DIG: Whereas the previous two prophecies were dated in 715 BC, this one refers to events in 735-732 BC when the northern kingdom of Israel was allied with Syria against Assyria (see Chapter 7). The capital city of Syria was Damascus. Comparing 17:1-3 with 7:4-9, what will be the future of Damascus and Israel (or Ephraim)? What do 17:7-8 and 10a imply about Israel’s spiritual condition during this time (also see Second Kings17:7-18).
REFLECT: God is described as the Maker (17:7a), the Holy One of Israel (17:7b), the Savior (17:10a) and the Rock (17:10b). Which of these aspects do you tend to forget sometimes? Why? Instead, what do you find yourself trusting in? What practices can help you “remember” the LORD and live out your life accordingly?
After dealing with Judah’s two southern neighbors, Philistia and Moab, Isaiah now turns to address the two on the north, Syria and Israel. Although the oracle is addressed to Damascus, or Syria, the real intended audience after 17:3 is the northern kingdom of Israel. The point here is that the refusal to rely upon ADONAI is pure foolishness that will result in destruction by the nations. Even so, God is in control of the nations and He will not permit them to eliminate His people. Despite the raging of all the nations, He is their Master.
Damascus was one of the most strategic cities of the ancient world. It stood at the mouth of a natural funnel through which ran the only suitable road between Mesopotamia and Egypt. Mount Hermon stood north of the city, and south of it are a string of basalt plateaus. Both of these provided barriers to caravans passing through. Therefore, Damascus was far more important than other cities of the same size. Isaiah, however, declared that it would become a heap of ruins. By the time of his prophecies against Philistia and Moab, it had already come true because the Assyrian king Shalmaneser had conquered it in 732 BC.
Isaiah writes an oracle concerning Damascus, and says: See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins (17:1). Isaiah starts out by dealing with the devastation of Damascus and Ephraim, or the northern kingdom of Israel. Damascus will be destroyed first. She will become feeble. Panic will grip her; anguish and pain seize her. The town will be abandoned and her young men will die in the streets. God says that He will set fire to the walls of Damascus and consume the fortress of Ben-Hadad (Jeremiah 49:23-27). Ben-Hadad was the storm god of the Syrians. Amos says that God will break down the gate of Damascus (Amos 1:3-5).
The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid (17:2). Aroer (Numbers 32:34) is in Gad, one of the tribes that made up Ephraim. The picture is that these cities were once thriving, but now are only good for the grazing of animals. However, Damascus fares better than Babylon because Babylon’s land will not even be good for grazing. The near historical prophecy for Syria would be that she would be invaded and destroyed by Assyria. The prophet Amos tells us the people of Aram (Syria) will go into exile (Amos 1:5).
The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus; the remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites, declares the LORD of heaven’s armies (17:3 CJB). At the same time the fortified city of Samaria will disappear from Ephraim. The destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel comes only because of her alliance with Syria (with her capital city of Damascus) against the southern kingdom of Judah. They had become twins that could not be separated and together they would fall. Unbelieving Ephraim could not be helped by Damascus, or Damascus by unbelieving Ephraim. Isaiah says that the remnant of Aram will be like the fading glory of the Israelites (meaning the Northern Kingdom). The glory of the LORD had already departed from Israel she was on the decline. As stated earlier (7:8), the near historical prophecy for Israel would be that she would not be a people within 65 years.
The Assyrian’s dealt with captured people differently than most other ancient nations. Usually, conquering civilizations would take their prisoners into exile within their own country, as the Babylonians would eventually do with the southern kingdom of Judah. But the Assyrians did not do that. They would switch some of the captives to their capital and nation, but more importantly they would bring their own people into the conquered land, eventually intermarry with them and assimilate them (Second Kings 17:24). This is what the Assyrians did to the northern kingdom of Israel. Eventually, she would not be a people. She would no longer be a Jewish nation, but a hybrid nation of Assyrians and Jews called Samaritans. The southern kingdom of Judah would despise them in the time of Christ (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Gw – The Parable of the Good Samaritan).
The main focus of this passage however, is on the northern kingdom of Israel. In that day the glory of Jacob, or the northern kingdom of Israel, will fade (17:4a). This is the first of three sections beginning with the phrase in that day. This refers to the time of God’s blessings showered on His people. In some passages, it is a far eschatological prophecy, while in others it refers to the near historical. Isaiah 17:4 and 8-9 refer to the near historical, while 17:7 refers to the far eschatological. Isaiah frequently uses this near, far, near motif.
As a result of the invasion Jacob would face difficulties. Isaiah uses three figures of speech to describe what will happen to Israel and Syria. The first is physical, and the second two are agricultural. All three stress the pitiful nature of what will be left of both of them, but especially Israel. First, they will be like the fat of a man’s body wasting away. To depart from the way of faith means to be spiritually weakened.
Secondly, they will be like a reaper who gathers the standing grain and harvests the grain with his arm - as when a man gleans heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim (17:4b-5). The Valley of Rephaim (Joshua 15:8, 18:16) was a fertile area west of Jerusalem where David had twice defeated the Philistines (Second Samuel 5:18-20 and 22-25). To depart from the way of faith makes the people of God vulnerable against external forces of destruction and leaves them with no evidence that they had ever existed.
Thirdly, the two countries will be like an olive tree after the harvest. Yet some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs, declares ADONAI, the God of Israel (17:6). As a few olives are left on an olive tree’s branches, so a few people would also be left. Most of them would be slaughtered. The LORD would expose the northern kingdom of Israel as a spiritual fraud. The glory that Jacob had achieved was only through her own strength, not reliance on God. Eventually, her arrogance would have to be replaced with humility.
Although the oracle here is against Syria and Israel, Isaiah writes for the benefit of the southern kingdom of Judah. It is as if he is saying, “Learn a lesson from how God deals with theses two nations.” Judah need not fear her neighbors; it was ADONAI whom she should fear.
The mixed race of the Israelites and the Assyrians, or the Samaritans as they came to be called, would not be a godly people. Of the nineteen kings of Israel, not one of them would serve the LORD. When Israel rebelled against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the United Kingdom was split in two (First Kings 12). Shortly thereafter, the ten northern tribes, lead by their new king Jeroboam, would start to depart from the will of ADONAI. God could not bless them because, under the leadership of Jeroboam, they changed the place of worship from Jerusalem to Dan and Bethel, they changed the time of worship of the Feast of Tabernacles from the seventh to the eighth month, they changed the priests of worship from Levites to all sorts of people; and they changed the object of worship from God to golden calves (First Kings 12:26-33). These were the causes of her destruction.
But because of the grace of God, there would be a remnant out of the Northern Kingdom. When the true worshipers of ADONAI saw the perversion in Israel, they left and came back to Judah. There they were obedient to the worship of the LORD at the Temple. When Assyria came in and destroyed the Northern Kingdom, a myth developed regarding “the ten lost tribes” of Israel. There are no lost tribes. Because of the worldwide dispersion after the fall of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD, most of the Jews today have no idea what tribe they are from except for the tribe of Levi. Interestingly enough, they can be identified genetically today.
Jewish tradition, based on the Torah, is that all Kohanim are direct descendants of Aaron, the original Kohen. The line of the Kohanim is patrilineal, being passed down from father to son without interruption from Aaron for 3,300 years, or more than 100 generations. But because of the work of one of the Kohanim, Doctor Karl Skorecki, and Professor Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona, a leading researcher in molecular genetics and a pioneer in Y chromosome research, the discovery of a Cohen gene has been discovered. The results of the analysis of the Y chromosome markers of the Kohanim and non-Kohanim were very significant. A particular maker (YAP-) was detected in 98.5 percent of the Kohanim, and in a significantly lower percentage on the non-Kohanim. The chances of these findings happening at random is greater than one in 10,000. This is the "paternity-certainty" rate ever recorded in population genetics studies - a scientific testimony to family faithfulness.
In a second study those Jews who identified themselves as Levites, however, did not show a common set of markers as did the Kohanim. Though statistically the Levites should be more numerous than Kohanim, today in synagogue it is not unusual to have a minyan with a surplus of Kohanim and yet lack even on Levite. The researchers are now focusing effort on the study of Levites' genetic make up to learn more about their history in the Diaspora (The DNA Chain of Tradition and the Discovery of the Cohen Gene, by Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman).
But one thing is certain, ADONAI knows what tribe each Jew is from today. In the book of the Revelation, John describes 144,000 Jews from the twelve tribes of Israel. The term Israel used here is in a general sense. There are ten tribes from the Northern Kingdom and two tribes from the Southern Kingdom (Revelation 7:1-8). God knows who is in each tribe, and He knows the true remnant. May we soon see Kohanim at their service, Levites on their Temple platform and Israelites at their places.
Then the Holy Spirit contrasts the gods made with human hands with the God whose hands have made humans (17:7-8). The Psalmist wrote: Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands (Psalm 119:73). This points out the folly of thinking that we can create a god in our own image, when in fact; we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Anything that we have made cannot save us because it is not holy. Yet, sometimes when life is going well it seems like we can. When our lives fall apart; however, we are forced to look to the one who holds us in His hands (Job 12:10; Isaiah 49:14-16, 62:3; Daniel 5:23; John 10:27-30).
In that day men and women will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel (17:7). At the end of the Great Tribulation, in the day, there will be a national confession of sin, a plea for the LORD to return, and then the national regeneration of Israel, all twelve tribes. ADONAI says: And I will pour out on the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a Spirit of grace and supplication. They will look upon Me, the One they have pierced, and they will mourn for Me as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Me as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day a fountain will be opened to the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity (Zechariah 12:10 and 13:1). This is the far eschatological prophecy concerning Israel.
Isaiah then reverts back to the near historical prophecy (17:8-9). When faced with certain destruction by the Assyrians, Jacob will realize the worthlessness of their idols. They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made (17:8). The altars were those set up to idolatrous gods, not the true God. The Asherah poles were wooden symbols of Asherah, Canaanite fertility goddess and wife of Baal. In the northern kingdom of Israel, greatly influenced by Baal worship, were many who worshiped him at Asherah poles. But when the mighty Assyrians attacked, they quickly realized that only ADONAI could deliver them. Is it not the same for us?
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2013