The world I grew up in has disappeared and a new reality is emerging. The Top Ten in-demand jobs in 2011 did not exist in 2004. We have to train students today for jobs that don’t exist yet, using technologies that haven’t been invented yet, to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet. We have no idea what kind of economy this will result in, no idea what jobs will be lost any more than what jobs will be created. All that we know is that the assumption that the economy will simply continue as it was, world without end, no longer holds true.
What goes up must come down. We know that house prices can come down despite the fact that for decades they have gone up. In Tyre, as we have seen, it was not just house prices – it was houses that came down as surely as they had gone up! Isaiah’s song in chapter 23 records the end of an era of economic progress.
So, in verse 13, the prophet predicts the coming collapse. The treasure trove that was Phoenicia was destroyed and the treasure was lost. Babylonian power and Assyrian armies reduced it to a desert wasteland. It became “the people which was not” – as if they had never existed. The treasure that had been built up in centuries was lost in weeks, and soon forgotten.
We must see that “all good things come to an end”. As Hebrews 13:14 puts it, “We have no continuing city”. Neither Tyre nor Toronto; neither Wall Street nor walled cities. Economies, empires and enterprises are all as vulnerable as Humpty Dumpty. We dare not base our lives on the assumption that the future will simply be an extrapolation of the past, for in a fallen world, falls are normal; moth and rust are constantly at work.
Yet the trouble that hit Tyre was not the end of the world! They lost everything in the great crash, and were in chaos for 70 years. But Phoenicia arose like a Phoenix from the ashes of economic ruin. Surprisingly, after the lament part, Isaiah’s song tells us (in vs. 15,16), “Strike up the band!” After 70 years, the party started up again: let the music begin. The treasure that was lost has been found: party on!
We in the west have known what it is to bounce back after Depressions and Recessions. Isaiah records the sound of joy in the restoration of fortunes. But if God in his grace allows our prosperity to ride the waves into a new era, there is a note of caution here. The fact that the good times roll again is no reliable indication of God’s favour. In fact, Isaiah refers to the new song as the song of the prostitute, a celebration of the pleasures of unfaithfulness.
One of the strongholds that has captured the minds of people in the west is the idea that success – whether of a nation, a business or a family – is a mark of God’s favour. The correlation between wealth and a sense of God’s blessing is a snare. Maybe the good times will continue to roll, and after yet another recession and yet another technological revolution the economy will rebound to new heights. But we should not mistake that for the blessing of God; it may simply be the reflection of the fact that a good prostitute may make a lot of money!
So in Isaiah 23, Tyre takes hold of the restoration of her fortunes, and in her newly regained wealth, she enters into unholy alliances with the kingdoms of the world. But there must be a better way! Isaiah’s song will end with a radically different option as to how to handle wealth.