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

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Isaiah 17:0


Prophecy About DamascusProclamation Against Syria and IsraelAgainst the Syro-Ephraimite AllianceGod Will Punish Syria and IsraelAgainst Damascus and Israel
Isaiah 17:1-3(1-3)Isaiah 17:1-3(1-3)Isaiah 17:1-3(1-3)Isaiah 17:1-3Isaiah 17:1-3(1-3)
Isaiah 17:4-11(4-11)Isaiah 17:4-8(4-8)Isaiah 17:4-6(4-6)Isaiah 17:4-6Isaiah 17:4-6(4-6)
Isaiah 17:7-8Isaiah 17:7-8Isaiah 17:7-8
Isaiah 17:9(9)Isaiah 17:9Isaiah 17:9Isaiah 17:9-11(9-11)
Isaiah 17:10-11(10-11)Isaiah 17:10-11(10-11)Isaiah 17:10-11
Enemy Nations are Defeated
Isaiah 17:12-14(12-14)Isaiah 17:12-14(12-14)Isaiah 17:12-14(12-14)Isaiah 17:12-14Isaiah 17:12-14(12-14)

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compareyour subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 17:1-3 1The oracle concerning Damascus. “Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city And will become a fallen ruin. 2The cities of Aroer are forsaken; They will be for flocks to lie down in, And there will be no one to frighten them. 3The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, And sovereignty from Damascus And the remnant of Aram; They will be like the glory of the sons of Israel,” Declares the LORD of hosts.

Isaiah 17:1 “Damascus” This was the capital of Aram/Syria. The invasion and destruction of Syria have been alluded to earlier in Isaiah 7:16; Isaiah 8:4; Isaiah 10:9. It was an ancient city (cf. Genesis 14:15; Genesis 15:2) and an important city located on the northern and northeastern trade routes.

Notice the synonymous parallelism of lines 2 and 3. Tiglath-pileser III partially destroyed Damascus in 732 B.C. It was rebuilt as a regional Assyrian capital. Remember all prophecy is hyperbolic (see D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic).

Isaiah 17:2 “The cities of Aroer” This phrase is confusing.

1. This is the name of a city, not a region.

2. There are several cities that go by this name (BDB 792, which may refer to a “tree” or a “mountain crest,” AB, vol. 1, p. 399). Three of the four possible sites are south of Syrian territory.

3. The LXX leaves out the place name (as does REB).

4. The Peshitta spells it Adoer.

It seems that Syria and Israel are linked together in this chapter. They had formed a political/military alliance against Assyria and tried to make Judah join. This co-alliance caused the Syro-Ephraimite war where these two northern nations invaded Judah (cf. Isaiah 7:16; Isaiah 8:4; Isaiah 10:9).

Most of the references are to the Northern Ten Tribes called Israel/Jacob (Isaiah 17:4); Samaria or Ephraim (Isaiah 17:3). Syria was under Israelite control during the United Monarchy period.

Aroer is probably a reference to the fortress located on the Arnon River.

Lines 2 and 3 describe the total destruction and depopulation of the site.

Isaiah 17:3 The walled fortified cities of Syria and Ephraim will disappear (BDB 991, KB 1407, Niphal PERFECT). The JPSOA has a footnote that supports a textual emendation from “Ephraim” (BDB 68) םירפאמ to םרא “Aram” (BDB 78), which would be a true parallelism. But if the first strophe is about the Syro-Ephraimite War, then the parallelism is already there. I think Isaiah 17:3 has an AB, BA poetic pattern (chiasim), as it is in the MT.

“the remnant of Aram” This phrase could refer to

1. the capital as the only place of Syrian power that remains (and it will fall, Isaiah 17:6)

2. when the capital falls even the refugees will not survive

Although the last two lines of Isaiah 17:3 appear to be positive, they are not. Ephraim is destroyed in 3a, now Syria shares her fate (sarcastically, “glory,” cf. Isaiah 17:4). “Glory” could refer to the capital of Israel, “Samaria,” which fell after an extended siege to Assyria under Sargon II in 722 B.C.

“Declares the Lord of hosts” YHWH is in control of history, especially those events that affect His covenant people.

For the title “LORD of hosts” see Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

Verses 4-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 17:4-11 4Now in that day the glory of Jacob will fade, And the fatness of his flesh will become lean. 5It will be even like the reaper gathering the standing grain, As his arm harvests the ears, Or it will be like one gleaning ears of grain In the valley of Rephaim. 6Yet gleanings will be left in it like the shaking of an olive tree, Two or three olives on the topmost bough, Four or five on the branches of a fruitful tree, Declares the LORD, the God of Israel. 7In that day man will have regard for his Maker And his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel. 8He will not have regard for the altars, the work of his hands, Nor will he look to that which his fingers have made, Even the Asherim and incense stands. 9In that day their strong cities will be like forsaken places in the forest, Or like branches which they abandoned before the sons of Israel; And the land will be a desolation. 10For you have forgotten the God of your salvation And have not remembered the rock of your refuge. Therefore you plant delightful plants And set them with vine slips of a strange god. 11In the day that you plant it you carefully fence it in, And in the morning you bring your seed to blossom; But the harvest will be a heap In a day of sickliness and incurable pain.

Isaiah 17:4 “in that day” It is uncertain how the text which follows should be divided into poetic strophes. This phrase could denote the start of a new strophe (cf. Isaiah 17:4, Isaiah 17:7, Isaiah 17:9, Isaiah 17:11). It is difficult to know the difference between poetry and elevated prose (note paragraph divisions and poetic lines of different translations at the beginning of the chapter). See Special Topic: That Day.

NASB“fade” NKJV“wane” NRSV“brought low” TEV“come to an end” NJB“diminish”

This VERB (BDB 195, KB 223, Niphal IMPERFECT) originally referred to low hanging fruit or limbs, but the Niphal stem denoted that which was brought low or laid low (cf. Judges 6:6). The Qal stem is used in Isaiah 19:6 and Isaiah 38:14.

This is the first of several negative statements describing Israel.

1. glory. . .will fade, Isaiah 17:4

2. fatness of his flesh will become lean, Isaiah 17:4

3. Israel will be cut down, Isaiah 17:5

4. only a few olives left at the very top, Isaiah 17:6

Isaiah 17:5 “the valley of Rephaim” This refers to a fertile valley southwest of Jerusalem which is mentioned several times in the OT (cf. 2 Samuel 5:18, 2 Samuel 5:22; 2 Samuel 23:13; 1 Chronicles 11:15; 1 Chronicles 14:9; and here). It must have served as the origin of Isaiah's imagery of expected fruitfulness thwarted (cf. Isaiah 17:4). Why he used a site in Judah, not Israel, is uncertain. See Special Topic: Terms Used for Tall/Powerful Warriors or People Groups (Giants).

Isaiah 17:6 The initial harvest of olive trees was by shaking or striking the tree (cf. Isaiah 24:13; Deuteronomy 24:20). There were always a few olives left that would not fall. These were usually left for the poor (i.e., gleaners). Isaiah uses them as a symbol for a remnant of survivors.

“Two or three. . .Four or five” This is an example of Hebrew idiom for an indefinite amount.

Isaiah 17:7-8 These verses form a contrast. Isaiah 17:7 denotes repentance, Isaiah 17:8 what they turn from (i.e., idolatry). The question is to whom are these two verses directed.

1. Israel

2. Israel and Syria

3. Israel, Syria, and Assyria

4. all ANE cultures (i.e., “men,” האדם).

Is this meant to be parallel to Isaiah 7:9, and 11? Also notice the promised victory of God's people in Isaiah 17:12-14 (esp. 14d)!

Isaiah 17:7 The parallelism of the verse links “Maker” (i.e., the Creator of heaven and earth or the creator of Israel, cf. Isaiah 51:13) with “the Holy One of Israel” (a title used almost exclusively by Isaiah). This is an allusion to monotheism!

Isaiah 17:8 Instead of God being the “maker” they have made their own gods (i.e., Ba'als and Asherim, line Isaiah 17:3; Isaiah 2:8, Isaiah 2:20; Isaiah 30:22; Isaiah 31:7).


“incense stands” The term (BDB 329 calls it a “sun-pillar,” but KB 329 calls it a transportable “incense-altar”) is always used in a negative sense in the context of idol worship (cf. Leviticus 26:30; 2 Chronicles 14:5; 2 Chronicles 34:4, 2 Chronicles 34:7; Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 27:9; Ezekiel 6:4, Ezekiel 6:6).

Isaiah 17:9 This seems to begin a new thought unit. It describes the coming judgment in hyperbolic agricultural metaphors (MT)

1. like the forsaken places of the forest

2. like branches which they abandoned

3. the land will be a desolation

This verse is translated very differently by the Septuagint and its translation is followed by JB, NRSV, and REB (and the JPSOA seems to acknowledge its validity in its footnote). The phrase denotes (1) a rapid exodus where useless things are abandoned or (2) people groups conquered by the Israelites in the Conquest (i.e., the Amorites and Hivites).

Isaiah 17:10 This verse is uniquely addressed to Israel and the reason for their judgment by their covenant Deity.

1. forgotten the God of your salvation (i.e., Psalms 78:11, Psalms 78:42)

2. not remembered the rock of your refuge (i.e., Psalms 18:1-3; Psalms 78:35)

3. planted delightful plants in honor of a strange god (cf. Isaiah 1:29-30; Isaiah 65:3; Isaiah 66:17, i.e., sacred gardens or trees. It may refer to Adonis/Tammuz, a vegetation god to whom flowers were planted early in the spring, cf. AB, vol. 6, p. 318)

“the God of your salvation” This is a recurrent description of Israel's God (cf. Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 17:10; Isaiah 33:2; Isaiah 45:17; 61:16; Isaiah 62:10; Psalms 65:5; Psalms 68:19; Psalms 85:4). Salvation denotes deliverance from any force or pressure that denies or cancels YHWH's covenant desire for His people. Only Israel's sin can thwart His desires for them and yet, He remains “the God of your salvation” (cf. Micah 7:7; Habakkuk 3:13, Habakkuk 3:18).

Isaiah 17:11 This refers to the sacred gardens #3 in Isaiah 17:10 above.

1. they plant it carefully

2. they fence it

3. they fertilize it

It will grow and reproduce amazingly fast, but will result in

1. harvest a heap

2. sickliness

3. incurable pain (cf. Job 34:6; Jeremiah 15:18; Jeremiah 17:9; Jeremiah 30:12, Jeremiah 30:15; Micah 1:9)

Verses 12-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 17:12-14 12Alas, the uproar of many peoples Who roar like the roaring of the seas, And the rumbling of nations Who rush on like the rumbling of mighty waters! 13The nations rumble on like the rumbling of many waters, But He will rebuke them and they will flee far away, And be chased like chaff in the mountains before the wind, Or like whirling dust before a gale. 14At evening time, behold, there is terror! Before morning they are no more. Such will be the portion of those who plunder us And the lot of those who pillage us.

Isaiah 17:12-14 This is the final strophe of chapter 17. It is characterized by parallelism and the repeated use of two roots.

1. BDB 242, KB 250, “murmur,” “grown,” “roar,” or “be boisterous”

a. NOUN, Isaiah 17:12


c. Qal IMPERFECT VERB, Isaiah 17:12

2. BDB 980, KB 1367, “roar,” “uproar,” “din,” or “crash”

a. NOUN (BDB 981), Isaiah 17:12

b. NOUN (BDB 981), Isaiah 17:12

c. Niphal IMPERFECT VERB, Isaiah 17:12

d. NOUN (BDB 981), Isaiah 17:13

e. Niphal IMPERFECT VERB, Isaiah 17:13

3. parallel imagery, Isaiah 17:13

a. like chaff, Isaiah 17:13

b. like dust, Isaiah 17:13

YHWH's roar is louder than the tumult of the nations and they will retreat as a result! He overcomes the chaotic waters again as in creation (cf. Psalms 29:0).

4. contrast, Isaiah 17:14

a. at evening, behold there is terror

b. before morning they are no more

5. synonyms, Isaiah 17:14

a. plunder, BDB 1042, KB 1367, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE

b. pillage, BDB 102, KB 117, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE

Isaiah 17:14 “Before morning they are no more” This phrase has no VERBAL, which would denote emphasis. This line gives a restorative context to Isaiah 17:12-14. This strophe is parallel to the thoughts of Psalms 2:0. YHWH sends the nations (i.e., to punish His people for their covenant disobedience and lack of faithfulness), but He judges the very same nations. His people are safe in Him! This reversal is similar to Isaiah 10:33-34.

Often in Isaiah God's deliverance is connected to the coming of light (cf. Isaiah 8:22-2; Isaiah 17:14; Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 30:26; Isaiah 33:2; Isaiah 42:16; Isaiah 49:9-10; Isaiah 58:8, Isaiah 58:10; Isaiah 60:1-3, Isaiah 60:19-20).

“the portion” This term (BDB 324) denotes God's will in the imagery of a divine lot cast. It does not mean an arbitrary destiny or fate, but events are in the hand of God (cf. Jeremiah 13:25).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 17". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/isaiah-17.html. 2021.
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