The Bible does not teach that Damascus, Syria will be destroyed in our future. We will see why this is true from both a historical and Biblical standpoint. Contrary to many predictions that are rapidly accumulating on the internet, not even Isaiah 17 contains such a prophecy for modern-day Damascus:
The burden against Damascus. “Behold, Damascus will cease from being a city, and it will be a ruinous heap. The cities of Aroer are forsaken; they will be for flocks which lie down, and no one will make them afraid. The fortress also will cease from Ephraim, the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria; they will be as the glory of the children of Israel,” says the Lord of Hosts. “In that day it shall come to pass that the glory of Jacob will wane, and the fatness of his flesh grow lean… Yet gleaning grapes will be left in it, like the shaking of an olive tree, two or three olives at the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in its most fruitful branches,” says the Lord God of Israel (Isaiah 17:1-6).
Isaiah, by his own testimony (Isaiah 1:1), prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, all kings of Judah. Uzziah died around the year 739 B.C. (Isaiah 6:1), and this is generally thought to be the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry as a prophet. So it appears that Isaiah delivered this prophecy against Damascus/Syria and Israel less than a decade before both locations were struck by Assyria for the first time.
“…Furious, I dyed like a red flower [Rezin’s] charioteers, and their weapons I destroyed, and their horses. I captured his fighters, archers, and shield and lance bearers,.. In order to save his life, Rezin fled alone and entered the gate of his city like a mongoose. I impaled his foremost men alive on stakes and made his land watch. For 45 days I set up my camp around his city and enclosed him like a caged bird. I cut down his gardens, countless orchards. I didn’t leave one standing. I besieged and captured Hadara, the ancestral homeland of Rezin of Damascus and the place of his birth. I took 800 people together with their property, their cattle (and) their sheep as spoil. I took 750 captives of the cities of Kurussa (and) Sama (as well as) 550 captives from the city of Metuna as spoil. I destroyed 591 cities from the 16 districts of Damascus like ruins from the Flood…”
So said Tiglath-Pileser III, the king of Assyria, regarding his military attack on Damascus in 732 B.C. (Annals of the Assyrians 23:13’-5’ and 23:16’-7’). In this campaign he deported many of the surviving citizens of Damascus, replacing them with exiles from other parts of the empire. This was a common tactic used by Assyria to prevent conquered cities from re-emerging. It also ensured that the people and culture of each conquered territory were not left intact. The State Archives of Assyria Online (SAAo), a text database created by a team from the University of Helsinki (Finland) and based on materials found in the royal archives of Nineveh, has this to say about the fall of Damascus at that time:
“In 732 BC, the kingdom of Damascus lost its independence and existence, its holdings carved up into Assyrian provinces. Israel, on the other hand, was allowed to survive, albeit reduced to a fraction of its former size and cut off from the sea” (Source).
Peter Dubovsky, a scholar and professor from Slovakia, recounts the utter ruin of Damascus and the surrounding regions in the aftermath of Tiglath-Pileser’s campaign in his work titled, “Tiglath-pileser III’s campaigns in 734-732 B.C.: Historical background of Isa 7; 2 Kgs 15-16 and 2 Chr 27-28,” Biblica 87 (2006), pp. 153-170. It’s well-documented and worth checking out (See Link #1 or Link #2).
Israel was then attacked once again in 725 B.C., and after a 3-year siege was completely devastated. (Judah and Jerusalem remained intact until their defeat at the hands of Babylon in 586 B.C.) Damascus and Syria were also hit again in 720 B.C. when the newly crowned king of Assyria, Sargon II, crushed a regional rebellion that included these territories. UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) summarizes what happened to Damascus from this time forward:
“After being defeated twice by the Assyrians, it was definitively conquered by Nebuchadnezzar in 600 BC. It fell into Persian hands in 530 BC, and then in 333 BC it was annexed to the empire of Alexander the Great. The two adjoining areas were unified by the Romans, during the reigns of Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla (AD 197-217). The city was enclosed by a single ring of enclosure walls that are still be identified. After the interval of rule by the Sassanid Parthians, in 636 its fate was sealed permanently as part of the Arab world, becoming the prestigious and monumental capital of the Umayyad caliph. The city then began to expand outside the enclosure walls and enjoyed a time of particular economic prosperity,..” (Source)
Even more important than the validation of secular history, however, is the validation of Scripture. Isaiah 17 is a proclamation against both Syria and Israel. There is no doubt that the warnings against Israel were fulfilled soon after Isaiah delivered them. The northern kingdom of Israel never rose again after Assyria wiped it out. The warning against Israel begins with these words, “In that day…” (Isaiah 17:4). In what day? It would be in the day that Damascus would cease to be a city, would become a ruinous heap, and would have its kingdom taken away (verses 1-3). If Israel’s defeat took place in Isaiah’s day, as he prophesied, then so did the defeat of Damascus which he prophesied. The phrase, “in that day,” doesn’t allow for a 2700+ year separation between the two prophecies, as many attempt to create when they insist that modern-day Damascus is about to be destroyed in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Amos was a contemporary prophet to Isaiah, and his ministry coincided with the reigns of Jeroboam II and Uzziah. Scholars tend to believe that his message was delivered in 750-749 B.C., perhaps a decade before Isaiah delivered his message. This was Amos’ warning against Damascus:
“For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron. But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad. I will also break the gate bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the Valley of Aven, and the one who holds the scepter from Beth Eden. The people of Syria shall go captive to Kir,” says the Lord (Amos 1:3-5).
Isaiah’s prophecy against Damascus (in Isaiah 17) was an echo of Amos’ slightly earlier prophecy. In II Kings 16 we can see the fulfillment of both prophecies (and other prophecies that we’re about to look at):
In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, began to reign…and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem… Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to make war; and they besieged Ahaz but could not overcome him. At that time Rezin king of Syria captured Elath for Syria, and drove the men of Judah from Elath. Then the Edomites went to Elath, and dwell there to this day. So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and save me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me.” And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasuries of the king’s house, and sent it as a present to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria heeded him; for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and took it, carried its people captive to Kir, and killed Rezin (II Kings 16:1-9).
Isaiah 17:3 says that the kingdom would be taken from Damascus. After Rezin’s death, history doesn’t record any other king of Damascus. This city lost its king (due to his death) and its people (due to their captivity and deportation). It was no small city, for Tiglath-Pileser said he destroyed 591 “cities” within Damascus. The mega-city of Damascus was the heart of Syria, and Rezin was supremely important to Damascus, as we see in Isaiah 7:
“For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin” (Isaiah 7:8).
Just like in II Kings 16, the greater context of Isaiah 7 shows that Israel (the north) and Syria were joining forces in an effort to destroy Judah and Jerusalem:
“…Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it” (Isaiah 7:1).
Furthermore, the same kind of analogy that we see in verse 8 concerning Syria is also given right afterward concerning Israel:
“Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, so that it will not be a people. The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son [Pekah]” (Isaiah 7:8-9).
So this is what Isaiah highlights concerning both Syria and Israel:
|Syria||Damascus (“head of Syria”)||Rezin (“head of Damascus”)|
|Israel (Ephraim)||Samaria (“head of Ephraim”)||Pekah (“head of Samaria”)|
What is God’s response to “these two stubs of smoking firebrands” (Isaiah 7:4) and their alliance against Judah and Jerusalem?
“…the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria” (Isaiah 8:4).
God then goes on to describe Assyria and its king as “the waters of the river, strong and mighty” that He would “bring up over” Syria and Israel (Isaiah 8:7). It’s interesting that God compared Tiglath-Pileser to a river, and he described his destruction of Damascus as “hills over which the flood had swept.”
This, then, is the background of the prophecy in Isaiah 17. It also helps to explain why Isaiah prophesies, in chapter 17, against both Syria/Damascus and Israel at the same time. They were about to be soundly defeated by the same enemy, and during the same time period (“in that day” – Isaiah 17:4). So, in review:
- Amos prophesied that Damascus was to be punished and defeated, and that the people of Syria would be taken captive to Kir.
- Isaiah 7 and Isaiah 8 show that Syria (led by king Rezin) and Israel (led by king Pekah) conspired together in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy Judah and Jerusalem. Isaiah foretold that both kingdoms would be wiped out by the kingdom of Assyria.
- Isaiah 17 again foretells that both Syria and Israel are about to be defeated, and that Damascus would lose its kingdom and be turned into a ruinous heap.
- II Kings 16 shows Syria and Israel coming together to attack Judah and Jerusalem; followed by the king of Assyria conquering Damascus, killing Rezin (their king), and taking the people of Damascus captive to Kir.
Isaiah and Amos prophesied concerning events that would take place during the lifetime of the audiences that heard their warnings, not about events that would take place more than 2700 years later in the 21st century. Furthermore, by comparing Scripture with Scripture, and by considering historical accounts, we see how their prophecies were soon fulfilled.
Joel C. Rosenberg (a New York Times best-selling author) and Jan Markell (the founder of Olive Tree Ministries in Minneapolis) are two well-known leaders promoting the idea that current events involving Syria are about to lead to the fulfillment of Isaiah 17. In a September 1st article on World Net Daily, Drew Zahn compiles similar thoughts from Carl Gallups (author and radio host), James F. Fitzgerald (author of “The 9/11 Prophecy”), Bill Salus (author of “Psalm 83: The Missing Prophecy Revealed”), Joel Richardson** (author of “The Islamic Antichrist”), Dr. Tommy Ice, andWalid Shoebat, all agreeing that the stage is set (or being set) for “the Biblical doom of Damascus” to unravel “before our eyes.” One prophecy website even shows an aerial photo of the modern city of Damascus with the word “GONE!!!” posted above it in large letters, and Isaiah 17:1 posted beneath it.
If we’re not careful, our failure to recognize fulfilled prophecy can actually give way to a desire to see the destruction of people and nations in our world and in our time, so that we can place check marks next to prophecies that were already fulfilled a long time ago. The Bible does not teach that Damascus and Syria are about to be destroyed. It teaches that Damascus and Syria can experience the healing of the water of life that flows through the city of the New Jerusalem, made up of God’s people:
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2; see also Ezekiel 47:1-12, Hebrews 12:22-24 and Revelation 21:1-27).
**Update: Joel Richardson has clarified that his position is somewhat different than what is stated above. Please see the comment section for that clarification, as well as his explanation of the good work he has been doing to share the viewpoint of Syrian Christians and lobby Congress not to attack Syria.
A follow-up post to this one mainly focuses on Isaiah 17:12-14, showing that it describes how Assyria attempted to defeat Judah and Jerusalem in 701 BC, but miserably failed when God miraculously intervened: “Isaiah 17:12-14 Is Addressed to the Enemies of Judah.” Isaiah 17 has everything to do with the 8th century BC, and nothing to do with the 21st century.