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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 4

Verse 1

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.

Verses 2-6

Chapter Isaiah 4:2-6 The Restoration.

It is important to recognise here that Isaiah is looking forward and seeing the whole future as one. He is not just referring to the long distant future, but to the whole future stretching into time. He sees imminent judgment as coming, judgment which is not always necessarily to be seen as final judgment, although often including that idea, for it is a precursor to it. And he recognises that inevitably one day God’s final judgment will come, followed by restoration for His own, without any idea of how long that too will take or how it will be accomplished and in what stages.

It is thus wrong to refer all the judgments the prophets foresaw to the distant future as though they were specifically only to happen in the end days. The prophets saw near and far as though the future was composed of distant peaks, mountain after mountain rising up one after the other, going far into the distance with no awareness of what lay between them. There was no time scale, only an awareness of what God was going to do through the time to come, and indeed must do in accordance with His promises. We look back and divide up, and in so doing often go too far. They looked forward to the working of God, and saw it all as one large whole stretching before them.

We must ever remember that the main purpose of prophecy was not to foretell the future so that the events could be marked off, but to proclaim what Yahweh was going to do with the future, in judgment and deliverance. So chapter 3 fits happily between chapters 2 and 4 without necessarily indicating the same period of time, and indeed Isaiah 2:2-4 can cover what we might call a whole dispensation.

This adequately explains many so called difficulties, difficulties such as the immediate judgments on Tyre and Babylon, and their resultant destructions which occurred centuries later (Isaiah 13:17-18 with Isaiah 13:19-22; Ezekiel 26:7-12 with Isaiah 26:3-4; Isaiah 26:14), being seen as one, and why they could all be included in one prophecy. He saw the picture as a whole.

Here, having looked at the coming judgment of God’s people, Isaiah follows it with the description of further refining judgements (Isaiah 4:3), followed by final restoration and the everlasting kingdom, without necessarily implying that the two are close timewise. (He did not know whether they were or not).


a In that day will the branch (shoot, sprouting) of Yahweh be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be excellent and comely, for those who have escaped of Israel (Isaiah 4:2).

b And it will come about that he who is left in Zion, and he who remains in Jerusalem, each will be called holy, even everyone who is written among the living in Jerusalem (Isaiah 4:3).

c When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion (Isaiah 4:4 a).

c And shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from its midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning (Isaiah 4:4 b).

b And Yahweh will create over the whole dwellingplace of Mount Zion, and over her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory a canopy (Isaiah 4:5).

a And there will be a pavilion for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a refuge and for a covert from storm and from rain (Isaiah 4:6).

In ‘a’ we have the picture of a glorious future in a fruitful land, while the Branch of Yahweh may well refer to the ‘hoped for’ king, and the people who will spring from Him, and in the parallel a picture of total protection from all forms of trouble. In ‘b’ the people will now all be truly set apart in true holiness, and in the parallel will thus enjoy the visible signs of the presence of Yahweh, and will be under His wedding canopy. In ‘c’ the Lord will have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and in the parallel will have purged the blood of Jerusalem from its midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.

Isaiah 4:2-6

The Time Of Restoration (Isaiah 4:2-6 ).

Isaiah now points forward to the time of restoration which will follow His judgments. For Yahweh’s whole purpose is to produce for Himself a people holy to Him. Its fulfilment lay in ‘the Israel of God’ which would one day spring from the old Israel (Galatians 6:16).

Isaiah 4:2

‘In that day will the branch (shoot, sprouting) of Yahweh be beautiful and glorious,

And the fruit of the land will be excellent and comely,

For those who have escaped of Israel.’

‘In that day.’ This is a vague connecting time reference meaning a time when God is going to act. It indicates that what is to happen will spring out of what has been described, it will spring from God’s activity some time in the future. In other words following Israel’s low point God will act to improve the situation. Chapter 3 had continual reference to Israel from that time onwards, and ‘in that day’ is simply bringing out that God will not finally leave things like that. He will not for ever leave His people helpless.

Many interpret this ‘branch or shoot of Yahweh’ as referring to the flourishing of the vegetation and the fruit of the land once the judgment in chapter 3 has taken place and those who remain are left in the land, and thus a parallel to the second part of the verse. They see this as what is intended by ‘the sprouting of Yahweh’ (compare its use in Isaiah 61:11). Compare the desert blossoming like a rose in Isaiah 35:1 and see Isaiah 32:15-18 where the pouring out of the Spirit like rain is similarly referred to the fruitfulness of the land, where ‘the fruitful field’ will ‘become a forest’. Thus, they say, God will reveal through the luxurious growth in the land His great favour and graciousness to His own. This it is suggested is especially so in the light of the fact that there has as yet been no reference to the coming king. Had there been we might well have seen it as referring to Him as in Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12.

The whole verse certainly does have the revival of nature in mind, but along with it we should undoubtedly see the reviving of men’s hearts. Compare Isaiah 32:15-18 with Isaiah 44:1-5; Isaiah 61:11. Thus we may see in this description of ‘the sprouting of Yahweh’ the seeds of the idea of the new birth, the regeneration of His people. Compare Isaiah 55:10, ‘making it bring to birth and bud’ (the particular mood of the verb ‘bring to birth’ almost always means literal birth). The result being that not only the land but also the people are transformed, for they are ‘called holy’ (Isaiah 4:3). This would certainly tie in with the teaching of John the Baptiser about the coming Great Harvest (Matthew 3:7-12).

However, it may well be that the terminology of ‘the Branch’ as referring to the coming king was already in use (compare Isaiah 11:1-2) and was already current in the hopes of the people as referring to the hoped for future king, as they looked forward into their future, in which case we may also include that here. For they looked to a king like David who would rule over them wisely and make them triumphant over their enemies and set them high above the nations of the world (Psalms 2:0), and such a king would elsewhere be likened to the effects of the falling down of rain (Psalms 72:6). Thus we may well see ‘the Branch of Yahweh’ here as representing such a king, as part of God’s overall pouring out of blessing, especially so in the light of the fact that one of Isaiah’s later themes is the failure of the house of David and the raising of a new and glorious king under Yahweh Who will rule triumphantly for ever.

This would then explain how the Davidic king is later seen as the Branch (Shoot), (Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; compare ‘the true Vine’ of which His people are the branches - John 15:1-6) once the revelation about Him has been made clear. See Isaiah 11:1, although the word used for ‘Shoot’ there is not the same. The root used here is also found in Isaiah 61:11; Genesis 19:25; Psalms 65:10; Ezekiel 16:7; Ezekiel 17:9-10; Hosea 8:7. Thus the ‘sprouting of Yahweh’, which is referring to His renewed people, later certainly becomes especially identified with the One Who sums up His people in Himself, the coming great Davidic king (Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12), Who is Himself the representative of His people. And we may therefore see this ‘Shoot of Yahweh’ as being both the coming king and the regenerated people over whom He will reign. We can compare how the true Israel as the great servant of Yahweh (Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-6) is finally seen as summed up in the One Who is the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 50:4-9; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12) Who Himself bears their sin. It thus has in mind the fruitful reign of Christ over His people in this age, and the eternal blessing in the age to come.

For the fact is that the ‘shoot’ here was regarded as a messianic reference as early as the Targums, the Aramaic interpretive translation of the Old Testament that grew up after the Babylonian exile and possibly began during it. The Targums arose as a result of the fact that Aramaic became the language of the people so that the reading of the Hebrew text needed to be supplemented with Aramaic explanatory material, which gradually became formalised and was later committed to writing. The earliest extant written Targumic material is from 2nd century BC (from Qumran). So messianic ideas were early seen as included here when the Targums were written.

Isaiah 4:3-4

‘And it will come about that he who is left in Zion,

And he who remains in Jerusalem,

Each will be called holy, even everyone who is written,

Among the living in Jerusalem,

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion,

And shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from its midst,

By the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.’

It is noteworthy that there is at this stage no mention of returning from exile. That is not yet in view. The idea is rather of the remnant remaining after a massively destructive invasion. Once God has judged and refined His people through judgment and fire, those remaining will be called ‘holy’ to Yahweh. The language is apocalyptic. The thought is that they will not only be called ‘holy’ (set apart to God) but will be accepted by God as holy (made so that they are seen as worthy of that separation to God). So the basic pattern is simple. There will be refining judgment, resulting in a holy remnant remaining, who are purified and cleansed from sin and made acceptable to God through His Spirit.

The vision ties in with Isaiah 2:2-4. The people of God, refined and purified through God’s judgments, will be sheltered by God’s heavenly tabernacle (see Isaiah 4:5-6). God will have a pure people for Himself. The aim is therefore to describe God’s method of redeeming for Himself a true people for eternity. What will be left when God’s judgmental and refining work is over will be that true people.

Isaiah, who like all the prophets was limited by his understanding that the future must lie in this world, even though new and recreated (Isaiah 66:22), is depicting the final result in terms that his hearers can appreciate. But the New Testament reveals its deeper significance. The sovereign Lord will separate for Himself a new Israel (Romans 11:0; Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-20 with 12; James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; Revelation 7:4-8; Revelation 14:1) who will have their part in the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22) once those who are unworthy have been rejected (Romans 11:17; Romans 11:20). And the names of those who are His true people will be written in heaven (Luke 10:20). This will follow God’s judgments on the rejected part of the old Israel through judgment and burning, which will root out and wash away the filthiness (dung, vomit, that which disgusts) and purge the bloodguiltiness (Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 1:21), resulting in the new Israel made up of those still part of (the faithful in Israel), or grafted into (the saved nations), the olive tree (Romans 11:16-17).

‘He who is left in Zion, and he who remains in Jerusalem, each will be called holy.’ The idea is that what God had aimed at in Exodus 19:6 will be achieved. This could only literally happen in the everlasting kingdom unless we are to adulterate the meaning of ‘holy’. They are not so in any so-called millennial kingdom, for even to those who believe in such a kingdom that fails in the end. Nor will earthly Israel ever be so. They were called to be a ‘holy nation’ (Exodus 19:6), but they failed. So God will now raise up His own holy nation, consisting of holy individuals, each separated to God and endued with His holiness. They will be truly holy. This is the ultimate, not an intermediate stage.

‘Even everyone who is written among the living in Jerusalem.’ In those days cities had their lists of citizens which contained the names of all alive in the city. When they died their names would be expunged. That God has such a list of His own comes out regularly (Psalms 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Malachi 3:16; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:15). Those whose names God has recorded are the ones who will be made holy. They will be the ones who will be in the new Jerusalem.

‘When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from its midst.’ A thorough washing and purging is necessary. As it is wrought by the Spirit of judgment and burning it clearly includes the destruction of the wicked as well as the purifying of the righteous. It is not the same as Isaiah 1:16, although we need not doubt the Spirit’s work of cleansing on all those who respond to God.

The filth of the daughters of Zion referred to here has been described in Isaiah 3:16-24 (note especially the rottenness instead of sweetness in Isaiah 3:24) demonstrating that God does not treat such behaviour lightly. But it is the arrogance and total selfishness and superficiality that is being rebuked rather than the specific details referred to, although the latter were symbolic of the former. The men are seen as blood guilty (Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 1:21). Their sins are hatred, violence and a determination to get what they can at any cost.

‘By the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.’ This could refer to a ‘wind’ of judgment from God seen as blowing over Jerusalem, bringing judgment and wafting the flames. Or it could refer to the Spirit of God so active. In view of the purifying nature of the activity, and its purpose, it is probably better to see a reference to the Spirit of God, depicting God’s personal activity in the events. It is the action of the sovereign Lord. The difference between ‘spirit’ and ‘Spirit’ in such contexts is marginal. Both are depicting the direct activity of God.

Isaiah 4:5-6

‘And Yahweh will create over the whole dwellingplace of Mount Zion,

And over her assemblies,

A cloud and smoke by day,

And the shining of a flaming fire by night.

For over all the glory a canopy.

And there will be a pavilion for a shadow in the daytime from the heat,

And for a refuge and for a covert from storm and from rain.’

The word used here for ‘dwellingplace’ regularly refers to God’s heavenly dwellingplace or the ‘foundation’ of His throne (Psalms 33:14; Psalms 89:14; Psalms 97:2; Isaiah 18:4; 1Ki 8:39 ; 1 Kings 8:43; 1 Kings 8:49; 2Ch 6:30 ; 2 Chronicles 6:33; 2 Chronicles 6:39) and only rarely to the earthly temple as God’s dwellingplace (1 Kings 8:13; 2 Chronicles 6:2; Daniel 8:11). Thus there is a heavenly air about it. ‘Her assemblies’ are those who gather there, His purified people (compare Isaiah 4:2-4; Revelation 14:1-5).

He ‘creates’ over it. The word is only used of God creating, and the verb never takes an object. Thus it appears to signify creation out of nothing. It is used of God’s activity in producing something new that only He can produce (compare Genesis 1:1; Genesis 1:21; Genesis 1:27).

The cloud by day and fire by night are reminiscent of God’s presence as revealed with His people in the wilderness journey where He acted in this way as guide and protector (Exodus 13:21-22 and often). Thus Yahweh will be personally present with His people in His heavenly dwellingplace as He was with His people of old when He redeemed them from Egypt and made His covenant with them.

‘Over all the glory a canopy.’ Over His revealed glory will be a ‘canopy’, a chuppa. This is the name used for the wedding canopy under which the bride and groom sat during the wedding feast. This would instantly spring to the mind of the hearer when he heard the word. Yahweh is here seen as ‘married’ to His people through the covenant (compare Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 62:5). They do not have to go desperately seeking a husband like the women in Isaiah 4:1, for Yahweh is their husband and lord.

There will also be a pavilion to provide protection from heat, rain and storm, that is from trials and troubles and the vicissitudes of life. Thus will God watch over His people in the everlasting kingdom.

The word for ‘pavilion’ when connected with Yahweh is used of a place of divine mystery and protection, a place where He and His own are secreted in mystery and safety, away from where men can interfere (Psalms 18:11; Psalms 31:20). It is regularly used of temporary booths in which men found shelter (Isaiah 1:8), especially at the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles). Its whole idea is that of protection.

The picture behind this chapter is glorious. It describes those who are the sprouting of Yahweh, His true people, made beautiful and glorious; gives a guarantee to them of full provision for all their needs; describes their being accepted by God as made holy; declares that all sin will have been washed away; and guarantees the continual presence of God with them in cloud and fire; and declares that over all the glory will be a ‘chuppa’, a wedding canopy, signifying the closest possible relationship with God. And this accompanied by full protection from all that could harm them. And all possibly under the tender rule of ‘the Shoot of Yahweh’.

While it is in the end a picture of the final state the principle is continuous. We need not doubt that it includes the present state, for those who have come under the Kingly Rule of God have thereby already become citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20; Ephesians 2:6) and are under His special protection. They are already in the Kingdom of His Beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). He is the Vine and we are the branches.

Chapter 5 The Sinful Condition of His People and Coming Judgment.

This chapter takes us back to chapter Isaiah 1:2-15; Isaiah 1:21-23; Isaiah 3:1-12; Isaiah 3:16 to Isaiah 4:1 and on to chapter 6. It is a penetrating analysis of the sins of Israel, and explains why God must deal with them severely. It prepares us for the revelation to Isaiah in chapter 6 of his own deep sinfulness, which he shares with his people. But it is also a warning to us that God does not treat sin lightly.

It commences with the description of God’s supposed people as His fruitless vineyard who have avoided all His ministrations. And it declares on them six woes, which will then lead on to Him bringing distant nations from afar against them.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 4". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.