Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
ISAIAH CHAPTER 8
Like the prophecy in the previous chapter, the present prophecy dates to the fourth year of reign of King Ahaz, when Judah was under the most serious threat from the invading armies of Retzin king of Aram and Pekah ben Remaliah king of Israel.
V 1: "And HaShem said to me, Take a great scroll and write on it in the pen of a man: the spoil speeds, the prey hastens." The prophet was commanded to write a document attesting to God's promise of salvation to Judah , because the kingdoms of Aram and of Israel would soon fall prey to Assyria .
V 2: "And I took to myself faithful witnesses." It is customary for a document to be signed by a minimum of two valid witnesses. Although the simple meaning of the verse is that Isaiah took as witnesses two men who were living in his time, the Midrashic explanation is that he invoked two future prophets - Uriah, who was to prophesy in the reign of King Yeho-yakim that "Zion will be plowed like a field" (Jeremiah 26:20; Micah 3:12) and Zechariah, whose book is included in the Twelve "minor" prophets, and who was to prophesy at the beginning of the Second Temple period that "old men and women will yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem" (Zechariah 8:4). "What is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah prophesied harsh punishments whereas Zechariah offered consolation! This comes to teach that the prophecy of Uriah testifies to the prophecy of Zechariah: Just as the prophecy of Uriah has been fulfilled, so will the prophecy of Zechariah be fulfilled" (Maccos 24b).
V 3: "I drew near to the prophetess and she conceived and bore a son." Rashi's opinion (ad loc.) is that this son of Isaiah's is the same as the son whose birth was prophesied in the previous chapter (Isaiah 7:14) and who was there called Immanuel as a sign that God would be with Hezekiah when he would reign after Ahaz and have to face Sennacherib. In the present prophecy, God tells Isaiah to call this son by names indicating the imminent defeat of Retzin king of Aram and Pekah ben Remaliah king of Israel . This was an aspect of His providence over Hezekiah since the two invaders sought to bring the rule of the House of David to an end.
V 5: "And HaShem spoke to me further." The commentators explain that the following passage alludes to a fifth column that was already present in Jerusalem in the time of Ahaz, when Pekah ben Remaliah wanted to rule over Judah, and which developed into a major threat in the time of Hezekiah, when Jerusalem came under siege by Sennacherib and Shevna, who was Hezekiah's scribe (Isaiah 22:15 & 37:2), wanted to go out to him and capitulate.
"Because this people refuse the waters of Shiloah, which go softly, and rejoice in Retzin and the son of Remalyahu" (v 6). The gentle waters of the Shiloah spring (which is at the southern foot of the Temple Mount ) allude to the House of David, whose kings were anointed by their side. "Many of the inhabitants of Judah despised the kingship of the House of David, which seemed weak in comparison with the kingdom of Ephraim, and they wanted Pekah ben Remaliahu to be king" (Metzudas David ad loc.). The Midrash explains that the people were disgruntled with Hezekiah because he did not aspire to royal grandeur but contented himself with a modest dish of vegetables before throwing himself into his Torah studies, while Pekah would consume forty seahs of fledglings for dessert (Rashi ad loc.).
"And therefore the Lord will bring up against them the mighty multitude of waters of the river - the king of Assyria " (v 7). Yet again Isaiah brings home the message that the geopolitical realities of the entire region were being radically transformed with the ascent of Assyria, which would sweep away Aram and the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, and which would eventually "sweep through Judah" (v 8), i.e. in the time of Hezekiah, when the Assyrians would reach the "neck" - Jerusalem - destroying Shevna and his party of traitors as well before being miraculously defeated, showing that God is with us: Immanuel!
"Take counsel together but it shall come to naught; speak a word, but it shall not stand, for God is with us!" (v 10). Many customarily repeat this verse after each of the daily prayer services as a powerful protection against the machinations of the wicked.
V 11: "For HaShem spoke thus to me with a strong hand and warned me that I should not walk in the way of this people." The "strong hand" with which God spoke to Isaiah was the "hand" of prophecy (cf. Ezekiel 3:14). Rashi explains that His warning to Isaiah was not to join Shevna and his party, which apparently enjoyed the support of the majority in Judah , while Hezekiah and those who wanted to defy Sennacherib were numerically in the minority. Although it is a Torah mitzvah to follow the majority (Exodus 23:2), this only applies if they are righteous, but if they are wicked they do not count (Rashi on v 12).
V 16: "Bind up the testimony, seal the Torah among My disciples." The simple meaning of the verse is that God's salvation is promised to those who seal His Torah in their hearts and those of their children and students. The Talmudic sages also adduced this verse as alluding to King Ahaz' efforts to "seal" the Torah - i.e. prevent its study - by closing down the children's cheders and the study halls (Sanhedrin 103b).
V 17: "And I will wait for HaShem even though He hides His face from the House of Jacob." One of the hardest challenges of faith in the times of Ahaz and Hezekiah was that Judah witnessed the catastrophe that befell the Ten Tribes with their exile. This was the hiding of His face from the House of Jacob as prophesied in Deuteronomy 31:18 - yet Isaiah had faith that He would not hide His face from Judah if they would keep His Torah (see Metzudas David on v 17 and Rashi on v 18).
V 19: "And when they say to you, Consult the mediums and the wizards that chirp." The prophet warns people to reject all forms of divination and punditry and put their faith only in the Torah and the true prophets.
Vv 21-23 prophetically depict the calamity that would befall the Ten Tribes when they would be exiled by the Assyrians and would angrily curse their king and their idols after they had let them down so badly, and would finally look upward to search out Hashem (see Rashi on v 21). Verse 23 alludes to the three stages in which the exile of the Ten Tribes took place. The first came in the fourth year of the reign of Ahaz, when the Assyrians exiled the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. The second came in Ahaz' twelth year, when they exiled the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Menasheh living east of the River Jordan. The third and last stage came with the exile of the remainder of the Ten Tribes in the sixth year of Hezekiah.
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light" (v 1). This beautiful prophecy, which is the direct continuation of that in the previous chapter delivered in the fourth year of King Ahaz (there is no section break in the Hebrew text), foretells the miraculous delivery of Jerusalem from the clutches of Sennacherib's armies that was to take place twenty-six years later in the fourteenth year of the reign of Hezekiah, as described in detail in the narrative portion of Isaiah chs 36ff.
V 2: "You have multiplied the nation and increased joy to it." The Hebrew word for "to it" (LO) is written (KSIV) in the parchment scroll as LO with an Aleph (="not") even though it is read (KRI) as if it were written with a Vav (="to it"). This indicates that Hezekiah's joy was NOT complete, because shortly after the overthrow of the Assyrians the prophet told him that his descendants would go into exile (Isaiah 39:6; Rashi on our verse).
".they rejoice before You according to the joy in the harvest" (v 2). This alludes to the fact that the overthrow of Sennacherib's armies took place on the night of the sixteenth of Nissan, when the Temple Omer offering is harvested. Likewise, Gideon's miraculous defeat of the Midianites generations earlier, mentioned in verse 3, had taken place on the same auspicious night (Judges 7:13).
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given." (v 5). Rashi (ad loc.) paraphrases: "Even though Ahaz is wicked, the son born to him some years ago to be our king in his place (=Hezekiah) will be a Tzaddik, and he will serve the Holy One blessed be He and bear His yoke on his shoulders. He will study the Torah and observe the commandments and take His burden upon his shoulders."
".for the increase of the realm and for peace without end." (v 6). Hezekiah had the potential to be Messiah and Sennacherib's assault would then have been the fulfillment of the destined assault of Gog and Magog on Jerusalem and the complete repair would have been accomplished. However Hezekiah failed to sing a song over the miracle and thus lost the chance to be Messiah. For this reason the Hebrew word LE-MARBEH ("for the increase") in our verse is written in the parchment scroll with a closed instead of an open MEM in the middle, even though the closed MEM is normally reserved for use at the end of a word - to indicate that the opening for Hezekiah to be Mashiach became closed (Sanhedrin 94a). We daily await the coming of the Son of David to "establish and sustain the kingdom with justice and charity from now and forever" (v 6).
Following his prophecy of the messianic delivery of Judah from Sennacherib that would take place in the time of Hezekiah, Isaiah now returns to his prophecy of the calamity that would overtake the Ten Tribes some time before this with their exile by the Assyrians (verses 7-20).
"Therefore HaShem shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall He have mercy on the fatherless and widows. For everyone is a flatterer and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks obscenity!" (v 16). The Talmud learns from this verse that "The sin of speaking obscenity brings on many troubles and harsh decrees" (Shabbos 33a). Let us learn to purify our speech!
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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