There are six “woes” declared between Isaiah 28:1 and 33:1. First: “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim …” (Isaiah 28:1). Secondly: “Woe to Ariel. To Ariel, the city where David dwelt! …” (Isaiah 29:1). Thirdly: “Woe to them that seek deeply in order to hide their counsel from the Lord, whose works are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us?” and, “Who knows us?” (Isaiah 29:15). Fourth: “Woe to the rebellious children, says the Lord, that take counsel, but not from me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin.” (Isaiah 30:1) Fifth: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not to the Holy One of Israel, neither do they seek the Lord!” (Isaiah 31:1). And finally, sixth: “Woe to those that spoil, and you were not spoiled; and deal treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with you! When you shall cease to spoil, you shall be spoiled; and when you shall make an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with you.” (Isaiah 33:1).
People beware! When a true prophet, in the Spirit, announces “Woe” on a people, place or thing, watch out! To be dramatic or poetical is simply not an item in their agenda. “Woe,” literally and starkly means exactly that. It means some breath-taking, buttock-clenching horror is about to overwhelm the person, place or thing under discussion. We are not talking of, “Oh! It’s going to be a rainy day!” or “Your household is to be sick!” We are talking of a life changing, possibly culture destroying, or even nation destroying cataclysm. This is anything the reader can think of as a terrible woe, but a further couple of hundred miles further north.
When Isaiah stood up and said (or perhaps just wrote), “Woe to that proud wreath of a crown that is Samaria”, take it from me, it was time for the people of the Northern Kingdom to duck and run. It meant the absolute end for Samaria.
A true prophetic word of this predictive kind is an historic event waiting to take place. Isaiah talking like this is actually God Himself talking.
The Book of Isaiah, surprisingly, as we enter chapter 28, now goes back to the time before Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and took Samaria (722 B.C). God’s prophetic word to the northern kingdom of Israel was that it had made choices, and taken actions that rendered Israel as a nation, and its population as individuals ripe for judgment.
If we in the 21st century cringe, and wriggle while watching refugees suffer and die while leaving their homes and struggling with all their might and main to get to safety with their families, the word picture painted by scripture of what was to happen to Samaria and the nation state of Israel will reduce us to tears and cause us to be contributing to aid funds with huge amounts. What happened to Samaria was shocking in humanitarian terms.
Woe to that proud wreath of a crown (Samaria), the pride of the drunkards of Ephraim, to the fading flower of its glorious beauty, which lies at the head of a rich fertile valley of those overcome with wine!
A loud prophetic, “Woe!” warns the northern kingdom frighteningly. If the people knew what horrors were on the way to them it would have permanently sobered up anybody ensnared by heavy drinking or alcoholism, drugs or any other addiction common to their day in the eighth century B.C..
The Northern Kingdom is here referred to as “Ephraim” simply because Ephraim was its leading and conceivably its largest tribal clan. The leaders of their society, their government, and all their judicial systems were all drunkards. Isaiah says so. He prophetically sees them indulging themselves in a feast, honouring Samaria as a “wreath,” that is, a victor’s crown. They saw themselves as prospective victors in the face of the probable Assyrian invasion by the emperor Shalmaneser.
They seemed to be imagining themselves safe and secure, (a) because of pacts of allied assistance with Egypt and surrounding smaller nations that would, theoretically, bond together a defeat Assyria in times of war, or when they were subjects of attack. It was mainly the pact with Egypt which gave them grounds for such joy. They, wrongly, could not conceive of Egypt losing if a full frontal head to head clash with Assyria ever came about. Modern and contemporary historians and Egyptologists all seem to unanimously agree that what was actually so clear and definite in today’s retrospection, was not even dreamed of at the time. Ah! Retrospection has such authority and infallibility. Oh, that prospective vision could always me as masterful and joy giving as the retrospective. As far as a world fighting force was concerned, Egypt had passed their “sell by” date. When that clash finally came about, Egypt were no match for an Assyria that was still on the ascent. Assyria and Egypt met shortly after the fall of Samaria. It was where Egypt simply became yet another notch on the sword handles of the Assyrian soldiers.
Reason (b) for the misplaced and arrogant assurance that the drinking leaders of Samaria were indulging in, was simply the geographic location of their beloved city. It can even be seen today when visiting the ruins of Samaria, that in the days when bows, arrows and makeshift trebuchets were “modern warfare”, the hill upon which Samaria was constructed was, undoubtedly, in a normal battle scenario, next to impregnable.
However, the Assyrians did not indulge in normal warfare and were incredibly resilient, horribly cruel, magnificently creative in their violence, and, when it came to besieging a city, they were fanatically patient.
Why would anybody make themselves drunkenly vulnerable while labouring in the offices of social responsibility, where failure to function could influence matters of life or death for thousands upon thousands of their countrymen? They foolishly could not imagine that Samaria was anything but impregnable, and they stupidly conceived the conviction that their power and position gave them privilege and security, in which false context they felt they could indulge themselves with strong drink and partying. Ah! The tangled web of self-deceit people weave!
Samaria’s “impregnable” position, together with their “impregnable” Egyptian allies was a misbegotten dream. The city that they imaged as a wreath of victory was actually a fading bouquet of death. The long views in all directions from Samaria’s watch-towers would not assist them. The surrounding number of hills, distanced from them enough to watch any would be assailant that probably birthed this language of a wreath, would soon be smothered with Assyrian military tents as they would sit and wait for the inhabitants of Samaria to starve or surrender.
All this Isaiah saw clearly. There was never to be a “Wahoo!” of victory in Samaria. There was, however, definitely to be a catastrophic, cataclysmic “Woe” of annihilation, death and exile.
The non-biblical historic writing entitled, “The Wisdom of Solomon”, confirms that the Jews utilised floral head wreaths for various victories long before Rome or Greece did. And just as victory wreaths placed on the head quickly rot and disappear into dust, “the wreath,” as Isaiah calls Samaria, was fading and disintegrating on the steep hill, at the head of its fertile and prosperous valley that gave a wonderfully clear view of local activity in all directions. The leaders of this Hebrew capital city were “laid low” (Hebrew: Halume: “overcome”) by wine, says the prophet. The pride that precipitated their rampant carousing leaves them unprepared for the judgment that is about to wash them away like a dishwasher wipes a dirty plate clean of food leftovers. Perpetual and ubiquitous inebriating drunkenness, shaken and stirred together with intoxicating pride and arrogance demand God’s most severe judgment, especially in the lives of the decision makers and wealth creators of any society or culture. Check it out with Isaiah 5:11–17.
- See! The Lord has at His disposal someone who is strong and powerful. Like a storm of hail and strong destructive wind, like a sudden flood of water pouring over the country, he will throw things (namely Samaria) down to the ground.
Ironically, the “powerful and strong” one that the Lord will use is the heathen and idolatrous nation of Assyria. The coming of the Assyrian army under the monarchy of Shalmaneser V is compared to the violent destruction of a hailstorm, a flood and a gale force wind. Oh Ephraim! Ephraim! Beware of the repercussions of your actions. You have irresponsibly sown to the wind, you will indeed reap the whirlwind. Future generations are destined to refer to you and your clansmen as “The Lost Tribes of Israel.” Few, if any, would have any idea as to where you were to be ultimately exiled. It is a story to rend many a persons emotions.
- That proud crown of a city, the pride of the drunkards of Ephraim (Israel) will be trampled underfoot.
Ironically, the wreath, the victor’s crown, a symbol of victory, and a symbol utilised by Isaiah to highlight the arrogant pride of the drunkards of Ephraim, “will be trampled underfoot.” It is not going to be a simple battle where one side winds and the other is defeated. Not at all! There was to be a prolonged siege ending up with Israel, the northern kingdom of the divided hegemony, completely annihilated and destroyed. The hill of the beautiful city was to become a dump at the top of the valley. The population was to be deported and exiled to places that historians are not altogether confident of, and the stone and mortar that constituted the capital city of the northern kingdom was to be reduced to a scrapheap of stone, and a lair for wild animals. Assyria was to fulfill God’s judgment on Samaria to the nth degree. Israel had never experienced such a “woe” in its history.
- That fading flower of glorious beauty that is set at the head of the rich fertile valley, will be like the first – ripe fig before the summer harvest—as soon as someone sees it and takes it in his hand, he hastily swallows it.
Samaria is mildly compared first to a fading flower, and then secondly, here, to a first-ripe fig. As soon as a person sees such a fig, he picks it, pops it into his mouth, and swallows it. Just so, God will not postpone the judgment, and there will be nothing at all left, literally and absolutely of the city of Samaria built and created by King Omri a few generations earlier. This prophecy was fulfilled when Shalmaneser besieged Samaria for three years, where after the city fell in 722 B.C.
- At that time and in that day, the Lord All-Powerful, Almighty, of Heaven’s Armies will be like a beautiful crown, like a wonderful crown for the remnant of His people who are left alive and believing;
Yet again, in juxtaposition to declarations of the severest and most awful judgement upon sin, Isaiah takes a huge visual quantum leap into the far flung, future, millennial day as a contrast to Israel’s present state and situation. He constantly caps the promises of judgement and horror for rebellion against Yahweh, with the unspeakably glorious perspective of Christ’s reign on earth on David’s throne. We can comfortably, retrospectively see what Isaiah was saying; but did Isaiah know what he meant? (See 1 Peter 2:10-12). In that future day, Yahweh Himself will become a glorious victor’s crown and a beautiful wreath or diadem to the remnant of all Israel, meaning all the tribes descended from Jacob/Israel, and the time when there will be no divided Israel but a healed and renewed hegemony in total harmony both with God and each other. Not that the details of that reign or time are given hear in this passage. It is a description of the stark contrast to the self-exalting pride and “wreaths of fading flowers of Ephraim’s drunkards” as stated in the opening verse of Isaiah 28.
- and a spirit of wisdom and of justice to the judges who must decide cases and strength to those who turn the tide of battle at the city gate.
In that millennial day, in all decisions, Yahweh, manifesting Himself as “a Spirit of Justice,” will give His strength to enable all those who will be judges or rulers to do precisely what is right. He will also be the strength of those who take the battle to their own city gates defending the territory from the enemy).