Isaiah 28 Study Notes


28:1 Woe marks the beginning of a pronouncement connected to a funeral procession (see note at 1:4). This is the first woe in chaps. 28-33 (29:1,15; 30:1; 31:1; 33:1). The effect of the pronouncement is to announce that the object of the pronouncement, in this case the northern kingdom of Israel (called by the name of its major tribe Ephraim), is as good as dead. The majestic crown of Ephraim may be a reference to its capital city Samaria, which sat atop a large hill overlooking the area. The reference to heavy drinking in the northern kingdom may be because of an abuse of alcohol in the region, particularly among its leaders, but this also fits with the prophetic theme of the cup of wrath (Jr 12). God will make the objects of his anger drink from this cup so they will become disoriented and eventually pass out (see note at Is 19:14).

28:2 God’s judgment is compared to the devastating effects of a hail storm and a flood. Joshua 10 recounts the time when God defeated a coalition of southern Canaanite city-states by pelting them with hailstones. The great flood (Gn 6-9) and the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 14-15) illustrate how God used floodwaters to defeat his enemies.

28:3-4 Appealing again to the images of crown and flower from v. 1, the prophet describes the devastating punishment coming on Ephraim. He adds the picture of the ripe fig ready to be plucked and devoured.


Hebrew pronunciation [nah VALE]
CSB translation wither, lose heart
Uses in Isaiah 11
Uses in the OT 20
Focus passage Isaiah 28:1,4

The fundamental idea of navel is wither (Is 1:30), but its earliest use was metaphorical. Moses will wear out if he tries to judge the people alone (Ex 18:18). Soldiers lose heart and surrender (2Sm 22:46). Mountains crumble (Jb 14:18), and the world itself withers and wastes away (Is 24:4). Eleven times navel refers to plants withering or flowers fading (Is 28:1), but usually in comparison with people or objects. Sinners wither (Is 64:6); the word of God does not (Is 40:8). The concept of decay is associated with withering, and the related noun nebelah (48x) signifies the carcass of an animal (Lv 5:2) or corpse of a person (Dt 21:23). It refers to dead bodies (Is 26:19). Sometimes nebelah signifies an animal that dies naturally (Lv 7:24). Once it conveys the lifelessness of idols (Jr 16:18).

28:5-6 On that day, see note at 24:21. While the majestic crown of Ephraim will be “trampled underfoot” (28:3), God himself will become a crown of beauty for the remnant—for the righteous who survive the punishments to come and form the nucleus for a new people of God. Inspired by God, judges will again be just and soldiers will again have the strength to defend their city.

28:7-13 While vv. 1-6 criticize the nobility for their drunken behavior, this section focuses on the priests and prophets.

28:7-8 The priests and prophets were crucial to the spiritual leadership of the nation, but here they had clouded their thought with drink. They had drunk so much alcohol that they were covered with vomit, an unflattering and undignified portrait of people who had such an important task.

28:9-10 These decadent leaders were acting as if they were teaching babies and not adults. The content of their teaching was mocked. What they said was repetitive and meaningless.

28:11-12 Since God’s people had been so irresponsible and had refused to rest contentedly in God, he will speak to his people with stammering speech and in a foreign language—Akkadian, the language of the Assyrians. Paul quotes these verses in 1Co 14:21 in the context of speaking in other languages.

28:14-22 The pronouncement now shifts its focus from the northern kingdom to the southern.

28:14 Scoffers were those who did not fear God and who made fun of those who did (Pr 1:22; 9:7-8,12; 13:1).

28:15 The rulers of Judah had entered a dangerous agreement. The agreement is said to be with Death and Sheol. Sheol refers to the grave and in some contexts signifies the underworld. Isaiah probably referred to treaties with foreign nations to try to keep Assyria (the overwhelming catastrophe) from defeating them.

28:16 It was not foreign alliances that made Judah strong. It was their relationship with God. He was the one who had built it, cornerstone and foundation. A precise identification of the tested stone is elusive. John Goldingay (Isaiah) remarks that the stone “has been identified with the law, the temple, the monarchy, the city, the saving work of Yahweh, the people’s relationship with Yahweh, the true believing community, Zion itself, the Messiah, faith, the remnant, or the actual promise about the one who trusts.” The allusion may be to all of the above. This verse is quoted in Rm 9:33; 10:11; 1Pt 2:6.

28:17 God’s standards are justice and righteousness—fair treatment of fellow citizens and trusting obedience. Both were lacking in Judah.

28:18 The dark pact with Death (see note at v. 15) is doomed to failure.

28:20 The arrangements that Judah had made to protect itself against Assyria were inadequate, like a bed that was too short.

28:21 At Perazim (described in 2Sm 5:20 as a “bursting flood”) God gave David a great victory over the Philistines. At the Valley of Gibeon, God used hailstones to allow Joshua to defeat the southern coalition of Canaanite city-states (Jos 10:11). Though this pronouncement and many of Isaiah’s pronouncements describe God’s violent judgment against the nations, here it is called unexpected and unfamiliar. It was not the typical, normal, hoped-for mode of relationship, particularly with his covenant people.

28:22 Though God’s judgment against the mocking leaders of Judah is certain, their future behavior will determine whether it becomes even worse (your shackles will become stronger).

28:23-29 In this section Isaiah drew an analogy between a farmer’s task and God’s treatment of Judah. Good results come from different actions and different methods applied at different times. The passage has the feel of a parable.

28:24-26 The farmer (plowman) does not just keep plowing; he also sows seed. He places the various seeds in their separate places. This order comes from God himself.

28:27 Each plant has its proper treatment. The analogy may point to the fact that God exercises his judgment against sinners in a way that is appropriate to their specific situation.

28:28-29 But the crushing and threshing, images of judgment, are not endless activities. It comes to an end. Threshing and the cessation of threshing produce good bread, so judgment and its aftermath produce good results as well. The order of the farmer’s task as well as God’s “unexpected work” (v. 21) are a result of God’s great wisdom.