Damascus the Damned

Hold the emails. Look up the definition; it’s 100% accurate. Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, founded in the third millennium BC and over subsequent centuries has been part of 42 different states. Some have improved, and some have impoverished the city. The next will annihilate Damascus the Damned.

Isaiah the prophet wrote, “A prophecy against Damascus: “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.” (Isaiah 17:1)

Other translations state: “the city of Damascus will disappear!” [NLT]; “Damascus will cease to be a city.” [ISV]; “Behold, Damascus is no longer a city; it has become a heap of ruins.” [Berean Study Bible]

The New American Standard Bible takes an ominous future tone: “Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city.” The KJV uses the apt description of the city’s final state, calling it simply, “a ruinous heap.”

The Good News Translation isn’t such good news for Damascus. “The LORD said, “Damascus will not be a city any longer; it will be only a pile of ruins.”

The Contemporary English Bible puts it bluntly, “This is a message about Damascus: Damascus is doomed! It will end up in ruins.”

Ruinous heap. Heap of rubble. Wasteland. Barren. Ruins.

The City of Jasmine has seen its share of extreme highs and lows, but what happens in the end that turns the world’s longest continuously inhabited city into a ghost town? More accurately, what wipes the town off the map? It’s not merely uninhabited; it’s “removed from being a city.”

Many famous tourist attractions are called ‘ruins’ and draw millions of visitors. They include: the Coliseum in Rome; Machu Pichu, Chichen Itza, Stonehenge, Ta Prohm – famous for its scenes in the film Tomb Raider; the Luxor Temple in Egypt; Easter Island, Petra, Pompeii, the Ajanta Caves in India and many others are in some cases literally just a few stones stacked up amidst tangles of jungle or carved rocks. They’re impressive, and they make us wonder how ancient civilizations built them. But in the end, they are ruins. The civilizations who built them are in most cases gone; extinct, exterminated, or non-existent.

We wonder what could have happened that made them vanish. In a few cases we know; Pompeii was buried under ash and lava when the volcano erupted. Other civilizations are just gone; their language, culture, and people are no longer here. There is no other way to put it – gone. Damascus will be gone as well. There is one major difference; we know it’s going to happen.

The History of Damascus

Damascus rose to prominence in the 11th century BC under the Aramaeans, but the city grew into a thriving metropolis by the 2nd century under Roman control. Damascus, the western terminus of the Silk Road, was a key trade and cultural center.

In 476 Damascus came under Byzantine rule and became renowned for its breathtaking beauty and splendor. Legend tells of the Prophet Muhammad, who on his journey from Mecca to Syria, observed Damascus in the distance, and turned away saying, “a man should only enter paradise once, and that is upon his death.”[1]

The Islamic Rashidun Caliphate conquered Damascus in 634, and it fell to the Umayyad Caliphate in 661, after which the city became Syria’s hub, and the city’s main mosque was erected. The flourishing Damascus, affluent and splendid, was declared the capital of the world’s largest empire, which at its zenith stretched from Spain in the west to Afghanistan in the east.

After the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate in 750, the Abbasid dynasty took control and moved Syria’s official capital to Baghdad. Damascus began a slow decline until the 12th century when it enjoyed another resurgence under the Zengid dynasty. By the 1500s, the city had fallen on hard times again and was captured by the Ottomans.

Damascus declined further under Ottoman rule; the economy stagnated, and the city became less and less relevant in both industry and influence. The Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1923, and languishing Damascus fell into French hands. It gained independence along with the rest of Syria in 1945.

Syria’s economy has been a volleyball match since its founding but tanked in the 1980s – real GDP per capita plunging over 20%. Limited recovery during the 1990s and 2000s brought some growth, but all that (and much more) has been unraveled by the brutal Syrian Civil War. The conflict, raging since 2011, has left Syria as a whole, and Damascus in particular, shattered, shelled and destitute, but still inhabited. And according to Isaiah, doomed.

Hope for Damascus

Is there hope for the city of Damascus? Simply put, no. God’s word never fails (Isaiah 55:11). His promises always prove true (Psalm 18:30). His guarantees are “yes and amen” (1 Corinthians 1:20). None of God’s prophecies have ever been wrong (Luke 24:44). The prophecy about Damascus will not be His first. The city will be destroyed. The place will become a heap of ruins, but unlike the places we listed before, no one will ever visit the place again. Why? We aren’t told exactly.

It could be a nuclear detonation makes it impossible for humans to live there. It could be that chemical attacks continue, and no one wants to live there. It could be that people evacuate the region because the war leads to another economic catastrophe and the city cannot function because people flee Damascus to find jobs, food, and safety. Like many small towns when industry moves, the town eventually dies. Regardless of the how, we know the what – “a ruinous heap.” And we know the why – God said.

What about the hope? Any hope for Damascus is the same as the hope you and I have – Jesus Christ.

“…this hope of eternal life, which God Who cannot lie, promised before the beginning of time…” (Titus 1:2)

“In His name, the nations will put their hope.” (Matt. 12:21; Isaiah 42:4)

“…Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

Set your hope fully on the grace to be given to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at His coming.” (1 Peter 1:13)

The Future of Damascus

The immediate future of Damascus is dark and ominous. It is being poisoned by its own government. It could be invaded or re-invaded by Iran, or Russia, ISIS, or some group we don’t even know about. Radical groups seem to pop up weekly in the Middle East. Some believe Israel will destroy Damascus; either pre-emptive or in self-defense, or to drive out one of several other forces intent on using the city as a forward base to attack Israel.

We can’t say for sure. The Bible does not say, “Israel will blow up Damascus on July 28” (or any other date). We do know this – Isaiah was right about the birth and death of Christ, the rebirth of the nation of Israel, and many other events. He won’t be wrong about Damascus.

What Should Christians Do?

First, we should pray for the people who live in Damascus. John 3:16 applies to them as much as Mexico Africa or Nebraska. God loves the citizens who live there. He loves their children and families, no matter their religious or political affiliations. Salvation is available to all.

Pray for the oppressors of Damascus. As difficult as it is to imagine, God loves the people who are destroying the city and killing its residents. He loves unconditionally. If Assad, the current tyrannical leader of Syria, repents and asks Christ for forgiveness, he will be saved. More bizarre things have happened in history.

Numerous ancient kings decreed national repentance; some were believers in Jehovah, but not all. Josiah (2 Kings 23:25), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:1-3), Cyrus (Ezra 1:2), Ahasuerus (Esther 4:3), Darius (Ezra 6:25-27), Ahab (1 Kings 21:27), Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:1), Eliakim (2 Kings 19:2), Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:12), and the unnamed king of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-7) all called for national repentance. Nothing is too hard for God.

On March 30, 1863 our own President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Day of Prayer and fasting. He eloquently said,

“We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

Nations have turned to God before, it can happen again, and God would welcome them. Pray for the oppressors and haters of the citizens of Damascus. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is still in the Bible.

Raise your voice. If a bill or motion arises in Congress or the Supreme Court, or some referendum is circulated that empowers the UN to do something stupid; make a call to your representative, write an email, say something. Be involved, don’t just complain.

Peace plans come and go. Look it up, and you’ll find every American President for the last 70 years has a photo of him and the leaders of the primary Middle East nations. They’re always smiling and shaking hands because they just solved the Middle East crisis. Oddly, the next president had to solve it again, and again and again. Seriously, look it up. Every president back to and including Harry Truman: 12 US Presidents – have declared peace in the Middle East and taken credit for it. None lasted.

Finally, speak up for peace. I’m not talking about just any peace, I’m talking about the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), and the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7,8). Know Him, Know Peace. No Him, No Peace. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is still the only hope for the world. Share it, teach it, post it, pray it.

Finish Well Watchmen.

1. Quoted in These Cities Used to be Rich but Are Now Poor; Daniel Coughlin, MSN.com 12/18; (accessed 1/16/19)

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