Why do you complain, Ya`akov; why do you say, Isra'el, "My way is hidden from Adonai, my rights are ignored by my God"?
(Isa 40:27 CJB)
In chapter 39, Hezekiah, the King of Judah, is making friends with the Babylonians. After their state visit in Jerusalem, Isaiah has this conversation with the Judean king:
Then Yesha`yahu the prophet came to King Hizkiyahu and asked him, "What did these men say? Where did they come from?" Hizkiyahu answered, "They came to me from a distant country, Bavel." Yesha`yahu asked, "What have they seen in your palace?" "They have seen everything in my palace," said Hizkiyahu. "There isn't a thing among my treasures that I haven't shown them." Yesha`yahu said to Hizkiyahu, "Hear what Adonai-Tzva'ot says: 'The day will come when everything in your palace, along with everything your ancestors stored up until today, will be carried off to Bavel. Nothing will be left,' says Adonai. 'They will carry off some of your descendants, your own offspring; and they will be made eunuchs serving in the palace of the king of Bavel." Hizkiyahu said to Yesha`yahu, "The word of Adonai which you have just told me is good"; because he thought, "At least peace and truth will continue during my lifetime."
(Isa 39:3-8 CJB)
WILD FIRE IN JERUSALEM
Foreseeing Jerusalem's destructive punishment and exile, the heart of the prophet expresses words of comfort straight from the compassionate heart of HaShem.
Jerusalem would witness the burning of its beloved Temple, the deportation of its monarchic family, nobles, and city leaders. For 70 years, the city would lay desolate and without walls, an ash-filled desolate plot of land where jackals roam freely. Many fires have devastated much of America these days. My wife and I barely escaped from our home being burning to the ground. When we returned, we took a drive through the places where the fires burned and destroyed the homes of less fortunate people. The sight of a burned house or a town such as the town of Paradise in California can give us a small idea of what Jerusalem might have looked like after its fiery destruction by Babylon. Jeremiah envisioned exilic Jerusalem as an abandoned widow sitting on an ash heap that represented her fiery destruction. Though Jerusalem brought this tragedy upon itself, the prophet Jeremiah, also called the weeping prophet, burst into a emotional cry about its destruction in a poem called Lamentations.
Yet, in view of all this destruction and desolation, HaShem's Spirit, through the prophet, chides Jerusalem with:
Why do you complain, Ya`akov; why do you say, Isra'el, "My way is hidden from Adonai, my rights are ignored by my God"? (Isa 40:27 CJB)
THE ANTIDOTE AGAINST COMPLAINING
Sometimes we complain about the things of life--the COVID-19 restrictions, having to wear a mask, the state of the economy. When we complain, in our minds we compare life to better times and our present situation to better situations. I heard it once said that the only constructive way to play the comparing game is to compare ourselves, our situation, or our lives to someone or a situation, or a life that is worst than ours. Somehow, this never fails to bring us into a spirit of gratitude.
There is another antidote against complaining--the one HaShem reminds Jerusalem of through the prophet. We must remember here that Isaiah lived almost 200 years before the destruction of Jerusalem. His consolation prophecies were therefore not relevant at the time he gave them, but they were stored for a later (and even "latter") use when these things would happen. HaShem's Spirit moves Isaiah to remind people that their complaining is but a sign that they forgot the love and omnipotence of their God. I would dare advance that this thought that complaining is akin to atheism.
Haven't you known, haven't you heard that the everlasting God, Adonai, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not grow tired or weary? His understanding cannot be fathomed. He invigorates the exhausted, he gives strength to the powerless. Young men may grow tired and weary, even the fittest may stumble and fall; but those who hope in Adonai will renew their strength, they will soar aloft as with eagles' wings; when they are running they won't grow weary, when they are walking they won't get tired. (Isa 40:28-31 CJB)
THE ONE RAISED FROM THE "EAST"
Announcement is made. The court is in session; the defendant is HaShem Himself defending His reputation and His honor in keeping His covenant with His people, though they seem to think that He doesn't. How much like a time when the unbelief of believers provokes them to take matters into their own hands in order to solve their problems.
"Keep silence before me, coastlands! Let the peoples replenish their strength! Let them approach; then let them speak. Let us assemble for judgment." (Isa 41:1 CJB)
HaShem asks a rhetorical question about the one who will come and provide redemption to Jerusalem:
Who has raised from the east one who is just and called him to be in his service? (Isa 41:2 CJBa)
It is the nature of prophecy to have many fulfillments. Prophecies can have a past, present, future, and even latter fulfillment and the oracle of Isaiah 41 is no exception.
Who is the "one raised from the East" to offer redemption?"
Abraham, a man from the East, Ur of the Chaldees, came one to bring redemption to Lot his kin, as well as to the Gentile cities that had been conquered and enslaved by 5 kings (Gen 14:1-16).
Emperor Cyrus, a man from Persia, which is today called Iran, has been prophesied by Isaiah that he will free all Israel from Assyrian and Babylonian captivities in order to return to their ancestral lands and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple (Isaiah 45:1).
Probably both interpretations can apply, but the nature of the choices the sages made for Aftara readings always has some relation with the parasha. The parasha this week is about Abram. It is about Abram who leaves his ancestral lands to come to the Land that HaShem shows him; a Land that will be significant for the redemption of Israel and the Gentile world, just like what happened when he freed his nephew Lot and the Gentiles who had been taken captive by the five kings (Gen 14:17-24). I will therefore go with Abraham.
The prophecy starts by recalling the victory Abram won against these kings as we read in Genesis 14:15)
He hands nations over to him and subjects kings to him; his sword reduces them to dust, his bow to driven straw. He pursues them, passing on unscathed, hardly touching the path with his feet. (Isa 41:2-3 CJB)
The prophecy then jumps to the one redeemer of Israel and the Gentiles who was called from before the foundations of the world:
"Everyone living on earth will worship it except those whose names are written in the Book of Life belonging to the Lamb slaughtered before the world was founded. "(Rev 13:8 CJB)
Whose work is this? Who has brought it about? He who called the generations from the beginning, "I, Adonai, am the first; and I am the same with those who are last." (Isa 41:4 CJB)
MAYBE A THIRD INTERPRETATION?
As Cyrus evoked fear in the nations that he conquered in order to redeem Israel, our Messiah will also evoke fear into the nations that He will come to conquer in order to redeem Israel at the end of times.
Why are the nations in an uproar, the peoples grumbling in vain? The earth's kings are taking positions, leaders conspiring together, against Adonai and his anointed. They cry, "Let's break their fetters! Let's throw off their chains!" He who sits in heaven laughs; Adonai looks at them in derision. Then in his anger he rebukes them, terrifies them in his fury. "I myself have installed my king on Tziyon, my holy mountain." "I will proclaim the decree: Adonai said to me, 'You are my son; today I became your father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance; the whole wide world will be your possession. You will break them with an iron rod, shatter them like a clay pot.' " Therefore, kings, be wise; be warned, you judges of the earth. Serve Adonai with fear; rejoice, but with trembling. Kiss the son [or: Kiss purely], lest he be angry, and you perish along the way, when suddenly his anger blazes. How blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psa 2:1-12 CJB)
Next I saw heaven opened, and there before me was a white horse. Sitting on it was the one called Faithful and True, and it is in righteousness that he passes judgment and goes to battle. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and on his head were many royal crowns. And he had a name written which no one knew but himself. He was wearing a robe that had been soaked in blood, and the name by which he is called is, "THE WORD OF GOD." The armies of heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. And out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down nations -- "He will rule them with a staff of iron." It is he who treads the winepress from which flows the wine of the furious rage of Adonai, God of heaven's armies. And on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out in a loud voice to all the birds that fly about in mid-heaven, "Come, gather together for the great feast God is giving, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of generals, the flesh of important men, the flesh of horses and their riders and the flesh of all kinds of people, free and slave, small and great!" I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to do battle with the rider of the horse and his army. But the beast was taken captive, and with it the false prophet who, in its presence, had done the miracles which he had used to deceive those who had received the mark of the beast and those who had worshipped his image. The beast and the false prophet were both thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword that goes out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh. (Rev 19:11-21 CJB)
All this is given to us as the answer to the rhetorical questions at the beginning of the oracle:
Why do you complain, Ya`akov; why do you say, Isra'el, "My way is hidden from Adonai, my rights are ignored by my God"?
Haven't you known, haven't you heard that the everlasting God, Adonai, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not grow tired or weary?
(Isa 40:27-28 CJB)
The coastlands have seen and became afraid. The ends of the earth have trembled. They have approached, and now they have come.
(Isa 41:5 CJB)
THE GENTILES UNITE
In fear of Cyrus, the nations started working together, strengthening their idols. As Yeshua comes to put an end to man's inhumanity to man, to social and economic injustice, the nations will also ready themselves to fight Him in the Valley of Jezreel (Rev 16:16):
Every one helps his fellow workman, everyone says to his brother, "Be strong!" The woodworker encourages the goldsmith, the polisher encourages the hammerer; he says of the soldering, "Yes, that's good," then puts nails in [the idol] to keep it from moving. (Isa 41:6-7 CJB)
But the oracle tells Israel not to fear, as redemption is nigh.
But you, Isra'el, my servant; Ya`akov, whom I have chosen, descendants of Avraham my friend, I have taken you from the ends of the earth, summoned you from its most distant parts and said to you, 'You are my servant' -- I have chosen you, not rejected you. Don't be afraid, for I am with you; don't be distressed, for I am your God. I give you strength, I give you help, I support you with my victorious right hand. All those who were angry with you will be disgraced, put to shame; those who fought against you will be destroyed, brought to nothing. You will seek them but not find them, those who contended with you; yes, those who made war with you will be brought to nothing, nothing at all. For I, Adonai, your God, say to you, as I hold your right hand, 'Have no fear; I will help you. Have no fear, Ya`akov, you worm, you men of Isra'el!' I will help you," says Adonai; "Your redeemer is the Holy One of Isra'el."I will make you into a threshing-sledge, new, with sharp, pointed teeth, to thresh the mountains and crush them to dust, to reduce the hills to chaff. As you fan them, the wind will carry them off, and the whirlwind will scatter them. Then you will rejoice in Adonai, you will glory in the Holy One of Isra'el. (Isa 41:8-16 CJB)
HOW DO WE PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE COMING REDEMPTION?
As Lot and the Gentiles of Sodom and Gomorrah were rescued by Abraham; as Israel saw its deliverance from a long captivity through Cyrus, we are also promised a deliverance from the ails of this world through an irrevocable covenant. Let us look to it when we are tempted to complain.
When Paul was telling the congregations in Thessalonica to be ready for the Day of Redemption, he gave them a checklist defining the lifestyle they ought to live in the expectancy of their soon redemption. He said:
God has not intended that we should experience his fury, but that we should gain deliverance through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who died on our behalf so that whether we are alive or dead, we may live along with him. Therefore, encourage each other, and build each other up -- just as you are doing. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are working hard among you, those who are guiding you in the Lord and confronting you in order to help you change. Treat them with the highest regard and love because of the work they are doing. Live at peace among yourselves; but we urge you, brothers, to confront those who are lazy, your aim being to help them change, to encourage the timid, to assist the weak, and to be patient with everyone. See that no one repays evil for evil; on the contrary, always try to do good to each other, indeed, to everyone. Always be joyful. Pray regularly. In everything give thanks, for this is what God wants from you who are united with the Messiah Yeshua. Don't quench the Spirit, don't despise inspired messages. But do test everything -- hold onto what is good, but keep away from every form of evil. May the God of shalom make you completely holy -- may your entire spirit, soul and body be kept blameless for the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. The one calling you is faithful, and he will do it. (1Th 5:9-24 CJB)
MAY WE LIVE WORTHY OF HE WHO GAVE HIS LIFE TO REDEEM US.