Isaiah 17 – The Burden Against Syria and Israel
A. A prophecy of doom upon Syria and Israel.
1. (1-6) The LORD speaks to Damascus and Ephraim.
The burden against Damascus.
“Behold, Damascus will cease from being a city,
And it will be a ruinous heap.
The cities of Aroer are forsaken;
They will be for flocks
Which lie down, and no one will make them afraid.
The fortress also will cease from Ephraim,
The kingdom from Damascus,
And the remnant of Syria;
They will be as the glory of the children of Israel,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
“In that day it shall come to pass
That the glory of Jacob will wane,
And the fatness of his flesh grow lean.
It shall be as when the harvester gathers the grain,
And reaps the heads with his arm;
It shall be as he who gathers heads of grain
In the Valley of Rephaim.
Yet gleaning grapes will be left in it,
Like the shaking of an olive tree,
Two or three olives at the top of the uppermost bough,
Four or five in its most fruitful branches,”
Says the LORD God of Israel.
a. Damascus: This was one of the great cities of the ancient world and the capital of the ancient nation of Syria. Syria is positioned to the immediate north-east of Israel, and the northern tribes, around the Sea of Galilee, had constant contact and interaction with Syria.
b. Behold, Damascus will cease from being a city, and it will be a ruinous heap: Damascus was one of the most beautiful cities of the ancient world, but the coming Assyrian judgment would reduce it to a heap of ruins.
c. The fortress will also cease from Ephraim: As is often the case, the northern kingdom of Israel is referred to by its dominant tribe, Ephraim. At this time, Israel and Syria were closely aligned against Judah. Since they were such close friends, God announced His judgment against Ephraim, against Israel, at the same time He spoke to Syria. 2 Kings 15:29 and 16:9 describe the fulfillment of this prophecy.
i. Israel’s modern interaction with Syria is interesting, and a potential hotspot for future conflict. When Syria occupied the Golan Heights, a strategically crucial high plateau above the whole region of Galilee, Israel was under constant threat of invasion and shelling from Syrian placements on the Golan. But when Syria eventually made a full-on invasion of Israel from the Golan, Israel miraculously beat them back and captured the Golan Heights. Since then, Syria has often insisted that this strategically crucial region is theirs and must be given back. The Israelis are adamant that they will never give back land that belongs to them and is necessary for their security. In the meantime, Syria has often fought Israel through terrorism and their support of militia groups in Lebanon. The dream of a “Greater Syria,” encompassing Syria, Lebanon, and parts of northern Israel is a powerful influence in the Syrian leadership.
2. (7-9) The humble response to the judgment of the LORD.
In that day a man will look to his Maker,
And his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel.
He will not look to the altars,
The work of his hands;
He will not respect what his fingers have made,
Nor the wooden images nor the incense altars.
In that day his strong cities will be as a forsaken bough
And an uppermost branch,
Which they left because of the children of Israel;
And there will be desolation.
a. In that day a man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel: In the midst of such severe judgment, some will respond as they should, with humble respect for God.
b. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands: One of God’s purposes in judgment is to turn our focus away from our idols and the things we have trusted in instead of Him. This speaks of this purpose being fulfilled.
c. His strong cities will be as a forsaken bough: In judgment, God would strip away from Israel every wrong thing they might have trusted in – pagan altars, wooden images, incense altars, and even their strong cities would give no protection. Their only hope was in the LORD.
i. “When the Israelites came into the land of Canaan many years before, the strong cities of the land were abandoned to them…. However, the situation has changed, and the same cities will be abandoned by the Israelites themselves as they are under the judging hand of God.” (Grogan)
3. (10-11) God’s judgment will bring man’s work to nothing.
Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation,
And have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold,
Therefore you will plant pleasant plants
And set out foreign seedlings;
In the day you will make your plant to grow,
And in the morning you will make your seed to flourish;
But the harvest will be a heap of ruins
In the day of grief and desperate sorrow.
a. You will plant pleasant plants…you will make your seed to flourish; but the harvest will be a heap of ruins. One aspect of the LORD’s judgment against Israel will be to bring their hard work to nothing. They will work hard to plant and grow crops (both literally and figuratively), but the harvest will be a heap of ruins.
i. This can be one of the most devastating aspects of the LORD’s judgment. Haggai 1:6 speaks of this work of the LORD: You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes. How much better it is to be listening to Jesus and to have our service directed and blessed by Him (Luke 5:1-10).
b. Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation: This was why the LORD brought this judgment on Israel. In one way, this does not seem like a “great” sin. After all, why does God need us to remember Him? Why can’t we just leave Him alone, and He leave us alone? It is a sin to forget the God of your salvation because He created you, and because He is the God of your salvation. If you forget Him, you can forget about your salvation.
i. Satan does not need to make us bank robbers or murderers to destroy us. It is quite enough to simply make us forget. We can forget because of sleepiness, we can forget because of a lack of attention, we can forget because we are distracted. Satan doesn’t care much about how he does it, but he does want us to forget the God of our salvation.
ii. “We are thus reminded that we ought not to be so impatient in enduring chastisements, which cure us of the fearfully dangerous disease of apostasy.” (Calvin)
B. God will destroy the nation that brings doom upon Syria and Israel.
1. (12-13a) The rush of the nations against Syria and Israel.
Woe to the multitude of many people
Who make a noise like the roar of the seas,
And to the rushing of nations
That make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters!
The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters.
a. The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters: God will use other nations to bring judgment against Syria and Israel. They will come against them like a flash flood that can’t be stopped.
2. (13b-14) God’s judgment against the nations that rush against Israel.
But God will rebuke them and they will flee far away,
And be chased like the chaff of the mountains before the wind,
Like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.
Then behold, at eventide, trouble!
And before the morning, he is no more.
This is the portion of those who plunder us,
And the lot of those who rob us.
a. God will rebuke them: When God brings the rush of nations against Israel, it doesn’t mean that the nations He uses to judge will be walking right with Him and exempt from judgment. Instead, God will rebuke them and they will flee far away. God can use one sinner to judge another, and then judge the sinner He just used.
b. This is the portion of those who plunder us: This is a comforting principle: Even in the midst of judgment, God shows mercy. As bad as it was going to be for Israel, it could have been worse. Instead, God would allow it for a time, then He would rebuke those attacking Israel. Israel was not at the mercy of circumstances or their enemies; they were at the mercy of God.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org