Isaiah 28 (ESV)
Judgment on Ephraim and Jerusalem
Isaiah 28 begins an eight-chapter section (28-35) mostly directed to the southern kingdom of Judah. Since it is often most effective to address a sin present in a third party, and then apply it directly to the person, Isaiah will first speak of the sin of Israel, then switch the focus to Judah. So in this chapter we begin with an oracle of woe on the occasion of the fall of Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel), 722. B.C.
Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!
2 Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
he casts down to the earth with his hand.
3 The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim
will be trodden underfoot;
4 and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
which is on the head of the rich valley,
will be like a first-ripe fig before the summer:
when someone sees it, he swallows it
as soon as it is in his hand.
5 In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory,
and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people,
6 and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,
and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.
What a contrast! Samaria was the crown of pride and a fading flower — while the Lord of hosts will be an unfading crown of glory! To the Assyrian conquerors the city stands as ready to devour as a ripe fig — but the Lord will empower His faithful ones to execute judgment and turn back the enemy to his own city gate!
–adapted from William MacDonald
7 These also reel with wine
and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
they are swallowed by wine,
they stagger with strong drink,
they reel in vision,
they stumble in giving judgment.
8 For all tables are full of filthy vomit,
with no space left.
With what vivid pictures Isaiah draws the truth, that even the priests and prophets have become dissolute.
9 “To whom will he teach knowledge,
and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
those taken from the breast?
10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little.”
The religious leaders mock God, complaining that He uses baby talk in speaking to them. Does the Lord think He is dealing with youngsters, teaching them with monosyllables (in the Hebrew)?
11 For by people of strange lips
and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12 to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
yet they would not hear.
13 And the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
and be broken, and snared, and taken.
“All right,” says God, “since you don’t want to listen to my simple, understandable language, I will send a foreign invader (Assyria) into your midst.” Their alien tongue will be a sign of judgment on a people who refused God when He vainly offered rest to them and the ability to administer rest to others. As for the Lord, He will continue to speak in the simplest, clearest words, but that will be in order that all responsibility for their rejection can only be charged, not to the obscurity of the message, but to those who reject it.
A Cornerstone in Zion
14 Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers,
who rule this people in Jerusalem!
15 Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
and with Sheol we have an agreement,
when the overwhelming whip passes through
it will not come to us,
for we have made lies our refuge,
and in falsehood we have taken shelter”;
16 therefore thus says the Lord God,
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
Chosen of the Lord and precious,
Binding all the church in one;
Holy Zion’s help forever,
And our confidence alone.
To this temple, where we call You,
Come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
With Your wonted lovingkindness
Hear Your people as they pray.
And Your fullest benediction
Shed within its walls alway.
Here bestow to all Your servants
What they ask of You to gain,
What they gain from You forever
With the blessèd to retain,
And hereafter in Your glory
Evermore with You to reign.
Laud and honor to the Father,
Laud and honor to the Son,
Laud and honor to the Spirit,
Ever Three and ever one;
One in might and one in glory
While unending ages run.
–Latin, seventh century
‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’
17 And I will make justice the line,
and righteousness the plumb line;
and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
The next few verses, 18-22, show that Jerusalem’s “power politics will fail to protect here when the invader comes. Every enemy incursion will succeed. Those who scoff will only increase their bondage.”
18 Then your covenant with death will be annulled,
and your agreement with Sheol will not stand;
when the overwhelming scourge passes through,
you will be beaten down by it.
19 As often as it passes through it will take you;
for morning by morning it will pass through,
by day and by night;
and it will be sheer terror to understand the message.
20 For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in.
21 For the Lord will rise up as on Mount Perazim;
as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused;
to do his deed—strange is his deed!
and to work his work—alien is his work!
22 Now therefore do not scoff,
lest your bonds be made strong;
for I have heard a decree of destruction
from the Lord God of hosts against the whole land.
As timing is important for success in farming, so God has times for grace and for judgment. In the following verses: Just as a farmer doesn’t continue breaking the ground indefinitely, but stops when it is ready for planting (v. 24), so our trials are brought to an end as soon as they have accomplished His purposes in our lives. Just as the farmer sows his seed with discernment, scattering the cumin but putting the wheat in rows (vs. 25-26), so the Lord carefully selects the discipline especially suited to our particular need. And just as a farmer harvests his crop with extreme care, using a light stick for the dill and a heavier weight for the cumin, just heavy enough to avoid crushing the grain (vs. 27-28), so the Lord uses the lightest possible touch for our condition, never allowing an affliction to be greater than we can bear.
–adapted from Herbert Vander Lugt
23 Give ear, and hear my voice;
give attention, and hear my speech.
24 Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
25 When he has leveled its surface,
does he not scatter dill, sow cumin,
and put in wheat in rows
and barley in its proper place,
and emmer (note: a type of wheat or rye) as the border?
26 For he is rightly instructed;
his God teaches him.
27 Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin,
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
and cumin with a rod.
28 Does one crush grain for bread?
No, he does not thresh it forever;
when he drives his cart wheel over it
with his horses, he does not crush it.
29 This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel
and excellent in wisdom.
From the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta: “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation.” Click HERE for a beautiful brass and choir performance.