Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapters 2-12 likely were written during the reign of King Uzziah. Some commentators believe this chapter was written before the Syro-Ephraimite War in 734-32 B.C.
Isa. 3:8: For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen because they have spoken and acted against the Lord, defying His glorious presence.
The Lord argues His case against Judah and Jerusalem and stands ready to execute judgment. He is particularly pointed in His wrath against corrupt leaders and haughty women.
Unlike chapter 2, which looks well into the future, chapter 3 focuses on the here and now for Israel, with an especially harsh assessment of the manner in which God’s people have squandered their wealth and privilege. The New Testament equivalent could be the words of Jesus in Luke 12:48: “Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.”
God will remove the leaders (Isa. 3:1-12)
Judah and Jerusalem are comfortable, given the peace and prosperity of King Uzziah’s day. But their wealth, economic stability and military security have led their leaders to become self-absorbed, complacent, and corrupt. Isaiah delivers a wake-up call, warning that the Lord God of Hosts is about to remove “every kind of security” (v. 1). The loss of food (“the entire supply of bread and water,” v. 1) and the removal of key leaders (“the hero and warrior, the judge and prophet, the fortune-teller and elder, the commander … dignitary, the counselor, cunning magician, and necromancer,” vv. 2-3) imply a military siege and captivity. Perhaps this describes the approaching Syro-Ephraimite War. The king and priests are not mentioned. It’s possible that Isaiah is speaking of the time when Uzziah would be separated from society because of his leprosy and a group of more than 80 priests would faithfully serve God (2 Chron. 26:16-21), although the text does not specifically say so.
The Lord then says He will make “youths” their leaders and place the “unstable,” or “mischief-makers,” in authoritative positions (v. 4). This could be understood literally, or it could be that the new leaders would be scraped from the bottom of the barrel – immature, unwise, mischievous, and strong willed. Gary V. Smith summarizes the situation well: “In a sense God seems to be saying, ‘If you want to trust in incompetent leaders then I will give you some really bad ones'” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 146).
With biting mockery, Isaiah predicts the day in which the only qualification for leadership will be whether someone owns a coat (v. 6). But even with the bar set that low, people will avoid leadership responsibilities. As a result, the worst possible types of people will become leaders by default.
In verses 8-9, Isaiah makes it clear that Judah and Jerusalem are bringing disaster upon themselves. They have “stumbled” and “fallen” because they have “spoken and acted against the Lord, defying His glorious presence.” The people made no effort to hide their defiant behavior before God or one another. They openly paraded their sins in public like those in Sodom did prior to their destruction (v. 9; see Gen. 19-20).
The righteous in Judah are assured that it will go well with them, while it will go badly for the wicked (vv. 10-11). This is not a pitch for the prosperity gospel. Nor does Isaiah tackle the thorny issue of why the righteous suffer as Job and the writer of Ecclesiastes do. Isaiah simply is telling his countrymen what the apostle Paul later told the Galatians – there are consequences of our actions; that is, we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).
God will judge (Isa. 3:13-15)
In light of the evidence of Judah’s sinfulness and rebellion, the Lord warns that He may have to take the leaders to court. Specifically, He accuses the leaders of oppressing the people, leading them astray, plundering the poor, and crushing God’s people. Part of their responsibility was to defend the poor and helpless against powerful landlords and skillful lawyers. Instead, they allow youngsters to rise to the throne and permit women (maybe the queen mother or women in the harem) to rule the people (v. 12). This charge could be interpreted literally, or it could be a sarcastic remark comparing Judah’s leaders with silly boys or women. The Lord seems astonished at this behavior and asks why the leaders “crush” His people and “grind” the faces of the poor. They have utterly rejected the divine mandate to care for the people and have come to adopt a low regard for human life.
Today, the Lord still has high standards for people in positions of authority in the family, government, business, and the church (see Matt. 24:45-51; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; James 3:1). Since all governing authority is given by God (Rom. 13:1), all those in leadership positions ultimately are accountable to God, and there is a day of reckoning.
Judah’s women denounced (Isa. 3:16 – 4:1)
Since the time of Uzziah is a period of peace and prosperity, the wives of many government officials, businessmen and military leaders have the financial resources to pamper themselves and dress lavishly. It’s clear from the context that God is condemning the pride of the wealthy women of Jerusalem. He calls them “haughty,” meaning self-engrossed or proud. Isaiah notices these arrogant, well-dressed women in the temple area of Jerusalem, where God should be exalted and humility should be the prevailing attitude of the people. The Lord describes their behavior: they walk pompously, with their noses in the air, giving flirtatious glances, walking provocatively with short hops or steps that caused the jewelry on their ankles to jangle, thus drawing attention to themselves.
But God is determined to remove everything these women hold so dear, bringing them to the point of humiliation and shame, and making their appearance repulsive to others. Even though these verses do not say exactly how God will accomplish this, the description of the women indicates it may very well be as a result of the rape and savagery that comes with defeat in warfare. If they do not repent, their opulent world will come crashing down on them. Verse 24 uses the word “instead” five times:
- Instead of perfume (derived from the balsam tree) there will be a stench, probably from decaying flesh and festering wounds;
- Instead of fashionable belts, their clothes will be secured with a rope, or perhaps they will be bound as prisoners;
- Instead of beautifully styles hair, baldness;
- Instead of the finest fashions, sackcloth, symbolic of grief and mourning;
- Instead of beautiful clothes and makeup, a brand pressed into their flesh by conquering soldiers.
Added to this will be the shame of living without husbands or children, probably as a result of the death of many husbands and sons in warfare. The death of these males will take away the women’s income, security and social status, to the point where they will desperately grab hold of a man, vow to share him with other women, and even take care of their own needs in exchange for the opportunity to have children.
Gary V. Smith comments: “This passage challenges people to test their own heart to see if that tattoo, that new pair of shoes, that new job, that new house, or the purchase of that new car was motivated by pride or if it will result in a prideful attitude. Although pride differs from self-esteem, the concern for my rights, my opinions, my way, and my honor is a sign of a sick self-centered society that fails to give complete honor and glory to God” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 153).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Did God really regret He created mankind, as Gen. 6:6 suggests? Why did He order King Saul to wipe out an entire race of people (I Sam. 15:18)? Who should be turned over to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5)? And what is the sin that brings death (1 John 5:16)? These are so-called “hard sayings” of the Bible.
What is a “hard saying?” Simply put, a “hard saying” is a passage of Scripture that is difficult to understand. We shouldn’t feel badly that we struggle with some Bible verses; even the apostle Peter had a hard time with some of Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:16).
Why are some Bible passages difficult to understand?
- They seem to contradict other Scriptures (“No one has ever seen God”).
- They are isolated passages that cannot be cross-referenced with other Scriptures (“Being baptized for the dead”).
- They call God’s character into question (“The Lord regretted that He had made man”).
- Or they seem to make unreasonable – even unholy – demands of God’s people (“Go and complete destroy the sinful Amalekites”).
What are some keys to understanding these “hard sayings?”
- Context (who, what, when, where, why and how?)
- Key words (“The Lord regretted …”)
- Comparison (“I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau”)
In this 12-part study, we will explore some of the most prominent “hard sayings” in Scripture.