Isaiah 28
Benson 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!
Isaiah 28:1. Wo, &c. — The second discourse of the third book of Isaiah’s prophecies, according to Vitringa, begins here, and is continued to the end of the thirty-third chapter. He supposes that the whole of it was delivered before the expedition of Sennacherib, and on occasion of some solemn embassy sent to Egypt to implore the help of the Egyptians against the Assyrians. To the crown of pride — The proud state and kingdom of the ten tribes, commonly called Ephraim; or, as some think, Samaria, the capital city, is chiefly intended, which was situated, says Maundrell, “on a long mount of an oval figure; having first a fruitful valley, and then a ring, or crown, of hills running round about it.” Journey from Aleppo, p. 59. It is thought that the prophet alludes to the crown of flowers which used to be worn by the drunkards in their revels; “an image not unfrequently made use of by the prophets, to convey a strong idea of the universal depravity and folly of the nation.” To the drunkards of Ephraim — Having many and excellent vines among them, the Ephraimites were much exposed to this sin, and very frequently guilty of it, Isaiah 28:7; Hosea 7:5; Amos 6:6. Whose glorious beauty is a fading flower — Whose glory and greatness shall suddenly wither and perish, like the garlands of flowers wherewith they crown their heads, amidst their intoxicating cups. Which are on the head of the fat valleys — Which proud and drunken Israelites have their common and chief abode in Samaria, the head of the kingdom, and seated at the head of fat and rich valleys which encompassed it.

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.
Isaiah 28:2-4. Behold, the Lord hath — Namely, at his command, prepared and ready to execute his judgments; a mighty and strong one — Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria; which, as a tempest of hail, &c., shall cast down — The crown of pride, to the earth, by his hand — By the hand of God, which shall strengthen him in this work. The crown, the drunkards, shall be trodden under feet — The expression is emphatical; the crown which was upon their own heads shall be trodden under the feet of others; and they, whose drunkenness made them stagger and fall to the ground, shall be trodden down there. The glorious beauty shall be as the hasty fruit — That is, the first ripe fruit, which, coming before the season, and before other fruits, is most acceptable. Which he that seeth it eateth up — Which, as soon as a man sees, he plucks it off and devours it as soon as he can get it into his hand. And so shall it be with Ephraim’s glory, which his enemies shall covet and spoil, and devour greedily. “The image,” says Bishop Lowth, “expresses, in the strongest manner, the great ease with which the Assyrians should take the city and the whole kingdom, and the avidity with which they should seize the rich prey without resistance.”

The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:
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.
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,
Isaiah 28:5-6. “Thus far,” says Bishop Lowth, “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 favourable prognostication of their affairs under Hezekiah: but soon changes to reproofs and threatenings, for their intemperance, disobedience, and profaneness.” In that day — When the kingdom of Israel shall be utterly destroyed; the Lord of hosts shall be for a crown of glory, &c. — Shall give eminent glory and beauty unto the residue of his people — Unto the kingdom of Judah, who shall continue in their own country, when Israel is carried into captivity. And for a spirit of judgment, &c. — He explains how, or wherein, God would glorify and beautify them, even by giving wisdom to their rulers, and courage to their soldiers; which two things contribute much to the strength, safety, and glory of a nation. To them that turn the battle to the gate — Who not only drive their enemies from their land, but pursue them into their own lands, and besiege them in their own cities.

And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.
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.
Isaiah 28:7. But they also have erred — But, alas! Judah is guilty of the same sins with Israel, therefore they also must expect the same calamities, of which he speaks afterward. The priest — To whom strong drink was expressly forbidden in the time of their sacred ministrations; and the prophet — The teachers, who should have been patterns of sobriety to the people, and to whom sobriety was absolutely necessary for the right discharge of their office; have erred — In their conversation and in their holy administrations. They are swallowed up of wine — They are, as we say, drowned in it. They err in vision — The prophets miscarry in their sacred employment of prophesying or teaching, which is sometimes called vision. They stumble in judgment — The priests mistake in pronouncing the sentence of the law, which was their duty.

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.
Isaiah 28:9-10. Whom shall he — Namely, God, or his prophet, or minister; teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? — Who is there among this people, that are capable and willing to be taught the good knowledge of God? them that are wearied from the milk, &c. — A minister may as soon teach a young child as these men. For precept must be upon precept, &c. — They must be taught like little children, slowly, and with leisure, the same things being often repeated, because of their great dulness. Line upon line — One line of the book after another, as children are taught to read.

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.
Isaiah 28:11-12. For — Or, rather, therefore, as the particle כיis often used. For the prophet here evidently intends to express the punishment of their dulness. With stammering lips, and another tongue — By people of a strange language, whom he will bring among them, and into whose power he will deliver them; will he speak to this people — Seeing they will not hear him speaking by his prophets and ministers, in their own language, they shall hear their enemies speaking to them in a strange language. It was a great aggravation of the misery of the Jews, during their captivity, that they did not understand the language of the Chaldeans, whose captives they were. To whom he said — To which people, the Lord, by his ministers, said, This — This doctrine, or the word of the Lord, as it follows, Isaiah 28:13; is the rest — The only way, in the observance of which you will find rest. Wherewith, &c. — The word wherewith is supplied by our translators, there being nothing for it in the Hebrew, which is, cause ye the weary to rest — Namely, your weary minds and weary country. As if he had said, As rest is offered you by the prophets in God’s name, do you embrace it; which is to be done by hearkening to God’s word. So shall this people, which hath been so often, and so long, wearied and harassed by great and manifold calamities, find rest and peace. Yet they would not hear — They were wilfully ignorant, and obstinately refused the very means of instruction.

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.
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.
Isaiah 28:13. But the word of the Lord was unto them, &c. — The sense of the passage thus rendered, may be, that they spake of God’s word with scorn and contempt, repeating the prophet’s words, (which are as peculiar in sound, as they are strong and expressive in sense, קו לקו, קו לקו, צו לצו, צו לצו, tzav latzav, tzav latzav, kav lakav, kav lakav,) in a scoffing manner, and with a ridiculous tone of voice; as if they had said, It seems the prophet takes us to be mere children, that need to be taught the very rudiments of knowledge, and that but slowly. Precept upon precept, line upon line, &c. — That these were scornful men and mockers, is affirmed Isaiah 28:14; Isaiah 28:22; and, as scoffers frequently catch the words out of other men’s mouths, and use them in the way of derision; so it may be thought they did with the prophet’s words. But the clause may be rendered a little otherwise, as indeed it is by divers learned men, thus: And the word of the Lord shall be unto them, precept upon precept, &c.; as this method has been used, and was altogether necessary for them, so it still is, and for the future shall be. As they were children in understanding, they shall continue to be such; they shall be ever learning, and never come to the knowledge of the truth; as they formerly would not, so now they shall not profit by the word, and their sin shall be their punishment. That they may, or might go, and fall backward — This will be the event, or consequence of their sin: they will fall backward, which is the worst and most dangerous way of falling; and so be broken to pieces.

Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.
Isaiah 28:14-15. Wherefore hear, ye scornful men — Who make a mock at sin, and at God’s word and threatenings, and who doubt not that by your crafty counsels, and human efforts, you shall escape God’s judgments; who have said — In your hearts; we have made a covenant with death, &c. — We are as safe from death and hell, or the grave, (as the word שׁאולhere means,) as if they had entered into covenant with us, that they would not invade us. “To be in covenant with any thing, is a kind of proverbial expression to denote perfect security from evil, and mischief from it:” see Job 5:23; Hosea 2:18. When the overflowing scourge — The calamity which the prophets speak of as coming; shall pass through — Namely, the land: if it should pass through, which, however, we do not believe it will; it shall not come unto us — We shall escape. For we have made lies our refuge, &c. — These words the prophet puts into their mouths, as declarative of the real nature of their false confidence and vain hopes of safety: as if he had said, You are confident the calamity shall not come to you, because you have taken sanctuary in a refuge of lies! You depend on your vain idols, or on your riches, or strength, or crafty devices, which will all fail you. Or, you hope to secure yourselves by your arts of cunning and falsehood, but you will find yourselves disappointed.

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:
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.
Isaiah 28:16. Therefore, thus saith the Lord — Because your refuges are vain and deceitful; therefore I will direct you to a better and surer refuge, which will never fail those that trust to it, which God hath prepared in Zion. But if you shall despise and reject that refuge, which I now offer to you all; if you will not believe, then know, that I will lay judgment to the line, &c., as it follows, Isaiah 28:17. Some think that in this famous prophecy, Behold I lay in Zion, &c., the prophet only means to tell these scorners, that God would protect Jerusalem, but not them, whom he would suffer to perish; and that he “expresses the protection which God would afford it under the image of laying a foundation for new walls, with the largest and hardest stones, and those most fit for the purpose, to make it impregnable, and to stand for ages.” But to understand the prophet thus, is to make him utter a false prophecy, which was afterward contradicted by facts. For Jerusalem, whether we understand thereby the city or its inhabitants, was not protected, but given up into the hands, first of the Chaldeans, and then of the Romans, to be destroyed. Certainly, as Lowth observes, “this prophecy cannot belong to any but Christ, to whom it is often applied in the New Testament. But it may import thus much, with respect to the time wherein Isaiah lived, that those should never be disappointed who believed in God, who had made peculiar promises to his church, which should be eminently fulfilled at the coming of the Messiah, in whom all God’s promises made to his people should receive their final accomplishment.” Understood of Christ, the interpretation of every expression in the passage is natural and easy; Behold I lay — I have promised it, and in the fulness of time will perform it; in Zion — In my church; for a foundation — Upon which I will build my church, the foundation of all the confidence, hope, and comfort of my people; a stone — Not Hezekiah, as some have supposed, but the Messiah, as appears, 1st, From those passages of the Old Testament, in which he is called a stone, as Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 8:14; Daniel 2:34-45; Zechariah 3:9. 2d, From those texts of the New Testament, in which this prophecy is directly expounded of him, as Romans 9:32-33; 1 Peter 2:4. 3d, From the last clause, wherein faith in this stone is required, which is not to be placed in any mere man, or mere creature. A tried stone — Which I have tried and approved, as every way sufficient for a foundation to support the building. A precious corner-stone — Uniting the several parts of the building together, making Ephraim and Judah, and Jews and Gentiles, though now implacable enemies, one church, and giving not only strength, but beauty and glory to the building, as cornerstones frequently do. A sure foundation — Upon whom you may securely rest; one who will not fail nor deceive you, as your refuges of lies will. He that believeth — Namely, this promise, or places his confidence in this stone, as it is explained 1 Peter 2:6; shall not make haste — Shall not hastily catch at any way of escaping his danger, whether it be right or wrong, but shall patiently wait upon God in his way till he deliver him. The words

לא יחישׁ, here rendered, shall not make haste, are by the LXX. translated,

ου μη καταισχυνθη, shall in no wise be ashamed or confounded, because precipitation, or haste, commonly exposes men to shame and confusion.

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.
Isaiah 28:17. Judgment also will I lay to the line, &c. — I will execute just judgment, as it were by a line and plummet annexed to it; that is, with exactness and care. I will severely punish and utterly destroy all who reject that stone. For the line and plummet, or the plumb-line, was not only used in erecting buildings, but also in pulling them down; those parts of the building being thus marked out which were to be demolished. And the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, &c. — My judgments (which in the Scriptures are compared to a storm of hail or rain) shall discover the vanity of all your crafty and wicked devices, and shall sweep you away with the besom of destruction in spite of them.

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.
Isaiah 28:18-19. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled — Made void, or of none effect. Ye shall be trodden down — Namely, by the overflowing scourge, which you flattered yourselves should not come unto you. From the time that it goeth forth — Namely, from me into the land, it shall assuredly, and with the first, seize upon and carry away you scoffers. Morning by morning it shall pass over, &c. — It shall not only come to you, but it shall abide upon you; and when it hath passed over you, it shall return again to you, morning after morning, and shall follow you day and night, without giving you the least respite. It shall be a vexation to understand the report — So dreadful shall the judgment be, that it shall strike you with horror when you only hear the rumour of its approach.

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.
Isaiah 28:20-21. For the bed is shorter, &c. — For those lying refuges, to which you trust, will not be able to give you that protection which you expect from them, no more than a man can stretch himself upon a bed that is too short for him. For the Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim — Where he fought against the Philistines, 2 Samuel 5:20. He shall be wroth as in Gibeon — Where he fought against the Canaanites, (Joshua 10:10, &c.,) and afterward against the Philistines, 1 Chronicles 14:16. That he may do his strange work — For this work of bringing total destruction upon Israel was contrary to the benignity of his own nature, and to the usual way of dealing with his people. The calamities and alarms occasioned by the Assyrian invasion under Sennacherib were a partial accomplishment of this prophecy. It was still more fully accomplished in the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylonish captivity: but certainly it did not receive its perfect fulfilment till the destruction of that city, and of the church and state of the Jews by the Romans, after their obstinate rejection of their Messiah, the corner- stone, here spoken of. This alone fully answers the import of these awful predictions of divine wrath and vengeance.

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.
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.
Isaiah 28:22. Now therefore be not mockers — For your own sakes do not make a mock of God’s word and threatenings, as you use to do. Lest your bands be made strong — Lest thereby you make the judgments of God, which are often compared to bands, more sure and unavoidable, and more severe and terrible, as bands are when they are tied faster and more strongly upon a prisoner. For I have heard from the Lord a consumption, &c. — God hath assured me that he will utterly root out the people of Israel, the kingdom of the ten tribes; as indeed he did in Hezekiah’s reign, and the Jews, the kingdom of the two tribes, in the reign of Zedekiah.

Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
Isaiah 28:23-25. Give ye ear — Observe what I say, and do you judge if it be not reasonable. “We have here the last member of this section, in which this severe judgment of God, denounced in the preceding verses, is defended by a parable taken from agriculture, wherein the prophet represents allegorically the intentions and methods of the divine judgments.” “As the husbandman uses various methods in preparing his land, and adapting it to the several kinds of seed 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 judgment with mercy; in order to reclaim the wicked, to improve the good; and finally, to separate the one from the other.” — Bishop Lowth.

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.
Isaiah 28:26. For his God doth instruct him — The art of husbandry is so necessary for the support of human life, that all men have ascribed its original to God as the inventor and ordainer of it. The Most High hath ordained husbandry, saith the son of Sirach, Sir 7:15. In like manner, Virgil, Georg., lib. 1. line 121:

“ — — — — — — — — — Pater ipse colendi Haud facilem esse viam voluit, primusq; per artem Movit agros — — .”

“Himself invented first the shining share, And whetted human industry by care;

Himself did handicrafts and arts ordain;

Nor suffer’d sloth to rust his active reign.”

By other heathen, the invention of agriculture is ascribed to the goddess Ceres.

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.
Isaiah 28:27-29. “Four methods of thrashing are here mentioned, by different instruments: the flail, the drag, the wain, and the treading of cattle. The staff, or flail, was used for the grain that was too tender to be treated in the other methods. The drag consisted of a sort of frame 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. The wain was much like the former, but had wheels with iron teeth, or edges, like a saw. 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. 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.” — Bishop Lowth. This also cometh from the Lord of hosts, &c. — This part of the husbandman’s discretion expressed in these verses, as well as that expressed in Isaiah 28:24-25. These words contain the application of the similitude. The husbandman manages his affairs with common discretion; but God governs the world and his church with wonderful wisdom: he is great and marvellous, both in the contrivance of things, and in the execution of them.

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.
This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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