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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Isaiah 23




The Oracle Concerning Tyre - Isaiah 23

The second leading type of the pride of heathen power closes the series of prophecies against the nations, as Stier correctly observes, just as Babylon opened it. Babylon was the city of the imperial power of the world; Tyre, the city of the commerce of the world. The former was the centre of the greatest land power; the latter of the greatest maritime power. The former subjugated the nations with an iron arm, and ensured its rule by means of deportation; the latter obtained possession of the treasures of the nations in as peaceable a manner as possible, and secured its advantages by colonies and factories. The Phoenician cities formed at first six or eight independent states, the government of which was in the hands of kings. Of these, Sidon was much older than Tyre. The thorah and Homer mention only the former. Tyre did not rise into notoriety till after the time of David. But in the Assyrian era Tyre had gained a kind of supremacy over the rest of the Phoenician states. It stood by the sea, five miles from Sidon; but when hard pressed by enemies it had transferred the true seat of its trade and wealth to a small island, which was three-quarters of a mile farther to the north, and only twelve hundred paces from the mainland. The strait which separated this insular Tyre (Tyrus) from ancient Tyre ( Palaetyrus ) was mostly shallow, and its navigable waters near the island had only a draught of about eighteen feet, so that on one or two occasions a siege of singular Tyre was effected by throwing up an embankment of earth - namely, once by Alexander (the embankment still in existence), and once possible by Nebuchadnezzar, for Tyre was engaged in conflict with the Chaldean empire as well as the Assyrian. Now which of these two conflicts was it that the prophet had in his mind? Eichhorn, Rosenmller Hitzig, and Movers say the Chaldean, and seek in this way to establish the spuriousness of the passage; whereas Gesenius, Maurer, Umbreit, and Knobel say the Assyrian, thinking that this is the only way of sustaining its genuineness. Ewald and Meier say the same; but they pronounce Isaiah 23:15-18 an interpolation belonging to the Persian era. De Wette wavers between the genuineness and spuriousness of the whole. In our opinion, however, as in that of Vitringa and those who tread in his footsteps, the question whether the imperial power by which Tyre was threatened was the Assyrian or the Chaldean, is a purely exegetical question, not a critical one.

Verse 1

The prophecy commences by introducing the trading vessels of Phoenicia on their return home, as they hear with alarm the tidings of the fate that has befallen their home. “Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entrance any more! Out of the land of the Chittaeans it is made known to them.” Even upon the open sea they hear of it as a rumour from the ships that they meet. For their voyage is a very long one: they come from the Phoenician colony on the Spanish Baetis, or the Guadalquivir, as it was called from the time of the occupation by the Moors. “ Ships of Tarshish ” are ships that sail to Tartessus (lxx inaccurately, πλοῖα Καρχηδόνος ). It is not improbable that the whole of the Mediterranean may have been called “the sea to Tarshish;” and hence the rendering adopted by the Targum, Jerome, Luther, and others, naves maris (see Humboldt, Kosmos , ii. 167, 415). These ships are to howl ( hēlı̄lū instead of the feminine, as in Isaiah 32:11) because of the devastation that has taken place (it is easy to surmise that Tyre has been the victim); for the home and harbour, which the sailors were rejoicing at the prospect of being able to enter once more, have both been swept away. Cyprus was the last station on this homeward passage. The Chittim (written in the legends of coins and other inscriptions with Caph and Cheth ) are the inhabitants of the Cyprian harbour of Citium and its territory. But Epiphanius, the bishop of Salamis in the island of Cyprus, says that Citium was also used as a name for the whole island, or even in a still broader sense. Cyprus, the principal mart of the Phoenicians, was the last landing-place. As soon as they touch the island, the fact which they have only heard of as a rumour upon the open sea, is fully disclosed ( niglâh ), i.e., it now becomes a clear undoubted certainty, for they are told of it by eye-witnesses who have made their escape to the island. The prophet now turns to the Phoenicians at home, who have this devastation in prospect.

Verse 2-3

“Be alarmed, ye inhabitants of the coast! Sidonian merchants, sailing over the sea, filled thee once. And the sowing of Sichor came upon great waters, the harvest of the Nile, her store; and she became gain for nations.” The suffixes of מלּא (to fill with wares and riches) and תּבוּאה (the bringing in, viz., into barns and granaries) refer to the word א י , which is used here as a feminine for the name of a country, and denotes the Phoenician coast, including the insular Tyre. “ Sidonian merchants ” are the Phoenicians generally, as in Homer; for the “great Sidon” of antiquity ( Zidon rabbâh , Joshua 11:8; Joshua 19:28) was the mother-city of Phoenicia, which so thoroughly stamped its name upon the whole nation, that Tyre is called צדנם אם upon Phoenician coins. The meaning of Isaiah 23:3 is not that the revenue of Tyre which accrued to it on the great unfruitful sea, was like a Nile-sowing, or an Egyptian harvest (Hitzig, Knobel). Such a simile would be a very beautiful one, but it is a very unlikely one, since the Phoenicians actually did buy up the corn-stores of Egypt, that granary of the ancient world, and housed the cargoes that were brought to them “upon great waters,” i.e., on the great Mediterranean. Sichor is a Hebraic form of Siris (the native name of the upper Nile, according to Dionysius Perieg. and Pliny). It signifies the black river ( Meals , Eust. on Dion. Per. 222), the black slime of which gave such fertility to the land. “ The harvest of the Nile ” is not so much an explanation as an amplification. The valley of the Nile was the field for sowing and reaping, and the Phoenician coast was the barn for this valuable corn; and inasmuch as corn and other articles of trade were purchased and bartered there, it thereby became gain (constr. of sachar , Ewald, §213, a, used in the same sense as in Isaiah 18:1-7, Isaiah 45:14, and Proverbs 3:14), i.e., the means of gain, the source of profit or provision, to whole nations, and even to many such. Others render the word “emporium;” but sâchâr cannot have this meaning. Moreover, foreigners did not come to Phoenicia, but the Phoenicians went to them (Luzzatto).

Verse 4-5

The address to the whole of the coast-land now passes into an address to the ancestral city. Isaiah 23:4 “Shudder, O Sidon; for the sea speaketh, the fortress of the sea, thus: I have not travailed, nor given birth, nor trained up young men, brought up maidens.” The sea, or more closely considered, the fortress of the sea, i.e., the rock-island on which Neo-tyrus stood with its strong and lofty houses, lifts up its voice in lamentation. Sidon, the ancestress of Canaan, must hear with overwhelming shame how Tyre mourns the loss of her daughters, and complains that, robbed as she has been of her children, she is like a barren women. For the war to have murdered her young men and maidens, was exactly the same as if she had never given birth to them or brought them up. Who is there that does not recognise in this the language of Isaiah (compare Isaiah 1:2)? - Even in Egypt the fate of Phoenicia produces alarm. Isaiah 23:5 “When the report cometh to Egypt, they tremble at the report from Tzor.” In the protasis ( Isaiah 23:5 ) l e mitzraim (to Egypt) the verb “cometh” is implied; the Caph in Isaiah 23:5 signifies simultaneousness, as in Isaiah 18:4 and Isaiah 30:19 (Ges. Thes . p. 650). The news of the fall of Tyre spreads universal terror in Egypt, because its own prosperity depended upon Tyre, which was the great market for its corn; and when such a bulwark had fallen, a similar fate awaited itself.

Verses 6-9

The inhabitants of Tyre, who desired to escape from death or transportation, are obliged to take refuge in the colonies, and the farther off the better: not in Cyprus, not in Carthage (as at the time when Alexander attacked the insular Tyre), but in Tartessus itself, the farthest off towards the west, and the hardest to reach. “Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the coast! Is this your fate, thou full of rejoicing, whose origin is from the days of the olden time, whom her feet carried far away to settle? Who hath determined such a thing concerning Tzor, the distributor of crowns, whose merchants are princes, whose traders are the chief men of the earth? Jehovah of hosts hath determined it, to desecrate the pomp of every kind of ornament, to dishonour the chief men of the earth, all of them.” The exclamation “howl ye” ( hēillu ) implies their right to give themselves up to their pain. In other cases complaint is unmanly, but here it is justifiable (compare Isaiah 15:4). In Isaiah 23:7 the question arises, whether ‛ allizâh is a nominative predicate, as is generally assumed ( “Is this, this deserted heap of ruins, your formerly rejoicing city?” ), or a vocative. We prefer the latter, because there is nothing astonishing in the omission of the article in this case (Isaiah 22:2; Ewald, 327, a ); whereas in the former case, although it is certainly admissible (see Isaiah 32:13), it is very harsh (compare Isaiah 14:16), and the whole expression a very doubtful one to convey the sense of לכם אשר עליזה קריה הזאת . To ‛ allizâh there is attached the descriptive, attributive clause: whose origin ( kadmâh , Ezekiel 16:55) dates from the days of the olden time; and then a second “whose feet brought her far away ( raglaim construed as a masculine, as in Jeremiah 13:16, for example) to dwell in a foreign land. This is generally understood as signifying transportation by force into an enemy's country. But Luzzatto very properly objects to this, partly on the ground that רגליה יבלוּה (her feet carried her) is the strongest expression that can be used for voluntary emigration, to which lâgūr (to settle) also corresponds; and partly because we miss the antithetical ועתּה , which we should expect with this interpretation. The reference is to the trading journeys which extended “far away” (whether by land or sea), and to the colonies, i.e., the settlements founded in those distant places, that leading characteristic of the Tyro-Phoenician people (this is expressed in the imperfect by yobiluâh , quam portabant ; gur is the most appropriate word to apply to such settlements: for m ērâchōk , see at Isaiah 17:13). Sidon was no doubt older than Tyre, but Tyre was also of primeval antiquity. Strabo speaks of its as the oldest Phoenician city “after Sidon;” Curtius calls it vetustate originis insignis ; and Josephus reckons the time from the founding of Tyre to the building of Solomon's temple as 240 years ( Ant. viii. 3, 1; compare Herod. ii. 44). Tyre is called hammaēatirâh , not as wearing a crown (Vulg. quondam coronata ), but as a distributor of crowns (Targum). Either would be suitable as a matter of fact; but the latter answers better to the hiphil (as hikrı̄n , hiphrı̄s , which are expressive of results produced from within outwards, can hardly be brought into comparison). Such colonies as Citium, Tartessus, and at first Carthage, were governed by kings appointed by the mother city, and dependent upon her. Her merchants were princes (compare Isaiah 10:8), the most honoured of the earth; נכבּדּי acquires a superlative meaning from the genitive connection (Ges. §119, 2). From the fact that the Phoenicians had the commerce of the world in their hands, a merchant was called c ena‛ani or c ena‛an (Hosea 12:8; from the latter, not from c in‛âni , the plural c in‛ânim which we find here is formed), and the merchandise c in‛âh . The verb c hillēl , to desecrate or profane, in connection with the “pomp of every kind of ornament,” leads us to think more especially of the holy places of both insular and continental Tyre, among which the temple of Melkarth in the new city of the former was the most prominent (according to the Arrian, Anab . ii. 16, παλαιότατον ὧν μνήμη ἀνθρωπίνη διασώζεται ). These glories, which were thought so inviolable, Jehovah will profane. “ To dishonour the chief men: l e hâkēl ( ad ignominiam deducere , Vulg.) as in Isaiah 8:22.

Verse 10

The consequence of the fall of Tyre is, that the colonies achieve their independence, Tartessus being mentioned by way of example. “Overflow thy land like the Nile, O daughter of Tarshish! No girdle restrains thee any longer.” The girdle ( m ēzach ) is the supremacy of Tyre, which has hitherto restrained all independent action on the part of the colony. Now they no longer need to wait in the harbour for the ships of the mother city, no longer to dig in the mines as her tributaries for silver and other metals. The colonial territory is their own freehold now, and they can spread themselves over it like the Nile when it passes beyond its banks and overflows the land. Koppe has already given this as the meaning of Isaiah 23:10.

Verse 11-12

The prophet now proceeds to relate, as it were, to the Pheonicio-Spanish colony, the daughter, i.e., the population of Tartessus, what has happened to the mother country. “His hand hath He stretched over the sea, thrown kingdoms into trembling; Jehovah hath given commandment concerning Kena'an , to destroy her fortresses. And He said, Thou shalt not rejoice any further, thou disgraced one, virgin daughter of Sidon! Get up to Kittim, go over; there also shalt thou not find rest.” There is no ground whatever for restricting the “kingdoms” ( m amlâcoth ) to the several small Phoenician states (compare Isaiah 19:2). Jehovah, reaching over the sea, has thrown the lands of Hither Asia and Egypto-Ethiopia into a state of the most anxious excitement, and has summoned them as instruments of destruction with regard to Kenaēan ( אל , like על in Esther 4:5). Phoenicia called itself Kena‛an (Canaan); but this is the only passage in the Old Testament in which the name occurs in this most restricted sense. לשׁמיד , for להשׁמיד , as in Numbers 5:22; Amos 8:4. The form מעזניה is more rare, but it is not a deformity, as Knobel and others maintain. There are other examples of the same resolution of the reduplication and transposition of the letters (it stands for מענזיה , possibly a Phoenician word; see Hitzig, Grabschrift , p. 16, and Levi, Phoenizische Studien , p. 17), viz., תּמנוּ in Lamentations 3:22 (vid., at Psalms 64:7), and קבנו in Numbers 23:13, at least according to the Jewish grammar (see, however, Ewald, §250, b ).

(Note: Böttcher derives the form from מעזן , a supposed diminutive; see, however, Jesurun , pp. 212-216.)

“Virgin of the daughter of Sidon” (equivalent to “virgin daughter of Sidon,” two epexegetical genitives; Ewald, §289, c ) is synonymous with Kena‛an . The name of the ancestral city (compare Isaiah 37:22) has here become the name of the whole nation that has sprung from it. Hitherto this nation has been untouched, like a virgin, but now it resembles one ravished and defiled. If now they flee across to Cyprus ( c ittiyim or c ittim ), there will be no rest for them even there, because the colony, emancipated from the Phoenician yoke, will only be too glad to rid herself to the unwelcome guests from the despotic mother country.

Verse 13-14

The prophet now proceeds to describe the fate of Phoenicia. “Behold the Chaldean land: this people that has not been ( Asshur - it hath prepared the same for desert beasts ) - they set up their siege-towers, destroy the palaces of Kena'an, make it a heap of ruins. Mourn, he ships of Tarshish: for your fortress is laid waste.” The general meaning of Isaiah 23:13, as the text now runs, is that the Chaldeans have destroyed Kenaēan , and in fact Tyre. הקימוּ (they set up) points to the plural idea of “this people,” and בּחוּניו ( chethib בּחיניו ) to the singular idea of the same; on the other hand, the feminine suffixes relate to Tyre. “They (the Chaldeans) have laid bare the palaces ( 'armenoth , from 'armoneth ) of Tyre,” i.e., have thrown them down, or burned them down to their very foundations ( עורר , from ערר = ערה , Psalms 137:7, like ערער in Jeremiah 51:58); it (the Chaldean people) has made her (Tyre) a heap of rubbish. So far the text is clear, and there is no ground for hesitation. But the question arises, whether in the words לציּי ם יסדהּ אשּׁוּר Asshur is the subject or the object. In the former case the prophet points to the land of the Chaldeans, for the purpose of describing the instruments of divine wrath; and having called them “a nation which has not been” ( היה לא ), explains this by saying that Asshur first founded the land which the Chaldeans now inhabit for them, i.e., wild hordes (Psalms 72:9); or better still (as tziyyim can hardly signify mountain hordes), that Asshur has made it (this nation, ע ם fem., as in Jeremiah 8:5; Exodus 5:16) into dwellers in steppes (Knobel), which could not be conceived of in any other way than that Asshur settled the Chaldeans, who inhabited the northern mountains, in the present so-called land of Chaldea, and thus made the Chaldeans into a people, i.e., a settled, cultivated people, and a people bent on conquest and taking part in the history of the world (according to Knobel, primarily as a component part of the Assyrian army). But this view, which we meet with even in Calvin, is exposed to a grave difficulty. It is by no means improbable, indeed, that the Chaldeans, who were descendants of Nahor, according to Genesis 22:22, and therefore of Semitic descent,

(Note: Arpachshad (Genesis 10:22), probably the ancestor of the oldest Chaldeans, was also Semitic, whether his name is equivalent to Armachshad (the Chaldean high-land) or not. Arrapachitis rings like Albagh , the name of the table-land between the lake of Urmia and that of Van, according to which shad was the common Armenian termination for names of places.)

came down from the mountains which bound Armenia, Media, and Assyria, having been forced out by the primitive migration of the Arians from west to east; although the more modern hypothesis, which represents them as a people of Tatar descent, and as mixing among the Shemites of the countries of the Euphrates and Tigris, has no historical support whatever, the very reverse being the case, according to Gen 10, since Babylon was of non-Semitic or Cushite origin, and therefore the land of Chaldea, as only a portion of Babylonia (Strabo, xvi. 1, 6), was the land of the Shemites. But the idea that the Assyrians brought them down from the mountains into the lowlands, though not under Ninus and Semiramis,

(Note: The same view is held by Oppert, though he regards the Casdim as the primitive Turanian (Tatar) inhabitants of Shinar, and supposes this passage to relate to their subjugation by the Semitic Assyrians.)

as Vitringa supposes, but about the time of Shalmanassar (Ges., Hitzig, Knobel, and others),

(Note: For an impartial examination of this migration or transplantation hypothesis, which is intimately connected with the Scythian hypothesis, see M. V. Niebuhr's Geschichte Assurs und Babels seit Phul (1857, pp. 152-154). Rawlinson ( Monarchies , i. 71-74) decidedly rejects the latter as at variance with the testimonies of Scripture, of Berosus, and of the monuments.)

is pure imagination, and merely an inference drawn from this passage. For this reason I have tried to give a different interpretation to the clause לציּים יסדהּ אשּׁוּר in my Com. on Habakkuk (p. 22), viz., “Asshur - it has assigned the same to the beasts of the desert.” That Asshur may be used not only pre-eminently, but directly, for Nineveh (like Kena‛an for Tzor ), admits of no dispute, since even at the present day the ruins are called Arab. 'l - âṯūr , and this is probably a name applied to Nineveh in the arrow-headed writings also (Layard, Nineveh and its Remains ).

The word tziyyim is commonly applied to beasts of the wilderness (e.g., Isaiah 13:21), and לציּים יסד for ציּה שׂם (used of Nineveh in Zephaniah 2:13-14) may be explained in accordance with Psalms 104:8. The form of the parenthetical clause, however, would be like that of the concluding clause of Amos 1:11. But what makes me distrustful even of this view is not a doctrinal ground (Winer, Real Wörterbuch , i. 218), but one taken from Isaiah's own prophecy. Isaiah undoubtedly sees a Chaldean empire behind the Assyrian; but this would be the only passage in which he prophesied (and that quite by the way) how the imperial power would pass from the latter to the former. It was the task of Nahum and Zephaniah to draw this connecting line. It is true that this argument is not sufficient to outweigh the objections that can be brought against the other view, which makes the text declare a fact that is never mentioned anywhere else; but it is important nevertheless. For this reason it is possible, indeed, that Ewald's conjecture is a right one, and that the original reading of the text was כּנענים ארץ הן . Read in this manner, the first clause runs thus: “Behold the land of the Canaaneans: this people has come to nothing; Asshur has prepared it (their land) for the beasts of the desert.” It is true that היה לא generally means not to exist, or not to have been (Obadiah 1:16); but there are also cases in which לא is used as a kind of substantive (cf., Jeremiah 33:25), and the words mean to become or to have become nothing (Job 6:21; Ezekiel 21:32, and possibly also Isaiah 15:6). Such an alteration of the text is not favoured, indeed, by any of the ancient versions. For our own part, we still abide by the explanation we have given in the Commentary on Habakkuk , not so much for this reason, as because the seventy years mentioned afterwards are a decisive proof that the prophet had the Chaldeans and not Asshur in view, as the instruments employed in executing the judgment upon Tyre. The prophet points out the Chaldeans - that nation which (although of primeval antiquity, Jeremiah 5:15) had not yet shown itself as a conqueror of the world (cf., Habakkuk 1:6), having been hitherto subject to the Assyrians; but which had now gained the mastery after having first of all destroyed Asshur, i.e., Nineveh

(Note: This destruction of Nineveh was really such an one as could be called yesor l'ziyyim (a preparation for beasts of the desert), for it has been ever since a heap of ruins, which the earth gradually swallowed up; so that when Xenophon went past it, he was not even told that these were the ruins of the ancient Ninus. On the later buildings erected upon the ruins, see Marcus v. Niebuhr, p. 203.)

(namely, with the Medo-Babylonian army under Nabopolassar, the founder of the Neo-Babylonian empire, in 606 b.c.) - as the destroyers of the palaces of Tyre. With the appeal to the ships of Tarshish to pour out their lamentation, the prophecy returns in Isaiah 23:14 to the opening words in Isaiah 23:1. According to Isaiah 23:4, the fortress here is insular Tyre. As the prophecy thus closes itself by completing the circle, Isaiah 23:15-18 might appear to be a later addition. This is no more the case, however, here, than in the last part of chapter 19. Those critics, indeed, who do not acknowledge any special prophecies that are not vaticinia post eventum , are obliged to assign Isaiah 23:15-18 to the Persian era.

Verse 15-16

The prophet here foretells the rise of Tyre again at the close of the Chaldean world-wide monarchy. “And it will come to pass in that day, that Tzor will be forgotten seventy years, equal to the days of one king; after the end of the seventy years, Tzor will go, according to the song of the harlot. Take the guitar, sweep through the city, O forgotten harlot! Play bravely, sing zealously, that thou mayest be remembered!” The “ days of a king ” are a fixed and unchangeable period, for which everything is determined by the one sovereign will (as is the case more especially in the East), and is therefore stereotyped. The seventy years are compared to the days of such a king. Seventy is well fitted to be the number used to denote a uniform period of this kind, being equal to 10 x 7, i.e., a compact series of heptads of years ( shabbathoth ). But the number is also historical, prophecy being the power by which the history of the future was “periodized” beforehand in this significant manner. They coincide with the seventy years of Jeremiah (compare 2 Chronicles 36:21), that is to say, with the duration of the Chaldean rule. During this period Tyre continued with its world-wide commerce in a state of involuntary repose. “ Tyre will be forgotten: v'nishcachath is not a participle (Böttcher), but the perf. cons. which is required here, and stands for ונשׁכּחה with an original ת fem. (cf., Isaiah 7:14; Psalms 118:23). After the seventy years (that is to say, along with the commencement of the Persian rule) the harlot is welcomed again. She is like a bayadere or troubadour going through the streets with song and guitar, and bringing her charms into notice again. The prophecy here falls into the tone of a popular song, as in Isaiah 5:1 and Isaiah 27:2. It will be with Tyre as with such a musician and dancer as the one described in the popular song.

Verse 17

When it begins again to make love to all the world, it will get rich again from the gain acquired by this worldly intercourse. “And it will come to pass at the end of the seventy years: Jehovah will visit Tzor, and she comes again to her hire, and commits prostitution with all the kingdoms of the earth on the broad surface of the globe.” Such mercantile trading as hers, which is only bent upon earthly advantages, is called zânâh , on account of its recognising none of the limits opposed by God, and making itself common to all the world, partly because it is a prostitution of the soul, and partly because from the very earliest times the prostitution of the body was also a common thing in markets and fairs, more especially in those of Phoenicia (as the Phoenicians were worshippers of Astarte). Hence the gain acquired by commerce, which Tyre had now secured again, is called ' ethnân (Deuteronomy 23:19), with a feminine suffix, according to the Masora without mappik (Ewald, §247, a ).

Verse 18

This restoration of the trade of Tyre is called a visitation on the part of Jehovah, because, however profane the conduct of Tyre might be, it was nevertheless a holy purpose to which Jehovah rendered it subservient. “And her gain and her reward of prostitution will be holy to Jehovah: it is not stored up nor gathered together; but her gain from commerce will be theirs who dwell before Jehovah, to eat to satiety and for stately clothing.” It is not the conversion of Tyre which is held up to view, but something approaching it. Sachar (which does not render it at all necessary to assume a form sâchâr for Isaiah 23:3) is used here in connection with ' ethnân , to denote the occupation itself which yielded the profit. This, and also the profit acquired, would become holy to Jehovah; the latter would not be treasured up and capitalized as it formerly was, but they would give tribute and presents from it to Israel, and thus help to sustain in abundance and clothe in stately dress the nation which dwelt before Jehovah, i.e., whose true dwelling-place was in the temple before the presence of God (Psalms 27:4; Psalms 84:5; mecasseh = that which covers, i.e., the covering; ‛ âthik , like the Arabic ‛atik , old, noble, honourable). A strange prospect! As Jerome says, “ Haec secundum historiam necdum facta comperimus .”

The Assyrians, therefore, were not the predicted instruments of the punishment to be inflicted upon Phoenicia. Nor was Shalmanassar successful in his Phoenician war, as the extract from the chronicle of Menander in the Antiquities of Josephus ( Ant. ix. 14, 2) clearly shows. Elulaeus, the king of Tyre, had succeeded in once more subduing the rebellious Cyprians ( Kittaioi ). But with their assistance (if indeed ἐπὶ τούτους πέμπσας is to be so interpreted)

(Note: The view held by Johann Brandis is probably the more correct one-namely, that Shalmanassar commenced the contest by sending an army over to the island against the Chittaeans ( ἐπὶ not in the sense of ad , to, but of contra , against, just as in the expression further on, ἐπ ̓ αὐτοὺς ὑπέστρεψε , contra eos rediit ), probably to compel them to revolt again from the Tyrians. Rawlinson ( Monarchies , ii. 405) proposes, as an emendation of the text, ἐπὶ του'τον , by which the Cyprian expedition is got rid of altogether.))

Shalmanassar made war upon Phoenicia, though a general peace soon put an end to this campaign. Thereupon Sidon, Ace, Palaetyrus, and many other cities, fell away from Tyrus (insular Tyre), and placed themselves under Assyrian supremacy. But as the Tyrians would not do this, Shalmanassar renewed the war; and the Phoenicians that were under his sway supplied him with six hundred ships and eight hundred rowers for this purpose. The Tyrians, however, fell upon them with twelve vessels of war, and having scattered the hostile fleet, took about five hundred prisoners. This considerably heightened the distinction of Tyre. And the king of Assyria was obliged to content himself with stationing guards on the river (Leontes), and at the conduits, to cut off the supply of fresh water from the Tyrians. This lasted for five years, during the whole of which time the Tyrians drank from wells that they hand sunk themselves. Now, unless we want to lower the prophecy into a mere picture of the imagination, we cannot understand it as pointing to Asshur as the instrument of punishment, for the simple reason that Shalmanassar was obliged to withdraw from the “fortress of the sea” without accomplishing his purpose, and only succeeded in raising it to all the greater honour. But it is a question whether even Nebuchadnezzar was more successful with insular Tyre. All that Josephus is able to tell us from the Indian and Phoenician stories of Philostratus, is that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre for thirteen years in the reign of Ithobal ( Ant. x. 11, 1). And from Phoenician sources themselves, he merely relates (c. Ap. i. 21) that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre for thirteen years under Ithobal (viz., from the seventh year of his reign onwards). But so much, at any rate, may apparently be gathered from the account of the Tyrian government which follows, viz., that the Persian era was preceded by the subjection of the Tyrians to the Chaldeans, inasmuch as they sent twice to fetch their king from Babylon. When the Chaldeans made themselves masters of the Assyrian empire, Phoenicia (whether with or without insular Tyre, we do not know) was a satrapy of that empire (Josephus, Ant. x. 11, 1; c. Ap. i. 19, from Berosus), and this relation still continued at the close of the Chaldean rule. So much is certain, however - and Berosus, in fact, says it expressly - viz. that Nebuchadnezzar once more subdued Phoenicia when it rose in rebellion; and that when he was called home to Babylon in consequence of the death of his father, he returned with Phoenician prisoners. What we want, however, is a direct account of the conquest of Tyre by the Chaldeans. Neither Josephus nor Jerome could give any such account. And the Old Testament Scriptures appear to state the very opposite - namely, the failure of Nebuchadnezzar's enterprise. For in the twenty-seventh year after Jehoiachim's captivity (the sixteenth from the destruction of Jerusalem) the following word of the Lord came to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 29:17-18): “Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon has caused his army to perform a long and hard service against Tyre: every head is made bald, and every shoulder peeled; yet neither he nor his army has any wages at Tyre for the hard service which they have performed around the same.” It then goes on to announce that Jehovah would give Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar, and that this would be the wages of his army. Gesenius, Winer, Hitzig, and others, infer from this passage, when taken in connection with other non-Israelitish testimonies given by Josephus, which merely speak of a siege, that Nebuchadnezzar did not conquer Tyre; but Hengstenberg ( de rebus Tyriorum , 1832), Hävernick ( Ezek . pp. 427-442), and Drechsler ( Isaiah ii. 166-169) maintain by arguments, which have been passed again and again through the sieve, that this passage presupposes the conquest of Tyre, and merely announces the disproportion between the profit which Nebuchadnezzar derived from it and the effort that it cost him. Jerome (on Ezekiel) gives the same explanation. When the army of Nebuchadnezzar had made insular Tyre accessible by heaping up an embankment with enormous exertions, and they were in a position to make use of their siege artillery, they found that the Tyrians had carried away all their wealth in vessels to the neighbouring islands; “so that when the city was taken, Nebuchadnezzar found nothing to repay him for his labour; and because he had obeyed the will of God in this undertaking, after the Tyrian captivity had lasted a few years, Egypt was given to him” (Jerome).

I also regard this as the correct view to take; though without wishing to maintain that the words might not be understood as implying the failure of the siege, quite as readily as the uselessness of the conquest. But on the two following grounds, I am persuaded that they are used here in the latter sense. (1.) In the great trilogy which contains Ezekiel's prophecy against Tyre (Ezek 26-28), and in which he more than once introduces thoughts and figures from Isaiah 23, which he still further amplifies and elaborates (according to the general relation in which he stands to his predecessors, of whom he does not make a species of mosaic, as Jeremiah does, but whom he rather expands, fills up, and paraphrases, as seen more especially in his relation to Zephaniah), he predicts the conquest of insular Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar. He foretells indeed even more than this; but if Tyre had not been at least conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, the prophecy would have fallen completely to the ground, like any merely human hope. Now we candidly confess that, on doctrinal grounds, it is impossible for us to make such an assumption as this. There is indeed an element of human hope in all prophecy, but it does not reach such a point as to be put to shame by the test supplied in Deuteronomy 18:21-22. (2.) If I take a comprehensive survey of the following ancient testimonies: ( a ) that Nebuchadnezzar, when called home in consequence of his father's death, took some Phoenician prisoners with him (Berosus, ut sup. ); ( b ) that with this fact before us, the statement found in the Phoenician sources, to the effect that the Tyrians fetched two of their rulers from Babylon, viz., Merbal and Eirom, presents a much greater resemblance to 2 Kings 24:12, 2 Kings 24:14, and Daniel 1:3, than to 1 Kings 12:2-3, with which Hitzig compares it; ( c ) that, according to Josephus (c. Ap. i. 20), it was stated “in the archives of the Phoenicians concerning this king Nebuchadnezzar, that he conquered all Syria and Phoenicia;” and ( d ) that the voluntary submission to the Persians (Herod. Isaiah 3:19; Xen. Cyrop. i. 1, 4) was not the commencement of servitude, but merely a change of masters; - if, I say, I put all these things together, the conclusion to which I am brought is, that the thirteen years' siege of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar ended in its capture, possibly through capitulation (as Winer, Movers, and others assume).

The difficulties which present themselves to us when we compare together the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel, are still no doubt very far from being removed; but it is in this way alone that any solution of the difficulty is to be found. For even assuming that Nebuchadnezzar conquered Tyre, he did not destroy it, as the words of the two prophecies would lead us to expect. The real solution of the difficulty has been already given by Hävernick and Drechsler: “The prophet sees the whole enormous mass of destruction which eventually came upon the city, concentrated, as it were, in Nebuchadnezzar's conquest, inasmuch as in the actual historical development it was linked on to that fact like a closely connected chain. The power of Tyre as broken by Nebuchadnezzar is associated in his view with its utter destruction.” Even Alexander did not destroy Tyre, when he had conquered it after seven months' enormous exertions. Tyre was still a flourishing commercial city of considerable importance under both the Syrian and the Roman sway. In the time of the Crusades it was still the same; and even the Crusaders, who conquered it in 1125, did not destroy it. It was not till about a century and a half later that the destruction was commenced by the removal of the fortifications on the part of the Saracens. At the present time, all the glory of Tyre is either sunk in the sea or buried beneath the sand - an inexhaustible mine of building materials for Beirut and other towns upon the coast. Amidst these vast ruins of the island city, there is nothing standing now but a village of wretched wooden huts. And the island is an island no longer. The embankment which Alexander threw up has grown into a still broader and stronger tongue of earth through the washing up of sand, and now connects the island with the shore - a standing memorial of divine justice (Strauss, Sinai und Golgotha , p. 357). This picture of destruction stands before the prophet's mental eye, and indeed immediately behind the attack of the Chaldeans upon Tyre - the two thousand years between being so compressed, that the whole appears as a continuous event. This is the well-known law of perspective, by which prophecy is governed throughout. This law cannot have been unknown to the prophets themselves, inasmuch as they needed it to accredit their prophecies even to themselves. Still more was it necessary for future ages, in order that they might not be deceived with regard to the prophecy, that this universally determining law, in which human limitations are left unresolved, and are miraculously intermingled with the eternal view of God, should be clearly known.

But another enigma presents itself. The prophet foretells a revival of Tyre at the end of seventy years, and the passing over of its world-wide commerce into the service of the congregation of Jehovah. We cannot agree with R. O. Gilbert ( Theodulia , 1855, pp. 273-4) in regarding the seventy years as a sacred number, which precludes all clever human calculation, because the Lord thereby conceals His holy and irresistible decrees. The meaning of the seventy is clear enough: they are, as we saw, the seventy years of the Chaldean rule. And this is also quite enough, if only a prelude to what is predicted here took place in connection with the establishment of the Persian sway. Such a prelude there really was in the fact, that, according to the edict of Cyrus, both Sidonians and Tyrians assisted in the building of the temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 3:7, cf., Isaiah 1:4). A second prelude is to be seen in the fact, that at the very commencement of the labours of the apostles there was a Christian church in Tyre, which was visited by the Apostle Paul (Acts 21:3-4), and that this church steadily grew from that time forward. In this way again the trade of Tyre entered the service of the God of revelation. But it is Christian Tyre which now lies in ruins. One of the most remarkable ruins is the splendid cathedral of Tyre, for which Eusebius of Caesarea wrote a dedicatory address, and in which Friedrich Barbarossa, who was drowned in the Kalykadnos in the year 1190, is supposed to have been buried. Hitherto, therefore, these have been only preludes to the fulfilment of the prophecy. Its ultimate fulfilment has still to be waited for. But whether the fulfilment will be an ideal one, when not only the kingdoms of the world, but also the trade of the world, shall belong to God and His Christ; or spiritually , in the sense in which this word is employed in the Apocalypse, i.e., by the true essence of the ancient Tyre reappearing in another city, like that of Babylon in Rome; or literally , by the fishing village of Tzur actually disappearing again as Tyre rises from its ruins - it would be impossible for any commentator to say, unless he were himself a prophet.


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The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Bibliography Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Isaiah 23:4". 1854-1889.

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