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Corn and wine in Isaiah 62:8

January 20, 2012

A prophecy of Isaiah says that the corn and new wine that God’s people have labored in will no longer be consumed by their enemies, but instead will nourish those who labor to collect it. They will eat and drink it in the courts of God’s sanctuary. Below is a translation on Isaiah 62:8, and comments by Joseph Addison Alexander. [1]

Sworn hath Jehovah by his right hand and by his arm of strength, If I give thy corn any more as food to thine enemies, and if the sons of the outland shall drink thy new wine which thou hast laboured in, (I am not God). On the elliptical formula of swearing, see above, on ch. 22:14. The declaration though conditional in form is in fact an absolute negation. In swearing by his hand and arm, the usual symbols of strength, he pledges his omnipotence for the fulfilment of the promise. ‘As sure as I am almighty, thou shalt suffer this no more.’

In the New Testament, corn is interpreted as a symbol of God’s word. Paul applied an Old Testament law, “thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn,” to those who labor to promote the Gospel, in 1 Corinthians 9:9, and in 1 Timothy 5:18.

1 Timothy 5:17-18
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

Similarly, new wine was used in a parable of Jesus to represent his own teachings, which were a new and fresh interpretation of the Scriptures, for example in Matthew 9:16-17, which is expounded below by Joseph Addison Alexander in his commentary on Matthew. [2]

16. No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment: for that which is put in to fill it up, taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.

Although Matthew has not yet recorded any of Christ’s formal parables, he gives us in this passage several examples of his parabolical method of instruction, i. e. by illustration drawn from the analogies of real life. Having already employed some of the prevailing marriage customs to account for the neglect of all austerities by his disciples, he proceeds to enforce the general principle which he is laying down, by other analogies derived from the festivities of such occasions, and particularly from dresses and the drinks which were considered indispensable at marriage feasts. The first parable, as it is expressly called by Luke (5,36), is suggested by the homely but familiar art of patching, and consists in a description of the general practice of what everybody does, or rather of what no one does, in such a matter. This appeal to constant universal usage shows, that however we may understand the-process here alluded to, it must have been entirely familiar and intelligible to the hearers. The essential undisputed points are that he represents it as an unheard-of and absurd thing to combine an old and new dress, by sewing parts of one upon the other. The incongruity, thus stated by Matthew and Luke (5,36), is rendered much more clear by Mark’s explanation of a new dress, as meaning one composed of unfulled cloth, and therefore utterly unfit for the kind of combination here alluded to. Both the text and the construction of the next clause has been much disputed; but the true sense seems to be the one expressed in the common version, namely, that the new piece or filling up, by shrinking or by greater strength of fibre, loosens or weakens the old garment still more, and the rent becomes worse. The essential idea here expressed is evidently that of incongruity, with special reference to old and new. It admits of various applications to the old and new economy, the old and new nature of the individual, and many other contrasts of condition and of character. The primary use of it, suggested by the context and historical occasion, was to teach the authors of this charge that they must not expect in the Messiah’s kingdom a mere patching up of what had had its day and done its office, by empirical repairs and emendations of a later date, but an entire renovation of the church and of religion; not as to its essence or its vital principle, but as to all its outward forms and vehicles. As the usages immediately in question were of human not divine institution, whatever there may be in this similitude of sarcasm or contempt, belongs not even to the temporary forms of the Mosaic dispensation, but to its traditional excrescences.

17. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

The same essential truth is now propounded in another parabolic form, likewise borrowed from the experience of common life. Instead of old and new cloth, the antithesis is now between old and new skins as receptacles for new wine, the fermenting strength of which distends the fresh skins without injury, but bursts the rigid leather of the old ones. Men, as in 5, 15, and often elsewhere, represents the indefinite subject of the verb. The present tense denotes what is usually done in such a case. The word bottles is of course to be explained with reference to the oriental use of goat skins to preserve and carry water, milk, wine, and other liquids. The attempt to determine who are meant by the bottles, and what by the wine, proceeds upon a false assumption with respect to the structure and design of parables, which are not to be expounded by adjusting the minute points of resemblance first, and then deducing from the aggregate a general conclusion, but by first ascertaining the main analogy, and then adjusting the details to suit it. (See below, on 13, 3.) This is the method universally adopted in expounding fables, which are only a particular species of the parable, distinguished by the introduction of the lower animals, as representatives of moral agents. In explaining Æsop’s fable of the Fox and the Grapes, no one ever thinks of putting a distinctive meaning on the grapes, as a particular kind of fruit, or on the limbs of the fox as having each its own significance. Yet this is the expository method almost universally applied to the parables. By varying the form of his illustration here, without a change in its essential import, he teaches us to ascertain the latter first, and then let the mere details adjust themselves accordingly. The last clause furnishes the key to both similitudes. New wine must be put into new bottles. In religion, no less than in secular affairs, new emergencies require new means to meet them; but these new means are not to be devised by human wisdom, but appointed by divine authority.

Jesus called out his church from among the Jews, and from the nations, and committed his teachings and revelations to those who believe the Gospel, which are preserved for us in the New Testament. His teachings were like new wine, and the church the wineskin. The teachings of Jesus could not be patched onto Judaism. Neither were they poured into that old wineskin. The church is the new wineskin, in which those teachings have matured, and aged. And Isaiah’s prophecy says that the corn and wine that the saints have labored over will nourish the people of God or the church.


1. Joseph Addison Alexander, Isaiah translated and explained. 1852. p. 385.

2. Joseph Addison Alexander, The Gospel according to Matthew. C. Scribner, 1864. pp. 262-263.