Commentary by Jack Kelley
The city of Damascus is mentioned 60 times in the Bible from Genesis 14:15 to Acts 22:10. Abraham’s chief servant, Eliazer, was from Damascus and Paul spent his first days as a Christian there. According to Flavius Josephus, Damascus was founded by Uz, the son of Aram who was the patriarch of the Aramean people. Aram was the 5th son of Shem, and Uz was the first son of Aram. (According to Job 1:1, Job was from the land of Uz.)
Throughout its history Damascus has been conquered many times. Most notably 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.
Several of these conquests are referred to in the Bible. 2 Samuel 8:6-7 describes David and the Israelites. Parts of Isaiah 17 involve the Assyrians, Jeremiah 49:23-27 is about the Babylonian conquest and Zechariah 9:1-2 was fulfilled by Alexander the Great.
An Oracle Against Damascus
Probably the best known prophecy about Damascus is Isaiah 17, called An Oracle Against Damascus. Its 14 verses go back and forth between the Assyrian conquest in the 8th Century BC and a battle that hasn’t taken place yet. One reason we know this is because Isaiah 17:1 says, “See Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.” It speaks of a battle that will mark the end of Damascus, something scholars agree has not happened yet. Other verses in Isaiah 17 confirm a future fulfillment of this destruction. Specifically, verse 7 tells us that after the destruction of Damascus men will look to their maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. And verse 9 tells of their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, becoming like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation. In the 8th century BC no one turned back to God and it was the Israelites who were forced to leave.
Currently there are three wars going on in Syria, any one of which could lead to the fulfillment of Isaiah 17. The obvious one is the civil war that’s been going on for the last two years. As many as 80,000 have died in this war to oust current President Assad from power and end his family’s control over the country.
But there’s also a secondary war that’s becoming more critical, and that’s an effort underway by Iran and Hizbollah to widen the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. All parties involved believe this effort could explode into a regional war at any time. If so it could be the fulfillment of Isaiah 17 as well as Psalm 83, which many see as the prophecy of a war that pits all of Israel’s next door neighbors agsinst Israel, and from which Israel will emerge victorious. Just this week, Hizbollah officials confirmed that Syria is serious about expanding the war onto the Golan Heights, territory Israel regained from Syria in 1973.
The War No One’s Watching
The third war is a little known one that could very well be the single deciding factor as to whether the civil war will escalate into the fulfillment of prophecy. This war is between two men, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama. According to informed Middle East sources each man has a vision for how the Syrian civil war should end. Obama wants Assad gone and Putin wants him to stay. They not only can’t agree on how to proceed, but each one is also trying to torpedo the other ones chances of succeeding. These sources say it’s the inability of these two men to agree that is standing in the way of a resolution to the crisis and as long as their disagreement continues the probability of the war spilling over the borders into neighboring countries becomes ever more likely to happen.
Most of the news sources I read have concluded that Obama is outclassed in this disagreement and that sooner or later Putin will have his way. He’s already won a couple of big battles. Refusing to keep Iran in check and refusing to withhold the sale of advanced anti-aircraft batteries to Syria are two of the most obvious. The first has given Assad powerful assistance on the ground and the second will give him protection from aerial attack by Israel. In both cases, Obama stood by and let this happen.
Bible prophecy might favor Putin in this case. According to Ezekiel 38-39 Russia will be a major participant in that battle, and having a strong position in the Middle East would be an important advantage. Remember, when the Moslem coalition attacks it will be from the North (Ezekiel 38:15). That could mean they’ll come from Syria over the Golan Heights. I’m not saying we’re seeing a run up to Ezekiel 38, but we all know it’s coming and if Russia already has a presence in Syria they would have an advantage in mounting what scholars believe will be a surprise attack.
In the mean time, the Russian / Iranian support has strengthened and emboldened Assad. So much so that he was willing to risk using chemical weapons against the rebel forces. Obama had previously said this would not be tolerated, but so far, even after being confronted with clear evidence, he denied it has happened. In Syria this has been interpreted to mean that limited use of chemical weapons will be tolerated.
Israeli leaders have been more resolute. After all it’s their country that’s being directly threatened by this. When they detected the movement of prohibited weaponry into Lebanon for Hizbollah’s use against them they attacked and destroyed it. Again, Obama stood by while Putin authorized the delivery of advanced anti-aircraft defenses to Syria. Its purpose is to prevent further pre-emptive attacks from Israel by denying them air superiority.
Informed sources are beginning to see the hand writing on the wall. As Israel is progressively denied the use of small steps to pre-empt the threat from their sworn enemies their only recourse will be to take big ones. When that happens, one leading Israeli correspondent has said Obama will stand right behind Assad in the line of people to blame.
Are We There Yet?
We’ve come close to the fulfillment of Isaiah 17 before. Each time cooler heads have prevailed and the destruction of Damascus has been postponed. I say postponed because Isaiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled. We have God’s promise on that. He said,
“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come. What I have said, that will I bring about. What I have planned, that will I do” (Isaiah 46:10-11).
Various reports confirm a conviction among Israel’s military and political leaders that war with Syria is coming. (Some say it could be a long one, while others hint that it will more likely be very short.) There also appears to be a consensus among the Jewish people that they must win and win decisively.
If it’s God’s timing this will be the fulfillment of Isaiah 17, and perhaps Psalm 83 as well. If it’s not, we’ll be drawn back from the brink once again to catch our breath and wait for the next run-up. Chances are it won’t be long in coming. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah. 05-25-13