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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 28

This chapter comprises a new prophecy and relates to a new subject. Gesenius supposes that it is to be connected with the following to to the close of Isaiah 33:0, and that they relate to the same subject, and were delivered at the same time. Munster supposes that the prophecy here commenced continues to the close of Isaiah 35:1-10, and that it relates to the Assyrian war in which the ten tribes were carried away captive. Doederlin supposes that this chapter and the two following were uttered at the same time, and relate to the same subject; Hensler, that the prophecy closes at Isaiah 33:0.

It is not improbable that this chapter and the following were delivered at the same time, and that they relate to the same general subject - the approaching calamities and wars with the Assyrians, which would terminate only in the removal of the people to a distant land, and in the destruction of the entire city and nation. But the prophecy in this chapter has not any necessary connection with those which follow, and it may be regarded as separate.

When it was uttered is not certainly known. It is clear, however, that it was before the carrying away of the ten tribes, or while the kingdom of Ephraim or Samaria was still standing. Yet it would seem that it was when that kingdom was exceedingly corrupt, and was hastening to a fall Isaiah 28:1-4. Perhaps it was in the time of Ahaz, or in the beginning of the reign of Hezekiah, when Samaria or Ephraim had entered into a league with Rezin, king of Damascus, and may therefore synchronize with Isaiah 7:0; Isaiah 8:0. Whenever it was uttered, it is certain that its purpose was to predict the overthrow of Ephraim or Samaria, and the fact, that when that kingdom should be overthrown, the kingdom of Judah would still survive.

The prophecy consists of two parts:

1. The overthrow of Samaria or Ephraim Isaiah 28:1-4.

2. The fact that Yahweh would preserve and defend a portion of his people - those who comprise the kingdom of Judah Isaiah 28:5-29.

The following brief view will present an analysis of the prophecy:

I. Ephraim or Samaria, for its sins, particularly for intemperance, would be overthrownIsaiah 28:1-4; Isaiah 28:1-4.

II. God would preserve the residue of his people, yet they also deserved rebuke, and would be also subjected to punishmentIsaiah 28:5-29; Isaiah 28:5-29.

1. He would preserve them Isaiah 28:5-6 and be their glory and strength.

2. Yet they deserved, on many accounts, to be reproved, particularly because many even of the priests and prophets were intemperate Isaiah 28:7-8.

3. They also disregarded the messengers of God, and treated their messages with contempt and scorn, as being vain repetitions and a mere stammering Isaiah 28:9-13.

4. They regarded themselves as safe, since they were firm and united, and had as it were made a league with death Isaiah 28:14-15.

5. God, in view of their sins, threatens them with deserved punishment Isaiah 28:16-21. This would occur in the following manner:

(a) He would lay in Zion a corner stone, tried and precious, and all that regarded that should be safe Isaiah 28:16.

(b) Yet heavy judgments would come upon the guilty and the unbelieving. Judgment would be laid to the line, and the storms of divine vengeance would sweep away their false refuges, and their covenant with death should not avail them Isaiah 28:17-21.

(c) The people are therefore admonished to attend to this, for the destruction was determined upon the whole land Isaiah 28:22.

(d) The whole account of their punishment is concluded by a reference to the conduct of a farmer, and an illustration is drawn from the fact that he takes various methods to secure his harvest. He plows, he sows, and in various ways he thrashes his grain. So in various ways God would deal with his people. He would instruct, admonish, correct, and punish them, in order that he might sect the greatest amount of piety and good fruits from them. Chastisement was just as necessary for them as it was for the farmer in various modes to beat out his grain Isaiah 28:28-29.

Verse 1

Wo - (see the note at Isaiah 18:1). The word here is used to denounce impending judgment.

To the crown of pride - This is a Hebrew mode of expression, denoting the proud or haughty crown. There can be no doubt that it refers to the capital of the kingdom of Ephraim; that is, to Samaria. This city was built by Omri, who purchased ‘the hill Samaria’ of Shemer, for two talents of silver, equal in value to 792 British pounds, 11 shillings, 8d., and built the city on the hill, and called it, after the name of Shemer, Samaria 1 Kings 16:24. Omri was king of Israel (925 b.c.), and he made this city the capital of his kingdom. The city was built on a pleasant and fertile hill, and surrounded with a rich valley, with a circle of hills beyond; and the beauty of the hill on which the city was built suggested the idea of a wreath or chaplet of flowers, or a “crown.” After having been destroyed and reduced to an inconsiderable place, it was restored by Herod the Great, 21 b.c., who called it “Sebaste” (Latin, “Augusta”), in honor of the Emperor Augustus. It is usually mentioned by travelers under the name of Sebaste. Maundrell (Travels, p. 58) says, ‘Sebaste, the ancient Samaria, is situated on a long mount of an oval figure; having first a fruitful valley, and then a ring of hills running round it.’ The following is the account which is given by Richardson: ‘Its situation is extremely beautiful, and strong by nature; more so, I think, than Jerusalem. It stands on a fine large insulated hill, compassed all round by a broad, deep valley.

The valley is surrounded by four hills, one on each side, which are cultivated in terraces to the top, sown with grain, and planted with fig and olive trees, as is also the valley. The hill of Samaria, likewise, rises in terraces to a height equal to any of the adjoining mountains.’ Dr. Robinson, who visited this place in 1838, says, ‘The find round swelling hill, or almost mountain of Samaria, stands alone in the midst of the great basin of some two hours (seven or eight miles) in diameter, surrounded by higher mountains on every side. It is near the eastern side of the basin; and is connected with the eastern mountains, somewhat after the manner of a promontory, by a much lower ridge, having a wady both on the south and on the north. The mountains and the valleys around are to a great extent arable, and enlivened by many villages and the hand of cultivation. From all these circumstances, the situation of the ancient Samaria is one of great beauty.

The hill itself is cultivated to the top; and, at about midway of the ascent, is surrounded by a narrow terrace of level land like a belt, below which the roots of the hill spread off more gradually into the valleys. The whole hill of Sebastich (the Arabic form for the name Sebaste) consists of fertile soil; it is cultivated to the top, and has upon it many olive and fig trees. It would be difficult to find, in all Palestine, a situation of equal strength, fertility, and beauty combined. In all these particulars, it has very greatly the advantage over Jerusalem.’ (Bib. Researches, vol. iii. pp. 136-149). Standing thus by itself, and cultivated to the top, and exceedingly fertile, it was compared by the prophet to a crown, or garland of flowers - such as used to be worn on the head, especially on festival occasions.

To the drunkards of Ephraim - Ephraim here denotes the kingdom of Israel, whose capital was Samaria (see the note at Isaiah 7:2). That intemperance was the prevailing sin in the kingdom of Israel is not improbable. It prevailed to a great extent also in the kingdom of Judah (see Isaiah 28:7-8 : compare Isaiah 5:11, note; Isaiah 5:22, note).

Whose glorious beauty is a fading flower - That is, it shall soon be destroyed, as a flower soon withers and fades away. This was fulfilled in the destruction that came upon Samaria under the Assyrians when the ten tribes were carried into captivity 2 Kings 17:3-6. The allusion in this verse to the ‘crown’ and ‘the fading flower’ encircling Samaria, Grotius thinks is derived from the fact that among the ancients, drunkards and revellers were accustomed to wear a crown or garland on their heads, or that a wreath or chaplet of flowers was usually worn on their festival occasions. That this custom prevailed among the Jews as well as among the Greeks and Romans, is apparent from a statement by the author of the Book of Wisdom:

‘Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ornaments,

And let no flower of the spring pass by us;

Let us crown ourselves with rose-buds before they are withered.’

- Wisdom Romans 2:7, Romans 2:8.

Which are on the head - Which flowers or chaplets are on the eminence that rises over the fat valleys; that is, on Samaria, which seemed to stand as the head rising from the valley.

Of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine - That are occupied by, or in the possession of, those who are overcome with wine. Margin, ‘Broken’ with wine. Hebrew, (יין הלוּמי hălûmēy yâyin) ‘Smitten with wine;’ corresponding to the Greek ὀινοπλὴξ oinoplēx; that is, they were overcome or subdued by it. A man’s reason, conscience, moral feelings, and physical strength are all overcome by indulgence in wine, and the entire man is prostrate by it. This passage is a proof of what has been often denied, but which further examination has abundantly confirmed, that the inhabitants of wine countries are as certainly intemperate as those which make rise of ardent spirits.

Verse 2

Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one - The Hebrew of this passage is, ‘Lo! there is to the Lord (לאדני la'donāy) mighty and strong.’ Lowth renders it,

‘Behold the mighty one, the exceedingly strong one,’

And supposes that it means the Lord himself. It is evident, however, that something must be understood as being that which the Lord ‘hath,’ for the Hebrew properly implies that there is something strong and mighty which is under his control, and with which, as with a tempest, he will sweep away and destroy Ephraim. Jarchi supposes that רוח rûach (“wind”) is understood; Kimchi thinks that the word is יום yôm (“day”); others believe that חיל chayil (“an army”) is understood. But I think the obvious interpretation is to refer it to the Assyrian king, as the agent by which Yahweh would destroy Samaria 2 Kings 17:3-6. This power was entirely under the direction of Yahweh, and would be employed by him in accomplishing his purpose on that guilty people (compare the notes at Isaiah 10:5-6).

As a tempest of hail - A storm of hail is a most striking representation of the desolation that is produced by the ravages of an invading army (compare Job 27:21; the note at Isaiah 30:30; also Hosea 13:15).

A flood of mighty waters - This is also a striking description of the devastating effects of an invading army (compare Psalms 90:5; Jeremiah 46:7-8)

Shall cast down to the earth - To cast it to the earth means that it should be entirely humbled and destroyed (see the note at Isaiah 25:12).

With the hand - Septuagint: βίᾳ bia - ‘Force,’ ‘violence.’ This is its meaning here; as if it were taken in the hand, like a cup, and dashed indignantly to the ground.

Verse 4

As the hasty fruit before the summer - The word rendered ‘hasty fruit’ (בכוּרה bikûrâh); in Arabic, bokkore; in Spanish, albacore), denotes the “early fig.” this ripens in June; the common fig does not ripen until August. Shaw, in his “Travels,” p. 370, says: ‘No sooner does the “boccore” (the early fig) draw near to perfection in the middle or latter end of June, than the “kermez” or summer fig begins to be formed, though it rarely ripens before August, about which time the same tree frequently throws out a third crop, or the winter fig, as we may call it. This is usually of a much longer shape and darker complexion than the kermez, hanging and ripening on the tree after the leaves are shed; and provided the winter be mild and temperate it is gathered as a delicious morsel in the spring.’ Robinson (George), (“Travels in Palestine and Syria,” vol. i. p. 354), says, ‘The fig tree, which delights in a rocky and parched soil, and is therefore often found in barren spots where nothing else will grow, is very common in Palestine and the East. The fruit is of two kinds, the “boccore” and the “kermouse.” The black and white boccore, or early fig, is produced in May; but the kermouse, or the fig properly so called, which is preserved and exported to Europe, is rarely ripe before September.’ Compare Hosea 9:10. The phrase ‘before the summer’ means before the heat of the summer, when the common fig was usually ripe. The idea here is this, the early fig would be plucked and eaten with great greediness. So the city of Samaria would be seized upon and destroyed by its enemies.

Which when he that looketh upon it seeth ... - That is, as soon as he sees it he plucks it, and eats it at once. He does not lay it up for future use, but as soon as he has it in his hand he devours it. So soon as the Assyrian should see Samaria he would rush upon it, and destroy it. It was usual for conquerors to preserve the cities which they took in war for future use, and to make them a part of the strength or ornament of their kingdom. But Samaria was to be at once destroyed. Its inhabitants were to be carried away, and it would be demolished as greedily as a hungry man plucks and eats the first fig that ripens on the tree.

Verse 5

In that day - This verse commences a new subject, and affirms that while the kingdom of Israel should be destroyed, the kingdom of Judah would be preserved, and restored (compare Isa. 7–9)

Be for a crown of glory - He shall reign there as its king, and he shall guard and defend the remnant of his people there. This reign of Yahweh shall be to them better than palaces, towers, walls, and fruitful fields, and shall be a more glorious ornament than the proud city of Samaria was to the kingdom of Israel.

And for a diadem of beauty - A beautiful garland. The phrase stands opposed to the wreath of flowers or the diadem which was represented Isaiah 28:1, Isaiah 28:3 as adorning the kingdom and capital of Israel. Yahweh and his government would be to them their chief glory and ornament.

Unto the residue of his people - To the kingdom of Judah, comprising the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin. This doubtless refers to the comparatively prosperous and happy times of the reign of Hezekiah.

Verse 6

And for a spirit of judgment - (compare the note at Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 11:2). The sense of this passage is, that Jehovah would enlighten the judges of the land, so that they should understand what was right, and be disposed to do it.

To him that sitteth in judgment - This is to be understood collectively, and means those who sat upon the bench of justice; that is, the magistracy in general.

And for strength to to them that turn the battle to the gate - That is, to the very gate of their enemies; who not only repel their foes from their own city, but who drive them even to the gates of their own cities, and besiege them there. Thus 2 Samuel 11:23 : ‘And we were upon them even unto the entering of the gate;’ that is, we drove them back unto their own gates.

Verse 7

But they also have erred through wine - In the previous verses the prophet had said that the kingdom of Judah should be saved, while that of Ephraim should be destroyed. Yet he does not deny that they also were guilty of crimes for which punishment would come upon them. To portray these crimes, and to declare the certain judgment which awaited them, is the design of the remainder of the chapter. The word rendered ‘have erred’ (שׁגוּ shâgû) refers usually to the fact that people “stagger” or “reel” through wine, and is applied commonly to those who are intoxicated Proverbs 20:1. The subsequent part of this verse shows, however, that it does not refer merely to the fact that they stagger and reel as intemperate people do, but that it had an effect on their ‘vision’ and ‘judgment;’ that is, it disqualified them for the discharge of their duties as priests and as prophets. In this part of the verse, however, the simple idea is, that they reel or stagger through wine, that is, they are addicted to intoxication. In the subsequent part of the verse the prophet states the effect in producing indistinctness of vision and error of judgment.

And through strong drink - (see the note at Isaiah 5:11).

They are out of the way - (תעוּ tā‛û). They wander; stagger; reel (compare the notes at Isaiah 19:14).

The priest and the prophet - Probably these persons are specified to denote the higher classes of society. It is probable that the prophet also designs to indicate the enormity of the sins of the nation, from the fact that those who were especially devoted to religion, and who were supposed to have immediate communication with God, were addicted to intemperance.

They are swallowed up of wine - They are completely absorbed by it (see the note at Isaiah 25:7); they not only themselves indulge in its use, but they are themselves, as it were, swallowed up by it, so that their reason, and strength, and virtue are all gone - as a vessel is absorbed in a maelstrom or whirlpool.

They err in vision - For the sense of the word ‘vision,’ see the note at Isaiah 1:1. The prophet here states the effect of the use of wine and strong drink on their mental and moral powers. It was the office of the prophets to declare the will of God; probably also to explain the sense of the sacred Scriptures, and to address the people on their duty. Here the prophet says that the effect of their intemperance was that they had themselves no correct and clear views of the truth, and that they led the people into error.

They stumble in judgment - There were many important subjects on which the priests sat in judgment among the Hebrews, particularly in all matters pertaining to religion. By the influence of intoxicating liquors they were disqualified for the high and holy functions of their office; and the consequence was, that the nation was corrupt, and was exposed to the heavy judgments of God.

Verse 8

For all tables ... - The tables at which they sit long in the use of wine (see the note at Isaiah 5:11). There was no place in their houses which was free from the disgusting and loathsome pollution produced by the use of wine.

Verse 9

whom shall he teach knowledge? - This verse commences a statement respecting another form of sin that prevailed among the people of Judah. That sin was contempt for the manner in which God instructed them by the prophets, and a disregard for his communications as if they were suited to children and not to adults. That “scoffing” was the principal sin aimed at in these verses, is apparent from Isaiah 28:14. Vitringa supposes that these words Isaiah 28:9-10 are designed to describe the manner of teaching by the priests and the prophets as being puerile and silly, and adapted to children. Michaelis supposes that the prophet means to signify that it would be a vain and fruitless labor to attempt to instruct these persons who were given to wine, because they were unaccustomed to sound and true doctrine. Others have supposed that he means that these persons who were thus given to wine and strong drink were disqualified to instruct others, since their teachings were senseless and incoherent, and resembled the talk of children. But the true sense of the passage has undoubtedly been suggested by Lowth. According to this interpretation, the prophet speaks of them as deriders of the manner in which God had spoken to them by his messengers. ‘What!’ say they, ‘does God treat us as children? Does he deal with us as we deal with infants just weaned, perpetually repeating and inculcating the same elementary lessons, and teaching the mere rudiments of knowledge?’ The expression, therefore, ‘whom shall he teach knowledge?’ or, ‘whom does he teach?’ is an expression of contempt supposed to be spoken by the intemperate priests and prophets - the leaders of the people. ‘whom does God take us to be? Does he regard us as mere children? Why are we treated as children with an endless repetition of the same elementary instruction?’

To understand doctrine - Hebrew as Margin, ‘Hearing,’ or ‘report’ Isaiah 53:1. The sense is, For whom is that instruction intended? whom does he wish to be taught by it?

Them that are weaned from the milk ... - Does he regard and treat us as mere babes?

Verse 10

For precept must be upon precept - This is probably designed to ridicule the concise and sententious manner of the prophets, and especially the fact that they dwelt much upon the same elementary truths of religion. In teaching children we are obliged to do it by often repeating the same simple lesson. So the profane and scoffing teachers of the people said it had been with the prophets of God. It had been precept upon precept, and line upon line, in the same way as children had been instructed. The meaning is, ‘there is a constant repetition of the command, without ornament, imagery, or illustration; without an appeal to our understanding, or respect for our reason; it is simply one mandate after another, just as lessons are inculcated upon children.’

Line upon line - This word (קו qav), properly means “a cord, a line;” particularly a measuring cord or line (2 Kings 21:13; Ezekiel 47:13; see the note at Isaiah 18:2). Here it seems to be used in the sense of “a rule,” “law,” or “precept.” Grotius thinks that the idea is taken from schoolmasters who instruct their pupils by making lines or marks for them which they are to trace or imitate. There is a repetition of similar sounds in the Hebrew in this verse which cannot be conveyed in a translation, and which shows their contempt in a much more striking manner than any version could do - לקו קו לקו קו לצו צו לצו צו כי kı̂y tsav lâtsâv tsav lâtsâv qav lâqâv qēv lâqâv.

Here a little and there a little - In the manner of instructing children, inculcating elementary lessons constantly. It may be observed here that God’s method of imparting religious truth has often appeared to a scoffing world to be undignified and foolish. Sinners suppose that he does not sufficiently respect their understanding, and pay a tribute to the dignity of their nature. The truths of God, and his modes of inculcating them, are said to be adapted to the understandings of childhood and of age; to imbecility of years, or to times when the mind is enfeebled by disease.

Verse 11

For - This verse is to be understood as a response to what the complaining and dissatisfied people had said, as expressed in the previous verse. God says that he will teach them, but it should be by another tongue - a foreign language in a distant land. Since they refused to hearken to the messages which he sent to them, and which they regarded as adapted only to children, he would teach them in a manner that should be “much more” humiliating; he would make use of the barbarous language of foreigners to bring them to the true knowledge of God.

With stammering lips - The word which is used here is derived from a verb (לעג lâ‛âg), which means to speak unintelligibly: especially to speak in a foreign language, or to stammer; and then to mock, deride, laugh at, scorn (compare Isaiah 33:19; Proverbs 1:26; Proverbs 17:5; Psalms 2:4; Psalms 59:9; Job 22:19). Here it means in a foreign or barbarous tongue; and the sense is, that the lessons which God wished to teach would be conveyed to them through the language of foreigners - the Chaldeans. They should be removed to a distant land, and there, in hearing a strange speech, in living long among foreigners, they should learn the lesson which they refused to do when addressed by the prophets in their own land.

Verse 12

To whom he said - To whom God had said; that is, to the Jews. He had taught them the way of rest through the prophets, but they had refused to learn.

This is the rest - That is, this is the true way of happiness, to wit, by keeping the commands of God which had been so often repeated as to become to them objects of satiety and disgust.

This is the refreshing - This is the way in which the mind may be comforted.

Verse 13

But the word of the Lord was unto them - Or, rather, but the word of Yahweh “shall be” unto them. This refers to the mode in which God said He would instruct them in a foreign land. They had complained Isaiah 28:9-10 that his instructions had been like a short lesson constantly repeated, as we instruct children. God here says that it should be as they said it was - they would be carried away to a distant land, and long abide among strangers; they would have ample time there to acquire instruction, and all that they would receive would be lesson after lesson of the same kind - line upon line, one judgment following another, until the lesson of their disobedience had been fully inculcated, and they had been brought to true repentance.

Here a little, and there a little - So they had said Isaiah 28:10 the lessons of God were to them by the prophets. So God says his lessons “shall be” to them by judgment. It shall not come in one sudden and overpowering burst of indignation, but it shall be, as it were, dealt out to them in small portions that it may not be soon exhausted.

That they might go ... - That they may go into captivity, and stumble, and be broken by the judgments of God. God will so deal out the lessons of his judgment and wrath, that as a people they shall be broken up, and made prisoners, and be borne to a distant land.

Verse 14

Wherefore ... - This verse commences a direct address to the scoffing and scornful nation, which is continued to the close of Isaiah 28:22. It is addressed particularly to the rulers in Jerusalem, as being the leaders in crime, and as being eminently deserving of the wrath of God.

Ye scornful men - Ye who despise and reproach God and his message; who fancy yourselves to be secure, and mock at the threatened judgments of the Almighty.

Verse 15

We have made a covenant with death - We are not to suppose that they had formally said this, but that their conduct was as if they had said it; they lived as securely as if they had entered into a compact with death not to destroy them, and with hell not to devour them. The figure is a very bold one, and is designed to express the extraordinary stupidity of the nation. It is most strikingly descriptive of the great mass of people. They are as little anxious about death and hell as if they had made a compact with the king of terrors and the prince of darkness not to destroy them. They are as little moved by the appeals of the gospel, by the alarms of God’s providence, by the preaching of his word, and by all the demonstrations that they are exposed to eternal death, as though they had proved that there was no hell, or had entered into a solemn covenant that they should be unmolested. A figure similar to this occurs in Job 5:23 :

For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field;

And the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.

Compare Hosea 2:18.

And with hell - Hebrew, ‘Sheol’ - the land of shades, or of departed spirits (see the note at Isaiah 5:14). It is nearly synonymous here with death.

When the overflowing scourge shall pass through - There is here, in our translation, a little confusion of metaphor, since we speak usually of an overflowing “stream,” and not of an overflowing “scourge.” The word ‘scourge’ (שׁיט shayiṭ) means usually “a whip, a scourge,” the same as שׁוט shôṭ, and then means any punishment or calamity (see the note at Isaiah 10:26; compare Job 9:23; Job 5:21. Here its means severe judgments or calamities, as overflowing like water, or inundating a people.

We have made lies ... - That is, they acted as if they had a safe refuge in falsehood. They sought security in false doctrines, and regarded themselves as safe from all that the prophets had denounced.

Verse 16

Therefore thus saith the Lord - God. This verse is introductory to the solemn threatening which follows. Its design seems to be this. The prophet was about to utter an awful threatening of the judgment of God upon the nation. It might be supposed, perhaps, that the intention was completely to sweep them, and destroy them - that the threatened calamity would remove every vestige of the Jewish people and of the true religion together. To meet this supposition, God says that this should not occur. Zion was founded on a rock. It should be like an edifice that was reared on a firm, well-tried cornerstone - one that could endure all the storms that should beat around it, and be unmoved. The general sentiment of the verse is, therefore, that though a tempest of calamity was about to beat upon the people for their sins; though the temple was to be destroyed, the city laid in ashes, and many of the people slain; yet it was the purpose of God that his empire on earth should not be destroyed. A foundation, a cornerstone was to be laid that would be unshaken and unmoved by all the assaults of the foes of God, and all who were truly resting on that should be safe. The perpetuity of his kingdom, and the safety of his true people, is, therefore, the essential idea in this passage. That it refers to the Messiah, and is designed to show that his kingdom will be perpetual because it is reared on him, we shall see by an examination of the words which occur in the verse.

In Zion - (see the note at Isaiah 1:8). Zion here is put for his empire, kingdom, or church in general on earth. To lay a cornerstone in Zion, means that his kingdom would be founded on a rock, and would be secure amidst all the storms that might beat upon it.

For a foundation a stone - That is, I lay a firm foundation which nothing can move; I build it on a rock so that the storms and tempests of calamity cannot sweep it away (compare Matthew 7:24-25). The Targum renders this, ‘Lo! I appoint in Zion a king, a strong, mighty, and terrible king.’ That the passage before us has reference to the Messiah there can be no doubt. The writers of the New Testament so understood and applied it. Thus it is applied by Peter 1 Peter 2:6, ‘Wherefore, also, it is contained in the Scripture, Behold I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded’ (see the notes at Romans 9:33; compare Romans 10:11; Matthew 21:42; Luke 20:17-18; Luke 2:34; Ephesians 2:20). Such a reference also exactly suits the conection. The stability of the kingdom of God on earth rests on the Messiah. God had determined to send him; and, consequently, amidst all the agitations and revolutions that could take place among his ancient people, this promise was sure, and it was certain that he would come, and that his church would be preserved.

A tried stone - The word which is used here is applied commonly to “metals” which are tried in the fire to test their quality (see Job 23:10; Psalms 66:10; Jeremiah 9:6; Zechariah 13:9). The idea is, that God would lay for a foundation not a stone whose qualities are unknown, and whose stability might be doubtful, but one whose firmness and solidity were so fully known, that the foundation and the superstructure would be secure.

A precious cornerstone - The word ‘precious’ (Septuagint, and 1 Peter 2:6, ἔμτιμον entimon) refers to the fact that the most solid stone would be used to sustain the corner of the edifice. The principal weight of the superstructure rests on the corners, and hence, in building, the largest and firmest blocks are selected and placed there.

He that believeth - He that confides in that; he that believes that that foundation is firm, and that he is secure in trusting in that, shall not make haste. The great doctrine of faith in the Messiah as a ground of security and salvation, on which so much stress is laid in the New Testament, is here distinctly adverted to. The sense is, that confidence in him should keep the mind firm, and preserve him that believes in safety.

Shall not make haste - The Septuagint renders it, Ου ̓ μὴ καταισχυνθῆ Ou mē kataischunthē - ‘Shall not be ashamed.’ So Peter, 1 Peter 2:6; and Paul, Romans 9:33. The Hebrew word יחישׁ yachiysh, from חוּשׁ chôsh, means properly “to make haste;” and then to urge on; and then to be afraid, to flee. The idea is derived from one who is alarmed, and flees to a place of safety. The specific thought here is that of a man on whose house the tempest beats, and who apprehends that the foundation is insecure, and leaves it to seek a more safe position. The prophet says here, that the foundation on which Zion was reared would be so firm that if a man trusted to that he would have no cause of alarm, however, much the storms should beat around it. The same idea essentially is conveyed in the version of the Septuagint, and by Paul and Peter, where it is rendered ‘shall not be ashamed,’ or ‘confounded.’ That is, he shall have no reason to be ashamed of his confidence in the firm foundation; he shall not flee from it as a man does who puts his trust in that which fails him in the day of trial.

Verse 17

Judgment also will I lay to the line - The sense of this is, I will judge them according to the exact rule of law, as an architect frames everything according to the rule which he uses. In other words, there shall be no mercy intermingled. The line is used by a carpenter for measuring; the plummet consists of a piece of lead attached to a string, and is also used by carpenters to obtain a perpendicular line. A carpenter works exactly according to the lines which are thus indicated, or his frame would not be properly adjusted. So God says that he would judge the people of Jerusalem according to the exact rule, without any intermingling of mercy.

And the hail ... - (see the note at Isaiah 28:2). Hail, hailstones, and floods of waters are frequent images of the divine vengeance and wrath Psalms 105:32; Isaiah 22:19; Isaiah 30:30; Ezekiel 13:13; Ezekiel 38:22; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:21.

Verse 18

And your covenant with death - (see the note at Isaiah 28:15).

Shall be disannulled - The word rendered ‘shall be disannulled,’ (וכפר vekupar from כפר kâphar), properly means “to cover, overlay;” then to pardon, forgive; then to make atonement, to expiate. It has the idea of blotting out, forgiving, and obliterating - because a writing in wax was obliterated or “covered” by passing the “stylus” over it. Hence, also, the idea of abolishing, or rendering nought, which is the idea here. “When the overflowing scourge” (see the note at Isaiah 28:15).

Then ye shall be trodden down by it - There is in this verse a great intermingling of metaphor, not less than three figures being employed to denote the calamity. There is first the scourge, an instrument of punishment; there is then the idea of inundating waters or floods; then there is also the idea of a warrior or an invading army that treads down an enemy. All the images are designed to denote essentially the same thing, that the judgments of God would come upon the land, and that nothing in which they had trusted would constitute a refuge.

Verse 19

From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you - It shall not delay, or be hindered, or put back. As soon as the judgment is sent forth from God it shall come upon you.

For morning by morning - Continually; without intermission. It shall be like floods and tempests that have no intermission; that are repeated every day, and continued every night, until everything is swept before them.

And it shall be a vexation - It shall be an object of alarm, of agitation, of distress - זועה zevâ‛âh from זוע zûa‛, “to move oneself;” to tremble with alarm; to be troubled Ecclesiastes 12:3; Daniel 5:19; Daniel 6:27; Hebrews 2:7. Here it means that the calamity would be so great that it would fill the mind with horror only to hear of it. For similar expressions denoting the effect of hearing a report of the judgments of God, see 1 Samuel 3:11; 2 Kings 21:12; Jeremiah 19:3.

The report - Margin, ‘Doctrine’ (see the note at Isaiah 28:9).

Verse 20

For the bed is shorter ... - This is evidently a proverbial saying, and means that they would find all their places of defense insufficient to secure them. They seek repose and security - as a man lies down to rest at night. But they find neither. His bed furnishes no rest; his scanty covering furnishes no security from the chills of the night. So it would be with those who sought protection in idols, in the promises of false prophets, and in the aid which might be obtained from Egypt. So it is with sinners. Their vain refuges shall not shield them. The bed on which they seek rest shall give them no repose; the covering with which they seek to clothe themselves shall not defend them from the wrath of God.

Verse 21

For the Lord shall rise up - To rise up is indicative of going forth to judgment, as when one rises from his seat to accomplish anything.

As in mount Perazim - There is reference here, doubtless, to the event recorded in 2 Samuel 5:20-21, and 1 Chronicles 14:11, where David is said to have defeated the Philistines at Baal-Perazim. This place was near to the valley of Rephaim 2 Samuel 5:19, and not far from Jerusalem. The word ‘Perazim’ is from פרץ pârats, to tear, or break forth, as waters do that have been confined; and is indicative of sudden judgment, and of a complete overthrow. It was on that account given to the place where David obtained a signal and complete victory 2 Samuel 5:20; and it is here referred to, to denote that God would come forth in a sudden manner to destroy Jerusalem and Judea. He would come upon them like bursting waters, and sweep them away to a distant land.

As in the valley of Gibeon - In 1 Chronicles 14:16, it is said that after the victory of Baal-Perazim, ‘David smote the host of the Philistines from Gibeon even to Gaza.’ This victory is doubtless referred to here, and not the victory of Joshua over the Gibeonites Joshua 10:10, as Vitringa and others suppose.

That he may do his work, his strange work - This is called his strange work because it would be inflicted on his people. He had destroyed their enemies often, but now he was about to engage in the unusual work of coming forth against his own people, and sweeping them away to a distant land. The work of judgment and punishment may be called the “strange” work of God always, inasmuch as it is not that in which he delights to engage, and is foreign to the benevolence of his heart. It is especially so when his own people are the objects of his displeasure, and when their sins are such as to demand that he should visit them with the tokens of his wrath.

Verse 22

Now therefore - In view of the certain judgment which God will bring upon you.

Be ye not mockers - This was the prevailing sin Isaiah 28:9-14, and on account of this sin in part the judgment of God was about to come upon the guilty nation.

Lest your bands be made strong - Lest your confinement should be more severe and protracted. God would punish them according to their sins, and if they now ceased to mock and deride him it would greatly mitigate the severity of their punishment (compare Isaiah 24:22).

For I have heard ... - I, the prophet, have heard Yahweh of hosts threaten a consumption.

A consumption ... - (see this phrase explained in the note at Isaiah 10:23)

Upon the whole earth - The whole land of Judea (see the note at Isaiah 24:1).

Verse 23

Give ye ear - In this verse the prophet introduces an important and striking illustration drawn from the science of agriculture. It is connected with the preceding part of the chapter, and is designed to show the propriety of what the prophet had said by an appeal to what they all observed in the cultivation of their lands. The previous discourse consists mainly of reproofs and of threatenings of punishment on God’s people for their profane contempt of the messengers of God. He had threatened to destroy their nation, and so remove them for a time to a distant land. This the prophet had himself said Isaiah 28:21 was his ‘strange work.’ To vindicate this and to show the propriety “of God’s adopting every measure, and of not always pursuing the same course in regard to his people,” he draws an illustration from the farmer. He is not always doing the same thing. He adopts different methods to secure a harvest.

He adapts his plans to the soil and to the kind of grain; avails himself of the best methods of preparing the ground, sowing the seed, collecting the harvest, and of separating the grain from the chaff. He does not always plow; nor always sow; nor always thresh. He does not deal with all kinds of land and grain in the same way. Some land he plows in one mode, and some in another; and in like manner, some grain he threshes in one mode, and some in another - adapting his measures to the nature of the soil, and of the grain. Some grain he beats out with a flail; some he bruises; but yet he will be careful not to break the kernel, or destroy it in threshing it. However severe may appear to be his blows, yet his object is not to crush and destroy it Isaiah 28:28, but it is to remove it from the chaff, and to save it. In all this he acts the part of wisdom, for God has taught him what to do Isaiah 28:26, Isaiah 28:29. So, says the prophet, God will not deal with all of his people in the same manner, nor with them always in the same mode. He will vary his measures as a farmer does. When mild and gentle measures will do, he will adopt them. When severe measures are necessary, he will resort to them. His object is not to destroy his people, anymore than the object of the farmer in threshing is to destroy his grain. The general dedicate the propriety of God’s engaging in what the prophet calls his ‘strange act,’ and ‘strange work,’ in punishing his people. The allegory is one of great beauty, and its pertinency and keeping are maintained throughout; and it furnishes a most important practical lesson in regard to the mode in which God deals with his people.

Verse 24

Doth the plowman ... - The question here asked implies that he does “not” plow all the day. The interrogative form is often the most emphatic mode of affirmation.

All day - The sense is, does he do nothing else but plow? Is this the only thing which is necessary to be done in order to obtain a harvest? The idea which the prophet intends to convey here is this. A farmer does not suppose that he can obtain a harvest by doing nothing else but plow. There is much else to be done. So it would be just as absurd to suppose that God would deal with his people always in the same manner, as it would be for the farmer to be engaged in nothing else but plowing.

Doth he open ... - That is, is he always engaged in opening, and breaking the clods of his field? There is much else to be done besides this. The word ‘open’ here refers to the furrows that are made by the plow. The earth is laid open as it were to the sunbeams, and to the showers of rain, and to the reception of seed. The word rendered ‘break’ (ישׁדד yshadēd) properly means “to harrow,” that is, to break up the clods by harrowing Job 39:10; Hosea 10:11.

Verse 25

When he hath made plain ... - That is, when he has leveled, or made smooth the surface of the ground by harrowing, or rolling it.

Doth he not scatter abroad - He does not sow one kind of grain merely, but different species according to the nature of the soil, or according to his wishes in regard to a crop.

The fitches - (קצח qetsach). Vulgate, Gith; a kind of cockle (Nigella Romana), an herb of sweet savor. Septuagint, Μικρόν μελάνθιον Mikron melanthion. The word ‘fitch’ denotes a small species of pea. The Hebrew word, however, which occurs nowhere else but here, probably denotes fennel, or dill, an herb whose seed the ancients mixed with their bread in order to give it a more agreeable relish.

And scatter the cummin - (כמן kammôn). Vulgate, Cyminum - ‘Cummin.’ Septuagint, Κύμινον Kuminon - also ‘Cummin.’ The word properly denotes an annual plant whose seeds have a bitterish warm taste with an aromatic flavor (Webster). The seeds of this plant were used as a condiment in sauces.

And cast in the principal wheat - Margin, ‘The wheat in the principal place.’ Vulgate, Per ordinem - ‘In its proper order, place, proportion.’ So Lowth, ‘In due measure.’ So Aben Ezra and Kimchi render it, ‘By measure;’ and they suppose it means that if too much wheat be sown on the land, it will grow too thick, and that the spires will crowd and suffocate each other. Our translators have rendered the word שׂורה s'ôrâh, ‘principal,’ as if it were derived from שׂרה s'ârâh, “to rule,” and seem to have supposed that it denoted wheat that was especially excellent, or distinguished for its good qualities. Gesenius supposes that it means ‘fat wheat,’ from an Arabic signification of the word. Probably the word is designed to denote “quality,” and to convey the idea that wheat is the principal, or chief grain that is sown; it is that which is most valued and esteemed.

And the appointed barley - The barley is a well-known grain. The word rendered ‘appointed’ (נסמן nisemân), occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures. Castellio, Taylor, Grotius, Calvin, our translators, and others, suppose that it is derived from a Hebrew word which does not now occur - סמן sâman, “to designate, to mark, to seal;” and that it means barley that had been put aside and marked as especially excellent, or seed-barley. In Chaldee, the word סמן simman occurs in the sense of “to seal, to mark, to designate” (Chaldee Par. Num 17:3; 2 Kings 9:13; Esther 5:1). The Septuagint, translated it κέγχρον kengchron, and the Vulgate, Aquila, and Theodotion, understand the word as denoting a species of grain, the millet. The idea is probably that expressed by Grotius, and in our version - of barley that had been selected as seed-barley on account of its excellent quality.

And the rye - Margin, ‘Spelt.’ The word usually denotes “spelt” - a kind of wheat now found in Flanders and Italy, called German wheat. It may, however, denote rye.

In their place - literally, ‘In the border.’ Septuagint, Ἐν τοῖς ὁρίοις σου En tois horiois sou - ‘In thy borders.’ The idea seems to be that the spelt or rye was sown in the borders of the field while the wheat was sown in the middle; or that the rye was sown in its “proper bounds,” or in the places which were adapted to it, and best suited to promote its growth.

Verse 26

For his God doth instruct him ... - Margin, ‘He bindeth it in such sort as his God doth teach him.’ The more correct idea is conveyed in the text. The word יסרו yiserô, properly means, he instructs, admonishes, or teaches him. The idea that skill in agriculture is communicated by God is not one that is discordant to reason, or to the general teachings of the Bible. Thus the achitectural and mechanical skill of Bezaleel and Aholiab, by which they were enabled to make the tabernacle, is said expressly to have been imparted to them by God Exodus 31:2-6. Thus also Noah was taught how to build the ark Genesis 6:14-16. We are not, indeed, to suppose that the farmer is inspired; or that God communicates to him by special revelation where, and when, and how he shall sow his grain, but the sense is, that God is the author of all his skill. He has endowed him with understanding, and taught him by his providence. It is by the study of what God teaches in the seasons, in the soil, in the results of experience and observation, that he has this art. He teaches him also by the example, the counsel, and even by the failures of others; and all the knowledge of agriculture that he has is to be traced up to God.

Verse 27

For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument - The word used here (חרוּץ chârûts) denotes properly that which is pointed or sharp, and is joined with מורג môrag in Isaiah 41:15 - meaning there the threshing dray or sledge; a plank with iron or sharp stones that was drawn by oxen over the grain (compare 2 Samuel 24:22; 1 Chronicles 21:23). In the passage before us, several methods of threshing are mentioned as adapted to different kinds of grain, all of which are at the present time common in the East. Those which are mentioned under the name of the ‘threshing instrument,’ and ‘a cart wheel,’ refer to instruments which are still in use in the East. Niebuhr, in his “Travels in Arabia,” says, (p. 299,) ‘In threshing their grain, the Arabians lay the sheaves down in a certain order, and then lead over them two oxen dragging a large stone.’ ‘They use oxen, as the ancients did, to beat out their grain, by trampling on the sheaves, and dragging after them a clumsy machine.

This machine is not a stone cylinder; nor a plank with sharp stones, as in Syria; but a sort of sledge consisting of three rollers, fitted with irons, which turn upon axles. A farmer chooses out a level spot in his fields, and has his grain carried thither in sheaves, upon donkeys or dromedaries. Two oxen are then yoked in a sledge; a driver then gets upon it, and drives them backward and forward upon the sheaves; and fresh oxen succeed in the yoke from time to time. By this operation the chaff is very much cut down; it is then winnowed, and the grain thus separated.’ ‘This machine,’ Niebuhr adds, ‘is called Nauridj. It bas three rollers which turn on three axles; and each of them is furnished with some irons which are round and flat. Two oxen were made to draw over the grain again and again the sledge above mentioned, and this was done with the greatest convenience to the driver; for he was seated in a chair fixed on a sledge.’ See the illustration in the book to get an idea of this mode of threshing, and of the instruments that were employed.

Neither is a cart wheel - This instrument of threshing is described by Boehart (Hieraz. i. 2. 32. 311), as consisting of a cart or wagon fitted with wheels adapted to crush or thresh the grain. This, he says, was used by the Carthagenians who came from the vicinity of Canaan. It appears to have been made with serrated wheels, perhaps almost in the form of circular saws, by which the straw was cut fine at the same time that the grain was separated from the chaff.

But the fitches are beaten out with a staff - With a stick, or flail. That is, pulse in general, beans, pease, dill, cummin, etc., are easily beaten out with a stick or flail. This mode of threshing is common everywhere. It was also practiced, as with us, in regard to barley and other grain, where there was a small quantity, or where there was need of special haste (see Ruth 2:17; Judges 6:11).

Verse 28

Bread corn - Hebrew, לחם lechem - ‘Bread.’ But the word evidently denotes the material from which bread is made. The word is used in the same sense in Isaiah 30:23.

Is bruised - That is, is more severely bruised than the dill and the cummin; it is pressed and crushed by passing over it the sledge, or the wain with serrated wheels. The word דקק dâqaq means often to break in pieces; to make small or fine. It is, however, applied to threshing, as consisting in beating, or crushing (Isaiah 41:15 : ‘Thou threshest the mountains, and beatest them small’ - ותדק vetâdoq.

Because he will not ever be threshing it - The word rendered ‘because’ (כי kı̂y) evidently here means “although” or “but”; and the sense is, that he will not always continue to thresh it; this is not his only business. It is only a part of his method by which he obtains grain for his bread. It would be needless and injurious to be always engaged in rolling the stone or the sledge over the grain. So God takes various methods with his people. He does not always pursue the same course. He sometimes smites and punishes them, as the farmer beats his grain. But he does not always do it. He is not engaged in this method alone; nor does he pursue this constantly. It would crush and destroy them. “He, therefore, smites them just enough to secure, in the best manner, and to the fullest extent, their obedience; just as the farmer bruises his sheaves enough to separate all the grain from the chaff.” When this is done, he pursues other methods. Hence the various severe and heavy trials with which the people of God are afflicted.

Nor bruise it with his horsemen - Lowth renders this, ‘With the hoofs of his cattle;’ proposing to read פרסין instead of פרשׁיו pârâshâyv by a change of a single Hebrew letter ס (s), instead of the Hebrew letter שׁ (sh). So the Syriac and the Vulgate; and so Symmachus and Theodotion. But the word פרשׁ pârâsh may denote not only a “horsesman,” but the “horse” itself on which one rides (see Bochart, Hieroz. i. 2, 6. p. 98. Compare the note at Hab 1:8; 2 Samuel 1:6; Isaiah 21:7, Isaiah 21:9). That horses were used in treading out grain there can be no doubt. They are extensively used in this country; and though in Palestine it is probable that oxen were chiefly employed Deuteronomy 25:4 in the early times, yet there is no improbability in supposing that in the times subsequent to Solomon, when horses abounded, they were preferred. Their more rapid motion, and perhaps the hardness of their hoofs, makes them more valuable for this service (see Michaelis’ “Commentary on the Laws of Moses,” vol. ii. App. pp. 430-514, Lond. Ed. 1814). There are here, therefore, four modes of threshing mentioned, all of which are common still in the East.

1. The sledge with rollers, on which were pieces of iron, or stone, and which was dragged over the grain.

2. The cart or wain, with serrated wheels, and which was also drawn over the grain.

3. The flail, or the stick.

4. The use of cattle and horses.

Verse 29

This also cometh ... - That is, these various devices for threshing his grain comes from the Lord no less than the skill with which he tills his land. (see Isaiah 28:26).

And excellent in working - Or rather, who magnifies (חגדיל chigdiyl) his wisdom ( תוּשׁיה tûshı̂yâh). This word properly means wisdom, or understanding Job 11:6; Job 12:16; Job 26:3; Proverbs 3:21; Proverbs 8:14; Proverbs 18:1. The idea of the prophet is, that God, who had so wisely taught the farmer, and who had instructed him to use such various methods in his husbandry, would also be himself wise, and would pursue similar methods with his people. He would not always pursue the same unvarying course, but would vary his dispensations as they should need, and as would best secure their holiness and happiness. We see:

1. The reason of afflictions. It is for the same cause which induces the farmer to employ various methods on his farm.

2. We are not to expect the same unvarying course in God’s dealings with us. It would be as unreasonable as to expect that the farmer would be always plowing, or always threshing.

3. We are not to expect always the same kind of afflictions. The farmer uses different machines and modes of threshing, and adapts them to the nature of the grain. So God uses different modes, and adapts them to the nature, character, and disposition of his people. One man requires one mode of discipline, and another another. At one time we need one mode of correction to call us from sin and temptation; at another another. We may lay it down as a general rule, that “the divine judgments are usually in the line of our offences;” and by the nature of the judgment we may usually ascertain the nature of the sin. If a man’s besetting sin is “pride,” the judgment will usually be something that is suited to humble his pride; if it be covetousness, his property may be removed, or it may be made a curse; if it be undue attachment to children or friends, they may be removed.

4. God will not crush or destroy his people. The farmer does not crush or destroy his grain. In all the various methods which he uses, he takes care not to pursue it too far, and not to injure the grain. So with God’s dealings with his people. His object is not to destroy them, but it is to separate the chaff from the wheat; and he will afflict them only so much as may be necessary to accomplish this. He will not be always bruising his people, but will in due time remit his strokes - just as the thresher does.

5. We should, therefore, bear afflictions and chastisements with patience. God deals with us in mercy - and the design of all his dispensations toward us in prosperity and adversity; in sickness and in health; in success and in disappointment, is to produce the richest and most abundant fruits of righteousness, and to prepare us to enter into his kingdom above.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 28". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.