Isaiah 17


‘A prophecy against Damascus: “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid. The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus; the remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites,” declares the LORD Almighty.’ Isaiah 17:1-3

A Prophecy Against Damascus

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.

‘In that day the glory of Jacob will fade; the fat of his body will waste away. It will be as when reapers harvest the standing grain, gathering the grain in their arms—as when someone gleans heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim. Yet some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs,” declares the LORD, the God of Israel.’ Isaiah 17:4-6

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.

‘In that day people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made.’ Isaiah 17:7-8

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.

‘In that day their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation. You have forgotten God your Saviour; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Therefore, though you set out the finest plants and plant imported vines, though on the day you set them out, you make them grow, and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud, yet the harvest will be as nothing in the day of disease and incurable pain.’ Isaiah 17:9-11

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.

‘Woe to the many nations that rage—they rage like the raging sea! Woe to the peoples who roar—they roar like the roaring of great waters! Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters, when he rebukes them they flee far away, driven before the wind like chaff on the hills, like tumbleweed before a gale. In the evening, sudden terror! Before the morning, they are gone! This is the portion of those who loot us, the lot of those who plunder us.’ Isaiah 17:12-14

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.

Go To Isaiah 18