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Interpreting Interpreter
Seven Women Take Hold

This post is a summary of the article “The Seven Women Seeking the Bridegroom: Isaiah 4:1 as Transition Point in a Redemption Allegory” by Jared T. Marcum in Volume 61 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Marcum explores a Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 4:1—the prophecy that “seven women shall take hold of one man.” He concludes that the verse may mark a point of transition in an allegory of Zion’s path of sin, sorrow, and repentance as she takes hold of Christ, the “one man,” and is redeemed by his mercy and grace.


The Summary

In this article, Jared T. Marcum provides a textual analysis of Isaiah 4:1, exploring whether a minority interpretation of the passage—that it symbolizes Israel seeking redemption through taking hold of Christ—is supported by the surrounding text. In this interpretation, put forward as early as AD 260 and discussed by Donald Parry, the verse is framed within the broader narrative of Isaiah 3-4 (see Marcum’s handy summary table here, serving as a transition point between the sin, suffering, and sorrow of Zion and its eventual redemption. This allegorical interpretation would apply in addition to its usual interpretation as an emphatic low point demonstrating Zion’s desperation and degradation as a people, with that prophecy receiving both ancient and modern fulfillments. Though Marcum acknowledges that caution may be warranted when interpreting passages in a symbolic way, such Messianic interpretations are not without precedent and, in this case, could help us further recognize and understand the redemptive role of Christ.

Marcum explores the symbolic nature of each aspect of the passage as follows:

  • Women serving as a symbolic representation of Zion. Women are used elsewhere by Isaiah to represent Zion, both as the prideful daughters of Zion and as the solitary woman that symbolizes Jerusalem. Together with the seven women (apparently unmarried widows) of Isaiah 4:1, their situation forms the primary redemption narrative of Zion—as haughty and indulgent daughters that are brought low in sackcloth and mourning before being forced to turn in humility to the “one man” for redemption. The solitary woman’s location “desolate…upon the ground”, may be connected to the metaphor of dust, which is used to used to represent the process of both breaking and entering covenants, and of falls from and ascents to grace and glory, helping reinforce that redemptive arc. The Hebrew term wǝniqqātâ, or “desolate,” may serve a similar purpose, as it’s also used to represent innocence and blamelessness.
  • The women’s offer to provide their own bread and clothing. Though this offer may seem incongruent with the proposed allegory (why wouldn’t they want to rely on Christ for the bread of life and robes of righteousness?), it may make more sense when compared to a contrasting request in Isaiah 3:6-7, where a man demands that his brother become the people’s ruler, potentially connected to the “ancient practice of the redeeming kinsman (gō‘ēl).” Unlike most biblical examples of a gō‘ēl, the request is phrased disrespectfully as a command, and in addition to demanding help, the man appears to insist that his brother take responsibility for the people’s dire situation. The request of the seven women seems much less entitled, with the women remitting what would be the customary marital claim for material support, similar to the humility shown by the prodigal son as he sought to repent and return home.
  • What it would mean for the women to take hold of “one man”. Marcum notes that the term “one” or “only” (to which the underlying Hebrew eḥāḏ can also be translated) has a biblical connection to Christ (e.g., Deuteronomy 6:4, references to the “only begotten.” Per the allegory, Christ would be the only one with the strength (as the Hebrew word for “take hold” or ḥăzaq also means to “be strong”) to assist a beleaguered Zion.
  • Having one’s reproach removed by taking upon them the man’s name. Marcum sees this as the most direct indication that the man in the verse is a symbol for Christ. As followers of Christ, we’re told to take his name upon us, an act which had powerful implications in the ancient world. In this case, they understood that this act, a proposal of marriage, would free them from their reproach—in the allegory, this reproach would be the humiliation and suffering of Zion as described in Isaiah 3—(sexual) enslavement, the loss of their husbands to war, and being left desolate (or barren). This would be analogous to being cleansed from sin via the atonement of Christ. The proposed marriage may be analogous to the Ruth’s proposal of marriage to Boaz, where Boaz similarly assumes the role of a redeeming kinsman, and Ruth trusting in Boaz’s kindness and mercy in accepting a proposal that went against cultural norms.

Marcum connects this symbolism with what he interprets as the redemptive arc of Zion as described in the rest of Isaiah 4 and contrasting it with aspects of Isaiah 3. This includes a return of the beauty and cleanliness of Zion, in contrast to both the ugliness of their past desolation and the physical and material beauty of their previous prideful state. This cleanliness is brought about in Isaiah 4:4 by the Lord washing away Zion’s filth and purging the blood of Jerusalem—blood which had been spilt by their oppression of the poor. Isaiah 4 clarifies that this purging is brought about by the spirit of judgement (or justice) and burning—justice allegorically assessed via oppression by an adversary, and a burning (bāʿēr) that recalls the cleansing fire of the burning bush on Mount Sinai, in contrast to the burning brand of slavery (kî-) referred to in Isaiah 3. When this cleansing process is complete, what remains is a fruitful and sanctified Israel, one that can enjoy the blessings of Yahweh’s guidance and protection.

This arc of redemption is one that we too can follow as we turn to Christ to cleans our sins. As Marcum concludes:

“Many covenant members of Zion fall to temptations of pride and vanity, can quickly forget to take care of others, and too often rely on the incapable arm of flesh. Consequently, they lose the Lord’s nourishment, presence, and guidance, are open to Satan’s captivity, and they suffer deeply for their sins. However, this suffering is not the end of the story. Even though she knows that she is entitled to nothing because of her sins, Zion’s plea is accepted by Jesus Christ because she has a “broken heart and contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:20). Following the allegorical turning point in Isaiah 4:1, the subsequent verses may allegorize the numerous blessings that Jesus Christ bestows upon humble Zion."


The Reflection

In my view, it never hurts to search the scriptures for connections to Christ, and Marcum has certainly provided a comprehensive take on this particular passage. Being able to see more in Isaiah’s prophesied destruction than just desolation and death—to see meaning and purpose in that level of suffering—gives me a much more compelling reason to read and rely on those ancient texts, rather than simply study them. Very few of us today are likely to experience the horrors of war the way ancient Israel did, but all of us are acquainted with pride, sin, and weakness, and all of us will need to turn to the Bridegroom in the hopes that he can take away our reproach. Though his grace is ultimately what will accomplish that redemption, what Isaiah 4:1 suggests to me is that we should do so in a spirit of absolute humility, with a willingness to bring everything we have to the altar—our own bread and clothing, as it were. What follows will be much more than just taking away our reproach. Christ will return Zion to its full glory and splendor, and sit us down at the wedding feasts as honored guests.

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