After beginning with Moab to the south, the prophet Isaiah turned his gaze northwards to the alliance of Israel – called Ephraim in the text, the Northern Kingdom – and Damascus. Isaiah addressed them together, as they were allied in opposition to both Assyria and to Judah.
The Fall of Damascus
The prophet warned that Damascus, the capital city of Aram, which is Syria today, would be taken by the enemy.
See, Damascus will cease to be a cityIsaiah 17:1-2 (NRSV)
and will become a heap of ruins.
Her towns will be deserted forever;
they will be places for flocks,
which will lie down, and no one will make them afraid.
It all happened in 732 BCE, when Tiglath-Pileser III turned Damascus into a province of Assyria, and the inhabitants were deported.
The fall of Damascus was to be a warning to Israel.
Consequences of Idolatry
When the Northern Kingdom had broken away from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, they had also broken away from the right worship of God. In fact,
The priests and the Levites who were in all Israel [the Northern Kingdom] presented themselves to [King Rehoboam of Judah] from all their territories.
The Levites had left their pasturelands and possessions and had come to Judah and Jerusalem because Jeroboam and his sons had prevented them from serving as priests of the Lord and had appointed his own priests for the high places and for the goat-demons and for the calves that he had made.
Those who had set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord, the God of their ancestors. They strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and for three years they made Rehoboam son of Solomon secure, for they walked for three years in the way of David and Solomon.2 Chronicles 11:13-17 (NRSV, brackets and emphases mine)
Those who were left agreed to the new, northern worship sites and idolatry King Jeroboam inaugurated.
But now, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, was the time to return to the one and only true and living Almighty God.
Isaiah described what would otherwise happen to them.
- Their fortified cities would be torn down.
- Their glory would fade and they would waste away like a sick person.
- They would be like the gleaning left over from a harvest.
- They would be like a decaying garden.
- They would be like the aftermath of a flood and finally blow away like tumbleweeds.
Too Little, Too Late
Sadly, not until it was far too late to avert disaster would they finally realize that the idols they had allowed into their lives would not, could not save them
On that day people will look to their Maker, with their eyes on the Holy One of Israel;
they will not have regard for the altars, the work of their hands, and they will not look to what their own fingers have made, either the sacred poles or the altars of incense.
On that day their fortified cities will be like the deserted places of the Hivites and the Amorites, which they deserted because of the people of Israel,
and there will be desolation.
For you have forgotten God your SaviorIsaiah 17:7-10 (NRSV)
and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge;
In 722 BCE, ten years after Damascus was led into captivity, Israel was overrun by Shalmaneser V and the armies of Assyria. They, too, were sent into exile.
Shalmaneser V would continue his march south into Judah but God would rebuke Assyria’s assault and in one night they would be decimated—185,000 Assyrian troops wiped out, to be exact (a story that will come up later in Isaiah’s book).
Woe, the thunder of many peoples,Isaiah 17:12-14 (NRSV, brackets and emphases mine)
they thunder like the thundering of the sea!
The roar of nations,
they roar like the roaring of mighty waters!
[[When the nations roar like the roaring of many waters,]]
he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away,
chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind
and like whirling dust before the storm.
At evening time, sudden terror!
Before morning, they are no more.
This is the fate of those who despoil us
and the lot of those who plunder us [Judah, the Southern Kingdom].
Why did Israel wait until it was too late?
False Pride, False Gods
There had been a time, at the dawn of human history, when God and humankind lived in perfect communion with each other, when people were righteous, and the world was at peace. Nature and humankind lived in harmony.
The story of humanity’s departure from that original righteousness and communion with God is found in Genesis 3, when the first man and woman were given to consider an alternative to trust in and commune perfectly with God. Ultimately, God’s adversary suggested the man and woman
- Desire to be “as God” thinking they could have God’s position and authority.
- Doubt God’s goodness
- Question God’s word
These first human beings traded their one true God for the counterfeit that Satan suggested, and now they became their own gods.
The effects of their defection presented at once. The man and woman felt fear and shame, they covered themselves from each other, and hid from God. The man’s alliance with God’s adversary was made immediately apparent, and the woman suddenly realized how profoundly and tragically she had been deceived.
God judged the serpent and the soil, and laid upon each of them a curse.
Then God prophesied over the man and the woman, explaining what would now happen in their lives. Of all the sorrows they would endure, the one that should have come as no surprise, and was the most grievous—yet also the most merciful—was the sentence of death.
This is humankind’s inheritance, and none escape it.
1. Their spirits died, their deep communion with God was broken, which they proved by running away from God when the Lord came to them in the Garden.
2. Their souls died, experiencing fear, shame, isolation.
3. Their bodies died, as God said, “Dust you are, and to dust you will return.”
Humanity and all creation were profoundly changed by the sin, corruption, and death human beings ushered into the world through the pride of self that would rather worship its own intellect, and the products of its own hands, than worship the one true and living Almighty God.
God will bring down the proud
Just as the serpent’s appeal to the first man and woman’s pride led to their downfall, so pride led to the downfall of each these nations, and so pride can stand in our way today.
- It can show up in seeking to exhaust all other resources first before turning to God
- It can look like continuing in a wrong direction even when we get that niggling feeling we should turn back.
- Pride often prevents us from asking for, or receiving help—particularly when it is offered unsolicited.
The prophet Isaiah said to Damascus, and to the Northern Kingdom, Turn to God, for God is ready to receive you and restore you. Do it now, before future predicted disaster becomes present reality.
The prophet gives you and me the same message today, let us put our faith in Jesus, and receive Him into our inner beings, for through Christ you and I
- Receive a new spirit, by the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who is in perfect communion with God.
- Receive a new soul, which begins to live for God.
- Will receive a new body patterned on the resurrection body of Jesus, and now a deposit on that resurrection power to live by faith.