Damascus, with its population of 2 million, is the capital of Syria and ranks among the oldest cities in the world. The history of Damascus is one of upheaval, bloodshed, invading armies, destruction, rebuilding, and more destruction.
To better understand Isaiah 17, which speaks of the destruction of Damascus, it is wise to begin with a look at Isaiah 7. As this narrative opens, the northern kingdom of Israel, called Ephraim, is plotting an unholy alliance with Damascus, the capital of Syria, against the southern kingdom of Israel, known as Judah. As King Ahaz and the people of Judah are justifiably frightened by the threat of war, the Lord gives the prophet Isaiah a message of hope and comfort:
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
‘It will not take place,
it will not happen,
for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all’” (Isaiah 7:7–9, ESV).
So, victory will not come to Ephraim and Damascus; the southern kingdom will resist falling to their enemies. It should be noted the destruction of Ephraim and Syria is also foretold in Isaiah 9:8–21.
Let us now examine this key passage concerning the destruction of Damascus as foretold by Isaiah the prophet:
“‘Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city
and will become a heap of ruins.
The cities of Aroer are deserted;
they will be for flocks,
which will lie down, and none will make them afraid.
The fortress will disappear from Ephraim,
and the kingdom from Damascus;
and the remnant of Syria will be
like the glory of the children of Israel,’
declares the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 17:1–3, ESV).
As the Lord God decreed, the Syrian monarch was killed, and the great city of Damascus was sacked by Assyrian invaders:
“Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to wage war on Jerusalem, and they besieged Ahaz but could not conquer him. At that time Rezin the king of Syria recovered Elath for Syria and drove the men of Judah from Elath, and the Edomites came to Elath, where they dwell to this day. So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, ‘I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.’ Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king's house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin” (2 Kings 16:5–9, ESV).
As is sometimes the case, prophetic passages may have a “near and far” application or a “dual fulfillment.” The Assyrians pillaged Damascus, but Damascus did not cease being a city as prophesied (Isaiah 17:1). The ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy may occur at the beginning of a Lord Jesus’ millennial reign when He judges the Gentile nations:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:31–33, ESV).
The nations that demonstrated hostility toward Israel will be punished. The Syrians have long been enemies of the Jews, and, to this day, Syria continues breathing threats against the nation of Israel. Such antagonism against God’s chosen people will not go unnoticed, and King Jesus’ judgment will be swift and certain.
Again, history shows Damascus has been destroyed many times, but its final destruction may very well occur at the beginning of Jesus’ one-thousand-year rule over the earth from His throne in Jerusalem. As foretold in Psalm 2:9, our Lord will destroy His enemies: “You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” At this future judgment, Damascus will be no more.
There are two kinds of Bible prophecy: fulfilled prophecy and prophecy waiting fulfillment. What God has decreed will surely come about. Every prophetic utterance that has not yet taken place will, in God’s time, be fulfilled to the letter (2 Peter 3:9). The Bible gives a stern warning against the peoples, rulers, and nations who would destroy Israel:
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:10–12, ESV).