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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.
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. 
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.”  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. 
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.”  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.” 
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  nor Josh McDowell  mentions this failed prophecy.”  The reason is quite clear as to why they don’t. The Hebrew text does not include the word “forever” in 17:2. More about this issue below.
Below are five 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:
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?
Forever and Ever?
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 εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα (eis ton aiōna = “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.
The Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament considers the word עֲרֹעֵר 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 εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα (“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 arō ‘ēr (עֲרֹעֵר = Aroer) becomes ‘adê ad (עַד עַד) for the LXX translators. The double use of the Hebrew עַד 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 ערער, 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 (עַד עַד) 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 עַד 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 עַד 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 [עֹלָם/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 arō ‘ēr (עֲרֹעֵר) instead of the LXX variation עַד עַד since עֹלָם (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.”
“When” a prophecy is said to be fulfilled is very important to know in determining what events fulfill the prophecy. Time indicators can tell us if the prophecy is going to be fulfilled in the distant future or in the near future. Sometimes a prophecy’s fulfillment is open-ended. The New American Standard has “Damascus is about to be removed from being a city” (Isa. 17:1). According to Oswalt in his commentary on Isaiah, the Hebrew construction “hinnēh . . . mûsār is a participial construction indicating imminent action, ‘Behold, Damascus is on the point of being removed.’” 
Joel Rosenberg, who believes that Isaiah 17 is a prophecy that has not been fulfilled, appeals to other chapters in Isaiah in an attempt to make his case that the Damascus prophecy is like Babylon, never really fulfilled:
In Isaiah 13, we read about the coming judgment/destruction of Babylon. But the context makes it clear that the prophecies will happen deep in the End Times, just prior to the Second Coming of Christ. In Isaiah 13:6, for example, we read, “Wail, for the Day of the Lord is near!” In Isaiah 13:9, we read, “Behold, the Day of the Lord is coming.” Both of these references indicate that the prophecies concerning the destruction of Babylon will occur in the last days leading up to the “Day of the Lord,” an eschatological biblical term that refers to the actual, literal, physical return of Christ to earth at the end of the Tribulation.
How can a prophecy state that “the Day of the Lord is near” (Isa. 13:6) when, according to Rosenberg, the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet? John Walvoord, who Rosenberg quotes approvingly, makes a valuable comment about the multi-faceted character and application of the “day of the Lord: “The ‘Day of the Lord’ is an expression frequently used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe any period of time during which God exercises direct judgment on human sin. The Old Testament records a number of times when Israel endured a day of the Lord, lasting a few days or, in some cases, several years.” 
“Day of the Lord” is not code for “deep in the End Times, just prior to the Second Coming of Christ.” Consider these extended remarks by dispensational prophecy writer Ronald Showers on the meaning of “day of the Lord”:
The Day of the Lord refers to God’s special interventions into the course of world events to judge His enemies, accomplish His purpose for history, and thereby demonstrate who He is — the sovereign God of the universe (Isa. 2:1–2; Ezek. 13:5, 9, 14, 22–23; 30:3, 8, 19, 25–26).
Evidence for this significance of the Day of the Lord is found in references in the Scriptures to past Days of the Lord. The Bible indicates that there have been several past Days of the Lord in which God exercised and demonstrated His sovereign judgment on other nations. He raised up Assyria to judge the northern kingdom of Israel during the 700s B.C. (Amos 5:18, 20), Babylon to judge the southern kingdom of Judah during the 600s and 500s B.C. (Lam. 1:12; 2:1, 21–22; Ezek. 7:19; 13:5; Zeph. 1:7–13; 2:2–3), Babylon to judge Egypt and its allies during the 500s B.C. (Jer. 46:10; Ezek. 30:3), and Medo-Persia to judge Babylon during the 500s B.C. (Isa. 13:6, 9). 
Notice his statement about the judgment of Babylon in Isaiah 13, thus, contradicting Rosenberg’s claim that the Babylonian judgment is yet in our future.
Isaiah 13 is a description of a localized judgment of a world power that existed long ago. Who did God raise up to judge Babylon? “Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them” (13:17a). There are no Medes today. We know from Daniel that Darius the Mede conquered Babylon (Dan. 5:30–31).
To claim that after 2700 years the Damascus prophecy has not been completely fulfilled is to question the integrity of the Bible as skeptic Tim Callahan has done. “Being removed” does not necessarily mean “being removed forever.”
A Heap of Ruins
If the Hebrew text is followed, the cities, including Damascus, are not said to be a “heap of ruins” forever, only that they would be destroyed and become a “heap of ruins.” Consider language about the judgment of Jerusalem by the Babylonians:
“Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘This is Jerusalem; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her. But she has rebelled against My ordinances more wickedly than the nations and against My statutes more than the lands which surround her; for they have rejected My ordinances and have not walked in My statutes.’ Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Because you have more turmoil than the nations which surround you and have not walked in My statutes, nor observed My ordinances, nor observed the ordinances of the nations which surround you,’ therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I, even I, am against you, and I will execute judgments among you in the sight of the nations. ‘And because of all your abominations, I will do among you what I have not done, and the like of which I will never do again’” (Ezek. 5:7–9).
As compared to every other nation, Israel’s judgment would be worse (“I will do among you what I have not done”), and that would have to include the judgment on Damascus and her surrounding cities. And yet, we know that after 70 years of captivity (Jer. 29:10; also 2 Chron. 36:21-23; Jer. 25:12; 27:22; Dan. 9:2; Zech. 7:5). God restored the people of Israel to their land and Jerusalem as a city even though its judgment was parallel with that of Damascus in Isaiah 17:3–6:
The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim,
And sovereignty from Damascus
And the remnant of Aram;
They will be like the glory of the sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord of hosts.
Now in that day the glory of Jacob will fade,
And the fatness of his flesh will become lean.
It will be even like the reaper gathering the standing grain,
As his arm harvests the ears,
Or it will be like one gleaning ears of grain In the valley of Rephaim.
Yet gleanings will be left in it like the shaking of an olive tree,
Two or three olives on the topmost bough,
Four or five on the branches of a fruitful tree,
Declares the Lord, the God of Israel.
Mark Hitchcock makes the following good point:
When we read Isaiah 17:1–2 and 17:3–7 together, we are forced to conclude that at the same time Damascus suffers devastation, Israel will also fall. . . . 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.”
The same is true of Jeremiah 49:23–27. Hamath (Isa. 10:9; Jer. 39:5; Amos 6:2) and Arpad (2 Kings 18:34; 19:13; Isa. 10:9) are no more. Where are “the fortified towers of Ben-hadad” (Isa. 49:27; 1 Kings 15:18-20; 2 Kings 13:3)?
The Historical Record
A study of the historical record indicates that Damascus became a heap as Isaiah predicted. Consider these examples:
Contemporaneous with what happened to Damascus, “in that day the glory of Jacob will fade” [lit. “be made thin”] and the fatness [Isa. 10:16] of his flesh will become lean” (Isa. 17:4). This most likely refers to the famine that followed the siege and deportation of the northern tribes (2 Kings 16:9).
Damascus was utterly destroyed in fulfillment of what was predicted in Isaiah 17. The destroyer himself —Tiglath-pileser — said so in his Annals:
“I took 800 people together with their property, their cattle (and) their sheep as spoil. I took 750 captives of the cities of Kurussa (and) Sama (as well as) 550 captives from the city of Metuna as spoil. I destroyed 591 cities from the 16 districts of Damascus like ruins from the Flood.” 
Tiglath-pileser “destroyed” Damascus — made it a “heap” — just like Isaiah predicted. The Bible is true, and all modern-day prophecy writers who claim that the Isaiah 17 passage has not been fulfilled have unwittingly aligned themselves with skeptics and promoters of war because prophecy demands it.