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Isaiah 17:1 The burden of Damascus: Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it will be a ruinous heap- I have commented through Is. 13-16 upon the conditional nature of these prophecies. They envisage a situation in which Babylon and / or Assyria will judge Judah and the surrounding nations, and a repentant remnant from all of them will unite in a multi-ethnic, reestablished Kingdom of God in Judah. But this scenario was precluded by various factors, not least the impenitence of all the peoples; and perhaps foreseeing this, God did not bring about all the judgments to the extent spoken of. The essence of the prophecies however will come true in the last days. Here we have an example- Damascus continued as a city and does to this day, being one of the oldest continually occupied cities on earth.

Isaiah 17:2 The cities of Aroer are forsaken. They will be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid-
See on :1. The LXX make this read on as part of the burden upon Damascus in :1. There is no "Aroer" near Damascus.

Isaiah 17:3 The fortress shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria. They will be as the glory of the children of Israel, says Yahweh of Armies-
And that glory was to be brought down (:4). Here there is envisaged the judgment together of Israel, Syria and Judah. This was the Divine perspective on Judah's fear of a confederacy against them by Israel and Syria- they were all to perish together (Is. 7:1-5). I explained on Is. 8:8 that it was one of the various prophetic potentials that Assyria would destroy these three nations together during the same campaign. This didn't come about; partly because there was enough response in Judah to Isaiah's prophecies that the Assyrians were stopped short and destroyed. Or it could be that the overweening pride of Assyria and their revolt against Yahweh was such that He destroyed to destroy them anyway and not allow them to destroy Jerusalem. Hence LXX: "And she shall no longer be a strong place for Ephraim to flee to, and there shall no longer be a kingdom in Damascus, or a remnant of Syrians; for thou art no better than the children of Israel". The Syrians did remain and the kingdom of Damascus did continue, because the potential scenario was precluded from happening. We also note that Israel are again presented as no better than the Gentiles, and therefore shared similar judgments.

It could be argued that this chapter is largely about the judgment of "Jacob", but Damascus is mentioned because Syria would no longer be a fortress or "bulwark" / source of strength for them. The idea is that Damascus and the ten tribes were to be destroyed together in the same campaign by Babylon or Assyria. Whilst this scenario didn't quite work out as it could have done, the abiding reality is that all human sources of strength fade to nothing before Divine judgment. This is the same situation as in Is. 7, where Israel and Syria united against Judah and their judgment by Assyria / Babylon is prophesied. Syria was not so strong; Damascus had recently been ransacked by the Assyrians (2 Kings 16:9). But still they seemed to Israel such a relative source of strength.

Isaiah 17:4 It will happen in that day that the glory of Jacob will be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh will become lean-
The fatness of the Assyrians was to become lean (Is. 10:16); but here, fatness becoming lean is the very language used of what was to happen to the glory of Jacob. By their arrogance they proclaimed themselves as no better than Gentiles, meriting the same judgment. See on :3.

Isaiah 17:5 It will be like when the harvester gathers the wheat, and his arm reaps the grain. Yes, it will be like when one gleans grain in the valley of Rephaim-
This is the language of judgment day, a harvest in a valley. But from that judgment there was intended to be a gleaning, a remnant of good corn would emerge. This reflects the continual Divine hope that a remnant of Syria as well as of Ephraim and Judah would repent (:5). For the subject of the prophecy merges from Syria to Ephraim and now to Judah- the valley of Rephaim or giants was just south of Jerusalem in Judah (Josh. 15:8; 18:16). The idea was that remnants of all these peoples would unite in repentance in the reestablished Kingdom of God in Judah.

Isaiah 17:6 Yet gleanings will be left there, like the shaking of an olive tree, two or three olives in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outermost branches of a fruitful tree, says Yahweh, the God of Israel-
The idea is that the tree was "fruitful" [potentially] but only a very few bits of fruit would be found. This finding of this tiny remnant "there", in a valley near Jerusalem (see on :5). This didn't happen at the time, Mic. 7:1 says that actually no gleanings of the vintage were found; but all this will be transferred, reapplied and rescheduled to the outcome of the final judgment in a similar valley near Jerusalem at the Lord's return. Olives were struck down from the higher branches with a stick, and that rod or stick which was to beat Judah and the nations is clearly defined as Babylon / Assyria in Is. 10. Is. 24:13-15,21-23 clearly applies this scenario to the last days.

Isaiah 17:7 In that day, a man will look to his Maker, and his eyes shall perceive the Holy One of Israel-
This envisages the remnant of the Syrians, Israel and Judah turning to Yahweh, God of Israel. At their nadir, like men today, they will reflect on the most basic fact of human existence- that they were created by God. Man cannot see God, and yet eyes can perceive Him- if they are penitent. The contrast is with how they had previously focused their mental attention on what they had 'made', their idols (:8); rather than upon their personal maker. This is the wonderful imperative of believing that we were made, created; the works of our hands become less appealing.

Isaiah 17:8 They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands; neither shall they respect that which their fingers have made, neither the Asherim nor the incense altars-
The Syrians, as well as God's people, would repent of their idolatry and turn to Yahweh alone (:7). And this shall come supremely true in the last days. When a man looks to his maker, "he shall not look to the altars [of] the work of his hands, neither shall he have respect to that which his fingers have made". God's fingers made the stars and all of creation (Ps. 8:3). By focusing upon God's works in creation, we will not be focused upon our works, but rather trust in God's creative grace.

Isaiah 17:9 In that day their strong cities will be like the forsaken places in the woods and on the mountain top, which were forsaken from before the children of Israel; and it will be a desolation-
"Strong" is the same word used in :10 of how God was to be their strength. Instead, Israel had trusted in the strong cities of the Syrians such as Damascus. This is the trouble with trusting in human strength and even having access to it; our trust in God's strength is thereby so easily diminished.  

Isaiah 17:10 For you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not remembered the rock of your strength-
They saw salvation in an alliance with Syria to destroy Judah with Egypt's help and thus form a united buffer against Assyria. All these kinds of petty politics and desperate dreams are just as much a part of our thinking today. And it is all a forgetting of Yahweh as the rock of our strength and salvation. Syria was not so strong; Damascus had recently been ransacked by the Assyrians (2 Kings 16:9). But still they seemed to Israel such a relative source of strength.

Therefore you plant pleasant plants, and set out foreign seedlings- RVmg. "thou plantest plantings of Adonis". This was a Syrian god. The alliance between Israel and Syria against Judah (Is. 7) required Israel to accept Syrian gods. And therefore they had effectively resigned their belief in Yahweh although they would never have admitted that in so many words. We can not serve two masters.

Isaiah 17:11 In the day of your planting, you hedge it in; in the morning, you make your seed blossom, but the harvest flees away in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow-
The idea is that no matter how successful the alliance with Syria appeared to be initially, it would not prosper when it came to term, and the harvest of it would be a day of terrible judgment. This is the end of all ways around problems which are anything less than a complete falling upon Yahweh in our hearts. "Desperate sorrow" and "grief" in Hebrew mean incurable illness; the tragedy was that the opportunity for healing had been given but they had refused it, and therefore so many potentials were thereby disallowed.

Isaiah 17:12 Ah, the uproar of many peoples, who roar like the roaring of the seas; and the rushing of nations, that rush like the rushing of mighty waters!-
The judgment upon Syria and Israel (and probably Judah is also in view here (see on :5), would be like the rushing of waters- representing the various nations in the Assyrian or Babylonian confederacy. But this strange rush of nations against them would be strangely stopped (:13), by grace. "The roaring of the seas" is the term used for the Babylonian invasion of Judah (Jer. 5:22; 6:23). What began as a prophecy of judgment against Syria and Israel at the hands of the Assyrians now morphs into judgment against Judah at the hands of the Babylonians; see on Is. 13:1. The phrase is also used of Yahweh's victory at the roaring Red Sea (Is. 51:15; Ps. 65:7), implying again that this invasion is going to be destroyed as the Egyptians were. This didn't happen at the Babylonian invasion, although potentially it could've done had Judah repented.

Isaiah 17:13 The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters: but He will rebuke them, and they will flee far off, and will be chased like the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like the whirling dust before the storm-
LXX "as a storm whirling the dust of the wheel". This is the language of the cherubim, implying God would intervene directly. The Assyrian invasion of Israel and Syria (see on :12) could have been averted, but it wasn't, because they didn't repent. But it was averted against Judah because a minority repented; the same word for "rush" is used of the tumult of that invasion (2 Kings 19:25; Is. 6:11). But the Babylonian invasion of them some time later wasn't, although it would've been had they repented. The chaff being blown before the wind recalls the vision of Dan. 2, whose primary potential fulfilment was in the fall of Babylon and the little stone of the repentant exiles returning to reestablish God's Kingdom in the land. See notes on Dan. 2. But that too was precluded by Judah's impenitence. And so it will come to fulfilment in the last days, when again the nations will "rush" to their judgment (Is. 13:4 s.w.).

Isaiah 17:14 At evening, behold, terror! Before the morning, they are no more. This is the portion of those who plunder us, and the lot of those who rob us-
LXX "that robbed you of your inheritance". The primary allusion is to the robbery of Judah by the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:13-16), resulting in the Angel smiting their army so that "before the morning" they were all dead corpses (Is. 37:36).