Isaiah – Chapter 57

The Pursuit of Pleasure and STILL No Peace for the Wicked

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Isaiah says that a righteous person – Rashi says like King Yoshiyahu – has perished, but nobody cares. Nobody understands that the righteous are being taken away because of the evil that is to come. It’s better for the righteous to sleep with their ancestors than to witness the tragedies to come. Those remaining should come close. They are the adherents of sorcery, adultery and promiscuity. Since they turned their backs on G-d, who can they rely upon for their good times? They mocked G-d’s word and His prophets; they are children of sin (or, perhaps, they gave birth to sin). They pleasure themselves under every tree and sacrifice their children to idols. They will inherit the rocks they sacrificed to idols upon – Rashi says this means that they will be stoned with them! Given their abominations, why should G-d prevent this fate?

They served idols brazenly, in public places. The idols are like an adulterous woman, outside whose door they eagerly awaited. Even though the nation is “married” to G-d, they got out of bed and took lovers (the idols).

G-d had previously graced the nation, who would greet the king with gifts. Messengers would return with tribute from other countries and those countries were humbled before Israel. (Conversely, perhaps it means that Israel sent gifts to the king of Assyria and that they were the ones who were humbled.) But the people strayed, following their desires, which they did not drop in favor of Torah and mitzvos. Since people were successful in their pursuit of pleasure, they were not discouraged from continuing in this path. The people forgot G-d – in favor of who? G-d is eternal and overlooks many of our sins, but they ignored Him. G-d recounts their righteous deeds (such as they are), but they won’t help the people now. When they go into exile, see if their idols save them. The idols and their adherents will be wiped away, but those who trust in G-d will inherit the land and Jerusalem. (This refers to Chizkiyahu and his followers, who successfully defended Jerusalem against the Assyrian invasion.)

The prophet will say in G-d’s Name to clear a path and remove any obstacles to the people’s return to G-d. G-d says that, though He “lives” among the lofty ones (stars? angels?), He is also with the humble and downtrodden people, whom He revives and invigorates. He does punish people for their misdeeds, but His wrath does not last forever. G-d relents when a person humbles himself and returns to Him.

G-d became angry about the sin of theft and He punished people accordingly. They continued in their bad ways, turning to idols. Some then return to G-d completely, others only partially improve their ways, others not at all. But G-d takes note of their paths, He takes them in and heals them. G-d will put words of peace in the mouths of all who live for those who were always righteous and those who have returned to Him. But the evil are turbulent like the sea, which cannot rest. They will have no peace.

Compare the last verse in this chapter with chapter 48, verse 22. There, the same idea is expressed using G-d’s Name of mercy. The verse here is identical, except that it uses G-d’s Name of justice. This indicates that this prophecy of peace, except for the wicked, will come true no matter what attribute G-d uses to redeem the Jewish people.

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