The Spiritual Drunkards—Who Are They?
“Woe to the eminent crown of the drunkards of Ephraim.”—ISAIAH 28:1.
1. What optimism have many felt, but will their hopes be fulfilled?
WE ARE living in stirring times. Many people have been excited by dramatic political changes around the world and in seeing more involvement by the United Nations. In December 1989 the Detroit Free Press said: “As the planet enters the 1990s, peace has broken out.” A Soviet magazine announced: “We are preparing to beat swords into ploughshares,” while the secretary-general of the United Nations declared: “We are no longer in the cold war.” Yes, hopes have been high, and without a doubt, the world scene is changing. More recently, the Gulf war has illustrated how rapidly changes may take place. But will this present world ever realize a time of actual peace and security, with all its attendant benefits? The answer is no. In fact, a serious crisis is brewing that will rock the world to its foundations! It is a crisis in which religion is deeply involved.
2. How was today’s situation paralleled in ancient Israel and Judah?
2 This crisis was foreshadowed by events in ancient Israel and Judah during the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. Back then, too, people thought that they might have achieved peace. But God, through his prophet Isaiah, warned that their hope for peace was a delusion, which would soon be exposed. In a similar way today, Jehovah, through his Witnesses, is warning mankind that they are deceived if they hope to achieve a lasting peace through human efforts. Let us read Jehovah’s prophetic warning and see how it applies today. It is found in the 28th chapter of Isaiah and was written before 740 B.C.E., likely during the reigns of wicked King Pekah of Israel and of wayward King Ahaz of Judah.
“The Drunkards of Ephraim”
3. What startling denunciation did Isaiah utter?
3 In verse 1 of chapter 28 Isa 28:1, we are jolted by a startling statement: “Woe to the eminent crown of the drunkards of Ephraim, and the fading blossom of its decoration of beauty that is upon the head of the fertile valley of those overpowered by wine!” How the Israelites must have been shocked to hear that scathing denunciation! Who were these “drunkards of Ephraim”? What was their “eminent crown”? And what is “the head of the fertile valley”? More important, what do these words imply for us today?
4. (a) What were Ephraim and the head of the fertile valley? (b) Why did Israel feel secure?
4 Since Ephraim was the largest of the ten tribes of Israel, the term “Ephraim” sometimes referred to the whole northern kingdom. So “the drunkards of Ephraim” were really the drunkards of Israel. The capital city of Israel was Samaria, which was situated on a commanding height at the head of a fertile valley. So the expression “the head of the fertile valley” refers to Samaria. When these words were written, the kingdom of Israel was very corrupt religiously speaking. Moreover, she had entered a political alliance with Syria against Judah and now felt secure. (Isaiah 7:1-9) That was about to change. A crisis was approaching, which was why Jehovah pronounced “woe to the eminent crown of the drunkards of Ephraim.”
5. (a) What was Israel’s eminent crown? (b) Who were the drunkards of Ephraim?
5 What was “the eminent crown”? A crown is a symbol of royal authority. Evidently, “the eminent crown” was Israel’s position as a separate kingdom, independent of Judah. Something was going to happen to destroy Israel’s royal independence. Who, then, were “the drunkards of Ephraim”? Doubtless, there were literal drunkards in Israel, since Samaria was the scene of licentious pagan worship. Yet, the Bible speaks of a worse kind of drunkenness. At Isaiah 29:9, we read: “They have become intoxicated, but not with wine; they have moved unsteadily, but not because of intoxicating liquor.” This was a spiritual drunkenness, an unclean, death-dealing intoxication. Israel’s leaders—particularly her religious leaders—clearly suffered from just such a spiritual intoxication.
6. What made ancient Israel drunk?
6 What was the cause of ancient Israel’s spiritual drunkenness? Basically, it was her alliance with Syria against Judah, which gave the nation’s leaders a good feeling of security. This spiritual drunkenness put Israel out of touch with reality. Like a literal drunkard, she was optimistic although there was no reason to be. Moreover, Israel wore her intoxicating alliance with Syria proudly, like a garland of beauty. But, as Isaiah says, it was a fading garland that would not last much longer.
7, 8. Despite her good feelings, what was ancient Israel due to experience?
7 Isaiah stresses this in Isa chapter 28, verse 2: “Look! Jehovah has someone strong and vigorous. Like a thunderous storm of hail, a destructive storm, like a thunderous storm of powerful, flooding waters, he will certainly do a casting down to the earth with force.” Who was this “someone strong and vigorous”? In ancient Israel’s time, it was the powerful Assyrian Empire. This cruel, ruthless world power would come upon Israel like a thunderous storm of powerful, flooding waters. With what result?
8 Isaiah goes on to say: “With the feet the eminent crowns of the drunkards of Ephraim will be trampled down. And the fading flower of its decoration of beauty that is upon the head of the fertile valley must become like the early fig before summer, that, when the seer sees it, while it is yet in his palm, he swallows it down.” (Isaiah 28:3, 4) Israel’s capital city, Samaria, was like a ripe fig to Assyria, ready to be plucked and swallowed. Israel’s garlandlike alliance with Syria was going to be trampled. It would have no value when the day of reckoning came. Even worse, her crownlike glory of independence would be crushed under the feet of the Assyrian enemy. What a catastrophe!
‘Priest and Prophet Gone Astray’
9. Why may Judah have expected a better message from Jehovah than ancient Israel got?
9 Yes, a terrible reckoning awaited Israel, and just as Jehovah God had warned, that reckoning came in the year 740 B.C.E. when Samaria was destroyed by Assyria and the northern kingdom ceased to exist as an independent nation. What happened to ancient Israel stands as a grim warning to unfaithful false religion today, as we shall see. But what of Israel’s sister kingdom to the south, Judah? In Isaiah’s time Jehovah’s temple still functioned in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. The priesthood still operated there, and prophets such as Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah spoke in Jehovah’s name. What message, then, did Jehovah have for Judah?
10, 11. What disgusting situation existed in Judah?
10 Isaiah goes on to tell us: “These also [that is, the priests and the prophets of Jerusalem]—because of wine they have gone astray and because of intoxicating liquor they have wandered about. Priest and prophet—they have gone astray because of intoxicating liquor.” (Isaiah 28:7a) Evidently, Judah’s religious leaders were also drunk. Likely, as in Israel, some were drunkards in a literal sense, and if so, this was a disgrace. God’s Law specifically prohibited strong drink to priests when they were serving in the temple. (Leviticus 10:8-11) Literal drunkenness in God’s house would have been a shocking contravention of God’s Law.
11 More serious, though, there was spiritual drunkenness in Judah. Just as Israel had aligned herself with Syria against Judah, so Judah sought security through an alliance with Assyria. (2 Kings 16:5-9) Despite the presence of God’s temple and his prophets, Judah put faith in humans when she should have trusted Jehovah. Moreover, having formed such an ill-advised alliance, her leaders felt as carefree as their spiritually drunken neighbors to the north. Their irresponsible attitude disgusted Jehovah.
12. What would result from Judah’s spiritual drunkenness?
12 Isaiah goes on to say: “They have become confused as a result of the wine, they have wandered about as a result of the intoxicating liquor; they have gone astray in their seeing, they have reeled as to decision. For the tables themselves have all become full of filthy vomit—there is no place without it.” (Isaiah 28:7b, 8) Likely, in their drunken state, some literally vomited in the temple. But even worse, the priests and the prophets who should have given religious guidance vomited forth spiritual filth. Moreover, with the exception of a few faithful ones, the judgments of the prophets were warped, and they foresaw false things for the nation. Jehovah would punish Judah for this spiritual uncleanness.
Spiritual Drunkards Today
13. What parallel to the situation in Israel and Judah existed in the first century C.E., and what parallel exists today?
13 Were Isaiah’s prophecies fulfilled only on ancient Israel and Judah? By no means. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul quoted his words about spiritual drunkenness and applied them to the religious leaders of their time. (Isaiah 29:10, 13; Matthew 15:8, 9; Romans 11:8) Today, too, a situation like that in Isaiah’s time has arisen—this time in Christendom, a worldwide religious organization that claims to represent God. Rather than taking a firm stand for truth and relying on Jehovah, Christendom, Catholic and Protestant, puts her faith in the world. She thus staggers about unsteadily, like the drunkards of Israel and Judah. The spiritual drunkards of those ancient nations well foreshadow the spiritual leaders of Christendom today. Let us see exactly how.
14. How are the religious leaders of Christendom as drunk as were the leaders of ancient Samaria and Jerusalem?
14 Like Samaria and Jerusalem, Christendom has drunk deep of the wine of political alliances. In 1919 she was among the foremost promoters of the League of Nations. While Jesus said that Christians would be no part of the world, Christendom’s leaders cultivate relationships with political leaders. (John 17:14-16) The symbolic wine of such activity is stimulating to the clergy. (Compare Revelation 17:4.) They enjoy being consulted by politicians and associating with the great ones of this world. As a result, they have no true spiritual guidance to give. They vomit out uncleanness rather than speaking the pure message of truth. (Zephaniah 3:9) With their vision blurred and confused, they are no safe guides for mankind.—Matthew 15:14.
“Command Upon Command”
15, 16. How did Isaiah’s contemporaries respond to his warnings?
15 In the eighth century B.C.E., Isaiah exposed the wrong course of the spiritual leaders of Judah in particular. How did they respond? They hated it! When Isaiah persisted in proclaiming God’s warnings, the religious leaders retorted: “Whom will one instruct in knowledge, and whom will one make understand what has been heard? Those who have been weaned from the milk, those moved away from the breasts?” (Isaiah 28:9) Yes, did Isaiah think he was talking to little babies? Jerusalem’s religious leaders considered themselves to be grown men, fully capable of making decisions for themselves. They did not need to listen to the nagging reminders of Isaiah.
16 Those religionists even made a joke of Isaiah’s preaching work. They chanted at him: “For it is ‘command upon command, command upon command, measuring line upon measuring line, measuring line upon measuring line, here a little, there a little.’” (Isaiah 28:10) ‘Isaiah keeps repeating himself,’ they claimed. ‘He keeps saying: “This is what Jehovah has commanded! This is what Jehovah has commanded! This is Jehovah’s standard! This is Jehovah’s standard!”’ In the original Hebrew, Isaiah 28:10 is a repetitious rhyme, rather like a child’s nursery rhyme. And that is how the prophet seemed to the religious leaders, repetitious and childish.
17. How do many today react to the warning message proclaimed by Jehovah’s Witnesses?
17 In the first century C.E., the preaching of Jesus and his disciples sounded similarly repetitious and unsophisticated. Those who followed Jesus were viewed by the Jewish religious leaders as accursed, unsophisticated yokels, men unlettered and ordinary. (John 7:47-49; Acts 4:13) Jehovah’s Witnesses today are often viewed in the same way. They have not attended Christendom’s seminaries, and they do not use high-sounding titles or theological terminology as do the clergy. So the high ones in Christendom look down on them, imagining that they should know their place and give these religious leaders more respect.
18. What do religious leaders today overlook?
18 However, there is something that those religious leaders overlook. Even though the great ones of Isaiah’s day rejected his message, he was speaking the truth, and his warnings came true! Similarly, the warnings Jehovah’s Witnesses utter today are true, solidly based on God’s Word of truth, the Bible. (John 17:17) Hence, they will be fulfilled.
19. How was Judah forced to pay heed to foreigners speaking a stammering language?
19 At Isaiah 28:11, we read: “For by those stammering with their lips and by a different tongue he will speak to this people.” Isaiah’s teaching sounded to Judah like foreign babble. Although Judah survived the Assyrian menace that overwhelmed Israel, in time Jehovah dealt with Judah by means of another foreigner, Nebuchadnezzar. (Jeremiah 5:15-17) The Babylonian language sounded harsh and stammering to those Hebrews. But they were forced to listen to it when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed in 607 B.C.E. and the inhabitants were dragged off into Babylonian exile. In the same way today, Christendom will soon have to suffer because, like Judah of old, she ignores Jehovah’s exhortations.
20, 21. What do Jehovah’s Witnesses incessantly proclaim, but what do the leaders of Christendom refuse to do?
20 The prophecy says of such ones: “Those to whom he has said: ‘This is the resting-place. Give rest to the weary one. And this is the place of ease,’ but who were not willing to hear. And to them the word of Jehovah will certainly become ‘command upon command, command upon command, measuring line upon measuring line, measuring line upon measuring line, here a little, there a little,’ in order that they may go and certainly stumble backwards and actually be broken and ensnared and caught.”—Isaiah 28:12, 13.
21 Incessantly, just as Isaiah spoke God’s message, Jehovah’s Witnesses tell Christendom that she should rest her hope in Jehovah’s word. But she refuses to listen. To her, the Witnesses seem to be babbling in a foreign tongue. They speak a language she cannot understand. Christendom refuses to give rest to the weary one by telling about God’s Kingdom and the new world to come. Rather, she is drunk with the wine of her relationship with this world. She prefers to support political solutions to mankind’s problems. Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, she has not sought the Kingdom resting-place herself, and she will not tell others about it.—Matthew 23:13.
22. Of what does Jehovah put the leaders of Christendom on notice?
22 Hence, Isaiah’s prophetic words put the clergy on notice that Jehovah will not always speak by means of His harmless Witnesses. Soon, Jehovah will carry into effect his “command upon command, measuring line upon measuring line,” and the result will be catastrophic for Christendom. Her religious leaders and their flocks will “be broken and ensnared and caught.” Yes, like Jerusalem of old, Christendom’s religious systems will be utterly destroyed. What a shocking, unexpected development that will be! And what a frightful outcome because the clergy prefer spiritual drunkenness to Jehovah’s reminders!
Can You Explain?
□ Who were the drunkards of Ephraim, and what made them drunk?
□ How were the eminent crowns of the drunkards of Ephraim trampled down?
□ What disgraceful situation in Judah did Isaiah expose?
□ Where today do we see spiritual drunkenness?
□ Why should Christendom heed what happened to the ancient nation of Judah?