Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 35
"The wilderness and the arid land shall rejoice." (v 1). This very beautiful prophecy of the future glory of Israel and Jerusalem comes as the conclusion of Isaiah's lengthy series of prophecies about the coming downfall of the nations, before leading into the narrative portion of the book telling of Sennacherib's abortive siege of Jerusalem , his downfall and the events that followed (chs 36-39).
The present prophecy of how the "wilderness" will burst into blossom comes in contrast to the prophecy in the previous chapter (ch 34) about the utter devastation that will befall Edom in the end of days. "We may interpret the 'wilderness' and the 'arid land' as referring to the Land of Israel, which was like a wilderness from the day Israel went into exile from there, but now, with the destruction of the land of Edom, Israel will rejoice and be glad, for with the destruction of Edom, Israel will be restored" (RaDaK on v 1).
Every visitor to modern Israel is witness to the literal fulfillment of this prophecy in our times with the influx of returning Jews to the land and the subsequent transformation of the arid desert waste left after nearly two thousand years of neglect into the greatest agricultural wonder of the world.
".the glory of the Lebanon shall be given to her" (v 2). "' Lebanon ' is the Holy Temple " (Rashi ad loc.). [It is called Lebanon - LeV NuN - because the Temple is the manifestation of the perfect unification of Chochmah-Wisdom, which consists of 32 Pathways=LeV, together with Binah-Understanding, which consists of 50 Gateways=Nun. LeV-Nun = Lebanon .]
"Strengthen weak hands and make firm tottering knees" (v 3). The prophet calls on all the prophets of salvation to give encouragement to those who have fallen into despair of ever being redeemed. Those of "fearful" (lit. "speedy") hearts (v 4) are those who yearn for a speedy redemption and are thus full of sorrow over its delay: they need not fear that it will not come because God - here called ELOKIM (alluding to the attribute of Justice) - will surely avenge His people and execute justice (Metzudas David ad loc.).
"Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped" (v 5). The "blind" and the "deaf" refer to Israel in the time of their exile, suffering the taunts and insults of the nations while acting as if they do not see or hear them (Metzudas David ad loc.; Rashi on v 6).
"And the parched ground shall become a pool and the thirsty land springs of water" (v 7). When one sees an arid desert, it is almost impossible to believe that it could be ever turned into a water-rich, fertile land. Yet Israel has witnessed such miracles in our times, and this should strengthen our faith that all the other promises of the prophets will be fulfilled.
"No lion shall be found there nor any ravenous beast" (v 9). These are the nations that formerly oppressed Israel (Targum ad loc.). Thus the lion alludes to Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed the First Temple (cf. Jeremiah 4:7; see Rashi on verse 9 of our present chapter).
"And HaShem's redeemed people shall return and come to Zion with songs and EVERLASTING JOY ON THEIR HEADS" (v 10). This is a prophecy that Israel will be restored to the spiritual level they attained at the Giving of the Torah prior to the sin of the golden calf. In the words of the Talmud: "At the moment when Israel said they 'We shall DO and we shall HEAR' (Exodus 24:7) - i.e. they would PRACTICE the precepts of the Torah even before they would HEAR (=UNDERSTAND) their meaning - six hundred thousand ministering angels came and attached two crowns on the head of each Israelite, one corresponding to 'we shall do' and the other corresponding to 'we shall hear'. But when Israel sinned, twelve hundred thousand destroying angels descended and removed them, as it says, 'And the children of Israel were stripped of their ornaments from Mt Horeb (Ex. 33:6). But in time to come the Holy One blessed be He will restore them to us, as it is written, 'And HaShem's redeemed people shall return. and EVERLASTING JOY (SIMCHAS OLAM) on their heads' - i.e. the joy of yore that was on their heads" (Shabbos 88a).
The narrative contained in the coming chapters (36-39) about Sennacherib's assault on Judah and his siege of Jerusalem, Hezekiah's mortal illness and recovery and his showing all his treasures to the emissaries from Babylon appears with certain variations in II Kings chs 18-20 and also in a somewhat more abbreviated version in II Chronicles ch 32.
The miraculous delivery of Jerusalem from the clutches of Sennacherib was undoubtedly the most outstanding and dramatic event that occurred during Isaiah's prophetic ministry. As discussed in our commentary on the earlier portions of Isaiah, years earlier he had prophesied repeatedly that this would take place. The fact that it actually did should greatly strengthen our faith that all his other prophecies and consolations about the end of days will also be fulfilled. Sennacherib's attack was the prototype of the destined future attack on Jerusalem by the armies of Gog and Magog (see Sanhedrin 94a), and Sennacherib's overthrow is the sign that Gog and Magog will also be overthrown.
"Sennacherib came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them" (v 1). In order to appreciate the full drama of Ravshakeh's psychological warfare against the people of Jerusalem as told in this chapter, it is necessary to realize that Sennacherib's armies had overrun and were occupying the entire territory of Judah . Only King Hezekiah and the remnants of the population who were walled up with him in the besieged city were holding out against the Assyrian world superpower, which had already swallowed up all the other nations in the region. Moreover, Hezekiah and his party, who with the support of Isaiah were in favor of continuing their defiance, were in the minority, while Shevna and his "fifth column", who were ready to capitulate, were in the majority (Sanhedrin 26a; see KNOW YOUR BIBLE on Isaiah ch 22). Ravshakeh himself was a living testimony to the apparent benefits of capitulation, for according to rabbinic tradition, Sennacherib's henchman was a MOOMAR - an apostate, i.e. an Israelite who had embraced idolatry (Sanhedrin 60a).
Vv 4-10: Ravshakeh contemptuously dismisses any notion that Hezekiah can succeed in defying Sennacherib. Hezekiah's only possible ally, Egypt , is a broken reed that merely pierces the hand of anyone who takes hold of it. And if Hezekiah thinks his campaign of religious purification in Jerusalem will elicit God's favor, he must realize that he does not even have two thousand riders, let alone two thousand horses, to confront Sennacherib's vast armies, which had already overrun all the rest of Judah with God's assent.
"Please speak to your servants in the language of Aram for we understand it and do not speak to us in the Judean language in the hearing of the people that are on the wall." Aramaic was the international diplomatic language of the time (as we find in the books of Daniel and Ezra etc.) and would have been known to the king's courtiers but not to the general populace. Since Ravshakeh had initially called to Hezekiah's courtiers asking them to convey a message to the king (v 4), they did not think that he was intentionally trying to sow fear among the people. They also may have hoped that Ravshakeh might accede to their request because although he was acting under orders from Sennacherib, as an apostate he may have had some residual feelings in his heart for his native family (Rashi on v 11).
The courtiers' request to Ravshakeh to be more discreet had the opposite effect, making him even more bombastic - for his intention was indeed to sow fear among the people.
"Thus says the king of Assyria : Make an agreement with me and come out to me. until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards." (v 16). Sennacherib was the first champion of "population exchange", sending all the peoples he conquered into exile far away from their native territories, thereby cutting their ties with their lands, which would make them far less liable to revolt.
Ravshakeh described the land to which he proposed to exile them as "a land LIKE YOUR OWN LAND". "Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, Ravshakeh was a fool, because he did not know how to persuade. If someone wants to marry a woman and he says, Your father is a king and I am a king, your father is wealthy and I am wealthy, your father feeds you meat, fish and old wine and I will feed you meat, fish and old wine, this is no inducement. What is an inducement? If he says: Your father is a commoner but I am a king, your father is poor but I am rich, your father feeds you vegetables and beans but I will feed you meat and fish. Even when Ravshakeh came to recount the praises of the foreign land he was offering as an inducement, he was unable to find anything derogatory to say about the Land of Israel !" (Sifri, Ekev #1).
Ravshakeh's undoing came because of his arrogant confidence in Assyria 's earthly might. He bragged that just as the idols of all the nations that Sennacherib had conquered had failed to save their peoples, so HaShem would be unable to save Jerusalem . This was outright blasphemy, and since it came not from a heathen but from an Israelite apostate, Hezekiah's courtiers rent their garments on hearing it (Rambam, Laws of Idolatry 2:10).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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