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Salvation in Isaiah 17

Tonight we have another oracle. Isaiah calls it a BURDEN. The Burden of Damascus. He is burdened with what he has to tell the people of Judah about two countries – Israel to the north of them, with their capital city Samaria; and Syria even further north with its capital city Damascus. The burden is called the Burden of Damascus because the 10 tribes of Israel, who made up the Northern Kingdom of God’s people called Israel plus the Syrians, were in a coalition together. And they planned to attack Judah. The representative tribe of Israel was Ephraim. Whether Ephraim was the strongest tribe at that time caused the nation to be known as EPHRAIM is not clear. Isaiah was writing early in the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah.

1. The Ruin of Israel and Syria.

Isaiah prophecies that the whole Kingdom of Syria, with its capital Damascus, along with the 10 tribes of Israel and their capital Samaria will be destroyed and overthrown. This is what verses 1 – 4 are about.

Damascus is reported to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. They talked recently about Babylon and Nineveh in Iraq being the cradle of civilisation. Nevertheless Damascus reaches back to the days of Abraham –

Genesis 14 v 15 And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus.

Genesis 15 v 2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

The city is located on a fertile plain east of the snow-capped Mount Hermon, on the edge of the Arabian Desert, about 135 miles north east of Jerusalem. The area surrounding Damascus gets its fertility from the fact that 2 rivers supply it with abundant water – The Abana and Pharpar – it was, as has been described, a garden spot of great beauty. It was the capital of Syria until 300 BC – but after that the principle city became Antioch on the Orontes River in Northern Syria. Of course Damascus is today’s capital of Syria.

During the reigns of Omri and Ahab, Kings of Israel, there was fierce conflict between Syria and Israel. But now they are friends – allies – in cooperation to fight against Judah in the south. What they had not reckoned with was the continual rise and strengthening of the Assyrians whom the Lord God used to overthrow this alliance. They had come against the choice people of Judah under their king Ahaz.

Isaiah 7 v 1 And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. 2 And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.

Isaiah 8 v 4 For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.

The Kingdom of Israel, Ephraim here, and her alliance with the heathen king of Syria, brought Israel into judgement of condemnation from God – the same judgement and condemnation reserved for the heathen nation. Israel had been often to be separate from idols and the gods of the nations around them in Canaan. They had no right to team up with the Syrians.

So TOGETHER these two nations would be overthrown – by the Assyrians. Other prophets were burdened with the same prediction – Amos in 1 v 3 – 5; Jeremiah in 49 v 23 – 27 and Zechariah in 9 v 1. How good to have scripture interpreting scripture.

Verse 1 reminds the reader what a glorious city Damascus had been. A parallel with Baghdad is possible. When the city was destroyed it was not that every building was razed to the ground. Some buildings were. But in Damascus’ case she would never be the city of importance and glory that she once had been – she would be a ruinous heap. We have yet to see the fate of Baghdad.

Verse 2 – Aroer was a city just north of the Arnon River east of the Dead Sea on the border between Moab and Ammon, originally occupied and given by Moses to the Reubenites and Gadites after the conquest. During the mixed fortunes of Israel in later years the city changed hands many times. Regained by Moab, taken by Syria, attacked and taken by Ammon, Aroer was apparently at the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, in the hands again of Israel. Under the attack of the Assyrians, Aroer will be forsaken – and animals would graze where people had lived.

Verse 3 links Ephraim and Damascus again. The glory of both Israel and Syria, in their times both prosperous and great nations, would be brought to nothing. It was as Psalm 9 v 15 had predicted –

The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken.

As the 2 nations plotted to attack and destroy another – Judah – God made sure that their own ruin came!

2. The Destitution of Israel and Syria. Verses 4 – 11

What graphic similes there are here to describe the aftermath of war. Thinness or leanness of Jacob – Jacob here meaning the ten tribes of Israel.

The planned attack on Judah was supposed to happen in 734 BC. God intervened. Instead Damascus fell in 732 BC when Tiglath-Pileser the Assyrian with his army attacked Syria from the North.

Ten years later Israel was finally dealt with and carried off captive into Assyria. God had delivered Judah.

Verse 4 describes Jacob, Israel, as a thin emaciated man – a man in poverty or serious illness.

Verse 5 the illustration of the barren state of Israel is an agricultural one. A man is harvesting heads of grain – but there is little to gather and only a tiny amount for the gleaners – all that was left was bare stalks to be ploughed under the ground again.

Verse 6 is a 3rd picture – a scarcity of olive berries when there should have been an abundance – hundreds of berries – but Isaiah says only 2 or 3 at the top of the tree and four or five on the most usually fruitful boughs. This picture speaks of the remnant of Israel – a tiny number. This remnant according to verses 7 – 8 will think again about reliance on idols. Men will no longer look to the idols and gods of their own imagination and invention and creation.

Verse 9 only underlines the desolation of the cities of Syria and Israel and in Israel’s case verse 10 reminds them of why it has all happened – because they have forgotten, chosen not to remember the God of their salvation and the rock of their strength. Last Tuesday we thought about God who is the rock of Israel and Judah – and indeed the Christian’s rock too. God had instructed the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites with their gods – but they failed to do so and compromised with the idol worshippers. As a result the idols became a snare to their descendants, leading them away from God – their TRUE ROCK and stronghold. They had THOUGHT that they had planted pleasant vine plants – but they had been strange slips. What are strange slips? It is thought that these were cuttings from the vine plants that would as time went by replenish the old plants in the vineyards. But they grew up as wild grapes – strange slips of plants – not good plants. Idol worship was cultivated instead of the worship of Jehovah.

Finally in this section, verse 11 shows that the Israelites had thought that they were providing for bountiful harvests and security from outside forces. But they trusted in the false gods and idols and the harvest was not forthcoming causing a day of desperate grief and sorrow.

There is a lesson for the people of our nation here – those who reject God for the empty vanities of the world will find out that when they need the help that only God can give them they will have to bear their grief and sorrow alone. God it seems refuses to hear those who have spurned His love and rejected His offers of mercy, and his calls to repent and be saved. And if you are not a Christian tonight and you have been doing this – refusing His love, mercy and salvation – then the prophet is warning you that one day you may cry out to God and He will not hear you! That is a chilling truth! This is an awful thing. The longer you continue refusing the Lord Jesus Christ the nearer you get to a time when you suddenly wake up when in trouble – and call on Him – and He refuses to answer you! What a terrible day that would be for any here.

But there is an answer – and it is in the verses that we have just read. Let us go back to verse 7.

7 At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.

3. The Direction for Sinners to Look.

What does it mean to look to someone?

I can remember once as a child breaking something that belonged to my father. I and my brother and sister were confronted with the crime, for at that moment he did not know which of us had done the deed. He left us alone for a few minutes to think with the words “I am looking to you to answer the question “Who has done this?”

Another way of using this term to look to someone is when there is a crisis of some sort and people need some direction. There are principle citizens appointed in the land or community – and the people come to these and say “We are looking to you to lead us.”

Or sometimes we are in need and we look to others to help us.

7 At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.

Looking to God when there is a crisis does not happen on a massive scale amongst people. People are so lost and dead in their sins that they cannot see that God is their only hope. No – it falls to the remnant, a small number of people to look to God. We are reminded of a verse further on in Isaiah 45 v 22

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

And we can think of it for a moment, like this –

1. Man has a great need – Salvation.

All are doomed to spend eternity in the terrible punishment of hell and need to be saved from this. Yet God has provided salvation – through coming Himself from Heaven to save sinners. He has provided the means whereby a man or woman, boy or girl, can be declared righteous – justified – and can escape the inevitability of eternal death in hell. God in the form of the Lord Jesus Christ came to live and die for sinners – because they need salvation.

2. There is an easy way – LOOK.

Look unto Him, ye nations, own Your God, ye fallen race; Look, and be saved through faith alone, Be justified by grace. Charles Wesley

As we have just said – there needs to be a LOOK. Look unto God. He invites people – Look unto me – I am the one who can save – I have provided salvation through myself and my sacrifice – look and see.

There was a lady who was journalist and author in North Wales who lived in Snowdonia. She went to an optician because she was having trouble with her eyes. After the usual careful examination the optician said to her, “Your eyes are very tired; you must rest them. Have you any views from your house?” “Oh yes,” she said,” I have mountains that I can see from my front room window, and mountains in the distance from the back.”

“Very good,” said the optician, “That is just what you need. When your eyes feel tired look steadily at your mountains for ten minutes – or twenty minutes would be even better; the far away look will rest them.”

This is what people need. They are looking in a concentrated close way at themselves; at their work; at their problems and their needs. This is a world with weary and tired eyes – but there is a cure! There is a glorious far away look that rests and refreshes. It is a look not merely to the hills as Psalm 121 tells us, but it is a look away and beyond to the God of the Hills.

And to be even more specific – this look needs to be to a particular hill – a hill called Calvary – a hill where one day a man was led up this hill to be nailed on a cross. How the world needs to look to that hill – and the dying man that makes sense of everything in life! Are you looking to Him tonight? Look beyond sin to the saviour of sinners.

3. There is a personal claim – Look unto me.

Not to religion; not to law keeping – although that comes as part of new life in Christ. Do not look to the false gods of health wealth and happiness.

Look to Jesus Christ Himself – He is calling you to Look to Him.

4. There is a wide invitation – it is to all the ends of the earth.

God is gathering people from every nationality and every culture, background and class. He invites us to look.

5. There is only one place to look – for I am God and there is no one else.

This is where true sight, clear sight and a wonderful sight will be given. God in His love and grace calls us to look. Are you looking this evening?

7 At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.

Perhaps this is the day that you my friend shall look to you maker – your creator – and you will begin to have respect to the Holy One of Israel – the Lord God.

Having respect is having respect to His greatness and His ability to save whoever comes to Him in repentance – so you need to repent and turn to the Lord. You need to turn away from those things in your life that you know are wrong – because your conscience tells you that they are wrong. Is there someone here who is ready to look to His maker and have respect to Him by coming to put his faith in him? There is life for a look at the Lord Jesus Christ – the crucified One – and as you look remember that it is only in this life that you have eyes to look to Christ and Calvary – now is the day of Salvation. May He draw you to himself tonight – for Jesus’ sake!

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