With every economic crash comes a panic. So it was when Phoenicia imploded in Isaiah’s day. We saw that Isaiah (ch.23) was singing a sea-shanty about the bubble bursting for what seemed to be an invincible powerhouse of prosperity. Tyre, the commercial centre of the world, collapsed. The shockwaves spread across the ocean to her sailors. These were the carriers of the wealth, the hope of an endless supply of more and more.
As the song continues, the ripple effect of the crash washes over the ocean and news reaches Egypt (v.5). The tidings of Tyre’s demise spread panic in Egypt because her own prosperity depends on Tyre. That port was the great market for Egypt’s grain, the source of her wealth. How modern is this song! No man or nation is an island. Everything is networked together; it’s all connections. The whole house of cards comes crashing down; the domino effect is felt in a global economy. When Tyre catches a cold, North Africa gets the flu.
Isaiah is speaking of an event that really happened. When the Babylonians invaded Israel, her northern neighbour, Tyre (the region of modern-day Lebanon) was also targeted. Isaiah had already spoken (ch. 21) of the eventual collapse of Babylon too; neither military might nor economic might will last forever. As we read Isaiah’s prophecy in ch.23, there are hints of that here too, for after 70 years, with Babylon fallen, Tyre, like Israel, is back in business.
But Isaiah’s message is more far reaching; its ripples spread out through time as well as across the Mediterranean ocean of his day. He is telling us that no season of success or prosperity lasts forever. All good things come to an end (except the Kingdom of God). To believe anything else flies in the face of history – a grand illusion. And the greater the wealth, the greater the crash.
So the passage speaks to our day. Not that it gives a date for a big crash; it’s not that sort of prophecy. Maybe recent recessions have been no more than economic cycles; perhaps we have again dodged the bullet and growth will resume. But still, there’s trouble in Tyre; anybody who puts their trust in wealth is in for a shock. That’s what Jesus said (in Luke 12) to the man who had made a fortune and stored it in his barns – and that night the party was over.
As we shall see, in this chapter God graciously tells us why economies collapse and how to navigate through times of economic turbulence. It’s a song that sailors on these troubled seas need to learn to sing.