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Isaiah 28


    Oracles Concerning Judah and Ephraim
Ephraim's Captivity Woe to Ephraim and Jerusalem Against Religious Leaders A Warning to the Northern Kingdom Against Samaria
28:1-4 28:1-4
(5-8) Isaiah and the Drunken Prophets of Judah Against False Prophets
   (7-8)   28:5-6 28:7-8 28:5-6
(5-6) 28:7-13
(9-10) 28:9-10  
(11-13) 28:11-13  
Judah Is Warned   Against Civil Leaders A Cornerstone for Zion Against Evil Counselors
28:14-17a 28:14-17a
  A Cornerstone in Zion      
(16-22) 28:16-22
      28:17b-21 28:17b-22
  Listen to the Teaching of God Parable of the Farmers God's Wisdom A Parable
28:23-29 28:23-29
  (27-29) (27-29)    

READING CYCLE THREE (see introduction)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Isaiah 28:1-33:24 forms a unit (six "woe" pronouncements) that deals with Judah's alliance with Egypt against Assyria in the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (for the dates of his reign see chart of "The Kings of the Divided Monarchy" in Appendix Four, #3.) I use the dates of these three scholars: John Bright, 715-687; E. J. Young, 727-699; R. K. Harrison, 716/15-687/86). The historical background is apparently the time surrounding (i.e., 705-701 b.c.) the invasion of the Assyrian monarch Sennacherib in 701 b.c.


B. Isaiah 28:1-6 deals with the fall of Israel to Assyria. Israel's capital, Samaria, fell in 722 b.c. to Sargon II after a three-year siege.


C. Sargon II died in 705 b.c. (see chart of "A Brief Historical Survey of the Powers of Mesopotamia" in Appendix Three). Many of the vassal nations took this opportunity to rebel against Assyria. Sennacherib, the next Assyrian monarch, invaded Judah in 701 b.c. We know from Assyrian documents that he captured forty-six walled villages in Judah and put down the revolt.


D. Brief Outline of this Chapter

1. woe to drunkards of Ephraim, vv. 1-6

2. woe to drunk priests and prophets of Judah, vv. 7-13

3. woe to the civic leadership of Judah, vv. 14-22

4. a parable from agriculture, vv. 23-29



1Woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
And to the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
Which is at the head of the fertile valley
Of those who are overcome with wine!
2Behold, the Lord has a strong and mighty agent;
As a storm of hail, a tempest of destruction,
Like a storm of mighty overflowing waters,
He has cast it down to the earth with His hand.
3The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim is trodden under foot.
4And the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
Which is at the head of the fertile valley,
Will be like the first-ripe fig prior to summer,
Which one sees,
And as soon as it is in his hand,
He swallows it.
5In that day the Lord of hosts will become a beautiful crown
And a glorious diadem to the remnant of His people;
6A spirit of justice for him who sits in judgment,
A strength to those who repel the onslaught at the gate.
7And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink:
The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink;
They reel while having visions, They totter when rendering judgment.
8For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, without a single clean place.

28:1 "Woe" This term (BDB 222) characterizes this entire section (six "woes," cf. 28:1; 29:1,15; 30:1; 31:1; 33:1, similar to the six woes of 5:8-22). The term "woe" reflects the poetic meter of a funeral dirge.

▣ "the drunkards of Ephraim" Verses 1-4 are the prophet's words of judgment to the religious and political leadership of the Northern Ten Tribes. There is a series of references to their abuse of alcohol (cf. vv. 1 (twice), 3,7; Hos. 7:5). Alcohol abuse is often used as a metaphor of poor judgments which result in divine judgment. See Special Topic at 1:22.

Since the division of the united monarchy (under David and Solomon) in the time of Rehoboam (i.e., 922 b.c.), the northern group was known by their names.

1. Israel (collective title)

2. Ephraim (the largest tribe)

3. Samaria (the capital city)


NASB"which is at the head of the fertile valley"
NKJV"which is at the head of the verdant valleys"
NRSV, JPSOA"which is on the head of those bloated with rich food"
NJB"sited at the head of the lush valley"
Peshitta"at the entrance of the fertile valley"
REB"on the heads of those who drip with perfumes"

This ambiguous phrase might refer to

1. Samaria located on a high hill

2. the heads of the drunkards

The REB follows the DSS manuscript of Isaiah.

28:2 "the Lord has a strong and mighty agent" This refers to the Assyrian empire sent by YHWH (cf. Isa. 8:7; 10:5-6) to punish Israel. The destruction of the Northern Ten Tribes was consummated in the fall of the capital city Samaria after a three year siege by Sargon II in 722 b.c.(cf. II Kgs. 17:6; 18:9-12). All her people were exiled to Media. The vast majority never returned.

Notice how the Lord's agent is characterized.

1. strong

2. mighty

3. a storm of hail (cf. 30:30)

4. a tempest of destruction

5. a storm of mighty overflowing waters (cf. 8:7-8)

6. "He has cast it down to earth with His hand" (i.e., YHWH sent it)


28:4 This is an agricultural metaphor related to the greatly prized first ripe figs (cf. Hos. 9:10; Mic. 7:1). These fruits were eaten quickly and gone. So too, the fertile land of the Northern Ten Tribes is captured and occupied by foreigners.

28:5 "In that day" See note at 2:11. The day of YHWH's visitation.

▣ "a beautiful crown" This is obviously in contrast to "the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim" in v. 1. In 28:1 it refers to Samaria, here possibly a restored Jerusalem where the Messiah reigns (cf. vv. 16-17).

▣ "diadem" This is a rare noun (BDB 862) which is parallel to "crown" (BDB 742), used of the royal line in Samaria (cf. v. 1) and of Judah (62:3).

God's appointed leaders, even of the Davidic family, failed. He Himself will be their king, as it should be (cf. I Sam. 8:7; 10:19).

▣ "the remnant of His people" See Special Topic at 1:9. This verse is still in the strophe referring to Israel. This may refer to those (few) of the northern tribes who will one day return to Jerusalem.

28:6 This verse describes God's new appointed Davidic leader (cf. 9:1-7; 11:1-5,10).

1. a spirit of justice (esp. 11:2)

2. a rallying of the defenders of the city (i.e., Jerusalem)


28:7 I agree with JPSOA, TEV, and NJB that a paragraph break should occur between v. 6 and v. 7. Verses 7 and 8 describe the current drunken leadership of Judah (cf. v. 14; Jer. 13:12-14, seven of the verbs are Qal perfects, which denotes a settled state), similar to vv. 1-4, which describe the drunken leadership of Israel.

NJB"confused by wine"
LXX"swallowed up by wine"
TEV"in confusion"
JB"muddled with wine"
REB"befuddled with wine"

The verb in BDB 118 (Niphal perfect) means "swallow down" or "swallow up" (cf. 25:8; Gen. 41:7,24; Exod. 7:12; 15:12; Num. 16:30,32,34; 26:10; Deut. 11:6; Jer. 51:34).

However, NIDOTTE, vol. 1, pp. 666-668 and KB 135-136 list three possible roots.

1. KB 135 I, swallow, engulf

2. KB 136 II, announce, communicate

3. KB 136 III, Niphal confuse; Piel in 3:12; Pual in 9:16


28:8 "tables" This term (BDB 1020) can refer to

1. the king's table, cf. 21:5

2. governor's table, cf. Neh. 5:17

3. private parties

4. sacrifices, cf. Exod. 25:23; Lev. 24:6; Num. 3:31; 4:7 (in tabernacle)


9"To whom would He teach knowledge,
And to whom would He interpret the message?
Those just weaned from milk?
Those just taken from the breast?
10For He says,
'Order on order, order on order,
Line on line, line on line,
A little here, a little there.'"
11Indeed, He will speak to this people
Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue,
12He who said to them, "Here is rest, give rest to the weary,"
And, "Here is repose," but they would not listen.
13So the word of the Lord to them will be,
"Order on order, order on order,
Line on line, line on line,
A little here, a little there,"
That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive.
14Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, O scoffers,
Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem,
15Because you have said, "We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol we have made a pact.
The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by,
For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception."
16Therefore thus says the Lord God,
"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,
A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.
17I will make justice the measuring line
And righteousness the level;
Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies
And the waters will overflow the secret place.
18Your covenant with death will be canceled,
And your pact with Sheol will not stand;
When the overwhelming scourge passes through,
Then you become its trampling place.
19As often as it passes through, it will seize you;
For morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night,
And it will be sheer terror to understand what it means."
20The bed is too short on which to stretch out,
And the blanket is too small to wrap oneself in.
21For the Lord will rise up as at Mount Perazim,
He will be stirred up as in the valley of Gibeon,
To do His task, His unusual task,
And to work His work, His extraordinary work.
22And now do not carry on as scoffers,
Or your fetters will be made stronger;
For I have heard from the Lord God of hosts
Of decisive destruction on all the earth.

28:9-10 Isaiah's words (or YHWH's words through him) were attacked by (1) the religious leadership or (2) those he addressed in vv. 7-8 (cf. Jer. 26:9-15; Amos 7:12; Mic. 2:6-11).

28:10,13 This is a very cryptic reference. It involved the repetition of וצ (BDB 846, in Hos. 5:11 it means "command") and וק (BDB 876 II, in v. 17 it means "a measuring line"). The religious drunkards were accusing Isaiah's messages of being childish and difficult to understand (KB 1081 I #2). Verse 11 is God's reaction to their reaction to Isaiah's message.

28:11-13 This is Isaiah's response to the religious elite and arrogant of his day in Jersualem.

28:11 "Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue" This is God's response to their rejection of His prophet. In essence He says, "If you are having a hard time understanding his basic ABC's, wait until you hear the Assyrian language" (cf. v. 13; 33:19; Jer. 5:15). Paul quotes this verse in I Cor. 14:21 in his discussion of "speaking in tongues."

See my commentary on I Corinthians online at

28:12 "Here is rest, give rest to the weary" YHWH wanted His people to have "rest" (BDB 629) and peace (cf. 11:10; 30:15; 32:17,18). The verb (BDB 628, KB 679) is a Hiphil imperative. This refers to Isaiah's messages of hope and restoration, if only they would turn to YHWH, but they would not (v. 12b)!

Jesus gave a similar call to them in Matt. 11:28-29.

28:13 YHWH's only message to them was Isaiah's message, which they rejected to their ruin.

1. stumble backward, BDB 505, KB 502, Qal perfect, cf. 3:8; 59:14

2. be broken, BDB 990, KB 1402, Niphal perfect, cf. 8:15

3. be snared, BDB 430, KB 432, Niphal perfect, cf. 8:15

4. be taken captive, BDB 539, KB 530, Niphal perfect, cf. 8:15; 24:18


28:14 "hear" This verb (BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative) was both a call to obedience and an introduction to judgment. They would not listen (cf. 28:12,14,22,23 [twice]; 29:18; 30:9,19,21,30; 32:3, 9; 33:13,15,19; 34:1 [twice]. What a recurrent theme-God tries to instruct, but they refuse to listen!

"Hear the word of the Lord" is the literary marker of a "judgment oracle."

▣ "O scoffers" This is a construct ("men," BDB 35 and "scorning" BDB 539). They are mentioned often in Proverbs (i.e., 1:22; 29:8). How surprising that this refers to the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem who should have known better and trusted more! Crisis reveals true leadership or lack of it.

28:15 "We have made a covenant with death" Isaiah sarcastically characterizes the thoughts of the leaders of Jerusalem. This refers to a treaty (i.e., "covenant," BDB 136, see Special Topic at 1:19 and the rare term, "pact," BDB 302, cf. v. 18) that Judah made with the Egyptians (cf. 30:1-7). It is a theological play on God's word through Moses of providing His people with a choice of life or death in Deut. 30:15-20 (see notes from Deuteronomy online at In this instance, the choice involved choosing protection from an earthly military source or trusting in God. They chose death.

"Sheol" This refers to the holding place of the dead and is synonymous with the Greek term "Hades." See Special Topic at 5:14.

NASB"overwhelming scourge"
NKJV, NRSV"overflowing scourge"
NJB"scourging flood"
JB"destructive whip"
LXX"the rushing storm"
REB"raging flood"

The first term is a participle (BDB 1009, KB 1474, Qal active). It is the second term that presents options (NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 64-65)

1. שׁטף, BDB 1009, "overflow," cf. 8:8; 10:22 (i.e., an invading army)

2. שׁוט, BDB 1002, "scourge," "whip," cf. I Kgs. 12:11,14


▣ "passes by" This verb (BDB 716, KB 778) is either a Qal imperfect (qere) or a Qal perfect (kethiv, cf. 26:20). The verb means "to pass over," "to pass through," or "to pass by." It is used thirty-four times in Isaiah in this literary unit (i.e., chapters 28-35, cf. 28:15,18,19 [twice]; 29:5; 31:9; 33:8,21; 34:10; 35:8).

▣ "For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception" What a tragedy for God's people: a self induced state of trusting in the arm of flesh!

1. falsehood, BDB 469, cf. v. 17 (common in Psalms and Proverbs)

2. deception, BDB 1005, cf. 9:15; 32:7; 44:20; 57:4; 59:3,13 (common in Psalms and Proverbs, used often in Jeremiah)

The verb form of "refuge" (BDB 340) denotes placing confidence and trust in something or someone. It is often used of taking refuge in YHWH.

1. YHWH as the rock, Deut. 32:37; Ps. 18:2

2. YHWH as a mother bird, Ruth 2:12; Ps. 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 91:4

3. YHWH as shield, II Sam. 22:3,31; Ps. 18:30; 144:2; Pro. 30:5

4. in Him, Ps. 2:12; 5:11; 7:1; 11:1; 16:1; 25:20; 31:1,19; 34:8,22; 37:40; 57:1; 64:10; 71:1; 118:8,9; 141:8; Isa. 57:13; Nah. 1:7

5. YHWH's right hand, Ps. 17:7

6. Zion, Isa. 14:32

7. YHWH's name, Zeph. 3:12


28:16 This verse is a shocking change of mode, a theological reversal of hope amidst judgment. YHWH's redemptive universal plan reveals itself again. Messiah will come! It is only one verse, but what a verse!

This is a series of Messianic titles using "construction" metaphors.

1. The term "stone" (BDB 6) is often used of God; however, the term "cornerstone" (BDB 819) has a unique connection with the Messiah (cf. Ps. 118:22; Matt. 21:42, 44: Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Rom. 9:33; 10:11; Eph. 2:20; I Pet. 2:6-8).

2. The term "tested" (BDB 103) is an Egyptian loan word for a fine grain stone suitable for carving. This seems to mean that God is going to inscribe the cornerstone with the phrase found in 16d. The key to this thought is the term "believes" (cf. Isa. 30:15 for a similar emphasis on "trust").

3. The term "foundation" (BDB 414) is found only here and II Chr. 8:16, where it refers to Solomon's laying the foundation of the temple. Notice that this foundation is "firmly placed" (NASB margin, "well-laid"). The Hebrew has another doubling of a word. This is where the description "firmly" or "well-laid" comes from.

See Special Topics: Cornerstone at 8:14-15 and Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the OT at 22:23.

28:17 "justice" See Special Topic: Judge, Judgment, Justice at 3:1.

▣ "measuring-line. . .level" These were ways of measuring the straightness (cf. II Kgs. 21:13) of the horizontal (BDB 876 II) and vertical (BDB 1054).

▣ "righteousness" See SPECIAL TOPIC: RIGHTEOUSNESS at 1:4.

Lines c and d are again plays on water (cf. 27:12). The "refuge of lies" and "the secret place" may refer to the practice of idolatry in the temple itself (cf. Ezekiel 8 and Deut. 27:15). YHWH does not act or speak in a secret, dark place, but openly in the light (cf. 45:19; 48:16).


LXX, Peshitta,
REB"will not stand"

This Hebrew verb (BDB 877, KB 1086,Qal imperfect) means "to arise," "to stand," or "to stand up." It is metaphorical for that which will not happen (cf. 7:7; 8:10; 28:18; Pro. 15:22). God's will and plan supersede human plans (cf. 14:24-27; 40:8; 46:10; Ps. 35:10-11; Pro. 19:21; Jer. 44:28)!

28:19 This verse relates to "the overwhelming scourge" of v. 18. It (the invader, cf. II Kgs. 24:2) will come again and again and bring terror and confusion. They will not be able to understand why (in contrast to 50:4).

28:20 This proverb reflects the inadequacy of human plans.

28:21 "Mount Perazim. . .the valley of Gibeon" These both refer to God's aid to David in his battle against the Philistines; however, in the current situation God is not on Judah's side, but on Assyria's (cf. II Sam. 5:17-21; I Chr. 14:13-17).

"To do His task, His unusual task,

And to do His work, His extraordinary work" Many people refer this unusual task to God's judgment of His own people; however, I think, because of the context, the unusual task is God's judgment, but through the use of the godless Assyrian Empire (cf. Habakkuk, NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 775).


NASB"of decisive destruction"
NKJV"a destruction determined"
NRSV"a decree of destruction"
TEV"decision to destroy"
NJB"irrevocably decided"
REB"destruction decreed"

The verb (BDB 358, KB 356, Qal perfect) in the Qal stem denotes "to cut," "decree," or "to determine."

1. human life span, Job 14:5

2. future events, Isa. 10:22-23; Dan. 9:26-27

History is not undirected; it is teleological. It has a divine plan and purpose (i.e., the redemption of fallen humanity, cf. Gen. 3:15). Notice the statements of

1. Luke 22:22

2. Acts 2:23

3. Acts 3:18

4. Acts 4:28

5. Acts 13:29


▣ "on all the earth" The universal judgment seen in chapters 24-27 is repeated, but thank God, there will also be a universal redemption (i.e., v. 16)!

23Give ear and hear my voice,
Listen and hear my words.
24Does the farmer plow continually to plant seed?
Does he continually turn and harrow the ground?
25Does he not level its surface
And sow dill and scatter cummin
And plant wheat in rows,  
Barley in its place and rye within its area?
26For his God instructs and teaches him properly.
27For dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
Nor is the cartwheel driven over cummin;
But dill is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a club.
28Grain for bread is crushed,
Indeed, he does not continue to thresh it forever.
Because the wheel of his cart and his horses eventually damage it,
He does not thresh it longer.
29This also comes from the Lord of hosts,
Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great.

28:23-29 This is a parable using agricultural metaphors on how to sow and reap certain crops. This speaks of the fact that God knows what He is doing. He is working with His people in appropriate purposeful ways. He has an eternal redemptive plan that is working itself out in human history!

28:23 This verse has a series of imperatives from God (cf. v. 29) through His prophet to His people.

1. give ear, BDB 24, KB 27, Hiphil imperative

2. hear my voice, BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative, cf. vv. 12,14,22

3. listen, BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil imperative

4. hear my words, same as #2

But they would not; they could not (cf. 6:9-10)!

28:28 "he does not continue to thresh it forever" This is the infinitive absolute and imperfect verb of the same root (BDB 190, KB 218) used for intensity. YHWH administers just the right amount of judgment, not too much, not too little!

29:29 Hope, help, and happiness come in hearing and honoring God's Word!


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