Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Isaiah 17: 1-3

Prophecy about Damascus

1 The oracle concerning Damascus.
“Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city
And will become a fallen ruin.
“The cities of Aroer are forsaken;
They will be for flocks to lie down in,
And there will be no one to frighten them.
“The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim,
And sovereignty from Damascus
And the remnant of Aram;
They will be like the glory of the sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord of hosts.

From Moab, Isaiah steers his prophecy making northward to Damascus, which was (and is) the capital of Aram--or, today, Syria. "Its location NE of Mt. Hermon on the main land route between Mesopotamia and Egypt made it very influential," according to my study Bible. Of course, this week, Syria is the epicenter of world events.

In reviewing the cross-references for our verses this week, I was pleased to have a history refresher and a re-visit to earlier chapters in Isaiah. [In a very long book such as this, a periodic review is helpful in remembering what you have already (supposedly) covered!] This history helps to set up this chapter. 

Since Isaiah's calling to be a prophet, Judah's kings had had to deal with the brewing situation of a power alliance between Syria and northern neighbor Israel. Both nations had banded together with the hope of thwarting takeover threats by Assyria. The countries believed that having Judah on board with them would secure victory. Problem was that Judah's kings would not play ball. So, the two-nation alliance threatened to invade Judah to forcibly bring about their own triune. Recall King Ahaz--King Panic and not one to follow Godly counsel--who disregarded Isaiah's prophecy:

"...Thus says the Lord God: 'It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass. For the head of Aram is Damascus and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people)....'"
--Isaiah 7: 7 and 8 

Rather than listen to God, Ahaz did his own force play, aligning Judah with Assyria.
Isaiah steps in now, during King Hezekiah's reign, saying that "Damascus is about to be removed from being a city...." (vs. 1) Even before the prophet forthtold its demise, Amos, the sheep-herder prophet to Israel, had already prophesied its fall:
"Thus says the Lord, 
'For three transgressions of Damascus and for four
I will not revoke its punishment,
Because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron.

'So I will send fire upon the house of Hazael
And it will consume the citadels of Ben-hadad.

'I will also break the gate bar of Damascus,
And cut off the inhabitant from the valley of Aven,
And him who holds the scepter, from Beth-eden;
So the people of Aram will go exiled to Kir,'
Says the Lord."

--Amos 1: 3-5
The word had been pronounced; it was just a matter of timing. Isaiah's bringing the same word, again, should have alerted people that the time was yet nearer. Damascus would not just face destruction, but would become "a fallen ruin." (The King James' Version uses "ruinous heap.")

In verse 2, not only Damascus will suffer, but also the cities of the areas of Aroer would be "forsaken." 
Aroer was the area on Syria's southernmost border, on the Arnon River--just north of Moab's northernmost border. (You can see Jazer and Elealah on the map.) So, we have an appreciation through the text that Isaiah is referring to the larger physical boundaries of Syria and not just the heart of these cities. At one time, Aroer was under possession of Gad, one of the tribes of Israel, who moved into the area seeking to establish a place to raise  families--especially  children--and livestock, of which they were rich in number. (Numbers 32)
Given why Gad sought to stay put in the region sheds light on the rest of verse 2: "They will be for flocks to lie down in, and there will be no one to frighten them." The pastoral land of Aroer will continue to host livestock, only there will be no people, or reason to flee--as all will be gone.
Damascus will lose its "sovereignty" among other nations (vs. 3), meaning that any power it once held would be taken. We've already read that Rezin's kingly term came with a terminal limit. Damascus held the reigns in instigating the alliance with Israel, for which it would face God's wrath and judgment. If there were any inkling of a thought that Ephraim's (Israel's) "friend of God" status would keep Damascus' toll to a minimum, Isaiah says no way: These cities will be "like the glory of the sons of Israel." (vs. 3)
On the surface, you would think that was a good thing. Of course, at one time, it was the best thing! Israel had had a reputation. Israel had a history. Israel had The Glory! But Israel's sin--worshiping idols and the lack of full reliance on God--tarnished the picture of His Glory resting upon His people. Long gone, and it would also seem long forgotten, were the days when the physical presence of the Glory of God (Shekinah) was with His people. As we said in last week's post about the mighty days of Moab, the glory was fading, and judgment was coming--for Israel and for Syria.

"'The remnant of Syria shall be as the glory of the children of Israel; those few that remain of the Syrians shall be in as mean and despicable a condition as the children of Israel are, and the glory of Israel shall be no relief or reputation to them.' Sinful confederacies will be no strength, no stay, to the confederates, when God’s judgments come upon them."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible


As with Moab, a similarly sized remnant will be found in Syria, also. ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 17: 4-6
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

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