Isaiah 28
Clarke's Commentary
This chapter begins with a denunciation of the approaching ruin of the Israelites by Shalmaneser, whose power is compared to a tempest or flood, and his keenness to the avidity with which one plucks and swallows the grape that is soonest ripe, Isaiah 28:1-4. It then turns to the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, who were to continue a kingdom after the final captivity of their brethren; and gives first a favorable prognostication of their affairs under Hezekiah, Isaiah 28:5, Isaiah 28:6; but soon changes to reproofs and threatenings for their intemperance and their profaneness, Isaiah 28:7, Isaiah 28:8. They are introduced as not only scornfully rejecting, but also mocking and ridiculing, the instructions of the prophet, Isaiah 28:9, Isaiah 28:10. To this God immediately retorts in terms alluding to their own mocking, but differently applied, Isaiah 28:11-13. The prophet then addresses these scoffers, Isaiah 28:14; who considered themselves as perfectly secure from every evil, Isaiah 28:15; and assures them that there was no method under heaven but one, by which they could be saved, Isaiah 28:16; that every other vain resource should fail in the day of visitation, Isaiah 28:17, Isaiah 28:18. He then farther adds, that the judgments of God were particularly levelled against them; and that all the means to which they trusted for warding them off should be to no purpose, Isaiah 28:19, Isaiah 28:20; as the Almighty, who, on account of his patience and long-suffering, is amiably described as unacquainted with punishing, had nevertheless determined to punish them, Isaiah 28:21, Isaiah 28:22. The prophet then concludes with a beautiful parable in explanation and defense of God's dealing with his people, Isaiah 28:23-29.

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!
Wo to the crown of pride - By the crown of pride, etc., Samaria is primarily understood. "Sebaste, the ancient Samaria, is situated on a long mount of an oval figure, having first a fruitful valley, and then a ring of hills running round about it;" Maundrell, p. 58. "E regione horum ruderum mons est peramoenus, planitie admodum frugifera circumseptus, super quem olim Samaria urbs condita fuit;" Fureri Itinerarium, p. 93. The city, beautifully situated on the top of a round hill, and surrounded immediately with a rich valley and a circle of other hills beyond it, suggested the idea of a chaplet or wreath of flowers worn upon their heads on occasions of festivity, expressed by the proud crown and the fading flower of the drunkards. That this custom of wearing chaplets in their banquets prevailed among the Jews, as well as among the Greeks and Romans, appears from the following passage of the book of The Wisdom of Solomon: -

"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 are withered."

The Wisdom of Solomon 2:7, 8.

Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.
Behold the Lord hath a mighty and strong one "Behold the mighty one, the exceedingly strong one" - אמץ לאדני ammits ladonai, fortis Domino, i.e., fortissimmus, a Hebraism. For לאדני ladonai, to the Lord, thirty-eight MSS. Of Dr. Kennicott's and many of De Rossi's, with some of my own, and two editions, read ליהוה laihovah, to Jehovah.

The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:
The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim "The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim" - I read עטרות ataroth, crowns, plural, to agree with the verb תרמסנה teramasnah, "shall be trodden down."

And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.
The hasty fruit before the summer "The early fruit before the summer" - "No sooner doth the boccore, (the early fig), draw near to perfection in the middle or latter end of June, than the kermez or summer fig begins to be formed, though it rarely ripens before August; about which time the same tree frequently throws out a third crop, or the winter fig, as we may call it. This is usually of a much longer shape and darker complexion than the kermez, hanging and ripening upon the tree even after the leaves are shed; and, provided the winter proves mild and temperate, is gathered as a delicious morsel in the spring; "Shaw, Travels, p. 370, fol. The image was very obvious to the inhabitants of Judea and the neighboring countries, and is frequently applied by the prophets to express a desirable object; by none more elegantly than by Hosea 9:10 : -

"Like grapes in the wilderness I found Israel;

Like the first ripe fig in her prime, I saw your fathers."

Which when he that looketh upon it seeth "Which whoso seeth, he plucketh it immediately" - For יראה yireh, which with הראה haroeh makes a miserable tautology, read, by a transposition of a letter, יארה yoreh; a happy conjecture of Houbigant. The image expresses in the strongest manner the great ease with which the Assyrians shall take the city and the whole kingdom, and the avidity with which they shall seize the rich prey without resistance.

In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people,
In that day - Thus far the prophecy relates to the Israelites, and manifestly denounces their approaching destruction by Shalmaneser. Here it turns to the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the remnant of God's people who were to continue a kingdom after the final captivity of the Israelites. It begins with a favorable prognostication of their affairs under Hezekiah; but soon changes to reproofs and threatenings for their intemperance, disobedience, and profaneness.

Jonathan's Targum on this verse is worthy of notice: "In that time Messiah, the Lord of hosts משיחא דיי צבאות meshicha dayai tsebaoth, shall be a crown of joy and a diadem of praise to the residue of his people." Kimchi says the rabbins in general are of this opinion. Here then the rabbins, and their most celebrated Targum, give the incommunicable name, יהוה צבאות Yehovah tsebaoth, the Lord of hosts, to our ever blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.
The battle to the gate "The war to the gate of the enemy" - That is, who pursue the fleeing enemy even to the very gates of their own city. "But we were upon them even unto the entering of the gate," 2 Samuel 11:23; that is, we drove the enemy back to their own gates. See also 1 Samuel 17:52. The Targum says, The Messiah shall give the victory to those who go out to battle, that he may bring them back to their own houses in peace.

But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
Whom shall he teach knowledge?" Whom, say they, would he teach knowledge?" - The scoffers mentioned below, Isaiah 28:14, are here introduced as uttering their sententious speeches; they treat God's method of dealing with them, and warning them by his prophets, with contempt and derision. What, say they, doth he treat us as mere infants just weaned? doth he teach us like little children, perpetually inculcating the same elementary lessons, the mere rudiments of knowledge; precept after precept, line after line, here and there, by little and little? imitating at the same time, and ridiculing, in Isaiah 28:10, the concise prophetical manner. God, by his prophet, retorts upon them with great severity their own contemptuous mockery, turning it to a sense quite different from what they intended. Yes, saith he, it shall be in fact as you say; ye shall be taught by a strange tongue and a stammering lip; in a strange country; ye shall be carried into captivity by a people whose language shall be unintelligible to you, and which ye shall be forced to learn like children. And my dealing with you shall be according to your own words: it shall be command upon command for your punishment; it shall be line upon line, stretched over you to mark your destruction, (compare 2 Kings 21:13); it shall come upon you at different times, and by different degrees, till the judgments, with which from time to time I have threatened you, shall have their full accomplishment.

Jerome seems to have rightly understood the general design of this passage as expressing the manner in which the scoffers, by their sententious speeches, turned into ridicule the warnings of God by his prophets, though he has not so well explained the meaning of the repetition of their speech in Isaiah 28:13. His words are on Isaiah 28:9 "Solebant hoc ex persona prophetarum ludentes dicere:" and on Isaiah 28:14 "Quod supra diximus, cum irrisione solitos principes Judaeorum prophetis dicere, manda, remanda, et caetera his similia, per quae ostenditur, nequaquam eos prophetarum credidisse sermonibus, sed prophetiam habuisse despectui, praesens ostendit capitulum, per quod appellantur viri illusores." Hieron. in loc.

And so Jarchi interprets the word משלים mishelim in the next verse: Qui dicunt verba irrisionis parabolice." And the Chaldee paraphrases Isaiah 28:11 to the same purpose, understanding it as spoken, not of God, but of the people deriding his prophets: "Quoniam in mutatione loquelae et in lingua subsannationis irridebant contra prophetas, qui prophetabant populo huic." - L.

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
For precept must be upon precept - The original is remarkably abrupt and sententious. The hemistichs are these: -

לצו צו לצו צו כי latsav tsav latsav tsav ki לקו קו לקו קו lakau kau lakau kau שם זעיר שם זעיר sham zeeir sham zeeir

For, - Command to command, command to command.

Line to line, line to line.

A little there, a little there.

Kimchi says צו tsau, precept, is used here for מצוה mitsuah, command, and is used in no other place for it but here. צו tsau signifies a little precept, such as is suited to the capacity of a child; see Isaiah 28:9. קו kau signifies the line that a mason stretches out to build a layer of stones by. After one layer or course is placed, he raises the line and builds another; thus the building is by degrees regularly completed. This is the method of teaching children, giving them such information as their narrow capacities can receive; and thus the prophet dealt with the Israelites. See Kimchi in loc., and see a fine parallel passage, Hebrews 5:12-14, by which this may be well illustrated.

My old MS. Bible translates oddly: -

For sende efter sende, sende efter sende:

Abide efter abiide, abide efter abiide:

Lytyl ther, lytyl ther.

Coverdale is also singular: -

Commande that may be commanded;

Byd that maye be bydden:

Foorbyd that maye be forbydden;

Kepe backe that maye be kepte backe:

Here a litle, there a litle.

For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
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.
This is the rest "This is the true rest" - The sense of this verse is: God had warned them by his prophets that their safety and security, their deliverance from their present calamities and from the apprehensions of still greater approaching, depended wholly on their trust in God, their faith and obedience; but they rejected this gracious warning with contempt and mockery.

But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.
Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
A covenant with death - To be in covenant with, is a kind of proverbial expression to denote perfect security from evil and mischief of any sort: -

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

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

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
Behold, I lay in Zion - See the notes on Genesis 49:32; Psalm 118:22 (note); Matthew 21:42 (note); Acts 4:11 (note); Romans 9:33 (note); Romans 10:11 (note); Ephesians 2:20 (note); 1 Peter 2:6-8 (note). Kimchi understands this of Hezekiah; but it most undoubtedly belongs to Jesus Christ alone; and his application of it to himself, even the Jews could not contest.

Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.
And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
Your covenant with death shall be disannulled "Your covenant with death shall be broken" - For כפר caphar, which seems not to belong to this place, the Chaldee reads תפר taphar, which is approved by Houbigant and Secker. See Jeremiah 33:21, where the very same phrase is used. See Prelim. Dissert. p. l.

From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.
For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.
For the bed is shorter - A mashal or proverbial saying, the meaning of which is, that they will find all means of defense and protection insufficient to secure them, and cover them from the evils coming upon them. מסך massek, Isaiah 22:8, the covering, is used for the outworks of defense, the barrier of the country; and here, in the allegorical sense, it means much the same thing. Their beds were only mattresses laid on the floor; and the coverlet a sheet, or in the winter a carpet, laid over it, in which the person wrapped himself. For כהתכנס kehithcannes, it ought probably to be מהתכנס mehithcannes. Houbigant, Secker.

For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.
As in Mount Perazim - כהר kehar; but בהר bahar, In the mount, is the reading of two of Kennicott's, one of De Rossi's, and one of my own MSS.

Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.
The Lord God - אדני יהוה Adonai Jehovah. Adonai is omitted by four of Kennicott's MSS., and in the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic.

Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
Give ye ear, and hear my voice "Listen ye, and hear my voice" - The foregoing discourse, consisting of severe reproofs, and threatenings of dreadful judgments impending on the Jews for their vices, and their profane contempt of God's warnings by his messengers, the prophet concludes with an explanation and defense of God's method of dealing with his people in an elegant parable or allegory; in which he employs a variety of images, all taken from the science of agriculture. As the husbandman uses various methods in preparing his land, and adapting it to the several kinds of seeds to be sown, with a due observation of times and seasons; and when he hath gathered in his harvest, employs methods as various in separating the corn from the straw and the chaff by different instruments, according to the nature of the different sorts of grain; so God, with unerring wisdom, and with strict justice, instructs, admonishes, and corrects his people; chastises and punishes them in various ways, as the exigence of the case requires; now more moderately, now more severely; always tempering justice with mercy; in order to reclaim the wicked, to improve the good, and, finally, to separate the one from the other.

Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?
When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?
For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.
For his God doth instruct him - All nations have agreed in attributing agriculture, the most useful and the most necessary of all sciences, to the invention and to the suggestions of their deities. "The Most High hath ordained husbandry, "saith the son of Sirach, Ecclus. 7:15.

Namque Ceres fertur fruges, Liberque liquoris

Vitigeni laticem mortalibus instituisse.

Lucretius, 5:14.

"Ceres has taught mortals how to produce fruits; and Bacchus has taught them how to cultivate the vine."

Ὁ δ' ηπιος ανθρωποισι

Δεξια σημαινει, λαους δ' επι εργον εγειρει

Μιμνησκων βιοτοιο· λεγει δ' ὁτε βωλος αριστη

Βουσι τε και μακελῃσι· λεγει δ' ὁτε δεξιαι ὡραι

Και φυτα γυρωσαι, και σπερματα παντα βαλεσθαι.

Aratus, Phantom. v.

"He, Jupiter, to the human race

Indulgent, prompts to necessary toil

Man provident of life; with kindly signs

The seasons marks, when best to turn the glebe

With spade and plough, to nurse the tender plant,

And cast o'er fostering earth the seeds abroad."

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.
Four methods of threshing are here mentioned, by different instruments; the flail, the drag, the wain, and the treading of the cattle. The staff or flail was used for the infirmiora semina, says Jerome, the grain that was too tender to be treated in the other methods. The drag consisted of a sort of strong planks, made rough at the bottom, with hard stones or iron; it was drawn by horses or oxen over the corn sheaves spread on the floor, the driver sitting upon it. Kempfer has given a print representing the manner of using this instrument, Amaen. Exot. p. 682, fig. 3. The wain was much like the former; but had wheels with iron teeth, or edges like a saw: Ferrata carpenta rotis per medium in serrarum modum se volventibus. Hieron. in loc. From this it would seem that the axle was armed with iron teeth or serrated wheels throughout. See a description and print of such a machine used at present in Egypt for the same purpose in Niebuhr's Voyage en Arabie, Tab. 17 p. 123; it moves upon three rollers armed with iron teeth or wheels to cut the straw. In Syria they make use of the drag, constructed in the very same manner as above described; Niebuhr, Description de l'Arabie, p. 140. This not only forced out the grain, but cut the straw in pieces for fodder for the cattle; for in the eastern countries they have no hay. See Harmer's Observ. 1 p. The last method is well known from the law of Moses, which "forbids the ox to be muzzled, when he treadeth out the corn;" Deuteronomy 25:4.

Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.
The bread-corn - I read ולהם velahem, on the authority of the Vulgate and Symmachus; the former expresses the conjunction ו vau, omitted in the text, by autem; the latter by δε.

Bruise it with his horsemen "Bruise it with the hoofs of his cattle" - For פרשיו parashaiv, horsemen or teeth, read פרסיו perasaiv, hoofs. So the Syriac, Syrnmachus, Theodotion, and the Vulgate. The first is read with ש shin, the latter with ס samech, the pronunciation is nearly the same.

This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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