Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Isaiah 3:1 to Isaiah 4:1. Judgement on the Rapacity and Luxury of the Upper Classes in Judah
The passage falls into two sections:—
i. Isaiah 3:1-15. A prediction of the impending dissolution of social order, due to the selfishness and tyranny of the ruling classes.
(1) Jehovah is about to remove all the existing pillars of the state, and hand over the land to the miseries of incompetent and capricious government (1–4). A state of anarchy will ensue, which will be felt to be intolerable even by those who have helped to bring it about. A graphic picture is presented of the futile efforts of the people to restore some semblance of authority (5–7).
(2) The reason of this visitation is next stated; the unblushing wickedness which prevails in the land has provoked the “eyes of Jehovah’s glory,” the chief guilt lying at the door of the court and the nobles (8–12). The section closes with a vision of judgment; Jehovah appears in person and sternly calls the authorities of His people to account for their abuse of the trust committed to them (13–15).
ii. Isaiah 3:16 to Isaiah 4:1. The second section, which is perhaps somewhat fragmentary, is devoted to the fashionable women of the capital. It contains:—
(1) A diatribe against the frivolity and extravagance of the ladies of Jerusalem, combined with a threat of the degradation in store for them (16–24).
(2) A picture of the desolation of the city, bereft of her defenders, who have fallen in war (25, 26).
(3) A description of the effect of this disaster on the surviving women, who in the depletion of the male population will scarcely find husbands to take away their reproach (Isaiah 4:1).
Throughout the passage the prophet’s point of view is somewhat different from that occupied in ch. Isaiah 2:6 ff. There it is the religious aspect of the people’s sin that is emphasised: pride, idolatry, and reliance on worldly power; here it is dealt with in its social aspect, as misgovernment, cruelty, luxury, &c. Again, the judgment in ch. 2 is represented as an overpowering physical catastrophe; here it is conceived as a destruction of the invisible bonds of society and a setting loose of the unruly passions of men to prey upon each other. This vivid apprehension of the evils of anarchy is instructive as the earliest indication of the statesmanlike quality of Isaiah’s genius, and his profound sense of the value of good government as the primary condition of national well-being.
1 ff. The collapse of the social fabric is to be brought about by the removal of the classes that contribute to the order and stability of the state. The state of things described might be the effect either of war and captivity (cf. 2 Kings 24:14; Jeremiah 24:1; Jeremiah 29:1) or of a political. revolution. The former view is the more natural, but it should be noted that in ch. Isaiah 9:8 ff. (addressed to North Israel, and nearly contemporary with this) a period of revolutionary anarchy precedes the crowning disaster of the Assyrian invasion.
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,1. the Lord, the Lord of hosts] as in Isaiah 1:24 : the Sovereign, Jehovah of Hosts.
the stay and the staff] The second word is the fem. form of the first. The conjunction of similar-sounding words (like “bag and baggage” in English) frequently expresses exhaustiveness. The meaning is simply “every kind of prop.” Cf. Nahum 2:10; Zephaniah 1:15.
the whole stay … water] This explanation is exceedingly unnatural in view of the enumeration which follows. The clause is probably a marginal gloss (readily suggested by such passages as Leviticus 26:26; Ezekiel 4:16; Psalm 105:16) which has crept into the text.
The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient,2. The mighty man, and the man of war] Hero and man of war. The profession of arms naturally stands first, Judah being still a military power of some pretensions. In ancient times, moreover, civil and military leadership were hardly separate.
The prophet is the professional prophet, scarcely distinguishable from the diviner (wrongly rendered prudent in A.V.), with whom he is bracketed. The word for ancient is that usually translated elder.
2, 3. A list of the officials and prominent persons who form the “props” of society. No clear principle of arrangement can be traced, although the titles tend to fall into pairs, and those in Isaiah 3:3 are perhaps of less distinction than those in Isaiah 3:2. The art. is better omitted throughout as in Heb.
The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counseller, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.3. honourable man] lit. “man of respect”; either one high in the king’s favour (2 Kings 5:1) or a man of good social standing, without official rank (Job 22:8).
cunning artificer] lit. “skilled in arts.” It is disputed whether the arts in question are mechanical or magical; hence the alternative “charmer “in R.V. marg. At all events
eloquent orator should be skilful enchanter (R.V.).
And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.4. The supreme power passing into the hands of weaklings, a Reign of Terror ensues among the people. The sudden change of speaker is very striking.
and babes …] Rather, and Outrage shall rule over them. The word rendered “babes” is really an abstract noun, occurring again only in ch. Isaiah 66:4 (A.V. “delusions”). It is derived from a verb meaning “to outrage” or “to insult” (see Jdg 19:25; 1 Samuel 31:4; Jeremiah 38:19; Numbers 22:29), and seems here to denote those personal affronts and outrages which invariably accompany social confusions. The rendering “capriciousness,” preferred by many, does not suit Isaiah 66:4. Some take the word as adverbial acc. (see R.V. marg. “with childishness shall they rule”), others think the abstract is used for the concrete (“capricious youths”). But the translation given is perhaps the most forcible,—Outrage instead of Justice.
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.5. A general description of the state of anarchy; “the bonds of discipline and order are loosed, all authority disappears” (Dillmann).
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:6, 7. Frantic but unsuccessful efforts will be made to induce some one to undertake the task of maintaining order, Isaiah 3:6 is the protasis, Isaiah 3:7 the apodosis. Render: When one man lays hold of another in his father’s house: “Thou hast a cloak, thou shalt he a ruler for us,” &c. It is the election of a local justice (kadi ch. Isaiah 1:10), not of a king or dictator, which is described; “not an isolated, but a frequently observed circumstance” (Cheyne). The choice of the people falls on a landed proprietor who has been fortunate enough to retain his ancestral estate (his “father’s house”), and whose outer garment is a sufficient badge of respectability. On ruler see Isaiah 1:10.
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.7. swear] better, protest, lit. “lift up (sc. his voice).”
healer] lit. “binder-up” (of the wounds of the state), see Isaiah 1:6in my house … clothing] “I am as poor as any of you.”
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.8. Jerusalem is ruined] A reference to the “ruin,” Isaiah 3:6.
their tongue and their doings] In word and deed they defy Jehovah and provoke the eyes of His glory. Cf. Habakkuk 1:13, “of too pure eyes to behold evil.”
8, 9. The ruin so vividly depicted is to the prophet’s mind as certain as if it had been already accomplished, because the moral condition of the country, and especially of its present rulers, is one that Jehovah cannot tolerate. The perfects in Isaiah 3:8 are those of prophetic certainty.
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.9. The shew of their countenance] The safest translation is that of R.V. marg., their respecting of persons, i.e. their partiality in judgment. The familiar phrase “respect persons” (see Deuteronomy 1:17, &c.) appears here in the nominal form, the usual infinitive being replaced by a verbal noun. It is not an objection to this view that such a charge only applies to a particular class. The prophet deals with the nation throughout as a political unity, and he knows that the whole people must suffer for the sins of the rulers.
they declare … hide it not] or, they declare their sin, like Sodom, undisguisedly. On the construction see Davidson, Synt. § 41, R. 3.
Woe unto their soul …] or, Woe to themselves for they have done themselves evil. The injustice they have done to others witnesses against them and recoils on their own heads.
Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.10. Say ye to the righteous] R.V. “say ye of the righteous.” But with a slight change in the consonantal text we may read Happy is the righteous! for it is well [with him]. The Heb. would then present an exact parallel to the beginning of the next verse.
10, 11. The exclamation at the end of Isaiah 3:9 leads to a statement of the universal law of divine retribution. The verses are thought by some to be interpolated, and even Dillmann admits that they fit but loosely into the context.
Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given 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.12. The threat of Isaiah 3:4 is already on the way to be fulfilled; the conditions of anarchy are present in the childish character of the reigning monarch, Ahaz. Cf. Ecclesiastes 10:16. The prophet’s pity for the nation breaks out in the repeated exclamation, “My people!”
children are their oppressors, &c.] Rather, his tyrant (plural of majesty) is a child and women role over him (i.e. the people): the queen-mother and women of the harem attain an undue and dangerous influence under such a régime.
they which lead thee cause thee to err] thy leaders are misleaders, an expression found again in Isaiah 9:16. The word for “lead” is that used in Isaiah 1:17, “set right.”
destroy] have swallowed up; according to others: “have confused.” The meaning is that the landmarks of national righteousness have been effaced from the minds of the people by the conduct of its statesmen and guides.
The LORD standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people.13. The verse reads: Jehovah has stationed himself to plead, and is standing to Judge peoples. Instead of “peoples” LXX. reads “his people” (cf. Deuteronomy 32:36), which is easier, since there is nothing to indicate that a world-judgment is contemplated. It is doubtful whether the word can denote the separate tribes of Israel. If the Heb. text be retained, the idea must be that of a general assize, in which Israel is judged first.
13–15. A judgment scene, somewhat loosely connected with what has gone before, but expressing in another form the same sympathy with the oppressed which appears in Isaiah 3:12. Jehovah, at once accuser and judge, comes to vindicate the cause of the poor against their oppressors.
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.14. Those immediately arraigned are the “elders and princes,” the authorities responsible for the national welfare.
for ye have eaten up] Rather, And you—ye have eaten up. The indignant remonstrance of Jehovah commences at this point. The image of the vineyard is fully explained in ch. Isaiah 5:1-7. The point of the accusation here is that those who should have kept the vineyard from the intrusion of wild beasts have themselves devoured it.
the spoil … houses] the evidence of their sin.
What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord GOD of hosts.15. The strongest metaphors are used to express the cruelty with which the poor are treated.
What mean ye that ye crush my people (Proverbs 22:22), and grind the face of the afflicted as between two millstones, determined to wring the uttermost farthing from them. The expression does not occur elsewhere, but in its fierce energy it may be compared with Micah 3:2 and Amos 2:7.
16–4:1. An oracle addressed to the women of Jerusalem. Like Amos (Isaiah 4:1-3) in Samaria, Isaiah sees in the luxury of these pampered ladies a measure of the extortions practised by their husbands (cf. also ch. Isaiah 32:9-12).
16, 17 are connected as protasis and apodosis.
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:16. daughters of Zion] The “haughtiness” of the daughters of Zion is displayed in their gestures as they walk abroad. They walk with outstretched neck, and ogling with their eyes; tripping along they go, and tinkling with their feet. The reference in the last words is to the jingling sound of the anklets (Isaiah 3:18) and the short chain uniting them (Isaiah 3:20); the latter also produced the tripping gait mentioned in the previous clause.
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.17. smite with a scab] In Heb. a single verb formed from the noun found in Leviticus 13:2; Leviticus 13:6 ff. (the law of leprosy).
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,18. tinkling ornaments about their feet] anklets, see on Isaiah 3:16, where the verb “tinkling” is a denominative from this word. cauls … round tires like the moon] Probably the little suns (others, “wreaths”) and the little moons (Jdg 8:21; Jdg 8:26, R.V. “ornaments”). Both articles are said to be still worn by Arab women.
18–23. A long and obscure inventory of articles of feminine attire, occurring “in a profusion which it is difficult to represent” (Cheyne). It is reassuring to be reminded by Dillmann that all these things (21 in number) were not necessarily worn at one time. It should also be noted that many of the ornaments specified were used as charms, as is the case with Eastern ornaments to the present day.
The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers,19. The ear-drops (Jdg 8:26, R.V. “collars”) and the arm-chains and the veils—the last (the Arabian ra‘l) is in two parts, one thrown back over the head from above the eyes, the other hanging down over the face.
The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings,20. The tiaras (Exodus 39:28; Ezekiel 24:17; Isaiah 61:3; Isaiah 61:10 [R.V.]) and the foot-chains (see on Isaiah 3:16; others, “bracelets,” as in 2 Samuel 1:10, a slightly different word), and the girdles and the scent-bottles, and the amulets.
The rings, and nose jewels,21. rings] seal-rings, worn on the finger.
nose jewels] Genesis 24:47.
The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins,22. The festal garments (Zechariah 3:4) and the tunics and the shawls (Ruth 3:15) and the purses (2 Kings 5:23).
The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.23. The mirrors (made of polished metal, see ch. Isaiah 8:1) and the shifts (Jdg 14:12 f.) and the turbans and the overalls (a kind of veil, Song of Solomon 5:7).
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.24. A description of the degradation of the high-born women of Jerusalem, reduced to beggary and slavery. The verse would appear to connect better with Isaiah 3:17 than with 18–23.
instead of … stink] R.V. instead of sweet spices (lit. “balsam”) there shall be rottenness. a rent] Render with R.V. a rope.
well set hair] artificial curls (Cheyne), lit. “turner’s work.”
baldness] the result of disease, Isaiah 3:17, or, possibly, a sign of mourning.
a stomacher] an obscure word; perhaps mantle.
branding instead of beauty; branding the symbol of slavery.
Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.25. The words for “men” and “mighty” (lit. “might”) are poetical terms.
25, 26. A poetic personification of Jerusalem, the mother city, mourning the loss of her sons and defenders.
And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.26. her gates] the places of rendezvous in Eastern cities. lament and mourn] because they are now deserted. Cf. Lamentations 1:4; Jeremiah 14:2.
and she, emptied, shall sit upon the ground] Cf. ch. Isaiah 47:1; Lamentations 2:10; Job 2:13.