Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1

This chapter carries an extensive denunciation of the apostate and hardened Israel's reprobate society, regarding that of the rulers and judges of the nation and also that of the vain and artificial women of the nation; and with all this, there is also a formal statement of the ultimate judgment against the whole nation, uttered in the present perfect tense as prophecy certain to be fulfilled.

"Here is a study in disintegration."[1] It is a sad picture of a society which has forsaken its moral values, turned from God to a philosophy of humanism, and adopted the customs, idols, and value-judgments of paganism, inevitably culminating in the bitter predictive prophecy of Isaiah 3:8, "Jerusalem is mined!" The fulfillment of this, no doubt, had already become evident in the great Assyrian invasion that occurred in the times of Isaiah (702 B.C.); "But the real fulfillment waited a century till Nebuchadrezzar's removal of the ablest citizens, leaving behind an utterly weak and irresponsible regime."[2]

Isaiah 3:1

"For behold, the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem stay and staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water."

"Doth take away ..." "The present is used here for the future, so certain is the fulfillment."[3] The use of both masculine and feminine forms in staff and stay seems to identify this reference as an idiom meaning "every kind of support, great or small, strong or weak."[4]

Verse 2

"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 expert artificer, and the skillful enchanter."

All of these popular supports of the nation were to be taken away as a result of the divine judgment, beginning, even then, to descend upon the apostate people, and destined, finally, to result in the complete overthrow and destruction of the Jewish state, defined in the prophets as "the sinful kingdom," resulting also in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the deportation into captivity of its population. Further steps in the decline and judgment of Israel also appear in this chapter.

The enchanters and diviners mentioned here does not indicate that the prophets believed there was any authenticity in the claims of such persons, a question Isaiah skirted altogether in this passage; but all of the prophets invariably held that the consultation or use of such alleged sources of power was sinful. The message here speaks of the extreme state of Israel's apostasy in that such persons were considered the principal props of the nation. Cheyne pointed out the prophets of Israel asserted that, "The use of such magical powers was an act of rebellion against the God of gods."[5]

Verse 4

"And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. And the people shall be oppressed, everyone by another, and everyone by his neighbor: the child shall behave himself proudly against the old man, and the base against the honorable. When a man shall take hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand; in that day shall he lift up his voice, saying, I will not be a healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: ye shall not make me ruler of the people."

The babes and children mentioned in Isaiah 3:4 is a reference to the incompetence, weakness, and ignorance of the people that will be elevated to places of authority as the decline of Israel continues. Verse 5 speaks of the arrogant rejection of authority and the utter disregard of God's law concerning respect for the aged. Isaiah 3:6,7 speak of a state of wretchedness in the continued ruin of Israel in which men would be offered high authority for no better reason than their having possession of a coat; but the ruin of the kingdom was so complete that no one wanted to be charged with the responsibility of ruling it.

Verse 8

"For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen; because their tongue and their doings are against Jehovah, to provoke the eyes of his glory."

This is by no stretch of imagination related to any physical destruction of Jerusalem which is alleged to have occurred at any time in the lifetime of Isaiah. No! "The verb tenses which express completed action (as in this verse) are perfects of certainty."[6] Therefore, Isaiah 3:8 is a predictive prophecy of what was appointed by God to be executed upon Judah and Jerusalem about a century after Isaiah died.

Another significant revelation of this verse is the reason or cause for all of the wretchedness and incompetence just mentioned. All of it was due to their "tongue and their doings" being against Jehovah. "After the skeptic has had his fling, he is left stranded in the wasteland he has helped to produce."[7]

Archer pointed out that the literal translation here is, "Jerusalem is stumbled and fallen; her coming destruction had already been decided upon by God, even though it was not to be consummated till nearly 150 years afterward."[8]

"To provoke the eyes of his glory ..." "This is an unusual metaphor, meaning `provoking God to look on them with anger.'"[9]

Verse 9

"The show of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have done evll unto themselves."

"If God is not in the heart, the light of his presence will not be in the countenance."[10] It will be recalled that when the rich young ruler decided not to follow the Lord, "His countenance fell" (Mark 10:22). It does not require a skilled observer, "to detect at a glance the habitual criminal or sensualist."[11] The fallen countenances of wicked men are just another example of the manner in which evil men receive "in themselves that recompense of their error which was due" (Romans 1:27).

Verse 10

"Say ye of the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be with him; for what his hands have done shall be done unto him. As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they that lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths."

We agree with many commentators who see in these verses the principle of future rewards and punishments. Good deeds tend to ripen into happiness; and evil deeds into misery and wretchedness. Of course, this is to be accomplished in a spiritual sense, and not mechanically.

Isaiah 3:12 is not a derogatory put down of women but uses the inability, ignorance, and helplessness of that generation of women as a fitting metaphor for the characteristics of the rulers that were mining Israel and Judah. The same principle refers to the use of children as a metaphor.

Verse 13

"Jehovah standeth up to contend, and standeth to judge the peoples. Jehovah will enter into judgment with the elders of his people, and the princes thereof: It is ye that have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses; what mean ye that ye crush my people, and grind the face of the poor? saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts."

On these verses, God stresses the fact that he does indeed judge "the peoples," all the nations of men; but he includes here the stern warning that his own people are sorely in need of judgment, that it is the rulers and princes of the chosen nation itself that have eaten up God's vineyard and oppressed his people. In Isaiah 5, Isaiah will return to this subject; but this statement of the Lord is not less damning than Isaiah 5. The charges against the false leaders are powerful indeed. They crush ... eat-up, and grind God's people.

Hailey pointed out that God's warning here to ancient Israel should also prove as a warning to our own generation:

"Micah describes how easy it is for a false prophet to lead the people astray. "If a man walking in a spirit of falsehood do lie, saying I will prophecy unto thee of wine and strong drink, he shall even be the prophet of this people" (Micah 2:11). The same principle can be observed today. Our country is on the verge of political and economic ruin because of unsound leadership. Also, the church has experienced apostasy and spiritual chaos because of the leadership of elders, preachers, and leaders who regard not the Lord's way, but follow their own."[12]

Verse 16

"Moreover Jehovah 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 Jehovah will lay bare their secret parts."

Clarkson described the womanly folly of this section as "The latest and saddest symptom of Israel's decline," adding:

"Corruption may have spread far and done much evil in the community; but there is hope for the city or the church so long as the wives and the mothers, the daughters and the sisters retain their moral and spiritual integrity. When that is gone, all is gone. Purity and worth find their last retreat under the domestic roof; if they be driven thence, they are doomed to die; and with that death any community, church or nation shall soon perish."[13]

"Outstretched necks and wanton eyes ..." Many translators understand this to mean "shameless and immodest behavior" designed to attract men. Peake rendered "ogling eyes" for "wanton "[14] eyes.

"And will lay bare their secret parts ..." This was literally the shameful punishment that was given to women convicted of adultery, as described in Nahum 3:5-6 -

"I will uncover thy skirts upon thy face; and I will show the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame. And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and will make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazing stock."

In Nahum this was described as the punishment God would inflict upon Nineveh; and here the same punishment is promised for apostate Israel.

Verse 18

"In that day the Lord will take away the beauty 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."

"These twenty-one items of finery make a little kingdom of their own, enough to occupy the whole mind, and utterly vulnerable."[15] What a catalogue of feminine vanity is represented by a list like this! It carries a reminder of the court of Louis XIV. "Although these particular trivialities may seem remote, all generations of both sexes have their own solemn absurdities which can be all-absorbing."[16]

The meaning of some of the items treasured by these sophisticated females of Jerusalem is not always certain. The ankle-chains were worn to limit the gracious ladies to short mincing steps. The crescents were ornaments identified with the Midianites and were probably connected with some kind of idolatry. The nose-jewels were of the type worn through the cartilage separating the nostrils as seen in certain African tribes. Veils have always constituted a necessary part of female attire in the Mid-east. The festival garments were the grand costumes worn on designated occasions. Hand-mirrors were made of highly polished metal, usually of brass; and were adorned with an attractive handle. Lowth tells us that the item given in our version (Isaiah 3:23) as "fine linen" is actually "a transparent garment, designed to `betray through its clear texture every tender limb, heightening the charms it only seemed to shade.'"[17] If we knew the full meaning and utility of all these items so treasured by those women called by Peake, "Those West End Ladies," it is likely we should find other aids and encouragements to immorality prevalent in that era.

Verse 24

"And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet spices there shall be rottenness; instead of girdle, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a robe, a girding of sackcloth; branding instead of beauty. Thy men shall fall by the sword, and the mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she shall be desolate and sit upon the ground."

The last verse here is a tragic prophecy indeed, fulfilled to the letter in Israel's subsequent history. Following the destruction of Jerusalem by Vespasian and Titus in 70 A.D., commemorative medals, including a coin with the head of Vespasian on it depicted the captive Judea as a forlorn woman sitting upon the ground and with the legend Judaea Capta.[18]

The contrast between girdle and rope is especially tragic. When Assyria led the northern kingdom into captivity, some 30,000 were herded in long lines to Nineveh with ropes joining the captives by being passed through their ears. These are indeed tragic words for God's apostate people.

The significance of Isaiah 3:26 is that it unconsciously shifts from "the women of Jerusalem," to Jerusalem itself, indicating that the vainglorious women were a type of Jerusalem in its apostasy.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.