Isaiah 17

The Word Made Fresh

An oracle concerning Damascus:
1Look! Damascus will no longer be a city.
  It will be only a pile of ruins
2The villages of Aroer will be deserted,
  a place for flocks to lie down without fear.
3Fortifications will disappear from Ephraim
  and the kingdom of Damascus.
  What remains of Aram will be disgraced
like the people of Israel. The LORD Almighty has spoken.

4That is when the glory of Jacob will be dashed,
  and his body will waste away.
5It will be like reapers gathering the grain at harvest time;
  like gathering the grain in the Valley of Rephaim.
6Some gleanings will be left in it,
as when an olive tree is shaken
  and two or three berries are found in the top,
  or four or five fall out from the branches of a fruit tree.
  This is what the LORD God of Israel says.

7On that day the people will look to their maker; their eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel. 8They will have no regard for altars which are the work of their own hands, and they will not rely on what their own fingers have shaped – neither the totem poles dedicated to the goddess Asherah nor the altars for burning incense.

 9When that day comes their strongest cities will be like the deserted towns of the Hivites and Amorites which the Israelites caused them to leave deserted, and all will be desolate.

10You have forgotten the God who saved you.
  You don’t remember the Rock of your safety.
Therefore, though you plant the finest plants,
and try to nurture the growths gained from false gods;
11and though you tend them and make them grow when you plant them,
and even make them blossom on that morning,
the harvest will disappear on a day of terrible pain.
12Oh, the raging of many nations;
they roar like the thundering waves of the sea!
13The nations roar like oceans coming together,
  but God will reprimand them, and they will flee far away,
chased like dust in the wind, or dead leaves before the storm.
14And in the evening, look! Terror!
They are all gone before morning.
Such will be the fate of those who ravage us.
Such will be the lot of those who rob us.


1-2: Damascus, the primary city of Aram, is the enemy spoken of back in chapter 7. There, King Resin of Aram at Damascus had allied with King Pekah of Israel at Samaria and the two were a threat to King Ahaz of Judah at Jerusalem. So now, in the midst of pronouncements against the enemies of Jerusalem, Isaiah comes to Damascus (verse 1) and Ephraim (verse 3), often used as a poetic name for Israel — Ephraim was one of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the largest of the northern tribes.

4-6: Jacob is another poetic reference to the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophet imagines their land under invasion, stripped as ears of grain in the Valley of Rephaim – a fertile valley leading from Jerusalem down to the coastal plains.

7-9: When that destruction comes, says Isaiah, the people will finally turn to God (“the Holy One of Israel”), and finally turn away from the idols they have been worshiping.

10-11: The charge that they “have forgotten the God who saved you” is the primary complaint the people of Jerusalem have had against the people of Samaria ever since Jeroboam set up places of worship in the north and encouraged the people not to go to Jerusalem to worship (see 1 Kings 13:33-34).

12-14: The prophet describes the ravaging of Samaria and the Israelite people in the northern kingdom. Note, however, that he gives a sign of hope that their suffering will not last forever.


When this prophesy was given centuries had passed since Samaria broke off from Judah, but Isaiah looks at that event as the catalyst that brought them all to the precipice they are now facing. Their destruction was the only event that could make it possible for them to be redeemed. Sometimes God punishes us so that we will be in a position to accept the forgiveness God has to offer.