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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 3

The discourse continues, as the continuative for denotes. Having commenced (Isaiah 2:1-5) with a calm, attractive picture of a gloriously hopeful future, the prophet’s eye glances over his audience only to bring him back at once to the incongruous character it bears, and the whole nation with it, to the peaceful, pure days of the Messiah in the far future. Then the impetuous oratory begins, as we have seen Isaiah 2:11-22. A mass of conjurers, of gold and silver, of war-horses, of idols! The voice that began with Messiah’s salvation is choked. A vision of judgment and destruction comes before the prophet, and he calls out to the people to hide themselves from the storm. The people are aroused. The prophet has gained one point their attention and their fear; possibly God has given him the aid of a natural earthquake to impress his lesson. A symbol that is quickly dashed, is dependence on cedars and ships strong men in war, and state, and in commerce. All is made to seem such a frail reliance, that to escape quickly, men yield their clutch on their idols as they flee, and they do as they are bidden, hurl them to “the moles and to the bats.” The fact is made to grow on them, that the loftiest man must perish. His life hangs on a breath over which he has no power; how should one trust in him! In poetic dress the general principle is taught that idolatry and every thing to which it leads cannot stand. It shall be wiped out by severe national judgment and captivity.

In this chapter the application is made to Judah and Jerusalem in particular. Apparently the prophet explains in Isaiah 3:1-7 the thought in the preceding verse on the non-reliance of man; that God was about to cripple, perhaps destroy, the leading men of Judah, and permit a state of anarchy.

Verses 1-7

1-7. Cease ye from man is now the order.

For behold Attention is challenged.

The Lord ( Ha-Adon.) “The Lord” as sovereign.

The Lord of hosts The self-existent God, the revealed God; God, as it were, rallying all his forces of angels and subordinate agencies of whatever kind for such is virtually the meaning of “Jehovah of hosts.”

Doth take away Is taking, or is about to take, away.

Stay… staff Both nearly the same word, but of different genders, the one masculine, the other feminine. Together they mean every kind of support on which they had depended. God was the true “stay “and “staff.” Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 50:10.

Bread… water Judah’s spiritual food here symbolized. Civil prosperity depends on this. Isaiah 3:9-10; Isaiah 3:16-18. The “stay” and “staff” are now particularized.

Verse 2

2. 3. Mighty man… man of war Besides men, martial armaments are included. Uzziah had a widespread military organization. 2 Chronicles 26:11-15.

Prudent About the same as prophet. Men on secular principles occupied in divining future events.

Ancient Elders, heads of families.

The captain of fifty A title near in rank to that of the people.

The honourable A favourite of the people; of dignified aspect.

Artificer A maker of war weapons.

Eloquent orator Not this in our modern sense, but rather, an enchanter; literally, whisperer. Chapter Isaiah 8:19. Akin to “prudent.”

Verses 4-5

4, 5. Children to be their princes A phrase descriptive of the evil condition of a state deprived of wise rulers. See conduct of Rehoboam, 1 Kings 12:0.

Babes Ignorant and incompetent persons. Did the prophet here look forth one hundred years, and describe what is stated as history in 2 Kings 22-25? Grotius well calls this a state of anarchy; to the Hebrew tone of life a state intensely revolting.

Verses 6-7

6, 7. Nobody desires state-position in anarchy like this.

Take hold of his brother In a supplicating way, and then only on a kinsman, or one of his tribe. Outside of ties of blood no one ventures.

Hast clothing A large wardrobe, which was a mark of oriental wealth.

Be thou our ruler A like example is that of Jephthah, but in times when anarchy was less desperate, and probably less general (Judges 11:6) than that here represented.

In that day In that time of anarchy.

Shall he swear Literally, lift up the hand; this being the usual form of oath-taking.

Not be a healer Or, binder up; the chief proceeding in oriental surgery. The body politic has been too long and irrecoverably diseased.

In my house Powerful and wealthy though it has been, it is now impoverished; it has neither bread nor clothing. “It is customary for Eastern rulers to gather an immense quantity of clothes, for there fashions never alter.” Chardin.

“The kings of Persia have great wardrobes,… many habits to spare and to give away, on occasion, as presents.” Lowth. The picture here is that of extreme poverty as the result of a long continued ruinous civil and moral condition.

Verse 8

8. The causes of this ruin are now stated. Its character is implied in its causes. It is moral ruin, drawing after it, of course, ruin political and national. “Jerusalem reels, Judah falls,” all because of their tongue and their doings. They have mocked God in pretended temple worship. They have at the same time insulted him in acts of idolatry among the hills, groves, and gardens. They have provoked the eyes of his glory. They have affronted brazenly faced down “the eyes of glory,” which streamed forth in love for his faithful ones. The eye, as an outward sense, is the quickest to indicate thought and emotion to light up with joy or flash in indignation. The word “glory” is a probable allusion to the shekinah, which, in its shining and its withdrawal, or darkening, gave outward expression to the emotions of Jehovah.

Verse 9

9. Show of… countenance Its bold, staring effrontery declares, testifies, against them; reveals their own true character exactly. Thoughts only of evil are mirrored in their countenances, and are as clearly open to every one’s view as were the open sins of Sodom. The meaning is not that their looks betray them, but that they attempt no concealment, they hide it not.

Woe unto their soul This expresses the highest abhorrence of their acts.

Rewarded evil unto themselves Reaped punishment as the only proper retribution.

Verses 10-11

10, 11. These verses express general truths. Their meaning is deep. All that is possible to think or feel from the two simple propositions, “It is well to be righteous,” “It is ill to be wicked,” cannot exceed what they mean. The reason for these truths here may be this: The word “Sodom” brought to the prophet the thought of Abraham and Lot; this thought suggested resemblance and contrast: resemblance pushed forward the bad men of the plains; contrast, the good man Lot; then both suggest the awards due to each. As the rule by which God governs and awards, the principle here expressed is true for all in the earth, the righteous and the wicked, but emphatically now true of the Jews to whom the prophet at once returns.

Verse 12

12. Through a vista of years the prophet sees the Jews much reduced in power, pusillanimous in character, enslaved to evil-doing, and so helpless in that slavery, that he says, children that is, men of weakest moral force are allowed to overpower them; and women, women of the royal court, that is, from the royal harem, rule over them. The statement here seems made in a tone of contempt. The law as to the sexes seems reversed. (Genesis 3:16.) The divine order was first invaded by Solomon, whose wives prattled to him about Chemosh and Milcom, and prevailed.

They which lead thee cause thee to err Compromises with idolatry are destructive of moral and civil order.

The way of thy paths The way appointed for Israel; the guide-marks of which along the whole way become obliterated, in so far as any taint of idolatry infests the heart of the people.

Verse 13

13. This headlong life of the nation cannot last.

The Lord standeth up He cometh forward (that is the verb’s meaning) after sufficient trial and endurance.

To plead To litigate, to contend, to inflict punishment.

Verse 14

14. The parties are now distinctly named.

The ancients The elders, heads of houses and tribes, responsible representatives of the people.

Ye have The address is direct. The charge is against these guides.

Eaten up the vineyard Destroyed God’s Church by subverting its purity. Ye have “eaten” (literally, burnt) this up. The same in effect as if it stood, “Ye have robbed my people;” and thus it better accords with the word spoil, plunder; the evidence of which is, that it is in your houses.

Verse 15

15. What mean ye What induces such foul injustice? What motive, what right, impels such action toward the poor? A blow aimed at the public conscience, though parried just for that lawless time, nevertheless comes home some day with its full death stroke.

Grind the faces of the poor This signifies great oppression. To “grind” is to trample on. “Faces” is here equivalent to persons. The poor are claimed in the Scriptures (Amos 2:6-7; Micah 3:2, etc.) as well as in the universal conscience, as objects of care and protection. In times when justice is prostrate, such as the prophet foresaw in Judah and Jerusalem, crushing oppression of the poor is the greatest social crime.

Verse 16

16. The course of thought which had been interrupted at Isaiah 3:12 is here resumed.

Moreover the Lord saith In addition to what he had already said, as reasons for divine judgment yet to come on Judah and Jerusalem.

Because the daughters of Zion Or, the women of Jerusalem.

Are haughty Are proud. In the prosperous reign of Uzziah there was not only much wealth, but probably it was generally diffused.

And walk with stretched forth necks With ostentatious display of neck, perhaps to appear taller; the Septuagint, “with lofty neck.”

And wanton eyes With fascinating glance of eyes, or with attempts to allure, as they walked.

And mincing as they go Taking affectedly short steps.

Making a tinkling With ankle-rings made of silver, or gold, or ivory; still used by upper class women in Syria, India, and Egypt.

Verse 17

17. Smite with a scab Leprosy, no doubt, or its equivalent result. The latter seems the view of the Septuagint, the Targums, and the Syriac. Few things are deemed more degrading to the Hebrew women than baldness.

Discover This was the highest disgrace. As items of their punishment, they are to be stripped of ornaments, made bald, and taken naked into captivity.

Verses 18-19

18, 19. In that day The day of their coming punishment.

Bravery In Isaiah 4:2 this word means comely. It is applied to different things: in Isaiah 60:7, to the temple; in Isaiah 64:11, to Jerusalem. May it not here mean finery? (There is difficulty in determining the meaning of terms in these verses, because many of them are used only here in the Bible. According to best means at hand, scholars have made them out, generally, as here given.)

Cauls A network covering for the top of the head, usually made of silk. According to Furst, they are little suns or spangles.

Round tires Literally, moons, in crescent form; used, perhaps, to deck the network veils.

Chains More properly eardrops; resembling amber drops.

Bracelets For the wrists, or collars for the neck.

Mufflers Veils, light and tremulous; “a veil for the face used by higher-class ladies.”

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Verse 20

20. The bonnets Used of priestly head-bands, Exodus 39:28; it probably means here, ladies’ caps, or similar ornamental headdresses.

Ornaments of the legs Short stepping chains from one foot to the other, to give a measured gait, (the “mincing” of Isaiah 3:16;) these were attached to the ankle rings, Isaiah 3:16.

Headbands Literally, girdles. In Jeremiah 2:32, the same word is used for “sashes,”

especially as worn by a bride.

Tablets Singularly, the literal meaning of the Hebrew is, houses of the soul, or breath; hence, smelling boxes, which were carried about the person.

Verse 21

21. Rings Usually the word denotes signet rings. But here, finger rings, earrings, or rings in general; gems with inscriptions of magic formulas.

Nose jewels Suspended from the pierced cartilage of the left nostril.

Verse 22

22. What is now mentioned consists of entire articles. Hitherto only single ornaments were named.

Changeable suits Put on and off on occasions; holiday dresses. A variety of these indicated wealth.

Mantles Flowing upper garments; fuller tunics with sleeves.

Wimples A head covering, intended, perhaps, for a cloak or shawl, thrown over head and shoulders.

Crisping pins A strange rendering of what seems to mean money bags, purses. But it is one of the most difficult words to determine.

Verse 23

23. Glasses Mirrors made of polished metal, carried on the person.

Fine linen Inner wear, undergarments.

Hoods Turbans, mitres, diadems. Isaiah 60:3; Zechariah 3:5.

Veils Coverings of the face, minus the eyes, dropping to near the feet. Distinct from “mufflers,” or smaller veils. In 1 Corinthians 11:10 used as a token of woman’s subjection.

Verse 24

24. It shall come to pass The divine judgment against this luxurious finery is, that in place of sweet smell aromatics, spicy fragrance, and the like, upon the garments of the person, (Roberts says, “No one ever enters a company without being perfumed,”) there shall be stink a stench from dead bodies.

Instead of a girdle An ornament for the waist; used, also, to hold up the gathers of the long outer robe when engaged in active employment.

A rent Better, a rope; either an emblem of poverty or of captivity: in the latter case the proud females being thereby hauled along in the train of conquerors.

Well set hair Hair curiously braided and adorned.

Baldness In this connexion made so by the razor, the hair being shaved off; as conquerors of old time resorted to the last degree of humiliations upon their captives.

Stomacher It is matter of uncertainty what is meant by this. Most concur in its being a plaited or stiffened ornament worn on the breast, or a broad plaited girdle for the breast.

A girding of sackcloth The material only changed. “Sackcloth” was of the coarsest material, and worn only in affliction.

Burning A sunburnt face, from the exposures of captivity and slavery. This, instead of the fair complexion and the well adorned person in a highly civilized and luxurious life.

Verse 25

25. And the proximate cause of all this shall be the profuse slaughter of the male population.

Thy men The men of Judah and Jerusalem, for these are here evidently addressed.

Verse 26

26. Her gates A poetical soliloquizing. The “gates” of Jerusalem were places busy with concourses occupied in imparting news, in trades, and in settling of disputes.

Lament and mourn The usual daily, commonplace air of the above scenes is to be changed to loud wailings, such as Orientals well know how to make.

Sit upon the ground This was the posture of grief and mourning; and so Judea is represented in the medals struck on the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

The destruction and captivity, however, here looked forward to by the prophet, was probably the first destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.