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DIVISION IV (Isa. 28--35)
These four chapters constitute almost one continuous prophecy regarding (1) the destruction of Ephraim; (2) the impiety and folly of Judah; (3) the danger of alliances with Egypt; and (4) the straits to which they would be reduced by the Assyrians.F1
The date of these chapters is most likely that proposed by Dummelow: "This chapter must be assigned to a date prior to the capture of Samaria by the Assyrians (722 B.C.) and the fall of the northern kingdom."F2 Even many of the critical commentators agree that the date may not be placed "any later than just prior to the fall of Samaria (722 B.C.)."F3 Here, therefore, is an undisputed example of predictive prophecy.
The chapter may be divided thus: (1) Samaria's luxury, drunkenness, and infidelity pave the way for their ruin (Isaiah 28:1-6). (2) Even the rulers and the religious leaders are no more than filthy drunkards (Isaiah 28:7,8). (3) The nobility of Ephraim mock Isaiah (Isaiah 28:9-10). (4) Isaiah gives God's response to their mockery (Isaiah 11:13). (5) Judah joins Ephraim in their scoffing rejection of the Lord and takes refuge in a "refuge of lies" (Isaiah 28:14,15). (6)The true refuge is laid by God in Zion, "the stone," tried, precious, comer, etc. (Isaiah 28:16-19). (7) Human measures of security are inadequate; victory is with Jehovah only; therefore be not scoffers (Isaiah 28:20-22). (8) An agricultural parable is used to teach the wisdom of God's plans (Isaiah 28:23-29).
It would be well for America, especially her congressmen and other officials to heed the warning of God in this passage for Ephraim, whose drunken leaders led to the total destruction of their nation and to its disappearance from among the nations. We saw at Pearl Harbor what liquor can do for the defenses of a nation; but in spite of what must be obvious to every thoughtful person, the whiskey barons continue to corrupt the people.
The strange mingling of severe warnings and gentle promises of hope, especially noted in this chapter, is the result of Isaiah's discrimination between the leaders who are principally to blame for the approaching disaster and the rank and file of the people who are being misled. "He varies his tone and manner,"F4 accordingly as he addresses first one group, then another.
The city of Samaria on a hill, crowned with a wall around the summit, sat like a crown on the city dominating a fertile valley. The behavior of their leading men, being a group of sorted drunkards and practicing in their revels the social custom of crowning the head of a drunk with a garland, might also have suggested some of Isaiah's terminology here.
Verse two identifies God's instrument of destruction as the empire of the Assyrians, metaphorically described here as (1) a hail, (2) a destroying storm, and (3) as a devastating flood. The Assyrians were ready and would soon destroy Ephraim; but the Ephraimites continued to lead lives of, "libertinism and debauchery, in which even the clergy participated with disgusting excess."F5 Their egotistical and boastful over-confidence was noted by Rawlinson: "They said in their hearts, `We have taken to ourselves horns by our own strength' (Amos 6:4,5). They persisted in regarding themselves as secure."F6
The practical interpretation of Isa. 28:3 means that when the king of Assyria sees Samaria he will immediately take it and eat it up. It also indicates the ease with which Samaria would be taken. Its siege lasted less than three years (2 Kings 18:9,10); whereas the siege of Ashdod, according to Herodotus lasted 29 years, and that of Tyre lasted 13 years.F7
The residue of God's people
(Isaiah 28:5). This applies to the era afterward from the return of that residue from captivity, and ultimately to the establishment of the kingdom of Christ in the Messianic age. This meant that God would be by no means defeated by the debaucheries and rebellions of his people; but that God's purpose of blessing all the families of the earth in the seed singular of Abraham, i.e., the Messiah, would finally be accomplished no matter what Israel did (Genesis 12:3).
Such a joyful reference, however, was not dwelt upon by Isaiah. He turned his attention at once to the same shameful conduct in Judaea that existed in Ephraim. This was Lowth's position on Isa. 28:5.F8 However, it seems to us that if there was indeed a focus upon Jerusalem, rather than Ephraim here it would have been announced, as in Isa. 28:14.
Isa. 28:6 is an additional promise of the righteousness that shall prevail in the days of Messiah.
If Isa. 28:5-6 are considered as a parenthesis, which they manifestly are, then these words are a continued description of the debaucheries of Ephraim. Some have tried to explain the drunkenness of Ephraim as A "spiritual" error; but the description of reeling, staggering, etc. is powerful evidence of common intoxication. Payne properly discerned this as an affirmation that, "Priests and prophets in the northern kingdom were no better than ordinary citizens."F9
We might paraphrase this mockery of Isaiah by the drunken rulers and leaders of Ephraim thus: Why, who does this man think he is teaching, a group of babies who have just been weaned? Is he trying to teach us our ABC's? These silly little sayings of his are nothing at all. They are just rule, rule, rule and law, law, law! J. B. Phillips has this, "Are we just weaned ... Do we have to learn that The law is the law is the law, the rule is the rule is the rule?" Such a mockery indicates that Isaiah's teachings might have been very simple and monosyllabic. Isaiah might have used the stammering, monosyllables of drunkards to announce some of his teachings. In any case, his hearers hated it!
God, through Isaiah, at once responded to the mockery.
Well, here is tongue-speaking in the Old Testament; and as Kidner noted, "Paul quoted Isa. 28:11 here in 1 Cor. 14:21, affirming that `unknown tongues' are not God's greetings to a believing congregation";F10 but they are God's rebuke of an unbelieving and rebellious people.
The thought is, Very well, you reject Isaiah's messages from God; I will speak to you with the words of a cruel invader. You pretend not to understand what God says; but you will really not be able to understand the brutal language of your slave masters in Assyria.
Practically all scholars suppose that Isaiah here does not mean that the leaders of Jerusalem actually spoke such words as these, but that their actions, instead of their words, indicated the thoughts and attitude in their hearts. There is also the possibility that the mention of a covenant with death and Sheol may mean that the leaders, "through necromancy, had actually invoked the false gods of the underworld."F11 Faith in the true God was at a low ebb in Jerusalem at the time indicated here.
In Isa. 28:14, the focus actually shifts to the blind guides that were misleading God's people in Jerusalem. We are indebted to Payne for making this accurate division of the chapter. He wrote: "Isa. 28:1-13 castigate the blind guides of the northern kingdom; and Isa. 28:14-22 bring the rebuke home to Judah, and especially to the leading politicians in Jerusalem."F12
THE PRECIOUS CORNER STONE
Isaiah had already revealed in Isa. 8:14 that this stone would also be "a sanctuary, a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." Added to the three designations here, we have six adjectives for this Rock.
They are (1) elect; (2) cornerstone; (3) tried; (4) sanctuary; (5) stone of stumbling; and (6) rock of offense. It might also be added that Christ is the stone "from another world," and he is "the living stone" (Zechariah 3:9), and the "growing stone" (Daniel 2:34-35). For an extended discussion of this fantastic stone, see Vol. 6 of my New Testament Series, pp. 337-341.
It should be noted that the way of God's revelation is always, "here a little, and there a little," as mentioned in this very chapter. One must even put two passages of Isaiah together for the information here indicated. Paul also quoted these passages together in Rom. 9:33.
We cannot agree with the scholars who interpret this stone as any thing or any person other than Christ. Kelley seemed to think it would be a literal rock upon which would be inscribed, "He that believeth shall not make haste."F13 Payne thought it "symbolized God's protection."F14 and Rawlinson wrote that "Jehovah himself would seem to be the Rock."F15 No! Such explanations should not even be considered. Only Jesus Christ fulfills the description of this Holy Rock as revealed in the Bible.
Before leaving this little paragraph, we should note the word-play mentioned in this place by Hailey. The priests had mocked Isaiah, saying, "Whom will he make to understand the message!" As the word came to Jerusalem, the message day after day and week after week would be of city after city falling to the Assyrians; but the scoffers would be able to understand the message of judgment and destruction repeatedly delivered to them with reports of many cities falling to Assyria.
It makes no difference whether Isa. 28:20 is a popular ancient proverb or not. It surely describes an uncomfortable and intolerable situation; and such are all human devices for security where moral and eternal things are involved. True security is with God alone.
The two place-names here give the sites of battles where David won significant victories over the Philistines (1 Chr. 14:11 and 1 Chr. 14:16). This verse, however, shows that God will now be on the side of Israel's enemy not as an ally of Israel. The terrible punishment of God's own people by the sword of foreigners was indeed a "Strange work, a strange act; but it was the `strange conduct' of God's people that lay behind God's strange work."F16
This is a beautiful little parable drawn from the agricultural industry, the point being that such things as plowing and threshing have their specific purposes; therefore God's punishments of people, whether his own, or his enemies is purposeful, always looking forward to the projected results.
Fitches were a common herb, cultivated as a forage plant, or `black cummin,' whose aromatic seeds were a favorite condiment of the Greeks and Romans."F17 "Spelt was what we would call rye, or an inferior kind of wheat."F18 Even the farmer who belonged to a class of people probably despised by the drunken leaders of the people, knew that all of God's law must be respected and obeyed if one is to reap a harvest from the earth; yet those foolish leaders fancied that they could wantonly forsake all honor and morality, live in shame and debauchery, and that somehow, in spite of all that, God would enable them to go on unhindered in their licentious ways. What a terrible awakening awaited them!
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.