The claim is being made today that the events prophesied in Isaiah 17 about Damascus were never fully fulfilled in history. Damascus was not completely destroyed. Here are two examples among many:
- Joel C. Rosenberg: “These prophecies have not yet been fulfilled. Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. It has been attacked, besieged, and conquered. But Damascus has never been completely destroyed and left uninhabited. Yet that is exactly what the Bible says will happen.”
- “Jan Markell, founder and director of Minnesota-based Olive Tree Ministries, says the Syrians’ use of chemical weapons makes her think about Isaiah 17, which foretells the complete destruction of Damascus, which hasn’t happened in thousands of years.”
- “The judgment that will strike Damascus is that it will be no longer a city but a ruinous heap. This prediction has yet to be completely fulfilled, for in Jeremiah’s day it was a flourishing city, and even today is said to be the oldest city in the world (cf. Geneses 15:2 where Damascus is already mentioned). According to II Kings 16:9 Tiglath-pileser captured it and killed its king Rezin; but he did not make it a heap.”1
You get the picture. According to the above comments, the belief among many prophecy writers is that Isaiah 17:1–2 has not been completely fulfilled because Damascus is still in existence and Isaiah was told to prophecy that it would be “a heap.”
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.
If the Hebrew text is followed, the cities, including Damascus, are not said to be remained destroyed forever2, only that they would be destroyed and become a “heap.” A study of the historical record indicates that this is exactly what happened to Damascus. It was predicted that it would become a heap; it became a heap. There is no need to claim that the prophecy has not been fulfilled because Damascus remains in existence today.
Tiglath-pileser destroyed Damascus in 732 B.C. Contemporaneous with what would happen to Damascus, “in that day the glory of Jacob will fade” [lit. “be made thin”] and the fatness [Isa. 10:16] of his flesh will become lean” (Isa. 17:4). This most likely refers to the famine that followed the siege and deportation of the northern tribes (2 Kings 16:9). Was this forever?
Damascus was utterly destroyed in fulfillment of what was predicted in Isaiah 17. The destroyer himself —Tiglath-pileser — said so in his Annals:
“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.”3
Tiglath-pileser “destroyed” Damascus just like Isaiah predicted.
- Harry Bultema, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishers, 1981), 184. [↩]
- The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), translates “The cities of Aroer are forsaken” with the words “are forsaken forever.” The word “forever” is not found in the Hebrew text. [↩]
- Brent A. Strawn, Sarah C. Melville, Kyle Greenwood, and Scott Noegelm “Neo-Assyrian and Syro-Palestinian Texts II,” Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation (Blackwell Sourcebooks in Ancient History), ed. Mark W. Chavalas (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005), 333. [↩]