Out of Context
In modern Hebrew, the phrase "מְהָרְסַיִךְ וּמַחֲרִיבַיִךְ מִמֵּךְ יֵצֵאוּ" is frequently used to express the idea that one's worst enemies often come from within. Those that ultimately destroy a people are not necessarily external foes, but members of the nation who have turned on it, acting as a fifth column. However, is this what the phrase means in its original Biblical context?
The verse comes from Yeshayahu 49 and is part of a larger prophecy of consolation which focuses on the ingathering of exiles. The prophecy opens with the nation accusing Hashem of having abandoned them. Hashem responds that He has not forsaken them, pointing out that a mother can never forget her child. Hashem then promises:
(יז) מִהֲרוּ בָּנָיִךְ מְהָרְסַיִךְ וּמַחֲרִיבַיִךְ מִמֵּךְ יֵצֵאוּ. (יח) שְׂאִי סָבִיב עֵינַיִךְ וּרְאִי כֻּלָּם נִקְבְּצוּ בָאוּ לָךְ חַי אָנִי נְאֻם י"י כִּי כֻלָּם כָּעֲדִי תִלְבָּשִׁי וּתְקַשְּׁרִים כַּכַּלָּה. (יט) כִּי חׇרְבֹתַיִךְ וְשֹׁמְמֹתַיִךְ וְאֶרֶץ הֲרִסֻתֵךְ כִּי עַתָּה תֵּצְרִי מִיּוֹשֵׁב וְרָחֲקוּ מְבַלְּעָיִךְ.
(17) Thy children make haste; Thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth from thee. (18) Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: All these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith the Lord, Thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all as with an ornament, And gird thyself with them, like a bride. (19) For thy waste and thy desolate places And thy land that hath been destroyed— Surely now shalt thou be too strait for the inhabitants, And they that swallowed thee up shall be far away.
The verses raise several questions:
- "מִהֲרוּ בָּנָיִךְ" – This phrase appears to be an elliptical phrase (מקרא קצר), missing a concluding clause. What are the children hastening to do?
- "מְהָרְסַיִךְ וּמַחֲרִיבַיִךְ מִמֵּךְ יֵצֵאוּ" – Who are these "destroyers"? What does "מִמֵּךְ יֵצֵאוּ" mean in this context?
- Two parts of verse 17 – What is the relationship between the two parts of verse 17? Do they complement or contrast with each other?
- "חׇרְבֹתַיִךְ... וְאֶרֶץ הֲרִסֻתֵךְ" – Verse 19 appears to allude back to verse 17, once again speaking of "חׇרְבֹתַיִךְ" and "הֲרִסֻתֵךְ". How do the messages of the two verses relate to each other?
- Historical background – Finally, regarding which era is Yeshayahu prophesying? How might the different options impact one's understanding of verse 17?