Comfort of God’s Salvation

The Sabbath after the ninth of Av begins what is known in Jewish tradition as the “seven weeks of consolation.”

During these seven weeks, prophecies describing God’s comfort and restorative nature are read from the book of Isaiah on the Sabbath during the Torah service.

According to Jewish tradition, these readings from Isaiah are not read to merely comfort us but to show us the plan of redemption. The consolations build upon each other as we move from understanding our state of sin and its effect on our relationship with God to the final redemption in which the entire world will rejoice in God’s salvation.

Isaiah 40:1-26 — Speak to Her Heart

God begins to comfort Israel by speaking directly to her heart. The heart of Israel is broken, and she needs her Father in heaven to speak tenderly to her heart:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

The sages interpret this passage as reflecting the condition of the human heart:

The heart sees, hears, speaks, and knows. The heart stands, the heart falls, the heart sojourners, the heart rejoices, and the heart needs comforting, as it says, “comfort my people and speak to the heart of Jerusalem.” (Pesikta D’Rav Kahana 16) [1]

Isaiah 49:14-51:38 — I Will Not Abandon You

The second consolation builds upon the first by recalling how Israel, once comforted by God, reflects on her state and deems herself abandoned by God:

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:14-15)

The sages interpret this passage as Zion understanding her strained relationship with God as resulting from her abandoning God:

Zion said, “The LORD has abandoned me” (Isaiah 49:14). The assembly of Israel said to the Holy one blessed be He, “Master of all worlds, we have forgotten, Him, the strength to whom your sons said to you at the sea, “The LORD is my strength and my song.” (Exodus 15:2). I have abandoned the LORD like a forgotten sheaf of wheat in the field, and the LORD has abandoned me in the eyes of the nations. (Pesikta D’Rav Kahana 17)

According to this interpretation of Isaiah 49:14-15, Israel recognizes that her feelings of abandonment are caused by her heart straying from God. When we fall away from God, the first step of reconciliation is to confess our sins to God, who is gracious to forgive:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Isaiah 54:11-55:5 — Depleted of Righteousness

The third consultation builds upon the previous two by comparing Israel in her fallen state to a city ravaged by a storm whom the LORD will restore:

O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. (Isaiah 54:11)

The Hebrew word for “afflicted” in this verse (ani’a, עניה) can be vowelized to mean “poor/depleted.” The sages picked up on this nuance and imagined Israel describing herself to God as being depleted of righteousness:

Depleted One. Depleted of righteous people, depleted of words of Torah, depleted of mitzvot and good deeds. (Pesikta D’Rav Kahana 18)

As a result of Israel’s abandonment of God, they also become depleted of righteous people and Torah. Yet, even in their depraved state, God still comforts them by telling them that he will restore their fortunes and will not judge them based on their current condition. This interpretation echoes Paul’s words regarding God’s grace to forgive us through Messiah even as we stand before him in a state of sin:

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Isaiah 51:12-52:12 — Do Not Lose Hope, God Is Your Comforter

The fourth consolation is God’s answer to his people’s feelings of rejection and abandonment. He assures them that, despite their sin, he alone is their healer and comforter:

I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass? (Isaiah 51:12)

Isaiah 54:1-10 — Rejoice, Barren One!

The fifth consolation marks a turning point in which Israel is beckoned to rejoice in her redeemed state:

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 54:1)

Telling Israel to rejoice and sing while reminding her that she is like a barren woman is not cynicism on God’s part. Instead, it is encouraging her to rejoice in the LORD’s goodness and his salvation despite her current situation. The sages liken Zion to other barren women in the Bible who experienced God’s salvation:

“He will make the barren woman a glad mother of children” (Psalm 113:9). [This verse speaks of] seven barren women: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Manoch’s wife, Channah, and Zion. [When the verse says] “He will make the barren woman a glad mother of children,” [it is] referring to Zion, as it says, “Rejoice, O barren one without children.” [After the LORD has restored her children], you will say in your heart, “Who has born me these children?” (Isaiah 49:21). (Pesikta D’Rav Kahana 20)

Just as the LORD healed the barrenness of the matriarchs, he will likewise heal the barrenness of Zion. When God brings us into our redeemed state, he not only comforts but he also restores. He gladdens the heart of Israel by showing her that although she may now be barren, this state is only temporary, and he will soon gladden her with children in the same way he did to her foremothers.

Isaiah 60:1-22 — Arise and Shine!

At this stage, Israel has risen from her troubles and is shaking off the dust of exile, which Jewish tradition likens to the “pollution of sin.” In this stage of the redemption process the LORD calls on Israel to live up to the standard of her salvation and to be a light to the nations:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

The Medieval Jewish Bible commentator Abarbanel interpreted this verse as reflecting the expansion of God’s kingdom to include all people who call upon him. According to Abarbanel, Israel is commanded to shine the light of God’s glory so that all from the nations can know who God is and experience his salvation. This light is also found in the face of our Messiah:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Isaiah 61:10-63:9 — Rejoice in Your Salvation!

The final reading of the seven weeks of consolation brings us the culmination of the redemption process. In this final stage of redemption, when our sins are forgiven, our standing with God restored, and his glory is shining upon us, we will rejoice in the fullness of the LORD’s salvation:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

The rabbis link the rejoicing of Israel to the rejoicing of all nations who choose to partake in God’s salvation:

What is meant by the verse “I will rejoice in the LORD”? [It means that] the assembly of Israel will say to the Holy one Blessed be He, “Since you have gladdened us, all [nations] will rejoice with me.” The Holy One blessed be He will say to them, “Behold you are like your mother Sarah, who rejoiced, and all rejoiced with her.” Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel said, “All who mourn over Jerusalem during her state of destruction will rejoice in her rebuilding.” (Pesikta D’Rav Kahana appendix to section 21)

The promise of salvation is made to all people. All will rejoice together in the final redemption of the LORD. When the new Jerusalem, the capital of Messiah’s kingdom, comes from heaven, all who longed for the LORD’s salvation will rejoice in her beauty:

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:22 NIV)

During the next seven weeks, may we be comforted by the LORD’s promises of salvation and restoration. May we soon experience the return of our Master Yeshua and the establishment of his kingdom when we can say, “Arise and shine, for your light has come.”

  1. Pesikta D’Rav Kahana is a fourth-century rabbinic commentary on various passages from the Tanach. All translations are my own.

First Fruits of Zion