August 30, 2008
29 Av 5768
This, the third of the seven special haftarah of consolation which follow Tisha B\’Av opens with a prophecy that identifies Jerusalem with a woman in deep despair. She is promised in the prophet\’s message that all of her woes will be erased and that all that she has lost will be restored in an unimaginable way. She has experienced the worst of tragedies. Jerusalem had been destroyed. Its buildings were in ruins. Its security breached. Its children had been murdered or driven away. Its culture and religious life uprooted.
This prophecy comes from the later part of the book of Isaiah (chapters 40- 56). Modern scholars generally agree that the author of this part of Isaiah lived after the destruction of the First Temple. His words of solace, then, are an answer to the tremendous tragedy that had overcome the nation and its people. In fact, it is possible that the prophet\’s words may be a direct response or even a dialogue with the very words of lament found in the book of Lamentations – the scroll which records in poetic form the tragic events of the destruction.
Professor S. Paul notes that God\’s anger and the pathetic state of Jerusalem as found in Lamentations are transformed in the words of the prophet into encouragement over the rehabilitation and restoration of Jerusalem\’s grandeur. In Lamentations, we read: \”the sacred gems are spilled at every street corner\”. (Lamentations 4:1) The prophet responds in kind: \”I will lay carbuncles as your building stones and make your foundations of sapphire. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of precious stones, the whole encircling wall of precious gems.\” (Isaiah 54:11-12)
In Lamentations, the nation\’s children are ravaged: \”The precious children of Zion; once valued as gold; Alas, they are account as earthen pots.\” (Lamentations 4:2) The prophet answers: \”And all your children will be disciples of the Lord and great will be the happiness of your children.\” (Isaiah 54:13)
In Lamentations, the foundations of the city are destroyed: \”The Lord vented all His fury, poured out His blazing wrath; He kindles a fire in Zion which consumed its foundations.\” (Lamentations 4:11) The prophet responds: \”And make your foundations of sapphire.\” (Isaiah 54:11)
In Lamentations, the gates of the city are overcome by enemies: \”the foe or adversary could enter the city\’s gates\” (Lamentations 4:12) The prophet transforms this image into: \”your gates are of precious stones\” (Isaiah 54:12)
In Lamentations, Israel\’s future seems destined to end: \”Our heritage is passed to aliens, our homes to strangers. (Lamentations 5:1) This oppressive image is overturned by the prophet: \”No weapon against you will succeed and every tongue that contends with you at law, you shall defeat. Such is the inheritance of the servants of the Lord, such their triumph through Me – declares the Lord.\” (Isaiah 54:17) (Shalom Paul, Isaiah 40 66, Mikra L\’Yisrael, pp. 375-376)
The prophets of ancient Israel played many roles. Sometimes they castigated the people for their sins. Sometimes they had uncanny insight into future events. Other times, they offered the people the encouragement necessary to meet the challenges of building God\’s city and world anew. Their message was that through thick and thin, God was with His people and that ultimately with His help, they would rebuild and triumph.