Introduction - Book of Woes
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Isaiah, chapter 28. We would like to remind you that we have been following the natural outline found within the book itself. That means that we are in section 5 of the first half of the book of Isaiah. The book of Isaiah is divided into two parts, just as your Bible is. The book of Isaiah has 66 chapters, just as your Bible has 66 books.

The first half of the book of Isaiah has 39 chapters, just as your Bible has 39 books in the Old Testament; the last half of the book of Isaiah has 27 chapters, just as your Bible has 27 books in the New Testament. We are in this particular section of the first half.

We notice that the first division of the book of Isaiah includes the first six chapters, representing prophetic sermons that Isaiah preached during the reign of King Ahaz. Then we notice, beginning with chapter 7 and going on through chapter 12, there was a second section of the book of Isaiah that is referred to as the Book of Immanuel , because the word Immanuel is a name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the name means “God with us,” and is mentioned in every chapter, either by the word or by the phrase.

Beginning with chapter 13 and going on to chapter 23, we found a Book of Burdens , in which nearly every chapter contained the word burdens . We learned that the word burden was a word which described a message of judgment against a certain nation that came before the eyes of the prophet. We discovered that this book is truly a prophecy, for not only did it deal with nations which existed in Isaiah's day and in a century or two after Isaiah's day, but we pointed out to you prophecies in that section which direct our attention at the present time to what we know as the Middle East . We discovered that nations in what is now the Middle East come up for discussion in that particular section of the book of Isaiah.

Then, beginning with chapter 24 and concluding with chapter 27, the section which we have just completed, we found a division in the book of Isaiah that we referred to as the Little Apocalypse , or the Little Revelation , because if you were reading those chapters and at the same time were reading the book of Revelation, chapters 6-19, you would think that you were reading nearly the same book, because they are dealing with the same subject matter. Of course, the portion in Isaiah is in a much briefer fashion than the portion in the book of Revelation.

In this lesson, as we come to chapter 28, we are going to notice the section which is going to go all the way to chapter 33. This particular section of the book of Isaiah is going to be called the Book of Woes , because every section begins with the word woe. As somebody said, “When God says ‘woe', it is time to stop and take notice.”

A Pronouncement of Doom

Literally, the word woe represents a pronouncement of doom upon individuals or nations, as the case may be, which are in the vision of the prophet as, by the inspiration of God, he pronounces the particular message in question.

Because of the length of this chapter, I think we will read along and talk about it as we go along, and understand what God's message is for us in this particular portion. Notice verse 1, of chapter 28:

Isaiah 28

1Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!

Upon whom is this woe pronounced? We look at that first verse, and we read, “…the crown of the pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim…” If this was all we had to go by, we wouldn't know a whole lot, but no Scripture is of private interpretation. Every Scripture must be compared with other Scriptures in the Bible in order that we might find the meaning.

Were we to do that in detail, we would find that the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim is the city of Samaria, for the city of Samaria was the capital of the ten northern tribes of Israel, and Ephraim was the name that was given to these ten tribes, because Ephraim was the leading tribe in the ten. So we find Isaiah, by inspiration, pronouncing a woe upon the city of Samaria and those who played a leading part in the society of that city.

God's Judgment of the Leadership

He said, “Woe to them, because this capital city that sits on the hill with the glorious beauty of a flower is finding itself fading as a flower fades in the heat of summer.” But, he wasn't talking about an inanimate city. After all, cities are people, so what we find actually is that Isaiah is pronouncing a woe upon the drunkards of this city who are overcome with wine. The leadership of this city has been overcome with intoxication. Look at verse 3:

Isaiah 28

3The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:

Somebody says, “I knew that God was against imbibing intoxicating liquors, but why is He so concerned in this chapter? What is disturbing Him so that He says He is ready to destroy a whole city, yea a whole nation because of it?” Glance at verse 7, and you will read:

Isaiah 28

7But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way…

Their judgment, and their pronouncements had not been sensible and had not been logical because of this intoxicating beverage. Not only was that true of the political leaders of the hour, but we read in verse 7:

Isaiah 28

7…the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.

All down through history national pronouncements have been made at times around tables which had for a centerpiece intoxicating beverages. When that has occurred, the pronouncements have been erroneous and the people have been brought to desolation because the leaders stumbled in judgment. If you glance at verse 8, you will see that these fellows had drunk themselves pretty far under the table, because we read:

Isaiah 28

8For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.

That doesn't sound very nice to say in church, but what this verse is actually saying is that these fellows had drunk so much that they had vomited where they sat and sat in their vomit and carried on their business. That is why that was such a disturbing thing to God. He said in verse 4:

Isaiah 28

4And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley…

The reason we speak of Samaria as being the head of the fat valley is that it sat on a hill right at the head of a very fertile valley, and it in itself was a beautiful city. It was so beautiful that when it was destroyed in fulfillment of this prophecy, Herod tried to rebuild it in the same beauty that it had when Isaiah first spoke of it, but notice what it says in verse 4:

Isaiah 28

4…and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up [so God is going to deal with this city] .

What does that mean? Of course, Isaiah didn't bother to explain it, because he knew. He lived in this atmosphere. Over there they had what they called early summer fruit . A fig for example, would appear on the fig bush in early summer, and you would pick it, look at it, and examine it, and maybe even lay it upon the shelf and talk about it to indicate the kind of crop you were going to have. But you didn't gobble it up, because you knew that the best was yet to come; the real harvest of figs was yet to be. Some folk, however, were so gluttonous that they did. They didn't do what ordinary folk did. As soon as they saw first summer fruit, they picked it, looked at it, and gulped it down before you had a chance to see what was happening. He said, “That is exactly what God is going to do with this city.”

A Warning With a Promise

Those of you who have been with us in this study, remember how good God is. With judgment, He intermingles mercy. With a warning, He always lifts the tension a little with a promise. He talked about the destruction of Samaria, but He said in the next paragraph, “I have a little hope for you. I have a little promise.” Notice what He said:

Isaiah 28

5In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people,
6And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.

This phrase, In that day , we have discovered in the book of Isaiah, refers to a period of time when the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is going to return to this earth and do things as they ought to be done.

In the first fourteen verses of this chapter, He talks about the destruction of a “crown of pride,” the city of Samaria; but He said, “I am going to give you another crown. It will be a crown of glory. It will be a diadem of beauty.” That crown will actually be a person—the Lord Jesus Christ. He will be here as a “spirit of judgment on the man who sits in judgment.”

These fellows that we have been reading about, the spirit that was in them was the spirit of an intoxicating beverage, but the Spirit that is going to be in the residue of the people mentioned in verse 6, is the Holy Spirit. They won't be judging after the spirit of wine; they will be judging after the strength of the Holy Spirit Himself.

The Response to Isaiah's Message

This was Isaiah's message. It was preaching, and people got tired of preaching in that day just like they get tired of preaching in this day, and they had something to say about it. What they had to say is found in verses 9-10:

Isaiah 28

9Whom shall he [Isaiah] teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.

“Does he think we are a bunch of babies that are on milk, just weaned from our mother's breast? Who does he think he is talking to anyway?”

Why did they say that? They didn't like what he said, nor the way that he said it. In verse 10, they explain what they meant. They said that Isaiah said:

Isaiah 28

10For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

If you were reading this in the original Hebrew you wouldn't read it like this. In fact, it would be much more effective if you could read it in Hebrew, because in Hebrew it is just a list of words, and it tells you what they actually think of what he said. Actually in Hebrew it says, “Precept, precept, precept, precept, line, line, line, little, little, little. That is all that he talks about. He doesn't give you anything eloquent. He doesn't give you anything striking. Does he think we are a bunch of babies to keep going over the same thing over and over again?”

He did, you know. He didn't preach a little while on this subject, and then jump to something else. He just kept on the same old subject. Isaiah says to them in verse 11, “That's the way you feel, is it? You don't like the way I preach. Well, let me tell you something. With stammering lips and another tongue will God speak to you. Let me tell you, God is going to send you a message, but He is going to send you a message with a people who speak with stammering lips and a different tongue than you have ever heard before.” Of course, he was talking about the Assyrians, because the Assyrian language in comparison with the Hebrew sounded like somebody that stuttered, and they knew that.

In verse 12, he said, “Of course, that is not the message that God wanted to give you. The message that God wanted to give you is this.” Notice verse 12:

Isaiah 28

12To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing…

“Here is rest; here is refreshing. That is the message that I wanted to give you, but you would not hear, so you didn't get the message. All you could think about was ‘precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little.' Because you didn't get the message, there is nothing left for you to do but go and fall backwards and be broken and snared and taken.”

A Covenant With Death

The people of Isaiah's day were like the people of our day. They weren't greatly concerned. They said, “Why, that is ridiculous. He is always raving about something. Let's don't worry about it.” But somebody said, “Ah, you know the Assyrians. They are fast encroaching upon us. They have been making a swathe down through this country, one nation after another falling as they march onward. He just might be right.” These leaders said, “I tell you what let's do. Let's make an agreement with Egypt. Let's make an agreement with Syria, and when this Assyrian host comes down along the line, we won't have anything to worry about. We will have a good storm cellar to get into when the storm breaks.”

They were a little bit foolish, weren't they? Isaiah thought they were, because he said in verses 14-15:

Isaiah 28

14Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.
15Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:

Do you see what he was saying? He took the thing that they did and spoke of it in entirely different language. They were boasting about the good arrangement they made, and he said, “Do you really know what you have done? You have made a covenant with death. You have just pushed death off for a few months and a few years longer, that's all. You have made an agreement with hell because that is where you are going to wind up, but you have just pushed it off a little bit farther. That is all that you have done. You really haven't accomplished anything, because if you were telling the truth, you would say that you have made lies your refuge, and you have hidden under falsehood.” Glance down at verse 18:

Isaiah 28

18And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
19From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.

He is saying, “That covenant of death you made will be disannulled. Your agreement with hell won't stand, and the overflowing scourge, the Assyrian that I have been talking about, is going to come and he is going to sweep over you like a mighty river, and it is going to happen morning and night until when you even hear of it [if we were speaking of it today we would say when we read it in the newspapers or hear it on television] it will be a vexation of spirit to you, because it is a vexation just to hear what is happening. You will just get sick at hearing of the approach of the enemy.”

God's Strange Work

Why is it going to be? “Well,” he said, “It isn't the Assyrian. It is the LORD.” Look at verse 21:

Isaiah 28

21For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.

What is this, “bring to pass his act, his strange act”? It is the work of judgment; it is the act of judgment. Judgment is a strange work with God. It isn't what He wants to do. Sometimes when you hear some preachers preach, you get the idea that the only thing God wants to do is judge everybody in sight. You actually get the idea, when some preachers preach, that God jumps up and down and says, “Goody, goody, I can send somebody else to Hell.” But that isn't God. That is His strange work. He doesn't want to judge anybody. The only reason that He judges anybody is that we leave Him no alternative. He says, “It is a strange work with Me, and it is a strange act, but you brought it upon yourselves.”

Isaiah, in verse 20, quoted a proverb that was extant in Isaiah's day. We have a lot of sayings in our day, don't we? We talk about getting ourselves “out on a limb.” We talk about “it the shoe fits.” That means if someone says something and it makes us mad, it fits us. We have proverbs. Look at verse 20:

Isaiah 28

20For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.

That is a pretty good proverb. He said, “You know that covenant of death that you made. It's like a bed that is too short.” I haven't had a lot of trouble with short beds. I am not that tall. But some of you have, and you know how uncomfortable a short bed can be.

Isaiah said that the bed was shorter than a man can stretch himself, and that the covering was narrower than he can wrap himself in. I can understand that. When we first got our king-sized bed, we tried to make the sheets do from an ordinary bed. We thought we would economize, but they are too narrow for two people to wrap themselves, and you are awfully uncomfortable. It just won't work, and that is exactly what Isaiah is saying here. He is saying, “Your bed is too short and your covers too narrow.”

A Way of Escape

What are we going to do with these poor folk? They made a covenant with death. Judgment is coming. Is God just going to let them go without any provision? No, that would not be like our God. Our God has always made a provision. When He says, “I have to visit in judgment,” He always makes a way of escape, because He doesn't want anybody to fall under His judging hand. Glance back at verse 16, and notice what He said:

Isaiah 28

16Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: [then He adds] he that believeth shall not make haste.

“He that believeth won't have to run in terror from the impending judgment.” You see, these folk had made a flimsy refuge of lies and falsehoods, and they had hidden themselves in that flimsy refuge. They said, “When the storm comes, we will be all right.” Isaiah said, “No, you won't be. Your flimsy refuge of lies and falsehoods will be swept away, but I will tell you about a refuge that will withstand any storm. God has provided it, and God has given promise, ‘I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious stone, a sure foundation'.”

Who is that stone? Somebody says, “Aren't you grammatically incorrect? Shouldn't you be saying, ‘What is that stone?'” No. I am saying, “Who is that stone?” I have told you already that the way to study the Word of God is to compare Scripture with Scripture. When you compare Scripture with Scripture, you find the pronoun that applies in this instance is not what but who .

Turn, please, to I Peter, chapter 2, verse 4:

I Peter 2

4To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,
5Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
6[Notice] Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture [Isaiah 28] , Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded [not be ashamed, not put to haste] .
7Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
8And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

Turn to the book of Romans, chapter 9, and recognize that the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to speak of the the Stone as the Lord Jesus Christ, and He also inspired the Apostle Paul to speak of this Stone as the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice verse 32:

Romans 9

32Wherefore [why did Israel miss out on the blessing of God] ? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
33[Notice] As it is written [in Isaiah 28] , Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

Go back to Isaiah, chapter 28, and listen to Isaiah as he says again to the people of his day, “Judgment is coming, and the refuge that you have provided for yourself will not do, but God in His mercy and in His grace has provided a refuge that will withstand the storm, and His name is Jesus Christ.”

You may say, “What has that got to do with us? Those people are long gone.” Look down at verse 22:

Isaiah 28

22Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong [the bands that are holding you in slavery] : for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption [a destruction] , even determined upon the whole earth.

What is Isaiah saying? He is saying, “Up to this point I have been talking about Ephraim and Judah, but God showed me something else. God showed me that there is a day coming when the whole earth is going to fall under the judgment of God, and the people of that future day will need the same refuge as the people of this day.”


How close are we to this verse that Isaiah makes mention of here? I don't know, but if we can believe what we see, the day of judgment is fast approaching. Thank God, I have found a refuge in Jesus Christ. Thank God I know, and a great many of you—I trust all of you—have taken refuge in Him so that you can withstand any storm that comes your way.

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