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"For" ties this section to the argument of Isaiah 2:6-22. "Behold" (Heb. hinneh) commonly introduces a threat in prophetic material. The multiple names of God again hint at judgment to come (cf. Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 10:16; Isaiah 10:33; Isaiah 19:4). God was going to remove what was essential from Judah and Jerusalem. "Supply" (Heb. mash’en) and "support" (Heb. mash’ena) are masculine and feminine forms of the same word in Hebrew, meaning a staff, suggesting that every type of support will be removed. The figures of bread and water stand for food and drink-famine will come-but in a larger sense these things also represent all that is essential to the nation.
The folly of trusting in people 3:1-4:1
This section gives particular examples of the general statements that precede it. Isaiah’s point was that depending on people will not yield the glorious destiny of Israel depicted in Isaiah 2:1-4. The prophet used imagery to make his point rather than logical argumentation.
The dearth of leadership 3:1-15
The emphasis in this pericope is on the lack of qualified leaders and the consequent collapse of society that would result because God’s people put their trust in people rather than in Him. The name "the Lord [sovereign] God of Hosts [the Almighty]" forms an inclusio around this section (Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 3:15).
"To make great men the source of a nation’s greatness is always to end up with a dearth of great men. Unless the greatness comes from within the community itself, a condition which is ultimately the result of trust in God, no great leaders will rise from it. Instead, the leaders will merely reflect the spiritual poverty of the community." [Note: Oswalt, p. 131.]
The Lord would remove the leading men in the military, political, religious, and commercial spheres of life. These were people the Israelites depended on. This happened when the Babylonians conquered the city and the land (cf. 2 Kings 24:14), and earlier when the Assyrians defeated Israel.
This lack of leadership would result in incompetent individuals seeking and gaining positions of authority (cf. Leviticus 19:32; 1 Kings 3:7). Isaiah 3:4 is reminiscent of the reign of King Rehoboam. Looking ahead, wicked King Manasseh began ruling over Judah when he was only 12, and Kings Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, who followed him later, proved capricious.
"Good government is one of God’s best gifts to a sinful race. How great then is the sin of those who refuse to concern themselves with their responsibilities as citizens of the state!" [Note: Young, 1:145.]
Things would become so bad that the possession of a mere coat (an outer garment) would lead others to thrust its owner into leadership despite his protestations. Any type of superiority will seem like an indication that the possessor can provide desperately needed authority and power. Yet the chosen leader will refuse to take responsibility, even lying about his resources, because what he would rule is only a ruin and because he knows he lacks the qualifications to lead.
"Isaiah is in reality describing a breakdown in national character and seriousness; the spirit which treats national welfare, politics and leadership as a joke." [Note: Motyer, p. 60.]
People should not try to compel a person who is unqualified to run for office.
Note the stages in Israel’s degradation that Isaiah 3:1-7 trace. Good leaders disappear (Isaiah 3:1-3), and immature, capricious leaders (Isaiah 3:4) who begin to oppress the populace (Isaiah 3:5) take their place. Society becomes divided as age gaps open up and respect for the respectable breaks down (Isaiah 3:5). Unqualified people get pressed into leadership, and a spirit of despair dominates elections (Isaiah 3:6-7). Even though Israel and Judah were monarchies, the people did have the opportunity and responsibility for choosing some of their leaders.
The reason for these conditions is that Israel was already defying Yahweh by depending on humans rather than on Him.
Instead of bowing before Yahweh’s glorious face, the Israelites were with brazen faces rebelling against Him, as the people of Sodom did. So it would go hard for them. "Woe" is an interjection of threat or distress. This Hebrew word, ’oy, and its companion, hoy, occur 22 times in Isaiah, more frequently than in any other prophetic book. The Israelites had brought the judgment of God on themselves by their pride.
The faithful minority, however, would not simply get lost in the judgment of the unfaithful majority, but the Lord would remember them and send them good. Sin does bring its own wages (Romans 6:23). Here the long-term blessing of the righteous contrasts with the short-term blasting of the unrighteous. There were these two groups among God’s chosen people then as there are now. The faithful frequently suffer along with the unfaithful, but their ultimate ends are very different (cf. Revelation 2:10-11).
Isaiah personally bemoaned the plight of the people who had already begun to experience the frustration of incompetent leaders and who would have to endure still more of the same. In his day, women did not have the educational advantages that men enjoyed, and so were less equipped to lead than men. Children, in spite of their lack of maturity, experience, perspective, and wisdom, were nonetheless needed to lead adults. Unqualified leaders were leading the people astray and giving them confusing directions concerning God’s will. God’s special gift to His people throughout history involved furnishing inspired leaders. Now He would withdraw them. [Note: Watts, p. 41.]
Yahweh is the ultimate Judge of His people, and He would contend with His human representatives who used their positions to fatten themselves rather than feeding their people (cf. Zechariah 11:1-17). Their possessions witnessed to their stealing from their neighbors. The vineyard is a common figure for Israel (cf. Isaiah 5:1; Isaiah 5:7; Psalms 80:8-18; Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 12:10; Ezekiel 15:6-8; Hosea 10:1). The people belonged to the Lord, not these abusing leaders who crushed them and ground them down to get out of them as much as they could for themselves (cf. Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:20-21).
The death of liberty 3:16-4:1
The Lord’s condemnation of His people continues, but there is a change in focus. In Isaiah 3:1-5 it was the male leaders who received criticism, but in this section the female citizens are more prominent. Undoubtedly what the Lord said about these women was true of them as females, but we should not limit their indictment to females alone. Men have been just as guilty of these sins as women, though in Isaiah’s day they were more blatant among some women. The point is that the whole nation of Judah was guilty, not just the men.
Pride led these women to walk with their noses in the air, assuming superiority over others, and to lure men to themselves. They glanced coyly to see whether others noticed their elegance. They took small steps to give the appearance of humility and drew attention even to their feet. Everything they did was designed to attract attention.
"Wherever dress and splendour are carried to excess, there is evidence of ambition, and many vices are usually connected with it; for whence comes luxury in men and women but from pride?" [Note: John Calvin, quoted by Young, 1:161.]
God would humble them by making the hair that they loved so much a patch of scabs and the foreheads they decorated so carefully bare. Having delighted in immodest exposure, God gave them over to it (cf. Romans 1). He did not condemn their luxurious lifestyle as much as their arrogant spirit, which their lifestyle demonstrated.
The Lord proceeded to condemn 21 (seven times three, a full measure) other personal decorations that evidenced pride, many of which were popular in Isaiah’s day and some of which are still popular now. Many of these items originated in cult and in magic rituals. [Note: Watts, p. 46.] Again, these things are not wrong in themselves, but they may assume too much importance in a person’s life.
"It was the prophet’s intention to produce a ludicrous, but yet serious impression, as to the immeasurable luxury which really existed; and in the prophetic address, his design throughout is to bring out the glaring contrast between the titanic, massive, worldly glory, in all its varied forms, and that true, spiritual, and majestically simple glory, whose reality is manifested from within outwards. In fact, the theme of the whole address is the way of universal judgment leading on from the false glory to the true." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:145.]
Disgrace would result from trusting self rather than God. These five exchanges and more took place when God humbled Israel in exile. They all represent the results of divine judgment for self-exaltation.
The woman in view is Jerusalem personified. She is seen as having lost her providers and defenders and all on whom she depended. She is utterly without joy and alone (cf. Lamentations 1:1).
"There is extant a coin from [the time of the Roman emperor] Vespasian which pictures the conquered Jerusalem as a dejected woman sitting under a palm tree, a soldier standing before her, and which bears the inscription Judaea capta, or devicta. Jerusalem alone." [Note: Young, 1:170.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter