Isaiah 28:1-29 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. As a warning to Judah, Isaiah reminds them of what happened to their northern neighbor, the nation of Israel, a nation that was subjected to the judgment of God. What were some characteristics of that society? See Isaiah 28:1-6 (printed below) Note: The capitol city of Israel, Samaria, was built upon a hill, and its surrounding wall resembled a crown; from its dominant position the city looked down upon the fertile valleys below.

Woe to the crown, the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards! And woe to the fading flower, his glorious beauty! Woe to the city situated at the head of the fertile valley—the city that is the pride of those who are overcome with wine! (2) Look! The Lord has someone at his disposal that is powerful and strong—like a hailstorm, like a destructive wind, like a rainstorm with a flooding downpour, he will throw that city down to the ground with his hand. (3) The crown, the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards, will be trampled under foot. (4) The fading flower, his glorious beauty, situated at the head of the fertile valley, will be like the first ripe fig before harvest: when someone discovers it and sees its goodness, he picks it and immediately eats it up. (5) On that day Jehovah of hosts will become a glorious crown and a beautiful diadem for the remnant of his people. (6) He will be a Spirit of justice upon him who sits as judge, and a Spirit of strength upon those who repel the onslaught at the gate. (Isaiah 28:1-6)

Verses 1-6 relate a summary of the message Isaiah delivered to the people, and especially the leaders, of Judah. The message was this: just as the spiritual state of Israel was reproduced in Judah, so, too, would Judah come to suffer the same fate of judgment. He reminds them of the lifestyle of the northern tribes of Israel: pride, decadence, and the delusion that they were safe from hostile invasion. The nation is personified as wearing a crown of pride, being a nation of drunkards, and a society whose once glorious beauty has now become a fading flower. What is portrayed here is a nation that has known prosperity and plenty, but allowed itself to become intoxicated with pride, the pursuit of the “good life,” and wine—it was oblivious to the fact that its glory had faded and it was subject to imminent judgment.

2. How do the people of Judah respond to Isaiah’s message? What was their attitude? See Isaiah 28:9-10 (printed below)

To whom is he trying to impart knowledge? To whom is he explaining his message? Does he think he is speaking to children who have just been weaned from their mother’s milk, those who have just been taken from their mother’s breast?—(10) because his teaching is precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; a little teaching here, a little teaching there. (Isaiah 28:9-10)

Verses 9-10 reveal to us the reaction to Isaiah’s message on the part of the people, especially the leaders of the nation. With arrogance and contempt they ask, “Does Isaiah think he is addressing children?” (verse 9) They are offended that Isaiah speaks to them of such elementary matters and with such repetition (verse 10). Note: their criticism recorded in verses 9-10 is probably referring to all of Isaiah’s preaching, not only this present message—all of his preaching in which he called for a secular and sinful people to repent and return to their God (note Isaiah 1:18-20).

3. Because of the way in which the people of Judah have responded to Isaiah’s message, what will God now do? See Isaiah 28:11-12 (printed below)

On the contrary, by means of men whose lips utter strange words and who speak another language, Jehovah will speak to this people—(12) people to whom he said, This is the place of rest, give rest to the one who is weary! and, This is the place of refreshment! But they would not listen. (Isaiah 28:11-12)

According to verse 11, because of their contemptuous response to his God-given message, Isaiah informs the people that soon God will speak to them by men speaking a foreign language: “by means of men whose lips utter strange words and who speak another language, Jehovah will speak to this people.” That is to say, the invasion of the nation by a foreign power speaking a foreign language will be God’s judgment upon a people who spurned His clear and straightforward call to repentance. In verse 12 we are reminded that all this is about to come upon a people to whom the Lord had repeatedly made known the way of peace, but who repeatedly had refused to heed that message.

4. What motivated the people of Judah to respond to Isaiah’s message with contempt? See Isaiah 28:14-15 (printed below) Note: The “covenant with death” is a reference to a treaty the leaders of Judah had made with the king of Assyria whose invading armies were threatening to annihilate Judah. By means of this treaty the people of Judah thought they had averted death by making a covenant with the instrument of death, the Assyrian invaders.

Therefore, hear the word of Jehovah, you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem. (15) Because you have said, We have made a covenant with death, and we have made a pact with Sheol; when the overwhelming scourge passes through the land it shall not reach us, for we have made deceit our refuge and we have taken shelter under deception (Isaiah 28:14-15)

Verses 14-15 indicate that the reason these people were rejecting God’s counsel and viewing it as suited for juveniles was because they were placing their confidence in their own sophisticated ingenuity. The leaders of Judah were confident that they had made “a covenant with death” that would assure their safety (verse 15.) As pointed out, this is apparently a reference to a covenant contracted between Judah and Assyria (see 2 Kings 18:13-16). Having made their covenant, they now confidently assert, “when the overflowing scourge passes through the land, it shall not reach us”—i.e.; when the flood of the Assyrian army invades Palestine, Judah is confident that they shall not be “drowned” because of their covenant with the invader. Thus the leaders of Judah are confident that they have solved their problem, they now have a (false) sense of security, and it is from that position of confidence that they scoff at God’s counsel for them.

5. Isaiah 28:23-28 (printed below) presents an elaborate illustration borrowed from the realm of agriculture. What is the point of this illustration?

Listen, and hear my voice; pay attention, and understand what I am saying. (24) When a farmer plows the ground for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? (25) After he has leveled the surface of the ground, does he not sow dill and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in furrows, barley in its appointed plot, and spelt along the edge of the field? (26) He does so because his God instructs him and teaches him the right way. (27) Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is a cartwheel rolled over cumin; on the contrary, dill is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a stick. (28) Grain for making bread must be finely ground, so the farmer will not endlessly thresh it; for although his cartwheel and his horse may tread the grain, that cannot grind it finely enough. (Isaiah 28:23-28)

Verses 23-28 provide us with an elaborate example from agriculture, illustrating the excellency of God’s counsel. The farmer goes about his work with skill and understanding (verse 24). Verse 26 informs us that the farmer’s skill and understanding is to be attributed to God who gives the farmer wisdom: “his God instructs him and teaches him the right way.” Verse 29 provides the conclusion and application of this illustration: “All this knowledge comes from Jehovah of hosts, whose counsel is wonderful and whose wisdom is magnificent.” The Lord is the Wonderful Counselor, therefore we should seek and heed His counsel (James 1:5).