We have been lookingat Isaiah’s song (ch.23) about the demise of the old Phoenician Empire. It speaks to us of how we are to face the prospect of economic uncertainty. But out of the rubble of the great crash, as we saw he gives us hints of an alternative economy emerging. He looked forward to a new and different Tyre. So what happened in the region after Isaiah’s day?
Right at the northern end of the Mediterranean coastline that extends north beyond Israel through Lebanon, a new port city grew. It became a place from which ships came and went again, carrying great treasures and enormous wealth in New Testament times. What was that city? Antioch – just up the coast from the old Tyre, but part of the same region addressed in Isaiah’s prophecy.
And what was its famous treasure? This was the city where the first Gentile church was founded. Barnabas was the pioneer, and he commandeered the help of Saul of Tarsus (remember that name). Antioch became the port city out of which the treasure of the gospel was shipped.
To quote from our passage in Isaiah 23:18, the church there understood the phrase “set apart for the Lord” (see Acts 13:2); and they did not hoard their wealth – either in money or manpower. They became the New Covenant alternative to Tyre. They financed the missions and released their best men (Paul and Barnabas) who set sail from Antioch to Seleucia and over to Cyprus, and then out on the very routes that the sailors in Isaiah 23 had been coming back on!
But in the story of Acts, while the trade routes are the same, the sea-faring is all about supply rather than demand. The treasure of the gospel is being given away. The wealth and infra-structure of the region is all being used, not to hoard and build reputation or security, but to serve the purposes of the Gospel. Antioch, the new Tyre, is re-treading familiar routes, but with a complete change of heart. It is now a sea-faring city of supply. It’s giving away grain rather than hoarding it in the vast container port of the past. This is the new economy of the Kingdom of God.