The War of Gog of Magog and the Burden of Damascus
The burden of Damascus clearly says that the city will be no more; it will be a heap of ruins and appears to be hanging like a Damoclean sword over the city with nothing to save it. Many end-time prophecy commentators see the burden of Damascus to be fulfilled through a nuclear destruction, but are there any proofs of such a conclusion? And when will the desolation of Damascus take place and who will do it and why? To these questions, is this article dedicated.
The burden of Damascus according to Isaiah
The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall become a ruinous heap. (Isa 17:1)
The burden concerning Damascus (Hebrew: Dammesek) goes straight forward to threaten Damascus at the very beginning of the prophecy declaring that Damascus will cease to exist as a city.
Damascus is not documented as an important city until the arrival of the Arameans, a Semitic people from Mesopotamia. Several Aramaic kingdoms were formed, as Aramaeans abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and formed federated tribal states. One of these kingdoms was Aram-Damascus, centered on its capital Damascus.
Note: Aram, “exalted” the highland; Aram and its inhabitants named after its founder Aram, the fifth son of Shem (Gen_10:22-23). Aram or as it is commonly known as Syria is not be confused as Assyria which in Hebrew is Ashshur. Aram and Ashshur are the sons of Shem, son of Noach, who established cities after them. These cities became kingdoms and the kingdom of Aram is called “Damascus” or “Aram-Damascus” after its capital. Damascus is one of the most ancient cities of the world, which is still in existence today.
The land of Aram was located on the west side of the Euphrates and was divided, in the times of King Shaul and King David, into the kingdoms of Damascus, Tsobah, and Hamath.
The kings of Tzobah were defeated by King Shaul (1Sa_14:47), and afterwards conquered and made tributary to Israel by King David, who did the same to Damascus that had come to the assistance of Tsobah (2Sam 8 and 10).
After the death of King David and during the time of his son Solomon, Rezon, who had broken away from the king of Tsobah, established himself in Damascus (see 1Ki_11:23-25), and became the founder of a powerful dynasty which afterwards made vassals of all the smaller kings of Syria (1Ki_20:1).
After the division of Israel into a northern and a southern kingdom, this powerful dynasty of Rezon also long pressed hard on the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and conquered a great part of its territory.
King Yoash succeeded in retaking the conquered cities and King Yerovoam II was able to restore the ancient frontiers of Israel as far as Hamath (2Ki_14:25).
Some decades later, and this is important to note here, the king of Damascus in alliance with King Pekah of Israel, undertook a war against the Kingdom of Judah during the time of King Ahaz, who called to his aid the Assyrians. However, the Assyrians conquered Damascus, and put an end to Aram, the Syrian kingdom.
After this brief account of the history, let us return to the burden of Damascus in Isaiah 17.
According to the prophecy, Damascus is removed from the sphere of existence as a city and becomes a heap of ruins.
There is a great deal of speculations, hypotheses, and theories as to the real meaning of these words in the oracle concerning Damascus. Damascus is one of the most ancient cities and still exists today, even after the aftermath of the civil war in Syria.
Damascus predates another ancient city, Jerusalem, by about a thousand years. Conquered and destroyed in the invasions of the world empires, Damascus has always been rebuilt and most importantly never ceased to be a city; it stands as a city even today.
How are we to understand the prophecy concerning the fate of one of the most ancient cities? Is it going to be fulfilled as prophesied, or Damascus somehow can escape its fate and continue to exist?
This will be our topic in this article, as we will go through the prophecy in Isaiah 17.
The prophecy continues to say thus,
The cities of Aroer are forsaken; they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid. The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus; and the remnant of Aram shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, said Yehovah of hosts. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the glory of Ya’akov shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean. (Isa 17:2-4)
Where it is said (Isa 17:2) “The cities of Aroer”, it represents the land to the east of the Jordan River. There were two cities of Aroers conquered by Yehoshua (Joshua). One of them was a city allotted to the tribe of Reuben, “Aroer on the Arnon” as found in Deu_2:36 and Deu_3:12, and Aroer allotted to the tribe of Gad (Jos_13:25). Therefore, “the cities of Aroer” in Isa 17:2 are these two Aroers on the east of the Jordan, which the Israelites conquered in the time of Yehoshua.
Here, the prophecy is making a sudden turn. From verse 3 until the end of the oracle YHVH turns from Damascus to Israel widening out from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, represented by Ephrayim, to all Israel, represented by the name of the forefather Ya’akov, as we read, The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus.
Ephraim loses the fortified cities of Aroer, which once served as defenses, and Damascus loses its rank as a kingdom. And if that was not strange enough, the message concerning Damascus goes on to say that those that are left of Aram, who do not fall in the war, become like the proud citizens of the kingdom of Israel, as it is said, the remnant of Aram shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, i.e., they are carried away to become a part of Israel.
The curse pronounced on the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Damascus, however, falls upon them equally (see Isa 17:3), because the northern kingdom has allied itself with heathen Damascus, in opposition to its own brother tribe the Southern Kingdom of Judah, as discussed above.
Thus, by this abhorring to YHVH alliance with a stranger, Israel had become a stranger itself to the Covenant.
At the time when Isaiah wrote this oracle, the threats against the kingdoms of Damascus (Aram) and the Northern Kingdom of Israel had long been fulfilled. Assyria had punished both of them, as the instrument of punishment in the hands of YHVH.
And in return, Assyria itself had also been punished, as it is alluded at the end of the prophecy in Isa_17:12-14. However, in the present author’s view, here Ashshur is used not as Ashshur the historical empire, but as “Ashshur” as a multitude of nations that will all gather together under one will, to make a siege against the people of YHVH. This we discussed in the previous articles concerning the war of Gog of Magog.
And it will come to pass in that day, that the glory of Israel will fade (Isa 17:4), as when the harvestman gathers the crop and reaps it (Isa 17:5). Yet, there will be left gleanings, a remnant, says YHVH (Isa 17:6), that will regard the Harvestman, and whose eyes will look to the Set-apart One of Israel (Isa 17:7) and forsake the abominations that had been done (Isa 17:8).
These four verses are speaking of the gathering of all Israel for harvest (see also Joh 4:35-38, Joe 3:13, and Revelation 14), after which a small remnant will return to the Land. Thus the theme of “a remnant will return” has become the law of Israel’s history: only a remnant left Egypt with Mosheh and crossed the Red Sea; only a remnant crossed the Jordan River with Yehoshua and entered the promised Land; only a remnant returned from Babylon with Zerubavel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and sadly only a remnant will return from the longest exile in Israel’s history, which continues until today: the Roman exile.
In that day of reckoning Israel’s main cities will be as the forsaken places, like bald places on mountain tops, and it will be a desolation (Isa 17:9), because Israel has forgotten YHVH and has not been mindful of the Rock of her stronghold to plant in the land what is pleasant to Him, but has planted the seedlings of the foreigners (Isa 17:10) and made them grow, but on the day of the harvest it will be grief and pain (Isa 17:11).
Woe, the uproar of many peoples, that roar like the roaring of the seas; and the rushing of nations, that rush like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters; but He shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like the whirling dust before the storm. At eventide behold terror; and before the morning they are not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us. (Isa 17:12-14)
The judgment of the nations that will summon to wage war against Israel commences in the evening, and rages through the night, and before the morning dawns, their armies will be all destroyed.
We should recall what we studied in the article “A Third Scenario for the War of Gog of Magog-continued” concerning the last war. By comparing Isa 17:12-14 to Isa 29:7-8, we will see that both prophecies speak of a destruction of the foreign armies in an instant, suddenly, as in a night dream. We read thus,
But the multitude of your foes shall be like fine dust, and the crowd of the ruthless ones as chaff blowing away. And it shall be in an instant, suddenly! You shall be visited by Yehovah of hosts with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and storm, and flame of devouring fire. Then the multitude of all the nations who fight against Ari’el, even all who fight against her and her stronghold, and distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision. And it shall be as when a hungry man dreams, and see, he eats; but he awakes, and his soul is empty; or as when a thirsty man dreams, and see, he drinks; but he awakes, and see, he is faint, and his soul is longing. Thus, shall the multitude of all the nations be who fight against Mount Tsiyon. (Isa 29:5-8)
The burden of Damascus according to Amos
The burden concerning Damascus in Amos commences with,
For thus said Yehovah: For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not reverse it: because they have threshed Gilead with sledges of iron. So will I send a fire into the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad; And I will break the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from valley of Aven, and him that holds the scepter from Beth-Eden; and the people of Aram shall go into captivity unto Kir, said Yehovah. (Amo 1:3-5)
In the expression “for three transgressions, and for four” is not to be taken in a literal sense, as if Damascus had been found guilty of only three or four sins, but as an example of more precise account of the sins which it had committed. So, in such a sense when three sins is followed by four, by way of gradation, YHVH declares that the measure of sins is so full that it is filled beyond all measure.
For this measure of sins beyond all measure YHVH said He would not reverse the burden (the curse) from Damascus.
We should recall in the Book of Jonah, the prophet was sent to the great city of Nineveh, the center of the rising Assyria, to call for repentance. The inhabitants of the city repented and YHVH reversed the curse upon Nineveh, but would Damascus repent? What unforgivable sin had Damascus committed against the Highest that He would not turn back His wrath on it?
The unforgivable sin Damascus did is following swiftly in the oracle: because they have threshed Gilead with sledges of iron or with some sort of iron threshing-machines.
This took place at the conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by Hazael during the reigns of King Yehu (2Ki_10:31-33) and King Yehoahaz (2Ki_13:7), when YHVH began to cut off some of Israel for the transgressions His people did against Him.
However, the conquerors acted so cruelly towards the inhabitants of Gilead that they had destroyed them and made them like the dust on the threshing-floor after the grain had been beaten out. YHVH used Damascus to cut off some not all of Israel, but the Arameans were cruel and merciless. And this is the principal transgression of Aram-Damascus and the reason for its destruction: the cruelty they showed upon Gilead.
This prediction of the destruction of Damascus in Amo 1:3-5 was fulfilled when the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser conquered the city and broke up the kingdom of Syria (2Ki_16:9). The closing words in Amos, “said Yehovah”, serve to add strength to that threat.
Yet, Damascus did not cease to exist.
The burden of Damascus according to Jeremiah
The burden concerning Damascus in Jeremiah commences with,
Of Damascus. Hamath is ashamed, and Arpad; for they have heard evil report, they are melted away; there is trouble in the sea; it cannot be quiet. Damascus is waxed feeble, she turns herself to flee, and trembling has seized on her; anguish and pangs have taken hold of her, as of a woman in travail. How is the city of praise left unrepaired, the city of my joy? Therefore, her young men shall fall in her broad places, and all the men of war shall be brought to silence in that day, says Yehovah Tsevaot. And I will kindle a fire in the wall of Damascus, and it shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad. (Jer 49:23-27)
The largest cities of Aram, Damascus, Hamath, and Arpad, are seized with terror. Damascus would flee, but its men of war fall by the sword of the enemy, and the city is in flames.
In Jer_49:24-25 the desolation of Damascus seems to have come to completion, for where it is said that the inhabitants of Damascus fled with terror and deserted the city, its warriors fell in the streets (Isa_49:26), and the city burned to the ground (Isa 49:27), a complete desolation and abandonment are meant.
And where it is said “the city my joy”, for the lack of sufficient information, we do not know what it means.
However, one is certain: in the light of the burden of Damascus in Isaiah 17, to which the prophecy in Jeremiah is an addition, the threats of destruction and ruin pronounced against it are for its cruelty committed against Israel, and because of its alliance with Israel to destroy Judah (see again Amo 1:3-5).
What is missing in Isaiah 17, though, is the means through which this devastation will come upon Damascus. Here in Jeremiah 49, however, this is clearly indicated: destruction of the city will come through fire in one night, and in the morning, Damascus is no more (see again Isa 17:14).
However, the fulfilment of these threats of a complete destruction of Damascus cannot be proved historically. It is a historical fact indeed that Assyria did conquer Damascus and it is a fact that after Egypt had conquered Syria as far as the Euphrates, and after the defeat of the Egyptians at Carchemish, by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, Damascus was harshly treated, but not to the extent to cease to exist as a city.
Therefore, we may say that the burden concerning the complete destruction of Damascus to the extent of being uninhabited: “taken away from being a city, and it shall become a ruinous heap” in Isa 17:1, is still to be fulfilled in the future.
Only when is the burden concerning Damascus properly read in the context of Isaiah 17, which gives the warning that the city will cease to exist; in the context of Amos 3, which gives the reason why Damascus will be cut off; and in the context of Jeremiah 49, which gives the means of its final destruction, we can see the writing on the wall concerning the most ancient city of the world: the burden of Damascus says thus,
DAMASCUS WILL CEASE TO EXIST AS A CITY IN ONE NIGHT, THROUGH FIRE, FOR THE CRUELTY IT HAD DONE TO THE CHILDREN OF YHVH!
However, will Damascus read the writing on the wall?
Now we know what, why, and how the burden of Damascus will happen. What we do not know when and who will make it happen.
We have the reason to believe that Damascus will cease to exist as a city in the final war of the world, aka World War III, or as the prophecy in Ezekiel 38 and 39 calls it: the war of Gog of Magog.
What we are not certain of, however, is in which of the three scenarios of the war of Gog of Magog the burden of Damascus fits best: in (1) Ezekiel 38 and 39, (2) Zechariah 9-11, or Zechariah 12-14. Or, perhaps, in each of these scenarios of the war of Gog of Magog, Damascus will be destroyed.
From what we studied in the articles dedicated to the war of Gog of Magog, the present author tends to consider the scenario according to Zechariah 9-11, which we studied in the article “A Third Scenario for the War of Gog of Magog“. The reason being is that both oracles begin with almost identical headings. We compare Zec 9:1 to Isa 17:1,
The burden of the word of Yehovah in the land of Hadrach and Damascus, … (Zec 9:1)
The burden of Damascus. … Isa 17:1)
However, who will make Damascus cease to exist?
Many if not all the end-time prophecy commentators see the final destruction of Damascus to come through a nuclear explosion and they contribute it to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).
While most certainly the burden of Damascus does speak of destruction through fire, the fire may not necessarily come through the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by IDF.
When the Creator made a covenant with Noach after the Flood, He promised the progenitor of mankind that He would not destroy the world with water. However, He said nothing about fire.
The present author’s opinion is that Damascus will indeed cease to exist as a city through fire, because the prophecies do say so, but the fire will come from above, from the Almighty YHVH.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.