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Judgment of Tyre – Isaiah 23

Read the Passage: Isaiah 23

City Identified (23:1–3)

It is interesting that many of God’s prophets delivered messages of judgment upon the foreign nations that surrounded Israel. Reasons for this include: (1) Some of the Gentile nations were enemies of Israel and did great harm to God’s people; (2) Since the pagan nations would be conquered by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans, the message of their impending judgment functioned as a call to repentance; and (3) By addressing foreign nations, God was showing that the offer of salvation was not limited to Israel—indeed, it included the Gentiles, as well. In this larger section of his book (cf. Isa. 13–23) Isaiah addresses Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Israel, Ethiopia, Egypt, Edom, Arabia, and Tyre. Note Tyre was a Phoenician coastal city, which was situated on an island, northwest of Palestine. The city of Tyre was known for its trading and the great wealth that such commerce can produce.

Tyre was an ancient city, and along with Sidon, was a chief city of the Phoenicians. While there were times of peace between Israel and Tyre, this city was oftentimes antagonistic towards Israel. This ill-treatment of God’s people is a main reason why the city of Tyre is prophesied against in passages such as Ezek. 26–28; Amos 1:9–10; Joel 3:4–8; and Zech. 9:1–4. Note that Jesus ministered in this region (cf. Matt. 15:21) and that some of the inhabitants of Tyre followed Christ (cf. Mark 3:8). Further, Paul later found disciples at Tyre (cf. Acts 21:3–4). While Tyre was an immoral city, Jesus taught that His ministry in Chorazin would have produced repentance in Tyre (cf. Matt. 11:21–22). Note that Isa. 1:1–3 describes the future destruction of Tyre. Indeed, this city was under siege five times between Isaiah’s writing and 332 BC, when Alexander the Great finally captured the city.

Destruction Detailed (23:4–14)

After identifying the city of Tyre and noting its judgment in Isa. 23:1–3, in Isa. 23:4–9 some of the details of the destruction of Tyre are given. Note the fact that Isaiah also mentions the city of Sidon (cf. Isa. 23:2, 4) shows that the judgment described here applied to all of Phoenicia, not just the city of Tyre. In this passage Isaiah describes the future barrenness of Tyre, as well as the news of its destruction reaching Egypt and Tarshish. Observe in Isa. 23:7 Tyre is referred to as an “ancient city.” Indeed, Tyre is first mentioned in Scripture at Josh. 19:29, and it was an establish city at the time when Israel entered the Promised Land. Early in the Old Testament it is clear that Tyre was an economic hub, as King Hiram of Phoenicia provided both David and Solomon with a massive quantity of raw materials to develop Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chron. 2:3–16). Note King Ahab of Israel married Jezebel, daughter of the King of Phoenicia.

In Isa. 23:10–14 Isaiah further describes the thorough destruction of Tyre, noting that its citizens “will have no rest” (Isa. 23:12). In Isa. 23:13 Isaiah reminds the people of Tyre that the Assyrians—the world superpower of their day—had destroyed Babylon, which occurred in 689 BC. The implication being that the capture of Tyre was possible, too. In fulfillment of this prophecy, Tyre was eventually attacked by the Assyrians, although the entire city was not destroyed, for the island section of Tyre was not captured by the Assyrians. Note the New Testament records two important events that occurred in the vicinity of Tyre. First, Matt. 15:21–28 records Jesus’ healing of the daughter of a Syro-Phoenician woman. This was Christ’s first recorded healing of a Gentile. Second, Acts 12:20–24 reports the death of Herod Agrippa I during a speech to the citizens of Tyre and Sidon.

Restoration Foretold (23:15–18)

After delivering his message of judgement, in a similar manner to his earlier addresses to Israel, Isaiah prophecies a time of restoration of the city of Tyre. The reference in this passage to “seventy years” (Isa. 23:15, 17) is familiar, as Jeremiah specified the same time frame for the exile of Israel to Babylon (cf. 2 Chron. 36:21; Jer. 25:11–12; 29:10; Zech. 1:12; 7:5). Indeed, Phoenicia was surely included in Jeremiah’s reference to “the nations [whom] shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer. 25:11). The restoration of Tyre, however, differs from that of Israel, as in this passage Isaiah refers to Tyre as a harlot who would continue with her sins after her restoration. While Tyre would again flourish economically, Isaiah writes, “Her pay will be set apart for the Lord . . . her gain will be for those who dwell before the Lord, to eat sufficiently and for fine clothing” (Isa. 23:18).

Application Questions:

  1. Why do God’s prophets sometimes foretell judgement against the foreign nations that surrounded Israel?
  2. Why does wealth sometimes lead to sin and make it difficult for someone who is wealthy to repent of their sins?
  3. How could Jesus know that His ministry in Chorazin would have resulted in repentance at Tyre (cf. Matt. 11:21–22)?
  4. When Ezekiel writes about judgment upon the king of Tyre in Ezek. 28:11–19 using supernatural terms, do you believe he may be referring to Satan?
  5. Why did Isaiah’s message of impending judgment upon Tyre not prompt repentance by the citizens of the city?
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