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Isaiah 3:1-12

Daniel Tan

Isaiah 3:1-12 (NKJV)

For behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, Takes away from Jerusalem and from Judah The stock and the store, The whole supply of bread and the whole supply of water;

The mighty man and the man of war, The judge and the prophet, And the diviner and the elder;

The captain of fifty and the honourable man, The counsellor and the skilful artisan, And the expert enchanter.

“I will give children to be their princes, And babes shall rule over them.

The people will be oppressed, Every one by another and every one by his neighbour; The child will be insolent toward the elder, And the base toward the honourable.”

When a man takes hold of his brother In the house of his father, saying, “You have clothing; You be our ruler, And let these ruins be under your power,”

In that day he will protest, saying, “I cannot cure your ills, For in my house is neither food nor clothing; Do not make me a ruler of the people.”

For Jerusalem stumbled, And Judah is fallen, Because their tongue and their doings Are against the Lord, To provoke the eyes of His glory.

The look on their countenance witnesses against them, And they declare their sin as Sodom; They do not hide it. Woe to their soul! For they have brought evil upon themselves.

“Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, For they shall eat the fruit of their doings.

Woe to 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! Those who lead you cause you to err, And destroy the way of your paths.”

Today we will look at Isaiah 3 and the judgment that the Lord will bring upon Judah and Jerusalem for their wickedness. In the vein of the previous chapter, Isaiah takes up the message of judgment. A quick reminder here: Isaiah is NOT written fully chronologically. The chapters are probably arranged in a chronological order but they might not have occurred sequentially. Instead, because Isaiah is a collection of prophetic declarations and writings, there’s this notion that from chapter to chapter the context seems to jump here and there. Themes and ideas are repeated or even remote from the previous chapter. A good indicator is that some parts of Isaiah actually reference events earlier or later than previous sections. That is also why a verse by verse analysis of Isaiah is helpful. Because otherwise, the only other way to analyse ideas would be to categorise them into chunks, as many scholars have decided to do. This makes trying to read Isaiah slowly quite difficult since the actual text itself is not the easiest to understand. But let’s get into the text. The prophecy begins by Isaiah's declaration that God will take away from Judah and Jerusalem everything important. All the supply of “bread” and “water” (basically sustenance), “the mighty man and the man of war” (defences), “the judge and the prophet” (religious and legal systems), “the diviner and the elder” (voices of wisdom), “the captain of fifty and the honourable man” (important people), “the counsellor and the skilful artisan” (art and culture), and “the expert enchanter” (which I shall hazard a guess later). Mixed in with “proper” occupations are the things that wickedness has brought in, such as diviners and enchanters. Magic is very much frowned upon in God's eyes; not because of the source that it comes from but because of the source it doesn't come from — God. Magic is the utter opposite of relying on God’s power. People seek magic when they want answers and God doesn't seem to be providing them; such as King Saul, when he tried to summon Samuel’s spirit. We practice a bit of ‘magic’ nowadays too, when we trying everything else instead of believing in God's strength. Note that the Lord addresses basically every single thing that a country needs or wants — security, safety and structure. Everything is taken away. In their stead, the Lord proclaims to give children and babes to rule. People will be oppressed by one another and there will be rebellion in the same way that Judah and Jerusalem rebelled against God. Things go against their natural order, since children become insolent toward their elders and the base toward the honourable. This isn't about social hierarchy nor is it a critique on how kids these days are so disobedient and “see even the Bible says so”. To read it in such a simplistic manner is: (a) to take the Bible out of context, and (b) a complete naivety in reading the Bible.

Following on, you can witness the desperation that the Israelites are prophesied to face. Brother takes hold of brother and pleads for him to rule based on the smallest suppositions of authority. Even possession of clothing has to be better than the nakedness that Judah and Jerusalem will be sunk in. Instead of a city, only ruins remain. Yet each will protest against this, because who wants to be held accountable for the devastation of a fallen nation? And the truth behind these suppositions reveals itself: neither does this brother have clothing nor food, nor a cure for ills both physical or psychological. Of course, this other brother might be lying to shirk away the responsibility, but honestly the house of Judah here would be in such a bad state that it would be better not to try claiming any measure of responsibility. The only one who can really raise a devastated land from its rubble is God, and who would be able to claim themselves in that position? Isaiah makes it clear that this punishment is because of the wickedness of Judah and Jerusalem; in BOTH their words and their ways, they provoke God directly. The phrase used for the provocation here in the NKJV is “provoke the eyes of His glory”, while the NIV translates this to “defying His glorious presence”. Neither are particularly great renderings of the translation. Although the NKJV does a better job at getting the words across, it still requires context. “Eyes” here and in much of early Israelite culture did not literally mean the two orbs in our heads. It meant something more akin to sight, and the idea of the soul. Meanwhile, the word for “provoke” or “defy” here is translated from marah, the same word Naomi uses to describe herself when her sons died (Ruth 1:20). Thus a more accurate understanding might be to “rebel in bitterness against the glorious being of the Lord as if there were a proper reason to do so when there is not”. Evidently that doesn't really write very well in the actual text though. Judah and Jerusalem are likened to Sodom (vs. 9). Their faces betray their intents. These people, despite all else, are not repentant. Heck, they aren't even ashamed. Their sins are there for full display. Again, this brings to head the idea of bitter rebellion as if these people had any reason to feel that way towards God. Isaiah gives a slight bit of hope though, embedded within the doom and gloom. The righteous would reap the fruits of righteousness while the wicked would suffer ill. In this world where it may seem like the bad people get the good side of things and vice versa, something like this would be a great encouragement. I am certain that the righteous in Israel also felt that they were in the minority and that there wasn’t really a reason to stay fervent and steadfast. Yet this is an encouragement that when the time has elapsed and God will wait no more for repentance, the righteous WILL be rewarded and the wicked WILL be punished. God gives mercy and love, awaiting a change. But if there is none despite all the chances given, God will act. This section closes with the message that those who lead have led the people astray; something that is condemning of the leadership at that time. It is likely a critique on the state of the royal family and the ruling bodies, especially if it was nearing the time of Ahaz. A final note: once again, there can be the tendency to read vs. 12 with the same naive interpretations as I mentioned about vs. 5 “See! Women are not supposed to lead”. If you take it at face value and run with only that, I apologise for failing to deliver the rest of the passage adequately and that you are a chauvinist. Instead, take things into context. The passage says that if women were leading (despite not having the education or position in that society), it meant that all the men weren’t. Isaiah is employing not a literal sense of disdain for these mentioned parties but rather a literary tool to emphasise the unnaturalness and the misguidance. If women truly could not lead, the Bible would not have mentioned Deborah or had entire books dedicated to the leadership and wisdom of women (Ruth and Esther). Face-value interpretations of the Bible are a horrible stepping stone toward any political goals.

Daniel Tan

Daniel is currently and forevermore will be a student and a learner, trying to delve into the deep conundrums of life and seeing where the path leads. He enjoys linking different things in life back to God through strange and seemingly random connections. Daniel is in the Young Professionals ministry of the Central Christian Church.

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