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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 3

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 3 (to Isaiah 4:1) The Coming Fate of Judah and Jerusalem.

This passage splits up into two, Isaiah 3:1-15 and Isaiah 3:16 to Isaiah 4:1. The first deals with Yahweh’s judgment on the men, the second with His judgment on the women.

The first passage (Isaiah 3:1-15) can be analysed as follows:

a For, behold, the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah, stay and staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water (Isaiah 3:1).

b The mighty man and the man of war, the judge and the prophet, and the diviner and the elder, the captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the clever craftsman, and the skilful spiritist (Isaiah 3:2-3).

c And I will give children to be their princes, and the ruthless (or ‘babes’) will rule over them, and the people will be oppressed, every one by another, and everyone by his neighbour. The child will behave himself arrogantly against the elder, and the base against the honourable (Isaiah 3:4-5).

d When a man takes hold of his brother in the house of his father, and says, “You have clothing. You be our ruler and let this ruin be under your hand.” In that day he will lift up his voice and say, “I will not be the one who binds up, for in my house is neither bread nor clothing. You shall not make me a ruler of the people” (Isaiah 3:6-7).

e For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen, because their tongue and their doings are against Yahweh, to provoke the eyes of His glory (His glorious eyes).

e What their faces reveal witnesses against them, and they declare their sin like Sodom. They do not hide it.’ (Isaiah 3:8-9 a).

d Woe to them themselves, for they have rewarded themselves with evil. Say of the righteous that it is well, for they will eat the fruit of their doings. Woe to the wicked for it is ill, for the reward of his hands will be done to him (Isaiah 3:9-11).

c As for my people, children are their oppressors (taskmasters), and women rule over them. O my people, those who should set you right cause you to err, and swallow up the way of your paths (Isaiah 3:12).

b Yahweh stands up to plead, and stands to judge the peoples. Yahweh will enter into judgment, with the elders of his people, and its princes (Isaiah 3:13-14 a).

a “It is you who have eaten up the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean that you crush my people, and grind the face of the poor?” Says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts (Isaiah 3:14-15).

In ‘a’ we have a commencing reference to the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, and His people are to have their bread and water taken from them, and in the parallel it is their own princes and authorities who have crushed and ground them, and it ends with a reference to the Lord, Yahweh of hosts. In ‘b’ we have references to the elders and others who lord it over His people, and in the parallel Yahweh will lord it over these very rulers. In ‘c’ children will be their princes and the babes (or the ruthless) will rule over them, and they will be oppressed, and in the parallel children will oppress them and women rule over them. In ‘d’ no man will agree to rule over the ruin that their country will become, and in the parallel they have rewarded themselves with evil, and while it will be well with the righteous, it will be woe to the wicked who will receive the reward of their hands. In ‘e’ Jerusalem and Judah are ruined because their tongue and their doings are against Yahweh, provoking the majesty of His eyes, and in the parallel their faces reveal their sin, and their behaviour that they are like Sodom.


Verses 1-9

All that Jerusalem/Judah Depend On Is To Be Taken Away So That Society Will Disintegrate Towards Even More Evil (Isaiah 3:1-9 a).

Having covered world judgment Isaiah now brings it home to the local situation. He points out that things are about to go from bad to worse in Judah and Jerusalem even in the near future, and that days of disaster are coming on them which will result in loss of leadership, removal of those who are the stays of society, and the general disintegration of authority, and of society, with life reaching rock bottom. Men will long for leadership and will not be able to find it. There will be no one to rely on. And all because they have forsaken Yahweh. That is why things are looking dismal for them.

Isaiah 3:1-3

‘For, behold, the Lord, Yahweh of hosts,

Is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah,

Stay and staff,

The whole stay of bread,

And the whole stay of water,

The mighty man and the man of war,

The judge and the prophet,

And the diviner and the elder,

The captain of fifty, and the honourable man,

And the counsellor, and the clever craftsman,

and the skilful spiritist.’

From final judgment Isaiah moves back to present judgment. All earthly things that Jerusalem/Judah rely on are to be taken away by their Sovereign Lord, Yahweh of hosts (for, whatever the secondary cause, and these were the very types removed into exile, it will be Yahweh Who has done it). The whole stay of bread and the whole stay of water is possibly figurative for the people on whom they depend as described in Isaiah 3:2, seen as essential to survival. They are seen as like life’s essentials. Or it may signify the loss of the actual basic things of life, the very bread and water which are essential for life, the very basic stuff on which they rely (see Isaiah 3:7-8). Both would be true.

Note how those described are leaders whom the people will themselves come across. The military protectors, the judges, those who give guidance, including the professional prophets, the local rulers, and those involved in magic, diviners, fortune tellers, seekers to the dead, and the like. The mention of the latter reveals the true state of Jerusalem. They are no longer looking to Yahweh but to the occult.

It was such leaders that were taken into captivity from Samaria in 722 BC, and if that had already happened Isaiah may well have had that in mind as an example. The same will one day happen to Judah and Jerusalem if they do not mend their ways.

Isaiah 3:4

‘And I will give children to be their princes,

And the ruthless (or ‘babes’) will rule over them.’

This may signify that their wise rulers will die leaving the country literally ruled by children overseen by regents, or alternatively that their princes will begin to behave like children in their behaviour and decisions (compare Isaiah 3:12). Most probably the latter. The word translated ‘ruthless’ is of uncertain meaning. The parallel suggests babes, but the root suggests ruthlessness. Either way the point is that leadership will be undependable, and even bad, and certainly not wise.

Isaiah 3:5

‘And the people will be oppressed,

Every one by another,

And everyone by his neighbour.

The child will behave himself arrogantly against the elder,

And the base against the honourable.’

The fabric of society is about to disintegrate. People will be free to behave as they like, oppressing each other. Children will run wild, and children and base, unworthy people will be able to flout those worthy of authority. Life will become undisciplined and uncertain.

Isaiah 3:6

‘When a man takes hold of his brother in the house of his father, and says, “You have clothing. You be our ruler and let this ruin be under your hand.” In that day he will lift up his voice and say, “I will not be the one who binds up, for in my house is neither bread nor clothing. You shall not make me a ruler of the people.” ’

Wherever the people turn to find someone to take the responsibility of leadership, those called on will find any excuse to decline. They will claim not to be qualified.

‘You have clothing.’ That is ‘you wear the kind of clothes which indicate that you are of leadership potential’, that is, those of the elder or favoured brother or of the more sophisticated. Or it may suggest that so low have things become that fine clothes are themselves to be seen as a sufficient recommendation for leadership. They indicate that at least this man has something to distinguish him, some measure of success, a sad way of selecting a leader but necessary because there is no other.

‘This ruin’. They recognise the state that things have come to. The man is to rule over a ruin.

The reply, a mere excuse, is that he does not have the qualifications or resources for the task. He is no better than anyone else. It is not his position to make things right, ‘to heal’. Nor does he have the resources to give the people what they need. He has no bread or clothing to dispense.

Thus all confidence in themselves will be lost. Their proud boasting will be no more. Alternately the reference to ‘neither bread nor clothing’ may have in mind conditions of extreme poverty where he himself is destitute.

Isaiah 3:8

‘For Jerusalem is ruined,

And Judah is fallen,

Because their tongue and their doings are against Yahweh,

To provoke the eyes of his glory (his glorious eyes).’

Ruin is coming on Jerusalem and Judah, and all because they have turned away from Yahweh, a condition revealed by their words (their tongue) and their behaviour. They continually speak and act in such a way as to provoke Yahweh in His glory, and judgment must necessarily follow.

‘The eyes of His glory.’ His full glory may not yet have been revealed (Isaiah 2:21) but His eyes see them, and they are eyes which look out from the glory of what He is. Thus His ‘glorious’ eyes are provoked.

Isaiah 3:9

‘What their faces reveal witnesses against them,

And they declare their sin like Sodom.

They do not hide it.’

The faces and behaviour of the people give them away completely. They do not even try to hide it. They have sinned so much that they openly reveal what they are by the evil and selfish look stamped on their faces, a look which they then carry out into practise, just as Sodom had, and they are simply bringing woe on themselves, and rewarding themselves with evil. The principle established here is that it is the nature of society with weak leadership to disintegrate towards evil and selfishness. And this is what has come on them because of their failure to look constantly to God. Men tend to get the leadership that they deserve.


Verses 9-11

What Men Sow They Will Reap - A Wisdom Song (Isaiah 3:9-11).

Isaiah 3:9-11

‘Woe to them themselves,

For they have rewarded themselves with evil.

Say of the righteous that it is well,

For they will eat the fruit of their doings.

Woe to the wicked for it is ill,

For the reward of his hands will be done to him.’

Isaiah comes in with a further interjection (compare Isaiah 2:5; Isaiah 2:22), this time concerning the righteous and the wicked. He declares woes on the wicked and blessing on the righteous. He proclaims woe on his people because they have brought their own evil on themselves, and then makes a general contrasting statement about the righteous and the wicked. Both have brought on themselves what they will receive. It will in the end be well with the righteous because they will eat the fruit of their behaviour, it will be woe to the wicked, and ill with them, because what they deserve from their behaviour will be done to them.

The comment on the righteous was necessary. He has been proclaiming continual doom. It was therefore essential to assure the righteous that God would not overlook them. In one way or another in the midst of judgment God would be their stay.


Verses 12-15

The Failure Of The Leaders of the People (Isaiah 3:12-15).

Isaiah 3:12-15

‘As for my people, children are their oppressors (taskmasters),

And women rule over them.

O my people, those who should set you right cause you to err,

And swallow up the way of your paths.

Yahweh stands up to plead,

And stands to judge the peoples.

Yahweh will enter into judgment,

With the elders of his people, and its princes.

“It is you who have eaten up the vineyard.

The spoil of the poor is in your houses.

What do you mean that you crush my people,

And grind the face of the poor?”,

Says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts.’

Isaiah now bemoans the lack of leadership that will have brought God’s people to their situation, continuing the theme that the people have no one to rely on. They are oppressed by ‘children’ and ruled by ‘women’, people who are immature and callous and weak. That is why the people are in their present state, because those who should set them right have rather caused them to err. The ‘ways of their paths’ have been swallowed up. This may mean that the course they have taken has led to their judgment, or alternately that the signposts they should have been given have instead been taken away.

It is open to question whether ‘women’ should be taken figuratively or literally. If the former it is the derogatory ‘they are a lot of women’, if the latter it refers to women manipulating their menfolk. Compare the parallel in Isaiah 3:4.

But Yahweh has now taken up His stance to judge the peoples, He will therefore enter into judgment with these elders and princes who have led them astray. The elders are the civic leaders, the princes, the executive. He will point out to them that they have ‘eaten up the vineyard’ (literally ‘burned’ and therefore ‘laid bare’) which is Israel, have fleeced the poor and made themselves rich at their expense, and have thus crushed them and ‘ground’ their faces so as to produce benefits for themselves. It is a disgraceful thing when politicians are corrupt and greedy, and especially when the leaders of God’s people utilise their position to make themselves rich at the expense of others.

Note that Israel is here God’s vineyard. Compare Isaiah 5:1-7. Jesus had people such as this in mind when He spoke of the wicked husbandmen over the vineyard in Mark 12:1-11.

‘Yahweh stands up to plead, and stands to judge the peoples.’ For a similar picture of Yahweh calling the whole earth together so that He may judge His people see Psalms 50.


Verse 16

The Failure of Their Wives (Isaiah 3:16 to Isaiah 4:1).

Having described what will come on the men God now turns to the women, for they are no better.

These verses can be analysed as follows:

a Moreover Yahweh said, “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet (Isaiah 3:16).

b Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab, the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and Yahweh will lay bare their secret parts (Isaiah 3:17).

c In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their anklets, and the cauls and the crescents, the pendants and the bracelets (Isaiah 3:18-19 a).

d And the mufflers, the headtires and the ankle chains, and the sashes (Isaiah 3:18-19 a).

d And the perfume boxes, and the amulets, the rings and the nose jewels, the festival robes, and the mantles, and the shawls and the satchels (Isaiah 3:19-22).

c The hand mirrors and the fine linen, and the turbans and the veils (Isaiah 3:23).

b And it will come about that instead of sweet spices there will be rottenness, and instead of a girdle, a rope, and instead of well set air, baldness, and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth, branding instead of beauty (Isaiah 3:24).

a Your men will fall by the sword, and your mighty in war, and her gates will lament and mourn, and she will be desolate and sit on the ground. And seven women will take hold of one man in that day, saying, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothing, only let us be called by your name. You, take away our reproach.” (Isaiah 3:25 to Isaiah 4:1)

In ‘a’ we have a vividly descriptive picture of women walking in vanity, and in the parallel their desperation for a man to bear their children when their calamity comes. In ‘b’ the Lord will smite them with a scab, and remove their glorious clothes from them, and in the parallel will be rottenness and baldness and branding and they will be clothed with sackcloth. And in c and d we have a listing of all that they treasure, which subsequently they will lose.


Verses 16-24

Because Of Their Vanity, And The Behaviour That It Results In the Women Will Lose Their Treasured Possessions (Isaiah 3:16-24).

Isaiah 3:16

‘Moreover Yahweh said,

“Because the daughters of Zion are haughty,

And walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes,

Walking and mincing as they go,

And making a tinkling with their feet,

Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab,

The crown of the head of the daughters of Zion,

And Yahweh will lay bare,

Their secret parts.’

It is not only the leaders of the people who are failing them, but their wives as well. With their arrogant attitudes and frivolous and mincing ways they are bringing dishonour on God. They could have been doing so much good but they are mainly taken up with themselves, and must take their share of the blame for the condition of the nation. The description of women at the height of fashion is vivid and is a warning to any age.

Note how the aim of the women is all levelled at drawing attention to themselves. The tinkling with the feet is caused by their fashion accessories, by their ankle chains; with the mincing being the result of the chains joining both legs and causing short steps. The wanton eyes, the flirting, is a feature of such women, always seeking to entrap men, even if only for ‘fun’. This is forever God’s condemnation on such overall behaviour, especially while others go in need.

So while the men are taken up with business (Isaiah 2:7 a), and war (Isaiah 2:7 b), with fine ships (Isaiah 2:16 a) and beautiful works of art (Isaiah 2:16 b), the women are taken up with fashion, attention seeking and flirting. Their land is filled with idols!

And because they glorify their beauty and reveal their wantonness the sovereign Lord will smite them with scabs and expose their shame. The punishment will fit the crime. It is the idea that is prominent not the literal execution.

Isaiah 3:18-24

‘In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their anklets,

And the cauls and the crescents, the pendants and the bracelets,

And the mufflers, the headtires and the ankle chains, and the sashes,

And the perfume boxes, and the amulets, the rings and the nose jewels,

The festival robes, and the mantles, and the shawls and the satchels,

The hand mirrors and the fine linen, and the turbans and the veils,

And it will come about that instead of sweet spices there will be rottenness,

And instead of a girdle, a rope,

And instead of well set air, baldness,

And instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth,

Branding instead of beauty.’

‘In that day.’ That is the day when Yahweh acts whenever it is. Sometimes it refers to local action (Isaiah 3:7) and sometimes to God’s final day of action (Isaiah 2:11) depending on context. The prophets saw all God’s judgments as in the end one, both the more localised and the final.

So ‘the sovereign Lord’ will act against all the excessive refinements of spoiled and pampered women. This is not specifically the condemnation of each item but of the whole picture in what it represents. They were arrogant and self-seeking, and lolled in luxury while there was poverty and suffering all around them. They were vain, proud, arrogant, selfish and spendthrift. But it will return on their own heads. Both old age and invasion will wreak their havoc. Instead of sweet spices, disgusting smells; instead of beautiful girdles, chafing ropes; instead of glorious hair, baldness; instead of corsets, signs of mourning; instead of beauty they will be branded.

The transitoriness of it all is being brought out. There is no guarantee that any of it will last. The positive side is well brought out by the New Testament in 1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:1-5; Titus 2:5. God says, ‘Do not labour for what perishes, but for that which endures to eternal life’ (John 6:27).

Isaiah no doubt obtained his detailed information from his womenfolk and not all the translations are certain. Some words are rare, referring to fashion accessories of the day, and have had to be guessed at. But the total picture is not affected.


Verse 25

They Will Also Lose Their Menfolk (Isaiah 3:25 to Isaiah 4:1).

These women will also lose their menfolk in the troubles that are coming, so that they will have no one to protect them and provide them with their luxuries. How different things would have seemed if they had only trusted in Yahweh.

Isaiah 3:25 to Isaiah 4:1

‘Your men will fall by the sword,

And your might in war,

And her gates will lament and mourn,

And she will be desolate and sit on the ground.

And seven women will take hold of one man in that day,

Saying, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothing,

Only let us be called by your name.

You, take away our reproach.” ’

The switch in persons and subject is common in Hebrew writings. From speaking of the women he now speaks to them, and then about their ‘mother’ Zion, and then again about them, all in three sentences.

Part of the consequence of their way of living and of their deliberately ignoring His instruction, is that not only will they suffer themselves as in Isaiah 3:24, but they will also lose their men, those who are their ‘might’, their strength and protection. Thus will the gates of Zion mourn. The gates, where there would usually be an open space, probably the only one in the town as houses crowded in on each other, (such cities were rarely the result of planning), were the place to which people went for public and communal activity. So they will weep together there, languishing on the ground (compare Isaiah 47:1).

‘Seven women.’ Seven is the number of divine completeness and perfection. Here the idea is ironic. Such a group of women will plead with one man to give them his name, even though they promise that they will not be financially dependent on him. There will be so few men that it will be the only way that they can achieve desired fulfilment. Not to be married was seen as a reproach and a shameful thing.

So the passage (Isaiah 3:1 to Isaiah 4:1) ends as it began with those who have sinned having no one to look to because they have forsaken Yahweh, the men are leaderless and oppressed, the women destitute and husbandless. But while in one sense it is His doing, it is quite apparent that they have brought it on themselves, assisted by the behaviour of those who are set over them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-3.html. 2013.

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