The Life, Times And Message Of Isaiah The Prophet PART XXIII
ISAIAH, CHAPTERS 21-23
A PREDICTION ABOUT THE FALL OF BABYLON
1 The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea.
As whirlwinds in the Negev, sweeping on,
It comes from the desert, from a terrible land.
2 A grievous vision is declared to me:
The spoiler spoils, the destroyer destroys.
Go up, Elam! Besiege, O Media!
All the sighing I have caused to cease.
3 Therefore are my loins filled with convulsion,
Pangs have taken hold of me, like the pangs of a woman in birth.
I am so contorted that I cannot hear,
So dismayed that I cannot see.
4 My heart beats wildly, terror has gripped me,
The darkness which I craved has turned for me into trembling.
5 They prepare the table, set the watch,
They eat, they drink.
Arise, you princes, anoint the shield!
6 For the Lord has thus said to me:
Go and set a watchman, what he will see, let him declare.
7 And he saw riders, horsemen in pairs
Riders upon donkeys, riders upon camels,
And he listened keenly, very keenly.
8 And he cried like a lion:
I stand upon my lookout, O Lord, all day long,
And am set upon my watch all the nights.
9 And behold riders are coming, horsemen in pairs.
And he shouted and said “Fallen, fallen is Babylon!”
And all the graven images of her gods,
He has dashed to the ground.
10 O, my threshed ones, and child of my threshing floor,
That which I have heard from the LORD of hosts,
The God of Israel, that have I declared to you.
Isaiah chapters 21-22 record a series of four oracles which deal with the downfall of Babylon (21:1-10), of Edom (v. 11-12), of Arabia (v. 13-14), and of Jerusalem (22:1-14). This is followed by a prediction against the arrogant and self-seeking king’s steward, Shebna (v. 15:25).
The authenticity of chapter 21, just as of many other parts of Isaiah (chapters 13-14, 40-66), has been questioned, mainly because of its predictive character. However, we have already indicated that the foretelling of future events is an integral part of the prophetic message.
1 Isaiah is fond of symbolic names and descriptions which dramatize his messages. “The wilderness of the sea” is a symbolic name for Babylonia, a land floating as it were, amidst the marshes and waters of the lower Euphrates. Jeremiah (51:13) calls Babylon “a land which dwells upon many waters.” When the Euphrates flooded the land, Babylon was indeed like a land in the sea.
Just as the whirlwinds in the Negev, or the south swept with violent force northward, so also will the armies assembled against Babylon sweep out with devastating force from the south and east beyond the Euphrates. This event actually took place during the reign of Cyrus, who in 539 B.C. brought to an end the Assyro-Babylonian empire.
2 A grievous vision. . . . There is an innate gentleness in Isaiah, which shrinks with horror at the sight of carnage and destruction, even when its victims are the enemies of Israel.
The spoiler spoils, the destroyer destroys. This refers to the ravaging actions of the armies of Elam and Media, who were part of the forces of Cyrus. Their victory will put an end to all the sighing of the oppressed nations.
3-4 Describes in vivid detail the effect of the terrible vision upon the sensitive spirit of the prophet.
The darkness I longed for. . . . Normally night brings soothing sleep to the anguished soul, but to the prophet the darkness only brings acute disturbance and nightmares.
5 The scene changes. The prophet is transported in spirit to Babylon, where he sees the nobles assembled for feasting, unaware and not caring about their mortal danger.
Herodotus, the Greek historian of the 5th century, B.C., describes in detail the enormous fortifications of Babylon, which, in addition, was also protected by an artificial wide moat, made by the famous queen Semiramis, who diverted the course of the Euphrates, making it run in serpentine fashion between the walls of the city.
But Cyrus’ engineers drained the moat by turning its waters into a nearby marshland. Thus the Persians were able to enter the city unawares, walking along the former river bed straight into the city, while the Babylonians were feasting and dancing. Herodotus adds that the city was so immense that those in the center did not even realize that the enemy was already in their midst. Isaiah addresses himself to the banqueting princes to arise and prepare for battle against the approaching enemy.1
6-9 In contrast to the careless watchman set by the carousing Babylonians, who failed to warn their masters, God has set His own faithful watchman, the prophet himself, to look into the approaching events with all the keenness of his spirit and his senses. The prophet stands on watch day and night, giving faithful warning about everything that the Lord has shown him.
He sees the approaching enemy, riding on horses, camels and asses, animals, which were used not only as mounts for the cavalry, but for carrying equipment and also to cause confusion in the ranks of the enemies. The prophet-watchman sees the enemy cavalcade entering the city, then emerging with the triumphant shout: Fallen, fallen is Babylon. This triumphant shout was later echoed by St. John: Babylon the great is fallen and is become the habitation of devils and every foul spirit. (Rev. 18:2). Already in Isaiah’s vision, Babylon is the symbol of universal tyranny and injustice, under which all the nations groan and languish.
In the book of Revelation, Babylon symbolizes the wicked world powers, which openly defy God and His Anointed, and which eventually will be crushed by the Son of God.
10 With infinite compassion the prophet turns to his people, whom he calls “my threshed ones and child of my threshing floor,” with the assurance that their tormentors, who threshed them so long, will themselves be destroyed and that a new dawn will soon come for them. He assures his people that his vision is from God, and not the product of his own fond hopes.
11-12 The Oracle concerning Edom
11 The oracle of Dumah. Someone calls to me from Seir:
Watchman! How far is it into the night?
Watchman! How far in the night?
12 The watchman says:
The morning is coming, and also night,
If you will inquire, inquire; Return, come!
This brief, rather enigmatic oracle deals with the land of Edom, called here Dumah, a word with a double meaning. First, Dumah was a region of Idumea, or Edom, near the mountain of Seir. Dumah also means “silence,” or “a place of silence.” “Dumah” therefore symbolizes the destiny of Edom, the hereditary enemy of Israel. It will one day become a silent, forsaken and forgotten place. The old abandoned city of Petra, built by the Nabateans in the last two centuries B.C., was located in ancient Edom. An eerie, haunted, silent place—Dumah.
The prophet hears a voice coming from Seir with the anxious query: Watchman, how far is the night spent, When will morning come? The watchman, who is the prophet himself, answers: The morning will come, but then night will fall again.
The prophet uses two words which are not Hebrew but Aramaic. They are “atha” come—(like in Maran-atha–Lord come), and “Thibayun,”—”inquire.” (It is related to the Hebrew “shuv”—to return.)
Aramaic, a language closely related to the Babylonian and other Semitic tongues, was the lingua franca, the common language of the Middle East. Perhaps the prophet was hinting that the downfall of Edom will be at the hands of an Aramaic speaking people.
The sense of the prophet’s answer is: “The night of your present turmoil will end, and a new day will follow, but soon another night will come. If you seek a comforting answer to your anxious inquiries, you must first “return,” a word which also means “to repent.” Only then will the answer be such as you hoped for; the night of your suffering will come to an end. And a new bright morning of deliverance will dawn upon you.”
The Edomite inquirer voices man’s eternally agonizing question: “How long will the night of suffering and violence last, how soon will day come?” It has a universal significance. It is the cry of mankind in the midst of a nightmare of mutually inflicted torment and endless horror. The prophetic answer given to the Edomites and to every passing generation is still the same. “If you seek a solution to your problems, you must come back to God, “shuvu” – return and repent. Otherwise there can only be one dark night of horror followed by another, with only brief intervals in between.
13 The oracle concerning Arabia
14 In the thickets of Arabia shall you spend the night, you caravans of the Dedanites. Bring water to meet the thirsty ones. The inhabitants of the land of Teman will bring bread for the fugitives.
15 For they fled from swords, from drawn swords and from the bent bow. From the hardships of war.
16 For thus did the Lord say to me, In a year’s time, like the year of a hireling, and all the flower of Kedar will fade away.
17 And the remnant of the numbers of archers, the mighty men of Kedar, shall be slight, for the LORD God of Israel has spoken.
Another enigmatic oracle concerning an Arab merchant tribe, the Dedanites, a people living in the brushland wilderness of Arabia.
14-15 The word “Arab” in Hebrew has a double meaning, depending on which vowel signs are used, it may mean either “Arab” or “evening.” Thus “The oracle concerning ‘Arabia’,” may also mean “The oracle concerning the evening.” Evening is approaching for the Dedanites. The enemy, probably the Assyrians or the Babylonians, will cause them to flee from their native land east of Edam and to seek shelter in the vast desert of Arabia. There, their kinsmen, the Arabs of Yemen, will give them bread and water to help them survive.
16 This prophecy will come to pass exactly in a year (“as the year of a hireling” which means not a day less or more.)
The glory of Kedar. Kedar is an Arab tribe of northern Arabia. Together the Dedanites and the Kedarites represent all of the inhabitants of Arabia, from south to north. Their glory or pride was in their military prowess, especially in their excellent archers. This glory will soon disappear because the God of Israel has so decreed.
The basic thought which the prophet voices is that the destiny of all peoples, regardless how strong, is in the hands of the God of Israel, and what He has decreed for their future, must come to pass.
1. Herodotus, The Histories, Book One, 193.
A LAMENT OVER JERUSALEM
1 The oracle concerning the valley of vision.
What is it with thee now,
That all of thee has gone up to the rooftops?
2 Thou art full of uproar, a boisterous city,
A proud citadel.
Thy slain ones were not slain by the sword,
and were not killed in battle.
3 All thy leaders have fled together,
They were fettered without bow,
All who were found of thee were bound together,
They fled far away.
4 Therefore said I, look away from me.
I will weep bitterly.
Press not upon me consolation
For the spoiling of the daughters of my people.
5 For it is a day of trouble, of trampling down and perplexity
From the Lord, the LORD of hosts, in the Valley of Vision.
A breaking of the wall, and of crying, echoing against the mountains.
6 And Elam bore the quiver,
With chariots of men and horsemen
And Kir uncovered the shield
7 And it came to pass in that day,
That the choicest valleys were full of chariots
And the horsemen set themselves in array against the gate.
8 And he laid bare the covering of Judah,
And in that day thou didst look
To the armament in the forest house.
9 And didst see the breaches of the city of David,
That they were many, and you gathered together
10 The waters of the lower pool. And you numbered the houses
And you broke down the houses to reinforce the wall.
11 And you made a reservoir between the walls
For the waters of the old pool.
But you looked not to Him Who had done this,
Neither did you regard Him, Who fashioned it long ago.
12 And in that day, did the Lord, the LORD of hosts, call
to weeping and to mourning
To baldness, and to girding of sackcloth.
13 And behold joy and gladness,
Slaughtering of oxen and killing of sheep,
Eating of flesh and drinking of wine.
“Let us eat and drink,
For tomorrow we shall die”
14 And the Lord, the LORD of hosts, has revealed
Himself in my ears:
“Surely this iniquity shall not be expiated
for you, until you die, saith the Lord, the LORD
Comment: Introductory remarks:
The exact historical circumstances of this prophecy are difficult to establish, but it appears to relate to that period when the Assyrian armies under Sennacherib made an unsuccessful attempt in 702-701 B.C. to take Jerusalem.
The city was spared, because of divine intervention, but not before the invading Assyrian armies had captured many other cities in Judah, and thousands of the defenders were carried away into captivity.
The prophet saw that the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib was merely a reprieve, and that the final calamity was only a matter of time, unless her people repented and turned to God.
But, instead of repenting, Jerusalem went on a wild spree of orgies, of eating and drinking and being merry, “for tomorrow we shall die.” (v. 13)
For such defiant and incorrigible refusal to repent, there can be no expiation, but only death, physically and eternally.
1-4 The Valley of Vision
Jerusalem was built on several hills, with valleys running between them. The city is surrounded by high mountains. In relation to these mountains, Jerusalem appeared to be in a valley. It is quite possible that Isaiah himself lived in one of the valleys in the city, where the Lord vouchsafed to him the visions and prophecies recorded in his book.
What is it with thee now?
Such is the literal translation of te Hebrew and not as in the KJC “What ails thee now.”
The problem of the Jerusalemites was that they did not discern and cause for apprehension or alarm. Nothing ailed them. Their mood was one of joyful celebration, because the Assyrians have unexpectedly departed from the gates of the city. Isaiah shows us the citizens of Jerusalem on the flat rooftops of their homes going wild with shouting and jubilation (v. 1). The prophet expresses amazement at their short sightedness and their lack of humble thanksgiving to God for their narrow escape. So he reminds them that far from having experienced a victory, they were, by the mercy of God, merely spared complete disaster.
Thy slain ones were not slain by the sword,
Thy dead ones did not die in battle.
Her leaders were captured and killed, or were taken prisoners as they were trying to escape, and not in honorable battle.
4-5 Therefore said I, look away from me.
What a dramatic contrast between the foolish inhabitants of Jerusalem, celebrating their momentary reprieve, completely unmindful of God, and the prophet, whose heart is breaking because of the folly of his people, and the awesome future which he foresees.
Isaiah,weeping bitterly over Jerusalem, reminds us of Jesus weeping over that city as He sees her terrible future. (Luke 19:41-44)
Jerusalem has frequently been the cause of tears and heartbreak to her prophets.
5 For it is a day of trouble, of trampling and perplexity from the Lord.
Isaiah foresees the day of disaster, the siege, the breaking down of the walls, the cry of misery and anguish echoing back from the hills.
6 Elam and Kir, two Eastern provinces of Assyria. Their horsemen and bowmen were dreaded by all.
7-8 The invading armies which filled the valleys of Judah laid bare the weakness of her fortifications. It was then that the leaders of Jerusalem took stock of their armament, stored up “in the forest house”—the armory of Jerusalem.
9-11 The military leaders noticed the weak parts of the city walls and took steps to correct the situation by tearing down some of the houses, to obtain materials for the reinforcement of the fortifications.
The water supply was augmented by certain engineering projects and by providing Jerusalem with an adequate water supply from a reservoir located between the city walls.
These plans, anticipated by the prophet, were actually carried out by Hezekiah, perhaps at the behest of Isaiah himself (2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30).
The prophet was not opposed to any sensible military precautions which the defenders of Jerusalem undertook to protect their city. He was merely outraged by the fact, that in all their plans and precautions the inhabitants of Jerusalem gave no thought to their outraged God, Who brought upon them their predicament:
You looked not unto Him Who had done this,
Neither did you regard Him Who fashioned it long ago. (v. 11)
12 When the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going wild in a frenzy of celebrations because of their supposed victory, that was “that day” when the Lord gave them another opportunity to go into deep mourning and of pleading with Him for mercy.
13 But instead Jerusalem indulged in a riotous orgy of gorging themselves with meat and wine.
Let us eat and drink
For tomorrow we die.
These words express the mood of the godless masses: “let us enjoy ourselves while we can, tomorrow we shall die anyway.”
The Lord has revealed it in my ears. This expression provides us with an interesting insight into the way the Lord sometimes conveyed His message to the prophets. Sometimes He whispers His message into the ear of the prophet, as the still small voice. Sometimes He speaks audibly, as in Isaiah 6:8a.
And I heard the voice of God saying
Surely this sin will not be expiated. (v. 14)
The Hebrew word for “expiated” has the same root as the word “Yom Kippur—”The day of atonement.”
Their sin was willful and defiant disregard of God. This sin shall not be atoned for.
Those who sin in this manner shall die.
The Targum, the ancient Aramaic paraphrase of this passage renders it “till ye die the second death”—That is eternal death.1
1. Quoted by Delitzsch Vol. I p. 397.
THE ARROGANT ROYAL STEWARD
15 Thus says the Lord, the LORD of hosts:
Go, get thee to that steward, to Shebna
Who is over the house
16 What hast thou here, and whom hast thou here,
That thou hast hewn for thyself a tomb high up, And carved out a mausoleum for thyself in the rock?
17 Behold the LORD will fling thee away, With the flinging of a (powerful) man, And will twist thee round and round
18 And toss thee away like a bundle,
Like a ball (tossed) into an open land.
There will you die and there will be
The chariots of thy glory.
19 And I will thrust thee from thy position,
And I will pull thee down from thy station.
20 In that day it shall come to pass,
That I will call my servant Eliakim
The son of Hilkiah.
21 And I will invest him with thy robe,
And I will bind him with thy girdle.
And thy government will I commit into his hands,
And he will be a father to the inhabitant of Jerusalem,
And to the house of Judah.
22 And the key of the house of David I will put on his shoulder,
He will close and none will open, And he shall open and none will close
23 And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place,
And he shall be for a throne of honor to his father’s house
24 And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house,
The offspring and the offshoots, all the small vessels
From the cups to all the vessels of flagons.
25 In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, will the peg
fastened in a sure place give way, and it shall be
cast down and fall, and the burden which was upon
it shall be cut off; for the LORD has spoken.
Judging from his Aramaic name, Shebna was an alien who settled in Jerusalem, without roots in the country or among the aristocracy of Judah (v. 16). Apparently, through innate shrewdness and ruthlessness, he attained the highest position in the land, as steward and head of the royal household. It was a position roughly equivalent to prime minister, personal confidant of the king and chief administrator of the royal household. This gave Shebna almost unlimited powers which, unfortunately, he did not use in the best interest of his master, nor of the nation, but for self aggrandizement and enrichment. Isaiah bluntly called him “a disgrace to his master.” Incidentally, such an insult against the highest official in the land, indicates the fearlessness of the prophet, as well as the measure of freedom which the prophets were able to exercise in ancient Judah, until the times of Manasseh.
Inordinately ambitious, Shebna sought to perpetuate his name by carving for himself a choice burial place in a high rock of Jerusalem, where the aristocracy and the kings were buried. (v. 10)
Now the Lord commanded Isaiah to declare to Shebna, that he will be cast down violently from his high position and tossed into exile into a wide open country, probably Babylon. The Lord will entrust his office and powers to Eliakim, a more worthy person who, in contrast to Shebna, will be like a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. (v. 21)
The robe and the girdle were emblems of high office as right-hand man to the king.
The key of the house of David was probably a real key which went with the office of royal steward, but was also a symbol of his powers to open the treasury of the king, and of his favors. Any promotion in the king’s service was dependent on him. (v. 22)
This misused position of great power and honor shall be entrusted to a more worthy servant of God, namely Eliakim. (v. 23-24)
However, in this grand prophecy, couched in Messianic terms, there is an air of foreboding: Eliakim, who is likened to “a sure peg” in the kingdom of his master, upon which all kind of honorable and dependable service hinges, will in time become an abused peg, upon which all his children, grandchildren, distant relatives and friends shall fasten themselves (the small vessels and the large flagons of v. 24), until they will pull down the peg and fall down together with its overload. Isaiah foresees that nepotism will cause the downfall of Eliakim’s house.
There is a warning which applies to every generation and time. On the one hand, there are the wicked and self-seeking stewards, like Shebna, and on the other, there are the stewards like Eliakim, who, honorable and good themselves, allow unworthy relatives or friends to abuse their trust, bringing disaster upon themselves and their benefactor.
The book of Isaiah does not inform us about the final destiny of Shebna or of Eliihani. Both are mentioned again in Isaiah 36:22 and 37:2. Eliakim apparently became head of Hezekiah’s household in place of Shebna who held the less important position of scribe. It is even possible that Shebna later repented.
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE PHOENICIAN CITIES
1 An oracle concerning Tyre.
Wail you ships of Tarshish,
For it is destroyed, so that there is no home to enter.
This was revealed to them from the land of Cyprus.
2 Be still, you inhabitants of the coast,
And you sea-faring merchants, their suppliers.
3 Who ply many waters, with the sowing of Sichor,
Whose revenue is the harvest of the Nile,
And the trade with nations.
4 Be confounded, O Sidon, thou stronghold of the sea,
For the sea has said:
I have not travailed, nor given birth,
I have not raised young men,
Nor brought up young maidens.
5 When this report reached Egypt,
They were distressed on hearing about Tyre.
6 Cross over to Tarshish,
Wail, you inhabitants of the coast.
7 Is this your proud city,
Whose origin is in antiquity,
Whose feet carried her to distant places to settle?
8 Who has purposed this against Tyre,
The dispenser of crowns,
Whose merchants were princes,
And her traders the nobles of the earth?
9 It is the LORD of hosts Who purposed it,
To demean the pride of all glory,
To bring into contempt the nobles of the earth.
10 Overflow your land like the Nile,
Thou daughter of Tarshish, there is no girdle any more.
11 He has stretched forth his hand upon the sea
He stirred up the kingdoms,
The LORD has commanded concerning Canaan,
That her strongholds should be demolished.
12 And He said: be proud no more,
Thou oppressed virgin daughter of Tyre.
Rise up and cross over to the land of Cyprus
Yet even there no respite awaits thee.
13 Behold the land of the Chaldees,
A people that once was not,
The Assyrians turned her
Into a habitation of desert creatures,
They have set up their siege towers,
They have destroyed her palaces, they made her a ruin.
14 Wail you ships of Tarshish,
For your stronghold is ruined.
Isaiah 23 is the last chapter in the cycle of oracles against the nations which surrounded Israel (13-23). It began with a prophecy about the downfall of Babylon, the great power of the 7th and 6th century B.C. The cycle ends with an oracle concerning the decline and eventual fall of Tyre and her Phoenician colonies, the greatest maritime and trading empire of antiquity.
Babylon represents the corruption and wickedness of brute military power, Tyre symbolizes the international trade and commerce which does not seek to serve God or humanity, but is merely interested in selfish accumulation of wealth.
Tyre with her international trade and worldwide connections reminds us of medieval Venice or of Great Britain in more recent times. Phoenicia and her colonies were the trading people, par excellence, of the ancient world.
The Phoenicians gave the European nations their alphabet, which is of semitic origin. A highly talented people, they nevertheless brought no blessing to the nations because they lacked spiritual motivation.
Isaiah’s vision reaches out beyond the fall of Tyre and of her trading empire to the times when all commerce and industry will serve the Lord and the people “who dwell before the face of the Lord.”
This is “a pregnant prophecy,” which starts from a concrete historical situation and culminates in a vision of the latter days, when the kingdoms of the earth shall become part of the Kingdom of God and of the Prince of Peace.
1 Wail you ships of Tarshish
Isaiah opens the oracle by giving us a glimpse of a Phoenician fleet returning to their home port in Tyre from a distant journey. Upon reaching Cyprus, they are informed that Tyre has been destroyed and they have no port to go back to.
2-5 When this report reaches the cities of the coastland and Egypt, they are all numbed into silence by fear. Sidon, the parent city of Tyre, is horror stricken (Sichor is the upper Nile, v. 3). The sea taunts Sidon that she is like a bereaved mother without sons or daughters, that is all the cities and colonies which she has once established.
6-9 The prophet counsels the inhabitants of the coast to cross over to Tarshish, a colony of Phoenicia in Spain, to seek refuge there (v. 6). Upon seeing the downfall of Tyre, people ask: Is this the proud trading city of antiquity, who once crowned kings and established colonies. (v. 7) Who has purposed this destiny for Tyre, the dispenser of crowns? It is the Lord Who did this to demean and to bring into contempt all the pride of men. (8-9)
10-14 Overflow the land
Now that Tyre has fallen, her daughter Tarshish is free to do as she likes, the restraining girdle is removed.
Be proud no more (v. 12). The KJV translates this: Thou shalt no more rejoice. The Hebrew word “aliza,” usually translated “rejoice,” has the nuance of joy springing from haughty self confidence.
Rise up and cross over to the land of Cyprus (v. 12)
But no respite awaits you there.
The inhabitants of Cyprus, a colony of Tyre, were not anxious to receive their erstwhile rulers and oppressors.
Behold the land of the Chaldees . . . (v. 13)
Isaiah calls the Babylonians by their archaic name Chaldees (see also Isaiah 47:1), who originally inhabited the northeastern mountains of Mesopotamia. They were later driven out by the Assyrians and forced to settle along the lower Euphrates, the land which became known as Babylon. This is why they are called by Isaiah “a people that was not,” that is a people who were once obscure, will, with their huge war machines and siege towers, in the future, destroy Tyre.
Actually, Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon besieged Tyre for 13 years (587-574 B.C.) and forced Tyre into submission. This was the beginning of the decline. Although Tyre survived and later regained some of her old trade and stature, she eventually succumbed to Rome together with her colonies. The last Phoenician colony which was razed by the Romans was Carthage, on the
north coast of Africa, destroyed in 146 B.C.
Wail you ships of Tarshish (v. 14). The oracle ends in the same way as it started.
15-18 Tyre Forgotten and Restored
15 And it shall come to pass in that day
That Tyre shall be forgotten for seventy years,
as the days of one king, but at the end
of seventy years she will fare like in the song of the harlot:
16 Take a harp, go round the city
Thou harlot, long forgotten!
Play sweetly, keep on singing,
That thou mayest be remembered
17 And at the end of seventy years, the LORD will visit Tyre and she will return to her trade and will play the harlot with all the Kingdoms of the World, that are on the face of the earth.
18 And her commerce and gain shall not be hoarded nor stored up, but shall be for the people who dwell before the face of the LORD, that they may eat to satiety and for stately attire.
15 When Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 B.C., Tyre and many other subject peoples were set free together with Israel. After a time, Tyre regained some of her former international position as world trader. We do not know exactly the year which Isaiah had in mind as the start of “seventy years.”
“The years of one king” refers to the unchangeable order of things which prevails under the reign of one and the same king.
16 After seventy years Tyre will seek her former customers. Isaiah compares Tyre to a pathetic old harlot, who, forced by poverty and old age, goes out into the streets to ply her former trade. The song of the harlot gives us a curious sidelight on certain aspects of life in the great cities of the ancient world.
17 Isaiah compares selfish trade, without the redeeming feature of service to God and to His people, to harlotry.1
18 After that, the profits from Tyre’s commerce shall no more be hoarded for selfish gain, but shall be used for the service of “the people who dwell before the face of the Lord,” a reference which primarily applied to Israel, but embraces all God’s people.
On this sublime note, that one day all gain of trade and commerce will be employed for the service of God, the great prophet Isaiah closes his series of oracles concerning the nations.
- It should be noted that in the days of Isaiah, Israel was chiefly a farming and pastoral people. Trade in Israel was largely internal, and played a minor role in the national economy. It was only during their exile that the Jews were forced to become a trading people.