Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 45
Having mentioned King Cyrus of Persia in the last verse of the previous chapter, Isaiah now begins to prophesy that he would conquer Babylon in order to allow the people of Judah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple .
"So says HaShem to His anointed, to Cyrus." (v 1). The plain meaning of the text is that God is addressing Cyrus, who as a king is called "anointed" (MASHIACH). However, on the level of DRASH, He is addressing His truly anointed Melech HaMashiach, complaining about Cyrus because God asked him to build the Temple and gather in the exiles, but instead of doing the job himself, he merely gave permission to the Jews to go up to Jerusalem and to build the Temple themselves (Ezra 1:3; Megillah 12a). According to this interpretation, verse 4 in our present chapter, "I have named you though you have not known Me", is a complaint that God named Cyrus long before his birth (i.e. in this prophecy) yet he did not "know" God in the sense that he did not do what God wanted, because he threw the whole burden of building the Temple off his own shoulders (see Rashi on verse 4).
In calling on Cyrus, God reminds him that his mission is only "for the sake of My servant Jacob and Israel My chosen" (v 4), "in order that they shall know from the east to the west that there is nothing besides Me": the overthrow of Babylon will show that nothing can stand before God.
"I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil." (v 7). The words of this verse, which are familiar because they are recited daily (except for the omission of the phrase "create evil") in the YOTZER OHR blessing before the recital of the morning SHEMA, indicate that God performs opposites simultaneously. "I form the light." - "for Israel " - ".and create darkness" - "for Babylon "; "I make peace." - for Israel - ".and create evil" - "for Babylon , i.e. the opposite of peace" (Metzudas David & Rashi ad loc.). "Shower, O heavens, from above and let the skies pour down righteousness." (v 8) - "This means that great kindness and salvation shall come to Israel , as if they will flow down from the heavens above" (Metzudas David ad loc.).
"Woe to him that strives with his Maker." (v 9). According to the context (Cyrus' conquest of Babylon ) this verse refers to Belshazzar king of Babylon , who made a great feast using the Temple vessels (Daniel 5:1ff) and was killed the same night by the combined forces of Darius the Mede and his son-in-law Cyrus. On the level of DRASH, the verse is seen as an allusion to the prophet Habakkuk, who was to complain about the length of Babylon 's supremacy (Habakkuk 1:2-14). God is saying, "Why does he come to quarrel with me, as if he thinks I am paying no attention to the salvation of My people" (Rashi on verse 9 in our present chapter).
In vv 10-13 God challenges the nations to ask Him what is destined to happen to Israel in the future, for He is certainly able to tell them since He created the earth and man, the choicest of all His creatures, upon it. As if to demonstrate that God can foretell the future exactly, verse 13 rounds off the section of the prophecy about how Cyrus was to send the exiles of Judah home and enable them to rebuild Jerusalem, while verse 14 begins a new section about another event that was also still in the future when Isaiah delivered this prophecy, although it occurred long before the Babylonian exile. "The labor of Egypt and the merchandise of Kush and of the Seva'im, men of stature, shall come over to you. in chains they shall come over." (v 14). This was fulfilled when Sennacherib sought to advance on Jerusalem but was suddenly forced to take a detour and march south in order to confront the attacking armies of Kush and Egypt (Isaiah 37:9 etc.). After defeating them, Sennacherib plundered all their treasures and brought them together with the people of Kush and Egypt in chains to Jerusalem . There the angel wiped out the Assyrian army in one night, after which King Hezekiah released the captives from Kush and Egypt , who having witnessed God's spectacular salvation of His people became true believers, as alluded to in verse 14 of our present chapter.
"Verily You are a God who hides Yourself." (v 15). Rashi explains that the released captives would say to God: "Verily you have given us to understand that in order to collect the debts of Your people You hide yourself without showing Your power to conquer, as if You do not have the power, but then, when Your compassion is aroused, You show that You are indeed the all-powerful God of Israel and their savior" (Rashi on v 15). These words should be a comfort to us today as we watch Israel writhe and struggle in seemingly intractable difficulties, as if God is "hiding Himself". But as soon as the time is ripe He will be aroused in all His might to save them. Then all the idolaters will be ashamed while Israel 's salvation will be eternal (vv 16-17).
"For thus says HaShem Who created the heavens." Again and again the prophet recalls that God is the Creator of all the hosts of the heavens and earth. The reason for this repeated emphasis is because many people in Isaiah's time, and likewise many today, cherish all kinds of false beliefs about the universe, some holding that a multiplicity of divine powers exist, while others believe that the universe had no Creator but somehow always just existed (see RaDaK on v 18 and on Isaiah 42:5).
"I have not spoken in secret, in a place of a land of darkness; I did not say to the seed of Jacob, Seek Me in an empty waste." (v 19). Our commentators explain that when God gave the Torah to Israel, He did not speak in secrecy because this event was known to the entire world, and He did not ask Israel to keep the Torah for no reward, because He promised in advance that they would be "a treasure. a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:5-6; see Rashi and Metzudas David on our present verse).
In vv 20ff God once again challenges the nations of the world to advance their claims and arguments, scoffing at the idolaters and their inability to know the future. In verse 22 God invites all of the nations to cast away their idols and then they will be saved, while verse 23 (phrases from which are included in the ALENU prayer recited three times every day) promises that in the end all will come to acknowledge HaShem.
"Bel bows down, Nevo stoops." (v 1). Bel and Nevo are the names of the gods of Babylon , which would be powerless to save those who worshiped them when Babylon would fall. The idols would be carried off on animals' backs into exile. (Rashi's interpretation of verse 1 is far more derogatory.) In contrast, Israel have been borne, carried and supported by God since the very inception of the nation (v 3), and likewise He will bear and carry them "even to old age" (v 4): "Even when you are old and your strength is spent and you have no merit, I will be the same as I was and in My compassion and goodness I will save you and carry you " (Rashi ad loc.).
In verses 5-7 God again mocks the idolaters for trying to equate their lifeless idols with Him. In vv 8ff He calls on the sinners to remember that He alone has all the power, and having foretold what will happen in the future, nothing will stop Him from bringing it about. "Calling an eagle (AYIT) from the east, the man that executes my counsel from a far country" (v 11). This alludes to Abraham, who came from the east swift as an eagle to carry out God's counsel (AYIT is the Aramaic for "counsel") and to whom He revealed the future exiles that would befall Israel, promising that they would be redeemed (see Rashi on verse 11). Nothing will prevent God from showing His righteousness and saving His people (vv 12-13).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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