The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Isaiah 17

Isa 17:1

The word "oracle" or "burden" (Isa 13:1; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1; 22:1; 23:1) is from the Heb "to lift up", in foreboding or expectation; it implies something that God has planned for another. More often than not, it speaks of a coming punishment; but at times it simply means an important event involving a particular people. The distinction must be determined by the context. Often, the "burden" begins with warnings of judgments to come, and then proceeds with prophecies of something beneficial arising out of the dark times. Zec 12 illustrates this: it begins with a "burden... for Israel... in the siege", but then quickly speaks of a time of blessing succeeding the time of affliction: Jerusalem inhabited again in her own place (Zec 12:6,7). The burdens of Isaiah generally follow this same pattern, with special ref to the LD of Gentile times and the establishment of "Israel in their own land" (Isa 14:1) and Christ as the "ruler of the land... upon the mount of the daughter of Zion" (Isa 16:1). Also the roles of various Gentile powers, esp in relation to Israel and God's plans for the LD, are outlined. What might first appear to be a dry and unrewarding study becomes in reality a promise of God's deliverance for His people (in typical prophecies) and a glorious assurance (in initial fulfillments) that God's purpose stands firm (Isa 14:26,27).

DAMASCUS: Ancient city of Aram, founded by Uz -- Shem's grandson, on a plateau beside the Abana and Pharpar Rivers (2Ki 5:12). Defeated by David (2Sa 8), but later antagonistic to Solomon (1Ki 11:24). Closely connected with Israel's apostasy as in 1Ki 15;20; 2Ch 16. "No eastern city has been so often overthrown and rebuilt as Damascus" (Vitringa, WIsa 219).

A HEAP OF RUINS: Fulfilled by Tiglathpileser of Assyria when bribed by Ahaz of Judah (2Ki 16:9). Later, when Sennacherib faced revolt from various subject states, Syria was one of them, and this prophecy foretells the outcome of that king's punitive expedition.

Isa 17:2

THE CITIES OF AROER WILL BE DESERTED: Or, as LXX, "her cities for ever are forsaken".

Isa 17:3

THE FORTIFIED CITY WILL DISAPPEAR FROM EPHRAIM: Israel is included alongside Syria, because Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria had allied themselves together against Judah (Isa 7:6).

THE FORTIFIED CITY: Prob Samaria, which withstood a long siege by Shalmanezer and Sargon before being at last brought to ruin.

LIKE THE GLORY OF THE ISRAELITES: "Ephraim's glory will fly away like a bird" (Hos 9:11).

Isa 17:5

VALLEY OF REPHAIM: Consistently translated in NIV. AV has "valley of the giants" (Jos 15:18; 18:16; Isa 17:5) or "valley of the Rephaim" (2Sa 5:18,22; 23:13; 1Ch 11:15; 14:9; Isa 17:5). "Rephaim" sig "the dead"!

Isa 17:6

YET SOME GLEANINGS WILL REMAIN: A remnant of faithful ones, even in Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Isa 17:7

Vv 7,8: In the coming days oppressive events will shatter belief in all forms of false worship, and men will be led back to faith in Yahweh.

Isa 17:8

THE ALTARS: Esp the Assyrian altar imported by Ahaz (2Ki 16:10-12). These were to encounter a shattering wave of righteous zeal and indignation (2Ki 18:4; 2Ch 31:1).

ASHERAH POLES: See Lesson, Asherah.

INCENSE ALTARS: "Images" (AV), lit "sun-pillars": obelisks erected in connection with sun-worship. Poss reltd to the "sun-dial" of Ahaz (2Ki 20:11)?

Isa 17:9

"At that time their fortified cities will be like the abandoned summits of the Amorites, which they abandoned because of the Israelites; there will be desolation" (NET).

"In that day their strong cities will be like the deserted places of the Hivites and the Amorites, which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation" (RSV).

"Those Canaanite tribes, worshipers of the false gods denounced here in v 8, were for that main reason cast out of the Land, leaving their cities and villages to be taken over by Israel, led by Joshua. Now for the same evil found in God's people, they are to suffer a like experience, the Assyrians being used as the scourge of God" (WIsa 221).

Isa 17:10

THE FINEST PLANTS AND... IMPORTED VINES: "It could refer to a cultic plant of some type, associated with a pagan rite" (NET notes). " Sustained allusion to the pagan sexual fertility cult which dominated so many of the religions adjacent to Israel. There is some evidence that the word 'pleasant'

Isa 17:11

YET THE HARVEST WILL BE AS NOTHING: That is, the "gardens" of immoral rituals will be swept away by the "flood" of the Assyrian armies! Good riddance!

Isa 17:12

THE RAGING OF MANY NATIONS: "The enemy is described as 'many people' because of the copious recruitment of mercenaries which the Assyrians made use of from other conquered countries: 'the multitude of the nations that fight against Ariel' (Isa 29:7); 'assemble yourselves, all ye peoples, and ye shall be broken in pieces' (Isa 8:9). Elam and Kir and the Medes are specifically mentioned (Isa 21:2; 22:6) and the vigorous judgments against Edom and Moab make it pretty certain that they too joined with enthusiasm in the onslaught on Judah (Isa 25:10; 34:6; 63:1)" (WIsa 221,222).

LIKE THE RAGING SEA... THE ROARING OF GREAT WATERS: // Isa 57:20,21; 8:7; Psa 46:1-8. The chaotic waters are perhaps intended to conjure up the picture -- familiar in Canaanite and Babylonian mythology -- of the god's (ie, in this case, Yahweh's) primordial victory over Leviathan the "god" of the sea: see Lesson, Leviathan -- esp "OT History".

Isa 17:13

WHEN HE REBUKES THEM: God laughs at boastful nations (Psa 2:4). Jesus the rebuker (Isa 2:4; 66:15,16) will come in flaming fire (2Th 1:7,8) to destroy the Assyrian (Joel 3:12...; Mic 5:5).

CHAFF: // Psa 1:4; 35:5; Mat 3;12; Isa 29:5,6.

TUMBLEWEED: "Wheel" (galgal) in AV; the wild artichoke, which, when ripe and dry, breaks off at the root and is carried by the wind, rolling like a wheel over the plains. The RSV margin has "tumbleweed". The Assyrian power is so described in Isa 17:12,13: " a rolling thing [galgal, sw Psa 83:13] before the whirlwind."

Isa 17:14

IN THE EVENING, SUDDEN TERROR! BEFORE THE MORNING, THEY ARE GONE!: Precisely how judgment fell on the Assyrian host: "Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning -- there were all the dead bodies!" (Isa 37:36). "Again it has to be emphasized that the real value of this prophecy is in its meaning for today. Syrian Damascus, along with Edom and Moab, Egypt and Tyre and all the other Arab marauders, will combine with the great northern enemy to devastate and ravage Israel for its persistent faithless materialistic godlessness and worship of sex. And yet through the penitence of a faithful remnant there will come sudden Messianic deliverance. The destroying angel of the Lord still has much work to accomplish -- and he has not forgotten how to achieve it overnight!" (WIsa 222).

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