Many people cite Isaiah 17 as further evidence of a coming Armageddon. In current news, syria (and damascus ) do have an internal war going on. Verse 4-6 seem to imply Israel will be attacked or face a consequence related to the destruction damascus, concurrently. My question is: Has the destruction of Damascus happened in history before? was Israel “wasted away” during that time? Or Is Isaiah 17 an unfulfilled prophecy? It seems on the surface level that the continued existence of Damascus as ” the oldest city” in the world right now makes isaiah look weaker in the eyes of skeptics (unless it is to happen in the future). But then what help or what is the significance of Damascus and this prophecy during the time Isaiah was prophesying?Is this prophecy just symbolizing that God could wipe out a powerful city?
Isaiah prophesied in a period from about 750 to 710 BC. In Isaiah 17 he is prophesying the destruction of Damascus by Nebuchadnezzar just over 100 years later. Not long after Nebuchadnezzar conquered Damascus, he also came to Jerusalem, in 605 BC. Jerusalem was not destroyed at that time because, as advised by Jeremiah, the Jews decided to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. Unfortunately, they later rebelled in 597 and 586 BC, at which point Jerusalem was also destroyed. It would not have been very useful to instruct God’s people about his vengeance on Damascus if the destruction were to occur over 2700 years later.
In the popular “Christian” media it is common for people to teach the premillenial doctrine, which is that Jesus will come back to Jerusalem at the end time and rule on a physical throne in physical Jerusalem for 1000 years. This is a misinterpretation of Revelation 20 and other passages. It is also a rather gross misunderstanding of the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. These people tend to cruise throughout Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zechariah and Revelation to find proof texts for their doctrine. To use Isaiah 17 as a prophecy of what is happening in Syria today is a particularly egregious abuse of the scripture, as any reading of the text clearly points to a destruction which occurred in a time frame fairly close to the prophecy.
Isaac Newton wrote a commentary on Daniel (yes, Isaac Newton!). In it he railed against those who seek to find fulfillment of prophecy in current events, pointing out that this brings focus on the teacher rather than honoring the scripture. His advice was to let history interpret itself, and to only try to match events with prophecy well after the events. Apparently, people in Newton’s time (the late 1600s) were doing the same kind of thing you found when people misinterpret Isaiah 17. Newton’s advice applies today. In fact, the tendency to falsely read current events into biblical prophecy has only increased over time.
We/I should be humble here. I cannot absolutely rule out the possibility that events in the Middle East today are fulfilling some sort of prophecy. I am extremely skeptical of this, but it is possible that one or two of the prophecies in Ezekiel or Jeremiah are fulfilled, both in the past and at end times. If so, we are better off reserving judgment on this until well after the events. Those who read current events into the scripture do God a disservice.
As for the continued existence of Damascus, the city has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, as have most of the cities of the ancient Near East. Only when God prophesied that a city will never be rebuilt should we expect that it will not be rebuilt. In Ezekiel, God prophsies that Tyre will never be rebuilt. This is true in that the original site of the city, even today is abandoned.
One last note. Premillenialism is a false doctrine, but it is not an essential one. A person can be a bit off in this area and still be saved, so we should avoiding raising this doctrine to too high an importance.