The Destruction of Damascus



John Hoole – July 22 & 29, 2012





Before we get in to the Scripture I want to put a kind of disclaimer before you.  Prophecy is a fascinating subject.  I think most people want to know what the future holds – and I am no exception.  What is so wonderful about Biblical prophecy however, is the fact that it is inspired by God and is 100% accurate.  Once an event prophesied in Scripture occurs we can look back at the passages that speak of that event, and marvel at the perfection and fulfillment of the prophecy.  But things are a bit different when we are studying prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled.  Over the time of this series, we have looked at a number of future events.  And we will be looking at another this morning.


In the case of yet future fulfillment, the Bible accuracy is still infallible.  But often the human interpretation can be in error, especially when it comes to details and timing of future fulfillment.


This morning we are going to look at one such prophecy. It is a subject I have thought a lot about, yet never mentioned in any previous lesson.  In fact, I have never taught on this topic any time prior.  But I think it is pertinent and something you currently hear in the news report today.


Once upon a long time ago, several Hebrew prophets predicted that the Syrian capital city of Damascus would someday cease to exist as a city.  Three of the prophets who prophesied against Damascus are Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos.  Damascus is mentioned 59 times in the Bible, so these three prophets are not the only writers that speak of this city.


First, Isaiah, whose prophetic ministry spanned between 740 – 701 BC.  Let’s look at what this prophet wrote.


Isaiah 17:1 NKJV


17     The burden against Damascus. "Behold, Damascus will cease from being a city, and it will be a ruinous heap.


Let’s look at how it is worded in a couple other translations.


Isaiah 17:1 NIV


17     An oracle concerning Damascus: "See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.


Isaiah 17:1 NASU


17     The oracle concerning Damascus. "Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city and will become a fallen ruin.


The other two Damascus prophecies we will look at are found in Jeremiah 49:23-27 and Amos 1:1-5.  We will look at these passages later.


As we look at what the future is for the city of Damascus, I want to answer several questions:


         1.      What will happen to Damascus?


         2.      How will the prophecy be fulfilled?


         3.      What are the reasons Damascus will cease being a city?


         4.      What is the result of  this activity?


         5.      How will Israel be impacted?




For more than a year, there has been a serious on-going uprising in Syria.  Syria was emboldened by the outcome of the 2006 war with the Hezbollah in Lebanon.  This war was not decisive for Israel.  Since then, Syria’s behavior towards Israel has almost invited Israel’s confrontation.


I am not supporting either side, not knowing that the members of the uprising is any better than Bashar Assad.  The Muslim Brotherhood is a strong player in the current rebellion.  But I am concerned how this unrest might spill over to Israel.


There have been times recently where the uprising threatened to drag Israel into the conflict.  Rebel forces capture a border town next to the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria.  The rebels took control of the town of Rawyahina, and pursuing Syrian government forces actually entered the buffer zone during the fighting.  This prompted Israel to file a stern complaint with the UN.  As a result, Israel has gone on heightened alert along its northern border.  There is also talk of the possibility of Bashar Assad initiating an attack on Israel, that would solidify his legacy with many Muslims.


It has been known for years that Syria has a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, something that was actually admitted by the Bashar Assad regime this past Monday (July 23, 2012).  But while they acknowledged their stockpile of such weapons of mass destruction, the Assad regime added they will use them if foreign troops are dispatch to help the rebels.  This has necessitated the following comment this past week (July 24, 2012) by the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman: “Israel will act decisively and without hesitation or restraint if Syria transfers and chemical weapons to the Hezbollah.”  Lieberman went on to say that if they did transfer such weapons, it would be an act of war.


My intent this morning is not to spend much more discussing the current uprising in Syria, but rather to explore what the Bible says about the future of Syria and her capital Damascus.


Today, the heart of the city of Damascus is the Old City.  Even under Islamic rule, the ancient heart of the Old City remains divided into three quarters, Muslim, Jewish and Christian.  And between the Jewish and Christian quarters is a biblical street – Strait Street.  Today it is called Bab Sharqi.  And, in Arabic, the name of the city is Dimashq.


In a vision, God speaks to Ananais, telling him to go to the house of Judas, located on Strait Street to see a man named Saul of Tarsus, who later became the apostle Paul.  You will remember in Acts 9 the story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.  Parts of that road are still visible in northern Israel.


The city of Damascus is considered by many to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.  The second time it is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 15:2.  It has been conquered many times, but always remained intact to this day.


Genesis 15:1-2 NKJV


1       After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward."

2       But Abram said, "Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"


But, although Damascus is the oldest city in the world, one day, according to Isaiah 17:1, it one day will cease to be a city.  Damascus will one day become a heap of rubble.


Over the last couple of decades, the unrest between Syria and Israel has continued to escalate.  In July 2007, a chemical warhead exploded at a Syrian missile facility while being fitted to a Scud missile, killing several dozen of Iranian and Syrian technicians.  The only significant target within the range of the Scud would have been Tel Aviv.


Just two months later, in September 2007, the Israeli bombed a secret Syrian nuclear facility deep inside the country.  This demonstrated Israel’s ability to render the Russian state-of-the-art anti-air defenses ineffective.  The bombed Syrian nuclear facility was being operated in conjunction with North Korea.  Syria followed by spending more than 3 billion dollars to strengthen their military, anticipating an eventual conflict with Israel.  Much of this has been aided by support from Russia.


Some would say the prophecies of Isaiah about Damascus were fulfilled in 732 BC, when the king of Assyria, Tiglath Pileser, conquered Damascus.  Tiglath Pileser captured Damascus and killed king Rezin.  About a decade later (721 BC) the Assyrians, under King Sargon, would also conquer the northern kingdom of Israel.  Almost two decades later, Sargon’s son, Sennacherib, Fought against Hezekiah, king of Judah, and lost.


So, could this prophecy in Isaiah 17 be already fulfilled?     Not if you take Scripture literally.  Isaiah prophesied that Damascus would cease to be a city, and would become a heap of ruins.  That has never happened to this city, even by the Assyrians.  And why would Isaiah mention Assyria 37 times in his book of 66 chapters, but never mention it in chapter 17.  Damascus survives to this day as the second most populated city of Syria, behind Aleppo.


The prophet Jeremiah also spoke of the demise of the city of Damascus.  Jeremiah lived a century after Assyria conquered Damascus.  His ministry lasted from the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign – 626 BC - until after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.  One Hebrew chronology work – Seder HaDaroth – gives Jeremiah finishing his ministry in 578 BC.


So, the prophecy given by Isaiah could not have already occurred when conquered by the Assyrians.  As mentioned earlier, the city of Damascus has never become a heap of rubble.  So, if Isaiah is to be taken literally, the demise of Damascus remains an unfulfilled prophecy.


Let’s read again the prophecy in Isaiah, but add verse 2.


Isaiah 17:1-2 NKJV


1       The burden against Damascus. "Behold, Damascus will cease from being a city, And it will be a ruinous heap.

2       The cities of Aroer are forsaken;  They will be for flocks Which lie down, and no one will make them afraid.


Again, Damascus is destined for destruction, causing it to cease from being a city.  In verse two we find another name associated with the destruction of Damascus.  The cities of Aroer are adversely affected, causing them to be “forsaken.”  The word used for forsaken is azab, which means “abandoned, left behind, released, or neglected.”


There are actually three places in the Bible called Aroer.


Aroer Judah, 12 miles southeast of Beersheba.  It is now called Ar’arah.


Aroer Sihon is the name of a town on the north bank of the Arnon River, which empties into the Dead Sea from the east side  This Aroer is 13 miles east of the Dead Sea, and today is called Arair.


Aroer Gad is mentioned in the Bible as being located near Rabbah.


Rabbah is mentioned 15 times in the Bible and is the capital city of the Ammonites.  Today it is called Amman, the capital city of the nation of Jordan.  Amman is located in northern Jordan and is only 109 miles from Damascus.  Aroer Gad is probably the one signified by Isaiah 17.  It is the area where most Jordanians live today.


Since Aroer becomes, according to Isaiah 17:2, a place for flocks to graze, it is thought that whatever caused Damascus to cease to be a city, necessitated the inhabitants of Aroer to flee from their homes.  But Aroer is not sited as being destroyed like Damascus.  Neither was it reduced to a heap of rubble.


The same idea of destruction of not only Damascus, but the surrounding area is continued in the Jeremiah prophecy.


Jeremiah 49:23-27 NIV


23     Concerning Damascus: "Hamath and Arpad are dismayed, for they have heard bad news. They are disheartened, troubled like the restless sea.

24     Damascus has become feeble, she has turned to flee and panic has gripped her; anguish and pain have seized her, pain like that of a woman in labor.


27     "I will set fire to the walls of Damascus; it will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad."


Notice the first two places mentioned – Hamath and Arpad.  Hamath today is called Hamah.  Hamah is the fourth largest city in Syria today, with about 700,000 people.  It is located 29 miles directly north of the city of Homs, which is where the current rebel uprising was centered.


It is 75 miles north of Damascus, located on the Orontes River.  Hamah is where the headquarters of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is located today.  Arpad is believed to be a region in northern Syria rather than a city.


The full destruction of Damascus does not seem to reach all the way to Hamath and Arpad because Jeremiah does not say that these places are destroyed.  He says they heard the bad news concerning Damascus.  The destruction just 75 miles to their south does, however, cause them to be troubled.


Before going to Amos 1, the third prophecy against Damascus, I want us to notice who receives a harsh prophecy just prior to mentioning Damascus.


Jeremiah 49:1-2 NIV


1       Concerning the Ammonites: This is what the Lord says: "Has Israel no sons? Has she no heirs? Why then has Molech taken possession of Gad? Why do his people live in its towns?

2       But the days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will sound the battle cry against Rabbah of the Ammonites; it will become a mound of ruins, and its surrounding villages will be set on fire.


Do you remember anything about the city of Rabbah?  I mentioned it once earlier in this lesson.  Four hundred years prior to the time of Jeremiah, David committed adultery with Bathsheba.  David had her husband, Uriah, sent to the front of the battle, where he was killed.  That battle took place in this city – Rabbah.  I have twice been to the citadel in Rabbah, where it is believed that battle took place.  Again, the name of that city is Amman, the capital of the country of Jordan.


I take you on this side road to ask:  Could the leveling of Damascus and Amman take place at the same time?  This question also become interesting because of the place we read in the second verse of Isaiah 17.  If we accept Aroer as being the one in the territory of Gad, which makes the most sense it is located quite close to the city of Rabbah – Amman.   And we noted earlier that because of what happened to Damascus, the cities of Aroer were forsaken – Isaiah 17:2.


Now, let’s turn to the prophecy of Amos.  Amos would have been a contemporary of Isaiah, although his prophetic ministry probably begins a decade or two before that of Isaiah.


Unlike so many of the personal names of people, no other person bears the same name in the Old Testament.  There is an Amos mentioned among the genealogy of Jesus mentioned in Luke 3:25. This N.T. Amos is otherwise unknown.


Amos 1:1-5 NIV


1       The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa — what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.

2       He said: "The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up,  and the top of Carmel withers."

3       This is what the Lord says: "For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. Because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth,

4       I will send fire upon the house of Hazael that will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad.

5       I will break down the gate of Damascus; I will destroy the king who is in the Valley of Aven  and the one who holds the scepter in Beth Eden. The people of Aram will go into exile to Kir,”  says the Lord.


I am not going to go through each of the names in these verses, but make a few comments.  Amos was a shepherd from Tekoa, located 6 miles south of Bethlehem.  Hazael and Ben-Hadad are names of ancient Syrian kings.  Aram is a reference to the people of this area.


Amos agrees with the other prophets in writing that Damascus and much of Syria is destroyed.  In each passage, we have either cities/regions that are deserted and forsaken.  People leave their homes for fear of what it coming.  Amos gives us a place to where the Arameans are exiled – a place called Kir.  Many Bible scholars that I have read believe it may have been located in eastern Jordan or Iraq.  One believes it is in present-day Iran.


Isaiah 22:6 NKJV


6       Elam [Iran] bore the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen, and Kir uncovered the shield.


There is also mention of the Valley of Aven.  Several Bible dictionaries (ISBE, Smith, Eaton, Fausset) and commentaries (Barnes, Clarke’s) believe it is located in modern Lebanon, and currently called Beqaa Valley.  The ancient city of Baalbek is located in this valley.  This valley is also the stronghold of the modern day Hezbollah rebels.


Although some of these three prophecies concerning Damascus and the surrounding area may have partially fulfilled, I am confident that a great portion is yet unfulfilled.  It will be so devastating that it will virtually be left uninhabited.




From where I sit, there are at least three possibilities as to when these prophecies will be fulfilled.


         1.      The demise of Damascus initiates the war mentioned in Psalm 83.


         2.      It occurs prior to the war mentioned in Ezekiel 38, involving Russia and Iran and others.


         3.      At the end of the Tribulation as part of the Battle of Armageddon.


To answer the question as to the timing of this event, I need to return to comments made in an earlier lesson.  In our lesson, “Russian and Iran in prophecy,” which is recorded in Ezekiel 38, I made a statement that none of the nations mentioned by Ezekiel have an immediate border with Israel.  The question that could easily be raised is:


“Why would the nations that border on Israel not take part in the invasion, especially since they hate Israel’s existence as much as any nation?”


The countries I primarily have in mind are:


                   •  Lebanon

                   •  Jordan

                   •  Gaza

                   •  Egypt

                   •  Part of Arabia (does not have border with Israel)


Back in the Old Testament times, these modern countries did not necessarily exist with these names.  And I think they are all mentioned in Psalm 83.  A battle is mentioned in this Psalm that is not discussed as much as the war in Ezekiel 38.  During our lesson on the invasion of Israel by Russia, Iran and others, I mentioned that I believe the timing of the Ezekiel 38 invasion is before the Tribulation but after the Rapture.  I am not going to go through my rationale for that position during our lesson today.  I mention it to say I believe the battle mentioned in Psalm 83 occurs even earlier.


Let’s read Psalm 83.


Psalms 83:1-8 NKJV


1       Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, and do not be still, O God!

2       For behold, Your enemies make a tumult; And those who hate You have lifted up their head.

3       They have taken crafty counsel against Your people, and consulted together against Your sheltered ones.

4       They have said, "Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more."

5       For they have consulted together with one consent; They form a confederacy against You:

6       The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites; Moab and the Hagrites;

7       Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek; Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;

8       Assyria also has joined with them; They have helped the children of Lot. Selah


Before going further, let’s identify where these people groups/tribes lived.


         Edom                       Southern Jordan

         Ishmaelites               Northwest Saudi Arabia

         Moab                      Central Jordan

         Hagrites                   Egypt (Hagar was an Egyptian)

         Gebal                      Northern Lebanon

         Ammon                   Northern Jordan

         Amalek                   Negev/Southern Jordan/Sinai

         Philista                    Gaza Strip an Hamas

         Tyre                        Southern Lebanon – Hezbollah

         Assyria                   Northwest Iraq (Near Turkey and Syria)


The countries involved in this war with Israel, I call the inner circle of enemies.  And they are represented by Psalm 83.  The countries involved in the Ezekiel 38 invasion of Israel, none of whom border on Israel, I call the outer ring of Israel’s enemies.


The outer ring consist of these nations:


         •  Russia (Including some of the former Islamic provinces of Russia)

         •  Iran

         •  Sudan

         •  Libya

         •  Turkey


Do you notice that neither Damascus nor Syria are mentioned as part of either ring?  Could it be that before either war, Damascus and Syria are already gone?  If so, that could account for its absence.  If Syria was still a viable nation when these wars occurs, certainly they would want to take part in destroying Israel.


There is also another notable difference between the wars involving these two rings.  The defeat of the inner ring is accomplished by God using the Israeli Defense Forces, while the defeat of the outer ring nations is accomplished by God alone.


Let me give you just a couple of passages that sow Israel’s forces involved in the war with the inner ring.


Isaiah 17:9 NIV


9       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.


Earlier, we read how the cities of Aroer will be abandoned because of what happens to Damascus.  This verse says they leave because of the Israelites.


I have, thus far focused on the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos.  But there are many others that also speak of the destruction of the inner ring nations.


Ezekiel 25:13-14 NKJV


13     therefore thus says the Lord God: "I will also stretch out My hand against Edom, cut off man and beast from it, and make it desolate from Teman; Dedan shall fall by the sword.

14     I will lay My vengeance on Edom by the hand of My people Israel, that they may do in Edom according to My anger and according to My fury; and they shall know My vengeance," says the Lord God.


Obadiah 18 NKJV


18     The house of Jacob shall be a fire, And the house of Joseph a flame; But the house of Esau shall be stubble; They shall kindle them and devour them, And no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau," For the Lord has spoken.


Back to Damascus.  The reason Damascus and Syria are not in either ring of nations could be their destruction is the first domino to fall.  In fact, it might be that which sparks the inner ring war.


Each of the two wars results in the destruction of each ring of nations at the same time.  Therefore, if we can actually place the time of destruction of one people group or nation, it will give us a time slot for that entire ring of nations.


Notice what the prophet Obadiah says.  The book of Obadiah is a short one-chapter book with only 21 verses.  The entire prophecy is against the people of Edom.  And Edom is part of the inner ring – Southern Jordan.


Obadiah 15-16 NKJV


15     "For the day of the Lord upon all the nations is near; As you have done, it shall be done to you; Your reprisal shall return upon your own head.

16     For as you drank on My holy mountain, So shall all the nations drink continually; Yes, they shall drink, and swallow, and they shall be as though they had never been.


Notice, in verse 15, the phrase, “The day of the Lord.”  That is a phrase found in both the Old and New Testaments 35 times.  It is almost always used of a period beginning with the start of the Tribulation.  Now notice it says the day of the Lord is NEAR.  That means that the Tribulation hadn’t yet started.  It also means the inner ring of nations are destroyed before the Tribulation.


Here is a way in which the sequence of events might happen:


         1.      First, the Israelis will destroy Damascus.


         2.      Then the inner circle war will begin almost immediately and all enemy nations will be destroyed.


         3.      Period of calm – length unknown.


         4.      Russian-led outer circle invasion of Israel


         5.      God will destroy 5/6 of the “outer-circle” coalition’s forces.




This is one of the areas that could easily be misinterpreted.  What I am sure of is that when it happens, those living on earth will see how they were fulfilled exactly as God said they would be.  Let’s look at Isaiah 17:14 and Jeremiah 49:26.


Isaiah 17:14 NKJV


14     Then behold, at eventide, trouble! And before the morning, he is no more. This is the portion of those who plunder us, And the lot of those who rob us.


Jeremiah 49:26 NKJV


26     Therefore her young men shall fall in her streets, And all the men of war shall be cut off in that day," says the Lord of hosts.


When I read these two passages, I am struck with how quickly the end comes to Damascus.  Isaiah talks about terror coming at night and by morning everything is gone.  Jeremiah writes about young men falling in the streets and the silencing of all the men of war.  Jeremiah’s account, without saying it, seems to also happen very quickly, perhaps in a day.


By looking at the map, the area of devastation seems to be a rather large.  I am no expert, but in modern times one’s mind might be drawn to a nuclear attack.  Israel does have nuclear capabilities, although they refuse to admit it.  Israel refers to it as the “Sampson Option.”  It is not hard to believe that things can escalate to where Israel felt that the only way they could survive would be to use their nuclear arsenal to destroy the enemy.


As I said, this is an area open to discussion.  God has more options at His disposal than any person or government has.  He may have something totally different in mind of which we are not presently aware.




For the first time in history, we are on the brink of a setting where this prophecy could be fulfilled.  What is now called by some the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis is a grave threat to Israel.  Iran’s persistent pursuit of nuclear weapons continues unabated.  These are weapons they have vowed to use for the destruction of Israel.  Iran is a chief supporter of Syria and the Hezbollah.  Hezbollah, it is reported, has a minimum of 13,000 missiles in southern Lebanon.  In the last two years, Syria has positioned 800 long-range missiles to respond to Israeli attacks.


If Israel is struck by chemical or biological WMD from Syria or Hezbollah, they will have no choice but to retaliate against Damascus.  The time required for this response would be hours, not days.  Each day without response leaves Israel vulnerable to tens of thousands of Israel civilian casualties, from more WMD attacks.


It also does not take much imagination as to what the rest of the world’s reaction would be.  Nearly all will blame Israel, just like they usually have during the last two or three decades.


Isaiah 17:12-13 NIV


12     Oh, the raging of many nations —  they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples —  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.


Israel again will be seen as the “bad guy” for daring to defend themselves.  What I like about these verses though, is that the Lord isn’t going to stand for it.  It says He will rebuke them for both their words and their actions against Israel.  I am kind of curious exactly what He’s going to do or say.  But, whatever it is, God is going to have the last word.