Text: Isaiah 3:1-26
When God’s people go astray, He sends His prophets to frankly and bluntly warn them of their sin and admonish them to repent and return to Him. Again, when I speak of God’s people, I am speaking of the church, Jewish believers, and Jews that do not yet believe that Jesus is their Messiah.
In the days of Isaiah, God’s people are headed for disaster — exile (separation from His presence), and even death and condemnation. Oh, but if they will repent as I did, the Lord and will rejoice and sing, and if today’s believers repent, I will rejoice and sing with Him (Zephaniah 3:17)!
Today’s teaching is most definitely frank and blunt. If I were going to give this a title, I would call it, “The Consequences of Exaltation of Humans.” It is a message for today’s believers, just as much as it was for God’s people in the days of Isaiah.
NOTE: My thanks to John Oswalt, author of the commentary on Isaiah in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament. He provides an excellent commentary on Isaiah that I will use from time to time, to help me teach as clearly as possible.
Verse 1 —
For behold! This phrase introduces the LORD’s judgments upon Jerusalem and Judah because men regard each other and exalt themselves, instead of Him. He will remove natural provision and leadership — supply and support. In the same way, even today, He removes supply and support from His people — even the church — who exalt themselves and their ministries, and believers and leaders who consult with man instead of God.
First, the LORD GOD of Hosts (this title emphasizing His sovereignty and power) will remove the whole supply of bread and the whole supply of water. His people will hunger and thirst.
Indeed, Judah and Jerusalem did hunger and thirst, for they refused to return to the LORD and were besieged by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon until they had no food or water left within the walls of Jerusalem. Some even resorted to cannibalism (Ezekiel 5:9-10, Jeremiah 19:9, Lamentations 4:10, etc.).
Verses 2-4 —
Next, He will take away the military leaders upon whom Jerusalem and Judah have exalted and upon whom they have relied — the mighty men, the warriors, and the captains of fifty.
He will take away the political leaders — judges (leaders), elders, honorable men (men of rank) and counselors.
He will take away the religious leaders — false prophets, diviners, and ones who know charms (enchanters).
The LORD says, And I will make mere lads (teens) their princes, And capricious children will rule over them. Jerusalem and Judah will be ruled by children instead of mighty leaders. Oswalt observes, that may have literally happened; teenagers may have had to take over leadership simply because everyone else was dead or in captivity.
In the original Hebrew-to-English, “capricious children” means “Arbitrary (unrestrained and autocratic) power will rule.” It will be His people’s own fault, for Judah and Jerusalem have exalted themselves, rather than the LORD of hosts!
Verse 5 —
Exaltation of humans culminates with oppression and then anarchy. Do we see it today, worldwide? We would be blind if we didn’t!
The people of Judah and Jerusalem will oppress each other, harassing and treating each other cruelly. Jesus Christ prophesied the same thing, for the end times, before He returns — many will fall away (turn away from the LORD) and will betray one another and hate one another (see Matthew 24:10).
Finally, the government will collapse. Elders will no longer be respected by youths, and youths will have contempt for all types of authority. They will mock everyone, regardless of leadership ranking.
Verses 6-7 —
God’s people will be desperate for a leader! Possession of a coat will be a sufficient qualification for leadership. How far they have fallen, from being under the covering of the LORD, to possessing only a stray coat or two!
And what will such a one rule over? Ruins. But the one with the coat will refuse, saying, I will not be your healer (literally, binder of wounds). I will not heal your ruins! Why? He will say, there is neither bread nor cloak in my house, among my family. He could not provide for them, so how will he be able to save Judah and Jerusalem? So he will say, I am not qualified. Do not appoint me ruler of the people!
Verses 8-9 —
Why will all of this happen?
— Because Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen. Pairing the words “stumbled” and “fallen” is significant. They have not yet physically been attacked. But they have already stumbled and fallen spiritually. So, they will surely be invaded, and thus stumble and fall in the natural, just as Isaiah prophesies.
— Because their speech and actions are against (contrary to) the LORD. They rebel against His glorious presence (the eyes of His glory). Everything they say and do is in utter rebellion against the LORD, and they defy Him to His face! It is so today, for in many churches and among many believers, sin is not only winked at, but celebrated!
— Even beyond their speech and actions, their facial expressions are witnesses against them. They set their faces against the LORD, brazenly and stubbornly. They display their sin like Sodom, whose people were destroyed because they openly committed lewd acts that were completely contrary to the LORD’s character, design and will. Again, many believers and their leaders have come directly against the LORD, defying Him to His face.
Therefore, woe to them! Why? Because they have brought evil on themselves! Isaiah laments, and so do I, and so does the Lord!
Verses 10-11 —
The Lord directs Isaiah to speak to both the righteous and the wicked. His words comfort the righteous, but should send chills up and down the spines of the wicked.
Say to the righteous, it will go well, for you will eat the fruit of your actions. Indeed, Daniel and his friends went into captivity, but found favor and were highly regarded by their captors. Ezekiel. among the first from Judah to go into exile, was raised up as a prophet to God’s people in their captivity.
But woe to the wicked, the one who refuses and rebels! It will go badly with him. Why? For he will get what he deserves. He has scorned the LORD, so he will be scorned. He has destroyed his relationship with the LORD, so he will be destroyed.
Verse 12 —
The LORD cries out, O My people! He takes no pleasure in punishing them —
Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’
Again, their oppressors are incompetent and arbitrary rulers. Women (used as a symbol of weakness here) rule over them.
Again the LORD cries out, Oh, My people! Those who guide you lead you astray, and confuse the direction of your paths. False prophets abounded in Judah and Jerusalem, and led His people astray. The LORD laments through Jeremiah —
Jeremiah 23:22 “But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds.”
Verses 13-15 —
The LORD arises to contend with His people, and stands up, to judge them. Who does He judge?
He judges the elders and princes of His people, all the leaders and the prophets who do not believe the LORD will judge them, and who lead His people astray by lying to them. It is the same today!
The LORD tells them, It is you who have devoured the vineyard (see Isaiah 5:2). You have caused its ruin. Now Babylon will ruin you. It is you who plunders (robs) the poor, and have done so for a long time. It is on you, it was done under your leadership and by you and your fathers (their houses). You robbed my people of the truth. Now Babylon will plunder (rob) you.’’
And in righteous anger, the LORD GOD of Hosts declares, What are you doing, crushing My people, and grinding the face of the poor (as if against the ground)? He stands in His righteous power and awesomeness, and judges them for devouring, robbing, crushing, and grinding His people!
Verses 16-23 —
Now the LORD speaks to the daughters of Zion, who are proud, haughty, and have seductive eyes, glancing around for any sensual opportunities. Oswalt and I see that this does not mean only the women of Zion, but all the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem — and believers today — who refuse and rebel, all who are prideful and self-reliant.
They walk with mincing steps, parading their self-sufficiency. They call attention to themselves by making noise as they walk. They flaunt themselves before the living God.
The LORD’s response will be to confront those who refuse and rebel. He will afflict them, and take that which they so highly value — their self-perceived greatness and magnificence.
Their scalps will be afflicted with scabs, their foreheads will be bare. All that they used for adornment, all that they used to display their superiority, will be removed.
The list of their adornments is vast because their pride is so extreme — anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, finger rings, nose rings, festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils.
Verse 24 —
And how will His people look, after He judges them and they are carried into captivity in Babylon?
— Instead of sweet perfume, putrefaction (the smell of rotting flesh)
— Instead of a beautiful belt, a rope by which they will be bound to their captors
— Instead of well-set hair, a plucked out scalp, the work of their captors, to humiliate them
— Instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth (which is like burlap, harsh and scratchy and is worn by those who mourn), for they will mourn their condition.
— And instead of beauty, branding by their captors, to indicate that they are slaves
They will be disgraced, for they have disgraced their LORD with their rebellion and wickedness. Woe to them!
Verses 25-26 —
They will not be able to rely on men to protect them, for they will fall by the sword, and their mighty ones will fall in battle. Everything they have depended on, even the natural strength upon which they have relied, will be taken away. The gates, where just decisions used to be made before their rebellion, will mourn and lament. Deserted, Judah and Jerusalem will sit on the ground, in mourning.
Stay tuned next time for a word of hope — a prophecy regarding the One who will save them in their captivity, if they turn back to Him and ask Him to forgive their sin!
Lord, may Your people, even today’s church, stop exalting themselves, their wisdom, and their works, for just according to You, I have shown them the consequences of exaltation of humans. May they turn back to You, O LORD GOD of Hosts. Amen.