The prophets of Israel often called the nation to turn away from its sin and to turn back to God. Sadly, even though some within the nation did hear and repent, the vast majority rejected the Word of the Lord and eventually fell under His judgment. Isaiah 3 reminds us that God will judge sin. This is true whether we are looking at Israel 2,700 years ago or our own nation in the 21st century. Isaiah 3 reminds us that our calling is to live for Christ, and to call sinners to recognize their sin and need for forgiveness through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Today’s blog comes directly from my forthcoming Isaiah commentary. Enjoy and please forgive the formatting issues that I cannot shed.

The picturehere is that of societal disintegration,with sin bringinga complete upheaval of life as they have known it.[1]  Kidner calls this, “a study in disintegration, through the pressure of scarcity on a people without ideals. The scarcity, which is desperate, is twofold; of material things (food and water, v 1; clothing, v 7) and of leadership (2–4).[2]  God announces both how He will strike the nation (vv. 1-7) as well as why (vv. 3:8-4:1).

How God will strike the land (vv. 1-7)

God will bring Judah down by systematically striking it in a variety of ways to bring it to ruin.  Yahweh, the sovereign Lord of the hosts,declares His intention in verse 1 and then fills in the specifics in verses 2-7.

The certain consequence of rebellion is judgment (v. 1)

Isaiah employs a four-fold use of the term “supply/supportto warn about the coming removal of life’s basic provisions, namely food and water.[3]  Once the judgment comes, nothing will be left to help or support the nation.[4]  It is in 5:8ff. that God makesit clear that this will come by the hand of Assyrian and Babylonian invasions.

God will also strip them of their sinful leaders (vv. 2-3)

Verses 2-3 name out eleven kinds of leaders who had become false sources of trust—some of whom were legitimate God-ordained kinds of positions, some of whom were illegitimate and sinful by their very nature.  The first two leaders (the mighty man and warrior) both refer to military warriors.  Judgesrefer to civil officers who carried out governmental functions.  In context, it is possible that prophetswould include not only true prophets like Isaiah(cf. Amos 8:11),[5] but also the false prophets who plagued the nation (cf. Jer. 23:9-22).  Divinersare by nature illegitimate professions involving sorcery and witchcraft (Deut. 18:10; 1 Sam. 28:38; 2 Kings 17:7; Hos. 3:4; Mic. 3:11).  Elders were older men who gave guidance to local villages.  Captains of fiftymay be another military or governmental expression (Exod. 18:25; 1 Sam. 8:12; 2 Kings 1:9), and honorable men and counselor both refer to governmental counselors.  Up to this time, many such counselors had been godless leaders who were taking the nation to ruin, but God’s promise is that one day He will bring them a truly wise counselor (Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1ff.).  Expert artisanswere those who were skilled in artistic skills (2 Kings 24:14; Jer. 24:1; 29:1), but sadly some of these were also the ones involved in making idols (Isa. 44:11; 45:16).  This last leader, the skilled enchanter, comes from a root that speaks about the whispering of charms and spells, evil influences that had overtaken the whole land (Isa. 28:16; Jer. 8:17).  God will destroy them all.

The third way God will strike the land (vv. 4-7)

There often are times when we wish that God would remove wicked leaders.  Here in verses 4-7 Isaiah expands on the theme that there will be a complete removal of all qualified leaders, leaving them with terrible leadersIn the case of Judah, God did remove some of these wicked leaders, but unfortunately, they ended up with more leaders in various roles who were young (neariym), inexperienced, and foolish.  In other words, explains Oswalt, Judah “will be ruled by incompetents.”[6] Because these leaders are young and “capricious” (ta‘aluliym), a term that speaks about the mischievousness of youth,[7] the end result will be a societal breakdown where the strong oppress the weak (v. 5).  In our own times, this kind of breakdown shows itself in practices like abortion, euthanasia, and the use of wealth and political power for promoting evil values.[8]  The dearth of leadership will be so bad that they will desperately search for anyone to lead them out of their descending spiral, but those with wisdom will refuse these roles knowing that they have no solution for the societal decay (vv. 6-7).

Corrupt leadership is a prime cause of Israel’s ruin (vv. 3:8-4:1)

Isaiah rebukes Judahfor their brazenness and lack of shame.  Martin explains, “The people defied God and were open about their sin much like the people of Sodom (cf. Gen. 18:20; 19:1–11; Isa. 1:9–10).”[9]  Isaiah highlights three kinds of sin in 3:8-4:1.

First sin:  The shamelessness of the nation(vv. 8-12)

Verse 8 begins with a kiy clause that connects the following section to 1-7, and why it is that God must judgeEverything they do, whether word or deed, is rebellious against God, and now they are stumbling and falling like a drunken man (v. 8).  Why does no one want a leadership role (vv. 6-7)?  The reason is because the whole society is collapsing.  The nation does not even feel shame any more over their sin (v. 9).  Despite the failure of the collective nation, God extends the promise that those who walk in His ways will be able to experience His favor(v. 10), an idea Ezekiel highlights (18:5-9).  Nevertheless, for those who choose wickedness, the judgment will be horrific and fully deserved (v. 11).  Isaiah continues by again emphasizing that the leaders of the nation have been especially guilty (v. 12).  The reference to women ruling over them could be a reference to harems, queen mothers or, as some suggest, the weakness of the men who lead (cf. Amos 4:1ff)Horrible leaders were leading the country to ruin, but Yahweh saw it all.  Pfeiffer explains, “These oppressive rulers and aristocrats might be immune from punishment by human courts for their ruthless exploitation of Jehovah’s people; but God himself would bring them to judgment.”[10]

Second sin:  Ruthless leaders(vv. 13-15)

Isaiah again utilizes courtroom terminology to explain the coming judgment.[11]  The leaders of Judah are guilty, and the judge is about to execute the sentence (vv. 13-14).  Chapter 5 will introduce a parabolic song in which the vineyard symbolizes the nation whom God carefully planted (cf. Jer. 12:10; Ps. 80:8-16).  God gave His people everything for prosperity, but evil leaders were bringing it to ruin, especially by their ruthless oppression of the weak and poor (cf. Job 19:2; Ps. 89:11; Amos2:6-8; 3:4-15; 5:11-12; 6:4-11; 8:6; Mic. 2:1-2).  God graphically portrays their evil by calling it “crushing My people” and “grinding the face of the poor.”

All of this evil raises the question, how could God possibly forgive people who would ruthlessly crush (daka’) the innocent?  The answer is that the Lord will send them a Redeemer whom He Himself will crush (daka’) to take away their sins (Isa. 53:10; Rom. 3:21-26).  There is hope!

Third sin:  The arrogance and vanity of the women (vv. 3:16-4:1)

The focus turns to the perilous situation of having become a culture where thewomen were obsessed with sins of pride, narcissism, sensuality, and the flaunting of their sexuality (Prov. 11:22; 1 Pet. 3:1-6).  As Motyer explains it, everything the women did was “designed to attract attention – posture, demeanour, movement, ornament.”[12]  Here in 3:16-4:1 God outlines thirty-one different areas of such sin.

The first two descriptions of Judah’s godless women come in verse 16 where Isaiah says that they walk with heads held high and seductive eyes (a hapax legomenon, but cognate studies show it can include both painting of eyes with makeup and using seductive glances[13]).  To mince steps (another hapax) carries the idea of “strutting along with swaying hips” (NIV).  Fourth (vv. 16-17), Isaiah says they tinkle the bangles on their feet(NIV:  “ornaments jingling on their ankles”).  As Kidner explains, “Triviality has never been more mercilessly exposed, or more abruptly overtaken by tragedy.[14]  God hates the arrogance of His women and tells them in verse 17, “therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, and the Lord will make their foreheads bare (a removal of the natural beauty that comes from long hair).  Verses 18-20 show nine kinds of seductive apparel used by the women of Judah in their attempt to flaunt their sexualityanklets (cf. Prov. 7:22), headbands, crescent ornaments (moon symbols with Midianite or Astarte origins in the worship of Nanna or Sin; cf. Judg. 18:21, 26),[15]dangling earrings (Judg. 8:26), bracelets (a hapax of Persian origin), veils (hapax), headdresses, ankle chains (cf. 2 Kings 11:12), and sashes (cf. Jer. 2:32).

The NASB calls the fourteenth and fifteenth descriptionsperfume boxes (v. 20),[16] and amulets (from the root that means to whisper).  Verses 21-22 list six more kinds of apparel:  finger rings (or signet ring), nose rings (Gen. 24:20; 35:4; Exod. 32:3; 35:22; Ezek. 16:2; Hos. 2:15), festal robes (cf. Zech. 3:4), outer tunics (hapax), cloaks (cf. Ruth 3:15), and money purses.  Descriptions 22-25 come in verse 23:  hand mirrors (perhaps sheer undergarments), undergarments (linen undergarments; cf. Judg. 14:12; Prov. 31:24), turbans (cf. Job 29:14; Isa. 62:3; Zech. 3:5), and veils (cf. Song 5:7).

Verse 24 gives five more descriptions of how the women flaunted their sin—all of which God says He was about to take away:[17]  perfume(putrefaction in the place of sweet balsamic perfumes, cf. Isa. 5:24), belt (a rope to lead away instead), well-set hair (instead a plucked out scalp, cf. Deut. 14:1; Isa. 15:2; Mic. 1:16; Amos 8:10; ), fine clothes (only sackcloth), and “beauty (only branding).  God is taking it all away.

In 3:25-4:1 God tells them about one last thing (31st on the list) that He is about to take away from them—their men (a less common term meth).  God will take away all the rich, handsome, young men they used to seduce, and He will kill them in battle.  The death toll to the men will be so bad that it will leave a horrible disproportion of men to women (v. 25).  The mourning will be great (v. 26), but this will only lead to the desperation of how to get a husband and children.  In bold desperation“seven women will take hold of one man in that day, saying, We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach!” (4:1).  They don’t care if they have to produce their own food, they just want a husbandand childrenWolf explains, “What a change from the luxury and smug complacency described in 3:16-4:23.”[18]

Summary and applicationGod wants us to understand that sin carries with it a costly pricetag.  It does not matter who we are, or where or when we live, sin has its wage (Rom. 6:23).  May God stir our hearts to walk in obedient faith.

[1] The kiy clause that starts in 3:1 elaborates on 2:1-22.

[2] Kidner, “Isaiah,” 636.

[3] Each word derives from the Heb.root mashen:  mashen, mashenah, mish‘an, mish‘an, all having the idea of support—such as even a walking stick.

[4] Grogan, “Isaiah,” 41.

[5]Young, TheBookofIsaiah, vol. 1, 139.

[6] Oswalt, The Book ofIsaiah, Chapters 1-39, 133.

[7] Ludwig Koehler et al.,TheHebrew and Aramaic Lexicon oftheOld Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1768–1769.  The root of this term conveys the idea of being whimsical and capricious (cf. Hos. 14:1; Mic. 2:9; Neh. 3:10), and this carries with it a “lack of maturity in judgment and decision (Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, 143).

[8]One evidence of God’s judgment on a culture is when the youth are insolent and arrogant toward the elders (cf. Ps. 40:5; Prov. 6:3).

[9] Martin, “Isaiah,” 1040.

[10]Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary:  Old Testament,Is 3:9.

[11] The psalmist pleaded with God, Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous (Ps. 143:2).

[12] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah:  An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove:  IVP, 1993), 63.

[13] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1350.

[14] Kidner, “Isaiah, 636.

[15]Wolf, InterpretingIsaiah, 80.

[16] The expression literally says, “houses of breath” and appears to be some sort of amulet (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39, 142).

[17] Isaiah uses the word tachath (instead of) five times in v. 24 to stress the idea of removal and substitution.

[18] Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 81.

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