In the last days, the Bible tells us of a horrible series of events that will take place in the lands of Israel and Syria. One of these events is the disappearance of Damascus as one of the premiere cities in the world. The oldest continuously inhabited city on the planet, Damascus has witnessed at least 5,000 years of human history, and some historians believe the city actually dates back to the seventh millennium BC. In fact, Paul was on the road to Damascus when Christ first appeared to Him, an event that transformed not only his life, but the course of human history.
In the very near future, Damascus will once again play a major role in human events. The prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s commentary on a future conflict between Damascus and Israel, and in so doing, he reveals certain prophecies which have been partially fulfilled in the past. However, the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 17 remains in the future. The current existence of Damascus, which will one day cease to be a city, as well as the historical absence of the coalition of nations prophesied to attack Israel and be destroyed by God, is proof that Isaiah 17 prophesies events yet future.
There are actually two key Biblical prophecies that explain that at unspecified time in the future, the city of Damascus will be completely destroyed — judged by God — and will not be inhabited again.
* Isaiah 17:1-3 — “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. The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and sovereignty from Damascus….’”
‘Look, Damascus will disappear! It will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted. Sheep will graze in the streets and lie down unafraid. There will be no one to chase them away. The fortified cities of Israel will also be destroyed, and the power of Damascus will end. The few left in Aram will share the fate of Israel’s departed glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 17:1-3 (NLT)
* Jeremiah 49:23-27 — “Concerning Damascus. ‘Hamath andArpad are put to shame, for they have heard bad news; they are disheartened. There is anxiety by the sea, it cannot be calmed. Damascus has become helpless; she has turned away to flee, and panic has gripped her; distress and pangs have taken hold of her like a woman in childbirth. How the city of praise has not been deserted, the town of My joy! Therefore, her young men will fall in her streets, and all the men of war will be silenced in that day,’ declares the Lord of hosts. ’I will set fire to the wall of Damascus, and it will devour the fortified towers of Ben-hadad.’”
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. The context of Isaiah 17 and Jeremiah 49 are a series of End Times prophecies dealing with God’s judgments on Israel’s neighbors and enemies leading up to — and through — the Tribulation.
This prophecy was only partially fulfilled when the Assyrians defeated the Arameans and Damascus, in 732 BC. Today Damascus is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city with a 5000-year history yet Isaiah 17:1 indicates that it will one day cease to exist. Some authorities believe the phrase “cities of Aroer” should be rendered “the cities thereof shall be forsaken.”
The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim [ie Northern Kingdom], and royal power from Damascus; the remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites,” declares the LORD Almighty. “In that day the glory of Jacob [ie Northern Kingdom] will fade; the fat of his body will waste away. It will be as when a reaper gathers the standing grain and harvests the grain with his arm- as when a man gleans heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim. (Isaiah 17:3-5)
This refers to the fall of Samaria 10 years later , and the deportation of almost everyone to the far reaches of the Assyrian Empire. Jacob and Ephraim are alternate names for the Northern Kingdom.
According to these verses, the cities of Aroer, which are located on the northern bank of the Arnon River just east of the Dead Sea, will also be deserted. However, the passage doesn’t say they will be destroyed in the same manner as Damascus, just that they will be deserted. It may be that people simply flee these cities out of fear.
In addition, many of the fortified cities in northern Israel will also be destroyed. Those few who remain in Aram, 38 miles south southeast of Damascus, will share the fate of these northern Israeli cities.
“‘In that day the glory of Israel will be very dim, for poverty will stalk the land. Israel will be abandoned like the grain fields in the valley of Rephaim after the harvest. Only a few of its people will be left, like the stray olives left on the tree after the harvest. Only two or three remain in the highest branches, four or five out on the tips of the limbs. Yes, Israel will be stripped bare of people,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel.” Isaiah 17:4-6 (NLT)
The breadth and scope of destruction is clearly illustrated as God describes the Israeli landscape as stripped bare of people. Only a small fraction of people either choose to stay in the land or else survive what is a massive holocaust, leaving only a few inhabitants who struggle in poverty.
“Then at last the people will think of their Creator and have respect for the Holy One of Israel. They will no longer ask their idols for help or worship what their own hands have made. They will never again bow down to their Asherah poles or burn incense on the altars they built.” Isaiah 17:7-8 (NLT)
As a result of this event, the people of Israel will once again turn to God Almighty. Currently, the nation of Israel is predominantly secular in nature. Other biblical passages infer that this will change as the prophesied rebuilding of the Temple in the last days indicates a spiritual resurgence among the Jews of Israel. Nevertheless, this passage clearly indicates the people of Israel will turn away from all false idols and gods.
Knowing that this will happen, we must ask: why does it happen? The answer is found in the verses that follow:
“Their largest cities will be as deserted as overgrown thickets. They will become like the cities the Amorites abandoned when the Israelites came here so long ago. Why? Because you have turned from the God who can save you – the Rock who can hide you. You may plant the finest imported grapevines, and they may grow so well that they blossom on the very morning you plant them, but you will never pick any grapes from them. Your only harvest will be a load of grief and incurable pain.” Isaiah 17:9-11 (NLT)
The devastation that overshadows Israel will come about because Israel has “turned from the God who can save them.” All the hard work performed prior to this event will be lost. Those who have been distracted by the things of this world will be disappointed, for they have forgotten God, and by putting faith in the things of this world, they will ultimately be disappointed. Their only harvest will be “a load of grief and incurable pain.” This grief will be brought to a climax when, in the midst of their suffering, the nation of Israel faces an imminent invasion:
“Look! The armies rush forward like waves thundering toward the shore. But though they roar like breakers on a beach, God will silence them. They will flee like chaff scattered by the wind or like dust whirling before a storm. In the evening Israel waits in terror, but by dawn its enemies are dead. This is the just reward of those who plunder and destroy the people of God.” Isaiah 17:12-14 (NLT)
How exactly will Damascus be destroyed? When will exactly it be destroyed? What will that look like, and what will be the implications for the rest of Syria, for Israel and for the region? The honest answer is that the Bible does not say.
Notice the language in that prophecy. It is passive tense. It does not say that Israel wipes out the city. It does not say which enemy destroys the city. It does not say that God destroys the city. We do not know who or how the city ceases. We don’t know how it will happen or from whom. Only that it will. We only know the result. In other prophecies God says who will do what, and how. Not this time.
Let’s look at what is going on in Syria as of December 2012:
Residents say entire sections of mostly Sunni enclaves in northeastern Damascus have been bulldozed to the ground by government troops. WSJ’s Sam Dagher reports from the Syrian capital.
DAMASCUS—All that remains of Abu Mohammed’s ancestral home here in Syria’s capital are two small adobe brick rooms and a few fig, loquat and mulberry trees.
It was bulldozed as part of a government slum-clearance program that appears to have a political motive: isolate neighborhoods sympathetic to Syria’s armed insurrection, and then obliterate them, according to critics, human-rights groups and even some officials within the government itself. “We are like gypsies now,” says Mr. Mohammed, who took his wife and five children to another part of the city after sections of his neighborhood, Qaboun—one of the first to rise up against Syria’s regime—were flattened and ringed by military posts.
The campaign stands in contrast to the all-out urban warfare in the northern city of Aleppo. Here in the capital, Damascus, the strategy appears designed to cripple and disperse the rebels through the destruction and encirclement of communities where they operate.
For the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the stakes in Damascus are nothing short of retaining control of the nation itself. “If they lose Damascus, they lose the state,” says Patrick Seale, a British author and Syria expert.
Senior security officials within the Assad regime say partial demolitions of pro-rebel neighborhoods in and around Damascus are a key element of an ambitious counterinsurgency plan now unfolding.
On a recent morning in mid-October, soldiers from the Syrian Army’s Fourth Division, commanded by Mr. Assad’s brother Maher, oversaw demolition in Zulaikha, a patch of nearly 24 acres of apartments in the Tadamoun neighborhood on the capital’s southern fringe.
“Go, go!” shouted a soldier as a grim-faced family packed into a pickup truck weighed down with belongings—furniture, foam mattresses, a satellite dish—they salvaged from their apartment. “We are going to blow up a building now!” the soldier said as the truck pulled away.
Another soldier nearby said the residents were among the lucky ones. “Not everyone is being allowed in to take their possessions,” he said. Security and army checkpoints now ring Tadamoun.
Is Syria slowly being demolished?
Today many believe that Syria will soon try to provoke a Jewish response, and if that escalates things further it can easily result in the destruction of Damascus in the final fulfillment of Isaiah 17.
We all assume Israel will do the deed but it really could be anyone, even God as He smote Sodom and Gomorrah. It could be NATO. It could be Turkey. It could happen as rebels get a hold of chemical weapons of mass destruction and unleash – accidentally or on purpose – a holocaust that destroys the city.
It could be that rebels with Libyan weapons that had gone missing from Libya make an attack and things get out of hand. No matter, the fact is, as Damascus becomes increasingly belligerent and the Middle East hotbed that is the epicenter of last days prophecies climbs over the horizon and hurtles toward us, we are closer than ever to that final obliteration of the city of 6 million Isaiah prophesied 2700 years ago. The city of Damascus will become a heap of ruins, utterly destroyed. Few, if any, buildings will be left standing. The once great city will be devoid of human life and will become home to all manner of wildlife in the absence of humans to chase them away.