Isaiah 28

Isaiah 28:1-6 Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim
The tribe of Ephraim was the lead tribe of the ten northern tribes. The term Ephraim then refers to the entire northern kingdom. Isaiah is prophesying at the peak of the northern kingdom's wealth and glory. With the wealth and glory, of course, came pride, godlessness, and excess.
As usual the wickedness of the northern kingdom is contrasted to the righteousness of the Millennial day. The "crown of pride" and the fleeting glory of Israel will be exchanged in the Millennium for a "crown of glory" and the glorious beauty of Christ sitting in judgment. The Lord will come again with a crown, a "crown of glory." Contrary to popular conception and artistic representation, the Lord's head will be adorned with "many crowns... And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood... And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses" (Rev. 19:12-14). If you are going to destroy the wicked, it makes sense to dress appropriately.
Isaiah 28:2 The Lord hath a mighty and strong one... as a temptest of hail and a destroying storm
The Lord used the Assyrian king, as "a mighty and strong one," to destroy the northern kingdom. As usual the destruction of the northern kingdom is a type for the destruction of the wicked at the Second Coming. Assyria would be as "a tempest of hail and destroying storm"; the apocalypse will include "a great hailstorm sent forth to destroy the crops of the earth" (D&C 29:16). Whether the wicked northern kingdom or the wicked of the last days, the reason was "that all their works may be brought to naught, and be swept away by the hail, and by the judgments which thou wilt sent upon them in thine anger, that there may be an end to lyings and slanders against thy people." (D&C 109:30)
Isaiah 28:7 they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink
Certainly, alcoholic excess was not just a problem in Isaiah's day
  • Twenty-five to forty percent of all patients in U.S. general hospital beds (not in maternity or intensive care) are being treated for complications of alcohol-related problems.
  • Annual health care expenditures for alcohol-related problems amount to $22.5 billion. The total cost of alcohol problems is $175.9 billion a year (compared to $114.2 billion for other drug problems and $137 billion for smoking).
  • In comparison to moderate and non-drinkers, individuals with a history of heavy drinking have higher health care costs.
  • Untreated alcohol problems waste an estimated $184.6 billion dollars per year in health care, business and criminal justice costs, and cause more than 100,000 deaths. (


  • [In 2001] More than 13,000 Californians died as a result of alcohol abuse, including 3,600 who died of primary alcohol-caused diagnoses, over 5,100 who died of an alcohol -related diagnosis, and 4,400 who died of an injury attributed to alcohol. These deaths represented lost productivity of nearly $8 billion and over 358,000 life years (Tables 7,8 and page 6).
  • Criminal justice system costs attributed to alcohol were as high as $6.7 billion including $2.1 billion for police protection, $2.1 billion for judicial and legal services, and $2.4 billion for corrections (Table 9 and page 6).
  • In California's justice system, 25% of total police arrests are for alcohol-specific offenses; approximately 43% of total arrests have been observed to be alcohol-involved (Table 10 and page 6). An estimated 36 percent of state prison and jail inmates were under the influence of alcohol at the time of their convicted offense (Table 9 and page 7). (
Hugh Nibley
He describes the party-people, the fast set: "Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!" (Isaiah 5:11.)... Isaiah knows how to describe a world in total collapse. (Old Testament and Related Studies, edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton [FARMS, 1986], 223 - 224)
Hartman Rector, Jr.
If those in the United States would follow the Lord's counsel by living this divine law, we would be able to feed the starving masses of the world. I cite an Associated Press quote of Harvard University nutritionist Dr. Jean Mayer. Said he, "Every year we convert in this nation into alcoholic liquor enough grain to feed 50 million people in the starving nations." In the United States there are 95 million drinkers, of whom 10 million are confirmed alcoholics. These 10 million alcoholics in the United States cost this nation $10 billion a year counted in lost time, slow downs in work, illnesses, mistakes resulting in spoiled materials, domestic problems, and the rest of the attendant evils that go with alcoholism.
Also, it has been proven that alcoholism shortens the life of every alcoholic from 10 to 12 years; 250,000 new alcoholics are added to this total every year. The Connecticut state mental health commissioner reports that 40 percent of the cases in the state mental health hospitals are attributed directly to alcohol. Superior Judge John A. Starbaro of Chicago has said that "75 percent of all the divorce cases I have heard resulted from alcohol." Alcohol is responsible for one-half of the total traffic deaths in the United States. There are 25,000 persons killed every year on the highways in the U.S. It might be interesting to note that we had 57,000 American servicemen killed in the Vietnam War. This total is nearly duplicated every two years on America's highways. ("The World's Greatest Need," Ensign, Nov. 1975, 11)
Isaiah 28:9 Whom shall he teach knowledge?
If the priest and the prophet are drunk, if the strong man and the mighty man are sleeping in their own vomit, if the wise have no wisdom, who is going to run the show? Where can the people turn for instruction? They have forsaken both prophet and priest. Well, they will have to look to the children. Those just weaned will be wiser than the mighty man in that day, for "out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise" (Matt. 21:16). And "I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them" (Isa. 3:1)
Isaiah 28:10 precept upon precept, line upon line... here a little, and there a little
"[The Lord] gives 'unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept.' He does this for a reason: 'I will try you and prove you herewith' (D&C 98:12). The Lord gives doctrine incrementally, testing his people and giving them more as they are willing and worthy to accept more. (Richard D. Draper, "The Remarkable Book of Moses," Ensign, Feb. 1997, 16)
L. Lionel Kendrick
This pattern for receiving promptings follows the principle by which the Savior was taught and tutored during the meridian of time. John bore witness that "he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness" (D&C 93:13). The Prophet Joseph Smith counseled, "It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time." ("Personal Revelation," Ensign, Sept. 1999, 10)
Neal A. Maxwell
Alas, when the Lord gives us "line upon line" and "precept upon precept" about Himself and His plans, many ignore these great gifts. Instead of lines, some demand paragraphs and even pages. When God provides "here a little, and there a little" (Isa. 28:10), some want a lot-now! ("'Yet Thou Art There'," Ensign, Nov 1987, 30)
Daniel H. Wells
I heard President Young say that he told the Prophet Joseph never to reveal a new principle to him if he thought that he could not receive it, that it would be detrimental to his faith or cause him to turn from that which he had received. He said he would rather remain in ignorance than to have it prove a stumblingblock to him. I have seen a great many people anxious for revelation, and for the development of some great mystery concerning the kingdom of God. I have never felt so; I have been satisfied with what the Lord should condescend to reveal, and more than glad if, when it did come, I was able to receive and practice it. (Journal of Discourses, 13:351)
Isaiah 28:15 We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement
What powerful imagery! The wicked have sought both physical and spiritual death. They get what they want. They are reconciled to hell, having made a covenant with death. In modern parlance, they made a deal with the devil.
"A group of evil people is depicted as having made a covenant with 'death' and the 'nether world,' thinking that they can avoid being swept away by the destructive waters of the abyss. But it is only in the 'stone in Zion,' the 'precious cornerstone [as] a sure foundation,' that there is to be true salvation from the onrushing waters of the abyss. It is the Stone of Foundation that controls access to the abyss, and only through this stone that the destructive waters can be controlled. Any kind of pact or covenant made with the abyss that seeks to avoid entering in at the only true 'gate of the abyss' will end in destruction." (Monte S. Nyman, ed., Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1984], 49 - 50.)
Isaiah 28:16 I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone... a precious corner stone, a sure foundation
"Isaiah spoke particularly of the Lord as 'a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.' (Isa. 28:16.) And Paul explained that the faithful Saints belong to the household of God 'built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.' (Eph. 2:20.)
"The prophets had revealed that Jesus would be rejected of the world, and they declared that even so, he is the only way to salvation. Therefore it is written that 'the stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.' (Ps. 118:22.) Jesus told the rulers of the Jews that he was that stone, and added that 'whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.' (Matt. 21:44.) And Peter, declaring to the people that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead, said that 'this is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.' (Acts 4:11-12.) Therefore Jesus is called a stumbling stone to those who reject him, 'a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient.' (1 Pet. 2:8.) The Nephite prophet Jacob explained that 'by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation. But ... this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build.' (Jacob 4:15-16.)
"Not only is Jesus a Rock, but his gospel also is likened to a rock, a sure foundation. To Peter, who had obtained a testimony of Jesus by the revelation of the Holy Ghost, Jesus said, 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matt. 16:18.) The meaning of this statement is given in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith: 'Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved; and upon this rock I will build my church; yea, upon this rock ye are built, and if ye continue, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.' (D&C 33:12-13.) Likewise, 'Build upon my rock, which is my gospel; Deny not the spirit of revelation, nor the spirit of prophecy.' (D&C 11:24-25.) 'Behold, you have my gospel before you, and my rock, and my salvation.' (D&C 18:17.)
"The faithful disciple will build his life upon the foundation rock of the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than upon the shifting sands of man's wisdom. Such a disciple is 'like a man which built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock; and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.'" (Luke 6:48.) (Robert J. Matthews, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Jan. 1984, 52)
Isaiah 28:23-29 Give ye ear, and hear my voice... Doth the plowman plow all day to sow?
Gerald N. Lund
[A] common category of scriptural imagery consists of images and metaphors drawn from the world of nature. However, the meaning of these may not always be as readily evident as were those of the human body because many modern readers are not in the same daily, intimate contact with nature as were the peoples of Bible times. Where our life is highly mobile, fast-paced, and filled with technology, theirs was simple, uncomplicated, and relatively stable. In our modern age, the agrarian experience is foreign to most. Few have experienced the growing cycles of various crops, milked a cow, butchered an animal, or harvested grains. So we should not be surprised that we do not always grasp significance of images drawn from agrarian life.
A classic example of this, and one of the most beautifully profound passages of Isaiah, is at first reading difficult to understand. After describing some of the judgments of God, Isaiah says:
Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?
When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?
For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.
For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.
Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.
This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. (Isa. 28:23-29.)
The footnote for verse 29... gives us the first clue. It tells us that the reaping and threshing of the world (or, we might say, the judgments of God) will be properly done even as it is on a farm. The people of Isaiah's day were not confused by his language; they needed only to draw upon their everyday experience. Let us walk through the imagery to get a sense of the understanding they probably had.
Note the question in verse 24: "Does the plowman plow all day to sow?" A farmer plows only long enough to prepare the soil for planting. He doesn't plow a field over and over just for the sake of plowing it. When he has "made plain [or smooth] the face thereof" (Isa. 28:25), a process we call harrowing, he plants the crops. Anciently, the farmer walked in the field with a bag of seed and cast the seed across the ground in great sweeping arcs. Thus the phrase in verse 25, "he casts abroad."
Scholars believe "fitches" (Isa. 28:25) were the black poppy. Cummin is still a common spice.
Isaiah here is likening Israel to God's field. When Israel has become hardened through apostasy and iniquity, they can no longer receive the seed of the gospel message. Thus, the Lord's chastisements and judgments serve as the plowing and harrowing processes. But like the wise farmer (see Isa. 28:26), God doesn't plow Israel with his judgments any more than is necessary to prepare them for growth and change. It is an act of love and wisdom, not vengeance.
In verses 27-28, the same idea is taught, but now the imagery changes from the time of planting to the time of the harvest. Any farmer knows different crops must be harvested in a different manner. Anciently, wheat was threshed by rolling or dragging heavy weights (such as a cart wheel) back and forth across the heads to separate the kernels from the husks. Sometimes a threshing sled was used.
But the seeds of the black poppy and cummin are not like the hard grains of wheat. Fitches and cummin were threshed by holding bunches of the stalks upside down, then striking them sharply with a stick so the seeds fell onto a cloth below. (See Isa. 28:27.) To put fitches or cummin under a cart wheel would turn the soft seeds to pulp.
So the imagery is the same as that in verses 24-25. God's judgments are like the various methods of threshing. If the spiritual state of the people is not too far gone, then a sharp rapping with a stick (or mild judgments) can bring them to productivity. In deeper stages of apostasy, however, more drastic methods may be required. An understanding of the symbolism used helps turn this passage from one of difficulty to one of power and beauty. (Gerald N. Lund, "Understanding Scriptural Symbols," Ensign, Oct. 1986, 26-27)