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Isaiah 17 (Damascus [Syria]and Israel)

Isaiah foreseeing judgment against the nations continues with Damascus (Syria). Damascus is the capital city of Aram, also known as Syria.

Isaiah has a specific oracle for Damascus and Israel.

  • about to be removed from being a city
  • become a fallen ruin
  • cities forsaken and turned to an uninhabited grazing land (Sargon exiles many of the people)

The Ryrie Study Bible footnote points out that this judgement portends the outcome of Aram (Syria) and Ephraim (Israel) trying to coerce Judah into rebelling against Assyria. (II Kings 16; II Chronicles 28) They were willing to remove Ahaz as the king and install a puppet to force Judah into their plans. Ahaz was trusting Assyria over God, but he was the rightful king from the line of David.

The oracle continues in verse 4:

  • the glory of Jacob (Israel) will fade
  • fatness will become lean
  • he will be harvested
  • But there will be gleanings left. A few "on the highest branches"

This is declared by the Lord, the God of Israel.

Verse 7 describes how this "gleaning" of the harvest, this remnant, would have regard for his Maker, and would look to the Holy One of Israel.

Verse 8 tells us that those in the remnant would turn away from the man-made idols and altars. Not looking at their Asherim and incense. Nothing from their own hand.

This is so important. As we watch the numbers of believers fall and our values become labeled as "hate" and "bigotry", we have to cling to our Lord. Eyes on Him. Every man-made thing around us can so easily beset us as an idol if our mind isn't being renewed day-by-day in Christ Jesus.

More description of the times, starting in verse 9:

  • strong cities will be like forsaken places in the forest.
  • like branches abandoned

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 gods.

Isaiah 17:10

The first part of verse 10 above is sadly clear; but I didn't completely understand the second half. So I searched the verse at, so that I could see several translations side-by-side.

It's interesting that few translations use the word "god", but the imagery is consistent of a vine dresser inserting unnatural elements into the vine. Although the words to describe the original plants are always positive (delightful or pleasant); in conjunction with forgetting God, the final connotation is not positive. The strange or unnatural element added, without the Lord, is not going to end well. Which we see in verse 11.

You will fence it in, see the seed blossom, but the harvest will be a "heap in a day of sickliness and incurable pain."

Isaiah 17:11

We tend to want to believe that if it brings us joy or if it scratches an itch for us, that enough evidence that some thing is "good". If it feels good, do it. But this verse shows us that, when we remove God from our view and mix in strange gods to the work of our hands, it is still possible for the vine to grow and blossom. In the short term. But the full fruition of time...the harvest is a heap. Sickliness and pain to follow. Every. Time. We delude ourselves when the Holy Spirit tries to warn us, but we want what we want...and we trade in His harvest for a heap.

Both Ryrie and the NIV commentary state that the imagery in verse 10 is a reference to a pagan worship practice for Adonis (Greek god which is rooted in a Phoenician practice). Worshipers planted seedlings in the broken shards of pottery. The seeds would blossom, but with no dirt for roots to grow, the plants would live for a day or two and then die. The practice was to honor the cycle of life and death in honor of the short life of Adonis, but Isaiah has an even more powerful message- it doesn't have to be that way. Your plant doesn't have to die for lack of roots. There is life, eternal life, with your eyes on Him. Powerful imagery.

Verses 12-14 summarize the times for Damascus and Israel as nations roar and rumble, assuming both those fleeing and those assaulting.

  • For Damascus, He will rebuke them
  • They will be chased like chaff into the mountains in the wind (graphic imagery of small specks floating away)
  • There will be terror and then no more.
  • The plunders and pillagers will have it all.

We see Syria fall a few short years after this oracle and Israel a decade later. They were given such a clear warning, from someone who had proved his prophet-chops...It would benefit us to be clear-eyed and expectant for our Lord.

The MacArthur commentary had a different take on verse 14. Instead of everything being gone, taken by the invaders, MacArthur states that the invading force had disappeared because God protects His people.

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