The Burden of Damascus
The 17th chapter of Isaiah is an overview of The Seventieth Week of Daniel. It follows the Semitic style of apocalyptic writing, which is found throughout the Bible. This style of writing first gives an overview of the main events in a particular time frame, and then the passage goes back and provides details during the same time frame.
The time frame in Isaiah 17 is the seven year Tribulation period. The first six verses provide an overview of the entire period from the total destruction of Damascus at the beginning to the wine press of the wrath of God at the end.
Verses 7-9 begin the detailed portion of the passage, and these three verses describe the Church in the first half of the Tribulation period. After Damascus is completely destroyed, and the Firstfruits Rapture takes place (i.e., the removal of the defender of Israel), the remainder of the Church will suddenly take their eyes off of their wealth and earthly things, and they will look to Jesus Christ.
Verses 10 and 11 provide details of the Jews during the seven year period. The first half of the Tribulation period shall appear to be a wonderful time of planting with an expected great harvest, but the last half of the tribulation (i.e., the harvest) will end up as a time of grief and sorrow for the Jews (i.e., the time of Jacob’s trouble).
Verses 12-14 provide details of the Gentiles (i.e., the nations), and how the Gentiles cause massive destruction in the world and attempt to destroy and plunder Israel. The end for the Gentiles who do this is their destruction in the wine press of the wrath of God, and these Gentiles will not be present when the millennial kingdom starts (i.e., the morning).
Chapters 18 and 19 are a continuation of the details during the seven year Tribulation period, but this article will not cover these details. Briefly, chapter 18 explains what takes place in America during the seven years, and chapter 19 covers what takes place in Egypt. America was not yet named when Isaiah wrote chapter 18, so Isaiah simply described the nation as it would be in the future.
We will now attempt a verse-by-verse exposition of chapter 17:
(Isa 17:1 KJV) The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.
The Hebrew word for burden means prophecy or doom. Thus, this is a prophecy of the doom of Damascus. Damascus shall cease from being a city because it will become a pile of rubble. The description appears to be that of a nuclear blast that reduces the city to rubble. This has never before taken place in the history of Damascus. Damascus will look like Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped. Syrians today are very proud of the fact that Damascus is the oldest continuously existing city in the world. The fact that Damascus is the center of terrorism in the world today makes it ripe for a nuclear attack by America, or even Israel. It seems certain that the current war on terrorism will result in the destruction of Damascus just as it is described in this prophecy.
(Isa 17:2 KJV) The cities of Aroer are forsaken: they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
Aroer is the area east of the Jordan River just across from Israel in modern day Jordan. There are many Palestinians who live in this area due east of the West Bank, and due south of Damascus. All of the people who live in these cities will leave or “forsake” these cities so quickly that they will not even take their flocks with them. These cities are not destroyed like the city of Damascus, but it is obvious that whatever destroyed Damascus will suddenly become a strong threat to the people living due south of Damascus. This threat may very well be the nuclear radiation that will drift southward in the dust cloud and wind that comes out of the nuclear destruction of Damascus.
Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, finances and supports terrorism, and Damascus is the center of terrorism. It is clear that any provocation by Syria in the direction of war against Israel would result in a nuclear attack by Israel on Damascus. Also, another major terrorist attack against America would almost certainly result in a nuclear attack on Damascus. The next major terrorist attack on America would almost certainly involve nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, and the existing policy of America’s government is to retaliate against any biological, chemical or nuclear attack with nuclear weapons. Any retaliation by America would have to be against the headquarters of terrorism, and that would be Damascus. The destruction of Damascus will be the major event just before the removal of the Firstfruits in the Church and the appearance of Antichrist to the world.
(Isa 17:3 KJV) 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.
This verse alludes to the Firstfruits Rapture of the Church, which is described in detail in the New Testament. The Hebrew word for fortress means defender. The Hebrew word for cease means to be removed, taken away, or to rest (i.e., to be made to cease from labor). Thus, the first clause in this compound sentence states, “The defender shall also be removed or taken away from Israel and shall enter into rest.” It is no secret that the faithful Christians in the Church are the defenders of Israel. It is the faithful in the Church who stand up for Israel, pray for Israel, and do everything they can to watch over and protect Israel. This is in obedience to the command of God as given in the following Scripture verse:
(Gen 12:3 KJV) And I (God) will bless them that bless thee (Israel), and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
At the same time that the defender is taken away from Israel, the kingdom is taken away from Syria. Thus, the order of events appears to be (1) Damascus will be destroyed with a nuclear missile or bomb and the inhabitants of Northern Jordan will flee the nuclear dust cloud, (2) the Firstfruits Rapture will take place, (3) Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will unify against the Western world and employ the oil weapon against America and the other western countries. These five Arab countries will almost certainly make up the Leopard with four wings on its back described in Daniel 7. The Leopard with four wings on its back only has four heads. It appears that the nation without a head will be either Iraq or Syria. Please see my article Four Beasts out of the Sea for a full discussion on Daniel 7.
The last part of verse 3 above speaks of the remnant of Syria who survive the nuclear devastation. Their glory shall be as that of Israel, and the implication is that this glory is nonexistent.
(Isa 17:4 KJV) 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.
This verse is referring to the time of Jacob’s trouble during the last half of the seven-year tribulation period. “In that day” is referring to the Day of the Lord, which takes place on the earth during the last half of the tribulation period. The only difference between the Day of the Lord and the Day of Christ is the Day of the Lord takes place on the earth as a time of darkness and destruction, and the Day of Christ takes place in heaven as a time of rejoicing by the Church, since all of the Church will be in heaven around the throne.
It is during the Day of the Lord that all nations will come against Israel and two-thirds of the nation of Israel will be destroyed. Before the Day of the Lord can take place on the earth, the Day of Christ, or the Main Harvest Rapture of the Church must take place. The Main Harvest Rapture of the Church is described in the following verse.
[Note: It is important to understand that in typology, grain such as wheat, corn, and barley typify the Church, since the home of the Church is not on the earth. These grains are annuals and they are only temporary. The Olive tree typifies Israel. Olive trees are firmly attached by deep roots to the earth, and they grow to be very old. Grapes typify the Gentiles as grape vines are also perennials that are firmly attached to the earth. The following Scriptures address the Church, Israel, and the Gentiles using these types.]
(Isa 17:5 KJV) 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.
This verse depicts the Main Harvest Rapture of the Church. The Harvestman is Jesus Christ and He gathers the stalks of grain. This gathering is a complete harvest of the stalks of grain. In addition, he reaps the heads (i.e., ears) of grain by placing them under his arm and mowing off the heads. The picture is that of a complete harvest of the stalks of grain with the heads of grain being separated from the chaff at the same time that the harvest takes place. In addition, there is no regard for picking and choosing stalks of grain where the heads of grain are ripe. Everything is harvested whether or not the heads are mature. This is in clear contrast with the Firstfruits Rapture of the church, when only the ripened or mature heads of grain are harvested.
This Main Harvest Rapture of the Church is further described as being similar to the harvest of the heads of grain in the valley of Rephaim. The valley of Rephaim is a rich, fertile valley southwest of Jerusalem reaching to Bethlehem. The valley is ideal for the growing of grain. The harvests are plentiful and the whole valley is harvested at once. This verse is a perfect depiction of the Main Harvest Rapture of the Church.
(Isa 17:6 KJV) 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.
This verse describes what is left after the grain harvest. When the grain (i.e., the Church) has been completely harvested, there is still left the grape gleanings and the olive threshing. The grape gleanings refer to the Gentiles who are saved during the seven year tribulation period, and they enter into the earthly aspect of the kingdom. The olive threshing refers to Israel in the last half of the tribulation period. There will only be a remnant of Jews left that survives the time of Jacob’s trouble, but they enter into the earthly aspect of the kingdom. Those at the top of the tree seems to portray those who enter into the highest level of the earthly aspect of the kingdom, and those on the outer branches seems to portray those who enter the second level of the earthly aspect of the kingdom.
The above verse ends the overview of Daniel’s seventieth week. The following verse goes back to the beginning of the passage and begins giving details of what takes place during the time covered by the overview. Verses 7-9 describe the reaction of the Church to the destruction of Damascus and the removal or taking away of the Firstfruits at the Separation.
(Isa 17:7 KJV) At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.
At the time that Damascus is completely destroyed and the Firstfruits of the Church are removed, the Christian in the Church left behind upon the earth will suddenly have regard for God, and his spiritual faculties will begin to pay attention to the things of God, and he will learn about the Holy One of Israel. Of course, the Holy One of Israel is Jesus Christ.
(Isa 17:8 KJV) 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.
The Christian who has been left behind will suddenly realize that all of the things that he had put ahead of God are no longer important. Possessions and wealth that Christians spent a lifetime seeking will no longer have relevance. The “groves” are the images of Astarte, and the “images” are the images of Baal and/or Tammuz. This most likely pertains to the church of Thyatira (i.e., the Catholic Church) who is big into the use of images in their worship services. Mariolatry is actually worship of Astarte. The image of Baal, the Sun god, is also seen in the sacred trees that are used as images of the resurrection of the Sun god. These trees are today called Christmas trees.
There are many pagan practices in the Church that are abominations to God. These rituals will suddenly have no meaning when Christians suddenly realize that many faithful Christians have gone to be with the Lord, and they have been left behind.
(Isa 17:9 KJV) 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.
In that day after Damascus has become a total ruin and the Firstfruits have been taken to heaven, the Christian will forsake the strong cities. This means that the Christian will turn away from the things of the world, and he will concentrate on spiritual things. The forsaking of the cities is compared to the forsaking of the bough of a tree or the uppermost branch of a tree. This analogy is made because the Church as a whole has become a powerful entity in the world system. The New Testament compares the Church to a mustard bush that grew into a tree and this is not good. God never intended for the Church to become a powerful entity in the world. The Church is supposed to be like wheat with shallow roots into the earth, but it has become like a tree with deep roots into the earth. The Christians who will be left behind are those who have important positions in the Church. They are the big branches that support the tree. The uppermost branch represents those Christians who are in the highest levels of importance in the Church.
After the Firstfruits Rapture these important positions in the Church will be abandoned, and the Church as an organization will fall apart. Church leaders will get serious about serving the Lord and forget their important positions and their big salaries. The Church will be greatly persecuted, and will no longer be a world power. All of this will take place because of the children of Israel. The salvation and conversion of the 144,000 Jewish Firstfruits will very likely play a major role in this great turnaround by the Church, and this verse alludes to this revival of Israel as the catalyst for the revival of the Church.
Verses 10 and 11 that follow address the Jews in the seven-year tribulation period, and they provide an account of what happens to the Jews during this seven year period.
(Isa 17:10 KJV) 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:
As the prophet to Israel, Isaiah now addresses his people, the Jews, in the future, and tells them that they have forgotten the God of their salvation. Salvation is of the Jews. The Jews have not only forgotten God the Father, but they have not been mindful of the Rock of their strength. The Rock of their strength is, of course, Jesus Christ. The great majority of Jews in the world today are not concerned with God, and they have rejected Jesus Christ. The Jews have been brought back to the land of Israel in unbelief in God. They were brought back to the land because of the crisis of the holocaust. In the middle of the tribulation, another crisis will bring them back to a belief in God the Father. Armageddon and the Return of Jesus Christ in power and glory will bring them to a belief in Jesus Christ as their Messiah.
Israel has planted charming plantations with strange vines since they have been back in the land. The strange vine means they have not relied on the True Vine, which is Jesus Christ. Israel is an exporter of fruits and vegetables to Europe and other countries, and their developments and progress in Botany is amazing. They have reclaimed much of the desert with new methods of agriculture, and they grow fruits and vegetables in the sand with brackish water. They have hybrid plants that can grow and flourish on brackish water, and they have special watering systems to trickle water and keep the sand moist so large fruits and vegetables can grow. However, there is a consequence to forgetting God and His Son Jesus Christ, and it is during the Tribulation (i.e., the harvest) that Israel will suffer for their forgetfulness and their failure to be mindful of Christ.
(Isa 17:11 KJV) 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.
Even though Israel has been so successful in replanting trees in Israel, and in growing farm produce, Israel will become a harvest mound or heap in the day of grief and desperate sorrow. This is the time of Jacob’s trouble in the last half of the tribulation period. This ends the brief detailed account of Israel in the seven year tribulation period, and verses 12-14 following address what happens to the Gentiles during the tribulation period.
(Isa 17:12 KJV) 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 pronounces a woe against the Gentiles of the world. The exclamation of “Woe” is an expression of pain, and it is followed by the proclamation of the judgment of wrath. The Hebrew word for noise means the nations will be troubled, and they will be in an uproar like the raging of the sea. The Hebrew word for rushing means destruction like the destruction of mighty waters. In the last several years we have seen how destructive the rushing of waters can be with the floods that have affected the whole world. This has been just a sample of the destruction that is going to take place during the Tribulation period when the Gentile nations become a tumultuous uproar with the destructive use of nuclear weapons.
(Isa 17:13 KJV) 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.
The Gentile nations shall destroy the world like the destruction of many great floods, but God will rebuke them severely. The nations will attempt to hide from the face of God and to flee from His wrath, but they will not be able to escape His judgments. They will be caught up in His judgments like the chaff of the mountains are caught up in the wind, and they will be whipped about and destroyed like an object that is caught up in a tornado. The Hebrew word for chased means to run after with hostile intent.
(Isa 17:14 KJV) 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 two Hebrew words for at eveningtide means at the end or the terminus of the period of darkness there will be great terror and destruction. The terminus of the darkness is the period of time between 3:00AM and 6:00AM. This is the darkest part of the night and represents the last half of the seven year tribulation period. The period between Midnight and 3:00AM represents the first half of the Tribulation period when God has turned the Christians over to Antichrist to be persecuted. The last half of the Tribulation period is when the wrath of God is unleashed upon the Gentile nations. It is also the time of Jacob’s trouble when the Jews will be severely persecuted by Antichrist.
The morning represents the initiation of the millennial kingdom. Before the kingdom is implemented, the Gentile nations who came to destroy and plunder Israel at Armageddon will be destroyed themselves, and they will be no more. Individual Gentiles who assisted Israel during the Tribulation period will enter into the earthly aspect of the kingdom. These Gentiles are the sheep in the sheep and goat judgment of Matthew 25. The goats are the ones who lose their inheritance in the earthly aspect of the kingdom.