Judah, Even as Sodom (3:8-15).
What brought about the humiliation of Judah through the removal of leadership? In one word: WAR! As already mentioned, Israel and Judah suffered a series of wars that not only depleted them of their leaders but eventually destroyed them as nations. During the days of Isaiah and the decades that followed, the leaders and craftsman of both Israel and Judah were removed by Assyria and Babylon. It was the policy of both these nations to deport the leaders and craftsman of the nations they conquered. This was done in order to create political stability in the conquered kingdom for it was the leaders and craftsman who normally fostered rebellion among the people.
8-9 The blame for Israel and Judah’s destruction is placed squarely on their own shoulders. Early in Israel’s history, the Lord had promised that Israel’s enemies would be “smitten before thy face” (Deut. 28:7). This promise was based upon a covenant that required Israel to obey the commandments of God (Deut. 27-28). However, as already noted, Israel failed to honor the covenant with God. Therefore, Isaiah says, the destructions which have come upon Israel are “because their tongues and their doings have been against the Lord.” Moreover, their sins were “even as Sodom” (cf. 1:10) whom the Lord destroyed because of their wickedness (see Gen. 19). Ezekiel also used the metaphor of Sodom to describe Israel, saying that her iniquity was “pride, fulness of bread [they were wealthy], and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters [because of their abundance of wealth they did not need to work], neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before [the Lord]” (Ezek. 16:48-49).
10-11 These verses proclaim the same message the Apostle Paul declared: “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:7-8).
12-15 The subject discussed at the beginning of this chapter, the unreliability of human leadership, continues in these verses. The verb tense of these verses however are different than the first seven. Whereas the beginning of this chapter spoke of things that would happen in the future these verses speak of things in the present: “Children are their oppressors and women rule over them.” The leaders of Israel and Judah at the time of Isaiah were already as children; their leadership was incompetent and irresponsible. They resembled the kingship of Noah (Mosiah 11-12). Their administration was oppressive and they caused the people to walk in paths forbidden by the Lord. Isaiah said that the Lord would “enter into judgment with the ancients (i.e., the elders) and the princes” of the people. When their actions are balanced on the scales of justice, they will be found wanting because their policies have “eaten up the vineyard, and the spoil of the poor in [their] houses.” That is to say, instead of assuring that the needs of the people were met, the leaders used their governmental positions to satisfy their own greed and selfish desires.
Judah Stripped of Worldly Things (3:16-26).
Isaiah’s use of imagery is at its finest in these verses. Judah is represented as “the daughters of Zion” who were caught in the midst of the very war which had depleted Judah of her leaders and destroyed her cities. Verses 16-17 depict the demeanor and conduct of the “daughters of Zion” before they and their people were consumed by the desolation of war. Verses 18-24 show their humiliation as Judah’s enemies stripped them of their cherished possessions and forced them into slavery. Verses 25-26 tell of the complete devastation of all Judah as a result of the war.
Though these verses may seem to be an indictment against the women of Judah, similar to the charges found in Amos (4:1-3) and Jeremiah (44:15-30), they are probably intended to reflect the spiritual condition of all the House of Israel. The old adage is true, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” If the daughters of Zion had descended to the spiritual condition depicted by Isaiah, it would follow that the rest of Israel would soon follow suit if they had not done so already. Therefore, the portrayal of the daughters of Zion is the very image of what the House of Israel would or already had become as a whole.
16 Isaiah portrays the daughters of Zion as having no concept of their divine role as a women.
Their “stretched-forth necks” characterize their arrogance. They were proud, selfish, and haughty. Their walk and demeanor marked them as women on the prowl, seeking to satisfy their lustful desires. Indeed, Isaiah’s description shows them to be a perfect representation of what the majority of the House of Israel had become: rapacious, self-exalting creatures whose only pursuit was for carnal pleasures.
17-23 Reflecting on the long standing tradition of women having longer hair than men, Paul once said, “if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her” but “it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven” (1 Cor. 11:6,15). With this in mind, to humble the daughters of Zion, “the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts”; i.e., their heads will be shaven. This is repeated in verse 24 where we are told that there will be “baldness” instead of “well set hair.”
Further, he will take away their elaborate clothing and jewelry. A list of finery is found in verses 18-23. One thing that is striking about this list is its length and depth of coverage. Obviously, this is meant to demonstrate how dependent the daughters of Zion had become on things to make them beautiful. The humbling process of taking away these things strikes at the core of their problem. The daughters of Zion have made their self-worth dependent upon something other than God; their identity is based upon the things of this world they have obtained instead of accomplishing the work of God.
24 The results of this humiliation process is outlined in five sets of contrasting pairs. The picture portrayed is one of an ostentatious woman having been disgraced by being made a slave to her captures. Instead of smelling of perfume, she stinks. Instead of a pretty waistband, she wears a rope. Instead of attractive hair, her head is shaven to protect her from lice. Instead of wearing expensive clothing, she wears sackcloth. Instead of being beautiful, she is shamed.
25-26 The war that will bring about the humiliation of the daughters of Zion will be devastating. Everything Judah had placed her trust in to defend herself from her enemies (i.e., standing army, political alliances, and fortifications), would fail her. In the end, Jerusalem’s “gates shall lament and mourn” for her people are gone; they are either dead or taken into slavery. “Being left desolate,” Jerusalem “shall sit upon the ground” in utter ruin, her walls and gates demolished and her houses burned.
4:1 In the Hebrew text, this verse is placed at the end of chapter three. It serves as the conclusion to the chapter. The war that stripped Israel of her leadership and disgraced the daughters of Zion, had left Israel so destitute of men that “seven women shall take hold of one man.” The complete humiliation of the daughters of Zion is graphically seen in the reason they offer for such a desperate act: “We will eat out own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach.” These women, who once had lost sight of their divine role, were now willing to do anything to have the reproach of being childless removed.
Indeed, if the daughters of Zion represent the House of Israel, then it can be seen that the refiners fire through which Israel must pass will humble Israel, causing them to remember their sacred duty as the Lord’s servant people. With a people in such a condition, the Lord can bring about the promised ideal.
THE IDEAL ONCE MORE (4:2-6)
The House of Israel, having been humbled and cleansed and the rebellious destroyed, is now ready for the ideal state. In this section, Isaiah once again describes the idealistic future of Israel. Isaiah’s prophecies are subject to multiple fulfillment. The devastating war described in chapter three occurred several times in Israelite history (e.g., Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, etc.) and will happen once more before the second coming of Christ (JS Matt. 1:12, 32). The idealistic future described by Isaiah in 4:2-6 will follow the final battle in Jerusalem that ends when the Savior descends upon the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:1-5; D&C 45:43-53; 133:20).
Prophecy is not prediction. Prophecy is the foretelling of events that will happen. In this prophecy, we are told of three spiritual conditions that will be realized by the remnants of scattered Israel in the ideal state (see Watts, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol 24, Isaiah 1-33, p.
I. Jehovah’s branch will become glorious and the earth’s fruit excellent for Israel (vs. 2).
II. Jerusalem’s remnants will be holy, since she has been purged of her filth (vss. 3-4).
III. Jehovah’s protective presence will be over all the earth (vss. 5-6).
Note that each condition is obtain only through the grace and mercy of God. Israel could not obtain such blessings on their own power.
2 the branch of the Lord. Isaiah declares that “the branch of the Lord” will be “beautiful and glorious” during the Millennial reign of Christ. Further, “the fruit of the earth” will be “excellent and comely” to Israel. “Who is the branch?” Bruce R. McConkie suggests that Isaiah “is speaking of those who are left on the olive tree that is Israel,”(The Millennial Messiah, Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1982, p. 655.) evoking the image depicted in Zenos’ allegory of the olive tree (Jacob 5). Zenos describes the tree of Israel as becoming corrupt and unproductive. In an attempt to save the dying tree, the bad branches were cut off and destroyed, while the ground around the tree was nourished by loosening the compact soil and fertilized. In the end, the tree became very fruitful. This fits the overall context of Isaiah 2-4. In chapter three, Isaiah shows the pruning process Israel experienced. The unproductive branches were cut off and destroyed. Through the restoration of the gospel, Israel has been nourished. Now in this verse, the fulfillment of centuries of work on the Lord’s part in bringing Israel to the ideal is achieved. With this in mind, Elder Orson Pratt said of this verse: “Thus we see that Zion is to become glorious. The branch of the Lord, the branch of his own planting, established by his own power, the building up of a people and city by his own instructions and administration, by the inspiration of his servants, the establishing of Zion no more to be thrown down” (Journal of Discourses, 14:353).
Them that are escaped of Israel. The Lord reminded modern Israel of His promise made through Isaiah that the “obedient shall eat the good of the land.” He also warned, “the rebellious shall be cut off out of the land of Zion, and shall be sent away, and shall not inherit the land. For, verily I say that the rebellious are not of the blood of Ephraim, wherefore they shall be plucked out” (D&C 64:35-36; cf., Is. 1:19-20). “Them that are escaped of Israel” are those who escaped the pruning that cuts off the rebellious. Because they have “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4) they will escape the judgments of God which are brought upon the wicked at the second coming. Further, the image of the “escaped of Israel” is reminiscent of the children of Israel who were delivered from Egyptian bondage. This thought is continued in verses five and six.
3-4 In these verses, the image of the daughters of Zion is recalled. They with the rest if Israel “who are left in Zion and remain in Jerusalem,” i.e., latter-day Israel, will become “holy” because their “filth” (Heb., tsowah) will have been “washed away.” The imagery of Israel’s filth is made more disgusting when it is understood that a tsowah literally means excrement, which was considered unholy in the law of Moses (Deut. 23:13-15; Ezek. 4:12-14).
Israel will made clean “by the spirit of judgment (Heb., mishpat), and by the spirit of burning.” Israel, who in the past was wicked, has now proved faithful and obedient. Therefore, the judgment of God is that Israel is worthy to receive the cleansing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
5-6 The last verses are reminiscent of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. During their journeys, the Lord’s protective presence was made visible through a “pillar of a cloud” by day and a “pillar of fire” by night (Ex. 13:21-22; see also Num. 9:15-22). Also, the same cloud of smoke rested upon the temple built by Solomon revealing the divine presence of God (1 Kings. 8:10-11; cf. Ezek. 44:4). Isaiah declares that the protective power of the Lord, who will rule from his throne in Zion and Jerusalem, will be upon “every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies [ i.e., upon Zion, Jerusalem, and the stakes of Zion throughout the world] . . . for upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defense.
THE LORD’ VINEYARD (Isa. 5)
1-7 Leaving Israel’s idealistic future, the Lord returns to the reality of Israel in Isaiah’s day. He equates Israel to a vineyard in which the choicest grapes had been planted. Instead of producing sweet grapes it brought forth wild. As a result, the Lord would take “away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” In other words, the curses of a broken covenant would ravage the land.
8-23 In these verses, the Lord specifies the wild grapes Israel brought forth. This is expressed through six “woes.”
First Woe: Greed (vss. 8-10). These verses speak of the rich who covet land and wealth with no thought for the poor and oppressed. But the Lord would not allow such greed to continue. The yield of their crops would eventually only be a fraction of what should have normally been produced.
Second Woe: Hedonism (vss. 11-12). The picture painted in these verses is one of worldly revelry where carnal desires are continuously gratified. For these people, their god is their belly. Those is such a condition care nothing for the works of God.
Third Woe: Vanity and Pride (vss. 18-19). The image portrayed in these verses is a “beast of burden, such as a donkey or ox (representative of a wicked person), pulling a cart of goods (representing sins). The wicked are burdened with sins, which they must drag behind them, just as a beast of burden hauls its load.” But it appears that vanity “is the key component from which” these cords are made (Donald W. Parry, etal., Understanding Isaiah, Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1998, p.57). Many in such a condition make light of the ways of righteousness with sarcastic taunts; even belittling the power of God to destroy them.
Fourth Woe: Perversion (vs. 20). A major tactic of Satan is to create an environment where the prevailing attitude is to “call evil good, and good evil.” We live in such an environment. President Kimball gave an example of this: “Sexual sins are some of the great sins of our generation. Tragically, movies, television, popular music, books, and magazines all seem to glamorize sex. They seem to preach that nothing is holy, not even marriage vows. The lustful hero is made out to be incapable of doing wrong; the lustful woman is presented as the heroine and is justified. It reminds us of Isaiah who said, ‘Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil.’” (“The Gospel of Repentance,” Ensign, Oct. 1982, p. 2, 4). To combat such attitudes, the prophets have warned us to avoid situations in which in which sin is portrayed as acceptable behavior. For example, the First Presidency has recently said: “Do not attend, view, or participate in entertainment that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable” (For the Strength of Youth: Fulfilling Our Duty to God, p. 17; emphasis added).
Fifth Woe: Arrogance (vs. 21). Israel had become “wise in their own eyes” and, therefore, rejected prophetic counsel. Such a dangerous condition leads to destruction. The Lord has warned: “And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;
They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall” (D&C 1: 14-16). Submissiveness to God and His prophets is the antidote for this spiritual malady.
Sixth Woe: Selfishness and Injustice (vss. 22-23). “Woe unto the mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink.” The word “mighty” translates the Hebrew word gibbowr, the word for heroic warrior. But they are only conquerors of alcohol. Such leaders could be counted on to defend the wicked or convict the righteous – if the price is right! “Courage, honor, and bravery mean nothing.
What matters is how many beers a man can hold before going under the table. Innocent and guilty? Who can tell the difference? Who cares if there is a difference in a society where serving oneself is all that matters? This is a vineyard gone completely wrong. The grapes are all bitter and human sophistry cannot make them sweet” (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39, p. 165).
24-25 These verses speak of God’s judgment against the corrupt vineyard of Israel. His hand would be stretched out against Israel through various curses of destruction. Chapter five describes conditions before King Uzziah died (Is. 6:1) about 740 B.C. But conditions would not change during the reign of Ahaz. Therefore the Lord’s anger would not turn away from Israel “but his hand is stretched out still”; i.e., the curses would continue until Israel would be scattered among the nations of the earth, fulfilling the promise made as part of the covenant ceremony at Shechem (see Deut. 28: 64-68).
26-30 The prophecy ends with hope. The Lord would eventually, in the last days, “lift up an ensign to the nations from far” to call scattered Israel to return back to God. The ensign is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ (see D&C 45:9; 105:39). Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “That ensign was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, which was established for the last time, never again to be destroyed or given to other people. . . . Following the raising of this ensign, the Lord sent forth his elders clothed with the priesthood and with power and authority, among the nations of the earth, bearing witness unto all peoples of the restoration of his Church, and calling upon the children of men to repent and receive the gospel; for now it was being preached in all the world as a witness before the end should come, that is, the end of the reign of wickedness and the establishment of the millennial reign of peace. The elders went forth as they were commanded, and are still preaching the gospel and gathering out from the nations the seed of Israel unto whom the promise was made. Thus our fathers were gathered and brought into the true fold in fulfilment of the prophecies made in ancient times by men inspired of the Lord, that he would recover a remnant of his people from the four corners of the earth. Scattered Israel is being gathered into the fold. . . . And so, we have seen the fulfilment of this promise that was made to the Prophet Joseph Smith, through the preaching of the gospel the conversion of many souls from Europe, from Asia, and from the isles of the sea; and we are now witnessing the gathering of the dispersed of Judah. The Lord is now opening the way for the return of these outcasts who were scattered because of their disobedience and their rejection of the Son of God, and they have remained scattered among the nations until the time for their gathering, which is now” (Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings and Joseph Fielding Smith, 3 Vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-56, 3:254 257).
The humbling effect of the scattering will change Israel. They will return “with speed swiftly.” Unlike their forefathers, they will be strong and courageous in the fight for right and truth. Their “arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hooves shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind; their roaring shall be like a lion. They shall roar like young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver” (JST Is. 5:28-29).
Speaking of the strength and power of latter-day Israel, President George Q. Cannon said their “strength consists in this peculiarity: that those who have embraced it as a rule — there may be exceptions have taken the course which has been taught by the servants of God and the result is that legions of witnesses have been raised up. It is not confined to one; it is not confined to the original few; but this testimony has extended itself, until it has brought within its fold men and women of almost every race; for it is not confined, happily, to sex no more than it is to nationality, but it is extended unto men of every race, and unto women of every race, and all these rise up as an army of witnesses, unanimously bearing testimony of the same great truths, declaring that it is not from their fathers, it is not from tradition, it is not from their teachers, it is not from any human source that they have derived their knowledge; but that God Himself, by His invisible power, by His superhuman power, by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon them, has borne testimony to them, so that they are thoroughly convinced and have a knowledge as strong as the knowledge that they themselves live, that this is the work of God, and He has established it, and that He will roll it forth and cause it to accomplish all that He has said it would.
It is in this peculiarity that the strength of the people consists. If it was not for this we should be as weak as a rope of sand; there would be no cohesiveness or strength about us. But with this there is a power that makes hell tremble. It makes the Devil mad. It makes every man that is afraid of the truth angry in his spirit because of that which he sees” (Journal of Discourses, 25:25 26).