Today’s Passage: Isaiah 4
I often lead with a song, and this post’s gotta get written, so let’s go with that. Jan and Dean’s 1963 hit single “Surf City” depicts a fictitious town of surfing and partying that boasts “two girls for every boy.” The Israel-to-come of Isaiah’s prophecies boasts an even higher ratio of seven to one. Isaiah states, “For seven women will take hold of one man in that day, saying, ‘We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach!'” (4:1). But this is no surf party, no cause for rejoicing. If the desperation of the women didn’t give it away, flip back to the previous chapter and read Isaiah’s prediction: “Your men will fall by the sword and your mighty ones in battle” (3:25). Why are there so many women compared to the men? It’s because some 85% of the men have been slaughtered in war.
But, as Isaiah notes, there is an Israel to come after this bleak Israel-to-come. He says, “In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel” (4:2). Not only does Israel remain, but its people prosper, enjoying God’s glory through his blessings. And what precipitates this change? Isaiah says it will come about “[w]hen the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning” (4:4). If Israel’s repentance plays a role, it’s not of primary importance here. What’s central is that God himself washes his people clean and purges their bloodshed. We keep seeing this imagery of bloodstained hands and garments, and even if we infer that God will wait for his people to repent before he restores them, the fact remains that they can’t clean the stain themselves. The only one who can turn this wreck around is God.