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Recap: The Book of Isaiah alternates between segments announcing good news for the remnant and bad news for the bulk. God’s judgment begins in his own house, as he repeatedly makes reference to “my people” in the judgment sections. Portions concerning the remnant occur in Isaiah 1:9, 25-27; 2:2-4, ,5; 4:2-6. Everything else so far concerns judgment on Judea and Jerusalem.
Though part of the preceding judgment section, a new motif begins in 3:16 against the “daughters of Sion,” LXX, “daughters of Zion,” ESV, and “women of Zion,” NET. The imagery here calls us back to 3:1, where Isaiah pronounces that the Lord will take away from Judea and Jerusalem, “the might man and mighty woman.” Everything from that point to this point has concerned “the mighty man.” From here (3:16) until the end of the section in 4:1, the pronouncement of judgment is cast in images of the female, “the mighty woman.”
As one reads through this portion, eventually the question arises, is the Lord irritated with the real women of Sion, or are these representative of something else? Could it be both? Isaiah begins in verse 1:1 by speaking of Judea and in verse 3 of Israel. In verse 4, the Lord is called, “the Holy One of Israel.” Verse 6 uses the motif of a human body for the nation Israel, while verse 7 clearly makes reference to the land, cities, and foreign nations. Verse 8 suddenly uses the phrase, “the daughter of Sion,” comparing her to “a vineyard,” “a storehouse of fruits in a garden of cucumbers,” and a “besieged city.” Isaiah is a poet, and he brings in these graphic metaphors to make his message understood. Underneath the images is the understanding that his concern is with the city of Jerusalem, the land inhabited by the nation, the nation of Israel itself, and the people whom God calls his own. But his judgments are against people, and the remnant he saves is a remnant of people.
Still in consideration of the question introduced in the paragraph above, are the women of 3:16-4:1 real women or representative of something else? Further evidence to consider is 2 Kings 19:21, “This is the word that the LORD has spoken concerning him [Sennacherib]: “She despises you, she scorns you– the virgin daughter of Zion; she wags her head behind you– the daughter of Jerusalem,” (ESV). In this quotation, “the virgin daughter of Zion” is equated with, “the daughter of Jerusalem,” where the former is a metaphor for the latter. The latter is also part metaphor, since, of course, cities don’t have daughters. Another verse to consider is Isaiah 10:32, “This very day he will halt at Nob; he will shake his fist at the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem,” (ESV). Here, it’s plain to see that the “mount of the daughter of Zion” is equated with “the hill of Jerusalem.”
Another verse to consider is, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” (Zephaniah 3:14, ESV). In this verse, the three phrases “daughter of Zion,” “Israel,” and “daughter of Jerusalem,” have all been anthropomorphized and are more or less equivalent. Finally, the verse, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey,” (Zechariah 9:9, ESV) illustrates how the “daughter of Zion” is equivalent to “daughter of Jerusalem.”
Therefore, based on these verses, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that in Isaiah 3:16-3:26, the daughters of Sion may refer to the residents of Jerusalem and perhaps even to the entire nation, as a religious entity. Comparing Israel to an unfaithful woman is not uncommon in Scripture. On the other hand, the scriptural examples given in the prior two paragraphs show the word “daughter” in its singular form, while in Isaiah 3:16, it is plural. The plural form is rare in Scripture, being found only in this verse, the next verse, then Isaiah 4:4, and last, Song of Solomon 3:11. The NET Bible apparently interprets “daughters of Zion” as concrete women, given that it translates the phrase as “women of Zion.” It’s notable how the change of one word gives the verse a different meaning, a more restricted meaning, than both the ESV and the LXE. While “daughters of Zion” may be interpreted as literal women, that is not the only possibility. But “women of Zion” loses the possibility of a metaphorical interpretation. Comment: As a reader, I much prefer the translations that stay close to the original text. These are the ESV, the KJV, NAB, and NRSV. When the NET Bible selects the meaning for me, then I’m not even aware that there is a question involved. I would not choose to study these other verses, not registering a need. Much of the richness of interacting with the text is thereby lost. It is true that NET places the literal translation in the margin, but its significance is minimized when relegated to the sidelines. And who reads all those marginal notes, anyway? Why not just place their own interpretation in the margin, and let the literal translation stand for itself in the actual text? If the reader has a question or would like more information, then they can consult the margin.
What then, as a One Small Voice reader, is my conclusion about these verses? I conclude that God is speaking metaphorically in this section of Isaiah. He’s allowing the phrase “daughters of Sion” to represent all the people, especially in their practice of religion and worship of himself. Clearly, he has no kind words for the actual women of Jerusalem, and their vanity and self-love describe well the character of the nation’s worship of Yahweh, God, at this time. The metaphor is tied very closely to the manners, dress, and movements of real women, of whom he is decidedly critical. I don’t believe, however, that he’s singling out the women in particular, but the nation as a whole. This corresponds with the prior segment, in which God’s judgment fell not upon concretely-literal high walls, cedars, oaks and physical ships. These are metaphors for proud people.
As the reader reads through the description of the daughters of Sion, try to see, hear, smell, and touch the various features richly described. Remember that the motif of this lengthy passage involves the theme of humbling by means of “taking away.” What does the Lord take away? What does he replace these items with?
The final verse of this section, 4:1, sums up the shame of these formerly proud women: seven women shall volunteer to become an unpaid harem for one man. No shame was greater for an adult woman of Israel in this historical era than to be without a husband. Representing the nation of Israel, these daughters of Sion will be like abandoned women, stripped down, nearly naked. This verse looks forward to Isaiah 54:5, which will bring a time of healing, redemption, and restoration to the remnant, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called,” (ESV).
Next time, Lord willing, I (and you who may be reading along with me) will move forward to a bright section, Isaiah 4:2-6.
[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.