Isaiah 3
Barnes' Notes
For, behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water,
For - This is a continuation of the previous chapter. The same prophecy is continued, and the force of the argument of the prophet will not be seen unless the chapters are read together; see the Analysis prefixed to Isaiah 2. In the close of the second chapter Isaiah 2:22, the prophet had cautioned his countrymen against confiding in man. In this chapter, a reason is given here why they should cease to do it - to wit, that God would soon take away their kings and princes.

The Lord - האדון hā'âdôn; see the note at Isaiah 1:24.

The Lord of hosts - see the note at Isaiah 1:9. The prophet calls the attention of the Jews particularly to the fact that this was about to be done by Yahweh "of hosts" - a title which he gives to God when he designs to indicate that that which is to be done implies special strength, power, and majesty. As the work which was now to be done was the removal of the mighty men on which the nation was depending, it is implied that it was a work of power which belonged especially to the God of armies - the Almighty.

Doth take away - Is about to remove. In the Hebrew, the word here is a "participle," and does not mark the precise time. It has reference here, however, to the future.

From Jerusalem ... - Note Isaiah 1:1.

The stay - In the Hebrew, the words translated "stay" and "staff" are the same, with the exception that the former is in the masculine, and the latter in the feminine gender. The meaning is, that God would remove "all kinds of support," or "everything" on which they relied. The reference is undoubtedly to the princes and mighty men on whose counsels and aid the nation was resting for defense; see Isaiah 3:2-3.

The whole stay of bread - We use a similar expression when we say that "bread is the staff of life." The Hebrews often expressed the same idea, representing the "heart" in man as being "supported or upheld" by bread, Genesis 18:5 (margin); Judges 19:5 (margin); Leviticus 26:26; Psalm 105:16.

Stay of water - He would reduce them from their luxuries introduced by commerce Isaiah 2 to absolute want. This often occurred in the sieges and wars of the nation; and in the famines which were the consequence of the wars. The reference here is probably to the invasion of the land by Nebuchadnezzar. The famine consequent on that invasion is described in Jeremiah 38:21; Jeremiah 38:9; Lamentations 4:4 : "The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his month for thirst; the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them."

The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient,
The mighty man - The hero, The idea expressed is not simply that of personal strength and prowess, but the higher one of military eminence or heroism. "Prof. Alexander." This was fully accomplished in the time of Nebuchadnezzar; 2 Kings 24:14.

And the prudent - This word in the original - קסם qosēm - means properly "a diviner," or a "soothsayer." But it is sometimes used in a good sense; see Proverbs 16:10, "margin." The Chaldee understands it of a man "who is consulted," or whose opinion is asked, in times of perplexity or danger. The word was originally applied to false prophets, diviners, and soothsayers, who claimed the power of looking into futurity. It came, however, to denote also the man of sagacity, the statesman, the experienced counselor, who from the records of the past could judge of the future, and to whom, therefore, the nation could look in times of perplexity and danger. Vitringa supposes that it may refer here to the false prophets on whose advice the nation might be relying.

The ancient - The old man. Such men, especially among the Hebrews, were deemed particularly qualified to give advice. They had experience; they kept the traditions of their fathers; they had conversed with the wise of the preceding generation; and in a land where there were few books, and knowledge was to be gained mainly by conversation and experience, great respect was shown them; see Leviticus 19:32; 2 Chronicles 31:17; 1 Kings 12:6, 1 Kings 12:8.

The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counseller, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.
The captain of fifty - By this was probably denoted an officer in the army. The idea is, that the commanders of the various divisions of the army should be taken away.

The honourable man - Hebrew פנים נשׂוּא nes'û' pânı̂ym. "The man of elevated countenance." That is, the man high in office. He was so called from the aspect of dignity which a man in office would assume. In the previous chapter, the phrase is used to denote rather the "pride" which attended such officers, than the dignity of the office itself.

And the counselor - Note, Isaiah 1:26.

The cunning artificer - Hebrew, The man wise in mechanic arts: skilled in architecture, etc.

And the eloquent orator - לחשׁ נבון nebôn lâchash. literally, skilled or learned in whispering, in conjuration, in persuasion. The word לחשׁ lachash denotes properly a whispering, sighing, or calling for help; (Isaiah 26:16, 'they have poured out a prayer,' לחשׁ lachash - a secret speech, a feeble sigh for aid.) It is applied to the charm of the serpents - the secret breathing or gentle noise by which the charm is supposed to be effected; Psalm 58:6; Jeremiah 8:17; Ecclesiastes 10:11. In Isaiah 3:20 of this chapter it denotes a charm or amulet worn by females; see the note at that verse. It is also applied to magic, or conjuration - because this was usually done by gentle whispering, or incantation; see the note at Isaiah 8:19. From this use of the word, it comes to denote one that influences another; one who persuades him in any way, as an orator does by argument and entreaty. Ancient orators also probably sometimes used a species of recitative, or measured cadence, not unlike that employed by those who practiced incantations. Jerome says that it means here, 'a man who is learned, and acquainted with the law, and the prophets.' Chaldee, 'The prudent in council.' It "may" be used in a good sense here; but if so, it is probably the only place where the word is so used in the Old Testament. A prophecy similar to this occurs in Hosea 3:4 : 'For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim.'

And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.
And I will give children - Not children in respect to age so much as in regard to talent for governing. I will commit the land to the government of weak and imbecile princes. This would naturally occur when the wise and great were removed; compare Ecclesiastes 10:16 : 'Wo to thee, O land, when thy king is a child;' compare Isaiah 3:12.

And babes shall rule ... - That is, babes in experience and knowledge. This was fully accomplished in the succession of weak and wicked princes that succeeded Isaiah, until the time of Zedekiah, the last of them, when the temple was taken by Nebuchadnezzar. - "Lowth."

And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable.
And the people shall be oppressed - This describes the state of anarchy and confusion which would exist under the reign of children and babes Isaiah 3:4, when all law would be powerless, and all rights violated, and when the feeble would be oppressed and borne down by the strong. The word used here, properly denotes that "unjust exactions or demands" would be made, or that the people would be "urged" to fulfill them.

Every one by another - In turn they shall oppress and vex one another. Hebrew 'man by man; and man by his neighbor' - a strong mode of expression, denoting that there would be a state of mutual strife, and violation of rights; compare 1 Kings 20:20.

The child ... - All ranks of society shall be broken up. All respect due from one rank in life to another shall be violated.

Shall behave himself proudly - The word used here means rather to "urge," or "press on." The child shall "crowd on" the old man. This was particularly descriptive of a state of anarchy and disorder, from the fact that the Jews inculcated so much respect and deference for age; see the note at Isaiah 3:2.

The ancient - The old man.

And the base - The man of low rank in life. The word properly means the man that is despised, the vile, the ignoble; 1 Samuel 18:23; Proverbs 7:9.

The honorable - All the forms of respect in life would be broken up; all the proper rules of deference between man and man would be violated. Neither dignity, age, nor honor would be respected.

When a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand:
When a man shall take hold ... - In this verse, and the following verses, the prophet continues to describe the calamitous and ruined state that would come upon the Jews; when there would be such a want of wealth and people, that they would seize upon anyone that they thought able to defend them. The act of "taking hold" here denotes "supplication" and "entreaty," as when one in danger or distress clings to that which is near, or which may be likely to aid him; compare Isaiah 4:1; 1 Samuel 15:27,

His brother - His kinsman, or one of the same tribe and family - claiming protection because they belonged to the same family.

Of the house of his father - Descended from the same paternal ancestors as himself. Probably this refers to one of an ancient and opulent family - a man who had kept himself from the civil broils and tumults of the nation, and who had retained his property safe in the midst of the surrounding desolation. In the previous verse, the prophet had said that one characteristic of the times would be a want of respect for "the aged" and "the honorable." He here says that such would be the distress, that a man would be "compelled" to show respect to rank; he would look to the ancient and wealthy families for protection.

Thou hast clothing - In ancient times wealth consisted very much in changes of garments; and the expression, 'thou hast clothing,' is the same as 'you are rich, you are able to assist us;' see Exodus 12:34; Exodus 20:26; Genesis 45:22; 2 Kings 5:5.

And let this ruin ... - This is an expression of entreaty. 'Give us assistance, or defense. We commit our ruined and dilapidated affairs to thee, and implore thy help.' The Septuagint reads this, 'and let my food,' that is, my support, 'be under thee' - do thou furnish me food. There are some other unimportant variations in the ancient versions, but the sense is substantially given in our translation. It is expressive of great distress and anarchy - when there would be no ruler, and every man would seek one for himself. The whole deportment evinced here by the suppliant is one of submission, distress, and humility.

In that day shall he swear, saying, I will not be an healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: make me not a ruler of the people.
In that day shall he swear - Hebrew, ישׁא yı̂shā' 'Shall he lift up' - that is, the voice, or the hand. To lift up the hand was one of the modes of taking an oath. Perhaps it means only that he should lift up "the voice" - that is, "should answer;" compare Numbers 14:1. The Vulgate, the Septuagint, and the Chaldee, read it simply 'he shall answer.'

I will not be an healer - Hebrew, 'a binder up,' Isaiah 1:6. The Vulgate renders it, 'I am not a physician.' The Septuagint and the Chaldee, 'I am not sufficient to be a leader.' The meaning is, that the state of affairs was so ruinous and calamitous that he would not attempt to restore them; as if, in the body, disease should have so far progressed that he would not undertake to restore the person, and have him "die" under his hands, so as to expose himself to the reproach of being an unsuccessfill and unskillful physician.

Is neither bread nor clothing - I am not rich. I have not the means of providing for the needs of the people, or to maintain the rank of a ruler. 'It is customary,' says Sir John Chardin, 'to gather together an immense quantity of clothes, for their fashions never alter.' 'The kings of Persia have great wardrobes, where they have always many hundreds of habits ready, designed for presents, and sorted.' - "Lowth." The description here is one of very great calamity and anarchy. So great would be the ruin and danger, that men would be unwilling to be chosen to the office of princes and rulers, and none could be found who would desire to possess the highest honors of the nation. Generally men "aspire" to office; here they were unwilling, on account of the disordered and ruined state of affairs, even to accept of it.

For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the LORD, to provoke the eyes of his glory.
For Jerusalem ... - The prophet proceeds to show the cause of this state of things. 'These are the words of the prophet, and not of him who was chosen leader.' - "Jerome."

Is ruined - It would be so ruined, and the prospect of preserving it would be so completely taken away, that no one could be induced to undertake to defend and protect it.

Judah - The kingdom of Judah, of which Jerusalem was the capital; Note Isaiah 1:1.

Is fallen - Hebrew, "falls;" that is, is about to fall - as a tower or a tree falls to ruin. If the "capital" fell and was ruined, the kingdom would also fall as a matter of course.

Because their tongue ... - This is the "reason" why Judah was ruined. By word and deed - that is, in every way they opposed God. The "tongue" here represents their "language," their manner of speaking. It was proud, haughty, rebellious, perhaps blasphemous.

To provoke - To irritate; to offend.

The eyes of his glory - This is a Hebrew expression to denote "his glorious eyes." The eye quickly expresses anger or indignation. We perceive these passions in the flashing of the eye sooner than in any other part of the countenance. Hence, to "provoke the eyes," is an expression signifying simply to excite to anger, or to excite him to punish them. Lowth proposes to render this 'to provoke the cloud of his glory' - referring to the Shekinah or cloud that rested over the ark in the temple. By a slight variation of the Hebrew text, reading ענן ‛ânân instead of עני ‛ēnēy, it may be so read, and the Syriac so translates it: but the change in the Hebrew text does not seem to be authorized.

The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.
The show of their countenance - The word rendered "the show" is probably derived from a word signifying "to know," or "to recognize," and here denotes "impudence" or "pride." Septuagint, 'The shame of their face.'

Doth witness against them - "Answers" to them; or "responds" to them (ענתה ‛ânetâh). There is a correspondence between the feeling of the heart and the looks, an "answering" of the countenance to the purposes of the soul that shows their true character, and betrays their plans. The prophet refers here to the great law in physiology that the emotions of the heart will be usually "expressed" in the countenance; and that by the marks of pride, vanity, and malice there depicted, we may judge of the heart; or as it is expressed in our translation, that the expression of the face will "witness" against a wicked man.

They declare ... - By their deeds. Their crimes are open and bold. There is no attempt at concealment.

As Sodom - see Genesis 19:5; compare the note at Isaiah 1:10.

Wo unto their soul - They shall bring woe upon themselves; they deserve punishment. This is an expression denoting the highest abhorrence of their crimes.

They have rewarded evil ... - They have brought the punishment upon themselves by their own sins.

Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.
Say ye to the righteous - The meaning of this verse and the following is sufficiently plain, though expositors have given some variety of interpretation. They declare a great principle of the divine administration similar to what is stated in Isaiah 1:19-20. Lowth reads it, 'Pronounce ye a blessing on the just; verily good (shall be to him).'

That it shall be well ... - The word rendered 'well,' means 'good.' The sense evidently is, that in the divine administration it shall be well to be righteous. The Septuagint has rendered this in a remarkable manner, connecting it with the previous verse: 'Wo unto their soul, for they take evil counsel among themselves, saying, 'Let us bind the righteous, for he is troublesome unto us:' therefore, they shall eat the fruit of their doings.'

They shall eat ... - That is, they shall receive the appropriate "reward" of their works, and that reward shall be happiness. As a farmer who sows his field and cultivates his farm, eats the fruit of his labor, so shall it be with the righteous. A similar expression is found in Proverbs 1:31 :

Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way,

And be filled with their own devices.

Also Jeremiah 6:19 : 'I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thought;' compare Galatians 6:8.

Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.
Wo unto the wicked - To all the wicked - but here having particular reference to the Jews whom Isaiah was addressing.

It shall be ill with him - The word "ill" is the only word here in the original. It is an emphatic mode of speaking - expressing deep abhorrence and suddenness of denunciation. 'Woe to the impious! Ill!'

For the reward of his hands - Of his conduct. The hands are the instruments by which we accomplish anything, and hence, they are put for the whole man.

Shall be given him - That is, shall be repaid to him; or he shall be justly recompensed for his crimes. This is the principle on which God rules the world. It shall be well here and hereafter, with those who obey God; it shall be ill here and forever, with those who disobey him.

As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.
As for my people, children are their oppressors - This refers, doubtless, to their civil rulers. They who "ought" to have been their "protectors," oppressed them by grievous taxes and burdens. But whether this means that the rulers of the people were "literally" minors, or that they were so in "disposition and character," has been a question. The original word is in the singular number (מעולל me‛ôlēl), and means a "child," or an infant. It may, however, be taken collectively as a noun of multitude, or as denoting more than one. To whom reference is made here cannot easily be determined, but possibly to "Ahaz," who began to reign when he was twenty years old; 2 Kings 16:2. Or it may mean that the "character" of the princes and rulers was that of inexperienced children, unqualified for government.

Are their oppressors - literally, 'are their exactors,' or their "taxers" - the collectors of the revenue.

And women rule over them - This is not to be taken literally, but it means either that the rulers were under the influence of the "harem," or the females of the court; or that they were effeminate and destitute of vigor and manliness in counsel. The Septuagint and the Chaldee render this verse substantially alike: 'Thy exactors strip my people as they who gather the grapes strip the vineyard.'

They which lead thee - Hebrew "They who bless thee, or call thee blessed." (See the margin.) This refers, doubtless, to the public teachers, and the false prophets, who "blessed" or flattered the people, and who promised them safety in their sins.

Cause thee to err - Lead you astray; or lead you into sin and danger.

And destroy - Hebrew "Swallow up."

The LORD standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people.
The Lord standeth up - To "stand up" may mean the same as to "arise." God would not sit in silence and see their wicked conduct; but he would come forth to inflict on them exemplary and deserved chastisement.

To plead - To "litigate," to contend with, that is, to condemn, to inflict punishment.

The LORD will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
With the ancients ... - With the old men, the counselors.

Ye have eaten up the vineyard - Hebrew 'Ye have burnt up' - that is, you have oonsumed or destroyed it. By the vineyard is represented the Jewish republic or people; Psalm 80:9-13; compare the notes at Isaiah 5:1-7. The princes and rulers had, by their exactions and oppressions, ruined the people, and destroyed the country.

The spoil of the poor - The "plunder" of the poor; or that which you have taken from the poor by exactions and oppressions. The word "spoil" commonly means the plunder or booty which is obtained in war.

What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord GOD of hosts.
What mean ye - What is your object? Or, What advantage is it to you? Or, By what right or pretence do you do this?

Beat my people to pieces - That is, that you trample on them; or cruelly oppress them; Psalm 94:5.

And grind the faces of the poor - This is an expression also denoting great oppression. It is taken from the act of grinding a substance on a stone until it is worn away and nothing is left. So, by their cruel exactions, by their injustice to the poor, they exhausted their little property until nothing was left. The word "faces" here is synonymous with "persons" - or with the poor themselves. The word "face" is often used in the sense of "person;" Exodus 33:14; 2 Samuel 18:11. A similar description, though in still stronger language, is found in Micah 3:2-3 :

Who pluck off their skin from off them,

And their flesh from off their bones;

Who also eat the flesh of my people,

And flay their skin from off them;

And they break their bones, and chop them in pieces,

As for the pot, and as flesh within the caldron.

Moreover the LORD saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:
Moreover, the Lord saith - In the previous parts of this prophecy, the prophet had rebuked the princes, magistrates, and the people generally. In the remainder of this chapter, he reproves with great severity the pride, luxury, and effeminacy of the female part of the Jewish community. Some interpreters have understood this as designed to reprove the pride and luxury of the "cities" and "towns" of Judah, regarded as "daughters of Zion;" see the note at Isaiah 1:8. But this interpretation is far-fetched and absurd. On this principle everything in the Bible might be turned into allegory.

The daughters of Zion - Jewish females; they who dwelt in "Zion." Perhaps he means particularly those who dwelt in Zion, the capital - or the females connected with the court. It is probable that the prophet here refers to the prosperous reign of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:5, ...), when by successful commerce luxury would naturally abound.

Are haughty - Are proud.

And walk with stretched-forth necks - Displaying the neck ostentatiously; elevating or extending it as far as possible. Septuagint, ὑψηλῷ τραχήλῳ hupsēlō trachēlō, with elevated or exalted neck; that is, with that indication of pride and haughtiness which is evinced by a lofty demeanour. 'When the females dance (in India), they stretch forth their necks, and hold them away, as if their heads were about to fall from their shoulders.' - "Roberts."

And wanton eyes - עינים וּמשׁקרות ûmeshaqerôth ‛ēynāyı̂m. The word שׁקר shâqar usually means "to lie, to deceive," and may here refer to the art of alluring by a wanton or fascinating glance of the eye. There has been great diversity of opinion about the meaning of this expression. Lowth proposes to read it, 'and falsely setting off their eyes with paint,' in allusion to a custom known to prevail in the East, of coloring the eye-lids with stibium, or the powder of lead ore. This was done the better to exhibit the white of the eye, and was supposed by many to contribute to the healthful action of the eye itself. This practice is known to prevail extensively now; but it is not clear that the prophet here has reference to it. The expression is usually interpreted to mean 'deceiving with the eyes,' that is, "alluring" or "enticing" by the motion of the eyes. The "motion" of the eyes is mentioned Proverbs 6:13-14 as one mode of "deceiving" a person:

He winketh with his eyes,

He speaketh with his feet,

He teacheth with his fingers;

Frowardness is in his heart,

He deviseth mischief continually.

Compare the notes at Job 42:14. The meaning here, doubtless, is, that they attempted to entice by the "motion" or "glance" of the eye. The Chaldee seems to have understood this of staining the eyes with stibium.

Mincing as they go - Margin, 'Tripping nicely;' that is, walking with an affected gait - a mode which, unhappily, is too well known in all ages to need a more particular description. Roberts, speaking of the dance in India, says, 'Some parts of the dance consist of a tripping or mincing step, which they call tatte-tatee. The left foot is put first, and the inside of the right keeps following the heel of the former.'

And making a tinkling with their feet - That is, they adorn themselves with "ankle rings," and make a tinkling or noise with them to attract attention. The custom of wearing rings on the fingers and wrists has been common every where. In addition to this, Oriental females often wore them on the "ankles" - a custom in itself not more unreasonable or absurd. The custom is mentioned by travelers in Eastern countries in more modern times. Thus, Michaelis says, 'In Syria and the neighboring provinces, the more opulent females bind ligaments around their feet, like chains, or bracelets, united by small chains of silver and gold, and exhibit them by their sound as they walk.' And Pliny ("Nat. Hist.," lib. xxiii., ch. 12) says, 'Silver has succeeded to gold in the luxury of the females who form bracelets for their feet of that, since an ancient custom forbids them to wear gold.' Frequent mention is made of these ornaments, says Rosenmuller, in the Arabic and Persian poems. Roberts, speaking of the ornaments on the feet of females in India, says, 'The first is a large silver curb like that which is attached to a bridle; the second is of the same kind, but surrounded by a great number of small bells; the third resembles a bracelet; and the fourth is a convex hoop, about two inches deep.'

Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will discover their secret parts.
Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab - There is some diversity of rendering to this expression. The Septuagint reads it: 'The Lord will humble the principal daughters of Zion' - those who belong to the court, or to the families of the princes. The Chaldee, 'The Lord will prostrate the glory of the daughters of Zion.' The Syriac is the same. The Hebrew word שׂפח s'ı̂phach, translated 'will smite with a scab,' means to "make bald," particularly to make the hair fall off by sickness. Our translation conveys the idea essentially, that is, that God would visit them with disease that would remove the hair which they regarded as so great an ornament, and on which they so much prided themselves. Few things would be so degrading and humiliating as being thus made bald. The description in this verse means, that God would humble and punish them; that they who so adorned themselves, and who were so proud of their ornaments, would be divested of their joyful attire, and be borne naked into captivity in a foreign land.

In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon,
In that day - That is, in the time when he would inflict this exemplary punishment on them - probably the calamitous times of the Babylonian captivity.

The Lord will take away - By the agents that he shall choose to employ in this work. - The prophet proceeds to specify the various ornaments that composed the female apparel in his time. It is not easy to describe them particularly, nor is it necessary. The "general" meaning of the passage is plain: and it is clear from this, that they greatly abounded in ornaments.

The bravery - This word "we" apply to valor or courage. The word here used, however, meaus "ornament, adorning," or "glory."

Of their tinkling ornaments - This is the same word which is used in Isaiah 3:16, and refers to the chains or clasps with which they ornamented their feet and ankles, and which made a tinkling noise as they walked.

And their cauls - Margin, 'net-works.' The Septuagint is the same. It is commonly supposed to mean "caps of net-work" worn on the head. According to others, the word refers to small "suns" or "spangles" worn on the hair, answering to the following word "moons." 'The caul is a strap, or girdle, about four inches long, which is placed on the top of the head, and which extends to the brow, in a line with the nose. The one I have examined is made of gold, and has many joints; it contains forty-five rubies, and nine pearls, which give it a net-work appearance.' - "Roberts."

Their round tires like the moon - Hebrew "moons." This refers to small ornaments in the shape of crescents, or half-moons, commonly worn on the neck. They were also sometimes worn by men, and even by camels; Judges 8:21 (margin), Judges 8:26. It is probable that these ornaments might originally have had some reference to the moon as an object of worship, but it does not appear that they were so worn by the females of Judea - They are still worn by the females of Arabia. - "Rosenmuller." Roberts says of such ornaments in India, 'The crescent is worn by Parvati and Siva, from whom proceed the lingam, and the principal impurities of the system. No dancing girl is in full dress without her round tires like the moon.' This ornament is still found under the name of "chumarah." 'The chumarah, which signifies moon, is a splendid ornament worn by the women of western Asia in front of their head-dresses. It is usually made of gold, set with precious stones and pearls. They are sometimes made of the crescent form, but the most common are such as the engraving represents. They often have Arabic characters inscribed upon them, and sometimes a sentence from the Koran is used by the Mahometan women of Arabia Felix.'

The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers,
The chains - Margin, "sweet balls." The word used here is derived from the verb נטף nâṭaph, to drop, to fall in drops, or to distil," as juice from a plant. Hence, it means that which "resembles drops" - as pearls, or precious stones, used as ornaments for the neck or ears. We retain a similar word as applicable to the ornaments of the ears, by calling them "drops." The Chaldee renders this "chains," and so also the Vulgate. The Septuagint understands it of a "hanging" or "pendant" ornament - and this is its undoubted meaning - an ornament pendant like gum distilling from a plant. 'These consist, first, of one most beautifully worked, with a pendant ornament for the neck; there is also a profusion of others which go round the same part, and rest on the bosom. In making curious chains, the goldsmiths of England do not surpass those of the East.' - "Roberts."

And the bracelets - For the wrists. The Chaldee translates it, 'bracelets for the hands.' These ornaments were very ancient; see Genesis 24:22; Numbers 31:50. - Mahomet promises to those who shall follow him, gold and silver bracelets. 'The bracelets are large ornaments for the wrists, in which are sometimes enclosed small bells.' - "Roberts."

Mufflers - Margin, "spangled ornaments." The word used here is derived from a verb, "to tremble, to shake" - רעל râ‛al - and the name is given to the ornament, whatever it was, probably from its "tremulous" motion. Perhaps it means a "light, thin veil;" or possibly, as in the margin, spangled ornaments, producing a tremulous, changing aspect. In Zechariah 7:2, the word is used to denote 'trembling' - giddiness, or intoxication. It was early customary, and is still common in Oriental countries, for the females to wear veils. No female ventures abroad without her veil. That which is supposed to be intended here, is described by the Arabian scholiast Safieri, quoted by Gesenius. It is drawn tight over the upper part of the head, but the part around the eyes is open, and a space left to see through, and the lower part is left loose and flowing, and thus produces the "tremulous" appearance indicated in this place; see the notes and illustrations at Isaiah 3:24.

The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings,
The bonnets - The "tiara, head-dress, or turban." The word comes from the verb "to adorn." The "turban" is almost universally worn in the East. It was worn by the priests, Exodus 39:28; by the bridegroom, Isaiah 61:10; Ezekiel 24:17; and by women. Its form is well known.

And the ornaments for the legs - The word used here is derived from a verb signifying "to walk, to go," particularly to walk in a stately and formal manner - with a measured step, הצעדות hatse‛ādôth, from צעד tsâ‛ad; and thus refers to a proud and lofty gait. The "ornament" which is here referred to is supposed to have been a short chain extending from one foot to the other, worn by the Eastern women to give them a measured and stately gait. - "Gesenius." This "chain" is supposed to have been attached by hooks or clasps to the 'tinkling ornaments' mentioned in Isaiah 3:16. Safieri mentions these ornaments, and thus describes them: 'The word denotes a small chain, with which females, when they walk, connect their feet, in order to make their steps equal.' Happily these ornaments are unknown in modern times, at least in Western countries. They are still retained in the East.

And the head-bands - This word means "girdles" of any kind, still commonly worn on the head. A picture in the book illustrates one of the usual forms of the head-band.

And the tablets - The Hebrew is, as in the margin, 'the houses of the soul.' The word translated "soul" means also the "breath;" and hence, as one of its meanings, that which is "breathed," "or which is smelled; "scent; fragrancy, odor." The word "houses" here may denote also "boxes" - as boxes of perfumes. The phrase here means, undoubtedly, "smelling boxes" or "bottles," containing perfumes or fragrant odors. The word "tablets" has no meaning here.

And the ear-rings - It is by no means certain that the original means ear-rings. The word לחשׁים lechāshı̂ym is derived from the verb לחשׁ lâchash signifying "to whisper," and then "to conjure, to charm" (see the note at Isaiah 3:3); and here probably denotes precious stones worn by the females as "amulets" or "charms." The word is often used to denote charming "serpents" - from their "hissing" and it has been supposed probable that these amulets were small images of serpents. There is no doubt that such ornaments were worn by Oriental females. 'These ornaments seem to have been amulets, often gems and precious stones, or plates of gold and silver, on which certain magic formulas were inscribed, which were worn suspended from the neck or ears by Oriental females.' - "Gesenius." The following extract will furnish an explanation of these ornaments: 'Besides ornamental rings in the nose and the ears, they (Oriental females) wore others round the legs, which made a tinkling as they went.

This custom has also descended to the present times, for Rauwolf met with a number of Arabian women on the Euphrates, whose ankles and wrists were adorned with rings, sometimes a good many together, which, moving up and down as they walked, made a great noise. Chardin attests the existence of the same custom in Persia, in Arabia, and in very hot countries, where they commonly go without stockings, but ascribes the tinkling sound to little bells fastened to those rings. In the East Indies, golden bells adorned the feet and ankles of the ladies from the earliest times; they placed them in the flowing tresses of their hair; they suspended them round their necks, and to the golden rings which they wore on their fingers, to announce their superior rank, and extort the homage which they had a right to expect from the lower orders; and from the banks of the Indus, it is probable the custom was introduced into the other countries of Asia. The Arabian females in Palestine and Syria delight in the same ornaments, and, according to the statements of Dr. Clarke, seem to claim the honor of leading the fashion.' - 'Their bodies are covered with a long blue tunic; upon their heads they wear two handkerchiefs, one as a hood, and the other bound over it, as a fillet across the temples.

Just above the right nostril, they place a small button, sometimes studded with pearl, a piece of glass, or any other glittering substance; this is fastened by a plug, thrust through the cartilage of the nose. Sometimes they have the cartilaginous separation between the nostrils bored for a ring, as large as those ordinarily used in Europe for hanging curtains; and this pendant in the upperlip covers the mouth; so that, in order to eat, it is necessary to raise it. Their faces, hands, and arms are tatooed, and covered with hideous scars; their eyelashes and eyes being always painted, or rather dirtied, with some dingy black or blue powder. Their lips are dyed of a deep and dusky blue, as if they had been eating blackberries. Their teeth are jet black; their nails and fingers brick red; their wrists, as well as their ankles, are laden with large metal cinctures, studded with sharp pyramidical knobs and bits of glass. Very ponderous rings are also placed in their ears.' - "Paxton."

The rings, and nose jewels,
The rings - Usually worn on the fingers.

And nose-jewels - The custom of wearing jewels in the "nose" has generally prevailed in savage tribes, and was common, and is still, in Eastern nations - among the Arabians, Persians, etc. Sir John Chardin says, 'It is the custom in almost all the East for the women to wear rings in their noses, in the left nostril, which is bored low down in the middle. These rings are of gold, and have commonly two pearls and one ruby between, placed in the ring. I never saw a girl or young woman in Arabia, or in all Persia, who did not wear a ring in this manner in her nostrils.' - Harmer's "Obs.," iv., p. 318. The picture in the book illustrates the usual form of this ornament in the East.

The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins,
The articles which are mentioned in the remaining part of this description, are entire articles of apparel; those which had preceded were chiefly single ornaments.

The changeable suits of apparel - The word which is used here in the original comes from a verb signifying "to pull of" as a shoe; to unclothe one's-self; and it here denotes the more "costly" or "valuable" garments, which are not worn on common occasions, and which are "laid aside" in ordinary employments. This does not refer to any "particular" article of dress, but to splendid and costly articles in general. 'The Eastern ladies take great pride in having many changes of apparel, because their fashions never alter. Thus the net brocades worn by their grandmothers are equally fashionable for themselves.' - "Roberts."

And the mantles - From the verb "to cover," or "to clothe." The word "mantle" does not quite express the force of the original. It means the fuller "tunic" which was worn over the common one, with sleeves, and which reached down to the feet. 'A loose robe,' says Roberts, 'which is gracefully crossed on the bosom.'

And the wimples - Our word "wimple" means a "hood," or "veil," but this is not the meaning of the Hebrew word in this place. It means a wide, broad garment, which could be thrown over the whole, and in which the individual usually slept. 'Probably the fine muslin which is sometimes thrown over the head and body.' - "Roberts."

And the crisping-pins - This phrase with us would denote "curling-irons." But the Hebrew here denotes a very different article. It means "money-bags," or "purses." These were often made very large, and were highly ornamented; compare 2 Kings 5:23. Frequently they were attached to the girdle.

The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.
The glasses - There is a great variety of opinion about the expression used here. That ancient Jews had "looking-glasses," or mirrors, is manifest from the account in Exodus 38:8. These "mirrors" were made of polished plates of brass. The Vulgate and Chaldee understand this of "mirrors." The Septuagint understands by it a "thin, transparent covering like gauze," perhaps like silk. The word is derived from the verb "to reveal, to make apparent," etc., and applies either to mirrors or to a splendid shining garment. It is probable that their excessive vanity was evinced by carrying small mirrors in their hands - that they might examine and adjust their dress as might be necessary. This is now done by females of Eastern nations. Shaw informs us that, 'In the Levant, looking-glasses are a part of female dress. The Moorish women in Barabary are so fond of their ornaments, and particularly of their looking-glasses, which they hang upon their breasts, that they will not lay them aside, even when, after the drudgery of the day, they are obliged to go two or three miles with a pitcher or a goat-skin to fetch water.' - "Burder." In Egypt, the mirror was made of mixed metal, chiefly of copper, and this metal was so highly polished, that in some of the mirrors discovered at Thebes, the luster has been partially restored, though they have been buried in the earth for many centuries. The mirror was nearly round, inserted in a handle of wood, stone, or metal, whose form varied according to the taste of the owner. The picture in the book will give you an idea of the ancient form of the mirror, and will show that they might be easily carried abroad as an ornament in public; compare Wilkinson's "Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians," vol. iii., pp. 384-386.

And the fine linen - Anciently, the most delicate and fine garments were made from linen which was obtained chiefly from Egypt; see the note at Luke 16:19.

And the hoods - Or, "turbans."

And the veils - This does not differ probably from the veils worn now, except that those worn by Eastern females are "large," and made so as to cover the head and the shoulders, so that they may be drawn closely round the body, and effectually conceal the person; compare Genesis 24:65.

And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.
And it shall come to pass - The prophet proceeds to denounce the "judgment" or "punishment" that would come upon them for their pride and vanity. In the calamities that would befall the nation, all their ornaments of pride and vainglory would be stripped off; and instead of them, they would exhibit the marks, and wear the badges of calamity and grief.

Instead of sweet smell - Hebrew בשׂם bôs'em, aromatics, perfumes, spicy fragrance; such as they used on their garments and persons. 'No one ever enters a company without being well perfumed; and in addition to various scents and oils, they are adorned with numerous garlands, made of the most odoriferous flowers.' - "Roberts." 'The persons of the Assyrian ladies are elegantly clothed and scented with the richest oils and perfumes. When a queen was to be chosen to the king of Persia, instead of Vashti, the virgins collected at Susana, the capital, underwent a purification of twelve months' duration, to wit: "six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odors." The general use of such precious oil and fragrant perfumes among the ancient Roamns, particularly among the ladies of rank and fashion, may be inferred from these words of Virgil:

Arabrosiaeque comae divinum vertice odorem Spiravere:

AEn. i.403.

"From her head the ambrosial locks breathed divine fragrance."


A stink - This word properly means the fetor or offensive smell which attends the decomposition of a deceased body. It means that the bodies which they so carefully adorned, and which they so assiduously endeavored to preserve in beauty by unguents and perfumes, would die and turn to corruption.

And instead of a girdle - Girdles were an indispensable part of an Oriental dress. Their garments were loose and flowing, and it became necessary to gird them up when they ran, or danced, or labored.

A rent - There has been a great variety of opinion about the meaning of this word. The most probable signification is that which is derived from a verb meaning "to go around, encompass;" and hence, that it denotes "a cord." Instead of the beautiful girdle with which they girded themselves, there shall be "a cord" - an emblem of poverty, as the poor had nothing else with which to gird up their clothes; a humiliating description of the calamities which were to come upon proud and vain females of the court.

And instead of well-set hair - Hair that was curiously braided and adorned. 'No ladies pay more attention to the dressing of the hair than these (the dancing girls of India), for as they never wear caps, they take great delight in this their natural ornament.' - "Roberts." Miss Pardoe, in 'The City of the Sultan,' says, that after taking a bath, the slaves who attended her spent an hour and a half in dressing and adorning her hair; compare 1 Peter 3:3.

Instead of a stomacher - It is not certainly known what is meant by this, but it probably means some sort of "girdle," or a platted or stiffened ornament worn on the breast. 'I once saw a dress beautifully plaited and stiffened for the front, but I do not think it common.' - "Roberts."

A girding of sackcloth - This is a coarse cloth that was commonly worn in times of affliction, as emblematic of grief; 2 Samuel 3:31; 1 Kings 20:31; 1 Kings 21:27; Job 16:15; Isaiah 32:11.

And burning - The word used here does not occur elsewhere. It seems to denote "a brand, a mark burnt in, a stigma;" perhaps a sun-burned countenance, indicating exposure in the long and wearisome journey of a captivity over burning sands and beneath a scorching sun.

Instead of beauty - Instead of a fair and delicate complexion, cherished and nourished with care. Some of the articles of dress shown in the book exhibit several varieties of the costume of an Oriental female. To what "particular" time the prophet refers in this chapter is not known, perhaps, however, to the captivity at Babylon. To whatever he refers, it is one of the most striking reproofs of vanity and pride, especially the pride of female ornament, any where to be found. And although he had "particular" reference to the Jewish females, yet there is no impropriety in regarding it as applicable to all such ornaments wherever they may be found. They indicate the same state of the heart, and they must meet substantially the same rebuke from God. The body, however delicately pampered and adorned, must become the prey of corruption. 'The worm shall feed sweetly on it, and the earth-worm shall be its covering;' compare Isaiah 14:2; Job 24:20. The single thought that the body must die - that it must lie and moulder in the grave - should check the love of frivolous adorning, and turn the mind to a far more important matter - the salvation of the soul, which cannot die; to 'the ornament of a weak and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price;' 1 Peter 3:4.

Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.
Thy men - This is an address to Jerusalem itself, by a change not uncommon in the writings of Isaiah. In the calamities coming on them, their strong men should be overcome, and fall in battle.

And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.
And her gates - Cities were surrounded with walls, and were entered through gates opening into the principal streets. Those gates became, of course, the places of chief confluence and of business; and the expression here means, that in all the places of confluence, or amidst the assembled people, there should be lamentation on account of the slain in battle, and the loss of their mighty men in war.

And she - Jerusalem is often represented as a female distinguished for beauty. It is here represented as a female sitting in a posture of grief.

Being desolate, shall sit upon the ground - To sit on the ground, or in the dust, was the usual posture of grief and mourning, denoting great depression and humiliation; Lamentations 2:10; Lamentations 3:28; Jeremiah 15:17; Job 3:13; Ezra 9:3-5. It is a remarkable coincidence, that in the medals which were made by the Romans to commemorate the captivity of Judea and Jerusalem, Judea is represented under the figure of a female sitting in a posture of grief, under a palm tree, with this inscription - judea capta. The passage here, however, refers not to the captivity by the Romans, but to the first destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. It is a tender and most affecting image of desolation. During the captivity at Babylon, it was completely fulfilled; and for ages since, Judea might be appropriately represented by a captive female sitting pensively on the ground.

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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