Isaiah 28 – The Proud Crown of the Drunkards Of Ephraim

Bible opened to Isaiah 28 with Endangered Species Forest Mint Dark Chocolate

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species forest mint

Today’s PassageIsaiah 28

Religion has historically had no single consensus on what to do about alcohol. The Jewish Havdalah tradition that marks the end of each Sabbath involves drinking glasses of overflowing wine together. In a more extreme example, the Greek Cult of Dionysus saw drunkenness as possession by the spirit of the god of wine Dionysus, a means of communion with the divine, and according to some records the Roman Bacchanalia frequently degenerated into drunken orgies. On the flip side, Islamic Sharia law prohibits the consumption of alcohol entirely, based on particular verses of the Quran. In practice, historical Christianity has landed on various positions between these two extremes. But what does Isaiah have to contribute to the Judeo-Christian perspective on The Hard Stuff?

We’ve seen a lot of passages about wine in Isaiah recently. From mournful, joyless drinking, to divine banquets with vintage wine, to God’s vineyard, you can hardly go a chapter without coming across more wine. In today’s chapter, though, we see Isaiah prophesying judgment against Ephraim, and in doing so, delivering a concrete norm on the topic of alcohol consumption. He opens the chapter with a lament: “Woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim!” (28:1), repeating the phrase in verse 3. He censures the Jewish tribe of Ephraim for becoming “overcome with wine” (1), even the priests and prophets, whose visions are confused and compromised by their drunken stupor (7). The kingdom is polluted; Isaiah states, “For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, without a single clean place” (8). Ephraim’s sin is drinking to excess, and the consequence of their sin will ultimately be their captivity.

In contrast to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim, Isaiah presents another crown. He states, “In that day the Lord of hosts will become a beautiful crown…a spirit of justice for him who sits in judgment, a strength to those who repel the onslaught at the gate” (28:5-6). God himself promises to be a crown for the remnant of his people. To wear the crown that is God is to receive the power to deliver sober judgment and the strength to protect against invaders. And truthfully, I find Isaiah’s perspective on alcohol to be sensible and divinely inspired: the problem isn’t the drink, but its abuse. His assessment is in line both with Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise,” and Psalm 104:14-15, “[God] makes…wine that gladdens human hearts.” And I see nothing wrong with choosing to abstain from alcohol entirely. It’s a wise way to avoid the risks and dangers of alcohol.

I seem to have gotten hung up on the trees about alcohol in this chapter without taking a step back to survey the forest of judgment and warning. I haven’t even touched the second half of it about Judah! Perhaps I’ll dig into that stuff before moving on, but that’s a decision for tomorrow. See you all then–right now I’ve got to go mow the lawn.


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