David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
ISAIAH 3 - THE SINS OF JUDAH
A. Profile of a society under judgment.
1. (Isaiah 3:1-7) Shortages of food, water, and competent leaders.
For behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, takes away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stock and the store, the whole supply of bread and the whole supply 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 honorable man, the counselor and the skillful artisan, and the expert enchanter. “I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. The people will be oppressed, every one by another and every one by his neighbor; the child will be insolent toward the elder, and the base toward the honorable.” When a man takes hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying, “You have clothing; you be our ruler, and let these ruins be under your power,” In that day he will protest, saying, “I cannot cure your ills, for in my house is neither food nor clothing; do not make me a ruler of the people.”
a. For behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, takes away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stock and the store: God’s judgment on Judah, at this point, includes taking away their food (stock and the store) and water.
i. Isaiah 3:1 is a good example of the way two Hebrew words, each translated Lord may be used. In this verse, the first time Lord is used, it translates the Hebrew word adonai, which means “master, owner, sovereign.” It is a broad word that can be applied to a human master as well as the Lord GOD, the ultimate Master. The second time LORD is used, and is printed in small capitals, it translates the Hebrew word Yahweh, which is the sacred name of the Triune God. So, it may be that the Hebrew Bible could use the phrase adonai Yahweh, which could be translated into English as Lord LORD, but actually means “Master Yahweh.” That phrase appears more than 300 times in the Old Testament. Most of the time, the phrase is translated Lord GOD in the New King James Version.
ii. The specific phrase here - the Lord, the LORD of hosts - is used more than 15 times in the Old Testament, and often by Isaiah (Isaiah 1:24; Isa_3:1; Isa_3:15; Isa_10:23-24; Isa_10:33; Isa_19:4; Isa_22:5; Isa_22:12; Isa_22:14-15, and Isaiah 28:22). It emphasizes the majesty and power of God, because the idea behind LORD of hosts is that God is “Commander in Chief” of heaven’s armies.
iii. So when it is “The Master of All, Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies” (the Lord, the LORD of hosts) who has taken food and water from Jerusalem and from Judah, they do well to repent and get right with Him. “This is also the reason why he calls God the Lord and Jehovah of hosts, that the majesty of God may terrify their drowsy and sluggish minds; for God has no need of titles, but our ignorance and stupidity must be aroused by perceiving his glory.” (Calvin)
b. The judgment is worse than just taking away food and water. God also brought judgment on Jerusalem and Judah by depriving them of godly, competent leaders on every level: 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 honorable man, the counselor and the skillful artisan, and the expert enchanter. Instead of wise, competent leaders, God will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.
i. The eventual fulfillment of this prophecy is found in 2 Kings 24:14 : Also he carried into captivity all Jerusalem: all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land.
ii. But this principle of God’s judgment endures to this day. One way God may bring judgment on a nation is to curse them with incompetent, ungodly leaders. Often, this is the simplest avenue of judgment: giving people what their wicked hearts desire. This crisis of leadership can happen even in economically prosperous times (Isaiah 2:7 is part of this same prophecy). The terrible effect of this judgment of God, the granting of incompetent and ungodly leaders, may not be immediately seen, but it will be certainly seen, apart from the repentance of a nation and the mercy of God.
c. Because of this ungodly, incompetent leadership, the people will be oppressed, and there will be a breakdown of order in society (The child will be insolent toward the elder, and the base toward the honorable).
i. “For there is hardly any conduct more offensive, or more fitted to disturb our minds, than when the worst examples of every sort are publicly exhibited by magistrates, while no man utters a syllable against them, but almost all give their approbation.” (Calvin)
d. Things will become so bad, that in the minds of the people, the smallest achievements will qualify a man for leadership: You have clothing, you be our ruler, and let these ruins be under your hand. Yet, even such a man will not want to lead: In that day, he will protest, saying, “I cannot cure your ills . . . do not make me a ruler of the people.”
i. “It is astonishing how realistically the prophet is here able to describe the consequences of a total collapse of the state. Anyone who remembers the months that followed May 1945 in Germany will have the sensation in reading this passage of being carried right back to these days.” (Kaiser, cited in Grogan)
2. (Isaiah 3:8-12) Why Judah is ripe for judgment.
For Jerusalem stumbled, and Judah is fallen, because their tongue and their doings are against the LORD, to provoke the eyes of His glory. The look on their countenance witnesses against them, and they declare their sin as Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to their soul! For they have brought evil upon themselves. “Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him. As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths.”
a. Jerusalem and Judah have sinned in what they say and in what they do: their tongues and their doings are against the LORD. In fact, what they say and what they do provoke the eyes of His glory.
i. It is much easier to think that what we do is offensive to God, than to think that what we say can provoke the eyes of His glory. But we are commanded to glorify God by what we say just as much as by what we do. Jesus said, For every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:36-37)
b. The look on their countenance witnesses against them: The very look on their faces is evidence of their guilt. Either they have smirk of the reprobate, or the downcast gaze of those under conviction.
i. “Impure propensities are particularly legible in the eyes: whoever has beheld the face of a debauchee or a prostitute knows this; of these it may be said, they wish to appear what they really are. They glory in their iniquity. This is the highest pitch of ungodliness.” (Clarke)
c. And they declare their sin as Sodom; they do not hide it: Their sin is openly displayed, and there have no sense of shame. The cultural dynamic in Isaiah’s day was probably much the same as in our time. In the name of “frankness” and “honesty” and “let’s not be hypocrites,” all kinds of sin is approved, and no one is “allowed” to proclaim a standard unless they live up to it perfectly.
i. Outward decency is important. It is important to not talk about many sins, even though they exist, and sometimes touch the church. It is through these means that God’s people declare a standard, even though they or the world do not perfectly measure up to a standard. Ephesians 5:12 matters here: For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.
ii. One of the most destructive lies of our time is that it is wrong or hypocritical to have a standard that we don’t live up to. No one has always told the truth, yet it is right and good to teach our children, “Don’t lie.” It would be wrong, and destructive, for someone to answer, “You can’t tell your child not to lie. You have lied in the past. You are a hypocrite.” This attitude in our society translates into a certain result: a wholesale lowering of standards. Also, the charge of hypocrisy is false. It is not hypocritical to promote a standard you don’t perfectly meet. Hypocrisy is when you pretend to keep the standard when you do not, or think it is fine for you to not keep the standard, when you think others should.
iii. “The maintenance of external decency is at least some evidence of a conscience not altogether seared.” (Jennings)
c. Woe to their soul! For they have brought evil upon themselves: God did not have to do anything unique or special to bring this judgment on Jerusalem and Judah. All He had to do was leave them alone, and allow them to have brought evil upon themselves.
i. When the LORD gives a nation the leadership they desire and deserve, it is either a blessing or a curse. In Judah’s case in the time of Isaiah, it was a curse. In the United States at the end of the 20th Century, it is a curse.
d. Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings: even in the midst of judgment, God knows how to bless and protect His people. Sometimes this is only seen in the perspective of eternity, but God assures us that the righteous will never share the same fate as the wicked. Abraham knew this principle well when he said to the LORD, “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)
e. They shall eat the fruit of their doings . . . for the reward of his hands shall be given him: God will give both the righteous and the wicked the reward they deserve. For the righteous, this is a comfort, for the wicked, it is a curse.
i. Spurgeon on Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him: “It shall be ill with the wicked, and let no present appearance lead you to doubt it . . . The eyes that never weep for sin here will weep in awful anguish for ever . . . It will be a profitable thing for thee to feel the wrath of God heavy on thy spirit now, for if not, it will crush thee, crush thee down and down without hope, world without end. It shall be ill with you.”
f. As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them: Again, the LORD both declares and bemoans His judgment on Judah, that they have been given incompetent and ungodly leadership. Those who lead you cause you err, and destroy the way of your paths.
i. Women rule over them: this was seen as a curse, not a blessing. Certainly, God may raise up particular women at particular times to be leaders in different spheres. Deborah (Judges 4-5) and Esther are examples of this. But this entirely different than a society where, in general, women rule over them. Such a society is cursed, not blessed.
B. God’s case against Judah.
1. (Isaiah 3:13-15) Their ill treatment of the poor.
The LORD stands up to plead, and stands to judge the people. The LORD will enter into judgment with the elders of His people and His princes: “For you have eaten up the vineyard; the plunder of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the faces of the poor?” says the Lord GOD of hosts.
a. The LORD stands up to plead, and stands to judge the people: Here, the LORD is both a prosecutor (stands up to plead) and a judge against Judah. When you are in court, and the prosecutor and the judge are the same person, you know you are going to be found guilty!
b. The plunder of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing My people, and grinding the faces of the poor? God’s charge against the elders and the princes of Israel is not that they have failed to help the poor. That would be bad in itself. But far worse than that, they have robbed the poor, and taken advantage of their poverty to enrich themselves.
2. (Isaiah 3:16-23) The sinful women of Judah, and the judgment of the LORD against them.
Moreover the LORD says: “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a jingling with their feet, therefore the Lord will strike with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will uncover their secret parts.” In that day the Lord will take away the finery: The jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the veils; the headdresses, the leg ornaments, and the headbands; the perfume boxes, the charms, and the rings; the nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles; the outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors; the fine linen, the turbans, and the robes.
a. The daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks: The women of Judah were proud. They were taken with themselves, and loved to consider themselves better than others (are haughty).
i. This proud heart was the basis for the rest of the sin among the daughters of Zion. “To meet their unfounded accusations, he lays open the inward disease, which is manifested in the whole of their outward dress.” (Calvin)
ii. In contrast, women of God are called to in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself (Philippians 2:3).
b. Wanton eyes: The women of Judah were sexually seductive and promiscuous. They wanted to behold and attract what was sexually impure.
i. “What he adds about wandering eyes denotes shameless lust, which for the most part is expressed by the eyes; for unchaste eyes are the heralds of an unchaste heart; but the eyes of chaste women are sedate, and not wandering or unsteady.” (Calvin)
ii. In contrast, women of God are called to be discreet and chaste (Titus 2:5).
c. Walking and mincing as they go, making a jingling with their feet: The women of Judah were obsessed with finery, luxury, and “accessories.” They devoted far too much of their lives to their appearance and their image.
i. For emphasis, the prophet declares a list of the “accessories” and luxury items the women of Judah longed for and devoted too much of their lives to: The jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the veils; the headdresses, the leg ornaments, and the headbands; the perfume boxes, the charms, and the rings; the nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles; the outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors; the fine linen, the turbans, and the robes. Sounds like they had some pretty good malls in Jerusalem!
ii. This love of finery, luxury, and the obtaining of it all is not unique to women. Many men have a problem with it also. But it is definitely a problem among many women. A 1992 story in the Los Angeles Times told about Michelle, a successful writer and editor, who feared the day her husband might discover her secret stash of credit cards, her secret post office box or the other tricks she used to hide how much money she spent shopping for herself. “I make as much money as my husband . . . If I want a $500 suit from Ann Taylor, I deserve it and don’t want to be hassled about it. So the easiest thing to do is lie,” she explained. Last year, when her husband forced her to destroy one of her credit cards, Michelle went out and got a new one without telling him. “I do live in fear. If he discovers this new VISA, he’ll kill me.”
iii. In the same article, a school teacher explained more: “Men just don’t understand that shopping is our drug of choice,” she joked, even while admitting that some months her salary goes exclusively to paying the minimum balance on her credit cards. “Walking through the door of South Coast Plaza is like walking though the gates of heaven. God made car trunks for women to hide shopping bags in.” A young professional named Mary explained: “Shopping is my recreation. It’s my way of pampering myself. When you walk into [a mall] and you see all the stores, it’s like something takes over and you get caught up in it.”
iv. “It is worthy of notice that the Prophet had good reason for reproving, with so great earnestness and vehemence, the luxury of women; for while they are chargeable with many vices, they are most of all inflamed with mad eagerness to have fine clothes. Covetous as they naturally are, still they spare no expense for dressing in a showy manner, and even use spare diet, and deprive themselves of what nature requires, that their clothes may be more costly and elegant. So grievously are they corrupted by this vice, that it goes beyond every other.” (Calvin)
v. “Nothing can exceed the curiosity which dwells in woman. Indeed there is no end to those contrivances; and it was not without reason that the ancients called the collection of a woman’s ornaments a world; for if they were collected into one heap, they would be almost as numerous as the parts of the world.” (Calvin)
vi. In contrast, women of God are commanded: Do not let your adornment be merely outward; arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel; rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. (1 Peter 3:3-4)
d. Their obsession with their appearance, their love of luxury, and their promiscuity made the daughters of Zion ripe for judgment: Therefore the Lord will strike with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will uncover their secret parts. Their “crown” will be a scab, and instead of being beautifully adorned, they will be exposed and humiliated. Also, the Lord will take away the finery.
i. In Isaiah’s time, these judgments were connected with the coming invasions. Because of scarcity and disease, the haughty daughters of Zion would be sick and diseased. They would be raped and humiliated. And all their wonderful “accessories” would be taken away.
ii. Because of their role in the nurture of children, it is important that women of God live and think like women of God. When the women of a culture become degenerate, then the hope for the next generation is gone. But when the women of a culture turn to the LORD and His ways, there is great hope for the future.
iii. “In short, both men and women are instructed to make a sober use of the gifts of God, both in food and in clothing, and in the whole conduct of life. For the Lord cannot endure extravagance, and absolutely must inflict severe punishment on account of it; for it cannot be restrained by a lighter chastisement.” (Calvin)
3. (Isaiah 3:24-26) More of the judgment of the LORD on the sinful daughters of Zion.
And so it shall be: Instead of a sweet smell there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-set hair, baldness; instead of a rich robe, a girding of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty. Your men shall fall by the sword, and your mighty in the war. Her gates shall lament and mourn, and she being desolate shall sit on the ground.
a. Instead of . . . Instead of . . . Instead of . . . Instead of . . . instead of: The LORD will replace their finery with the marks of captivity and humiliation. They will live the stench, the baldness, the branding and the general deprivation of captivity.
i. Do we realize how quickly God can take it all away? How much more reason to honor God with what we have, instead of indulging ourselves.
ii. “Now there cannot befall us anything worse than that we should be hardened against chastisements, and not perceive that God chastiseth us. When we labour under such stupidity, our case is almost hopeless.” (Calvin)
b. Your men shall fall by the sword, and your mighty in the war: without doubt, one reason the daughters of Zion loved all the luxury and finery was because it made them more attractive to men. They felt they could “get” men that way. But their ungodly love of luxury and finery resulted in the loss of their men.
c. She being desolate shall sit on the ground: A Roman medal, struck after Jerusalem’s fall, shows a Jewish woman being desolate, sitting under a palm tree next to a Roman soldier.
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