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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 28


Here commences a series of prophecies ending with chapter xxxiii, and appropriately called, by Delitzsch, a book of woes upon revolting Israel.

Verse 1


This chapter was probably written in Hezekiah’s reign, and its utterance is against Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, before its downfall and depopulation under Shalmanezer, king of Assyria.

1. Woe A calamity pronounced as impending.

Crown of pride A poetic figure describing the site of Samaria, a beautiful, oblong hill, fertile to its summit, rising from the centre of a fertile plain or valley, behind which is a circular range of mountains. The whole is verdant with grass, grain, olive groves, and vineyards. Upon this place and people serious events are about to fall, for reasons in part contained in epithets characterizing them, namely, their pride and intemperance.

Drunkards of Ephraim So the people of Israel are called from the name of its strongest tribe.

On the head On Samaria’s heights, overlooking valleys below rich and fertile, but producing chiefly that which only made the people worse. Drunkenness, however, is mentioned, not as the only prevalent vice, but as the crying one.

Verse 2

2. A mighty and strong one An invading army, no doubt, is meant. Ravages which this should make on the country would surely have a fiercer description than that furnished in the picture given below.

Tempest of hail At times furious in that land, and occasionally lasting two or three days.

(This remark is from personal observation of the writer at Shechem, seven miles distant from Samaria, in the month of March, 1870.)

Cast… with the hand The “hand” is the emblem of force, power, violence.

Verses 3-4

3, 4. Trodden under feet Thrust violently down so as to be trodden under the feet of the invader, (the Assyrian army under Shalmanezer in this case,) in the sixth year of the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah.

As the hasty fruit Denoting the early fig. The first crop of figs in Palestine comes in June, is comparatively scanty, and is used up as soon almost as it is ripe enough to eat: plucked as a dainty to be at once eaten. From August to November the later and larger fig crops come, and are stored for subsequent use.

The woe uttered will consist of the utter destruction of the city, the deportation of the people to Assyria, and the extinction thus of garlanded revels at Samaria. This actually took place, B.C. 721.

Verses 5-6

5, 6. The subject partially changes here.

In that day Referring to the time when events above predicted should occur.

Crown of glory, and… diadem of beauty The events at Samaria are to present two lessons: 1. The Lord Jehovah is himself concerned in permitting Assyria to conquer Israel. He sees it best to do so, for Israel’s and the world’s good. 2. He shows that the fear of Jehovah, not the natural loveliness of Samaria with her gross vices, is the true “crown of glory” of a nation. And the remnant left in Israel and all of Judah shall learn these lessons. He also shows that himself only can inspire truth and justice in one sitting in the magistrate’s seat, and himself only can impart true courage, and render a people when invaded or assailed able to repel attacks and drive the enemy back to his own city gates.

Verses 7-8

7, 8. But they also With these words the prophet passes from Ephraim to Judah. He had just said that Judah should be spared while Ephraim should be sacked and destroyed. But even Judah is guilty of drunkenness. Those of them who are of the anti-reform party, false prophet and priest, even these err or stagger in vision, that is, while prophesying; and stumble, that is, blunder grievously, in giving judgment, or adjudicating cases, and all through strong drink.

Priest and the prophet Both these classes were to be found in the worldly, anti-spiritual party, which also absorbed the higher classes of society in Jerusalem. The true prophet was in the minority, hence unpopular and persecuted, though even a king, as did Hezekiah, might favour his cause.

Tables are… vomit The terms here are used of the extreme effects of drunkenness. Hyperbole is common among orientals, and is allowable for reaching the depths of the thought in hand, and to present a mirror before real baseness.

Verses 9-10

9, 10. These verses appear to imply an interruption on the part of those against whom the prophet is inveighing. They seem to reply scornfully.

Whom shall he teach knowledge “He, the intolerable moralist: does he mean us, already advanced in understanding? We need it not. We are through with our tuition in the schools. We want no more of precept upon precept… line upon line… here a little and there a little. We want no more of his elementary teachings, his petty teasings; no more of the many repetitions of his excited, high toned addresses.” Perhaps they attempted to mimic him, but were only able to speak (hic) (being then well drunken) in stammering (hic) words. Among the several explanations of these verses, this, which was first hinted by Jerome, and later accepted by Lowth, Ewald, and Delitzsch, seems the best.

Verses 11-12

11, 12. For One explanation of this is, that the wicked prophets were about to continue, and got as far as “for,” when Isaiah snatched the word from them and proceeded thence himself: “Yes, for,” etc. Another translation is, “Yea, or truly,” the prophet’s own commencing words.

Stammering lips “Yes, with a stammering tongue,” that is, with another dialect, “will God speak to this people.” That dialect shall be the semi-Semitic patois of the fierce people beyond the Euphrates. It is said that the Assyrian Semitic was to Jewish ears much the same as the provincial lower Saxon (Platt-Deutsch) is to the pure high German language said patois being mixed perhaps with Iranian, possibly with Tartar elements. See 2 Kings 18:26-28; Isaiah 36:11. It is proper to suppose, from the exigences of the text, that exile to Assyria is here threatened in consequence of such scoffing, which was alarmingly becoming the rule, not the exception, in the conduct of the Jews.

To whom The scoffing Jews. God had repeatedly said, This is the rest, namely, trusting in Jehovah of Hosts, and not in Syrian (chap. 7) nor in Egyptian (chapter 37) alliances.

Yet they would not hear God’s fruitless patience and teachings will not always be continued.

Verse 13

13. Word… unto them precept God’s method of training this people is described, namely, by the most patient, ploddingly-repeated, lessons.

That Two things are meant by this word. 1. The consequences to the people for their disloyalty to Jehovah, namely, ruin to them as a nation. 2. Intention to maintain the majesty of the divine law of righteousness. Scoffing men are long and patiently endured, to the end that, if they will not hear, their guilt shall be punished, their example shall be a warning, and the divine honour shall be maintained.

Verses 14-16

14-16. Scornful men The debased, drunken priests and false prophets in Jerusalem, (Isaiah 28:7-8,) scorning the message of the true prophets. (Isaiah 28:9-10.)

Because ye have said Have said by your actions. If their actions were translated into words, their actual language would be as stated in this fifteenth verse.

Covenant with death A metaphorical representation of their having made terms with the king of terrors not to be too soon called to die.

With hell The underworld place of departed spirits a poetic equivalent with death. With this the same terms are supposed to have been made, not to be too soon called to the spirit world.

Overflowing scourge A mixed metaphor, probably referring to the Assyrian army invading and passing through Judea on its way to Egypt.

Lies The prophet’s definition. They acted as if a sufficient refuge was to be found in falsehood and deceit in the false notions and doctrines on which their whole conduct was transacted.

Verse 16

16. Therefore To the evil ones a terrible threatening follows, to the good a glorious promise. As, on a former occasion Ahaz refusing to ask a sign Jehovah selected his own for him, so now Jehovah opposes to the false confidence of these evil ones, a foundation stone laid in Zion a firm foundation which nothing can move; (1 Peter 2:6;) a king mighty and morally terrible; no doubt the Messiah.

A precious corner stone Tried and unfailing, and sustaining the whole grand spiritual edifice. Who rests on this is sure never to fail.

Shall not make haste The sacred stone played an important part in the very early Semitic religions. Its influence lingered among the Jews, and lingers still among the Mohammedans. Modern travellers, too, are struck with the eminent figure here used, by the immense stones still remaining at the foundation of ancient walls. (See, especially, ROBINSON’S Researches, vol. i, pp. 343, 351, 422.) Some New Testament quotations from the Septuagint render “shall not be ashamed,” shall not lack confidence, which comes to the same thing. Gesenius thinks both these ideas are in the Arabic cognate word, hence doubtless in the Hebrew word itself, and this accounts for the Septuagint translation.

Verse 17

17. Judgment… line… righteousness… plummet This means that the rule of God’s dealings is one of the strictest justice. “He makes justice the rule of his proceedings, just as the builder regulates his work by line and plummet.” The figure of the builder is continued from the previous verse.

Hail A mighty destructive agent; a figure importing visitations of divine justice upon systems of falsehood built up by wicked priests and compromising prophets. See notes on Isaiah 28:2.

Verse 18

18. Covenant Covenants secured by outside sorcery, black art, and oracle, shall be obliterated. So the literal word, in allusion to erasures of waxen tablets. Death and hell (original, sheol) are ghastly impersonations; very proper parties of the second part for such covenants and arguments.

Scourge See on Isaiah 28:15; a mixed metaphor; an invading army using blows heavily laid on, and trampling under feet as it advances.

Verse 19

19. From the time Or, as often as it sweeps along, it shall bear you, false Jews, away.

Morning by morning Literally, morning, morning; a Hebraism for every morning, continually.

Vexation Alarm, consternation.

Report The thing heard or the meaning of what is said and heard. A thing of awful import. Some terrible calamity announced. The marginal note has “doctrine” denoting some smiting truth.

Verse 20

20. Bed is shorter A proverb whose core of meaning is, insufficiency, no rest; hence, it implies no security in their plans of defence.

Verse 21

21. As in Mount Perazim See 2 Samuel 5:20-21, where, with trust in Jehovah, David burst through and defeated the Philistines. 1 Chronicles 14:11. So shall be the rising up and bursting through of Jehovah in his wrath. No light, no fringe of promise, lines this dreaded woe. Is there not something more than Syrian invasion here? What means the strange work which God will do other than this? As he had often punished Israel’s enemies with a furious “bursting through,” so now he will in same way punish Israel itself.

Verse 22

22. Yet he so loves his own people, and yearns over them, that this fearful “work” may be at least partially averted. Otherwise the prophet could not remonstrate in terms as follows:

Now therefore be ye not mockers Repentance is still open. Change of base in your lives, policies, and teaching is yet possible. Pursue not your mockeries further, lest your fetters ( bands) be strengthened. At present we are only tributary to Assyria. If we succeed, which we shall not, in gaining effective alliance with Egypt, a consumption, a judgment of destruction, is determined upon the whole earth. Upon the whole of the Lord’s land, as well as upon Egypt also.

Verse 23

23. Give ye ear… hear my speech It might seem, and properly, that the prophet’s address has closed, and he enters here on a new view, a relieving side to the woe. He calls attention to a parable taken from the common work of the husbandman, to illustrate that it is not always God’s way merely to punish. He does this only to the wholly incorrigible; these he destroys. Those less so, he corrects simply to benefit.

Verses 24-26

24-26. Doth the ploughman plough all day That is, does he plough interminably, never cease?

To sow In order to sow, in order to make the ground ready for sowing. The parallel number is of the same meaning. Common sense deigns not an answer.

Made plain Level.

The face thereof The surface of the fields.

Fitches… cummin Garden seeds, the one Nigella sativa, used both as a condiment and as medicine, sprinkled upon loaves; the other, of warm, bitterish, aromatic flavour a plant umbelliferous like fennel, used with salt as a sause. The Maltese are said to grow cummin and thresh it at this day in the same manner as described by Isaiah. Bible Dictionary.

Principal wheat… appointed barley The Hebrew is obscure in meaning, and critics conjecture it has been corrupted. “Wheat” and “barley” were always, as now, prime staples.

The “wheat” is supposed to have been sown in the inner parts of the field, and surrounded by spelt, or rye as a border, and the barley was sown in a field by itself, appropriate to it, or “appointed” for it. This may explain the text as to these terms. The “plough-man” is cited as acting in a sound, common sense way, as God has made him to act in these practical matters. So God acts in perfect accord with the highest wisdom and justice in his treatment of men. He saves all who will permit him to save them: he punishes forever those who hate him and will never yield to him. This is the lesson taught by the parable of the ploughman.

Verses 27-28

27, 28. So in the harvest. The harvester treats the different crops raised in the same common-sense way. He carefully beats with a stick, or rod, the smaller, finer seeds; over these he does not foolishly send the threshing wain. Nor over the larger grains does he drive the cart, or the oxen, or the rolling rough thresher, interminably. He uses these till their proper work is done, and then ceases. Now, Israel is God’s field and God’s threshing floor. But all are not alike roughly threshed. God discriminates the kind of seed to be planted and harvested. He adapts his method of separation to each. So right methods are employed in the distribution of discipline and punishment. If this treatment fails of its purpose, the responsibility is placed where it belongs. He strikes some with a rod; others, who need it, he threshes roughly with the wain; but, unless deserved, he does neither interminably.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 28". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.