Does Isaiah 17 prophesy the imminent destruction of Syria?

This is an updated version of an older article, that I thought was relevant to repost in light of the potential looming US attack of the Assad regime in Damascus.

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

With the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria this past week, and now the Obama administration’s claims that they are about to respond militarily, many students of prophecy are wondering if Isaiah’s oracle concerning Damascus is about to be fulfilled. 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 what Isaiah describes is not something that is imminent.

Lets consider the actual text of Isaiah 17 to examine what it really says:

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 that 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 Aorer” 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 Aorer is a reference to the region of northern modern day Jordan. This would include the capitol 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 “in that day” 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!

In conclusion then, this passage is not speaking of an imminent attack of Damascus. Isaiah 17 is simply one piece of the larger section of Isaiah’s prophecy (chapters 13-23) which 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 take 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.

  • Rich
    Posted at 17:44h, 27 August

    Thanks for this info Joel. I guess you could already tell that some were making some quick assumptions about an application perhaps in the next few days.

  • Shawn Matthew
    Posted at 20:33h, 27 August

    I believe the title should say prophesy (verb), rather than prophecy (noun). 🙂

  • Anthony
    Posted at 21:37h, 27 August

    Would this be the beginning of fulfilling the scripture?

  • Gary
    Posted at 03:39h, 28 August

    Thanks Joel for this. Very helpful information.

  • Ryan Carpelli
    Posted at 12:18h, 28 August

    Thanks so much. Most of the prominent names in prophecy, the people with the big platforms, keep mentioning Isaiah 17 in reference to Damascus but make no reference to Israel. I’ve been confounded, wondering why people I respect seem to be blind to anything after the first few verses.

    You make me feel less alone. 🙂

  • William Struse
    Posted at 01:13h, 29 August

    Thoughtful post Joel. Amazing what happens when context is added to a passage.

    Great quote from Dr. Ice. In the spirit of context however, I would like to take issue with one part of his statement. A “seven-year tribulation” is not once mentioned in the Bible. A whole lot eschatology is resting on that premise with even less evidence than for the idea that Isaiah 17 indicates the imminent destruction of Syria.


  • Robert Whatley
    Posted at 07:53h, 29 August

    Could it also be the 5th Seal, which appears to be a world wide quake resulting from at least a partial geographical pol shift and would bring the chaos needed for an Islamic Antichrist to arise as they believe in their theology?

  • Robert Whatley
    Posted at 08:00h, 29 August


  • Philip Brown
    Posted at 13:44h, 29 August

    I don’t believe the destruction of Damascus is post-trib, because the oracle ENDs with “Oh, the raging of many nations,” which would seem to be Armageddon. And this seems to be after some time of distress for Israel. After Armageddon, Israel will not be in distress.

    I believe this is a pre-trib atomic destruction of Damascus, for which Israel is blamed by the world. The northern areas of Jordan will be abandoned because of the radiation. This will result in the world (United Nations) putting sanctions on Israel forcing Israel to give up her nukes. Thus, the “glory of Jacob will fade.”

    I think that until Israel is forced to give up her nukes, she will remain a “land of unwalled villages.” (Ezekiel 38:11). Israel has the nuisance of terror groups. But her very existence is not really threatened. No nation will dare attack Israel as long as she has her nukes.

  • Bart
    Posted at 09:15h, 30 August

    Joel, Ephraim is not back in the land yet. The dispersed northern house of Israel did not return yet. Only a part of the house of Judah returned to the land. As I understand it at the moment is Ephraim the lost house of Israel that went in the first diaspora and was assimilated into the nations, especially the western nations. If Jacob points to the whole house of Israel than that could mean that both Judah and Ephraim will come into a fierce tribulation, so it could mean that tribulation would come in the land of Israel but also outside where most of the remnants of Ephraim and Judah are…. maybe this is the reason why there is so much influx of islam in Europe, to come against the Ephraimites. Just a thought.

  • Joel
    Posted at 10:13h, 30 August


    In this case, “Ephraim” is simply speaking of Ephraim’s ancient geographic land area, in the North. And Jacob is speaking of all of Israel. The context is clearly geographic.

  • Julie
    Posted at 16:56h, 30 August

    Interesting commentary Joel, I just saw someone point out 17:4-6 that says “…It will be as when a reaper gathers the standing grain and harvests the grain with his arm, when a man gleans heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim. Yet some gleanings will remain…”

    Could this be either 1) rapture causing the glory of Jacob to fade or 2) sheep/goat judgement it seems that at the AoD standing in the temple, that the jews will flee to hide away so Israel in hiding would seem to be a fading glory of Jacob.


  • Jim
    Posted at 03:01h, 31 August

    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.

  • BJ and Alisa
    Posted at 14:42h, 31 August

    Just a thought; I don’t think the USA would be responsible for the destruction of the entire area listed in Isaiah 17. However if the USA attacks Syria and Syria retaliates against Israel and northern Jordan (where US troops are stationed), Israel said they would fiercely defend themselves. Depending on what type of weapons used by either party (nuclear, chemical…) you could see why that area would be desolate.

  • Bob
    Posted at 19:35h, 31 August

    As it was in the days of Noah and Lot and those days were days of Apostasy. The Bible warns us about these days of apostasy. I believe this to be a prelude to the rapture for those of us who are premellenial.
    Netanyahu is a man that will respond quickly and powerfully if his people are attacked. Isaiah’s does speak of Israel’s judgment but to me, Damascus comes first. The prophecy is logical when you consider Israel’s response to Syria if they launch missiles into Israel.

  • David Roberts
    Posted at 11:56h, 03 September

    Shalom Joel,

    Do you believe in multiply fulfillments of Bible prophesy?

    Sometimes there are smaller or weaker fulfillments of passages before the actual proper fulfillment takes place.

    One example is Malachi 4:5 which says that ahead of the day of the Lord that God will send Elijah the prophet.

    It’s truest and absolute fulfillment is before the day of the Lord, the second coming, when Elijah will restore all things. Matthew 17:11
    But at Yeshua’s first coming before he started his ministry there was a shallow/echo fulfillment of Malachi 4:5 with John the Baptist who came in the spirit of Elijah. And there are other examples of this.

    With this in mind, is it not possible that there is a lesser fulfillment of Isaiah 17:1 before the actual and final fulfillment at the second coming?

  • Joel
    Posted at 21:51h, 03 September

    Hi David,

    Of course many prophecies have seen partial fulfillment in history. But in the case of Isaiah 17, the prophecy is specifically about Damascus being utterly desolated and removed from being a city, forever. Concurrent with this is the virtual desolation of upper Jordan, northern Israel, and perhaps even all of Israel. And thus, it simply would not make any sense to look for a partial fulfillment of a prophecy which is by its own self-description, a complete and utter, as well as a permanent destruction.

    Many are still claiming that this is potentially imminent. But such claims err because they do take into account the full testimony of the Scriptures. At the beginning of the seven year tribulation, Israel is living in a false sense of peace and security. Not desolation. In order to reconcile with the testimony of so many other Scriptures, Isaiah 17, the destruction of Damascus as well as much of Jordan and Israel must occur well into the final 3.5 years.

    I fear that too many are eager to see prophecy fulfilled here. The time is coming, but not now. Let us be sober and in prayer. The Day of the Lord draws near.


  • David Roberts
    Posted at 07:14h, 04 September

    Hi Joel,

    Thanks for your sober minded and contextual Biblical reply.

    I agree with you about people getting trigger happy for prophesy to be fulfilled. When you see how messed up and dark the world is, sometimes you can’t wait for the Biblical timetable to get moved forward so that the Lord can come back and sort out the mess, but we shouldn’t let our deepest desire turn us into irrational people.

    Posted at 21:37h, 06 September

    Dang it, Joel! You need to jump back in on twitter! Seriously! Your voice would be welcomed among the others!!!!

  • Joel
    Posted at 22:02h, 06 September

    I have never twittered. : )

  • Clark Gear
    Posted at 02:00h, 09 September

    Joel have you seen this story, with the western bible end times approach this doesn’t seem to fit. I have lomg departed from the Tim Lahaye Joel,Rosenberg approach. I’m sure these men love The Lord though I differ with many of their views concerning the rapture and who the Man of Torahlessness will be. Please look at this link when you have time and comment on Russia and its leaders in light of this and other thoughts you may have.

  • Clark Gear
    Posted at 02:34h, 09 September

    Sorry Joel I forgot the post concerning Russia and Putin can you comment

  • Adam Maarschalk
    Posted at 04:01h, 10 September

    I believe that current events in Syria have nothing to do with Isaiah 17 (or Isaiah 7-8 and Amos 1). Isaiah and Amos were contemporary prophets, and both predicted that Syria and Israel would soon be destroyed by the same opponent, Assyria. II Kings 16 shows in detail that their prophecies were fulfilled, and this is validated by historical records as outlined in this article I wrote a couple days ago.


    One of the biggest keys pointing to the fulfillment of Isaiah 17 in Isaiah’s own time period is the phrase “in that day” in verse 4. Isaiah clearly prophesied that Damascus and Syria would fall in the same “day” that Israel would fall. And we know that Israel (the northern kingdom) fell in 722 BC.

  • Joel
    Posted at 09:51h, 10 September

    (this comment has been edited)


    In your article, you have completely misrepresented my position. I argue that indeed the stage is NOT set for the Biblical doom of Damascus, yet you claim just the opposite of me.

    Joel Richardson (author of “The Islamic Antichrist”), Dr. Tommy Ice, and Walid Shoebat, all agreeing that the stage is set (or being set) for “the Biblical doom of Damascus” to unravel “before our eyes.”

    Concerning your over-all position; sadly, as many are those who twist the Scriptures to claim that some event is imminent or to sensationalize an event in some way among some futurists (as there certainly are plenty of these), preterists like yourself are equally as guilty of distorting the Scriptures to fit a particular view. There is yet the ultimate Day of the Lord looming for the nations when Jesus Himself will personally and physically return, defend Israel from the invasion of those who wish to destroy them, destroy the Antichrist, judge the nations, and resurrect the righteous dead. Efforts to relegate every one of the prophecies of the ancient prophets exclusively to ancient history requires far more creativity and Scripture twisting than most honest (and informed) believers are willing to accept.

  • Edward Joven
    Posted at 21:41h, 20 January

    Sir, can I share this article in my facebook account so my fb friends can read it also your article on the Psalm 83 and Ez 38, 39? Thanks and God bless you more , more and more.

  • Joel
    Posted at 01:36h, 21 January

    sure thing

  • mike haney
    Posted at 16:14h, 08 January

    Now this makes sense!! I have asked other popular end time speakers who swear Isa 17 has to happen next; to explain how the REST of Isa 17 can possibly fit in at this time or even at the beginning of the Trib., they have no answer. They simply read the first and last verse of Isa 17 and ignore the rest. I agree this will occur during late Trib., or right before the second coming of Yeshua and the great battle of Armageddon, could even be collateral damage of sorts too.
    So now people realize Ps 83 and Isa 17 may not happen next they want EZ 38-39 to happen next??? They think there must be a war for the antichrist to put forth a false peace covenant. I’m not 100% sure that has to be the case……

  • Grace
    Posted at 11:15h, 15 April

    Then why point out that the region of Damascus and Israel specificially if it is the whole world that will be desolate after Jesus comes the second time. I believe this will happen to show the Bible is never wrong to bring to an end specifically a city that boasts the longest civilized city in the world. Assad works overtime to repair any damage to his city after attacks and Israel may also be humiliated in it.

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