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‘Isaiah, Prophet of Righteousness and Justice’


Isaiah is part of the Maggid Studies in Tanakh series. Many consider Isaiah to be the prophet of world peace, a utopian visionary who transcends the boundaries of political reality and inhabits the realm of cosmic harmony.

As the herald of peace, he has become the most influential among the Hebrew prophets; his vision of the End of Days is among the most celebrated of biblical passages: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more.”

Yet there is another dimension to Isaiah, a political thinker who spent decades around the royal palace in Jerusalem, promoting justice and charity, speaking truth to power, struggling to avert disaster. Reading his prophecies in their historical context, allows us to see beyond the surface. By recapturing the prophet’s voice and highlighting the dilemmas faced by the rulers he challenged, “Isaiah, Prophet of Righteousness and Justice,” by Yoel Bin-Nun and Binyamin Lau, presents Isaiah’s story in all its vitality and drama.

Rather than a figure who calls for peace, many prefer to emphasize Isaiah’s role as a national figure of consolation, who kindles hope for return and prosperity in the bitter soul of a broken nation. The talmudic sages preceived the Book of Isaiah as a book that deals chiefly with consolation. The Talmud (Bava Batra 14b) presents the books of the prophets in this order: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. When addressing why Isaiah is present last even though he preceded the other two chronologically, the Talmud answers:

Because the Book of Kings ends in destruction, Jeremiah is entirely destruction; Ezekiel begins with destruction and ends in consolation, and Isaiah is entirely consolation. Destruction is placed next to destruction, and consolation is placed next to consolation.

The perception of Isaiah as a book that “is entirely consolation” is reinforced by the haftorah readings of the seven weeks that follow Tisha B’Av, seven passages of consolation taken from the Book of Isaiah. These seven weeks mark the transition period between the days of mourning and the Days of Awe, weeks that echo with Isaiah’s cries of, “Comfort, comfort My people.”

Lau concludes with his hope “that the story concealed within Isaiah will awaken the desire to listen to the voice of the prophet and that his call for the repair of the Jewish community will be heard and internalized.