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Thursday, June 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 17

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-5

Isaiah 17:1-5

The burden of Damascus . . . The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim

The oracle concerning Damascus and Israel

The curse pronounced upon it [Damascene-Syria] falls also upon the kingdom of Israel, because it has allied itself with the heathen Damascus against their brethren in the south and the Davidic kingdom.

From the reign of Hezekiah we are here carried back to the reign of Ahaz, and indeed back far beyond the death year of Ahaz (Isaiah 14:28) to the boundary line of the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz, soon after the conclusion of the league which aimed at Judah’s destruction, by which revenge was taken for the similar league of Asa with Benhadad against Israel (1 Kings 15:9). When Isaiah incorporated this oracle in his collection, its threats against the kingdoms of Damascus and Israel had long been fulfilled. Assyria had punished both of them, and Assyria had also been punished, as the fourth strophe (verses 12-14) of the oracle sets forth. The oracle, therefore, stands here on account of its universal contents, which are instructive for all time. (F. Delitzsch.)

The fall of Damascus

When cities do not pray they go down. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The loss of faculty as a judgment

It is possible for a man to moralise about the fate of a city, and forget that the principle of the text is aimed at all life. Life poorly handled means loss of life; faculty fallen into desuetude means faculty fallen into death. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The cities of Aroer

The cities of Aroer represent the land to the east of the Jordan, in which the judgment on Israel, executed by Tiglath-Pileser, began. There were, in fact, two Aroers; an old Amorite Aroer, which fell to the tribe of Reuben, situated on the Amon (Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 3:12, and elsewhere); and an old Ammonite Aroer, which fell to the tribe of Gad--Aroer before Rabba (Rabbath Ammon, Joshua 13:25). The site of the ruins of the former is Arair, on the high northern bank of the Mugib; the situation of the latter has not yet been ascertained with certainty. The “cities of Aroer” are these two Aroers along with the cities on the east of Jordan like them, just as the “Orions” in Isaiah 13:10, are Orion and stars like it. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)

Verse 6

Isaiah 17:6

Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it

Autumn: the diminutions of life

The prophet is here predicting a season of national calamity.

He represents the condition of the people under the figure of an autumnal scene. Armed hosts from the north have invaded the country like a sharp wind. The substance of its inhabitants has been carried away before their rapacity, “as when the harvest man gathereth the corn, and reapeth the ears with his arm.” With this difference, however, that it has been destroyed by the violence of strangers, instead of being garnered for the use of those who had tilled the soil; and the sickle is the sword. The population is thinned, like the trees in the waning part of the year. Only that the wrath of man, unlike the severity of nature, has no benevolent purpose in it. The comforts and blessings of life are shaken down as faded leaves. Only it is without any sign from experience, that they shall be replaced by a new spring. A desolated prospect rises before his sight. “Two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough; four or five in the outmost fruitful branches thereof.” The Word of the Lord was a “burden” in those days, and he felt its weight upon his own heart as he held it over the heads of his people. He comforted himself at least with the thought that the visitation itself, if not his warning, would bring them to a more faithful mind (Isaiah 17:7-8). There lies in the text, apart from its historical reference, this general truth,--that circumstances of decline and destitution are suited to wean the heart from its vanities. In the day of adversity men “consider.” And when time and fortune have made the enjoyments of the world fewer, and thrown a longer shadow and a paler tint upon those that remain, the soul naturally remembers its truer and more enduring portions.

1. With some the change relates to their worldly goods and the general prosperity of their affairs.

2. A second class of diminutions concerns the bodily ease and health.

3. The third instance of diminutions to which our attention is called, is found in the encroachments of age.

4. One more instance of destitution is when companions and friends drop off like the foliage of summer, and we are more and more frequently bereft. (N. L.Frothingham.)

Verses 7-8

Isaiah 17:7-8

At that day shall a man look to his Maker

Sanctified affliction

We are led to consider the designs of God in the afflictions of His people.


1. With a suppliant eye, to find in Him sources of consolation and a rock of defence such as the world cannot furnish (Psalms 123:1-2; John 2:1).

2. With a penitent eye (Luke 22:62; Zechariah 12:10).

3. With a confiding and believing eye (chap. 8:17).

4. With a rejoicing eye (Romans 5:11; Habakkuk 3:18).




1. In the moderate degree in which God’s people are corrected, compared with the final and exterminating judgments which fall upon the wicked. Damascus was to be utterly destroyed (Isaiah 17:1), but a remnant was to be left to Israel (Isaiah 17:5). God’s people always see that He has afflicted them less than they deserve (Lamentations 3:22).

2. In the alleviations of their trials.

3. In the triumphant issue of the whole. (S. Thodey.)

Verses 10-11

Isaiah 17:10-11

Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation.

Forgetfulness of God punished


1. What is this forgetfulness of God? It has been defined as “such a habitual inattention to His existence and character, as leads the individual under its influence to a mode of thinking, feeling, and acting, which would be consistent only on the supposition that there were no God, or that God is a very different Being from what the Scriptures represent Him to be.”

2. It is a startling sin. Everything around us is designed and fitted to remind us of God. The Bible unfolds the moral character of God. Sharp dispensations of providence remind us of His existence. Preachers enforce His claims. Each returning Sabbath, with its closed shutters, the sound of the church going bell, and the voice of praise from the lips of the pious, says, Worship God. But many would rather think about anything, or nothing, than about God.

3. It is a fearfully prevalent sin.

4. It is an ungrateful sin (Isaiah 1:2-3).

5. It is a highly punishable sin. Many people imagine that none are sinners but those who openly sin. But what of the moral man, who does his duty towards his fellow men, but who forgets God?


1. Dwarfed powers. Men cannot, if they wish, be totally inactive. If activity be not devoted to God, it will be devoted to the world, to “planting pleasant plants.”

2. Secular knowledge is a pleasant plant.

3. Wealth is a pleasant plant.

4. Ambition is a pleasant plant.

5. Amusement is a pleasant plant.

6. Hence observe the ultimate result of this conduct. “The harvest shall be a heap,” etc. Sooner or later men reap what they sow. Sin and suffering are bound together by an unbreakable chain. “The gods are just,” says Shakespeare, “and of our pleasant vices make instruments to scourge us.” Galatians 6:7-8.) Men break God’s physical laws, and they suffer in their bodies and circumstances. They violate His moral laws, and personal debasement ensues. George Eliot says, “That is the bitterest of all--to wear the yoke of our own wrong-doing.” (H. Woodcock.)

Evils of forgetting God

FORGETFULNESS OF GOD IS AN EVIL WHICH TOO GENERALLY PREVAILS AMONG MEN. The text does not so much charge with positive wickedness (though it is implied) as forgetfulness of God, which supposes folly, because He is the God of salvation, and the Rock of strength. Consider these relations--

1. The God of thy salvation.

(1) He is infinitely able to save His creatures, whether the salvation required be temporal, spiritual, or eternal.

(2) He is always willing to save them. How inexcusable is maul

How criminal to forget, to be unmindful of Him!

2. The Rock of thy strength. Here we may build, and the fabric will never be shaken. Here we may shelter, as in the cleft of a rock, and no evil shall prevail against us. For so helpless and weak a creature as man to have such a refuge, such a support, and to be unmindful of it, how great is his folly! But when may we be said to forget, and to be unmindful of God? When we live without thinking of Him--without praying to Him--without seeking His glory--without surrendering our souls, bodies, and all our cares into His hands.

THE ATTENTION THUS DRAWN FROM GOD AND HIS SERVICE IS TRANSFERRED TO WORLDLY AND SENSUAL PLEASURES. The soul of man in this case strives to supply its want of happiness from the world: “therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants.” Infinitely varied are the objects of the attention or culture of men, but they all proceed from the above principle, or rather have the same end in view. Some seek their pleasure in learning, others in the arts, riches, honours, employments, amusements. But they are “strange slips,” not natural, not designed to answer the intended purpose. The sons of men are determined to prove what the world can do for them. “In the day THE CONSEQUENCES OF SUCH CONDUCT. “The harvest shall be a heap,” etc. (J. Walker, D. D.)

Prosperity in the seeming only

These occasional sun gleams may foretoken the thunderstorm. God can mock, God can lead the bullock to the knife by the way of a fat pasture. There is, therefore, a promise here, but the promise is limited. You shall have mushroom growths, you shall see wonderful things within the span of a single day; but what shall the harvest be? The meaning is, we may be infatuated by appearances, by immediate successes, by flowers and strange slips growing up within the compass of one little day. (J. Parker, D. D.)

God’s righteousness in His dealings with men

Happily, this is only one aspect of the Divine government; we are entitled to reverse this text, and say, Because thou hast remembered the God of thy salvation, and hast been mindful of the Rock of thy strength, therefore shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses burst out with new wine. Thou hast not withheld from God the gladness and the service of thine heart, and He will not withhold from thee the music and the rapture and the abundance of harvest.. The way of the Lord is equal. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Pleasant plants and strange slips

They made for themselves all kinds of sensuous cults in conformity with their heathen inclination. (F. Delitzsch.)

The temporary success of an evil alliance

The foreign slip has shot up like a hothouse plant, i.e., the alliance has rapidly become a happy agreement, and has also already shot forth a blossom, which is the common plan directed against Judah. (F. Delitzsch.)

Lives of disappointment

The world is full of people who are engaged in planting their slips. Fortunes, luxurious homes, great reputations--such are some of the slips; but what disappointment succeeds--“desperate sorrow.” The egg turns cue to be rottenness; the fair landscape a Sahara, from which the mirage is gone; the beautiful globe of changing colour, only a drop of dirty soap and water. We remember the story of Faust, who sold himself to Satan, but the day of bitter reaping came. We remember the cry of Byron over his wasted years; of Laurence Oliphant, the bright versatile son of Piccadilly, who in his varied career had tasted life in many of its brightest aspects; of Solomon, whose Ecclesiastes is one long record of slip planting. Nothing less than God, our Maker, can suffice the souls which He has made. Apart from Him life may at first promise well, but the end, inevitably, will be desperate sorrow. (P. B. Meyer, B. A.)

The harvest shall be a heap

The harvest of sorrow

A harvest field is a suggestive place.

TO EVERY LIFE THERE IS A HARVEST, EITHER OF JOY OR OF SORROW. Life on earth is introductory and probationary. It is but the seed time for eternity. All our actions, words, thoughts, have a bearing upon the future. God is our moral Governor, as well as our loving Father. We are, therefore, accountable to Him for the disposal of every moment of our existence. Belonging to a depraved and fallen race, we are necessarily sinners; but this has been provided for. To every life there is a harvest. When? Sometimes in this world. Both the righteous and the wicked reap on earth to a certain degree that which they have sown. But still it is most strictly true that the great and final harvest commences when life on earth terminates and life in eternity begins. This great fact invests life with unspeakable grandeur. Every day and hour we are preparing for the realities of eternity. This should moderate our expectations concerning the present life. That which is probationary is necessarily incomplete. We should, therefore, expect trials and disappointments.

THE HARVEST OF SORROW MAY, IN EVERY CASE, BE TRACED TO ONE GREAT CAUSE--forgetfulness of God. The ruin of the Ten Tribes is traced to this (Isaiah 17:10-11). Jeremiah brings the same charge against them Jeremiah 2:12-13). Hosea also says (Hosea 8:14), “For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples.” At first, it seems impossible that they could ever have done this. Had they not the history of the great and eventful past? Did they not know they were depending on Him for everything they enjoyed? Surely, those who had such a God should never have forgotten Him. The fact stated in the text is one of deep significance. It shows us the desperate wickedness of the human heart. The Israelites were so estranged from Jehovah that they acted as though He did not exist. It is so in every such case. Forgetfulness of God always leads to this terrible result. No one can be unmindful of Him with impunity. Forgetfulness of God produces in the heart such feelings and induces men to follow such a line of conduct, that their lives must be a failure. It is, however, worthy of notice, that these persons are as anxious to be happy during life, and at its end, as any of their fellows. They do not resign themselves to despair. On the contrary, they fancy that all is well. Their hearts beat high with hope. True, they have not the help and protection which the Lord’s people enjoy, but they do all they can to supply its place. The people of Israel did all they could to make their position a strong one. They made an alliance with Syria, and thought, with her help, they would be able to overcome their foes. So men in the present day, who forget God, avail themselves of the dictates of worldly prudence. In the day they make their plant to grow, and in the evening they make their seed to flourish. Here we have an affecting description of the anxiety and feverish effort of the men that know not God. We may plant pleasant plants, we may set strange slips, but they will not compensate us for the absence of the plants of righteousness. He who forgets the God of his salvation, and is unmindful of the Rock of his strength, must be without His favour, and at last must reap a harvest of grief and desperate sorrow.

THE HARVEST OF SORROW INVOLVES THE SOUL IN UTTER AND IRREMEDIABLE RUIN. It is no slight matter--it is the loss of all things or the failure of every effort--the disappointment of every hope, the destruction of every joy, the development and perpetuation of every sorrow. The language of the prophet is very striking. The common idea of harvest is that of a joyous nature. But here we have an idea of the very opposite character. The harvest is a heap. There is no golden grain worthy of being housed in everlasting habitations. The soul sees with amazement that all her efforts have been fruitless, and cries, “Is this all; has my life on earth produced nothing more than this?” And the answer is, “Nothing more; and that which it has produced is only fit for the burning.” (H. B.Ingram.)

God’s love in the deprivations of life

There is only one way of getting at some men. Once we could have appealed to their higher nature; once they were subject to the pleasure and the eloquence of reason; once they had a conscience tender, sensitive, responsive; now they are spiritually dead, no conscience, no reason, no unselfishness; the whole nature has gone down in volume and in quality into a terrible emaciation: what shall be done? Smite their harvest! then like beasts they will miss their food. God does not delight in this; it is the poorest violence, it is the feeblest department of His providence; but He knows that it is the only providence some men can understand. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Reclamation by punishment

God got you back to the Church through inflammation, through fever, through paralysis, through pain, through loss, through desolation; you came back over the graveyard. No matter, said God; when He got you into His house again He said, This My son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. It is in the reclamation, not in the punishment, that God takes pleasure. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verses 12-14

Isaiah 17:12-14

Woe to the multitude of many people

A short triumph

These verses read the doom of those that spoil and rob the people of God.

If the Syrians and Israelites invade and plunder Judah--if the Assyrian army take God’s people captive, and lay their countrywaste,--let them know that ruin will be their portion. They are here brought in--

TRIUMPHING OVER THE PEOPLE OF GOD. They rely upon their numbers. They are very noisy, like the noise of the seas; they talk big, hector and threaten.

TRIUMPHED OVER BY THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD. God can dispirit the enemies of His Church, when they are most courageous and confident, and dissipate them when they seem most closely consolidated. This shall be done suddenly (Isaiah 17:14). (M. Henry.)

The punishment of the wicked

THE STRIKING CONTRASTS WHICH THE DAY OF VISITATION REVEALS RESPECTING THE CONDUCT AND POSITION OF THE WICKED. Verse 12 shows us the vast and varied host in fancied security; we have a magnificent picture of a state of might, pomp, vainglory, self-confidence; but ere we reach the end of Isaiah 17:13, we see it scattered. We see the same contrast in everyday life; wicked men secure, strong, boastful--the next moment utterly cast down (Psalms 73:18-20); or, by the near approach of death, transformed into the subjects of a pitiable despair.


THE SWIFTNESS WITH WHICH THE SENTENCE OF DOOM IS EXECUTED (Isaiah 17:14). It is true that the punishment of the wicked often seems to be delayed (Ecclesiastes 8:11); but--

1. Sin and punishment are inseparable.

2. Whenever the punishment comes it is sudden. Such is the blinding and delusive power of cherished sin that its penalty always finds the sinner unprepared to receive it; it is always a surprise and a shock to him. Conclusion--

(1) Nations and armies cannot successfully evade the penalties of their sins; how much less can the individual sinner do so!

(2) The certainty of the punishment of all unrepented sin should lead us seriously to reflect upon the attitude we are assuming before God.

(3) The subject should lead to repentance, but not to despair (Psalms 130:7). (W. Manning.)

Verse 14

Isaiah 17:14

Behold at evening tide trouble

The night

God fights some battles between evening and morning.

The black night is the field of war. The darkness fights for God. The night is needed for more than rest. How busy the angels are on the fields of darkness! Men are fetched at night by the invisible constable. Who reckons the night when he adds up his time? It may go for nothing to us because of our unconsciousness, but God sleeps not. Speaking of the wicked we may apply the figure of night so as to find in it terror and fear, sorrow and judgment, and death; speaking of the good man, we may say, Dry thy tears, thou foolish unbelieving weeper, or shed them gratefully to get rid of a needless burden; for sorrow endureth but for a night, joy cometh in the morning: take in the black guest, do what thou canst for him, he is sent of God for holy purposes; he can live but for a night, thou mightest afford to be kind to him; it were but one night in a long life. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/isaiah-17.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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