Isaiah 1 – God’s Case Against Judah & Ancient Israelite Clothing and Jewelry

The style of clothes obviously has changed, but the  way people judge others by the type of clothing they wear has not changed.

1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.

Isaiah begins and ends (66:24) with a condemnation of those who rebel against God.  He depicts a courtroom scene charging Israel with covenant unfaithfulness and calls on heaven and earth to testify to the truth of God’s accusation against Israel and the rightness of His judgment, since the accusation against Israel and the rightness of His judgment, since they were witnesses of His covenant (see Deut 30:19, 31:28: 32:1).

3 The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

King Hezekiah
Hezekiah (meaning God will strengthen, also translated as Ḥizkiyyahu (and sometimes as Ezekias (Greek), Khizkiyahu, Yəḥizqiyyāhu, Y’khizkiyahu), was a king of Judah that appears in the book of 2 Chronicles, chapters 18 to 32, and the book of 2 Kings chapters 18 to 20. He was one of the few kings who is compared favorably with David, and is unique for his trust in the Lord.

Hezekiah was the son of Judah’s King Ahaz, and is best known for turning his people away from the sins of his father Ahaz, restoring worship in the temple, and having his life made 15 years longer. The Book of 2 Chronicles tells more about Hezekiah than any other king after Solomon, and suggests that he is a “second Solomon” in his celebration of the Passover, his wealth, his honor, and his land.

Toward the end of his reign, he became very sick and close to death. He prayed to the Lord, who healed him miraculously. The king of Babylon heard about it and sent men with a letter and gift to Hezekiah. Because Hezekiah was proud of his riches, he showed all of his treasures to the visitors. The prophet Isaiah predicted that it all would later be taken by the Babylonians. His prediction came true.

Refusal to know and understand God later resulted in Judah’s exile from her land (5:13).

4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

5 Why should ye be stricken anymore?  Ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.

The pitiable moral and spiritual condition of Israel is transferred to the suffering servant in 53:4-5The Hebrew words for “stricken,” “sick,” and “bruises” correspond to those for “smitten,” “grief’s,” and “stripes.

7 Your country is desolate; your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah (Gen 19:1-29).

The desolation of the land of Judah is the result of foreign invasion: e.g., by Aram, the northern kingdom of Israel, Edom and Philistia (2 Chr 28:5-18); later (701 B.C.), by King Sennacherib and the Assyrian army (36:1-2); still later (605-596 B.C.), by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Neo-Babylonian army.

10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

The sincerity of the worshipper, not the number of his religious activities, is most important (see 66:3; Jer 7:21-26: Hos 6:63; Amos 5:21-24; Mic 6:6-8).

The Babylonian captivity or Babylonian exile is the period in Jewish history during which a number of people from the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylonia. After the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem, resulting in tribute being paid by King Jehoiakim.

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Rulers were warned not to take advantage of the weak and oppressed (v. 23, 10:2; Jer 22:3).

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

“red like crimson” refers to their murderous ways and the “white as snow” is a powerful figurative description of the result of His forgiveness (see Ps 51:7).  This offer of forgiveness is conditioned on the reformation of life called for in v. 19.  “white as snow” refers to righteousness, pure, holy, as Jesus is, see Rev 1:14.

19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

When God says something, it happens – Isa 55:11.

21 How is the faithful city become a harlot!  It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.

Jerusalem (representing all of Judah) has been an unfaithful wife to the Lord.  By following idols and foreign gods she has become a harlot in a spiritual sense (see v. 4; Jer 3:6-14; Eze 16:25-26).  One of the important themes in Isaiah is the transformation of Zion from an unfaithful harlot to the pure and holy wife of the Lord (cf. 54:4-8, 62:3-5).

22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:

23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.

24 Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:

25 And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:

26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.

27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.

This contrast between the redemption of the Zion (Jerusalem) as a whole and the perishing of individuals who refuse to repent is developed in 65:8-16.

29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.

Pagan sacrifices were offered and sexual immorality occurred at such places (see 65:3, 66:17).

30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.

31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

Ancient Israelite Clothing
and Jewelry

The beginning of the arts of weaving and dyeing are lost in antiquity.
Mummy cloths of varying degrees of fitness, still evidencing the dyer’s skill, are preserved in many museums.

The invention of royal purple was perhaps as early as 1600 B.C.

From the painted walls of tombs, temples and other structures that have been protected from exposure to weather, and from the decorated surfaces of pottery, chemical analysis often is able to give us knowledge of the materials used for such purposes.

Thus, the pigments from the tomb of Perneb (at estimated 2650 B.C.), which was presented to Metropolitan Museum of New York City in 1913, were examined by Maximilian Toch.

He found that the red pigment proved to be iron oxide, hematite; a yellow consisted of clay containing iron or yellow ochre; a blue color was a finely powdered glass; and a pale blue was a copper carbonate, probably azurite; green were malachite; black was charcoal or boneblack; gray, a limestone mixed with charcoal; and a quantity of pigment remaining in a paint pot used in the decoration, contained a mixture of hematite with limestone and clay.

Since the climatic conditions of Israel have made it difficult for ancient textile fragments to survive, knowledge of ancient dress comes primarily from textual and iconographic sources (i.e., from ancient documents and pictures).

Egyptian funerary wall painting at Beni-Hasan, dating to patriarchal times, picture a caravan of Semitic peoples dressed in brightly colored, woven garments.

These appear to have been made of a single cloth wrapped around the body and fastened over one shoulder, leaving the other bare.  Toggle pins of bone, ivory or bronze, which held the cloth in place like modern safety pins, have been located at various sites.

Tunics, with or without are mentioned in Scriptures as the principal garments of both men and women (Gen 37:3; 25a; 13:18). These were typically ankle length and drawn up when working (2 Kgs 4:29).The rare textile remains are mostly of linen, with some of wool, but very few are comprised of both wool and linen threads (cf. Lev 19:19).

The Black Obelisk (9th century B.C.), which visually s records the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III receiving tribute from Israel, pictures King Jehu in such a short-sleeved, ankle-length robe with fringes along the bottom. The sash wrapped around his waist was of special significance for high ranking officials (Is 22:21).

Israelite tribute-bearers are shown garbed in tasseled mantles, a type of garment pictured regularly in Assyrian reliefs ­depicting Semitic peoples.  Their shoes were upturned at the toes and appear to have covered the entire foot, although the Bible mentions leather sandals as the more common footwear (Gen 14:23; Deut 25:9).

As inner garments, men wore a linen waistcloth with a leather belt from which valuables could be hung, such as a knife or a signet seal (2 Kgs 1:8; Jer 13:1). 

The Lachish relief is a set of Assyrian stone panels narrating the story of the Assyrian victory over Judea during the siege of Lachish in 701 B.C.
The single inscription which identifies the location depicted in the reliefs reads:

“Sennacherib, the mighty king, king of the country of Assyria, sitting on the throne of judgment, before (or at the entrance of) the city of Lachish (Lakhisha). I give permission for its slaughter.”

Carved between 700-681 B.C., as a decoration of the South-West Palace of Sennacherib in Nineveh, the relief is today exhibited at the British museum in London.

The palace room, where the relief was discovered in 1845-47, was fully covered with the “Lachish relief” and was 12 meters wide and 5,10 meters long.

The Lachish reliefs (701 B.C.) picture Israelite captives in such loincloths, with a wide fabric belt around their waist whose fringed, vertical edge was passed over the belt to hang between the knees.

Undergarments, men­tioned only in association with the priest­hood, were designed to cover the body from the loins to the thighs when the priests were engaged in sanctuary ministry (Ex 28:42-43; Eze 44:18).

Cloaks with hoods, which could be pulled over the head or used to carry loads, were the typical outer garments of both men and women (Ruth 3:15; I Kgs 19:13). Linen headdresses, twisted as tur­bans, were common for men, wealthy women, bridegrooms and priests (Ex 28:40; Is 3:20; 61:10).

At least for the wealthy, women’s cloth­ing was typically made of finer materials and perhaps richer colors than that of men (2 Sam 1:24; Prov 31:22). Featured with the attire of the upper class were gauze garments, long veils, headbands and gold embroidery (Is 3:18-23; 47:2).

Women wore their hair long, with a head covering that reached down their back. An ivory from Megiddo pictures a woman with a long, fringed dress and shoulder-length head veil.

In terms of jewelry items, hammered gold or silver was fashioned into arm bracelets, necklaces, earrings, nose rings and finger rings (Gen 24:22,30; Est 3:10; Is 3:18-21; Eze 16:11 -12).

The most common earring design of ancient Israel was the “lunate,” an ovoid loop resem­bling a crescent moon. Along with other ornaments, two sets of five solid gold bangles each, dating to the Middle Bronze Age, have been recovered from Tell el-Ajjul, comparable to the ten-shekel weight of Rebekah’s bridal bracelets (Gen 24:22).

Clothing and jewelry distin­guished between ethnic groups (Num 15:38-40) and signaled social status within the community itself. Mourners (2 Sam 14:2), lepers (Lev 13:45) and prisoners (2 Kgs 25:29) also were sometimes identified by their dress.

The garb of royalty and the affluent was most likely distinguished by profuse ornamenta­tion (Ps 45:8-9; Eze 26:16). Since jewelry served to confer dignity and authority, in addition to its use as personal adornment, the articles mentioned in the catalog of Is 3:18-23 may reflect the finery of wealth.

Self-reliant people will be consumed by God’s judgment like tinder that quickly burns.  Fire is often a figure of punishment (see 33:11, 34:9-10).