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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Isaiah 28

Verses 1-29



Isaiah 28:1-4

A WARNING TO SAMARIA. The prophet has now east his eagle glance over the whole world and over all time. He has denounced woe upon all the principal nations of the earth (Isaiah 13-23.), glanced at the destruction of the world itself (Isaiah 24:17-20), and sung songs over the establishment of Christ's kingdom, and the ingathering of the nations into it (Isaiah 25-27.). In the present chapter he returns to the condition of things in his own time and among his own people. After a brief warning, addressed to Samaria, he turns to consider the condition of Judah, which he accuses of following the example of Samaria, of perishing through self-indulgence and lack of knowledge (Isaiah 28:7-12). He then proceeds to expostulate seriously with the "rulers of Jerusalem," on whom lies the chief responsibility for its future.

Isaiah 28:1

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkard; rather, of the drunkards, The "drunkards of Ephraim," or of the ten tribes, were at once intoxicated with wine (Amos 4:1; Amos 6:6) and with pride (Amos 6:13). As the external aspect of affairs grew mere and more threatening through the advances of Tiglath-Pileser and Shalmaneser, they gave themselves up more and more to self-indulgence and luxury, lay upon beds of ivory, drank wine from bowls, feasted to the sound of the viol, and even invented fresh instruments of music (Amos 6:4, Amos 6:5). At the same time, they said in their hearts, "Have we not taken by our own strength?" (Amos 6:13). They persisted in regarding themselves as secure, when even ordinary political foresight might have seen that their end was approaching. Whose glorious beauty is a fading flower; rather, and to the fading flower of his glorious beauty. The "glorious beauty" of Samaria was a beauty of magnificent luxury. "Summer" and "winter houses," distinct each from the other (Amos 3:15); "ivory palaces" (1 Kings 22:39; Amos 3:15); a wealth of "gardens, vineyards, fig-orchards, and olive yards" (Amos 4:9); residences of "hewn stone" (Amos 5:11); feasts enlivened with "the melody of viols" (Amos 5:23); "beds of ivory" (Amos 6:4); "wine in bowls" (Amos 6:6); "chief ointments" (Amos 6:6); constituted a total of luxurious refinement beyond which few had proceeded at the time, and which Isaiah was fain to recognize, in a worldly point of view, as "glorious" and "beautiful." But the beauty was of a kind liable to fade, and it was already fading under the sirocco of Assyrian invasion. Which are on the head of the fat valleys; rather, which is on the head of the rich valley. Samaria was built on a hill of an oval form, which rose up in the midst of a fertile valley shut in by mountains. The prophet identifies the valley with the kingdom itself, and then personifies it, and regards its head as crowned by the fading flower of Samaria's beauty.

Isaiah 28:2

The Lord hath a mighty and strong one. God has in reserve a mighty power, which he will let loose upon Samaria. The wicked are "his sword" (Psalms 17:13), and are employed to carry out his sentences. In the present ease the "mighty and strong one" is the Assyrian power. As a tempest of hail, etc. The fearfully devastating force of an Assyrian invasion is set forth under three distinct images—a hailstorm, a furious tempest of wind, and a violent inundation—as though so only could its full horror be depicted. War is always a horrible scourge; but in ancient times, and with a people so cruel as the Assyrians, it was a calamity exceeding in terribleness the utmost that the modern reader can conceive. It involved the wholesale burning of cities and villages, the wanton destruction of trees and crops, the slaughter of thousands in battles and sieges, the subsequent massacre of hundreds in cold blood, the plunder of all classes, and the deportation of tens of thousands of captives, who were carried into hopeless servitude in a strange land. With the hand; i.e. "with force," "violently." So in Assyrian constantly (compare the use of the Greek χερί).

Isaiah 28:3

The crown of pride, the drunkards; rather, of the drunkards (comp. Isaiah 28:1). The "crown of pride" is scarcely "Samaria," as Delitzsch supposes, it is rather the self-complacent and boastful spirit of the Israelite people, which will be "trodden under foot" by the Assyrians.

Isaiah 28:4

And the glorious beauty, etc. Translate, And the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be like an early fig (that comes) before the harvest. Such an "early fig" is a tempting delicacy, devoured as soon as seen (comp. Hosea 9:10; Nahum 3:12; Jeremiah 24:2, etc.). The "beauty" of Samaria would tempt the Assyrians to desire it so soon as they saw it, and would rouse an appetite which would be content with nothing less than the speedy absorption of the coveted morsel. Samaria's siege, once begun, was pressed without intermission, and lasted less than three years (2 Kings 18:9, 2 Kings 18:10)—a short space compared to that of other sieges belonging to about the same period; e.g. that of Ashdod, besieged twenty-nine years; that of Tyre, besieged thirteen years ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 3.492).

Isaiah 28:5, Isaiah 28:6

THE FALL OF SAMARIA COINCIDENT WITH AN OFFER OF FAVOR TO JUDAH. Her sister's fate was the most powerful of all possible warnings to Judah against treading in her steps. Samaria had perished through want of faith in Jehovah. She had turned to other gods; she had trusted in her own "glory" and "beauty;" and she had trusted in Egypt. If Judah would do the exact opposite, she might be saved. If she would take Jehovah for her "Crown of glory" and "Diadem of beauty," he was willing to be so taken. He was willing to impart a "spirit of judgment" to her rulers, and "strength" to her armed force.

Isaiah 28:5

In that day shall the Lord of hosts be, etc. This is an offer, and something more than an offer. It is implied that, to some extent, the offer would be accepted. And clearly the closing of the clouds around Samaria was coincident with the dawn of a brighter day in Judah. Hezekiah came to the throne only three years before the fatal siege of Samaria began. His accession must have been nearly contemporaneous with that expedition of Shal-maneser against Hoshea, when he "shut him up, and bound him in prison" (2 Kings 17:4). Yet he was not daunted by his neighbor's peril. He began his reign with a political revolution and a religious reformation. He threw off the yoke of Assyria, to which his father had submitted (2 Kings 18:7), and he cleared the land of idols and idol-worship. It was the dawn of a day of promise, such as the prophet seems to point to in these two verses. Unhappily, the dawn was soon clouded over (Isaiah 28:7-9). The residue of his people; i.e. Judah. All admit that "they also," in Isaiah 28:7, refers to Judah, and Judah only; but the sole antecedent to "they also" is this mention of the residue of God's people.

Isaiah 28:6

For a spirit of judgment. How far Judah had departed from the spirit of just judgment was made apparent in the very opening chapter of Isaiah's prophecy (verses 15-27). To him that sitteth in judgment; rather, that sitteth on the judgment-seat (Cheyne). For strength to them that turn the battle to the gate; i.e. "to those who repulse an enemy, and drive him back to his own city's gate".

Isaiah 28:7-10

JUDAH'S SINFULNESS. The reformation effected by Hezekiah was but a half-reformation. It put away idolatry, but it left untouched a variety of moral evils, as:

1. Drunkenness. Judah was no whir behind Ephraim in respect of this vice. The very priests and "prophets" gave way to the disgusting habit, and came drunk to the most solemn functions of religious teaching and hearing causes.

2. Scorn and mockery of God's true prophets. The teaching of Isaiah was made light of by the officials of the priestly and prophetic orders, who claimed to be quite as competent to instruct men in their duties as himself. They seem to have ridiculed the mode of his teaching—its catch-words, as they thought them, and its insistence on minutiae.

Isaiah 28:7

They also. Judah, no less than Ephraim (see Isaiah 28:1, Isaiah 28:3). It has been questioned whether literal intoxication is meant, and suggested that Judah "imitated the pride and unbelief and spiritual intoxication of Ephraim" (Kay). But the numerous passages which tax both the Israelites and the Jews of the period with drunkenness (Isaiah 5:11, Isaiah 5:22; Isaiah 22:13; Isaiah 56:12; Hosea 4:11; Hosea 7:5; Amos 6:6, etc.), are best understood literally. Orientals (e.g, the Persians) are often given to such indulgence. Have erred through wine; rather, reel with wine. Are out of the way; or, stagger. The verbs express the physical effects of intoxication. The priest and the prophet. Priests were forbidden by the Law to drink any wine or strong drink previously to their taking part in the service of the tabernacle (Le Isaiah 10:9), and the prohibition was always understood to apply a fortiori to the temple (Ezekiel 44:21). Prophets might have been expected to act in the spirit of the command given to priests. By "prophets" here Isaiah means, not persons especially called of God, but official members of the prophetical order. Of these there were always many in Judah, who had no strong sense of religion (see Isaiah 29:10; Jeremiah 5:13, Jeremiah 5:31; Ezekiel 13:2-16; Amos 2:12; Micah 3:11; Zephaniah 3:4, etc.). They err in vision; rather, they reel in the vision. They are drunken, even in the very exercise of their prophetical office—when they see, and expound, their visions. They stumble in judgment; or, they stagger when pronouncing judgment (Delitzsch). Persons in authority had been specially warned not to drink wine before the hearing of causes (Proverbs 31:4, Proverbs 31:5).

Isaiah 28:8

So that there is no place clean. This is probably the true meaning, though the prophet simply says, "There is no place" (comp. Isaiah 5:8).

Isaiah 28:9

Whom shall he teach? A sudden and abrupt transition. The best explanation seems to be that suggested by Jerome, and followed by Bishop Lowth and most commentators, viz. that the prophet dramatically introduces his adversaries as replying to him with taunting speeches. "Whom does he think he is teaching?" they ask. "Mere children, just weaned from their mother's milk, and taken away from the breast? Does he forget that we are grown men—nay, priests and prophets? And what poor teaching it is! What 'endless petty feazing'! (Delitzsch)—precept upon precept," etc. The intention is to throw ridicule upon the smallness and vexatious character of the prophet's interminable and uninterrupted chidings (Delitzsch). Knowledge … doctrine. Technical terms in Isaiah's teaching, which his adversaries seem to have ridiculed as "catch-words." The term translated "doctrine" means properly "tidings," and involves the idea that the prophet obtained the teaching so designated by direct revelation from God.

Isaiah 28:10

For precept must be upon precept; rather, for it is precept upon precept (Lowth, Cheyne). The whole teaching is nothing but an accumulation of precept upon precept, rule upon rule, one little injunction followed up by another, here a little, there a little. The objectors profess to find in the prophet's teaching nothing grand, nothing broad—no enunciation of great leading principles; but a perpetual drizzling rain of petty maxims and rules, vexatious, cramping, confining; especially unsuitable to men Who had had the training of priests and prophets, and could have appreciated a grand theory, or a new religious standpoint, but were simply revolted at a teaching which seemed to them narrow, childish, and wearisome. It has been said that in the language of this passage "we may hear the heavy babbling utterance of the drunken scoffers" (Delitzsch); but in this we have perhaps an over-refinement. Isaiah probably gives us, not what his adversaries said of him over their cups, but the best arguments which they could hit on in their sober hours to depreciate his doe-trine. The arguments must be allowed to be clever.

Isaiah 28:11-13

JUDAH'S PUNISHMENT. God will retort on the Jews their scorn of his prophet, and, as they will not be taught by his utterances, which they find to be childish and unrefined, will teach them by utterances still more unrefined—those of the Assyrians, which will be quite as monotonous and quite as full of minutiae as Isaiah's.

Isaiah 28:11

With stammering lips and with another tongue. The Assyrian language, though a Semitic idiom nearly allied to Hebrew, was sufficiently different to sound in the ears of a Jew like his own tongue mispronounced and barbarized.

Isaiah 28:12

To whom he said; rather, because he said to them. God had from remote times offered to his people "rest" and "refreshing"—or a life of ease and peace in Palestine—but on condition of their serving him faithfully and observing his Laws (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). But they had re-jeered this "rest," since they had refused to observe the condition on which it was promised. Because they had thus acted, God now brought upon them war and a conqueror.

Isaiah 28:13

The word of the Lord was to them; rather, shall be to them. God will now speak to them, not by his prophet, but by the Assyrian conqueror, who will do what they said Isaiah had done, i.e. lay upon them command after command, rule alter rule, a constant series of minute injunctions, under which they will chafe and fret and at last rebel, but only to be "snared and taken." It is uncertain whether the reference is to the immediate future and to the Assyrians proper only, or whether the Babylonians are not taken into account also, and their oppression of Judaea pointed to. The yoke of Babylon was probably quite as difficult to endure as that of Assyria; and we find that, in the space of eighteen years, it produced at least three rebellions.

Isaiah 28:14-22

THE REBUKE OF JUDAH'S NOBLES. The power of the nobles under the later Jewish monarchy is very apparent throughout Isaiah's prophecy. It is they, and not the king, who are always blamed for bad government (Isaiah 1:10-23; Isaiah 3:12-15, etc.) or errors of policy (Isaiah 9:15, Isaiah 9:16; Isaiah 22:15-19, etc.). Isaiah now turns from a denunciation of the priests and prophets, who especially opposed his teaching, to a threatening of the great men who guided the course of public affairs. He taxes them with being "men of scorn" (verse 14), i.e. scorners of Jehovah, and with" a proud and insolent self-confidence" (Delitzsch). They have made, or are about to make, secret arrangements which will, they believe, secure Judaea against suffering injury at the hands of the Assyrians, and are quite satisfied with what they have done, and fear no evil. Isaiah is instructed that their boasted arrangements will entirely fail in the time of trial—their "refuge" (Egypt) will be found a refuge of lies (verse 17), and the "overflowing scourge" (Assyria) will pass through the land, and carry all before it (verse 18). There will then ensue a time of "vexation" and discomfort (verses 19, 20)—God's anger will be poured out upon the land in strange ways (verse 21). He therefore warns the rulers to lay aside their scorn of God, and humble themselves, lest a worse thing happen to them (verse 22).

Isaiah 28:14

Ye scornful men; literally, ye men of scorn. The word used is rare, but will be found in the same sense in Proverbs 1:22 and Proverbs 29:8. A cognate participle occurs in Hosea 7:5. That rule this people. (On the authority of the nobles at this period, see the introductory paragraph.)

Isaiah 28:15

We have made a covenant with death (comp. Job 5:23; Hosea 2:18). The words are a boast, expressed somewhat enigmatically, that they have secured their own safety by some secret agreement. The exact nature of the agreement they are disinclined to divulge. With hell are we at agreement. A "synonymous parallelism," merely strengthening the previous assertion. When the overflowing scourge shall pass through. Assyrian invasion has been compared to a "flood" (Isaiah 8:7; Isaiah 28:2), and to a "rod" or "staff" in Isaiah 10:24. Here the two metaphors are joined together. It shall not come to us. Some means will be found—what, they do not say, either for diverting the flood, or for stemming it. For we have made lies our refuge. Here the Divine reporter departs from the language of those whose words he is reporting, and substitutes his own estimate of the true nature and true value of that "refuge" on which they placed such entire reliance. It appears by Isaiah 30:1-7 and Isaiah 36:6-9 that that refuge was Egypt. Now, Egypt was a "bruised reed," not to be depended on for keeping her engagements. To trust in her was to put confidence in "lies" and "falsehood."

Isaiah 28:16

Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone. In contrast with the insecure refuge and false ground of confidence whereon the nobles relied, the prophet puts forward the one sure "Rock" on which complete dependence may be placed—which he declares that Jehovah is laying, or "has laid," in Zion as a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation. The imagery is, no doubt, drawn from the practice of Oriental kings, and notably Solomon, to employ foundation-stones of enormous size and weight at the corners of buildings. Some of those uncovered at the corners of Solomon's temple by the Palestine Exploration Fund are more than thirty-eight feet long, and weigh above a hundred tons. But the reference cannot, of course, be to the material structure of the temple as Israel's true refuge. Rather, Jehovah himself would seem to be the Rock (Isaiah 26:4; Isaiah 30:29, etc.) intended; and hence the application to Christ by the writers of the New Testament (Romans 9:33; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-8) was natural and easy. But it may be questioned whether the passage was to Isaiah himself "Messianic," or meant more than that God had set his Name and his presence at Jerusalem from the time that the temple was built there, and that it was a mistake to look elsewhere titan to him for deliverance or security. He that believeth shall not make haste. The LXX. have "He that believeth shall not be ashamed" or "confounded;" and St. Paul (Romans 9:33) follows this rendering. It is conjectured that the Hebrew had originally yabish instead of yakhish.

Isaiah 28:17

Judgment also will I lay to the line, said righteousness to the plummet; rather, justice also will I set for my rule, and righteousness for my plumb-line; i.e. I will execute justice and judgment on the earth with all strictness and exactness. The scorners had implied that, by their clever devices, they would escape the judgment of God (Isaiah 28:15). The hail (comp. Isaiah 28:2). The storm of Assyrian invasion will overwhelm Egypt, which is a "refuge of lies," false and untrustworthy (see the comment on Isaiah 28:15). The hiding-place. Mr. Cheyne adds, "of falsehood," supposing a word to have fallen out of the text. Such an addition seems almost required to complete the parallelism of the two clauses, and also for the balance between this verse and Isaiah 28:15.

Isaiah 28:18

And your covenant with death shall be disannulled; or, wiped out. The entire clever arrangement, by which they thought to avert the danger from themselves and from Judaea, shall come to naught. When the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. As the prophet continues, his metaphor becomes still more mixed. "Treading down" was so familiar an expression for destroying, that, perhaps, its literal sense was overlooked (comp. Isaiah 5:5; Isaiah 7:25; Isaiah 10:6; Daniel 8:13; Micah 7:10; Zechariah 10:5, etc.).

Isaiah 28:19

From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you; rather, as often as it passes along, it shall take you away; i.e. as often as the flood of Assyrian invasion sweeps through Palestine, it shall thin the population by death and captivity. We know of at least eight passages of the flood through Judaea—one under Sargon, two under Sennacherib, three or four under Esarhaddon, and two under Asshur-bani-pal. There may have been more. Morning by morning; i.e. frequently—time after time. Shall it pass over; rather, pass along, or pass through. It shall be a vexation only to understand the report; rather, it will be sheer terror to understand the doctrine. There is an allusion to Isaiah 28:9. They had thought scorn of Isaiah's "doctrine," when he taught it them by word of mouth; they will understand it but too well, and find it" nothing but a terror," when it is impressed on them by the preaching of facts.

Isaiah 28:20

For the bed, etc. We have a proverb, "As a man makes his bed, so must he lie in it." The Jews will have made themselves a bed in which they can have no comfort or ease, and consequently no rest. But they will only have themselves to blame for it.

Isaiah 28:21

The Lord shall rise up as in Mount Perazim. The "Mount Perazim" of this passage is probably the same as the "Baal-Perazim" of 1 Chronicles 14:11, where David completely defeated the Philistines by the Divine help. This victory is connected with another over the same nation in the valley of Gibeon (1 Chronicles 14:13-16). Now, however, God was to be on the side of the enemies of his people, who were to suffer as the Philistines had suffered in the olden time. This punishment of Ida own people by the sword of foreigners was strange work on God's part—a strange act. But it was their strange conduct which caused God's strange action. They had become as it were, Philistines.

Isaiah 28:22

Be ye not mockers. As they had shown themselves previously (Isaiah 28:9, Isaiah 28:10). Lest your bands be made strong; or, lest your fetters grow strong. The prophet views Judah as still, to some extent, an Assyrian dependency, held in light bonds; and warns his countrymen that an attempt to break the light bonds may result in Assyria's making them stronger and heavier. A consumption … determined upon the whole earth; rather, a consummation (comp. Isaiah 10:22, Isaiah 10:23).

Isaiah 28:23-29

A PARABLE TO COMFORT BELIEVERS. Isaiah is always careful to intermingle promises with his threats, comfort with his denunciations. Like his great Master, of whom he prophesied, he was fain not to "break the bruised reed" or "quench the smoking flax." When he had searched men's wounds with the probe, he was careful to pour in oil and wine. So now, having denounced the sinners of Judah through three long paragraphs (verses 7-22), he has a word of consolation and encouragement for the better disposed, whose hearts he hopes to have touched and stirred by his warning. This consolation he puts in a parabolic form, leaving it to their spiritual insight to discover the meaning.

Isaiah 28:23

Give ye ear (comp. Psalms 49:1; Psalms 78:1). A preface of this kind, enjoining special attention and thought, was appropriate to occasions when instruction was couched in a parabolic form.

Isaiah 28:24

Doth the plowman plow all day? The Church of God, go often called a vineyard, is here compared to an arable field, and the processes by which God educates and disciplines his Church are compared to those employed by man in the cultivation of such a piece of ground, and the obtaining of a harvest, from it. First of all, the ground must be ploughed, the face of the earth "opened" and the "clods broken." This, however, does not go on forever; it is for an object—that the seed may be sown; and, as soon as the ground is fit for the sowing to take place, the preparation of the soil ceases. Doth he open and break, etc.? Harrowing succeeds to ploughing in the natural order of things, the object of the harrowing being to break and pulverize the clods.

Isaiah 28:25

When he hath made plain the face thereof; i.e. leveled it—brought the ground to a tolerably even surface. Doth he not cast abroad the fitches? The Hebrew word translated "fitches"—i.e. "vetches"—is qetsach, which is generally allowed to represent the Nigella sativa, a sort of ranun-cuhs, which is cultivated in many parts of the East for the sake of its seeds. These are black, and have an aromatic flavor. Dioscorides (3:83) and Pliny (Isaiah 19:8) say that they were sometimes mixed with bread. And scatter the cummin. "Cummin" (Cuminum sativum) is "an umbelliferous plant, something like fennel." The seeds—or rather, berries—have "a bitterish warm taste, with an aromatic flavor". They seem to have been eaten as a relish with various kinds of food. And cast in the principal wheat; rather, and put in wheat in rows. Drill-ploughs, which would deposit grain in rows, were known to the Assyrians. And the rie in their place. Cussemeth, the word translated "rie," is probably the Holeus sorghum, or "spelt," which is largely cultivated in Palestine and other parts of the East, and is the ordinary material of the bread eaten by the poorer classes. For "in their place," Kay translates, "in its own border." The wheat and the barley and the spelt would all be sown separately, according to the direction of Le Isaiah 19:19, "Thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed."

Isaiah 28:26

For his God doth instruct him. Through the reason which God has given to men, they deal thus prudently and carefully with the pieces of land which they cultivate.

Isaiah 28:27

For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing-instrument. The Nigella sativa is too lender a plant to be subjected to the rude treatment of a threshing-instrument, or "threshing-sledge." Such instruments are of the coarsest and clumsiest character in the East, and quite inapplicable to plants of a delicate fabric. Karsten Niebuhr thus describes the Arabian and Syrian practices: "Quand le grain dolt etre battu, les Arabes de Yemen posent le bled par terre en deux tangles, epis center epis, apres quoi ils font trainer par-dessus une grosse pierre tiree par deux boeufs. La machine dent on se sert en Syrie consiste en quelques planches garnies par-dessous d'une quantite de pierres a fusil". Neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin. The allusion is to aim the coarse mode of threshing practiced in Palestine and elsewhere, by driving a cart with broad wheels over the grain. But the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. Canon Tristram says, "While the cummin can easily be separated from its case by a slender rod, the harder pod of the Nigella requires to be beaten by a stout staff".

Isaiah 28:28

Bread corn is braised; literally, bread; but no doubt the corn, from which bread is made, is meant. Most critics regard the clause as interrogative, "Is bread corn bruised?"—and the answer as given in the negative by the rest of the sentence, "No; he will not continue always threshing it, nor crunch it with his cart-wheel and his horses—he will not bruise it." Even where the rougher modes of threshing are employed, there is moderation in their employment. Care is taken not to injure the grain. Here the main bearing of the whole parable appears. The afflictions which God sends upon his people are adapted to their strength and to their needs. In no case are they such as to crush and injure. Only such violence is used as is required to detach the good seed from the husks. Where the process is most severe, still the "bread-corn" is not "bruised."

Isaiah 28:29

This also (comp. Isaiah 28:26). This prudent dealing of the husbandman with his produce is the result of the wisdom implanted in him by God. The prophet goes no further, but leaves his disciples to draw the conclusion that God's own method of working will be similar. Wonderful in counsel (comp. Isaiah 9:6). Excellent in working; rather, great in wisdom (comp. Job 6:13 : Job 12:16; Proverbs 2:7; Proverbs 3:21; Proverbs 8:14; Proverbs 18:1; Micah 6:9). Proverbs 8:14 is especially in point, since there the same two qualities are ascribed to God as in the present passage.


Isaiah 28:1, Isaiah 28:3

The drunkards of Ephraim.

While Scripture, from first to last, upholds the moderate use of wine as cheering and "making glad the heart of man," it is distinct and severe in its denunciations of drunkenness and unrestrained revelry. The son who was "stubborn and rebellious, a glutton and a drunkard," was to be brought by his parents before the ciders under the Jewish Law, and "stoned with stones that he might die" (Deuteronomy 21:20, Deuteronomy 21:21). Nabal's drunkenness and churlishness together caused him to be "smitten by the Lord that he died' (1 Samuel 25:38). Solomon warns his son against drunkenness by reminding him of the fact, which experience had sufficiently proved by his time, that "the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty" (Proverbs 23:21). The "drunkards of Ephraim" are denounced in unsparing terms by Isaiah and Amos. Christians are taught that drunkards "shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:10), and bidden, "If any man that is called a brother be a drunkard, with such a one, no, not to eat" (1 Corinthians 5:11). Drunkenness and gluttony are naturally coupled together, as being each of them an abuse of God's good gifts to man; but drunkenness is far the worse of the two, since, by robbing man of his self-control, it is apt to lead him on to a number of other sins and crimes, and thus, while not perhaps worse in itself, it is in its consequences far more injurious than gluttony. Drunkenness is often pleaded as an excuse for the crimes whereto it leads; but some of the wisest amongst ancient legislators were so far from accepting this plea, that they doubled the penalty for an offence if a man was drunk when he committed it (Arist; 'Eth. Nic.,' Amos 3:5, § 8). In the case of the "drunkards of Ephraim," it may be suspected that the desire to drown their cares in wine was at the root of their drunkenness (comp. Isaiah 22:13; Proverbs 31:6, Proverbs 31:7). But, however we may pity those who so act, we cannot excuse them. Difficulties are a call upon us to use to the utmost the intellect wherewith we are endowed by God, if so be we may anyhow devise an escape from our troubles—not a reason for our pushing reason from its seat, and rushing blindfold on calamity.

Isaiah 28:9, Isaiah 28:10

The objections of unbelievers to such as preach the truth.

The argumentum ad hominem, to which Isaiah's adversaries had recourse, is one very generally employed by those who are indisposed to receive religious teaching. "Who are you," the teacher is asked, "that you should set yourself up to teach us? On what grounds do you suppose that you are so much wiser than we? We are not babes—not tied to our mothers' apron-strings, not mere children without experience of life. We think that probably we know quite as much on any religious subject as you. Why should you imagine that we do not?' It is difficult to meet this objection. By setting up to be a religious teacher a man does certainly claim to be wiser than his neighbors, and a prima facie objection of undue self-assertion most decidedly lies against him. He can only meet this objection by disclaiming all personal merit, and declaring himself a mere mouthpiece of One infinitely above him, whose doctrine he is commissioned to spread. The objectors will then have to question either the fact of his commission or the authority of the Person who gave it. Another line of argument, and a very common one, is to turn the doctrine itself into ridicule. Has the teacher nothing more to say than what has been heard so often?—nothing but little rules, petty precepts, minute directions for conduct, a touch here, a touch there, tiresome trivialities? Has he no new grand scheme to propound, no flesh way of salvation, no interesting "Church of the Future?" Surely it is idle to repeat, over and over again, the same stale maxims, the same well-worn rules! Who will listen to a harper who harps always on one string? Something new, something lively, something out of the common, is wanted, if the preacher is to secure attention; still more, if he is to affect conduct. Unfortunately, what is new is seldom true; and though, no doubt, novelty in treatment is to a certain extent desirable, since the "instructed scribe" should know how "to bring out of his treasure things old and new" (Matthew 13:52), yet it is the old truths which alone have power, which alone can save; and these need to be perpetually impressed on men, "in season and out of season," dinned into their ears, forced on their attention, cut into their hearts by stroke after stroke, even at the risk of its wearying them.

Isaiah 28:14-22

The judgment prepared for scorner's.

"Scorners," in the language of Scripture, are those who set at naught God's prophets, or his messages, or his Holy Word, or his Church, or his ministers. Men delight in such scorn because it seems to them so fine a thing, so grand a thing, so bold, so brave, so heroic. It is a poor thing, comparatively, to exalt one's self against man; it is magnificent to measure one's strength with God's, and enter the lists against him. This may, no doubt, be so in one point of view, and for a time, while God chooses to endure the contradiction of sinners against himself. But nothing can be really grand or heroic which is irrational, absurd, doomed to end in failure, shame, and ruin. There is nothing admirable in a child kicking against the commands of a wise father, or in a schoolboy setting at naught the rules of grammar or of conduct given him by a good schoolmaster. It is the true wisdom of those who know themselves to be weak, and ignorant, and short-sighted, and imperfect, and liable to error, to accept loyally the rule of an authority stronger and wiser and better than themselves. The "scorners" find in a little time that their resistance of God is folly.


(1) physical force—the fact they have at their beck and call vast armies, a numerous police, a well-filled treasury, important allies, and the like; or

(2) intellectual power, a consciousness of a reserve of mental strength in themselves, an indomitable will, a keen intellect, a fertile imagination, great logical acumen, etc. But their hold on all such things is uncertain. Armies revolt, melt away by sickness and desertion, suffer defeat, become demoralized, surrender themselves; a police fails and fraternizes with revolution; a treasury becomes exhausted; allies draw back in the hour of danger, as the Egyptians did in Israel's greatest need; and the mighty potentate who has scorned God and his laws finds himself, together with his advisers, brought to shame, defeated, ruined. So with the "scorners" whose mental pride has puffed them up. God can abase them in a moment by mental disease, brain-softening, paralysis, sense of depression, disgust with life. How the bald atheist trembles, and wishes that he could retract his daring speeches, when he is struck down by sickness, crippled, bed-ridden, palsied perhaps. God does not always launch his bolts in this life; but he can at any time do so, and he does it with sufficient frequency to leave men without excuse if they do not note, and profit, by his warnings.

II. As EXTERNAL DANGER THREATENS. No one is safe from the worst forms of human suffering. Temporal ruin may come upon the rich, disfavor and unpopularity upon the long-applauded statesman, domestic woe, severe illness, excruciating pain, upon any one. In every case there is always death threatening men. Some "overflowing scourge" or other is almost sure, sooner or later, to "pass through," and press upon us, and threaten to bring us down to the ground. The scorner trembles when such an hour arrives, and inwardly confesses his impotency, even if outwardly he wear a front of brass, and professes to fear neither God nor man.

III. CALAMITY SWOOPS DOWN AT LAST. Even if no special judgment is sent to punish the scorner, there arrives at last of necessity the time of old age, weakness, weariness; there arrives at last death; and, some time before death, the fear of death. The scorner must go to that God whose message he has scorned, whose messengers he has treated with contempt and contumely. "A consummation is decreed." He must "fall into the hands of the living God!" Then the folly of that "brave" conduct on which he prided himself becomes apparent, and he would fain retract his old speeches, and submit himself, and make his peace. But the words addressed to scorners (Proverbs 1:22) sound in his ears and hold him back: "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them" (Proverbs 1:24-32).

Isaiah 28:24-28

The analogy of Divine to human methods of working.

Isaiah's comparison in this chapter rests wholly upon the assumption of an analogy between God's dealings and man's, when the latter are such as are consonant with reason. Reason, the highest gift of God to man, be assumes to be an adumbration of some quality in the Divine nature, which bears a real resemblance to it. "Reason cometh forth from the Lord of hosts." It is the voice of God speaking in the soul of man. Let man follow it, and his actions are divinely guided. God's mode of action in parallel matters may be gathered from his. The general principle is involved in the particular analogy here indicated. As in human husbandry, so in God's tendance of that Church, which is his "vineyard" and "fruitful field," there are three principal processes.

I. THE PREPARATION OF THE GROUND. Israel was prepared by the long course of Egyptian affliction, by the "ploughshares" and "harrows" of tyrannical overseers and taskmasters, which broke up and pulverized what would otherwise have been an ungenial and unpromising soil, very unapt to bear fruit. After this preparation had been made for four hundred and thirty years, there followed—

II. THE PUTTING IN OF THE SEED. God's revelation of himself and of his will at Sinai was the sowing of the seed of his Word in the soil of Israel's hearts. When he had sufficiently prepared the soil, he scattered the seed abundantly—seed of various kinds—which all fell in its "appointed place," and did its appointed work, "turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just," and differencing the Jews from their neighbors by a higher moral tone and a purer religion than prevailed elsewhere. Finally came—

III. THE GATHERING IS OF THE HARVEST. The seed is sown for the sake of the crop which it will produce. God is continually gathering in his crop by a process analogous to that which men pursue. He needs good grain for his garner, and to obtain this he must separate the grain from the husks and chaff with which it is accompanied. As men use various methods for this object, some gentler, some severer, so God, too, in the purifying of his grain, has many varieties of treatment. To each kind of grain he applies the treatment that is fittest. Some kinds are lightly beaten, as with slender rods; others more heavily, as with stout staves; some, on the other hand, are threshed, as it were, with spiked drags and rollers, to clear them of their encumbrances. No more force, however, is applied in any case than is necessary, nor is any force applied for a longer time than is needed. And even in the severest treatment there is gentleness. God has a care that the good grain shall never be "bruised."


Isaiah 28:1-6

Condition of Samaria.

I. DENUNCIATION OF WOE. The condition of Samaria was like that of Jerusalem. And judgment must first fall upon Samaria, and then upon Jerusalem (Isaiah 8:6; cf. Micah 1:6). Drunkenness is named," not as the root of the national evil, but rather as its flower. The appalling thing is that when all is on the point of collapsing, those responsible for the state should be given up to careless self-indulgence" (Cheyne). Samaria is described as the city of the "proud crown." So in Greece Athens was called the city of the violet crown, and Thebes the "well-crowned." Some explain the crown of the towers; others think that the mere beauty of the hill on which the city stands, with its cultivated terraces, covered with corn and with fig and olive trees, has given rise to the figure. But a worm is at the root of all this beauty, and Samaria must die. Drunkenness may stand for sensuality in general, which saps the root of a nation's life. The crown, or chaplet, alludes also to the custom among Greeks, Romans, and Jews, of wearing a chaplet of flowers at feasts. In the Book of Wisdom we read—

"Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments:
And let no flower of the spring pass by us:
Let us crown ourselves with rose-buds, before they be withered."

(Wis. 2:8.)

II. THE IMPENDING DESTRUCTION. Jehovah has an unflinching instrument for destruction. And, like an overwhelming tempest and flood of waters, destruction will come down on the devoted city. The bright crown shall be trampled underfoot; and Ephraim's beauty shall be swallowed up with all the haste with which one devours the special delicacy of the "early fig" (cf. Hosea 9:10; Micah 7:1; Habakkuk 3:12; Jeremiah 24:2). It ripens in June. The whole is a picture of sudden and utter destruction. (For the Assyrian king as agent in the hand of Jehovah, cf. 2 Kings 17:3-6. For the storm of hail as a symbol of desolation, cf. Job 27:21; Hosea 13:15. And for the flood as a representation of hostile devastation, cf. Psalms 95:5; Jeremiah 46:7, Jeremiah 46:8.) In the moral order, sudden destruction is always connected with great impiety. The triumphing of the wicked is short; and while they speak of peace, sudden destruction arriveth. "What Isaiah declared about the kingdom of Israel applies also to the whole world. By their ingratitude, men prevent all the goodness which the Lord has bestowed upon them from reaching maturity; for we abuse his blessings and corrupt them by our wickedness. The consequence is that hasty and short-lived fruits are produced, which cannot yield us continual nourishment" (Calvin). Luxury blinds, blindness leads to stumbling, and presently to a sudden fall.

III. FULFILMENTS OF MESSIANIC PROMISE. Here again the sky clears, and the star of hope glimmers. To the converted remnant Jehovah will be as a glittering Crown and a splendid Diadem. The royalty of the Divine King shall be more glorious than the famed beauty of Samaria, whose crown shall have been trampled in the dust, and his government a fairer chaplet to adorn the Divine seat. There will be a true beauty and glory in the Messianic times. Moreover, there will be a spirit of justice and sound intelligence diffused. The priests, the spiritual leaders, will be especially imbued with it (cf. Deuteronomy 17:8-12; Exodus 21:22; 2 Chronicles 19:5-8). But the magistracy in general will be enlightened and instructed by the Spirit of God. Further, there will be valor in the field, so that the generals and their soldiers will be able to turn back war to the gate—probably of the city whence their foes came (2 Samuel 11:23, "And we were upon them, even unto the entering of the gate"). There will, in short, in the ideal or Messianic government, be a government strong both internally and externally, wisdom and justice in home administration, strength and valor towards the foe without. These are needed for every empire and kingdom; and they come from God. "The Lord is our Defense." "Magistrates will not be able to rule and administer justice in a city, and military generals will not be able to repel enemies, unless the Lord shall direct them." To place our confidence in the world is to gather flowers, which forthwith fade and decay. We then seek to be happy without God, that is, without happiness itself. If we seek protection and good in God, then no calamities can prevent him from adorning the Church. When it shall appear that everything is on the eve of destruction, God will still be a Crown of glory to his people (Calvin).—J.

Isaiah 28:7-13

The mockers and the prophet.

Here, it appears, the scene changes to Jerusalem. And we should compare the picture of drunkenness and luxury with that in Amos 6:1-7 and Micah 2:11.

I. THE PRIESTS AND PROPHETS OF THE TIME. They are seen reeling and staggering in the midst of, or as they come from, their most sacred functions. It is a strong and indignant description of drunkenness in general (cf. Proverbs 20:1). What more humiliating than the spectacle! To have "put an enemy in one's mouth to steal away one's brains," to be the thrall of one's own brutal appetites, and a "scoured dish of liquor"!

"Ebrius urgeris multis miser undique curls

Atque animi incerto fluitans errore vagaris."

How much worse the vice in those who need all the clearness of the brain, all the composure of the nerves, for the discharge of their high office! They should be "filled" with another "spirit" than this. The effect of the bodily intoxication must be to cloud the judgment, to confuse the perception of truth. And how truly the proverb must apply, "Like people, like priest"! If such the habits of the representatives of the people, what must the people themselves have been?

II. THE SPIRIT OF MOCKERY. (Micah 2:9, Micah 2:10.) "The drunkards mock Isaiah over their cups. Does he not know what respectable persons he is dealing with—not like children, who need leading-strings, but educated priests and prophets?" (Cheyne). They scoff at him by taking up words often on his mouth. Whom would he teach knowledge? This designates prophetic preaching (see Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 33:6). And tidings? Another word for revelation, for something "heard from Jehovah" (verse 22; cf. Isaiah 21:10; Isaiah 53:1). Then they ridicule his manner. He is always "harping upon the same string," always dwelling upon the same commonplaces of morality and religion. "It is childish repetition," say they. But, in fact, the preacher must keep dwelling upon a few main points, so easily do they "slip by us!"(Hebrews 2:1). "Here a little, and there a little," it is a true description of popular preaching. It may seem "foolishness" to a scientifically trained understanding; but it has pleased God to save many by means of it. The gospel requires us to receive it as little children, and little by little, a saying here, and there a verse, and again a proverb; this is how little children learn.

III. REPLY OF THE PROPHET. He "retorts their own language upon them. Yes; it shall be, in fact, as you say. This childish monotone shall indeed sound in your ears. The description which you give of the revelations of Jehovah shall be exactly applicable to the harsh laconic commands of a merciless invader. For Assyrian, though closely allied to Hebrew, was sufficiently different from it both in grammar and in vocabulary to seem a 'stammering' or 'barbarous' tongue to Isaiah's contemporaries. The common diplomatic and commercial language of Syria and Assyria was Aramaic (see Isaiah 36:11)" (Cheyne). (For the word rendered "stammer," i.e. speak unintelligibly, as in a foreign tongue, cf. Isaiah 33:19; Proverbs 1:26; Proverbs 17:5; Psalms 2:4; Psalms 59:9; Job 22:19.) The lessons which the people refuse to heed when taught them in their native tongue, shall be pressed home upon them in the harsh accents of the barbarian. "Since the Divine patience has been lost upon them, a stronger way shall be taken to force their attention. God will thunder in their ears what to them will appear jargon, the language of a foreign nation!" How prophetic the words in general! The ill taste on our part which makes truth unpalatable in its simplicity and gentle persuasiveness will be sorely criticized when we are forced to listen to hoarse and rude accents. The prophet's burden had been of rest—rest to the weary; of refreshment by hearty faith in Jehovah (Isaiah 30:15; cf. Micah 2:10; Jeremiah 6:16). And now the old words, "line upon line," etc; will come back upon memory and conscience, to be enforced by retreat, and flight, and fall, and captivity. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." If truth sound barbarous, it is because we have not the true listening faculty. If it be not sweet to the taste as honey, it is because the stomach is disordered. If the Word profit not, it is because men do not "mix it with faith," i.e. with obedient and loving dispositions. A willful ignorance and blindness alone deprives of spiritual benefits; a stubbornness in turning away from the offered light, and choosing to remain in darkness.—J.

Isaiah 28:14-22

Jehovah pronounces judgment.

The rulers or politicians are addressed. They are stigmatized as "men of scorn" (cf. Isaiah 28:22; Isaiah 29:20; Hosea 7:5). The scornful or scoffing habit implies excessive self-confidence on the one hand, on the other contempt of religion and of God. But "be not deceived; God is not mocked." "It has been commonly found," says Calvin, "in almost every age, that the common people, though they are distinguished by unrestrained fierceness and violence, do not proceed to such a pitch of wretchedness as nobles and courtiers, or other crafty men, who think that they excel others in ability and wisdom." It is a dreadful and monstrous thing when the governors of the Church, not only are themselves blinded, but even blind others, and excite them to despise God and ridicule godly doctrine.

I. FALSE SECURITY. It is some delusion as to their own security which leads men to mock at the judgments of God. The ruling classes thought they had secured themselves against an Assyrian invasion. "They had their fortresses, their soothsayers and prophets, their diplomatists—the latter almost occupied with the preliminaries for a treaty with Egypt" (Cheyne). This fancied security is expressed under a bold figure. To be in covenant with death is like being in covenant with the beasts or the stones of the field (Job 5:23; Hosea 2:18). They have made, as they think, a compact with Hades. Probably enough the allusion may be to the wizards whom they consult. If so, it is true enough to all experience that men, when they have cast off the restraints of true religion, seek to make up for it by dabbling in superstition. "The scorners or free-thinkers have retained a strong belief in the infernal powers, though little enough in those supernal" (Cheyne). Idly have they made lies their refuge, and so think to be exempt from the "flooding scourge" as it sweeps over the land (cf. Isaiah 8:7, Isaiah 8:8). They act as if there was any security except in "walking uprightly, and in speaking truth with the heart." Their resources are spoken of by them under plausible names, and there are ways that "seem right to them." They do not think they are falsehoods; but the prophet tears away the disguise, and calls them by their proper names. "The essential substance of the thoughts and words of the rulers is manifest to the Searcher of hearts" (Delitzsch).

II. THE TRUE FOUNDATION. A Foundation-stone is, or shall be, laid in Zion, nay, costly and solid (cf. 1 Kings 5:17, "Great stones, costly stones, hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house"). The foundation-stone of the temple typifies the unchangeable verity of God, as revealed from age to age in his holy seat and oracle. The believer shall rest securely upon God, and only here shall true security be found. (For the general idea, of. Matthew 7:24, Matthew 7:25. For the application to the Messiah, see 1 Peter 2:6; Romans 10:11; Matthew 21:42; Luke 20:17, Luke 20:18; Luke 2:34; Ephesians 2:20.) The kingdom of God on earth rests on the Messiah. He was tried by temptation and other suffering, and so proved able and sufficient for the work of salvation. His Name, his work, is the most precious element in the Church's foundation. And amidst every tempest of judgment which shall sweep over the world, he who confides in Christ shall feel that he has built upon a Rock which cannot be shaken; and shall make no haste, shall be free from agitation and alarm. Till we possess faith, we must have continual perplexity and distress; for there is but one Object on which we can safely rely—the truth of the Lord, which alone wilt give us peace and serenity of mind. Peace is the direct result of faith (Romans 5:1), and faith is repose on that Foundation other than which none can be laid (1 Corinthians 3:11).

III. OVERTHROW OF FALSE REFUGES. There will be judgment exact and severe, figured by the carpenter's line and plummet. The hail-symbol of Divine wrath (Psalms 105:32; Ezekiel 13:13; Ezekiel 38:22; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 11:19) will sweep away the refuge of falsehood, and the hiding-place of deceit shall be carried along in the flood. That "covenant with death" shall be cancelled, and the "agreement with Sheol" shall not stand. There shall be repeated Assyrian invasions; and the "tidings" at which men laughed shall be a terror for them to hear (cf. Isaiah 28:9). Or, having neglected the soul-message, they shall be compelled to listen to the preaching of facts. The proverb (Isaiah 28:20) depicts the state of distress which will exist. History will repeat itself. As when David conquered the Philistines on Perazim and Gibeon (2 Samuel 5:20; 1 Chronicles 14:16), or as in the scene of Joshua 10:10, Jehovah will arise to do his work of judgment, a work more fitted for an alien people than that of his choice and love. God does not delight in judgment; it may even be called his "strange work," being foreign to the kindness of his heart. All that he drives at in his chastisements is to bring men to the knowledge of themselves. He is "slow to anger," and infinitely compassionate (Psalms 103:8; Exodus 34:6). Or the strangeness may be that he will now proceed to attack and exterminate his people, as formerly he had their foes. The hand felt by their fathers for salvation shall be felt by them for destruction.

IV. CLOSING APPEAL. These scornful politicians who desire to break the Assyrian bonds are exhorted to change their minds, and so avoid the destruction otherwise certain and infallibly decreed by Jehovah of hosts. They wished to escape from their fetters by a breach of faith, with the help of Egypt, without Jehovah, and so mocked at the prophet's warning. He therefore appeals to them to stop their scoffing, lest they should fall out of their present bondage into one more severe, and lest the judgment certainly at hand should fall more weightily upon them. Timely repentance might even now open a way of escape. We may apply the appeal as general. As God gives us' to foresee the issue of unwise ways in time, so by repentance may we avert the danger. To despise the Divine justice is not courage, but madness. Let us judge ourselves, that we may not be judged of the Lord; and because "that day" shall come as a thief in the night, ever let us have oil in our lamps, i.e. faith and repentance in our hearts, wisdom in the intelligence, justice and charity in our lives; and meditate daily on the vanity and shortness of our lives, the certainty and uncertainty of our deaths, the exactness and severity of the judgment to come, and the immutability of its results (South).—J.

Isaiah 28:23-29

Proverbial lore.

The ploughman's activity and the thresher's are set before the people as a parable of Israel's tribulations. At least, this is one of the views of the passage.

I. THE PURPOSE OF AFFLICTION. It is from God, and the end ever kept in view is the good of the soul and its productiveness. The ploughman does not plough for ploughing's sake. He opens the soil, turns up the furrows, breaks the clods with the harrow, and all to prepare for the sowing of the seed. And so far the tiller is an image of God and of his operations on the spirit of man. There is seeming severity of method, but ever beneficence in the end. Again, there is variety of method in God's husbandry of the soul. As the farmer adapts his plans to the soil and to the kind of grain, selects the best modes of preparing the ground, of sowing the grain, of collecting the harvest, of separating the corn from the chaff. "He does not always plough, nor always sow, nor always thresh. He does not deal with all lands and all grains in the same way. Some he threshes in one mode, some in another, but he will be careful not to break the grain or destroy it in threshing it. However severe may appear to be his blows, his object is not to crush and destroy the grain, but to remove it from the chaff and save it. In all this he acts the part of wisdom, for God has taught him what to do. So with God."

II. THE WISDOM OF THE DIVINE HUSBANDMAN. The prophet seems struck with the power of the analogy he has drawn; and we "notice his large conception of revelation." It is a want of reason, as it seems to us, in what we suffer that gives rise to impatience. To detect wisdom in all we suffer is to know calm and peace in the soul's depths. Let us learn, then:

1. That there is a reason at the bottom of the mystery of all we suffer, though we may not be able to search it out and make it plain to ourselves. For our own good, or for the good of others in the scheme of providence, we must undergo and endure. Generally, perhaps, we may detect in the nature of the chastisement the nature of the sin.

2. We may expect variety of trial. This means variety of experience, of knowledge. And every such experience, manfully and dutifully outlived, brings fresh access of hope to the soul. "Tribulation" is an expressive word; it is the threshing and sifting process that must ever go on, to fit us for the garner of eternity.

3. It is not the design of God to crush us. He will not always chide, nor always bruise, will remit his strokes when they have had their due effect.

4. In patience, then, let us possess our souls. As the homely proverb says, "Patience is a plaster for all sores," and "All things come round to him that waits." We may be here more to be acted upon than to act; to submit to a probation, the fruit and result of which will be brought to light in some future sphere of service.—J.


Isaiah 28:12

Rest and refreshment.

"To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear." Religion is designed to give us both rest and refreshment. We are described here—

I. AS WEARY, AND NEEDING REST. Weary! Can we not feel that? We wear away. The world is full of cares that fret and chafe us. We lose elasticity of step and cheeriness of heart. How many can say, "I am very weary?" The Bible understands man, and therefore its words are so true and its blessings so welcome. What do the weary need? Why, first of all, rest. We read of Jesus that, being weary, "he sat himself on the well:" so completely exhausted was he that all strength was gone. So not only in a physical sense do we need sweet sleep and rest; but in our human life and in our spiritual life we are weary. What we need is rest in a Person—rest in God himself; to rest in the Lord.

II. AS WEAK, AND NEEDING REFRESHMENT. We become exhausted in life's pilgrimage. Even in relation to spiritual supplies, our forces of faith and hope and courage fail. We need new supplies of grace and strength. This is well; for it would not be good for us to be able to live on yesterday's piety. Languor would come over our efforts after the Divine life if we had no need to seek daily bread. But refreshment comes. The faded flowers of our graces lift their drooping heads again. We have all seen and smelt the sweet fields after the rain-showers; we have all noticed these" seasons of refreshing." So in the highest things. These Hebrews would yet find God. He will be again dew unto Israel, and they will have times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.

III. As HEEDLESS AND UNWILLING TO HEAR. "Yet they would not hear." Some siren voice is still charming them and deadening their hearts to the heavenly ministry. Let us remember that we hear what we will to hear. That is still the responsible function of humanity, viz. to close or to open the ears to the messages of the great King. It is not that God does not speak; for he speaks in many dialects: all the languages of human event and circumstance are at his command. With us let it be, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth."—W.M.S.

Isaiah 28:16

Christ the Cornerstone.

"Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a Stone, a tried Stone, a precious Corner-stone, a sure Foundation." This stone we all know to be Christ, concerning whom all the prophets did testify. It is historically true that the Stone was laid in Zion, and what we have to treat of is the house. Here is the Foundation. Firm, as the eternal Rock, with its roots in God's own everlasting nature. The Foundation is not created; it is. God sends forth his Son to be the Savior of men. This foundation is laid deep in toil and tears, in humility and indignity. It is laid in the agony and bloody sweat, the cross and Passion. Yet there it is. None can move it. Nor can any soul of man find other foundation. This Foundation is designated in three ways.

I. IT IS A TRIED STONE. We are reminded of tried things. The Word of the Lord is a tried Word. Already prophets speak of the Christ as the tried Stone. The vision they have of him is not of a great Teacher simply, but of a Divine Redeemer, upon whose mighty work all generations of men may rest for redemption and life. The centuries have rolled away, and now history endorses prophecy. Generations of departed salute have testified that Christ is a Friend that loveth at all times—a Rock that no waters of sorrow, not even the waterfloods of death, can move.

II. IT IS A PRECIOUS CORNERSTONE. Yes; here the weight of the building has to come, the Cornerstone. Precious; for there is this description everywhere given of the Christ: "Beside me there is no Savior." He is the Pearl of great price. He is the Church's one Foundation. Precious in himself, as holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Precious, because of the living temple of redeemed souls which he supports. Precious in the Father's eyes, in the eyes of angels, and of all the great multitude of the redeemed.

III. A SURE FOUNDATION. That is what we all want in religion—certainty. We cannot do with a mere philosophic "quest." We want "rest." We do not want an ornate religion; we want rather to be able to say, "I know in whom I have believed." When the mind is palsied with doubt, when the heart is quaking with fear, then we experience the deepest misery possible to man; for the sky above us is soon lost to view if the rock beneath us is not firm and true. Heaven goes when faith goes. God himself declares, "Behold, I lay in Zion … a sure Foundation."—W.M.S.

Isaiah 28:28

The use of tribulation.

"Bread-corn is bruised." Tribulation must thresh our lives. And when the chaff is separated from the wheat, then the corn must be bruised and broken. It is not the outwardly peaceful, comfortable life that has in it the elements of ministry. The Savior was a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. He is brought near to us as being not of the seed of angels, but of the seed of Abraham. How were those sensibilities of his nature bruised with the hardness, coldness, and neglect of men! How even his disciples hurt him, forsaking him, and not even watching with him one hour! "Bread-corn is bruised." "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

I. THE BEST LIFE MEANS PAIN. Bruised! Corn is not enough. It must be made into bread. It is thus that true affection comes out when we suffer for others. So also is it with true humility. It is the bruised heart that has medicaments in it for others out of its own castings down.

II. THE BEST LIFE MEANS USEFULNESS. We stand in constant relationship to others. Man may be to his brother bread of thought, through long hours of mental struggle and agony. He may be bread of compassion too. We are to be "meet for the Master's use." Thus we learn that to be mere quietists or pietists is not enough. We must not light the lonely lamp of incense before the altar, and remain in rapt meditation or even devotion, always. No. The disciples had to come down from the ecstatic moments of the transfiguration to the common earth and to homespun duty.

III. THE BEST LIFE MEANS OPPOSITION TO THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD. "Save us from being bruised," is the cry of men of this world. "Give us comfort, ease, health, outward prosperity." And so these are protected at every point. Sorrow is never welcomed as an angel. Discipline is never thought of as a molder of character.

IV. THE BEST LIFE MEANS GOD'S OWN CHASTISEMENT. This is divinely appointed and delicately ordered. It means wisdom and forethought and adaptation; Isaiah 28:27, "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." Yes, that is it, there is a hand at work—a Father's hand.

V. THE BEST LIFE MEANS HEAVEN. "Because he wilt not ever be threshing it." No. Discipline, however painful, ends in the grave. The beauty of spiritual perfection begins when we are with the saints in light. "These are they which came out of great tribulation. They hunger no more. They thirst no more. There shall be no night there."—W.M.S.


Isaiah 28:1-4, Isaiah 28:7, Isaiah 28:8

The evil of excess: a sermon on intemperance.

The allusion here is to the prevalent baneful vice of intemperance. The evils which are connected with it, and which constitute its condemnation, are such as belong to other kinds of excess, but especially and emphatically to it.

I. HONOR IS HUMILIATED BY IT. "The crown of pride is trodden under feet" (Isaiah 28:1, Isaiah 28:3). The proud city, which was, alas! a city given up to drunkenness, should be brought down to the very dust. Intemperance causes the man who has held the highest position to become despised by every neighbor that has the common virtue of sobriety; it takes the crown of honor from the brow; it humbles even to the ground the pitiable victims of vice.

II. BEAUTY IS SPOILED BY IT. Its "glorious beauty becomes a faded flower" (Isaiah 28:1, Isaiah 28:4). Excess is found, not only in the vulgar, in the illiterate, in the uncomely, but also in the refined, in the accomplished, in the beautiful, of the sons and daughters of men. When it is found there it soon does its fatal work. The beautiful is soon gone both from the form and from the spirit; the green leaf withers, the exquisite bloom fades. From that which once attracted every eye, all men turn away grieved, if not positively repelled.

III. STRENGTH IS SAPPED BY IT. "Overcome with wine" (Isaiah 28:1). The man whose strength is composed of so many elements—material, mental, spiritual—is positively beaten, overcome, made helpless, useless, ludicrous, despicable, by a few glasses of liquor! It is a painful, shameful instance of strength being mastered by that which it ought to be able to subdue.

IV. WISDOM IS MISLED BY IT. "They have erred through wine … are out of the way … they err in vision, they stumble in judgment" (Isaiah 28:7). They who, if their faculties were unclouded, would perceive truth, and have spiritual insight, and gain the guidance which Heaven grants to them that seek it, are so weakened in mental power, or so bereft of spiritual strength, that they grope in darkness when they might walk in the light of the Lord.

V. INFLUENCE IS FORFEITED BY IT. "The priest and the prophet have erred." Even those who, but for guilty excess, might have led the people in every good way, are caught in the toils, are numbered among the victims, and their power is gone, their influence is forfeited. A drunken prophet is one whom all unite to spurn, and his word is worth less than nothing to the cause he pleads.


VII. IT CONSUMES ITS CONSUMER. (Isaiah 28:4, Isaiah 28:7.) Man may say that they swallow their wine, but it is truer to say of many that their wine "swallows" them; for it devours their substance, their character, their reputation, their prospects. Everything is "eaten up" like the "hasty fruit before the summer," speedily and utterly.

VIII. GOD IS DECIDEDLY AND EMPHATICALLY AGAINST IT. (Isaiah 28:2.) He has pronounced against it in strong terms, and he brings down a heavy hand upon it; the enemy which he calls against those guilty of excess is "a mighty and strong one:" poverty, shame, remorse, loneliness, early death, and final exclusion from his presence (1 Corinthians 6:10).—C.

Isaiah 28:5, Isaiah 28:6

God our Glory, Beauty, etc.

"In that day," i.e. in the day when God shall reign over his people, either the day of their return to him in loyal obedience, or the day of their return to their own land under his delivering power—in that day God would be everything to his chosen people; he would be the Object and the Source of their glory, their beauty, their righteousness, their strength. We may see how God in Christ is the same to us.

I. OUR GLORY. "The Lord of hosts shall be for a Crown of glory." We glory in our God as the Lord of all power and might, as the One whose right hand is full of righteousness, as the faithful Creator, etc.; but we glory most in him as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in him who so pitied a rebellious race "that be gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth," etc. In Christ Jesus the glories and grandeurs of the Divine character are most brilliantly illustrated.

II. OUR BEAUTY. "For a Diadem of beauty." In the gospel God has

(1) revealed the beauties of his own character to us; for in the life, in the spirit of Jesus Christ, we behold transcendent moral loveliness, all imaginable graces perfectly blended and intermingled. And in it he has

(2) called forth the utmost possible beauty in human character. There are produced in Christian lands and by Christian processes not one or two exquisite human characters here and there, but multitudes of them beneath every sky and in every age; such that it is not enough to say that they are good or that they are useful; it must be added that they are exceedingly beautiful—they are diadems, attracting the eye, delighting the soul.

III. OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. "For a Spirit of judgment." The man who has "learned Christ" is a man of integrity; to him injustice, unrighteousness, dishonesty, the withholding of that which is due, of whatever kind, is not Duly distasteful, but impossible: "the spirit of judgment," the spirit of equity and truth is in him, gained from Christ, implanted by the Divine Spirit. If this spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ, be not in him, he is none of Christ's (Romans 8:12).

IV. OUR STRENGTH. "And for Strength to them that turn the battle to the gate." They who truly know God in Christ are "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." God communicates to them something of the "exceeding greatness of his power." In Divine strength they are strong

(1) to discharge duty;

(2) to bear burdens;

(3) to work in the field of holy service;

(4) to resist spiritual adversaries, to "turn the battle to the gate."—C.

Isaiah 28:9-13


When God speaks man may well listen, whatsoever strains the Divine Teacher may employ. But man is often found to be, not only an inapt, but even an unwilling, scholar. Such were they who are here terribly rebuked.

I. THE DESIGN OF GOD'S TEACHING. God had been saying, "This is the rest," etc. (Isaiah 28:12). The end of all God's instruction is to give rest to his human scholars. Peace was the promise of the old covenant (Numbers 6:26; Numbers 25:12). Rest was the offer of the great Teacher (Matthew 11:28, Matthew 11:29). Rest of heart in the favor and love of God was the high and elevated hope held out for all who would learn and be obedient; and this is still the desire and the design of God in all his teaching and in all his correction.

II. MAN'S OBJECTION TO GOD'S METHOD. "To whom," they complain, "shall he teach knowledge … to them that are weaned … must it be precept upon precept?" etc. (Isaiah 28:9, Isaiah 28:10). Are we such little children that we are to be treated thus by Jehovah? Men have always been found who object to God's ways of guiding them. It is too plain and palpable, or it is too mysterious; it demands no effort of the intellect, or it taxes the thought too severely; it is too commonplace, or it is too startling, or it is too hard; were he to adopt some other method, to come to them in some other way, they would listen and obey; but as he speaks they will not hear. Especially are men slow to learn the simple and repeated lessons by which God teaches them in his providence—the lessons which come with every morning light and with every evening shade, with the continued loving-kindnesses of the passing hour, with the changes of the seasons, with the passage of neighbors and friends to another world; these reiterated teachings are disregarded, and the one great lesson of reverence and of devotedness is unlearned.

III. GOD'S INDIGNATION AT HUMAN CONTUMACY. The strain of the prophet is one outpouring of intense indignation and keen rebuke; the anger of Jehovah is kindled against them. We may understand that persistent indocility is a very serious sin in the estimate of God. Not to hearken when he speaks to us, whether he speaks in providence, in his Word, or in Christian ordinances, is to place ourselves beneath his very high displeasure.

IV. DIVINE RETRIBUTION. The penalty of their perverse indocility shall be that they will have to learn by far less agreeable methods than the one which they despised; the repeated elementary instruction of the Hebrew prophet should give place to the barbarous sounds of a foreign tongue. Guilty folly often finds that punishment awaits it which corresponds only too painfully with the sin. The Jews demand a king because they prefer the visible to the invisible, the physical to the spiritual; and they gain one who is chosen on this cherished principle of theirs, and his bodily stature and visible form prove to be a sorry substitute for the wisdom of the invisible Sovereign: the penalty is paid in the same coin as the transgression. David's unholy interference with domestic right is punished by saddest add most serious disappointments in his own family. Retribution, not general only, but that which is particularly appropriate to our sin, awaits us a little further on. Disobedience—and emphatically indocility—leads to misery and shame. Hearken intelligently, however and whenever God may speak, and hasten cheerfully to obey.—C.

Isaiah 28:14, Isaiah 28:15, Isaiah 28:18-20

The infatuation of sin.

In strong, pictorial language the prophet points out—

I. THAT SINFUL MEN ACT AS IF THEY COULD AVERT IMPENDING DOOM. They act as if they said, "We have made a covenant with death," etc. Every day the gully and the foolish are living as if they were possessed with a power to wrestle with and overcome approaching doom. The drunkard seems to say, "I will drink, and not be ruined in health;" and the gambler to say, "will stake money, and not be disappointed;" and the rogue to say, "I will defraud, and not be detected;" and the men who "mind earthly things" to say, "We will invest all our hopes and find all our heritage in this world, and not be robbed of our portion," etc. Such men seem to buoy themselves up with that which, to all that look on, is a transparent infatuation.

II. THAT SINFUL MEN CONVINCE THEMSELVES OF THAT WHICH THEY MIGHT KNOW TO BE WHOLLY FALSE. They "make lies their refuge, and hide themselves udder falsehoods."

1. They choose the wrong course, and tell themselves they are acting under compulsion, and are guiltless.

2. They soften their sin by covering it with some pleasant euphemism.

3. They place between themselves and the condemnation of God the shield of human example, the frequency and popularity of their vice; they screen themselves behind their brethren, as if God did not see them, and did not hold them guilty.

4. They allow evil practice to beget such obliquity of moral vision that they call good "evil," and evil "good;" they even "glory in their shame," so have they lied unto themselves.

III. THAT SINFUL MEN ACT AS IF THEY COULD RELY ON SUCCOR WHICH IS WORTHLESS. They stretch themselves on a bed which is too short for their stature; they wrap themselves with clothing which will not cover them (Isaiah 28:20). In their weariness they resort to pleasures which do not give them rest, and from which they rise as tired as before. In their sorrow, or in their shame, or in their defeat, they have recourse to comforts which give no heart-ease, and leave them sad and troubled in soul. Many weary years, whole periods of life, even an entire earthly course, will men spend, trying and pitifully failing to console themselves with false comforts, to find rest in excitements, in vanities, and sometimes in vices, which have no power to soothe and satisfy the soul which only truth and love can fill.

IV. THAT GOD WILL ONE DAY AROUSE THEM FROM THEIR GUILTY ERROR. (Isaiah 28:18, Isaiah 28:19.) The overflowing scourge will come, and will not pass by them; they will be trodden down beneath it. The overwhelming storm will hold them in its embrace of death. The day of disillusion, of self-reproach, of shame, of Divine retribution, will arrive: "Be not deceived [do not deceive yourselves]; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."—C.

Isaiah 28:16-22

The judgments of God.

When human folly has gone to so great a length (Isaiah 28:15), it may look out for the coming of Divine judgment; for this cannot be long delayed. And when we look we find—


1. It will correspond closely with man's guilt, as if measured with line and plummet (Isaiah 28:17); it will be broad as its breadth, deep as its depth, enlarged to its magnitude; more severe as men's guilt is more wanton, most severe as it is most aggravated and inexcusable.

2. It will be literally destructive, sweeping away the false refuge (Isaiah 28:18), tearing up the unholy contract (Isaiah 28:19), causing consternation as it proceeds on its desolating path (Isaiah 28:19), compelling those who try to make shift with earthly succor to know the utter insufficiency of their measures (Isaiah 28:20), constituting a very "consumption" of all that had been possessed and rejoiced in (Isaiah 28:22). When "the day of the Lord" comes it is often found to be a very terrible time indeed, stripping the rich and strong of his wealth and power, humbling the society or the nation to the very dust, causing lamentation, shame, death.

II. THE APPARENT SUDDENNESS OF IT. (Isaiah 28:21.) As, in the person of David, the Lord" broke forth like a breach of waters" upon the enemy (2 Samuel 5:20), so suddenly will he appear in judgment against those who break his laws and reject his Son. The waters have been long collecting, the banks have been long loosening, but in a few minutes, at the last, the dam is broken, and the rushing streams are down the valley-side, carrying destruction in their path. So is it with the accumulating wrath of God: this is "treasured" up by sin after sin, year after year (Ram. Isaiah 2:5); but at some point in the career it "breaks forth" like David's army, like the descending waters, and behold everything is gone—treasure, reputation, health, prospects, life itself.

III. GOD'S INDISPOSITION TO SMITE. It is a strange work, a strange act, to God (Isaiah 28:21). To confer and to sustain life, to impart blessing, to multiply riches, to enlarge the mind, to strengthen and sanctify the soul, to fill with hope and joy,—this is the work which is natural, congenial, pleasant to him whose Name is love. But to visit with penalty, to smite rather than to spare, to inflict sorrow and humiliation,—this is strange, ungenial, joyless to the heavenly Father. "As I live," saith God, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." He delighteth in mercy, but he is constrained to punish.

IV. THE PURPOSE OF MERCY THAT RUNS THROUGH THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. (Isaiah 28:16.) In the midst of a passage where we should expect to find nothing but holy indignation, we meet with the intention to bless. Notwithstanding all that provokes to wrath and deserves destruction, there is to be laid the precious Cornerstone which nothing can remove, and which will uphold the most majestic fabric of prosperity and joy. God visits with correction—severe, continuous, complete; yet he has a redemptive purpose on his mind, and out of all the strife and discord a glorious temple of truth and piety will arise. We learn that the faithful have no need to fear. "He that believeth shall not make haste."

(1) No need to be alarmed for his own safety; for God, who is his Refuge, will hide him in the pavilion of his power.

(2) No need to take hurried or questionable, certainly not forbidden or unworthy, steps for the deliverance of others; for God's promised word is the assurance of ultimate redemption.—C.

Isaiah 28:23-29

Divine discrimination.

There are two preliminary lessons we may gather from these verses before we pluck the principal one.

I. THAT IN THE ACTS AND INDUSTRIES OF MAN WE MAY FIND APT ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE WISDOM OF GOD. "Give ear and hear" (Isaiah 28:23). There is something well worth observing in human husbandry; it will teach the student a useful lesson respecting the ways of God. Not only from the lilies of the field and from the birds of the air, but also from the arts and industries of man, come suggestions which will explain Divine providence and give rest to the troubled mind.

II. THAT AGRICULTURE AFFORDS ONE PROOF OF THE PRESENCE AND POWER OF A DIVINE INTELLIGENCE. How is it that, while the birds and the beasts continue through all succeeding ages to supply their wants by the same unchanging processes, man is ever moving forward? From hunting to grazing, from grazing to agriculture, he ascends; and in agriculture he shows a discretion and a versatility which are striking to all who have eyes to see and souls to learn. The fact is that man is taught of God. "His God doth instruct him," etc. (Isaiah 28:26); it comes from him who is "wonderful in counsel" (Isaiah 28:29). The intelligence, the shrewdness, the inventiveness, the patience, the foresight, which are manifested in husbandry, go far to assure us that God is near us, laying his hand upon us, touching the springs of our mind, calling forth from us intellectual and moral faculties which, though immeasurably inferior, are yet akin to his own.

III. THAT GOD IS SHOWING A CAREFUL DISCRIMINATION IN THE TREATMENT OF HIS ERRING CHILDREN. This is the lessen of the prophet's illustration: the husbandman only ploughs till he is ready to sow; he always threshes with the instrument which is suitable, adjusting his means to the character of the corn; he orders everything with careful, discriminating consideration of what is best at the particular time with the particular object. So carefully, so wisely, so tenderly, does God deal with us.

1. He mingles mercies with judgments, light with shade, hope with fear: "He does not always chide." He sows as well as ploughs.

2. He places us in spheres that suit us; some in the more prominent, others in the more humble, parts of the field (Isaiah 28:25).

3. He applies his chastisement according to our nature and our character (Isaiah 28:27, Isaiah 28:28): to some—to the more hardened and abandoned—he administers his severer blows; to others—to his people who, though his people, have much yet to learn—he sends the milder and gentler measures of rebuke; on them he lays his hand more tenderly.


1. That God, in chastisement, is seeking fruit—the harvest of love, of trust, of obedience, of service.

2. That if he deals severely with us, it is because severity is needed for the high purpose he has before him.

3. That he will never deal too rigorously with any one of his children.—C.


Isaiah 28:1

The woe of the drunkard.

On this subject there is grave danger of saying extravagant, unqualified, and unreasonable things. The abstract rightness or wrongness of using strong drinks must be decided by the individual judgment. Enough now to say that no man with the spirit of a patriot, much less with the spirit of a Christian—who is his brother's keeper,—can observe the growth of drinking habits in modern society without serious alarm; no mothers without grave anxiety for their sons; no wives without deep concern for their husbands and themselves. The common speech about drink too often leaves the impression that the evil of it lies in the drink itself, and so tends to take our minds from the much more serious fact that the evil of drink lies in us, and in its relation to us—in feebleness of will, and lack of self-restraint and self-control.

I. WHEREIN LIES THE PERIL OF STRONG DRINK? Precisely in its strength, in its raging. "Strong drink is raging." There is produced by it an elevation and excitement that are beyond nature; according to the differences of men's dispositions, it is either an elevation, or a raging of folly or of violence. Our peril lies in yielding to the unnatural or the unnecessary.

1. The unnatural. Every man is in duty bound to develop all his faculties up to the limit of their capacity. But every man is in duty bound also not to develop some to the neglect of others; and not to excite any to a degree beyond his full and perfect self-control. So far as he does he ceases to be a true man; a foreign power has taken the place of his central will, and he is, in fact, a man possessed and ruled by an evil force, by a devil. This may be illustrated by showing

(1) the unnatural effect produced by strong drink on the physical frame;

(2) the effect on the moral nature, especially in exciting sensual passions;

(3) the influence on the children and descendants of the self-indulgent. This is so important a point, and brings to view such obscure, but painful facts, that a few may be set down from which selections may be made. Gall relates the ease of a Russian family, where the father and grandfather bad both died prematurely from the effects of intoxication, arid the grandson manifested from the age of five years the most decided taste for strong liquors. M. Morel says, "I have never seen the patient cured of his propensity whose tendencies to drinking were derived from the hereditary predisposition given to him by his parents." He gives also the history of four generations of a family. First generation: the father an habitual drunkard, killed in a public-house brawl. Second generation: son inherited the father's habits, which gave rise to attacks of mania, terminating in paralysis and death. Third generation: grandson strictly sober, but full of hypochondriacal and imaginary fears of persecution, and had homicidal tendencies. Fourth generation: great-grandson, very limited intelligence, an attack of madness when sixteen years old, terminating in stupidity nearly amounting to idiocy. With him the race became extinct. We can conceive no revelation of the unnaturalness of the condition and relations produced by strong drink more impressive than this.

2. It is unnecessary; for it satisfies no demand of the true manhood; only the demands of a depraved, disordered, and diseased taste. The best that can be said of it is that it may be a medicine. It is now well established that it is not a necessary food.

II. WHO AMONG US LIE EXPOSED TO THE TEMPTATIONS OF STRONG DRINK? This may be answered with great plainness, simplicity, and practical force.

1. Those who are born into a heritage of drinking tendencies.

2. Those who have some ability in song or entertaining, and so are enticed into company and treated for the sake of the pleasure they give (compare the case of the poet Burns).

3. Those who have idle time which can be spent in inns and hotels.

4. Those who have great business energy and enterprise without the restraining influence of high moral principle.

5. Those who, having little pleasure in intelligent occupations, seek excitement in the indulgence of bodily passion.

6. Those who have unhappy or uncomfortable homes.

7. Those whose daily work takes them to houses where they are treated to drink. All are in special peril at holiday or convivial seasons, and in times of convalescence from disease, or of family trouble. No one of us can venture to say, amidst the enticements of modern social life, "I shall never fall. I shall never be a drunkard." He neither knows himself, nor the subtlety of the evil, who speaks so confidently. Our power to stand lies in our laying hold of One who is stronger than ourselves, and keeping Up the prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Every day and everywhere, with our eyes on God, we should be saying, "Hold thou us up, and we shall be safe."—R.T.

Isaiah 28:5, Isaiah 28:6

Beauty, wisdom, and strength for us in God.

Kings wear crowns; kings decide causes and give judgment; kings lead armies to battle; so kings must be chiefly in the thought of the prophet here. But kings are, or ought to be, the representatives of the nations they rule; the realized ideals of the nation, the persons in whom they can see their best selves. Hezekiah was in some good sense such a king. What God was to him, God would be to all his people; Isaiah even says, God was to the residue of his people, to the pious ones of Judah, when Samaria was taken, and the kingdom of Israel destroyed. The prophet first speaks admiringly of them, and then finds occasion for the qualifying of his praise (verses 7, 8). We may consider what God can be to his people, when they open heart and life to his incomings and inworkings.

I. CHARACTER FOR THE FELLOWSHIPS OF LIFE COMES OF GOD. Upon character the pleasantness and graciousness of life unions and associations almost entirely depend. Those who have the true helpful and sanctifying power among us are those who have the "beauty of the Lord their God upon them." There are spheres of life in which talent tells; but in homes and society it is character that tells. After illustrating and enforcing this, the importance of correcting the error of sentiment, which regards character as a purely human growth and attainment, should be shown. So easily do we say, "Character, we can win that ourselves." So needful is it to show that "character is of God." It comes out of the circumstances which God provides, and out of the relations in which God sets us, and through sorrows, bearings, and strugglings, which God sanctifies. St. Paul says, "I am what I am." "His grace on me was not in vain."

II. WISDOM FOR THE AFFAIRS OF LIFE COMES OF GOD. We have natural skill for some forms of business or of profession; but who endowed us with the natural ability? We gain practical skill amidst the experiences of life; but who renews the mental powers and bodily health, and presides over impressions made? A thousand complex conditions come in every life: who guides to right decisions, directing the judgment in ways of truth? "This wisdom cometh from above."

III. STRENGTH FOR THE DEMANDS OF LIFE COMES OF GOD. The psalmist lifts a thankful heart to God who "renews our youth like the eagle's." He "giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength." No experience of life is more assured, none brings a deeper rest to our hearts than this—"when we are weak, then we may be strong" in God.—R.T.

Isaiah 28:7

The moral deterioration of self-indulgent habits.

"They err in vision, they stumble in judgment." Isaiah treats wine and strong drink in much the same way as we do now. To him it was the prominent instance, and so it could be made the type, of self-indulgence, which has many forms and many expressions. Certain very manifest degradations follow on indulgence in strong drink, or in opium, or in morphia, and in these cases oppressive illustrations are given of the evils that attend lesser or less apparent indulgences. An ever-working law applies to all cases, small as well as great; but we may more easily trace the working in the great. This may be shown by some careful accounts of the deterioration of mind and character following on drink-indulgence in men, and even more painfully in women. Terrible stories of the ruin of character wrought by opium-smoking in China can be given. And recently, very painful revelations have been made of the existence of a degrading morphio-mania, especially among the upper classes. Persons who have had morphia injected under the skin, to relieve pain, find a craving for it created; they indulge the passion, and the result is utter mental and moral helplessness, and a certain, dreadful death. In measure, the law of deterioration applies to indulgence in eating, in drinking tea, in matters of sensual passion, in craving for newspapers, in seeking pleasure, and even in matters of play or of hobby. As soon as the indulgence in anything gets established it begins to degrade. A man loses his manhood as soon as any thing is allowed to gain control over him; and with lost manhood comes dimmed vision and stumbling judgment. The moral consequences of self-indulgence may be fully treated under four divisions.

I. PHYSICAL EFFECTS ON BODIES. This must be considered, because we are every day coming better to understand the close connection between bodily conditions and moral states. The moral habit becomes tightly fixed by an actual bodily bias, an actual tendency of nerve and muscle to do again what has been done once.

II. MORAL EFFECT ON WILLS. There is an actual weakening of will-force. The power to say "No" fades and dies out, and the will is borne away wheresoever mere appetite leads.

III. PRACTICAL EFFECT ON CONDUCT. Wherever moral control is limited conduct becomes dangerous or disgraceful.

IV. FINAL EFFECT ON FATE. Whatever the view taken of the future state, they are at terrible disadvantage in it—even if it be a continuous reforming condition—who start on it degraded by self-indulgence.—R.T.

Isaiah 28:10

Need for the reiteration of truth.

"Line upon line." It is not difficult to set forth the practical applications of this passage; but we cannot be quite sure that we know the exact original bearing of the words. Three suggestions have been made.

1.Isaiah 28:9; Isaiah 28:9 may refer to God's favor to the Jews; then Isaiah 28:10 describes the abundant revelation made to them, with rules and duties related to all the conditions and emergencies of life.

2.Isaiah 28:9; Isaiah 28:9 may refer to the incapacity of the leaders and religious teachers of the Jews; then Isaiah 28:10 describes their puerile methods of instruction.

3.Isaiah 28:9; Isaiah 28:9 may refer to the incapacity of the people for high attainment in spiritual knowledge; then Isaiah 28:10 describes the elementary methods of instruction which are found necessary for them. This may be regarded as the most probable explanation. The prophet is describing the effect of drunkenness, which was moral and intellectual weakening. Sin is represented as an enfeebling drunkenness. It is quite in Isaiah's method to complain of the incapacity of the people for the reception of truth: Isaiah 53:1, "Who hath believed our report," etc.? Isaiah 6:9, "Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not;" Isaiah 43:8, "Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears;" Isaiah 43:17, "O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?" Out of this relation of the text comes the thought for present consideration. It is this—Religious truths, claims, and duties need to be constantly reiterated. The work of the Christian teacher can be put into two words—"simplify" and "repeat." Both observation and experience prove the necessity for such constant repetition. We inquire—

I. THE REASONS FOR THIS ARRANGEMENT. As a fact, it has been found an essential of effective teaching in every age. One generation only passes in a very limited degree into possession of the thought and knowledge of the previous generation. No one individual can make advances from the platform of attainment reached by another. Each one must reach the knowledge of truth, and the sense of duty, for himself. This makes the Bible and Christian teaching such ever-new things. Solomon tells us that there is no new thing under the sun; but he might with equal truth have said that there is no old thing. We can see that there must be reiteration:

1. Because moral completeness is never reached on this side the grave, and so there is always a sphere for the teacher, and a demand for the old truths. We are constantly asking for the renewal of the same good influences, and as we grow in experience we even care more for the simpler first principles.

2. Because the power of spiritual motives is always liable to weaken and fade. Christian teaching proposes no mere fashioning of life; it would nourish, revive, requicken the very springs of motive and feeling, ever seeking to make and to keep the heart and the will right. The physician not only removes suffering, he purifies the blood, and seeks to quicken the vitality. Just as the fountains and the streams, so our spiritual natures, tend to lose their volume, and even run dry; there must be the constant reiteration of the showers for their replenishing.

3. Because truth and duty-claims can only enter in as they find souls prepared for them; and therefore truth and duty must be always standing before men's doors, waiting their opportunity. The human heart is closed to religion, and, when opened, its tendency is ever to close again. It is like a spring-door, and sin and self-love have put the spring on. When providences and sanctified influences open the door, the old, old truth, and the old, old gospel, must be waiting, ready to enter in.

II. SOME THINGS CONNECTED WITH US IN WHICH THIS REITERATION IS EVIDENTLY NECESSARY. What a joy it would be to Christian pastors and teachers if none of their people needed!—

1. To be urged to accept the offers of Divine mercy. But many a door is shut yet; so the message must be spoken again and again.

2. To be reminded of the duty of attending public worship, and the means of grace.

3. To be persuaded concerning the cultivation of Christian unity; the expression of a Christly forgiveness, forbearance, and charity in relations one with another.

4. To have enforced upon them the duty of watchfulness against the encroachments of the worldly spirit, and the loss of Christian zeal, fervour, and first love. What a joy it would be to Christian teachers if they could safely "leave these first principles, and go on unto perfection!" if they might lay down the minister's commission, as it is now understood, because they could say, "Lord, thy people no longer need precept upon precept, and line upon line!" Plead, in conclusion, thus: "You often say of the ministry, 'It is the same old story; there is nothing new.' But the question is—Have you accepted the message? Have you obeyed the command? It can never be old until you have, and then it will be so loved and so precious that you will never think it old; it will be ever fresh and ever new."—R.T.

Isaiah 28:10

Mockers of religion.

A different explanation to that given in the previous homily is finding favor in modern times. The passage is supposed to represent the drunkards mocking Isaiah over their cups. "Does he not know what respectable persons he is dealing with, not like children who need leading-strings, but educated priests and prophets? They have caught up from Isaiah one of his favorite words (probably), and repeat it with a sneer. He is always interfering with moral and political recommendations; always finding some 'little' point to censure and correct" (Cheyne). "Verses 9, 10 contain the taunting language of the drunken priests and judges of the Jews, who repel with scorn the idea that they should require the plain and reiterated lessons which Jehovah taught by his messengers. Such elementary instruction was fit only for babes; it was an insult to their understanding to suppose that they stood in need of it" (Henderson). Dr. S. Cox puts this view of the passage in a very striking and forcible way: "In their private intercourse with each other, when, as Isaiah tells us, they 'were swallowed up of wine' … in their shameless carousals, the false priests, and the prophets who backed them with 'lying visions,' made themselves great sport in jeering at Isaiah, in ridiculing the one prophet who cared more for the welfare of the people than for their applause, and loved the service of God more than the pleasure of the senses. They mocked at his incorrigible simplicity. They mimicked and burlesqued his manner of speech. 'Whom would he teach knowledge?' they cried; 'and to whom would he take a message intelligible? To weanlings from the milk, just withdrawn from the breast?' To them he seemed an intolerable moralist, forever schooling them as if they were babes, and needed the mere milk of instruction, and not strong men capable of digesting meat. 'With him,' they said, 'it is always precept on precept, line on line, line on line, here a little, and there a little.' Or, as we may, perhaps, better translate their words, they said,' With him it is always "bid and bid, forbid and forbid, a little bit here, and a little bit there." What really angered these huffy scorners was that the prophet treated them as though they were children only just weaned, and not masters in Israel. They were weary of hearing him repeat the first rudiments of morality, and apply them to the sins and needs of the time." We may fix attention on this point—Mocking at religion and religious teachers represents the last stage of apostasy. There is little hope for the mockers; they must go into the fires of judgment. But what stages do men pass through before they reach this point of decline? In answering this question we may keep our eye on the illustrations afforded by the apostasy of Jewish priests and rulers, and at the same time make due applications to the perils of apostasy, as we may ourselves be exposed to them.

I. The religious man steps upon the sliding, downward road, when he begins to NEGLECT PERSONAL SOUL-CULTURE. As the Apostle John tells us, a man prospers-only as his soul prospers. The essential thing in the good man is not well-ordered conduct, but the regenerate life. The new life needs its care and its food continually. This neglect of soul-culture is the "grieving of the Holy Ghost," of which St. Paul warns us so earnestly. It is the "leaving of the first love" of which the risen and living Christ complains. A man goes wrong first in matters of private devotion and Christian habit.

II. The next step is the ENTHRONING OF SELF-WILL IN THE PLACE OF GOD'S WILL. Lose the sacred humility and fear that comes with close relations to God, and self will be sure to grow big, and the rule of life comes to be the "devices and desires of our own hearts." Then mistakes, stumblings, and wanderings are easy; and "broad" ways are preferred to narrow.

III. As soon as this condition is established, there arises the wish to SEE AND KNOW NOTHING THAT CAN POSSIBLY CONVICT AND HUMBLE; and the man lets the dust cover his Bible, the grass grow over his kneeling-place, and excuses keep him from the house of God. Like these priests and leaders, they are at heart afraid of what God's Isaiah might say to them. May we not fear that this is the secret reason for modern neglect of God's worship? Men do not wish to be warned. They fear lest they should be warned. They do not want to hear the truth about the degrading slavery in which idol self always holds its victims.

IV. Then comes the beginning of the almost hopeless stages. A BLINDING AND HARDENING PROCESS GOES ON; and presently those who would not see cannot see. Then a man can hear all the terrors, and heed none of them; can listen to all the persuasions of the everlasting love, and be moved by none of them.

V. And at last he CAN EVEN MOCK AT GOODNESS AND GOOD MEN; and in his foolish and wicked pride can scoff even at God's Word and God's prophet. Down low indeed that man must have fallen who once knew the "glory of the Lord," and waited for the Lord's will, and now, in his rioting, can jeer at sacred things. Impress that those who neglect the culture of piety put from them all gracious influences, and become so possessed with the evil spirit of self that, like the demoniac in the Gospels, they say, even to the healing, saving Christ, "What have we to do with thee?"—R.T.

Isaiah 28:16

The sure Foundation.

"A precious Cornerstone, a sure Foundation" (Revised Version). It is characteristic of prophetic messages that, however severely sins may be denounced, and judgment declared, in the very midst of the message some word of love and hope and cheer is put in for the sake of the true and faithful ones. God is ever mindful of his elect remnant. Those who are striving to be obedient and righteous in a degenerate age, and in the midst of abounding self-indulgence, are within his observation, and they shall never want the encouragement of his smile, or the cheering, comforting word of his promise. This text is a message sent to such faithful ones. It contrasts the grounds on which the confidence of the true Israel rests with the grounds of confidence which those were trying to fashion for themselves who wished to live in sin and self-will. Whatever might be the appearances of things, their foundations would surely prove in the day of trial to be "refuges of lies." However it may be despised, the old Zion-Foundation would be found to abide firm—a tried Stone, a sure Foundation, in the days of flood and storm. The best of all commentaries on this text, and its associated verses, is found in the figure with which our Lord closed the Sermon on the Mount. Our Lord translated the Zion-Foundation for us, setting it out so plainly that none need misunderstand. God's safe foundation is just this—

Hearing his words, and doing them. He that builds his life and his hope on that foundation "shall never be moved."

I. THE FOUNDATION-PRINCIPLE OF MORALS AND RELIGION. By "morals" we mean right relations with our fellow-men. By "religion" we mean right relations with God. Both these lie on one and the same foundation-principle. The prophet spoke to the men of Jerusalem and Judah, who were familiar with the temple of Solomon. He bids them look at its foundations, and especially observe how all the temple was reared upon the majestic stone laid at the corner that juts out into the valley, the massive stone that lies in its place today just as they set it in Solomon's time—a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation. But he reminds them that the temple, its courts, and its worship, represented and symbolized the Jewish people, as a nation consecrated to God, and so that foundation-stone represented the first, the essential principle of the national life, which was this—full consecration to God, in trust, obedience, and righteousness. They were a people pledged in a covenant with Jehovah. Their pledge was the foundation stone of their national life. That pledge they expressed thus: "The Lord our God will we serve, and him only will we obey." When they passed to a life of self-will they shifted from the true foundation. But so long as that old temple stood in the center of the land, it spoke out, day and night, its unceasing reproach. "Other Foundation can no man lay than that is laid." Translated into Christian form by St. Peter (1 Epist. Isaiah 2:6, Isaiah 2:8), the spiritual Foundation is Christ; and we are to be building day by day, stone by stone, on the foundation-principle which Christ laid for us in his own consecrated life—the principle of full obedience to God, rendered in a spirit of trustful, childlike humility and love. There is really but one antagonistic principle of life to this. It may gain various forms and expressions, but they are shapes assumed by one body. The principle is this—life for self, the making of self our foundation.

II. THE POSSIBILITY OF RAISING A NOBLE LIFE ON THIS FOUNDATION. Foundations usually do no more than give stability to a building, but a moral foundation does more than this—it gives character to all that is reared upon it. Let a man's foundation for life be a determination to win material success, and it will surely tone everything he does with energy and perseverance. Life touched and inspired with this principle of trustful obedience to God cannot fail to be noble, because it will:

1. Be pure; the charm of the "right" will lie on everything.

2. Be generous; because living out of self and for God involves living out of self and for others.

3. Be God-like; for the very things which God approves and seeks we also shall approve and seek.

III. THE SECURITY OF THE CHARACTER AND LIFE RAISED ON THIS FOUNDATION. This is expressed in the figure of the last clause. As repeated in Scripture it takes three forms.

1. Shall not make haste, or hurry out of his house when calamity seems to threaten.

2. Shall not be ashamed when the angels come to test the character of the life.

3. Shall not be confounded when the days of storm threaten to overwhelm. We are each one of us raising a temple—the temple of a character, of a life. Concerning our work we may well ask two searching questions. It is on the one sure Foundation? Are we raising it in a manner that is worthy of the Foundation?—R.T.

Isaiah 28:20

Man's inability to order his own life.

This verse is very possibly a popular proverb, which suggested a condition of painful uneasiness. Matthew Henry gives, briefly and suggestively, its meaning as used here by Isaiah, and as applicable to us: "Those that do not build upon Christ as their Foundation, but rest in a righteousness of their own, will prove in the end thus to have deceived themselves; they never can be easy, safe, or warm; the led is too short, the covering is too narrow." This line of thought may be followed out, and duly illustrated. First make a fair and true picture of a human life fashioned by the man himself. Let him win good measures of success; and let him stand forth the envy of his fellows. Let us see the bed he makes for himself to lie on; and the coverlet with which he proposes to wrap himself up—a fine bed, a beautiful coverlet. But all life-creations have to be tested; they must be "tried so as by fire." Let us see this human life tested. Time tests; success tests; trouble tests; the true Man, Christ Jesus, as our standard, tests; the future tests. How does the self-ordered life stand these testings? It is plain—




IV. IT MAKES NO PROVISIONS FOR THE SPIRITUAL AND ETERNAL NEEDS, and every advancing year makes these more and more the supremely important ones. Verify "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Then what can he do? What should he do? (see Isaiah 27:5).—R.T.

Isaiah 28:27

God in material things illustrates God in moral things.

The precise purpose for which this illustration from agricultural customs is introduced by the prophet is ranch disputed. We note that Isaiah declares the skill which the farmer shows in choosing his times and adapting his methods, comes directly from God; and this suggests two points for treatment.



Isaiah 28:29

God's work in men's minds and wills.

The literal translation of the last clause of this verse is, "He makes counsel wonderful, he makes wisdom great." The husbandman's treatment of his crop, no less than his preparation of the soil, is a dictate of experience under Divine teaching. But these things are not chiefly matters of hand and arm; they are matters of thought, mind, judgment, will, decision. The handicraft in a farm is the carrying out of decisions of mind and resolves of will. This is true of all the business life of men; the bodily activities follow upon mental activities, and we are reminded that God is at the very beginnings, the secret sources of things, presiding over movement of thought and impulse of will. The consideration of this topic may be used to correct our constant disposition to close up parts of our being and our life from God, giving him access only to some of them. We may consider—

I. THE MAKER OF MAN'S MIND AND WILL SURELY KNOWS THEM. The thought of our bodies, set by their five senses in relation to the material world, was altogether the thought of God. But it is harder to realize that the endowment of a mental nature is also a thought, of God. It is harder because our mental nature is subject to growth; and we can separate the idea of growth from God. And it is yet harder for us to realize that the partial independence of the creature, in the trust of free-will, is also a thought of God, because that very independence leads us to shake off all sense of God. Yet the fact remains that he made us, and he knows us altogether.

II. THE MAKER OF MAN'S MIND AND WILL SURELY CONTROLS THEM. We must recognize that both mind and will are under strict limitations. Men think and think on, but at length the brain-agent breaks down, or they get beyond themselves, and talk vague folly. And to the most strong-willed, the authoritative voice presently comes, saying, "Thus far shalt thou go, but no further." Constantly man cries, "I would, but I cannot, for God holds me in."

III. THE MAKER OF MAN'S MIND AND WILL SURELY INSPIRES THEM. This is his gracious and helpful relation to them; and this depends on the attitude in which men place themselves towards him. In conclusion, show what the right attitude is; and what hinders us from taking it; and how the hindrance may be overcome. This will lead to a declaration of the gospel message.—R.T.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 28". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.