In chapter 17 Isaiah utters a prophecy against the city of Damascus. Now history tells us that the Israelites conquered Damascus but did not destroy it. They agreed to trading rights but left the city alone. The Assyrians also conquered Damascus, as did Alexander the Great and the Romans who redesigned it extensively. So the city has had its ups and downs. Currently it is the largest city in Syria but who knows, with the current conflict it could still end up a heap of ruins. Some of the difficulties in understanding prophecy are firstly that it may have several layers of meaning and secondly that in looking backward it is hard to tell whether an event has already happened or is yet to come as some Biblical scholars would say about Damascus.
Similarly for Cush (Egypt); it has had a history of revolving kingdoms established through invasion by foreigners including Alexander, the Romans and the Arabs. The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon attested to in 1 Kings 10 may be a reference to an Egyptian Queen but there is little in either of these prophecies to say definitely what they mean or whether they have already happened or are yet to come.
A spiritual view of the prophecies is that they refer to a time when surrounding nations (the enemies of God) will be subjugate to those of the Kingdom of God, that is the people of the new Israel – the saints. After all, the physical nation of Israel was completely obliterated from the political world from 500 BC until it was re-established in 1948.
1 Tim 1:1-11
By contrast, Paul tells us that those who devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies promote controversial speculation rather than advancing God’s work. Rather than getting worked up about the mystical prediction of future events, Paul says that God’s work is advanced by faith and its goal is love. The law is not for the righteous (they are saved by faith, remember, not by obeying the law), but for the unrighteous in order to point out (a whole list of) things that indicate that a person is not living by faith and love. These people need to turn to God in faith and love.
This is the challenge of this century to today’s church! How do we present faith and love to the community without judging people by the yardstick of the law as if to say “well if you don’t do any of the things on this list then you are OK”? The answer to this question is going to require a mighty lot of prayer.