Isaiah: Chapter 23 | The Wolfe Notes

Welcome, Family! We're spending 2024 with the prophet Isaiah. While we claim no expertise, we're excited to sit with you as we both learn at the feet of Jesus. Each month, we offer a calendar that outlines daily exercises (adapted from Jenn Wilkin's Women of the Word Bible study process) to progress through Isaiah. Download  April's calendar to begin with us and witness what we uncovered in our weekly "Wolfe Note" postings.

A marketplace with text overlay that quotes Isaiah 23:18


  1. Different Versions Noting and clarifying differences between NABRE & NKJV.
  2. Annotation My thoughts, connections, clarifications, and questions.
  3. Research Prostitute symbolism generally and specifically.
  4. Summary An approximately twenty word overview of the chapter.
  5. Memorize Why I chose to memorize Isaiah 23:18.
  6. Cross References Of Isaiah 23:18.
  7. Respond Based on reflections on God's character and my own.

Different Versions

I read Chapter 23 in the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) and the New King James Version (NKJV). The NABRE is a thought-for-thought translation and the NKJV is a word-for-word translation.

Major differences I noticed (*My thoughts alone are in italics and designated with an asterisk.):
  • Verse 2.
    • Comparisons:
      • NABRE: Silence! you who dwell on the (1) coast, you merchants of Sidon, (2) Whose messengers crossed the sea (3 - omitted).
      • NKJV: Be still, you inhabitants of the (1) coastland, You merchants of Sidon, Whom those who cross the sea (3) have filled.
      • KJV: Be still, ye inhabitants of the (1) isle; (2) thou whom the merchants of Zidon, that pass over the sea, (3) have replenished.
    • Discrepancies: 
      1. Is it a coastland or an isle?
      2. Is it the merchants of Sidon crossing the sea or the inhabitants of the isle?
      3. Are the merchants replenishing the inhabitants (KJV), being replenished (NKJV), or sending messengers (NABRE)?
    • Clarifications:
      • In Hebrew, the verse might read: The dwellers near who live near the coast are dumbstruck. They who once traveled to Sidon to fill orders now passed by it.
      • According to Ellicott, Zidon's commerce filled Tyre.
      • *Overall, I understand the verse to express devastation at the complete role reversal. Two cities (Tyre and Sidon) who once prospered together are no longer in business. Consumers no longer look in their direction.
  • Verse 10.
    • Comparisons:
      • NABRE: (1) Cross to your own land (2- omitted), (3) ship of Tarshish; (4) the harbor is no more.
      • NKJV: (1) Overflow through your land (2) like the River, (3) O daughter of Tarshish; There is no more (4) strength.
      • KJV: (1) Pass through thy land (2) as a river, (3) O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more (4) strength.
    • Discrepancies: 
      1. Are they going back home (NABRE), flooding (NKJV) or passing through (KJV) their land?
      2. Why did the NABRE omit like a river?
      3. Why does the NABRE say "ship of Tarshish" but the NKJV and KJV say daughter? Ships would imply only the merchants are affected but daughter implies the whole nation is affected.
      4. Does NABRE interpret the strength (NKJV and KJV) of Tarshish to be the harbor?


Notes on my process*Denotes my thoughts alone. ! Denotes a connection. Researched quick answers are in italics. *Indicates a topic with more extensive notes under the research heading.
  1. Prophecy on Tyre and Sidon (verses 1-4)
    1. Wail! What made you great is gone.
      1. Tyre and Sidon were productive and successful trade cities (See notes on Proverbs 31:24)
      2. Tyre was the source of the purple dye that covers Wisdom (See notes on Proverbs 31:22)
    2. You won't know what to do now that your value has been stripped from you.
    3. Be ashamed! You've fostered no new life.
      1. Where is Sidon/Zidon? 
      2. The sea, in ancient times, often represented darkness, evil, or chaos.
      3. ? Is the sea literally speaking? Or is it God? Or Isaiah personifying?
  2. Effects of Tyre's Destruction (verses 5-14)
    1. Others will be devastated by your destruction.
      1. What land are they going to, Cyprus?
    2. Look what's become of the object of your pride. It's abandoned you.
    3. You thought yourself untouchable.
    4. But you discounted God who brings low the prideful.
      1. ! Isaiah 14:27 KJV: For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?
    5. Go home. There's no place for you here.
    6. The all-powerful God purposed this. It's final.
    7. You'll remain restless.
      1. Why virgin daughter of Sidon?
    8. It's happened to others before you.
      1. ? Is this a comparison of what has happened previously, or a further description into what happened in Tyre?
      2. !That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9
    9. Grieve, for what you trusted in is gone.
      1. ! This phrases is repeated in verses 1, 6, and 14: "Howl (or wail) you ships of Tarshish (inhabitants of the coast)!"
  3. How God will Use Tyre (verses 15-18)
    1. You'll be forgotten for a lifetime, only a fading memory in a song.
      1. ! The prostitute here brings to mind the prostitute of Isaiah 3:16, only there they were in their height of glory, bedecked in finery, unashamed of their debauchery.
    2. Then God will come and use you throughout the world for the good of those who abide in Him.
      1. ! Resembles the redeemed prostitute in Hosea. Hosea 3.
      2. Matthew 6:19-21 KJV: Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
      3. ! Reminds me of the seven women in Isaiah 4:1 who offer to bring their own food and make their own clothes if only they can be called by His name to take away their reproach.
      4. God provides the nourishment and clothing we need. (See notes on Proverbs 31:15 and 21.)
      5. What you meant for evil, God  will use for good. Genesis 50:20


*Thoughts that are mine alone are marked with an asterisk and italicized.
What is the symbolic meaning of prostitutes throughout the Bible and what is being said about them here in Isaiah?

Throughout the Bible

  • Israel prostitutes itself by worshiping other gods in Exodus 34:15. (Nelson)
  • Hosea lived out the metaphor of God and his bride, returning to her despite her unfaithfulness. See Hosea 1:2-3; 3:1-3; 2:2-13. The ultimate goal of God's is always reconciliation with His bride. (Nelson)
  • Jesus says harlots are more likely to repent than religious leaders. See Matthew 21:28-32. (Nelson)
  • Rome, Babylon, is the great harlot that will be eternally punished for forever persecuting God's servants. See Revelation 17:1-18 and 19:1-3. (Nelson)

In Isaiah 23:15-18

  • Tyre is metaphorically a prostitute because it defiles itself for materialistic purposes. (Enduring Word
    • For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:26 NKJV
  • Compare:
    • Isaiah 23:17 KJV And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the Lord will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.
    • to Revelation 17:2 NABRE: The kings of the earth have had intercourse with her, and the inhabitants of the earth became drunk on the wine of her harlotry.
    • Returning to her hire can mean that:
      • Tyre will be prosperous again (Barnes)
      • Tyre will retain the same character when God returns. (Barnes)
  • The final verse, Isaiah 23:18, could mean:
    • Proselyts will be welcomed into Israel's worship. (Ellicott)
    • Judah and Tyre will renew their alliance. (Ellicott)
    • Tyre will convert to Christianity, which did at one time, happen. (Benson, Enduring Word, Barnes)
*Conclusions: Prostitution, spiritually, represents a wandering away from God. It is the act of using His temple in unrighteous ways. All of us are guilty. But, Christ will redeem His bride, no matter how unfaithful she is. These verses in Isaiah summarize this story for me. We wander after our own desires (fame, greed, pride, ambition) and jeopardize our soul in the process. Though we may be punished for a time, God always attends to us, turning the product of our labors - the lessons we've learned - into a way to strengthen and sanctify all who abide in Him.


Tyre, the gem of the sea, will be lost. When God returns to her, her yield will benefit God's people.


I chose to memorize Isaiah 23:18.
And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord: it shall not be treasured nor laid up; for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the Lord, to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing.

That my hire and my merchandise would benefit the Lord's purpose, it is my desire. Use the work of my hands to strengthen your people, Lord. 🎵All of my mistakes woven through my story. All the mess I make God, use it for Your glory...I may lose my way, nothing's greater than Your grace, not even my mistakes.🎶( "Mistakes" performed by Unspoken)

Cross References

*Thoughts that are mine alone are marked with an asterisk and italicized.

Of Isaiah 23:18

And her merchandise and her hire
  • Psalm 45:12 KJV: And the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among the people shall intreat thy favour.
  • Proverbs 31:18 KJV: She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out at night.
  • Proverbs 3:14-15 KJV: For the merchandise of [Wisdom] is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof of fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. (Compare with my notes on Proverbs 31:10.)

...shall be holiness to the Lord:...

  • Proverbs 31:31 KJV: Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her own works praise her in the gates.
  • Exodus 30:29 KJV: And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy: whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy.
  • I Thessalonians 4:7 KJV: For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. shall not be treasured or laid up,...

  • Matthew 6:19-21 KJV: Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
  • Luke 16:9-13 KJV: And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations...If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
  • Proverbs 31:20 KJV: She stretcheth out her hand to the poor, yea she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. 

...for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the Lord,...

  • Proverbs 31:14 KJV: She is like the merchant ships she bringeth her food from afar.
  • John 15:4 KJV: Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
  • John 14:2-3 KJV: In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were nto so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. eat sufficiently and for durable clothing. 

  • Proverbs 31:15 KJV: She riseth, also, while it is early and giveth meat to her household and a portion to her maidens.
  • Proverbs 31:21 KJV: She is not afraid of the snow for her household for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
  • Proverbs 31:22 KJV: She maketh herself coverings of tapestry and clotheth herself in silk and purple. 

*Conclusions: This "prostitute" of Tyre is the church becoming Christ's bride through sanctification in Jesus. Her merchandise is your fruit, what you produce. Her hire is your labor as you work for the Lord, which He sees. Your righteous labor invests in eternity as you feed, clothe, and protect God's people.


  1. God brings low the prideful. I am often prideful. I tend to view life through self-centered glasses and work to build up myself and my desires. I can focus my work and, my desires on what God wants. Anytime I start exalting myself, I will turn it to praise for Him. (Isaiah 23:9)
  2. God never gives up on His beloved. Though He may turn His face for a time, His end goal is always reconciliation. I tend to give up on others, even pushing them away at times. I will reflect God's end goal with me in my relationship with others by extending grace and choosing forgiveness while continuing to walk in righteousness. (Isaiah 23:17)
  3. God uses what was meant for evil as good. I sometimes choose what is evil but I will trust that God can use everything - even my mistakes - for good. (Isaiah 23:18)

In Closing

Father God, Your grace for us is astonishing. How it must frustrate You to watch us continuously go our own way. Yet, You patiently wait until the timing is perfect to lovingly draw us back to You, to fit us for Your kingdom, to serve Your people. What an honor to be trained by You. To know that at the end of it all, Your will for me will be fully accomplished. I'm watching and waiting in wonder, Lord.

Learning with You,

Ready for Chapter 24?

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