About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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Isaiah 17

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An Oracle Against Damascus (ch. 17:1 14)


This chapter is getting a lot of press here in 2013 with the present day civil war in Syria.  Isaiah 17 deals with the city of Damascus, which is the capital of present day Syria.  In modern times it became the capital in 1946.  The population of present day metropolitan Damascus  is about 2.7 million people.  It's the longest continuously inhabited city in human history.  It has been overthrown and battled over many times, but it has never been so destroyed that people didn't live there any more, as we will see Isaiah predicts.


Damascus is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 14:15 when Abram, (before he was called Abraham) went to war to rescue Lot from his enemies.  He drove the opposing army to just north of  Damascus.  The second mention of Damascus is in Genesis 15:2 where we see that Abram's servant Eliezer was from Damascus.  Abram did not have a son to be his heir and if not for the miracle God provided for him, Eliezer of Damascus would have been his heir. That would have meant that a traditional enemy of Israel would have been an heir to Abraham, the very lineage that our Lord Jesus Christ came from.  I wonder what would have happened if God hadn't have stepped into Abraham's life and miraculously gave him a son.  I think it was probably satan that caused Abraham's wife Sarah to not be able to have children.  It would have totally messed up God's plan if satan's plans for Sarah had of worked out.        


In verse 1 we see the word "oracle" in the NIV.  The KJV better translates the Hebrew as "burden".  What is said here is obviously both a burden for Isaiah to speak and a burden for Damascus and Syria to experience.  The prophetic word of the Lord is often called a burden in the Old Testament.


Verse 1 simply states that Damascus will no longer be a city.  It will be totally destroyed.  The point to be made here is that Damascus has never been destroyed.  Moab, in the last chapter had been destroyed, but not Damascus.  Therefore, this prophecy is yet to be fulfilled.  Many are looking closely at Damascus right now in 2013 because of the present day problems in Syria.  Only time will tell if we are getting close to the fulfillment of this prophecy.


In verse 2 we see the cities of Aroer mentioned.  Some think because of the association of these cities to Damascus that the cities of Aroer are suburbs of Damascus, but there's no historic fact to back this up.  There were at least three Aroers mentioned in the Old Testament, none of which are really that close to Damascus.  The word "aroer" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "a scrawny tree" probably caused by some kind of destruction.  Maybe the name "Aroer" represents fallen towns around Damascus.  Some think this is the case.  There was another Aroer in present day Jordon and one for sure in present day southern Israel.  The third city is a bit allusive.  If these cities are to be interpreted as real cities, then we should think that Jordon and Israel have something to do with the fall of Damascus, which might well be possible.  


The simple fact is that no one really knows, at least not yet, what towns Aroar refers to.  We do know that whatever places these are, they have some kind of association with Damascus and because of the ruin of Damascus, they are affected as well.  Isaiah doesn't say they are totally wiped off the face of the earth as  Damascus is.  He only says that they are deserted.  Only flocks are left in and around the cities, with no one to bother them.          


Note the mentioning of Ephraim in verse 3.  Ephraim is the most predominant tribe in the northern kingdom of Israel.  For this reason, the northern kingdom of Israel is often called Ephraim in the Old Testament.  One reason why Ephraim might be mentioned here in connection with the judgment of Damascus is that because she joined forces with Syria to attack Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel in and around 732 B. C..  So, because of the destruction of Damascus is associated with Israel, Damascus' fall has something to do with Israel. 


If you look at what is happening today in 2013 in Syria with the problems of chemical weapons that may be in the process of being shipped west to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon; this might account for what we see here.  Of course, this is only assuming what is now taking place is what Isaiah is speaking of.  Hezbollah is an enemy of Israel and often attacks Israel on her northern border.  The whole conflict over Syria today could easily spill over into Israel and cause what we see in verse 3.


Verse 3 speaks of a fortified city in Ephraim that will disappear.  As I've said, Ephraim is present day northern Israel, or, the Northern Kingdom of Israel in Isaiah's day.  What particular city is being spoken of here, we don't know.  As we will see later, the Northern Kingdom of Israel suffers along with the destruction of Damascus.  This is a reasonable possibility in our day because north east  Israel borders on Syria.  The possibility of warfare that includes Syria and Israel could easily destroy Damascus and hurt the north of Israel.      


Verse 3 also speaks of the "royal power" of Damascus being taken from her.  She doesn't give it up voluntarily.  This clearly suggests warfare.  This would simply mean that  Damascus will no longer be the place of power, or, the capital city of Syria. 


Also mentioned in verse 3 is Aram. Aram was another word for Syria.  


In verse 3 the prophet says that Damascus "will be like the glory of the Israelites".  You'd think that would be a good thing, but it's not.  It wouldn't really even fit into the context of what is being said about Syria if it were a good thing. 


Verse 4 actually tells us what verse 3 is talking about when it comes to Syria becoming like the glory of Israel.  Verse 4 tells us that the glory of Israel will fade, and thus, so will the glory of Syria.  Whatever happens to Damascus sets in motion other bad events happening to other places, including  Israel, or, at least northern Israel.  The other possibility, and maybe more probable, is that bad events happening in or around Syria, as in northern Israel, sets off the destruction of Damascus.  Again, with present events in mind, you can see these things happening.  A regional war could easily wipe out Damascus and cause Israel to fade for a while.  Remember, that which is called The Great Tribulation is in part judgment on Israel.  It is meant to bring her to her knees in repentance.  Thus, her fading away is simply part of God's plan before He restores Israel to her glory.


Verses 4 and 5 speak of the judgment on Ephraim.  As I said earlier, we should remember that the Northern Kingdom of Israel joined forces with Syria to attack the Southern Kingdom of Israel in and around 732 B. C..  This might well be why we see the north in judgment here.  The word "reaper" in verse 5 speaks of God's judgment.


Note the Valley of Rephaim in verse 5.  The Rephaimites resided in the area of Palestine before the Israelis entered their land.  The term "Rephaim" came to be known as those living in Hades, (Greek) or Sheol (Hebrew). These Rephaimites were associated with the Anakin, which many commentators say are the Nephilim giants that were a result of evil angels having sex with women as seen in Genesis 6:1 4.  The Rephaimites were giants.  So, we have hints of Genesis 6, the reason for the flood in Noah's day, seen at the end of this age.     


The "gleanings" spoken of in verse 6 might refer to the remnant of Israel that will be saved from the Valley of Rephaim in the last days. 


Verse 7 begins with "in that day".  "In that day" speaks of the day these things take place.  In context, the specific thing that takes place is the destruction of Damascus and the fading of Israel's glory.  So, in that day, "men will look to their Maker, the Holy One of Israel".  The text doesn't specify exactly what "men" are being talked about here.  Most scholars view the word "men" here in general terms, as mankind.  One reason for this is that these men are viewing their Maker.  The Maker is the one who created all men.   


The Holy One of Israel is obviously the Lord Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah that returns to earth and sets up His kingdom in Jerusalem.     


Note also in this verse that Jesus is in reference to the Maker, that is, the Creator of all things.  According to John 1:1 and 2, "all things were created" by Jesus.  In fact the very word that spoke things into existence as we see in Genesis 1 is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as John says in John 1:1.   


Verse 7 and 8 tells us that in that day men, whether men in general or Israeli men, will no longer worship that which they have created.  Note the "Asherah poles" in verse 8.  Asherah was a Canaanite goddess, a goddess of fertility, the mother of Baal.  Poles were erected to represent her in worship.  Some suggest that these poles looked very similar to the cross or the letter "X" that Jesus was executed on.  It is interesting, but somewhat speculative, that if this is true, Jesus was executed on a cross that might have looked like an Asherah pole. If so, that would fit into the significance of the death of Jesus.  He was executed as a criminal, a sinner of sinners, and maybe on a cross looking like an Asherah pole.  Remember, Jesus died for our sins, even the sin of pagan god worship.  It would only be fitting that He would die on a pole that looked like an Asherah pole.


Men today, whether Israeli or otherwise, don't necessarily worship at Asherah poles or worship gods as they did in pagan cultures in Isaiah's day.  We do however, worship materialism, the works of our own hands.  That being said, as I write, pagan worship is making a comeback, even in North America.  Jesus Himself said that as it was in the days of Noah, it will be before He returns.  Part of what it was like in the days of Noah might well be pagan god worship that we're beginning to see now.        


The desolate cities of verse 9 would be the Syrian cities that would
be destroyed by Israel in one of the last great battles of this age. 


Over the last few decades Israel has caused her desert lands to flourish with all kinds of vegetation.  Verses 10 and 11 refer to God judging Israel's revitalized deserts. I say this because of the words "God your Saviour".  God was the Saviour of the Jews. Therefore, it's the Jews revitalized land being spoken of here.  You could see how this could happen today.  These verses tell us that Israel had replenished their farms and gardens to make them productive and beautiful, but all of their work will be for naught when judgment comes to Israel. 


Verses 12 to 14 seem to me to be judgment against all the nations of the world.  I say this because of the use of the words "many nations" and "peoples" in verse 12.  It seems that all nations get involved in the events surrounding the fall of Damascus at this point, which in today's world, is a real possibility as well.  When all nations get involved in the Middle East, this is a strong clue that the end is near. 


Verse 13 says the "he will rebuke them".  I believe the pronoun "He" refers to Jesus and the pronoun "them" refers to the nations of the world.  Jesus will rebuke the nations with the word of His mouth and the nations will melt and flee at His rebuke.  This sounds like the end of this age when all nations will fall before the Lord.


Verse 14 ends this chapter with the sudden destruction of the nations of the earth. They are destroyed because of they "loot us".  The pronoun "us" refers to Israel.  Throughout Biblical prophecy we see God judging any nation that loots Israell.  It's all about the Abrahamic Covenant that states, "He that blesses Israel will be blessed and He that curses Israel will be cursed". 


Isaiah 17 begins with the total destruction of Damascus, followed by the judgment of Israel.  The chapter ends with the Lord judging the nations of the world and bringing them down to destruction as well.  It would seem to me that the destruction of Damascus is then directly related to the final chapter of this age.  Damascus' destruction is part of the final great battle, and the way things are shaping up in the Middle East here in 2013, the end might not be far off.            



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