Chapter 23 consists of a prophecy concerning the overthrow of Tyre and Zidon—spelled Sidon in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon—and their eventual reestablishment. Tyre is located about 35 miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee on the Mediterranean Sea;1 it was an important seaport and center of commerce for Syria, and before that for Phoenicia. The name means “rock,” or “rocky place.”2 Zidon was a sister city, located some distance northward from Tyre along the Mediterranean coast.3 The name means “fisher’s town;”4 fishing was a major industry. Zidon was the principal city of Phoenicia.
Tyre and Zidon would be overthrown by the Babylonians; after a period of time Tyre, in particular, would be reestablished to fulfill the purposes of the Lord.
In the beginning of verse 1, “The burden of Tyre” means a prophecy of doom concerning Tyre. Continuing: “Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them.” “Ships of Tarshish” came to be used to describe ships of the largest size, capable of long voyages.5 Tarshish is probably Tartessus of ancient Spain.6 Those on these large ships coming in from various places would mourn to learn of the destruction of Tyre, in which no houses were left standing. They would hear this news at an intermediate stop, Chittim, which is modern Cyprus—an island northwest of Tyre in the Mediterranean,7 populated initially by inhabitants of Tyre.8
Verse 2 states: “Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Zidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished.” The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “…Zidon, whose messengers crossed the sea….”9 “The isle” refers to Chittim. “Be still” means be silent, or stupefied, upon hearing the news.10 Isaiah’s use of both singular and plural pronouns indicates that first he addresses the inhabitants of the isle as members of a group, but then shifts to address the body of inhabitants as a single entity.
Verses 1 and 2 contain a parallel structure with elements that are opposites: “Howl, ye ships of Tarshish” opposes “Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle,” and “for it is laid waste” opposes “thou whom the merchants…have replenished.”
In verse 3 Isaiah describes Tyre’s economic base: “And by great waters the seed of Sihor, the harvest of the river is her revenue; and she is a mart of nations.” “Great waters” means the Mediterranean Sea; “the seed of Sihor” means grain from the Nile.11 Tyre bought wheat from Egypt and sold it to many nations. Sihor was the shipping point for wheat in the northeast Nile delta region.12
Verse 4 describes the grief of Zidon at the destruction of Tyre: “Be thou ashamed, O Zidon: for the sea hath spoken, even the strength of the sea, saying, I travail not, nor bring forth children, neither do I nourish up young men, nor bring up virgins.” Zidon would be grieved because of the fall of Tyre, her sister city. The sea is unfeeling and unforgiving; it bears no sorrow for Tyre nor its slain children, young men and young women.
Verse 5 states: “As at the report concerning Egypt, so shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre.” When the word of Tyre’s destruction reaches Egypt, she will be pained at the news.13
Verses 6 and 7 describe the escape of some of the inhabitants of Tyre. Verse 6 declares: “Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.”14 “Isle” in this verse again refers to the island of Chittim, or modern Cyprus.
Verse 7 continues: “Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn.” Survivors from the region would go afar off to live—as far away as Tarshish—following the destruction of Tyre.
Verse 8 poses a rhetorical question, to be answered in verse 9: “Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth?”15 “Traffickers” means “traders.” Tyre was a worldly city, steeped in the traditions and wickedness of the world.
Verse 9 provides the answer to the question posed in verse 8: “The LORD of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth.” The Hebrew word translated as “stain” means “defile.”16
Verse 10 states: “Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.” the Great Isaiah Scroll renders “Cultivate your land as along a river….”17 The Joseph Smith Translation states “there is no more strength in thee.”18 “O daughter of Tarshish” means the city of Tyre, whose economic and cultural basis was shipping; the ships of Tarshish brought goods, wealth, and people from different nations, along with the cultures of these nations. “No more strength” means the economic basis of Tyre would be destroyed; the survivors would have to cultivate the land to subsist.
In verses 11 and 12 Isaiah declares that the Lord’s actions would be against the city of Zidon, as well. Verse 11 states: “He stretched out his hand over the sea, he shook the kingdoms: the LORD hath given a commandment against the merchant city, to destroy the strong holds thereof.” The Lord caused Tyre to be destroyed because of wickedness.
Verse 12 continues: “And he said, Thou shalt no more rejoice, O thou oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon: arise, pass over to Chittim; there also shalt thou have no rest.”19 Here the Lord includes Zidon in the prophecy of Tyre’s impending downfall. “Thou shalt no more rejoice” means “thou shalt no more rejoice in wickedness.” “Thou oppressed virgin” means “thou fair city, oppressed” by invaders. “Daughter of Zidon” means the city of Zidon, stating here its inclusion in the prophecy of destruction. Even if survivors pass over to Chittim (Cyprus), there would be no comfort for them there.
In verse 13 the origins of Tyre and Zidon are revealed: “Behold the land of the Chaldeans: this people was not, till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness: they set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof; and he brought it to ruin.” “He,” in the final phrase, refers to “the Assyrian.” “The land of the Chaldeans” refers to the wickedness of the city of Babylon; Isaiah makes this connection previously: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.”20 Isaiah rehearses the history of Babylon, which like Tyre was originally founded by the Assyrians. The sister cities of Tyre and Zidon would be destroyed by Babylon, which in turn would be destroyed by the Medes.
Verse 14 summarizes: “Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste. “Ships of Tarshish” means the city of Tyre, reflecting the same meaning as in verse 10.
Verses 13 and 14 contain a chiasm:
A: (13) Behold the land of the Chaldeans; this people was not,
B: till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness:
C: they set up the towers thereof,
C: they raised up the palaces thereof;
B: and he brought it to ruin.
A: (14) Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste.
Isaiah compares Tyre with “the land of the Chaldeans,” or Babylon. “The Assyrian founded it” contrasts with “he brought it to ruin,” establishing that the Assyrians founded Tyre and Babylon would destroy her.
In verse 15, Isaiah prophesies: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot.” Following destruction at the hand of the Babylonians, the city would lie waste for seventy years but would then be rebuilt. However, as the city is rebuilt the old wickedness for which Tyre was noted would resume.
Verse 16 elaborates: “Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.” Just as a harlot goes about the city singing to attract suitors, the merchants of Tyre would once again go about the surrounding nations to “make sweet melody,” reestablishing commerce.
Verse 17 describes the Lord’s goodness toward Tyre: “And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.” Tyre would resume buying and selling goods internationally with the Lord’s blessing, but later would return to wickedness.
Verses 15 through 17 contain a chiasm:
A: (15) And it shall come to pass in that day,
B: that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king:
C: after the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot.
D: (16) Take an harp,
D: go about the city,
C: thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs,
B: that thou mayest be remembered.
A: (17) And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.
“Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years” contrasts with “that thou mayest be remembered,” indicating that Tyre would be forgotten and then remembered. The chiasm foretells Tyre’s destruction, her being rebuilt seventy years later and reestablishment of her commerce.
Verse 18 explains why the Lord would permit the reestablishment of Tyre: “And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the LORD: It shall not be treasured nor laid up; for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the LORD, to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing.”21 Tyre being rebuilt would serve a purpose useful to the Lord;22 her merchandise would provide food and durable clothing for the righteous while the temple in Jerusalem was being rebuilt.23
1. See Bible Map 1.
2. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown‑Driver‑Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961‑3473, 1996, Strong’s No. 6865, p. 862. Compare Bible Dictionary—Tyre.
3. See Bible Map 2.
4. Bible Dictionary—Zidon.
5. Bible Dictionary—Ship, Shipping.
6. Bible Dictionary—Tarshish.
7. Bible Dictionary—Chittim.
8. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 206-207.
9. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 102.
10. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 1826, p. 198.
11. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2233, p. 282 (seed); Strong’s No. 7883, p. 1009 (Sihor).
12. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 237.
13. See also Isaiah 23:5, footnote 5a.
14. Verses 1 through 6 contain a chiasm: Howl, ye ships of Tarshish… ye inhabitants of the isle/Zidon…sea/great waters/river/Zidon…sea/Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.
15. Verses 7 and 8 contain a chiasm: Joyous city/antiquity is of ancient days/afar off to sojourn/counsel against Tyre/crowning city.
16. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2490, p. 319.
17. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah, 2001, p. 103.
18. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 200.
19. Verses 10 through 12 contain a chiasm: Pass through thy land/daughter of Tarshish/no more strength/he shook the kingdoms/the LORD hath given a commandment/destroy the strong holds thereof/no more rejoice/daughter of Zidon/pass over.
20. Isaiah 13:19.
21. Verse 18 contains a chiasm: Her merchandise/holiness to the LORD/it shall not be treasured nor laid up/her merchandise/for them that dwell before the LORD/to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing.
22. Isaiah 13:18, footnote 18a.
23. See Nehemiah and Ezra; also Bible Dictionary—Chronology.