Woe to the Drunkards

Isaiah 28

The book of Isaiah is divided in two part: Assyrian Period and the Babylonian period. The fourth section of the first half of Isaiah covers chapters twenty-eight through thirty-five of Isaiah. It contains six woes and several promises mixed together. Remember, a woe is a pronouncement of doom upon those who should expect the coming wrath of God because of sin. Since some of these woes are warnings against the kingdom of Israel, it would be safe to say these prophecies by Isaiah came before Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

  • Ephraim’s Drunks, 28:1-6

The pride and crown of Ephraim was the capital of Israel: Samaria. The rich vineyards around it provided an opportunity for its citizens to indulge in strong drink. Yet, God has prepared “a mighty and strong one.” They are compared to three powerful, devastating, and unstoppable forces of nature: a storm of hail, a tempest of destruction, and a flood. This is an allusion to the coming Assyrian invasion. They will destroy the object of Israel’s pride. The first harvest season between May and June is mentioned. Instead of saving the harvest, they eat it. Their hope is in the hoarding up for the winter food from the later harvest. When the siege against them begins they will not be able to harvest anymore.

God promises them a remnant who will be a beautiful crown and a glorious diadem for Him in contrast to Samaria. Hezekiah would turn back the battle of the Assyrians at the very gates of Jerusalem with a prayer. He would go on to rid Israel of many of the remaining idols.

  • Judah’s Drunken Priests And Prophets, 28:7-13

Two other groups have also committed transgression through their drunkenness: the priests and prophets of Judah. They reel, stagger, are confused, have visions but not from God, and fill their tables with vomit. These are the physical effects of being intoxicated. However, this is not the only problem with drinking intoxicating wine. They are unable to render their assigned spiritual services to God and His people. Priests are forbidden in the Law from drinking intoxicating beverages (Lev. 10:9). Those in positions of authority are also warned against wine’s hindrances to their duties. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes intoxicating drink; lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the justice of all the afflicted” (Prov. 31:4,5). Serving spiritual drink to satisfy the thirst of God’s people is often made bitter by the leaders being intoxicated with wine.

The drunken priests and prophets mock Isaiah as if they are instructing a baby. They mock his prophecies as if he is just rambling on and on. The truth is, if they will not heed the words of Isaiah, they will find themselves stumbling over the words of a foreign tongue. Moses warned of this, “the Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young” (Deut. 28:49-50). God will turn their mocking back upon them. For by mocking Isaiah they were mocking God. In the end the consequence will be captivity.

  • Judah’s Scornful Rulers, 28:14-22

Although King Hezekiah may have been for the most part a king like David, he was not the only one in position of leadership in Jerusalem. These rulers feel secure in spite of the coming flood and tidal wave of the Assyrian invasion. They have signed a treaty or agreement with them and will not die like the rest of the nations and their leaders. However, they are looking for security among lies.

The only refuge to be found is the one God will lay in Zion. It is a tested stone and costly cornerstone. This is a reference to a Messianic hope fulfilled by the coming of Jesus Christ.

True believers will not make a hasty pact with Assyria. God will be the one who will measure the extent of Assyrian aggression with His justice and righteousness. He will bring the flood waters upon Judah and even drowned them in their hiding places. God, not the rulers, will control the Assyrians. God will annul whatever hopes and treaties they have made. Like a morning and evening tide the Assyrians will sweep over Judah time after time. Their trust in Assyria is like a tall man trying to stretch out on a small bed or a fat man using a narrow blanket on a cold night. It is foolish futility. Two events are mentioned showing God’s ability to bring about His acts of destruction upon the wicked. At Gibeon he destroyed the Amorites with great hail stones in the time of Joshua (Josh. 10:10-11). He brought down David’s enemies as Perazim (2 Sam. 5:20).

Isaiah’s final warning is for the rulers not to be so stubborn. God has spoken and He can bring judgment not only on them as He will but on the whole earth.

  • Parable of the Plowman, Sower & Thresher, 28:23-29

Just as Jesus would call upon His disciples to hear His parables and understand their meaning, Isaiah calls upon them to consider the parable of the plowman who turns the soil, the sower of the seed, and the thresher of the harvest. And as Jesus liked to use stories based upon agriculture, Isaiah asked them about the plowman. He does not just plow and plow. He must also stop and sow the seeds. The seeds sown are that of black cumin, cumin, wheat, barley, and spelt. He knows how to sow them in the correct fashion. The God of all nature has indirectly taught him of this. When harvesting and threshing he uses the proper equipment and in the correct manner. Some grains will be threshed with a cartwheel others with rods or sticks. Still he does this for the correct amount of time. He only uses enough force to harvest his crops not destroy them. God is the plowman, sower, and thresher. He knows when and what instruments to use when meting out judgment upon the wicked. God knows what He is doing.


Several lessons can be learned from these woes. First, drinking leads to arrogance, the spoiling of what is beautiful, confusion and poor judgment (28:1-8). Those who reject and scoff at the Word of the Lord will be punished (28:9-13). Next, Jesus Christ is the only sure refuge. He is the precious cornerstone that has been tried and tested (28:14-22). Finally, God’s Judgments upon his people are adapted to their strength and to their needs (28:23-29).

– Daniel R. Vess

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Categories: The Forum