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Isaiah 17:111; 18:17comment (0)

March 23, 2006

By Cecil Taylor

Related Scripture: Isaiah 17:111; 18:17

Explore the Bible
Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

Isaiah 17:1–11; 18:1–7

After prophesying against Judah’s southern neighbors, Philistia and Moab (14:28–16:4), Isaiah turned his attention to the two on the north, Syria and Ephraim (another name for Israel, fitting because the largest tribe in the northern kingdom was Ephraim) and a “distant nation to the south” (Ethiopia). The emphasis falls on the fact that the Lord is “the Judge of all the earth,” the master of all nations and people. All answer to Him.

Damascus Is Accountable (17:1–3)
One of the oldest cities in the world, Damascus, Syria, stood at the mouth of a natural funnel through which ran the only usable road on the Fertile Crescent between Mesopotamia and Egypt. To its north, stood Mount Hermon; to its south, barren plateaus — both were natural barriers to caravan travel. Because of her strategic location, Damascus wielded influence and power disproportionate to her size. Despite the city’s power, however, Isaiah warned judgment would fall on Damascus and Syria. Damascus will be left in ruins, and devastated Aroer (probably a region in Syria otherwise unknown) will be used as pasture for sheep. What is more, Damascus will lose its “kingship,” i.e. it will cease to be an independent monarchy, and will survive only as a shadow of its former self.

These verses should be read against the background of the crisis in 734 B.C. when Syria and Israel (the northern kingdom) jointly attacked Judah for her refusal to join their coalition against Assyria. Damascus was a powerful and influential city, but Isaiah said she would be ruined. That is exactly what happened. Damascus fell to the Assyrians in 732 B.C.  Even the world’s most powerful nations and people are accountable to God.

Israel Is Accountable (17:4–11)
As Israel linked herself to Syria in an alliance, so, too, was she linked with Syria in judgment. When God’s judgment falls on her, her “glory” will be seen to be a fraud.

The prophet used three figures of speech to stress the pitiful nature of what will remain to Israel after God’s judgment: 1) Folds of loose skin hang from the bones of a man who once was fat and healthy, 2) The lush fields of the valley of Rephaim southwest of Jerusalem are cut over; all that remains of the rich crop are a few stray stalks left for the poor to pick up and 3) The olive trees are beaten with sticks to knock off the ripe fruit, and only a few odd olives remain to be gleaned by the poor (Deut. 24:19–21). All three illustrations make the same point: only bits and pieces will be left to Jacob (another name for Israel or Ephraim) when God has done His work. As a result of the judgment, Israel, who had forgotten her God, will turn to the Lord and stop depending on handmade gods.

This section should be read against the background of the fall of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom Israel, in 721 B.C. to the Assyrian juggernaut. God sent that pagan nation in judgment on Israel. Even God’s own people are accountable to Him and subject to His judgment … sometimes at the hands of people more wicked than they.

All Are Accountable (18:1–7)
Ambassadors had been sent to Jerusalem from Ethiopia, a land of locusts and grasshoppers (“land of the rustling of wings”), to enlist Judah’s support in a rebellion against Assyria. Isaiah objected to the idea. He sent the ambassadors home with instructions to wait for the signal flag on the mountains and the blowing of the trumpet. His meaning? “Wait for the Lord’s call to battle.” God was set to judge the nations and peoples of the earth, but He would “wait” until the proper time for the cutting down of the Assyrians. On that day, the bodies of dead Assyrians would litter the fields of battle, left as carrion for birds and beasts. Also the Ethiopians would return from afar to Zion bearing gifts for the Lord who had devastated the Assyrians.

All earth-dwellers will answer to God. Although He mercifully delays judgment, no one should mistake delay for cancellation, thinking that because God does not punish sin immediately He will not punish it at all. He will wait only so long; then He will judge.

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