Christian Life 

Is Isaiah speaking to Syria today?

A prophesy given through the prophet Isaiah almost three thousand years ago carries an ominous message for the Syria and its capital.

by Watchman

Syria and IsaiahLet me say first of all that I struggle in concerned fashion with all the ‘prophets’ who are ‘out there’; each claiming a unique insight regarding what God is doing in relation to His revealed word.

I have lost track of the number of times every flare-up in the Middle East is trumpeted by someone or another as being the portent of the Gog/Magog conflict in Ezekiel’s prophesy (Chs. 38 and 39), while conveniently ignoring the fact that the fulfilment of that scenario requires Israel to have been in a settled peace (in ‘a land of unwalled villages’) for a considerable period of time (Ezek 38:11).
So it is with a fair degree of reluctance that I write now on the situation in Syria (and beyond). However, as the world waits in nervous expectation to see what retribution Obama might (or might not) visit upon President Assad and his regime it is surely a moment that calls for a re-reading of a chapter of Biblical prophecy.
Grand Mosque in Damascus
Damascus mosqueThe city of Damascus is the capital of Syria. It is a large prosperous city with modern amenities and an ancient history: it is also one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Founded by the Aramaeans over four thousand years ago it is a living depiction of human history. Yet today Damascus is dying.
Two thousand seven hundred years ago Isaiah the prophet carried God’s word to the people then. Cascading down through history these words are with us today.

An oracle concerning Damascus:

"See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no-one to make them afraid. The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus; the remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites," declares the LORD Almighty (Is. 17:1-3).

Damascus todayWhat we are seeing in the civil war which is raging in Syria is the most complex of pictures. The lines of demarcation are multitudinous and blurred. They comprise a heady and eclectic mix of tribalism, political persuasions, religious affiliations, territorial ambitions, personal agendas and international allegiances and interests. [See 'Making sense of the Syrian crisis' - Ed.]

The present regime of the Alawite President al-Assad is fighting for survival while the perennial Sunni/Shia conflict is expressed within the range of countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar – offering support to one side or another. Amidst it all, the major players – with the U.S. and Russia foremost – are fighting to defend their national interests and their prestige in the international community, while Iran and Turkey respectively look to maintain and expand their agendas within the region.
A few verses further on we read: “Oh, the raging of many nations-- they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples-- they roar like the roaring of great waters!” (Is. 17:12).
 While Damascus was counquered by Tiglath Pileser when the Assyria king invaded in 734B.C. it has never been “taken away as a city” to become “a ruinous heap”: in fact it continued as an important city of the Assyrian empire.  And even if it had been destroyed Biblical prophecy can often have more than one outworking.  God’s word through Amos forewarned “the people of Aram [Syria] will go into exile in Kir [Jordan] (Amos 1:5). This would have been fulfilled as part of the aforementioned invasion, but what we are seeing today is exactly the same thing happening.
Syrian warMeanwhile, Jeremiah 49:23-27 states:

‘Concerning Damascus: "Hamath and Arpad are dismayed, for they have heard bad news. They are disheartened, troubled like the restless sea. Damascus has become feeble, she has turned to flee and panic has gripped her; anguish and pain have seized her, pain like that of a woman in labour.

Why has the city of renown not been abandoned, the town in which I delight? Surely, her young men will fall in the streets; all her soldiers will be silenced in that day," declares the Lord Almighty. “I will set fire to the walls of Damascus; it will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad” [the title of several Syrian kings].’

Israel also under serious threat

Continuing in Isaiah’s prophesy we read:

"In that day the glory of Jacob will fade; the fat of his body will waste away. It will be as when a reaper gathers the standing grain and harvests the grain with his arm-- as when a man gleans heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim. Yet some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs," declares the Lord, the God of Israel (Is 17:46).

So the calamity is not confined to Syria: Israel will become very lean because of their failure to remain faithful to God (cf Is. 29:13). In the present volatility, UN peace-keeping troops – there since the Yom Kippur war of 1973 –  are being withdrawn from the border separating Syria and Israel.  So Israel is again very vulnerable; and the more so if the Iranian-supported Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Sunni forces in Syria acquire doomsday weaponry.

While the world waits for the US decision, the BBC's Jeremy Bowen reported from Damascus

"There’s a range of possibilities.  If the Americans attack, and it’s big, that could give the armed rebels an edge they have never had.  A small attack would allow the regime to claim a moral victory. No attack at all would also have an impact as it would change America’s standing in the region. Whatever happens American intervention in the war here pushes it into new and unknown territory."

But in all the turmoil and conflict we learn that when people and nations are brought to the end of themselves:

“In that day men will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel” (Is. 17:7).

Ed footnote: See article 'Peter made the connection: we must do the same' which outlines the need for everyone of God's children to have a knowledge of God's word and an ability to understand current events through the prism of Scripture.

See left-hand margin for other 'Related Articles' on the situation in Syria.

Watchman, 08/09/2013

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Editor 10/09/2013 12:49
Whatever Rowan Williams might believe is not to say that he can't give out good advice. Anyone who understands the story of Balaam's ass knows that.

Concerning "We risk becoming so earthly minded that we are of no heavenly use."

The opposite also applies: "We risk being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly use."

A very important principle when seeking to understand prophecy (that is of course on the basis that it is viewed as being still relevant and not dismissed as belonging to a previous "Dispensation") is to examine the CONTEXT (see footnotes).

An important key to interpreting Isaiah ch. 17 is in understanding that the 'context' of the passage is End Time matters.

In chapters 11-24, Isaiah is writing about the coming of the Messiah, the Lord's future judgment of the Gentile nations who are historic enemies of Israel, and the reign of the Messiah on earth during the Millennial Kingdom. (Except of course for the allegorical and amillennial schools of interpretation which would have dissenting views to this.)

Following the Millennial scenario depicted in Isaiah chs. in chs. 13 - 24 , the Lord speaks directly to the future of the Gentile nations near or surrounding Israel. These prophecies are also end-time matters that will take place on or about the Day of the Lord (the literal, physical Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ).

Because of the numerous eschatological references that Isaiah makes, it is quite clear that these are end-time prophecies and not near-term prophecies which would take place during Isaiah's lifetime or even in the generations that would immediately follow .


Three pitfalls which need to be avoided in understanding these things -

* failing to examine the 'Context, Context, Context' (meaning the biblical setting in which the verses-in-focus sit)

* crossing the line between, on the one hand, 'discernment' and the need to evaluate all things (Very Good) and, conversaly, descending into outright cynicism and hard-hearted unbelief (Very Dangerous).

* allowing one's thinking to be so wedded to one interpretational system that everything is seen exclusively through that one prism.

Whatever the news this morning (and whatever Obama and the nations do or don't do) one thing is sure: The Word of the Lord stands forever. Isaiah 17 might apply today or tomorrow or some other time future. But it WILL happen.

The good news is found in Is. Ch. 19. And the really good news is that true peace will (only) be found in the Prince of Peace (after all these other things have come to pass).
Jack Thomson (Guest) 10/09/2013 13:57
Yes Colin (Guest), In the past God used various means and ways to reveal His will - the disciples even cast lots as recorded early in Acts to decide on a replacement for Judas but, since Pentecost, God uses His Holy Spirit to convey advice and counsel to believers.
However, having said that, I would agree we can learn much from those who are not I have, and continue so to do.......
Afterall, provided you are in the truth - error will always serve to highlight the truth - as white chalk is highlighted by a blackboard
I better stop my musings here.............
Covenanter 1 (Guest) 11/09/2013 15:06
I agree with what you say Jack about learning from those who are not Christian , strangely enough I got a love for the Scriptures partly through an old Maths teacher who as far as I know was not a Christian, I could be wrong , I hope I am . He took us for religious instruction and made us learn Isaiah 53 off by heart. That was a long time ago but I will be ever grateful for him doing that .
Gordon (Guest) 11/09/2013 17:55
To broaden our understanding the facts of the prophecy in Isaiah 17, may I recommend the following article as being well worth a visit: It gives a clear historic context, quoting Tiglag-Pileser himself.
Editor 11/09/2013 19:39
Gordon, I have read the article with interest. However it is very difficult to attribute much credibility to a site which implicitly dismisses a swathe of OT prophesies in the following terms:

"It’s my conviction that it’s impossible to make a responsible case from within the pages of the New Testament that God maintains any promises for the Jewish people which are not available for all who trust in Christ, not even promises regarding the land of Israel. In fact, unbelieving Jews (and Gentiles) are entirely outside of God’s covenant and promises, for these promises are only accessible through faith."

But what is really very sad is that those who take this line set themselves up (I believe) on a direct collision course with the Lord himself.

I suggest you have a look at the video on the following article and ask yourself "What is the spirit you see at work?" in what one commentator has dubbed 'Christian Palestinianism'".

Additionally the article on Is 17 takes no account of either the 'context' (see earlier note) or the 'dual fulfillment' possibilites.
Gordon (Guest) 12/09/2013 20:01
Politically, Israel can make out a good case to the world for the recognition, acceptance, assistance and protection of its independence , by the UN, and also its accountability to the UN. And so can also Palestine, and Catalonia and Scotland and any other people group seeking to establish their separate independence. But none of these nation states can claim any form of'exceptionalism', or say that it is their 'God-given' prophetic right to occupy any land. All these are atheistic, heathen nations that do not claim Jesus Christ as Lord.
When the Jews rejected Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah in 33 AD, they forfeited the right to be called the 'chosen nation' of God. They cut the cord and so disqualified themselves from being a 'chosen nation'. They could have no further part in the history of redemption for deliberately and irrevocably breaking the everlasting Covenant through their unbelief and disobedience. As prophesied, the elements of their nationhood were destroyed in 70 AD, and from that period on Jesus Christ replaced the nation, the land, the Temple, the Sacrifices, the Law, the Sabbath, Circumcision and the religious feasts. All these were but types and pictures which found their fulfilment in Him alone. The Old Covenant was folded up, put away and replaced with something far better: the New eternal Covenant, cut in His body and blood. The Old had reached its sell-by date and now the New Adam (Christ) and His 'new men' (and women) became the source and vehicle God's grace to this world, without any ethnic qualifications. All nations now have equal access to God's grace and it is our calling to go forth with the Gospel.

So,for me, the current State of Israel can be justified and supported as a political and civil society, but not in any way as being part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

For me,the Kingdom of Heaven is not well served by getting immersed in endless genealogies, obscure and repeat fulfilled or unfulfilled prophecies, Second Coming dates, current Anti-Christ identifications, and the literal understanding of the book of Daniel and Revelation as though they were written precisely for the 21st Century, and all sorts of other prophetic speculations, mis-reading of the context or signs of the times, and ending up with erroneous pretexts.

I believe if we want to be in step with Scripture, we should follow this line, but I am also aware that I do not know of any believer who has never had some change of opinion on these matters.
Colin Ford (Guest) 12/09/2013 20:25
Colin Ford (Guest) 12/09/2013 20:59
But, Gordon, what about God's many, many promises to His ancient people???
Israel has a sorry and wretched history, of that there is no doubt. But God promised Abraham that his descendants would take possession? There are so many Scriptures that attest to this, I hardly know where to start! Genesis 28.13 KJV, Genesis 35.12 KJV etc, etc. God IS faithful, NOT Israel! He will NOT break His Word! Amen.
Jack Thomson (Guest) 12/09/2013 21:58
The Jews are a people through whom God chose to speak to the world - not because they're any better than all other peoples of the world - but beause they are typical of all other people.
As God has promised - and will deliver to the Jews 'in the natural' so He has promised and will deliver to His elect in the spiritual.
As God has promised, and has delivered the land of Canaan to the Jews (in the natural) so He has promised and will deliver the fulness of eternal life to the elect.
And since God's (eternal) will and purpose will always be done on earth as it is in heaven - then God will always protect the Jews in Israel....
And to bring everything to a perfect(eternal) conclusion God will also save 'the elect' of the Jews.
Pity the spiritually ignorant man - or woman who would ever suggest that God has finished with His chosen people
Gordon (Guest) 12/09/2013 22:00
Colin, God has not broken His word. You will find in Joshua 21:43-45 and in Joshua 23:13-16 that God faithfully kept His promises with regard to the land, and warned them of their removal if they broke the Covenant. They conditionally occupied the land. All God's promises are fulfilled in the 'seed' of Abraham, Jesus Christ. 2Cor 1:20 "For all the promises of God find their YES in Him". He is our Temple, our Priesthood, our Law, our Land, our Sabbath, our Circumcision, etc
Forget about political and real estate Israel, follow Jesus who has gone to prepare a place for us in Heaven, and look for the city that is to come whose builder and maker is God.
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