Isaiah 17:1-14 (Syria & Ephraim)
Seeing that Syria (Damascus) and Ephraim (Israel) were confederate against Judah, as depicted in Isaiah 7, they are assigned the same punishment that will be fulfilled by the Assyrian Army (Isa. 17:1-4). In the process of this judgment, it was written of Ephraim, “And in that day it shall come to pass, that the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean” (Isa. 17:4). This is not the first time this illustration is used, nor will it be the last.
In a former instance, recorded in Isaiah 10:12, 16-19, the LORD is speaking of the eventual demise of Assyria in a turn-around judgment of divine wrath for what they will do to the Jews. To describe this judgment, the LORD says, “Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness…” (Isa. 10:16). In terms of a complimentary metaphor, this means that the mighty forest of Assyria shall be reduced down into just a “few” trees (Isa. 10:18-19). Despite having used this description to illustrate the eventual reduction of Assyria by Babylon to wit only a remnant of Assyria will remain alive, as observed in Isaiah 10:16-19, the tribulation and woe brought upon Ephraim will be for a redemptive purpose, as described in Isaiah 17:6-8. Thus, the few that will remain alive in this circumstance will be a select company that God describes as the gleaning of grapes after the vintage, or, the very small in number berries as the shaking of an Olive Tree (Isa. 17:6). In both circumstances, that of Assyria and Israel, we observe that only a few will remain alive in the aftermath of divine judgment, and yet let us keep in memory that survival in each case has contrasting implications.
Then, as is the pattern of God’s ingenious method of prophesying, the prophetic gaze looks into the distance in a glorified reapplication of these illustrations as they will exist in futurity. The Last Days remnant will be made to confess, “My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!” (Isa. 24:16), after suffering a reduction of the people that is “as the shaking of an olive tree, and as the gleaning grapes when the vintage is done” (Isa. 24:13). According to Biblical Prophecy (Micah 7:1, Amos 8:1-3), this speaks to the small and few in number survivors or escapees of the deadly blows of God’s judgment during this time. What makes these unfulfilled prophecies of futurity definitively superior to former counterparts of fulfilled history is the unimaginable scenery and situation described in Isaiah 24:1-23. READ IT. A prayerful and meditative reading of this text would convey this much to any sincere reader who desires to look into these things.
As is often the case, before the close of Isaiah 17 some conclusive remarks are made. As for the historical scenario wherein Assyria is the method of divine judgment at hand, the LORD is intentional in communicating the conclusion of the matter not unlike Isaiah 13:25. Explicitly, it is stated, “God shall rebuke them” (Isa. 17:12-14), which is profoundly illustrative of what takes place in the near future (Isaiah 36-38, 2 Chronicles 32, & 2 Kings 18-20). The prophetic allusion being made is reminiscent to what was foreseen in Isaiah 10:28-34, namely when Assyria is seen marching toward Jerusalem in an attempt to fully conquer Judah like Ephraim was wiped out and yet, behold, the LORD rebukes them. These are only two prophecies in the progressive and unfolding narrative of the soon-to-be future in the ancient time, all of which describe the same matchless event of history (Isa. 30:30-33, 31:8-9, 33:1-3, 9-12).