Jehovah Profanes the Pride of Tyre
1, 2. (a) What kind of city was ancient Tyre? (b) What did Isaiah prophesy for Tyre?
SHE was “perfect in beauty” and abundant in “wealth of every kind.” (Ezekiel 27:4, 12, An American Translation) Her large fleet of ships sailed across the sea to faraway places. She became “very glorious in the heart of the open sea,” and with her “valuable things,” she “made earth’s kings rich.” (Ezekiel 27:25, 33) In the seventh century B.C.E., such was the stature of Tyre—a Phoenician city on the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
2 Yet, destruction was in the offing for Tyre. Some 100 years before Ezekiel described her, the prophet Isaiah foretold the downfall of this Phoenician stronghold and the grief of those depending upon her. Isaiah also prophesied that after some time God would turn his attention to the city, granting her renewed prosperity. How were the prophet’s words fulfilled? And what can we learn from all that happened to Tyre? Having a clear understanding of what befell her and why such things happened will strengthen our faith in Jehovah and his promises.
“Howl, You Ships of Tarshish!”
3, 4. (a) Where was Tarshish, and what was the relationship between Tyre and Tarshish? (b) Why will the sailors trading with Tarshish have reason to “howl”?
3 Under the title, “The pronouncement of Tyre,” Isaiah declares: “Howl, you ships of Tarshish! for it has been despoiled from being a port, from being a place to enter in.” (Isaiah 23:1a) Tarshish is believed to have been a part of Spain, far from Tyre in the eastern Mediterranean.* Still, the Phoenicians were expert seamen, and their ships were large and seaworthy. Some historians believe that the Phoenicians were the first to notice the link between the moon and the tides and to use astronomy as a navigational aid. So the long distance from Tyre to Tarshish was no obstacle for them.
4 In Isaiah’s day, distant Tarshish is a market for Tyre, perhaps the main source of her wealth during part of her history. Spain has mines rich with deposits of silver, iron, tin, and other metals. (Compare Jeremiah 10:9; Ezekiel 27:12.) “Ships of Tarshish,” likely ships from Tyre trading with Tarshish, will have good reason to “howl,” lamenting the destruction of their home port.
5. Where will mariners coming from Tarshish learn of the fall of Tyre?
5 How will mariners at sea learn of the downfall of Tyre? Isaiah answers: “From the land of Kittim it has been revealed to them.” (Isaiah 23:1b) “The land of Kittim” likely refers to the island of Cyprus, about 60 miles [100 km] west of the Phoenician coast. This is the last stop for the eastbound ships from Tarshish before they arrive at Tyre. Hence, the sailors will receive news of the overthrow of their beloved home port when they make a stopover in Cyprus. What a shock for them! Grief-stricken, they will “howl” in dismay.
6. Describe the relationship between Tyre and Sidon.
6 Dismay will also be felt by the people of the Phoenician seacoast. The prophet says: “Be silent, you inhabitants of the coastland. The merchants from Sidon, the ones crossing over the sea—they have filled you. And on many waters has been the seed of Shihor, the harvest of the Nile, her revenue; and it came to be the profit of the nations.” (Isaiah 23:2, 3) The “inhabitants of the coastland”—Tyre’s neighbors—will be silent in utter amazement at the calamitous fall of Tyre. Who are “the merchants from Sidon” who “have filled” these inhabitants, making them rich? Tyre was originally a colony of the seaport city of Sidon, just 22 miles [35 km] to the north. On her coins, Sidon describes herself as the mother of Tyre. Although Tyre has eclipsed Sidon in wealth, she is still a “daughter of Sidon,” and her inhabitants still call themselves Sidonians. (Isaiah 23:12) Hence, the expression “the merchants from Sidon” probably refers to the commercial inhabitants of Tyre.
7. How have Sidonian merchants spread wealth?
7 Engaging in commercial enterprise, the wealthy Sidonian merchants traverse the Mediterranean Sea. They carry to many places the seed, or grain, of Shihor, the easternmost branch of the Nile River in the delta region of Egypt. (Compare Jeremiah 2:18.) “The harvest of the Nile” also includes other produce from Egypt. Trading and bartering in such goods is highly profitable for these seafaring merchants as well as for the nations with which they do business. The Sidonian traders fill Tyre with revenue. Indeed, they will grieve at her desolation!
8. What effect will Tyre’s destruction have on Sidon?
8 Isaiah next addresses Sidon with the words: “Be ashamed, O Sidon; because the sea, O you stronghold of the sea, has said: ‘I have not had birth pains, and I have not given birth, nor have I brought up young men, raised up virgins.’” (Isaiah 23:4) After the destruction of Tyre, the coastline where the city formerly stood will look barren and desolate. The sea will appear to cry out in anguish, like a mother who has lost her children and is so distraught that she now disclaims ever having had them. Sidon will be ashamed at what happens to her daughter.
9. The grief of the people following the fall of Tyre will be comparable to the consternation following what other events?
9 Yes, the news of the destruction of Tyre will cause widespread grief. Isaiah says: “Just as at the report pertaining to Egypt, people will likewise be in severe pains at the report on Tyre.” (Isaiah 23:5) The pain of the mourning ones will be comparable to that resulting from the report about Egypt. Which report does the prophet mean? Possibly the fulfillment of his earlier “pronouncement against Egypt.”* (Isaiah 19:1-25) Or perhaps the prophet means the report of the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in Moses’ day, which caused widespread consternation. (Exodus 15:4, 5, 14-16; Joshua 2:9-11) In any case, those hearing the report of Tyre’s destruction will be in severe pains. They are invited to flee to distant Tarshish for refuge and are commanded to make a noisy expression of their grief: “Cross over to Tarshish; howl, you inhabitants of the coastland.”—Isaiah 23:6.
Exultant “From Her Early Times”
10-12. Describe the wealth, antiquity, and influence of Tyre.
10 Tyre is an ancient city, as Isaiah reminds us when he asks: “Is this your city that was exultant from days of long ago, from her early times?” (Isaiah 23:7a) Tyre’s prosperous history extends at least as far back as Joshua’s time. (Joshua 19:29) Over the years, Tyre has become famous as a manufacturer of metal objects, glassware, and purple dye. Robes of Tyrian purple command the highest prices, and Tyre’s costly fabrics are sought after by the nobility. (Compare Ezekiel 27:7, 24.) Tyre is also a trading center for overland caravans as well as a great import-export depot.
11 Moreover, the city is militarily strong. L. Sprague de Camp writes: “Although not especially warlike—they were businessmen, not soldiers—the Phoenicians defended their cities with fanatical courage and stubbornness. These qualities, as well as their naval might, enabled the Tyrians to hold out against the Assyrian army, the strongest of its time.”
12 Indeed, Tyre makes her mark on the Mediterranean world. “Her feet used to bring her far away to reside as an alien.” (Isaiah 23:7b) Phoenicians travel to distant places, setting up trading posts and ports of call, which in some instances grow into colonies. For example, Carthage, on the north coast of Africa, is a colony of Tyre. In time, it will surpass Tyre and rival Rome for influence in the Mediterranean world.
Her Pride Will Be Profaned
13. Why is the question raised as to who dares to pronounce judgment against Tyre?
13 In view of Tyre’s antiquity and wealth, the next question is fitting: “Who is it that has given this counsel against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, whose merchants were princes, whose tradesmen were the honorable ones of the earth?” (Isaiah 23:8) Who dares to speak against the city that has appointed powerful individuals to positions of high authority in her colonies and elsewhere—thus becoming “the bestower of crowns”? Who dares to speak against the metropolis whose merchants are princes and whose tradesmen are honorable ones? Said Maurice Chehab, former director of antiquities at the National Museum of Beirut, Lebanon: “From the ninth to the sixth century B.C., Tyre retained the position of importance known to London at the beginning of the twentieth century.” So who dares to speak against this city?
14. Who pronounces judgment against Tyre, and why?
14 The inspired reply will cause consternation in Tyre. Isaiah says: “Jehovah of armies himself has given this counsel, to profane the pride of all beauty, to treat with contempt all the honorable ones of the earth.” (Isaiah 23:9) Why does Jehovah pronounce judgment against this wealthy, ancient city? Is it because its inhabitants are worshipers of the false god Baal? Is it because of Tyre’s relationship with Jezebel—the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon, including Tyre—who married King Ahab of Israel and massacred the prophets of Jehovah? (1 Kings 16:29, 31; 18:4, 13, 19) The answer to both questions is no. Tyre is condemned because of her arrogant pride—she has grown fat at the expense of other peoples, including the Israelites. In the ninth century B.C.E., through the prophet Joel, Jehovah said to Tyre and other cities: “The sons of Judah and the sons of Jerusalem you have sold to the sons of the Greeks, for the purpose of removing them far from their own territory.” (Joel 3:6) Can God overlook Tyre’s treating his covenant people as mere trading commodities?
15. How will Tyre react when Jerusalem falls to Nebuchadnezzar?
15 The passing of a hundred years will not change Tyre. When the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroys Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., Tyre will exult: “Aha! She [Jerusalem] has been broken, the doors of the peoples! The trend will certainly be to me. I shall be filled—she has been devastated.” (Ezekiel 26:2) Tyre will rejoice, expecting to benefit from the destruction of Jerusalem. With the Judean capital no longer a competitor, she will expect more trade for herself. Jehovah will treat with contempt self-proclaimed “honorable ones,” who pridefully stand with the enemies of his people.
16, 17. What will happen to the inhabitants of Tyre when the city falls? (See footnote.)
16 Isaiah continues Jehovah’s condemnation of Tyre: “Cross over your land like the Nile River, O daughter of Tarshish. There is no shipyard any longer. His hand he has stretched out over the sea; he has caused kingdoms to be agitated. Jehovah himself has given a command against Phoenicia, to annihilate her strongholds. And he says: ‘You must never again exult, O oppressed one, the virgin daughter of Sidon. Get up, cross over to Kittim itself. Even there it will not be restful for you.’”—Isaiah 23:10-12.
17 Why is Tyre called the “daughter of Tarshish”? Perhaps because after the defeat of Tyre, Tarshish will be the more powerful of the two.* The inhabitants of ruined Tyre will be scattered like a river in flood, its banks broken down and its waters overflowing into all the neighboring plains. Isaiah’s message to the “daughter of Tarshish” underscores the severity of what will happen to Tyre. Jehovah himself stretches out his hand and gives the command. No one can alter the outcome.
18. Why is Tyre called “the virgin daughter of Sidon,” and how will her state change?
18 Isaiah also speaks of Tyre as “the virgin daughter of Sidon,” indicating that she has not previously been seized and ravished by foreign conquerors and still enjoys an unsubdued state. (Compare 2 Kings 19:21; Isaiah 47:1; Jeremiah 46:11.) Now, though, she is to be annihilated, and like refugees, some of her residents will cross over to the Phoenician colony of Kittim. Nevertheless, having lost their economic power, they will find no rest there.
The Chaldeans Will Despoil Her
19, 20. Who is prophesied to be the conqueror of Tyre, and how is that prophecy fulfilled?
19 Which political power will execute Jehovah’s judgment upon Tyre? Isaiah proclaims: “Look! The land of the Chaldeans. This is the people—Assyria did not prove to be the one—they founded her for the desert haunters. They have erected their siege towers; they have stripped bare her dwelling towers; one has set her as a crumbling ruin. Howl, you ships of Tarshish, for your stronghold has been despoiled.” (Isaiah 23:13, 14) The Chaldeans—not the Assyrians—will conquer Tyre. They will erect their siege towers, level the dwelling places of Tyre, and make that stronghold of the ships of Tarshish a crumbling heap of ruins.
20 True to the prophecy, not long after the fall of Jerusalem, Tyre rebels against Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar lays siege to the city. Believing herself impregnable, Tyre resists. In the course of the siege, the heads of Babylon’s soldiers are “made bald” from the chafing of their helmets and their shoulders are “rubbed bare” from carrying materials used in the construction of siegeworks. (Ezekiel 29:18) The siege is costly to Nebuchadnezzar. The mainland city of Tyre is destroyed, yet its spoil eludes him. The bulk of the treasures of Tyre have been transferred to a small island about half a mile [0.8 km] from the shore. Lacking a fleet of ships, the Chaldean king is unable to take the island. After 13 years, Tyre capitulates, but she will survive and see the fulfillment of further prophecies.
“She Must Return to Her Hire”
21. In what way is Tyre “forgotten,” and for how long?
21 Isaiah goes on to prophesy: “It must occur in that day that Tyre must be forgotten seventy years, the same as the days of one king.” (Isaiah 23:15a) Following the destruction of the mainland city by the Babylonians, the island-city of Tyre will “be forgotten.” True to the prophecy, for the duration of “one king”—the Babylonian Empire—the island-city of Tyre will not be an important financial power. Jehovah, through Jeremiah, includes Tyre among the nations that will be singled out to drink the wine of His rage. He says: “These nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” (Jeremiah 25:8-17, 22, 27) True, the island-city of Tyre is not subject to Babylon for a full 70 years, since the Babylonian Empire falls in 539 B.C.E. Evidently, the 70 years represents the period of Babylonia’s greatest domination—when the Babylonian royal dynasty boasts of having lifted its throne even above “the stars of God.” (Isaiah 14:13) Different nations come under that domination at different times. But at the end of 70 years, that domination will crumble. What will then happen to Tyre?
22, 23. What will happen to Tyre when she comes out from under Babylonian domination?
22 Isaiah continues: “At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of a prostitute: ‘Take a harp, go around the city, O forgotten prostitute. Do your best at playing on the strings; make your songs many, in order that you may be remembered.’ And it must occur at the end of seventy years that Jehovah will turn his attention to Tyre, and she must return to her hire and commit prostitution with all the kingdoms of the earth upon the surface of the ground.”—Isaiah 23:15b-17.
23 Following the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.E., Phoenicia becomes a satrapy of the Medo-Persian Empire. The Persian monarch, Cyrus the Great, is a tolerant ruler. Under this new rulership, Tyre will resume her former activity and try hard to regain recognition as a world commercial center—just as a prostitute who has been forgotten and has lost her clientele seeks to attract new clients by going around the city, playing her harp and singing her songs. Will Tyre succeed? Yes, Jehovah will grant her success. In time, the island-city will become so prosperous that toward the end of the sixth century B.C.E., the prophet Zechariah will say: “Tyre proceeded to build a rampart for herself, and to pile up silver like dust and gold like the mire of the streets.”—Zechariah 9:3.
‘Her Profit Must Become Something Holy’
24, 25. (a) How does Tyre’s profit become something holy to Jehovah? (b) Despite Tyre’s helping God’s people, what prophecy does Jehovah inspire regarding her?
24 How remarkable are the following prophetic words! “Her profit and her hire must become something holy to Jehovah. It will not be stored up, nor be laid up, because her hire will come to be for those dwelling before Jehovah, for eating to satisfaction and for elegant covering.” (Isaiah 23:18) How does Tyre’s material profit become something holy? Jehovah maneuvers matters so that it is used according to his will—for the eating to satisfaction of his people and for their covering. This comes about following the Israelites’ return from Babylonian exile. The people of Tyre assist them by supplying cedar timbers for rebuilding the temple. They also resume trade with the city of Jerusalem.—Ezra 3:7; Nehemiah 13:16.
25 Despite this, Jehovah inspires a further pronouncement against Tyre. Zechariah prophesies concerning the now wealthy island-city: “Look! Jehovah himself will dispossess her, and into the sea he will certainly strike down her military force; and in the fire she herself will be devoured.” (Zechariah 9:4) This is fulfilled in July 332 B.C.E. when Alexander the Great demolishes that proud mistress of the sea.
Avoid Materialism and Pride
26. Why did God condemn Tyre?
26 Jehovah condemned Tyre for her pride, a characteristic that he despises. “Lofty eyes” are listed first among the seven things that Jehovah hates. (Proverbs 6:16-19) Paul associated pride with Satan the Devil, and Ezekiel’s description of proud Tyre has elements that describe Satan himself. (Ezekiel 28:13-15; 1 Timothy 3:6) Why was Tyre proud? Ezekiel, addressing Tyre, says: “Your heart began to be haughty because of your wealth.” (Ezekiel 28:5) The city was dedicated to trade and the amassing of money. Tyre’s success in this made her unbearably haughty. Through Ezekiel, Jehovah said to “the leader of Tyre”: “Your heart has become haughty, and you keep saying, ‘I am a god. In the seat of god I have seated myself.’”—Ezekiel 28:2.
27, 28. What trap can humans fall into, and how did Jesus illustrate this?
27 Nations can succumb to pride and a wrong view of wealth—and so can individuals. Jesus gave a parable that showed how subtle this snare can be. He spoke of a rich man whose fields produced very well. Delighted, the man planned to build larger storehouses for his produce and happily looked forward to a long life of comfort. But this did not happen. God said to him: “Unreasonable one, this night they are demanding your soul from you. Who, then, is to have the things you stored up?” Yes, the man died, and his wealth availed him nothing.—Luke 12:16-20.
28 Jesus concluded the parable, saying: “So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) Being wealthy was not wrong in itself, and having a good harvest was no sin. The man’s error lay in his making these the main things in his life. His whole confidence was in his riches. When looking to the future, he did not take Jehovah God into account.
29, 30. How did James warn against reliance on self?
29 James very strongly made the same point. He said: “Come, now, you who say: ‘Today or tomorrow we will journey to this city and will spend a year there, and we will engage in business and make profits,’ whereas you do not know what your life will be tomorrow. For you are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing. Instead, you ought to say: ‘If Jehovah wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15) Then, James showed the relationship between wealth and pride when he continued, saying: “You take pride in your self-assuming brags. All such taking of pride is wicked.”—James 4:16.
30 Again, doing business is not a sin. The sin is the pride, the arrogance, the confidence in self that gaining wealth can engender. Wisely, the ancient proverb said: “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” Poverty can make life very bitter. But riches can lead a person to “deny [God] and say: ‘Who is Jehovah?’”—Proverbs 30:8, 9.
31. What questions does a Christian do well to ask himself?
31 We live in a world where many have fallen victim to greed and selfishness. Because of the prevailing commercial climate, much emphasis is placed on wealth. Hence, a Christian does well to examine himself to be sure that he is not falling into the same trap that ensnared the commercial city of Tyre. Does he spend so much of his time and energy in material pursuits that he is, in fact, a slave of riches? (Matthew 6:24) Is he envious of some who may have more or better possessions than he has? (Galatians 5:26) If he happens to be wealthy, does he proudly feel that he deserves more attention or privileges than others do? (Compare James 2:1-9.) If he is not rich, is he “determined to be rich,” whatever the cost? (1 Timothy 6:9) Is he so occupied with business matters that he leaves only a very small corner in his life for serving God? (2 Timothy 2:4) Does he become so consumed with the pursuit of wealth that he ignores Christian principles in his business practices?—1 Timothy 6:10.
32. What warning did John give, and how can we apply it?
32 Whatever our economic situation, the Kingdom should always have first place in our lives. It is vital that we never lose sight of the words of the apostle John: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) True, we have to use the world’s economic arrangements in order to survive. (2 Thessalonians 3:10) Hence, we ‘use the world’—but we do not use it “to the full.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) If we have an excessive love of material things—the things in the world—we no longer love Jehovah. Chasing after “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life” is incompatible with doing the will of God.* And it is doing the will of God that leads to eternal life.—1 John 2:16, 17.
33. How can Christians avoid the trap that ensnared Tyre?
33 The trap of putting the pursuit of material things ahead of all else ensnared Tyre. She was successful in a material sense, became very proud, and was punished for her pride. Her example stands as a warning to nations and individuals today. How much better to follow the admonition of the apostle Paul! He urges Christians “not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment.”—1 Timothy 6:17.
Some scholars have identified Tarshish with Sardinia, an island in the western Mediterranean. Sardinia too was far from Tyre.
See Chapter 15, pages 200-207, of this book.
Alternatively, the “daughter of Tarshish” may refer to the inhabitants of Tarshish. One reference work says: “The natives of Tarshish are now free to travel and trade as freely as the Nile when it flows in all directions.” Still, the emphasis is on the drastic repercussions of the fall of Tyre.
“Showy display” is a translation of the Greek word a·la·zo·niʹa, which is described as “an impious and empty presumption which trusts in the stability of earthly things.”—The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon.
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SPAIN (Possible site of TARSHISH)
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Tyre would submit to Babylon, not Assyria
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Coin depicting Melkart, chief deity of Tyre
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Model of a Phoenician ship