This week’s chunk of Yeshaiyahu continues on the theme of impending conquest. The prophet directly identifies Assyria as the weapon of his wrath and the tool with which he will render justice. But Hashem further warns that the King of Assyria will also grow arrogant in his conquest of the region, fancying himself the cause of his own success. Assyria will pay the ultimate price for that arrogance. When Assyria is weakened, the remnant of Israel will regain the opportunity to serve Hashem. And they did, during Yosiyahu’s (Josiah’s) reign.
BUT, the freedom of Israel under the Yosiyahu is not absolute. Neither he, nor Judah, will be independent. The Chaldeans were on the rise, and would conquer next.
In chapter 11, leviathan is a reference to one of the major deities of the Assyrian and Chaldean pantheons. Yosiyahu is the promised “branch of Yesse’s stem.” He is also the “child” who “will lead them,” as his reign began in his childhood, and he took part in alliances with traditional enemies against Egypt. Unfortunately, the alliance was unsuccessful. As evidenced by references to other prophets and prophecies in Scripture, sometimes prophecy is fulfilled when it is averted. In this case, Egypt won the battle, and was ultimately defeated by the Persians.
Still, Yosiyahu’s reign did signal a brief renaissance for the people, who were, to some extent, able to return from diaspora for a time, as Yeshaiyahu predicts. And Yeshaiyahu instructs the people to rejoice in chapter 12.
Chapter 13 is a prophecy of Babylon’s defeat by the Persians (the Medes), and is followed by a prediction of prosperity for Israel. Under Persian rule, Israel experienced an unusual degree of freedom for an imperial province, and Israel prospered in that freedom and under imperial protection. Thus it should come as no surprise, that Yeshaiyahu instructs the people to lord it over the king of Babylon with a lengthy taunt in chapter 14.
Chapter 15 then returns to the end of the reign of King Ahaz, specifically the year he died, with a prophecy against Philistia, immediately followed in chapter 16 by a prophecy against Moav. Both found themselves under Assyrian rule, and participated in a failed revolt against Sargon II around the time of Ahaz’s death. Neither had any reason for rejoicing, and neither ultimately survived, as Philistia disappears from historical record after their conquest by Assyria, and Moav ceased to exist after conquest by Persia. Indeed, Moav, although it will continue in the historical record, will be brought so low, that Yeshaiyahu delivers a message from Hashem to the Israelites, telling them to shelter the Moavite refugees. Moav has been proud and arrogant and deserves what it gets, but the survivors will be so beleaguered, that we should forget former enmity, and care for them in memory of King David (chapter 16).
Chapter 17 foretells the destruction of both Damascus and Ephraim. Placing the two together is fitting, as the alliance between Assyria and Ephraim is what starts this path of destruction. As part of the Babylonian conquest, no quarter is given for Assyrian idols, which incorporate the notion of a divine king. With idols destroyed, and belief in Hashem under threat, the extremity of the Babylonian conquest, Yeshaiyahu tells us, will turn Israel back to Hashem.
Finally, chapter 18, praises Nubia (the land beyond Cush) for sending emissaries and offerings to Hashem.