Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 33
"Woe to the spoiler - you who have not yet been spoiled." (v 1). This prophecy can be interpreted as referring to the time of King Hezekiah, when Sennacherib was the "spoiler" who as yet had not suffered the same fate as the many victims of his conquests - until he was finally overthrown at the gates of Jerusalem . Equally this prophecy can be interpreted as a future prophecy about the days of Mashiach, when the king of Edom , the fourth empire in Daniel's vision (Daniel 2:40ff), will be called "the spoiler" (RaDaK on verse 1 of our present chapter). Here the prophet foretells that as soon as the mission of the "spoiler" - to bring Israel to repent out of helpless fear - will have been accomplished, he will immediately be overthrown.?
This prophecy about the coming overthrow of the oppressor elicits a prayer and affirmation of faith from the lips of the people in verse 2: "HaShem: be gracious to us." (v 2). The prophet then begins to depict the overthrow of the oppressor - referring to Sennacherib and/or the armies of Gog and Magog: "At the noise of the multitude, the peoples fled." (v 3). Their booty will be left for Israel (v 4). The miraculous salvation from an enemy that seemed invincible will show that God alone reigns supreme - and then Zion will be filled with justice and charity, because the greatness of the miracle will inspire everyone to follow this pathway (v 5, see Metzudas David).?
"And your faith in your times [of trouble] shall be the stronghold of salvations, wisdom and knowledge." (v 6). Rashi explains that Israel 's stronghold is the faith they have in God during the hard times they have undergone, always waiting and hoping for salvation. The Talmud (Shabbos 31a) darshens each of the six terms in the first part of this verse as alluding to one of the six orders of the Mishneh: "Your faith" refers to the order of ZERA'IM ("Seeds"), because it is a matter of faith to pray to God and observe all the agricultural laws of the Torah before being able to eat of one's harvest. "Your times" refers to the order of MO'ED, dealing with the festivals. The "stronghold" is NASHIM, dealing with marriage, because one's house is one's stronghold. "Salvations" refers to NEZIKIM, because the laws of damages etc. bring salvation and peace between people. "Wisdom" refers to KODOSHIM dealing with the Temple sacrifices, while "knowledge" refers to TOHOROS dealing with the laws of ritual impurity and purification, for only with purity can there be true knowledge and understanding.?
"Behold, the mighty ones shall cry outside; ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly" (v 7). Following the prophecy of salvation and consolation in the previous verses, the prophet now speaks of the suffering that Israel would have to endure prior to the overthrow of the oppressor - Sennacherib or Gog and Magog. Thus Sennacherib overran the whole of Judah before his overthrow at the height of his siege of Jerusalem . In vv 7-9, the "mighty ones" - celestial angels or earthly messengers - weep bitterly over the spectacle of devastation in Judah because of the attacking enemies.?
"Now I shall arise, says HaShem." Precisely when all seems lost, God will intervene to save His people.?
"You shall conceive chaff and you shall bring forth stubble; your breath is a fire that shall devour you" (v 11). This is addressed to Israel's enemies, who advance towards Jerusalem drunk with the thought of conquering it, but in fact this very thought will be the cause of their downfall.?
"Hear, you that are far off, what I have done, and you that are near, know My might" (v 13). God's miraculous salvation of His people will be a challenge to all to acknowledge His supremacy. Rashi's thought-provoking explanation of the phrase "you that are FAR OFF" is that it refers to "those who have believed in Me and carried out My will from their youth", while "you that are NEAR" refers to "the BAALEY TESHUVAH ('returnees') who have drawn close to Me anew" (Rashi on v 13). Perhaps Rashi is teaching us that veteran Torah-observers are in danger of being "far off" if they imagine they are "near" while their practice is mechanical, but that everyone can become "near" by renewing and refreshing their devotion at all times.?
Verse 14 depicts the terrible consternation that will take hold of the Israelite sinners under the looming threat of the oppressor - Sennacherib or Gog and Magog. They will ask who can possibly still the burning fire of the enemies' hostility. The prophet answers by depicting the pathway of integrity, honesty and the rejection of evil that will bring the people to salvation (v 15). It is the man of righteousness who will dwell securely on high as in a fortress, adequately provided with his bread and water (v 16). The simple meaning of verse 17 is that the righteous will be worthy of seeing the Messianic king - Hezekiah, or Melech HaMashiach - in all his glory, but Targum explains that they will see the Indwelling Presence of the King of the Universe, while simultaneously witnessing the descent of the wicked into hell. "Your heart shall muse on terror: where is the scribe.?" (v 18). Rashi (ad loc.) explains: "When you see the princes and sages of the nations who were rulers in their lifetimes and now they are judged in hell, your heart will muse on terror and you will say, Where is their wisdom and greatness, where is the one who was a scribe in his lifetime and who used to weigh every question involving wisdom when they asked his counsel on issues of government...?"?
Vv 19-20: The fierce oppressors with their stammering, incomprehensible language will disappear from sight, while Jerusalem will remain, tranquil, serene and unmovable.?
V 21: "A place of broad rivers and streams wherein no galley with oars will go." The future Jerusalem will be as if surrounded by rivers that no enemy will be able to cross. This verse alludes to the "spring that will go forth from the House of HaShem" (Joel 4:18; cf. Ezekiel 47:3), surrounding Jerusalem with the waters of the knowledge of God, making it a haven of spirituality (see Rashi on v 21).?
"Your ropes have become loosened; they could not strengthen the socket of their mast." (v 23). Israel 's enemies are here symbolized as warships whose rigging has been entirely pulled down, leaving them immobilized as the helpless prey of Israel (see Targum). At that time none of the inhabitants of Israel will any more have reason to feel sick and burdened by the troubles of exile, because they will all be forgiven their sins at the time of the redemption (see Rashi on v 24).?
"Draw near O nations to hear." (v 1). RaDaK (ad loc.) states that "this prophecy refers to the future destruction of Rome , after which the prophet foretells the salvation of Israel (in chapter 35). He refers to Edom by the name of Batzrah (v 6) because Batzrah had been a great city in the original kingdom of Edom (cf. Gen. 36:33, where Batzrah was the city of one of the kings of Edom ). The kingdom of Rome mostly consists of Edomites who adhere to the Christian religion, and even though many other peoples have become mixed up with them, the emperor Caesar was an Edomite and likewise all the kings who came after him in Rome ."?
The prophet calls on the whole earth and all its inhabitants to attend to his message of coming doom. Vv 2-3 foretell the terrible calamity that will befall the nations, accompanied by the overthrow of their guardian angels in heaven (v 4).?
"For HaShem has a sacrifice in Batzrah" (v 6). The original Edomite city of Batzrah was in the mountains of Moab east of the Dead Sea, in the southern territories of the present-day kingdom of Jordan . Batzrah should not be identified with the latter-day Iraqi city of Basra even though this is now proving to be a considerable stumbling block to the British (Edomite?) army that is fighting there. Metzudas David (ad loc.) suggests that BATZRAH is related to the word MIVTZAR, which means a fortress, and that it is used here to refer to "the great city of Rome ".?
The collapse of Edom will lead to the fall of many other nations with them (v 7) in vengeance for their persecution of Israel throughout history (v 8). Verses 9-10 depict the demise of Edom as a lasting ecological catastrophe that will serve as an eternal warning to all humanity never to repeat their evil. Edom will be desolate "from generation to generation" (v 10) because, as prophesied by Moses, God's war against Amalek (= Edom ) is "from generation to generation" (Exodus 17:16, Rashi on verse 10 in our present chapter). Vv 11-15 depict how the ruins of Edom will be the haunt of every kind of wild animal as well as of demons and demonesses. The prophet promises that when people will witness this devastation in time to come, they will look in the Book of HaShem - i.e. this prophecy - and see that not a single detail will have been left unfulfilled (RaDaK).?
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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