Why Does Isaiah Use Such Strange Expressions?

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Isaiah Idioms - Why Does Isaiah Use Such Strange Expressions?

Most languages on earth use unique idioms and cultural expressions in both spoken and written speech. English is no exception; King James, who ordered an English translation of the Bible, expected that “the translation use old familiar terms and names and be readable in the idiom of the day.”1

Additionally, Hebrew during Isaiah’s time was rich with idiomatic expressions. Isaiah used them often in a way that was both figurative and literal. Phrases like these are culturally bound in time and the vernacular of the day.  They quickly become archaic and so, difficult to understand for modern readers.

Such is the case with Isaiah 3:16–24, especially as the King James translators tried to make an English idiom from a Hebrew idiom. The following explanations from the Old Testament Student Manual (13-21) may be helpful in understanding the power of Isaiah’s condemnation of the women’s apostasy:

Isaiah Fashion – Great Looks, What They WoreVerse 16. “Stretched forth necks” is an idiom describing haughtiness—pride in self and scorn toward others (see Young, Book of Isaiah, 1:162).

Verse 16. “Mincing … and making a tinkling with their feet.” The women wore costly ornamental chains connecting rings about the ankles. These were often adorned with bells. (See Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary,7:1:143.)

Verse 17. “Discover their secret parts” is an idiom meaning that they would be put to shame. (see Isaiah 3:17a).

Verse 18. “Cauls … round tires like the moon” were ornamental jewelry in the shape of suns and moons according to the fashions of that day. (see Young, Book of Isaiah, 1:165).

Verses 19–23. These terms describe fashions that were popular among the worldly women in Isaiah’s day:
“muffler”—veil
“bonnet”—headdress
“tablets”—perfume boxes
“earrings”—charms or amulets
“nose jewels”—nose rings
“changeable suits of apparel”—clothing for festivals only
“mantle”—overcloak
“wimples”—a type of shawl or veil worn over the head
“crisping pins”—erroneously rendered as hair curling implements. The Hebrew suggests a bag, like a modern purse or handbag
“glasses”—most authorities translate as a metal mirror, although some suggest transparent clothing
“hoods”—turbans, head cover wrapped by hand.

(See Young, Book of Isaiah, 1:165–66; Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 7:1:144–47.)

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