[continuing from previous post]
The prophecy continues in its judgmental strain. Using the Septuagint as the main text, Isaiah 3:1 identifies that Judea and Jerusalem are still the subject. Whereas the bulk of chapter two describes God’s judgment with images of lowering, bringing down, humbling, Chapter 3 describes the same judgment with images of taking away, stripping, impoverishing.
Verses 1-3 in the Septuagint, and even in the ESV, read like poetry with well-balanced rhythmical lines:
Behold now, the Lord
the Lord of hosts
will take away from Jerusalem
and from Judea
the mighty man
and the mighty woman,
the strength of bread,
and the strength of water,
the great and mighty man,
the warrior and the judge,
and the prophet, and the cousellor,
and the elder, the captan of fifty also,
and the honourable counsellor,
and the wise artificer,
and the intelligent hearer (LXE, Brenton).
Verses 4-7 describe a topsy-turvy, backwards, upside-down, chaotic condition, one that breaks all the norms and rules. Youths will be the princes, rather than the elders; mockers shall have dominion, not the wise, helpful, and steadfast. In verse 5, the people shall fall: man upon man, every man upon his neighbour. The child shall insult the elder man, and the base [shall do likewise] to the honourable. [Reflection: Does this sound anything at all like our country today?] Verses 6 and 7 describe the lack of leadership, when men desperately grab at anyone and beg to be in subjection, but the situation is so bad that no one wants to take on that role.
In verses 8-12 God comments upon and interprets the situation. Verse 8 reads, “For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judea has fallen…” A footnote in the LXE for “ruined” refines the meaning as “forsaken, or, let go.” This is the same Greek (LXX) word we saw in Isaiah 2:6, where Brenton translates it as, “forsaken.” Thayer’s lexicon includes the definitions, “to leave, not to uphold, to let sink.” He cites Deuteronomy 31:6 and its quotation in Hebrews 13:5, “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” This had been Moses’s words to Joshua before he died. While Moses’s words to Joshua were fulfilled, here we have the opposite. The conditions God describes are what happens when he forsakes his people, abandons them, loosens the cords that bind, allowing them to perish when left on their own. It is as though they have lost their moorings, as a boat that loses its anchor in a safe harbor is carried by wind and wave out to sea, where it is overwhelmed, capsizes, and sinks. How tragic for anyone, let alone for the “people of God.”
Why has God done this? What could his people possibly have done that was so bad that he treated them this way? Verses 8-12 begin to answer these questions.
Interestingly, the very first item that God mentions in his explanation of why he has “ruined” (forsaken) Jerusalem and allowed Judea to fall is, “Their tongues have spoken with iniquity, disobedient as they are towards the Lord.” Comment: God does not consider “their tongues” to be a personality quirk that he should tolerate because their actions are good. Rather, their “words” (NET) and “speech” (ESV) are the very first item God considers. Their actions follow their tongues; those too display disobedience. No surprises here. Actions proceed from what is in the heart (Matthew 15:19, Luke 6:45), and the tongue reveals what the heart contains (Matthew 12:34, 15:18).
Verse 9 in modern language would read, I know you’re guilty by the look on your face. The depth of their depravity in God’s eyes is revealed by the phrase, “… like the people of Sodom they openly boast of their sin,” (NET).
The Septuagint text reads differently in verse 10 than the Masoretic. While the Masoretic (ESV and NET, for example) bring in “the righteous” in verse 10, the Septuagint more consistently sticks with the faults of God’s wayward people. It reads, “Woe to their soul, for they have devised an evil counsel against themselves, saying against themselves, Let us bind the just, for he is burdensome to us: therefore shall they eat the fruits of their works.” When a people condemn and imprison or otherwise hinder or gag a just person, this stands against them in God’s court of law. For example, the fact that the Israelite people in their latter days crucified the just Lord of glory, this fact stands against them in God’s eyes. Jesus also condemns their actions, “… the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation,” (Luke 11:47-51 ESV). Verse 11 declares that the current evil is happening to them as a turnaround of their own deeds. Basically, the verse states, What goes around comes around.
Verse 12 describes in greater detail the nature of the evil Jerusalem and Judea are reaping as a result of their silencing the just person among them, “Oppressors treat my people cruelly; creditors rule over them, (NET). The Septuagint contains an interesting statement, also in verse 12, “O my people, they that pronounce you blessed lead you astray, and pervert the path of your feet.” Comment: This is a very sad situation, when the leaders of the people are those who take financial advantage of them, while at the same time calling them, “blessed.” Clearly, God’s people have been deceived; they are being led astray and the paths they walk are crooked (verse 12). The fact that they don’t realize this is happening to them does not prevent God from punishing them. God’s allowing this to happen to them is itself the punishment, the result of their having rejected and silenced the true voice of God’s just person among them (verse 10). Today’s evangelical church in America needs to become aware and pray against deception, because, personally, I strongly feel that this is happening to them, as well.
Verses 13 and 14a declare that the Lord is about to bring his specific charges against them (“enter into judgment,” verses 13, 14, LXX). What are the specific charges God brings? NET clearly spells out their crime, “…”It is you who have ruined the vineyard! You have stashed in your houses what you have stolen from the poor,” (3:14). The Septuagint calls it, “my vineyard,”–God’s own vineyard–rather than “the vineyard.” This is better, because it allows the reader to interpret the phrase more metaphorically and indicates whose vineyard, which particular vineyard they have “set…on fire,” (LXX). “But why have ye set my vineyard on fire,” (verse 14, LXX). By using the phrase, “my vineyard,” God’s word makes clear that he means people, people he cares about. God is not talking about grapes they have destroyed with flames, but people, his people. Verses 14b and 15 make this clear, “… why is the spoil of the poor in your houses? 15 Why do ye wrong my people, and shame the face of the poor?” This is the most specific sin Isaiah has mentioned in this entire section, which began in verse 8. And what is it? It is the crime of robbing the poor. Comment: God is definitely angry. His anger is revealed by his having abandoned Jerusalem and Judea to reap the harvest of what they have sowed. And what have they sowed? They have robbed the poor and made their own homes comfortable with what they have taken. Forgive me, please, but I can’t help but ask, Why does the Scripture here make no mention of Marxism or socialism or even worse, communism? When certain of our own political candidates wish to shift the burden of taxation away from poor and the by-no-means-rich middle class to the wealthiest few percent, why is there such protest? I don’t find that kind of protest representing God or his word. God-is-concerned-about-the-poor. Isaiah 3:14-15 declares this.
Because verse 16 opens a new section of God’s complaint against Jerusalem and Judea, and because there is still quite a bit of text between this point and the next reprieve, which begins in Isaiah 4:2, we will stop here. And, Lord willing, we will continue.