Early in the school year, I got an e-mail from my boss telling teachers to fix our websites. In an attachment was each teacher’s name and what was wrong with her website. There it was in black and white, “Walters—has link to March lunch menu.” If the e-mail had been generic, I probably would have kept my website on the backburner, but when I was told specifically what to fix, I got right on it. The fact that someone knew exactly what was wrong and put it in my face (or my inbox) lit a fire under me.
In the same way, Isaiah doesn’t do generic with the people of Judah. Return, repent, be renewed. According to my study Bible, these are the three things we hear Isaiah repeating throughout his prophecy. His words challenge the people to turn from specific sins before the judgment that is coming.
As I read through Isaiah this summer, I was always surprised when the sins of Judah were not all that different than my sins, or the sins that permeate this culture I live in and love.
For instance, Isaiah 3:16-4:1 is a specific prophecy directed at the women of Judah. Their sin, be it manifested by flirting with their eyes or by tripping along with mincing steps, was placing too great an emphasis on their outward appearances. In a time of imminent destruction and oppression, they worried about their bangles, headbands and purses. Sound familiar? They placed too much value on these possessions and wound up with nothing.
I can’t help but think of Heidi Montag and her ten plastic surgery procedures in one day. I want to point at her and say, “She’s got issues with her appearance. I’m doing just fine.” But then, there are days when I force myself to the gym because I’m convinced my pants won’t fit if I don’t (and you thought I was just super-committed!).
When Isaiah issues the call to return and to repent, he is not just talking to Judah. He is telling all of us. And when Isaiah predicts their ultimate salvation, we can pin our hopes on the same Savior.
For the women of Judah, just when things are at their most desperate (4:1), he lays out God’s plan for their ultimate renewal.
“’We will eat our own food and provide our own clothes; only let us be called by your name. Take away our disgrace!’ In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious...”
At the time of Judah’s destruction, God was planning to protect a remnant under the shelter of His glorious Branch. They would be people marked by their righteousness, not by their physical appearance. In the same way, what marks us as godly women is our character, not our finery. Of course, we know this. We’ve heard the message more times than we can count, haven’t we? We need frequent reminders, though. I, especially, need to be reminded that the beautiful and glorious Branch of the LORD transferred His beauty to me.
As we begin studying Isaiah, as we see the specific sins of Judah laid out in black and white, it’s important to remember that we are just as likely to sin in the same ways, and to need a reminder to return and repent. There is a strong temptation to shake our heads at the foolish Israelites who kept missing the point and to distance ourselves from this text that was written so long ago. But if we overlook our sins, we overlook our Savior—the beautiful and glorious One Isaiah promised would come.
1. Draw a picture of the kind of woman Isaiah describes in chapter 3. Draw another woman who represents the appearance-obsession of our present day. How are these women similar? How are they different?
2. In your prayer life, is it your practice to repent of specific sins, or to repent in broad strokes? How can Isaiah’s judgment of Judah’s women inform our prayer lives? How will this affect our view of Jesus?