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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 17:1-6

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 17, 2008

An Oracle Against Damascus

When the Assyrian armies threatened the world, the choices people had were hard: Surrender usually meant losing one’s home, one’s belongings, and something even losing contact forever with one’s family. Resistance usually meant death—and the loss of home, etc. Some small nations tried to form alliances to stand up to the Assyrians, but almost all of these attempts failed because Assyria had superior numbers and technology.

When the northern tribes, led by Ephraim, faced this problem, they turned to their nearest neighbor in the north: Damascus. Isaiah warns his king in Jerusalem not to join the alliance. When God’s people turn to the world instead of to God for salvation, they suffer the same fate as the world.

17 An oracle concerning Damascus:
“See, Damascus will no longer be a city
but will become a heap of ruins.
2 The cities of Aroer will be deserted
and left to flocks, which will lie down,
with no one to make them afraid.
3 The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim,
and royal power from Damascus;
the remnant of Aram will be
like the glory of the Israelites,”
declares the LORD Almighty.

Damascus sits far in the north, even beyond Mount Hermon. It’s fame was widespread even in ancient times (“the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus,” Song of Solomon 7:4). Some say it is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Far in the south, on the eastern end of the Arnon river is the desert city of Aroer, guarding one of the routes to Rabbah. And in between them, Isaiah carefully inserts a mention of Ephraim. All of the places influenced by Damascus will be ruined. The Arameans and Damascenes will be as helpless as everybody else, deported, exiled; ruined.

At the end of verse 3 there is a question: What does Isaiah mean by “the glory of the Israelites”? Perhaps it will help if we read on…

4 “In that day the glory of Jacob will fade;
the fat of his body will waste away.
5 It will be as when a reaper gathers the standing grain
and harvests the grain with his arm—
as when a man gleans heads of grain
in the Valley of Rephaim.
6 Yet some gleanings will remain,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches,
four or five on the fruitful boughs,”
declares the LORD, the God of Israel. (NIV)

The glory of the Israelites will fade. This is what Isaiah relates to the glory and power of Damascus. Just like the northern tribes of Israel (Jacob) it will “waste away.”

But God is faithful. God is gracious. The Lord promises here to leave a remnant in Israel, and that is exactly what he did (“our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant,” Ezra 9:8). He was gracious even to the people of Damascus, leaving a few there who believed and were faithful to the Triune God. God’s grace kept a remnant there long into the New Testament, when they cared for Saul (Paul) when he was blinded on the way to persecuting them (Acts 22:11-12), and they were the first people to whom the Apostle Paul proclaimed the gospel (Acts 26:19).

God is gracious to us when he shows us our sins through his law (Psalm 119:29). God is gracious to us when he withholds his anger and is patient with us (Psalm 145:8). God is gracious to us with the precious gift of life through Jesus our Lord (1 Peter 3:7).


In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.