The Inner Ring - Part 2 of 4 - Damascus: Ground Zero
Isaiah 17 is one of the most talked about passages in Bible prophecy today. It predicts the total destruction of the city of Damascus, Syria. Anyone who watches the news and has a basic understanding of the Bible can see why this passage is causing so much commotion. Damascus is currently a powder keg.
Iran, Syria and the terrorist group Hezbollah are stockpiling weapons in and near Damascus and Beirut, Lebanon. Damascus has been the focus of precision airstrikes by Israel in recent weeks to neutralize this threat. Israel is reluctant to launch an all out attack on the city due to the potential casualties of innocent civilians (1.7 million). This is what Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are counting on. Israel cares more about the innocent civilians than they do.
Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins…. In that day their strong cities will be like the deserted places of the wooded heights and the hilltops, which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation…. At evening time, behold, terror! Before morning, they are no more! – Isaiah 17:1, 9, 14
- Damascus will be destroyed, desolate and deserted. A “heap of ruins”.
- This will happen because of Israel. It is not clear if this means it will be caused by Israel
(direct attack), or if God will intervene on behalf of Israel (earthquake or other natural disaster).
- The destruction will happen in just one night.
Damascus is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world. It has been conquered many times, but has never been completely destroyed or uninhabited. This prophecy is still future. Until the mid-20th century, it has not been humanly possible to completely destroy an entire city in just one night.
This destruction will likely happen very soon. Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and other “inner ring” enemies of Israel are not mentioned in the Gog and Magog invasion (Ezekiel 38 and 39), even though they are geographically at the center of current events. Isaiah 17 describes a regional conflict that may explain their fate, along with possible damage to northern Israel. This could happen in a deliberate strike, or could be the result of an accidental detonation of the weapons stockpiles. (Some have suggested that Saddam Hussein's WMDs are hidden in or near Damascus).
Understanding Old Testament Prophecy
An important factor in understanding Bible prophecy is to remember that God does not experience time in the same way that we do. A prophecy sometimes plays out over a span of thousands of years. God’s time table will always be completed, but it may take several “days” (thousands of years).
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. -- II Peter 3:8 (ESV)
(Example: Prior post from October 2, 2018: “City of Tyre - Prophecy Fulfilled”)
Another characteristic of Old Testament prophecy is that it sometimes repeats. Events concerning a specific city, nation or people can be fulfilled in ancient times, and then repeated thousands of years later.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. -- Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV)
Context of Isaiah 17
After the reign of King Solomon, the ancient country of Israel was divided into a northern kingdom (called Israel) and southern kingdom (called Judah). The northern kingdom of Israel turned to idolatry and rebellion against God. After many warnings, it was condemned to destruction by the Assyrians, a nation to the north. The Assyrian conquest occurred in stages with the people of Israel being forcibly resettled from 740 B.C. to about 720 B.C.
Isaiah 17 refers to the Assyrian conquest, but not all the details were fulfilled at that time. Damascus was conquered, but not deserted and ruined.
Geography and Place Names
To fully understand Isaiah 17, it is helpful to review a map of Israel and the surrounding countries today. All the areas mentioned in this passage are very close together. Damascus is less than 40 miles from the border of Israel. Amman, Jordan is only 100 miles from Damascus and 25 miles from the border with Israel. Beirut is about 40 miles from the nearest border with Israel. A modern battle scenario could easily affect the entire region.
- Cities of Aroer – this area is directly east of the Dead Sea, about 35 miles south of Amman, Jordan.
The cities of Aroer are deserted; they will be for flocks, which will lie down, and none will make them afraid. – Isaiah 17:2 (ESV)
An interesting note about this verse is the mention of flocks grazing and lying down. Whatever destruction occurs here, it is probably not nuclear. Fallout would make the area toxic for livestock. (If Israel is directly responsible for an attack, it would be foolhardy to use nuclear weapons on a near neighbor.)
- Fortress of Ephraim – refers to the northern kingdom of Israel. This is an area directly west of the Jordan river, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.
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. – Isaiah 17:3 (ESV)
It seems that there is plenty of misery to go around for the refugees from Damascus and the children of Israel.
- Glory of Jacob – a further description of the tremendous damage to northern Israel in this conflict. “Jacob” refers to the divided kingdom of Israel.
And in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low, and the fat of his flesh will grow lean. – Isaiah 17:4 (ESV)
- Valley of Rephaim – located near Jerusalem. The harvest described is meager, but a remnant survives.
Reason for Destruction
Verses 7 through 11 give the reason for the destruction of Damascus, Syria, Northern Israel and Northern Jordan. “For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge;” – Isaiah 17:10a (ESV).
Syria and Jordan are Muslim countries. Israel, although nominally Jewish, is largely a secular nation. Most people don’t realize that modern Israelis identify with their Jewish heritage, but not with the Jewish religion. Only a small percentage of Israelis attend Temple or engage in any form of worship. The prophecy of the great damage to northern Israel may be God’s wake up call.
It is possible that the part of the prophecy concerning northern Israel was fulfilled during the Assyrian conquest. It is also possible that this destruction could happen again. The one thing that we know for sure is that the destruction of Damascus is still a future event.
- The events of Isaiah 17 may be tied to Psalm 83.
O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane! – Psalm 83:13-15 (ESV) (emphasis mine)
Using the same language, Isaiah may be inferring that these events are related.
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. – Isaiah 17:13 (ESV) (emphasis mine)
- Jeremiah 49:23:
Hamath and Arpad are confounded, for they have heard bad news; they melt in fear, they are troubled like the sea that cannot be quiet. – Jeremiah 49:23 (ESV)
Hamath and Arpad are cities in northwest Syria near modern Aleppo. It appears that the destruction of Damascus will not destroy the entire country but will cause them to “melt in fear”.
In Old Testament prophecies, the gentile nations are often referred to as a “troubled sea” or “roaring waters”.
- Amos 1:3-5:
This passage describes a punishment of Damascus “because they have threshed Gilead”. Gilead is an area on the eastern banks of the Jordan river, in modern Jordan. The original Israeli tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh settled there. The “threshing sledges of iron” may refer to the destruction of areas of Israel by the Syrians.
The other place names in the chapter refer to locations in Syria. The survivors will go into exile in Kir. This probably refers to outlying areas of Syria.