God is an equal opportunity judge. The male leaders--warriors and soldiers, judges and prophets, diviners and elders, captains and dignitaries, counselors and magicians--have been judged in 3:1-5, and now it is the turn of the women. In all cases, the issue is the same--the wealthy have devoured the vineyard (that is, the nation) and stolen even from the poor (3:14). The Bible and the prophets have no vendetta against abundance itself. Micah is glad to announce a day when everyone will sit under their own vines and fig trees (Micah 4:4), and Jesus announces that he comes so that all may have life abundantly (John 10:10). The Bible's concern is that prosperity be made available for all, not merely for some. Prosperity is one thing, "grinding the face of the poor" is another (Isaiah 3:15).
Now, it appears that the unequal distribution of wealth made possible by the growth of the monarchy (see "The Eighth-Century Prophets" in Introductory Issues) is flaunted by the women who can afford the showy clothes and jewelry so sarcastically described in Isaiah's poetry. The poetry itself is wonderful, if not the situation it describes. One can see the outstretched necks, the wanton glances, and hear the anklets tinkling on the mincing feet. Again, it is important to read this not as a condemnation of women or of beauty, but of haughtiness (just as male haughtiness was denounced in 2:12-22)--that is, of flaunting wealth in the faces of those who have nothing.
Under the sharp judgment of the text, we can learn much about the dress of royal and wealthy women in the eighth century: anklets, headbands, crescents, pendants, scarfs, headdresses, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, signet and nose rings, festal robes, mantles, cloaks, handbags, gauze, linen, turbans, veils--it all sounds remarkably modern, and only slightly cross-cultural. Such things have their own beauty, but trust in them will bring only destruction.
16 The Lord said:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty
and walk with outstretched necks,
glancing wantonly with their eyes,
mincing along as they go,
tinkling with their feet;
17 the Lord will afflict with scabs
the heads of the daughters of Zion,
and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.
18 On that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents;
19the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves;
20the head-dresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets;
21the signet rings and nose-rings;
22the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags;
23the garments of gauze, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils.
24 Instead of perfume there will be a stench;
and instead of a sash, a rope;
and instead of well-arranged hair, baldness;
and instead of a rich robe, a binding of sackcloth;
instead of beauty, shame.*
25 Your men shall fall by the sword
and your warriors in battle.
26 And her gates shall lament and mourn;
ravaged, she shall sit upon the ground.
4Seven women shall take hold of one man on that day, saying,
We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes;
just let us be called by your name;
take away our disgrace.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011