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DRAFT: A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Isaiah 17

Kuruvilla Thomas
Bangalore
Published on 10 May 2024 *




Isaiah 17 Timeline
Fig. 1


Introduction

This study treats Isaiah 17 as a cryptochiasmus in order to arrive at a coherent reconfiguration of the text ( see definition of cryptochiasmus in [1] ). If you wish to skip the technicalities of a chiastic parse, you may read starting from Section 4 of the Discussion section, which has the reconfigured text.

While it may appear that Isaiah 17 only predicts the defeat and exile of ancient Damascus and Samaria, we show with this parse that the prophecy primarily predicts a great purge of the Israelites and the defeat of the Beast army at the start of Christ's Millennial Reign.



Discussion

1. Presuppositions

We base our parse of Isaiah 17 on the assumption that it refers to 3 periods:

  1. The Defeat and Exile of Syria and the Northern Tribes (734BC-732BC).
  2. The Judahites are Massacred during the First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD).
  3. The Wicked are Destroyed at the Start of Christ's Millennial Reign (circa 2027AD).

2. Parsing the chiasmus

We will use the NIV Bible for this parse.

Parsing this chiasmus involves dividing portions of the text into three categories as above. We will call the time of the Defeat of Damascus Period 1, the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD Period 2 and the start of Christ's Millennial Reign Period 3.


Categorizing Isaiah 17

vs 1b-3 belong to Period 1. Ancient Syria and Ephraim are defeated and exiled.

vs 4-8 belong to Period 3. The Israelites are purged during the time of "Jacob's trouble", and the Northern Tribes turn back to their God. With this parse, the text for this Period begins with the phrase, "In that day". ( Note that vs 4-6 could be categorized under Period 1, but we place it in Period 3, because the Israelites are called "Jacob" and not "Ephraim", and because Syria is not mentioned.)

vs 9-11 belong to Period 2. The Judahites are massacred by the Romans in 70AD and their cities lie deserted (although there is a purge in Period 3, the remnant will still form a large population). We believe this passage is regarding the Roman assault because we expect to see it in all cryptochiasmi. The text for this Period begins with the phrase, "In that day".

vs 12-14a belong to Period 3. The Beast army and its allies come against Israel at the start of the Millennial Reign, but they are routed. We assign 14a to Period 3, because the Beast's defeat takes place suddenly, through an act of God (the defeat of Period 1 took place over several years).

vs 14b belongs to Period 1. Those nations that come against God's people will be defeated and destroyed, as in vs 1b-3. This passage is assigned to Period 1 to complete the chiasmus.


Original text

We color-code the chiastic units of the original text (NIV) below for easy visual identification using: red for Period 1, blue for Period 2 and green for Period 3. We have retranslated parts of the text.


Isaiah 17 1b “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. 2 The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid. 3 The castle [a] will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus. The [b] remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites,” declares the Lord Almighty.
4 “In that day the abundance [c] of Jacob will wane [d]; the fat of his body will waste away. 5 It will be as when the reaper harvests the standing grain, gathering the grain in his arms; [e] it will be [f] as when someone gathers [g] heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim. 6 Yet some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs,” declares the Lord, the God of Israel.
7 In that day people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. 8 They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the standing images [h] and the incense altars their fingers have made.

9 In that day their strong cities will be as deserted as the forest and the mountain top, as empty as they were when first abandoned to the children of Israel; there will be desolation. [i]
10 You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Therefore, though you set out the finest plants and plant imported vines, 11 though your plants grow on the day of planting and your seeds flourish by morning, yet the harvest will be ruined in the day of grief and incurable pain. [j]

12 Woe to the many nations that rage— they rage like the raging sea! Woe to the peoples who roar— they roar like the roaring of great waters! 13 Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters, when he rebukes them they flee far away, driven before the wind like chaff on the hills, like tumbleweed before a gale. 14a In the evening, sudden terror! Before the morning, they are gone!
14b This is the portion of those who loot us, the lot of those who plunder us.

Retranslation notes for Isaiah 17
[a] vs 3 "castle" instead of "fortified city". ( Assuming a parallelism in the sentence.)
[b] vs 3 "Damascus. The" instead of "Damascus; the". (For the chiasmus.)
[c] vs 4 "abundance" instead of "glory".
[d] vs 4 "wane" instead of "fade".
[e] vs 5 "It will be as when the reaper harvests the standing grain, gathering the grain in his arms" instead of "It will be as when reapers harvest the standing grain, gathering the grain in their arms".
[f] vs 5 "; it will be" instead of "—"; modified to emphasize the parallel structure.
[g] vs 5 "gathers" instead of "gleans".
[h] vs 8 "standing images" instead of "Asherah poles".
[i] vs 9 "In that day their strong cities will be as deserted as the forest and the mountain top, as empty as they were when first abandoned to the children of Israel; there will be desolation." instead of "In that day their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation." Translation based on the ASV and LXX.
[j] vs 11 "though your plants grow on the day of planting and your seeds flourish by morning, yet the harvest will be ruined in the day of grief and incurable pain." instead of "though on the day you set them out, you make them grow, and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud, yet the harvest will be as nothing in the day of disease and incurable pain."



3. Building the reconfigured text

From this parse, it appears that Isaiah 17 forms a cryptochiasmus as below:

A1   Vs 1b-3 Period 1. Damascus and Samaria are defeated and exiled
  B1   Ch Vs 4-8 Period 3. Israelites are decimated
    X   Vs 9-11 Period 2. Judahites are massacred (70AD)
  B2   Vs 12-14a Period 3. The Beast army is routed
A2   Vs 14b Period 1. Those who attack God's people will be destroyed


We now reconstruct the passages in the right order based on the chiastic structure above and based on the ordering rules of a cryptochiasmus [1].

We lead with central pivot point 'X'. The corresponding subunits (For example; subunit A1 corresponds to A2) are placed contiguously to form units (For example, A1,A2 is a unit ) so that we get a list of such units.


The sequence selected for rearrangement is:

X  [A1,A2]  [B1,B2]        (1)

Translating (1) into verse numbers, we get:

vs 9-11   [vs 1b-3, vs 14b]   [vs 4-8, vs 12-14a]        (2)

We arrive at the reconfigured passage in the next section by rearranging the verses so they are in sequence (2).



4. Isaiah 17 Reconfigured

The Judahites are Massacred during the First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD) (vs 9-11)

9 In that day their strong cities will be as deserted as the forest and the mountain top, as empty as they were when first abandoned to the children of Israel; there will be desolation.
10a You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.
10b Therefore, though you set out the finest plants and plant imported vines, 11 though your plants grow on the day of planting and your seeds flourish by morning, yet the harvest will be ruined in the day of grief and incurable pain.


The Defeat and Exile of Syria and the Northern Tribes (734BC-732BC) (vs 1b-3, vs 14b)

1b “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. 2 The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid.
3a The castle will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus.
3b The remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites,” declares the Lord Almighty. 14b This is the portion of those who loot us, the lot of those who plunder us.


The Wicked are Destroyed at the Start of Christ's Millennial Reign (circa 2027AD) (vs 4-8, vs 12-14a)

4 “In that day the abundance of Jacob will wane; the fat of his body will waste away. 5 It will be as when the reaper harvests the standing grain, gathering the grain in his arms; it will be as when someone gathers heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim. 6 Yet some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs,” declares the Lord, the God of Israel.
7 In that day people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. 8 They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the standing images and the incense altars their fingers have made.
12 Woe to the many nations that rage— they rage like the raging sea! Woe to the peoples who roar— they roar like the roaring of great waters! 13 Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters, when he rebukes them they flee far away, driven before the wind like chaff on the hills, like tumbleweed before a gale. 14a In the evening, sudden terror! Before the morning, they are gone!


5. A Commentary on the Reconfigured Text

5.0 The Title of the Prophecy (vs 1a)

1a A prophecy against Damascus:

This prophecy predicts the defeat and exile of ancient Damascus (the capital of Aram/Syria), and its ally Samaria (the capital of Ephraim/the Northern tribes). The prophecy also makes predictions regarding the First Jewish-Roman War and the start of the Millennial Reign. We propose that this prophecy was made shortly before Tiglath-Pileser III, emperor of Assyria, attacked Syria and Samaria (734BC) (around the same time as the prophecy in Isaiah 7-9 was made).



5.1 The Judahites are Massacred during the First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD) (vs 9-11)

This Period is arranged in the form of a single-unit chiasmus:

A1 9 The Judahites are massacred
    X 10a The reason for the massacre
A2 10b-11 The Judahites are massacred

Subunit A1: The Judahites are massacred (vs 9)

9 In that day their strong cities will be as deserted as the forest and the mountain top, as empty as they were when first abandoned to the children of Israel; there will be desolation.

The great massacre of Judahites during the Jewish-Roman War left Judah's towns as desolate as forests and mountaintops (see Matthew 24:21, [2]). Judea became as deserted as it was when the Israelites first entered the land after driving out the Canaanites - the Lord punished His own people to the same extent that He did the original inhabitants of the land.



Pivot X: The reason for the massacre (vs 10a)

10a You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.

The massacre occurred mainly because a majority of Judahites had forgotten their God, their saviour and protector, and they had gone after false doctrines and even worshipped other gods (see also Zeph. 1:4-6, Zech. 13:2). Those who believed in Christ and took his advice to flee to the mountains were saved from the Roman slaughter. (See our paper of the 70 weeks of Daniel for more details on this Period [2].)



Subunit A2: The Judahites are massacred (vs 10b-11)

10b Therefore, though you set out the finest plants and plant imported vines, 11 though your plants grow on the day of planting and your seeds flourish by morning, yet the harvest will be ruined in the day of grief and incurable pain.

The Judahites' efforts to build up their assets in the land proved to be in vain after this massacre. Some of them, for instance, were adept at horticulture ("your plants grow on the day of planting..."), and cultivated exotic plants that were valuable and difficult to grow, but because of the Roman devastation, they did not see the fruits of their labour (cf. Joel 1:10-12).



5.2 The Defeat and Exile of Syria and the Northern Tribes (734BC-732BC) (vs 1b-3, vs 14b)

Damascus (the capital of Aram/Syria) under king Rezin, and its ally Samaria (the Northern tribes) under king Pekah, had collaborated to attack Judah and replace Ahaz, its king (see Isaiah 7:6). Ahaz, as a vassal of Assyria, sought the aid of its emperor Tiglath-Pileser III to keep this alliance at bay (see 2 Kings 16:7-8). ( See a related prophecy in Isaiah 7-9 [3].)


This Period is arranged in the form of a single-unit chiasmus:

A1 1b-2 The Syrians and the Northern Tribes are defeated and exiled
    X 3a The leadership of the Syrians and the Northern Tribes are destroyed
A2 3b,14b The Syrians and the Northern Tribes are defeated and exiled

Subunit A1: The Syrians and the Northern Tribes are defeated and exiled (vs 1b-2)

“1b See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.

Tiglath-Pileser started his campaign against Syria and Samaria in 734BC, and destroyed Damascus by 732BC. The Syrians were exiled to Kir, leaving the region deserted (see 2 Kings 16:9).



2 The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid.

The "cities of Aroer" - those in the region of Aroer - lie to the east of the River Jordan (see Deut. 2:36, Joshua 13:25, 2 Sam. 24:5). These cities synecdochically represent the lands east of the Jordan that belonged to the Israelite tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The Assyrians conquered this territory (c. 733BC) and took its people into exile (see 1 Chronicles 5:26) - these regions may be specifically mentioned because they were the worst affected territory of the Northern Tribes.



Pivot X: The leadership of the Syrians and the Northern Tribes are destroyed (vs 3a)

3a The castle will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus.

Pekah, the king of the Northern Tribes ("castle"), was assassinated by a captain from his own army at the end of this war (732BC). King Rezin of Syria ("royal power") was also killed (2 Kings 16:9) and the land of Aram (Syria) was annexed by the Assyrians. So the leaders that took Ephraim and Syria into an assault on Judea were both killed (see also Isaiah 7:1,8,9).



Subunit A2: The Syrians and the Northern Tribes are defeated and exiled (3b,14b)

3b The remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites,” declares the Lord Almighty.

The glory of these two allied nations, Syria ("Aram") and the Northern Tribes ("Israelites"), faded away together, shortly after their attempt to take control of God's land of Judea (see also Isaiah 7:8,9).



14b This is the portion of those who loot us, the lot of those who plunder us.

All those that come against God's people, including the nations that attack them in Period 3, will be defeated and destroyed like Syria and Samaria.



5.3 The Wicked are Destroyed at the Start of Christ's Millennial Reign (circa 2027AD) (vs 4-8, vs 12-14a)

This Period is arranged in the form of a single-unit chiasmus:

A1 4-6 The wicked are destroyed: The Israelites are purged
    X 7-8 The Northern Tribes turn back to their God
A2 12-14a The wicked are destroyed: The Beast army is destroyed

Subunit A1: The wicked are destroyed: The Israelites are purged (4-6)

This subunit A1 predicts a purge of the Israelites, during the time of "Jacob's trouble" (see Jer. 30:6-7, Rev. 6:7-8) before the start of Christ's Millennial Reign, using 3 metaphors: a wasting disease, reaping of grain and harvesting of olives.


4 “In that day the abundance of Jacob will wane; the fat of his body will waste away.

During the purge of "Jacob's trouble", a portion of the Israelites ("Jacob") will die (see Jer. 30:6-7, Rev. 6:7-8). This verse is structured as a parallelism, with both parts indicating that the giant population ("abundance"/"fat") of Jacob/Israel will be reduced ("wane"/"waste away").



5 It will be as when the reaper harvests the standing grain, gathering the grain in his arms; it will be as when someone gathers heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim.

God (the "reaper") collects the righteous Israelites ("heads of grain") into the New Israel ("in his arms"). The wicked Israelites ("grain stalks"), will be left to die (in the "Valley of the Rephaim") (see also Revelation 6:7-8 in [5]).

The Valley of the Rephaim was a fertile plain between Bethlehem and Jerusalem (see Joshua 15:8, 2 Sam. 23:13), and it may be specifically mentioned in this metaphor because the Hebrew word "Rephaim" is strongly associated with death and the Realm of the Dead in the underworld; it is even translated "dead" in some contexts (see Job 26:5).



6 Yet some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs,” declares the Lord, the God of Israel.

God gathers the righteous Israelites ("harvested olives") into the New Israel (see Isaiah 10:21,22) and leaves the wicked ("gleanings") to die (they will "fall off and rot"). Every branch of the Israelite family tree will have wicked members that are killed, the more populous branches having proportionately more ("four or five on the fruitful boughs").

In these last two metaphors, we take the counterintuitive position that the harvested grain/olives represent the righteous that are allowed to live, primarily because of the small percentage of olives left as gleanings - it is unlikely that the majority of the Israelites will be killed at the start of the Millennial Reign.



Pivot X: The Northern Tribes turn back to their God (7-8)

7 In that day people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. 8 They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the standing images and the incense altars their fingers have made.

Until this time of the start of the Millennial Reign, the Northern Tribes were worshippers of idols ("standing images", "incense altars"), because God had hardened their hearts against Himself for the waywardness of their forefathers. But they will now have their spiritual eyes opened and will quickly turn back to God and Christ, and they will remain faithful forever (see Eze. 37:22,23, Isaiah 27:9, Isaiah 30:22). ( Note that the Southern Tribes had become Christian at the time of Christ.)



Subunit A2: The wicked are destroyed: The Beast army is destroyed (12-14a)

12 Woe to the many nations that rage— they rage like the raging sea! Woe to the peoples who roar— they roar like the roaring of great waters! 13 Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters, when he rebukes them they flee far away, driven before the wind like chaff on the hills, like tumbleweed before a gale.
14a In the evening, sudden terror! Before the morning, they are gone!

The Beast army and its allies from around the world gather outside the New Israel, and their military vehicles rage and roar as they prepare for an assault on God's nation (see also Nahum 2:4). But God supernaturally marshals nature against this mighty army so that they flee in terror (see Isaiah 31:8), and so that the army is destroyed in a night (Rev 19:19-21, Eze. 39).



Conclusion

With this chiastic reconstruction of the text, we have shown that Isaiah 17 contains prophecies on three distinct Periods. The defeat of Samaria and Syria in Period 1 seems to be a type of the defeat of the international Beast alliance of Period 3; in both cases, the enemies of God's people are destroyed. The massacre of the Judahites in Period 2 seems to be a type of the purge of the Israelites of Period 3; in both cases, righteous remnants are chosen to be God's representatives.



References

[1] A Definition of Cryptochiasmus
[2] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of "The 70 Weeks Of Daniel"
[3] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Isaiah 7-9
[4] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Daniel 8
[5] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Revelation 4-22, Part 2





* First version published on 12 October 2021.