Isaiah 28:6
And for a spirit of judgment to him that sits in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.
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(6) And for a spirit of judgment . . .—The words remind us of the list of spiritual gifts in Isaiah 11:2. The injustice of corrupt judges was the crying evil of both Samaria and Jerusalem, and their place was to be taken by those who should be just and faithful. And brave warriors, able to drive back the enemy to the gate of the city from which they had issued forth (2Samuel 11:23)—or, perhaps, to defeat them at the gate of that which they attacked—should be the companions of the upright judges.



Isaiah 28:1 - Isaiah 28:13

This prophecy probably falls in the first years of Hezekiah, when Samaria still stood, and the storm of war was gathering black in the north. The portion included in the text predicts the fall of Samaria {Isaiah 28:1 - Isaiah 28:6} and then turns to Judah, which is guilty of the same sins as the northern capital, and adds to them mockery of the prophet’s message. Isaiah speaks with fiery indignation and sharp sarcasm. His words are aflame with loathing of the moral corruption of both kingdoms, and he fastens on the one common vice of drunkenness-not as if it were the only sin, but because it shows in the grossest form the rottenness underlying the apparent beauty.

I. The woe on Samaria {Isaiah 28:1 - Isaiah 28:6}. Travellers are unanimous in their raptures over the fertility and beauty of the valley in which Samaria stood, perched on its sunny, fruitful hill, amid its vineyards. The situation of the city naturally suggests the figure which regards it as a sparkling coronet or flowery wreath, twined round the brows of the hill; and that poetical metaphor is the more natural, since revellers were wont to twist garlands in their hair, when they reclined at their orgies. The city is ‘the crown of pride’-that is, the object of boasting and foolish confidence-and is also ‘the fading flower of his sparkling ornament’; that is, the flower which is the ornament of Ephraim, but is destined to fade.

The picture of the city passes into that of the drunken debauch, where the chief men of Samaria sprawl, ‘smitten down’ by wine, and with the innocent flowers on their hot temples drooping in the fumes of the feast. But bright and sunny as the valley is, glittering in the light as the city sits on her hill, careless and confident as the revellers are, a black cloud lies on the horizon, and one of the terrible sudden storms which such lands know comes driving up the valley. ‘The Lord hath a mighty and strong one’-the conqueror from the north, who is God’s instrument, though he knows it not.

The swift, sudden, irresistible onslaught of the Assyrian is described, in harmony with the figure of the flowery coronal, as a tempest which beats down the flowers and flings the sodden crown to the ground. The word rendered ‘tempest’ is graphic, meaning literally a ‘downpour.’ First comes hail, which batters the flowers to shreds; then the effect of the storm is described as ‘destruction,’ and then the hurrying words turn back to paint the downpour of rain, ‘mighty’ from its force in falling, and ‘overflowing’ from its abundance, which soon sets all the fields swimming with flood water. What chance has a poor twist of flowers in such a storm? Its beauty will be marred, and all the petals beaten off, and nothing remains but that it should be trampled into mud. The rush of the prophet’s denunciation is swift and irresistible as the assault it describes, and it flashes from one metaphor to another without pause. The fertility of the valley of Samaria shapes the figures. As the picture of the flowery chaplet, so that which follows of the early fig, is full of local colour. A fig in June is a delicacy, which is sure to be plucked and eaten as soon as seen. Such a dainty, desirable morsel will Samaria be, as sweet and as little satisfying to the all-devouring hunger of the Assyrian.

But storms sweep the air clear, and everything will not go down before this one. The flower fadeth, but there is a chaplet of beauty which men may wreathe round their heads, which shall bloom for ever. All sensuous enjoyment has its limits in time, as well as in nobleness and exquisiteness; but when it is all done with, the beauty and festal ornament which truly crowns humanity shall smell sweet and blossom. The prophecy had regard simply to the issue of the historical disaster to which it pointed, and it meant that, after the storm of Assyrian conquest, there would still be, for the servants of God, the residue of the people, both in Israel and in Judah, a fuller possession of the blessings which descend on the men who make God their portion. But the principle involved is for ever true. The sweeping away of the perishable does draw true hearts nearer to God.

So the two halves of this prophecy give us eternal truths as to the certain destruction awaiting the joys of sense, and the permanence of the beauty and strength which belong to those who take God for their portion.

Drunkenness seems to have been a national sin in Israel; for Micah rebukes it as vehemently as Isaiah, and it is a clear bit of Christian duty in England to-day to ‘set the trumpet to thy mouth and show the people’ this sin. But the lessons of the prophecy are wider than the specific form of evil denounced. All setting of affection and seeking of satisfaction in that which, in all the pride of its beauty, is ‘a fading flower,’ is madness and sin. Into every life thus turned to the perishable will come the crash of the destroying storm, the mutterings of which might reach the ears of the feasters, if they were not drunk with the fumes of their deceiving delights. Only one kind of life has its roots in that which abides, and is safe from tempest and change. Amaranthine flowers bloom only in heaven, and must be brought thence, if they are to garland earthly foreheads. If we take God for ours, then whatever tempests may howl, and whatever fragile though fragrant joys may be swept away, we shall find in Him all that the world ‘fails to give to its votaries. He is ‘a crown of glory’ and ‘a diadem of beauty.’ Our humanity is never so fair as when it is made beautiful by the possession of Him. All that sense vainly seeks in earth, faith finds in God. Not only beauty, but ‘a spirit of judgment,’ in its narrower sense and in its widest, is breathed into those to whom God is ‘the master light of all their seeing’; and, yet more, He is strength to all who have to fight. Thus the close union of trustful souls with God, the actual inspiration of these, and the perfecting of their nature from communion with God, are taught us in the great words, which tell how beauty, justice, and strength are all given in the gift of Jehovah Himself to His people.

II. The prophet turns to Judah {Isaiah 28:7 - Isaiah 28:13}, and charges them with the same disgusting debauchery. His language is vehement in its loathing, and describes the filthy orgies of those who should have been the guides of the people with almost painful realism. Note how the words ‘reel’ and ‘stagger’ are repeated, and also the words ‘wine’ and ‘strong drink.’ We see the priests’ and prophets’ unsteady gait, and then they ‘stumble’ or fall. There they lie amid the filth, like hogs in a sty. It is very coarse language, but fine words are the Devil’s veils for coarse sins; and it is needful sometimes to call spades spades, and not to be ashamed to tell men plainly how ugly are the vices which they are not ashamed to commit. No doubt some of the drunken priests and false prophets in Jerusalem thought Isaiah extremely vulgar and indelicate, in talking about staggering teachers and tables swimming in ‘vomit.’ But he had to speak out. So deep was the corruption that the officials were tipsy even when engaged in their official duties, the prophets reeled while they were seeing visions; the judges could not sit upright even when pronouncing judgment.

Isaiah 28:9 - Isaiah 28:10 are generally taken as a sarcastic quotation of the drunkards’ scoffs at the prophet. They might be put in inverted commas. Their meaning is, ‘Does he take us grave and reverend seigniors, priests and prophets, to be babies just weaned, that he pesters us with these monotonous petty preachings, fit only for the nursery, which he calls his “message"?’ In Isaiah 28:10, the original for ‘precept upon precept,’ etc., is a series of short words, which may be taken as reproducing the ‘babbling tones of the drunken mockers.’

The loose livers of all generations talk in the same fashion about the stern morality which rebukes their vice. They call it weak, commonplace, fit for children, and they pretend that they despise it. They are much too enlightened for such antiquated teaching. Old women and children may take it in, but men of the world, who have seen life, and know what is what, are not to be fooled so. ‘What will this babbler say?’ was asked by the wise men of Athens, who were but repeating the scoffs of the prophets and priests of Jerusalem, and the same jeers are bitter in the mouth of many a profligate man to-day. It is the fate of all strict morality to be accounted childish by the people whom it inconveniently condemns.

In Isaiah 28:11 and onwards the prophet speaks. He catches up the mockers’ words, and retorts them. They have scoffed at his message as if it were stammering speech. They shall hear another kind of stammerers when the fierce invaders’ harsh and unintelligible language commands them. The reason why these foreign voices would have authority, was the national disregard of God’s voice. ‘Ye would not hear’ Him when, by His prophet, He spoke gracious invitations to rest, and to give the nation rest, in obedience and trust. Therefore they shall hear the battle-cry of the conqueror, and have to obey orders spoken in a barbarous tongue.

Of course, the language meant is the Assyrian, which, though cognate with Hebrew, is so unlike as to be unintelligible to the people. But is not the threat the statement of a great truth always being fulfilled towards the disobedient? If we will not listen to that loving Voice which calls us to rest, we shall be forced to listen to the harsh and strident tones of conquering enemies who command us to slavish toil. If we will not be guided by His eye and voice, we shall be governed by whip and bridle. Our choice is either to hearken to the divine call, which is loving and gentle, and invites to deep repose springing from faith, or to have to hear the voice of the taskmasters. The monotony of despised moral and religious teaching shall give place to a more terrible monotony, even that of continuous judgments.

‘The mills of God grind slowly.’ Bit by bit, with gradual steps, with dismal persistence, like the slow drops on the rock, the judgments of God trickle out on the mocking heart. It takes a long time for a child to learn a pageful when he gets his lesson a sentence at a time. So slowly do His chastisements fall on men who have despised the continuous messages of His love. The word of the Lord, which was laughed at when it clothed itself in a prophet’s speech, will be heard in more formidable shape, when it is wrapped in the long-drawn-out miseries of years of bondage. The warning is as needful for us as for these drunken priests and scornful rulers. The principle embodied is true in this day as it was then, and we too have to choose between serving God in gladness, hearkening to the voice of His word, and so finding rest to our souls, and serving the world, the flesh, and the devil, and so experiencing the perpetual dropping of the fiery rain of His judgments.28:5-15 The prophet next turns to Judah, whom he calls the residue of his people. Happy are those alone, who glory in the Lord of hosts himself. Hence his people get wisdom and strength for every service and every conflict. But it is only in Christ Jesus that the holy God communicates with sinful man. And whether those that teach are drunk with wine, or intoxicated with false doctrines and notions concerning the kingdom and salvation of the Messiah, they not only err themselves, but lead multitudes astray. All places where such persons have taught are filled with errors. For our instruction in the things of God, it is needful that the same precept and the same line should be often repeated to us, that we may the better understand them. God, by his word, calls us to what is really for our advantage; the service of God is the only true rest for those weary of the service of sin, and there is no refreshment but under the easy yoke of the Lord Jesus. All this had little effect upon the people. Those who will not understand what is plain, but scorn and despise it as mean and trifling, are justly punished. If we are at peace with God, we have, in effect, made a covenant with death; whenever it comes, it cannot do us any real damage, if we are Christ's. But to think of making death our friend, while by sin we are making God our enemy, is absurd. And do not they make lies their refuge who trust in their own righteousness, or to a death-bed repentance? which is a resolution to sin no more, when it is no longer in their power to do so.And for a spirit of judgment - (compare the note at Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 11:2). The sense of this passage is, that Jehovah would enlighten the judges of the land, so that they should understand what was right, and be disposed to do it.

To him that sitteth in judgment - This is to be understood collectively, and means those who sat upon the bench of justice; that is, the magistracy in general.

And for strength to to them that turn the battle to the gate - That is, to the very gate of their enemies; who not only repel their foes from their own city, but who drive them even to the gates of their own cities, and besiege them there. Thus 2 Samuel 11:23 : 'And we were upon them even unto the entering of the gate;' that is, we drove them back unto their own gates.

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).

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, and safety, and glory of a nation.

To them that turn the battle to the gate; to their warriors; whom he describeth by this phrase, to intimate that their valour should be crowned with success, and that they should not only drive their enemies from their own gates and land, but should pursue them into their own lands, and besiege them in their own cities, which Hezekiah did; 2 Kings 18:8. And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment,.... That is, as the Lord would give honour and glory to the people in general, so wisdom and prudence, a spirit of judgment and discerning, to the king in particular, who sat on the throne of judgment to do justice, and execute judgment among his subjects: though this need not be restrained to the king, but be applied to all the judges and magistrates in the land, who sat and heard causes and complaints brought before them, for which they should be qualified by the Lord; so Aben Ezra interprets it of the sanhedrim:

and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate; as wisdom is promised to the king and judges of the land, so strength of body and mind, valour and courage, to the prince and his army; so that they should turn the battle, and cause their enemies to fly before them, and pursue them to the very gates of their cities, as Hezekiah did, 2 Kings 18:8. The Syriac version is, "who turn the battle from the gate"; who, when besieged, sally out upon the besiegers, and drive them from their gates, oblige them to break up the siege, and fly before them. The Vulgate Latin version renders it, "and strength to them that return from war to the gate": that come home victorious to their own houses; and so the Targum,

"that he may give victory to them that go out in war, to return them in peace to their own houses.''

Wisdom in the cabinet and courts of judicature, and courage in the camp, are two great blessings to a nation, and serve much to explain the glory and beauty before promised.

And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for {f} strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.

(f) He will give counsel to the governor and strength to the captain to drive the enemies in at their own gates.

6. Jehovah is not only the beauty of the redeemed nation, but the source of all civic and martial virtues.

a spirit of judgment] The same phrase (but with a different meaning) occurs in ch. Isaiah 4:4. “Spirit” is used here as in ch. Isaiah 11:2. to him that sitteth in judgment] (or “over the judgment[-seat]”)—the king or the judge (cf. ch. Isaiah 32:1).

for strength (or, valour) to them that … gate] Better, at the gate, not the gate of the enemy, but of the city or land (Nahum 3:13) into which the enemy have penetrated. The promise is somewhat remarkable for Isaiah (cf. Micah 5:5 ff.).

7, 8 form the literary introduction to the dramatic incident represented in Isaiah 28:9-13; they are not part of Isaiah’s spoken discourse on that occasion. The opening words But these also (R.V.) connect this section with the preceding, but the connexion is due to similarity of subject, and not to coincidence of date. There are obvious reasons why the prediction of the fall of Samaria should be republished in the time of Sennacherib. The magnates of Jerusalem were following the lead of Samaria, both in their dissolute habits and in their foolish trust in an Egyptian alliance; Samaria is a mirror in which they may read their own character and their own doom. On intemperance among the Judæan nobility see ch. Isaiah 5:11 f., 22.Verse 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 (vers. 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" (comp. 2 Kings 18:8, "He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza "). But when Israel repents, the mercy of Jehovah will change all this. "And it will come to pass on that day, Jehovah will appoint a beating of corn from the water-flood of the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt, and ye will be gathered together one by one, O sons of Israel. And it will come to pass in that day, a great trumpet will be blown, and the lost ones in the land of Asshur come, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and cast themselves down before Jehovah on the holy mountain in Jerusalem." I regard every exposition of Isaiah 27:12 which supposes it to refer to the return of the captives as altogether false. The Euphrates and the brook of Egypt, i.e., the Wady el-Arish, were the north-eastern and south-western boundaries of the land of Israel, according to the original promise (Genesis 15:18; 1 Kings 8:65), and it is not stated that Jehovah will beat on the outside of these boundaries, but within them. Hence Gesenius is upon a more correct track, when he explains it as meaning that "the kingdom will be peopled again in its greatest promised extent, and that as rapidly and numerously as if men had fallen like olives from the trees." No doubt the word châbat is applied to the beating down of olives in Deuteronomy 24:20; but this figure is inapplicable here, as olives must already exist before they can be knocked down, whereas the land of Israel is to be thought of as desolate. What one expects is, that Jehovah will cause the dead to live within the whole of the broad expanse of the promised land (according to the promise in Isaiah 26:19, Isaiah 26:21). And the figure answers this expectation most clearly and most gloriously. Châbat as the word commonly applied to the knocking out of fruits with husks, which were too tender and valuable to be threshed. Such fruits, as the prophet himself affirms in Isaiah 28:27, were knocked out carefully with a stick, and would have been injured by the violence of ordinary threshing. And the great field of dead that stretched from the Euphrates to the Rhinokoloura,

(Note: Rhinokoloura (or Rhinokoroura): for the origin of this name of the Wady el-Arish, see Strabo, xvi. 2, 31.)

resembled a floor covered over with such tender, costly fruit. There true Israelites and apostate Israelites lay mixed together. But Jehovah would separate them. He would institute a beating, so that the true members of the church would come to the light of day, being separated from the false like grains sifted from their husks. "Thy dead will live;" it is to this that the prophet returns. And this view is supported by the choice of the word shibboleth, which combines in itself the meanings of "flood" (Psalm 69:3, Psalm 69:16) and "ear" (sc., of corn). This word gives a fine dilogy (compare the dilogy in Isaiah 19:18 and Habakkuk 2:7). From the "ear" of the Euphrates down to the Peninsula of Sinai, Jehovah would knock - a great heap of ears, the grains of which were to be gathered together "one by one," i.e., singly (in the most careful manner possible; Greek, καθεῖς κατη ̓ ἓνα). To this risen church there would be added the still living diaspora, gathered together by the signal of God (compare Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 11:12). Asshur and Egypt are named as lands of banishment. They represent all the lands of exile, as in Isaiah 19:23-25 (compare Isaiah 11:11). The two names are emblematical, and therefore not to be used as proofs that the prophecy is within the range of Isaiah's horizon. Nor is there any necessity for this. It is just as certain that the cycle of prophecy in chapters 24-27 belongs to Isaiah, and not to any other prophet, as it is that there are not two men to be found in the world with faces exactly alike.

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