Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Isaiah 23:1

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The burden of Tyre - Tyre, a city on the coast of Syria, about lat. 32° N. was built two thousand seven hundred and sixty years before Christ. There were two cities of this name; one on the continent, and the other on an island, about half a mile from the shore; the city on the island was about four miles in circumference. Old Tyre resisted Nebuchadnezzar for thirteen years; then the inhabitants carried, so to speak, the city to the forementioned island, Isaiah 23:4. This new city held out against Alexander the Great for seven months; who, in order to take it, was obliged to fill up the channel which separated it from the main land. In a.d. 1289 it was totally destroyed by the sultan of Egypt; and now contains only a few huts, in which about fifty or sixty wretched families exist. This desolation was foretold by this prophet and by Ezekiel, one thousand nine hundred years before it took place!

Howl, ye ships of Tarshish - This prophecy denounces the destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar. It opens with an address to the Tyrian negotiators and sailors at Tarshish, (Tartessus, in Spain), a place which, in the course of their trade, they greatly frequented. The news of the destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar is said to be brought to them from Chittim, the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean; "for the Tyrians," says Jerome on Isaiah 23:6, "when they saw they had no other means of escaping, fled in their ships, and took refuge in Carthage and in the islands of the Ionian and Aegean sea." From whence the news would spread and reach Tarshish; so also Jarchi on the same place. This seems to be the most probable interpretation of this verse.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

The burden of Tyre - (see the note at Isaiah 13:1)

Howl - This is a highly poetic description of the destruction that was coming on Tyre. The ships of Tarshish traded there; and the prophet now addresses the ships, and calls upon them to lament because the commerce by which they had been enriched was to be destroyed, and they were to be thrown out of employ.

Ye ships of Tarshish - (see the note at Isaiah 2:16). The ‹Tarshish‘ here referred to, was doubtless a city or country in Spain ( Ταρτησσὸς Tartēssos ), and was the most celebrated emporium to which the Phenicians traded. It is mentioned by Diod. Sic., v. 35-38; Strabo, iii. 148; Pliny, “Nat. Hist.” iii. 3. According to Jeremiah 10:9, it exported silver; according to Ezekiel 27:12, Ezekiel 27:25, it exported silver, iron, tin, and lead, to the Tyrian market. In this chapter Isaiah 23:1, Isaiah 23:6, Isaiah 23:10, it is represented as an important Phenician or Tyrian colony. All the circumstances agree with the supposition that “Tartessus” in Spain is the place “here” referred to. The name ‹Tartessus‘ ( Ταρτησσὸς Tartēssos ) is derived from the Hebrew תרשׁישׁ tarshiysh by a change simply in the pronunciation (see Bochart, “Geo. Sacra,” iii. 7, and John D. Michaelis, “Spicileg. Geo. Heb.” i. 82-103).

For it is laid waste - Tyre is laid waste; that is, in vision it was made to pass before the mind of the prophet as laid waste, or as it “would” be (see the notes at Isaiah 1:1).

So that there is no house - It would be completely destroyed. This was the case with old Tyre after the conquest by Nebuchadnezzar, and it remained so. See the analysis of the chapter.

No entering in - No harbor; no port; where the ships could remain, and with which they could continue to trade. Tyre was once better situated for commerce, and had greater natural advantages, than any port in the Mediterranean. Those advantages have, however, to a great extent passed away, and natural causes combine to confirm the truth of the divine predictions that it should cease to be a place of commerce. The merchandise of India, which was once conveyed overland through Babylon and Palmyra, and which found its natural outlet at Tyre, is now carried around the Cape of Good Hope, and will never again be restored to its old channel. Besides, Tyre itself, which once had so fine a harbor, has ceased to be a safe haven for large vessels. Robinson (George) says of its harbor, in 1830, ‹It is a small circular basin, now quite filled up with sand and broken columns, leaving scarcely space enough for small boats to enter.

The few fishing boats that belong to the place are sheltered by some rocks to the westward of the island.‘ (“Travels in Syria and Palestine,” vol. i. p. 269). Shaw, who visited Tyre in 1738, says of the harbor, ‹I visited several creeks and inlets, in order to discover what provision there might have been formerly made for the security of their vessels. Yet, notwithstanding that Tyre was the chief maritime power of this country, I could not discover the least token of either “cothon” or harbor that could have been of extraordinary capacity. The coasting ships, indeed, still and a tolerably good shelter from the northern winds, under the southern shore, but are obliged immediately to return when the winds change to the west or south; so that there must have been some better station than this for their security and reception. In the N. N. E. part, likewise, of the city, we see the traces of a safe and commodious basin, lying within the walls; but which, at the same time, is very small, scarce forty yards in diameter.

Yet even this port, small as it is at present, is, notwithstanding, so choked up with sand and rubbish, that the boats of those poor fishermen who now and then visit this renowned emporium, can, with great difficulty, only be admitted‘ (“Travels,” pp. 330,331. Ed. fol. Oxon. 1738). Dr. Robin son says of the port of Tyre, ‹The inner port Dr basin on the north was formerly enclosed by a wall, running from the north end of the island in a curve toward the main land. Various pieces and fragments of this wall yet remain, sufficient to mark its course; but the port itself is continually filling up more and more with sand, and now-a-days boats only can enter it. Indeed, our host informed us, that even within his own recollection, the water covered the open place before his own house, which at present is ten or twelve rods from the sea, and is surrounded with buildings; while older people remember, that vessels formerly anchored where the shore now is‘ (“Bib. Researches,” vol. iii. p. 397).

From the land of Chittim - This means, probably, from the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean. In regard to the meaning of the word “Chittim,” the following is the note of Gesenius on this verse: ‹Among the three different opinions of ancient and modern interpreters, according to which they sought for the land of Chittim in Italy, Macedonia, and Cyprus, I decidely prefer the latter, which is also the opinion of Josephus (“Ant.” i. 6,1). According to this, Chittim is the island Cyprus, so called from the Phoenician colony, Kition, (Citium), in the southern part of the island, but still in such a sense, that this name Chittim was, at a later period, employed also in a wider sense, to designate other islands and countries adjacent to the coasts of the Mediterranean, as, e. g., Macedonia (Daniel 11:30; Ezekiel 27:6, which agrees very well with Cyprus: “Of the oaks of Bashan do they make them oars; thy ships‘ benches do they make of ivory, encased with cedar from the isles of Chittim.” The sense of this passage is, that the fleets coming from Tarshish (Tartessus) to Tyre, would, on their way, learn from the inhabitants of Cyprus the news of the downfall of Tyre.‘

It is revealed to them - If we understand “Chittim” to denote the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean, it means that the navigators in the ships of Tarshish would learn the intelligence of the destruction of Tyre from those coasts or islands where they might stop on their way. Tyre was of so much commercial importance that the news of its fall would spread into all the islands of the Mediterranean.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Tyre was the mart of the nations. She was noted for mirth and diversions; and this made her loth to consider the warnings God gave by his servants. Her merchants were princes, and lived like princes. Tyre being destroyed and laid waste, the merchants should abandon her. Flee to shift for thine own safety; but those that are uneasy in one place, will be so in another; for when God's judgments pursue sinners, they will overtake them. Whence shall all this trouble come? It is a destruction from the Almighty. God designed to convince men of the vanity and uncertainty of all earthly glory. Let the ruin of Tyre warn all places and persons to take heed of pride; for he who exalts himself shall be abased. God will do it, who has all power in his hand; but the Chaldeans shall be the instruments.