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|The Mediterranean: Tyre controlled the seas|
All economies make corrections from time to time. We are experiencing another one. Hopefully, it is not a catastrophic correction. Our world's economies are more interconnected now than ever. As Greece teeters near default, the European Union shudders at the ramifications of yet another bailout. When China devalued it currency again recently, shock waves are being felt across stock exchanges and global food and petroleum markets.
What is happening? Is what we hear in the media accurate? Is this shakeup what they say, just a correction, or is it the precursor to a major global financial collapse? Does the Bible have anything to say about global economic forces? Yes, in fact, Isaiah does.
Isaiah's oracle of judgment in chapter 23 of his prophetic work is about Tyre, the wealthy Phoenician seaport on the Mediterranean coast north of Israel. Just as Babylon was the world land power (chapter 21), so Tyre was the world sea power (chapter 23). Isaiah predicts the harbor will be destroyed and its greatness end. Isaiah's main idea in chapters 13-27 is that every culture on earth will surely bear the judgment of God one day, pointing to the return of Christ.
Isaiah says several things in chapter 23 of his prophetic work. The first is the truth that Isaiah gives in Isaiah 23:1-9 is that the Lord uses global economic forces to bring forth His glory (Isaiah 23:9).
Let's look at the historical background to understand better just what Isaiah was predicting. The cities of Tyre and Sidon are today located in Lebanon to the north of Israel. Their inhabitants were famed seafarers who controlled the sea trade and thus the commerce of the Mediterranean coast (Isa. 23:1-2, 8; Ezekiel 28:2). The pride of Tyre was its two rocky islands off the coast which served as its port. King Hiram had connected the two islands with an embankment and run water to it. Alexander the Great destroyed the old town on the mainland and used the rubble to build an embankment to the islands.
Israel had many dealings with this naval superpower over the years. Under King David, the border of Israel extended to Tyre (2 Sam 24:7). King Solomon negotiated with them to build the Temple (2 Chron. 2:2-16). Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre who married Ahab and tried to introduce Baal worship to northern Israel (1 Kings 16:31). About 850 B.C., Tyre colonized Carthage in north Africa and worked gold mines in Thrace. Tyre was a close trading partner with Egypt and sold Egyptian agricultural products across the known world. They sailed as far as Tarshish, possibly Spain or perhaps northern Europe or even the British Isles. These seafarers not surprisingly worshiped the sea, but Isaiah in his prophecy quotes the sea which informs them that the Lord created the sea, and sea denies the powers they ascribe to it (Isa. 23:4).
As international bankers and financiers, commercial planners and shippers, Tyre and Sidon controlled much of international commerce. They were the decision makers. If you did not work with them, they would not ship your goods, and you stood to lose a lot of money. As such they also had a powerful voice in geopolitical matters because they had a choke hold on the international financial markets through their seafaring monopoly. But God belittles their financial power and their princes (Isa. 23:8). His plan reminds them of who He is by humbling all who are renowned in the earth (Isa. 23:8-9, 11-12). Each section of this chapter begins with an imperative (Isa. 23:1, 2, 4, 6, 10, 16). Howl, the ships of Tarshish are told, because not one house will remain inhabitable. The ships from Kittim which Isaiah mentions are perhaps the Aegean, southern Greece, and southern Italy, or perhaps Cyprus.
Tyre’s decline: Tyre and Sidon began a long, slow descent into oblivion in the 9th century B.C. In 876 B.C., Tyre was forced to begin paying tribute to the rising land power, the Assyrians, and Tyre later lost the battle of Qarqar in 853. Assyrian ruler Tiglath-pileser III and later Shalmanezer besieged the city for five years, and a treaty was concluded in 722, the same year that northern Israel fell to the Assyrians. The Assyrians destroyed Tyre in 677. Then came the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar who besieged Tyre for 13 years before conquering the seafarers in 572 BC. Once the Persians came to world domination, Sidon became more powerful than Tyre, and in 520 BC, Carthage became independent. Artaxerxes III Ochus destroyed Sidon in 351.
Later the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great destroyed Tyre and Sidon. He built a mole from the destroyed city half a mile long and 200 feet wide from the coast to the island port and conquered it in 7 months. Alexander hanged 2000 of Tyre’s leaders and sold 30,000 inhabitants into slavery. Tyre never again regained its glory, though it remained a commercial and industrial center throughout the Roman period. In A.D. 636 the Muslim Arabs conquered the city, and today it is just a coastal town, the modern Sur, with about 6000 residents.
APPLICATION: Here is how Isaiah's words speak to our day, our time, and our lives. God is in control. Just as He directed the ancient nations and economies, He also directs nations and leaders and economies for his purposes. He dislikes arrogance and pride and will bring it down to repentance, and the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy over Tyre over the course of several hundred years is a testimony to this truth. This is why as Christians in this global economy we must walk in repentance and holiness, and he will guide, protect, and direct us.
The late Larry Burkett, the founder of the Christian Financial Concepts which became Crown Financial Ministries, wrote a book back in 1991 called The Coming Economic Earthquake. It sold over 800,000 copies. The gist of it was that the U.S. government for decades has spent enormously more money than it has collected in tax revenues, and that if not reversed, we would have an historic financial collapse. He felt that the national debt, runaway deficits, Medicare and Social Security spending, and rising consumer debt loads would, perhaps near the turn of the century, bring the nation to its knees. His predictions have not happened on the time table he suggested, but he felt that sometime after 2000 the U.S. economy would not be able to further sustain the debt loads its government and citizens were building. He wrote, “All attempts to establish a time is purely guesswork. … Only when we get within one year of a major economic collapse will the indicators be clear [as national banks and investment firms begin failing.] … It should be noted here that the printing of money to pay the government’s bills will be one of the last, and certainly the most desperate, measures because of the potential severity of the consequences. … I cannot project timing very well but, in the long run, true economic principles take over. … Our single hope of economic recovery resides in the America entrepreneur’s ability to see a need and fill it.”