Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 17
"The burden of Damascus ." (v 1). The opening short prophecy in Chapter 17 vv 1-3 continues the series of prophecies about the downfall of the nations surrounding and oppressing Israel by foretelling the calamity that was to befall the Aramean kingdom centered in Damascus (v 1). However after mentioning Damascus, verse 2 of this short prophecy immediately turns to Israel, for Aro'er mentioned in this verse was a city in the territories captured by Moses east of the Jordan (and thus part of Israel) that was built up by the tribe of Gad (Numbers 32:34). Then verse 3 prophecies the destruction of the fortress of Ephraim (Shomron).
The intertwining of the fate of Aram with that of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes arose because, as we learned in Isaiah ch 7, Retzin king of Aram in alliance with Pekah ben Remaliahu king of Israel both invaded Judah in the reign of King Ahaz. As discussed previously, Aram and the Ten Tribes were both eventually exiled by Sennacherib before his advance on Jerusalem , and it is about their joint fate that Isaiah is prophesying in these verses (see Rashi on v 2). Rashi (loc. cit.) also cites a Midrash telling that while Damascus had 365 streets each with their own idol, each of which was worshipped one day of the year, the idolatrous Israelites established a center in Aro'er where they imported and worshipped all 365 idols every day of the year.
Verses 4-6 prophecy how the glory of the House of Jacob would become lowly with the exile of the Ten Tribes. Just as a reaper picks all the best, so Sennacherib would exile all of them at one time, "gleaning" and capturing anyone trying to escape. Verse 5 specifies that this reaper harvests in Emek Repha'im ("Valley of the Giants") which is immediately south of Jerusalem , emphasizing that Sennacherib's armies would overrun all of Judah and only Jerusalem itself would hold out against his siege. As a result, only a few remaining impoverished berries would be left: these allude to King Hezekiah and the loyal Tzaddikim besieged in Jerusalem (Rashi on v 6).
"On that day shall a man look to his Maker." (v 7). The effect of Sennacherib's siege on Jerusalem would be to bring the Tzaddikim inside the city to a level of complete TESHUVAH (repentance) to the point where they would give up all forms of idolatry (v 8).
Verse 9 depicts the devastation in the land of Israel after the exile of the Ten Tribes followed by Sennacherib's invasion of Judah , while verse 10 explains the sin of forgetting God that caused this to happen. Verse 10 and then verse 11 speak of the strange kinds that would grow when the people would plant. This alludes to the way that Israel in exile would intermingle and intermarry with the other nations and produce mixed stock not like the pure breed God intended (see Rashi on vv 10-11).
Verse 12 starts a new section continuing on from the previous section by foretelling the miraculous destruction of Sennacherib's armies that would take place in one night. "Woe to the multitude of many peoples." (v 12). On this Rashi makes a very important comment: "An attribute that runs through all the generations is that the whip with which Israel are beaten ends up being beaten itself, and therefore when the prophets prophesy the punishment of Israel at the hands of the nations, they immediately afterwards prophesy the punishment of the nation used to punish Israel" (Rashi on v 12).
"Woe to the multitude of many people who make a noise like the noise of the seas..." (v 12). Midrash Tanchuma comments: " Israel are compared to the sand, as it says, 'The number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea' (Hosea 2:1) while the nations are compared to the sea, as it says in our present verse. The nations take counsel against Israel but God weakens their might. In the case of the sea, the first wave says, 'Now I will rise up and flood the whole world' but when it reaches the sand it bends and is broken. Yet the second wave does not learn from the first. Pharaoh rose up against Israel but God cast him down, just as he then cast down Amalek, Sichon, Og, Bilaam and Balak - but not one of them learned from the previous one!"
"And behold, in the evening trouble, and before the morning they are no more" (v 14). Here Isaiah prophecies the miraculous destruction of all Sennacherib's armies in one night by the angel - paradigm of the destined destruction of the armies of Gog and Magog at the end of days. "This is the portion of them that spoil us" (v 14) - "One portion was received by Sennacherib and another portion will be received by Gog and Magog when they come to plunder us" (Rashi ad loc.).
"O land of buzzing wings that fly beyond the rivers of Kush ." (v 1). RaDaK (ad loc.) comments: "After having prophesied the salvation that was to occur in the days of Hezekiah, Isaiah follows it immediately with the great salvation that is destined to come about in the days of Moshiach." This is the overthrow of the forces of Gog and Magog. Once again the overthrow of Sennacherib is compared to the overthrow of Gog and Magog. Just as the overthrow of Sennacherib actually took place, so will that of Gog and Magog.
Many people take the phrase "beyond the rivers of KUSH" to refer to Africa - Kush is usually taken to refer specifically to Ethiopia . However Targum Yonasan renders KUSH as HODOO (India), which is in agreement with one opinion in the Talmud (Megillah 11a commenting on Esther 1:1) and would also be in agreement with those today who point to the energetic sea-faring and colonizing activities of the ancient Ethiopians along the Arabian and Indian coastlines and see African ancestry in important peoples of the Indian subcontinent. If the forces of Gog and Magog are to come from BEYOND THE RIVERS of India , could this refer to China ???
The "buzzing wings" in verse 1 are interpreted by Targum as referring to the sails of the ships in which the hordes of Gog and Magog will travel, swifter than eagles. These and the light papyrus vessels mentioned in verse 2 could seemingly allude to aircraft or even missiles??? Rashi explains that the "messengers" in verse 2 [U.N./Quartet envoys?] are traveling to see if "a nation tall and smooth, a nation awesome from their beginning onward.", i.e. Israel , have really returned to their land after such a lengthy exile. This nation has suffered time and time again in their history (see commentators on v 2) and now Gog and Magog come to attack them. From verse 3 we see that the entire world will be watching and witnessing this cataclysmic event, knowing full well that Israel have come home.
Verse 4 begins a new subsection of this prophecy about the war of Gog and Magog. In Isaiah 62:1 God says "For the sake of Jerusalem I SHALL NOT BE QUIET until her righteousness goes forth like radiance and her salvation like a burning torch." But here God says "I SHALL BE QUIET and look on in My dwelling place": we may infer this can only be after Jerusalem has been saved, when God's presence will again rest in the Holy Temple (see Metzudas David on verse 4 of our present chapter).
"For before the harvest, when the blossom is past and the bud is ripening into young grapes, he shall both cut off the springs with pruning hooks and take away and cut down the branches" (v 5). In a lengthy comment on this verse, RaDaK explains that Gog and Magog will steadily gather strength with more and more nations joining them, as it says, " Persia , Kush [ Pakistan ? China ?] and Phut with them" (Ezekiel 38:4), and they are therefore likened to developing vine fruits. But just as they are about to reach complete ripeness, when they will have invaded and exiled half of Jerusalem (as prophesied in Zechariah 14:2), God will miraculously strike them all down. "They shall be left together to the predatory birds of the mountains." (v 6). This is as prophesied in Zechariah 14:12ff and in Ezekiel ch 39. The fallen armies of Gog and Magog will be left unburied in the hills of Israel for a whole year (Eduyos 2 commenting on verse 6 in our present chapter), after which they will be brought to burial.
"At that time a gift (SHAI) shall be brought to HaShem of Hosts." (v 7). "The nations of the world are destined to bring a gift to King Masiach, as it says, 'Until SHILOH will come' (Gen. 49:10) - do not read this as SHILOH but as SHAI-LO, a gift to him" (Yalkut Shimoni).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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