CSBC Sunday School: Isaiah
Lesson #4: Isaiah 23:8-18
September 27, 2020
Resources: Phillips; Hearson; MacArthur; McCrary, B. Jennings, Explore the Bible
HOOK: (Why should we listen to this lesson?)
Central Theme: GOD IS IN CONTROL!
Objective Statement: EVERY BELIEVER CAN TRUST THAT GOD IS IN CONTROL BY OBSERVING THESE THREE TRUTHS ABOUT HIS REIGN!
Points: TRUTH #1 – GOD IS JUST! TRUTH #2 – GOD IS ACTIVE! TRUTH #3 – GOD IS HONORED!
- FOCUS ATTENTION: Throughout history, we have seen dictators, despots, and autocratic leaders seize control of countries or regions. CAN YOU NAME SOME OF THE WORLD CONQUERORS THAT COME TO MIND? Consider rulers like Augustus Caesar of Rome; Alexander the Great of Greece; Cyrus the Great of Persia; Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon; etc. Sometimes those leaders appear to set up kingdoms and nations that seem invincible. Their power and authority are unrivaled, and their arrogance is often unmatched because they think they are indomitable. In Isaiah’s day, Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician cities on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea that had a vast and powerful financial empire. To the human eye, they seemed invincible, but they were no match for God. God is sovereign over every nation and the human seats of power.
- CONTEXT: This week’s lesson comes from the end of a section of Isaiah ( 13-23) referred to as “oracles against the nations” or “judgments on the nations.” Isaiah is going to give a roll call of nations that thought they had arrived in power and influence. Yet, Isaiah will present that God sets them up and He, alone, has control over every one of them. In last week’s lesson, God had promised judgment and then eventual restoration for the people of Israel and Judah. A natural question for Isaiah’s audience was how any restoration would be possible given the power of the nations around them. King Ahaz of Judah certainly didn’t trust that God could accomplish His promise amidst the looming threat of Assyria and the northern kingdoms. You will remember in antiquity powerful nations expanded their territory by conquest. Armies fought under the authority of their gods and the prevailing army believed it was because their god was superior. DOES ANYONE REMEMBER WHAT THIS CONCEPT WAS CALLED? This was known as “Holy War.” The strongest god(s) would prevail in the conflict. Seldom did Israel win military battles against their empire-building opponents. Still, the Jews believed their God was the Almighty God. The fundamental truth Isaiah sought to remind the people of was that God was not just Lord of Judah, but Lord of all nations – whether they acknowledged Him or not – and He ruled over all the created order. The oracles against the nations were a testimony of the power and sovereignty of God! In our text today, we are going to see God’s authority over the wealthy and materialistic influence of Tyre, in Phoenicia. That financial center had become proud and arrogant in their accomplishments and God was going to show His power over them. God was reminding His people, He could be trusted to carry out justice against the most powerful nations and, ultimately, bring about the promised messianic kingdom in the line of King David, as revealed in Isaiah Chapters 9-12.
- Let’s Explore the Bible in Isaiah 23:8-18.
BOOK: (What does the Bible say?)
TRUTH #1 – GOD IS JUST! (Isaiah 23:8-12)
- In the early verses of 23, the fall of “Tyre” is predicted. This city was a major Phoenician center of trade and power during the time of Isaiah’s ministry. The city was situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, just north of Israel, and it became a major port for trade. As a result, it gained great wealth, it had a great deal of influence, and its people became known as skilled seafarers. The cities of Tyre and Sidon were known for their worship of the god, Ba’al. So when Isaiah predicted the fall of Tyre and the loss of its wealth (vs. 1-7) this would have been astounding to Isaiah’s audience. Its unique placement on an island with large fortifications, a sizable population, and a fleet of ships made it appear to be a permanent fixture. Similar to New York or Los Angeles in our day, its destruction seemed unthinkable and the impact of its loss would have major implications for the world as a whole. Its devastation was almost inconceivable to the people of that day. Isaiah asked a rhetorical question: “Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre?” (vs. 8). While the answer will be specifically given in vs. 9, the solitary possible conclusion was, only God could do such a thing. While the people of Judah believed God was in control of their territory, they had come to believe that He was not in control everywhere. But if God could bring Tyre to ruin, there was no other conclusion than He was in control everywhere. While we don’t normally associate “merchants” or “traffickers” with royalty and power, Tyre’s wealth and reputation were such that her traders were viewed as royalty with crowns. Everywhere in the known world, the businessmen of Tyre were treated with honor and respect (vs. 8).
- In 9-10, stated emphatically, “The Lord of hosts hath purposed it” leaving no doubt who was in control and who could accomplish such a seemingly impossible task. Whenever you see the “Lord of hosts” it is always to be understood as the Lord at the head of His heavenly armies. God would judge their “pride of all glory” and humble them in the sight of everyone in the world (vs. 9). The reference to “Tarshish” (vs. 10) indicates the furthest trading partner for Tyre, all the way out in modern Spain. It is the same location, where Jonah was attempting to flee from the presence of God (Jonah 1). So Tyre’s destruction would be felt throughout the then known world. Verses 11-12 indicate the magnitude of God’s judgment as “He shook the kingdoms” (vs. 11), and laid waste to the strongholds of the seemingly invincible city. Neither Tyre (“O thou oppressed virgin”) nor “Zidon” would rejoice any longer, for God’s destruction had ruined their influences (vs. 12). The people would try to flee to “Chittim” but to no avail. They could not outrun the God of the universe. God is JUST and in CONTROL.
TRUTH #2 – GOD IS ACTIVE! (vs. 13-14)
- Escaping destruction would be the first thought of any person in a besieged city. Verses 13-14 make it clear that no avenue to freedom would be available when the Assyrians invaded. The “Chaldeans” were a people group that occupied the area of ancient Babylon, which was south of the Assyrian homeland. Isaiah told the citizens of Tyre to look at that society and see that it no longer existed. A most devastating siege took place under the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib, who conquered and destroyed the city of Babylon in 689 BC. It would be many years before Babylon recovered and became the next major empire on the scene because the Assyrians “brought it to ruin” ( 13). The phrase “howl, ye ships of Tarshish” brings this oracle full circle, tying the end of this judgment section back to its beginning by repeating the opening phrase (Isa. 23:1). The ships in vs. 1 and vs. 14 were addressed as if they were alive; they were a metaphor for the loss of the port and trade of Tyre. Even though Tyre was a fortress with tall walls, it would not stand against the judgment of God. This proved to be the case. Tyre was besieged several times in its history, and experienced loss each time. Because part of the city was an island fortress, its people did manage to regain some of what was lost and rebuild business over time. However, that would not last. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great used rubble from the ruined part of the city to build a causeway from the shore to the island citadel so he could besiege it. His siege was successful. He brought down the great city, and it never again recovered its former glory after that.
TRUTH #3 – GOD IS HONORED! (vs. 15-18)
- In verses 15 the statement that “Tyre shall be forgotten for seventy years” is a little confusing as “the days of one king” does not coincide with any, one monarch in that city. It has been suggested that the 70 years may have mirrored the time that Judah would be in captivity in Babylon ( 29:10). In any event, the destruction of Tyre and her dominance in the region economically will be forever altered. The city will never recover from God’s judgment upon their pride and arrogance. Even though the city will rebuild and try to gain its former glory, it will only be a shadow of its once glorious self. That is why Isaiah refers to the song of a “harlot that hast been forgotten” (vs. 16a), trying to entice her former partners back into a relationship with her. But she is old and forgotten by most of her former unions. The implication for Tyre was this: after she suffered God’s judgment, her former trading partners would no longer be interested in her. With the loss of her great wealth, she would lose her power and influence. After 70 years, she is almost forgotten.
- In verses 17-18, we see the Lord would “visit Tyre” after her time of punishment had been completed. Yet the result is not what the reader would expect. The city would go back into the business. The harlot of 16, would go back to what she did before – “commit fornication.” In an effort to try and gain some notoriety, she will resume her business and trade, “with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth” (vs. 17). This resumption of trading activity will pursue a path that God already judged before. Tyre just wanted wealth and independent power apart from any acknowledgment of God. They wanted control. They trusted in their proud ways instead of recognizing the God of the universe who had already destroyed them before. They went right back to their wicked ways. Isn’t that just like human tendencies, even today? We trust in wealth and power rather than trusting in God. In an ironic twist, the wages that the citizens of Tyre earned would ultimately be “holiness to the Lord” (vs. 18). How can that be? Well, the wealth gleaned by Tyre’s human endeavors, would “not be treasured nor laid up” (vs. 18b). Whereas before, their wealth had accumulated resulting in their proud downfall, this time, God will use the riches of Tyre to support those who serve the Lord, “for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the Lord” (vs. 18c), probably a reference to the people of Jerusalem. God will once again show that He is in control and those that trust in riches will fail. God is the only One we should and can TRUST; then and NOW!
LOOK: (Why is what it says important?)
Objective Statement (Repeated): EVERY BELIEVER CAN TRUST THAT GOD IS IN CONTROL BY OBSERVING THE THREE TRUTHS WE STUDIED TODAY!
- We would all acknowledge that God is in total control. In the past, proud people like Tyre were judged by God because of their trust in commerce and wealth. God showed them that was all temporary and fleeting. The only way to use mammon appropriately is for, “holiness to the Lord.” It’s fitting that we are considering our investment in eternal things today with our FAITH PROMISE MISSION’S OFFERING! Don’t place your trust in fleeting riches when you can use those resources for eternal investments. Give to something that truly matters!
TOOK: (Why is it important to me? What should I do with it?)
Evaluation: This week practice the discipline of giving yourself to the Lord and your treasures will follow. Jesus said it this way, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). What will you do this year for the cause of worldwide Missions? Don’t hoard your money; give it to God and gain eternal benefits!
In preparation for our next Bible Study please read Isaiah 25:1-10.