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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Isaiah 28

Verse 1

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!

Isaiah 28:1-29; Isaiah 29:1-24; Isaiah 30:1-33; Isaiah 31:1-9; Isaiah 32:1-20; Isaiah 33:1-24 form almost one continuous prophecy concerning the destruction of Ephraim, the impiety and folly of Judah, the danger of their league with Egypt, the straits they would be reduced to by Assyria, from which Yahweh would deliver them on their turning to Him: Isaiah 28:1-29 refers to the time just before the sixth year of Hezekiah's reign, the rest not very long before his fourteenth year.

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim - a Hebraism for woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim (Horsley). Samaria, the capital of Ephraim, or Israel, is regarded here as the crown or garland on the nation's head, it being customary for drinkers of wine at feasts to wear such crowns round the brows. Samaria's position on the brow of a hill renders the image the more appropriate. The people were generally "drunkards" in the literal sense (Isaiah 28:7-8; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:22; Amos 4:1; Amos 6:1-6); and metaphorically, like drunkards, they were rushing on their own destruction.

Whose glorious beauty (adornment) (is) a fading flower - carrying on the image of "drunkards," whose usage it was at feasts to wreath the brew with flowers.

Which (are) on the head of the fat valleys - rather, 'which is at the head of the fertile valley;' i:e., which Samaria is situated on a hill surrounded with the rich valleys as a garland (1 Kings 16:24); but the garland is "fading," as garlands often do, because Ephraim is now close to ruin (cf. Isaiah 16:8): fulfilled 721 BC (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 17:24).

Verse 2

Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.

Strong one - the Assyrian (Isaiah 10:5).

(Which) as a tempest ... shall cast down to the earth - namely, Ephraim (Isaiah 28:1), and Samaria its crown.

With the hand - with a mighty hand: implying the ease and irresistible power with which Yahweh acts (Isaiah 8:11; Ezekiel 20:33; Daniel 9:15).

Verse 3

The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:

The crown of pride, the drunkards - i:e., 'the proud crown of the drunkards.'

Verse 4

And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.

And the glorious beauty which (is) on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, (and) as the hasty fruit - rather, 'And the fading flower, (even) his (Ephraim's) glorious beauty (Isaiah 28:1, literally, the ornament of his beauty) which (is) on the head of the fat valley shall be as the hasty fruit' - i:e., the early fig. Figs usually ripened in August; but earlier ones (Hebrew, bikuwraah (H1061); Spanish, bokkore) in June, and were regarded as a delicacy (Jeremiah 24:2; Hosea 9:10; Micah 7:1).

Which (when) he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand - i:e., immediately, without delay.

He eateth up - describing the eagerness of the Assyria Shalmaneser, not merely to conquer, but to destroy utterly Samaria; whereas other conquered cities were often spared.

Verses 5-13

In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people,

-The prophet now turns to Judah, a gracious promise to the remnant ("residue"); a warning lest through like sins Judah should share the fate of Samaria.

Verse 5. In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory - antithesis to the 'fading crown' of Ephraim (Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 28:3).

And for a diadem of beauty - in contrast to Ephraim's "glorious beauty," or 'ornament of beauty,' which shall be consumed as 'the early fig' (Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 28:4).

Unto the residue - primarily, Judah, in the prosperous reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:7); antitypically, the elect of God. As He here is called their 'crown and diadem,' so are they called His (Isaiah 62:3); a beautiful reciprocity.

Verse 6. And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment. Yahweh will inspire their magistrates with justice, and their soldiers with strength of spirit.

Them that turn the battle to the gate - the defenders of their country who not only repel the foe from Them that turn the battle to the gate - the defenders of their country, who not only repel the foe from themselves, but drive him to the gates of his own cities (2 Samuel 11:23; 2 Kings 18:8).

Verse 7. But they also have erred through wine - Though Judah is to survive the fall of Ephraim, yet "they also" (the men of Judah) have perpetrated like sins to those of Samaria (Isaiah 5:3; Isaiah 5:11), which must be chastised by God.

Erred ... are out of the way. The Hebrew, shaaguw (H7686) ... taa`uw (H8582), allude to the tottering gait of drunkards: they stagger ... reel. Still the metaphorical sense is intended, as in the English version.

The priest and the prophet have erred ... they are out of the way - repeated to express the frequency of the vice.

Priest ... prophet. If the ministers of religion sin so grievously, how much more the other rulers (Isaiah 56:10; Isaiah 56:12).

They err in vision - even in that most sacred function of the prophet, to declare God's will revealed to them.

They stumble in judgment. The priests had the administration of the law committed to them (Deuteronomy 17:9; Deuteronomy 19:17). It was against the law for the priests to take wine before entering the tabernacle (Leviticus 10:9); so in the future temple it shall be (Ezekiel 44:21).

Verse 9,10.-Here the drunkards are introduced as scoffingly commenting on Isaiah's warnings:

Verse 9. Whom shall he teach knowledge? - `Whom will he (does Isaiah presume to) teach knowledge?'

And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? - i:e, instruction.

(Them that are) weaned from the milk. Is it those (i:e., does he take us to be) just weaned from the mother's milk?

Verse 10. For precept (must be) upon precept - For (he is constantly repeating, as if to little children) "precept upon precept," etc.

Line (Hebrew, qaw (H6957)) - a measuring line, a line for straightness used by architects and builders (Job 38:5; Isaiah 44:13). So in general, a rule or law. But as the scoffers speak of the rudiments taught to mere children, the allusion probably is to teachers guiding the hands of young beginners along prescribed lines (Grotius), and teaching them first to make the parts or strokes of a letter separately, then to join them line to line, in order to complete the letter. The repetition of sounds in Hebrew, tzav latzav, tzav latzav, qav laqav, qav laquav, expresses the scorn of the imitators of Isaiah's speaking; he spoke stammering (Isaiah 28:11). God's mode of teaching offends by its simplicity the pride of sinners (2 Kings 5:11-12; 1 Corinthians 1:23). Stammerers, as they were by drunkenness, and children in knowledge of God, they needed to be spoken to in the language of children, and "with stammering lips" (cf. Matthew 13:13). A just and merciful retribution.

Here a little ... there a little. A little now from one book, or one part of a book; next day a little again from another book, or from another part of a book, according to the capacity of the young learner: answering to "the wheat ... the barley ... the rye, in their place" (Isaiah 28:25). Verse 11. Isaiah's reply to the scoffers.

For. Maurer translates [ kiy (H3588)] Truly. But "For" is better. Isaiah admits that what they say is true; because they need to be dealt with in speech stammering and unintelligible to them, because of their pride; and the same mode of teaching shall be carried further. "For with stammering lips and another tongue will He (Yahweh) speak to this people." You will have a sterner teacher with stammering speech than Isaiah to convict you of your unbelief. Your drunken questions shall be answered by the severe lessons from God conveyed through the Assyrians and Babylonians; the dialect of these, though Semitic, like the Hebrew, was so far different as to sound to the Jews like the speech of stammerers (cf. Isaiah 33:19; Isaiah 36:11). To them who will not understand, God will speak still more unintelligibly, and by a sterner messenger. So Paul quotes this passage to prove that foreign tongues, such as some were endowed with power to speak, were designed as a sign to convict unbelievers: this is quite in unison with the sense here, mutatis mutandis (1 Corinthians 14:21-22).

Verse 12. To whom he said, This (is) the rest (wherewith) ye may cause the weary to rest. This gives the reason why Yahweh was about to send the enemy "with stammering lips," or foreign tongue, to deal with them-namely, because He had spoken to them in vain of the "rest" which He gives to His people: "they would not hear." The Hebrew, 'ªsher (H834) 'aamar (H559) 'ªleeyhem (H413), if taken as the English version, which is favoured by the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Chaldaic, is an instance of the idiom, which repeats the antecedent after the relative, 'To whom He said to them,' etc. Maurer makes "He," in Isaiah 28:11, to be the antecedent. 'He (Yahweh), who hath said to them,' etc. If the English version be not retained, take the relative, 'ªsher (H834), as it sometimes occurs, for because, or since, as the Syriac and Arabic take it: thus Isaiah 28:12 assigns the reason why God will send the foreign foe against them, as He threatens in Isaiah 28:11.

This (is) the rest. Reference may be primarily to "rest" from national warlike preparations, the Jews being at the time "weary," through various preceding wars and calamities, as the Syro-Israelite invasion (Isaiah 7:8: cf. Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 22:8; Isaiah 39:2; Isaiah 36:1; 2 Kings 18:8). But spiritually the "rest" meant is that to be found in obeying those very "precepts" of God (Isaiah 28:10) which they jeered at (cf. Jeremiah 6:16; Matthew 11:29).

Verse 13. But (i:e., Although) the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept - i:e., offered to them in the plainest and most familiar manner, "yet they would not hear" (Isaiah 28:12).

That they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken - that they might go: the righteous retributive result to those who, from a defect of the will, so far from profiting by God's mode of instructing, which was the best for those who needed 'milk, not strong meat,' "precept upon precept," etc., made it into a stumbling-block (Hosea 6:5; Hosea 8:12; Matthew 13:14, "By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive").

Go, and fall - image appropriately from "drunkards" (Isaiah 28:7-8, which they were), who, in trying to "go" forward, "fall backward."

Verse 14

Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Ye scornful men - (note, Isaiah 28:9-10.)

Verse 15

Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:

Because ye have said - virtually, in your conduct, if not in words.

We have made a covenant with death. There may be a tacit reference to their confidence in their "covenant" with the Assyrians in the early part of Hezekiah's prosperous reign, before that he ceased to pay tribute to them, as if it ensured Judah from evil, whatever might befall the neighbouring Ephraim (Isaiah 28:1). The full meaning is shown by the language ("covenant with death ... hell," or shªowl (H7585)) to apply to all lulled in false security spiritually (Psalms 12:4: contrast Ecclesiastes 8:8, "There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit, neither hath he power in the day of death," etc.; Jeremiah 8:11): the godly alone are in covenant with death (Job 5:23; Hosea 2:18; 1 Corinthians 3:22).

When the overflowing scourge - two metaphors; the hostile Assyrian armies like a scourge and an all overwhelming flood.

Shall pass through - namely, through Judea on their way to Egypt, to punish it as the protector of Samaria (2 Kings 17:4).

For we have made lies our refuge. They did not use these words; but Isaiah designates their lying dependencies by their true name (Amos 2:4).

Verse 16

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation - literally, Behold me, as Him who has laid-namely, in my divine counsels (Revelation 13:8): none except I could lay it (Isaiah 63:5; Romans 3:25).

A stone - Jesus Christ: neither Hezekiah (Maurer) nor the temple (Ewald) realizes the full significancy of the language; but only in type point to Him in whom the prophecy receives its exhaustive accomplishment; whether Isaiah understood its fullness or not (1 Peter 1:11-12), the Holy Spirit plainly contemplated its full fulfillment in Christ alone; so in Isaiah 32:1: cf. Genesis 49:24; Psalms 118:22; Matthew 21:42; Romans 10:11; Ephesians 2:20.

Tried - both by the devil (Luke 4:1-13) and by men (Luke 20:1-38), and even by God (Matthew 27:46): a stone of tested solidity to bear the vast superstructure of man's redemption. The tested righteousness of Christ gives its special merit to His vicarious sacrifice. The connection with the context is, though a "scourge" shall visit Judea (Isaiah 28:15), yet God's gracious purpose as to the elect remnant, and His kingdom, of which "Zion" shall be the center, shall not fail, because it rests on Messiah, the "sure foundation" (Matthew 7:24-25; 2 Timothy 2:19).

A precious corner stone - literally, a corner stone of preciousness: so in the Greek, 1 Peter 2:7, He is preciousness: cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19.

Corner stone - (1 Kings 5:17; 1 Kings 7:9; Job 38:6); the stone laid at the corner where two walls meet, and connecting them: often costly.

Shall not make haste (yachish) - shall not flee in hasty alarm; but the Septuagint have 'shall not be ashamed;' so Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:6, "be confounded," substantially the same idea. He who rests on Him shall not have the shame of disappointment, nor flee in sudden panic (see Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 32:17). Contrast Jehu's precipitate zeal, not based on real belief (2 Kings 9:20; 2 Kings 10:27-31), and therefore like a blaze in straw-after great show, soon going out.

Verse 17

Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.

Judgment also will I lay to the line - the measuring- line of the plummet. Horsley translates, 'I will appoint judgment for the rule, and justice for the plummet.' As the cornerstone stands most perpendicular and exactly proportioned, so Yahweh, while holding out grace to believers in the Foundation stone, will judge the scoffers (Isaiah 28:15) according to the exact justice of the law (cf. James 2:13).

The hail - Divine judgments (Isaiah 30:30; Isaiah 32:19).

Verse 18

And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.

Disannulled ( wªkupar (H3722)) - obliterated, as letters traced on a waxen tablet are obliterated by passing the stilus over it. The overflowing scourge ... trodden down by it - passing from the metaphor in "scourge" to the thing meant-the army which treads down its enemies.

Verse 19

From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.

There were two self-deceiving notions of the scoffers:

(1) That the scourge would not come;

(2) That it would pass through the land lightly, as a 'transient scourge.' Isaiah asserts that it will both come and be long enough to sweep them away.

From the time - `As often as (Septuagint, hotan it comes over (i:e., passes through mideey (H1767) `aabªruw (H5674)), it shall overtake you' (Horsley). Like a flood returning from time to time, frequent hostile invasions shall assail Judah after the deportation of the Ten tribes.

And it shall be a vexation only (to) understand the report - `it shall be a terror even to hear the mere report of it' (1 Samuel 3:11). I prefer Calvin's translation, 'it shall be (that) only vexation (Horsley, dispersion) shall make you to understand hearing' or 'giving ear.' They scorned at the simple way in which the prophet offered it (Isaiah 28:9), and "would not hear" (Isaiah 28:12), therefore they must be taught hearing by the severe teachings of adversity. The Hebrew and the sense support this translation; also the Septuagint and Vulgate ('Tantummodo sola vexatio intellectum dabit auditui').

Verse 20

For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.

For the bed is shorter ... - proverbial for extreme straits. They shall find all their sources of confidence fail them: all shall be hopeless perplexity in their affairs.

Verse 21

For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.

Perazim - in the valley of Rephaim (2 Samuel 5:18; 2 Samuel 5:20; 1 Chronicles 14:11); there Yahweh, by David, broke forth as waters do, and made a breach among the Philistines, David's enemies, as Pªratsiym (H6559) means; expressing a sudden and complete overthrow.

As (in) the valley of Gibeon - David's slaughter of the Philistines "from Gibeon even to Gazer," (1 Chronicles 14:16; 2 Samuel 5:25, margin) Or, as the Chaldaic, which the reference to "hail" confirms, Joshua's victory at Gibeon over the five confederate kings, whereby rest was given to the land. On that occasion, as here, the Lord cast down great hailstones from heaven upon the enemy (Joshua 10:10).

His strange work - strange, as being against His own people. Judgment is not what God delights in: it is, though necessary, yet strange to Him (Lamentations 3:33).

Work - punishing the guilty (Isaiah 10:12).

Verse 22

Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.

Be ye not mockers - a sin which they had committed (Isaiah 28:9-10).

Lest your bands be made strong - their Assyrian bondage (Isaiah 10:27). Judah was then tributary to Assyria. Or, 'lest your punishment be made still more severe.'

A consumption - destruction (Isaiah 10:22-23; Daniel 9:27).

Verse 23

Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.

Give ye ear, and hear my voice - calling attention to the following illustration from husbandry (Psalms 49:1-2). As the farmer does his different kinds of work, each in its right time and due proportion, so God adapts His measures to the varying exigencies of the several cases: now mercy, now judgments; now punishing sooner, now later (an answer to the scoff that His judgments, being put off so long, would never come at all, Isaiah 5:19); His object being not to destroy His people anymore than the farmer's object in threshing is to destroy his crop. This vindicates God's "strange work" (Isaiah 28:21) in punishing His people. Compare the same image, Jeremiah 24:6; This vindicates God's "strange work" (Isaiah 28:21) in punishing His people. Compare the same image, Jeremiah 24:6; Hosea 2:23; Matthew 3:12.

Verse 24

Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?

Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? - emphatic: he is not always plowing; he also 'sows,' and that, too, in accordance with sure rules (Isaiah 28:25).

Doth he open and break the clods of his ground? - supply always. Is he always harrowing?

Verse 25

When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?

When he hath made plain the face thereof - the surface of the ground: 'made plain,' or level, by harrowing.

Fitches - rather dill, or fennel, Nigella Romana, with black seed easily beaten out, used as a condiment and medicine in the East. So the Septuagint [mikron].

Cummin was used in the same way.

Cast in the principal wheat - or, as the Septuagint, plant the wheat in rows [ sowraah (H7795)]; because wheat was thought to yield the largest crop by being planted sparingly (Pliny, 'Hist. Nat.,' 18: 21). 'Sow the wheat regularly' (Horsley). But Gesenius takes it from the Arabic sense of the word, like the English version, 'fat' or "principal" - i:e., excellent wheat. The Hebrew root, sarah, means, to rule, or be principal.

And the appointed barley, [ nicmaan (H5567), from a conjectured Hebrew root, caaman (H5567): the same as the Chaldee Talmudic cameen, to mark out] - barley in a sack, marked as excellent, to serve as seed barley. Or else, 'barley in its appointed place'-marks being set in the fields to mark where the barley is to be set (Maurer).

And the rye (or spelt; Hebrew, kucemet (H3698 )) in their place ( gªbulaatow (H1367)) - 'in its (the field's) border' (Maurer). The several grains have their own places in the field-the wheat in the middle, the best and safest place. The Septuagint, Vulgate, Chaldaic, and Arabic translate, 'in their boundaries.' This is the best rendering. "In their place" or 'boundaries' answers to "here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10).

Verse 26

For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.

For his God doth instruct him to discretion - in the due rules of husbandry. God first taught it to man (Genesis 3:23).

Verse 27

For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.

The fitches are not threshed ... - the farmer uses the same discretion in threshing. The dill ("fitches" ) and cummin, leguminous and tender grains, are beaten out, not as wheat, etc., with the heavy corn-drag ("threshing instrument"), but with "a staff." Heavy instruments would crush and injure the seed.

Cart wheel - two iron wheels armed with iron teeth like a saw, joined together by a wooden axle. The 'grain-drag' was made of three or four wooden cylinders armed with iron teeth or flint stones fixed underneath, and joined like a sledge. Both instruments cut the straw for fodder as well as separated the corn.

Staff - used also where they had but a small quantity of corn: the flail (Ruth 2:17).

Verse 28

Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.

Bread corn - grain from which bread is made.

Bruised - is threshed with the grain-drag (as contrasted with dill and cummin, 'beaten with the staff'), or 'trodden out' by the hoofs of cattle driven over it on the threshing-floor (Deuteronomy 25:4; Micah 4:13).

Because - or but (Horsley); though the grain is threshed with the heavy threshing instrument, yet "he will not ever" (always) "be" (thus) "threshing it" - rather, "because" refers to what is understood in the previous clause: "Bread grain is bruised," so far as is needful, and no further; because, or for, He will not always be threshing it. Nor break (it with) the wheel - `drive over it continually the wheel.'

Of his cart - threshing-drag.

Nor bruise it (with) his horsemen ( paaraashaayw (H6571): cf. Isaiah 21:7, note) - rather, horses: used to tread out grain (De Dieu).

Verse 29

This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.

This also ... The skill wherewith the farmer duly adjusts his modes of threshing is given by God, as well as the skill (Isaiah 28:26) wherewith he tills and sows (Isaiah 28:24-25). Therefore He must also be able to adapt His modes of treatment to the several moral needs of His creatures. His object in sending tribulation (derived from the Latin tribulum, a threshing instrument, Luke 22:31; Romans 5:3), is to sever the moral chaff from the wheat, not to crush utterly. 'His judgments are usually in the line of our offences: by the nature of the judgment we may usually ascertain the nature of the sin' (Barnes).

Remarks: The "glorious beauty" of all earthly persons and things is as "a fading flower. "The crown of pride" which men try to weave for themselves, "shall be trodden under feet." The earlier that "the hasty fruit" of man's vanity ripens, the sooner it will be a prey to be swallowed up by the destroyer. Very different, indeed, is the crown which belongs to the remnant according to the election of grace. "The Lord of hosts" is now invisibly, and hereafter manifestly "shall be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty" unto them, even as they are His crown and diadem.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 28". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.