In this chapter, we read of a prophecy against Damascus, the capital of Syria and Ephraim. The destruction of Damascus and Ephraim is coming. Aroer, the land east of Jordan was where two and one-half tribes settled.
Syria had made an alliance with Israel, the northern kingdom, in order to bring Judah in with them to defend themselves against the Assyrians.
Isaiah says both Syria and Israel would fall, which happened in 734 B.C. This took place under the kings of Assyria, and particularly under Tiglath-Pileser in the fourth year of Ahaz, 2 Kings 16:9.
Damascus will be destroyed to such an extent that it would become an open range for the grazing of deserted flocks, Isaiah 5:17. Ephraim’s defences were destroyed and her glory departed, however, there would still be a remnant that would be restored in the future from the ten tribes of the north.
These verses deal with Ephraim’s destruction although it appears to have more reference to Israel, that is, Jacob, than Damascus. Jacob, the northern kingdom, would be reaped by the Assyrians and their sins had made them ripe for God’s judgment. Those left will be like a few olives left on the top after the tree has been shaken, in other words, very few will escape judgement.
Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.
‘The mention here of a few olives that were left and the gleanings from a harvest field indicate the oft-repeated promise of the Lord that ‘a remnant shall return’ or a remnant shall survive, as symbolized and memorialized in the name of Isaiah’s first son Shear-Jashub.’
This prophecy against Damascus and Ephraim, that is, Israel, serves to point out the doom of the enemies of God’s purpose. Those who would frustrate God’s purpose on this earth should beware.
God’s judgment on the northern kingdom, and Israel as a whole, accomplished the purpose for which He allowed them to go into captivity. They had forsaken God by following after their own desires and were heavily involved in idolatry, 2 Kings 16:10-13 / 2 Kings 21:3-5 / Hosea 8:11.
These verses also indicate that some of Ephraim shall return. The good news is when God’s people returned from Babylonian captivity they never again committed idolatry.
The prophet now describes further the judgement and sets forth the reason for it. Basically, they had abandoned God, and so, God turned them over to the Assyrians.
God had delivered them in the past, that is, Egyptian captivity, but now they had forsaken the Rock, that is, God’s protection, Deuteronomy 32:4 / Deuteronomy 32:15 / Deuteronomy 32:37 / 1 Samuel 2:2 / 2 Samuel 22:2-3 / 2 Samuel 22:32 / Psalms 18:31 / Psalms 18:46 / Psalms 19:14.
The cities of Ephraim would be destroyed because they had forgotten, they had catered to the world, which was to be a fatal mistake. The fruits of their fields would be for others, while their homeland would be left unoccupied.
They had planted in hope in their homeland but reaped grief and sorrow because of their apostasy, Job 34:6 / Jeremiah 17:16 / Jeremiah 30:12 / Jeremiah 30:15. All they had done would be dissolved before their eyes.
The enemies of God’s people will gather together, but God will disperse them.
Up to now, Isaiah referred to Assyria and the great smoke they would bring, Isaiah 14:31. Now he predicts the destruction of Sennacherib’s army, that is, Assyria, when he was at the height of his power.
The Assyrians might sound like the noise of the waves of the sea, or the rushing wind of a storm, Jeremiah 6:23 / Psalms 65:7 / Revelation 14:2 / Revelation 19:6, but in one night they would come to silence.
The consequence of Assyria’s strike against God’s people was that 185,000 Assyrians died in one night outside the walls of Jerusalem, 2 Kings 19:35 / Isaiah 37:36.
The whole army of Sennacherib wasn’t destroyed, but a part, with himself, returned to Assyria, 2 Kings 19:36. The evening may see the wicked prevailing but in the morning he will be subdued and gone.