Isaiah warns that Yahweh is coming to remove Judah’s leaders in every area of social, economic and political life so completely that there will be no one left to lead besides children (3:4) and women (v. 12). As Isaiah goes on, however, it becomes clear that the women of Judah are no more compassionate, just, or faithful than the men they replaced. They too will be brought down and removed and humbled, just like the men they replaced. Yahweh is not a sexist; He is an equal opportunity Judge.
In Isaiah’s viciously satiric portrait of the “daughters of Zion” (3:16-24), we get a glimpse of the upper class women who set the cultural agenda in Judah and especially in the capital city. Isaiah knows all the brand names, and lists them at monotonous length. The daughters of Zion are haughty, vain, and seductive attention-grabbers. They are the trend-setters, the fashion mavens of Judah. They lead by the force of example, the force of peer pressure, the force of snobbery and shame.
They’re not only self-centered, but silly. They don’t realize that Yahweh is coming. While they strut around weighed down with clanging jewelry and latest clothes, Yahweh is gathering an army that will strike all the mighty men of Jerusalem (3:25). When invaders pour into Judah, the women won’t be able to seduce their attackers by painting themselves like whores. It didn’t work for Jezebel; it won’t work for the daughters of Jerusalem. At Yahweh’s Advent, all the kitschy glory of the daughters of Zion will be stripped away.
But Isaiah is doing more than warning that fashion Nazis will be humbled. In Scripture, “daughters of Zion” are also the towns and villages around Judah, the “daughters” of the mother city, Jerusalem (cf. Judges 1:27).
As the prophecy goes on, another dimension emerges. The passage starts out talking about “daughters of Zion” – plural. By the time we get to the end of chapter 3, the plural “daughters” has become a singular woman. “Her gates will lament . . . she will sit on the earth” (v. 26). The daughters of Zion have coalesced into the single mother city, Zion herself, humbled, stripped of all her finery, with no throne to sit on except the earth, her gates violated by savage invaders.
If the “daughters of Jerusalem” is a multi-valent phrase, the behavior that Isaiah describes here also has a multiple significance. He condemns self-centered preening, but a number of the phrases that Isaiah uses are associated with temple worship. When Isaiah says the women are “proud” (v. 16), he uses a verb here is the root of the word for “high place.” The clanging bangles on their feet remind us of the bells at the hem of the high priest’s robe. The daughters are decked with rings, and the tabernacle curtains were linked together with rings and hooks. Priests wore “headdresses” (Exodus 39:28), and Isaiah uses the same term in verse 20. The high priest wore a diadem, a crown on his head. The sweet perfume is the balsam oil that Yahweh prescribed for the priestly anointing oil. Verse 19 mentions “crescent ornaments,” amulets or talismans involved in moon worship.
Thus, Isaiah directs his scorn not only at fashionable women but at the ostentatious but empty worship of Zion and the “daughters of Zion.” Zion is where Israel “walks” before the Lord, where the bride comes to meet with Yahweh. Instead, the daughters of Zion set up shrines on every high hill and spread their legs wide under every green tree (cf. Ezekiel 16).
Even the legitimate worship of the temple is a target. Judah thinks that she can please Yahweh by prancing and jangling at the temple. Yahweh rejects it as harlotry (cf. Isaiah 1:21). All of the daughters of Zion are like their mother. They are all street walkers, all whores. High class whores, but whores nonetheless.
Yahweh will not stand for this. Without warning, Isaiah predicts that Yahweh will strip the finery from Zion’s ladies, from Zion herself. He will shave their heads, and fill their scalps with leprous scabs (v. 17; cf. Leviticus 13:2; 14:56; Deuteronomy 28:35; Job 2:7). He will humiliate Jerusalem by lifting up her skirts in a public exposure of her genitals; she exposed herself, so Yahweh exposes her (cf. Isaiah 47:2; Jeremiah 13:26; Nahum 3:5). The daughters of Zion want attention, so Yahweh lets everyone everyone a look.
Relentlessly, Yahweh strips away all her finery and fashion (3:18-24), yet in the following chapter, Isaiah describes this whole process as a cleansing. The tinsel glory of the daughters of Zion is “filth” and “blood” that needs to be purged, and when it is then Yahweh’s glory is revealed as a cloud by day and a flame of fire by night (4:2-5). When Yahweh comes, His Spirit burns away the dross so that the gold can shine.
Not very Christmassy, it seems, but this judgment is a central part of the good news of Advent. God comes to strip the altars of all the filth that we take for finery, not to remove glory but to replace counterfeit glory with true splendor. And, more fundamentally, the Son comes in the flesh to strip away the flesh and all its boasting so that the rays of eternal light can beam through our humanity.