The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.Isaiah 17:1. The burden of Damascus — Both of that city and kingdom. But though “this prophecy, by its title, should relate only to Damascus, is full of much concerns, and more largely treats of, the kingdom of Samaria and the Israelites, confederated with Damascus and the Syrians against the kingdom of Judah.” It is the fourth discourse of the second book of Isaiah’s prophecies, and “was delivered probably soon after the prophecies of the seventh and eighth chapters, in the beginning of the reign of Ahaz. And it was fulfilled by Tiglath-pileser’s taking Damascus, and carrying the people captives to Kir, (2 Kings 16:9,) and overrunning great part of the kingdom of Israel, and carrying a great number of the Israelites also captives to Assyria: and still more fully in regard to Israel, by the conquest of the kingdom, and the captivity of the people, effected a few years after by Shalmaneser:” see 2 Kings 17:3, and Bishop Lowth. Behold Damascus is taken away from being a city — It was, however, afterward rebuilt, and prophesied against by Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 49:23,) and by Zechariah 9:1.
The cities of Aroer are forsaken: they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid.Isaiah 17:2. The cities of Aroer are forsaken — “What has Aroer,” says Bishop Lowth, “on the river Arnon, (see Deuteronomy 2:36,) to do with Damascus?” He therefore follows the LXX., (who, he supposes, for
ערער, Aroer, read עדי עד, εις τον αιωνα,) and renders the clause, The cities are deserted for ever. Grotius, however, thinks the present reading of the Hebrew text is right, and that this Aroer was a tract of ground in Syria, (a valley, say some, which lay between the mountains of Libanus and Anti-Libanus,) and not that Aroer which was on the confines of Moab and Ammon, and part of the possession of the Reubenites and Gadites. But as Tiglath-pileser carried the Reubenites and Gadites into captivity, (see 1 Chronicles 5:26,) and made the country, which they had possessed, desolate, why may not the very Aroer, which was on the confines of Moab, be meant, and mentioned here, as Ephraim is in the next verse, as being confederate with Syria against Judah? And none shall make them afraid — Because the land shall be desolate, and destitute of men who might disturb them.
The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria: they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith the LORD of hosts.Isaiah 17:3-6. The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim — The meaning may be, that Damascus being destroyed, that fortress or protection, in which the Ephraimites had placed their confidence, should be taken; or, that at what time Damascus should be overthrown, and deprived of all government and power, the Ephraimites also should be weakened, and deprived of their chief fortresses by the Assyrians; which latter seems to be the true sense: see Hosea 10:14; Micah 1:6. The reader will observe, the Syrians of Damascus bordered upon the Ephraimites; and though they had long lived in a state of hostility with them, yet their King Rezin, on receiving some injuries from Uzziah, king of Judah, had found means to unite them with him in an expedition against Jerusalem. As the design of that expedition was wholly frustrated, (see Isaiah 7:3-9,) so it hastened the destruction of both those nations: for the Assyrians, who were called in by Ahaz to his help, and who had a long time threatened Syria, took this occasion to seize and destroy Damascus, and transport the Damascene Syrians to Assyria and Media, which same fate, partly at the same time, and partly a little after, befell the Ephraimites also; a common cause involving these nations in a common calamity. In that day, the glory of Jacob shall be made thin — Hebrew, ירל, attenuabitur, shall be diminished, emptied, or exhausted. And the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean — Their principal citizens shall be spoiled of their dignity and wealth, and carried, with their property, into Assyria. And it shall be as when a harvest-man gathereth the corn — Taking care, as far as may be, that all be gathered in, and nothing left. So shall the whole body of the ten tribes be carried captive, some few gleanings only being left of them as it is in harvest. As he that gathereth ears in the valley of Rephaim — A very fruitful place near Jerusalem. Thus “the prophet explains the judgment upon Ephraim by two similes, and both elegant; the first taken from a beautiful body reduced by a consumption, meaning that their state should be deprived, not only of its chief citizens, but of all its power, wealth, and honour; that whatever it formerly possessed, which gave excellence and beauty, should entirely waste away and be consumed. The second simile is taken from the autumnal gathering in of fruits, or from that fertile harvest, whether of corn, wine, or oil, which used to be gathered in the valley of Rephaim.” Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it, &c. — “Whereas the reapers are wont to leave a few ears of corn, and those that gather grapes and olives, a few of the worst bunches of the grapes, and of the worst berries of the olives, so, from the harvest, which the Assyrian should reap in Ephraim, a few men, and those of the least consequence, should be left as a remnant in the land.” This accordingly came to pass: some few Israelites were left after their captivity, who joined themselves to Judah, and were carried captive to Babylon with them, from whence also they returned with them.
And in that day it shall come to pass, that the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean.
And it shall be as when the harvestman gathereth the corn, and reapeth the ears with his arm; and it shall be as he that gathereth ears in the valley of Rephaim.
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 fruitful branches thereof, saith the LORD God of Israel.
At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.Isaiah 17:7-8. At that day shall a man — Those few men that are left; look to his Maker — They shall sincerely respect, trust in, and worship God, and God only. In other words, at that time, when God shall execute these severe judgments upon the Ephraimites, some, being fully convinced by experience that they had been deceived by their false prophets, and that their worship of idols had turned out as the true prophets foretold, shall turn themselves, by sincere repentance, to the God of their fathers, and, renouncing the errors of former times, and all their sins, shall worship and serve him in true faith and obedience.
And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images.
In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel: and there shall be desolation.Isaiah 17:9. In that day — The day of Jacob’s trouble, of which he spake, Isaiah 17:4; shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough — The cities belonging to the ten tribes shall stand solitary and destitute of inhabitants, all the country about them being destroyed; and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel — “The sense,” says Lowth, “is here imperfect: most expositors understand the words of the Assyrians, that they left some cities with a few inhabitants in the kingdom of Israel, that a remnant of that people might be preserved: see Isaiah 17:6. But the copy which the LXX. followed, instead of the Hebrew words, החרשׁ והאמיר, hacho-resh vehaamir, that is, bough and uppermost branch, must have read החוי והאמרי, hachivi vehaemori, the Hivites and Amorites:
for they translate the verse thus: Thy cities shall be forsaken, as when the Hivites and Amorites forsook them, because of the children of Israel. Which reading gives a plain and full sense to the text.” Thus also his son, Bishop Lowth: “The translation of the LXX has happily preserved what seems to be the true reading of the text, as it stood in the copies of their time. And it is remarkable, that many commentators, who never thought of admitting the reading of the LXX., yet understand the passage as referring to that very event, which their version expresses: so that, it is plain, nothing can be more suitable to the context.” Thus understood, the prophet’s words were calculated to awaken the Israelites to a serious belief of this threatening, as they reminded them that God had inflicted the same judgment upon the Canaanites, and for the same sins of which they were guilty: and therefore gave them reason to apprehend, according to the prediction of Moses, that as they committed the same abominations, the land would spew them out as it spewed out the nations which were before them.
Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips:Isaiah 17:10-11. Because thou, O Israel, hast forgotten the God of thy salvation — That God, who was thy only sure defence; therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants — Fetched from far countries, and therefore highly esteemed. The sense is, Thou shalt use much industry and cost, but to no purpose, as it follows. In the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, &c. — Beginning early in the morning, thou shalt, from day to day, use all care and diligence, that what thou hast planted and sown may thrive; but the harvest shall be a heap, &c. — But in the time of your grief, or when this grievous calamity shall come, all your harvest shall be but one heap, very inconsiderable in itself, and easily carried away by your enemies: in other words, “when thou expectest to reap the fruit of thy labours, thou shalt find nothing but loss and disappointment.” — Lowth. See the margin, where the day of inheritance means the time of enjoying any thing which we have taken pains for.
In the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy seed to flourish: but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow.
Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters!Isaiah 17:12-14. Wo, &c. — “We have here the third member of this prophetic discourse, and the first part of the section concerning the unexpected overthrow of the Assyrians. After the prophet had exhibited the divine judgments upon the Syrians, (Isaiah 17:1-3,) and upon the Ephraimites, (Isaiah 17:4-11,) he immediately beholds the Assyrians themselves, after they had destroyed both those states, (that is, eight years after,) advancing against the Jews, that they might oppress and subject to them their state also. But, at the same time, he sees their grievous and sudden fall, that is, the fall of Sennacherib; for almost all ancient and modern interpreters are agreed that this prophecy refers to him.” Wo to the multitude of many people — Combined against Judah, namely, the Assyrians, whose army consisted of vast numbers, and of men of several nations. Which make a noise like the noise of the seas — Which invade my land and people with great force and fury, as the sea assaults the shore, or pours itself upon the land, when it has made a breach in the banks which before confined it. And to the rushing of nations — Hebrew, לאמים שׁאון, tumultuatio populorum, the noise, rage, and impetuous fury of the people of different countries united in one mighty overwhelming army. Bishop Lowth translates the clause, And to the roaring of the nations, who make a roaring like the roaring of mighty waters. Like the roaring of mighty waters do the nations roar. And he observes that, “though this simile is taken from a common appearance, it is wrought up with such an elegant boldness and inexpressible propriety, that we are at a loss whether we should admire most the judgment or sublimity of the sacred writer.”
But God shall rebuke them — Not in words, but in deeds; shall discomfit and overthrow them. But the Hebrew, וגער בו ונס, should rather be rendered, But God rebukes him, and he flees from far, namely, Sennacherib, who is here immediately pointed out, one hundred and eighty- five thousand of his army being smitten with instantaneous death. The prophet’s idea seems to have been taken from God’s rebuke of the sea, when the Israelites passed through out of Egypt. And they shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains — The Jews used to thrash and winnow their corn on hills and places exposed to the wind, which dispersed and blew away the chaff; and like a rolling thing — Which is moved by the slightest touch, and much more by a violent wind. The word, which is גלגל, is rendered thistle-down in the margin, and gossamer, which is the down of any plants, by Bishop Lowth. The metaphor shows with what ease God overcomes his enemies. And behold at even-tide trouble — Great terror and consternation among God’s people for fear of their enemies; and before the morning he is not — Their enemies are cut off by the hand of God. The prophet here evidently “alludes to the time and circumstances of the judgment which was inflicted on the Assyrian by night, and indeed in one night. At even-tide the Jews were certainly in great terror, perplexity, and perturbation, when besieged by the Assyrians: in the morning, behold these their enemies were all dead corpses. Such is the sudden and unexpected deliverance which God sometimes grants to his people, when their enemies are ready to devour them: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. This is the portion of them that spoil us, &c. — This is a triumphant conclusion, uttered by the prophet in the name of God’s people. “It holds good in all ages of the church; none can endeavour to remove this stone from its place, but they will find hurt to themselves, Zechariah 12:3. In this one example we see the fall of all the great empires and kingdoms of the world which oppose the kingdom of Christ, and the event of all the attempts of Satan tending to its destruction: in the evening, confusion; in the morning, serenity, arising by divine grace on the church.” See Vitringa.
The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.
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.