Isaiah - 3:24

24 It shall happen that instead of sweet spices, there shall be rottenness; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well set hair, baldness; instead of a robe, a wearing of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.

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Explanation and meaning of Isaiah 3:24.

Differing Translations

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And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.
And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet spices there shall be rottenness; and instead of a girdle, a rope; and instead of well set hair, baldness; and instead of a robe, a girding of sackcloth; branding instead of beauty.
And instead of a sweet smell there shall be stench, and instead of a girdle, a cord, and instead of curled hair, baldness, and instead of a stomacher, haircloth.
And it shall come to pass, instead of perfume there shall be rottenness; and instead of a girdle, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a robe of display, a girding of sackcloth; brand instead of beauty.
And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet spices there shall be rottenness; and instead of a girdle a rope; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth: branding instead of beauty.
And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be an offensive odor; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.
And it hath been, instead of spice is muck, And instead of a girdle, a rope, And instead of curled work, baldness, And instead of a stomacher a girdle of sackcloth.
And in the place of sweet spices will be an evil smell, and for a fair band a thick cord; for a well-dressed head there will be the cutting-off of the hair, and for a beautiful robe there will be the clothing of sorrow; the mark of the prisoner in place of the ornaments of the free.
And it shall come to pass, that Instead of sweet spices there shall be rottenness; And instead of a girdle rags; And instead of curled hair baldness; And instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; Branding instead of beauty.
It shall happen that instead of sweet spices, there shall be rottenness; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well set hair, baldness; instead of a robe, a girding of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.
And in place of a sweet fragrance, there will be stench. And in place of a belt, there will be a rope. And in place of stylish hair, there will be baldness. And in place of a blouse, there will be haircloth.
Et erit pro suavi aromate putredo, et pro cinctura laceratio, et pro cincinnus calvitium; pro balteo cinctura sacci, adustio pro venustate.

*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.

Historical Commentaries

Scholarly Analysis and Interpretation.

Instead of a sweet smell there shall be stink. It is evident that the country here described abounds in aromatic herbs; and there is no reason to doubt that in pleasant smells, as well as in other matters, they were luxurious. We see that those nations which are farthest removed from the east are not prevented either by distance or by expense from indulging in that kind of luxury. What may be expected to happen in those places where they are abundant? That they will excite lust and promote luxury is beyond all doubt He means, therefore, that ointments and sweet smells were abused by them in a variety of ways; for the sinful desires of men are ingenious in their contrivances, and can never be satisfied. Instead of a girdle a rent. Others have rendered it a falling off; because the Lord will ungird them. He intends to contrast things which are exceedingly opposite to each other; that as the women formerly were most carefully girt and adorned when they walked, they shall henceforth be torn and naked. He likewise contrasts baldness with curls; because they arranged their hair not in a modest but an extravagant fashion. Again, a belt is contrasted with sackcloth. Whether it was a belt, or some other kind of binding, it is certain that the Prophet meant a girdle, which was held in high estimation. Again, burning is contrasted with beauty; because fashionable ladies hardly venture to expose themselves to the sun's rays, for fear of being sunburned; and he tells us that this will happen to them. In short, both men and women are instructed to make a sober use of the gifts of Goal, both in food and in clothing, and in the whole conduct of life. For the Lord cannot endure extravagance, and absolutely must inflict severe punishment on account of it; for it cannot be restrained by a lighter chastisement.

And it shall come to pass - The prophet proceeds to denounce the "judgment" or "punishment" that would come upon them for their pride and vanity. In the calamities that would befall the nation, all their ornaments of pride and vainglory would be stripped off; and instead of them, they would exhibit the marks, and wear the badges of calamity and grief.
Instead of sweet smell - Hebrew בשׂם bôs'em, aromatics, perfumes, spicy fragrance; such as they used on their garments and persons. 'No one ever enters a company without being well perfumed; and in addition to various scents and oils, they are adorned with numerous garlands, made of the most odoriferous flowers.' - "Roberts." 'The persons of the Assyrian ladies are elegantly clothed and scented with the richest oils and perfumes. When a queen was to be chosen to the king of Persia, instead of Vashti, the virgins collected at Susana, the capital, underwent a purification of twelve months' duration, to wit: "six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odors." The general use of such precious oil and fragrant perfumes among the ancient Roamns, particularly among the ladies of rank and fashion, may be inferred from these words of Virgil:
Arabrosiaeque comae divinum vertice odorem Spiravere:
AEn. i. 403.
"From her head the ambrosial locks breathed divine fragrance."
A stink - This word properly means the fetor or offensive smell which attends the decomposition of a deceased body. It means that the bodies which they so carefully adorned, and which they so assiduously endeavored to preserve in beauty by unguents and perfumes, would die and turn to corruption.
And instead of a girdle - Girdles were an indispensable part of an Oriental dress. Their garments were loose and flowing, and it became necessary to gird them up when they ran, or danced, or labored.
A rent - There has been a great variety of opinion about the meaning of this word. The most probable signification is that which is derived from a verb meaning "to go around, encompass;" and hence, that it denotes "a cord." Instead of the beautiful girdle with which they girded themselves, there shall be "a cord" - an emblem of poverty, as the poor had nothing else with which to gird up their clothes; a humiliating description of the calamities which were to come upon proud and vain females of the court.
And instead of well-set hair - Hair that was curiously braided and adorned. 'No ladies pay more attention to the dressing of the hair than these (the dancing girls of India), for as they never wear caps, they take great delight in this their natural ornament.' - "Roberts." Miss Pardoe, in 'The City of the Sultan,' says, that after taking a bath, the slaves who attended her spent an hour and a half in dressing and adorning her hair; compare 1-Peter 3:3.
Instead of a stomacher - It is not certainly known what is meant by this, but it probably means some sort of "girdle," or a platted or stiffened ornament worn on the breast. 'I once saw a dress beautifully plaited and stiffened for the front, but I do not think it common.' - "Roberts."
A girding of sackcloth - This is a coarse cloth that was commonly worn in times of affliction, as emblematic of grief; 2-Samuel 3:31; 1-Kings 20:31; 1-Kings 21:27; Job 16:15; Isaiah 32:11.
And burning - The word used here does not occur elsewhere. It seems to denote "a brand, a mark burnt in, a stigma;" perhaps a sun-burned countenance, indicating exposure in the long and wearisome journey of a captivity over burning sands and beneath a scorching sun.
Instead of beauty - Instead of a fair and delicate complexion, cherished and nourished with care. Some of the articles of dress shown in the book exhibit several varieties of the costume of an Oriental female. To what "particular" time the prophet refers in this chapter is not known, perhaps, however, to the captivity at Babylon. To whatever he refers, it is one of the most striking reproofs of vanity and pride, especially the pride of female ornament, any where to be found. And although he had "particular" reference to the Jewish females, yet there is no impropriety in regarding it as applicable to all such ornaments wherever they may be found. They indicate the same state of the heart, and they must meet substantially the same rebuke from God. The body, however delicately pampered and adorned, must become the prey of corruption. 'The worm shall feed sweetly on it, and the earth-worm shall be its covering;' compare Isaiah 14:2; Job 24:20. The single thought that the body must die - that it must lie and moulder in the grave - should check the love of frivolous adorning, and turn the mind to a far more important matter - the salvation of the soul, which cannot die; to 'the ornament of a weak and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price;' 1-Peter 3:4.

Instead of sweet smell "perfume" - A principal part of the delicacy of the Asiatic ladies consists in the use of baths, and of the richest oils and perfumes; an attention to which is in some degree necessary in those hot countries. Frequent mention is made of the rich ointments of the spouse in the Song of Solomon, Song 4:10, Song 4:11 : -
"How beautiful are thy breasts, my sister, my spouse!
How much more excellent than wine;
And the odour of thine ointments than all perfumes!
Thy lips drop as the honey-comb, my spouse!
Honey and milk are under thy tongue:
And the odor of thy garments is as the odour of Lebanon."
The preparation for Esther's being introduced to King Ahasuerus was a course of bathing and perfuming for a whole year; "six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours;" Esther 2:12 (note). A diseased and loathsome habit of body, instead of a beautiful skin, softened and made agreeable with all that art could devise, and all that nature, so prodigal in those countries of the richest perfumes, could supply, must have been a punishment the most severe and the most mortifying to the delicacy of these haughty daughters of Sion.
Burning instead of beauty "A sunburnt skin" - Gaspar Sanctius thinks the words כי תחת ki thachath an interpolation, because the Vulgate has omitted them. The clause כי תחת יפי ki thachath yophi seems to me rather to be imperfect at the end. Not to mention that כי ki, taken as a noun for adustio, burning, is without example, and very improbable. The passage ends abruptly, and seems to want a fuller conclusion.
In agreement with which opinion, of the defect of the Hebrew text in this place, the Septuagint, according to MSS. Pachom. and 1 D. ii., and Marchal., which are of the best authority, express it with the same evident marks of imperfection at the end of the sentence; thus: ταυτα σοι αντι καλλωπισμου The two latter add δου. This chasm in the text, from the loss probably of three or four words, seems therefore to be of long standing.
Taking כי ki in its usual sense, as a particle, and supplying לך lech from the σοι of the Septuagint, it might possibly have been originally somewhat in this form: -
מראה רעת לך תהיה יפי תחת כי marah
"Yea, instead of beauty thou shalt have an illfavoured countenance."
כי תחת יפי ki thachath yophi (q. יחת yachath), "for beauty shall be destroyed." Syr. חתת chathath or נחת nachath.-Dr. Durell.
"May it not be כהי cohey, 'wrinkles instead of beauty?' as from יפה yaphah is formed יפי yephi, yophi; from מרה marah, מרי meri, etc.; so from כהה cahah, to be wrinkled, כהי cohey." - Dr. Jubb. The כי ki is wanting in one MS., and has been omitted by several of the ancients.

And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be a stink,.... Instead of "spice", or in the place where they put spices, carried musk, or had their smelling bottles, of precious and aromatic ointment, balsam, and myrrh, and such like things (g), namely, in their bosoms, there should be a "stink" or putrefaction, arising from ulcers and diseases of the body, Zac 14:12 the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions, render it "dust"; or this may refer to the anointing of their hair with ointment of myrrh and other things, which gave an agreeable scent; but instead of this there would be a scab, giving an ill scent, Isaiah 3:17.
and instead of a girdle a rent; such as is made in times of mourning and distress, or by the enemy. The Septuagint and Arabic versions render it, a "rope"; instead of fine curious girdles, wrought with gold and silver, they should have nothing but a rope about their loins. The Targum is,
"in the place where they bind the girdles, shall be marks of smiting;''
stripes, cuts, see Isaiah 10:34 as either by blows from the enemy, by whom they should be taken, or by the hand of God, being smitten with sores and ulcers, so that they should not be able to bear girdles upon them; or "holes", in their clothes or skin:
and instead of well set hair baldness; instead of plaited hair, and curled locks, kept in order, there would be scabs, ulcers, leprosy, or such diseases as would cause the hair to fall off, and leave a baldness. The Septuagint and Arabic versions render it, "instead of the golden ornament of the head, thou shall have baldness for thy works"; and the Syriac version, "instead of gems, incisions":
and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; the word for a "stomacher" is only used in this place; according to Kimchi, it signifies a very broad girdle; but Aben Ezra says it was a thin garment embroidered, which was put over all the rest of the clothes; perhaps something like a "mantelet". The Septuagint version renders it, "instead of the garment worked with purple"; and so the Syriac version, "instead of their hyacinths, or purples"; and the Arabic version, "instead of thy silken garment thou shall be girt with sackcloth"; which was usually done in times of distress and mourning:
and burning instead of beauty; either through the scorching beams of the sun, being stripped of their hoods and veils; or rather this is to be understood of carbuncles, and such like hot burning ulcers in their faces, which once were beautiful, and they prided themselves in; though the Hebrew word seems rather to be a preposition than a noun; so Jarchi, whose note is,
"for this is fit to be unto them instead of beauty, with which they have prided themselves,''
or have lifted up themselves; and so in his gloss upon the Talmud (h), where this clause, with the context, is cited and paraphrased,
"for all these things shall come unto thee instead of thy beauty;''
and this clause may be read in connection with the following, "because of beauty", or "instead of beauty, thy men shall fall", &c. and so the Targum,
"this vengeance shall be taken on them, because they have committed fornication in their beauty; thy beautiful men shall be killed by the sword.''
The Syriac version is, "because their beauty shall be corrupted", and those versions which seem to have left out this clause, yet retain something of it in the beginning of the next verse Isaiah 3:25. The Vulgate Latin version is, "thy most beautiful men also shall fall by the sword". The Septuagint and Arabic versions begin it thus, "and thy beautiful son, whom thou lovest, shall fall by the sword".
(g) Misn. Sabbat, c. 6. sect. 3. (h) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 62. 2.

stink--arising from ulcers (Zac 14:12).
girdle--to gird up the loose Eastern garments, when the person walked.
rent--the Septuagint, better, a "rope," an emblem of poverty; the poor have nothing else to gird up their clothes with.
well-set hair-- (1-Peter 3:3-4).
baldness-- (Isaiah 3:17).
stomacher--a broad plaited girdle.
sackcloth-- (2-Samuel 3:31).
burning--a sunburnt countenance, owing to their hoods and veils being stripped off, while they had to work as captives under a scorching sun (Song 1:6).

When Jehovah took away all this glory, with which the women of Jerusalem were adorned, they would be turned into wretched-looking prisoners, disfigured by ill-treatment and dirt. - "And instead of balmy scent there will be mouldiness, and instead of the sash a rope, and instead of artistic ringlets a baldness, and instead of the dress-cloak a frock of sackcloth, branding instead of beauty." Mouldiness, or mother (mak, as in Isaiah 5:24, the dust of things that have moulded away), with which they would be covered, and which they would be obliged to breathe, would take the place of the bosem, i.e., the scent of the balsam shrub (bâsâm), and of sweet-scented pomade in general; and nipâh that of the beautifully embroidered girdle (Proverbs 31:24). The meaning of this word is neither "a wound," as the Targums and Talmud render it, nor "rags," as given by Knobel, ed. 1 (from nâkaph, percutere, perforare), but the rope thrown over them as prisoners (from kâphâh = kâvâh, Contorquere: lxx, Vulg., Syr.).
(Note: Credner (Joel, p. 147) renders the word "tatters," from nâkaph, to rub in pieces; but the word has no such meaning, whereas the meaning vulnus, lit., percussio, is admissible (see at Job 19:26), but does not suit the antithesis. Luzzatto connects it with n'kaph, to bind (from which the makkeph derives its name), and understands it as referring to the dressing applied to wounds, to lint into which the girdle was torn. The most plausible derivation is from kâphâh, which is really employed in post-biblical usage to signify not only to congeal and wrinkle, but also to thicken (Sabbath 21a, l'hakpoth: "Make the wick thicker, that it may burn the brighter"). It is probably radically akin to the Arabic nukbe (explained in Lamachzari as equivalent to the Persian mijân-bend, a girdle), which is apparently used to denote the coarse girdle worn by peasants or by Arab women of the wandering tribes, resembling a rope of goat's hair, as distinguished from the artistic and costly girdle worn by women of the upper classes in the towns.)
Baldness takes the place of artistic ringlets (מקשׁה מעשׂה, not מעשׂה, so that it is in apposition: cf., Isaiah 30:20; Ges. 113; Ewald, 287, b). The reference is not to golden ornaments for the head, as the Sept. rendering gives it, although miksheh is used elsewhere to signify embossed or carved work in metal or wood; but here we are evidently to understand by the "artificial twists" either curls made with the curling-tongs, or the hair plaited and twisted up in knots, which they would be obliged to cut off in accordance with the mourning customs (Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 22:12), or which would fall off in consequence of grief. A frock of sackcloth (machagoreth sak), i.e., a smock of coarse haircloth worn next to the skin, such as Layard found depicted upon a bas-relief at Kouyunjik, would take the place of the pethigil, i.e., the dress-cloak (either from pâthag, to be wide or full, with the substantive termination ı̄l, or else composed of pethi, breadth, and gil, festive rejoicing); and branding the place of beauty. Branding (Ci = Cevi, from Câvâh, καἰειν), the mark burnt upon the forehead by their conquerors: Ci is a substantive,
(Note: It is so understood in b. Sabbath 62b, with an allusion to the proverb, "The end of beauty is burning" (viz., inflammation). In Arabia, the application of the Cey with a red-hot iron (mikwâh) plays a very important part in the medical treatment of both man and beast. You meet with many men who have been burned not only on their legs and arms, but in their faces as well, and, as a rule, the finest horses are disfigured by the Cey. - Wetzstein.)
not a particle, as the Targum and others render it, and as the makkeph might make it appear. There is something very effective in the inverted order of the words in the last clause of the five. In this five-fold reverse would shame and mourning take the place of proud, voluptuous rejoicing.

Girdle - Which were fine and costly, and useful to gird their garments about them. A rent - Torn and tattered garments. Burning - By the heat of the sun, to which they are now commonly exposed, from which they used formerly to guard themselves with the utmost care.

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