Commentary by Jack Kelley
“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” (Isaiah 17:1-2).
Isaiah 17 is an oracle concerning Damascus that was partially fulfilled when the Assyrians conquered Aram in 732 BC and 10 years later conquered the breakaway Northern Kingdom of Israel.
It’s the portion of Isaiah 17 that were not fulfilled that concern us today, and the most obvious one is the fact that Damascus has never been reduced to a heap of ruins. Although the city has been conquered several times it has yet to be destroyed like the prophecy of Isaiah 17:1-2 requires.
Damascus has proved to be a most resilient city. It was conquered by the Israelites (1000 BC), the Assyrians (732 BC), the Babylonians (606 BC), the Persians (530 BC), the Greeks (330 BC), the Nabateans (85 BC), the Romans (63 BC), the Byzantines (634 AD), the Mamelukes (1250 AD) and the Ottoman Turks (1516 AD). But the city itself has always survived and is now claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world with a 5,000 year history. Its current population is close to 2 million, yet Isaiah 17:1-2 indicates that it will one day cease to exist.
Maybe This Time?
Ever since the Syrian civil war began in 2011 students of prophecy have been looking for the complete fulfillment of Isaiah 17. Several times in the 4 years since then it has appeared as if the destruction of Damascus was imminent, but each time the city was spared.
It’s important to remember in all of this that as far as Isaiah 17 is concerned, it’s not enough for the Assad government to be deposed. For Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled, Damascus has to become an uninhabitable ruin.
In the current go around, it’s being said that the only reason Isaiah 17 has not been fulfilled is because of the support it enjoys from Iran and its client Hezbollah, and the indecisiveness of the Obama Administration. Pres. Obama has wavered back and forth, sometimes favoring the Assad government, sometimes helping the rebels, establishing red lines, and then failing to act when those red lines were crossed. Middle Eastern allies are understandably upset by this inconsistency and there are rumors that the US has been told to stay on the sidelines while they sort the Syrian situation out.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, who are determined to see Assad gone, have been providing massive support to the rebel Jabhat al Nusra Front (freshly renamed the Muslim Army of Conquest to disguise their al Qaeda affiliation) who are fighting against both the Syrian army and ISIS.
Being forced to fight on five different fronts simultaneously, the Syrian Army is losing heart and battlefield desertions are on the increase. Beleaguered on all sides and having just given up another major airbase, the army no longer has the mobility necessary to maintain the defense of the country and is regrouping around Damascus. (DEBKAfile reports that just a week after losing the big Palmyra air base to the Islamic State – and with it large stocks of ammo and military equipment – Syrian military and air units have began pulling out of their base at Deir ez-Zour, Bashar Assad’s last military stronghold in eastern Syria.) Some observers say if the current trend continues Assad will soon have insufficient troops to even defend Damascus.
Watch For Something Big
Therefore we are once again at a point where it looks as if the Assad government is about to fall. But just this week Iran alerted the world to look for “major events” in Syria in the days to come. This has been interpreted as an announcement that a large scale intervention by Iran on Syria’s behalf is coming soon. Iran has apparently been persuaded that, without direct Iranian military involvement, its ally could go under at any moment.
Some sources speculate that Iran may have asked its client Hezbollah to re-direct some of the 80,000 rockets and missiles it claims to have pointed at Israel and use them instead against the Syrian rebels and ISIS to halt their progress against the Syrian Army. It also appears likely that a significant deployment of Iranian troops will soon be airlifted to Syria to bolster the disheartened Assad forces. Reports out of Lebanon indicate that up to 15,000 Iranian troops are already on their way to Syria.
So it appears the next round in the slow motion fulfillment of Isaiah 17 will involve Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey actively supporting the rebels, with Iran, what’s left of the Syrian Army, and Hezbollah defending the Assad regime. Then there’s the wild card ISIS, that actually controls about half the country, against all of them. (Russia has evacuated the personnel it brought in to support the Syrian Army. This has been seen as their disengagement from a deteriorating situation. Time will tell.)
It Won’t Be Over Until It’s Over
Most observers believe that even if the Assad government is toppled, fighting among the various factions will continue for the foreseeable future. So unless there is some kind of unexpected major escalation we’re probably not going to see the total destruction of Damascus any time soon.
But on a day when the Lord has determined, Damascus will be destroyed. He who knows the end from the beginning and from ancient times what is still to come will bring about what He has said, and will do what He has planned (Isaiah 46:10-11).
At this point, that seems to be the only certainty in the slow motion fulfillment of Isaiah 17. But while He knows the future we don’t, and He could choose to act any day, so we’d better stay tuned. 06-06-15
Note: For a more comprehensive look at God’s Oracle Against Damascus you can find my complete commentary on Isaiah 17 here.