Isaiah 17:1-14 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. According to Isaiah 17:1-3 (printed below), what is going to happen to that nation and those city states upon whom Ephraim (i.e.; Israel) relied for protection from the advancing Assyrian armies? Note: Damascus is the capitol of Syria and the cites of Aroer were small city-states located east of the Jordan River.

The oracle concerning Damascus. Look! Damascus will no longer be a city, but will become a heap of ruins! (2) The cities of Aroer will be deserted; they will be left to flocks that will lie down there, with no one to make them afraid. (3) The fortified city will be taken away from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus; the remnant of Syria will have the same fate as the glory of the children of Israel, declares Jehovah of hosts. (Isaiah 17:1-3)

As verses 1-3 indicate, for protection from the advancing Assyrian armies, Israel relied upon her alliance with Syria and her buffer zones east of the Jordan River—but they all collapsed before the invading Assyrians. Verse 1 speaks of the fall of Israel’s ally, the nation of Syria: “Look! Damascus will no longer be a city, but will become a heap of ruins!” Verse 2 speaks of the conquest of the buffer states east of the Jordan River: “The cities of Aroer will be deserted; they will be left to flocks which will lie down there, with no one to make them afraid.” This territory, located east of the Jordan River, had served as a protective buffer zone for Israel but it had now been reduced to a desolate wilderness.

2. At the time Isaiah received this oracle, what was Jacob’s (i.e.; Israel’s) economic condition (see verse 4 printed below?) But what is going to happen to Israel (see verse 5 printed below?) What imagery is used to describe her plight?

On that day the glory of Jacob will fade, and the fatness of his body will waste away. (Isaiah 17:4)

It will be as when the reaper gathers the standing grain, and with his arms reaps the ears; indeed, it will be as when a man gleans heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim. (Isaiah 17:5)

Verse 4-5 speak about the prosperity and abundance of material blessing enjoyed by the nation of Israel. The nation is here compared to a fertile, fruitful field that is harvested: the reaper passes through the wheat field, cutting down the standing grain and gathering it into his arms. By way of illustration, Isaiah points the people to the fertile fields of the valley of Rephaim located southwest of Jerusalem. The point being made is that all of Israel’s prosperity will be removed and the nation will be reduced to poverty—it will be like an empty field after the farmer has finished harvesting the crop.

3. Why will this happen to Israel? See Isaiah 17:10 (printed below) Note: Israel’s carefully crafted diplomatic strategies and alliances are compared to a carefully cultivated garden full of exotic plants.

All this will happen because you have forgotten the God who is your Savior, and have not remembered the Rock that is your refuge. Therefore, you have placed in the soil the choicest plants and have planted imported vines. (Isaiah 17:10)

The reason this devastation shall come upon Israel is due to the fact that the people have forgotten the God who is their Savior and their only true Refuge. Rather than look to the Lord their God, returning to Him and relying upon Him, the nation sought to carefully cultivate diplomatic and military alliances as the source of their security.

4. According to verse 11 (printed below,) does this carefully cultivated “garden” of diplomatic alliances produce “the fruit” that was expected?

On the day you planted, you placed a hedge around these vines. In the morning you caused your seed to blossom; but the harvest will vanish on the day of grief and desperate sorrow! (Isaiah 17:11)

As pointed out, verses 10-11 describe Israel’s carefully cultivated strategies and devices, using the imagery of carefully cultivating a garden full of exotic plants. Having planted “the choicest vines,” all care was then taken to protect these “plants” with the hope that they would produce a wonderful harvest of fruit, namely the “fruit” of peace and security. Special care was taken to promote their growth, and these “little seedlings” of diplomacy and foreign alliances were blossoming with hope. But the anticipated harvest is worse than disappointing; it is a disaster. In the day of harvest the seedlings are nothing more than a heap of dead vines! The military and diplomatic efforts of Israel fail to provide the desired security from the advancing Assyrian invader.

5. In verses 12-14 the mighty Assyrian empire and its allies are described as a raging river that has flooded its banks and is sweeping away everything that lies in its path. In the face of this “raging river” what happened to Israel? See 2 Kings 17:22-23 (printed below). What happened to Judah? See Isaiah 37:1-3a, 4b, 36-37 (printed below). Note: In the distant past, following the reign of Solomon, the original nation of Israel, consisting of all twelve tribes, had been divided by civil war. The ten northern tribes retained the name “Israel,” or “Ephraim.” The two southern tribes became known as “Judah.”

The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them (23) until Jehovah removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria… (2 Kings 17:22-23)

When King Hezekiah heard this (the announcement that the Assyrians were at the gate), he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of Jehovah. (2) He sent Eliakim, the palace administrator, Shebna, the secretary, and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. (3) And they said to him… (4)…lift up your prayer for the remnant of Judah that is still left…(36) Then the angel of Jehovah went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the Assyrians got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! (37) So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew from Jerusalem. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. (Isaiah 37:1-3a, 4b, 36-37)

That awesome, irresistible instrument of divine judgment, the army of Assyria, swept away all the pagan nations of the Near East, including the apostate nation of Israel (2 Kings 17:22-23). That great tidal wave of divine judgment swept away all the nations until it came to Judah: there it was miraculously halted at the command of the Lord—on behalf of those who cried out to Him for salvation. Verse 14 speaks of the Lord’s miraculous deliverance of Judah because they had humbled themselves before the Lord and called upon Him for mercy and salvation (note Isaiah 37:1-3a, 4b, 36-37)