You Have Forgotten God Your Savior (Isaiah 17-21)

Isaiah 17-21; Key Verses: Isa 17:7-8, 10-11

"In that day people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made" (Isa 17:7-8, NIV).

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 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" (Isa 17:10-11).
Theme: Idolatry causes us to depend and rely on our idols for our human security, and thus we forget that only God can be our Savior (Isa 17:10-11; 31:1; Ps 20:7; 118:8-9). Repentance involves turning away from our idols and turning to God (Isa 17:7-8).

What is to the west, east, north and south of Judah? The nations in Isaiah 13-23 were all threatened by Assyria at one time or other, and were all actual or potential partners with Judah in anti-Assyrian alliances. Philistia is to the west of Judah (14:28-32). Moah is to her east (15:1-16:14). Damascus [which includes Ephraim or the northern kingdom of Israel (Isa 17:3)], the capital of Syria (or Aram) is to her north (17:1-14). Cush [which embraces modern Ethiopia, Sudan and Somaliland] (18:1-7) and Egypt is to her south (19:1-20:6). This completes the four points of the compass. Wherever Judah looks, to the west, east, north or south, she sees only nations whose glory is fleeting and whose fate is sealed. God placed her with nowhere to look for her own security but to the Lord, who is the Lord and judge of them all.

Isaiah 17 expresses the same situation as in Isaiah 7, where an anti-Assyrian pact between Syria or Aram (Damascus) and Israel (Ephraim) attempted to force Judah (king Ahab) to join. Assyria would destroy both Syria and Israel. Damascus fell after a siege in 732 BC, and Samaria, capital of Israel, fell a decade later in 722 B.C. The repeated point Isaiah makes is simple: How foolish man (Israel/Ephraim) trusts in visible tangible security (such as Syria), rather than trusting in God Almighty, whose purposes will always prevail and will never be thwarted (Isa 14:27).

The two nations, Aram and Ephraim. Isaiah 17 is titled as an oracle against Damascus [the capital of Aram/Syria], but it is also against Ephraim, the northern kingdom of the people of God, because she is subsumed under Damascus, having sunk itself in the alliance (Isa 17:3, 4-6). Thus, Ephraim sought seeking security in Damascus, not in the Lord and failed to trust in the promises of God. She was finding salvation in a Gentile power instead of opening a way of salvation to the Gentiles.

Why did Israel (Ephraim) fall in 722 B.C.? Idolatry and unbelief. In one sense, Israel's fall was the result of her foolish alliance and collusion with Syria. But at the heart of her undoing was her long history of idolatry (Isa 17:7-8 is at the center of Isaiah 17), which eroded her commitment to the Lord (Isa 17:10-11). This also opened her to a politics of convenience and on relying on man and worldly wisdom, instead of trusting God (Isa 31:1; Ps 20:7).

Isaiah 18-20 are all concerned with Egypt in one way or another. The nations were all attempting to form political alliances in order to fight against and resist the expansionist and imperialist policies of Assyrian world domination. But the basic underlying message of this entire section (Isaiah 13-27) is that the crises we face will not be solved by looking to the world for solutions. "The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever" (1 Jn 2:17, NIV).
Why is there another prophecy against Babylon in Isaiah 21, in addition to Isaiah 13-14? It is because attention began to swing away from Egypt and towards Babylon as a prospective ally against Assyria. Witness the warm reception given to the ambassadors by Hezekiah in Isa 39:1-4. But Isaiah sees in this vision that Babylon, like Egypt, is doomed, and so by implication are those who align themselves with her. Thus, the warning in Isa 21:10, where "crushed on the threshing floor" is a metaphor for "sorely afflicted." In Isaiah 13-14 Babylon was a symbol, but here in Isaiah 21 it is a concrete nation. Isaiah is explaining that by looking to Babylon, Judah is potentially making Babylon's fate her own. Babylon would finally fall to a coalition of Medes and Persians under Cyrus the Great in 539 B.C. The general import of the vision is clear: Babylon is doomed. Judah would be foolish in the extreme to link her own fortunes to those of Babylon, no matter how attractive this course of action may appear in the short term.