Isaiah 17 – An Oracle Concerning Damascus :: by Jack Kelley

Recently I was asked to update my commentary on Isaiah 17, which I thought was still pretty fresh. When I looked, I realized that the current events portion of the study was over a year old. This update is long overdue. (Is it just me or is time going faster now?)

What’s New?
In the past year it has become even clearer that Isaiah’s prophecy against Damascus may soon come to fulfillment. Syria, emboldened by the outcome of the Hezbollah Israel conflict, has become ever more bellicose in it’s behavior toward Israel.

Aggressive acts have included moving large military forces onto the Golan, opening the crossing that gives Syrians access to Israel for the first time since 1973, forming and training a Hezbollah like terrorist force to infiltrate Northern Israel, and demanding that the Golan be returned at once or else this force would begin committing terrorist acts inside Israel.

They’ve mobilized reserves, set up alternate communication centers, and moved all official historical and legal documents out of Damascus. They did this because they believe that Israel will respond to a chemical attack by destroying Damascus with nuclear weaponry. They’ve recalled all their citizens living in Lebanon. They’ve purchased Russian arms and defensive systems costing hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to protect Damascus.

It’s been known for some time that Syria has one of the world’s most advanced chemical weapons programs, even though such things are illegal, and probably inherited the bulk of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs that the MSM (main stream media) delights in telling you never existed.

In July, a chemical warhead exploded at a Syrian missile facility while being fitted to a Scud missile, killing dozens of Iranian and Syrian technicians. Syria at first said it was an ammo dump that exploded due to high desert temperatures, but the real story was recently uncovered by Jane’s Defense Weekly. The only likely target within range of the missile is Tel Aviv.

Going Nuclear
On Sept. 6 the Israeli bombing of another Syrian facility deep inside the country made headlines and demonstrated Israel’s ability to render the Russian state-of-the-art anti-air defenses ineffective. These systems were sold to both Syria and Iran to protect against US or Israeli attacks by air. The Russians still can’t figure out how Israel did it, but the presence of nuclear materials at the Syrian base has been confirmed. It might have been the location of at least a dirty bomb assembly plant and perhaps even a clandestine nuclear weapons facility.

Rumor has it that the North Koreans have been heavily involved in this, and are currently helping Syria to perfect an air burst capability that would dramatically increase casualties by causing a warhead to detonate in the atmosphere above its target city.

The New York Times has revealed that on Oct. 6 Turkish officials presented Damascus with an “Israeli dossier” on a Syrian nuclear program, which Israelrelayed to Washington before its Sept. 6 air strike. Israel’s purpose in relaying the dossier to Ankara was to demonstrate that Syrian nuclear activity could be a problem for neighboring Turkey as well as US regional interests and Israel. Syrian President Assad promised that he would retaliate at a time and in a manner of Syria’s choosing.

According to DEBKAfile, this past Thursday night (Oct. 11, 2007) Syria placed its civil defense services on a state of preparedness and mobilized their reservists. Government and military hospitals across Syria have also been alerted. All these measures and the accompanying rhetoric strongly indicate the Syrian regime is convinced that either an American or Israeli assault, or attacks by both against Syria and Iran are due shortly.

“I cannot play games of anticipation,” said the Syrian ruler. “I must be ready for any US or Israeli operation against Iran or Syria.”

And finally, Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have picked Damascusas the coordinating center for the covert military and intelligence activities of the anti-US governments in the Middle East and Latin America.

The US, who would likely have to give prior approval to any Israeli move against Damascus, has good reason to say yes, what with Syria’s meddling in Lebanon and Iraq. President Bush has informed Israeli PM Olmert that he’s opening secret channels with the Syrian government to try and resolve these issues through negotiations, but assured him that no discussion about the Golan would take place. If these talks fail to get Syria out of Lebanese and Iraqi affairs, the US would have strong motives to give the green light when it comes time for Israel to act.

While all this is more than Katie Couric has been willing to share with you, it is a matter of public record. My guess is that there’s a lot more going on that we don’t know, making matters appear even more urgent. So let’s take another look at Isaiah 17, An Oracle Against Damascus, while it’s still prophecy.

An oracle concerning 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. (Isaiah 17:1-2)

Because of the language of these verses, many scholars believe that this prophecy was only partially fulfilled when the Assyrians defeated the Arameans and overran their capital, Damascus, in 732 BC. To this day Damascus is thought to be the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city with a 5000-year history and a population close to 2 million, yet Isaiah 17:1 indicates that it will one day cease to exist.

Some believe the phrase “cities of Aroer” refers to Aramean territory east of the Jordan River around the Arnon River, which flows into the Dead Sea in southern Jordan. However, the Jewish Encyclopedia claims that this phrase inIsaiah 17:2 is probably translated incorrectly, because of its geographical distance from Damascus. While they say it’s possible that there may have been another Aroer near Damascus, it is more likely that the passage should be rendered “the cities thereof shall be forsaken.” If that’s the correct translation, it would include the Hezbollah stronghold in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, which was part of Aramean territory in Isaiah’s time, and is in a direct line between Beirut and Damascus.

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. “In that day the glory of Jacob will fade; the fat of his body will waste away. It will be as when a reaper gathers the standing grain and harvests the grain with his arm- as when a man gleans heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim. (Isaiah 17:3-5)

This segment speaks of the fall of Samaria 10 years later in 722 BC, and the systematic relocation of everyone showing any leadership tendencies to the far reaches of the Assyrian Empire. This was standard Assyrian policy to reduce the likelihood of subsequent rebellion among their conquered peoples. Jacob and Ephraim are alternate names for the Northern Kingdom, and Samaria was its capital. Judah was the name given to the Southern Kingdom, later changed to Judea in the Greek and Roman eras.

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 17:6)

Not all the people were dispersed. A remnant remained in the land, casting further doubt on the “lost 10 tribes” hypothesis. It was this remnant that came to be known as the Samaritans in the time of Jesus. (A quick reading of 2 Chronicles 11:16 shows that all 12 tribes were represented in the Southern Kingdom of Judah at the time of the civil war that divided the nation. There are no lost tribes. The Lord has always preserved a remnant of all the Tribes of Israel.)

In that day men 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. 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. (Isaiah 17:7-9)

This is another passage that’s problematic for those who try to consign the whole prophecy to history. There is simply no reason to believe that the Assyrians turned to God following their conquest of Aram and Israel. And far from abandoning their cities because of the Israelites, it was the Israelites who were defeated and dispersed. The yet future Jewish attack on Damascus causing the destruction and abandonment of Syrian cities, and the eventual return of the survivors to their God is a much more likely fulfillment. And it could happen soon.

You have forgotten God your Savior; 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 17:10-11)

Asshur, father of the Assyrians, and Aram, father of the Arameans were both sons of Shem. Aram’s son Uz is the traditional founder of Damascus. The knowledge of God in the memories of these patriarchs cannot be questioned. It wasn’t that they never knew Him, but that they had forgotten Him, abandoned Him in favor of the Canaanite gods of the region, Baal and his consort Ashtoreth (aka Asherah, Astarte, Ishtar, Aphrodite, Venus.) Currently Syria is almost totally Moslem. Until they return to their Maker and Savior none of their plans and schemes will prosper in the long run.

But return to Him they will. In Isaiah 19 we’re told that in the Kingdom Age there’ll be a highway extending from Egypt to Assyria, and both will stand with Israel to receive the Lord’s blessing. (Isaiah 19:23-25)

Oh, the raging of many nations- they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples- 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)

Having conquered both the Arameans and the Northern Kingdom, the Assyrians set their sights on the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Assyria’s King Sennacherib brought his armies almost literally to the gates of Jerusalem, so close his commanders were within speaking distance of the Jewish defenders. On the night before they were to attack, the Lord sent His angel into the Assyrian camp on Mt. Scopus to slaughter 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. Before dawn they had packed up and fled, ending 44 years of conquest. (Isaiah 37:36-38) This time in Israel’s history so parallels the Jewish view of the End Times that Sennacherib is seen by them as a type of the anti-christ, while Judah’s King Hezekiah models the Messiah.

But notice that Isaiah speaks of many nations raging against God’s people, not just Assyria, leading us once again to consider Sennacherib’s defeat as a partial fulfillment.

Today many nations are stirred up against Israel. The Middle East Peace Conference scheduled for November could see Israel standing alone against all but irresistible pressure to negotiate away its very existence. Syria and Iran are dead certain that either Israel or the US or both will attack soon, and are acting accordingly. We can easily envision a scenario that includes the final fulfillment of Isaiah 17, the destruction of Damascus.

The phrase “rushing of many waters” is often used to describe a loud voice. Such a thing would certainly cause an incredible uproar among the nations, and many loud voices.