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Isaiah 3 – Connections and Quirks of the Text

Isaiah 3 – Connections and Quirks of the Text

A good study of a biblical text will produce more insight than a preacher can ever share in a single sermon.  Here are a few connections and quirky traits of Isaiah 3 that did not make my sermon:

Isaiah 3 predicts a time of coming exile as judgment against Judah’s sin.  Particularly, Isaiah focuses on the social upheaval and reversal of fortunes for the leadership in the land.  A few connections with the book of Lamentations caught my attention.  Keep in mind: Lamentations was written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of exile, from the perspective of the Land.

Isaiah 3:14 says that God will enter into judgment “with the elders and princes of his people” (all Scripture ESV).  Lamentations 5:12 may directly speak to the fulfillment of this prophecy: “Princes are hung up by their hands; no respect is shown to the elders.”  Likewise, Isaiah 3:5 predicts a certain insolence and level of disrespect against the “elder” and “the honorable” in the community.  Lamentations 4:16 show this was true of the exile, using much of the same language: “The LORD himself has scattered them; he will regard them no more; no honor was shown to the priests, no favor to the elders.”  The author of Lamentations (most presume it is Jeremiah) may have consciously and purposefully used Isaiah’s words to maximize the effect of his poems.

Isaiah 3:11 reflects on the judicial justice that God will deal out when he has his day.  It reads, “Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for what his hands have dealt out shall be done to him.”  This statement is similar to several others in the Bible.  Obadiah 15 also speaks of the Day of the Lord in connection with such reciprocal justice.  It says, “For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.”  Jeremiah also uses similar language to talk about the justice that Babylon will receive: “Summon archers against Babylon, all those who bend the bow. Encamp around her; let no one escape. Repay her according to her deeds; do to her according to all that she has done. For she has proudly defied the LORD, the Holy One of Israel” (50:29).  Could Jeremiah’s words be a conscious play on Isaiah’s?  Israel was also said to have “defied” God (Isa 3:8; though note that the Hebrew uses separate words for each of these).

Finally—one of the quirks of this text is the piling up of hapax legomena – words that are used only once in the entire Bible, usually words that are very rare and thus oftentimes difficult to translate.  One commentator points out that verses 16-24 of Isa 3 has 13 hapax and 10 other words occurring only twice in the Bible (Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, 201).  This causes quite the array of translations, as scholars have to take educated guesses at the meaning behind many of these terms.  For example, if you compare Isa 3:20 in ESV and KJV, you’ll find that not one of the five elements corresponds in translation!  Luckily, even if we can’t discern the specific item in the list, the overall point is clear: God will remove the pride and privilege of Israel and replace it with poverty and shame.

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