If you follow the televangelists you know that that are many, many claims being made that we are about to witness the total, and eternal destruction of Damascus, in fulfillment of Isaiah 17. This claim continues to generate fear that we are in the last days. IN truth, however, the events in Syria these days have nothing to do with the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and especially Isaiah 17. Gary DeMar, of American Vision, has written an excellent analysis of Isaiah 17 in light of the current situation, and the Dispensational claims concerning its supposed imminent fulfillment. We have broken Gary’s article into smaller installments for ease of reading. Be sure to read part one as the introduction for this article.
An important note for this article. Gary utilizes some Hebrew fonts that did not convert when I cut and pasted. As a result, in the article below, the Hebrew words come across as ????. I apologize for this. Even with this minor issue, you will be more than able to understand Gary’s points.
Did Isaiah Predict the Eternal Destruction of Damascus?
The first item that needs to be discussed in the addition of “forever” to the Isaiah 17:2 that is not found in the majority of Bible translations. The TIME magazine article offers this translation of Isaiah 17:1–2: “See, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins. Her towns will be deserted forever.” I’ve checked numerous translations, and only a few include the word “forever.” The Revised Standard reads “her cities will be deserted forever,” while the New American Standard version includes a marginal note based on the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation that includes the phrase “forever.”
The inclusion of the word “forever” is based on the Septuagint (LXX) Greek translation of Isaiah 17:1–2 that reads as follows:
1. See, Damascus will be removed from among cities and will become a ruin,
2. abandoned forever, to be a fold and resting place for flocks,
and there will be no one to drive them away
The translations that do not include the word “forever” follow the Hebrew text. The LXX uses the phrase ??? ??? ????? (eis ton aio-na = “into the ages”) to translate a disputed Hebrew word. The “forever” translation is based on the Hebrew word “Aroer” which in other contexts is the name of a city.
Dead Sea Scroll_Isaiah 17
Isaiah 17:1-2 from the Isaiah scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament considers the word ??????? to be a proper noun, a place, a particular city named “Aroer” — “a Biblical town on the north bank of the River Arnon to the east of the Dead Sea, in present-day Jordan.” There are three cities in the Bible named Aroer, “one in the territory of Judah (1 Sam. xxx. 28), one at the southern extremity of the land of Israel east of Jordan (Jos. xii. 2, xii, 6), a third farther north and near to Rabbah (Jos. xiii. 25, Num xxxii. 24).”
I checked numerous commentaries and found several that follow the LXX translation and others that mention the LXX variation but do not follow it. So why the difference in translation? How does the city “Aroer” become “abandoned forever” in Greek? A little knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet is necessary in order to understand why the LXX translators came up with ??? ??? ????? (“into the ages,” i.e., “forever”) in Isaiah 17:2. The Hebrew letters r (r) and d (d) are similar in shape. The resh (r) is rounded while the daleth (d) is squared on their right corners. So aro- ‘e-r (??????? = Aroer) becomes ‘adê ad (??? ???) for the LXX translators. The double use of the Hebrew ??? is translated as “forever and ever” elsewhere in Isaiah (e.g., Isa. 30:8; 32:14, 17; 34:17; 59:21).
Other than the LXX, there does not seem to be any reason to adopt changing the Hebrew letters. These comments from the Pulpit Commentary are interesting and might shed light on the historicity of the city of Aroer as it relates to the Damascus prophecy:
Sargon’s annals tell us of a “Gal’gar,” a name well expressing the Hebrew ????, which was united in a league with Damascus, Samaria, Arpad, and Simyra, in the second year of Sargon, and was the scene of a great battle and a great destruction. Sargon besieged it, took it, and reduced it to ashes (‘Records of the Past,’ 50. s.e.). There is every reason to recognize the “Aroer” of this verse in the “Gargar” of Sargon’s inscriptions. They shall be for flocks (comp. Isaiah 5:17; 7:25). It marked the very extreme of desolation, that cattle should be pastured on the sites of cities. None shall make them afraid; i.e. “there shall be no inhabitants to make any objection.”
John N. Oswalt notes that the Hebrew construction “the cities of Aroer” constitutes “a very special wordplay” that ‘adê ad (??? ???) does not give. So it’s most probable that the Hebrew is correct and the LXX’s reworking of the Hebrew is based more on an interpretive hunch than actual manuscript evidence.
Contextually, Isaiah does not use ??? in places that describe the ultimate destiny of cities. This means that its use in Isaiah 17:2 would seem to be out of character with how ??? is used elsewhere in Isaiah and translated as “forever” (Isa. 9:6; 26:4; 30:8; 45:17; 57:15; 64:9; 65:18). Isaiah prefers to use the Hebrew word olam when he’s describing the destruction of an enemy or city (14:20; 25:2; 32:14; 34:10).
Compare Isaiah 25:2 with 17:2 and notice that the Hebrew word olam is used for the word “forever” for an unnamed city:
For You have made a city into a heap,
A fortified city into a ruin;
A palace of strangers is a city no more forever [?????/olam],
It will never be rebuilt.
We know from the history of the period that a number of cities were destroyed never to be rebuilt, for example, Babylon:
And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride,
Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation;
Nor will the Arab pitch his tent there,
Nor will shepherds make their flocks lie down there (Isa. 13:19–20).
The use of olam in a context that is very similar to what’s found in Isaiah 17:2 may be one of the reasons that the majority of translations stay with the Masoretic Hebrew text aro- ‘e-r (???????) instead of the LXX variation ??? ??? since ????? (olam) is the preferred word used by Isaiah when the destruction of cities and nations are in view.
So if the Hebrew is followed, there is nothing in Isaiah 17 that indicates that Damascus and its surrounding cities would be destroyed “forever.”