Yeshaiyahu 46-66

There was a double parsha last week, so this week’s overview covers two weeks worth of reading.  This is also the final post on Yeshaiyahu.

Chapters 46-54 continue on the theme of reminding the people of the ridiculousness of idolatry.  Idols may be captured and carried into captivity, but Hashem carries His people–even when they are captives (46:1-4).  Remember that Hashem’s servant is an idolator and an emperor, it is vital that the Israelites not worship their new king.  That said, Babylon will be shamed for her arrogance, and Israel, the wayward servant (52-3) or cast off wife (50), has been redeemed.  Not only has Hashem turned away His anger, but Israel will be served by those who were formerly honored themselves, and Jerusalem will be rebuilt (49).  Under Persian rule, many tributary principalities were required to pay tribute to Israel or otherwise contribute to the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Chapter 48 is notable because it declares complete the preceding prophecies and announces the beginning of a new era of prophecy.

The former things I declared of old;
they went out from my mouth, and I announced them;
then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.
Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass,
I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you,
lest you should say, “My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.”
You have heard; now see all this;
and will you not declare it?
From this time forth I announce to you new things,
hidden things that you have not known.
Yeshaiyahu 48:3-6
Just as Hashem used signs to demonstrate His power to the Egyptians and other peoples in the exodus, He now announces that He will use prophecy to demonstrate His power to Israel.  At the same time, we are to understand that this will be a new beginning.  The Persian conquest marks a new era, in which everything that came before is done.  There are no holdovers other than the Law.  Israel has been forgiven, Jerusalem will be rebuilt (no more cities they did not build and fields they did not plant), a new era of prophecy has begun, and a new covenant has been forged.  Nonetheless, history will guide us for the future.  Those (like Avraham and Sara, referenced in chapter 51) who are obedient will prosper and be remembered, those who do not submit to Hashem will be destroyed and forgotten.
These chapters also feature a meaningful literary reversal.  In Torah and at various points in the rest of the TaNaKh, Hashem frequently seeks an individual, and the individual responds “Here I am!”  In this part of Yeshaiyahu, Hashem assures the people that when they call on Him, He will respond (52:6 is a prime example).
Chapters 55-6 are works of reassurance in turbulent times.  Indeed, 55 reminds me strongly of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), both in phrasing and themes.  Chapter 56 reminds the reader that the promised salvation from Babylon is close at hand, so the people should be careful in their obedience to Torah and earn the blessings of their new covenant.  Those who have no shared past with the people need not fear the future, and those who have no lineage will still leave a legacy.  Hashem will accept and prosper the sincere, because He is not only the G-d of the Nation, but that of the individual (57:15).
The trick is that the rituals are not sufficient.  The new covenant relies on the circumcised heart of Devarim 30:6.  We must not make a show of fasting and prayer, but show ourselves to be humble and that we wish to please Him (Yeshaiyahu 58:6-7).  Hashem will never move back from us.  It is we who withdraw from Him (59:1-2).
And what is this new covenant?
“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord:  “My Will that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
Yeshaiyahu 59:21

There will always be Jews.  Just as Hashem promised Noah that he would never again destroy the world with water, He now promises never to eradicate the Jewish people from the earth.

Chapters 60-2 go on to announce the beginning of Jerusalem’s redemption.  It is the beginning of a new age for Jerusalem and Zion, and while the redemption has commenced, the process will be ongoing.  In 63, we are reminded that Hashem has destroyed much, as a man who treads grapes in a wine vat.  But treading grapes produces wine.  Wine is both sweet and enduring.  Note that the complicity of Edom in the destruction of Jerusalem is identified in this passage as Hashem’s handiwork (63:1-2).

Chapter 64 is a prayer of mourning and beseeches forgiveness in memory of the Temple and Jerusalem.

Chapter 65 reiterates that Hashem used idolators (Chaldeans and Assyrians) to execute his judgment against the Nation.  Now, not only has his anger abated, but he has grown impatient with the foreigners’ idolatry and uncleanliness.  The redemption of the Nation is not simply a new beginning for them, but a punishment for the other nations that had oppressed them.  Ultimately, they will all be equal under Persian rule (65:25).

Finally, Chapter 66 is a voice of reassurance in exile.  Hashem is bigger than everything, and He made everything, so the absence of a temple is not the end of the world.  Making offerings and worshipping with the correct attitude are what is important.  But exile will not be permanent, the priesthood will be restored, and Jerusalem rebuilt once the conquerors are conquered.

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