May 13, 2011 Devotion Sharing

Submitted by Jisup Hong, Greacepoint Berkeley

Isaiah 3:16-23
Note the list of items used to paint a certain picture of the women of Zion.  How does this relate with the harsh words of judgment?
The very long list of items, from bangles, headbands, to ankle chains, perfume bottles, tiaras, shawls, etc. paints a picture of extravagant self-indulgence.  They have used whatever means available to acquire all these things, and why?  To some extent this is portrayed in v.16—they are haughty, showing off their wealth and possessions, flirting, and I don’t understand what tripping and mincing steps is, but it sounds like they are trying to draw attention to themselves.

This is an indictment of the women, but not only so, because one has to ask, what kind of culture is this?  The ESV renders it “daughters” of Zion.  Who were the fathers that taught them this and provided the means to get all those things?   What is their view of what is valuable, what it means to be a person to pay attention to?  Whose attention are they trying to get by doing this?  It is quite sad and tragic that these are the daughters of Zion—women of Jerusalem—they were supposed to be God’s holy people, his prophets and priests to the rest of the world.  They are supposed to be displaying God’s holy character and interceding for the other peoples of the world.  Not only is this what they are supposed to be, but God had given them everything—the land they live on, protection, their identity as a people, the temple, priests, prophets, his words, warnings, even their prosperity—other peoples of the world claim to engage in this kind of thing out of sheer ignorance, but the people of Zion can make no such claim.

What can I learn about God’s intended desire for women through this (cf. 1 Peter 3:1-4)?  Contrast this to the values that are extolled for women these days which resemble that of the “women of Zion.” 1 Peter 3:1-4 tells Christian wives who are trying to win over their unbelieving husbands to do so through respectful and pure conduct.  It speaks against outward adornment, and exhorts women to adorn themselves inwardly by the quality of their hearts, with the inner beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, and that God finds this precious in his sight.

One question that this leads me to ask is, who are they trying to please, or what are they trying to gain by their adornment?  The context of 1 Peter 3 is Christian wives and their relationships with their husband, more specifically an unbelieving husband.   That is one aim, and the other is, as a Christian, to please rather than displease God.  What is the context in Isaiah 3?—it is hard to say even—but they are either trying to induce envy in other women, or perhaps envy in men as well, to get husbands or fathers to envy their husbands or fathers.  Or perhaps they too are tying to win over husbands for themselves?  Well, they are going to win over husbands then that care a great deal about outward adornment.  The contrast in values can be summarized as heart vs. skin.  God , and God’s people, care about the heart, the women of Zion, and thus the people of Zion, care about outward appearance—and that is what they use to judge one another.

Why is genuine spiritual maturity and ostentatious materialism generally incompatible? The incompatibility between spiritual maturity and ostentatious materialism has something to do with the eyes.  God is invisible—so are heaven, so are his promises, so is the coming judgment and on and on—spiritual maturity is to understand and perceive spiritual realities clearly and to recognize their surpassing importance, far beyond even visible, material things.  This a spiritually mature person is able to be motivated by heaven, an invisible reality, and so naturally let go now of things that will be of no use there.  To be a materialist, and not only that, but one who delights of showing off his materialism, is to be a person who is deeply impressed by visible, physical things—and in particular possessions.  Who is ostentatious about stuff they don’t own?  To be a showy materialist is to celebrate your buying power, you ability to acquire more and more stuff—that is what impressed you in others, and that it what to seek to increase in yourself.  That is antithetical to spiritual maturity, which is to be deeply impressed with something invisible, God’s promises, and as in Eph. 1:3, every spiritual blessing that God has already given us.  In both cases, it is about possession, but the spiritual man sacrifices material things to fully appreciate God’s spiritual gifts, as in Phil. 3, while the material man sacrifices spiritual things to acquire more and more physical things.

Amos 4:1-3
Why would anyone “oppress the poor and crush the needy”?
My humanistic side wants to say that no one sets out to oppress the poor or crush the needy, and that such things happen either as means to achieving something else, or as a side-effect of it.  So  a short answer might be—because they gain something by it.
For example, if you are a famous movie actress, and you are so physically beautiful that you could choose any man from among a million for yourself, why would you choose a man who was already married to someone else?  But it happens, and not just with movie stars—there’s so much of this kind of drama everywhere on college campuses, even high schools.  I read in a book about big churches with thousands of members hiring away pastors from small churches by offering them better pay and benefits.  I guess these are cases where it isn’t necessarily the case that the more powerful or better endowed person is trying to oppress or crush those that are weaker or poorer, but where that is an inseparable by-product of self-gratification.

That’s what it is self-gratification—is just another name for oppressing and crushing those who have less or are less powerful than you.  I doubt that any husband purposely oppresses his wife—oppressed wives are just those that are married to husbands bent on self-gratification—of their egos, their need to feel good about themselves, and of whatever else.

What is revealed about what attitudes and lifestyle God detests from the description of the women in v. 1, and in what ways do I value such things? The attitude and lifestyle of the women in v.1 accords with oppression being the flip side to self-indulgence and self-gratification, by their description here as cows and their ordering around their husbands to get them drinks.   What do cows do?  Not much—they are very slow big, slow moving animals.  The attitude of the women here is that they want to be served.  They want to just sit around.  They not only have no interest in serving others, they don’t even want to serve themselves, consequently, and because they have the means to, they order others to serve them.  This is the attitude that God cites as responsible for the oppression of the poor and the crushing of the needy.  And it makes a lot of sense—if those who have means use it to demand service from the needy rather than using their means to help the needy, then that’s oppression.  The materialistic view of possessions, means, power is to be served—it is so that I can be comfortable, while others do hard undesirable work.  It is so that I rather than others can get what I want, especially in contexts where there is competition—where the things that people pursue are in short supply.  I need to keep acquiring more and more—money, power, status—so that I can make sure to be able to get what I want, that job, or that position, that house, that spouse, etc.—so that I rather than someone else will get it.  The Biblical view of things, and God’s view, is that those who have are supposed to use it to serve others.  These ends are irreconcilable.

In what ways do I value such things?  Currently as a graduate student I am not making much money.  But I have to confess that most of the time when I wish I was making more money, it hasn’t been so that I can use it to bless others.  Most of the time,  it is when I run into some inconvenience that I think to myself—if I had money, then I wouldn’t have to put up with this.  So then, probably, if I did have more money, I would use it first to fulfill myself, and after I am all done with that, think about others.  But already now, I can easily tell that that would never happen, and I can understand why people have to keep working harder and harder to make just a little bit more, and then just a little bit more after that, and on and on.  Not infrequently, when I think to myself that I wish I had a little more time, it isn’t because I want to serve others with it, it’s because I’m tired and I wish I had some time to sleep more or relax or read all those books that I’ve been wanting to read.   I certainly find in myself a desire to somehow find crevices wherever I can in my Christian life to try to accommodate self-gratification, in the form of comfort and convenience.  It is very clear from this text though that however small it may be, at best it is akin to introducing low doses of poison for the purposes of spiritual growth.

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One Response to “May 13, 2011 Devotion Sharing”

  1. Aaron says:

    Thank you, Jisup for sharing. I think it’s true how you pointed out self-gratification leads people to “oppress the poor and crush the needy.” People do not set out to oppress the poor and crush the needy, but do so because they stand in the way of or could be exploited for their adamant pursuit of self-gratification.

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