Mordechai Silverstein
Mordechai Silverstein

God’s Got Our Back (Isaiah 49:14-51:3)

After the exile at the hands of the Babylonians, it was totally reasonable for the people of Judea to experience insecurity. It was totally understandable for some to feel that the nation would never be rebuilt and that the exile to Babylonia would never end. While the prophet Jeremiah’s message of defeat and exile was also marked with elements of hope amidst the despair, his message was very much shaped by the idea of divine abandonment. This idea was reinforced by one very forceful image. Jeremiah compared the relationship between the harried nation and God to that of a married couple whose marriage was deeply troubled, potentially warranting divorce: “I noted: Because rebel Israel had committed adultery, I cast her off (shilakhteha) and handed her a bill of divorce (sefer krituteha): yet her sister, faithless Judah, was not afraid – she too went and whored.” (Jeremiah 3:8)

This message likely haunted the exiles who lacked any surety that their relationship with God could be mended. One of the prophecies found in this week’s haftarah attempted to answer this insecurity by using the very same language used by Jeremiah to answer those who might be wary of reestablishing the nation after exile and returning to it: “Thus said the Lord: ‘Where is the bill of divorce (sefer kritut) of your mother that I dismissed (shilakhteha)? And to which of My creditors did I sell you off? You were only sold off for your sins, and your mother dismissed for your crimes.” (Isaiah 50:1) God, here, informs the exiles that there was really no divorce between them and God and as a consequence their exile was not permanent.

Now all that was needed was to convince the people to renew their faith in God. To this end, the prophet offers words of encouragement to remind the people of God’s ability to save them: “Why, when I (God) came was no one there? Why when I call would no one respond? Is My hand then too short to rescue? Have I not the power to save? With a mere rebuke I dry up the sea and turn rivers into desert…” (50:2)

The rhetorical force of this message was to convince the exilic community that the return home from Babylonia was realistic. God was not only reconciled with His people but also had the ability to restore them to their homeland. The conciliation offered in this message was not one of quiescence. It was a call to action whose fruition required them to know that God “had their back”.

We live in troubled times. On account of Covid, natural disasters at every turn and political upheaval, it is tempting to lose hope and be overcome by despair. The prophet’s message is as apropos today as it was for those contemplating the challenges of the return from exile. God is here to give us the strength and will to overcome the challenges facing us, to help us make smart decisions and not to let us become overwhelmed. Where there is God, there is the hope and strength to persevere.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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