Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 10
"Woe them that decree unrighteous decrees." (v 1). Chapter 10 is a new section in the series of interrelated prophecies that started at the beginning of Chapter 7 with the description of the attack on Judah by the kingdoms of Aram and Israel early in the reign of King Ahaz, and which runs until the end of Chapter 12. In the earlier sections Isaiah's message was that Judah did not have to fear these two kingdoms because they would be conquered by Assyria , while in the section in Chapter 9 vv 7-20 he depicted the coming exile of the Ten Tribes.
The opening section in our present chapter (vv 1-4) explains the essential reason why the Ten Tribes were exiled - because of the rampant injustice and the oppression of the fatherless and widows which they practiced (vv 1-2). However, they would find themselves helpless "on the day of visitation" with the "desolation" that would come from afar (v 3). The Hebrew word for "desolation" is SHO'AH, which is today used to refer to the Holocaust. In retribution for their injustice, they would be imprisoned in exile and there die - ".but for all this His anger is not turned away and His hand is still outstretched" (v 4). This is the same refrain as in the previous chapter vv 12, 16 & 20.
Having concluded his prophecy about the exile of the Ten Tribes, Isaiah turns in vv 5-19 to their Assyrian conquerors, who after having been emboldened by their earlier successes would in the reign of Hezekiah set Jerusalem as their target. While it may seem that these prophecies deal with long past historical events, they are highly relevant to us today because as our sages have taught (Sanhedrin 94a), Sennacherib's advance against Jerusalem was the prototype of the destined attack by Gog and Magog at the end of days, while Hezekiah's role was messianic. Isaiah's teachings in these prophecies can thus provide us with timely lessons as to how we should see and respond to the protracted campaign of the nations of the world against Israel today.
"Woe Assyria , rod of My wrath." (v 5): The prophet is teaching us that the nations that rise up against Israel are nothing but God's rod of chastisement - and this is exactly how we must view Iran , Syria , the "Palestinians", "Hizbullah" and all the others who persecute Israel today. God sends them "against a hypocritical nation" (v 6, cf. ch 9 v 16) in order to rebuke and chastise it, but they imagine that they have the power and the license to cut off Israel completely. Thus Sennacherib thought that Jerusalem would prove to be just one more nation for him to conquer like all the idolatrous nations over whom God gave him victory. "Just as my hand has reached the kingdoms of the idols, whose carved idols are from Jerusalem and Shomron. so shall I do to Jerusalem and her idols" (vv 10-11). Interestingly, Rashi (ad loc.) comments that "we learn from here that the wicked Israelites used to provide the images of their idols to all the nations around them".
But God would not deliver Jerusalem into Sennacherib's hands, because he was nothing but a tool to used to accomplish a specific purpose and then discarded. "And it shall be after HaShem has performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and on Jerusalem , I shall punish the fruit of the proud heart of the king of Assyria " (v 12). Rashi (ad loc.) explains that God's purpose in sending Sennacherib was to take vengeance on the Ten Tribes and on the sinners in the cities of Judah that he overran, and to cause such FEAR among the inhabitants of Jerusalem that they would be humbled, repent and turn to God. I.e. it was NOT to destroy Jerusalem . Likewise God's purpose in sending enemies against Israel and the Jews in our time is NOT to destroy them but only to bring us to repent with all our hearts.
Having served his purpose, Sennacherib would be cut down in retribution for his overweening arrogance, which is depicted in vv 13-14. But "shall the axe boast against he that hews with it.?" (v 15). The prophet emphasizes that Sennacherib is merely a tool in God's hand and can do no more than God gives him license to do. "And the light of Israel shall be for a fire and his holy one for a flame." (v 17). Here the prophet explains what it is that will kindle the fire that will burn up Sennacherib and his mighty warriors. The "light of Israel " is the Torah to which Hezekiah devoted himself, while the "flame" is the righteous Tzaddikim of the generation (Rashi ad loc.).
"And it shall come to pass on that day that the remnant of Israel and those of the House of Jacob that escape shall no more rely upon the one that smote them." (v 20). This verse begins a new short section of this prophecy (vv 20-23) depicting the repentance that would come about as a result of the miracles God would perform with the overthrow of Sennacherib. This would teach the nation to rely on Him alone instead of turning for succor and support to the very nation that was striking them. [Likewise we hope that Israel will soon be cured of the malady of placing its hopes on an ally that constantly pursues policies which have the effect of undermining the nation's security.]
In verses 24-32 Isaiah - prophesying in the fourth year of King Ahaz, twenty-six years before Sennacherib's advance on Jerusalem - foretells that he would be overthrown through a miracle that would bear comparison with the overthrow of the Midianites in the time of Gideon and that of the Egyptians at the Red Sea (v 26). "And it shall be on that day that his burden shall be taken away from off your shoulder and his yoke from off your neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed BECAUSE OF THE OIL" (v 27). On one level this "oil" refers to Hezekiah, God's anointed king, but our sages darshened that it alludes specifically to the fact that Hezekiah kindled oil in all the synagogues and study halls, bringing the people back to the Torah. "What did he do? He stuck a sword over the entrance to the study hall and said: Everyone who does not devote himself to the Torah will be stabbed with this sword. They checked from Dan to Beersheba but could not find a single ignoramus or a single boy, girl, man or woman who was not fully conversant with the laws of purity and impurity" (Sanhedrin 94b).
Verses 28-32 describe the exact route that Sennacherib, inebriated with his own arrogance, would take in his frenetic march from town to town in order to reach Jerusalem. "This very day he will halt at Nov; he will shake his hand against the mountain of the daughter of Zion , the hill of Jerusalem" (v 32). "For the whole journey he was burning to reach Nov while it was still day because his astrologers had told him that if he would attack Jerusalem that day he would conquer it. But when he reached Nov and saw from a distance how small Jerusalem was, he ignored his astrologers, shaking his hand proudly: 'Did I amass all these armies just for such a little city? Camp here tonight and tomorrow each man will cast his stone.' But that very night the angel came and wiped out his entire camp. As people say: If the judgment is delayed, the judgment is nullified." (Sanhedrin 95a).
The concluding verses of the previous chapter (Isaiah 10:33-4) described how God would "lop the bough" of Sennacherib's "tree" and cut down the "thickets of the forest" (his mighty warriors) so that " Lebanon " (his armies) would fall through a "mighty one" - the angel.
In contrast, the stem of the "tree of Jesse" - the House of David - will regenerate and produce a new rod: Melech HaMashiach! "And a rod shall come forth out of the stem of Jesse." (v 1 of our present chapter). Rashi (ad loc.) explains why this most famous and inspiring prophecy about the Messiah, whose coming we daily await, is positioned immediately after the prophecy about the delivery of Jerusalem from Sennacherib. "If you say that these consoling words to Hezekiah and his people promising that they will not fall into his hand are all very well, but what will happen to the Ten Tribes whom Sennacherib exiled to Halah and Habor etc. - perhaps all their hope is lost? IT IS NOT LOST because in the end King Mashiach will come and redeem them!" Thus verses 11-12 of this chapter specifically prophecy the return of ALL THE EXILES from the various countries of their dispersal, including the lost Ten Tribes.
"And the spirit of HaShem shall rest upon him." (v 2). This and the coming verses (vv 2-5) describe the attributes of King Mashiach. "Wisdom (CHOCHMAH) refers to what a person learns and knows, whereas understanding (BINAH) refers to the inferences he makes about what he has not learned on the basis of what he has learned. Counsel (EITZAH) is one's understanding and habitual pursuit of the proper way to act, particularly in interpersonal relations" (RaDaK ad loc.). "And his delight shall be in the fear of HaShem." (v 3). The Hebrew word here translated as "delight" has the connotation of fragrance and smell, expressing Mashiach's subtle, intuitive grasp of who is good and who is evil without needing to see or hear. Unlike today's corrupt system of "justice", which favors the wealthy and mighty against the poor and weak, Mashiach "will judge the poor with righteousness and decide with equity for the meek of the earth" (v 4). He will "strike the earth with the rod of his mouth" (v 4) - he will not need to use armed force in order to assert his authority but will do so through the power of his words. "And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins" (v 5). Targum (ad loc.) renders: "And the Tzaddikim shall be round about him".
"And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb." (v 6). RaDaK (ad loc.) comments that some explain that in the time of Mashiach the very nature of the wild animals will change and revert to what it was at the beginning of creation, when they did not consume one another (for if they had, the weaker species would never have survived). However, others explain all this as an allegory in which the predatory animals symbolize the wicked oppressors while the lamb, the cow, the calf and the kid symbolize the meek of the earth, and in the time of Mashiach there will be peace on earth and men will not harm their fellows. RaDaK dissents from the opinion that the nature of the wild animals will change throughout the world but maintains that in the Land of Israel they will do no harm, as promised by Moses: "I shall cause evil beasts to cease from the land" (Lev. 26:6). RaDaK (on v 8 of our present chapter) continues: "In the days of Mashiach the serpent's hatred for man that was decreed after Adam's creation will cease in all the land of Israel, and wherever the people of Israel go, no serpent or wild beasts will harm them".
"They shall not do harm and they shall not destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of HaShem as the waters cover the sea" (v 9). It is the knowledge of God that dispels the cruelty that rules in its absence. "The 'sea' (Hebrew, YAM) refers to the place that contains the waters, while the waters fill it so that the bottom of the sea is not seen" (Metzudas David ad loc.). We know that the bottom of the sea is uneven, having its own "hills" and "valleys". From above the waters will be seen covering the sea uniformly in the sense that everyone will be filled with the knowledge of God, but just as the bottom of the sea is uneven, in some cases people's understanding will be shallower and in others it will be deeper (Rabbi Gedaliah Koenig ztz"l).
".and his resting place shall be glorious" (v 10). "Most kings are ashamed to be at rest, as if it is a sign of weakness not to challenge some other nation, but Mashiach's very tranquility will enhance his glory because all will show him obedience" (Metzudas David).
Verses 11-12 depict the return of the exiles of Israel from all their places of dispersal. The medieval commentators explain that the "isles of the sea" (v 11) refer to the Greek islands, which were probably an early stopping place for many of the Israelite exiles, but with hindsight we can understand that these islands must also include Britain, Ireland, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand etc. which are also "isles" in relation to the Europe-Africa-Asia land mass.
"And the envy of Ephraim shall depart." (v 13). With the coming of Melech HaMashiach the historical rift between the House of David and the Ten Tribes under the leadership of Ephraim will be healed.
"But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines westwards." (v 14). Instead of ignominiously retreating from Gaza , in the time of Mashiach Israel will conquer it. "They shall lay their hand on Edom and Moab " (ibid.) RaDaK (ad loc.) comments: "Even though they are not identifiable today as nations - because only Israel have maintained their separate identity from the nations through the Torah, while the other nations have all become mixed up and are either Moslems or Christians - when it mentions Edom, Moab and the children of Ammon, it means their lands and those who dwell in them today." The inheritance of these lands by Israel will be the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:19 (see Rashi ad loc.).
"And you shall say on that day, I will give thanks to HaShem although You were angry with me." In the Hebrew text there is no section break between the end of the previous chapter and the beginning of this chapter: they are one continuous prophecy. Here the prophet foretells the new consciousness that will dwell in the people of Israel with the coming of Mashiach. Retroactively they will understand the purpose of their checkered history of exile and persecution, which was to refine them and bring them to repent. They will come to a new level of trust in God and His saving power (v 2). "And you shall draw waters with joy from the wellsprings of salvation" - "You will receive a new teaching - for He will expand their hearts through the salvation that will come to them and all the secrets of the Torah that were forgotten during the exile because of the troubles will be revealed to them" (Rashi).
* * * Isaiah 10:32-12:6 is read as the Haftara in Diaspora communities on the Eighth Day of Pesach * * *
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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