One can get lost is a passage like this if unaware of
changes in perspective. It has five sections:
1) 17:1-3 Israel
2) 17:4-9 Israel only
3) 17:9,10 Explanation re Israel
4) 17:12-14 Threat of many nations
5) 18:1-7 International alliance
and Aram Ephraim = Israel. In Isaiah 7 the threat to Jerusalem
was this combination of nations that conspired against Judah. The Lord said it would fail (8:4). Though old enemies (2 Kings 13:4,5), they
joined together to resist Assyria when it
became the great danger to them. Israel forgot
they were the people of God. Both
Ephraim and Damascus
will share the same “glory”. If the people in Jerusalem heard this oracle early, then it
was more of the word of the Lord to them that this is what will happen to those
who put their trust in men not the Lord.
Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
We do not know where Aroer is, an ancient location. “Left to flocks” of sheep means there will be
no people around to frighten the sheep.
Judgment is often pictured as quietness because the former inhabitants
are gone (Lamentations 1:1). Yet there is a hint here of salvation. The word remnant is a term for those God will
save, and Aram has a remnant
to share Israel’s
glory. “In wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2); there is a Gentile
17:4-9 Concerning Israel Only
Vv. 4-6: The oracle is
about Damascus, but now the attention is given to Israel who had joined up with Damascus.
will fade but not die. The reaper in the
field does not get all the grain; those shaking olives off the trees do not get
all of them; some olives are left. The
promise of a remnant emerges again. Why
is this so important? The Lord made
covenant promises to Abraham that his descendants would be a great nation (Genesis
12:2) and a blessing to all other nations (Genesis 12:3). They will survive
because God is faithful, and the Lord Jesus must come through them.
Israelite survivors, greatly sobered by God’s judgment, look to the Holy
One of Israel. They learned their
lesson. Now they have no other gods and
make no images. (An Asherah pole was
erected to a female deity.) To have the
true God and to worship Him in no other way than the way He has commanded are
inseparable. Israel tried to worship the LORD
with images of Him! One can try to call
upon the true God, but breaking the second commandment means the first
commandment will be broken every time the second is. (This is the classic reformed view of
worship.) V.9, their cities will be
desolate. This is the end of their
3) 17:9,10 Explanation re Israel Where did they go wrong? They forgot the Lord Who was their real
fortress and their Savior, so their fortress cities were destroyed. Those cities with stone walls could not save
them. Within their land they could see the overgrown ruins of fortress cities
overthrown by the Israelites in the days of Joshua. Those cities did not save
the Canaanites. Now they fall into the same misplaced trust. They too trust in
fortresses rather than in the Lord Who overthrew them in the time of their
forefathers. They forgot their real
Rock. God warned of forgetting in
Deuteronomy 8:10-20. Notice how close
Isaiah 17:5 and 10 are to Deuteronomy 32:15:
grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and
rejected the Rock his Savior. Israel
is pictured in this paragraph to a farmer who does much work and gains for it a
harvest of nothing.
17:12-14 Threat of many nations Sometimes Isaiah will switch from discussing
a specific threat like Babylon
and speak of the whole world, as in chapter 13.
Here it is again. Everything we
read here fits the Assyrian attempt to enter Jerusalem very well. The words in v. 14
“sudden terror” and “before morning they are gone,” describe the Assyrian threat.
In the morning the people of Jerusalem
looked out on a dead Assyrian army (37:36).
Why would the Holy Spirit have Isaiah speak this way? I cannot guess the mind of God, but we can
observe that this is often the way He has spoken in the Psalms. Psalms describe a wide variety of troubles,
yet they often do not identify it so tightly to some event that we might miss
that the words apply to us in our situation.
Likewise, the people of God were not just attacked outside the walls of Jerusalem long ago. To say, “This is the portion of those who
loot us” (v.14) is deliberately vague as to looters, so we might apply it in
other situations. The church is under attack all the time, but the gates of
hell will not overcome it (Matthew 16:18).
It helps all generations to read, “the raging of many nations”. This is true because the Assyrian attack is
not an isolated incident but a typical one.
The great lesson here is that “no weapon forged against you will prevail”
(54:17). The Assyrian was gone suddenly, struck down by God, and like chaff blown
away never to return again (Psalm 1:4).
18:1-7 International alliance This could be taken as a separate oracle, but
the word oracle is not used here.
It probably was not a message to Cush, but one mentioning that
region. The ‘Woe’ is to Egypt, for the land of whirring wings is Egypt. The Nile River
would overflow its banks creating puddles for flies to breed – thus “the
whirring wings”. To the south in Cush,
large rivers join to form the Nile. The
picture is of Egypt sending
out ambassadors calling for help even south to Cush, a land divided by
rivers. The tall people of Cush or Ethiopia had skin noted by ancient
people (Jeremiah 13:23) probably because it was so dark. Here the skin is said to be smooth, and their
language was also different, and they struck fear in people probably because of
their skill in battle.
I think the idea in this passage is that Egypt is seeking help in all directions against
the power of Assyria – another example of the
world getting organized by an alliance to face the enemy. This is man’s wisdom and it will fail. Assyria could boast of itself in chapter 10;
the others like Egypt
boasted of their strategy. Both policies
Some background: Trusting in Egypt
for help was a long-time temptation for the Lord’s people; see Jeremiah
2:13-19, where Jeremiah speaks of this sinful policy including a mention of
Assyria many years after Assyria was
Some teachers think this banner to the nations is again God
calling the nations to see what He will do with this Egyptian strategy. It is like saying, “Look and listen, here is
what will happen.” The Egyptians promote
their plan, but in vv. 4-7 God reveals what will really happen.
18:4-7 God says He will be quiet but is
watching. Heaven is His home and the
earth is His footstool (66:1). The effort of these nations is like a vine growing.
All seems to be going according to plan. God lets the vine progress past the
stage of budding to the emergence of the fruit. Before harvest time, when men
hope for the reward of their labor, God cut off the branches. All their efforts
were a waste. They fail again. Egypt
does not prevail; Assyria defeats her. It was
a terrible defeat. Only animals and birds feast on the branches all summer and
all winter. The people do not; all their effort was in vain.
This passage is another instance of the raging of the
nations we read in 17:12-14. There is no peace for the wicked, (57:20,21) so
the world can be organized in peace only when it rallies to the banner of
Christ, the Root of Jesse (11:10).
18:7 Heathen coming to the Lord They were
described as aggressive (v.2) and “a people feared far and wide.” They were people who lived far away, yet they
come to the Lord bringing gifts to Mount
Zion. Isaiah has this repeated message of other
nations coming to the Lord, evidence of a Gentile remnant. God’s salvation will be world wide (11:9) and
will include people from Cush
(11:11). When they come they will say, “Surely
God is with you, and there is no other, there is no other God,” (See 45:14 in
the NIV; Cush
is mentioned again.)