Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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!
The twenty-eighth through thirty-third chapters form almost one continuous prophecy concerning the destruction of Ephraim, the impiety and folly of Judah, the danger of their league with Egypt, the straits they would be reduced to by Assyria, from which Jehovah would deliver them on their turning to Him; the twenty-eighth chapter refers to the time just before the sixth year of Hezekiak's reign, the rest not very long before his fourteenth year.
1. crown of pride—Hebrew for "proud crown of the drunkards," &c. [Horsley], namely, Samaria, the capital of Ephraim, or Israel. "Drunkards," literally (Isa 28:7, 8; Isa 5:11, 22; Am 4:1; 6:1-6) and metaphorically, like drunkards, rushing on to their own destruction.
beauty … flower—"whose glorious beauty or ornament is a fading flower." Carrying on the image of "drunkards"; it was the custom at feasts to wreathe the brow with flowers; so Samaria, "which is (not as English Version, 'which are') upon the head of the fertile valley," that is, situated on a hill surrounded with the rich valleys as a garland (1Ki 16:24); but the garland is "fading," as garlands often do, because Ephraim is now close to ruin (compare Isa 16:8); fulfilled 721 B.C. (2Ki 17:6, 24).
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.
2. strong one—the Assyrian (Isa 10:5).
cast down—namely, Ephraim (Isa 28:1) and Samaria, its crown.
with … hand—with violence (Isa 8:11).
The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:
3. crown … the drunkards—rather, "the crown of the drunkards."
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.
4. Rather, "the fading flower, their glorious beauty (Isa 28:1), which is on the head of the fat (fertile) valley, shall be as the early fig" [G. V. Smith]. Figs usually ripened in August; but earlier ones (Hebrew bikkurah, Spanish bokkore) in June, and were regarded as a delicacy (Jer 24:2; Ho 9:10; Mic 7:1).
while it is yet—that is, immediately, without delay; describing the eagerness of the Assyrian Shalmaneser, not merely to conquer, but to destroy utterly Samaria; whereas other conquered cities were often spared.
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,
5-13. The prophet now turns to Judah; a gracious promise to the remnant ("residue"); a warning lest through like sins Judah should share the fate of Samaria.
crown—in antithesis to the "fading crown" of Ephraim (Isa 28:1, 3).
the residue—primarily, Judah, in the prosperous reign of Hezekiah (2Ki 18:7), antitypically, the elect of God; as He here is called their "crown and diadem," so are they called His (Isa 62:3); a beautiful reciprocity.
And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.
6. Jehovah will inspire their magistrates with justice, and their soldiers with strength of spirit.
turn … battle to … gate—the defenders of their country who not only repel the foe from themselves, but drive him to the gates of his own cities (2Sa 11:23; 2Ki 18:8).
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.
7. Though Judah is to survive the fall of Ephraim, yet "they also" (the men of Judah) have perpetrated like sins to those of Samaria (Isa 5:3, 11), which must be chastised by God.
erred … are out of the way—"stagger … reel." Repeated, to express the frequency of the vice.
priest … prophet—If the ministers of religion sin so grievously, how much more the other rulers (Isa 56:10, 12)!
vision—even in that most sacred function of the prophet to declare God's will revealed to them.
judgment—The priests had the administration of the law committed to them (De 17:9; 19:17). It was against the law for the priests to take wine before entering the tabernacle (Le 10:9; Eze 44:21).
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.
9, 10. Here the drunkards are introduced as scoffingly commenting on Isaiah's warnings: "Whom will he (does Isaiah presume to) teach knowledge? And whom will He make to understand instruction? Is it those (that is, does he take us to be) just weaned, &c.? For (he is constantly repeating, as if to little children) precept upon precept," &c.
line—a rule or law. [Maurer]. The repetition of sounds in Hebrew tzav latzav, tzav latzav, qav laqav, qav laquav, expresses the scorn of the imitators of Isaiah's speaking; he spoke stammering (Isa 28:11). God's mode of teaching offends by its simplicity the pride of sinners (2Ki 5:11, 12; 1Co 1:23). Stammerers as they were by drunkenness, and children in knowledge of God, they needed to be spoken to in the language of children, and "with stammering lips" (compare Mt 13:13). A just and merciful retribution.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
11. For—rather, "Truly." This is Isaiah's reply to the scoffers: Your drunken questions shall be answered by the severe lessons from God conveyed through the Assyrians and Babylonians; the dialect of these, though Semitic, like the Hebrew, was so far different as to sound to the Jews like the speech of stammerers (compare Isa 33:19; 36:11). To them who will not understand God will speak still more unintelligibly.
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.
12. Rather, "He (Jehovah) who hath said to them."
this … the rest—Reference may be primarily to "rest" from national warlike preparations, the Jews being at the time "weary" through various preceding calamities, as the Syro-Israelite invasion (Isa 7:8; compare Isa 30:15; 22:8; 39:2; 36:1; 2Ki 18:8). But spiritually, the "rest" meant is that to be found in obeying those very "precepts" of God (Isa 28:10) which they jeered at (compare Jer 6:16; Mt 11:29).
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.
13. But—rather, "Therefore," namely, because "they would not hear" (Isa 28:12).
that they might go—the designed result to those who, from a defect of the will, so far from profiting by God's mode of instructing, "precept upon precept," &c., made it into a stumbling-block (Ho 6:5; 8:12; Mt 13:14).
go, and fall—image appropriately from "drunkards" (Isa 28:7, 8, which they were) who in trying to "go forward fall backward."
Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.
14. scornful—(See on Isa 28:9).
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:
15. said—virtually, in your conduct, if not in words.
covenant—There may be a tacit reference to their confidence in their "covenant" with the Assyrians in the early part of Hezekiah's prosperous reign, before he ceased to pay tribute to them, as if it ensured Judah from evil, whatever might befall the neighboring Ephraim (Isa 28:1). The full meaning is shown by the language ("covenant with death—hell," or sheol) to apply to all lulled in false security spiritually (Ps 12:4; Ec 8:8; Jer 8:11); the godly alone are in covenant with death (Job 5:23; Ho 2:18; 1Co 3:22).
overflowing scourge—two metaphors: the hostile Assyrian armies like an overwhelming flood.
pass through—namely, through Judea on their way to Egypt, to punish it as the protector of Samaria (2Ki 17:4).
lies—They did not use these words, but Isaiah designates their sentiments by their true name (Am 2:4).
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.
16. Literally, "Behold Me as Him who has laid"; namely, in My divine counsel (Re 13:8); none save I could lay it (Isa 63:5).
stone—Jesus Christ; Hezekiah [Maurer], or the temple [Ewald], do not realize the full significancy of the language; but only in type point to Him, in whom the prophecy receives its exhaustive accomplishment; whether Isaiah understood its fulness or not (1Pe 1:11, 12), the Holy Ghost plainly contemplated its fulfilment in Christ alone; so in Isa 32:1; compare Ge 49:24; Ps 118:22; Mt 21:42; Ro 10:11; Eph 2:20.
tried—both by the devil (Lu 4:1-13) and by men (Lu 20:1-38), and even by God (Mt 27:46); a stone of tested solidity to bear the vast superstructure of man's redemption. The tested righteousness of Christ gives its peculiar merit to His vicarious sacrifice. The connection with the context is, though a "scourge" shall visit Judea (Isa 28:15), yet God's gracious purpose as to the elect remnant, and His kingdom of which "Zion" shall be the center, shall not fail, because its rests on Messiah (Mt 7:24, 25; 2Ti 2:19).
precious—literally, "of preciousness," so in the Greek, (1Pe 2:7). He is preciousness.
corner-stone—(1Ki 5:17; 7:9; Job 38:6); the stone laid at the corner where two walls meet and connecting them; often costly.
make haste—flee in hasty alarm; but the Septuagint has "be ashamed"; so Ro 9:33, and 1Pe 2:6, "be confounded," substantially the same idea; he who rests on Him shall not have the shame of disappointment, nor flee in sudden panic (see Isa 30:15; 32:17).
Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.
17. line—the measuring-line of the plummet. Horsley translates, "I will appoint judgment for the rule, and justice for the plummet." As the corner-stone stands most perpendicular and exactly proportioned, so Jehovah, while holding out grace to believers in the Foundation-stone, will judge the scoffers (Isa 28:15) according to the exact justice of the law (compare Jas 2:13).
hail—divine judgment (Isa 30:30; 32:19).
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.
18. disannulled—obliterated, as letters traced on a waxen tablet are obliterated by passing the stylus over it.
trodden down—passing from the metaphor in "scourge" to the thing meant, the army which treads down its enemies.
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.
19. From the time, &c.—rather, "As often as it comes over (that is, passes through), it shall overtake you" [Horsley]; like a flood returning from time to time, frequent hostile invasions shall assail Judah, after the deportation of the ten tribes.
vexation … understand … report—rather, "It shall be a terror even to hear the mere report of it" [Maurer], (1Sa 3:11). But G. V. Smith, "Hard treatment (Horsley, 'dispersion') only shall make you to understand instruction"; they scorned at the simple way in which the prophet offered it (Isa 28:9); therefore, they must be taught by the severe teachings of adversity.
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.
20. Proverbial, for they shall find all their sources of confidence fail them; all shall be hopeless perplexity in their affairs.
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.
21. Perazim—In the valley of Rephaim (2Sa 5:18, 20; 1Ch 14:11), there Jehovah, by David, broke forth as waters do, and made a breach among the Philistines, David's enemies, as Perazim means, expressing a sudden and complete overthrow.
Gibeon—(1Ch 14:16; 2Sa 5:25, Margin); not Joshua's victory (Jos 10:10).
strange—as being against His own people; judgment is not what God delights in; it is, though necessary, yet strange to Him (La 3:33).
work—punishing the guilty (Isa 10:12).
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.
22. mockers—a sin which they had committed (Isa 28:9, 10).
bands—their Assyrian bondage (Isa 10:27); Judah was then tributary to Assyria; or, "lest your punishment be made still more severe" (Isa 24:22).
consumption—destruction (Isa 10:22, 23; Da 9:27).
Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
23. Calling attention to the following illustration from husbandry (Ps 49:1, 2). As the husbandman does his different kinds of work, each in its right time and due proportion, so God adapts His measures to the varying exigencies of the several cases: now mercy, now judgments; now punishing sooner, now later (an answer to the scoff that His judgments, being put off so long, would never come at all, Isa 5:19); His object being not to destroy His people any more than the farmer's object in threshing is to destroy his crop; this vindicates God's "strange work" (Isa 28:21) in punishing His people. Compare the same image, Jer 24:6; Ho 2:23; Mt 3:12.
Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?
24. all day—emphatic; he is not always ploughing: he also "sows," and that, too, in accordance with sure rules (Isa 28:25).
doth he open—supply "always." Is he always harrowing?
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?
25. face—the "surface" of the ground: "made plain," or level, by harrowing.
fitches—rather, "dill," or "fennel"; Nigella romana, with black seed, easily beaten out, used as a condiment and medicine in the East. So the Septuagint, "cummin" was used in the same way.
cast in … principal wheat—rather, plant the wheat in rows (for wheat was thought to yield the largest crop, by being planted sparingly [Pliny, Natural History, 18.21]); [Maurer]; "sow the wheat regularly" [Horsley]. But Gesenius, like English Version, "fat," or "principal," that is, excellent wheat.
appointed barley—rather, "barley in its appointed place" [Maurer].
in their place—rather, "in its (the field's) border" [Maurer].
For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.
26. to discretion—in the due rules of husbandry; God first taught it to man (Ge 3:23).
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.
27. The husbandman uses the same discretion in threshing. The dill ("fitches") and cummin, leguminous and tender grains, are beaten out, not as wheat, &c., with the heavy corn-drag ("threshing instrument"), but with "a staff"; heavy instruments would crush and injure the seed.
cart wheel—two iron wheels armed with iron teeth, like a saw, joined together by a wooden axle. The "corn-drag" was made of three or four wooden cylinders, armed with iron teeth or flint stones fixed underneath, and joined like a sledge. Both instruments cut the straw for fodder as well as separated the corn.
staff—used also where they had but a small quantity of corn; the flail (Ru 2:17).
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.
28. Bread corn—corn of which bread is made.
bruised—threshed with the corn-drag (as contrasted with dill and cummin, "beaten with the staff"), or, "trodden out" by the hoofs of cattle driven over it on the threshing-floor [G. V. Smith], (De 25:4; Mic 4:13).
because—rather, "but" [Horsley]; though the corn is threshed with the heavy instrument, yet he will not always be thus threshing it.
break it—"drive over it (continually) the wheel" [Maurer].
horsemen—rather, "horses"; used to tread out corn.
This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.
29. This also—The skill wherewith the husbandman duly adjusts his modes of threshing is given by God, as well as the skill (Isa 28:26) wherewith he tills and sows (Isa 28:24, 25). Therefore He must also be able to adapt His modes of treatment to the several moral needs of His creatures. His object in sending tribulation (derived from the Latin tribulum, a "threshing instrument," Lu 22:31; Ro 5:3) is to sever the moral chaff from the wheat, not to crush utterly; "His judgments are usually in the line of our offenses; by the nature of the judgments we may usually ascertain the nature of the sin" [Barnes].