Does Isaiah 17 predict Syria’s imminent destruction?

Joel Richardson WND

Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city, and it will become a fallen ruin. – Isaiah 17:1

With all of the chaos, bloodshed and now the openly acknowledged presence of chemical and biological weapons within Syria, many students of prophecy are wondering if Isaiah’s oracle concerning Damascus is about to be fulfilled. Many believe Israel might actually utilize nuclear weapons against its neighbors to the north. One prophecy teacher recently stated, “the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons makes the destruction of Damascus predicted in Isaiah 17:1 entirely possible.”

With Syria continually growing more and more unstable, it is certainly understandable that many students of Scripture are looking to Isaiah 17 and asking if its fulfillment could be imminent. But if we simply examine the actual text a bit more carefully, then we will see that this view is simply not what Isaiah was speaking about.

First, it is important to understand exactly what many within the prophecy community are expecting. According to this emerging popular view, there are three major prophetic events that are about to be imminently fulfilled, each one in succession. According to this popular scenario, the order of prophetic events is as follows:

—Isaiah 17: Damascus is destroyed by a nuclear bomb.

—Psalm 83: All of Israel’s remaining Arab neighbors launch an attack. Israel, however, is victorious and will actually occupy all these nations.

—Ezekiel 38,39: Another outer band of nations invade Israel, but they are all supernaturally destroyed by God in Israel.

Now, let’s consider the actual text of Isaiah 17 to examine why a looming Israeli nuclear strike is not what the prophecy is speaking of.

The oracle concerning Damascus. “Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city and will become a fallen ruin. The cities of Aroer are forsaken; They will be for flocks to lie down in, and there will be no one to frighten them. … sovereignty [will disappear] from Damascus and the remnant of Aram …– Isaiah 17:1-3

According to the text, there are a few things this judgment will bring about. All of them must be taken into consideration.

First, Damascus will be removed from being a city as well as all of “Aram.” Aram speaks of the greater region of southern Syria.

Second, “the cities of Aroer” will be so adversely affected by the Isaiah 17 judgment that they will be “forsaken.” A survey of the opinions of commentators, biblical scholars and Bible atlases tell us that Aroer is a reference to the region of northern modern-day Jordan. This would include the capital city of Amman.

Third, “Ephraim,” which speaks of the ancient northern kingdom of Israel, or simply modern-day northern Israel, will also become virtually desolate:

The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim. … Now in that day the glory of Jacob will fade, and the fatness of his flesh will become lean. … Yet gleanings will be left in it like the shaking of an olive tree, two or three olives on the topmost bough, four or five on the branches of a fruitful tree,” declares the LORD, the God of Israel. … In that day their strong cities will be like forsaken places in the forest, Or like branches which they abandoned before the sons of Israel; and the land will be a desolation. – Isaiah 17:3-7

Beyond northern Israel, the text is also clear that the “glory of Jacob will fade.” “Jacob,” of course, is simply a reference to all of Israel. So Israel’s glory will fade to the point of being sparsely populated. Isaiah likens Israel to the fields after harvest. He then says that Israel’s “strong cities will be like forsaken places in the forest.”

Yet despite the fact that the prophecy speaks not only of the destruction of Damascus, but also of a major desolation of all of Israel, in none of the popular discussions of this text does anyone ever bring attention to Israel’s desolation. It is as if they read only the first verse and ignore the remainder of the passage!

For those sensationalists who are predisposed to believe that Israel is about to hit Damascus with a nuclear bomb, the question must be asked: How wise would it be to drop a nuclear bomb on a city that lies less than 50 miles from your own border? The city of Damascus is only: 60 miles from Safed, 90 miles from Haifa, 133 miles from Tel Aviv, 135 miles from Jerusalem. The following map shows the region that would be adversely affected by the radiation fallout if Israel were to “nuke” Damascus:

If one is convinced that Israel is about to do this, they must also think that Israel’s military strategists are both stupid and suicidal. But there are deeper problems with the “nuclear view” that never seem to be considered. For what else does the text say? It says that after these regions are desolated and sparsely populated by humans, they will become pastures for flocks to lie down. Does this sound like a region that has just been thoroughly radiated by nuclear weapons? Simply put, if these regions were abandoned by humans, then domestic cattle and grazing animals would fare no better.

But most importantly, for those who believe the whole Isaiah 17 – Psalm 83 – Ezekiel 38, 39 succession of events scenario, if Israel is as sparsely populated and desolated as the passage states, how in the world would she be in the position not only to repel an attack from several other Arab nations, but also to occupy them? According to this text, after the judgments of Isaiah 17, there are barely enough survivors to inhabit Israeli cities, never mind all of the surrounding Arab nations! Once again, this entire popular view that so many seem to be embracing is a view that simply cannot be reconciled with the Scriptures.

In conclusion then, this passage is not speaking of an imminent nuclear attack. Isaiah 17 is simply one piece of the larger section of Isaiah’s prophecy (Chapters 13-23) that speaks of judgment not only against Israel, but all of her adversarial Gentile neighbors.

When will all of this occur? If one examines this larger portion of Isaiah’s prophecy in its proper context, rather pulling out a single verse here or there, then it is clear that its ultimate context is the Day of the LORD, the judgment against the nations and the return of Jesus. On this point, I find myself in full agreement with Dr. Tommy Ice:

It appears to be an event that will occur at the end of the seven-year tribulation as the Lord not only judges and destroy Damascus, but all of Israel’s historic enemies that surround her. If one examines the broader context of Isaiah 17 and takes account of the section where it is located, it becomes clear that it is a section in which the Lord prophesizes (sic) judgment upon all the Gentile nations that have opposed Israel. This will all happen at the end of the tribulation in conjunction with the second coming of Christ to the earth.

In my new book, “Mideast Beast: The Scriptural Case for an Islamic Antichrist,” I walk the student of prophecy through many of the Bible’s most important prophetic passages so as to properly understand what comes next in God’s prophetic calendar.

  • Paul Beck
    Posted at 16:28h, 11 August

    Imagining Damascus to look something like New York City in the movie “I Am Legend,” I used to look at the scenario in Is 17:1 as being a biological or chemical weapon induced disaster. Nuclear would have an effect upon all life-forms, whereas biological can be pinpointed down to just humans, given today’s technology. It is no secret that Syria possesses the largest supply of chemical and biological weapons in the region and for those “Saddam did not have WMD’s” naysayers, you need to remember the Kurds in Northern Iraq and also the Iranian soldiers who were affected by Saddam’s chemical weapons and understand that those stockpiles were moved to Syria just before Operation Desert Storm.

    Given that understanding, it is all too easy for one to get their prophetic juices flowing and to suspect that Is 17:1 is about to unfold – especially since the daily headlines are all about the civil war in Syria currently, the posturing occurring between Turkey and Iran, and yet again, the United States looking to topple another muslim country’s leadership. Understand, however, that the hypothesis is not for Israel to cause the destruction (Damascus becoming a ruinous heap), but for Assad to enact this destruction upon his own people and upon the city of Damascus (with residual effects upon the surrounding areas – Northern Israel, Jordan, etc.). That said, this post does an excellent job of reigning back those (admittedly, myself once included) who would not tie this prophecy into the context of The Day of the Lord. Verse 4 in Is 17 clearly grounds us to the end of the seven year tribulation, when Israel shall be made thin and wax lean (aka the remnant of Israel and understanding Jer 13:8).

    What is needed now is for a prophecy teacher with contacts in the Middle East, and hopefully the U.S. military, to help us make sense of the current U.S. administration’s strategy and policies where that region is concerned. God is using a once devoted nation that was founded upon Biblical principles to now topple muslim countries (Saddam/Iraq, Mubarak/Egypt, Gaddafi/Libya, and next Assad in Syria). The U.S. is aiding and abetting the rise of the anti-Christ and the beast. It is all so staggering how we have fallen. If anyone has any prophecy/headline resources that understand and support the Islamic End-Time Theory, please post a reply with URL’s.

  • Stephen
    Posted at 18:44h, 13 August

    I appreciate this article, as it’s one of the few that puts the destruction of Damascus at the correct time. When people continue reading the verses, it clearly states that it will occur ‘in that day’ (the day of the Lord).

    I also suspect that Syria is not mentioned in the ‘end times’ because the covenant that the ‘antichrist’ confirms with many (Daniel 11) is the land covenant given to Abraham. The total land includes parts of Syria and Iraq all the way to the Euprates River. If the antichrist gives even some of the land of Syria to Israel, he would become their hero (or even their Saviour). He could originate from modern day Syria or Turkey, as both were part of the ancient Assyrian Empire (he is called the Assyrian in Micah).

    Giving Israel their rightful land, the reverse of the current land for peace deal (where Israel gives all its land to terrorists), would also enrage the kings of the East (Persia/Iran) and give him a base of operations to conquer the kings of the South (Egypt,Ethiopia).

    After more than half a century of Arabs deceiving, fighting, and dying for one square inch of Israeli territory, the antichrist would more than double the land. Then he simply has to march in and take the keys to his kingdom. No blood lost.

  • Peter
    Posted at 15:22h, 16 August

    If this is so, and I tend to agree, I can not see any specific prophecies being fulfilled before the trib starts. I always thought there must be in the scriptures clear sequential events leading up to the return of Christ. That view is being heavily undermined (isaiah 17 and Psalm 83) and I am becoming increasingly inconvenient without any proper prophetic signposts besides the coming Caliphate. Am I missing something!? Or did ‘Hidden in plain sight’ hit the right button? Is there a clear roadmap to ‘The end’!?

  • Perry Brown
    Posted at 10:07h, 18 August


    While almost all end-time fulfillment prophecies of the Old and New Testament are tribulation, Day of the Lord and Millennium centric, I believe the dreams and visions in the book of Daniel hold a unique position.

    The centrality of the dreams and visions given to Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel is the coming of the awaited Messiah, the establishment of God’s eternal Kingdom with the Messiah as the King and the ruling position of the people of God within the Kingdom (Dan 2:34-35, 44-45; Dan 7:13-14, 18, 22, 27; Dan 9:24, Dan 12:2-3). This is the primary focus of the dreams/visions. However, there is also a secondary focus, which is the dominion of ungodly gentile powers until the day of the Lord will come to establish His eternal Kingdom. This secondary focus is very detailed with kingdoms, kings, peoples, wars and other specific events.

    The main reason God gave these dreams/visions to Daniel through angelical encounters was to give assurance to God’s people of the coming Messiah and His kingdom. His people should await in anticipation of this grand and glorious coming. However, it wouldn’t be immediate as many other ungodly rulers will arise and much trouble would come before this happens, In Daniel’s days and the couple hundred years after, God’s people (the Jewish community) should have been watching the events unfolding in the gentile powers as related to the prophecies in Daniel’s book as signposts and praying for the coming of the Messiah. If they would have really understood, specifically Dan 9:24-27, it would be possible for them to know even the timing of the coming of their the Messiah.

    I believe the dreams ad visions in Daniel (Dan 7, 8 and 11, possibly 2) have both historical and eschatological fulfillments as a whole, with the exception that many verses are exclusively eschatological. For example, the four beast of Dan 7, historically were fulfilled with the Babylonian (lion), Medo-Persian (bear), Grecian (leopard) and Islamic (dreadful and terrible beast) empires, and currently and eschatological are being and/or will be fulfilled by the nations of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and the restored Caliphate (possibly the Ottoman), respectively.

    As the gentile powers come and gone in the couple hundred years following Daniel’s generation with the culmination of the coming of the Messiah could have been considered signposts, likewise the gentile and Muslim nations and the specific related events within the couple decades prior to the Day of the Lord should also be considered as signposts to the second coming of the Messiah (the return of Jesus). I believe the prophecies in Daniel 7, 8 and 11 (the whole chapter) have also an end-time application and fulfillment, many are, as I believe, pre-tribulational. The historical application and fulfillment serve to us as a basis of what to expect to happen.

    That said, I totally reject the current and popular teaching of the pre-tribulational events of the downfall of Muslim nations as described in Isaiah 17, 19, Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 38-39. It is very clear form Scripture that these prophecies are tribulational and Day of the Lord centric.

  • Peter
    Posted at 09:21h, 20 August

    Thanks Perry, for how you described the purpose of Daniel. Sounds very logical, that is why I am at the moment reading ‘Hidden in plain sight’ by Mark Davidson for a second time.

    The curious thing in relation to your last paragraph is that another Middle East war seems imminent, while we have not entered the ‘trib’ yet. What is your opinion about this current situation, specific Israel’s role in it?

  • Perry Brown
    Posted at 12:21h, 20 August


    I also have read Mark’s book (“Hidden in Plain Sight”), it really helped me to understand to overall sequence of events in the middle-east, as described in the book of Daniel, which would usher in the coming of the Antichrist. Although some points I would think differently, I would highly recommend his book. In fact, there are a handful of books that I have read on the topic of the Islamic Antichrist or the end-time Islamic paradigm that are essential for us to understand, Joel’s books, Walid,’s, Mark’s, as mentioned, and would include Jack Smith’s book “Islam, the cloak of the Antichrist”. There are much more books, but I would consider these as primary ones.

    I do believe we are currently in the mounting stage for the right scenario for the appearance of the man of sin, the son of perdition (the Antichrist). I believe there are specific events will take place in order for this to happen. But, immanency, in the sense it will happen at any moment from today, I not really sure. There will be some years ahead of us until the real deal shows up. There are many developments that need to take place, in Israel, outside Israel (specially their neighbors) and specifically within the Church. We are not ready yet. The awareness of the biggest threat to God’s people and His Word and Name has just begun, since the last 10 years or so. Mission developments, specifically within Muslim nations, need to take place. It’s happening, in a slow pace yet, but it will increase. Conversions to Jesus Christ are happening in the middle-east, take Iran for an example. Many Muslims are coming to the acknowledgement of our Lord and Savior. That’s exciting, but much more has to take place.

    Regarding the Muslim nations, I believe, according to the book of Daniel, they are lining themselves to fulfill the prophecies. The major players, I believe are Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. There is a great struggle happing to who will be the leader of the coming Caliphate, or at least the unified Islamic realm. In the last year we have witnessed an Islamic awakening (in stead of an Arab spring). The political ideology within Islam is coming to surface. Those who are truly adherent to Islam doctrines and teachings are taking their stand and overthrowing powers which are more secular and pro-west.

    Regarding Israel, we need to understand the conditions of the political, religious and economic leadership that the prophets of the Old Testament foretold just prior to the coming of Jacob’s Trouble. To summarize, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many others, described a prideful, prosperous, idolatrous, self-sufficient, non-depending on God, non-caring for widows, orphans and the needy, sinful nation. As in the old, God will again deal and discipline Israel.

    To answer your question, it’s hard to say what will Israel do regarding the nuclear threat of the Iranian regime. Will they pre-attempt attack Iran? I don’t know. At least for sure, Iran won’t send a nuclear bomb to wipe-out Israel. I just don’t think they will do that. However, I do believe they are building a nuclear bomb. Syrian current regime, I believe will fall, but don’t think will be any immediate threat to Israel.

    Perry Brown

  • Peter
    Posted at 15:35h, 20 August

    Thank you again Perry, are you a moderator for Joel !? Israel is strategic of course. So the current government is a serious obstacle for the anti-christ to show up, do you agree !?

    Is there a prophetic call on the gentile-believers towards todays Israel concerning spiritual preparations for the coming anti-christ !? What is Yahweh involvement in the current restoration of Israel as a nation !?

    Bless you.

  • Sean Osborne
    Posted at 21:27h, 20 August

    Joel, Joel, Joel…

    You wrote:

    “For those sensationalists who are predisposed to believe that Israel is about to hit Damascus with a nuclear bomb, the question must be asked: How wise would it be to drop a nuclear bomb on a city that lies less than 50 miles from your own border? The city of Damascus is only: 60 miles from Safed, 90 miles from Haifa, 133 miles from Tel Aviv, 135 miles from Jerusalem. The following map shows the region that would be adversely affected by the radiation fallout if Israel were to “nuke” Damascus”

    Your attempt to make a point about a nuclear weapon being used against Damascus is in gross error. What your attempted point does indicate is that you’re completely ignorant when it comes to certain primary factors involving nuclear weapons. Factors such as the Kiloton yield of a given weapon combined with the altitude of detonation of that deployed nuclear weapon.

    This complete ignorance is best illustrated in the image you’ve included in this article which conveys the impression of a blast diameter of over 220 miles (i.e. the 110 mile radius from Damascus to Amman, Jordan and Hadera, Israel).

    Such a nuclear weapon does not exist in the arsenal of any nation on earth, let alone Israel, because due to the sheer size of such a weapon it could not be delivered by current rocket technology (thrust to weight ratio, a/k/a “throw weight” and all that neat technostuff you know nothing about).

    The fact of the matter is that the city center of Damascus lies within a 4 mile x 4 mile ellipse (16 square miles total) which could readily be turned into a pile of ruble by a single 30 kT yield weapon detonated at an altitude of just 540 meters (1770 feet) above the city. A 30kT weapon would be about 10kT more yield than the weapons the U.S. deployed to destroy Hiroshima or Nagasaki almost 70 years ago. The destruction of Damascus is well within Israel’s nuclear arsenal and delivery capabilities.

    Need a fact checker? I am available.

  • Joel
    Posted at 21:49h, 20 August


    I appreciate you sharing your comments. The point of the article however, is not about the range of nuclear fallout, but about the text of Isaiah 17 itself. Whatever specific event will lead to the desolations described in the passage, the Bible is clear that the whole region in red (and more) will be affected. My primary points are simple: One cannot pick and choose which parts of the text one chooses to regard, while ignoring the remainder. One cannot separate the desolate state of of Israel during this time with the concurrent destruction of Damascus. These things will occur all within the same time frame. And simply stated, Israel’s desolate, nearly abandoned state at that time is not consistent with a time when she is about to defeat and occupy all of the hostile and surrounding nations. This wouldn’t make any sense, and certainly is not the picture painted by those who hold this view, who portray Israel in a purely triumphalist fashion during this time.

    Concerning the idea of radiation, if humans cannot live there, then neither could animals. Radiation affects both the same for the most part. So it is not likely to be caused by nuclear weapons. I believe God himself will carry this out. But as always, we all see through a glass darkly. God knows best.


  • Sean Osborne
    Posted at 09:02h, 21 August


    The whole region will be affected because – hold on to your hat – unrestricted regional warfare as precisely described in Isaiah 17, Psalm 83 and Joshua 13:1-7 (among other closely related prophecies) has that kind of an effect on an entire region.

    Your lack of any kind of military experience leaves you simply unable to adequately interpret and express these many inter-related prophecies in their true context.

    You make the same blatant error in your theories regarding the result of military action in Ezekiel 38/39.

    Is there some error in the Lord explaining to Ezekiel that the men of Israel will be employed full-time for seven pre-70th Week years cleansing the land of every bone shard from the Magog confederated armies? Does the Revelation of Jesus Christ say even one word about this important activity. The obvious facts should stick out to you like a thousand sun-bleached bone fragments laying on the ground where you walk.

    No, the Lord makes no error; the error is created in your obvious inability to comprehend the scope of the military aspect of these prophetic texts. Every last one of them is about warfare on a grand scale!

    Thus your conveyed understanding is greatly amiss in each of these articles, but particularly here regarding the heap of ruble that is to become of Damascus.

  • Joel
    Posted at 10:34h, 21 August


    Despite your ongoing efforts to belittle all who disagree with you, with me as your chief target, your flamboyant character is strangely entertaining to observe. I just want you to know that despite your many offensive comments directed toward myself, the Bible says to “bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). So I truly do bless you Sean.

    Concerning the passage, I would simply say, Bingo! You’ve now expressed what I believe, along with other leading expositors. After substantial regional warfare, concluding with Israel being occupied for 42 months by the Antichrist and his armies, the glory of Jacob has greatly faded and her population has “waxed thin”. It only makes sense that this passage describes Israel at the end of the Great Tribulation rather than before it and especially just before some massive victory on her part over the surrounding nations. As I said, if Israel barely has enough people to occupy her own cities, how can anyone rightly claim that she is then able to occupy whole nations? This isn’t rooted in common sense. I was just talking to Dr. Tim Lahaye about this in fact, and he and I are also in full agreement with Dr. Ice on this matter. In our opinion, any effort to interpret this text as a pre-tribulational prophecy is only the result of poor exegesis.

    You can read Dr. Tommy’s article here:

    Blessings to you.

  • Perry Brown
    Posted at 11:41h, 21 August


    No, I’m not a moderator for Joel. Some huge questions you have.

    Responding first your second question, yes, I do believe on a prophetic call on the Church, as well as Messianic believers, towards Israel, not only to prepare spiritually for the coming of the Antichrist, but mostly, to aid them back to Yahweh and fulfill their divine destiny. Even today, there are many prophetic voices speaking to Israel as a people and a nation. The church (at least a part of it) will definitely be standing for the Jewish people in the Land and around the globe and help them when the full pressure comes.

    I have never thought about the current Israeli government being as an obstacle for the coming of the Antichrist. We do not know exactly what are the future conditions that surround the 7 year covenant confirmation and treaty that Israel will come into with many nations. We kind of know some things that would be involved; for sure the issue of the Temple Mount and the Jewish temple is involved. I believe the issue of the Land is also involved. There may be some kind of settlement between Israeli government and Palestinian Authorities. Maybe there are some governmental issues that need to be changed in Israel that would pave the way for this covenant.

    In general, I believe the growing apostasy of the Israeli leadership will usher in the context for which is needed for coming end-time pressure and trouble for Israel. To give you one example, I think it was in March 2012, when Prime-minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the White House with President Obama trying to convince him about a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, he comes out with a phrase, which I believe has a grand spiritual meaning, he said: “Israel remains master of its fate”. Oh!! Only if Israel would turn back to her Creator, to the One who has loved her since the beginning. Let Israel rely on Yahweh again as in the days of old.

    Although I believe the establishment of the modern day Jewish nation of Israel has the hand of God, it is far from what was promised by the Old Testament prophets about the re-gathering in the Land. This is a huge subject.

    Perry Brown

  • Peter
    Posted at 01:34h, 23 August

    Thanks again Perry, I greatly enjoy some serious prophetic brainstorming! I am always trying to connect the dots, but I do believe there are still some dots missing. I am pleased with the current Israeli government, since Netanyahu has close contacta with some called Christian leaders like Jan Willem van der Hoeven, Mike Evans and John Hagee. Recently I met with the wife of Jan Willem van der Hoeven, so I am always eager to share important prpheitic insights, once aain, thank you. Peter

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    Posted at 16:15h, 29 November

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