Isaiah 3:1-4:1 For, behold, the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah stay and staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water; (2) the mighty man, and the man of war; the judge, and the prophet, and the diviner, and the elder; (3) the captain of fifty, and the honorable man, and the counsellor, and the expert artificer, and the skilful enchanter. (4) And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. (5) And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor: the child shall behave himself proudly against the old man, and the base against the honorable. (6) When a man shall take hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand; (7) in that day shall he lift up his voice, saying, I will not be a healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: ye shall not make me ruler of the people. (8) For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen; because their tongue and their doings are against Jehovah, to provoke the eyes of his glory. (9) The show of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have done evil unto themselves. (10) Say ye of the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. (11) Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for what his hands have done shall be done unto him. (12) As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they that lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. (13) Jehovah standeth up to contend, and standeth to judge the peoples. (14) Jehovah will enter into judgment with the elders of his people, and the princes thereof: It is ye that have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses: (15) what mean ye that ye crush my people, and grind the face of the poor? saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts. (16) Moreover Jehovah said, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet; (17) therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and Jehovah will lay bare their secret parts. (18) In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, and the cauls, and the crescents; (19) the pendants, and the bracelets, and the mufflers; (20) the headtires, and the ankle chains, and the sashes, and the perfume-boxes, and the amulets; (21) the rings, and the nose-jewels; (22) the festival robes, and the mantles, and the shawls, and the satchels; (23) the hand-mirrors, and the fine linen, and the turbans, and the veils. (24) And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet spices there shall be rottenness; and instead of a girdle, a rope; and instead of well set hair, baldness; and instead of a robe, a girding of sackcloth; branding instead of beauty. (25) Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. (26) And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she shall be desolate and sit upon the ground. (4:1) And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name; take thou away our reproach.
When I finished last week, the challenge was: In whom are you placing your trust? Those were the words the prophet ended with, and I thought it was appropriate not to stray too far from his point: In whom have we placed our trust? I am fairly confident that the prophet now intends to draw out some meaning from that as he sort of stretches us out and shows us a little more of what is coming, what is happening, what God is planning for his people.
A while back I read a short book by a Catholic priest who had served time in a Soviet work camp. The book is called He Leadeth Me. It is a fabulous little book. In the book, he asks his readers to consider deeply the implications of our faith in the rather fragile things of this earth:
That same lesson each of us must learn, difficult or not. How easy it is, in times of ease, for us to become dependent on our routines, on the established order of our day-to-day existence, to carry us along. We begin to take things for granted, to rely on ourselves and on our own resources, to ‘settle in’ in this world and look to it for our support. We all too easily come to equate being comfortable with a sense of our well-being, to see our comfort solely in the sense of being comfortable. Friends and possessions surround us, one day is followed by the next, good health and happiness for the most part are ours. We don’t have to desire much of the things of this world-to be enamored of the riches, for example, or greedy or avaricious-in order to have gained this sense of comfort and well-being, to trust in them as our support-and to take God for granted. It is the status quo that we rely on, that carries us from day to day, and somehow we begin to lose sight of the fact that under all these things and behind all these things it is God who supports and sustains us. We go along, taking for granted that tomorrow will be very much like today, comfortable in the world we have created for ourselves, secure in the established order we have learned to live with, however imperfect it may be, and give little thought to God at all.-He Leadeth Me, Walter Ciszek, 21
What are we to do? Here the Lord God made it perfectly clear to the people of Judah that he was going to remove every last vestige of strength from among them. There would be nothing left: A complete reversal of all human wisdom, strength, power, and wealth. All of it would be removed.
All those people so typically counted on to lead and provide and guide and direct and encourage and strengthen and reveal: Gone. No more supplies. No more support. No more food. No more water. No more heroes. No more warriors. No more judges. No more prophets. No more elders. No more captains. Not one. They would all be removed. What will become of you and me when the Lord removes all visible means of support? What will we do? How will we survive?
Then look at verses 4-7 because there matters are even worse. Desperate people the prophet said they would become. There will be rebellion. Hatred. Oppression. The whole world will be one giant mess of things. Young and old will rise up against one another. The nobody will rise up against the somebody. I recall the apostle writing, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
A complete reversal. The weak made strong. The strong made weak. The things that are not to shame the things that are. What will the people of God do when all that is wise and treasured and applauded is stripped to nothing and the idiots of the world are raised up to shame them? What are we going to do when from the lips of children praise is ordained or when we are commanded to abandon wisdom and become like children to enter his kingdom? I see here again reversal.
On the other hand, a man will sieze one of his brothers-this is a force action, a power grab, a forceful thrust, an intimidating gesture-and say, ‘you have a cloak, you be our leader.” What will we do when the standard of leadership is no longer holiness, righteousness, and humility before God but clothing? What will we do when there is such a derth of qualified men to serve that anyone with a shirt on his back will do? Are the rest of us really that naked?
What happens when all around us sin has become our pride? What happens when our drunken staggering and stumbling around becomes our defining quality? What happens when we, as the people of God-remember that Isaiah is talking to the people of God-what happens when our pride is no longer the glorious presence of God but the sin of Sodom? This is not so far-fetched in our day even now as churches all across America continue to embrace such things as homosexuality as convenient and perfectly acceptible forms of sexual conduct? And there is no shame. This sin is flaunted and arrogantly bragged in public. I hear again echos of Romans 1.
What happens to the people of God when the prophet stands and accuses us of having leaders who are mere children, mere women? What happens when our leaders lead us astray down paths of unrighteousness? What happens when the Lord takes his place as Judge and declares, “What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” What sort of people of God are we when this is God’s declaration against us?
Look at verse 3:16-4:1. Here we see women beautiful, immaculate. They are strong and glorious. These are probably the wives of those corrupt leaders who trample the poor and plunder the houses of the weak. Well it’s rather easy to see where the wealth of these women came from isn’t it? This is not too hard to understand: They too will be laid bare. That’s part of what verse 17 probably means: They will be exposed, raped, unglorified. They will be stripped and disgraced. They too will seize upon a man, “Let us be called by your name…take away our disgrace!” I don’t need to mince words here: These are desperate women who are having trouble living in a world where people are looking at them not because of their expensive jewels and clothing but instead because they are destitute. They are no longer envied, but pitied.
It’s almost as if God is saying: If your glory will not be me, your glory will not be anything. If your glory will not be me, your glory will be your shame. I sense here that God is jealous for his own glory and he will not allow his people to ursurp that glory for themselves or to obfuscate it with their own hubris.
What happens when this becomes the hard reality of life all around us, the people of God? What will the righteous do? He answers that in verse 10: “Tell the righteous, it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.” But that’s all he has to say to those who are not those under judgment.
God promises that he will not forget those who are righteous. So what do we do? I think the temptation is to get sidetracked. I think it is terribly difficult to push on in the midst of unrighteousness. It is easy to get discouraged when the wicked among the people of God are the ones who prosper. It is easy to get angry when among the people of God we see the poor being crushed and the arrogant getting more and more arrogant, more and more brazen. It’s difficult to see those plunder God for their own glory prosper. What will we do? What will the righteous do? Shall we take short-cuts, compromise, give up? I believe this message in chapter 3 is for those mentioned ever so briefly in verse 10: We should never have put our hope and trust in such people to begin with.
God deals with all this, he removes the strength and the support and says to us: What are you going to do when all you have left us me? What will you do when you realize that you only ever had me to begin with? What are you going to do when I turn it all upside down and demonstrate to you stiff-necked people that my kingdom is not built on the backs of the poor and weak and helpless but by the hands of the poor the weak and the helpless? When will you realize that my glory will not be ursurped?
What will we do? Continue to do righteousness. Don’t think God has forgotten you, your good deeds have not gone unnoticed. Your work is not in vain. The work of the wicked will not trump the work of the righteous; theirs will fade away, you will enjoy the fruit of your labor. So press on! The righteous will not be forgotten. In fact, that such a small effort is even being done amidst the prevailing darkness is all the more remarkable. I wonder how much louder one act of righteousness speaks compared to the plethora of unrighteous deeds done each minute? Surely God does not fail to see such things.
Eugene Peterson wrote about Jesus, “Jesus ignored the world of power and accomplishment that was brilliantly on display all around him. He chose to work on the margins of society, with unimportant people, giving particular attention to the weak, the disturbed, the powerless” (The Jesus Way, 204)
Judah did not and Isaiah called them out for it. The church cannot afford to mirror the the culture of strength and power and wealth and glory. We are the people of God and as such we have no right to plunder the glory of God for our own ends. And that is exactly what happens when we rely more on the ways of world that Jesus decisively rejected. The only glory we have a right and obligation to reflect is the glory of God: “…their words and deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence.” It must not be so in the church.
Always For God’s Glory!
Isaiah 3:1-4:1 Plundering God: When God Takes it All Away