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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Isaiah 17

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XVII.

Syria and Israel are threatened. A remnant will forsake idolatry. The rest shall be plagued for their impiety. The woe of Israel's enemies.

Before Christ 741.


Verse 1

Isaiah 17:1. The burden of Damascus The fourth discourse of the second book of these prophesies is contained in this and the following chapter. The Syrians of Damascus, who bordered upon the Ephraimites, had long lived in a state of hostility with them; but their king Rezin, on receiving some injuries from Uzziah, king of Judah, had united them with himself in an expedition against Jerusalem, which was wholly frustrated. See chap. 7: This disappointment hastened the destruction of these nations; for the Assyrians called in by Ahaz to his help, and who had a long time threatened Syria, by the will of God took this occasion to seize upon and destroy Damascus, and transport the Damascene Syrians to Assyria and Media, as the Ephraimites afterwards were under Tiglath-pileser and Salmanezer; for a common cause involved these nations in a common calamity: which calamity makes the argument of this prediction. The prophet shews, that in a short time Damascus should be besieged, destroyed, and the kingdom abolished which had flourished for many ages, and also that the state of the Ephraimites should at the same time meet with a notable overthrow, and should soon after be wholly subverted: after which he turns his discourse to the Assyrian, who, after having destroyed these kingdoms, the enemies of the people of God, should attempt the subversion of the kingdom of Judah also. But in vain: for he foretels his destruction by the hand of God, without any human aid. This discourse may be divided into four parts. The first sets forth the sentence of the divine judgment upon Damascus and the Damascene kingdom: Isaiah 17:1-3. The second upon the Ephraimites, with some alleviations: Isaiah 17:4-11. The third upon the Assyrians, Isaiah 17:14. The fourth contains an addition to the preceding period, wherein the Assyrian slaughter is declared and illustrated, and commanded to be told to the Egyptians and Ethiopians, and to be made known to all nations of the earth; chap. Isaiah 16:1-7. It is most likely that this prophesy was delivered at the same time with the fifth discourse; chap. vii-xii. Concerning Damascus, see Univ. Hist. vol. 2: p. 260 and Maundrell's Journey from Aleppo, p. 121.


Verses 1-3

Isaiah 17:1-3. Behold, Damascus is taken away We have here the sentence of the divine judgment upon Damascus; wherein are four penal judgments to be inflicted upon that state. The first is the overthrow of Damascus: Behold, Damascus is taken, &c. See chap. Isaiah 25:2. The second is the destruction of the cities of the Damascene valley; Isaiah 17:2. By the cities of Aroer, we understand that celebrated valley which lay between the mountains of Libanus and Anti-Libanus, and possibly among these was Palmyra of the desart. The third judgment is expressed Isaiah 17:3. The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria. The meaning most probably is, that, Damascus being destroyed, that fortress or protection in which the Ephraimites had placed their confidence should be taken; or it may be, that at what time Damascus shall be overthrown, and deprived of all government and power, the Ephraimites also should be weakened and deprived of their chief fortresses by the Assyrians; which latter seems to be the best sense. See Hosea 10:14 and Micah 1:6. The fourth judgment is the carrying away of the Damascenes into banishment. They shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, means, "The lot of the Damascenes and other Syrians shall be the same as that of the Ephraimites; whose glory, i.e. whose most excellent citizens, spoiled of their dignity, should be carried with their riches and property into Assyria and Media; their state overthrown, and their fortified towns destroyed." The prophet seems to allude to Hosea 9:11. See chap. Isaiah 10:3 and Isaiah 8:4. It is certain from History, that Tiglath-pileser, in the third or fourth year of Ahaz, executed this sentence against Damascus. He went up against Damascus and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Resin. See 2 Kings 16:9.


Verses 4-6

Isaiah 17:4-6. And in that day, &c.— The Ephraimites and Syrians, guilty of the same fault, were to suffer the same punishment; wherefore, in the former period, wherein the prophet foretold the fate of Damascus, he at the same time mentioned that of the Ephraimites. But here, in describing their punishment more particularly, he proceeds in such a manner, that his prophesy approaches nearly to history. He shews, very clearly, that the judgment which God would inflict upon the Ephraimites should be twofold. In the former, wherein their distress from Tiglath-pileser is described, he shews that God would throw in some alleviation, Isaiah 17:4-8 in the other, that God would consummate his judgment against the impenitent, and would bring upon the land of the Ephraimites entire desolation, Isaiah 17:9-11 which is the calamity brought upon them by Salmanezer. The prophet explains the judgment upon Ephraim by two similes, and both elegant; the first taken from a beautiful body, reduced by a consumption; the meaning whereof is, that their state should be deprived not only of its chief citizens, but of all its power, wealth, and honour: whatever it formerly possessed, which gave excellence and beauty, should entirely waste away and be consumed. See chap. Isaiah 10:16. 'The second simile is taken from the autumnal gathering-in of fruits, or from that fertile harvest, whether of corn, wine, or oil, which used to be gathered in the valley of Rephaim. Whereas the reapers leave a few ears of corn, or the gatherers of the grapes and olives a few of the worst bunches of the grapes and of the worst berries of the olives; so from the Assyrian harvest in Ephraim, a few men and those of the least consequence, should be left as a remnant in the land. Bishop Lowth renders the 6th, verse. A gleaning shall be left in it, as in the shaking of the olive-tree; two or three berries on the top of the uppermost bough, &c. See Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16 concerning the valley of Rephaim, or the giants.


Verse 7-8

Isaiah 17:7-8. At that day, &c.— The meaning of these verses, which express the consequence of this judgment, is, that at the time when God should execute these severe judgments upon the Ephraimites, some, after they have clearly known by experience, that they have been deceived by their false prophets, and that their worship of idols has turned out as the true prophets foretold, shall turn themselves by sincere repentance to the God of their fathers, and, abjuring the errors of former times, shall worship God in true faith. History confirms this interpretation; see 2 Chronicles 30:11; 2 Chronicles 34:9. The phrase of looking to his Maker, which is emphatical and strong, is explained by parallel passages, chap. Isaiah 31:1. Psalms 34:5. Zechariah 12:10 compared with John 3:14-15. The fountain from which every act of true religion flows, is a respect to God; a looking to him in faith, with confidence and love, and the utmost self-humiliation. Vitringa renders the last words, Either the images, or the solar statutes.


Verses 9-11

Isaiah 17:9-11. In that day, &c.—, Isaiah 17:9. As a forsaken bush and a top shoot;—ver. 10. Therefore didst thou plant—and didst set, Isaiah 17:11. In the day of thy planting didst thou make increase, and in the morning madest thy seed to flourish: deplorable will be the harvest in the day of trouble, and sorrow incurable. This period, which is more difficult to be understood than the former, contains in my idea, says Vitringa, a confirmation and amplification of the former judicial sentence, with respect to another degree of judgment, whereby the kingdom of the Ephraimites should be wholly subverted; so that what Tiglath-pileser had left Salmanezer should entirely desolate and destroy, after a few years attacking of the Ephraimites; taking and subverting those cities, which, like berries on the highest and lowest boughs, had been left to this nation. In that day, says the prophet, shall his strong cities, lest, [the Assyrians under Tiglath] because of, or in respect to, the children of Israel; (i.e. that they might not wholly depopulate the land, but leave them some remnant of state and power;) those very cities, I say, shall be taken and destroyed, and among them Samaria, See Jeremiah 9:7. The phrase, It shall be for a desolation, is to be understood collectively, though some suppose that Samaria is here particularly pointed at. In the two next verses we have the defence of the judgment denounced in the 9th, the first part whereof is plain enough: the Ephraimites had forsaken their God, and had placed their confidence in false deities. The latter part is more obscure. Grammatically understood, the meaning is, "Therefore, because thou hast been forgetful of thy God, though thou hast diligently cultivated and planted thy lands with the choicest and best plants of every kind, and hast done every thing to make those plants grow, and to gain increase, yet hast thou profited nothing; for, when the Assyrian army shall come, it shall only be a heap of an harvest, to be consumed in a short time, in the day of thy grief." But Vitringa thinks the passage, thus understood, not sufficiently sublime for our prophet; and therefore he understands it mystically, concerning the extreme desire of the people of Ephraim for the superstitions of foreign nations, which he elegantly calls, strange, or exotic plants, but which, though obtained and planted by them with the greatest care, should be abolished and destroyed, to their great ignominy and shame, together with the cities and fields in which they were consecrated, and should afford a deplorable harvest in the time of the greatest calamity, even now threatening them from the Assyrian; the truth whereof was proved by the event. See Matthew 15:13. 2 Chronicles 30:6 and Vitringa.


Verses 12-14

Isaiah 17:12-14. Woe to the multitude We have here the third member of this prophetic discourse, and the first part of the section, concerning the unexpected overthrow of the Assyrians. After the prophet had exhibited the divine judgment upon the Syrians and Ephraimites, he immediately beholds the Assyrians themselves, after they had destroyed both these states; that is to say, eight years afterwards, advancing against the Jews, that they might oppress and subject to them their state also: but at the same time he sees their grievous and sudden fall; that is, the fall of Sennacherib; for almost all ancient and modern interpreters are agreed, that this prophesy refers to him. It contains an antecedent and consequent, with a conclusion. The antecedent is the vehement motion of the Assyrian army towards Judaea, elegantly compared to a mighty sea stirred up by the winds, whose waves dashed against each other with great roaring; Isaiah 17:12 to the middle of the 13th. The consequence is, the extraordinary, sudden, and grievous punishment with which this proud king was to be depressed and overthrown; middle of Isaiah 17:13 to middle of Isaiah 17:14. To which is subjoined a conclusion concerning the enemies of the church. Bishop Lowth observes, respecting the simile in the 12th verse, that though it is taken from a common appearance, it is wrought up with such an elegant boldness and inexpressible propriety, that we are at a loss whether we should admire most the judgment or sublimity of the sacred writer. See chap. Isaiah 8:7. 2 Chronicles 32:7. Psalms 65:8. The words describing the consequence of this judgment, may be rendered, And God rebukes him [Sennacherib, who is here immediately pointed out, one hundred and eighty-five thousand of his army being smitten with death] and he shall fly far away. The prophet's idea is here taken from God's rebuke of the sea when the Israelites passed through out of Egypt. Instead of a rolling thing before the wind, we may render, as the straw or chaff turned round in a whirlwind: like the chaff of the hills before the wind, says Bishop Lowth. This comparison is frequently made use of to illustrate the ease with which Jehovah overcomes his enemies, and will receive great light from a recollection of what we have heretofore said concerning the threshing-floors of the Jews. See Proverbs 28:1. The fourteenth verse more fully sets forth the destruction of the Assyrian; At evening-tide, and behold, trouble; before the morning he is not. Every one must discern that the prophet here alludes to the time and circumstances of the judgment which was inflicted upon the Assyrians by night, and indeed in one night. At evening-tide the Jews were certainly in great terror, perplexity, horror, and perturbation, when besieged by the Assyrians; in the morning behold they were all dead corpses! a striking emblem of the fashion of this world, and of the affliction of good men, and the church, which soon passeth away. For the consolation of these the prophet subjoins an instruction: This is the portion, &c. This holds good in all ages of the church; none can endeavour to remove this stone from its place, but they will find hurt to themselves: Zechariah 12:3. In this one example we see the fall of all the empires and kingdoms of the world which oppose the kingdom of Christ, and the event of all the attempts of Satan tending to its destruction; in the evening confusion; in the morning serenity arising by divine grace on the church. See Vitringa.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The cup of trembling goes round; Syria and Israel must drink of it. They were closely allied; but the strongest confederacies in sin will fail. The burden begins with Syria; Damascus, the capital, is doomed to fall, and lie for a while in ruins; her fertile villages desolate; the deserted houses become shepherds' huts; and in the streets, once thronged with crowds of citizens, the sheep shall graze unmolested. The few who remain poor and despicable, shall be as the glory of Israel, an ironical expression, since Israel's glory too was alike departed. The fortress of Ephraim, Samaria, shall be demolished, the government dissolved; so that it should no more recover: and all the fatness of Israel, her riches and multitudes, once her glory, like a man wasted with a consumption, shall pine away, destroyed by famine or the sword; ripe for ruin as the corn in harvest, and cut down by the armies of the Assyrians, as the reaper gathers the sheaf, and with as much care as the husbandman in the vale of Rephaim, where the corn was peculiarly excellent, collected every ear. Note; (2.) If pining consumption seize the body natural or politic, we may quickly trace the origin of the disease to sin, the cause of every human misery. (2.) The strongest fortress has no defence, when God stretches out his arm to destroy. (3.) When the sinner is ripe for destruction, death, as the harvest-man, will put in the sickle, and none can deliver out of his hands.

2nd, One gleam of mercy beams through the darkness, to comfort the hearts of God's faithful people amid these desolating judgments. They shall be preserved from the destruction; and hid in the day of the Lord's fierce anger, by escaping to Judah, or being overlooked by the Assyrians.

1. They are but few, very few, like the gleaning grapes when the vintage is over, or two or three olives left on the topmost bough, which were not shaken down. Note; Such as are careful in the evil day to keep close to God, he will keep from the hour of temptation.

2. They are drawn nearer to God by their danger. At that day of Israel's calamity shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the holy One of Israel. In prayer the faithful will spread their case before God their Saviour, and cast their care on him, renouncing every vain confidence, such as the idol altars and images of their apostate countrymen, which themselves might have formerly worshipped, but now abhorred and rejected; they cleave to the Lord alone, as able to save them in the day of evil. Note; (1.) They are blessed afflictions which bring us nearer to God. (2.) As naturally as a child runs to its parent for protection, so does the child of God in the day of distress in prayer betake himself to the arms of Jesus his Saviour. (3.) Nothing serves more to detach the soul from earth and creature-comforts and confidences, than those strokes of Providence which convince us of their vanity.

3rdly, The prophet, having said to the righteous, It shall be well with them, returns to cry Woe to the wicked, for it shall be ill with them.

1. The cause of all their misery is their departure from God. They had forgotten his wonders of mercy and grace, neglected his worship, disregarded his commands, and, forsaking the rock of their strength, were justly forsaken by him. Note; (1.) Negligence about the things of God, and their souls, is the great sin and ruin of mankind. (2.) They who forsake the God of their strength renounce their own mercies.

2. The consequence of their apostacy is their destruction. As desolate as the cities of Canaan were made when first Israel seized them, so desolate should their own cities become through the sword of the Assyrians, as a withered branch stripped of its leaves, and a topmost bough blasted and dead. Their country, cultivated with such assiduity, full of pleasant fruits, its native produce, and improved by foreign trees and plants, promised a great increase: but, ere the day of harvest comes, all is blasted, a heap in the day of grief or possession; when they expected to reap, the enemy should collect their fruits into a heap, destroying what he did not use, and leaving them nothing but desperate sorrow; not only their land wasted, but themselves carried captive, without any hope of ever returning to it again. Note; (1.) If the wicked Canaanites were cast out of their cities, let not the wicked Israelites think to escape. (2.) When worldly hopes and cares engross our hearts, God justly blasts our prospects, and punishes our creature-idolatry.

4thly, We have a prophesy concerning the destruction of Sennacherib and his army.

1. Their multitude and impetuosity are described, like raging seas rolling their furious billows to the shore, and foaming out, in Rabshakeh's blasphemy, their own shame.

2. Their woe is denounced. God will take the cause into his own hand, and rebuke the wrath of these fierce enemies. They shall rush upon their ruin; his angel, like chaff, shall beat them small; and, as the down of thistles before the whirlwind, so easily shall they be dispersed, and the few that remain from the sword of the destroyer flee far away. Note; The mightiest foes of the church and people of God, before the Almighty, are less than nothing and vanity.

3. A quick period is put to the distress of God's people. Though troubled in the evening, when they beheld the approaching hosts of Assyria, one night removed their fears, and the next morning shewed them the dead corpses of their enemies. Note; Though the faithful may be now and then dismayed, their heaviness endureth but for a night, and joy cometh in the morning.

4. Such shall be the case of all the enemies of God's church, and his servants must remember it for their comfort; for this is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us. Note; The past experience of God's people should be treasured up as a ground of present confidence in the like temptations.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 17:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/isaiah-17.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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