Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 17

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


The oracle against Damascus and Ephraim chs. 17-18

This oracle deals with Syria (or Aram-Damascus was its capital) and the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Ephraim being its leading tribe), which had formed an alliance to Judah’s north in 735-732 B.C. Even though the oracle is addressed to Damascus, it focuses quickly on Israel (Isaiah 17:4). It is probably a mosaic composition alluding to events that happened over many years of Isaiah’s ministry that the prophet pieced together under divine inspiration. As in all these oracles, Isaiah’s interest was not primarily in the course of events as such but the issues to which these events gave expression. Israel, as well as the other nations addressed in these oracles, refused to depend on God and trusted in man for protection. That is why they received a heavy message (burden) from the Lord.

"As the Lord organizes history for the good of his people (the Babylon oracle) and purposes to keep the Davidic promises (the Philistia oracle), opening them to the Gentiles also (the Moab oracle), his actions under all these headings are holy and just. Sin is not overlooked [even in Israel, (the Damascus Ephraim oracle)]." [Note: Ibid., p. 156.]

Verses 1-3

God announced that Damascus and the cities of Syria, plus Samaria ("the fortified city," Isaiah 17:3), would soon fall. Assyria destroyed Damascus in 732 B.C. and Samaria in 722 B.C. These cities would lose their sovereignty and glory and would become grazing lands instead of population centers. Nevertheless the almighty God promised that there would be a few people left in Syria, as there would be in Ephraim (cf. Isaiah 18:7).

Verses 4-6

Isaiah revealed the reason for this defeat. In the day of God’s judgment (cf. Isaiah 17:7; Isaiah 17:9), Jacob’s prosperity would become lean, as when one grows old and loses his former strength, because of her unbelief: her lack of trust in God. She would experience a thorough reaping of her population, as reapers harvested abundant grain crops in the productive valley of Rephaim near Jerusalem. Yet a remnant would survive, like the few olives or fruits left after a harvest for gleaners to collect. This is what Yahweh, the God who had pledged Himself to Israel, declared.

"Judah need not fear her neighbors; it is God with whom she should come to terms." [Note: Oswalt, p. 351.]

Verses 7-8

The coming destruction would result in the Israelites and the Arameans (Syrians) turning to their maker, the Holy One of Israel, in trust and away from idols.

Verses 9-11

The land would be a desolation because the Israelites forgot their God and tried to supply their own needs independent of Him. The description of cultivating plants in these verses represents a pagan custom designed to secure the favor of local gods. Rather than trusting in their saving God, the Israelites had planted little seedlings of faith in idols. The Israelites’ horticultural attempts had been frustrating, as had their attempts to produce satisfaction in life and divine help by pursuing other gods.

"What kind of a gardener is he who plants thistles and expects roses! Folly is Israel’s action; she turns to the idols and expects protection." [Note: Young, 1:472.]

Verses 12-14

Many warriors would descend on Israel like the waves of the sea, but they would quickly dissipate because the Lord would rebuke them. They would disappear like dust before a strong wind. The terror that would be so strong would vanish overnight. God also gave such a deliverance to Judah when Sennacherib the Assyrian attacked Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 37:36), but that is not in view here. The fact that Isaiah did not mention a particular nation as the enemy, suggests that he had more in mind than just one foe, and a perspective that extended far beyond his own day. Many nations would punish Israel over the years.

What follows in chapter 18 is an example of how the nations are subject to God, the point of Isaiah 17:12-14. It describes an eschatological defeat of superpowers-one of which would destroy Damascus and Ephraim in Isaiah’s day.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 17". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.