The spoil of the poor is in your houses. The spoil of the poor is in your houses.
I look around my house as I read this accusation in Isaiah 3:14. My mind wanders through my kitchen cupboards—small and crowded—through my children’s shelves of toys, through closets full of clothing and shoes. By the standards of some Americans, I am not far separated from the poor. But by a global standard, I am surrounded by luxuries that came to me all too cheaply. Does Isaiah speak to me when he asks, “What mean ye…that ye grind the faces of the poor?” (Isaiah 3:15).
It is not ironic to me that Isaiah’s question directly precedes his prophetic complaint against the daughters of Zion: they are haughty; they parade themselves, seeking attention. He lists their “ornaments,” “cauls,” “bracelets,” “headbands,” “tablets” (though I think not in reference to Apple—I think), “earrings,” “changeable suits of apparel,” “glasses,” and “fine linen.”(i)
Isaiah drives it home again and again: Israel has neglected the poor (“they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them,” 1:23). They have oppressed the poor, “grind their faces” (3:15). How much of this was done knowingly? How much in blind complicity, as through the wanton consumerism represented by the “daughters of Zion?”(ii)
Isaiah beseeches Jerusalem to “relieve the oppressed” (1:17). The relief of the poor has become an issue of politics for many; this is where we must stop and remember: where we are concerned, it is an issue of covenant.
Isaiah is speaking to us, isn’t he? Nephi extensively quotes Isaiah in the Book of Mormon because the words of Isaiah will be “of great worth” in the last days (2 Ne. 25:8). On no point is Isaiah more insistent than that we see to the poor and put aside our idols.
I have slowly had my eyes opened to the exploitation and enslavement of children, women, and men in the global supply chain of clothing, jewelry, and footwear. In 2016, the U.S. Secretary of Labor wrote that the United States annually imports $124 billion in clothing and footwear. “Before goods make their way to store shelves, they follow a long and winding path through a supply chain—the complexity of which no collar tag can capture.” In this and other industries, “There are an estimated 152 million child laborers, roughly 10 percent of the world’s child population and almost half—73 million children—are used in hazardous work. . . . Worldwide, there are also 25 million adults and children in forced labor.” The clothing industry’s workforce is largely made up of young women, often unskilled migrants, at great risk for exploitation and abuse. It is so hard to know, from the picking of the cotton to the plotting of the seams, how much of my shirt contributed to the oppression of the fatherless (1:17).
It is a grim picture, but we are not powerless. If we each focus on our own personal impact, and encourage others to do the same, then “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6). We, the modern daughters of Zion, can wear “beautiful garments” without despoiling the poor. Here are a few actions we can consider in answer to Isaiah’s call to “relieve the oppressed” (1:17).
- Download the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Sweat and Toil” app, where we can search through lists of goods (raw and finished), or lists of countries of origin, to determine whether our purchase may have been produced with exploitative labor.
- Buy second-hand. Each second-hand shirt we purchase is one new shirt that didn’t have to be manufactured at all. Upthread old clothes or ask a friend to help!
- Scale back our consumption. Consider our personal impact on the environment, the destruction of which also disproportionately affects the poor. “The earth is vulnerable, and we are accountable to God for how we treat and use it. Excessive consumption sullies God’s seas; wanton waste blackens His air. The creation groans under the weight of recklessness and indulgence that neglects both the poor earth and the earth’s poor” (Church Newsroom).
- “Every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards,” Isaiah accuses in 1:23. Instead of scrambling to find a Christmas or birthday gift online or at the store, we can give gifts that “relieve the oppressed,” such as a gift certificate through Kiva, or a donation to the International Rescue Committee in the recipient’s name.
- Educate yourself on the realities and impact of human trafficking in your community at PolarisProject.org.
- Rely on our own labor as much as possible. Garden, sew, cook, etc. Trade skills with neighbors. This not only prevents exploitation of unseen peoples and wildernesses, it builds community and blesses our bodies.
- Council within our Relief Societies about how to address the needs of the poor in our stewardship, locally and globally.
- Attend the temple prayerfully seeking to know what we can do to relieve the poor. Isaiah calls us there, and promises us that, “God will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths” (2:3).
I do not think it is productive to feel guilty about entanglements we were born into, but we will find peace when we strive for awareness and take steps to help.
Many of us together can make powerful changes by small means. Isaiah offers a message of hope to us and the world: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (1:18)
(i) I will take a small detour here to emphasize that the sin of the daughters of Zion was not the clothing itself. In fact, in a later, happier chapter, Isaiah calls upon Jerusalem “put on thy beautiful garments!” (Isaiah 52:1—Moroni uses the parallel “Put on thy beautiful garments O Daughter of Zion” in Mor. 10:31). Isaiah is clear that the error of the daughters of Zion is their haughtiness (3:16), only expressed through their clothing and accessories which they use to elevate themselves above the poor and draw attention to themselves. When we speak to our own daughters about their clothing, are we clear that modesty is a matter of the heart? As my daughter and son grow older and begin making choices about their clothing, I want them to ask themselves, “What is my motivation for wearing this outfit?” If their answer is in line with our family values (including humility, respect, and kindness), and if the outfit is appropriate for the activity (practically, culturally), then it’s a go. I can see how it could be helpful for youth to have specific guidelines, but the “heart” approach helps prevent our shade shirts and leggings from turning into our personal Rameumptoms, where we stand in judgment of others.
(ii) “Daughters of Zion,” used only 4 times in the OT, refers literally to the female inhabitants of Jerusalem. The expression, “Daughter of Zion,” however, is a poetic personification of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. Although all of the people of Israel are effectively addressed by the title “Daughter of Zion,” and although personifying cities as women is a standard Hebrew device, it is hard to ignore the feminine in use here. I like what Michael Floyd has to say, “This personification generally represents the people’s expression of grief in bad times, or conversely the people’s expression of exultation in good times. On the sociocultural level, this personification reflects the social role of women as leaders of civic lamentation and rejoicing.” (“The Daughter of Zion Goes Fishing in Heaven,” Daughter Zion: Her Portrait, Her Response, ed. Mark Boda, et al. 195.)