28 Woe (judgment is coming) to [Samaria] the splendid crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
And to the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
Which is at the head of the rich valley
Of those who are overcome with wine!
2 Listen carefully, the Lord has a strong and mighty agent [the Assyrian];
Like a tempest of hail, a disastrous storm,
Like a tempest of mighty overflowing waters,
He has cast it down to the earth with His hand.
3 The splendid crown of the drunkards of Ephraim is trampled by [the foreigners’] feet.
4 And the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
Which is at the head of the rich valley,
Will be like the early fig before the summer,
Which one sees,
And as soon as it is in his hand
He [greedily] swallows it [and so will the Assyrians rapidly devour Samaria, Israel’s capital].
5 In that day the Lord of hosts will become a magnificent crown
And a glorious diadem to the [converted] remnant of His people,
6 A spirit of justice for him who sits in judgment [administering the law],
A strength to those who drive back the battle at the gate.
The message of woe is for the city of Samaria. Samaria was the crown jewel of Northern Israel. It sat before a fertile valley and the people trusted in its walls for protection. This message of woe is for the benefit of those in Southern Israel who would hear the word of warning and learn from the sin of Northern Israel.
Those who were champions at revelry and drinking would wear a wreath upon their heads. Their drunkenness was meant to numb them to the difficulties of life and the destruction that was coming. God speaks often in His word concerning the sin of drunkenness. The reason drunkenness is so destructive is it impacts an individual's ability to make sound decisions. When leaders of a nation are given over to moral decline it will be detrimental to those they are leading. The nation of Israel lived in covenant with the Living God. Their ability to remain in the land was dependent on living according to the covenant that God had established. When they lived in rebellion and wickedness it brought destruction upon them.
God’s agent of correction and discipline was the nation of Assyria. They were a powerful empire to the kingdom of Northern Israel they would seem like a tempest of destruction, a mighty storm, or a storm of hail. They would come upon Northern Israel destroying it for its wickedness and its sin and removing the people from the land. God’s desire was never to annihilate HIs people and He never turned His back on them. He acted in love to bring correction so that they would not ultimately destroy themselves.
Samaria was the crown jewel of Northern Israel. Here it is referred to as the splendid crown of the drunkards. But God would enable the Assyrian to come in and utterly destroy Northern Israel. We must see that nothing could happen to God’s people without the Lord allowing it. He always had a purpose in all that He did concerning the hearts and lives of His people.
The city of Samaria sat before a fertile valley. The destruction of the Assyrians would be swift and quick. Like a fig that ripens before summer that is consumed quickly, so would the Assyrian empire consume the city of Samaria. Samaria was the pride of Northern Israel, but when a major city fell it meant the kingdom wasn’t far behind. Isaiah uses these words inspired by the Holy Spirit to get the attention of the people. It is meant to cause them to turn from their wickedness. To continue in wickedness and sin meant that destruction was on the horizon.
In that day speaks of the time when the Messiah shall reign. Unlike the crown and the pride that is found in the drunkards, the Messiah shall be the crown jewel of all those who are of the remnant. The remnant always speaks of those who truly love God and live for Him in their generation. Throughout the time of human history there has always been corruption and sin. But our hope is always the coming of the Lord. For when He comes He shall make all things right.
The coming of the Messiah and His rule will bring with it two things: a spirit of justice and a strength to those who do battle at the gate to drive back the enemy. The rule and reign of the Messiah will bring true justice to the earth. It says here a spirit of justice for him who sits in judgement. Often what marks the decline and eventually fall of an empire is those in positions of leadership and authority who give themselves over to moral corruption. But when the Messiah reigns He shall bring forth a spirit of justice and it shall be a time of perfect justice upon the earth.
It will not only bring a spirit of justice but will bring courage and victory for those who battle at the gate. The gate was the place that enabled people to come in and out of a city. It was a place where business was done. The rule and reign of the Messiah will be a time of God’s strength and stability in the earth unlike any other time. Man in himself is unable to do what God has called him to do. It is God who enables us to accomplish His plans and purposes.
7 But even these 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 seeing visions,
They stagger when pronouncing judgment.
8 For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, so that there is no place [that is clean.]
9 They say “To whom would He teach knowledge?
And to whom would He explain the message?
Those just weaned from milk?
Those just taken from the breast?
10 “For He says,
‘Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
Rule upon rule, rule upon rule,
Here a little, there a little.’”
11 Indeed, the Lord will teach this people [in a more humiliating way]
By [men with] stammering lips and a foreign tongue,
12 He who said to them, “This is the place of quiet, give rest to the weary,”
And, “This is the resting place,” yet they would not listen.
13 Therefore the word of the Lord to them will be [merely monotonous repetitions]:
“Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
Rule upon rule, rule upon rule,
Here a little, there a little.”
That they may go and stumble backward, and be broken, ensnared, and taken captive.
Wine and strong drink have taken the spiritual leadership of Northern Israel captive. Their vision and their judgements are impacted by the influence of alcohol. The reason alcohol can be so damaging is when a person gets to the place of drunkenness because of too much it begins to impact their ability to make decisions. The Lord says they reel from wine and stagger from strong drink. The naming of the priest and prophet represents the spiritual leadership of the nation. When the spiritual leadership has become corrupt, their wickedness will infect the nation like a growing cancer.
Everything is covered with vomit and filth. The tables that are supposed to be used for sacrifice and worship unto the Lord, are covered with vomit and filth. It is an outward picture of the inward moral corruption of the spiritual leadership. This still applies to us today because the spiritual health and well being of a pastor or spiritual leadership of a church will have a direct relationship on the direction and well being of the church and those who attend.
Those who were intoxicated and drunk with too much wine mock the words of Isaiah. They say whom would he teach knowledge and then they point to mere children. They in essence were tired of hearing the elementary teaching of moral right and wrong. But this was the answer to their problems. Oftentimes people may want God to fix their problems, but they don’t want to fully surrender to the Lord. Surrender to God and His purposes is the only answer to find restoration and healing. It is sin that destroys us. It is sin that infects us with wickedness and darkness. But healing is found when we turn from the ways of sin and we turn our hearts to the Living God. But the people of Northern Israel failed to understand this.
When we fail to listen to the voice of God and fail to heed the proclamation of His word, then the Lord must use measures to soften our hearts and open our ears. The measure God would use against Northern Israel was to us the Assyrian Empire to humble them and send them into exile. God never did this out of hatred for His people, He did all things because of His love for His people. God knows that sin will destroy us and when the prophets and priests who are the spiritual leaders have given themselves over to drunkenness and the tables are covered with vomit, they have come to a place where they are no longer willing to listen. The only way God could get the attention of His people and preserve the remnant is to send them into exile.
The place of rest is only found when we respond in obedience to the word of God. What does it mean to walk in obedience? It means that God’s word is the guide and standard by which we do all things. It is that which we use to measure our lives. When we are truly living for God, His word will be a mirror by which we examine the course of our lives. Paul calls us to examine ourselves before we partake of communion at the Lord’s table. The reason is that sometimes we can become distracted by the lies and deceptions of the enemy. Sometimes we can simply go off track and we need to readjust our course. This is the importance of living according to the word of God. This is why Northern Israel would not find rest and would be sent into exile. They rejected the covenant that God had established with them and rejected the word of the Lord from the mouth of the prophet.
To those who are perishing the word of the Lord will often seem like nonsense. It is only God who can bring understanding and revelation of His word. It is only God who is able to open the hearts of people to see and understand and respond appropriately to His truth. This is why salvation is never the result of an emotional response. It is always a working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual.
Through the words spoken by Isaiah here the Lord is mocking the drunkards of the day. He is mocking those who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel but instead they gave themselves over to drunkenness. God’s desire was to bless His people, it was to prosper them. But when the people of God continue in outright sin and are unwilling to humble themselves, the Lord will respond appropriately and will use measures that may seem drastic to us, but they serve their purpose and accomplish the will of God in the hearts of His people.
New American Standard Bible
Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers,
Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem,
Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol we have made a pact.
The gushing flood will not reach us when it passes by,
Because we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.”
Isaiah’s warning and attention now moves from Northern Israel to the leaders of Southern Israel. The leaders of Southern Israel should have learned from the shortcomings of their neighbors to the North. But instead of learning from their mistakes and shortcomings, they instead became filled with pride and scoffed at the word of the Lord. They not only rejected it, they turned it into a joke.
Whenever someone, a group of people, or a nation rejects the word of the Lord what they are left with is lies and deception. Here the prophet mocks those scoffers saying they have made lies and deception as their refuge and have used them to conceal themselves. But the consequence of rejecting God and His ways is certain destruction. When the leaders of Southern Israel rejected the word of the Lord they indeed made a pact with sheol and a covenant with death. They chose death over life because they chose to reject the word of the Lord and His ways.
New American Standard Bible
16 Therefore this is what the Lord God says:
“Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
A precious cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
The one who believes in it will not be disturbed.
I 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.
Your covenant with death will be canceled,
And your pact with Sheol will not stand;
When the gushing flood passes through,
Then you will become its trampling ground.
As 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.”
Those who trust in the Lord will not be shaken. They will not be moved. They will not be distrubed. The stone that God would lay and the one Isaiah speaks of is the coming Messiah. He is the chief cornerstone. He is the one on which all things are built. He is the sure and trusted stone. He is the tested stone. He is far more costly and precious than we understand. But the key is trusting in Him. It is building our lives upon God and His truth. The mistake the leaders of Israel made is they sought to develop and alliance with these foreign nations which meant they would place their trust in mere men instead of the Living God.
God’s throne is built upon the pillars of justice and righteousness (Psalm 89:14). The Lord would use righteousness and justice to judge the ways of the people. They had built their lives upon lies and deception. The Lord would use the Assyrians to bring correction. When the Assyrians came through it would seem like a mighty hail storm and flood had ripped through the land. But the purpose was to bring down these false foundations on which the people built their lives on and it is a contrast to the coming Messiah. For when He came He would rule perfectly according to the Lord and His ways.
The people believed they had cheated death and canceled the grave with their false alliances and their trust in foreign gods. But the Lord makes it clear that they would not be able to escape. The scourge and the place of trampling would literally be the Assyrians coming through. When God needs to get the attention of His people, He does it very well. His desire is for them to turn fully to Him because if we continue in our own way, we will be destroyed by it.
The flood that God would use to bring correction to the people would seem like it is unending. No matter how they try to escape in their own power, there would be no escape. It would be sheer terror for those who were experiencing the correction of the Lord. The Lord uses strong language to get the attention of His people. When His word is proclaimed to us, He is speaking to us about the direction and conduct of our lives. The very way we live our lives should be impacted by our relationship with God. This was the failure of Israel. Though they lived in covenant with the Living God, they did not walk in obedience.
New Living Translation
The bed you have made is too short to lie on.
The blankets are too narrow to cover you.
The Lord will come as he did against the Philistines at Mount Perazim
and against the Amorites at Gibeon.
He will come to do a strange thing;
he will come to do an unusual deed:
For the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
has plainly said that he is determined to crush the whole land.
So scoff no more,
or your punishment will be even greater.
The alliances with foreign nations such as Egypt would be inadequate. With the threat of Assyria at its doorstep, instead of drawing near to God in prayer and repentance, the people and the leadership looked to foreign nations to be their support and refuge. Like a blanket that is too small or a bed that is too short, these alliances would prove to be useless. God’s call to His people is to continually return to Him. God desires to bring His blessing and favor upon them. But they continue in their sin and in the end it always leads to destruction.
God’s wrath and judgement poured out upon Israel would seem alien and foreign because Israel existed in covenant relationship with the Living God. Unlike the nations that surrounded Israel that had no relationship with God, Israel knew the Living God and He clearly laid out His expectations through His law and covenant. Today God has given us His word. It is the standard by which we are to live our lives on a daily basis.
At Mount Perazim and in the valley of Gibeon the Lord had moved in judgement against the enemies of Israel through flood and hail storm. No the indignation of God would be turned towards Israel. For He had called to them over and over again to turn their hearts to Him, but they refused. The only thing that was left for God to do was to bring correction.
God’s call to the would be scoffers is to stop arrogantly rejecting the truth. Stop continuing in wickedness. The Lord desires to bring times of refreshing but if they continue in sin and wickedness, that which is binding them will only grow in strength and intensity. That which has come to bring correction will actually end up destroying them. The key to healing and restoration if we are pursuing sin is to repent and begin to live and pursue the Living God. What He truly desires is our heart.
New Living Translation
Listen to me;
listen, and pay close attention.
Does a farmer always plow and never sow?
Is he forever cultivating the soil and never planting?
Does he not finally plant his seeds—
black cumin, cumin, wheat, barley, and emmer wheat—
each in its proper way,
and each in its proper place?
The farmer knows just what to do,
for God has given him understanding.
A heavy sledge is never used to thresh black cumin;
rather, it is beaten with a light stick.
A threshing wheel is never rolled on cumin;
instead, it is beaten lightly with a flail.
Grain for bread is easily crushed,
so he doesn’t keep on pounding it.
He threshes it under the wheels of a cart,
but he doesn’t pulverize it.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is a wonderful teacher,
and he gives the farmer great wisdom.
God is now going to share wisdom. The Lord says listen to me, listen, and pay close attention. In another translation it says to give ear and hear His voice. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Those who fear the Lord build their lives on following Him and His word. The Lord has an order and design by which He does all things. He the Lord reveals the work of a farmer, but the key is to see that the farmer has a very specific way he deals with planting of Israel. God would have a specific way in which He would deal with His people Israel.
The Lord asks the question: does a farmer plow and never sows? Is he forever cultivating the soil and never planting? There is a reason and purpose behind everything the farmer does to bring forth the crops He desires. The same exists in the plans and purposes of God. God is not aimlessly working in the earth. God has a covenant established with Israel and God’s relationship and dealing with Israel is based on that covenant.
Just as the farmer has a specific way in which he deals with the planting of each seed, the Lord has the same in dealing with His people. The plans and purposes of God are specific and detailed. God has numbered every hair on the top of our heads. His blessing and His correction is in direct relationship to the way Israel lived. We must remember that we are justified by faith. Our salvation before Almighty God is based on faith alone. But we will be held accountable for the way we have lived and on this earth we will reap what we have sown. If we live for the flesh and sow into the flesh, in the end it will lead to destruction.
The Lord is the one who ultimately gives understanding. He gives understanding to the farmer. The farmer knows what to do because the Lord has revealed it through understanding and if the farmer fails to conduct and act according to this understanding, he will not produce the crop and harvest desired. We see here that there are specific ways that the farmer deals with the different seeds. A heavy sledge is not used on black cumin, a threshing wheel is not rolled over cumin, and bread grain is easily crushed. If the farmer is careful to deal with each seed according to its kind and in specific ways, how much more would God not only deal with the nations of the earth, but especially the conduct of His people. His throne is built upon righteousness and justice and therefore He will rightly deal with people according to their conduct. Thankfully He is slow to anger and abounding in love. He is eager to pour out His mercy on those who will receive.
If God gives the farmer wisdom and understanding and if that wisdom and understanding is followed and blessing is the result, how much more that Israel and its leaders would live according to God and His ways. It shows the foolishness of Israel. They live in covenant with the Living God and therefore they are called to live according to that Covenant. If they lived according to the covenant great blessing would follow. But they persisted in wickedness and for that the Lord brought correction and He brought judgement.