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Isaiah 3:12 New American Standard Bible 1995

12 O My people! Their oppressors [a]are children, And women rule over them. O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray And confuse the direction of your paths.

Isaiah 3:12

English Standard Version

12 My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up[a] the course of your paths.

Isaiah 3:12

New King James Version

12 As for My people, children are their oppressors, And women rule over them. O My people! Those who lead you [a]cause you to err, And destroy the way of your paths.”

3:12 The Westminster Leningrad Codex

12 עַמִּי֙ נֹגְשָׂ֣יו מְעוֹלֵ֔ל וְנָשִׁ֖ים מָ֣שְׁלוּ ב֑וֹ עַמִּי֙ מְאַשְּׁרֶ֣יךָ מַתְעִ֔ים וְדֶ֥רֶךְ אֹֽרְחֹתֶ֖יךָ בִּלֵּֽעוּ׃ ס

Some of the bible commentaries in seem to reasonable ( https://biblehub.com/commentaries/isaiah/3-12.htm )


Benson Commentary

"and women rule over them — Weak and effeminate rulers. Or, perhaps he speaks of the wives and concubines of their kings and great men, who, by their arts, gaining an ascendency over their husbands, induced them to act as they desired, though frequently to the people’s prejudice, and in a manner contrary to all the laws. Thus it was in the reign of Jehoram, king of Judah, whose wife Athaliah, a cruel and weak woman, occasioned great disorders in the state; see 2 Chronicles chap. 21. and 22.; and thus undoubtedly it frequently happened after the time Isaiah uttered this prophecy."


Barnes' Notes on the Bible

And women rule over them - This is not to be taken literally, but it means either that the rulers were under the influence of the "harem," or the females of the court; or that they were effeminate and destitute of vigor and manliness in counsel. The Septuagint and the Chaldee render this verse substantially alike: "Thy exactors strip my people as they who gather the grapes strip the vineyard."


Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

and women rule over them, or "over him" (o); either over the people of Israel, as Alexandra before Hyrcanus, and Helena queen of the Adiabenes; or over the child their governor, as women had great influence over their husbands, the governors of Judea, in those times, as Herodias, Bernice, and Drusilla; or it may be understood of men, weak, effeminate, and given to pleasure:

I was trying to get a better understanding of what God meant by (Isaiah 3:12)’s declaration that women would rule over Jerusalem & Judah.

If someone were cursorily/hastily reading (Isaiah 3:12)’s declaration that women would rule over Jerusalem & Judah then she/he would think that said verse is sexist/ male chauvinistic.

However, some of the aforementioned commentaries are stating that (Isaiah 3:12)’s declaration that women would rule over Jerusalem & Judah

  1. Suggests that men who are weak and effeminate would rule

  2. women like the Evil Athaliah, wife of Jehoram, king of Judah ( 2 Chronicles 21, 22) would indirectly rule through her husband.

However, I would like to propose a 3rd interpretation:

  1. There are great women leaders mentioned in the bible. For example, Judges 4’s narrative about the prophetess Deborah who judged Israel and in some ways The Book of Esther in the bible is a narrative about how Queen Esther influenced her husband King Ahasuerus to honorably treat the Jews in a favorable manner. Therefore, another interpretation would be that (Isaiah 3:12)’s declaration that women would rule over Jerusalem & Judah might just suggest that men of Jerusalem & Judah became irresponsible and/or negligent about leadership positions. Thus, women had No other choice but to take leadership roles that were unfilled by men.

Therefore, would the aforementioned 3rd interpretation be a reasonable deduction/inference?

2 Answers 2

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The word "women" may not have been in the original Hebrew text. The Septuagint diverges greatly from the Masoretic Text, which was compiled several hundred years after the Septuagint:

O my people, your exactors strip you, and extortioners [ἀπαιτοῦντες] rule over you: O my people, they that pronounce you blessed lead you astray, and pervert the path of your feet.

What appears in the Masoretic text is אִשָּׁה (ishah), but the original Hebrew text was not vocalized and would have been something like אשה. A different vocalization of אשה produces אָשָׁה (ashah), meaning "userer" or "oppressor", which would have been closer to the Septuagint.

Also, the Jewish Publication Society in the Jewish Study Bible observed that a different emendation would make the text more consistent with v.4-5:

And I will make boys their princes, and infants shall rule over them. And the people will oppress one another, every one his fellow and every one his neighbor; the youth will be insolent to the elder, and the despised to the honorable.


All that having been said, there have been several Jewish and Christian commentaries based on the text children are their oppressors, and women rule over them, but they all seem to point to women ruling as a discredit of men (your first interpretation), rather than as a credit toward strong women (your third interpretation):

From the Talmud:

What is the meaning of the verse, As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them? Children are their oppressors, and women rule over them, because their men have abdicated their leadership role. As it is stated, The mighty man and the man of war, the judge and the prophet, and the diviner and the elder...they have all gone (Isaiah 3:2) - Sotah 11b

What is the meaning of the verse, As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them? Children are their oppressors, and women rule over them, because they have transgressed the Torah. As it is stated, For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory (Isaiah 3:8) - Sotah 12a.

Among the Christian commentaries the interpretations are similar. Jerome, for example, wrote "The meaning is not that women were the leaders, but that in the absence of men, who ought to have been leaders, women were forced to rule" (Commentary on Isaiah).

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  • + 1 This interpretation is important to consider, especially v. 4-5 which sets the tone for the later verses. Indeed several modern translation prefer the Septuagint (creditors/oppressors) here. biblegateway.com/verse/en/Isaiah%203:12 Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 0:40
  • @DanFefferman Thx. However, would my original postings proposed 3rd interpretation be reasonable as well? Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 8:29
  • Thx. However, would my original postings proposed 3rd interpretation be reasonable as well? Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 8:30
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    @user1338998 - I added some additional material. Perhaps any one of the three interpretation could hold under what is in the Masoretic Text, but I could not find anything in the Talmud or ancient Christian commentaries taking the third position. That is not to say that it could not be read into the text - just that none of the mainstream Jewish or Christian commentaries seem to hold it.
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 12:15
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    I'm confused about what was in your original posting. If you mean that "women" is written as an insult to weak male rulers then yes, certainly. It could also refer to something we have no information about, such as the influence of the mother of King Ahaz in that king's court. Isaiah 7-8 shows the king in fear in the face of northern Israel and Syria, with the prophet advising him not to worry about that threat. So it does seem that Isaiah thought of Ahaz as "womanly" in that sense. Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 13:46
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I suggest that the first half of the verse is explained by the second half of the verse. That is, the declaration that children and women ARE ruling the people is not a future prediction, but another way of saying "They mislead you and confuse the course of your paths". In other words, it is a metaphor about lack of wisdom and good judgement, preparing the way for "The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people".

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  • Thx. However, I am still Uncomfortable with Isaiah 3:12 because If someone were cursorily/hastily reading (Isaiah 3:12)’s declaration that women would rule over Jerusalem & Judah then she/he would think that said verse is sexist/ male chauvinistic. Therefore, would my original postings proposed 3rd interpretation be reasonable as well? Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 8:36
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    @user1338998 I don't think modern concerns of that kind should affect our interpretation of scripture text. If the writer meant to say something chauvinistic, then he must be allowed to say it. Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 8:49

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