Here God proceeds in his controversy with his people. Observe,
I. The ground of his controversy. It was for sin that God contended with them; if they vex themselves, let them look a little further and they will see that they must thank themselves: Woe unto their souls! For they have rewarded evil unto themselves. Alas for their souls! (so it may be read, in a way of lamentation), for they have procured evil to themselves, Isa. 3:9. Note, The condition of sinners is woeful and very deplorable. Note, also, It is the soul that is damaged and endangered by sin. Sinners may prosper in their outward estates, and yet at the same time there may be a woe to their souls. Note, further, Whatever evils befals sinners it is of their own procuring, Jer. 2:19. That which is here charged upon then is, 1. That the shame which should have restrained them from their sins was quite thrown off and they had grown impudent, Isa. 3:9. This hardens men against repentance, and ripens them for ruin, as much as anything: The show of their countenance doth witness against them that their minds are vain, and lewd, and malicious; their eyes declare plainly that they cannot cease from sin, 2 Pet. 2:14. One may look them in the face and guess at the desperate wickedness that there is in their hearts: They declare their sin as Sodom, so impetuous, so imperious, are their lusts, and so impatient of the least check, and so perfectly are all the remaining sparks of virtue extinguished in them. The Sodomites declared their sin, not only by the exceeding greatness of it (Gen. 13:13), so that it cried to heaven (Gen. 18:20), but by their shameless owning of that which was most shameful (Gen. 19:5); and thus Judah and Jerusalem did: they were so far from hiding it that they gloried in it, in the bold attempts they made upon virtue, and the victory they gained over their own convictions. They had a whore’s forehead (Jer. 3:3) and could not blush, Jer. 6:15. Note, Those that have grown impudent in sin are ripe for ruin. Those that are past shame (we say) are past grace, and then past hope. 2. That their guides, who should direct them in the right way, put them out of the way (Isa. 3:12): “Those who lead thee (the princes, priests, and prophets) mislead thee; they cause thee to err.” Either they preached to them that which was false and corrupt, or, if they preached that which was true and good, they contradicted it by their practices, and the people would soon follow a bad example than a good exhortation. Thus they destroyed the ways of their paths, pulling down with one hand what they built up with the other. Que te beatificant—Those that call thee blessed cause thee to err; so some read it. Their priests applauded them, as if nothing were amiss among them, cried Peace, peace, to them, as if they were in no danger; and thus they caused them to go on in their errors. 3. That their judges, who should have patronized and protected the oppressed, were themselves the greatest oppressors, Isa. 3:14, 15. The elders of the people, and the princes, who had learning and could not but know better things, who had great estates and were not under the temptation of necessity to encroach upon those about them, and who were men of honour and should have scorned to do a base thing, yet they have eaten up the vineyard. God’s vineyard, which they were appointed to be the dressers and keepers of, they burnt (so the word signifies); they did as ill by it as its worst enemies could do, Ps. 80:16. Or the vineyards of the poor they wrested out of their possession, as Jezebel did Naboth’s, or devoured the fruits of them, fed their lusts with that which should have been the necessary food of indigent families; the spoil of the poor was hoarded up in their houses; when God came to search for stolen goods there he found it, and it was a witness against them. It was to be had, and they might have made restitution, but would not. God reasons with these great men (Isa. 3:15): “What mean you, that you beat my people into pieces? What cause have you for it? What good does it do you?” Or, “What hurt have they done you? Do you think you had power given you for such a purpose as this?” Note, There is nothing more unaccountable, and yet nothing which must more certainly be accounted for, than the injuries and abuses that are done to God’s people by their persecutors and oppressors. “You grind the faces of the poor; you put them to as much pain and terror as if they were ground in a mill, and as certainly reduce them to dust by one act of oppression after another.” Or, “Their faces are bruised and crushed with the blows you have given them; you have not only ruined their estates, but have given them personal abuses.” Our Lord Jesus was smitten on the face, Matt. 26:67.
II. The management of this controversy. 1. God himself is the prosecutor (Isa. 3:13): The Lord stands up to plead, or he sets himself to debate the matter, and he stands to judge the people, to judge for those that were oppressed and abused; and he will enter into judgment with the princes, Isa. 3:14. Note, The greatest of men cannot exempt or secure themselves from the scrutiny and sentence of God’s judgment, nor demur to the jurisdiction of the court of heaven. 2. The indictment is proved by the notorious evidence of the fact: “Look upon the oppressors, and the show of their countenance witnesses against them (Isa. 3:9); look upon the oppressed, and you see how their faces are battered and abused,” Isa. 3:15. 3. The controversy is already begun in the change of the ministry. To punish those that had abused their power to bad purposes God sets those over them that had not sense to use their power to any good purposes: Children are their oppressors, and women rule over them (Isa. 3:12), men that have as weak judgments and strong passions as women and children: this was their sin, that their rulers were such, and it became a judgment upon them.
III. The distinction that shall be made between particular persons, in the prosecution of this controversy (Isa. 3:10, 11): Say to the righteous, It shall be well with thee. Woe to the wicked; it shall be ill with him. He had said (Isa. 3:9), they have rewarded evil to themselves, in proof of which he here shows that God will render to every man according to his works. Had they been righteous, it would have been well with them; but, if it be ill with them, it is because they are wicked and will be so. Thus God stated the matter to Cain, to convince him that he had no reason to be angry, Gen. 4:7. Or it may be taken thus: God is threatening national judgments, which will ruin the public interests. Now, 1. Some good people might fear that they should be involved in that ruin, and therefore God bids the prophets comfort them against those fears: “Whatever becom 3c19 es of the unrighteous nation, let the righteous man know that he shall not be lost in the crowd of sinners; the Judge of all the earth will not slay the righteous with the wicked (Gen. 18:25); no, assure him, in God’s name, that it shall be well with him. The property of the trouble shall be altered to him, and he shall be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger. He shall have divine supports and comforts, which shall abound as afflictions abound, and so it shall be well with him.” When the whole stay of bread is taken away, yet in the day of famine the righteous shall be satisfied; they shall eat the fruit of their doings—they shall have the testimony of their consciences for them that they kept themselves pure from the common iniquity, and therefore the common calamity is not the same thing to them that it is to others; they brought no fuel to the flame, and therefore are not themselves fuel for it. 2. Some wicked people might hope that they should escape that ruin, and therefore God bids the prophets shake their vain hopes: “Woe to the wicked; it shall be ill with him, Isa. 3:11. To him the judgments shall have sting, and there shall be wormwood and gall in the affliction and misery.” There is a woe to wicked people, and, though they may think to shelter themselves from public judgments, yet it shall be ill with them; it will grow worse and worse with them if they repent not, and the worst of all will be at last; for the reward of their hands shall be given them, in the day when every man shall receive according to the things done in the body.