Pentecost means Feast of 50, a Jewish celebration commemorating the day God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, which, according to tradition, took place 50 days after the Passover. It was a very important feast in ancient days, a time of great singing, dancing, and praise before the Lord. And on the day God gave the Law to man, the Holy Spirit descended at the upper room to write His law on the apostles’ hearts. Acts 2:1, 4: And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place…And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
We make the celebration of the birth of Christ the event of the year, but the day that God sent the Holy Ghost is largely tossed aside as an afterthought. Pentecostals take their namesake from this holy day; our mantra used to state that we should live every day as if it were Pentecost Sunday. We are certainly living up to that, as we now treat God with the same lukewarm disregard on Pentecost Sunday as we do the rest of the year.
During the early part of King Hezekiah’s reign (about 700 B.C.), the otherwise good king made a critical mistake, entering an alliance with Egypt. He was convinced that the Egyptian armies could give the Jews the help they needed to fight the Assyrians, who were conquering much of the ancient world. But God was not in this plan, and Isaiah was furious about it. All of Isaiah 30 and 31 are devoted to the prophet’s tirades against Hezekiah’s lack of faith. It was insanity to trust in man’s armies rather than God’s delivering power, and the nation became deeply divided between Hezekiah’s and Isaiah’s viewpoints.
As chapter 28 begins, Isaiah is reflecting on the spiritual sickness that caused such a national division. Ephraim was the largest tribe in the Northern kingdom of Israel; at one time they were the pride of the nation. Verse 1: Woe 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! Ephraim is compared to a once-beautiful flower that is now fading. Verse 2: Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand. God had sent the Assyrian army like a hailstorm to destroy and conquer this glorious and beautiful city because they had turned their backs on Him. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet: And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, 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 (verses 3-4). It was the drunkenness (or spiritual blindness) of their high priests and leaders that had led them to their downfall.
However, Isaiah then realizes that Judah’s own spiritual leaders have the same blindness, which explains why the kingdom is making the mistake of forming the alliance with the Egypt. Verse 7: But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; 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.
From verse 8 onward, the story makes a transition from allegorical to literal. Judah’s prophets and priests weren’t just spiritual drunkards; they literally were at a tavern. Some space of time takes place as Isaiah goes out looking for his fellow prophets, and then finds them lying drunk in their own vomit on the tables. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean (verse 8). He excoriated them for their selfish desire to drink and be merry when God’s people needed them the most.
The next two verses are the drunken prophets’ response. They ridiculed Isaiah and accused him of being foolish. Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts (verse 9). They compared Isaiah to a child who was using big words that he didn’t understand. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: In verse 10, they mockingly tried to “teach” Isaiah how to speak, starting with small lines and words and adding onto them. Ironically, they were condescending to the most intelligent and well-literate prophet in Jerusalem, while they were a group of hungover reprobates.
Isaiah became angrier, and in righteous indignation, the Holy Spirit came into him and he delivered one of the most awesome prophecies in the Old Testament. For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people (verse 11). We could translate Isaiah’s response this way: “You accuse me of speaking big words and saying things I don’t understand! Well someday, God will speak to His people through strange lips and unknown tongues!” It was one of the most exact prophecies in the Old Testament of the New Testament, a sudden outburst that foreshadows the indwelling of the Holy Ghost through speaking in tongues on the Day of Pentecost, some 700 years before it occurred.
Some Bible scholars, obviously not Holy Ghost-filled, try to downplay this prophecy by claiming it is a warning that when the people are conquered by the Assyrians, they will be “taught a lesson” by God through men who speak foreign languages. In other words, “stammering lips and other tongues” refers to the Assyrian language. However, this cannot be true because we find later in Isaiah 36:13-15 that the Assyrians’ messenger, Rabshakeh, warned the Jews of the impending invasion in Hebrew. Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you.
We also know that this scripture is prophesying the Holy Ghost because Paul references it in 1 Corinthians 14:21: In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. As a Pharisee, Paul was extremely knowledgeable of the Old Testament and he knew this prophecy by Isaiah very well. He too decries the spiritual blindness of people who cannot see what being filled with the Holy Ghost brings.
And how did the drunken prophets in Isaiah’s day respond to such an amazing prophecy? They did not. Were they shocked? Scared? Confused? Uninterested? The Word does not say. We only know that they were silent at the prophet’s words, and Isaiah was even angrier at their lack of response than their earlier mockery. God had just given them a beautiful foreshadowing of how the Holy Ghost would speak through people one day, and they did not receive it. And these were supposed to be men of God! Isaiah decries this lack of spiritual knowledge in verse 12: To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. The “rest” referred to in this scripture is speaking of the rest and refreshing that the Baptism of the Holy Ghost brings.
But this was a common occurrence throughout the Bible, and still is today. Just as the drunken prophets didn’t understand the Holy Ghost, neither did the Jews surrounding the Upper Room at the Day of Pentecost. In Acts 2:13, after the tongues of fire fell and the 120 were shouting in heavenly languages, some were amazed, but others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. These Jews were supposed to be God’s people as well, and here was one of the most amazing events in history as the presence of the third Person in the Trinity was being manifested, yet they stood and mocked.
We Pentecostals should be reminded as we reflect on this day. Pentecost was an amazing experience, but it took being in a difficult position to be there. For anyone to be the lone voice of righteousness, surrounded by detractors, is uncomfortable. To receive his prophecy, Isaiah had to be the one righteous prophet, in a tavern, surrounded by failed men of God who mocked him. He had to endure their ridicule before it was revealed to him how the Holy Ghost would one day manifest Himself. And when it did occur, the Early Church disciples were in the exact same position. The 120 were surrounded by crowds of hostile people. These were supposed to be the Jews, God’s chosen, but when they heard the tongues, they sneered and would not understand.
Pentecostals are Isaiah surrounded by the drunken prophets. We are the 120 gathered in the upper room, surrounded by crowds of people who will laugh at us. The Christians surrounding us are supposed to be God’s people. They should know the Holy Ghost when they hear it, but the vast majority of them will laugh at us when they hear tongues, ignoring how often it is mentioned in the Bible they claim to follow. God’s people will be faced with great ridicule in this last hour. 2 Peter 3:3-4: Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? But we must stand strong. Isaiah and Peter both stand as men who are examples to us of how to stand strong in the face of mockery around us. Matthew 24:13: But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.