Isaiah 17 is a chapter that contains a prophecy about the total destruction of the city of Damascus and several other Mideast locations. Damascus is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, if not the oldest, so the prophecy appears to be unfulfilled as of the time of this writing. Many people believe the events of Isaiah 17 will be some of the next prophetic events to occur. Some speculate that Damascus will be nuked by Israel when the events of Isaiah 17 transpire. Given the ongoing turmoil within Syria and the ongoing tension between Israel and Syria, it would be useful to examine when the events of Isaiah 17 might be fulfilled.

I will attempt to pinpoint the general timeframe when the events of Isaiah 17 will transpire in this article.

Isaiah 17 Overview

Isaiah 17:1-3

Isaiah 17 opens with the words “the burden of Damascus”, which indicates that Damascus is the subject of a troublesome prophecy. The troublesome nature of the prophecy is immediately revealed with verse 1 describing the city of Damascus as “a ruinous heap”. In addition, Aroer (a city located in modern day Jordan) and Ephraim (northern Israel) are also described as desolate and forsaken. Other places in Syria will likely be impacted as well as Isaiah mentions “the remnant of Syria”.

(1) The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap. (2) The cities of Aroer are forsaken: they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid. (3) The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria: they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 17:1-3)

Before continuing it should be noted that some believe that Isaiah 17 has application to the eighth century B.C. when the Assyrian army attacked Syria and northern Israel. However, verse 1 describes Damascus being desolated to the extent that it is “taken away from being a city”. This level of desolation does not appear to have occurred yet, so perhaps Isaiah 17 is a chapter with multiple applications with its ultimate fulfillment in the future.

The cause(s) of Damascus’s desolation is not explicitly stated in Isaiah 17:1-3, but Jeremiah 49:23-27, a passage that potentially has end time implications, suggests that Damascus may be target of a military invasion.

(23) Concerning Damascus. Hamath is confounded, and Arpad: for they have heard evil tidings: they are fainthearted; there is sorrow on the sea; it cannot be quiet. (24) Damascus is waxed feeble, and turneth herself to flee, and fear hath seized on her: anguish and sorrows have taken her, as a woman in travail. (25) How is the city of praise not left, the city of my joy! (26) Therefore her young men shall fall in her streets, and all the men of war shall be cut off in that day, saith the LORD of hosts. (27) And I will kindle a fire in the wall of Damascus, and it shall consume the palaces of Benhadad. (Jeremiah 49:23-27)

Isaiah 17:4-6

Isaiah 17:4-6 appears to provide the circumstances surrounding the general timeframe when Damascus will become a ruinous heap.

  • The connection between Isaiah 17:1-3 and Isaiah 17:4 onward is established in Isaiah 17:3-4. The glory of Damascus and the glory of the remnant of Syria at that time are compared to the glory of the children of Israel in verse 3 while verse 4 expands on the glory of Jacob/Israel at that time. “(3) The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria: they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith the LORD of hosts. (4) And in that day it shall come to pass, that the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean”.

The phrase “in that day” appears in Isaiah 17:4, which in an end time context refers to the Day of the Lord. The appearance of this phrase suggests the destruction of Damascus will likely occur around the approximate time of the Day of the Lord. Furthermore, Isaiah 17:4-6 indicates that the “glory of Jacob” will be greatly diminished to a small remnant, which is indicative that the events of Isaiah 17 will occur in the latter portion of the end times when Jacob’s population will indeed be greatly diminished.

(4) And in that day it shall come to pass, that the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean. (5) And it shall be as when the harvestman gathereth the corn, and reapeth the ears with his arm; and it shall be as he that gathereth ears in the valley of Rephaim. (6) Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it, as the shaking of an olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost fruitful branches thereof, saith the LORD God of Israel. (Isaiah 17:4-6)

The widespread desolation and large decline in the population of Israel at that future time period may be referenced in Isaiah 6:9-13. Isaiah 6:9-13 describes a time when the land of Israel will be greatly desolated and will only have a small population remaining, and this time period will coincide with the end of the spiritual blindness impacting (a portion) of Israel.

(9) And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. (10) Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. (11) Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, (12) And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. (13) But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof. (Isaiah 6:9-13)

The end of spiritual blindness impacting (a portion of) Israel will coincide with the coming of the Lord and the arrival of the fullness of the Gentiles according to Romans 11:25-26, Isaiah 35:4-5, and Isaiah 42:13-16. The following table displays the similarities between these passages and Isaiah 6:9-13.

The spiritual blindness impacting (a portion of) IsraelConditions surrounding the lifting of the spiritual blindnessThe coming of the Lord at the time when the spiritual blindness will end 
Isa 6:9-13: (9) And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. (10) Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. (11) Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, (12) And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. (13) But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
Rom 11:25-26: (25) For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. (26) And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
Isa 35:4-5: (4) Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. (5) Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Isa 42:13-16: (13) The LORD shall go forth as a mighty man, he shall stir up jealousy like a man of war: he shall cry, yea, roar; he shall prevail against his enemies. (14) I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once. (15) I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and I will dry up the pools. (16) And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.

Consequently, if Isaiah 6:9-13 is indeed related to Isaiah 17:4-6 it would mean that the events of Isaiah 17 may occur near the coming of the Lord and the end of the fullness of the Gentiles. Each passage is displayed below and each respective passage’s reference to a small remnant remaining is highlighted.

“(11) Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, (12) And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. (13) But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.” (Isa 6:11-13)

“(4) And in that day it shall come to pass, that the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean. (5) And it shall be as when the harvestman gathereth the corn, and reapeth the ears with his arm; and it shall be as he that gathereth ears in the valley of Rephaim. (6) Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it, as the shaking of an olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost fruitful branches thereof, saith the LORD God of Israel.” (Isa 17:4-6)

Isaiah 17:7-8

Isaiah 17:7-8 may cover the result that the desolation has on the people of the region at that time. The punishment may bring people to look to the Lord instead of false idols.

(7) At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel. (8) And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images. (Isaiah 17:7-8)

This change in people’s regard for the Lord is consistent with what will happen around the time when the spiritual blindness impacting (a portion of Israel) is lifted (Isaiah 29:18-19). This again suggests that the events of Isaiah 17 will take place in the latter portion of the end times. Isaiah 10:20-22, a passage which may have end times implications given the phrase “shall no more again” in verse 20, describes the remnant of Israel as those who will depend on the Lord.

(20) And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. (21) The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God. (22) For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness. (Isaiah 10:20-22)

The term “remnant of Israel” again suggests that the conditions of Isaiah 17:7 and Isaiah 17 in general will take place in the latter portion of the end times after a great decline in the population of Israel.

Isaiah 17:9-11

Isaiah 17:9-11 may cover much of why there will be so much desolation in the future. The passage explains that the widespread desolation is part of the chastisement for the forsaking the Lord.

(9) In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel: and there shall be desolation. (10) Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips: (11) In the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy seed to flourish: but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow. (Isaiah 17:9-11)

Does Isaiah 17:9 Say Israel Destroys Damascus?

As an aside, some people cite Isaiah 17:9 as evidence that Israel will be responsible for causing the destruction of Damascus. However, it is not completely clear which forsaken, strong cities Isaiah 17:9 is referring to. For instance, Keil and Delitzsch believe Isaiah 17:9 is a more detail restatement of Isaiah 17:3 in describing Ephraim’s strong cities:

The statement in Isaiah 17:3, “The fortress of Ephraim is abolished,” is repeated in Isaiah 17:9 in a more descriptive manner. The fate of the strongly fortified cities of Ephraim would be the same as that of the old Canaanitish castles, which were still to be discerned in their antiquated remains, either in the depths of forests or high up on the mountains.1

The following is a comparison of Isaiah 17:3 with Isaiah 17:9.

The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria: they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Isa 17:3)

In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel: and there shall be desolation.” (Isa 17:9)

Regardless of the location of the cities, some Bible commentators like John Gill 2 believe that Isaiah 17:9 is only comparing the forsakenness of the cities at the time of the prophecy’s fulfillment to the cities the Canaanites abandoned when the Israelites came to the land (and not saying that Israel is responsible for the forsakenness of the cities at that time).

In sum, the argument that Isaiah 17:9 is evidence that Israel will be responsible for causing the destruction of Damascus depends on the assumption that the strong cities in Isaiah 17:9 belong to Syria being true and on the assumption that Israel is responsible for making the cities desolate at the time of the prophecy’s fulfillment being true. Both assumptions can be disputed.

Isaiah 17:12-14

Isaiah 17:12-14 shifts the focus to the demise of a group of nations who are likely the attackers that desolate Damascus, northern Israel, and other places. Some believe that the passage refers to Assyria back in the eighth century B.C. However, the warning in Isaiah 17:12-14 is directed towards several nations instead of just one. The Lord will rebuke the attacking nations and will rout them according to Isaiah 17:13.

(12) Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! (13) The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. (14) And behold at eveningtide trouble; and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us. (Isaiah 17:12-14)

The passage above is very similar to Isaiah 29:5-7, a passage that I believe has end time significance, namely the end time siege of Jerusalem. The parallels between the two passages mentioned above are shown in the following table.

Multiple Nations AttackingThe Lord will intervene to deal with the nations Nations depicted as chaff that is blown away by wind
Isa 17:12-14: (12) Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! (13) The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. (14) And behold at eveningtide trouble; and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us.
Isa 29:5-7: (5) Moreover the multitude of thy strangers shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away: yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly. (6)Thou shalt be visited of the LORD of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire. (7) And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.

Isaiah 17:13 also parallels Isaiah 33:10-13, a passage from a chapter that primarily deals with the Assyrian threat to Jerusalem but potentially could be another chapter with multiple fulfillments.

God ActsEnemies Destroyed
Isa 17:13: “The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.”
Isa 33:10-13: (10) Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself. (11) Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you. (12) And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire. (13) Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge my might.”

The repelling of the attacking nations by the Lord also compares to Joel 2:20. The Lord promises in Joel 2:20 that He will drive away and defeat the northern army that will attack places like Jerusalem.

“The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.” (Isa 17:13)

“(19) Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen: (20) But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things.” (Joel 2:19-20)

The parallels between Isaiah 17:12-14, Joel 2:20, Isaiah 29:5-7, and Isaiah 33:10-13 suggest that the demise of the attacking nations will come during the end time siege of Jerusalem when the Lord intervenes. Given this, we can presume that the desolation of Damascus and northern Israel will come just prior to the end time siege of Jerusalem.

Nighttime Defeat?

Interestingly, Isaiah 17:14 suggests that the attackers will be defeated during the night.

And behold at eveningtide trouble; and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us. (Isaiah 17:14)

The statement harkens to Isaiah 37:35-37, which is a passage that records the angel of the Lord’s overnight defeat of Sennacherib’s Assyrian army.

(35) For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake. (36) Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. (37) So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. (Isaiah 37:35-37)

Isaiah 17:14 may be another case where a prophetic event occurs multiple times in a similar manner. The first occurrence was the overnight defeat of the Assyrian army. The end time occurrence may involve the overnight defeat of the nations that attack Jerusalem and other places like Damascus and northern Israel.

  • Interestingly, Isaiah 29:7 compares the sudden demise of the nations that besiege Jerusalem (Ariel) to a nighttime dream. This analogy harkens back to Isaiah 17:14’s suggestion that the attackers will be wiped out during the night.

And behold at eveningtide trouble; and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us.” (Isa 17:14)

“And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.” (Isa 29:7)

My Closing Thoughts on Isaiah 17’s Fulfillment

I believe the fulfillment of Isaiah 17 will not come prior to the start of the end times or even at the start of the end times. I believe the fulfillment of Isaiah 17, particularly the destruction of Damascus, will come during the latter portion of the end times near the start of the end time siege of Jerusalem, the coming of the Lord, and the arrival of the fullness of the gentiles. The participants of the siege will likely travel through Syria and northern Israel and leave a wake of destruction as they advance to besiege Jerusalem. Joel 2:2-3 may provide a fitting description of how this military force will leave a wake of destruction behind as it approaches Jerusalem.

(2) A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations. (3) A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them. (Joel 2:2-3)

The question that arises from this conclusion is: “What will motivate the military forces to come down to destroy Damascus and other Syrian cities on their way to Israel?” Syria presumably will be a part of the Antichrist’s empire, so the military forces that desolate Syria presumably will not be affiliated with Antichrist or the kings he will work with. What will motivate a significant military force comprised of troops from many nations to attack a presumed ally of Antichrist (Syria) on their way to Israel?

 

Show 2 footnotes

  1.  Delitzsch, F. and Carl, F. Keil. Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes. Trans. James Martin. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983.
  2.  John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible.