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the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 4

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verse 1


Isaiah 3:16, Isaiah 4:1. Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, &c.

We have here a terrible denunciation of female pride and luxury. Consider—
I. ITS COMMONNESS. In almost every age and country there have been women such as are here described.
II. ITS CAUSES. There must be powerful causes to produce such a wide-spread effect. Like all things that are wrong, these evil things—the pride and luxury of so many women—are due to perversions of things that are right,—mainly, to certain things which are among the differentia of the female sex, such as—

1. A keener love of beauty than is common among men. The love of many women for soft textures and bright colours is as innocent, and free from all trace of personal vanity, as is the love of children for flowers.
2. A stronger yearning for admiration than is common among men. There are vain men, always on the outlook for indications of admiration, and they are simply contemptible. But it is an instinct of the true woman-nature to desire to be loved, and to value highly all things that tend to win love.
3. A recognition of the gifts of personal beauty. As a rule, women have more to be proud of in this respect than have men. If a woman is fair, she is simply a hypocrite if she pretends not to know it. Then there come in,
4. Rivalry, which in itself is a right thing, but becomes a harmful thing when women set themselves to out-dress each other.
5. Timidity, one of the graces of the female character, but that often leads to great evils. Few men have the courage to be singular, and fewer women sufficient self-reliance not to follow the fashion. But the pride and luxury of women is largely due also to the folly of men:—
(1.) Most men esteem and reward clothes more than character. Men are taken by such things as are mentioned in our text, and the fisher is not much to be blamed for adapting the bait to the taste of the fish.
(2.) Even of those men who condemn female luxury in the abstract, few have the courage to banish it from their own homes.
(3.) The lips of many men are sealed on this question by their own vices. They have their indulgences, and one of the prices which they pay for peace in their pursuit is silence as to this indulgence on the part of their wives and daughters. There is an unexpressed but wicked compromise on this matter.


1. The intellectual degradation of woman, the concentration of nearly all her thoughts on the question of dress.
2. The moral debasement of many women. For the means of gratifying their craving for luxury and display, how many have sold their virtue!
3. The destruction of that female influence which should always be exerted, and when exerted, is so powerful in aid of moral nobility. Sensual grossness in men is at once a cause and consequence of licentious vanity in women.
4. Commercial frauds, to which men resort to provide the means for the maintenance of the luxury of their homes.

Men and women are thus partakers in this sin, and as such, in the days of visitation, they shall suffer together (Isaiah 3:17; Isaiah 3:25; Isaiah 4:1) [568]

[568] Isaiah 4:1. The Jewess, like the ancient Roman, or modern Englishwoman, was called by her husband’s name; and she prized the honour of wedlock, and dreaded the reproach of childlessness, at least as much as either of these; but we most contrast the dignified expression of these feelings by Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, nay, even that of the jealous and petulant Rachel, with the exhibition which the prophet now contemplates in his mind’s eye, in order to see the picture of social disorganisation which he sees. If a harem of wives and concubines was still a part of the king’s state in Isaiah’s time, though we have no proof of this, it is quite improbable that polygamy was the common custom of the nation, or that they had not long passed out of the half-civilised condition and habits for which Moses had provided in his laws for the protection of the female slaves whom a man might take at the same time for his wives; but now Isaiah says that these women, whose luxury and pride he has just described, will abandon even the natural reserve of their sex, and not only force themselves several upon one man, but declare that they will be content to share with each other a legalised concubinage in which they will not claim the concubine’s ancient right of bread and apparel, which the old law (Exodus 21:10) had in express terms secured to her, if only they may bear his name. It need not be supposed that Isaiah anticipated the literal fulfilment of his words; we shall probably understand him better by taking this as an instance of that poetic or rhetorical hyperbole, which he so delights to use for the more forcible expression of his moral and political teaching. The mystery which some commentators have seen in the numbers “seven” and “one” in this passage, and which is even said to have occasioned the separation of this portion of the prophecy into a distinct chapter, perhaps makes worth while the obvious remark that it is nothing more than the wide-spread idiom of modern as well as ancient languages, by which a definite or round number is put for an indefinite. Seven is thus generally used by the Hebrews for any considerable number, as it was among the Egyptians and Persians, and is still said to be in the East. The Moguls are said to employ nine in like manner. So, in English, we put five or ten for any small, and a hundred for a large number, in conversation; though the genius of our language forbids such idioms in graver discourse.—Strachey, pp. 55, 56.


Isaiah 4:1. And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will at our own bread and wear our own apparel, only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach [571]

[571] See note to preceding outline.

This verse gives us a vivid picture of the desolating and disorganising power of war. The 25th and 26th verses of the previous chapter say “Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn, and she being desolate shall sit on the ground.” This righteous chastisement has come. So often have the men been called into the field, so exterminating has been the carnage, as that now few men remain. The natural proportion of the sexes is disturbed. This disorganisation invades woman’s nature. Her natural modesty departs. With violent importunity seven women press marriage on one man. They will be no expense to him; they will earn their own food and raiment, if he will only give them his name in marriage. The writer of this outline has recently travelled in a land [Mexico] whose revolutions during the last fifty years have been so frequent as that he found parts of the country where the prophet’s words are true to-day. The men have been killed in battle. In some districts there are seven women to one man.

I. The tendency of sin is to produce war and to degrade women. The apostle James has described the genesis of war (Isaiah 4:1). Nations are but the aggregate of individuals. If the lusts of selfishness, greed, malice, &c., nestle like vipers in the hearts of individual men, they will be manifest in the nation.

1. Sin deteriorates man’s intellectual faculties. In its present unpurified condition, the human intellect is not inventive enough to discover those commercial relationships which will eventually bind in bonds of amity the nations of the world together.

2. Sin intensifies human selfishness. One of the most desolating wars of modern times originated in that gross selfishness which was too blind to see that it was a sin to hold property in man.

3. Sin intensifies human greed. “Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark,” is a despised threat. Again and again has war originated in greed of territory and lust of plunder.

4. Sin intensifies human ambition. In the heart of all great conquerors, from Nimrod to Napoleon, has lain the lust of unholy ambition. Their motto has ever been “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

5. Side by side with these lusts of selfishness, greed, ambition, &c, there has been a lack of justice and mercy. No mind having these latter sentiments healthily developed could “cry havock and let slip the dogs of war.” When the leaders of nations learn “to do justly and love mercy,” wars will be less common.

6. With war have come numerous evils to woman. The text describes some of them. Others come to the surface every day. Her husband has been forced from her side, or her sons have died on the battlefield; very bitter have been woman’s sorrows,—“Yea, a sword hath pierced through her own soul also.” And always where soldiers are multiplied in a land, and taken away from useful employment, women have been polluted and degraded. War and womanly degradation are inseparable evils.

II. It is the tendency of Christianity to produce peace and elevate woman.

1. To produce peace in its loftiest and widest sense Christ came into the world. The prophet Isaiah predicted Him as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). At His birth angels sang, “Peace on earth, good-will to man” (Luke 2:14).

2. By His atoning work He has laid the foundation of peace between man and God, and consequently between man and man.

3. The direct influence of Christ’s religion is to restrain and destroy those evil propensities out of which wars originatelust of greed, ambition, malice, &c. What is in the individual comes out in the community. As individuals and nations become truly Christian and form the majority, wars will cease.

4. Prophecy speaks of a time coming when the principles of Christianity shall be in the ascendant, and then men shall beat their swords into ploughshares, &c., &c. (chap. Isaiah 2:4).

5. As the gospel of peace advances in a land woman’s condition is always elevated. The Christian man honours woman as no other man does. As he grows into the stature of Christ, woman’s lot is always happier. Compare woman’s status in pagan, Mohammedan, and barbarous lands, with her status in Christendom.

III. Hence while the Gospel claims as its advocate every Christian man, it has special claims on the service of every pious woman.—Every good man is called upon to spread the blessings of Christianity as widely as possible. But there are some evils whose removal appeals specially to pious women. Every good woman should throw her influence into the aggregate of the peace spirit, as against that war spirit which in certain stages of civilisation seems so natural to man. All women should join together to make up an army of peace promoters, outnumbering the men of the sword. To relieve their sisters from sorrow and save them from degradation, should be the aim of all good women.—William Parkes.

Verses 2-6


Isaiah 4:2-6. In that day shall the Branch of the Lord, &c.

“That day” is the glorious period described in Isaiah 2:1-4, and those verses and our text should be read together, as the beginning and conclusion of one prophecy. At the beginning, the prophet fixes his gaze upon the sun-illumined peaks of holiness and blessing in the far future, and his spirit rises within him in exultant gladness (Isaiah 2:5); and then he begins to survey the spaces of time that lie between. Immediately at his feet he sees almost the whole nation given over to utter ungodliness, the men and the women vying with each other in their pride and luxuriousness, and in their contempt and oppression of the poor; and then he beholds the clouds of Divine vengeance gathering and bursting over the stout-hearted sinners; he sees the nation spoiled of the men who had constituted its strength, and the enfeebled people utterly desolated by war. All is blackness and darkness. But he lifts his eyes again, and there still shines before him the true Zion, dwelling in inviolable peace beneath the manifestations of the presence of her God. This was the vision which was granted him, and which he recorded for the instruction of men in all after-time.

Confining our attention to the closing section of it, we are instructed—
I. That underneath all God’s purposes of judgment He has designs of mercy. In certain portions of this great prophecy God comes forth in terrible majesty, and were we to have regard to them only we should be moved to pray that He would not speak to us any more (Exodus 20:19). But these judgments that cause us to tremble—what is their purpose? Not merely the infliction of righteous vengeance, but also and more that a way may be opened for manifestations of the Divine goodness. If into Zion He sends “the spirit of judgment and burning,” it is that by the purging away of her filth and blood-guiltiness she may be made meet to be the dwelling-place of God.

II. That God resolved to carry out His purposes of mercy by a suitable agent. He is here designated by a twofold description, the parts of which appear to be contradictory. He is at once “the Branch of the Lord” and “the Fruit of the earth.” The significance of the first of these titles becomes more plain as we trace it in prophecy (Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12). So that “the Branch of the Lord” is a man, the son of David, that son concerning whom he sang in the Seventy-second Psalm, the Messiah—our Lord Jesus Christ! As soon as we arrive at this great truth, we perceive what is the explanation of the mysterious contradiction in the two parts of the title of the great Deliverer whom God was about to raise up for Zion (1 Timothy 3:16; Romans 1:3-4).

III. That in the day when God’s designs of mercy are fulfilled, the suitability and glory of the Agent whom God resolved to employ will be universally recognised. We know how He was treated when He came forth on His great mission: He was despised and rejected of men. Yet not long after He had been put to the most ignominious of deaths, an apostle could write, “Unto you that believe He is precious.” So even on earth there was a commencement of the fulfilment of the prediction that He should be “beautiful and glorious … excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.” We have been permitted also to see how He is regarded by the ransomed ones who have entered into the rest in which they await the manifestation of the sons of God (Revelation 5:6-14). By this disclosure we are enabled to form some conceptions of the manner in which this portion of the prophecy will be fulfilled “in that day” when upon the new earth “the holy city, New Jerusalem,” has come down from God out of heaven.

IV. That God’s great design both in the infliction of His judgments and the operation of His mercy is the creation of universal holiness. The work entrusted to the Messiah was to “wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and to purge the blood-guiltiness of Jerusalem from the midst thereof.” There were some “written down for life in Jerusalem” (Acts 13:48),—doubtless those whom God foresaw would tremble at His threatenings and accept His gracious offers of mercy; and these the Messiah was so to purify that they should be worthy to “be called holy.” Thus one part of GOD’S IDEAL CONCERNING ISRAEL (Exodus 19:6) was to be realised. It was for the accomplishment of this great purpose that Christ died (Ephesians 5:25-27). It was for this end that He was exalted to God’s right hand (Acts 5:31). It is for the accomplishment of this great purpose that He now sometimes subjects His people to painful discipline (Hebrews 12:10) [574]

[574] As God makes use of all the seasons of the year for the harvest, the frost of winter as well as the heat of summer, so doth He of fair and foul, pleasing and unpleasing providences for promoting holiness. Winter providences kill the weeds of lusts, and summer providences ripen and mellow the fruits of righteousness. When He afflicts it is for our profit, to make us partakers of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10). Bernard compares afflictions to the teasel, which though it be sharp and scratching, is to make the cloth more pure and fine. God would not rub so hard if it were not to fetch out the dirt that is ingrained in our natures. God loves purity so well that He would rather see a hole than a spot in His child’s garments. When He deals more gently in His providences, and lets His people sit under the sunny bank of comforts and enjoyments, fencing them from the cold blasts of affliction, it is to draw forth the sap of grace, and hasten their growth in holiness.—Gurnall, 1617–1679.

V. That the day of universal holiness will be a day of universal blessing. This great truth is set forth by symbols which would appeal most powerfully to the imagination and the hopes of the godly among Isaiah’s contemporaries (Isaiah 4:5-6). That which had been the distinguishing glory of the Tabernacle was to become the common glory of every dwelling in the New Jerusalem. Moreover, the whole city was to be a covering—a canopy such as in a Jewish wedding was held over the bride and bridegroom; the symbol of God’s protecting love. Beneath it, as in a tabernacle, they should dwell securely. Thus the second portion of God’s ideal concerning Israel was to be realised (Deuteronomy 28:9-10; Deuteronomy 33:28). First purity, then peace; perfect purity, perfect peace. A little later Isaiah had another vision concerning this tabernacle (Isaiah 32:2). God’s protecting love for His people is embodied in our Lord Jesus Christ; “in Him all the promises of God are Yea and Amen.”


Isaiah 4:2-5. In that day shall the Branch of the Lord, &c.

The contrast between the preceding chapter, in which denunciations fall upon the ear like thunder, and the sunny promises of this. The references to Zion both in the Psalms and in the Prophecies are frequent and striking. Originally crowned by the Jebusite citadel, it was besieged and taken by David, who transferred his court from Hebron thither; he afterwards erected a tabernacle upon its height, and it there became the chosen resting-place of the ark of the Lord. Hence, in Scripture language, it came sometimes to denote the entire city of Jerusalem, and sometimes the Church or commonwealth of the faithful, which the Highest has promised to establish, and out of which God, the perfection of beauty, shines. You will have no difficulty in thus understanding the reference in the words before us. Applied to the ancient Zion, or even to the entire city of Jerusalem, the words are extravagant and unmeaning; applied to the Church of God—His living, spiritual temple—they are sober, comforting truths. Consider

I. THE PREPARATION FOR THE PROMISE—(Isaiah 4:2-4). Two things are presented as antecedent to the gifts of blessing—the coming of the Divine Saviour, and His discipline for holiness within His Church. 1. The coming of the Divine Saviour (Isaiah 4:2). The transition from the gloomy judgment to the grandeur of deliverance is abrupt and striking, as if from a savage wilderness one were to emerge suddenly into green pastures and among gay flowers. So great a change passes upon human destinies when Christ the Lord comes down. We are naturally heirs of judgment. But a Saviour has been provided—a Saviour who, in the mysterious union of natures, combines perfection of sympathy and almightiness of power. Without Christ, we are hopeless and lost. Give us Christ, and we are heirs to all the fulness of God.

2. The Saviour’s discipline for holiness within His Church (Isaiah 4:3-4). With God the great thing is holiness. To work this holiness in His people, God subjects them to discipline, and, if necessary, to the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning. There are some stains so deep that the fire must purge them. The constant superintendence over human affairs which these words imply is assured to us by the experience of our own witnessing hearts, which corroborate the declarations of the inspired Word. In this superintendence the Christian will rejoice. In his anxiety to be conformed to the whole image of God, he will not be careful or delicate about the means God may use. Here is a test by which to try yourselves. Are you willing to submit to this preparation for the promise? Do not shrink from the hissing brand; it will only burn away the core of the ulcer.

II. THE PROMISE ITSELF (Isaiah 4:5). As we read these words, we go back to former ages and a fierce wilderness, where a pilgrim host marches, and there, now in their van for guidance, now in their rear for protection, rises a pillar of cloud by day, and by night a pillar of flame. This was the vision prominent in the prophet’s mind, when he symbolised by it God’s presence and protection to His chosen Church. We are the heirs of the glorious things thus spoken of the city of God. There is the presence of God with His Church—that is the central thought; then there are right-hand and left-hand thoughts or aspects in which that presence manifests itself, radiating itself on the one hand for counsel, and on the other hand for defence.

1. The central thought, The presence of God. It was in cloud and in fire that God specially revealed Himself to His people in days of old (Genesis 15:17; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 33:9; 1 Kings 8:10; Habakkuk 3:3-5). So long as the cloud and fire were in the camp, so long the wilderness lost half its terror, because the Israelites knew that God was in the midst of them for good. That God is still present in His Church is no impious fanatic’s dream. To be sure He does not come as He did in former times, bewildering the sight and overawing the mind. The dispensations are different. The Divine manifestations of terror which made even Moses fear and quake, would not suit this later and better dispensation of love. Yet our tabernacles are not merely places of human assembly; they are tabernacles of God’s presence, and our worship ascends not to a remote or absent God.

2. The right-hand thought, The presence of God for counsel. You remember that this was the primary purpose for which the pillar of cloud and fire was given. Consider how much it was needed by the Israelites in the trackless wilderness.

(1.) For guidance in their perplexities, God’s presence is promised to the churches of to-day. Nobody can look upon the history of the Church with eyes that are not blinded by infidel films without discovering traces of a presence and counsel higher than that of the mightiest and wisest men. What chance had she at the beginning but in the support and upholding that was itself Divine! Through what perils she has been safely guided since!
(2.) If I were to come nearer home, if I were to ask you to look not at the history of the Church, but at your own history, is there not something that would cause you to respond with a joy not less deep and solemn, as you think how the Lord through all your wanderings has been a guide and counsel for you?
3. The left-hand thought, The presence of God for defence. You know what the pillar of fire was—to the Israelites a lamp, brilliant, exquisite, and heartening; to the Egyptians that followed, a consuming fire. There is defence as well as counsel for the Church to-day. Expositors have differed a little about the reading of the last clause in this verse. Some tell us it ought to read, “upon all the glory shall be a defence;” that is, there shall be protection round about the glory which is created by this luminous cloud and by this kindled fire. Some tell us it should be read, “upon all the glory shall be a defence;” that is, the luminous cloud and the brilliant fire shall be itself the defence of the Church. What does it matter which way we take it? The defence is sure, the salvation of the Lord is for bulwarks equally in the one case as in the other; and so the Church is safe, whatever betide. Powerful adversaries have banded themselves for her destruction, and yet she still lives, while their names are forgotten, or remembered with accusation and shame. Let us, then, not be afraid of future assaults (Numbers 23:23). The defence is not merely for Zion as a whole, but for every dwelling-place therein. Every believer has a pillar of cloud and fire over his own homestead, visible not to your eyes, but to those of the angels. There cannot be a cloud upon “the assembly” unless there are first clouds upon the dwelling-places. Consecrated homes furnish consecrated congregations; consecrated houses bring the baptism of fire. Dear brethren, this promise is yours, if you like to have it. It is the simple, quiet soul that sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to His voice, that has all this done for him (Hebrews 1:14).

“Which of the petty kings of earth
Can boast a guard like ours,
Encirled from our second birth
With all the heavenly powers?”

W. Morley Punshon, LL.D.,

Christian World Pulpit, ii. 372–377.

Verse 4


Isaiah 4:4. By the Spirit of judgment, and by the Spirit of burning.

In Isaiah 2:1-5, the prophet gives us a vision of the glory which shall distinguish Messianic times. From Isaiah 4:6, however, and through that chapter and the next, he depicts scenes of darkness and distress, that were to come upon the Jewish nation in correction of its haughtiness, arrogance, and rebellion. In ch. 4 the light again breaks through these fearful clouds of judgment, and under the glory of the Messianic period we see the beauty and purity of the chastened people of the Lord. The filth of the daughters of Zion has been washed away, the blood of Jerusalem has been purged from the midst thereof. But how? “By the Spirit of judgment, and by the Spirit of burning.” Here we have the source and cause of the change.—This language is very striking and suggestive, and reveals the Divine procedure in the cleansing of the heart.

I. THE SPIRIT OF JUDGMENT. God’s Spirit effects this reformation by a process of discernment and conviction. We observe—

1. That a real change of heart is usually preceded by a discovery of its sinful condition. The natural tendency of the depraved heart is to ignore and deny its corrupted state. The light must be let in to show that it is depraved [577]

2. That this reformation is preceded by a discovery of the enormity as well as the fact of sin. Even a converted sinner tries to palliate or soften the sins that condemn him. Hence men contrive such flimsy distinctions as “white lies” and “black lies.” But “the Spirit of judgment” goes to the root of the matter, and discovers sin as sin (1 Kings 8:28). So in the text, it is the filth of the daughters of Zion that has had to be washed away; it is the blood of Jerusalem that has had to be purged from its midst [580]

[577] It is with the children of men as with the housewife, that having diligently swept her house, and cast the dust out of doors, can see nothing amiss, not so much as a speck of dust in it; whereas if the sun do but a little shine in, through some cranny in the wall or some broken quarry in the window, she may soon see the whole house swim and swarm with innumerable atoms of dust, floating to and fro in the air, which, for dimness of light or sight, she was not able to discern. Even so is it with many that were careful of their ways, so that little may be seen that is amiss; yet when they shall come to look more attentively into God’s law, a little beam of light, reflecting upon their souls from it, will discover unto them such an innumerable company, as well of corruptions in their heart as of error and oversight in their lives, that it shall make them, as men amazed, cry out, “Lord, what earthly man doth know the errors of his life?”—Spencer, 1658.

[580] As the Lord led Ezekiel from one place to another, and the further he went the greater abominations he discerned (Ezekiel 8:0), from the door of the court to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house, and from thence to the inner court; so the Spirit of the Lord leads the sinner from one part of his house to another, from one room—one faculty of his soul to another, and still discovers greater, more and more abominations,—leads from the profaneness of his ordinary conversation to the sins of his religious duties, from the sins of his life to the sins of his heart, from the streams of sin in his actions to the spring of sin which bubbles up continually in every part of his soul. He brings to mind the sins that he has forgotten, makes him “possess the sins of his youth;” and now the “bag” (Job 14:17) is opened, and the sinner sees what he is to reckon for, he cries out as the prophet’s servant, “How shall we do?” and as David (Psalms 38:4). He comes not to the assizes as formerly, to see others tried and condemned; he sees himself now at the bar, himself arraigned and indicted; he cannot but plead guilty. He is clearly cast in law, and bears the sentence of condemnation as though the Lord did by name pronounce sentence of condemnation against him.—Clarkson, 1621–1686.

II. THE SPIRIT OF BURNING. From this description of the Holy Ghost, we learn—

1. That the detection of sin is, in the Divine purpose, to be followed by its destruction. There can be no home for sin in a pure heart, nor will God make any concession to it (Habakkuk 1:13; Psalms 5:5).

2. This process is extremely searching and painful. It is one of “burning” (Matthew 3:11). How many have quailed under the testing ordeal!—e.g., loss of wealth! loss of friends! personal affliction, &c.

From the subject three general reflections arise:—

1. God does not chastise arbitrarily or at random. He does it by “the Spirit of judgment.”
2. Neither does He fail in the work by reason of a weak indulgence, which really would be unkindness. He does it by “the Spirit of burning.”
3. The object He has in view is to promote and secure our personal holiness, to make us indeed like Himself (Hebrews 12:10)—the most blessed result to which discipline can lead us.—W. Manning.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/isaiah-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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