Isaiah – Chapter 41

"Worm of Jacob?"

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

G-d now tells the nations to be silent in order to hear His words. After that, they may approach and speak if they wish to appeal their judgments. G-d was the One Who sent Abraham, who preached righteousness, from the East. Abraham confronted the four kings (in Genesis 14) and G-d caused Abraham to rule over them. Their weapons were ineffective against him. Abraham pursued them unerringly, despite the unfamiliar path. G-d did all this for him; He was the first to act with Adam and is also the last, with us in latter days.

The nations will see the deeds of G-d and shake with fear. They will gather together to make war, encouraging one another with faith in their idols. The various craftsmen – carpenters, metal smiths, etc. – whose work makes the idols encourage one another that that it is good. Israel, however, are the descendants of Abraham, who loved G-d. G-d took Israel from the other nations to serve Him. Israel shall not be afraid because G-d is with them. He encourages, strengthens and supports Israel. Those who gather against Israel will be thwarted. Go look for them, but you won’t find them, because they’ll be reduced to nothing.

Isaiah tells us that G-d metaphorically holds Israel’s hand, telling us not to fear. He has always helped us. He has made us like a new, sharpened tool; we will raze mountains (referring to mighty rulers). We will crush them fine and they will blow away in the wind. We will rejoice in G-d.

The “poor” seek “water” and don’t find it. (Water is a metaphor for Torah as in Amos 8:11, “not a thirst for water but to hear the words of G-d.”) G-d will answer them. He will open rivers of Torah in a spiritual desert, causing all kinds of “trees” to grow. (Rashi says the trees represent wisdom, goodness and peace.)

The nations will see all this and they will understand that it was G-d Who did it. They will be invited to come and present their case. Their false prophets will speak their words and we’ll see how right they are. They’re nothing; they only mislead people. G-d motivates rulers, like Cyrus of Babylonia who rebuilt Jerusalem. (Still a future event when Isaiah wrote this.) He will trample princes underfoot. What “prophet” of Baal ever gave a true prophecy? Not one. Cyrus will start the redemption (though he won’t finish it) and Chagai and Zechariah will encourage Darius to build up Jerusalem. No prophet of Baal will ever give a true prophecy. They’ve got nothing and their idols are nothing.

One odd phrase in this chapter is calling Israel the “worm of Jacob” in verse 14. That seems rather harsh in a chapter that praises and consoles Israel! Rashi explains that a worm has no strength, except in its mouth. As the Radak points out, worms can bore through the mighty cedars of Lebanon! Similarly, Israel only has strength through G-d, Whom they beseech and praise through the power of prayer.

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