Isaiah 17: Destruction of Damascus
In the last days, the Bible tells us of a horrible series of events that will take place in the lands of Israel and Syria. One of these events is the disappearance of Damascus as one of the premiere cities in the world. The oldest continuously inhabited city on the planet, Damascus has witnessed at least 5,000 years of human history, and some historians believe the city actually dates back to the seventh millennium BC. In fact, Paul was on the road to Damascus when Christ first appeared to Him, an event that transformed not only his life, but the course of human history.
In the very near future, Damascus will once again play a major role in human events. The prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s commentary on a future conflict between Damascus and Israel, and in so doing, he reveals certain prophecies which have been partially fulfilled in the past. However, the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 17 remains in the future. The current existence of Damascus, which will one day cease to be a city, as well as the historical absence of the coalition of nations prophesied to attack Israel and be destroyed by God, is proof that Isaiah 17 prophesies events yet future.
This is what God revealed to the prophet Isaiah:
“This message came to me concerning Damascus: ‘Look, Damascus will disappear! It will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted. Sheep will graze in the streets and lie down unafraid. There will be no one to chase them away. The fortified cities of Israel will also be destroyed, and the power of Damascus will end. The few left in Aram will share the fate of Israel’s departed glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 17:1-3 (NLT)
These opening verses paint a bleak picture. The city of Damascus will become a heap of ruins, utterly destroyed. Few, if any, buildings will be left standing. The once great city will be devoid of human life and will become home to all manner of wildlife in the absence of humans to chase them away.
According to these verses, the cities of Aroer, which are located on the northern bank of the Arnon River just east of the Dead Sea, will also be deserted. However, the passage doesn’t say they will be destroyed in the same manner as Damascus, just that they will be deserted. It may be that people simply flee these cities out of fear.
In addition, many of the fortified cities in northern Israel will also be destroyed. Those few who remain in Aram, 38 miles south southeast of Damascus, will share the fate of these northern Israeli cities.
“‘In that day the glory of Israel will be very dim, for poverty will stalk the land. Israel will be abandoned like the grain fields in the valley of Rephaim after the harvest. Only a few of its people will be left, like the stray olives left on the tree after the harvest. Only two or three remain in the highest branches, four or five out on the tips of the limbs. Yes, Israel will be stripped bare of people,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel.” Isaiah 17:4-6 (NLT)
The breadth and scope of destruction is clearly illustrated as God describes the Israeli landscape as stripped bare of people. Only a small fraction of people either choose to stay in the land or else survive what is a massive holocaust, leaving only a few inhabitants who struggle in poverty.
“Then at last the people will think of their Creator and have respect for the Holy One of Israel. They will no longer ask their idols for help or worship what their own hands have made. They will never again bow down to their Asherah poles or burn incense on the altars they built.” Isaiah 17:7-8 (NLT)
As a result of this event, the people of Israel will once again turn to God Almighty. Currently, the nation of Israel is predominantly secular in nature. Other biblical passages infer that this will change as the prophesied rebuilding of the Temple in the last days indicates a spiritual resurgence among the Jews of Israel. Nevertheless, this passage clearly indicates the people of Israel will turn away from all false idols and gods.
Knowing that this will happen, we must ask: why does it happen? The answer is found in the verses that follow:
“Their largest cities will be as deserted as overgrown thickets. They will become like the cities the Amorites abandoned when the Israelites came here so long ago. Why? Because you have turned from the God who can save you – the Rock who can hide you. You may plant the finest imported grapevines, and they may grow so well that they blossom on the very morning you plant them, but you will never pick any grapes from them. Your only harvest will be a load of grief and incurable pain.” Isaiah 17:9-11 (NLT)
The devastation that overshadows Israel will come about because Israel has “turned from the God who can save them.” All the hard work performed prior to this event will be lost. Those who have been distracted by the things of this world will be disappointed, for they have forgotten God, and by putting faith in the things of this world, they will ultimately be disappointed. Their only harvest will be “a load of grief and incurable pain.” This grief will be brought to a climax when, in the midst of their suffering, the nation of Israel faces an imminent invasion:
“Look! The armies rush forward like waves thundering toward the shore. But though they roar like breakers on a beach, God will silence them. They will flee like chaff scattered by the wind or like dust whirling before a storm. In the evening Israel waits in terror, but by dawn its enemies are dead. This is the just reward of those who plunder and destroy the people of God.” Isaiah 17:12-14 (NLT)
While Syria and Israel lie in ruin, the enemies of Israel will view her suffering as an opportunity to invade, their ultimate goal to destroy her forever. However, God has a different plan in mind, and He will destroy these invaders Himself. A more in depth illustration of this attack is foreseen in Psalm 83:
“O God, don’t sit idly by, silent and inactive! Don’t you hear the tumult of your enemies? Don’t you see what your arrogant enemies are doing? They devise crafty schemes against your people, laying plans against your precious ones. ‘Come,’ they say, ‘let us wipe out Israel as a nation. We will destroy the very memory of its existence.’ This was their unanimous decision. They signed a treaty as allies against you – these Edomites and Ishmaelites, Moabites and Hagrites, Gebalites, Ammonites, and Amalekites, and people from Philistia and Tyre. Assyria has joined them, too, and is allied with the descendants of Lot. Do to them as you did to the Midianites or as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the Kishon River. They were destroyed at Endor, and their decaying corpses fertilized the soil. Let their mighty nobles die as Oreb and Zeeb did. Let all their princes die like Zebah and Zalmunna, for they said, ‘Let us seize for our own use these pasturelands of God!’ O my God, blow them away like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind! As a fire roars through a forest and as a flame sets mountains ablaze, chase them with your fierce storms; terrify them with your tempests. Utterly disgrace them until they submit to your name, O Lord. Let them be ashamed and terrified forever. Make them failures in everything they do, until they learn that you alone are called the Lord, that you alone are the Most High, supreme over all the earth.” Psalm 83 (NLT)
So how do we know that Psalm 83 describes the same scene envisioned in Isaiah 17? Let’s compare the two. Here’s how the intentions of Israel’s enemies are described:
Plunder & Destruction
“This is the just reward of those who plunder and destroy the people of God.” Isaiah 17:14 (NLT)
“They devise crafty schemes against your people, laying plans against your precious ones. ‘Come,’ they say, ‘let us wipe out Israel as a nation. We will destroy the very memory of its existence.’ This was their unanimous decision.” Psalm 83:3-5 (NLT)
“for they said, ‘Let us seize for our own use these pasturelands of God!” Psalm 83:12 (NLT)
Here’s how the fate of Israel’s enemies are described:
“They will flee like chaff scattered by the wind or like dust whirling before a storm.” Isaiah 17:13 (NLT)
“O my God, blow them away like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind!” Psalm 83:13 (NLT)
From the description of their fate alone, it is reasonable to conclude that the armies of Isaiah 17:12 are the same nations who sign a treaty against the Lord in Psalm 83:5-8. Below is a list of those nations and their modern geographical equivalents:
Edomites = Jordan / Parts of the West Bank
Ishmaelites = The Arab people
Moabites = Jordan / Parts of the West Bank
Hagrites = Jordan / The Arab people
Gebalites = Lebanon
Ammonites = Jordan
Amalekites = Southern Israel / Gaza
Philistia = Gaza
Tyre = Lebanon
Assyria = Syria / Parts of Turkey and Iraq
The Descendants of Lot = Jordan
By studying the geographical history of these ancient people and places, we can uncover which nations they currently compose. According to Psalm 83, in the aftermath of the destruction of northern Israel and Damascus, Israel will be invaded by armies from Jordan, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza. All of these locations are heavily populated by the enemies of Israel today.
An Expanding War?
But are the nations cited in Psalm 83 the only nations involved in this attack? It’s quite possible that additional conspirators are named in the Book of Ezekiel. Isaiah 17 and Psalm 83 might well foreshadow the war of Gog and Magog.
In Ezekiel 38-39, an enormous coalition of nations, “a vast and awesome horde” – will roll down on Israel “like a storm and cover the land like a cloud” Ezekiel 38:9 (NLT). This prophesied future war in Ezekiel has many similarities to Isaiah 17:12-14. Both prophets foresee a time when enemy armies rush toward Israel while she awaits unprepared. Both prophets foresee God’s instantaneous destruction of Israel’s enemies. And in both scenarios, the marching armies intend to plunder and destroy the people of Israel:
“You will say, ‘Israel is an unprotected land filled with unwalled villages! I will march against her and destroy these people who live in such confidence!” Ezekiel 38:11 (NLT)
“But Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish will ask, ‘Who are you to rob them of silver and gold? Who are you to drive away their cattle and seize their goods and make them poor?’” Ezekiel 38:13 (NLT)
Plunder & Destruction
“This is the just reward of those who plunder and destroy the people of God.” Isaiah 17:14 (NLT)
Could the events predicted in Isaiah 17 and Psalm 83 be a catalyst for the war of Gog and Magog prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39? Although it is not a certainty, the possibility can not be completely ruled out.
Looking at today’s geopolitical landscape, it’s not difficult to envision the scenario outlined in Isaiah 17 and Psalm 83. Syria has been adamant in its demand that Israel surrender the Golan Heights, threatening war if Israel fails to comply. Meanwhile, the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah has apparently convinced leaders in Damascus that Syria can be victorious in a conflict with Israel by simply overwhelming the tiny nation with rocket attacks. From a greater perspective, it has convinced the entire Islamic world that Israel isn’t the militarily invincible nation they once thought.
Syria’s rocket technology is far more advanced than that deployed by Hezbollah, and Syria is known to possess chemical weapons, including the highly lethal VX and Sarin gases. If Syria miscalculates and attacks Israel with these weapons, the Israeli response will be swift and devastating. Israel is armed with nuclear weapons, and if its survival is put in question, it will not hesitate to use them.
If this happens, a mortally wounded Israel will become an irresistible target for her enemies. The surrounding Muslim nations will see an opportunity to destroy her, while Russia will see an opportunity to seize the upper hand in the oil rich Middle East.
Today, the most virulent enemies of Israel reside in the very places named in Psalm 83 – Hamas in Gaza, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jordan, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Syria leadership and its Axis of Evil partners in the city of Damascus.
As of this writing, the conditions are ripe for the fulfillment of Isaiah 17 and Psalm 83, paving the way for the rapture of the church and the beginning of the tribulation. In light of such developments, we should zealously preach the Gospel of Christ to all who will listen. For the hour is late, and the return of Christ is near.
Britt Gillette is founder of BrittGillette.Com, a website examining the relationship between bible prophecy and emerging trends in technology. For more information or to sign up for his email alerts, please visit http://www.brittgillette.com