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Isaiah 17


Prophecy About Damascus Proclamation Against Syria and Israel Against the Syro-Ephraimite Alliance God Will Punish Syria and Israel Against Damascus and Israel
17:1-3 17:1-3
17:4-6 17:4-6
    17:7-8 17:7-8 17:7-8
17:9 17:9 17:9-11
      Enemy Nations are Defeated  
17:12-14 17:12-14

READING CYCLE THREE (see introduction)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



1The oracle concerning Damascus.
"Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city
And will become a fallen ruin.
2The cities of Aroer are forsaken;
They will be for flocks to lie down in,
And there will be no one to frighten them.
3The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim,
And sovereignty from Damascus
And the remnant of Aram;
They will be like the glory of the sons of Israel,"
Declares the Lord of hosts.

17:1 "Damascus" This was the capital of Aram/Syria. The invasion and destruction of Syria have been alluded to earlier in 7:16; 8:4; 10:9. It was an ancient city (cf. Gen. 14:15; 15:2) and an important city located on the northern and northeastern trade routes.

Notice the synonymous parallelism of lines 2 and 3. Tiglath-pileser III partially destroyed Damascus in 732 b.c. It was rebuilt as a regional Assyrian capital. Remember all prophecy is hyperbolic (see D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic).

17:2 "The cities of Aroer" This phrase is confusing.

1. This is the name of a city, not a region.

2. There are several cities that go by this name (BDB 792, which may refer to a "tree" or a "mountain crest," AB, vol. 1, p. 399). Three of the four possible sites are south of Syrian territory.

3. The LXX leaves out the place name (as does REB).

4. The Peshitta spells it Adoer.

It seems that Syria and Israel are linked together in this chapter. They had formed a political/military alliance against Assyria and tried to make Judah join. This co-alliance caused the Syro-Ephraimite war where these two northern nations invaded Judah (cf. 7:16; 8:4; 10:9).

Most of the references are to the Northern Ten Tribes called Israel/Jacob (v. 4); Samaria or Ephraim (v. 3). Syria was under Israelite control during the United Monarchy period.

Aroer is probably a reference to the fortress located on the Arnon River.

Lines 2 and 3 describe the total destruction and depopulation of the site.

17:3 The walled fortified cities of Syria and Ephraim will disappear (BDB 991, KB 1407, Niphal perfect). The JPSOA has a footnote that supports a textual emendation from "Ephraim" (BDB 68) םירפאמ to םרא "Aram" (BDB 78), which would be a true parallelism. But if the first strophe is about the Syro-Ephraimite War, then the parallelism is already there. I think v. 3 has an AB, BA poetic pattern (chiasim), as it is in the MT.

▣ "the remnant of Syria" This phrase could refer to

1. the capital as the only place of Syrian power that remains (and it will fall, v. 6)

2. when the capital falls even the refugees will not survive


Although the last two lines of v. 3 appear to be positive, they are not. Ephraim is destroyed in 3a, now Syria shares her fate (sarcastically, "glory," cf. v. 4). "Glory" could refer to the capital of Israel, "Samaria," which fell after an extended siege to Assyria under Sargon II in 722 b.c.

▣ "Declares the Lord of hosts" YHWH is in control of history, especially those events that affect His covenant people.

For the title "Lord of hosts" see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at 1:1.

4Now in that day the glory of Jacob will fade,
And the fatness of his flesh will become lean.
5It will be even like the reaper gathering the standing grain,
As his arm harvests the ears,
Or it will be like one gleaning ears of grain
In the valley of Rephaim.
6Yet gleanings will be left in it like the shaking of an olive tree,
Two or three olives on the topmost bough,
Four or five on the branches of a fruitful tree,
Declares the Lord, the God of Israel.
7In that day man will have regard for his Maker
And his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel.
8He will not have regard for the altars, the work of his hands,
Nor will he look to that which his fingers have made,
Even the Asherim and incense stands.
9In that day their strong cities will be like forsaken places in the forest,
Or like branches which they abandoned before the sons of Israel;
And the land will be a desolation.
10For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
And have not remembered the rock of your refuge.
Therefore you plant delightful plants
And set them with vine slips of a strange god.
11In the day that you plant it you carefully fence it in,
And in the morning you bring your seed to blossom;
But the harvest will be a heap
In a day of sickliness and incurable pain.

17:4 "in that day" It is uncertain how the text which follows should be divided into poetic strophes. This phrase could denote the start of a new strophe (cf. v. 4, v. 7, v. 9, v. 11). It is difficult to know the difference between poetry and elevated prose (note paragraph divisions and poetic lines of different translations at the beginning of the chapter).

NRSV"brought low"
TEV"come to an end"

This verb (BDB 195, KB 223, Niphal imperfect) originally referred to low hanging fruit or limbs, but the Niphal stem denoted that which was brought low or laid low (cf. Jdgs. 6:6). The Qal stem is used in 19:6 and 38:14.

This is the first of several negative statements describing Israel.

1. glory. . .will fade, v. 4

2. fatness of his flesh will become lean, v. 4

3. Israel will be cut down, v. 5

4. only a few olives left at the very top, v. 6


17:5 "the valley of Rephaim" This refers to a fertile valley southwest of Jerusalem which is mentioned several times in the OT (cf. II Sam. 5:18,22; 23:13; I Chr. 11:15; 14:9; and here). It must have served as the origin of Isaiah's imagery of expected fruitfulness thwarted (cf. v. 4). Why he used a site in Judah, not Israel, is uncertain.

17:6 The initial harvest of olive trees was by shaking or striking the tree (cf. 24:13; Deut. 24:20). There were always a few olives left that would not fall. These were usually left for the poor (i.e., gleaners). Isaiah uses them as a symbol for a remnant of survivors.

▣ "Two or three. . .Four or five" This is an example of Hebrew idiom for an indefinite amount.

17:7-8 These verses form a contrast. Verse 7 denotes repentance, verse 8 what they turn from (i.e., idolatry). The question is to whom are these two verses directed.

1. Israel

2. Israel and Syria

3. Israel, Syria, and Assyria

4. all ANE cultures (i.e., "men," האבם).

Is this meant to be parallel to chapters 7, 9, and 11? Also notice the promised victory of God's people in vv. 12-14 (esp. 14b)!

17:7 The parallelism of the verse links "Maker" (i.e., the Creator of heaven and earth or the creator of Israel, cf. 51:13) with "the Holy One of Israel" (a title used almost exclusively by Isaiah). This is an allusion to monotheism!

17:8 Instead of God being the "maker" they have made their own gods (i.e., Ba'als and Asherim, line 3; 2:8,20; 30:22; 31:7).


▣ "incense stands" The term (BDB 329 calls it a "sun-pillar," but KB 329 calls it a transportable "incense-altar") is always used in a negative sense in the context of idol worship (cf. Lev. 26:30; II Chr. 14:5; 34:4,7; Isa. 17:8; 27:9; Ezek. 6:4,6).

17:9 This seems to begin a new thought unit. It describes the coming judgment in hyperbolic agricultural metaphors (MT)

1. like the forsaken places of the forest

2. like branches which they abandoned

3. the land will be a desolation

This verse is translated very differently by the Septuagint and its translation is followed by JB, NRSV, and REB (and the JPSOA seems to acknowledge its validity in its footnote). The phrase denotes (1) a rapid exodus where useless things are abandoned or (2) people groups conquered by the Israelites in the Conquest (i.e., the Amorites and Hivites).

17:10 This verse is uniquely addressed to Israel and the reason for their judgment by their covenant Deity.

1. forgotten the God of your salvation (i.e., Ps. 78:11,42)

2. not remembered the rock of your refuge (i.e., Ps. 18:1-3; 78:35)

3. planted delightful plants in honor of a strange god (cf. 1:29-30; 65:3; 66:17, i.e., sacred gardens or trees. It may refer to Adonis/Tammuz, a vegetation god to whom flowers were planted early in the spring, cf. AB, vol. 6, p. 318)


▣ "the God of your salvation" This is a recurrent description of Israel's God (cf. 12:2; 17:10; 33:2; 45:17; 61:16; 62:10; Ps. 65:5; 68:19; 85:4). Salvation denotes deliverance from any force or pressure that denies or cancels YHWH's covenant desire for His people. Only Israel's sin can thwart His desires for them and yet, He remains "the God of your salvation" (cf. Micah 7:7; Hab. 3:13,18).

17:11 This refers to the sacred gardens #3 in v. 10 above.

1. they plant it carefully

2. they fence it

3. they fertilize it

It will grow and reproduce amazingly fast, but will result in

1. harvest a heap

2. sickliness

3. incurable pain (cf. Job 34:6; Jer. 15:18; 17:9; 30:12,15; Micah 1:9)


12Alas, the uproar of many peoples
Who roar like the roaring of the seas,
And the rumbling of nations
Who rush on like the rumbling of mighty waters!
13The nations rumble on like the rumbling of many waters,
But He will rebuke them and they will flee far away,
And be chased like chaff in the mountains before the wind,
Or like whirling dust before a gale.
14At evening time, behold, there is terror!
Before morning they are no more.
Such will be the portion of those who plunder us
And the lot of those who pillage us.

17:12-14 This is the final strophe of chapter 17. It is characterized by parallelism and the repeated use of two roots.

1. BDB 242, KB 250, "murmur," "grown," "roar," or "be boisterous"

a. noun, v. 12

b. Qal infinitive construct, v. 12

c. Qal imperfect verb, v. 12

2. BDB 980, KB 1367, "roar," "uproar," "din," or "crash"

a. noun (BDB 981), v. 12

b. noun (BDB 981), v. 12

c. Niphal imperfect verb, v. 12

d. noun (BDB 981), v. 13

e. Niphal imperfect verb, v. 13

3. parallel imagery, v. 13

a. like chaff, v. 13

b. like dust, v. 13

YHWH's roar is louder than the tumult of the nations and they will retreat as a result! He overcomes the chaotic waters again as in creation (cf. Psalm 29).

4. contrast

a. at evening, behold there is terror

b. before morning they are no more

5. synonyms, v. 14

a. plunder, BDB 1042, KB 1367, Qal active participle

b. pillage, BDB 102, KB 117, Qal active participle


17:14 "Before morning they are no more" This phrase has no verbal, which would denote emphasis. This line gives a restorative context to vv. 12-14. This strophe is parallel to the thoughts of Psalm 2. YHWH sends the nations (i.e., to punish His people for their covenant disobedience and lack of faithfulness), but He judges the very same nations. His people are safe in Him! This reversal is similar to 10:33-34.

Often in Isaiah God's deliverance is connected to the coming of light (cf. 8:22-9:2; 17:14; 29:18; 30:26; 33:2; 42:16; 49:9-10; 58:8,10; 60:1-3,19-20).

▣ "the portion" This term (BDB 324) denotes God's will in the imagery of a divine lot cast. It does not mean an arbitrary destiny or fate, but events are in the hand of God (cf. Jer. 13:25).


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