Isaiah – Chapter 34

Mother of Demons?

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Isaiah calls the nations of the Earth to listen as he foretells the downfall of Edom. G-d has judged the nations and allowed them to be destroyed, their dead unburied. The Heavens will (metaphorically) be rolled like a scroll – either those nations will be “erased” or they will be in “darkness,” as in a rolled-up scroll. G-d’s “sword” is full, from the kings and governors of Edom (compared to sheep and goats), for He has made a great slaughter in Edom and Batzra. (Batzra was a city in Moav, but they were cohorts of Edom – see Genesis 36:33 in which a man from Batzra became king of Edom.)

The kings of other nations (compared to oxen) will fall alongside the princes of Edom because it is a day of judgment for G-d, Who hears the cries of the Jews. The streams of Edom will become like tar and the dirt will become like sulfur (the Radak says like Sodom and Gemorrah). Smoke will ascend by day and night, it will be a wasteland for generations. Night birds and predators will inherit it. The palaces will grow thorns and become a home for jackals. (There’s more here that we’ll discuss at the end). The owl lays her eggs and vultures gather.

Isaiah implores the people to read the story of Noah in the book of Genesis and see how no animal was excluded. Here, too, no animal will be excluded. (That’s Rashi’s interpretation. The Radak says that Isaiah is telling them to read THIS book and see that all the animals he names are present. Yet another opinion quoted by Radak is that the book is Leviticus, which lists all the non-kosher birds, none of which will be absent.) G-d casts lots for all the birds and animals and gives each their share of the land of Edom to inherit.

Now, among the list of animals and birds – and we have not listed them all – verse 14 refers to a sa’ir and to lilith. These are often translated a satyr (a mythological half-man, half-goat) and Lilith (the mother of demons). I’m not going to say that these translations are wrong – even Rashi says that these two words are types of demons – but many commentators translate sa’ir as a wild goat and lilith as a nocturnal bird, possibly the screech owl. Not only are these easier concepts for us to handle, but from context – a list of birds and animals – a goat and a screech owl just make more sense than demons.

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