9 In that day their strong cities will be like the deserted places of the wooded heights and the hilltops, which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation.
10 For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge;
therefore, though you plant pleasant plants
and sow the vine-branch of a stranger,
11 though you make them grow on the day that you plant them,
and make them blossom in the morning that you sow,
yet the harvest will flee away
in a day of grief and incurable pain.
12 Ah, the thunder of many peoples;
they thunder like the thundering of the sea!
Ah, the roar of nations;
they roar like the roaring of mighty waters!
13 The nations roar like the roaring of many waters,
but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away,
chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind
and whirling dust before the storm.
14 At evening time, behold, terror!
Before morning, they are no more!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
and the lot of those who plunder us. – Isaiah 17:9-14 ESV
Long before God gave this oracle against Israel and Syria, He had freed the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and led them to the land of Canaan, the land He had promised to give to Abraham and his descendants. Then, under the leadership of Joshua and with the help of God, the people had taken the land. Years later, as Joshua neared the end of his life, he had called the people together, and God reminded them of what He had done for them.
“When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. And I sent terror ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory.” – Joshua 24:11-12 NLT
God gave them victories over their enemies. This rag-tag group of people who had spent 40 years crossing the wilderness, had arrived in Canaan with little in the way of weapons and no formal military training. But, with God on their side, they were virtually invincible. Their very presence in the land terrified those who lived there. But God made it clear that it wasn’t their weapons that brought them success, it was Him. In fact, He went on to tell them:
“I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.” – Joshua 24:13 NLT
This statement by God is extremely crucial to understanding the oracle spoken by God through Isaiah against the people of Israel. Notice what God told their ancestors. He had literally given them entire cities and towns they had played no part in building. He had provided them with lush vineyards and orchards, fully cultivated and fruitful, that they had not tilled, planted or cared for. It had all been a gift from God.
But the people of Israel had poor memories. It had been a long time since Joshua and the people had conquered the land of Canaan. And the people had forgotten all that God had done for them. Which is exactly what God had warned them would happen before they crossed the Jordan and entered the land under the leadership of Moses.
“When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 8:10-11 NLT
God went on to warn the people not to become prideful, thinking that they had been the key to their own success. It was He who had freed them from captivity. He is the one who had led them through the wilderness, feeding and clothing them. He had provided them with water, manna and quail to eat. And Moses told them exactly why God had done all this for them.
“He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” – Deuteronomy 8:17-18 NLT
But even by the time Joshua was nearing the end of his life and attempting to motivate the people of Israel to keep on trusting God, he knew that they had begun to forget the one who had done so much for them. Which is why he delivered to them a stirring challenge.
“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15 NLT
But fast-forward to the days of Isaiah. Here in the divine oracle leveled against the people of Israel, God reveals that they had long ago forgotten Him.
For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge. – Isaiah 17:10 ESV
And notice what is provided as evidence of their forgetfulness. They were planting and sowing. They were cultivating and caring for the vineyards and orchards they had created. And the text mentions them sowing “the vine-branch of a stranger.” They had been importing grape vines from outside the area. The vines God had given them were not enough. They wanted more. They were no longer relying on God for their needs. They had become self-sufficient and confident in their own ability to provide for their own needs. But God warns them:
They may sprout on the day you set them out;
yes, they may blossom on the very morning you plant them,
but you will never pick any grapes from them.
Your only harvest will be a load of grief and unrelieved pain. – Isaiah 17:11 NLT
Their efforts would appear to be fruitful and profitable, but they would lack long-term sustainability. The harvest they reaped would not be what they expected. Rather than plump grapes and delicious olives, they would harvest grief and pain. And it would come in the form of a mighty nation that would deluge them like a flood.
And yet, God promises that He “will silence them, and they will run away. They will flee like chaff scattered by the wind, like a tumbleweed whirling before a storm” (Isaiah 17:13 NLT). In spite of Israel’s refusal to trust God, He would spare them. Israel was guilty of forsaking God, but He woult not forsake them. Because He has plans for them.
Eventually, Israel fell to the Assyrians. God allowed them to be taken into captivity. So, it would be easy to question how tne promise found in this passage was fulfilled. Did God keep His word? Isaiah 37 lets us know that God did fulfill His promise. When Sennacherib and the Assyrians came against Jerualem, God spared the city by providing a miraculous victory over the enemy. Once again, God did for the people of Israel what they could not have done for themselves.
“And this is what the Lord says about the king of Assyria:
“‘His armies will not enter Jerusalem.
They will not even shoot an arrow at it.
They will not march outside its gates with their shields
nor build banks of earth against its walls.
The king will return to his own country
by the same road on which he came.
He will not enter this city,’
says the Lord.
‘For my own honor and for the sake of my servant David,
I will defend this city and protect it.’” – Isaiah 37:33-35 NLT
When the Assyrians woke up the next morning, they discovered 185,000 dead comrades, killed by an angel of God. So, Sennacherib and his troops abandoned their siege and returned home, leaving Jerusalem unscathed. And it was God who provided the victory.
But there is another day coming, when God will provide an even greater victory over the enemies of Israel. It is recorded in the book of Revelation. We are told of a day when God will send His Son back to earth to defeat Satan and all those who have joined him in his ill-fated rebellion against God and the people of God. He will fail. The godless nations will fall. And God will restore His holy people, the nation of Israel.
“We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,
the one who is and who always was,
for now you have assumed your great power
and have begun to reign.
The nations were filled with wrath,
but now the time of your wrath has come.
It is time to judge the dead
and reward your servants the prophets,
as well as your holy people,
and all who fear your name,
from the least to the greatest.
It is time to destroy
all who have caused destruction on the earth.” – Revelation 11:17-18 NLT
God is faithful.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.