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The prophecies in this chapter are about two nations north of Judah: Damascus (Syria) and Ephraim (the ten tribes realm). These two are described at the same time because they formed an alliance (Isa 7:1). It is a biblical principle that he who has fellowship with the sins of someone also shares in the judgment on those sins (Rev 18:4). For the believing remnant in the future, this is a warning not to put their trust in people, that is, in Babylon, the restored Roman Empire, Europe.
Prophecy About Damascus
These verses give a short “burden of Damascus” (Isa 17:1). The judgment, again carried out by Assyria, is not only about Damascus, the capital of Aram or Syria, but also about “the cities of Aroer” (Isa 17:2). The judgment will result in the whole area being completely deserted, so that the flocks will be able to lie down there, without being frightened.
In the days of Isaiah Damascus is connected with the ten tribes. This is expressed in Isa 17:3 in two ways: “Ephraim” – “Damascus” and “Aram” (i.e. the Syrians) – “the sons of Israel”. A common intention implies a common fate (Isa 7:1; 4). Just as “the glory of the sons of Israel”, which was visible in the fortified cities, has vanished, so will ally Syria. Because of that connection, the judgment on Ephraim follows directly in the following verses.
Judgment on Ephraim
After the judgment on Israel’s ally Syria, Isaiah speaks about the judgment that Assyria will bring on Israel, or Ephraim (2Kgs 15:29). This section is the first of three sections beginning with “in that day” (Isa 17:4). The other two sections are Isa 17:7-8 and Isa 17:9-11. That expression almost always refers to the end time.
All the glory of Ephraim, “the glory of Jacob”, will fade. “The fatness of his flesh” refers to wealth and prosperity. Ephraim has a prosperous time under King Jerobeam II, but that prosperity will disappear. The people will become lean. Prophetic it is about the destruction of the north of Israel at the time of the invasion of the king of the North.
The destruction is drawn in three paintings. The first is the picture of a fat person who is now emaciated and literally skin and bones, from whom all the fatness of the flesh has shrunk. The fatness speaks of prosperity. After the judgment (Isa 17:5) poverty will remain (Isa 17:6; Lev 19:9; Deu 24:19-22).
The second picture is that of the grain harvest. After the harvest, the leftovers are picked up by the poor. What is collected is very little. The very fertile valley Rephaim (Jos 15:8) is located near Jerusalem, on its southwestern side.
The third picture is that of the olive harvest. Olives are harvested by picking them by hand and picking the fallen fruit. Then the tree is shaken, which is done by beating the tree with sticks (a picture of judgment). After harvesting, you can count the rest of the olives left on the fingers of one hand.
The deeper meaning of the gleaning is that after the judgment on the population only a little remnant remains. That is what “the LORD, the God of Israel” declares. This Name reminds us that the God of the promises made to the patriarchs has a purpose that goes beyond the temporary judgments.
Conversion of a Remnant
For the gleaning, which is the remnant of Isa 17:6, there is hope. This brings us back in a direct way to the distant future, the end time. This remnant will be like a man who, after much deviation, turns his gaze again to the LORD (Isa 17:7). That will happen in its fullness when the Lord Jesus comes back and they will see Him “whom they have pierced” (Zec 12:10). That is repentance.
We see it with the prodigal son who, when he is with the swine in the deepest misery, comes “to his senses” and thinks of his father again (Lk 15:16-18). He turns his back on his life in sin and goes to his father. A real return goes hand in hand with giving up idolatry (Isa 17:8). Through the terror and the suffering of war, they will see that idols do not help. These idols are ‘made in Israel’ (Isa 2:8) and find their climax in the picture of the beast (Rev 13:14-15).
The contrast between “his Maker” (Isa 17:7) and “that which his fingers have made” (Isa 17:8) is striking. What the LORD has made, His people, remains; what man has made, his idol, shall perish. He will no longer look on it. How foolish man is to enter into a relationship with a god who is the work of his own hands. In our time we recognize this in modern theology.
Judgment on the Mass
In these verses we see that while there is hope for a remnant, judgment will come over the apostate masses because they have forgotten the God of their salvation. Their strong cities, which they see as a fortress and in which they feel safe, will not be able to protect them from the enemy (Isa 17:9). The cities will be overpowered by the king of the North and the inhabitants will be expelled. The cities will be deserted and become a desolation.
They have planted ”delightful plants” – freely translated as ‘imported cuttings’ (Isa 17:10). In a literal sense, this can refer to the transfer of, for example, vines from another country. In a spiritual sense it means that they have adopted the norms and values of heathen peoples and put their trust in them. For their prosperity they have adopted methods (altars) from the surrounding peoples and put their trust in their power, while ignoring God. If God is forgotten, the result is barrenness and fruitlessness. Whoever trusts in a human rock and forgets God as his “the rock of your refuge”, is deceived. But “those who trust in the LORD are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever” (Psa 125:1).
The same goes for the results of our work. There may still be so much activity, there will be no lasting fruit if we forget that we depend on Him for all good. If we lose sight of the Source of our strength, the Rock of our refuge or strength we bring “sickliness and incurable pain” upon ourselves (Isa 17:11). In the “incurable pain” we can see the remorse that we did not involve Him in our plans, while we knew well to Whom we had to go. It is the regret afterwards of an irreversible decision.
In the future God will have to judge them. That will happen by bringing this “day of sickliness and incurable pain” over His people, which happens when the hostile king of the North enters Israel like a dyke breakthrough. We see that in the following verses.
The Fate of the Plunderers
These verses indicate the end time again. “The uproar of many peoples” is presented as “the roaring of the seas” (Isa 17:12; cf. Isa 57:20; Rev 17:15). “The rumbling of nations” is presented as “the rumbling of mighty waters”. Here we see how God uses His control over nature to portray His control over history. This is about the “uproar of many peoples” who will fight against Israel, but fundamentally “take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed” (Psa 2:1-2).
The nullity of all those hostile powers appears when He “rebukes” them (Isa 17:13). Then they flee far away as “chaff” that is “chased … in the mountains before the wind” and as “whirling dust before a gale”. When He rises, they disappear.
“At evening time”, at the end of a day of advance, there is horror when the LORD appears and defeats the enemy once and for all (Isa 17:14). “Before the morning” dawns of the day on which the enemy wants to attack, “they are no more”. Through a sudden intervention of the LORD the enemy has come to his end (Isa 37:36-38). Both in the days of Hezekiah and in the end time, his dream of the dawn of a glorious morning will fade away.
Earlier it is mainly about Assyria itself (Isa 14:22-24); here (Isa 17:12-14) it is about the alliance of many peoples led by North Arab and islamic (possibly Shiite) countries, with behind them the power of Russia (Gog and Magog). It is about the Assyrian armies and their allies plundering and robbing Judah, “us”. Prophetically we find this event in the book of Daniel (Dan 11:45).
When Jerusalem is surrounded by the nations, night threatens to fall over the city. But then the salvation of the LORD will come and “it will come about that at evening time there will be light” (Zec 14:7). The night will not fall over the city; the threatening darkness will flee from before Him Whose feet will stand on the Mount of Olives. Then it will always be light, because the “Sun of righteousness” has appeared (Mal 4:2). This is how it happened in the life of their ancestor Jacob, after he had his time of ‘great tribulation’: “Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel” (Gen 32:31).
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 17". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14