9/29/2015

God's Plan is to Humble the Proud (Isaiah 23)

Isaiah 23:1-18 (Your money is not yours. It is a gift from God.)

"The Lord Almighty planned it, to bring down her pride in all her splendor and to humble all who are renowned on the earth" (Isaiah 23:9).

Tyre is like Babylon; both are proud. With the pronouncement against Tyre in Isaiah 23, Isaiah fittingly concludes his judgments upon the nations (ch.13-23). As Babylon, the great city in the east, opens this section (ch.13-14), so Tyre, the great city in the west, closes it. As Babylon is described in general, universalistic terms, so is Tyre. As it is difficult to pin down the precise historical events in ch.13, so also it is with ch.23. So much similar are the two chapters that Revelation uses the language applied to Tyre to describe the great world city Babylon (Rev 18:11-24). Thus, Tyre, like Babylon at the beginning, is being used in a representative way. For instance, both are proud and arrogant (Isa 13:11; 23:9).

All that the world desires. The central focus of Isaiah 23 is on mercantile wealth. Tyre, the southernmost of the Phoenician cities, was--until the fifth century with Sidon then replacing her--the dominant city in that region. They were known for being excellent seafarers and became fabulously wealthy. Babylon's greatness lay in her glory, achievements and accomplishments. Though Tyre did not have all of that, she had her wealth from her maritime contracts with other nations. Between them Babylon and Tyre, from east to west, they had all that the world thought was significant. But...

Why trust the nations? The singular message of Isaiah 13-23 is "Don't trust the nations. They are not preeminent. They do not hold your destiny in their hands. In fact, like you, they are under the judgment of God--your God." So the question posed and raised repeatedly in these chapters is "Why would you trust any of the nations instead of God when all the nations are subject to him and some of them will actually turn to him in faith before history closes?" A singular lesson of Isaiah is that God alone is our refuge and strength (Ps 46:2). To sum up, ch.13-23 seems to be saying:
  • The glory of the nations (ch.13-14) equals nothing.
  • The scheming of the nations (ch.14-18) equals nothing.
  • The wisdom of the nations (ch.19-20) equals nothing.
  • The vision of this nation (ch.21-22) equals nothing.
  • The wealth of the nations (ch.23) equals nothing.
God is able to do what he says. In Isaiah, Judah's destruction and captivity happened as promised because of Judah's persistent trust in the nations instead of God. Yet God's purpose is to one day restore his people from captivity. But is God really capable of doing this? The oracles against the nations (ch.13-23) demonstrate that the God of Israel knows the future of each of the nations and that they are ultimately accountable to God. They are in God's hands, not he in theirs, as is true of the idols and of everyone in the world. Therefore, God can deliver his people whenever he chooses.
  1. The Overthrow of Tyre (23:1-14): Tyre's Destruction.
  2. The Restoration of Tyre (23:15-18): Tyre's Turning to the Lord.
We know God through history, for there are no accidents with God. Tyre's fall is not merely an accident of history, nor the result of Assyria's overwhelming need to dominate. For Isaiah, there is one great consciousness: it is God's consistent purposes which are being worked out in human affairs. God's people should know that human history is the only arena through which God can be definitely known, and that he has a great purpose in that history. In fact, God desires to share his character with as much of humanity as will receive what he offers (Isa 2:1-5; 58:6-12).

Pride does not work. Negatively speaking, God desires to show the foolishness of human pride (Isa 2:11; 37:26), and the transitory nature of human glory and the folly of dependence upon such glory (Isa 2:11, 17; 4:2; 5:15-16; 13:19; 14:12-20; 28:1-6; 60:15). It is not that God is opposed to humanity being lifted up (Isa 60:7, 9, 13, 15; Ps 8:6). What God opposes is that pride which seems to make itself independent of him. He opposes not merely because it denies God's preeminence, but more importantly, because it is in fact false (Isa 40:6-8). Thus, as long as pride exists, it presents people from finding their true glory in God through Christ (Phil 3:7-11; Col 1:21-22).

No more codependency. When Tyre is destroyed (Isa 23:1), Egypt will be in anguish (Isa 23:5) and Tarshish will no longer have a harbor (Isa 23:10). Egypt's anguish is not only because she lost a trading partner, but also that after Tyre being conquered their own time of terror is drawing nearer. Without a harbor, Tarshish can no longer be dependent on Tyre and will have to become self-subsistent. To become ultimately dependent on anything other than God is finally destructive, even if it appears that we are not dependent.

No matter how much we have, we always want more. Whereas Babylon's love was for glory and military power, Tyre's love was for money and the luxury and influence it could buy. The strange thing about money is that there is never enough. No matter how much we get, we always want more.

For the Christian, all our money is God's. Money is the Lord's, not ours. There is the fatal error, when Christians think they are being generous for giving 10% to God. John Wesley had it right in his sermon on money when he said that we have it backward. The only issue for Christians is not how much we decide to give to God, but how much of God's money we are going to spend on ourselves. Those in Tyre found out the hard way when they were destroyed that all their wealth was not theirs (Isa 23:1, 7-8). It was a gift from God that could be taken away anytime. It would be prudent for Christians to take this truth to heart.