Isaiah 17:1-14

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17:1. Masoretic Text: A pronouncement [massá’] [against] Damascus. Look! Damascus is taken away from [being] a city and will become a heap of ruins.

Septuagint: The word against Damascus. Look! Damascus will be taken away from [among] cities and will be for a downfall.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the spelling of the city is Dramascus.

In the Targum of Isaiah, the reference is to giving the “cup of cursing” to “Damascus to drink.”


The Hebrew word massá’ is commonly understood to mean a “pronouncement,” “oracle,” “utterance,” or “burden.” Whereas the Vulgate renders the term as onus (“load” or “burden”), the Septuagint reading “word” or “saying,” in this context, supports the meaning of “pronouncement” or “utterance.”

Damascus is located in southwestern Syria. In the time Isaiah prophesied, Damascus was the capital of an Aramaean kingdom. The annals of the Assyrian monarch Tiglath-pileser III mention that he received tribute from King Rezin and that he later carried out an extensive military campaign against Syria, destroying 591 cities of 16 districts of Damascus. Tiglath-pileser III led many of the survivors of his campaign into exile. This marked the fulfillment of the pronouncement against the Damascus, which then came under Assyrian control.

17:2. Masoretic Text: Cities of Aroer are deserted. They will come to be for flocks that will lie down [there] and none will make [them] afraid.

Septuagint: It will be abandoned for all time [literally, “for the age”], to [be] a bed [for] flocks and a resting place, and there will not be one pursuing [them].


There is uncertainty about how the words “cities of Aroer” are to be understood. It appears that the Septuagint translator read the Hebrew designation “Aroer” as ohlám and rendered it “age.” Although ohlám, is often translated “forever,” the term basically denotes time that has no set limit, and the Greek term “age” likewise can apply to an indefinite period. On account of the extensive devastation, formerly inhabited areas would become suitable for flocks to lie down and also to graze peacefully, without becoming alarmed by frequently passing strangers.

17:3. Masoretic Text: And the fortified city will cease from Ephraim and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the sons of Israel, says YHWH of hosts.

Septuagint: And no longer will [Damascus] be a fortified place of refuge for Ephraim, and no longer will [there] be a kingdom in Damascus, and the remnant of Syrians will be destroyed; for you are no better than the sons of Israel and their glory. This [is what] the Lord Sabaoth says.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the spelling is “Dramascus,” not “Damascus.”

“Sabaoth” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning “armies” or “hosts.”


Ephraim, the dominant tribe in the realm, stands for the entire ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. The invading military force would reduce towns and cities to ruins, and so there would no longer remain a fortified city in the land. Damascus, the capital of Aram or Syria, would also experience loss of its kingdom. This was fulfilled when the Assyrian monarch Tiglath-pileser III captured Damascus and killed the Syrian king Rezin. (2 Kings 16:7-9)

In their ruined state, the “sons” or people of Israel had no glory. For the remnant of Syria (the survivors of the Assyrian military campaign) to become like the glory of the “sons of Israel” would indicate that their “glory” or “splendor” would be nothing more than a state of shame and humiliation.

The Septuagint rendering indicates that the alliance of the ten-tribe kingdom and the kingdom of Syria would not provide security. Deprived of its position as the capital of a kingdom, Damascus would be no place of refuge for “Ephraim,” the Israelites of the ten-tribe kingdom. Being no better than the Israelites, the Syrians would experience the same fate.

17:4. Masoretic Text: And it will occur in that day that the glory of Jacob will be brought low, and the fat of his flesh will be made guant.

Septuagint: In that day [there] will be a vanishing of the glory of Jacob, and the riches [literally, the plural of “fat”] of his glory will be shaken.


“Jacob,” the forefather of the Israelites, here designates the people of the ten-tribe kingdom. The former glory of a kingdom that had inflicted humiliating defeats on the kingdom of Judah would be brought low. (2 Kings 14:11-14; 2 Chronicles 28:5) This happened when the Assyrians invaded, besieging towns and cities and devastating the land. “Jacob” or Israel became but a shadow of its former glory as a power superior to the two-tribe kingdom of Judah. Devastated and humiliated, the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel resembled a once robust body that had been reduced to an emaciated state. As the Septuagint rendering indicates, the former glory would disappear, and whatever “fatness,” prosperity, or riches had lent glory or splendor to the realm would be “shaken,” leaving only fragments behind.

17:5. Masoretic Text: And it will be as when the reaper gathers standing grain and his arm reaps ears [of grain], and [it will be] as when one gleans ears [of grain] in the valley of Rephaim.

Septuagint: And it will be in the manner as when someone should gather a standing harvest and should reap the seed of grain, and it will be in the manner as when someone should gather grain in a solid ravine;


It appears that the gleaning in the valley of Rephaim contrasts with the harvesting of standing grain. “After being like the standing grain harvested by the reaper — who reaps ears by the armful — he shall be like the ears that are gleaned in the Valley of Rephaim.” (Tanakh)

In their humiliated state, the “sons” or people of Israel would cease to resemble a field of grain ready for a bountiful harvest. They would not be like countless stalks with full ears, to be cut and gathered by armfuls. Instead, the Israelites would be like the gleanings that remained after the grain had been harvested in the valley of Rephaim, a valley located near Jerusalem. (Joshua 15:8; 18:16) The Septuagint rendering “solid ravine” could be understood to designate a rocky valley, one that would not be very productive.

Another meaning of the verse could be that Israel would be subjected to a process comparable to harvesting (a military campaign) that would only leave meager gleanings behind. “On that day Jacob’s glory will wane and his prosperity waste away, as when the reaper gathers the standing grain, harvesting the ears by armfuls, or as when one gleans the ears in the vale of Rephaim.” (REB)

17:6. Masoretic Text: And gleanings will be left in it [the valley], as when an olive tree is beaten — two [or] three olives at the topmost [part of the tree], four [or] five on its fruit-bearing branches, says YHWH the God of Israel.

Septuagint: and [as if] a stalk should be left in it [the ravine], or as [if] two or three berries of an olive tree at the very top or four or five on its branches should be left. This [is what] the Lord, the God of Israel, says.


Practically nothing of the former glory, splendor, greatness, or power of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel would remain. What was left after the Assyrian invasion proved to be like some stalks of grain that could be gleaned or just a few olives that might remain after the harvest. To harvest the ripe olives, a person would beat the tree with a rod, causing the fruit to drop to the ground.

According to the Targum of Isaiah, the ones remaining are the righteous. They would find themselves left “solitary in the midst of the world among the kingdoms.”

17:7. Masoretic Text: In that day the earthling will gaze at his Maker, and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel.

Septuagint: In that day a man will be relying on the One who made him, and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel.


The severity of YHWH’s judgment would move some in Israel to repent. In this case, the singular “earthling” or “man” denotes any of the repentant Israelites. They would then gaze on him, showing the highest regard for him as the One who made them as individuals and also collectively as a nation or people. The repentant Israelites would recognize YHWH as the “Holy One,” the absolute standard of purity and the One who required those whom he approves to conduct themselves in keeping with his holiness or purity. Their eyes would remain focused on him for all their needs, dependable direction, and deliverance from distress. According to the Targum of Isaiah, they would look to him “in hope.”

17:8. Masoretic Text: And he will not gaze at the altars, the work of his hands. And he will not look at what his fingers have made, neither to the Asherim nor to the incense altars.

Septuagint: And by no means will they be relying on the altars nor upon the works of their hands, the things their fingers have made, and they will not look to their trees nor to their abominations.

The rendering “by no means” serves to preserve the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”


A repentant Israelite would reject all forms of idolatry. He would not “gaze” at or give any consideration to the altars where faithless Israelites offered sacrifices to seek the favor, help, and blessing of nonexistent deities. Alongside these altars, there would be sacred poles (Asherim), which represented the goddess Asherah. Among the Canaanites, Asherah appears to have been regarded as a consort of the god Baal. When the Israelites strayed from being exclusively devoted to YHWH, they adopted Baal worship, which included the veneration of Asherah.

Repentant Israelites ceased to look to Asherah for anything, and they did not offer any incense on the altars designated for Asherah or any other deity. They recognized that doing so would not bring any benefits but would result in YHWH’s disapproval. The images of deities were just the product of human hands and fingers, and they were lifeless representations of nonexistent deities.

The “trees” mentioned in the Septuagint were sacred groves where the people engaged in idolatrous rites, and the “abominations” were the idols and the rituals involved in venerating them.

17:9. Masoretic Text: In that day his fortress cities will be like an abandoned place that the Choresh and the Amir abandoned because of the sons of Israel, and it will be a desolation.

Septuagint: In that day your cities will be abandoned, as in the manner the Amorrites [Amorites] and the Heuites [Hivites] abandoned them from [before] the face of the sons of Israel, and they will be desolate.

The Hebrew expression translated “because of the sons of Israel” includes the word for “face,” and this is the reason for the literal rendering found in the Septuagint (“from the face of the sons of Israel”).

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the terms that are here transliterated Choresh and Amir are not joined by the conjunction “and.”


For the translation of the Masoretic Text, “Choresh” and “Amir” have been transliterated, as there is considerable uncertainty about the significance of the terms. The Septuagint rendering refers to the Amorites and the Hivites who fled during the Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan. A number of modern translations have adopted this meaning. “On that day your strong cities will be deserted like the deserted cities of the Hivites and the Amorites, which they abandoned at Israel’s approach, and they will become desolate.” (REB) “On that day his strong cities shall be like those abandoned by the Hivites and Amorites when faced with the children of Israel: they shall be laid waste.” (NAB)

The Hebrew words that have been here transliterated “Choresh” and “Amir” have been defined as “wood” or “forest” and “top” or “summit,” that is, of a tree. These basic meanings are reflected in the renderings of other translations. “In that day shall his strong cities be as the forsaken places, which were forsaken from before the children of Israel, after the manner of woods and lofty forests; and it shall be a desolation.” (Margolis) “In that day their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation.” (NIV) “That day, its cities of refuge will be abandoned as were the woods and heaths at the Israelites’ advance: there will be desolation.” (NJB)

The consonants for the term transliterated “Choresh” can also mean “to plow.” This may explain the very different reading found in the Vulgate. “In that day the fortified cities will be abandoned as the plows and the grain were abandoned before the face of the sons of Israel, and it will be desolate.”

Although a measure of uncertainty exists about how the Hebrew text should be translated, the basic meaning is preserved. Based on verse 4, “his fortress cities” are those of “Jacob” or the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. These cities would be desolated in the same way as the Canaanite cities were abandoned when the Israelites entered the land and set about to make it their possession.

17:10. Masoretic Text: For you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and you have not remembered the rock of your stronghold. Therefore, you plant pleasant plants, and set it with a shoot of an alien.

Septuagint: For you have forsaken God your Savior, and you have not remembered the Lord of your assistance. Therefore, you will plant an untrustworthy plant and an untrustworthy seed.

The Targum of Isaiah refers to Israel as having been planted as a chosen plant but thereafter having “multiplied corrupt deeds.”


The people of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel sought their own means for securing blessings, turning away from their God, the source of salvation or deliverance from distress and danger. YHWH was like a solid rock, providing the firm foundation for the kind of security associated with a dependable stronghold. The planting of “pleasant plants” appears to refer to an idolatrous practice, and the designation “alien” or stranger probably applies to a foreign deity. In The Revised English Bible, the words are linked to Adonis, a fertility god. “Plant then, if you will, your gardens in honour of Adonis, set out your cuttings for a foreign god.”

17:11. Masoretic Text: In the day of your planting, you fence [it] about, and in the morning you make your sowing sprout, [but] the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain.

Septuagint: But the day, whenever [it may be that] you plant, you will be deceived. But if you sow in the morning, it will bloom for harvest in whatever day of inheritance. And like a father of a man, you will choose by lot for your sons.

The Targum of Isaiah refers to the Israelites as having forsaken the service of their God to serve idols. They “put off the day of repentance until the day of [their] destruction came; then did [their] sorrow become desperate.

It is difficult to determine just what the rendering of the Septuagint may be understood to convey. The “untrustworthy” plants that the Israelites planted may be understood to refer to idolatry. No benefit would come from their engaging in the worship of foreign gods and goddesses. Believing that these deities could help and bless them, the people, upon experiencing calamity, would find that they had been deceived. “The day of inheritance” could designate the time when the sower would take possession of the mature crop, reaping what he had sown, and a father would take possession of the crop for his sons. Possibly the thought is that the one sowing would reap the consequences, and the consequences of the God-dishonoring actions would be the harvest in which the “sons” of the father (the “sower”) would share.


Possibly this verse alludes to an idolatrous practice related to Adonis. In a container (as if carefully fenced in), people would plant a variety of seeds that quickly sprouted and then withered, symbolizing the life and death of Adonis. They believed that engaging in this ritual planting contributed to a bountiful harvest. The word of YHWH through his prophet, however, revealed that they would not come to enjoy abundant crops. The harvest would vanish, being replaced by a time of sorrow and great distress.

17:12. Masoretic Text: Woe, the turmoil of many peoples; like the roaring of the seas they roar. And the din of nations — like the din of mighty waters, they make a din.

Septuagint: Woe, multitude of many nations; like the swelling sea, thus you will be agitated, and the backside of many nations will resound like water.


At this point, the subject matter changes. Verse 14 indicates that the words from verse 12 to the end of the chapter relate to the peoples at enmity with the people of Judah. The interjection “woe” or “ah” could be an indication of coming calamity.

The “turmoil of many peoples” appears to refer to the noisy Assyrian force that would be coming against the kingdom of Judah. Shouts of the many warriors would resound like the roaring of the sea. The noise would be comparable to the sound of waves crashing against the shore.

In the Septuagint, the words “you will be agitated” may be understood to apply to the people of Judah who would be greatly troubled on account of the Assyrian invasion. The “backside of many nations” might mean the part of the attacking force that would be visible when viewed from a distance.

17:13. Masoretic Text: The nations, like the din of many waters, make a din. And he will rebuke him, and he will flee far away and be chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind and [something that is] wheel-shaped before a storm.

Septuagint: Like much water, many nations, like much water being brought down forcibly. And he will curse him and pursue him far away, like chaff of straw being winnowed before a wind and like a wheel of dust a squall is bringing.


Though the attacking warriors from the nations were numerous and, therefore, noisy like much water in an agitated state, they would not succeed in their objective. God would “rebuke” or “curse” (LXX) “him” (the invading force collectively), inflicting a severe punishment. The terror-inducing threat from the military host would come to an end, as if the warriors had taken flight to a distant location. That entire host would appear as if it had been blown away like chaff during the winnowing process on an elevated site. The “wheel,” as the Septuagint rendering suggests, would be a cloud of dust. It could also refer to the calyx of a thistle or a dried-up thistle that has been broken off from the stem and which the wind blows about.

17:14. Masoretic Text: At evening time, and see, terror! Before morning, he is no more. This is the portion of those despoiling us and the lot of those plundering us.

Septuagint: Toward evening [there] will be grief; before the morning and he will not be. This is the portion of those who were despoiling you and a possession of those who were taking possession of you.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” follows the word for “morning.”


The report preserved in the biblical record indicates that the angel of YHWH killed 185,000 warriors of the Assyrian host in one night, saving Jerusalem from falling into the hands of the Assyrians. (2 Kings 19:32-36; 2 Chronicles 32:21; Isaiah 37:36, 37) Thus, for the Assyrians, the “terror” or “grief” came in the evening or at night. By the time morning came, thousands of the attacking force were dead. This was the divine judgment of those who would despoil and plunder God’s people.

Isaiah served as a prophet in the two-tribe kingdom of Judah. Accordingly, the reference to “us” is to Israelites in the territory where the prophet lived.