Isaiah 17

Sunday Morning Bible Study

May 9, 1999


I made a mistake last week. I stated that the river Arnon was a border between the nations of Moab and Edom. Wrong. It was the northern border between the Moabites and the Amorites (Num.21:13). When the Amorites were conquered by Israel, the Arnon became the border between Moab and the Israelite tribes that settled to the east of the Jordan.

There does not seem to be a date associated with this next prophecy. It would seem that it might have been one of Isaiah’s earlier prophecies since it seems to talk about things that would happen partly during the days of Ahaz (who was king in the early days of Isaiah’s ministry), and then later during the reign of Hezekiah. Assyria defeated Syria in 732 and Israel in 722.

:1-11 Chastisement for the north

:1 The burden of Damascus

Damascus – the same as Damascus today, the capital of Syria. Syria is also called "Aram" in some translations. See map.

The Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser conquered the Syrian capital of Damascus in the days of Ahaz. He took many of the people in the city captive and transplanted them in the land of Kir (2Ki. 16:9).

:1 it shall be a ruinous heap.

Though Damascus would be conquered by the Assyrians, then later by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, it would keep being rebuilt over and over. Note that this isn’t like the prophecy concerning Babylon (Is. 13:20) where it was to "never be inhabited". Damascus is still going today, still the capital of Syria, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world.

:2 The cities of Aroer are forsaken

Aroer – the name means "ruins". There were three different cities named this, apparently this one was in the territory of Gad, on the eastern side of the Jordan, about 25 miles northeast of the northern tip of the Dead Sea, a mile east of the city of Rabbah, capital of the Ammonites. See map.

:2 they shall be for flocks …

The idea is that the populated areas will be so desolate, there will be such a lack of people, that sheep, which are very easily frightened, will make the ruins their home since there are no people around to frighten them.

:3 The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim

Ephraim is another name used for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It was the name of the most dominant tribe of the ten tribes that made up the Northern Kingdom.

As we’ve already seen, in Isaiah’s day, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been allied with Syria (Is. 7-8). They had even attacked the Southern Kingdom of Judah together.

The idea is that the north will be conquered, there will be no strong cities to withstand the attack of the Assyrian army.

:3 and the kingdom from Damascus

Damascus was the capital of Syria. It will lose its national identity as it’s conquered by the Assyrians.

:3 and the remnant of Syria: they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel

The Syrians will suffer the same fate that the Northern Kingdom of Israel would suffer, being defeated and losing their national identity.

:4 the glory of Jacob shall be made thin

The great Northern Kingdom, the one that made up the majority of the children of Israel, would lose its glory as its people are carried off into captivity by the Assyrians, and scattered around the world.

It’s interesting to see that though this prophecy starts off being aimed at Damascus, from here the focus changes to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

There’s a sense in which Israel is going to be judged for their own sins, but there’s also a sense here in which they’re getting caught up in judgment that’s being aimed at Damascus.


Be careful who you join yourself to.

The Bible warns us:

(2 Cor 6:14-16 KJV) Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? {15} And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? {16} And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The warning is against developing the kinds of relationships with unbelievers where they will tend to influence us and bring us down. Marriage, business partnerships, etc.

This doesn’t mean we aren’t to have any relationships with unbelievers. We need to be there to love them and draw them to Jesus.

But when we get too close, too tied up with them, then when they stumble, we fall with them. When they come under judgment, we can get hit with it as well.

It’s one thing to be hanging around, loving and sharing with a drug dealer, seeking to lead them to Jesus. But when that person is your room mate, and then they get arrested, you may go to jail too.


Abraham’s nephew Lot got himself and his family into trouble because he got a little too close to the wild life. When he and Abraham had to part ways because their flocks were getting too big to share the same land, Lot decided he’d start wandering over toward the city of Sodom (Gen. 13), even though he knew it was a wicked place. Then we next find Lot living in Sodom (Gen. 14:12). When the Sodomites are carried off by an invading army, Lot and his family are carried off as well. But thankfully they are rescued by Uncle Abraham. But rather than pay attention to God’s wakeup call, the next thing we find is that Lot is not just living in Sodom, but is a part of Sodom, even being considered an "elder" of the city (Gen.19:1). But don’t think he was trying to be a godly influence in Sodom, when it came time to leave, his sons in law couldn’t take him seriously. He had compromised too much. As a result, when judgment came, he lost everything but his two daughters.

:5 as he that gathereth ears in the valley of Rephaim.

Rephaim – "giants"; a fertile valley near Jerusalem. See map.

The idea is that the Northern Kingdom will be "harvested" like someone harvesting in this fruitful valley. As someone would gather armfuls of standing grain in one arm and swing the sickle with the other arm to harvest it, these people will be gathered and taken in judgment.

:6 Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it

gleaning – the idea of gleaning in the Bible is that of not harvesting the entire crop. You leave a little behind. What was left was available for the poor to come and harvest.

The idea here is that as these people are "harvested" in judgment, not all are going to be taken. There will still be a remnant left.

:7 At that day shall a man look to his Maker

Instead of trusting in their fortresses, they’ll go back to trusting in the Lord.

:8 And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images.

altars – the altars to other gods

groves'asherah – "groves (for idol worship)"; a Babylonian (Astarte)-Canaanite goddess (of fortune and happiness), the supposed consort of Baal, her images

imageschamman – incense altar, sun-pillar, idol, image. This is referring to the worship of Baal.

(Isa 17:8 NLT) They will no longer ask their idols for help or worship what their own hands have made. They will never again bow down to their Asherah poles or burn incense on the altars they built.


The Refiner’s Fire

Sometimes God uses difficult times in our lives to separate us from the things that are keeping us from Him.

:9 his strong cities be as a forsaken bough

What’s left of a tree branch once someone has taken an axe to it. The idea is that the cities will all be cut to pieces.

:9 which they left because of the children of Israel: and there shall be desolation.

(Isa 17:9 NLT) …They will become like the cities the Amorites abandoned when the Israelites came here so long ago.

In other words, the cities that the Canaanites and Amorites and Hivites deserted when Israel came to conquer the land, those same cities will be deserted by the Israelites when the Assyrians come to conquer.

:10 therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants …

(Isa 17:10 NLT) …You may plant the finest imported grapevines,

:11 …but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief

(Isa 17:11 NLT) and they may grow so well that they blossom on the very morning you plant them, but you will never pick any grapes from them. Your only harvest will be a load of grief and incurable pain.


When you’re away from God, nothing satisfies.

When we’re trying our best to forget God, we will turn to all sorts of things to try and take away the pain. It may be that we try drugs, alcohol, or sex to take away the pain. Maybe we just try going on a special vacation or go out to dinner. Sometimes these things look pretty promising, there seems to be a measure of relief for awhile, but soon the emptiness is back.

Only Jesus can fill the emptiness.

You and I were created with a special purpose in mind, to be able to know and enjoy God.

But when sin comes into the picture, that ability to relate to God is broken. The only way to mend the broken-ness is to do something about the sin. It’s not just a matter of stopping the sin, though that’s important. It’s a matter of actually paying the price for our sin that’s required.

That’s why Jesus came to earth and died on a cross. He died to pay the penalty for us. He died and experienced hell so that we wouldn’t have to. And when we turn to Him, and ask His for His forgiveness, the rift between us and God is mended.

It’s only at that point that we can begin to taste of all the goodness that God has for us. We’re going to be ending our service this morning by taking communion, and at that time I’m going to give you a chance to receive God’s forgiveness and begin to know what it’s like to have that emptiness filled.

:12-14 Destruction of invaders

:12 Woe to the multitude of many people …

Woe – probably better translated "Ho!" or "Alas!" It’s kind of an alarm being sent out that a huge army is invading the land.

:13 as the chaff of the mountains before the wind

After a crop was harvested, the grain needed to be separated from the husk, from the chaff, in order to be usable. After the grain was crushed, it would be thrown up into the air where the wind would blow the chaff off to the side, and the heavier grain would fall to the ground. A "threshing floor" was usually built on top of a hill, where the wind would be stronger. The idea here is that when these nations are rebuked by God, they’re just blown away, blowing in the wind.

:13 like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.

Like a tumbleweed being driven by the wind.


God can take care of the biggest enemy.

Sometimes our problems can seem pretty big:


There were some backwoods hillbillies living across the river from each other, who feuded constantly. John hated Clarence with a passion and never passed up a chance to throw rocks across the river at Clarence. This went on for years until one day the Corps of Engineers came to build a bridge across that river. John was elated; he told his wife that finally he was going to get the chance to cross over and whip Clarence. He left the house and returned in a matter of minutes. His wife asked what was wrong, didn't he intend to go over the bridge and whip Clarence? He replied that he never had really seen Clarence up close and didn't realize his size until he started over the bridge and saw the sign: "CLEARENCE 8 FT 3 IN"

Sometimes our enemies only seem big, but in reality they aren’t all that big.

But there are also going to be times when our enemies REALLY ARE BIG!

When young David faced up to Goliath, Goliath wasn’t 8’3" tall, he was 9’6" tall! And fully armed!

But David didn’t have a problem facing Goliath because he, David, wasn’t alone.

(1 Sam 17:45 KJV) Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.

When we become fearful, it’s either because our "god" is too small, or we’ve taken our eyes off of God and have forgotten just how BIG He really is.

:14 at eveningtide trouble; and before the morning he is not.

(Isa 17:14 NLT) In the evening Israel waits in terror, but by dawn its enemies are dead.

This is exactly what would happen to the small kingdom of Judah when the big bad Assyrian army would come against it.

2 Kings 19:35 And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they [were] all dead corpses.

:14 This is the portion of them that spoil us


God takes care of His own.

Isaiah 54:17 No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue [that] shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This [is] the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness [is] of me, saith the LORD.

It may not always come overnight as it did with the Assyrians. It may not be initially the outcome you hope it is. But God will take care of His own.