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Isaiah 3: The Oppressive Rulers: Chapter 13: Haughty Women of Judah

Isaiah not only denounced the men of Judah and its rulers but also its women. Apparently, he believed in equal justice! Obviously, he was not denouncing women as a whole any more than he was denouncing all men. Yet there were some men and some women who were ungodly, and these he denounced.

Isaiah 3:16, 17 begins,

16 Moreover, the Lord said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud and walk with heads held high and seductive eyes, and go along with mincing steps [tafaf, “taking quick little steps”] and tinkle the bangles [akas, “tinkling ornaments on their ankles”] on their feet, 17 therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs [safach], and the Lord will make their foreheads bare.”

God did not condemn women; he condemned pride and arrogance. This seems to be directed at the wives of the rich and powerful—the men who acted like “capricious children.” In other words, their wives benefited when their husbands stole the labor of the poor. Instead of mourning over such oppression, they participated in it. The prophet paints a picture of haughty women caught up in vanity, attempting to draw attention to themselves.

Divine judgment says that these will be afflicted “with scabs” (safach), which refers to the laws of leprosy in Leviticus 13 and 14. The Hebrew word safach appears in various forms in Lev. 13:2, 6-8, etc. to describe possible symptoms of leprosy and how to deal with it.

In essence, if such symptoms occur, the man (or woman) was to be brought to the high priest for inspection or investigation (Lev. 13:2). The high priest then was to put the person into quarantine for seven days (Lev. 13:4), and then if the disease had not spread, he was to continue the quarantine for another seven days (Lev. 13:5).

If the “scab” continued to spread, then he was diagnosed with leprosy (Lev. 13:8) and pronounced unclean. His quarantine was then permanent unless God saw fit to heal him later.

Isaiah applied this law to the haughty women in his day who were trying to impress everyone by drawing attention to themselves. Essentially, the prophet was telling them that they would be quarantined and pronounced unclean so that everyone would stay away from them. In other words, their attempt to be attractive would have the opposite result.

From a New Covenant perspective, leprosy is a spiritual type of mortality, which is the condition of all souls since Adam. When Adam sinned, “death (mortality) spread to all men” (Rom. 5:12). Reversing death brings immortality. This is based on the law of the cleansing of lepers in Lev. 14:1-7. Every time Jesus healed a leper, he was illustrating this very principle.

For a full discussion of this, see The Laws of the Second Coming, chapter 10.

Isaiah follows through with a description of such women and their attempts to beautify their mortality and decorate their spiritual leprosy. Isaiah 3:18-23 says,

18 In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, 19 dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, 20 headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, 21 finger rings, nose rings, 22 festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, 23 hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans, and veils.

Did the prophet leave out anything? Each of these, no doubt, is a spiritual manifestation of the leprous condition of the soul. Each draws attention to itself, a symptom of self-centeredness rather than seeking the welfare of others.

The Judgment

Isaiah 3:24 gives the divine judgment, saying,

24 Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume [besem, “fragrance, spices, or balsam”] there will be putrefaction; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out [qorcha, “bald, shaven”] scalp; instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.

These women could afford “sweet perfume” to try to hide their death-ridden souls, but God will expose the “putrefaction” to show everyone their true inward condition. Just as they had adorned themselves with belts or sashes, God will put a rope on them as they are led into captivity. Whereas they had beautified themselves with “well-set hair,” they were to have their heads shaved as captives in time of war.

Deut. 21:10-12 says,

10 When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, 11 and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, 12 then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails.

In Isaiah’s discussion, of course, the women of Judah were the ones going into captivity. Hence, they are the ones with shaved heads being taken by foreigners as their wives. When the Assyrians conquered Judah (except for Jerusalem itself), it is likely that many of the women of Judah were taken as wives of the Assyrian soldiers and sent home to Assyria before God destroyed the Assyrian army later.

King Hezekiah, however, was a righteous king, so the full judgment was delayed for another century. Then the Babylonian army brought divine judgment upon Jerusalem and what was left of the kingdom of Judah.

Isaiah continued saying, “instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth.” Sackcloth was a sign of mourning, which contrasted with more festive and comfortable clothing.

Finally, Isaiah says, Judah’s women were to have “branding instead of beauty.” Such scarring was a sign of slavery, and the prophet contrasts it with “beauty.” Perhaps they were to be branded and scarred on their foreheads or cheeks—definitely not a pretty picture.

Isaiah 3:25, 26 concludes,

25 Your men will fall by the sword and your mighty ones in battle. 26 And her gates will lament and mourn, and deserted she will sit on the ground.

It is clear from this that the judgment upon the women is due to the overall judgment upon the city of Jerusalem, whose “gates will lament and mourn.” The gates of the cities and towns were the seats of government—that is, the courts where the judges sat to judge public cases. Because of the injustice of the courts, which allowed the rulers to oppress and plunder the poor, they had caused the poor to lament and mourn.

So the coming captivity would reverse the situation, causing the agents of oppression to lament and mourn. Hence, too, the city itself is pictured as a deserted woman sitting on the ground, not knowing what to do.