Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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This chapter continues the threatenings against Judah on account of the prevailing iniquities, with special reference to female pride and luxury.

The Prophet first explains his exhortation at the close of the last chapter, by showing that God was about to take away the leading men of Judah and to let it fall into a state of anarchy, vs. 1-7. He then shows that this was the effect of sin, particularly that of wicked rulers, vs. 8-15. He then exposes in detail the pride and luxury of the Jewish women, and threatens them not only with the loss of that in which they now delighted, but with widowhood, captivity, and degradation, v. 16—4:1.

The first part opens with a general prediction of the loss of what they trusted iu, beginning with the necessary means of subsistence, v. 1. We have then an enumeration of the public men who were about to be removed, including civil, military, and religious functionaries, with the practitioners of certain arts, vs. 2, 3. As the effect of this removal, the government falls into incompetent hands, v. 4. This is followed by insubordination and confusion, v. 5. At length, no one is willing to accept public office, the people are wretched, and the commonwealth a ruin, vs. 6, 7.

This ruin is declared to be the consequence of sin, and the people represented as their own destroyers, vs. 8, 9. God's judgments, it is true, are not indiscriminate. The innocent shall not perish with the guilty, but the guilty must suffer, vs. 10, 11. Incompetent and faithless rulers must especially be punished, who instead of being the guardians are spoilers of the vineyard, instead of protectors the oppressors of the poor, vs. 12-15.

As a principal cause of these prevailing evils, the Prophet now denounces female luxury and threatens it with condign punishment, privation and disgrace, vs. 16, 17. This general denunciation is then amplified at great length, in a detailed enumeration of the ornaments which were about to be taken from them and succeeded by the badges of captivity and mourning, vs. 18-24. The agency to be employed in this retribution is a disastrous war, by which the men are to be swept off and the country left desolate, vs. 25, 26. The extent of this calamity is represented by a lively exhibition of the disproportion between the male survivors and the other sex, suggesting at the same time the forlorn condition of the widows of the slain, chap. 4:1.

1. This verse assigns as a reason for the exhortation in the one preceding, that God was about to take away from the people every ground of reliance, natural and moral. Cease ye from man, i.e. cease to trust in any human protection, for behold (implying a proximate futurity) the Lord (God considered as a sovereign) Jehovah of Hosts (as self-existent and eternal, and at the same time as the God of revelation and the God of his people) is taking away (or about to take away) from Jerusalem and from Judah (not only from the capital but from the whole kingdom) the stay and the staff (i.e. all kinds of support, and first of all) the whole stay of bread and the whole stay of water (the natural and necessary means of subsistence). The terms are applicable either to a general famine produced by natural causes, or to a scarcity arising from invasion or blockade, such as actually took place when Judah was overrun by Nebuchadnezzar) 2 Kings 25:4. Jer. 52:6. 38:9. Lam. 4:4).— Instead of the whole stay, prose usage would require every stay. But the other construction is sustained by the analogy of the whole head and the whole heart, ch. 1:5, and by the impossibility of expressing this idea otherwise without circumlocution.— The old version stay and staff is an approximation to the form of the original, in which a masculine and feminine form of the same noun are combined, by an idiom common in Arabic and not unknown in Hebrew, to denote universality, or rather all kinds of the object named.

2. Next to the necessary means of subsistence, the Prophet enumerates the great men of the commonwealth, vs. 2, 3. The first clause has reference to military strength, the second to civil and religious dignities. In the second clause there is an inverse parallelism, the first and fourth terms denoting civil officers, the second and third religious ones. The omission of the article before the nouns, though not uncommon in poetry, adds much to the rapidity and life of the description. Hero and warrior, judge and prophet, and divine and elder. That the first is not a generic term including all that follow (the great men, viz. the warriors, etc.) is clear from the parallelism, the terms being arranged in pairs as often elsewhere, (ch. 11:2. 19:3, 6-9. 2-2:12, 13. 42:19). The idea here expressed is not simply that of personal strength and prowess but the higher one of military eminence or heroism.—The literal version of the next phrase, man of war, has acquired a different sense in modern English. It may here denote either a warrior of high rank, as synonymous with mighty man, or one of ordinary rank, as distinguished from it. Judge may either be taken in its restricted modern sense or in the wider one of magistrate or ruler. The people are threatened with the loss of all their stays, good or bad, true or false. The last word in the verse ia not to be taken in its primary and proper sense of old man, much less in the factitious one of sage, or wise man, since all the foregoing terms are titles denoting rank and office, but in its secondary sense of elder or hereditary chief, and as such a magistrate under the patriarchal system. It is here equivalent or parallel to judge, the one term denoting the functions of the office, the other the right by which it was held.

3. To persons of official rank and influence, the Prophet adds, in order to complete his catalogue, practitioners of those arts upon which the people set most value. As the prophet and diviner stand together in v. 2, so mechanical and magical arts are put together here. The first clause simply finishes the list of public functionaries which had been begun in the preceding verse. The chief of fifty, and the favourite, and the counsellor, and the skilful artificer, and the expert enchanter.—The first title is derived from the decimal arrangement of the people in the wilderness for judicial purposes (Exod. 18:25, 26), but is afterwards used only as a military title. The next phrase literally signifies lifted up in countenance, which is commonly understood as a description of an eminent or honourable person. But as the same words are employed to signify respect of persons or judicial partiality, the phrase may here denote one highly favoured by a sovereign, a royal favourite (2 Kings 5:1. Lev. 19:15, Deut. 10:17. Job 13:10. Mal. 2:9), or respected, reverenced by the people (Lam. 4:16. Deut. 28:50).—The counsellor here meant is not a private or professional adviser, but a public counsellor or minister of state. The last word in the verse is taken strictly, as denoting a 'whisper' or the act of whispering, by some; but in its secondary sense of incantation, with allusion to the mutterings and whisperings which formed a part of magical ceremonies, by most modern writers.

4. The natural consequence of the removal of the leading men must be the rise of incompetent successors, persons without capacity, experience, or principle, a change which is here ascribed to God's retributive justice. And I will give children to be their rulers, and childish things shall govern them. Some apply this, in a strict sense, to the weak and wicked reign of Ahaz; others in a wider sense to the series of weak kings after Isaiah. But there is no need of restricting it to kings at all. The most probable opinion is that the incompetent rulers are called boys or children not in respect to age but character.

5. As the preceding verse describes bad government, so this describes anarchy, the suspension of all government, and a consequent disorder in the relations of society, betraying itself in mutual violence, and in the disregard of natural and artificial claims to deference. And the people shall act tyrannically, man against man, and man against his fellow. They shall be insolent, the youth to the old man, and the mean man to the noble, On contempt of old age, as a sign of barbarism, see Lam. 4:16, Deut. 28:50.

6. Having predicted the removal of those qualified to govern, the rise of incompetent successors, aud a consequent insubordination and confusion, the Prophet now describes this last as having reached such a height that no one is willing to hold office, or, as Matthew Henry says, "the government goes a begging." This verse, notwithstanding its length, seems to contain only the protasis or conditional clause of the sentence, in which the commonwealth is represented as a ruin, and the task of managing it pressed upon one living in retirement, on the ground that he still possesses decent raiment, a lively picture both of general anarchy and general wretchedness. When a man shall take hold of his brother (i.e. one man of another) in his father's house (at home in a private station, saying) thou hast raiment, a ruler shalt thou be to us, and this ruin (shall be) under thy hand (i.e. under thy power, control, aud management). It is equally consistent with the syntax and the usage of the words to understand the man as addressing his brother, in the proper sense, or in that of a near kinsman, of or belonging to the house of his (the speaker's) father, i.e. one of the same family. But the offer would then seem to be simply that of headship or chieftainship over a family or house, whereas a wider meaning is required by the connection. Some explain the phrase as meaning thou art rich, because clothing forms a large part of oriental wealth. But others understand the words more probably as meaning 'thou hast still a garment,' whereas we have none, implying general distress as well as anarchy.

7. This verse contains the refusal of the invitation given in the one preceding. In that day he shall lift up (his voice in reply) saying I will not be a healer, and in my house there is no bread, and there is no clothing; ye shall not make me a ruler of people. In that day may either mean at once, without deliberation, or continue the narrative without special emphasis. Some supply hand after lift up, as a gesture of swearing, or the name of God as in the third commandment, and understand the phrase to mean that he shall swear. But the great majority of writers supply voice, some iu the specific sense of answering, or in the simple sense of uttering, but others with more probability in that of speaking with a loud voice, or distinctly and with emphasis, he shall protest, or openly declare. The whole connexion seems to show that this is a profession of great poverty, which, if true, shows more clearly the condition of the people, and if false, the general aversion to office. The last clause does not simply mean do not make me, but you must not, or you shall not make me a ruler.

8. The Prophet here explains his use of the word ruin in reference to the commonwealth of Israel, by declaring that it had in fact destroyed itself by the offence which its iniquities had given to the holiness of God, here compared to the sensitiveness of the human eye. Do not wonder at its being called a ruin, for Jerusalem totters and Judah falls (or Jerusalem is tottering, and Judah falling), because their tongue and their doings (words and deeds being put for the whole conduct) are against Jehovah (strictly to or towards, but in this connection necessarily implying opposition and hostility), to resist (i.e. so as to resist, implying both the purpose and effect) his holy eyes (and thereby to offend them). Jerusalem and Judah, though peculiarly the Lord's, were nevertheless to fall and be destroyed for their iniquities.

9. As they make no secret of their depravity, and as sin and suffering are inseparably connected, they must bear the blame of their own destruction. The expression of their countenances testifies against them, and their sin, like Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul, for they have done evil to themselves. The context seems to show that the Prophet has reference to general character and not to a specific sin, while the parallel expressions in this verse make it almost certain that the phrase relates to the expression of the countenance. The sense is not that their looks betray them, but that they make no effort at concealment, as appears from the reference to Sodom. The expression of the same idea first in a positive and then in a negative form is not uncommon in Scripture, and is a natural if not an English idiom. Madame d'Arblay, in her memoirs of Dr. Burney, speaks of Omiah, the Tahitian brought home by Capt. Cook, as "uttering first affirmatively and then negatively all the little sentences that he attempted to pronounce."

10. The righteous are encouraged by the assurance that the judgments of God shall not be indiscriminate. Say ye ofthe righteous that it shall be well, for the fruits of their doings they shall eat. The object of address seems to be not the prophets or ministers of God, but the people at large or men indefinitely. The concise and elliptical first clause may be variously construed. 'Say, it is right (or righteous) that (they should eat) good, that they should eat the fruit of their doings.' 'Say, it is right, (or God is righteous), for it is good that they should eat,' etc. 'Say (what is) right,' i.e. pronounce just judgment.

11. This is the converse of the foregoing proposition, a threatening corresponding to the promise. Woe unto the wicked, (it shall be) ill (with him), for the thing done by his hand shall be done to him.

12. The Prophet now recurs to the evil of unworthy and implacable rulers, and expresses, by an exclamation, wonder and concern at the result. My people! their oppressors are childish and women rule over them. My people! thy leaders are seducers, and the way of thy paths (the way where thy path lies) they swallow up (cause to disappear, destroy).

13. Though human governments might be overthrown, God still remained a sovereign and a judge, and is here represented as appearing. coming forward, or assuming his position, not only as a judge but as an advocate, or rather an accuser, in both which characters he acts at once, implying that he who brings this charge against his people has at the same time power to condemn. Jehovah standeth up to plead, and is standing to judge the nations. The first verb properly denotes a reflexive act, viz. that of placing or presenting himself. Nations here as often elsewhere means the tribes of Israel. See Gen. 49 :10. Deut. 32:8. 33:3, 19. 1 Kings 22:28. Mich. 1:2.

14. This verse describes the parties more distinctly and begins the accusation. Jehovah will enter into judgment (engage in litigation, both as a party and a judge) with the elders of his people (the heads of houses, families and tribes) and the chiefs thereof (the hereditary chiefs of Israel, here and elsewhere treated as responsible representatives of the people). And ye (even ye) have consumed the vineyard (of Jehovah, his church or chosen people), the spoil of the poor (that which is taken from him by violence) is in your houses. Some regard the last clause as the language of the Prophet, giving a reason why God would enter into judgment with them; but it is commonly regarded as the commencement of the judge's own address, which is continued through the following verse.

15. The Lord's address to the elders of Israel is continued in a tone of indignant expostulation. What mean ye (literally what is to you, equivalent in English to what have you, i.e. what right. what reason, what motive, what advantage) that ye crush my people (a common figure for severe oppression, Job 5:4. Prov. 22:22) and grind the faces of the poor (upon the ground, by trampling on their bodies, another strong figure for contemptuous and oppressive violence), saith the Lord Jehovah of Hosts (which is added to remind the accused of the sovereign authority. omniscience. and omnipotence of Him by whom the charge is brought against them). The first verb does not mean merely to weaken, bruise, or break, but to break in pieces, to break utterly, to crush. By the faces of the poor some understand their persons or the poor themselves, and by grinding them, reducing, attenuating, by exaction and oppression. Others refer the phrase to literal injuries of the face by blows or wounds. But the simplest and most natural interpretation is that which applies it to the act of grinding the face upon the ground by trampling on the body, thus giving both the noun and verb their proper meaning, and making the parallelism more exact. The phrase at the beginning of the verse, what mean ye? merely serves to introduce the question.

16, 17. The Prophet here resumes the thread which had been dropped or broken at the close of v. 12, and recurs to the undue predominance of female influence, but particularly to the prevalent excess of female luxury, not only as sinful in itself, but as a chief cause of the violence and social disorder previously mentioned, and therefore to be punished by disease, widowhood, and shameful exposure. These two verses, like the sixth and seventh, form one continued sentence. And Jehovah said (in addition to what goes before, as if beginning a new section of the prophecy), because the daughters of Zion (the women of Jerusalem, with special reference to those connected with the leading men) are lofty (in their mien and carriage) and walk with outstretched neck (literally stretched of neck, so as to seem taller), and gazing (oogling, leering, looking wantonly) with their eyes, and with a tripping walk they walk, and with their feet they make a tinkling (i.e. with the metallic rings or bands worn around the ankles), therefore the Lord will make bald the crown of the daughters of Zion, and their nakedness Jehovah will uncover (i.e. he will reduce them to a state the very opposite of their present pride and finery). They are described as stretching out the neck, not by bending forwards, nor by tossing the head backwards, but by holding it high, so that the phrase corresponds to lofty in the clause preceding. The baldness mentioned in the last clause is variously explained as an allusion to the shaving of the heads of prisoners or captives, or as a sign of mourning, or as the effect of disease, and particularly of the disease which bears a name (Lev. 13:2) derived from the verb here used. Neither of these ideas is expressed, though all may be implied, in the terms of the original.

18. Although the prediction in v. 17 implies the loss of all ornaments whatever, we have now a minute specification of the thing-s to be taken away. This specification had a double use; it made the judgment threatened more explicit and significant to those whom it concerned, while to others it gave some idea of the length to which extravagance in dress was carried. There is no need of supposing that all these articles were ever worn at once, or that the passage was designed to be descriptive of a complete dress. It is rather an enumeration of detached particulars which might or might not be combined in any individual case. As in other cases where a variety of detached particulars are enumerated simply by their names, it is now very difficult to identify some of them. This is the less to be regretted, as the main design of the enumeration was to show the prevalent extravagance in dress, an effect not wholly dependent on an exact interpretation of the several items. The interest of the passage, in its details, is not exegetical but archaeological. Nothing more will be here attempted than to give what is now most commonly regarded as the true meaning of the terms, with a few of the more important variations in the doubtful cases. In that day (the time appointed for the judgments just denounced) the Lord will take away (literally, cause to depart, from the daughters of Zion) the bravery (in the old English sense of finery) of the ankle bands (the noun from which the last verb in v. 16 is derived) and the cauls (or caps of network) and the crescents (or little moons, metallic ornaments of that shape).

19. The pendants (literally, drops, i.e. earrings) and the bracelets (for the arm, or collars for the neck) and the veils (the word here used denoting the peculiar oriental veil, composed of two pieces hooked together below the eyes, one of which pieces is thrown back over the head, while the other hides the face).

20. The caps (or other ornamental head-dresses) and the ankle chains (connecting the ankle bands, so as to regulate the length of the step) and the girdles, and the houses (i.e. places or receptacles) of breath (meaning probably the perfume boxes or smelling-bottles worn by the oriental women at their girdles), and the amulets (the same word used above in v. 3, in the sense of incantations, but which seems to have also signified the antidote). The first word of this verse is now commonly explained to mean turbans, but as these are distinctly mentioned afterwards, this term may denote an ornamental cap, or perhaps a diadem or circlet of gold or silver. The next word is explained to mean bracelets by the Septuagint, but by the English Version more correctly, though perhaps too vaguely, ornaments of the leg. For girdles, smelling bottles and amulets, the English Version has headbands, tablets (but in the margin, houses of the soul), and ear-rings, perhaps on account of the superstitious use which was sometimes made of these (Gen. 35:4).

21. The rings, strictly Signet-rings, but here put for fingerrings or rings in general, and the nose jewels, a common and very ancient ornament in eastern countries, so that the version, jewels of the face, is unnecessary, as well as inconsistent with the derivation from a word meaning to perforate.

22. The holiday-dresses and the mantles and the robes and the purses. The first word is almost universally explained to mean clothes that are taken off and laid aside. i.e. the best suit, holiday or gala dresses, although this general expression seems misplaced in an enumeration of minute details. The common version, changeable suits of apparel, though ambiguous, seems intended to express the same idea. The next two words, according to their etymology, denote wide and flowing upper garments. The common version of the last word, crisping-pins, supposes it to relate to the dressing of the hair. The word is now commonly explained, from the Arabic analogy, to signify bags or purses.

23. The mirrors and the tunics (inner garments made of linen), and the turbans (the common oriental head-dress) and the veils. The first word is explained by the Septuagint to mean thin transparent dresses; but most writers understand it to denote the small metallic mirrors carried about by oriental women.

24. The threatening is still continued, but with a change of form, the things to be taken away being now contrasted with those which should succeed them. And it shall be or happen, that instead of perfume (aromatic odour or the spices which afford it) there shall be stench, and instead of a girdle a rope, and instead of braided work baldness (or loss of hair by disease or shaving, as a sign of captivity or mourning), and instead of a full robe a girdling of sackcloth, burning instead of beauty. The inversion of the terms in this last clause, and its brevity, add greatly to the strength of the expression. The burning mentioned is supposed by some to be that of the skin from long exposure; most interpreters understand by it a brand, here mentioned either as a stigma of captivity, or as a self-inflicted sign of mourning. Sackcloth is mentioned as the coarsest kind of cloth, and also as that usually worn by mourners.

25. The Prophet now assigns as a reason for the grief predicted in v. 24, a general slaughter of the male population. the effect of which is again described in v. 26, and its extent in chap. 4:1, which belongs more directly to this chapter than the next. In the verse before us, he first addresses Zion or Jerusalem directly, but again, as it were, turns away, and in the next verse speaks of her in the third person. Thy men by the sword shall fall and thy strength in war.

26. The effect of this slaughter on the community is here described, first by representing the places of chief concourse as vocal with distress, and then by personifying the state or nation as a desolate widow seated on the ground, a sign both of mourning and of degradation. And her gates (those of Zion or Jerusalem) shall lament and mourn (and), being emptied (or exhausted) she shall sit upon the ground. The gates are said to mourn, by a rhetorical substitution of the place of action for the agent, or because a place filled with cries seems itself to utter them. She is described not as lying but as sitting on the ground. So on one of Vespasian's coins a woman is represented in a sitting posture, leaning against a palm-tree, with the legend Judaea Capta.

Ch. 4:1. The paucity of males in the community, resulting from this general slaughter, is now expressed by a lively figure, representing seven women as earnestly soliciting one man in marriage, and that on the most disadvantageous terms, renouncing the support to which they were by law entitled. And in that day (then, after the judgment just predicted), seven women (i.e. several, this number being often used indefinitely) shall lay hold of one man (earnestly accost him), saying, we will eat our own bread and wear our own apparel, only let thy name be called upon us (an idiomatic phrase meaning let us be called by thy name, let us be recognized as thine), take thou away our reproach, the 'reproach of widowhood' (Isai. 54:4) or celibacy, or rather that of childlessness which they imply, and which was regarded with particular aversion by the Jews before the time of Christ. The Prophet simply meant to set forth by a lively figure the disproportion between the sexes introduced by a destructive war.