ISAIAH CHAPTER 17.
Prophecy against Damascus.
DAMASCUS AND EPHRAIM THREATENED. — V. 1. The burden of Damascus, the capital of Syria being mentioned first because it was at the head of the league which Israel had joined as a strong ally. Even during the reign of Ahaz the Assyrian ruler Tiglath-pileser had carried away the people of Damascus to Kir, 2 Kings 16, 9; but now a further overthrow is foretold: Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, no longer to be found in the number of cities, and it shall be a ruinous heap, in a catastrophe of destruction which, for the time being, left the city deserted, although it afterward recovered. V. 2. The cities of Aroer, the two cities of this name in the country east of the Jordan, with the towns under their jurisdiction, are forsaken; they shall be for flocks, an open pasturage, which shall lie dawn, and none shall make them afraid, there being no one there to drive them off. The prophecy is now extended to include the northern kingdom. V. 3. The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, since its fortified cities would be taken, and the kingdom from Damascus and the remnant of Syria, so that both of them would no longer rank as independent nations; they, that is, those who are left of Syria, shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, to be led into captivity, saith the Lord of hosts, the mighty ruler of the heavenly armies. V. 4. And in that day it shall come to pass that the glory of Jacob, especially the kingdom of Ephraim and all who relied upon it, shall be made thin, be weakened and pine away, and the fatness of his mesh shall wax lean, the picture being that of a man rapidly falling away under the influence of a severe fever. The power and wealth which both kingdoms had once more gained under the reign of Jeroboam II and Uzziah melted away to almost nothing. V. 5. And it shall be as when the harvestman gathereth the corn and reapeth the ears with his arm, literally, “and his arm reapeth the ears”; and it shall be as he that gathereth ears in the Valley of Rephaim, the fertile plain southwest of Jerusalem, toward the country of the Philistines. Cp. 2 Sam. 5, 18-22. The picture is that of a farmer going into a field of grain and gathering an armful of stalks with his left hand, while he cuts off the grain below with a sickle in his right hand. V. 6. Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it; in the land of Israel, 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. In harvesting olives, the trees were first shaken, whereupon a few berries within reach were knocked down with sticks, but those which hung in the tree-tops, beyond reach, remained hanging. Thus only a few poor inhabitants would be left in Israel. V. 7. At that day shall a man look to his Maker, instead of trusting in fortresses and in the strength of man’s arm, as heretofore, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel, for the small remnant of Israel and also of Judah, the spiritual Israel, returned to the true God and His worship. V. 8. And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, which the children of Israel had formerly devoted to idolatry, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, the Asherah-idols picturing one of the Semitic goddesses, very often identified with Venus, or the images, those of Baal, the sun-god, so that all the hosts of heaven were included in this idol-worship. Cp. 2 Kings 21, 7; 23, 5. It is the mercy of the Lord which preserves at least a remnant of people everywhere, in the midst of an almost universal apostasy, like brands snatched from the burning.
A WOE UPON ISRAEL’S ENEMIES. — V. 9. In that day shall his strong cities, namely, those of Ephraim, the northern kingdom, be as a forsaken bough and an uppermost branch, literally, “like the forsaken places in the forests and mountain summits,” ruined strongholds in remote parts of the country, which they left because of the children of Israel, which the Canaanites deserted in retiring before the children of Israel; and there shall be desolation, all the great fortresses of Israel sharing the fate of these ruined castles. The prophet now addresses Ephraim directly: V. 10. Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, the only one who can bring true redemption, and hast not been mindful of the Rock of thy strength, Jehovah being the one true Rock of Ages, Deut. 32, 15. 18, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants and shalt set it with strange slips. V. 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. It was because the northern kingdom, on the whole, had left the true God that its people had, literally, “planted plantings of pleasantness,” had taken up the various sensuous heathen cults and had then planted a strange vine in their garden, namely, by becoming allies of the king of Damascus. The new plant had then been carefully fenced in, namely, by shrewd political schemes, so that the strange plant grew to maturity very rapidly, like a hothouse plant, for the alliance brought about a plan to attack Judah. But the whole scheme was frustrated by the action of Jehovah, who promptly reserved the garden of Ephraim as a heap, heaped up in the harvest, in the day of grief. Such is the consequence of the denial of the Lord and of fraternizing with the enemies of God. While Jehovah, however, used Assyria as His tool in punishing Ephraim, the great world-power itself would not escape His avenging power. V. 12. Woe to the multitude of many people, with the turmoil and tumult of their advance, 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! The enemies of Israel, who are also types of the enemies of the Church, are pictured as being in a state of seething unrest, anxiously striving to harm the Lord’s people. V. 13. The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters, in an apparently irresistible tidal wave; but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, rather, it, the threatening tide of hostility, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, the picture being taken from the open threshing-floors of the Orient, which were usually situated in elevated places, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind, like whirling dust or particles of straw from the threshing-floor, as the wind picks them up and flings them away. V. 14. And behold at evening-tide trouble, horror falling upon the approaching enemies; and before the morning he is not, before ever the day dawns, they are destroyed. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us. Thus the Lord will finally carry out His sentence of punishment upon all enemies of His Church and its work.