Saturday, September 11, 2010

Point of Discussion on Isaiah 4:1

I have never found an interpretation of Isaiah 4:1 that has satisfied me.  I'm inviting your comments on this scripture.

--Update to this post: Reader "Tabi" has offered a really insightful interpretation! Read it in the comments below this post. It makes more sense to me than anything I've heard before. Thank you, Tabi!--

Here is the verse:

"And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach."

The footnote to "seven" reads: "because of scarcity of men due to wars."  The footnote to "reproach" reads: "the stigma of being unmarried and childless."

It would make more sense to me if it were the last verse of Chapter 3, which tells of the great devastation that will strike the daughters of Zion for their unfaithfulness.  And this is a possibility, because, of course, the chapters and verses were decided by editors, not by the original authors.  Parry, Parry and Peterson, in their book, Understanding Isaiah, agree with this placement. 

In the Book of Mormon, these chapters and verses are arranged the same way that they are in Isaiah. If verse 1 should really be a part of Chapter 3, might not Joseph Smith have rearranged it, even though E.B. Grandin, the publisher, originally divided the book into chapter and verse?


Still, I can't see where this prophecy fits with our society today.  Many women desire to keep their own names, and being unmarried and childless has a somewhat elevated status among the worldly, moreso in our day than in any other time on the earth.

But if it is really the first verse of Chapter 4, it is linked with the marvelous prophecy that "In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious..." and those who are left in Zion will be the holy temple-goers, etc.  How does it fit there?

Gary Bennett, CES instructor, interprets the "one man" to be Jesus Christ, who is the only one whose name can take away reproach.  The number seven is symbolic of Christ's church or perfection, completion.  It fits with the rest of the chapter, and it makes sense to me, except for the "eat our own bread and wear our own apparel" part.  That doesn't seem to fit the imagery of Christ, or a temple-goer, or someone who has been covered by the Atonement.  Also, Elder McConkie's footnote commentary, noted above, does not seem to lead to that idea.

You readers all have great ideas, and if you have any on this topic, I would love to hear them.  Please leave your comments and theories below.  I'm looking forward to reading them!


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16 comments:

Anonymous said...

The 7 women represent the 7 dispensations of this world and the one man is Christ. The relationship of Christ to his people is often expressed as a marriage with Him as the Bridegroom and his people as the bride. When he comes in the fulness of time to rule and rein; each dispensation will want to claim him as their 'husband' who will take away their reproach (sins) as he passes judgement.

CarlH said...

I took a class in Isaiah from Daniel Ludlow at BYU more years ago than I want to admit and he pointed out that the "Inspired Version" of the Joseph Smith Translation moves 4:1 to 3:27, and suggested that the passage in 3:16-4:1 represents retribution upon the worldly pride of "the daughters of Israel" (and, I think by extension, all Israel, and even perhaps, all of the Lord's covenant people(s)), in contrast to the promise of 4:2-6. I do not recall, nor do my notes include, any different interpretation of the seven-women-to-one-man language of the verse. My personal view (subject of course to the caution of 2 Pet. 1:20 about "private interpretations") is that concern on the part of the still-wayward daughters of Zion is not really about righteous marriage (indeed, they advance a position that is contrary to the proper order of marriage under Mosaic law--see Exo. 21:10) but rather an additional evidence of their pride--concern for their outward appearance and their status in the world.

(By the way, the complete I.V., which does indeed have 4:1 moved to 3:27, is available online at the CenterPlace.org, an RLDS [sic]-related site).

I look forward to others' comments and insights.

Nancy W. Jensen said...

That's interesting to know the Joseph Smith Translation moves it!

FYI for readers: You can also buy several different versions of the JST (or Inspired Version) at Deseret Book. See this blog entry for more information on available editions:

http://gospeldoctrineplus.blogspot.com/2010/04/joseph-smith-translation.html

April said...

(I added my comment and then deleted it because I think I needed to reword. Please, ignore the first comment and read this one...)

To me, this verse makes much more sense if seen as the last verse of Isaiah 3. (Coincidentally, that's what the professors that present the BYU Roundtable Discussions put forward, as well.)

When I read it, I get something completely different from the comments by others I've read. In brief, to me it is referring to the "women's rights movement" and how women want to be treated exactly the same as men instead of celebrating the virtues and differences associated with womanhood as discussed in Jacob 2:7 "And also it grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God." In other words, these characteristics of women's natures are pleasing unto God.

Women seeking equality with men without acknowledging the natural differences between men and women can have a tendency to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" in that some women seek to take on the base and more negative characteristics of men. They seek to make their own way in the world to the exclusion of men and the God-ordained relationship between men and women. For example, they seek to have the same "sexual freedom" that men in the world have without being looked down on or disapproved of -- "only let us be called by thy name (or seen in the same way as men), to take away our reproach" - reproach meaning, "The expression of disapproval or disappointment."

I read a very interesting (and shocking, in parts) article on this very subject in Good Housekeeping or an equivalent magazine several years ago. I'll have to see if I can dig it out for you, Nancy. To me this scripture is talking about this topic exactly.

I know this can be a very controversial subject and I hope I have expressed myself clearly. I have nothing against women's rights when it seeks to celebrate the intelligence, introspect and characteristics of both men and women. I think this scripture instead is referring to the demeaning of women that is so prevalent in our day.

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Great comments, everyone.

I really like your angle, April. It makes sense with what is happening in many places today.

Very likely, this is another place in Isaiah where there is dualism, and more than one viewpoint can be correct.

If any others have thoughts, please share them!

mddwave said...

While studying Isaiah 4:2, I thought of a multi-level meaning. Most commentary refers to Isaiah 4 as relating "Millennial day". The chapter heading states "Zion and her daughters shall be redeemed and cleansed in the Millennial day".

When I read verse 1, I thought "in that day" could also mean Book of Mormon Lehi's time. When Lehi left Jerusalem, most of the leadership, etc were already taken captive and Judah was essentially in a state of war. In the state of war, there would be little eligible men to marry.

"4:1 And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach."
The trigger to my thought was in verse 2 "escaped of Israel". "4:2 In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel."

When one reads 1st Nephi, it is a record of essentially the escape of Lehi's family to the promised land. Several times in the Book of Mormon such as 1st Nephi 2:20, it states

"20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands."

Andy said...

remember Isa 4:1 and the seven women statement is in Isa 4 in the original manuscript of the JST the RLDS church moved it into chapter 3 when the printed the JST. Joseph did not.

Anonymous said...

Hi, the number seven denotes perfection or fullness. The woman is used symbolically to denote a church - a virtuous woman represents a holy church and a vile one an apostate church - therefore the seven women refer to churches and the One Man is Jesus Christ. Now these seven women take hold of the man JC and spell out their own terms which to me depicts the state of utter wickedness and confusion all done in the name of Jesus Christ by a variety of churches that wear their own clothes ie have their own idea of righteousness (remember the robe of Christ's Righteousness) and buy their own food ie teach their own doctrine (remember Jesus is the bread of life, the word). So in a nutshell all these people hold onto the name of Jesus but do not worship in Spirit and Truth, they take His name but do not accept His Lordship over them. They follow in name but not in deed and with their mouths and appearance seem to believe but in reality seek their own means.

Anonymous said...

It is important to also npote that many of the prophecies in Isaiah pointed to the immediate future and the end of time ie the time we are living in today. Some of the prophecies had a dual kind of application and also mirror the circumstances prevailing at the end of time when just like the Kingdom of Judah was about to be destroyed, the earth is also about to come to an end at the coming of Jesus Christ the second time.

Tabi said...

Isaiah is very particular in the meaning of his words. It has been firmly established that the bride of Christ is also the church of Christ. While he does not call the seven women brides, they state that they wish to take his name. That is a married action. Therefore, we can conclude that they are asking to become his churches, or join his church as married wives. They don't want his clothing or bread. Clothing is a symbol of authority or power (probably saying they want to be called his, but don't want to accept revelations of the spirit or possibly priesthood power and authority over them). Bread is doctrine or commandments. Remember, he is the bread of life. Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Isaiah often uses events from his day to illustrate our day. He uses names and things from his time as symbols of events in the latter days. If we pray and ponder on the meaning he gives to words, such as calling churches women. We can begin to translate those words into our modern language. Line upon line, we can begin to understand. I hope this helps.

Tabi said...

Tabi again... The doctrine he is referring to is from his mouth, meaning personal revelation, as opposed to just reading something written by past prophets. They are rejecting gifts of the spirit and personal revelation. I believe this will help clarify some vagueness in y previous answer.

Tabi said...

Isaiah is very particular in the meaning of his words. It has been firmly established that the bride of Christ is also the church of Christ. While he does not call the seven women brides, they state that they wish to take his name. That is a married action. Therefore, we can conclude that they are asking (in fact, demanding since they took hold of him, and he did not seek them as bridgrooms do) to become his churches, or join his church as married wives. They don't want his clothing or bread. Clothing is a symbol of authority or power (probably saying they want to be called his, but don't want to accept revelations of the spirit or possibly priesthood power and authority over them). Bread is doctrine or commandments. Remember, he is the bread of life. Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Isaiah often uses events from his day to illustrate our day. He uses names and things from his time as symbols of events in the latter days. If we pray and ponder on the meaning he gives to words, such as calling churches women. We can begin to translate those words into our modern language. Line upon line, we can begin to understand. I hope this helps.

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Tabi! This is my favorite interpretation of this scripture EVER! Thank you! This actually makes sense to me! I'm altering my post to direct readers to your comment.

Melanie Christensen said...

Very interesting I feel most at peace with your explanatin. May I ask how you came to this answer?

Melanie Christensen said...

Very interesting I feel most at peace with your explanatin. May I ask how you came to this answer?

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Melanie, I am not sure if you are speaking about my answer or about Tabi's answer in the comments, but the best way to interpret any scripture is by using other scriptures. The symbols in the scriptures tend to be very consistent, coming as they do from Hebrew culture. If you can find a related symbol that is explained elsewhere, it is likely going to be a good clue. Brides, numbers, names, bread and clothing are all highly symbolic in the Bible. Tabi did a great job using those symbols as they have been used elsewhere in the scriptures, although I'm still confused by the number seven in this scripture, since it means "godly perfection." If you want to ask specific questions about this scripture, please feel free. I don't know if I have any answers but questions sometimes bring answers.