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Isaiah 1:21-24

Purifying Judgment

1:21 How tragic that the once-faithful city

has become a prostitute! 1 

She was once a center of 2  justice,

fairness resided in her,

but now only murderers. 3 

1:22 Your 4  silver has become scum, 5 

your beer is diluted with water. 6 

1:23 Your officials are rebels, 7 

they associate with 8  thieves.

All of them love bribery,

and look for 9  payoffs. 10 

They do not take up the cause of the orphan, 11 

or defend the rights of the widow. 12 

1:24 Therefore, the sovereign Lord who commands armies, 13 

the powerful ruler of Israel, 14  says this:

“Ah, I will seek vengeance 15  against my adversaries,

I will take revenge against my enemies. 16 

1 tn Heb “How she has become a prostitute, the faithful city!” The exclamatory אֵיכָה (’ekhah, “how!”) is used several times as the beginning of a lament (see Lam 1:1; 2;1; 4:1-2). Unlike a number of other OT passages that link references to Israel’s harlotry to idolatry, Isaiah here makes the connection with social and moral violations.

2 tn Heb “filled with.”

3 tn Or “assassins.” This refers to the oppressive rich and/or their henchmen. R. Ortlund (Whoredom, 78) posits that it serves as a synecdoche for all varieties of criminals, the worst being mentioned to imply all lesser ones. Since Isaiah often addressed his strongest rebuke to the rulers and leaders of Israel, he may have in mind the officials who bore the responsibility to uphold justice and righteousness.

4 tn The pronoun is feminine singular; personified Jerusalem (see v. 21) is addressed.

5 tn Or “dross.” The word refers to the scum or impurites floating on the top of melted metal.

6 sn The metaphors of silver becoming impure and beer being watered down picture the moral and ethical degeneration that had occurred in Jerusalem.

7 tn Or “stubborn”; CEV “have rejected me.”

8 tn Heb “and companions of” (so KJV, NASB); CEV “friends of crooks.”

9 tn Heb “pursue”; NIV “chase after gifts.”

10 sn Isaiah may have chosen the word for gifts (שַׁלְמוֹנִים, shalmonim; a hapax legomena here), as a sarcastic pun on what these rulers should have been doing. Instead of attending to peace and wholeness (שָׁלוֹם, shalom), they sought after payoffs (שַׁלְמוֹנִים).

11 sn See the note at v. 17.

12 sn The rich oppressors referred to in Isaiah and the other eighth century prophets were not rich capitalists in the modern sense of the word. They were members of the royal military and judicial bureaucracies in Israel and Judah. As these bureaucracies grew, they acquired more and more land and gradually commandeered the economy and legal system. At various administrative levels bribery and graft become commonplace. The common people outside the urban administrative centers were vulnerable to exploitation in such a system, especially those, like widows and orphans, who had lost their family provider through death. Through confiscatory taxation, conscription, excessive interest rates, and other oppressive governmental measures and policies, they were gradually disenfranchised and lost their landed property, and with it, their rights as citizens. The socio-economic equilibrium envisioned in the law of Moses was radically disturbed.

13 tn Heb “the master, the Lord who commands armies [traditionally, the Lord of hosts].” On the title “the Lord who commands armies,” see the note at v. 9.

14 tn Heb “the powerful [one] of Israel.”

15 tn Heb “console myself” (i.e., by getting revenge); NRSV “pour out my wrath on.”

16 sn The Lord here identifies with the oppressed and comes as their defender and vindicator.

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