In chapter 2 we saw Isaiah cry out to the people to put away their idols and no longer trust in themselves. Humans are just a breath and there is nothing within a human to trust. Humans have no control over anything in this life. Isaiah continues describing the coming judgment of the Lord and reason for these judgments.
Judgments Decreed (3:1-7)
Isaiah pictures the total upheaval of their society as the hand of the Lord in judgment. Supplies of food and water will be taken away. Further, the heroes and warriors, judges and prophets, fortune tellers and elders, captains and ranked officials, counselors and magicians will also be taken away. The whole support system to the nation and its capitol will be removed. The governmental system will be so shattered that boys will become rulers and infants will be asked to take charge. God uses a humorous picture to depict how much loss there will be in the coming judgment. You will suffer such loss that you will be asking for children to take leadership roles. With this lack of government security there is will be an increase of defrauding and oppression (3:5). The judgment will be so extensive that if a person has a cloak, he will be called upon as a ruler and he will rule over a pile of rocks. Things will be so bad that people will refuse to take any roles in leadership.
Reasons For Judgment (3:8-12)
Verse 8 gives the first reason in this section as to why the Lord is crippling the nation. Judah has fallen “because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord.” The Lord declares that the look on the people’s faces testifies against them. They do not care about their sins. In fact, shamefully, they proclaim their sins like Sodom. It is not that they are practicing sin but that they openly proclaim their sins. There is no effort to hide their sins. Please notice the comparison to Sodom, a city that was judged its sexual sins to our nation now. No longer do Americans hide their sins like they did before. There has been a shift in our society from covering over sins to openly proclaiming sins. All of these sins have been going on for thousands and thousands of years. But the Lord notes the shift of no longer hiding their sins. There is no shame in what they are doing. They are proud of their sinful ways.
Therefore they have brought this evil upon themselves. This will be a repeated theme in this chapter: the boomerang effect of sin. The sinner has his own paymaster. The judgment is coming because of their own actions. You have done this to yourselves. Listen to the repetition: “For they have brought evil on themselves” (3:9), “For they shall eat the fruit of their deeds” (3:10), and “For what his hands have dealt out shall be done to him” (3:10). Your practice of sins and glorification of those sins is God’s reason for the nation’s doom. It will go well for the righteous but not for the wicked. For the sins committed God will judge. Their leaders have led them astray. The people have bought into the foolish proclamations of the nation concerning sins that have led the people off the path of the Lord.
In verse 12 Isaiah notes that the leaders are guiding the people down the wrong paths and the people are following them. Rather than leading the people in the ways of the Lord, they are guiding you down the paths of confusion leading to destruction. The boomerang effect of sin have powerful outcomes according to the scriptures, neither of which we often consider. The first boomerang effect of sin is dealing with the consequences now for our poor choices and sinful decisions. “The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin” (Proverbs 5:22 ESV). Sin has very powerful consequences to our lives today and to the lives of those we know and do not know. The second boomerang effect of sin is the eternal consequence. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). We must let the concept of the wages of sin sink deeply into our hearts. There are very real consequences to our actions. You going to receive payment for sins and that payment is eternal separation from God (death).
The Sentence (3:13-4:1)
The Lord enters the verdict in the trial. The charges have been made and the Lord enters his judgment against the people. The people have ruined God’s kingdom. They have ripped off the poor and put those possessions in their homes. They are crushing the people, hurting the poor, and full of oppression all in an effort to make themselves rich. Their positions of privilege have fostered a concern for self-interest rather than the good of others. The Lord makes the point that this is their own doing. “It is you who have devoured the vineyards” (3:14). Once again God tells the people that they have caused this judgment.
The arrogant pride of the rulers is also seen in the women of the nation. Picture the riches and extravagance that is described in verses 16 and 18-24. They take pride in their riches. They show off their wealth. They do not care about those who are hurting and lacking. They simply strut around without regard for others. Therefore God is going to take that wealth away. How foolish we are for trusting in our wealth! The Lord is going to strike the people down with affliction and lay bare their shameful parts. The Lord does not tolerate our misuse of wealth. God expected a social concern for the people in his nation. Instead of the joys of life there will be rottenness and lack. How frequently we take the blessings of God and ruin them through our misuse! God has given us the blessings of wealth and prosperity and we ruin it by not being thankful, not helping others with our wealth, not using our wealth to advance the kingdom, using our money selfishly hoarding our possessions instead. We take the blessing of family and ruin it by sacrificing it for more wealth. We forfeit time with our family to play with our toys and possessions. We place a higher priority on maintaining our wealth rather than enjoying our family. We ruin the blessing of sex by perverting into pornography, premarital sex, adultery, divorce, and the like. God has tried to give us good and useful things and we take what is good and misuse these blessings in selfish ways. We are reading in Isaiah God’s thoughts on the people who took ruin to his graciousness. The judgment on Judah is described in severity that they would fall by the sword so that the people would live in desperation and difficulty. As we noted earlier, Isaiah said that it was their own actions and words that brought this upon themselves.
The Lord Will Create True Beauty (4:2-6)
Once again, rather than ending the message in doom and judgment, the prophecy offers hope for a future time. There will be the coming of the Branch of the Lord. Scholars note that the Hebrew word semah which is consistently translated “branch” is a difficult concept to translate. It is “a growing thing” such as from a plant, vine, or tree. The word carries with it the idea of new things to come and renewal. It seems to be similar to what we think about with the new growth that comes in springtime after the deadness of winter. We can see this idea in the second verse where the branch of the Lord being beautiful and glorious equals the fruit of the land. So there is this renewal and regrowth.
The Jewish people understood this phrase, “the Branch of the Lord” to be a reference to the coming Messiah. The Aramaic translation of the Hebrew scriptures (the Targum) translates this phrase as referring to the Messiah. The imagery is that of the Messiah sprouting up from among his people, bringing salvation, renewal, and restoration to the nation. In that future day the Christ is going to be beautiful and glorious, according to the prophet Isaiah. This is not referring to his physical appearance but to the work he will do among the people. The desolation and rubble because of the people’s sins (chapter 3) is now described as becoming a fruitful land that will become the pride and honor of the remnant (survivors of the nation). This is an interesting reversal. In Isaiah 2 we read the condemnation of the people for having pride in their idols, wealth, armies, and worldliness. The Lord gave the repeated declaration that the Lord alone will be exalted in that day (2:11,17). Isaiah now declares that the remnant, the survivors, will have pride and honor in the Messiah, the branch of the Lord, the fruit of the land. The remnant are the people who put glory in the right place — the Messiah.
Listen to the beauty of verse 3. “Holy” shall be said to each person. Somehow each person of the remnant is going to be declared holy. They will each be made fit to be in the presence of the Lord. Verse 3 continues that these people are those who have “been recorded for life in Jerusalem.” This reflects a well-known concept of a registry of citizens for a city. Moses recognized that God had a book of life (Exodus 32:32-33). The remnant is the people whose names are inscribed in the Lord’s book of life. How can this happen? How can sinful people one day each be called holy and recorded for life? Verse 4 explains what God is going to do. The Lord will wash away the filth and will cleanse the bloodstains. Isaiah leaves us with a disgusting image of people who are covered in blood, vomit (cf. Isaiah 28:8), and excrement (cf. Isaiah 36:12). God is going to wash that filth away. God is going to call each person holy and record their names for life because he is going to wash the filthiness and bloodiness away. Isaiah paints a picture of us that we do not want to see. We do not want to see ourselves covered in the filth of sins. We fail to see how grossly sins taints us and why we are an abomination to the Lord in our sins. Who would want to touch people covered in this mess? God does. God wants to cleanse the people. But the cleansing will come through judgment and burning. God’s holiness and justice are not set aside. A blast of judgment and a blast of fire was coming. Salvation would come through judgment. The nation of Israel would be judged. But those who would be God’s remnant by listening and seeking the Lord, would be called holy and be recorded for life.
Now the Lord will create a new Zion. The Hebrew word translated “create” is the same word used in Genesis 1:1 which is used in the Old Testament only of divine action. Listen to what is special about this Zion, this new kingdom. The Lord will create over Zion and her assemblies “a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night.” This invokes powerful imagery from the time of the exodus (Exodus 13:21-22). When the Lord led the people from Egyptian slavery, he led them in a visible pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This pictured God leading his people and protecting his people, as the pillar protected the people from the Egyptians as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. This protection imagery is amplified in verse 6. There is be a shelter for shade from the heat and a refuge from the storm and rain. God is going to dwell with his people that he has cleansed, declared holy, and recorded for life in his book.
But listen to the end of verse 5. “Over all the glory there will be a canopy.” The canopy in the Hebrew always denotes a marriage pavilion (cf. Psalm 19:5; Joel 2:16). This Zion will be purified and cleansed for a wedding. This image gives a small taste of a marriage covenant between God and his people. The glory of the Lord will return to this recreated Zion and there will be a wedding pavilion there where God is joined to his people and protects them from all external forces.
This first section of Isaiah concludes with the arrival of the branch of the Lord, the Christ, who will become the glory of the remnant. Those who belong to the Lord will be washed of their filth and be pronounced holy and recorded for life. God will dwell with his people and protect them in this new covenant, symbolized by the wedding pavilion. God will be joined to his people again. Will we take the blessings and grace of God and glorify him or misuse the blessings on our selfish ways? The wages of sin is death. But the branch of the Lord has come bringing cleansing and grace. Do not glory in our sins. Glory in the Lord by turning away from wealth and idols and yielding to the ways of the Lord.