Cody and I love to travel together. Before we leave home, we always have a detailed itinerary, maps, and guidebooks about our destination. Without this information, we would not understand much about the sites we might see and experience. When reading through prophetic books, I think a similar philosophy is helpful. It is good to read the passages in one hand with a sort of “guidebook” in your other hand. For this oracle, we must remember that Israel was the wicked northern kingdom, a separate nation at the point in time from Judah, to whom Isaiah wrote. Isaiah 17 records a prophecy against the people of Syria and Israel.
Additionally, we need a bit of a guide to help us understand the agricultural images used in this passage.God uses two agrarian images to demonstrate the destruction coming to these wicked people: grain and olives. In verses 4-5, it is recorded that the nation, which seemed powerful and strong, would become weak and feeble. The people of Isaiah’s day would have understood this metaphor. They knew that when grain was gathered, almost the entire crop was harvested. There would have been a few margins and corners left behind for the poor to collect. After the poor gleaned their portion, there was a virtually empty field. The nations are likened to this empty field, which has been gathered and gleaned. A very tiny remnant would remain after God’s judgment upon them. Similarly, God describes in verse 6 that out of an entire olive tree filled with produce, only two or three berries would remain. This was clear prophecy that the inhabitants of these nations would be drastically reduced.
It is only after this radical suffering that the people look to God for help (Isaiah 17:7). This causes me to wonder how often you and I respond in similar fashion? When things are going our way, do we primarily trust in our own success and accomplishments, the work of our own hands (Isaiah 17:8)? Let us learn from this oracle that we must trust in God alone for salvation at all times, not only in difficult seasons.
Isaiah 17:1-9 (ESV):
1 An oracle concerning Damascus.
Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city
and will become a heap of ruins.
2 The cities of Aroer are deserted;
they will be for flocks,
which will lie down, and none will make them afraid.
3 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.
4 And in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low,
and the fat of his flesh will grow lean.
5 And it shall be as when the reaper gathers standing grain
and his arm harvests the ears,
and as when one gleans the ears of grain
in the Valley of Rephaim.
6 Gleanings will be left in it,
as when an olive tree is beaten—
two or three berries
in the top of the highest bough,
four or five
on the branches of a fruit tree,
declares the Lord God of Israel.
7 In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. 8 He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense.
9 In that day their strong cities will be like the deserted places of the wooded heights and the hilltops, which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation.