Seven Women and One Man

In Isaiah 4.1 we find one of the most striking descriptions of desperation ever recorded in scripture. We find in that verse a description of the deplorable condition that Israelite women would find themselves in. For the continued indifference of the Israelites toward God and His Law, for their blatant trampling of the covenant established at Sinai, and for the proud way they defied the living God, God’s judgment would soon fall like a thunderbolt on the nation of Judah. Isaiah was sent to Jerusalem and the surrounding region of Judah to proclaim God’s punishment that would fall upon that people due to the idolatry they had practiced for many, many years. We see in Isa. 2 the opulence and the sinfulness of the people:

For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners. Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.” (v.6-8)

The judgment that would fall upon Judah would be such that had never been experienced before. Their great wealth would be stricken, to the point where one who owned a cloak would be declared ruler over the piles of rubble. (Isa. 3.36) They would throw their precious idols to the moles and bats and hide in caves and holes to flee God’s wrath (Isa. 2.20-21), and in the latter portion of chapter 3 (including Isa 4.1: bad chapter break here) we find the description of the women of Jerusalem, and how they would behave following God’s judgment upon Judah:

And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach.” (Isaiah 4.1)

While upon initial examination this may seem a bit confusing, a bit of context does much to clarify what is being said here. We find the reason why the Israelite women would be competing for the men of that city: the vast majority would be killed (Isa.3.25-26) as a part of God’s judgment against Judah. Simply put, there aren’t enough men to “go around” anymore. The number of women seeking after the one man is not meant to be literal: there would not be exactly seven women surrounding every remaining Israelite male in Jerusalem. The number seven is used at times to indicate a large or complete number. (Lev. 26.28; Prov. 24.16, Zech. 3.9, etc.)  The situation would become so dire that the young women would seek after the attentions of the men, a profound statement considering that the men were the ones who sought their potential brides. (Gen. 24, Judges 14, etc.) Keep in mind: If a man were to marry more than one woman, he was bound by Jewish law to “not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.” (Ex. 21.10)

Here is where the desperation is most telling: In Isa. 4.1 the women would “take hold”, an emphatic statement akin to clinging, and declare they would renounce the demands of the husband to care for them as he ought, (We will eat our own bread, and wear our own clothes…”)! They are so desperate as to forfeit their rights as wives just to be wives! Their only request was to be called by his name. “…only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach.” They only wish to not be left alone, powerless and abandoned. Interestingly, we find a very similar statement having been made by the Roman poet Lucan in his work Pharsalia, where Marcia makes a similar request of Cato: “Indulge me only with the empty title of wife. Let there only be inscribed on my tomb, “Marcia, wife of Cato.”’ These women only want their reproach to be rolled away, their status as wife restored, their dignity repaired. They will stop at nothing to be free from their shameful situation.

Remember why these women were in this deplorable situation. In their idolatry, their prideful abandonment of the covenant made with God, they had incurred His great wrath at their sin. The warning to us is simple. If we continue to be sinful and defiant of the living God, we will be subject to the greatest expression of His wrath: eternal punishment. Remember the desperation of those men and women in Matthew 7.22 when faced with God’s declaration of their condemnation: “On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” But as we continue reading, there was to be no taking away of their reproach. There would be no one to save them, no one to cling to, nowhere to go. The plight of the women in Isaiah 4 will be vastly insignificant in comparison to the utter desperation experienced by those who meet their Maker and desire only to be called by His name just one last time, but cannot. “And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' (Matthew 7.23)

Brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, it doesn’t have to be this way! God earnestly wants to take away your reproach, to call you by His name and welcome you into His family. Why search this world for what cannot fill the void in your heart when the Creator of your heart wants you so dearly! “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5.8) We can know no greater love than the love of God for us as His children! We become part of the family of God, we become brothers and sisters of Christ and children of God by obedience to Him! “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12.50) Let us be reconciled to God today. Let us lay down our pride and our arrogance as the foolish son did in Luke 15, and return home to our Father. We can be assured of one thing: God is looking for us to come home. “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15.20)