Isaiah 28


This chapter begins with a denunciation of the approaching ruin

of the Israelites by Shalmaneser, whose power is compared to a

tempest or flood, and his keenness to the avidity with which

one plucks and swallows the grape that is soonest ripe, 1-4.

It then turns to the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, who were

to continue a kingdom after the final captivity of their

brethren; and gives first a favourable prognostication of their

affairs under Hezekiah, 5, 6;

but soon changes to reproofs and threatenings for their

intemperance and their profaneness, 7, 8.

They are introduced as not only scornfully rejecting, but also

mocking and ridiculing, the instructions of the prophet, 9, 10.

To this God immediately retorts in terms alluding to their own

mocking, but differently applied, 11-13.

The prophet then addresses these scoffers, 14;

who considered themselves as perfectly secure from every evil,


and assures them that there was no method under heaven but one,

by which they could be saved, 16;

that every other vain resource should fail in the day of

visitation, 17, 18.

He then farther adds, that the judgments of God were

particularly levelled against them; and that all the means to

which they trusted for warding them off should be to no

purpose, 19, 20;

as the Almighty, who, on account of his patience and

long-suffering, is amiably described as unacquainted with

punishing, had nevertheless determined to punish them, 21, 22.

The prophet then concludes with a beautiful parable in

explanation and defence of God's dealing with his people,



Verse 1. Wo to the crown of pride] By the crown of pride, &c.,

Samaria is primarily understood. "Sebaste, the ancient Samaria,

is situated on a long mount of an oval figure, having first a

fruitful valley, and then a ring of hills running round about it;"

Maundrell, p. 58. "E regione horum ruderum mons est peramoenus,

planitie admodum frugifera circumseptus, super quem olim Samaria

urbs condita fuit;" Fureri Itinerarium, p. 93. The city,

beautifully situated on the top of a round hill, and surrounded

immediately with a rich valley and a circle of other hills beyond

it, suggested the idea of a chaplet or wreath of flowers worn upon

their heads on occasions of festivity, expressed by the proud

crown and the fading flower of the drunkards. That this custom of

wearing chaplets in their banquets prevailed among the Jews, as

well as among the Greeks and Romans, appears from the following

passage of the book of Wisdom:-

"Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments,

And let no flower of the spring pass by us:

Let us crown ourselves with rose-buds before they are


Wisd. 2:7, 8.

Verse 2. Behold the Lord hath a mighty and strong one-"Behold

the mighty one, the exceedingly strong one"] ammits

ladonai, fortis Domino, i.e., fortissimmus, a Hebraism. For

ladonai, to the Lord, thirty-eight MSS. Of Dr. Kennicott's and

many of De Rossi's, with some of my own, and two editions, read

laihovah, to JEHOVAH.

Verse 3. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim-"The proud

crown of the drunkards of Ephraim"] I read ataroth, crowns,

plural, to agree with the verb teramasnah, "shall be

trodden down."

Verse 4. The hasty fruit before the summer-"The early fruit

before the summer"] "No sooner doth the boccore, (the early fig,)

draw near to perfection in the middle or latter end of June, than

the kermez or summer fig begins to be formed, though it rarely

ripens before August; about which time the same tree frequently

throws out a third crop, or the winter fig, as we may call it.

This is usually of a much longer shape and darker complexion than

the kermez, hanging and ripening upon the tree even after the

leaves are shed; and, provided the winter proves mild and

temperate, is gathered as a delicious morsel in the spring;" Shaw,

Travels, p. 370, fol. The image was very obvious to the

inhabitants of Judea and the neighbouring countries, and is

frequently applied by the prophets to express a desirable object;

by none more elegantly than by Hosea, Ho 9:10:-

"Like grapes in the wilderness I found Israel;

Like the first ripe fig in her prime, I saw your fathers."

Which when he that looketh upon it seeth-"Which whoso seeth, he

plucketh it immediately"] For yireh, which with

haroeh makes a miserable tautology, read, by a transposition of a

letter, yoreh; a happy conjecture of Houbigant. The image

expresses in the strongest manner the great ease with which the

Assyrians shall take the city and the whole kingdom, and the

avidity with which they shall seize the rich prey without


Verse 5. In that day] Thus far the prophecy relates to the

Israelites, and manifestly denounces their approaching destruction

by Shalmaneser. Here it turns to the two tribes of Judah and

Benjamin, the remnant of God's people who were to continue a

kingdom after the final captivity of the Israelites. It begins

with a favourable prognostication of their affairs under Hezekiah;

but soon changes to reproofs and threatenings for their

intemperance, disobedience, and profaneness.

Jonathan's Targum on this verse is worthy of notice: "In that

time Messiah, the Lord of hosts meshicha dayai

tsebaoth, shall be a crown of joy and a diadem of praise to the

residue of his people." Kimchi says the rabbins in general are of

this opinion. Here then the rabbins, and their most celebrated

Targum, give the incommunicable name, Yehovah tsebaoth,

the Lord of hosts, to our ever blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Verse 6. The battle to the gate-"The war to the gate of the

enemy."] That is, who pursue the fleeing enemy even to the very

gates of their own city. "But we were upon them even unto the

entering of the gate," 2Sa 11:23; that is, we drove the enemy

back to their own gates. See also 1Sa 17:52. The

Targum says, The Messiah shall give the victory to those who go

out to battle, that he may bring them back to their own houses in


Verse 9. Whom shall he teach knowledge?-"Whom, say they, would

he teach knowledge?"] The scoffers mentioned below, Isa 28:14,

are here introduced as uttering their sententious speeches; they

treat God's method of dealing with them, and warning them by his

prophets, with contempt and derision. What, say they, doth he

treat us as mere infants just weaned? doth he teach us like little

children, perpetually inculcating the same elementary lessons, the

mere rudiments of knowledge; precept after precept, line after

line, here and there, by little and little? imitating at the same

time, and ridiculing, in Isa 28:10, the concise prophetical

manner. God, by his prophet, retorts upon them with great severity

their own contemptuous mockery, turning it to a sense quite

different from what they intended. Yes, saith he, it shall be in

fact as you say; ye shall be taught by a strange tongue and a

stammering lip; in a strange country; ye shall be carried into

captivity by a people whose language shall be unintelligible to

you, and which ye shall be forced to learn like children. And my

dealing with you shall be according to your own words: it shall be

command upon command for your punishment; it shall be line upon

line, stretched over you to mark your destruction, (compare

2Ki 21:13;) it shall come upon you at different times, and by

different degrees, till the judgments, with which from time to

time I have threatened you, shall have their full accomplishment.

Jerome seems to have rightly understood the general design of

this passage as expressing the manner in which the scoffers, by

their sententious speeches, turned into ridicule the warnings of

God by his prophets, though he has not so well explained the

meaning of the repetition of their speech in Isa 28:13. His words

are on Isa 28:9-"Solebant hoc ex persona prophetarum ludentes

dicere:" and on Isa 28:14-"Quod supra diximus, cum irrisione

solitos principes Judaeorum prophetis dicere, manda, remanda, et

caetera his similia, per quae ostenditur, nequaquam eos

prophetarum credidisse sermonibus, sed prophetiam habuisse

despectui, praesens ostendit capitulum, per quod appellantur viri

illusores." Hieron. in loc.

And so Jarchi interprets the word mishelim in the next

verse: Qui dicunt verba irrisionis parabolice." And the Chaldee

paraphrases Isa 28:11 to the same purpose, understanding it as

spoken, not of God, but of the people deriding his prophets:

"Quoniam in mutatione loquelae et in lingua subsannationis

irridebant contra prophetas, qui prophetabant populo huic."-L.

Verse 10. For precept must be upon precept] The original is

remarkably abrupt and sententious. The hemistichs are these:-

latsav tsav latsav tsav ki

lakav kav lakav kav

sham zeeir sham zeeir

For,-Command to command, command to command.

Line to line, line to line.

A little there, a little there.

Kimchi says tsav, precept, is used here for

mitsvah, command, and is used in no other place for it but here.

tsav signifies a little precept, such as is suited to the

capacity of a child; see Isa 28:9.

kav signifies the line that a mason stretches out to build a

layer of stones by. After one layer or course is placed, he raises

the line and builds another; thus the building is by degrees

regularly completed. This is the method of teaching children,

giving them such information as their narrow capacities can

receive; and thus the prophet dealt with the Israelites. See

Kimchi in loc., and see a fine parallel passage, Heb 5:12-14,

by which this may be well illustrated.

My old MS. Bible translates oddly:-

For sende efter sende, sende efter sende:

Abide efter abiide, abiide efter abiide:

Lytyl ther, lytyl ther.

Coverdale is also singular:-

Commande that may be commanded;

Byd that maye be bydden:

Foorbyd that maye be forbydden;

Kepe backe that maye be kepte backe:

Here a litle, there a litle.

Verse 12. This is the rest-"This is the true rest"] The sense of

this verse is: God had warned them by his prophets that their

safety and security, their deliverance from their present

calamities and from the apprehensions of still greater

approaching, depended wholly on their trust in God, their faith

and obedience; but they rejected this gracious warning with

contempt and mockery.

Verse 15. A covenant with death] To be in covenant with, is a

kind of proverbial expression to denote perfect security from evil

and mischief of any sort:-

"For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field;

And the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee."

Job 5:23.

"And I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of

the field.

And with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things

of the ground."

Ho 2:18.

That is, none of these shall hurt them. But Lucan, speaking of

the Psylli, whose peculiar property it was to be unhurt by the

bite of serpents, with which their country abounded, comes still

nearer to the expression of Isaiah in this place:-

Gens unica terras

Incolit a saevo serpentum innoxia morsu

Marmaridae Psylli.__

Pax illis cum morte data est.

Pharsal. ix. 891.

"Of all who scorching Afric's sun endure,

None like the swarthy Psyllians are secure:

With healing gifts and privileges graced,

Well in the land of serpents were they placed:

Truce with the dreadful tyrant death they have,

And border safely on his realm the grave."


We have made a covenant with death and with hell are we at

agreement] asinu chozeh, we have made a vision, we

have had an interview, struck a bargain, and settled all

preliminaries. So they had made a covenant with hell by diabolic

sacrifice, carathnu berith. "We have cut the covenant

sacrifice;" they divided it for the contracting parties to pass

between the separated victim; for the victim was split exactly

down the middle, so that even the spinal marrow was exactly

divided through its whole length; and being set opposite to each

other, the contracting parties entered, one at the head part, the

other at the feet; and, meeting in the centre, took the covenant

oath. Thus, it is intimated, these bad people made an agreement

with sheol, with demons, with whom they had an interview;

i.e., meeting them in the covenant sacrifice! To such a pitch had

the Israelitish idolatry reached at that time!

Verse 16. Behold, I lay in Zion] See the notes on the parallel

places in the margin. Kimchi understands this of Hezekiah; but it

most undoubtedly belongs to Jesus Christ alone; and his

application of it to himself, even the Jews could not contest. See

the margin as above.

Verse 18. Your covenant with death shall be disannulled-"Your

covenant with death shall be broken"] For caphar, which seems

not to belong to this place, the Chaldee reads taphar, which

is approved by Houbigant and Secker. See Jer 33:21, where the

very same phrase is used. See Prelim. Dissert. p. l.

Verse 20. For the bed is shorter] A mashal or proverbial saying,

the meaning of which is, that they will find all means of defence

and protection insufficient to secure them, and cover them from

the evils coming upon them. massek, Isa 22:8, the

covering, is used for the outworks of defense, the barrier of

the country; and here, in the allegorical sense, it means much the

same thing. Their beds were only mattresses laid on the floor; and

the coverlet a sheet, or in the winter a carpet, laid over it, in

which the person wrapped himself. For kehithcannes, it

ought probably to be mehithcannes. Houbigant, Secker.

Verse 21. As in Mount Perazim] kehar; but

bahar, IN the mount, is the reading of two of Kennicott's, one

of De Rossi's, and one of my own MSS.

Verse 22. The Lord God] Adonai Jehovah. Adonai is

omitted by four of Kennicott's MSS., and in the Septuagint,

Syriac, and Arabic.

Verse 23. Give ye ear, and hear my voice-"Listen ye, and hear my

voice"] The foregoing discourse, consisting of severe reproofs,

and threatenings of dreadful judgments impending on the Jews for

their vices, and their profane contempt of God's warnings by his

messengers, the prophet concludes with an explanation and defence

of God's method of dealing with his people in an elegant parable

or allegory; in which he employs a variety of images, all taken

from the science of agriculture. As the husbandman uses various

methods in preparing his land, and adapting it to the several

kinds of seeds to be sown, with a due observation of times and

seasons; and when he hath gathered in his harvest, employs methods

as various in separating the corn from the straw and the chaff by

different instruments, according to the nature of the different

sorts of grain; so God, with unerring wisdom, and with strict

justice, instructs, admonishes, and corrects his people; chastises

and punishes them in various ways, as the exigence of the case

requires; now more moderately, now more severely; always tempering

justice with mercy; in order to reclaim the wicked, to improve the

good, and, finally, to separate the one from the other.

Verse 26. For his God doth instruct him] All nations have agreed

in attributing agriculture, the most useful and the most necessary

of all sciences, to the invention and to the suggestions of their

deities. "The Most High hath ordained husbandry," saith the son of

Sirach, Ecclus. 7:15.

Namque Ceres fertur fruges, Liberque liquoris

Vitigeni laticem mortalibus instituisse.


"Ceres has taught mortals how to produce fruits; and Bacchus has

taught them how to cultivate the vine."






ARATUS, Phaenom. v.

"He, Jupiter, to the human race

Indulgent, prompts to necessary toil

Man provident of life; with kindly signs

The seasons marks, when best to turn the glebe

With spade and plough, to nurse the tender plant,

And cast o'er fostering earth the seeds abroad."

Verse 27. - 28. Four methods of threshing are here mentioned, by

different instruments; the flail, the drag, the wain, and the

treading of the cattle. The staff or flail was used for the

infirmiora semina, says Jerome, the grain that was too tender to

be treated in the other methods. The drag consisted of a sort of

strong planks, made rough at the bottom, with hard stones or iron;

it was drawn by horses or oxen over the corn sheaves spread on the

floor, the driver sitting upon it. Kempfer has given a print

representing the manner of using this instrument, Amaen. Exot. p.

682, fig. 3. The wain was much like the former; but had wheels

with iron teeth, or edges like a saw: Ferrata carpenta rotis per

medium in serrarum modum se volventibus. Hieron. in loc. From this

it would seem that the axle was armed with iron teeth or serrated

wheels throughout. See a description and print of such a machine

used at present in Egypt for the same purpose in Niebuhr's Voyage

en Arabie, Tab. xvii. p. 123; it moves upon three rollers armed

with iron teeth or wheels to cut the straw. In Syria they make use

of the drag, constructed in the very same manner as above

described; Niebuhr, Description de l'Arabie, p. 140. This not only

forced out the grain, but cut the straw in pieces for fodder for

the cattle; for in the eastern countries they have no hay. See

Harmer's Observ. I. p. 425. The last method is well known from

the law of Moses, which "forbids the ox to be muzzled, when he

treadeth out the corn;" De 25:4.

Verse 28. The bread-corn] I read velahem, on the

authority of the Vulgate and Symmachus; the former expresses the

conjunction vau, omitted in the text, by autem; the latter by


Bruise it with his horsemen-"Bruise it with the hoofs of his

cattle."] For parashaiv, horsemen or teeth, read

perasaiv, hoofs. So the Syriac, Symmachus, Theodotion, and the

Vulgate. The first is read with shin, the latter with

samech, the pronunciation is nearly the same.

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