Harry Whittaker
The Time Of The End

6) “Scattered And Peeled”

Isaiah 17, 18

There are certain chapters in Isaiah, which clearly had primary reference to the stirring political events in the prophet’s own day. The Assyrian was marching through the Land. Unusual political alliances came into being and dissolved again almost overnight. The Jews themselves were in a state of fragmentation. The more wholesome part of the nation put their faith in Hezekiah, their stricken king, a man whose character and experiences marvellously typify the main aspects of the work of Jesus. Because of this close correspondence between two who were each a Suffering and Glorified Servant of Jehovah, many of these prophetic chapters can be conned afresh with reference to the Last Days and the time of Christ’s Kingdom.[5] There are difficulties galore, but is this adequate reason for not making the attempt to understand?


Isaiah 17 is headed: “The burden of Damascus,” but nearly all the chapter is about Israel (one suspects that the same may be true in chapter 13: “The burden of Babylon”). It describes a time when “the glory of Jacob shall be made thin.” The prophecy continues (v. 5): “And it shall be as when the harvestman gathereth the corn, and reapeth ears with his arm; and it shall be as he that gathereth ears in the valley of Rephaim” (ominous word! “Rephaim” means “the dead”). “Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it, as the shaking of an olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost branches thereof, saith the Lord God of Israel.” One is immediately reminded of the double harvest symbolically described in Revelation 14: 15-19. Perhaps the “gleaning of grapes” and the “two or three berries” of the olive tree represent the faithful remnant of Israel for whom God has regard. These only are worthy of His care in Israel’s final experience of tribulation and destruction.

The hopelessness of the situation will drive those who hitherto have depended on “the work of their own hands” (Isaiah 17: 8) to “look to their Maker, and their eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel” (v. 7).


Nevertheless, first (as in Jeremiah 16: 18) there must come recompense on the godless nation: “And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his own hands (this is what the Jews worship today!)... In that day shall his strong cities be as the forsaken places of the Amorites and the Hivites, which were forsaken from before the children of Israel” (RVm and Septuagint). In the time of Joshua Israel rapidly took over the cities built by their Canaanite predecessors. In the time of Ben Gurion (1948), they did the same again. But in the time of Sennacherib the reverse process took place just as rapidly (2 Kings 18:13). So also must it be in the time of the end: “And there shall be desolation. Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the Rock of thy strength ... in the day of thy planting thou hedgest it in, and in the morning thou makest thy seed to flourish (the vigorous beginnings of modern Israel?), but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and desperate sorrow.” It is a picture of divine discipline exercised against an ungodly nation. This is inevitable. How can God bless that which ignores Him and glorifies man?

However, ultimately — because the people of Israel are “beloved for the fathers’ sakes” — the Land will be swept clean of all enemies: “And behold at eveningtide trouble: and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us.”

The next chapter apostrophizes “the land which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia,” that is, Egypt whose chief asset is in the rivers which flow down from Ethiopia. It is the nation, which sends its messengers “in vessels of papyrus”—a nation which is a paper tiger and which is lavish in both paper threats and paper promises. These ambassadors are given, in place of the message in their diplomatic bag, a revelation from the Lord of hosts of Israel, to “a nation scattered and peeled ... a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers (that is, the nations, see 17: 13 and 8: 7, 8) have spoiled.”

The essential part of the divine message to such a nation is contained in the words: “For afore the harvest, when the blossom is perfected, and the flower becometh a ripening grape, he shall cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches” (18: 5).


This figure appears to describe the exercise of God’s discipline against the vine of Israel at a time when it is beginning to shew all the signs of luxurious growth. There is as yet no fruit for God when the heavenly vinedresser acts drastically against it, suddenly cutting off what looks so fair.

“They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them” (v. 6). Possibly these words may be interpreted as meaning that the final time of tribulation for Israel is to last a summer and a winter, and not the longer period of three and a half years hinted at in certain other prophecies. “But for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened”—this principle probably has more than one application.

The prophecy concludes with a drastic change of tone: “In that time (why not “in that day,” as in 19: 18, 19, 23, and so frequently in other prophets?) shall a present be brought unto the Lord of hosts (consisting) of a people scattered and peeled (66: 20), and from a people terrible from their beginning (the divine deliverance from Egypt under Moses) hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden underfoot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place (the word also means temple) of the Lord of hosts, the mount of Zion.”

Here is a final picture of Israel chastened and changed, and now gladly and humbly submitting themselves before the God of Abraham. The time of true blessing for Israel can only come when they turn to Him in repentance and cease to glory in the work of their own hands.

[5] Here is a wonderfully fruitful topic of Bible study for those who have not already attempted it’

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