I was in the process of doing research to write and article about Isaiah 17, and the current “excitement” being generated by the televangelists about the imminent fulfillment of that prophecy, when I came across an excellent article on the American Vision Website, written by Gary DeMar. Gary has done a fine job exposing the fallacious Dispensational claims that we are in the last days, and that the current Syrian Crisis is about to bring in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. For ease of reading, we have broken up Gary’s article into a few installments. Be sure to read them all, as Gary has done a fine job debunking the current claims about Isaiah 17. Here is the first installment of Gary’s article.
Because of the latest developments in Syria, prophecy prognosticators are coming out of the woodwork . . . again. The same thing happened in 2011 when prophecy hobbyists were claiming that Isaiah 17 was being fulfilled right before our eyes. Here’s an example from a video that was uploaded on July 21, 2011:
Damascus in Isaiah 17 is going to be destroyed in 1 day. This is about to occur in our lifetime in just a matter of months. It’s in the news and everywhere you look! This is going to fulfill one of the biggest biblical prophecies of all time! Be ready for Christ’s Return after this occurs! I hope this gives you hope of His coming!
Notice the time reference: “in just a matter of months.” That was more than two years ago making it a false prophecy about a true prophecy that was fulfilled nearly 2700 years ago.
Never learning and people forgetting, the claim is being made again that the events prophesied in Isaiah 17 about Damascus were never fully fulfilled in history, and like clockwork, naïve Christians are getting sucked in.
The topic has even gotten attention from the mainstream media. TIME magazine picked up on the story. So did the Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and USA Today among other media outlets. Glenn Beck’s The Blaze has an extended article on the topic: “Why Some Believe These ‘End Times’ Bible Verses Could Hold the Key to the Syrian Crisis.”
Not all end-time prognosticators teach that the Damascus prophecy is being fulfilled in our day. Surprisingly, Dr. Charles Dyer, who is a professor at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, argues that Damascus “was destroyed in the 7th and 8th centuries” B.C. I say surprisingly since in 1991 he wrote The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times in which he claimed that present-day Iraq is the Babylon of Isaiah 13 and Revelation (16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). He maintained that Saddam Hussein’s building program was proof that Babylon would rise from the desert sands in fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
Dyer’s book even had Saddam in a Nebuchadnezzar look-a-like pose with the following caption: Hussein
SADDAM HUSSEIN and the ancient world conqueror Nebuchadnezzar. Not only do they look alike, but their mission is the same — to control the world. And the symbol of this world domination is an ancient city [Babylon]. . .
It’s obvious that Dyer has taken a different approach when it comes to the Damascus prophecy:
“Isaiah 17 predicted the destruction of the city, along with the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel… Damascus was captured by Assyrians in 732 BC and the northern kingdom of Israel fell when the capital city of Samaria was captured by the Assyrians in 722 BC.”
And 100 years later, the prophet Jeremiah also predicted the fall of Damascus, which had been rebuilt, he added. “His message was fulfilled when the city was captured by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.”
In addition to Dyer, dispensational author Mark Hitchcock, who sees prophetic fulfillment in everything that’s going on today, makes a strong case that the Damascus prophecy has been fulfilled. After offering a helpful critique of some speculative interpretations of the Isaiah 17 prophecy, Hitchcock offers this cogent commentary:
I believe it makes more sense to hold that Isaiah 17 was fulfilled in the eighth century BC when both Damascus, the capital of Syria, and Samaria, the capital of Israel, were hammered by the Assyrians. In that conquest, both Damascus and Samaria were destroyed, just as Isaiah 17 predicts. According to history, Tiglath-pileser III (745–727 BC) pushed vigorously to the west, and in 734 the Assyrians advanced and laid siege to Damascus, which fell two years later in 732 (Mark Hitchcock, Middle East Burning: Is the Spreading Unrest as Sign of the End Times? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2012), 176. [?] – See more at:
It’s unfortunate that Hitchcock couldn’t leave well enough alone. At the end of the chapter he writes, “Having said that, I do believe that events today in Syria point toward the fulfillment of biblical prophecies that have not yet come to pass.” He claims that “the stage is being set for a Middle East peace treaty prophesied in Daniel 9:27.” (Hitchcock, Middle East Burning, 178). There is no mention of a Middle East peace treaty in Daniel 9:27, an antichrist, a gap of nearly 200 years, a rebuilt temple, a covenant with the Jews, etc. See Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), chap. 25. (See more at: http://americanvision.org/9371/isaiah-17-damascus-bible-prophecy-has-been-fulfilled/#sthash.cCnT3f9B.dpuf)
Even Tim LaHaye’s Prophecy Study Bible concludes that the Isaiah 17 prophecy was fulfilled when “God used Tiglath-pileser of Syria to destroy Damascus in 732 B.C.” (Tim LaHaye, gen. ed., Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2000), 707, note on 17:1–14. – See more at:
Notice the word “destroy.”
The same is true of the comment on the passage found in The Apologetics Study Bible:
“Damascus continued to be a city in the OT era (Ezk 27:18), the NT (Ac 9:19-27), and today. This does not negate Isaiah’s prophecy, which referred to the destruction of Damascus as the powerful capital of Syria during the Syro-Ephraimite War. His words were consistent with his prophecy about the fall of Damascus in 7:7-8 and 8:4, and his announcement that Assyria defeated Damascus and exiled its inhabitants to Kir (2 Kg 16:9). After many years in ruin, it later became a small city in the Assyrian province of Hamath. Isaiah was not claiming that it would remain a ruin for all time.”
(Gary Smith, “Isaiah,” The Apologetics Study Bible, gen. ed. Ted Cabal (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1015, note on 17:1. – See more at: http://americanvision.org/9371/isaiah-17-damascus-bible-prophecy-has-been-fulfilled/#sthash.cCnT3f9B.dpuf).
I’ve written numerous articles about how modern-day prophecy writers twist and distort prophetic texts that end up being used by skeptics to call the authority of the Bible into question. Biblical skeptic Tim Callahan follows the arguments of today’s prophecy watchers and concludes along with them that the prophecy has not been fulfilled, thus, making it a false prophecy. He writes, Damascus “has been sacked numerous times, to be sure. But the prophecy explicitly states that it would cease to be a city forever, and the prophecy is explicitly wrong. Curiously, neither Gleason Archer (Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982). – See more at:
http://americanvision.org/9371/isaiah-17-damascus-bible-prophecy-has-been-fulfilled/#sthash.cCnT3f9B.dpuf ) nor Josh McDowell (Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1979) – See more at: http://americanvision.org/9371/isaiah-17-damascus-bible-prophecy-has-been-fulfilled/#sthas
h.cCnT3f9B.dpuf) mentions this failed prophecy.” Tim Callahan, Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? (Altadena, CA: Millennium Press, 1997), 60–61-See more at: http://americanvision.org/9371/isaiah-17-damascus-bible-prophecy-has-been-fulfilled/#sthash.cCnT3f9B.dpuf).
The reason is quite clear as why they don’t. The Hebrew text does not include the word “forever” in 17:2. More about this issue below.
Here are six contemporary examples from evangelical, Bible-believing prophecy writers who claim — like the skeptic Callahan — that the Damascus prophecy found in Isaiah 17 (and Jer. 49:23–27) has not been fulfilled:
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.”
Harry Bultema: “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. Genesis 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.” (Harry Bultema, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishers, 1981), 184 – See more at: http://americanvision.org/9371/isaiah-17-damascus-bible-prophecy-has-been-fulfilled/#sthash.cCnT3f9B.dpuf).
Thomas Ice: “Most commentators contend that Isaiah 17:1–3 was fulfilled in 732 b.c. at the conquest of Tiglath-pileser. ” (For example, Peter A. Steveson, A Commentary on Isaiah (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2003), 142. See also, John D. W. Watts, Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 1-33, rev. ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 293 – See more at:
http://americanvision.org/9371/isaiah-17-damascus-bible-prophecy-has-been-fulfilled/#sthash.cCnT3f9B.dpuf). However, Tiglath-pileser did not totally destroy the city, but merely captured it, as has happened numerous times throughout its history.
Britt Gillette: “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.”
You get the picture. According to the above comments, the belief among futurists (mostly, but not all dispensationalists) is that Isaiah 17, and its counterpart in Jeremiah 49:23–27, have not been completely fulfilled because Damascus is still in existence. How can a prediction about cities that would become a “heap of ruins” still be in existence today?