The Oracle Against Damascus Isaiah 17
The setting of the context through which the prophet will speak to Damascus begins in chapter fourteen: (My thoughts will be interspersed within the verse.)
Isaiah 14:1 - - “For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, (see Ezekiel 36:8-11, Joel 3, Jeremiah 12:14-17) and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. (Depicts peaceful Arabs who enjoy full citizenship within Israel as a democracy.) And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, (League of Nations ratification of the Balfour Declaration 1917, UN Partition of Palestine 1941, UN recognition of Israel as a State on May 15, 1948…Oslo Accords to negotiate a Palestinian State, August 20, 1993 and subsequent peace initiatives) and the house of Israel will possess them in the LORD’S LAND (Covenant ground promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…possessed fully by Solomon) as male and female slaves. (Slavery meant to be under subjugation or iron-fisted rule. This is not an endorsement of slavery.) They will take captive those who were captors, (Edom, Moab, Syria) and rule over those who oppressed them.” (Ishmael and his offspring, which is the entire Middle East today.)
Before we get too deep into the passage, it is necessary to have an understanding of two principles used in interpreting these and subsequent passages.
1. God is speaking to his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but his covenant reference is to the land! He states “the Lord’s Land,” or “to the Land,” or to the “Mountains of Israel.” In so doing, the Lord is clarifying for us that all subsequent names mentioned, i.e. Edom, Moab, Aram, Assyria, Ishmael, etc. are names depicting the locations where these ancient peoples dwelt. Therefore,
2. We need to understand who, where, and what….
Moab… Son of Lot…. Occupied what is today the land known as Jordan
Edom… Son of Essau… Occupied the land of Southern Jordan and into Saudi Arabia
Aram…. From the Amonite Kingdoms, Assyria, Babylon, Syria….today…Syria and Iraac
Philistia… the ancient Philistines…. Occupied the land that is today the Gaza Strip
Tyre, Gebal, Asshur….then and now the same…. Lebanon
Ishmael…. Abraham’s first son through Hagar…. Saudi Arabia
Cush….The people inhabiting the upper Nile and Horn of Africa…..The Sudan
Back to the Context
Knowing that the prophecies contained in Isaiah 14-21 will take place after the trigger event of Israel returning to the LAND as a nation, unless the text specifically states otherwise, we now have the tools in place to interpret the time/season in which the horrible judgments are set to take place. As we move, step by step from chapter fourteen onward, we see the following.
1. Babylon, the empire typed as the epitome of evil, will eventually be cut off. In other words, God’s eye of judgment is on the people who occupy the land of Isaac, but judgment will be delayed. We know from Isaiah 21 and Revelation 18-19 when that judgment and destruction will happen.
2. Assyria (modern Syria) receives the final warning that God has set a date for destruction and no one will be able to stop it. (Isaiah 14:24-27)
3. The Lord will found ZION and Philistia will not be able to remove God’s people. (Isaiah 14:28-32.)
4. Moab is next in line. Notice that Moab (Jordan’s) destruction will take place in one, single night of attack. 15:1; “An oracle concerning Moab. Because Ar of Moab is laid waste in a night, Moab is undone; because Kir of Moab is laid waste in a night, Moab is undone.” The only other times we see any enemy of Israel laid waste in a night is after they have come up against Jerusalem. This passage does not indicate an attack on Israel, but that these nations will actually be destroyed in one night.
5. We know who the attacker is in this sequence of judgments…. Isa. 17:9, “which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation.” BECAUSE OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL.
The Significance of Damascus, chapter 17, is the next to occupy our digging. According to Ezekiel 47:16 and Zechariah 9, Damascus was the major city situated on the northeast boundary of greater Israel. The land of Aram stretched further north of the actual city of Damascus and all the way to the Euphrates River. But as in the Biblical description typifying the land of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, the actual boundaries extended further out than the cities named. However, the chapter is not just about Syria. Verse two specifically states; “the cities of Aroer.” These cities were part of the southern portion of the kingdom of Syria approximately 14 miles east of the Dead Sea. Today, Jordan (Moab) occupies that land, but it is actually part of the inheritance given to Rueben when the land was parceled after Israel’s return to the Promised Land.
Ephraim (the land inherited by Ephraim) comes into play as well. Ephraim stretched from the Jordan river near Jericho, all the way to Bethel in the Mountains of Israel. That land today forms the greater portion of the West Bank and is in the hands of the Palestinians.
Now, listen to the text of Isaiah 17 with all this information crammed in your head. Again, my thoughts will be in parenthesis with each verse or phrase.
17:1 - An oracle concerning Damascus. Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins. (As of today, Damascus has never been destroyed…that means it is still in the future. Damascus is the capitol of Syria, meaning Syria will be taken down as a nation that persecutes Israel.)
17:2 - “The cities of Aroer are deserted; they will be for flocks which will lie down, and none will make them afraid.” (The destruction will be from Damascus all the way to southern Jordan. Flocks will lie down with none to bother them because the people will be gone. It is a picture of a land suddenly uninhabited.)
17:3 - The fortress will disappear from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus; and the remnant of Syria will be like the glory of the children of Israel, declares the Lord of hosts.” (The West Bank will be subdued, Syria will be erased, and their glory will fade. It is a direct reference to the removal of Israel’s place at the hands of the Assyrian empire in 722 B.C. Idol worship had so smothered the glory of Israel that no one missed it when it was gone. In other words, Syria, Jordan, and the West Bank will be gone!)
17:7 – “In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel.” (The instantaneous, horrific destruction of Damascus, Jordan will be so powerful that all mankind will look to Jehovah. This does not mean for salvation, but out of fear. From Psalm 83…Ezekiel 25…and Obadiah we know this destruction includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, and Gaza.)
17:9 – “In that day, their strong cities will be like deserted places of the wooded heights and hilltops, which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation.” (The desolation will come at the hands of the children of Israel, also stated clearly in Ezekiel 25:13-14; “I will stretch out my hand against Edom and cut off from it man and beast. And I will make it desolate; from Teman even to Dedan they shall fall by the sword. And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom BY THE HAND OF MY PEOPLE ISRAEL…”) It will be Israel that administers God’s vengeance in this short war, as opposed to God taking vengeance on Gog and Magog…Ezekiel 38 and 39.
17:12 - “Ah, the thunder of many peoples…ah the roar of nations;” (Indicating that Syria and Jordan are only part of a host of nations that are stirred up. See Psalm 83 for the complete listing.)
17:13 - “The nations roar like the roaring of many waters, but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away, chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind and whirling dust before the storm.” (Not to sound too dramatic, but these descriptions appear to be the effects of shock waves and multi mushroom clouds created by numerous low-yield tactical nuclear explosions.)
17:14 - And now the CLINCHER that this event could not happen before our times. “At evening time, behold, terror! Before morning, they are no more!” This destruction will be an overnight occurrence and will be administered by Israel. This could not happen until Israel became a nation (chp. 14) nor could it happen overnight until the age of jet attack aircraft and tactical nuclear weapons. Again, Damascus is the oldest city in the world that has yet to have been destroyed and left in ruin. It is about to happen. Israel will do it. We will hear the news that “something is happening” in the Middle East late one evening. By the time the day breaks the following morning, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, Saudi Arabia, and parts of Egypt will have been destroyed.
The result: Israel will occupy the land depicted in Ezekiel 47 and Zechariah 9. They will be living without fear of their neighbors for the first time since Solomon. They will then be the target of a coalition of nations including Russian, Iran, Libya, Turkey, and the Sudan, as found in Ezekiel 38 and 39. God will be the one that takes care of that little problem. Then, the whole earth will begin to clamor after God out of fear. But those who are now seeking Him will receive a “latter rain” outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2) to share the gospel….to all nations….as a witness to all people (Matthew 24:14), and then the end will come!”