Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city, and it will become a fallen ruin.
– Isaiah 17:1
With all of the chaos, bloodshed and now the openly acknowledged presence of chemical and biological weapons within Syria, many students of prophecy are wondering if Isaiah’s oracle concerning Damascus is about to be fulfilled. Many believe Israel might actually utilize nuclear weapons against its neighbors to the north. One prophecy teacher recently stated, “the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons makes the destruction of Damascus predicted in Isaiah 17:1 entirely possible.”
With all of the chaos in Syria continually growing more and more unstable, it is certainly understandable that many students of Scripture are looking to Isaiah 17 and asking if its fulfillment could be imminent. But if we simply examine the actual text a bit more carefully, then we will see that this view is simply not what Isaiah was speaking about.
First, it is important to understand exactly what many within the prophecy community are expecting. According to this emerging popular view, there are three major prophetic events that are about to be imminently fulfilled, each one in succession. According to this popular scenario, the order of prophetic events is as follows:
- Isaiah 17: Damascus is destroyed by a nuclear bomb.
- Psalm 83: All of Israel’s remaining Arab neighbors launch an attack. Israel, however, is victorious and will actually occupy all these nations.
- Ezekiel 38,39: Another outer band of nations invade Israel, but they are all supernaturally destroyed by God in Israel.
Now, let’s consider the actual text of Isaiah 17 to examine why a looming Israeli nuclear strike is not what the prophecy is speaking of.
The oracle concerning Damascus. “Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city and will become a fallen ruin. The cities of Aroer are forsaken; They will be for flocks to lie down in, and there will be no one to frighten them. … sovereignty [will disappear] from Damascus and the remnant of Aram …”
– Isaiah 17:1-3
According to the text, there are a few things this judgment will bring about. All of them must be taken into consideration.
First, Damascus will be removed from being a city as well as all of “Aram.” Aram speaks of the greater region of southern Syria.
Second, “the cities of Aroer” will be so adversely affected by the Isaiah 17 judgment that they will be “forsaken.” A survey of the opinions of commentators, biblical scholars and Bible atlases tell us that Aroer is a reference to the region of northern modern-day Jordan. This would include the capital city of Amman.
Third, “Ephraim,” which speaks of the ancient northern kingdom of Israel, or simply modern-day northern Israel, will also become virtually desolate:
The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim. … Now in that day the glory of Jacob will fade, and the fatness of his flesh will become lean. … Yet 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. … In 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.
– Isaiah 17:3-7
Beyond northern Israel, the text is also clear that the “glory of Jacob will fade.” “Jacob,” of course, is simply a reference to all of Israel. So Israel’s glory will fade to the point of being sparsely populated. Isaiah likens Israel to the fields after harvest. He then says that Israel’s “strong cities will be like forsaken places in the forest.”
Yet despite the fact that the prophecy speaks not only of the destruction of Damascus, but also of a major desolation of all of Israel, in none of the popular discussions of this text does anyone ever bring attention to Israel’s desolation. It is as if they read only the first verse and ignore the remainder of the passage!
For those sensationalists who are predisposed to believe that Israel is about to hit Damascus with a nuclear bomb, the question must be asked: How wise would it be to drop a nuclear bomb on a city that lies less than 50 miles from your own border? The city of Damascus is only: 60 miles from Safed, 90 miles from Haifa, 133 miles from Tel Aviv, 135 miles from Jerusalem. The following map shows the region that would be adversely affected by the radiation fallout if Israel were to “nuke” Damascus:
If one is convinced that Israel is about to do this, they must also think that Israel’s military strategists are rather suicidal. But there are deeper problems with the “nuclear view” that never seem to be considered. For what else does the text say? It says that after these regions are desolated and sparsely populated by humans, they will become pastures for flocks to lie down. Does this sound like a region that has just been thoroughly radiated by nuclear weapons? Simply put, if these regions were abandoned by humans, then domestic cattle and grazing animals would fare no better.
But most importantly, for those who believe the whole Isaiah 17 – Psalm 83 – Ezekiel 38, 39 succession of events scenario, if Israel is as sparsely populated and desolated as the passage states, how in the world would she be in the position not only to repel an attack from several other Arab nations, but also to occupy them? According to this text, after the judgments of Isaiah 17, there are barely enough survivors to inhabit Israeli cities, never mind all of the surrounding Arab nations! Once again, this entire popular view that so many seem to be embracing is a view that simply cannot be reconciled with the Scriptures.
In conclusion then, this passage is not speaking of an imminent nuclear attack. Isaiah 17 is simply one piece of the larger section of Isaiah’s prophecy (Chapters 13-23) that speaks of judgment not only against Israel, but all of her adversarial Gentile neighbors.
When will all of this occur? If one examines this larger portion of Isaiah’s prophecy in its proper context, rather pulling out a single verse here or there, then it is clear that its ultimate context is the Day of the LORD, the judgment against the nations and the return of Jesus. On this point, I find myself in full agreement with Dr. Tommy Ice:
It appears to be an event that will occur at the end of the seven-year tribulation as the Lord not only judges and destroy Damascus, but all of Israel’s historic enemies that surround her. If one examines the broader context of Isaiah 17 and takes account of the section where it is located, it becomes clear that it is a section in which the Lord prophesizes (sic) judgment upon all the Gentile nations that have opposed Israel. This will all happen at the end of the tribulation in conjunction with the second coming of Christ to the earth.
In my new book, “Mideast Beast: The Scriptural Case for an Islamic Antichrist,” I walk the student of prophecy through many of the Bible’s most important prophetic passages so as to properly understand what comes next in God’s prophetic calendar.