13 The LORD takes his place in court;
he rises to judge the people.
14 The LORD enters into judgment
against the elders and leaders of his people:
“It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
the plunder from the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people
and grinding the faces of the poor?”
declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.
This is too hard to hear on so many levels. Here blame is levelled against those who have ruined the country. And that judgment is based on their treatment of the poor and defenceless.
I find myself wondering how much plunder from the poor is in my house. How much has the national wealth of recent years enabled me to fill my house, my wardrobe, any of my spaces with plunder of the poor. Items bought cheaply at the expense of slave labour, below minimum wage workers, sweat shops. Food consumed cheaply because of subsidies which exclude poorer nations from the trade table. Have I decorated my house with unsustainable materials, plundering the poor earth? This is my culpability.
16 The LORD says,
“The women of Zion are haughty,
walking along with outstretched necks,
flirting with their eyes,
strutting along with swaying hips,
with ornaments jingling on their ankles.
17 Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion;
the LORD will make their scalps bald.”
18 In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, 19 the earrings and bracelets and veils, 20 the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, 21 the signet rings and nose rings, 22 the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses 23 and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls.
24 Instead of fragrance there will be a stench;
instead of a sash, a rope;
instead of well-dressed hair, baldness;
instead of fine clothing, sackcloth;
instead of beauty, branding.
Just as the men were judged because they chose leaders based upon their ability to acquire stuff, so too are the women judged because of their consumerism. Here is an astonishing list, monotonous yet devastating. It’s as if the prophet has entered all the exclusive shops in Jerusalem, or Grafton Street, and rooted in the wardrobes the rich in D4.
Not one of these items is shocking in an of itself. No single possession speaks of oppression. But the sheer quantity and the context in which they are acquired is what makes them an abomination.
His great skill is to see the truth behind the image. He sees the fine sash like a rope of slavery. He sees coiffed hair like the diseased scalp of the undernourished. He sees expensive fragrances like the repulsive stench of the unclean,
The last in this list is interesting. There is actually no Hebrew word. It’s as if Isaiah reaches his end and says,
‘Instead of beauty…..’
All the rampant consumerism of Jerusalem was odious to Isaiah and he saw it for what it was – a form of slavery that would destroy them eventually. And all of this display and acquisition happens at the same time as the faces of the poor are ground in the dirt (v15).
25 Your men will fall by the sword,
your warriors in battle.
26 The gates of Zion will lament and mourn;
destitute, she will sit on the ground.
Finally, as the men and then the women of Jerusalem are destroyed, so too is the city itself. It’s as if it sits derelict, destitute and deserted.
What Brueggemann calls this ‘fraudulent, self-indulgent society’ has met an appropriate end. All that they gloried in has been taken away by Yahweh, every aspect of social infrastructure has been rocked to the core. Incompetent leadership replaced by immature leadership, each a source of shame. A world that is unlivable where old structures of respect and deference that gave stability have been replaced by rapacious exploitation.
And all this happens not because they embrace any obviously idolatrous behaviours – presumably temple worship continues unabated. Rather the country practices a destructive duality where they take to themselves autonomy in decisions of economic, military and social importance. They act in these areas as if faith has no influence there.
Jerusalem failed to heed the warnings of Isaiah.