It is probably safe to say that the average Christian’s knowledge of the Biblical book of Isaiah is limited to only a short passage or two. One of these is the famous prophecy of the future glory of the millennial city of Jerusalem found in chapter 2, verses 2 through 4: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Most church ministers bounce around the Bible picking only a few choice short passages here and there, usually out of the context of each prophet’s complete message, and few who read these verses go on to consider the significance of the chapters that follow. In the case of Isaiah, his vision of far off future millennial glory was followed up by a warning of approaching death, destruction and slavery due to their national sins. The famous early eighteenth century Bible commentator, Matthew Henry (1662-1714), titled Isaiah chapter three, “God’s Judgment on Jerusalem.” Although people do not want to hear bad news, the truth is that there are parallels in this ancient text for us in modern America.
The prophet Isaiah lived during momentous times in ancient Judah, from about 740 to 686 B.C., during the reigns of four kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. The first two of these kings were relatively righteous and effective rulers, and gave Judah political supremacy, prosperity and security. Yet trouble was on the horizon. The kingdom of Judah comprised only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and was no larger in size than two or three American counties. The much larger kingdom of Israel to the north included the remaining ten tribes of Israel, and was conquered and exiled by the Assyrians in 732 and 722 B.C. Yet Judah took no heed to her own plight. Isaiah’s warning of Jerusalem’s destruction was foretold a full century before the end came in 587 B.C. at the hands of the Babylonians, yet its end was so certain that the prophet’s language was unequivocal: “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, The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator. And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. 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. (Isa. 3:1-5) Here is a stark warning of famine and the breakdown of social order.
One commentary believes that Isaiah may have been ranking the members of society according to their influence, with judges and warriors near the top and honorable men and counselors near the bottom. Children indeed became their princes, as several of their later kings took the throne at young ages due to regicide and the turmoil of the final decades. We also see the horrid crime and violence, with people being oppressed “every one by his neighbor.”
The reason for this calamity is directly due to the people’s irreligion: “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. 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.” (Isa. 3:8-9)
Modern Dispensationalist ministers sometimes quote verse nine, “the show of their countenance” as their proof that today’s Jews with Hittite or Armenoid facial features are direct descendants of biblical Hebrews! Such is not the meaning of the verse at all. Isaiah instead is documenting that the people’s immorality and guilt is written all over their faces. They, in other words, have an evil look about them and freely admit their sinful lifestyles and make no effort to hide it. They revel in sin. Today immorality is splashed all over the media and television screens even in Christian homes. Soon any condemnation of sins such as sodomy will invite a jail sentence for “hate.”
Yet God will judge this wickedness and watch over the righteous: “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.” (3:10-11)
A fascinating verse follows: “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.” (3:12) This is curious, because ancient Israel and Judah at various times had queens ruling over them, and modern Israel in Great Britain has had many great queens, including the current Queen Elizabeth II. The Greek Septuagint translation used by Christ and the Apostles, composed in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century, B.C., has a different rendering of this verse. It reads, “O my people, your exactors strip you, and extortioners rule over you: O my people, they that pronounce you blessed lead you astray, and pervert the path of your feet.” (Brenton’s translation) Similarly, the literal Concordant Version translates, “My people–its exactors are clean-gleaners, and the exactors rule among My people. Those making you happy lead you astray, and the way of your paths they confuse.”
The terms, “exactors,” and “extortioners” are not at all clear in meaning. The evangelical Bible commentary by Arthur Samuel Peake (1865–1929) says, “Render, ‘tormentors are their oppressors, and usurers (nôshim) rule over them’.” Similarly, the Good News Bible translation says, “Moneylenders oppress my people, and their creditors cheat them. My people, your leaders are misleading you, so that you do not know which way to turn.” This has special meaning for us today after economic collapses in 1929 and 2007 due to actions by banking institutions.
Isaiah closes out the chapter with more dire warnings: “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. Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.” (Isa. 3:24-26)
God’s judgment will yet come on the people of modern Israel. Ancient Jerusalem had a full century in which to repent and failed to do so. Will we? “O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.” (Isa. 2:5)