Lessons From A Doomed City

Bible Book: Isaiah  23 : 8-18
Subject: Judgment; Security, Jesus is; God of the Nations; Doom

 Isaiah 23:8-18

This passage has to do with God’s dealings with the ancient city of Tyre. As we examine those verses, five powerfully important truths come into focus.


Tyre was what historians call a city-state. Technically they were a city. However, they were independent in that they relied upon their own military for protection, and to their own resources for maintenance and sustenance. Thus, for practical purposes, they functioned as a nation, and God’s dealings with them remind us that he, the Lord of the universe, is the Sovereign of all nations—and if a nation continues to thumb its nose at him, he can and will bring it down. 

Let’s look together at verses 8-9:

8 “Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth? 9 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.”

Because of its strategic location on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Tyre had developed into the great Maritime power of the ancient world, and had established a number of outposts or colonies. Their successful trade moguls lived like princes, and those wishing to do business with them honored them—or, “cow-towed” to them. 

Tyre was not only a city of great wealth and prestige, it was also an extremely wicked city. The people of Tyre felt they had no time or need for God; they were sufficient unto themselves—and their arrogance, materialism, and immorality had finally reached the point that God said, “Enough,” and announced that judgment was on the way.

Isaiah asked a rhetorical question, marked by what I interpret as divinely inspired sarcasm: “Who,” he asked, “will be able to take down that towering, well positioned and well protected city-state?” Then he answered his own question: “The God of heaven and earth, that’s who!”

10 (ESV): “Cross over your land like the Nile, O daughter of Tarshish; there is no restraint anymore.”

Tarshish was one of Tyre’s colonies, located in Spain. Isaiah was saying to them, “Just like the Nile flows freely, you can now feel free to do as you please, since Tyre is doomed and can no longer control you.” 

11 “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. 12 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.” 

The rulers of Tyre considered their city-state to be invincible, but Isaiah compares their invasion and destruction by the Assyrians to a virgin being violated and abused. He is not equating the two in terms of right and wrong; no virgin should ever be violated and abused—he is simply saying that the grief and despair that she feels is like unto the grief and despair the people of Tyre will feel when they are conquered and ruined.

“daughter of Zidon” Apparently Zidon [Sidon] was the “mother city” of Tyre, although Tyre had greatly outgrown Sidon in terms of wealth and influence.

“pass over to Chittim; there also shalt thou have no rest.” Chittim was a city in Cyprus; Isaiah anticipated that when Tyre was invaded some of its people would flee to Chittim. However, he tells them that they will find no rest there, for Cyprus will also be overrun by the Assyrians. There is no escaping God’s judgment.

13 (ESV): “Behold the land of the Chaldeans! This is the people that was not; Assyria destined it for wild beasts. They erected their siege towers, they stripped her palaces bare, they made her a ruin.”

In case the people of Tyre might doubt that God was going to bring judgment upon them as he had promised, Isaiah reminded them of another promise God had made years earlier (around 689 B.C.). God had promised that the Assyrians would bring the Babylonian Empire to its knees, it happened exactly as God said it would. If God could bring down that great, expansive Empire, he could bring down Tyre—or any other city or nation, for that matter—including Judah, for whose benefit Isaiah was prophesying.

14 “Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste.” 

Tarshish was located in Southern Spain. Her main trading partner was Tyre, so now those merchants from Tarshish would wail, because the mighty fortress of the sea, and their main source of revenue, would be no more.

15 “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. 16 Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.”

Isaiah says that once Tyre is destroyed, it will be forgotten for 70 years. No longer will it be a major player in international trade; no longer will it be honored; no longer will it be the envy of its neighbors. For 70 years it will be, for practical purposes, a dead city.

We are not told exactly when that 70 years would begin and end, but it may well have been about 700 to 630 B.C., the time when the Assyrian Empire collapsed. During that 70 years Tyre would be utterly insignificant so far as any influence on the world stage.

But after that 70 years of obscurity, Tyre would begin trying to build back her trade alliances and her position in the world of commerce. Those efforts are compared to a worn-out, haggard old prostitute going about the streets, making music, trying to call attention to herself in the hope of attracting customers again, as she had done when she was young and attractive.

The Scriptures remind us over and over again that God determines the fate of nations, and that if a nation continues to thumb its nose at God and his moral laws, he can and will bring that nation down. Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”

At this point let me say that I am unashamedly, unabashedly, and unapologetically a patriotic, flag-waving American. I often get tears in my eyes when I see Old Glory waving in the breeze, or hear our national anthem, or see our military personnel in uniform, or see a veteran with his cap showing that he served in the armed forces. I think this is the greatest country in the world. I thank God that I was born in this great nation, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I love our country. But love need not, and ought not, be blind—and because you and I love our country, we can’t turn a blind eye to the disturbing fact that American has drifted a lamentably long way from the moral and spiritual moorings of our founding fathers.

The evidence of our moral and spiritual decline is glaringly evident on every hand: the heartbreaking killing of unborn babies; the rising murder rate; the alarming incidence of child abuse and pornography; the growing acceptance and even promotion of so-called same sex marriage, and other perversions; the filthy TV shows, movies, and novels that claim to reflect today’s culture; the lack of respect for authority; the overcrowded jails and prisons; the shocking number of deaths due to drug overdoses—and the list goes on. We need to pray for a moral and spiritual revival throughout our beloved nation. 

And how can that happen? 

I’ll never forget a sermon preached at New Orleans Baptist Seminary when Connie and I were students. A great African-American preacher named Famous McElhaney preached in our Speech class one day on the subject, “Making the World Better.” He marshaled one strong adjective after another in describing the lamentable condition of our world and the profound need to make it better—and then he leaned forward, pointed his finger at those of us in the audience, and he said, “My first point is: You can start with yourself!”

That’s where I have to start, and where you have to start, if we’re going to be God’s instruments in making our world better. 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”

Many, if not most of us, when we take an honest look inside ourselves, need to cry out with the author of Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”

Here is another practical lesson from today’s Scripture: In explaining why God had pronounced Tyre’s doom, Isaiah 23:9 (ESV) says, “The Lord of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pompous pride of all glory….”


Pride is a killer. Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

Someone told D. L. Moody, “Sir, I am a self-made man.” To which Moody replied, “You have relieved the Almighty of a great responsibility.”

I heard a man say that some folks are so full of pride, they can strut sitting down.

One of the most graphic reminders of God’s disdain for pride is seen in Daniel, chapter four. Nebuchadnezzar became so puffed up with pride that God brought him down in a remarkable, dramatic way. God sent Daniel to warn him, but Nebuchadnezzar refused to heed God’s warning. Let’s read of what happened, in Daniel 4:28-37:

29 At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.

30 The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? 31 While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. 32 And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. 33 The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws. 

34 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: 35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? 36 At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. 37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

Still another lesson from the doomed city of Tyre is that…


Verse 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.”

What does it mean that “the Lord will visit Tyre?” Considering the statement that follows, it obviously does not mean that his visit will result in a moral and spiritual turn around. That verse goes on to say, “and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.” 

So, apparently the phrase, “the Lord will visit Tyre,” simply means that he was going to give the people of Tyre another chance. He would allow them to be revived as a vibrant economy and as a major force in the world of commerce. But, unfortunately, the people of Tyre will not appreciate this “second chance” and instead of turning to the Lord in gratitude and surrender, they will continue on their previous path of ungodliness, pride, and immorality.

But I’m grateful that he the God of another opportunity. That is so graphically illustrated in Jeremiah 18:1-6:

1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 2 Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. 3 Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. 4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.

We can’t redo the past, or undo the past, any more than we can unscramble an egg, or unbreak a glass, or undetonated and explosion—but, by God’s grace, we can overcome the past. By his mercy, we can be forgiven, and changed, so that from this point forward we can move in a new, different, God honoring direction.

A further lesson from Isaiah 23:8-18 is that…


Verse 18: “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.”

While some commentators believe that verse 18 is to be taken simply as an extension of verse 17, I believe that there is a huge time lapse between verses 17 and 18, and that verse 18 refers to some future time when much of Tyre’s wealth will be used to generously support the ministry, provide for their apparel and other needs, and for the general advancement of God’s kingdom.

In fact, verse 18 might be referring to more than one future time. Some believe it refers to the time in the 6th century when King Cyrus of Persia would allow the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland. Cyrus would command the people in the region—including the people of Tyre—to give to meet the personal needs of these returning exiles, and to give to support the rebuilding of the Temple. (Ezra 1:4)

This prophecy in Isaiah 23:18 could also be referring to the first century. Matthew 15:21 says, “Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon”—and the passage goes on to tell of a woman being gloriously converted. Even though we aren’t told of it, in all probability there were also others in Tyre and Sidon who were converted during that visit by the Savior.

Acts 11:19 (NASB): “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.” Tyre was located in Phoenicia.

Acts 21:3-4: “3 Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden. 4 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days….”

Still others believe that Isaiah 23:18 is pointing to that undisclosed future time when Jesus will return and set up his millennial kingdom. The late J. Vernon McGee believes that Isaiah 45:12 is pointing to that same future time: “And the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among the people shall entreat thy favor.”

So, in spite of Tyre’s history of wickedness and immorality, some among the later generations of Tyre’s inhabitants became devoted followers of Jesus. They chose not to follow the path trodden by their ancestors.

I have a friend who had an alcoholic father. He says that he can remember, as a nine-year-old, crying and pleading and trying to stop his drunken father from beating his mother with a piece of rubber hose. But my friend determined that, by the grace of God, he wasn’t going to live like that. He accepted Jesus as his Savior, and grew up to be one of the finest men you would ever want to meet. He is an excellent husband, father, and grandfather. He is living evidence that you can overcome your background.

I’m certainly not discounting the impact of one’s family background or upbringing; but I am saying that when it gets down to “where the rubber hits the pavement,” the final determinant of how we live depends on the choices we make. The great old leader of the people of Israel, toward the end of his life, said in Joshua 24:15: “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

One other lesson to which I want to call attention from God’s dealings with Tyre:


Tyre was the wealthiest, most heavily fortified city of its day. They apparently considered themselves invincible—yet because of their sin, God brought them down. Neither all of their military might, nor their vast wealth, could ward off the invasion and destruction brought about by the Lord through the Assyrian Empire. Jesus said, in Luke 12:15, “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Our only ultimate security is in the Lord.

James Merritt tells of how, back during pioneer days, settlers in the Northern United States and Canada had an extremely difficult time dealing with the fierce winters. Often there would be blizzards, with sub-zero temperatures, and howling winds whipping up torrents of snow, creating such a blinding whiteness that a man could lose his bearings even a few feet from his doorstep. 

Sometimes, in the intense, whirling whiteness of that snow, a man would get lost a mere five or six steps from the door of his cabin and would later be found frozen to death.

Those early settlers had a dilemma, because even during those deadly snowstorms the cows had to be milked and the stock had to be fed. So, they found a solution. During a lull in the weather, these farmers would run a sturdy rope from the cabin to the barn. 

That rope was tied securely to both buildings, and it functioned as a literal lifeline. When those farmers would tread into that ripping wind and raging ice and snow, they would grip that rope, knowing that by holding on to it they could safely make it to the barn and back.1

Sometimes you and I find ourselves in a storm—and I’m thinking not of climatic storms, but emotional storms—times when we are in danger of being overwhelmed—sometimes by financial pressures, or health problems, or a strained or broken relationship, or by personal moral failure, or the loss of a loved one, or betrayal by someone we had trusted, or loneliness, or the heartache of someone we care deeply about going astray, or temptations that are plaguing you and threatening to bring you down—and the list could go on.

But however fiercely the storm rages, Jesus is our lifeline. By clinging to him in faith and obedience, we can make it through the storm to the place of safety. When it comes down to the “bottom line,” Jesus alone is our ultimate hope, our ultimate help, our ultimate security.


1 James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia: sermon, “Just Know Him in His Virgin Birth” (used by permission)