ISAIAH CHAPTER 17
The Prophecy Regarding the Destruction of Damascus and Israel
Now we come to consider the burden of Damascus. Hopefully you’ll remember we touched on this earlier when we spoke about the Syrian-Israeli alliance that was formed against King Ahaz of Judah back in chapters 7 and 8 of Isaiah. Syria was sometimes referred to as Damascus or as Aram and Israel was also called Ephraim. But the two nations were allied in order to take over Judah. Because of that alliance Syria would have to share in the judgment of God that would come upon Israel. The first few verses of this chapter address this attack upon Damascus, the capital of Syria.
Isaiah 17:1-6 NAS:
1 The oracle concerning Damascus. “Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city And will become a fallen ruin.
2 “The cities of Aroer are forsaken; They will be for flocks to lie down in, and there will be no one to frighten them.
3 “The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and sovereignty from Damascus and the remnant of Aram; They will be like the glory of the sons of Israel,” Declares the Lord of hosts.
Reference now transfers to Israel
4 Now in that day the glory of Jacob will fade, And the fatness of his flesh will become lean.
5 It will be even like the reaper gathering the standing grain, As his arm harvests the ears, or it will be like one gleaning ears of grain In the valley of Rephaim.
6 Yet gleanings will be left in it like the shaking of an olive tree, Two or three olives on the topmost bough, Four or five on the branches of a fruitful tree, Declares the Lord, the God of Israel.
Syria would fall and so would Israel. This prophecy was made by Isaiah sometime before the fall of Damascus to the Assyrian army in 732 B.C. We see here a picture of deserted ruins where animals can lie down without being disturbed by humans. The fortified city in verse 3 is most likely the capital of Ephraim, Samaria. Jacob in verse 4 is yet another reference to Israel. Just as harvesters stripped bare the fertile fields in the valley of Rephaim, so will God’s judgment be on the descendants of Jacob, Israel. The olive tree in verse 6 has reference to the fact that both Syria and Israel, just like an olive tree stripped of almost all of its olives, will have very few people left.
Isaiah 17:7-11 NAS:
7 In that day man will have regard for his Maker And his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel.
8 He will not have regard for the altars, the work of his hands, Nor will he look to that which his fingers have made, Even the Asherim and incense stands.
9 In that day their strong cities will be like forsaken places in the forest, or like branches which they abandoned before the sons of Israel; and the land will be a desolation.
10 For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the rock of your refuge. Therefore you plant delightful plants and set them with vine slips of a strange god.
11 In the day that you plant it you carefully fence it in, and in the morning you bring your seed to blossom; But the harvest will be a heap in a day of sickliness and incurable pain.
“In that day” at the beginning of verse 7 introduces an additional prophecy unlike the preceding ones and describes a different situation. In the “last days” refers to the “End Times” when severe judgments from God will awaken a remnant of Israel to the fact that they have rejected the Lord, and then that remnant will repent and be saved. People will no longer worship false gods made of stone upon incense altars or wood as they did in Isaiah’s time. The images made of stone stood for the Canaanite god, Baal. The wooden object represented the goddess Asherah, the mother goddess, and associate of El, the father of gods. Hating idolatry the remnant of the nation of Israel will find their hope in the Lord who will then protect them along with all the other people of God who have also accepted Christ as their Savior.
“In that day” in verse 9 takes us back again to the 8th century B.C. This and following verses show us just how foolish the nations of Israel and Syria were. Even though they had turned away from God, they still thought that they could prosper in that sinful condition. The people of the United States think the same thing.
As a result of the judgment in that day, however, both Israel and Syria and their strong cities would be abandoned and thickets and underbrush would grow. Because of their unfaithfulness to the true God and having forgotten Him, efforts at planting vines and getting a harvest would be fruitless. The plants would be diseased and the people would be in pain.[fn]
Isaiah reminded the people of the futility of trying to meet their needs without God’s help. Verses 10 and 11 have sobering implications for people of all times. So often, people decide to “bootstrap,” to do things on their own, with no recognition of the great Lord God. We try to earn money, plant fields, build bigger and better factories. We look only at our own efforts and when profits roll in we pat ourselves on the back. This is a very dangerous approach, as verses 10 and 11 indicate. The Word of God has some additional comments on this:
1 Chronicles 29:12, NLT:
Riches and honor come from you [God] alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and it is at your discretion that people are made great and given strength.
Proverbs 21:21, NLT:
Whoever pursues godliness and unfailing love will find life, godliness, and honor.
Proverbs 22:4, NLT:
True humility and fear of the LORD lead to riches, honor, and long life.
The Lord Jesus Himself put it eloquently in a parable He told, recorded in Luke 12:16-21 NAS:
16 And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a certain rich man was very productive.
17 "And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?'
18 "And he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
19 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."'
20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?'
21 "So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
We are on dangerous ground when we forget that everything comes from God and that we are dependent on Him. On the other hand, the road to the greatest blessing is to honor God in everything we do.
I am not sure where Charles Lindbergh stood in his relationship to God, whether or not he was a born again Christian, but he said something worthy of noting at this point:
“In my youth science was more important to me than either man or God. I worshiped science . . . It took many years for me to discover that science, with all its brilliance, lights only a middle chapter of creation.
“I saw the aircraft I love destroying the civilization I expected it to save. Now I understand that spiritual truth is more essential to a nation than the mortar in its cities’ walls. For when the actions of a people are undergirded by spiritual truths, there is safety. When spiritual truths are rejected, it is only a matter of time before civilization will collapse.”[fn]
And where are we in our country today? Many, if not a majority, have rejected the spiritual truths that our forefathers held dear. We need to reverse this trend before it is too late.
Isaiah 17:12-14 NAS:
12 Alas, the uproar of many peoples who roar like the roaring of the seas, and the rumbling of nations who rush on like the rumbling of mighty waters!
13 The nations rumble on like the rumbling of many waters, but He will rebuke them and they will flee far away, and be chased like chaff in the mountains before the wind, or like whirling dust before a gale.
14 At evening time, behold, there is terror! Before morning they are no more. Such will be the portion of those who plunder us and the lot of those who pillage us.
The roar of many people is said to be like the roar of surging waters. These peoples were the Assyrians, whom God was using to judge His people. Apparently the ”nations“ means the particular nation which was the dominant power in its day, namely, Assyria. When God punished the Assyrians, they would become like chaff (Isaiah. 29:5), the light and useless part of grain which, when winnowed, blows away. How appropriate that though Assyria brought terror in the evening, they would be gone before morning, for such was the case with the Assyrian army (Isaiah 37:36-37). Though the Assyrian soldiers had plundered many cities of Judah, 185,000 of them were killed overnight when they were about to attack Jerusalem.[fn] God sent a plague over the camp while the soldiers were asleep.
While this text has been fulfilled on a couple of occasions in Israel’s past, regarding the Assyrians and later the Babylonians, it also coincides with what Jesus Himself has prophesied and what the book of Revelation tells us will happen in that last battle of history, the Battle of Armageddon, which is recorded in Revelation 18. We will read the main points here, but I encourage you to read the entire chapter on your own.
Revelation 18:4, 5, 9, 10, 14, 15, 19, and 20 NLT:
4 Then I heard another voice calling from heaven, “Come away from her
[Babylon], my people. Do not take part in her sins, or you will be
punished with her.
5 For her sins are piled as high as heaven, and God is ready to judge
her for her evil deeds.
9 And the rulers of the world who took part in her immoral acts and
enjoyed her great luxury will mourn for her as they see the smoke rising
from her charred remains.
10 They will stand at a distance, terrified by her great torment. They will
cry out, “How terrible, how terrible for Babylon, that great city! In one single moment God’s judgment came on her.”
14 “All the fancy things you loved so much are gone,” they cry. “The luxuries and splendor that you prized so much will never be yours again. They are gone forever.”
15 The merchants who became wealthy by selling her these things will stand at a distance, terrified by her great torment. They will weep and cry.
19 And they will throw dust on their heads to show their great sorrow. And they will say, “How terrible, how terrible for the great city! She made us all rich from her great wealth. And now in a single hour it is all gone.”
20 But you, O heaven, rejoice over her fate. And you also rejoice, O holy people of God and apostles and prophets! For at last God has judged her on your behalf.
By His omnipotent power, God will deliver His people and establish them in paradise forever. Who are your enemies? Are they people? Are they habits/addictions? A continuous sin of some sort? Money problems or creditors? Let us share with you God’s formula for dealing with enemies, found in Proverbs 16:7, NAS:
When a man's ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Have you been thinking about various strategies to deal with your enemies? Your most effective strategy is to honor God and His Son, Jesus Christ, as Lord of your life and to follow His guidelines for living as found in the Bible. Then you will have God on your side and He will show you how to deal with your enemies.
Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. 1983-c1985. The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures . Victor Books: Wheaton, IL
[fn] Warner, Wayne. 1,000 Stories & Quotations of Famous People. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972, p. 196.
[fn] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. 1983-c1985. The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures . Victor Books: Wheaton, IL