Major Prophets – Isaiah 17-20

A prophecy against 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.
“In that day the glory of Jacob will fade;
    the fat of his body will waste away.
It will be as when reapers harvest the standing grain,
    gathering the grain in their arms—
as when someone 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.
In that day people will look to their Maker
    and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
They will not look to the altars,
    the work of their hands,
and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles
    and the incense altars their fingers have made.
In that day their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation.
You have forgotten God your Savior;
    you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.
Therefore, though you set out the finest plants
    and plant imported vines,
though on the day you set them out, you make them grow,
    and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud,
yet the harvest will be as nothing
    in the day of disease and incurable pain.
Woe to the many nations that rage—
    they rage like the raging sea!
Woe to the peoples who roar—
    they roar like the roaring of great waters!
Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters,
    when he rebukes them they flee far away,
driven before the wind like chaff on the hills,
    like tumbleweed before a gale.
In the evening, sudden terror!
    Before the morning, they are gone!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
    the lot of those who plunder us.

  • Isaiah 17:1-14

Woe to the land of whirring wings
    along the rivers of Cush,
which sends envoys by sea
    in papyrus boats over the water.
Go, swift messengers,
to a people tall and smooth-skinned,
    to a people feared far and wide,
an aggressive nation of strange speech,
    whose land is divided by rivers.
All you people of the world,
    you who live on the earth,
when a banner is raised on the mountains,
    you will see it,
and when a trumpet sounds,
    you will hear it.
This is what the Lord says to me:
    “I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place,
like shimmering heat in the sunshine,
    like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”
For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone
    and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives,
    and cut down and take away the spreading branches.
They will all be left to the mountain birds of prey
    and to the wild animals;
the birds will feed on them all summer,
    the wild animals all winter.
At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty
from a people tall and smooth-skinned,
    from a people feared far and wide,
an aggressive nation of strange speech,
    whose land is divided by rivers—
the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the Lord Almighty.

  • Isaiah 18:1-7

For a link to Isaiah 19:1-32, press HERE.

In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it—at that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.
Then the Lord said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt’s shame. Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be dismayed and put to shame. In that day the people who live on this coast will say, ‘See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?’”

  • Isaiah 20:1-6

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Isaiah 17:1-11 ‘The oracle concerning Damascus and Israel’: This prophecy goes back to the Syro-Ephraimite crisis (see on chs. 7 and 8) in which Syria (Damascus) and Israel (Ephraim) were allied against Judah. In ch. 7 Isaiah predicted their downfall. Here he presents a more detailed prophecy. V.3 is cryptic: ‘The remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites.’ Clements thinks it makes no sense and alters the text. But the prophet is teasing his readers and goes on to describe the glory of Israel as a tragically faded glory (vv.4-6).
The prophet believes that this judgment will have a corrective influence on Israel so that it will once again turn to the Holy One (vv.7-8). In the meantime, devastation will surely come (vv.9-11).

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Isaiah 17:1 ‘Damascus’: “This city served as the capital of Syria (sometimes called Aram). Its location northeast of Mt. Hermon on the main land route between Mesopotamia and Egypt made it very influential. Its destruction by the Assyrians in 732 B.C. is the subject of this chapter.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 17:3 ‘Ephraim’: “The northern ten tribes, also known as Israel, joined with Syria as objects of this oracle. They formed an alliance with Syria to combat the Assyrians, but many of their cites fell victim to the campaign in which Syria fell (see v. 1). Remnant of Syria. Syria was to have a remnant, but not a kingdom, left after the Assyrian onslaught.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 17:12-14 ‘The futility of the nations’: In a moment of reflective exasperation, the prophet proclaims the absurd futility of the nations. They actually believe that their roaring threats mean something when in reality, before God, they are like chaff blown away by the wind (cf. 40:15)!

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Isaiah 18:1-7 ‘A prophecy against Ethiopia’: This is a beautifully crafted oracle against Ethiopia (Cush). The tall, bronzed Ethiopian was legendary: Herodotus, writing in the fifth century B.C., described the Ethiopians as ‘the tallest and most beautiful of men.’ Undoubtedly, the envoys were sent to Jerusalem to persuade Judah to join with them in a revolt against Assyria. Isaiah may have been on hand to see them arrive. He is not impressed. He has come to be impressed only by the Holy One of Israel who waits quietly until he is ready to act. When he does, devastation will occur and the envoys will return, not to threaten but to pledge their allegiance to the Lord Almighty.

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Isaiah 18:1 ‘buzzing wings’: “These may speak of Ethiopia’s strong armada of ships. Ethiopia. Cush renders literally the Hebrew word for Ethiopia. The country was south of Egypt, including territory belonging to modern Ethiopia.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 18:4 ‘I will take my rest’: “The Lord will wait patiently, until the appropriate time, to intervene in human affairs, until sunshine and dew have built to an opportune, climactic moment.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 19:1-15 ‘judgment of Egypt’: “Isaiah 19:1-10 describes the punishment of Egypt, which will be characterized by civil war, desolation, and famine. Isaiah adds in verses 11-15 that the root cause of Egypt’s devastation is the fact that its leaders have led the nation astray. In fact, in recent history, Egypt has gone to war with Israel on two occasions. Both times, the Egyptian army suffered heavy losses and the Egyptian economy was affected.
“Isaiah then describes the future national salvation of Egypt, which will come in three stages. Each stage is introduced with the prophetic phrase ‘in that day.’ The first stage is that Egypt will develop a fear of Israel. Never in ancient history has this been true. Egyptian forces passed through the land of Israel freely even in the days of Solomon. Only since 1948, especially following the Six-Day War, has Egypt developed such a fear. Having lost three wars against Israel, with heavy casualties all three times, Egypt now has a deeply rooted fear. In the second stage (verse 18), Isaiah prophesies that five cities in Egypt will someday speak the ‘language of Canaan.’ In Isaiah’s day, this would have been the Hebrew language. Just how this will come to fulfillment is yet to be seen, but he clearly prophesies that five Egyptian cities will be speaking Hebrew rather than Arabic. Then will come the third stage (verses 19-22), or Egypt’s national salvation. Egypt, as a result of being under a cruel dictator, will turn away from its national religion—presumably Islam—and turn to the God of Israel. The Egyptians will come to know the Lord and worship the God of Israel with sacrifices and vows. The same God who brought judgment upon Egypt will bring about the nation’s regeneration. Just as there will someday be a national salvation of Israel, there will also be a national salvation of Egypt.”

  • Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Exploring Bible Prophecy

Isaiah 19:3 ‘mediums … sorcerers’: “Internal strife will lead to disorientation and depression. With nowhere else to turn, the Egyptians will consult spiritualists. Israelites of Isaiah’s day did the same (8:19).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 19:10 ‘foundations’: “God was to remove the ‘pillars’ on which the working class depended. The word generally refers either to the economic structure of the society or specifically to the upper class which organized the businesses of the land.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 19:11-12 ‘foolish counsel’: “Whatever wisdom Egypt’s experts may have had formerly, they were helpless to deal with the crisis because they were ignorant of the Lord’s judgment against the land.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 19:24-25 ‘Egypt and Assyria will delight in the Lord’: “This is a remarkable prophecy. Attempts have been made to explain it as if it were already fulfilled. I believe all such attempts to be utter failures. This promise stands on record to be fulfilled at some future day. In those bright days for which some of us are looking—when the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea—then this word to Egypt will be verified. And God will be glorified by both Egypt and Assyria, as well as in the land of Israel. It is most encouraging to find Egypt mentioned. Now this I believe to be the literal meaning of the passage. I understand the prophecy to be, in brief, just this: in the latter day Egypt will be converted, and Assyria too, and wonders of grace will be performed in that land. And the people of the land will, with delight, worship the Most High.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Isaiah 20:1-6 ‘A prophecy against Egypt and Cush’: This chapter summarizes Isaiah’s beliefs about trusting Egypt and Cush. They both were doomed. How much more anyone who trusted them! Imagine the visual effect that Isaiah’s physical appearance must have had.
“The historical referent is probably 713-711 b.c. when Ashdod attempted a revolt against Assyria. Egypt promised unlimited assistance. Sargon, the Assyrian ruler, responded with force, crushed Ashdod, and the Egyptians did absolutely nothing to help Ashdod.

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Isaiah 20:1 ‘Tartan’: “The Hebrew term is probably not a proper name, but a title designating a commander in the Assyrian army. Ashdod … Sargon. Ashdod was one of the five largest Philistine cities, all located southwest of Jerusalem. Sargon, mentioned only here in the Bible, was Sargon II, king of Assyria from c. 722—705 B.C. took it. The Assyrians captured Ashdod in 711 B.C., and so frightened the Egyptians that they backed away, thus teaching Judah the folly of reliance on a foreign power such as Egypt for protection.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 20:3 ‘My servant’: “This designation places Isaiah among a select group: Others include: Abraham (Gen. 26:24); Moses (Num. 12:7, 8; Josh. 1:2, 7; 2 Kin. 21:8; Mal. 4:4); Caleb (Num. 14:24); David (2 Sam. 3:18; 7:5, 8; 1 Kin. 11:32, 34, 36, 38; 14:8; 2 Kin. 19:34; 20:6; 1 Chr. 17:4, 7; Ps. 89:3; Is. 37:35; Jer. 33:21, 22, 26; Ezek. 34:23, 24; 37:24, 25); Job (Job 1:8; 2:3; 42:7, 8); Eliakim (22:20); the Servant of the Lord (42:1; 49:5, 6, 7; 52:13; 53:11; Zech. 3:8; Matt. 12:18); Israel (4128, 9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1, 2, 21, 26; 44:21; 45:4; 48:20; 50:10; Jer. 30:10; 46:27, 28; Ezek. 28:25; 37:25); Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 25:9; 27:6; 43:10); Zerubbabel (Hag. 2:23); and Christ’s follower (John 12:26). sign … wonder. Isaiah’s nakedness and bare feet symbolized the coming desolation and shame of Egypt and Ethiopia at the hands of the Assyrians (cf. 19:4).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)


My Thoughts

In these chapters, Isaiah 17-20, God speaks through Isaiah against Damascus, Cush, Egypt, and Assyria.  Yet, in the end, there will be a highway from Egypt, through Israel, to Assyria (Isa. 19:23) and Egypt and Assyria will come to Jerusalem to offer burnt offerings.

But first, Isaiah mentions Damascus.  The city will be destroyed, only a ruin to remain.  Yet, Damascus is a city, not a nation.  It represents the nation, but with so much turmoil over the centuries following Isaiah’s prophecy, using the city name might be more effective.  It was the king of Aram (with the city of Damascus as his capitol city) who killed Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel.  But as one kingdom after another took Damascus, how often did the nation’s name change, yet the city remained.  The key is that as the harvest is destroyed and desolated, there will be a few olives left in the high branches.  Just like Israel and Judah, Damascus will have a remnant and that remnant will worship the true God.

In Isaiah 17, it talks of roaring waters.  While military conquest may occur, this imagery gives me the impression of a flash flood that will sweep the nation away.

Who or what is Cush?  As with many of the nations in biblical times, the nation is named for a descendant of Noah.  Cush was a son of Ham, along with Egypt, Put, and Canaan.  We know Canaan is cursed.  We know the Egypt must have settled in northeast Africa.  Cush settled just south of Egypt.  The Cush territory on some maps includes Sudan with Ethiopia, but there had to have been coastal access.  Thus, modern day Eritrea and maybe northern Somalia could be considered Cush.  The poignant part of this prophecy is when the branches full of fruit are cut down and eaten by mountain birds, unable to enjoy a harvest.  With the famine in these countries, especially the land-locked Ethiopia and Sudan, they hardly have seed to plant.  Is this their End Times fate or just the part of the birth pains?

Egypt is next.  First a civil war and from the ashes, five prominent cities will become worshipper of God in the Old Testament tradition, offering sacrifices to the One, the true God.  As a result of their civil war, however, they will be placed under a cruel master.  They will seek their false gods, but the result will only be dizziness.  Yet, they will fear Israel.  As the scholarly comments state above, why should they not, having been defeated by Israel repeatedly?  But hubris outweighs commonsense and an understanding of either prophecies or history.

Then in the short chapter of Isaiah 20, Isaiah has an Ezekiel type moment.  For three years, he walks relatively naked through the courtyard to symbolize that the time of Egypt and Cush is numbered.  Why walk around Jerusalem naked?  Jerusalem (Judah) ran to Egypt for protection any time an invader from the north approached.  This was not as much a prophecy marking the destruction of two powerful neighbors.  It was a statement from God, “Trust Me, and Me alone.  Mere men will not help you.”  Yet, Babylon left a governor in Judah after taking the country.  Then the governor, established by Babylon, went to Egypt for protection from Babylon, against the prophecies of both Isaiah, then deceased, and Jeremiah, who was forced to go with the governor into exile in Egypt.

It reminds me of many decisions in the USA and elsewhere in the world.  If they decided something that was close to what the Bible says, then they would be “offending” the small but noisy subset of the nation, so let us offend God and His people by doing the opposite of what God would want.  They are not doing anything new and creative.  They are repeating the mistakes of Judah and Israel in their worst moments of rebellion.  They say they do not believe in the Bible, yet they follow evil patterns shown in the history within the Bible.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“Isaiah 17: 1. ln this section, God is described as the Maker, the Holy One, the Savior, and the Flock. Which of these aspects do you tend to forget sometimes? What leads you to do so? Instead, what do you find yourself trusting in? What practices can help you ‘remember’ God and live out your life accordingly?
“2. Compare verses 12-13 with Psalm 2:1-6. What truth about God emerges from these descriptions?
“3. How might the story of Jesus calming the sea (Mk 4:35-41), together with the image of verse 13, affect you as you face a world full of confusion and tumult raging around you?
18: 1. If God’s purpose for the nations is unchanged, how does this affect the way you pray for peoples that seem most fearsome to you?
“2. How has the ‘banner’ of the cross transformed someone ‘feared far and wide’ into someone close to Christ? The Ethiopian Eunuch (Ac 8:26ff) is one example. Who else comes to mind?
“3. In your life, who has been God’s ‘heat’ and ‘dew’? How might you be like that to someone in your circles who is ‘feared far and wide’? What would it take for you to do so?”
19: 1. Someone has said, ‘Whatever we trust in place of God will eventually turn on us and destroy us.’ How have you seen that to be true so far in Isaiah? How about in your own experience? Where are you struggling with that now?
“2. Since the steady flow of the Nile River accounts for Egypt’s prosperity, what would happen if that river should be dried up by God? Then why would God do a thing like that? Could God’s judgment in verses 1-15 be intended to bring about the events of 16-25? How so?
“3. In verses 16-22, Egypt moves from (a) fearing God, to (b) calling upon him for help, to (c) joyfully worshiping him. How far along are you on that a-b-c highway?
“4. ‘Egypt’ and ‘Assyria’ represent all nations (see 2:2-4; Rev 7:9-11). What then do verses 23-25 imply about God’s relationship to the world? Hence, how will you pray for the world?
“5. What most excites you about what it will be like when the promise of verse 19 is fulfilled? How will the ‘altar in the heart of Egypt’ (v.19), in turn, alter your heart of hearts?
“6. What ‘pagan Assyrian’ in your life do you presently disdain, much as a Jew in Isaiah’s day would? What will you, with the help of your small group, do about changing your heart in this area?
20: 1. Do you learn better through lectures, or by object lessons? Why? What object lesson has God provided for you that has contributed to your trusting God more?
“2. What is the ‘Assyria’ that seems unstoppable in your life? What ‘Egypt’ are you tempted to rely upon for help? What would it mean, instead, for you to trust God in that tempting situation?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There is one set of questions for each chapter.

There are questions asking about substitutes for such things as “Assyria” and “Egypt.”  We could look at current events and wars in other parts of the globe, but in looking closer to home.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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