“Yahweh has become
Like an enemy.
He has destroyed
He has destroyed
All its palaces.
He has laid in ruins
He has multiplied
In daughter Judah.
He has multiplied
Yahweh has become the enemy of Israel. He has destroyed it, with all its palaces, with all its fortresses. Among Judah and Judeans, he has multiplied mourning and lamentations. It is as if Yahweh was fighting against Israel. This verse starts with the Hebrew consonant letter He. Each verse after this will use the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet in this acrostic poem.
“Look at the land of the Chaldeans!
This is the people.
It was not Assyria.
They destined Tyre
For wild animals.
They erected their siege towers.
They tore down her palaces.
They made her a ruin.
O ships of Tarshish!
Your fortress is destroyed!”
Isaiah proclaims that the Chaldeans, not the Assyrians had over run Tyre. The land of the Chaldeans was southern Mesopotamia or southern Assyria. They were a distinct Semitic group that later blended into the Assyrian population. Technically, they were not Assyria itself, because they fought for the Assyrians. They wanted Tyre to become a place for wild animals. They erected towers and tore down their palaces as they ruined the city of Tyre. Therefore those rich ships from Tarshish had no place to dock. Their cargo would be laid waste, without a place to unload and sell it.
“Yahweh has sent a word
It fell on Israel.
All the people knew it.
Ephraim with the inhabitants of Samaria
In pride with arrogance of heart,
‘The bricks have fallen.
But we will build
With dressed stones.
The sycamores have been cut down.
But we will put cedars in their place.’
Thus Yahweh raised adversaries
He stirred up their enemies.
The Syrians were on the east.
The Philistines were on the west.
They devoured Israel
With an open mouth.
For all this,
His anger has not turned away.
His hand is still stretched out.”
This poem shows how Israel in the north is being devastated by the Philistines on the west coast and Syrians to the northeast. Yahweh sent his word of vengeance on them via these invaders. The people of Samaria and the whole territory of Ephraim knew it was coming. Nevertheless their pride and their arrogance told them not to worry. Although bricks of ordinary houses were falling and sycamores were chopped down, they contended that they would rebuild with fine stones and fine cedar wood in place of them, so that the new houses would be more like palaces. Yahweh, the Lord, stirred up their enemies so that they devoured the northern territory of Israel. Yahweh had stretched out his hand against them and he continued to do so up to the present time. This refrain will be repeated twice more in the next few sections. The various 8th century BCE disputes between Judah and Israel, as well as between Israel with the Syrians can be found in 2 Kings, chapters 14-17, and 2 Chronicles, chapters 25-28.
“Four things on earth are small.
Yet they are exceedingly wise.
The ants are a people without strength.
Yet they provide their food in the summer.
The badgers are a people without power.
Yet they make their homes in the rocks.
The locusts have no king.
Yet all of them march in rank.
The lizard can be grasped in the hand.
Yet it is found in kings’ palaces.”
The next mention is about 4 wise small animals: 1) ants, 2) badgers, 3) locusts, and 4) lizards. There are 2 that are actually insects, ants and locusts. The ants and the badgers are called people. There seems to have been a preoccupation with ants since they were able to get their food in the summer. The badgers make their homes in rocks even though they are not powerful. The locusts obviously do not have a king, but they march like in army ranks. In fact, the ants are also organized. Finally, the small lizards can be found in the palaces of kings. All of these small animals and insects can teach us humans a lesson about working together without much individual strength.
Why was I born to see this?
The ruin of my people,
The ruin of the holy city,
I had to live there when it was given over to the enemy.
The sanctuary was given over to aliens.
Her temple has become like a person without honor.
Her glorious vessels have been carried into exile.
Her infants have been killed in her streets.
Her youth have been killed by the sword of the foe.
What nation has not inherited her palaces?
What nation has not seized her spoils?
All her adornment has been taken away.
She is no longer free.
She has become a slave.
Our holy place,
Our glory have been laid waste.
The gentiles have profaned it.
Why should we live any longer?’
Mattathias and his sons tore their clothes. They put on sackcloth. They mourned greatly.”
Once again we have poetic fragment. This one is ascribed to Mattathias as he laments the state of Jerusalem. He wanted to know why he was born and why should he live. The situation in Jerusalem was so bad with the ruin of his people and the holy city as it was given over to the alien enemy. Her sanctuary and vessels were defamed and all gone. There was no honor, as infants were killed in the streets. Young people were killed. Every nation has seized some part of her palaces. Jerusalem was not free, but a slave. The holy, beautiful places of glory lay wasted. He and his sons tore their clothes and put on sackcloth. They mourned greatly over Jerusalem with the traditional signs of mourning, ashes and sackcloth. They left their wonderful Jerusalem in shambles.