The Survivors’ Guide – The Women of Isaiah 4

If we think of the history of humanity as a tapestry with repeating patterns, we can clearly envision a world where biblical history connects to our own present age circumstances. In other words, as the writer of Ecclesiastes observes: “there is nothing new under the sun.”

And so it is with a world at war, no matter then or now, ancient or contemporary, men have warred against each other and our planet, since the formation of humanity, and women and children have been their victims. Men make war and women have to live in it. We, contemporary women are witnesses to its heinous outcomes, even as ancient women struggled through the horrors of war, as well.

The book of Isaiah, one of the major prophetic books of the Old Testament (The Torah), is written within the context of war. As Isaiah, the great Hebrew prophet stands as the oracle for God, the book of Isaiah becomes written testimony to the complex biblical traditions of war, even as God sits above human calamity to ultimately leading us to peace (shalom).

The book of Isaiah is a reconstruction of history (historical events) but presented in the form of biblical narrative. As we consider the biting presentation of Isaiah 3:25 – 4:3, there is ironic tension, theodicy, as well as curses and blessings from God, who is Israel’s powerful Judge and loving Provider.

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“Your men shall fall by the sword and your warriors in battle. And her gates shall lament and mourn; ravaged, she shall sit upon the ground.

Seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes; just let us be called by your name; take away our disgrace.

On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.”

(Isaiah 3: 35 – 4:3a)

Historical Context

Isaiah, the prophet, the preacher, and the historian moved from metaphor to the human reality of his context in one sweep of his pen. “Her gates shall lament; she shall sit upon the ground” was Isaiah’s use of feminine metaphor to prophesy about the destruction of Israel, by the hands of the Assyrians, who waged war upon Judah, Philistia, Phoenicia, and Egypt in 701 B.C. This destruction would come from the hands of King Sennacherib, the cruel and vicious king of Assyria:

“Assyria established the most efficient military, financial, and administrative system the world had yet seen. The army was its heart…..the principal business of the nation became war…..this was the first truly military society in history.” (R. Ernest Dupuy & Trevor N. Dupuy – The Encyclopedia of Military History)

Who does this sound like? (“At least 17 killed, 62 injured in mass shootings across U.S. over weekend” – ABC NEWS – 6/6/2022)

As the prophet speaks to Israel about a doomed encounter with the Assyrians, Isaiah first references Israel as “her” & “she,” even as Isaiah prophesies to his audience that Israel will be laid to waste by the Assyrian army. Judah becomes a killing field for Assyria, and the audience reads that the Israeli women (and their children) are left without male presence or protection. Here in Isaiah 4:1, the women cry out to ask the small remnant of men left to marry them – not for protection, not for support, but to save them from societal disgrace, for they are now a nation of women without men. If the “seven women to one men” ratio was correct in Isaiah, chapter 3, it echoes in a most bizarre and disturbing way, the current statistics of black, brown, & red communities in 21st century America:

62% of Black women are more likely to be unpartnered [in America] – []

The number for all American women is 32%

Single parent families (women as head of household) – [2019]

African-American – 64%

American Indian – 52%

Hispanic/Latino – 42%

Non-Hispanic/White – 24% (December 2020)

Increasingly for black, brown, & red communities of America, women are raising their children and managing their lives in the state of singleness, even as American men wage war in our cities & towns:

Black men are killing black men.

White men in state sanctioned positions are killing black men & brown men.

White men are wholesale killing children, women, & men of all ages in America.

Men are waging war across the globe.

Men are killing the planet with their unrelenting and destructive policies towards the earth.

Men are at war and women and their children must find a way to survive these heinous actions, much like the circumstances outlined in the text of Isaiah chapters 3 & 4:

“In 701 BC, Assyria’s powerful army laid siege to Jerusalem. Engaged in a long campaign of conquest, it had already pillaged forty-six Judean towns and cities, torturing and executing the leaders, then exiling the defeated inhabitants. Jerusalem was the last and largest prize.” (The Rescue of Jerusalem – The Alliance Between Hebrews and Africans in 701 BC – Henry T. Aubin – book jacket cover)

The women of these pillaged Judean towns were left alone to fend for themselves, as their fathers, husbands, sons, & brothers were killed in war. What were these women to do? How did they survive? How did they live? Who took care of them?

While we do not have the details of their day to day survival, we know these woman did survive. They survive the ravages of war without the protection and support of Israel’s men. How did a nation of primarily women managed to survive, and EVEN TO THRIVE? Simply…………………………..

GOD. TOOK. CARE. OF. THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The scripture reports in chapter 4 (before verse 2) in the NRSV heading: “The Future Glory of the Survivors of Zion”

Who were the “Survivors of Zion?” They were primarily Israel’s women and their children!

Biblical history reports in 701 B.C.E., as King Sennacherib makes his final battle plans to desecrate and destroy the capital city of Jerusalem, God rescues the city with signs and wonders as majestic as the Exodus event:

“Something happened. Instead of completing the attack, the [Syrian] invaders hastily abandoned their siege works, leaving the City of David intact. (The Rescue of Jerusalem – The Alliance Between Hebrews and Africans in 701 – book jacket).

But why & how?

The Bible credits divine intervention in the form of an angelic presence: “Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” (4: 5-6)

“Modern scholars have speculated that plague spread through the ranks of the Assyrian forces and caused them to break off the assault. The hasty retreat of this mighty army remains one of history’s most enduring mysteries. It is also one of its great turning points – the Deliverance of Jerusalem.” (ibid)

As Isaiah pivots in verse 2 of Chapter 4, he writes:

“On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and the glory of the survivors of Israel. Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy…….” (4:2).

Who were these survivors of Israel? A nation of women! The future of Israel was female!

Isaiah, in chapter 4:2 speaks of the glory of God and this has notable and important theological implications: “Glory” in Hebrew translates as “Kabod” –

“denoting honor, weight, majesty, radiance and power. The presence of YHWH was no mere presence, like a human being’s, but an awesome presence. Kabod is something that can be perceived.” (“Thus Says the Lord – The Message of the Prophets” – James M. Ward, pg. 45). As Isaiah prophesies: “Whoever is left in Zion” shall experience the “kavod” of the Lord. It was primarily women who God selected to survive war and famine, and ultimately to thrive under God’s presence/glory.

How does this ancient text have relevance for us, the daughters of God in this present age? With mighty signs and wonders, if God took care of a nation of women in ancient Israel, providing and protecting this aggregation of women and their children from the ravages of men warring against each other, God will provide for us, as well. The miracles of God never cease to exist, this is what Scripture teaches us. While we may not understand the methods of God’s miraculous protection and providence, we can be assured God will provide for us, just like God provided for our ancient sisters. The fruit of the land and the kavod of God shall be ours, as well. These are the covenantal promises of God towards God’s daughters:

“Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy.” (4:5)

To this blessed assurance, we declare together: “To God be the Glory!”

Questions for our discussion & consideration:

The moral confusion of a war mentality around the globe is killing our planet. In war, women and our children suffer. What can we do NOW, knowing God has selected us to survive & thrive? Explain.

What methods and practices can we use, in this period of chaos and confusion, to survive until God liberates us from this season?

Can you imagine what were some of the day to day survival techniques the women of Israel used to stay alive and to outlive the war which they found themselves in? Explain.

“The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters Empowerment Series. They may be used by you with our permission which may be revoked at any time. All copies of the materials must include the following notice: “This material is Copyright [2015] Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters and is distributed with permission.”

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