Isaiah 5:11

I. THOUGHTLESS PLEASURE-SEEKING. A scene of habitual dissipation is depicted by the prophet.

1. Wine and music are used, not legitimately, to relax the tension of the overwrought mind, but to dispel thought altogether. Sensuous pleasure is made an end and object, though it can never be healthy except in succession to work. "They rise early in the morning to follow the wassail; late into the night are heated by wine." "Guitar, and harp, and tambourine, and flute, and wine is their revel." How wise were the teachings of Plato on the use of music as a means of influence over the mind! He would not permit the employment of "effeminate and convivial' airs in his ideal state, the lax Ionian and Lydian. He would have only two kinds of tunes; those which represented the tones and accents of the brave man engaged in action, and those which chimed with the devotional and peaceful mood; in short, the tones which reflect the temper of brave men in prosperity and adversity. Makers of harps and dulcimers, and other more elaborate instruments, were not to be maintained in the city ('Rep.,' p. 399). These hints are perhaps too little attended to in our day. Yet there is modern music, e.g. that of the Italian opera in general, which tends to enervate the soul. Rather should we choose to listen to the strains of the great German masters, Beethoven, Handel, Mendelssohn. These men inspire us with lofty moods and religious thoughts. Avoid mean and brainless music, whether so-called secular or sacred.

2. Blindness to the thought and work of God. The most glorious privilege we can enjoy is that of intellectual vision of Divine work in nature and in mankind, the loftiest pleasure that of intellectual sympathy with the Divine mind. But the sensuous pleasure excludes the spiritual. Do men consider what they lose by dimming their perceptions and confusing their intelligence in these lower indulgences? Not on wine and soft music is that "vision and faculty Divine" nourished, by which the prophet and the worshipper enter into the scene of holiest enjoyments, of enrapturing revelations. The operation of the Eternal in the soul and the world goes on silently and secretly, and we need the "purged ear" that we may listen to his voice, the unclouded eye that we may note events which flow from his causation.


1. Captivity comes suddenly upon these revelers, and they wander forth "unawares," like those who rub their blear eyes after a night's debauch. They cannot understand what has happened to them. They talk of "strange misfortunes," of inexplicable calamities. But they have an explanation. The decay of a family, or of a class, or of a nation, is as much the result of Divine law as any other form of decay. In exile and suffering men pay the long-due debt for their voluptuous indulgences. The "nobility is spent with hunger, its revel-rout dried up with thirst." The music has to stop. The voice of Jehovah may be heard saying, "Take thou away from me the voice of thy songs; for I will not listen to the melody of thy viols? (Amos 5:23). Those that have put far from them the evil day, lying on ivory couches, luxuriously feasting, singing to the viol, drinking from the flowing bowl, anointed and perfumed, reckless of human suffering around them, shall pass into exile, and darkness and desolation shall reign in the once bright and crowded hall of banqueting (see Amos 6.).

2. With equal suddenness death shall come upon them, Hades opening its jaws to swallow the uproarious rout of revelers, as in old days the rebellious crew of Korah (Numbers 16:32). There is meaning in the phrase, "The unexpected always happens." To the thoughtless and unprepared it does. But to the thoughtful watchers of the ways of God, and those that meditate on his truth, it may be said that the expected happens, even as the harvest season in nature.

III. THE ABASEMENT OF MAN AND THE EXALTATION OF GOD. Deep in the prophetic conscience lies this thought - human pride means contempt of God, and human pride needs lowering that God may receive his proper place in men's thoughts. The Gentile poets in their way reflected this teaching. The man whose thoughts aimed at rivalry with the gods, the man who gave way to hybris, or insolence, was certain to be a mark of Divine displeasure. Cast down to his proper level of weakness, the power of the Eternal makes itself known, in an "awful rose of dawn," upon the conscience of mankind. It is suffering alone that awakens the conscience, and brings sharply to light that dualism of good and evil in the will which we contrive to confuse in thoughtless hours. And only by this internal revelation do we learn to think of One who is sanctity itself, and whose sanctity we, through life's purging fires, must be brought to share, or perish in the sins we have chosen, the lives we have lived in. - J.

Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink.
I. In reference to THE INDIVIDUAL HIMSELF, who is its victim. It may, perhaps, be made a question by some, When may a man be regarded as intoxicated, and what may be the number of offences which would entitle him to the character and name of drunkard? Intoxication essentially consists in the obscuration of the light of reason, so that it is no longer able fully to exercise its functions; and, therefore, the moment this light has become even partially eclipsed, and the moment, perhaps, that that exhilaration begins, which always urges onwards and craves for more — at that moment we may say, that as the individual is in a state of alarming danger, so the process of intoxication has commenced; and, therefore, many a man may be strictly and truly said to be intoxicated, though he does not "reel and stagger like a drunken man." No man ever became a drunkard all at once, i.e., in ordinary cases; for some have become so instantaneously through the pressure of affliction, and from the impulse of despair. It is not the intoxicating beverage that allures at first (for, in general, the natural taste rejects it), but the "harp and the viol, and the tabret and the pipe," that are in the drunkard's feasts — that hilarity which, innocent perhaps in itself, brings at that time a snare, and that good companionship which, while it dispenses its joys, spits its venom. By and by, however, they come to like the beverage, not on account of the company it brings together, but for itself; and remembering its exciting and exhilarating qualities, have recourse to it at other seasons, first along with others, and then in private by themselves — finding on each occasion some excuse to silence conscience, and to keep themselves up in their self-esteem; till, at last, going on in their downward career, their drink becomes as necessary as their daily food, and they live with an appetite always craving, and an intellect seldom clear. And what are the invariable accompaniments and consequences?

1. The intemperate man is brought into contact with the most worthless companions, who have no fear of God before their eyes, and who lead him on, step by step, till they plunge him into irremediable ruin.

2. Indulgence in strong drink tends to the eclipse of intellect. This effect may not be exhibited at first. On the contrary, in the first stages of the sin, the opposite result may appear. Have you never seen these same faculties, which the exhilarating draught awakened for more powerful efforts, by the very same influence, deprived of all their wakeful energy, and steeped in an oblivion the most complete and the most melancholy; so that far from being capable of bursting forth with more than common brilliancy, they become incapacitated for the performance even of their common functions?

3. Look at the effects resulting, when the orb of reason has undergone this dread eclipse. Then is an inlet afforded for all wickedness, and every crime may free a perpetrator. The strong man of the house being bound, the passions arise like robbers, and rifle his goods. The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, are all permitted to riot in unchecked fury. The monarch of the soul being, for the time, dethroned, the subjects spend themselves in the work of anarchy.

4. No one can sin with impunity; and even in this life, we often see transgression closely tracked by its attendant punishment. But of all sins, that of drunkenness seems to be peculiarly visited with retribution here; for the loss of reputation invariably follows indulgence in the habits of intemperance.

II. Glance at its results as far as THE DRUNKARD'S FAMILY is concerned. No ruin can be conceived more tremendous than when the roof tree of a man's domestic happiness falls in, and leaves him a home, but without its joys. He is an enemy indeed who casts a brand into that temple, and envelops that altar in destructive flames. But this intemperance does. No one can express the hopes or the joys of a mother, when she sees her son walking in the ways of virtue. But, in proportion is her sorrow, when she sees the son that she has borne and nursed, becoming a worthless profligate, an outcast, and a drunkard. Intemperance is silently but too surely sapping the very foundations of society. Who, then, that has any regard either for the glory of God, or for the welfare of his country, would not gird on his armour to meet the enemy in the gate?

(P. M'Morland.)


1. The prophet refers to intemperance and its associate habits of festivity and dissipation. The corrupt condition of social life, springing from the depravity of the heart, has in every age encouraged those stimulants to evil adverted to in this passage, and which are alike felt by the high and the low. The wine mentioned is the date or palm wine, which possessed an inebriating quality; but, whatever be the particular drink — the wine of the wealthy or the beer of the poor — the accompaniments of the festival, metropolitan or rural, are frequently similar both in kind and effect, and tend to evil. Our Lord, it is true, was at a feast of Cana in Galilee; and music, "the harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe," may minister to an innocent recreation or gratify judicious taste; but we need scarcely adduce the trite distinction between the use and abuse of a thing, to show wherein lies, in the present case, the moral danger. The sin of excess, both in eating and drinking, in the forms of gluttony and intoxication, is peculiarly odious.(1) Intemperance is both bad in principle and degrading in character. and call it "a spontaneous fury"; and Basil, with greater vehemence of expression, says it is "a voluntary devil, a chosen madness." —(2) But while this is the case, it has a greater tendency than almost any other crime to destroy the feeling of shame and to harden conscience.(3) It leads to other great sins. Its name is legion; for, in reality, there is scarcely any vice or folly that it does not either originate or encourage. It is said by Eustathius that "the nurses of Bacchus were painted with snakes and daggers in their hands, to show that drunkards were beastly and bloody."(4) Intemperance is dangerous to the peace of society, and puts to hazard the lives of mere Vulgar quarrelling in low life, and polite duelling in high, disturb, separate, and destroy families. How many have been the murderers of others in seasons of intemperate festivity. Ammon was slain by his brother Absalom when indulging in wine. Simon the high priest, and two of his sons, were sacrificed to the inebriation of their brother. Judith slew Holofernes, when the latter was in a state of intoxication. Alexander the Great killed Clitus at a feast, and inflicted upon himself a vain repentance.

2. The prophet points out the connection between intemperance and unhallowed festivity, and an infidel disregard of the works and ways of Deity. Thus are body and soul at once degraded and ruined. Under the influence of intemperance men are led to disregard "the operations of His hands," not only undervaluing the works of God, but unmindful of His providential and gracious dispensations. His judgments do not alarm, His mercies do not conciliate them; they despise the one, and disown the other.

II. THE WOE DENOUNCED BY THE PROPHET UPON THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF INTEMPERANCE. The "woe" is to be plainly traced in the conscious unhappiness of the delinquent, even though he seem gay and smiling — in the general and almost certain loss of health, that first of earthly blessings — in the diminution and probable loss of property, and of every resource — in the dereliction of friends worth having in the terrors of an unprepared for death, or the even more horrible condition of a moral death unfelt, and a natural death unheeded — and, lastly, in the quenchless burnings of the bottomless pit. Habits of intemperance are progressively formed, and therefore require the exercise of extreme carefulness, self-discipline, and prayer. Beware of the first step — of the first temptation — of the first immoderate indulgence. I conclude by presenting you with three short maxims of human wisdom, and one precept of Divine inspiration. He that will not fear, shall feel the wrath of heaven. He that lives in the kingdom of sense, shall die into the kingdom of sorrow. He shall never truly enjoy his present hour, who never thinks on his last. "Be not filled with wine wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit."

(F. A. Cox, D. D. , LL. D.)

1. The Almighty has set His face solemnly and strongly against the sin denounced in the text.

2. Unquestionably, the surest way of stopping the ravages of strong drink will be by means of total abstinence. The fear of ridicule, the force of habit, the consideration of health, the charge of inhospitality, or the appearance of unsociableness, one or other of these arguments prevail with the vast multitude to induce them to stand aloof from the total abstinence movement.

3. Certain precautions which are within the compass of those who are not prepared to give their adhesion to total abstinence.(1) We may be careful about ourselves and the example we set.(2) We should be very careful of the influence we exercise on those around and connected with us. If we are careful of the example we set, it must be on account of the influence which that example may exert.(3) Let us be exceeding jealous of leading anyone into temptation.(4) Let us be on our guard against making drunkenness a subject of wit, drollery, and fun.(5) Be careful how you yield to the opinion of those friends who would urge you to increase the quantity of stimulant you are in the habit of taking in the course of the day.(6) In all eases within your knowledge, in which persons cannot use without abusing strong drink, exert all your influence to induce them to become total abstainers.

(J. Mould, M. A.)

I. THE SIGN OF THE DRUNKARD'S CAPTIVITY. In every vice there is a stage beyond which, humanly speaking, recovery is impossible. A time comes when the jaws of the trap snap together and the victim is caught. In intemperance this point is reached imperceptibly, and the victim is ignorant long after others see his danger.

II. THE HELPLESSNESS OF THE CAPTIVE DRUNKARD. Isaiah describes him as following strong drink. As the obedient dog at his master's heels, or as the moth after the light, so the drunkard follows strong drink. At first he thinks he does so for the pleasure he derives from it, but he soon recognises that he is helpless in so doing. As a man swept down towards the rapids looks longingly towards those on the bank who can render no help, so the drinker yearns after virtues and peace which can never more be his. No tyrant was ever more exacting. Though he be prostrate in the morning, yet he must rise at his captor's bidding, and by forced marches hasten to his doom.


1. Moral insensibility. They regard not the work of the Lord. They call good, evil; and evil, good. Drink so blunts the sensibilities that the victim under its influence can commit crimes from which at other times he would shrink. More crimes are committed "in drink" than out of it.

2. Shamelessness. After obliterating the distinction between right and wrong he turns and defies God and glories in sin. When the prophet warns him that God will visit him, he dares Him to do His worst. "Let Him make speed, and hasten His work, that we may see it."

3. Hell. The drinker tempts the devil, for even hell has to enlarge its appetite to receive him. When the destroyer would be satisfied, the drinker stimulates his satiated desire, determining to be lost. So he ends his course with the drunkard's grave and the drunkard's hell.

(R. C. Ford, M. A.)

Temperance Bible Commentary.
1. Contrary to modern and superficial notions, which confine intemperance to northern climes, and exclude it from vine-growing countries, the people of Israel, following the example of their chief men, were addicted to the grossest indulgence in intoxicating liquors. The juice of the grape (yayin) and the juice of other fruits (shakar) were drunk in their fermented state; and probably both, certainly the latter, were mixed with pungent and heavy drugs (ver. 22) in order to gratify a base and insatiable appetite. Men rose up early and sat up late to prosecute these vicious indulgences, and they boasted of themselves as "mighty" and "valiant" (ver. 22) in proportion as they were able to gulp down large quantities of these compounds and to "carry their drink well."

2. The attendant and in no small measure the consequential evils were of the most aggravated kind. The Divine works were disregarded (ver. 12), ignorance reigned (ver. 13), sin abounded (ver. 18), men's moral conceptions were the opposite of the truth (ver. 20), self-conceit grew luxuriantly (ver. 21), bribery and injustice were rampant (ver. 23). The vengeance of God was awakening against them and would take the triple form of famine, pestilence, and invasion, so that their supplies of drink would be cut off (vers. 6, 7, 10), the pest-stricken would lie in the streets (ver. 25), and hostile nations would ravage the land (vers. 26-30).

(Temperance Bible Commentary.)

"And the harp," etc. Better, And guitar and harp, tambourine and flute, and wine constitute their banquet; — as if to drown the voice of conscience and destroy the sense of Jehovah's presence and working in their midst.

(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)

I once asked the greatest of inventors, Thomas A. Edison, if he were a total abstainer; and when he told me that he was, I said, "May I inquire whether it was home influence that made you so?" and he replied, "No, I think it was because I always felt that I had a better use for my head." Who can measure the loss to the world if that wonderful instrument of thought that has given us so much of light and leading in the practical mechanism of life had become sodden with drink, instead of electric with original ideas?

(Frances E. Willard.)

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