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For the most part, Isaiah 28 begins with a declaration of judgment against Ephraim (i.e. the most predominant tribe in the Northern Israelite Kingdom which suggests a parlance that would consider Ephraim to be representative of the Northern Israelite Kingdom).

Isaiah 28:1-2

1 Woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim, And to the fading flower of its glorious beauty, Which is at the head of the fertile valley Of those who are overcome with wine! 2 Behold, the Lord has a strong and mighty agent; As a storm of hail, a tempest of destruction, Like a storm of mighty overflowing waters, He has cast it down to the earth with His hand.

However, it’s not all doom & gloom, Isaiah 28:5-6 does offer words of encouragement for those who are judges and those who repel attacks at the center of the city (i.e. the gate)

Isaiah 28:5-6

5 In that day the Lord of hosts will become a beautiful crown And a glorious diadem to the remnant of His people; 6 A spirit of justice for him who sits in judgment, A strength to those who repel the onslaught at the gate

In any case, the passage (Isaiah 28:7-13) discusses how God will handle members of the populace who are drunk/intoxicated (supposedly by alcohol, maybe even illicit drugs, or maybe even just living a life of debauchery, etc.)

In Isaiah 28:9-10 and Isaiah 28:11-13, God says that He will “teach knowledge” and “speak” in the following manner/guidance:

Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.

I suppose the aforementioned manner/guidance of teaching or speaking is understandable because that is how one would try to instruct or teach a drunk/intoxicated person.

However, the very last line of Isaiah 28:13 is discouraging/cynical because it says that despite said manner/guidance of teaching, it prophesizes or predicts that the people will:

Isaiah 28:13

….go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive

Could someone please explain why (Isaiah 28:13) prophesizes/predicts such a discouraging/cynical result by stating that people will “go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive” despite God’s careful manner/guidance of dealing with them?

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  • Can you re-phrase that to show what you actually mean? Are you saying '… go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive…' means something like 'discouraging/cynical prophecy/prediction despite God's careful guidance' or what? Oct 11, 2023 at 22:33
  • Yeah, Isaiah 28:13 's last line seems to be a discouraging/cynical prophecy/prediction Oct 11, 2023 at 23:16
  • I don't know where you got the idea that Isaiah 28:13's last line seemed to be discouraging/cynical prophecy/prediction and if it did, why would it be difficult for you to re-phrase it to show what you actually meant? Again, are you saying '… go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive…' means something like 'discouraging/cynical prophecy/prediction despite God's careful guidance' or what? Oct 11, 2023 at 23:25

4 Answers 4

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It is for much the same reason that Jesus spoke to the people in parables:

Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. - Matthew 13:13-15

Whom shall be taught, asks Isaiah 28:9, and the answer is "those who are weaned". The teaching is line upon line and precept upon precept and one must be maturing to ascertain it, here a little and there a little. The doctrine is not pablum for the infant; it is meat to be chewed. The same ones who should have been in a position to understand had given themselves over to excess (verse 7). That which was given to gladden the hearts of men (wine), as being the fruit of God given prosperity, had become the goal to the exclusion of correct teaching: "they err in vision, they stumble in judgment".

The very ones to whom rest was promised were the ones who reclined in a false rest (wine is a mocker - Proverbs 20:1) and because they did not reckon as those who are weaned they would not hear (verse 12). This indicates volitional choice of maintaining a lifestyle over obedient hearing. It is not a polemic against drinking wine but against covetousness which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

In Jesus' day the leaders in Israel also would not and Jesus' lament over Jerusalem, in Matthew 23:37-39, echoes Isaiah here and in Isaiah 30:

That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us. Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon: Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant. And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters' vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit. For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.- Isaiah 30:9-15

Strikingly, in Isaiah 28:11, the prophet says that God will speak to his people "with stammering lips and another tongue" because they would not hear what was given to them line upon line. In Romans, the apostle Paul explains (chapters 9-11) that Israel has been partially hardened until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in and that the intention is for Israel to be provoked to jealousy by the salvation of Gentiles:

I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. - Romans 11:11

Nothing has changed. Because they preferred their current state they would not hear of the rest promised in the One who was to come even though it was given line upon line and precept upon precept. Because they preferred their current state they would not receive that One when he came in fulfillment of the promise even though it was well attested with signs and wonders. Even today there is that rest available for them but they will not enter in because they will not say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord":

Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. - Matthew 23:38-39

Isaiah 28 does not end in discouragement, however. There is a cornerstone laid in Zion (v. 14 and following); a tried and true stone, a sure foundation and whoever believes will not behave hastily when the 'overflowing scourge' passes over those who have taken refuge in lies.

As ever, everything hinges upon believing in the One that God promised to send and did send: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

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The reference to Ephraim is apparently a previous prophecy inserted here as a warning to the leaders of Judah. Is. 28:13 ("go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive") harkens back to the Assyrian army's destruction of Ephraim/Israel and forward to Judah's exile in Babylon. But the chapter is not easy to understand because some of Isaiah's words are sarcastic - quoting people who oppose him (i.e. 'you scoffers' in vs. 14) and then turning their mocking words back on them.

From a footnote in the NABRE about vss,. 28:9–10 and 13:

(these are) The words of those who ridicule Isaiah. The Hebrew of v. 10, by its very sound, conveys the idea of mocking imitation of what the prophet says, as though he spoke like a stammering child: “sau lasau, sau lasau, kau lakau, kau lakau, ze’er sham, ze’er sham.” But in v. 13 God repeats these words in deadly earnest, putting them in the mouth of the victorious Assyrian army.

Keil and Delitzsch add that:

The Assyrian Semitic had the same sound in the ear of an Israelite, as Low Saxon (a provincial dialect) in the ear of an educated German.. This people {the Assyrians} would practically interpret the will of Jehovah in its own patios to the despisers of the prophet...The word of Jehovah, which they {the Judean leaders} regarded as an endless series of trivial commands, would be turned in their case into an endless series of painful sufferings.

The Interpreter's Bible commentary provides this:

What to these leaders is unintelligible is the decree of God, and it will be an alien tongue that will tell it to them. They have refused to hear the message of well-being and this refusal turns the word of the LORD from blessing to doom.

Conclusion. In the above, we have an answer to the OP's question as to why God predicts such a discouraging result. No blessing comes without responsibility, and by not acting in accord with the duties implied in God's promise - even mocking the prophet's words -- the leaders of Judah (and Ephraim before them) have doomed themselves.

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  • +1 Good analysis. (Isaiah 28:9-10) are statements made by the mockers against the God & His prophet. Essentially, the mockers are making fun of the way the prophet’s warnings are made towards them by imitating the prophet's words as if he were a lecturing teacher/parent warning little children. Mockers think it’s like the prophet is treating them like little children........ Oct 10, 2023 at 13:12
  • .....Therefore, in (Isaiah 28:13) is God’s statements that counter-mocks the mockers by imitating their mocking. Isaiah 28:13 ‘s last fragment sentence needs to be understood within the historical contextual background of Isaiah’s time period. To elaborate, the Assyrian empire were enemies of the Jews. Therefore, as evidenced by 1 Chronicles 5:26 & 2 Kings 17:5-6, the Assyrians took inhabitants of the Northern Israelite Kingdom as captives by sending them into exile. Isaiah 28:13 ‘s last fragment sentence prophesizes said captive exile. Oct 10, 2023 at 13:12
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    Yes... but "Jews" normally refers to Judeans of the post exile period not to citizens of (northern) Israel. Oct 10, 2023 at 13:34
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The answer to this question is in the previous verse, namely Isa 28:12 -

He who said to them, “This is the place of quiet, give rest to the weary,” And, “This is the resting place,” but they would not listen.

It was because they were stubborn enough not to listen that the LORD then warned them what would happen next (V13):

So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there— so that as they go they will fall backward; they will be injured and snared and captured.

That is, the Word of the LORD was useless because it would be subverted into legalistic rules, ie, legalism!

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  • In your quoted translation of Isaiah 28:13, you use an Em Dash . Em Dashes are used to represent an interruption or a abrupt change. The Em Dash would certainly give validity & more credibility to your answer. However, I can Not find an engilish bible translation that uses an Em Dash in said verse. Which translation are you using? Furthermore, could you please review the Hebrew, & explain? Oct 9, 2023 at 20:24
  • @user1338998 - see biblehub.com/isaiah/28-13.htm and the NIV translation. See also biblehub.com/interlinear/isaiah/28-13.htm
    – Dottard
    Oct 9, 2023 at 20:56
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    @user1338998 - that is not the exclusive use of the em-dash - sometimes such are used instead of parentheses.
    – Dottard
    Oct 9, 2023 at 20:58
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It may be worth noting that Isaiah 28:1-13 does not speak to the same people. Verses 1-4 refer to Ephraim, 5-6 depend on interpretation, and 7-13 refer to the priests and prophets of Judah.

Through the prophecy of Isaiah, the Lord warned Judah's leaders to repent from their sins, as they were no better than their northern brothers (described as both drunk - 28:1 & 7). Isaiah prophesied that Samaria would fall (28:1-4), and Judah would also face a similar fate. But the Lord was patient with Judah, and promised to save them 'In that day' (28:5). This was during the reign of King Hezekiah.

The interpretation of 28:5-6 is crucial. It connects the words to Judah and urges them to learn the lesson from the fall of Samaria. Therefore, it is likely the verses refer to the angel of the Lord, who defeated the army of Sennacherib, king of Assyria who sieged Jerusalem in 701BC. (2 Kings 19:29-37)

Isaiah 28:5-6 NIV

5 In that day (701BC) the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people (Judah). 6 He will be a spirit of justice (the killing angel) to the one who sits in judgment (the Lord), a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

Unfortunately, Judah's leaders, the priests, and prophets were scoffers (28:14). They were drunk and didn't see it was the Lord who saved them (28:15). The Lord said;

Isaiah 28:9-10 NIV

9 Who is it he (the Lord) is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? >10 For it is: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there.

In Isaiah 28:11, the Lord speaks of using foreign lips and strange tongues to communicate with His people. This is likely referring to the Assyrian field commanders who called for the king at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool (2 Kings 18:17-36)

Finally, in 28:13, it repeats 28:10 warning that the priests and prophets who did not listen to the Lord (28:12) and thought they were safe would be caught by their own trap.

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