Is What’s Happening in Syria a Fulfillment of Bible Prophecy?
Because of the latest developments in Syria, prophecy prognosticators are coming out of the woodwork . . . again. The same thing happened in 2011 when prophecy hobbyists were claiming that Isaiah 17 was being fulfilled right before our eyes. Here’s an example from a video that was uploaded on July 21, 2011:
Damascus in Isaiah 17 is going to be destroyed in 1 day. This is about to occur in our lifetime in just a matter of months. It’s in the news and everywhere you look! This is going to fulfill one of the biggest biblical prophecies of all time! Be ready for Christ’s Return after this occurs! I hope this gives you hope of His coming!
Notice the time reference: “in just a matter of months.” That was more than two years ago making it a false prophecy about a true prophecy that was fulfilled nearly 2700 years ago.
Never learning and people forgetting, the claim is being made again that the events prophesied in Isaiah 17 about Damascus were never fully fulfilled in history, and like clockwork, naïve Christians are getting sucked in.
The topic has even gotten attention from the mainstream media. TIME magazine picked up on the story. So did the Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and USA Today among other media outlets. Glenn Beck’s The Blaze has an extended article on the topic: “Why Some Believe These ‘End Times’ Bible Verses Could Hold the Key to the Syrian Crisis.”
Not all end-time prognosticators teach that the Damascus prophecy is being fulfilled in our day. Surprisingly, Dr. Charles Dyer, who is a professor at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, argues that Damascus “was destroyed in the 7th and 8th centuries” B.C. I say surprisingly since in 1991 he wrote The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times in which he claimed that present-day Iraq is the Babylon of Isaiah 13 and Revelation (16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). He maintained that Saddam Hussein’s building program was proof that Babylon would rise from the desert sands in fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
Dyer’s book even had Saddam in a Nebuchadnezzar look-a-like pose with the following caption:
SADDAM HUSSEIN and the ancient world conqueror Nebuchadnezzar. Not only do they look alike, but their mission is the same — to control the world. And the symbol of this world domination is an ancient city [Babylon]. . .
It’s obvious that Dyer has taken a different approach when it comes to the Damascus prophecy:
“Isaiah 17 predicted the destruction of the city, along with the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel… Damascus was captured by Assyrians in 732 BC and the northern kingdom of Israel fell when the capital city of Samaria was captured by the Assyrians in 722 BC.”
And 100 years later, the prophet Jeremiah also predicted the fall of Damascus, which had been rebuilt, he added. “His message was fulfilled when the city was captured by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.”
In addition to Dyer, dispensational author Mark Hitchcock, who sees prophetic fulfillment in everything that’s going on today, makes a strong case that the Damascus prophecy has been fulfilled. After offering a helpful critique of some speculative interpretations of the Isaiah 17 prophecy, Hitchcock offers this cogent commentary:
I believe it makes more sense to hold that Isaiah 17 was fulfilled in the eighth century BC when both Damascus, the capital of Syria, and Samaria, the capital of Israel, were hammered by the Assyrians. In that conquest, both Damascus and Samaria were destroyed, just as Isaiah 17 predicts. According to history, Tiglath-pileser III (745–727 BC) pushed vigorously to the west, and in 734 the Assyrians advanced and laid siege to Damascus, which fell two years later in 732.1
It’s unfortunate that Hitchcock couldn’t leave well enough alone. At the end of the chapter he writes, “Having said that, I do believe that events today in Syria point toward the fulfillment of biblical prophecies that have not yet come to pass.” He claims that “the stage is being set for a Middle East peace treaty prophesied in Daniel 9:27.”2 There is no mention of a Middle East peace treaty in Daniel 9:27, an antichrist, a gap of nearly 200 years, a rebuilt temple, a covenant with the Jews, etc.3
Even Tim LaHaye’s Prophecy Study Bible concludes that the Isaiah 17 prophecy was fulfilled when “God used Tiglath-pileser of Syria to destroy Damascus in 732 B.C.”4 Notice the word “destroy.”
The same is true of the comment on the passage found in The Apologetics Study Bible:
Damascus continued to be a city in the OT era (Ezk 27:18), the NT (Ac 9:19-27), and today. This does not negate Isaiah’s prophecy, which referred to the destruction of Damascus as the powerful capital of Syria during the Syro-Ephraimite War. His words were consistent with his prophecy about the fall of Damascus in 7:7-8 and 8:4, and his announcement that Assyria defeated Damascus and exiled its inhabitants to Kir (2 Kg 16:9). After many years in ruin, it later became a small city in the Assyrian province of Hamath. Isaiah was not claiming that it would remain a ruin for all time.5
I’ve written numerous articles about how modern-day prophecy writers twist and distort prophetic texts that end up being used by skeptics to call the authority of the Bible into question. Biblical skeptic Tim Callahan follows the arguments of today’s prophecy watchers and concludes along with them that the prophecy has not been fulfilled, thus, making it a false prophecy. He writes, Damascus “has been sacked numerous times, to be sure. But the prophecy explicitly states that it would cease to be a city forever, and the prophecy is explicitly wrong. Curiously, neither Gleason Archer6 nor Josh McDowell7 mentions this failed prophecy.”8
The reason is clear as to why they don’t. The Hebrew text does not include the word “forever” in Isaiah 17:2. More about this issue below.
Below are five contemporary examples from evangelical, Bible-believing prophecy writers who claim — like the skeptic Callahan — that the Damascus prophecy found in Isaiah 17 (and Jer. 49:23–27) has not been fulfilled:
- Joel C. Rosenberg: “These prophecies have not yet been fulfilled. Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. It has been attacked, besieged, and conquered. But Damascus has never been completely destroyed and left uninhabited. Yet that is exactly what the Bible says will happen.”
- “Jan Markell, founder and director of Minnesota-based Olive Tree Ministries, says the Syrians’ use of chemical weapons makes her think about Isaiah 17, which foretells the complete destruction of Damascus, which hasn’t happened in thousands of years.”
- Harry Bultema: “The judgment that will strike Damascus is that it will be no longer be a city but a ruinous heap. This prediction has yet to be completely fulfilled, for in Jeremiah’s day it was a flourishing city, and even today is said to be the oldest city in the world (cf. Genesis 15:2 where Damascus is already mentioned). According to II Kings 16:9 Tiglath-pileser captured it and killed its king Rezin; but he did not make it a heap.”9
- Thomas Ice: “Most commentators contend that Isaiah 17:1–3 was fulfilled in 732 B.C. at the conquest of Tiglath-pileser10. However, Tiglath-pileser did not totally destroy the city, but merely captured it, as has happened numerous times throughout its history.”
- Britt Gillette: “In the very near future, Damascus will once again play a major role in human events. The prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s commentary on a future conflict between Damascus and Israel, and in so doing, he reveals certain prophecies which have been partially fulfilled in the past. However, the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 17 remains in the future.”
You get the picture. According to the above comments, the belief among futurists (mostly but not all dispensationalists) is that Isaiah 17, and its counterpart in Jeremiah 49:23–27, have not been completely fulfilled because Damascus is still in existence. How can a prediction about cities that would become a “heap of ruins” still be in existence today?
Timing is All Important
“When” a prophecy is said to be fulfilled is very important to know in determining what events fulfill the prophecy. Time indicators can tell us if the prophecy is going to be fulfilled in the distant future or in the near future. Sometimes a prophecy’s fulfillment is open-ended. The New American Standard has “Damascus is about to be removed from being a city” (Isa. 17:1). According to Oswalt in his commentary on Isaiah, the Hebrew construction “hinnēh . . . mûsār is a participial construction indicating imminent action, ‘Behold, Damascus is on the point of being removed.’”11 That was written thousands of years ago! “About to” cannot mean 2500 or more years.
Joel Rosenberg, who believes that Isaiah 17 is a prophecy that has not been fulfilled, appeals to other chapters in Isaiah in an attempt to make his case that the Damascus prophecy is like Babylon, never really fulfilled:
In Isaiah 13, we read about the coming judgment/destruction of Babylon. But the context makes it clear that the prophecies will happen deep in the End Times, just prior to the Second Coming of Christ. In Isaiah 13:6, for example, we read, “Wail, for the Day of the Lord is near!” In Isaiah 13:9, we read, “Behold, the Day of the Lord is coming.” Both of these references indicate that the prophecies concerning the destruction of Babylon will occur in the last days leading up to the “Day of the Lord,” an eschatological biblical term that refers to the actual, literal, physical return of Christ to earth at the end of the Tribulation.
How can a prophecy state that “the Day of the Lord is near” (Isa. 13:6) when, according to Rosenberg, the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet? John Walvoord, who Rosenberg quotes approvingly, makes a valuable comment about the multi-faceted character and application of the “day of the Lord: “The ‘Day of the Lord’ is an expression frequently used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe any period of time during which God exercises direct judgment on human sin. The Old Testament records a number of times when Israel endured a day of the Lord, lasting a few days or, in some cases, several years.”12
“Day of the Lord” is not a code phrase for “deep in the End Times, just prior to the Second Coming of Christ.” Consider these extended remarks by dispensational prophecy writer Ronald Showers on the meaning of “day of the Lord”:
The Day of the Lord refers to God’s special interventions into the course of world events to judge His enemies, accomplish His purpose for history, and thereby demonstrate who He is — the sovereign God of the universe (Isa. 2:1–2; Ezek. 13:5, 9, 14, 22–23; 30:3, 8, 19, 25–26).
Evidence for this significance of the Day of the Lord is found in references in the Scriptures to past Days of the Lord. The Bible indicates that there have been several past Days of the Lord in which God exercised and demonstrated His sovereign judgment on other nations. He raised up Assyria to judge the northern kingdom of Israel during the 700s B.C. (Amos 5:18, 20), Babylon to judge the southern kingdom of Judah during the 600s and 500s B.C. (Lam. 1:12; 2:1, 21–22; Ezek. 7:19; 13:5; Zeph. 1:7–13; 2:2–3), Babylon to judge Egypt and its allies during the 500s B.C. (Jer. 46:10; Ezek. 30:3), and Medo-Persia to judge Babylon during the 500s B.C. (Isa. 13:6, 9).13
Notice his statement about the judgment of Babylon in Isaiah 13, thus, contradicting Rosenberg’s claim that the Babylonian judgment is yet in our future.
Isaiah 13 is a description of a localized judgment of a world power that existed long ago. Who did God raise up to judge Babylon? “Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them” (13:17a). There are no Medes today. We know from Daniel that Darius the Mede conquered Babylon (Dan. 5:30–31).
To claim that after 2700 years the Damascus prophecy has not been completely fulfilled is to question the integrity of the Bible as skeptic Tim Callahan has done.
To read the rest of the article go to American Vision.
- Mark Hitchcock, Middle East Burning: Is the Spreading Unrest a Sign of the End Times? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2012), 176. [↩]
- Hitchcock, Middle East Burning, 178. [↩]
- See Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), chap. 25. [↩]
- Tim LaHaye, gen. ed., Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2000), 707, note on 17:1–14. [↩]
- Gary Smith, “Isaiah,” The Apologetics Study Bible, gen. ed. Ted Cabal (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1015, note on 17:1. [↩]
- Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982). [↩]
- Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1979). [↩]
- Tim Callahan, Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? (Altadena, CA: Millennium Press, 1997), 60–61. [↩]
- Harry Bultema, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishers, 1981), 184. [↩]
- For example, Peter A. Steveson, A Commentary on Isaiah (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2003), 142. See also, John D. W. Watts, Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 1-33, rev. ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 293. [↩]
- Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1–39, 348, note 1. [↩]
- John F. Walvoord, Prophecy: 14 Essential Keys to Understanding the Final Drama (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 114–15. [↩]
- Ronald Showers, “The Biblical Concept of the Day of the Lord,” Israel My Glory, April/May 1992, 30. [↩]