by imports and exports, and also by sales and merchandise, in consequence of being so near, and trading with it continually; for the wealth of Tyre overflowed on them, and, as the saying is, they flew under its wings. The result was, that they suffered more severely than others by the destruction of Tyre, and therefore the Prophet afterwards says, (Isa 23:4,) Be ashamed, O Sidon.
Who replenished thee. He adds this general expression, either because it was filled with crowds and multitudes of men, when strangers flocked to it from various and distant countries, or because they who performed voyages to it for the sake of gain did, in their turn, enrich the city.
3. And by great waters. He intimates that the riches of Tyre will not prevent it from being destroyed; and therefore he extols its wealth, in order that the judgment of God may be more manifest, and that all may know that it was no ordinary calamity that befel it; and the more unexpected it was, the more evidently would it appear to be the work of God.
The seed of the Nile. 105 By an elegant expression he describes the wealth of Tyre; for since the Nile supplied it with wheat and other necessaries of life, and since a great quantity of corn was brought to it out of Egypt, he says that it had fields and sowing on the course of the Nile, just as the inhabitants of Venice say that their harvest is on the sea, because they have nothing that grows at home, but all that is necessary for food is brought to them by commerce. The Prophet speaks of the inhabitants of Tyre in the same manner; for it might be thought incredible that they whom the Nile so freely and abundantly supplied should be in want of food. He shews that this will be a vain boast, because they will be in want of all things; and these things, as we have already said, are described by Isaiah, that all may more fully acknowledge the avenging hand of God.
4. Be thou ashamed, O Sidon; for the sea hath spoken. This verse is added for the purpose of heightening the picture. We have explained the reason why he speaks particularly of Sidon. He calls Tyre, by way of eminence, (κατ ᾿ ἐξοχὴν,) the sea, as if she reigned alone in the midst of the sea.
I have not travailed. These words are immediately added, and belong (μιμητικῶς) to a fictitious address put into the mouth of Tyre, in which the Prophet wittily taunts the inhabitants of Tyre, who boasted of her colonies; for she “brought forth” other illustrious cities. “In ancient times,” says Pliny, “she was famous for the cities which she built, Leptis, Utica, and that rival of the Roman empire, Carthage, which aspired to govern the whole world, besides Cadiz, which was built beyond the limits of the world. Her whole superiority now consists of scarlet and purple.” (Plin. Hist. Nat., lib. v. c. 19.) Thus, Isaiah represents Tyre as bewailing her ancient glory, because she has ceased to be a mother, and because it is of no avail to her that she has brought forth so many children, and founded so many cities; for at an early period Carthage sent regularly every year a present to Tyre, for the purpose of doing homage to her as the mother. In this manner Tyre appeared to hold a higher rank than all other cities, since even Carthage, though a rival of the Roman empire, was in some respect subject to Tyre: but the Lord stripped her of all her ornaments in a moment, so that she bewailed her bereavement, as if she had never brought up any children.
5. As soon as the report shall reach the Egyptians. 106 In this verse he declares that this destruction will affect equally the inhabitants of Tyre and those of Egypt; and this confirms the exposition which we follow, that the present prophecy relates to a former devastation. The inhabitants of Tyre had been in alliance with the Egyptians, and both countries had been under kingly government; not as in Alexander’s time, when Tyre was a free state, and lived under its own laws. The alliance which existed between the inhabitants of Tyre and those of Egypt could not have been more appropriately described; and therefore he shews that this ruin extends also to the Egyptians, because they prompted the Jews to rebellion, and turned them aside from confidence in God. The former were open enemies; the latter, under the pretense of friendship, cherished dangerous hostility; and therefore both are justly punished.
6. Pass ye over to Tarshish. He addresses not only the inhabitants of Tyre, but foreigners who were connected with them by trading, and bids them go elsewhere and seek new harbours: and he mentions Cilicia, which was opposite to Tyre, as if he had said, “That shore, which was wont to be well supplied with harbours, will henceforth be forsaken, so that ships will sail in a very different direction;” for when a harbour or a mercantile city has been ruined, merchants commonly go in search of another.
Howl, ye inhabitants of the island. 107 “Island,” as we have formerly explained, is here put for “islands;” for the change of number is very customary with Hebrew writers. He foretells that they will lament, because their support depended entirely on that traffic, and because their accounts and reckonings 108 were scattered about in all directions.
7. Is this your exulting city? The Prophet mocks at Tyre, and ridicules her pride, because she boasted of the antiquity of her name. He likewise confirms what all would suppose to be incredible; for this prediction was undoubtedly laughed at, seeing that the power of Tyre was unshaken, and her wealth was like a wall of brass. So much the more confidently does Isaiah speak, and threaten that her ruin is certain, and that, though she be more ancient than other cities, and though she be universally applauded on that ground, still this will not prevent her from being destroyed. The origin of Tyre is traced in profane history from time almost out of mind, and is so obscure and intricate, that hardly anything can be ascertained; though they allege that it was founded by the Phenicians, as those who boast of the fame of antiquity call themselves natives of the soil. With this antiquity the Prophet contrasts banishment, intimating that, when God had determined to inflict punishment on that nation, her stability would be at an end.
Her feet shall carry her, to travel into a distant country. To follow wherever “the feet carry,” is nothing else than to have long wanderings. Yet he also means that they will be deprived of their wealth, and will be in want of all things during their banishment, so that they will not have a conveyance of any kind, or a beast to carry them. Banishment is a very hard condition, when poverty is added to it; for it may be more easily endured where there are the means of supporting life; but when men must dwell in unknown countries in the deepest poverty, the misery is extreme. He adds the finishing stroke to their miseries by saying, that they must “travel into a distant country;” for the greater the distance, the harder is the banishment.
8. Against crowning Tyre. He adorns with this title the city which enriched many, as may be easily learned from the context; for when he calls her merchants “kings,” he plainly states that by the word crown he intended to express metaphorically the magnificence of kings. This refutes the opinion of those who refer it to other cities. The general meaning is, that she enriches her citizens as if she made them kings and princes.
Some think that the Prophet added this verse, as if he were assuming the character of one who is astonished at the destruction of Tyre, in order to strike others with amazement; as if he had said, “Is it possible that Tyre should be so speedily overthrown, where riches, and troops, and defences, and fortifications, are so abundant, and where there is so much pomp and magnificence?” and as if he suddenly stopped, as we are wont to do, when anything unexpected has occurred. But it is better to connect it with the following verse, which removes every difficulty; for in that verse the Prophet himself immediately answers his own question, by which he intended to arouse the minds of his hearers to closer attention. He might have simply said, that these things were done by the purpose of the Lord; but we are sluggish, and stupid men would have treated them with contempt. By this question, therefore, he arouses their minds, that all may know that he is not speaking about an ordinary event, and that they may consider it more carefully; for the farther the judgments of God are removed from the ordinary opinions of men, so much the more ought they to excite our astonishment.
He formerly spoke in the same manner about Egypt, when he intended to shew that the destruction of it could not be reckoned one of the ordinary changes. (Isa 19:1-25.) Since therefore it was incredible that Tyre could be overthrown by man, the Prophet justly infers that God is the author of its ruin. On this account he calls her the mother or nurse of kings, that he may place in a more striking light the glory of the divine judgment; for if it had been any ordinary state, its fall would have been viewed with contempt; but when it was adorned with the highest rank, who would think that this happened in any other way than by the purpose of God?
Whose merchants are princes. 109 In like manner the merchants of Venice in the present day think that they are on a level with princes, and that they are above all other men except kings; and even the factors look on men of rank as beneath them. I have been told, too, that at Antwerp there are factors who do not hesitate to lay out expenses which the wealthiest of the nobility could not support. We are wont to put questions, when no reply can be given but what we wish; and this is an indication of boldness.
9. To profane the pride, or, to profane the loftiness; for it may be read either way, because loftiness leads to pride, and where loftiness or a high spirit is found, there seldom is humility. But it will be better to read it Pride, which alone provokes the vengeance of God, when men, under pretense of their excellence, vaunt themselves above measure. To “profane” and to “despise” mean the same thing; for those who are high in rank imagine that they are separated from others, and consider themselves to have something indescribably lofty belonging to them, as if they ought not to mingle with the crowd of human beings. But God strips them of their rank, degrades them, and treats them as vile and worthless.
From this passage let us learn, that we ought to contemplate the providence of God in such a manner as to ascribe to his almighty power the praise which it deserves for righteous government. Although the rectitude by which God regulates his judgments is not always apparent or made visible to us, still it is never lawful to separate his wisdom and justice from his power. But as the Scriptures very frequently state and clearly explain the reason why God does this or that, we ought carefully to examine the cause of his works.
That invention which the Schoolmen have introduced, about the absolute power of God, is shocking blasphemy. It is all one as if they said that God is a tyrant who resolves to do what he pleases, not by justice, but through caprice. Their schools are full of such blasphemies, and are not unlike the heathens, who said that God sports with human affairs. But in the school of Christ we are taught that the justice of God shines brightly in his works, of whatever kind they are, “that every mouth may be stopped,” (Ro 3:19,) and that glory may be ascribed to him alone.
The Prophet therefore assigns the causes of so great an overthrow, that we may not think that God acts without a reason; for the inhabitants of Tyre were proud, ambitious, lewd, and licentious. These vices follow in the train of wealth and abundance, and commonly abound in mercantile cities. For this reason he shews that God is provoked on account of these vices, that all who are left may be taught by this example to pay greater attention to their own interests, and not to abuse the gifts of God for parade and luxury. Such is the benefit which we ought to draw from it, for we must not imagine that it is a bare history which is related to us.
But a question arises, Does God hate the exalted rank of princes and lords? For he raises on high princes, senators, nobles, and all classes of magistrates and rulers; and how then can he hate them? I reply, the high station occupied by princes is not in itself hateful to God, but only on account of the vice which is accidental to it, that when they have been highly exalted, they despise others, and do not think that they are men. Thus, pride is almost always an attendant of high station, and therefore God hates it; and, in a word, he must rebuke that haughtiness of which he declares that he is an enemy.
10. For there is not any longer a girdle. 110 מזח (mēzăch) is translated by some a girdle, and by others strength. Those who translate it girdle, suppose the meaning to be that Tyre will be so completely plundered, that she will not even have a girdle left; and that the allusion is to the vast wealth laid out in merchandise, for the poorest of the merchants sell girdles. But I think that Isaiah alludes to the situation of the city, which was protected on all sides by ditches, mounds, ramparts, and the sea.
11. He stretched out his hand over the sea. It is thought that the prediction which the Prophet uttered, about the destruction of Tyre, is here confirmed by examples; namely, that the Lord has given so many examples of his power in overturning the greatest kingdoms, that we ought not to think it strange if he now overturn Tyre, however flourishing and wealthy it may be. And indeed this manner of speaking is frequently employed in Scripture, if it be not made plain by manifest examples and by actual demonstration. It is therefore believed that the Prophet here calls to remembrance the deliverance from Egypt, when the Lord divided the sea, (Exod. 14:21, 22,) and again, when he drove out seven kings, and brought his people into the land of Canaan. (Josh. 6:1, Josh. 8:1, Josh. 10:1.) But when I take a closer view of the words of the Prophet, I am more disposed to explain them as referring to the present state of matters; for he speaks here of Tyre, whose riches covered the whole sea.
He shook the kingdoms. What he says about the kingdoms is, because she could not perish alone, but must at the same time involve many kingdoms in her ruin. Thus the whole world must have undergone some change, as appears from history; and finally, the Prophet himself draws the conclusion, that the Lord commanded that this mart of nations should be overthrown.
Jehovah hath given commandment concerning Canaan. 111 The word כנען (chĕnāăn) has led commentators to think that the Prophet here speaks of the Canaanites, and refers to the proof which God gave of his vengeance against them. But there is little force in that argument; for כנען (chĕnāăn) is often taken for a common noun, just as, a little before, (Isa 23:8,) he used the word כנעניה (chinyāneihā) to mean her factors. The riches of Tyre having consisted of merchandise and trading, Isaiah described it by naming the principal part. By the expression, hath given commandment, he extols the providence of God, that the Jews may know that all that appears to be permanent in the world stands and falls according to the will of God, and that there is no need of the instruments of war for overturning the best fortified place, but the mere expression of the will of God is enough.
12. And he said, Thou shalt not add any more to rejoice. 112 All this belongs to one and the same object; for, since a plain description would not have had sufficient weight, the Prophet confirms his prediction by many words. It was incredible that a city so celebrated and powerful, so well defended and fortified, and associated with many allies and confederates, should be destroyed and overturned. When he says, Thou shalt not add, he does not intend to shut out the hope of restoration which he will give soon afterwards; for this threatening ought to be limited to the time of the ruin of Tyre, “Thou shalt not live wantonly, as formerly thou wert wont to do.”
O virgin. Metaphorically he calls her a virgin, because, previous to that time, the riches of Tyre were untouched, and had suffered no injury. This is not praise of chastity, but a witty manner of saying that the treasures which had been laid up in faithful custody will be violated. “Formerly thou didst skip lightly, like heifers in the bloom of youth; but when thou hast suffered violence, there will be an end of thy mirth;” just as if one should say, that the city of Venice has not lost her virginity because it has not been taken by force since it was built.
Daughter of Sidon. He continues to speak of Tyre, but gives it this name, because it was built by the Sidonians, though the daughter excelled the mother, as frequently happens in human affairs. The convenience and situation of the place gave a superiority to the inhabitants of Tyre, and Sidon became but an appendage. From the book of Kings it is evident enough (1Ki 5:1) that the monarchy of Tyre had a high reputation, but here the Prophet looked at its origin.
Pass over to Chittim. When he bids them pass over to Chittim, he banishes them not only into Cilicia, but into countries still more distant; for under this name he includes Greece, Italy, and other countries; as if he had said, “When thou shalt change thy residence on account of banishment, thou shalt have no settled habitation in neighboring countries; but thou must wander through the whole world, shalt be dragged into unknown countries, and even there thou shalt find no rest.” Lastly, he means that the ruin will be so lamentable, that they will not have among neighbors, and, after crossing the sea, they will not have among foreigners, a place of rest.
13. Behold, the land of the Chaldeans. He now confirms by an example what he predicted about the taking of Tyre; for those things could scarcely obtain credit, especially among the inhabitants of Tyre, who thought that they were very far from such ruin. I am aware that this passage is explained in various ways, but I shall not spend time in refuting the opinions of others. It will be enough if I shall state, as far as I am able to form a judgment of it, the Prophet’s real meaning.
The people of the Chaldeans was not; that is, they had no name; for, if we inquire into their origin, they were descended from the Assyrians, as is evident from Ge 10:11. He therefore says truly, that they were not at first a nation, but were concealed under the name of another, so that they did not form a separate body.
Ashur founded it for the inhabitants of the wilderness. The words which we have rendered “inhabitants of the wilderness” others translate ships, but we do not approve of that exposition. What we at first stated is preferable, namely, that the Assyrians gave a settled condition to the Chaldeans, who formerly led a wandering life in the deserts under skins, 113 but were collected into cities, and trained to higher civilization, by the Assyrians. This is also the meaning of the word עוררו (gnōrĕrū,) namely, that they erected and built cities; for we cannot agree with those who render it “to destroy.” 114 What happened?
He brought it to ruin. That is, to use a common expression, “The daughter has devoured the mother;” for the Assyrian monarchy was overturned by the Chaldeans, though it was more powerful and flourishing than all the others. It will be said, what has this to do with Tyre? We answer, it is because Tyre will be overthrown by the Assyrians and Chaldeans. Since therefore the Chaldeans, who formerly were no people, could conquer the Assyrians and subject them to their power, why should we wonder if both united should conquer Tyre? Since the Lord gave such a display of his power in the case of the Assyrians, why should Tyre rely on her riches? She will undoubtedly be made to feel the hand of God, and her power will be of no avail to her.
14. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish. He repeats what he formerly said; for the Cilicians, on account of their vicinity, constantly traded with the inhabitants of Tyre. He bids their ships howl, because, when that harbour is shut up, the merchants will be struck with amazement at not having their ordinary intercourse. He calls that harbour which they visited, their strength, not only because it was a place of resort that might be relied on, but because there was no other way in which their voyages could yield profit.
15. And it shall come to pass in that day. After having spoken of the taking of Tyre, he next declares how long her calamity shall endure. It happens that cities which have been ruined are suddenly restored, and regain their former position; but the Prophet testifies that this city will be desolate and ruinous for seventy years. By being forgotten he means that there will be no merchandise, because she will not have the ordinary course of trade.
According to the days of one king. 115 Some think that the days of one king relate to David, but that is exceedingly frivolous, for “the days of a king” are put for the age of a man, in the same manner as the age of a man is shewn by the Psalmist to be generally limited to seventy years. (Ps 90:10.) But why did he mention “a king” rather than any other man? It was because Tyre had a king, and reckoned time by the life of a king. This contributed greatly to establish the certainty of the prediction, for the Prophet could not have ascertained it by human conjectures.
Tyre shall have a song like that of a harlot. By “the song of a harlot” he employs a beautiful comparison to denote merchandise; not that in itself it ought to be condemned, for it is useful and necessary to a commonwealth, but he alludes to the fraud and dishonesty with which it frequently abounds, so that it may justly be compared to the occupation of a harlot.
16. Take a harp. He compares Tyre to a harlot, who, after having spent the whole period of her youth in debauchery, has at length grown old, and on that account is forsaken and despised by all, and yet cannot forget her former gain and lewdness, but desires to grow young again and renew her loves, and, in order to attract men, goes about the city, delighting their ears by songs and musical instruments. Such prostitutes are seized with some kind of madness, when they perceive that they are disregarded on account of their old age; and we see that Horace mocks at Lydia on this account. 116 Thus Tyre, after having been ruined, and as it were buried in oblivion, will again put forth her efforts, and schemes, and contrivances, for recovering her former condition.
Make sweet melody. By the “harp” and “sweet melody,” he means the tricks, and frauds, and blandishments, and flatteries of merchants, by which they impose on men, and as it were drive them into their nets. In a word, he shews by what methods mercantile cities become rich, that is, by deceitful and unlawful methods; and therefore he says, that Tyre will regale their ears by pleasant melody.
Sing many songs. That is, Tyre will add fraud to fraud, and allurements to allurements, that at length she may attract all to her, may be again remembered by men, and recover her former celebrity. In short, as an old harlot contrives methods for regaining the favor of men, and allures them by painting, and ornaments, and dress, and songs, and musical instruments, so will Tyre recover her wealth and power by the same arts with which she formerly succeeded. And yet he does not on that account exhort Tyre to restore herself in this way, but proceeds with his prophecy.
17. Jehovah will visit Tyre. 117 Although the Lord will afflict Tyre in such a manner that she will appear to be ruined, yet he declares that she will obtain mercy, because, rising at length out of her ruins, she will be restored to her former vigor. Such a restoration is justly ascribed to the favor of God; for otherwise the same thing must have happened to them as Malachi foretells would happen to the Edomites, that the Lord would overturn and destroy all that men would build. (Mal 1:4.) Consequently they would never have returned to their former condition if the Lord had not aided them.
From these words we ought to draw a profitable doctrine, that though the Lord is a severe judge towards the wicked, yet he leaves room for the exercise of his compassion, and is never so harsh as not to mitigate his chastisements, and at length to put an end to them. And if he is such towards the wicked, what will he be towards those whom he has adopted, and on whom he determines to pour out his goodness? When kingdoms therefore are re-established, when cities are rebuilt, and nations regain their freedom, this is brought about solely by the providence of God, who, whenever he pleases, lays low what is high, (1Sa 2:7, Lu 1:52,) and quickly raises up and restores what was fallen.
And then she will return to her hire. This ought to be viewed as a contrast to the former statement, for the meaning is, that Tyre will be no better, and will not be reformed by so severe a chastisement, because she will quickly return to her natural disposition; for he accuses her of ingratitude. We see instances of the same kind every day. There is scarcely a corner of the world in which the Lord has not exhibited proofs of his judgment. To those whom he has chastised he allows time to breathe, but they become no better. Isaiah says that this will happen to Tyre.
She will commit fornication. “She will not repent, but, on the contrary, will return to her former courses. She will commit fornication, as she was formerly accustomed to do.” He unquestionably speaks of buying and selling, but continues to employ the comparison which he had adopted; not that he wishes to condemn the occupation of a merchant, as we have already said, but that it is so largely mingled with the corruption of men as to resemble closely the life of a harlot; for it is so full of tricks, and hidden stratagems, and deep-laid traps, (as we often see,) that it appears to have been contrived for the purpose of ensnaring and deceiving men. How many new and unheard of contrivances for making gain and exacting usury are every day invented, which no one who has not been long trained in the school of merchandise can understand? We need not wonder, therefore, that the Prophet made use of this comparison, for it means that Tyre will have no more honesty than before in mercantile transactions.
18. But her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord. This was another instance of the divine compassion towards Tyre. Though she had been restored, yet she was not converted to God, but continued to follow dishonest practices, so that she justly deserved to be ruined. And indeed she was again punished severely, when Alexander took the city by storm; but still the kingdom of Christ, as Luke informs us, was erected there. (Ac 21:4.) This verse ought therefore to be viewed as contrasted with the former, as if he had said, “And yet the merchandise of Tyre shall be consecrated to God.” Here we have an astonishing proof of the goodness of God, which penetrated not only into this abominable brothel, but almost into hell itself. The restoration of Tyre ought thus to be regarded as a proof of the goodness of God; but the former favor was small in comparison with the second, when God consecrated her to himself.
But a question arises, “Could that which the inhabitants of Tyre obtained by cheating and unlawful methods be offered to God in sacrifice?” For God abhors such sacrifices, and demands an honest and pure conscience. (Pr 21:27, Isa 1:13.) Many commentators, in expounding this passage, give themselves much uneasiness about this question, but without any good reason; for the Prophet does not mean that the merchandise of Tyre will be consecrated to God while she continues to commit fornication, but describes a time subsequent to her change and conversion. At that time she will not lay up riches for herself, will not amass them by unlawful methods, but will employ them in the service of God, and will spend the produce of her merchandise in relieving the wants of the godly. When he used a word expressive of what was disgraceful, he had his eye on the past, but intimated that she would unlearn those wicked practices, and change her disposition.
It shall not be treasured nor laid up. He describes, in a few words, the repentance of Tyre, who, having formerly been addicted to avarice, has been converted to Christ, and will no longer labor to amass riches, but will employ them in kind and generous actions; and this is the true fruit of repentance, as Paul admonishes, that “he who stole should steal no more, but, on the contrary, should labor that he might relieve the poor and needy.” (Eph 4:28.) Isaiah foretells that the inhabitants of Tyre, who formerly, through insatiable avarice, devoured the riches of all, will henceforth take pleasure in generous actions, because they will no longer have an insatiable desire of gain. It is an evidence of brotherly love when we relieve our neighbors, as it is an evidence of cruelty if we suffer them to be hungry, especially when we ourselves have abundance.
Her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the Lord. He next mentions a proper method of exercising generosity, which is, to employ their wealth in aiding the servants of God. Though he includes all godly persons, yet he alludes to the Levites and priests, some of whom sacrificed, while others made ready the sacrifices, and others kept watch, and, in short, all were ready to perform their duty; and therefore they were said to “dwell before the Lord.” (Nu 3:1-4:49.) The same thing may justly be said of all the ministers of the Church. But as all believers, of whatever rank they are, belong to the sanctuary of God, and have been made by Christ “a royal priesthood,” (1Pe 2:9; Re 1:6,) that they may stand in the presence of God, so I willingly regard this passage as relating to all “the household of faith,” (Ga 6:10,) to whom attention is especially due; for Paul holds them out as having the highest claims, and enjoins that they shall be first relieved. If the tie which binds us universally to mankind ought to prevent us from “despising our own flesh,” (Isa 58:7,) how much more the tie that binds the members of Christ, which is closer and more sacred than any natural bonds?
We ought also to attend to this mode of expression, by which we are said to “dwell before God;” 118 for though there is not now any “Ark of the Covenant,” (Heb 9:4,) yet, through the kindness of Christ, we approach more nearly to God than the Levites formerly did. We are therefore enjoined to “walk before him,” as if we were under his eye, that we may follow holiness and justice with a pure conscience. We are enjoined to walk before him, and always to consider him as present, that we may be just and upright.
That they may eat till they are satisfied. 119 The Prophet means that we ought to supply the wants of brethren with greater abundance and generosity than what is customary among men; for when neighbors ought to be relieved, men are very niggardly. Few men perform cheerfully any gratuitous duty, or labor, or kindness; for they reckon that they give up and take from their own property all that they bestow on others. For the purpose of correcting this error, God highly commends cheerfulness; for the command which Paul gives to deacons, “to distribute joyfully,” (Ro 12:8,) ought to be applied to all; and all ought to remember that passage which declares that “God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2Co 9:7.)
It deserves our attention, also, that the Prophet says that what is bestowed on the poor is consecrated to God; as the Spirit elsewhere teaches, that “with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb 13:16; 2Co 9:12.) Never was it on his own account that he commanded sacrifices to be made, nor did he ever stand in need of them. But under the law he ordained such exercises of piety; and he now commands us to bestow and spend on our neighbors something that is our own, and declares that all that we lay out on their account 120 is “a sacrifice of sweet savor,” (Php 4:18,) and is approved and accepted by him. This ought powerfully to inflame us to the exercise of kindness and generosity, when we learn that our alms are so highly applauded, and that our hands, as well as our gift, are consecrated to God.
A slight change of spelling makes it necessary to remind the reader of the English Bible, that the “Chittim” were the descendants of Kittim, (Ge 10:4,) a son of Javan, and grandson of Japheth. — Ed.
FT359 “Et les papiers des marchans espars çà et là;” — “And the merchants’ accounts scattered hither and thither.”
FT360 “Les Egyptiens;” — “The Egyptians.”
FT361 The Roman stadium or furlong = 125 paces = 625 feet. A Roman mile = 1000 paces = 5000 feet. An English mile = 1760 yards = 5280 feet. Therefore a Roman mile is to an English mile as 5000 to 5280, or as 125 to 132; and the number of English miles is to that of Roman miles in the inverse ratio of 132 to 125; so that 200 stadia = 25 Roman miles = somewhat less than 24 English miles. It ought to be remembered, that the author does not profess to state the exact distance, but gives it in round numbers. — Ed
FT362 “The seed of Sihor.” — Eng. Ver. שחר, (shīchōr,) and יאור, (yĕōr,) are the Hebrew and Egyptian names of the Nile. The first, according to its etymology, means black, and corresponds to Μέλας and Melo, of Greek and Latin names of the same river, all derived from the color of the water, or the mud which it deposits.” — Alexander
FT363 “As at the report concerning Egypt.” — Eng. Ver. Luther’s version runs thus:— “Gleichwie man erschrak, da man von Egyptian hörete; also wird man auch erschrecken, wenn man von Tyrus hören wird;” — “Like as they were terrified when they heard of Egypt; so will they also be terrified when they shall hear of Tyre.” — Ed
FT364 “Tyre at this time was seated on an island; after Alexander’s conquest it was rebuilt on the continent.” — Stock
FT365 “Leurs registres et papiers de comtes;” — “Their records and account-books.”
FT366 “The trade carried on by the Phoenicians of Sidon and Tyre,” says an able historian, “was extensive and adventurous; and both in their manners and policy, they resemble the great commercial states of modern times, more than any people in the ancient world.” After mentioning the navigation to Tyre as the earliest route of communication with India, he goes on to say, “To this circumstance, which, for a considerable time, secured to them a monopoly of that trade, was owing, not only the extraordinary wealth of individuals, which rendered the ‘merchants of Tyre, princes and her traffickers the honorable of the earth,’ (Isa 23:8,) but the extensive power of the state itself, which first taught men to conceive what vast resources a commercial people possess, and what great exertions they are capable of making.” He adds in a note, “The power and opulence of Tyre, in the prosperous age of its commerce, must have attracted general attention. In the prophecies of Ezekiel, who flourished two hundred and sixty years before the fall of Tyre, there is the most particular account of the nature and variety of its commercial transactions that is to be found in any ancient writer; and which conveys, at the same time, a magnificent idea of the extensive power of that state.” — Robertson’s Historical Disquisition concerning the Knowledge which the Ancients had of India
FT367 “There is no more strength.” — Eng. Ver. “There is no mound now left.” — Stock
FT368 “The Lord hath given a commandment against the merchant-city.” — Eng. Ver. “Jehovah hath given a charge concerning Canaan.” — Stock.
“And he said, Thou shalt no more rejoice.” Eng. Ver.
FT370 “Sous des tentes de peaux;” — “Under tents of skins.”
FT371 “They raised up the palaces thereof.” — Eng. Ver. “Erected her palaces.” — Stock. Professor Alexander renders it, “They have roused up her palaces;” but says, “According to the usual interpretation, the towers mentioned are those used in ancient sieges; the masculine suffix refers to עם, (gnām;) the feminine suffix to Tyre; and עורר (gnōrēr) may be taken either in the sense of raising, (from ערר, gnārăr,) or in that of rousing, (from עור, gnūr,) that is, filling with confusion and alarm.”
FT372 “That is, of one kingdom. See Dan. 7:17, Dan. 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 conquered by Nebuchadnezzar were to be restored to liberty.” — Lowth
FT373 “Que le poete Horace s’est moqué d’une putain nommee Lydia pour la mesme occasion;” — “That the Poet Horace mocked at a prostitute named Lydia for the same reason.”
FT374 “Tyre, after its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, recovered, as 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 neighboring 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 Mamalukes, and afterwards taken from them by the Turks in 1516. Since that time it has sunk into utter decay, is now 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; Bishop Newton on the Prophecies, Dissert. xi.” — Lowth
FT375 “The revenues of Tyre shall be employed in supporting the worshippers of the true God. The prophecy intimates that Tyre should be converted to the religion of Christ as it was in the earliest times of the gospel. Of the same event David also had prophesied in Ps. 45:12, Ps. 72:10, Ps. 87:4.” — Stock
FT376 “Afin qu’ils mangent leur saoul;” — “That they may eat their fill.”
FT377 “Tout ce que nous employons pour la necessité de nos freres;” — “All that we spend for relieving the want of our brethren.”