I've heard it said, in Christian circles, that where a leader goes, there go the people. That is, the leader sets the tone that others follow, for better or for worse.
Isaiah 3 shows that the flipside can be true. When the people have really let loose and gone off the deep end, they may be rewarded with a truly terrible leader. They receive what their behavior has been asking for all along.
All the people who typically would be important in a nation--heroes and warriors, captains and counselors, judges and prophets--are gone. Instead, the nation is left with the inexperienced and "base" (as in, lower in character).
Reminds me of the evaporation of trust that many currently have toward all institutions (education, political, religious) and those in them. A 2016 Gallup poll indicated that American trust in all institutions ran at about 32% (https://news.gallup.com/poll/192581/americans-confidence-institutions-stays-low.aspx).This drop in trust covers pretty much every area besides the military. This distrust makes it difficult for Americans to solve problems (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/22/key-findings-about-americans-declining-trust-in-government-and-each-other/), a feature that 2020 had on full display.
The means by which God may remove the influence that key community-supporting institutions have may be...the people themselves. This certainly has occurred throughout history (for Les Miserables fans, the French Revolution may come to mind....). Turning on these institutions and removing anyone of knowledge, experience, and influence results in the breakdown of a society.
Times like these can be scary. In the midst of the Isaiah 3 state of anarchy, God throws in a brief aside to Isaiah, "Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds." The adage, "Do the next right thing," comes to mind. In the midst of chaos, the righteous need to keep on what they are doing.
This is a good mantra to focus on to counter the anxiety many feel at the close of 2020. As Mother Teresa said, "God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful." Consistent faithfulness on the part of the righteous is the main takeaway of what can be done in the midst of societal chaos. John Calvin, in his commentary on Isaiah, adds one more thing that the righteous--particularly those in places of influence--can do in these times: speak up!!
"For there is hardly any conduct more offensive, or more fitted to disturb our minds, than when the worst examples of every sort are publicly exhibited by magistrates, while no man utters a syllable against them, but almost all give their approbation."
There is a responsibility here to not go along with the wickedness and chaos, and to speak against it.
On top of that, there is cause for some soul-checking (a good 2021 task??), since even the righteous may fall into patterns that harm others. Plundering from the poor and spending a ton of money on bling takes up the last section of Isaiah 3. It's clear that God always wants people to be mindful of the poor, and a selfish focus on having things is really not what the righteous should be part of.
People of faith are used to seeing sin lists fill of sexual immorality, pride, and violent acts. This list (6 verses long) reads like the contents of a Hollywood celebrity's closet:
Bangles, headbands, crescent necklaces, earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume bottles, charms, signet rings, nose rings, fine robes, capes, cloaks, purses, mirrors, linen garments, tiaras, shawls.
Now there is quite a bit on gender in this chapter, that is beyond the scope of this blog (for those of you, like me, who are exploring fuller historical and Biblical scholarship beyond fundamentalist interpretations of gender in Scripture, here's a helpful start for Isaiah 3:12: https://margmowczko.com/isaiah-3_12-women-leaders/) But this bling thing is clearly aimed at women and, much as I hate to admit it, it's probably a fair critique for 8th century Judah and the 21st century United States.
Because the Christian church focuses so much on on sexual immorality as a sin, other sins get lost in the shuffle. For Christian men, a ton of attention is given to how to control oneself sexually. Discipleship groups, that could be teaching more holistic discipleship to the Lord, can devolve into defining masculinity and focusing on sexual purity.
In the meantime, Christian women, aside from being told to abstain from sex before marriage, get off the hook. The "7 deadly sins" (from the desert fathers---more on them below!) may not be emphasized, so sins of over-indulgence such as gluttony and greed may not be recognized as big baddies.
The larger society also sees greed as a "male sin," with the classic image of greed being a 1980s businessman. Case in point, "Wonder Woman 1984". Also, feel free to google, "greed," and see what images you get! Yet, many women may more subtly struggle with materialism and greed.
The desert mothers and fathers were Christians of the 3rd and 4th century AD who retreated to the Egyptian desert. They were fleeing corruption and materialism both within and outside of the Church, and they led the groundwork for the Christian monastic movement with the values of poverty, service, and self-denial. That last one is a doozy for modern Christians, who are rarely if ever taught to deny themselves.
If you have the money, what is wrong with purchasing a new necklace? If you can afford it, why not buy the new technology? And, all the anti-aging products, since the appearance of getting older must be avoided. Rather than self-denial, American culture celebrates the accumulation of wealth. And, the American church, with the pervasiveness of the Prosperity Gospel (for a definition, see https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-you-should-know-about-the-prosperity-gospel/), is on the front lines of this issue.
But, some may ask, is there anything inherently wrong with accumulating the bling list in Isaiah 3? Well, self-denial it is not. And although self-denial is currently on the fringes of American Christianity, Jesus Christ had it at the center:
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Pretty clear, pretty straightforward. This is one for me to grapple with in 2021....