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The city of Tyre is now part of Lebanon. It was an island city eventually expanded to another island and connected with a mainland port by filling the sea with earth and rock. They ruled the seas, with their own ports in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Persian Gulf – even starting the first traders with North Africa by settling Carthage. It was one of the first coastal bases in recorded history, becoming an unmatched political and financial power. The Greeks say that their alphabet came from Cadmus, who was the son of a Tyrian king. The name of the continent of Europe is said to come from Europa, the sister of Cadmus. It was in Tyre that purple dye developed (extracted from the local Murex, a kind of snail) and began to be used throughout the known world as a symbol of royalty (one gram of purple dye was worth twenty grams of gold). This is an important city, a wealthy city, full of cultural legends and Greek mythology, a political power and commercial center ruled by financial gain and known throughout the world as a city that owns itself, is fortified, and cannot be conquered – but because of this, Tyre was a target by those who wanted that wealth and power for themselves and were willing to try to conquer it.
Isaiah uses this symbol of the “ships of Tarshish”, which were huge (three decks!) merchant ships that took Tyre’s trade goods up and down the Mediterranean coast all the way to the area that is now Spain (where Tarshish was located). Even Spain’s ships came all the way to Tyre, as did the ships from Africa and Egypt. But Tyre was so in control of the trade routes that would sail at night, so that other countries would not learn their routes, and all their charts of the winds and the sea currents were kept very top secret and not shared with other countries. By describing this route from south to north, Isaiah means to talk about the breadth and expanse of the kingdom of Tyre, as well as its wealth.
This is the context in which Isaiah lives, where no one could imagine that Tyre could be conquered – much less that anyone would even dare to try. The surrounding cities all benefited from Tyre and its trade, so why would anyone mess up a good system? It was unbelievable to the people of Isaiah’s day that anyone would even want to attack Tyre, much less try – and even more unbelievable that a kingdom from far away would come here to do so. It seemed impossible.
But Isaiah sees that it will indeed happen, and that the destruction of Tyre will not only wipe out all the people, but even their homes will be completely gone. There would be no way for the ships to enter Tyre because its ports will be destroyed. Isaiah says that the ships on their way back from Spain (Tarshish) will be warned from Cyprus (Chittim, an island east of Greece) that Tyre had been conquered (verse 1).
Isaiah tells the people, these rich merchants of the island of Tyre, the “inhabitants of the isle” that they cannot complain about what will happen to them because they will understand it is justice (verse 2). They will understand they got what they asked for, and that destruction is the consequence they chose. Zidon is one of the ports of Tyre that faces the city of Sidon across the sea from it. When Tyre was struggling in the beginning, many merchants from Sidon came over to help and so “replenished” Tyre into the success it became. Everyone knew this history, so no one could complain that they had not prospered, that the Lord had not blessed them. Even Sihor, the rich valley of the Nile with the dark, muddy waters full of nutrients that enriched the crops and farms along the water, brought its grain to Tyre so that the people lived in plenty and without want (verse 3). But instead of turning to the Lord, the people turned to pagan gods and sinful practices associated with them. Because of this, the Lord’s blessings would be withdrawn and the people would no longer prosper. Those who had come from Sidon would leave, and go home “ashamed” that Tyre had fallen, deserting the city without a new generation to revive it (verse 4). It will be so bad that it will hurt the people (commercially, politically, financially), just as it will when Egypt is also conquered (verse 5). Tyre has risen, Isaiah is saying, to wealth and power and influence even as Egypt had; but because it did not credit the Lord for this prospering, it will also fall just as Egypt will. Isaiah says it will happen about the same time, and the people will be shocked that both kingdoms fall almost at the same time.
This is exactly what happened. The Assyrians tried to conquer Tyre, and laid siege to the city for about five years. But then the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzer, conquered Assyria. At this time, the wealthy political powers of the time, Tyre and Egypt, combined forces to oppose the Babylonians by no longer paying taxes to Babylon. Because they did not pay their taxes, Nebuchadnezzar (King of Babylon) laid siege to Tyre for thirteen years in the sixth century (BC). The walled city of the mainland remained safe, but the people of the city fled to the island part of the city for added protection. This was the beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy.
So we again see this pattern in Isaiah, and Isaiah’s urgent need to point it out again and again: when the people stop paying their taxes, they are conquered by the enemy. It is both a reminder to follow the laws of the country in which we live (and so also give to Caesar what is Ceasar’s, see Matthew 22:21 and Luke 20:25) and also a command to maintain our protection against the adversary by giving our full tithe – even so as not to be destroyed in the last days (see also D&C 85:3 and D&C 64:23).
The destruction would be so bad that Isaiah just warns the people to leave, telling the merchant ships to skip the Tyre port and just go on to Spain for safety because there will be nothing in Tyre but grief and mourning (verse 6).
Isaiah turns back to the people, calling them the “joyous city” because they were known as a place of debauchery and wild celebrations. He says the remains will be known for their bad behavior, and that their destruction will be so bad even the people themselves will have to leave for safety (verse 7). He calls out to the people, confronting them for their foolishness in choosing destruction. He says that they who have been known as political and cultural leaders will see their own downfall for their own poor choices (verse 8). Because they are filled with pride, the Lord will humble them (verse 9). There will be nothing left of the port – not culturally, finanicially, or politically (verse 10) – all because the people rejected their spiritual development. The Lord has set the laws in place by which we prosper, and we cannot and will not without obedience to those laws (verse 11).
There will be no more rejoicing or riotous living, not even when the people (the children of those from Sidon who settled Tyre) try to escape to Cyprus (Chittim) for safety (verse 12). Isaiah is saying that they do not get to escape their consequences by simply moving to another port and continuing the same bad behavior. Isaiah compares it to the Chaldeans from the land of Ur, who were nothing until the Assyrians came in and built great cities (just like Tyre was nothing until the people of Sidon came and built a great port). But when the Chaldeans allowed evil practices to infiltrate their social culture (just like happened in Tyre), the Lord destroyed them until they were no more a people and the place was ruined (verse 13). Remember, this was the context of Abraham, who lived in the land of the Chaldeans – this social culture corruption, and the evil practices that came with it, is why the Lord told him to leave the land (after delivering him from being a human sacrifice offered by his father to a pagan god) (see Abraham 1).
Verse 1, 6, 10, and now verse 14 are poetic elements Isaiah uses in his poetry, emphasizing the degree of destruction that will come. Tyre will no longer be a kingdom of any sort, much less a social or cultural or commercial or political leader. It is going to be destroyed, and everyone in the surrounding lands will know it.
In verse 15, Isaiah gives us the timing of when this happens. He says Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, not important to the rest of the world anymore (verse 15). The people of Tyre will try to re-establish its trade by trying to market itself with memories of the past and its vast experience (verse 16). But no one will care, and no political allies will join forces to build Tyre again. After the seventy years, Tyre will return to its evil practices of the past, and repeat this cycle again and again throughout history because they will not submit to the Lord (verse 17). All of this came true, even the joining with every ruling kingdom of the day, selling itself just to survive.
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great wanted to try to conquer Tyre, and laid siege to the city for seven months. The people again left the mainland city for the added protection of the islands. However, Alexander went one step further than Nebuchadnezzar by taking about the abandoned city on the coast and using the stones and materials to build a causeway to reach the islands. Legend says that this was so much work, and made Alexander so angry, that once he did conquer the island city, he was ruthless in his attack. More than 30,000 people were killed or sold into slavery.
In 64 BC, the Romans conquered Tyre along with the rest of Syria. The people of Tyre began to live like the Romans so as not to be destroyed, even printing coins. It was later conquered by the Byzantines and it sold out to them; then the Islamic armies in 634 and building its trade with those allies; followed by the Crusaders in 1124, and the Ottomans in the 16th century. It was integrated into Lebanon at the end of World War 1.
But, Isaiah says, in time Tyre will redeem itself (will be redeemed) by turning back to the Lord. God would not accept the offerings of Tyre while they were still obtained through deceitful means with evil practices, so Isaiah is talking about a change in the people that causes them to return to the Lord even by their means of work (not just the resultant wealth), what they do, the way they work, and the way they take care of each other. This is why it is an acceptable offering to the Lord. It’s political power, wealth, resources, and cultural influences will be given to the Church (verse 18) because the people have returned to the Lord. Instead of saving it up for selfish gain and pride, it will be used for the temporal needs of the covenant people of the Lord, even “to eat sufficiently and for durable clothing” (see also Ephesians 4:28).
It will be used by the Lord, even for temples (“holiness to the Lord”, see Exodus 28:36). Because of this temple reference, Isaiah also is saying that this “eating” and “clothing” is spiritual in nature more than temporal. This would mean that besides helping the people with temporal needs of food and clothes, it would also be used for the building of chapels (“nourishment” that comes from the Sacrament) and temples (“the durable clothing” may refer to the righteous robes of the priesthood). The word “durable” as translated here could also be translated as “enduring” or “lasting” or “ever-lasting”, as in “eternal” or of righteous quality that endures. So Isaiah is referring to the pattern we have now with our tithes and offerings being used for our local wards, as well as the welfare program, and also for the building of temples – and saying the people of Tyre will someday be a part of this. This is confirmed with the cross reference of Zechariah 14:14, which includes the same use of material resources for the “gathering” of the people, and is followed by verse 20 that says it will be inscribed with “Holiness to the Lord”. This is another reflection of Isaiah’s poetry style, as he compares how much greater will be the glory of Tyre with a temple establishing it as part of the kingdom of the Lord with real joy and peace, than when it was its own kingdom with illusions of prosperity that were disturbed and always at war.
This is the same for us, when we let go of contention and pride and selfishness, and turn to the Lord, giving Him all of ourselves and using our resources to care for His people.
That is how we “dwell before the Lord”, through our wards and by our growth and progress that comes only by worshiping in the temple – and then going and living as a people of holiness, even ministering to each other and our own communities… because this is who we are, because this is who He has created us to be.
Holiness to the Lord,
the House of the Lord.