Oracle of Damascus

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Evangelical Futurism (Christian eschatology) and the Oracle of Damascus

The “Oracle of Damascus” or “Burden of Damascus” is recorded in Isaiah 17:1-14, as well as in associated passages found in Zechariah 9:1-8 and Jeremiah 49:23-27. These Bible passages – and some say Amos 1:3-5 – are considered prophetic by most Evangelical Christians who embrace Futurism (Christian eschatology). Furthermore, some Futurists[1] consider Psalm 83 as an allusion to Israel’s immediate neighbors conspiring to destroy Israel as a “Latter Day’s” phenomenon. These Futurists claim that the Bible says modern-day Damascus will finally come to a quick, devastating and permanent end. They see the opening of Isaiah 17:1 in no uncertain terms to mean the utter destruction by the world’s oldest, continually-inhabited city[2]—an event heretofore which has never been fulfilled, therefore, it still must be considered a prophecy yet future:

“Behold, Damascus will cease from being a city, and it will be a ruinous heap” (Isaiah 17:1)

The devastation of Damascus will be caused by the future State of Israel as a result of the Samson Option in response to her very survival. Isaiah 17:9 states:

“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.”

They say the Bible even tells how quickly and the precise time of this destruction upon Damascus:

“In the evening, sudden terror! Before the morning, they are gone!” (Isaiah 17:14).

They also claim that Jeremiah 49:23-27; especially, verses 26 and 27, substantiate this claim upon Syria’s capital:

“‘Surely, her young men will fall in the streets; all her soldiers will be silenced in that day,‘ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘I will set fire to the walls of Damascus; it will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad.’”

Nathan Jones[3] of the Lamb and Lion Ministries Blog – (the Evangelical Premillennial ministry of David Reagan) suggests that an Israeli “nuclear warhead” will spell the demise of Damascus. Jones cites Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his remarks as indicative of Israel’s ultimate quest for survival wherein Israel “would not hold back” if renewed attacks by Hezbollah were to inflict Israel once again (See: 2006 Lebanon War).

There will no longer be a situation of distant fighting, where major cities continue with life as usual. The war will reach the cities and homes of Israeli citizens and our enemy's objective will be to target the home front . . . we will be forced to bring an end to hostilities quickly, at the smallest possible cost, using our comparative advantage (which will be) massive capabilities and tools during the Second Lebanon War that it refrained from using, because it was fighting a terror organization, not a state. ("Olmert: No holding back against Hezbollah"[4] by Roni Sofer, YNetNews, Aug. 19, 2008)

Jones suggests that Russia’s recent incursion into Georgia (See: 2008 South Ossetia War) foretells the lead-up to another yet future conflict, the Gog Magog War in which Russia allied with Iran (Persia) will descend upon the mountains of Israel in the End Times (Ezekiel 38-39); therefore,

As the Middle East heats up with Russian on the move and the current (April, 2009) Iranian President’s rhetoric against Israel, the players are all playing and positioning themselves for a possible prophetic scenario. The consequence of this will put Israel in a very precarious position; with their back against the wall, Israel may use their nukes and fulfill the ‘Damascus’ prophecy found in Isaiah and Jeremiah. (“The Prophetic End of Damascus"[5] Lamb and Lion Ministries, August 19, 2008)

Premillenarian Ray Stedman (formerly of Peninsula Bible Church of Palo Alto, CA) affirms:

Two verses in Chapter 17 (Isaiah 17:1-2) describe the future of Damascus, a city much in the news today. That has not yet been fulfilled. The infallible Word of God says that Damascus, a large and very old city, ultimately will be destroyed. We are not told how or when this will happen but it will happen, as the Word of God declares. (“Why Do the Nations Rage”[6] – Ray Stedman, the PBC Library)

Dave Dolan,[7] a Jerusalem-based author and journalist, in his text, “Israel in Crisis: What Lies Ahead?"[8] affirms the Futurist nature of the Oracle of Damascus (pp. 83–84). Dolan’s editorial updates from the Middle East confirm his persistent suspicions that the “Burden of Damascus” is imminent:

Widespread media reports of possible imminent war with Syria—probably initiated by an attack upon Israel by its puppet Hezbollah militia force in Lebanon, supported by Palestinian Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip, and possibly by Iran itself—have increased significantly in recent days here in Israel. Military analysts say this indicates something is indeed occurring on the ground to raise the war alert, as confirmed by army sources. (“War Jitters Rock Israel"[9] - Israel Update – Jerusalem, April 3, 2008)

The Distinction between the Oracle of Damascus and the Gog Magog War

Some within the Futurism (Christian eschatology) camp distinguish between the Oracle of Damascus and the Gog-Magog War of Ezekiel 38-39. Again, Dave Dolan makes this distinction between the Gog-Magog War and the Oracle of Damascus:

The big news here in Israel today, boldly headlined in the nation’s largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, this morning, is Russia’s reported return to two naval bases that the Kremlin largely built and once controlled in neighboring Syria. The move is said to be part of a large Russian weapons deal with Syria, at least partially funded by Iran, as I reported about in last week’s monthly news update.

The dramatic Russian move will undoubtedly increase speculation among observant Christians and Jews that Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog invasion is drawing very near. In light of author Joel Rosenberg’s[10] popular novel about the theme, I get asked about this prophecy all the time now as I travel around the world, and especially if I see its fulfillment as possibly imminent.

Frankly I do NOT see Ezekiel’s penultimate prophesied event as taking place in the near-term future. Instead, I suspect that the region could well witness an apparent massive clash between Syria and Israel, described in Isaiah chapter 17, unfolds in the not too distant future, to which Russia and other countries listed by Ezekiel would eventually react, but not immediately in the climactic way described by Ezekiel. (Dave Dolan, The Isaiah 17 War against Syria/Jordan Comes Before Gog and Magog in Ezek. 38, Global Resource Ministries International Israel Update, August 06, 2007, as found on Philip’s Zionist Blog[11])

Futurist Hal Lindsey also projects a separate conflict involving Syria which is not connected to the future Gog-Magog conflict:

All of this (i.e., the current Syrophoenicia War in the Levant (See 2006 Lebanon War and Syro-Palestinian archaeology)) leads me to believe that Damascus will be destroyed before the Tribulation begins. I believe that Damascus is about to so threaten Israel’s existence by either launching or furnishing bio-chemical weapons or radioactive dirty bombs, that Israel will nuke them. Israel has sworn that it will implement the Samson Option against any nation that attacks them with any form of weapons of mass destruction. That means a thermonuclear strike. This may soon happen to Syria. (Hal Lindsey Oracle –Politically Incorrect – Prophetically Correct – 7/31/2006)

Lindsey continues:

What is most important is that all this is setting up Ezekiel’s 2600-year-old prophecy in Ezekiel 38. Persia, or modern Iran, is listed a chief among the Muslim nations Russia will lead into an all-out assault against Israel. This is predicted to be the first battle of the war of Armageddon. The one nation that does not seem to be listed is Syria. I believe this is because as a result of actions it is now taking against Israel, Isaiah’s prophecy about Damascus in the last days is going to be soon fulfilled. Twenty Seven hundred years ago, Isaiah warned, “An oracle concerning Damascus: ‘See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins … In that day the glory of Jacob will fade; the fat of his body will waste away.’ (Isaiah 17:1-4) To establish the time of this event, look at these factors.

First, Damascus is one of the oldest continuously populated cities on earth. It has never been totally destroyed – yet. Second, it is in a context of events that lead up to the catastrophes that precede the Lord Jesus’ Second Coming. Third, it is far enough away from that event that Jacob (Israel) is enduring terrible circumstances. Fourth, Syria and the tribal name of its forefathers are not mentioned in the Russian led Muslim Confederacy that launches Armageddon in the middle of the Tribulation. (“Uncovered: Russian-Syrian-Iranian Axis"[12] Hal Lindsey, Hal Lindsey, July 24, 2006)

Three Prophetic Wars

In his Prophetic Sequence:[13] Trident Wars;[14] Damascus Will Cease from being a City;[15] and Israel’s War,[16] blogger Doug Krieger of the Tribulation Network,[17] distinguishes three prophetic wars[18] to occur in ever-widening circles around Israel. The three are: The Oracle of Damascus (which Krieger claims will occur prior to the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks at the end of days (Daniel 9:24-27) and before the infamous “Treaty of Death and Hell” (Isaiah 28:15 and Isaiah 28:18) or “Covenant with the Many”- i.e., the “majority of Israel” (Daniel 9:27) which will be made by the Antichrist with Israel) the Gog Magog War of Ezekiel 38:1-23; Ezekiel 39:1-16; and Daniel 11:40-43 which will occur during the first 40 days of the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks; and, finally: “The Campaign (See Armageddon Dwight Pentecost of Dallas Seminary and Dispensationalism) of Armageddon” which Krieger asserts will persist throughout the remainder the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks until the Second Coming of Christ at the conclusion of the 1290 days of desolations (Daniel 12:11) – beginning in Daniel 11:44-45 and concluding in Daniel 12:12 with the climax occurring at the so-called “Battle of Armageddon” (Citing: Ezekiel 39:17-20; Joel 2:30-32; Joel 3:1-17; Revelation 16:12-16; Revelation 19:11-21). (Please See: Abomination of Desolation)

Krieger sees the modern states of Syria (“Damascus” or the “land of Hadrach” and “Hamath” – Zechariah 9:1-2; or “Damascus, Syria” and the “cities of Aroer” – Isaiah 17:1-3) -, Lebanon (“Tyre and Sidon” – Zechariah 9:2-4); the Palestinian entities of Gaza (Zechariah 9:5-7); and the West Bank (i.e., “the stronghold or fortress of Ephraim” – Isaiah 17:3) conspiring against Israel as a four-fold agitation leading towards the very Oracle of Damascus itself and that the “end of the war” mentioned in Daniel 9:26 prior to the covenant made by the Antichrist in Daniel 9:27 is the current Arab-Israeli Conflict which started in 1948 and will persist to the conclusion of the Burden of Damascus. Krieger claims that the Oracle of Damascus occurs in Zechariah 9 as the “grand opening” of the “Messianic Scenario” which stretches from Zechariah 9 through the end of Zechariah 14—i.e., the final “countdown” to the Messianic Age starts at the Oracle of Damascus and continues throughout the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks and results in the defeat of the Antichrist-Beast and the triumph of the saints (Daniel 7:27) with Messiah and the commencement of the Messianic Age.

Furthermore, he states that Israel’s defeat of the constellation of nations allied against her at the Oracle of Damascus will result in what he calls the “bankruptcy of secular Zionism” vis-à-vis “Biblical Zionism”[19] (Isaiah 17:4: “In that day it shall come to pass that the glory of Jacob will fade, and the fatness of his flesh grow lean”). This will result in the building of the Third Temple under the orchestrated false peace of “the Coming Prince” (Daniel 9:26-27) (See: Sir Robert Anderson and “The Coming Prince”[20]). What distinguishes, according to Krieger, the Oracle of Damascus from the Gog-Magog conflagration are the constellation of nations mentioned and/or omitted in the Bible passages of these two conflicts—let alone their dissimilarities juxtaposed to the Armageddon Campaign. They are not the same prophetic conflicts because the nations and/or peoples mentioned allied against Israel are dissimilar.

Oracle of Damascus

Israel vs. Syria/Damascus, Lebanon (Hezbollah), Gaza (Hamas) and the Palestinian Authority

The “Tyre and Sidon” or Lebanon would, under Krieger’s scenario, be galvanized against Israel through Hezbollah and the Palestinian entities of Gaza (Hamas) and the “Stronghold of Ephraim” would constitute today's Palestinian Authority.

Gog-Magog War

Israel vs. Gog, the land of Magog, Rosh – the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal (Ezekiel 38:1-3)Persia, Cush or Ethiopia, and Put or Libya (Ezekiel 38:5; and Daniel 11:43), Egypt (Daniel 11:42-43) Gomer, Togarmah (Ezekiel 38:6)

Krieger asserts that Gog is a chief spiritual “principality” against Israel and that Meshech, Tubal, Gomer and Togarmah constitute peoples populating the modern state of Turkey; whereas they, together with Persia, are allied as the “king of the North” in Daniel 11:40 and that the “king of the South” (Daniel 11:40) is comprised of the modern states of Egypt, Libya and Sudan (ancient Ethiopia – not the Cush of the Levant or of ancient Assyria) - all allied against Antichrist. Those allied with Israel in the Gog-Magog conflict are the modern states of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula (Sheba and Dedan – Ezekiel 38:13) and the West (i.e., “the merchants of Tarshish” headed up by the United States of America” – the leader of the West). Finally, Krieger conjectures, that whereas the center of the conflict in Ezekiel is Israel, the center of the conflict in Daniel 11:40-43 is Antichrist who is allied with Israel—the same conflict.

Armageddon or “Battle of Armageddon” or “Campaign of Armageddon”

Antichrist vs. “News from the East” (i.e., Antichrist vs. Asia) and “the North” (i.e., Antichrist vs. Russia) – culminating in world war and ultimately involving all the nations of the earth climaxing their struggle at Mount Megiddo in Northern Israel (Armageddon – Revelation 16:16) with the finale taking place at the Valley of Jehoshaphat (near Jerusalem - Joel 3:2-12), resulting in the miraculous intervention of the Messiah whom the Christians believe is Jesus Christ and whom the Orthodox Jews affirm to be their final deliverer.

Finally, Paul Robertson, in “Damascus Will No Longer Be a City”[21] (Apocalypse Soon, the Xcellent Files) distinguishes the Oracle of Damascus from the Gog-Magog War:

Isaiah's clues indicate that the multinational attack that follows the destruction of Damascus is the Gog/Magog war of Ezekiel 38-39.

Criticism of the Futurist Interpretation of the “Oracle of Damascus”

In “The Rejection of Pascal’s Wagner – A Skeptic’s Guide to Christianity” in the section dealing with “Isaiah’s Failed Prophecies”[22] it states:

In a similar vein, Isaiah predicted the complete and utter destruction of Damascus (Isaiah 17:1-2) An oracle concerning Damascus. See, "Damascus will cease to be a city, and will become a heap of ruins. Her towns will be deserted forever...." As we noted above, it is now almost three millennia since that prophecy and Damascus remains a vibrant city to this day. While Damascus had been overran many times in its past, it is still around. Thus the prophecy that says Damascus will cease to be a city forever is obviously false. (Callahan, Bible Prophecy: p60)

Michael David Magee in “Prophecies of the Messiah”[23] refutes the claims of the Oracle of Damascus as mere ancient Israelite jealousies of surrounding and more powerful nations or Christian fantasies:

Many events have happened in every country, anticipated by studious people, as the result of natural causes such as the ravages and downfall of cities and the overthrow of empires. Jewish prophets were angry because more powerful nations had overpowered Israel and held the Israelites in subjection. They felt that God must eventually right these wrongs to His chosen people and were always prophesying against the conquering nations like Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia. Naturally this was in reality just wishful thinking and many of the prophecies never happened. Babylon, Tyre, Damascus, and other cities belonging to those hostile neighbors the Jews so much envied and execrated, were not destroyed and indeed survive to this day.

The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, all poured out thunders upon Damascus. Isaiah declared it should be a “ruinous heap” (Isaiah 17:1). Jeremiah predicted its destruction by fire (Jeremiah 49:27). Damascus still stands, with a large population. It has suffered less by ravages of war and the scythe of time than almost any other city of the east. It has stood over three thousand years without becoming anything like a “ruinous heap".

The Old Testament prophecies against Tyre and Egypt are failed prophecies. Ezekiel prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would completely destroy Tyre and that it would never be found again (Ezek 26:7-14, 21; 27:36; 28:19), but two hundred and fifty years after Nebuchadnezzar’s time Alexander had to siege it into submission, having found it a strong commercial city. It still is. Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed only the parts of Tyre that were accessible—on the mainland—his siege of the island acropolis failing. St. Jerome, of the fourth century, declared Tyre to be, then, the finest city of Phoenicia and was astonished that Ezekiel’s prophecy had so utterly failed.

Others conclude that the Oracle of Damascus has been fulfilled:

The passage Isaiah 17:1-11 is an oracle concerning Damascus and North Israel, in which Isaiah predicts the fate of the two allies--Syria and Ephraim--in the Syro-Ephraimitic war of 734 BC, with a promise that only a scanty remnant will survive (Isaiah 17:6). In Isaiah 17:12-14, the prophet boldly announces the complete annihilation of Judah's unnamed foes--the Assyrians. (See: Next Bible[24])

The late Premillennial Evangelical John Walvoord of Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, Texas) believed that the Prophecy against Damascus was “fulfilled in history and prophecy” (i.e., there is no future fulfillment):

Isaiah 17:1-8. The coming destruction of Damascus, one of the ancient cities of the Middle East, the capital city of Aram, was predicted (Isaiah 17:1-2). Damascus was allied with Israel in fighting the Assyrians, but it would all be to no avail because the Assyrians would triumph. Jacob would be like a person with a fat body that wasted away (v. 4). The destruction of Damascus was fulfilled in history and prophecy.

Armageddon Theology vs. Evangelical Covenantalism

The criticism of Futurism's "Armageddon Theology" is widespread because of its socio-political or religio-political implications:

A large group of Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals believe in Armageddon theology. That theology is based on three passages in the Bible. One is in Revelation 16:16, which is supposed to predict a final battle at a place called Armageddon, where God would destroy the world. Those who believe this have also chosen another Bible passage, Ezekiel 38-39. In these chapters, there is reference to Gog of the country of Magog, which is far to the north and is assumed to be Russia. One passage, Ezekiel 38:15-16, speaks of many peoples, "all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army... [who] will come up against my people Israel.... A few verses later God says, "I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many people that are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and brimstone." According to Armageddon theology, this is a description of a nuclear holocaust. This prophecy is obviously an anachronism in the 21st century, because the weapons in Chapter 39 are not bombs, missiles, tanks, and artillery, but "shields and bucklers, bows and arrows, hand-pikes and spears." Nevertheless these religious fundamentalists, who believe every word in the Bible to be inerrant, are somehow comfortable assuming that Ezekiel's exact catalogue is a description of modern war.[25]

Stephen Sizer in his text, Zion's Christian Soldiers? criticizes his Evangelical counterparts for their embrace of a "prophetic Israel" and the pseudo Bible prophecy they trumpet. Various Christian - some Futurist Premillennial Evangelicals would label him and those who celebrate his theology as clear supercessionism-style or replacement theology-style eschatology. Those who have critiqued Sizer's demonstrate their impassioned theological construct - a sample will suffice:

Zion's Christian Soldiers? ought to be on the required reading list for all students of the Bible. Here is basic and fundamental methodology which challenges many evangelical assumptions about "end times prophecy." Here is a sound-minded, Christ-centered critique of a popularly accepted but nonetheless fatally flawed perspective that leads to many spiritual dysfunctions. If you find yourself troubled by saber-rattling political rhetoric coming from many pulpits, Zion's Christian Soldiers will reacquaint you with the Prince of peace. (Greg Albrecht, President of Plain Truth Ministries, and Editor-in-Chief, The Plain Truth magazine, author of Revelation Revolution & Bad News Religion).

Thank God, here comes at last a book that challenges the pseudo-theology which, by giving precedence to the Old Covenant over the New, relegates the Church to the status of concubine in order to make Israel the Bride of Christ. In clear and measured terms, the author demonstrates from Scripture that God's purposes for history are not driven by a narrowly selective racist obsession but rather by his eternal design to create the Church, the new community dearly secured through the cross for all Christ-followers, both Jews and Gentiles. (Professor Gilbert Bilezikian, Professor Emeritus, Wheaton College and a founding leader of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Illinois, (author of The Liberated Gospel, Beyond Sex Roles, Christianity 101 and Community 101)

In this very readable new work, Anglican vicar Stephen Sizer offers a biblically-based interpretation of the relationship of Israel and the Christian church. Turning to the current upsurge of Christian Zionism, Sizer examines its deeply flawed misreadings of key biblical texts and its troubling public-policy implications. Not only Sizer’s fellow evangelicals, but everyone interested in this vital topic, will find Zion’s Christian Soldiers? an illuminating and highly valuable study.” (Professor Paul S. Boyer, James Pinckney Harrison Visiting Professor at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and editor-in-chief of The Oxford Companion to American History (Oxford University Press, 2001).[26]

The struggle between supercessionism-style Covenantalism and various forms of hyper-Dispensationalism over any future "prophetic wars" runs deep and acerbic in its rhetoric - both sides profess Evangelical fervor and both sides are keenly aware of the implications of their belief systems.


See also