Isaiah 3 – Bald Women, Retributive Justice, and Grinding the Face of the Poor

Bible opened to Isaiah 3 with Green and Black's organic 85% cacao dark chocolate and Justin's almond butter on green plate

Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Dark 85% Cacao with Justin’s Almond Butter

Today’s PassageIsaiah 3

I can’t read Isaiah 3 without thinking of Johnny Q. Public’s song “Women of Zion.” Isaiah 3 ends with a denunciation of the daughters of Zion’s arrogance, saying that God will strip them of their beauty and ornamentation. I’m pretty sure it influenced Peter’s exhortation to humility for women in 1 Peter 3:1-6, but it also inspired Johnny Q. Public to write a musical interpretation of the passage with ludicrously literal lyrics. Consider the chorus:

Bald women, should’ve been humble;
Bald women, should’ve been smarter;
Bald women: you’re bald because you’re bald.

Sheer genius.

The thrust of Isaiah 3 is Israel’s impending fall from greatness into poverty, anarchy and humiliation. God lays out the crime he’s punishing them for: “Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their actions are against the Lord, to rebel against His glorious presence” (3:8). Simply put, they oppose God and his glory. And God issues the sentence: “Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him, for what he deserves will be done to him” (3:11). When you pit yourself against the omnibenevolent creator of every good thing, you’re the bad guy. Your rebellion is bad and you should feel bad.

So here’s a Question of the Day: is this a case of retributive justice? Is God planning to inflict this punishment simply because that’s what justice is: consequences proportionate to deeds, good things happening to those who do good and bad things happening to those who do bad? Is the punishment inflicted for its own sake, or to deter others from committing evil or to rehabilitate Israel through their suffering for their own sins?

For what it’s worth, verse 15 stood out to me: “‘What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the face of the poor?’ declares the Lord God of hosts.” This graphic picture of God’s people afflicting their own struck me with its forceful verbs. So I busted out the ol’ digital online Strong’s Concordance and looked ’em up. I don’t have much to say about “crushing,” but “grinding” is the Hebrew tachan. It’s what you do when you crush olives or grind meal; it’s what you do with a millstone. The Israelites do it to the manna in Numbers 11:7-8. And now the Israelites are doing it to the faces of those who struggle to afford grain. It’s a brutal image of oppression against the lowest of society, and a reminder that callous deeds against the impoverished are an act of rebellion against God himself.

 

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