Sunday School Lesson 4 - Isa. 23:8-18 - GOD IN CONTROL
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in Isa. 7:7-17, eight years after his encounter with the glory of God in the Temple, God called Isaiah to tell Ahaz, then King of Judah, that any attempt by Aram (Syria) and Israel (the Northern Kingdom) to conquer Judah would be unsuccessful. When God offered to give Ahaz a sign to confirm His promise, Ahaz basically begged off because he had already made up his mind to enter an alliance with Assyria. The bottom line was that Ahaz was more willing to trust human initiative than God. God then told Ahaz he would give him a sign anyway-that a child would be born of a virgin who would be called "Immanuel" (God with us). Ahaz essentially ignored this, too. As it turned out, God was right about Aram and the Northern Kingdom-they both fell-and the alliance with Assyria turned out to be the beginning of the end for Kingdom of Judah. The main point of application was that the rejection of God's sign of a Savior-a kingdom in the lesson but a lost world today-will result in death. The rejection of God's invitation to Ahaz ended in the death of the Davidic kingdom. Today, the invitation of God's sign is still open to those who will believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And end-time prophecy tells us that Jesus, as Messiah, will return to deliver Israel once again and establish His kingdom on earth (Ezek. 11:17).
This week, in Isa 23:8-18, we cover one of the major themes of the Bible: God's sovereignty over all of human history. Our lesson comes from the end of the section of Isaiah (Chaps. 13-23) known as the oracles (or judgments) against the nations. The context of the lesson will be clearer if we have a basic understanding of the pagan belief systems that were common in the nations of the Ancient Near East. In general they believed that their polytheistic gods were regional (i.e., occupied a prescribed territory), and that during wars, their gods fought the gods of the other nations. As we saw last week, unfaithful Judeans like Ahaz were tempted to put the God of Israel, the One True and living God , the Creator of the entire universe, in this category, and didn't have sufficient faith to believe that He was powerful enough to defeat superpowers like Assyria. These oracles, as we will see, were a message from God spoken by Isaiah to remind the people of Judah of the fundamental truth that the LORD God (YHWH) was not just Lord of Judah, but Lord over all nations whether they acknowledged Him or not. Besides the imminent judgments against these nations, Isaiah also sought to remind the people of Judah that they should refuse to trust in the values and morals of these nations, which were completely focused on worldly things like power, wealth, and human wisdom.
Read Isa. 23:8-12 - THE LORD OF ARMIES HAS PLANNED IT
8 Who has planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, Whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth? 9 The LORD of armies has planned it, to defile the pride of all beauty, To despise all the honored of the earth. 10 Overflow your land like the Nile, you daughter of Tarshish, There is no more restraint. 11 He has stretched His hand out over the sea, He has made the kingdoms tremble; The LORD has given a command concerning Canaan to demolish its strongholds. 12 He has said, "You shall not be jubilant anymore, you crushed virgin daughter of Sidon. Arise, pass over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest."
v. 8: "Who has planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, Whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?" - In the first seven verses of the chapter, Isaiah foretold fall of Tyre. On the coast of Phoenicia, Tyre at that time was the most powerful seafaring nation in the world. Its mercantile trading empire encompassed all of the known world and the merchants who controlled it were fabulously rich and powerful, seen as virtual royalty. To think that its end was in sight was absurd, a ridiculous idea. But also remember that these materialistic people placed all their faith, hope, and trust in the worship of non-existent pagan gods, money, and power.
v. 9: "The LORD of armies has planned it, to defile the pride of all beauty, To despise all the honored of the earth" - To restate the entire theme of this section, you could rephrase it to ask: Who is really in charge here? Where should you place your trust? Eventually, human rulers cross a line of arrogance that the "LORD of armies" will no longer ignore. God will act and it will be no more. We've seen it happen in our lifetimes: the disintegration of the globe-spanning British Empire after WWII and the abrupt collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations in the late-1980s. God still reigns.
v. 10: "Overflow your land like the Nile, you daughter of Tarshish, There is no more restraint" - "Tarshish," a seaport located in southern Spain near present day Gibraltar, you might recall is the place towards which Jonah fled after God commanded him to go to Ninevah (Jonah 1:3). This verse has several possible interpretations: (1) Tarshish should turn to agriculture because it can no longer trade with Tyre for food; (2) since Tyre can no longer monopolize trade, Tarshish is now free to be the leading power; or (3) because of its arrogance, Tarshish might soon suffer the same fate as Tyre.
v. 11: "He has stretched His hand out over the sea, He has made the kingdoms tremble; The LORD has given a command concerning Canaan to demolish its strongholds" - The principle God states here is that He is the undisputed master of the sea and everything around it. It isn't the Phoenicians of Tyre, nor their false gods, who control the sea. With this reality, God intends to make "the kingdoms tremble"-that in truth, it is the LORD God of Israel (YHWH) who controls everything! And mentioning "a command concerning Canaan," God reminds them that, like Joshua's earlier conquest of Canaan, the mere sound of His voice against Tyre will "demolish its strongholds."
v. 12: "He has said, "You shall not be jubilant anymore, you crushed virgin daughter of Sidon. Arise, pass over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest." - Sidon was been the parent city of Tyre but was eclipsed by Tyre's superior port facilities. Tyre was about 165 miles east of the island of Cyprus. The verse compares Tyre to a virgin who's been "crushed." It pictures a vibrant and outgoing young woman who allows herself to became degraded and enslaved to sin. When the end came, the crushed virgin might think that she can simply pack up and move her business to Cyprus, but it wouldn't happen because no one can outrun the Lord God of the universe.
Read Isa. 23:13-14 - THIS IS THE PEOPLE THAT DID NOT EXIST
13 Behold, the land of the Chaldeans-this is the people that did not exist; Assyria allocated it for desert creatures-they erected their siege towers, they stripped its palaces, they made it a ruin. 14 Wail, you ships of Tarshish, For your stronghold is destroyed.
v. 13: "Behold, the land of the Chaldeans-this is the people that did not exist; Assyria allocated it for desert creatures-they erected their siege towers, they stripped its palaces, they made it a ruin" - We'll need a brief history lesson to understand the context of this verse:
• The "Chaldeans" are first mentioned in Job. 1:7 as a marauding band of people who stole Job's Camels and killed his servants, written approximately 1,100 years before Isaiah wrote this. They were the Mesopotamian ethnic group for what are better known as the Babylonians, who were named for their principal city of Babylon. The first Babylonian empire fell in about 1650 B.C., and what's was known as the Neo-Babylonian Empire arose in 656 B.C, about 90 years after Isaiah wrote this. The Neo-Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezzar II, would conquer and sack Tyre in 573 B.C., however, at the time of Isaiah's prophecy, they "did not exist."
• The statement, "Assyria allocated it for desert creatures" refers to Assyria's defeat of Babylon in
689 B.C., leaving it as a "desert creature," only for it rise up again in 80 years to defeat Assyria in 605 B.C. and continue on to conquer Judah in 587 B.C., and then Tyre just 14 years later in 573 B.C.
v. 14: "Wail, you ships of Tarshish, For your stronghold is destroyed" - Tyre not only controlled trade but dominated the sea lanes through the Mediterranean. Tarshish at the opposite end, was effectively cut-off, ruined as a seaport and a trading center.
Read Isa, 23:15-18 - TYRE WILL BE FORGOTTEN FOR SEVENTY YEARS
15 Now on that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute: 16 Take your harp, wander around the city, You forgotten prostitute; Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs, That you may be remembered. 17 It will come about at the end of seventy years that the LORD will visit Tyre. Then she will go back to her prostitute's wages and commit prostitution with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. 18 Her profit and her prostitute's wages will be sacred to the LORD; it will not be stored up or hoarded, but her profit will become sufficient food and magnificent attire for those who dwell in the presence of the LORD.
v. 15: "Now on that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute:" - Biblically, 70 years alludes to a complete time: e.g., "the days of one king," 70 in Jacob's family moved to Egypt (Ex. 1:5), 70 elders in the wilderness wanderings (Num. 11:16), an average lifespan (Ps. 90:10), forgiveness 70 times 7 (Mt. 18:22), and Jesus sent out 70 (Luke 10: 1, 17). The "song of the prostitute" is a reference to the city's greedy focus on making more and more money.
v. 16: "Take your harp, wander around the city, You forgotten prostitute; Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs, That you may be remembered - This is the aftermath, the condition of Tyre after years of the Babylonian military siege: Tyre has been reduced to an economic wasteland-to the point that people have practically forgotten what it used to be. The forlorn prostitute plucks her strings and laments about the good old days.
v. 17: "It will come about at the end of seventy years that the LORD will visit Tyre. Then she will go back to her prostitute's wages and commit prostitution with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth." - Babylon itself was conquered by the Persian Empire in 539 B.C., and during Persian rule, Tyre rose from the ashes to reestablish itself as a powerful mercantile trading center of the eastern Mediterranean. The city would return to its money-making focus-"go back to her prostitute wages"-and restore the markets it had lost-"commit prostitution with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth"-(an interesting example of Biblical hyperbole, an exaggeration).
v. 18: "Her profit and her prostitute's wages will be sacred to the LORD; it will not be stored up or hoarded, but her profit will become sufficient food and magnificent attire for those who dwell in the presence of the LORD." - There is nothing intrinsically evil about capitalism and earning a profit unless it is debased by greed and corruption. The Book of Ezra reports that Cyrus, King of Persia, authorized the return of the Jewish exiles and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem in about 515 B.C., and in addition to the return of the sacred artifacts stolen from the Temple by the Babylonians, Cyrus allocated materials and royal funds to the project. Some commentaries imply that the merchants of Tyre were compelled to supply some of these materials to the returned exiles; however, I can't find any specific reference to it in Ezra.
APPLICATION - These are very general principles:
1. God controls the entire world's political and economic forces for His sovereign purposes. In today's text, Isa. 23:8-18, the prophet gave us a small episode in ancient history that showed us how God completely controlled the rise and fall of the nations and economies of the ancient Near East over about a 200-plus-year period (approx. 730 B.C. to 515 B.C.). This was true then and it is true of the world we live in today. God is in control. As I speak, He is directing the leaders, the nations, and their economies of our world for His sovereign purposes. How does this apply to you and me as Christians in the 21st Century? Well, for starters, we must put our faith and our trust and our hope for the future in God above all other things, such as our governmental institutions (national, state, and local), our economy, our material wealth, our personal safety, and our healthcare system. We must walk with and depend upon God to protect and guide us through this life.
2. God's plan is to bring all the nations to redemption. Although we don't know how and when God will do this, we must remain steadfast in placing all of our faith and trust in Him for the outcome.
For example, if God chose to humble the United States like He humbled Tyre in today's lesson, it could have a severe impact on all of us, I mean, reduce us to poverty. It could deprive us of the level of comfort, products, and services that we take for granted today. Can you live without those things and still be faithful to God and walk with Him? It all goes back the original premise we covered today in Isa. 23:8a, specifically: "Who planned this...?" In other words, who is really in charge of our future? Well, God is and only Him. Yes? As Christians, even if this world self-destructs and crumbles around us tomorrow, we must "hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23).