Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 17

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


No chronologic order seems to be observed in the arrangement of these chapters. This prophecy was probably delivered near the beginning of the reign of Ahaz. As to time, then, it belongs with chaps. vii and 8. Its occasion remotely, at least was the alliance between Damascus and Ephraim. It is arranged herewith as belonging to prophecies relating to the heathen. The prophecy but barely touches Damascus, Isaiah 17:1-3. It consists of three parts, Isaiah 17:1-14. The first is a prediction against Damascus; the second is one respecting Ephraim; the third, one respecting the Assyrians. Damascus is a very ancient city, and is in flourishing condition at the present time. It lies on a vast and fertile oasis just east of the Anti-Lebanon range, forty miles southeast from Beyroot as the bird flies. In its history it has been several times captured and reduced to comparative ruin, but as often rebuilt, having ceased “to be a city” each time for only a brief period.

Verse 1

1. Burden An oracle, a declaration, or a conviction moving to utter a threat. See Isaiah 13:1. Later critical scholars reject this phrase here, as added by copyists.

Damascus is taken away It shall be or is destroyed; its name shall be or is erased from the list of cities. It did become ruined by Tiglath-pileser about B.C. 739; then by Shalmaneser, B.C. 723.

Verse 2

2. Cities of Aroer Cities round about “Aroer,” and under its jurisdiction. (Gesenius.) Aroer was a small territory not far south from Damascus. There were, however, two trans-Jordanic cities of this name one in Moab, another near Rabbah-Ammon; the latter at this time may have been subject to Syria, captured from Israel.

Flocks Peacefully lying down amid abandoned ruins; a telling reproach, but at the same time a fine picture.

Verse 3

3. The fortress… shall cease from Ephraim During their confederacy, Damascus was the defence of Israel or Ephraim so called because this tribe was the chief of the ten tribes of Israel. In the fall of Damascus this defence comes to an end. So does the glory of that city, and of the chief part of Syria, cease. Its inhabitants are removed. Ephraim loses its bulwark, and Damascus its position as the capital. Syria throughout becomes as miserable as depopulated Israel. One cannot but see bitter irony in the comparing of the glory of Damascus with that of decayed Israel.

Verse 4

4. The glory of Jacob That of the ten tribes, to which the prophet now turns. This is humbled indeed, when the Assyrian power shall carry away its men in crowds.

Shall wax lean Poor, attenuated, sick Israel! The Chaldee has it: “The riches of Israel shall be removed.”

Verse 5

5. Harvestman gathereth the corn The figure used here denotes that the people and wealth of Israel are collected and removed by the Assyrian, just as the husbandman gathers the wheat or barley in his arm to reap down with his sickle; a common fact observable every season in the Valley of Rephaim, near Jerusalem, just south of the city, veering westward of Bethlehem: the largest area of harvest land in the vicinity.

Verse 6

6. Gleaning grapes shall be left Similar to what remains of lingering olives two or three in the top and four or five in the lateral branches, after the hard beating with sticks in the late harvest of the olive trees. The deportation of people will be so thorough that only here and there will an occasional poor family be left. See THOMSON’S The Land and the Book, (vol. i, page 74,) where present practices in that land exhibit the aptness and beauty of the figure in the text.

Verses 7-8

7, 8. At that day The day when calamity comes on Damascus and Ephraim, and the Assyrians carry away the people. It is matter of history, that after the Assyrian conquest and the deportation of the great body of Israel, many that were left accepted Hezekiah’s call to return to the worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 30:11.

Shall not look to the altars Israel and Judah were both enticed to Syrian and Phoenician worship. Ahaz had ordered a copy of the altar at Damascus for the temple at Jerusalem. 2 Kings 16:10-12.

Either the groves, or the images Both these had usurped the place of Jehovah. The one, Asherim, are called “groves” by the old writers; they were used for idol and licentious worship. Modern writers regard them as images of the Phoenician Venus, serving essentially the same purpose. The other, Chamanim, are supposed to be sun-gods representing Baal, the male deity. The “images” were figures of the sun standing upon the altars of Baal. More precise information cannot be given, owing to the danger of confounding the many local varieties of Shemitic mythology. See WILKINS’S Phoenicia and Israel.

Verse 9

9. Shall his strong cities Those of Ephraim in the day of Assyrian capture.

Be as a forsaken bough Rather, as the abandoned thicket, or forest.

And an uppermost branch Or, mountain height, which men left or abandoned of old, as the Israelites under Joshua compelled. The Septuagint reads: Thy cities shall be “forsaken” in the way the Amorites (mountaineers) and Hivites (lowlanders occupying plains and groves) did forsake (or flee) before the children of Israel. To this rendering essentially most writers now accede. For sins not unlike those of the old races before them is Ephraim also to be punished, and in like way punished, namely, driven from their land.

Verse 10

10. Because thou Ephraim, Israel.

Hast forgotten… salvation Explanation of the preceding verse. The Israelites were to be punished as there described. But the other result was to follow first, namely, they fell into idolatry.

Not been mindful… Rock of thy strength The Lord, Jehovah. Weary of the wholesome discipline of serving him, they pandered to the lustful pleasures of a false religion. They plant pleasant plants, or pleasant plantations, perhaps groves for illicit pleasures connected with idolatrous worship, for to this view the next phrase allies itself.

Set it with strange slips In the midst of their idolatrous garden-grounds they inserted vines from Syria and Damascus. Ephraim sought help and protection from Damascus and Syria rather than from Jehovah, his own covenant God.

Verse 11

11. Make thy plant to grow On the very day of (or, quite at the immediate) planting of his pleasant garden-ground, (of his overture with Damascus,) he assiduously guarded it by a hedge. He turned away totally from Jehovah.

In the morning On the very next morning he found what he had sown in full bloom his agreement respecting alliance with a foreign power was hearty, he was ready to take the sensual worship of Damascus as his state religion; and the blossom was rapidly advancing to fruitage, that is, to a place of united attack upon Judah. But this plantation, so promising at first to Israel, and succeeding, apparently, so well, was all at once a harvest heap for the day of terrible judgment.

Verse 12

12. Woe The word is more properly, Ho, or Ha; a word of surprise; something suddenly turning up to the attention, and wholly absorbing it. The scene is now changed, as in Isaiah 8:5-10, to the fate of the destroying world-power. Assyria itself is broken.

Multitude of many people Ho! The uproar of many nations yonder! Avengers they are of backslidden Israel, coming to execute judgment on peoples this way; but destruction, also, is ultimately destined upon them.

These last verses are seemingly separated from the preceding; the leap of thought here is considerable; but, as heretofore noticed of Isaiah, such abruptness is not unusual. In this case, the scene is as if, on a pause at the conclusion at the eleventh verse, the prophet’s thought respecting the instrument to crush Damascus and Israel had darted like lightning through Assyria in all the extent of her provinces, over her territories, and through all destinies attending these, and was arrested, as in vision they were seen generally mustering for a final judgment and overthrow, with the words following:

“Hark! The noise of many nations! Like the noise of the sea, they make a noise! And the rush of peoples! Like the rush of mighty waters they are rushing! Nations, like the rush of many waters, rush; and he (God) rebukes it, and it flees from afar, and is chased like the chaff (or thistle-down) of hills before the wind, and like a rolling thing (probably rolling dust) before a whirlwind.”

The translation is Alexander’s. Delitzsch says, “The many surging nations (or sub-kingdoms of Assyria) are kneaded together, as it were, into one mass. It costs God simply a threatening word, and this mass flies all apart, and falls into dust, and whirls about in all directions, like the chaff of threshingfloors in high places, or like dust whirled up by the storm.” All literature may be challenged to show a passage of greater power.

Verse 14

14. And behold… trouble The different renderings are, terror, trouble, consternation, horror, the shriek of death.

At eveningtide At the time of evening.

Before… morning he is not Some suppose a proleptic allusion here to the swoop of destruction upon Sennacherib’s army. Possibly the imagery is purposely suited to that slaughter, yet the language will apply to many other deliverances and judgments. Judgment upon the imperial powers began in the evening, raged through the night: in the morning all were destroyed. This power had finished Damascus and Ephraim; it essayed to demolish Judah; but was itself swept, as it were in a moment, out of existence. So went, ultimately, the whole empire, broken, scattered, and swallowed up by other powers.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 17". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.