Isaiah 17: A Ruinous Heap
What's gone before...
The previous chapter was divided in tone and intent. The first half was an emotional plea for shelter and protection for the Moabite refugees fleeing the ravages of foreign invaders. The second half was a dismissive condemnation of Moab's history of arrogance and superiority.
Now, in Chapter 17...
The world's search for happiness and strength within themselves will fail completely. War will decimate the nations. But the survivors will find hope in a renewed love and dependence upon God Almighty, their Creator.
Isaiah warns of coming destruction for all nations involved in the civil war between Israel and Judah. Chief among the allies of Israel was Damascus, capital city of Syria.
Isaiah 17:1-3 (ESV) An oracle concerning Damascus. Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer are deserted; they will be for flocks, which will lie down, and none will make them afraid. 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.
Moab was to the east of Israel, and Damascus was, and still is, to the north, near Mount Hermon. Like Moab, Damascus had been off-and-on allies and enemies of Israel. Abraham's trusted servant, Eliezer, was from Damascus (Genesis 15:2). King David defeated the Syrian army and took control of Damascus (2 Samuel 8). During the civil war between Israel and Judah, the king of Israel sought alliance with the Syrian king in Damascus (1 Kings 15). At one time both Israel and Syria relied upon the same prophets, Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 19:15, 2 Kings 8). The two nations shared the same gods, to the ruin of Israel (2 Chronicles 28).
Aroer, Ephraim, Damascus and Syria were cities and regions allied together, joining in Israel's rebellion against Judah.
In Syria lay Israel's hope for victory. Israel must have regarded Damascus as a symbol of glory. But God would soon make it clear that it was a symbol of vain glory.
Isaiah 17:4-6 (ESV) And in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low, and the fat of his flesh will grow lean. And it shall be as when the reaper gathers standing grain and his arm harvests the ears, and as when one gleans the ears of grain in the Valley of Rephaim. Gleanings will be left in it, as when an olive tree is beaten — two or three berries in the top of the highest bough, four or five on the branches of a fruit tree, declares the LORD God of Israel.
God's perspective extended beyond the nation of Israel. All of earth was filled with idolatry and rebellion against God as Sovereign King.
Isaiah 17:7 (ESV) In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense.
Israel's idolatry brought into God's condemnation the entire world, guilty as was Israel, of forgetting the Creator and Sustainer of all. The Holy One of Israel is the Maker of all people, and all people who reject their Creator as Lord will be condemned.
Happiness and strength are essential human desires. Human history is rife with examples of humans seeking happiness and strength from themselves and what they make. God declared a day in which these essential human desires would be satisfied only in the Holy One of Israel and in no other god.
Isaiah 17:9-11 (ESV) 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. For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and sow the vine-branch of a stranger, though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow, yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain.
Desolation on earth will come because Israel, as representative of the human race, forgot their God. Because Israel sought happiness and strength in themself and in gods of their own making, all earth will fall to grief and incurable pain.
Assyria would be the LORD's instrument of punishment and correction, but in no way would Assyria herself be exempt from judgement.
Isaiah 17:12-14 (ESV) Ah, the thunder of many peoples; they thunder like the thundering of the sea! Ah, the roar of nations; they roar like the roaring of mighty waters! 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. At evening time, behold, terror! Before morning, they are no more! This is the portion of those who loot us, and the lot of those who plunder us.
"Many peoples" and "nations" referred to the people of Assyria, themselves guilty of forgetting their Maker and placing their hope of happiness and strength in themselves and their gods.