“John will be great
In the sight
Of the Lord.
He must never
Or any strong drink.
He will be filled
With the Holy Spirit,
Even before his birth,
From his mother’s womb.”
ἔσται γὰρ μέγας ἐνώπιον Κυρίου, καὶ οἶνον καὶ σίκερα οὐ μὴ πίῃ, καὶ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου πλησθήσεται ἔτι ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς αὐτοῦ,
Now comes the jolt, as the role of this John would be made clear. This angel, via Luke, pointed out that this child will not be just another Jewish kid, but someone special, befitting his special birth. Luke had the angel continue that John would be great in the sight of the Lord (ἔσται γὰρ μέγας ἐνώπιον Κυρίου). However, he must never drink wine, or any strong intoxicating drink (καὶ οἶνον καὶ σίκερα οὐ μὴ πίῃ), like a Nazirite, a person dedicated to God, as in Numbers, chapter 6:1-4. Either a man or woman could take these Nazirite vows that made them closer to Yahweh. In Hebrew the term “nazir” meant a vow, so that it was possible for a non-Levite to be a favorite of Yahweh also. Vow taking in most religious groups sets those people apart, just as the religious vows of the medieval Catholic Church became popular, producing vowed monks and nuns. A striking English comment would be that these are “Nazi rites.” This Nazirite vow separates them from normal life, especially from wine and anything to do with grapes. The Nazirite stayed away from grapes of any kind. Thus, John was to be filled with the Holy Spirit (καὶ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου πλησθήσεται) even before his birth, from his mother’s womb (ἔτι ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς αὐτοῦ). John would be holy before he was born. The Holy Spirit would play a major role in the works of Luke here and in Acts. This special role of John is similar to Samuel in 1 Samuel, chapter 1:11, and Samson in Judges, chapter 13:4-7, in the Hebrew Bible. Both were dedicated to be Nazirites before their birth. John was to be a special dude.
“They also reel with wine.
They stagger with strong drink.
The priests reel with strong drink.
The prophets reel with strong drink.
They are confused with wine.
They stagger with strong drink.
They err in vision.
They stumble in giving judgment.
All tables are covered
No place is clean.”
Isaiah does not paint a pretty picture of these northern priests and prophets. They reel and stagger around because of strong drink. They are confused and wobble around because of their drinking habits. They have false visions and stumble when giving judgment. In colorful descriptive language, Isaiah says that their tables were so covered with vomit from drinking that there was no clean place on them.
“The wine dries up.
The vine languishes.
All the merry hearted sigh.
The mirth of the timbrels is stilled.
The noise of the jubilant has ceased.
The mirth of the lyre is stilled.
No longer do they drink wine
Strong drink is bitter
To those who drink it.
The city of chaos is broken down.
Every house is shut up
So that none can enter.
There is an outcry in the streets
For lack of wine.
All joy has reached its eventide.
The gladness of the earth is banished.
Desolation is left in the city.
The gates are battered into ruins.
Thus it shall be on the earth.
Thus it shall be among the nations.
It will be
Like a beaten olive tree,
Like the gleaning
When the grape harvest is ended.”
Isaiah points out that without wine, there is no joy, just sighing. The vines and the wine have languished and dried up. The sound of the jubilant musical instruments of the timbrels and lyre was no more. There were no more drinking and singing. Strong drink had become bitter, like raw alcohol. The city of chaos broke down. It is difficult to figure out whether this was a specific city or the symbolic end of the world chaos. All the houses were closed, so that no one could come in or go out. People complained about the lack of wine with no joy in this city, since gladness had been banished. It was now a desolate chaotic city with broken down gates. This felt like the time after the olive trees and vines had been harvested with nothing left to do, even though there was no harvest. The vines and trees were empty and barren.