Isaiah 28

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2006 James Melough

28:1.  “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!”


It is instructive to note that pride heads the list of things which God hates, see Proverbs 6:16-17, “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him: a proud look ....” And the reason?  Pride automatically credits the individual, and thereby robs God of the glory that is rightly His.


Ephraim means double ash-heap: I shall be doubly fruitful.  The reference is generally understood to be to Samaria, the capital city of Ephraim. The size of a city’s ash-heap indicated the wealth of the city itself, and it was God’s intention that Ephraim should have been rich spiritually as well as temporally, but regrettably the people, to their undoing, had pursued wealth, power, and pleasure, to the neglect of spiritual riches, and as always, the pursuit of these things had brought spiritual penury.


Forgetting that it was God Who had promoted and enriched them, Ephraim and Judah had presumed to believe that their riches were the product of their own astuteness, with the result that they were lifted up with pride, and neglected to give God the glory; and surely honesty will compel us to admit that we ourselves have often walked all to faithfully in their proud and fatuous footsteps.


Wine is described as that “that maketh glad the heart of man,” Psalm 104:15, but like everything else it is to be used in moderation, so that the description of the Ephraimites as drunkards, declares them to have been inordinately fond of wine, and sets them before us as types of pleasure-lovers in general.  It is scarcely necessary to comment that the description fits perfectly the men of this present generation, for only the spiritually blind will deny that today’s world is pleasure-crazed.


The reference to the fading flower of her glorious beauty sounds the warning that her day of glory was soon to end; and again there can be no question that the same description fits this present evil world, for everything points to the imminence of the Tribulation judgments that will leave the earth a desolate ruin.


We are however, missing the point of the lesson if we fail to apply it personally, for the corporate body simply reflects the lives of the individuals who comprise it.


28:2.  “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.”


The “mighty and strong one” is generally understood to have been Shalmaneser of Assyria, whom God was going to use as His agent in the devastation of Israel.  As with many of these OT types however, Assyria’s past destruction of Israel foreshadows the desolation of His rebellious people, and of the world, that will ensue from the activity of the Beast in the Great Tribulation.


28:3.  “The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet.”


The majority of exegetes understand the description to be of Samaria’s destruction at the hand of the Assyrians.


28:4.  “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.”


This continues the metaphoric description of Assyria’s destruction of Israel, Taylor’s translation being, “Once glorious, her fading beauty surrounded by a fertile valley will suddenly be gone, greedily snatched away as an early fig is hungrily snatched and gobbled up.”


The warning to Samaria of impending destruction is applicable to all men, God’s admonition being, “Because there is wrath, beware lest He take thee away with His stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee,” Job 36:18.


Every minute over 700 people die, most of them plunging into hell, for it was the Lord Himself who responded to the question “Are there few that be saved?” by declaring, “Strive to enter in at the strait (narrow) gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able,” Luke 13:23-24, and again in Matthew 7:14, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”


28:5.  “In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people,”


When the Great Tribulation judgments will have brought a remnant of Israel to repentance, then Jehovah Himself will be their crown of glory and diadem of beauty.  On that day, i.e., in the Millennium, they will be occupied not with their own beauty and glory, but with His.  Believers of this present dispensation are privileged to see by faith the Christ Who hung on the cross crowned with thorns now seated at the Father’s right hand crowned with glory and honor. 


Concerning His glory The Bible Knowledge Commentary states, “He, not a prosperous beautiful city, should be honored.”


28:6.  “And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.”


In the Millennium judges will be endowed with wisdom so that fair decisions will be handed down at every trial; and the guardians of the cities will be endued with power to repel every attempted attack by the ungodly so that every enemy will be turned back to his own city gate.  Righteousness will reign world-wide during that glorious era.  That same aid is available to the elders of the churches today, the measure of that power being governed only by the degree of their obedience.


28:7.  “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.”


This was the condition of many of the priests and prophets in the OT age, and is characteristic of all too many of their present-day pleasure loving counterparts: the elders and teachers of the assemblies, for it is to be remembered that wine here symbolizes the love of pleasure, and the Lord’s condemnation of  such men is that they are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away,” 2 Timothy 3:4-5.


To “err in vision” seems to relate to their failure to discern the deeper spiritual meaning lying beneath the surface of the Bible’s literal language; and their stumbling in judgment may be their failure to rightly divide the Word of truth and apply it correctly.  Christendom’s pulpits swarm with men whose interpretations of Scripture would be ludicrous were it not that they are so erroneous and deadly, leading multitudes of their duped congregations down the path to hell.


28:8. “For all tables are full of vomit, and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.”


The picture continues to be not only of the past but also of the present, the tables here representing today’s pulpits, the very “tables” from which people are to be fed, i.e., taught truth; but instead they, the pulpits, are “full of vomit,” food that has been ejected from the stomach, and which in the present context represents the Word loathed and rejected while error is taught and believed.  One has only to listen to some of the nonsense preached to realize the fitness of the metaphor used in the verse we are studying.


28:9.  “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.”


Taylor’s translation of this verse reads, “Who does Isaiah think he is,” the people say, “to speak to us like this?  Are we little children, barely old enough to talk?”  And little has changed since the prophet’s day: the majority of congregations will not tolerate sound preaching and teaching.


28:10.  “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:”


This is also rendered by Taylor, “He tells us everything over and over again, a line at a time and in such simple words!”  The people’s mockery of the prophet, and their rejection of his message, are emphatically announced here - and reflect the attitude of the average congregation today towards the truth of Scripture.


28:11. “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.”


The AAT translation of this verse reads, “Yes, through barbaric lips, and an alien tongue, will He speak to this people,” and Taylor’s translation is, “But they won’t listen; the only language they can understand is punishment! So God will punish them by sending against them foreigners, who speak strange gibberish!  Only then will they listen to Him.”  The foreigners were the Assyrians.


The ultimate fulfillment of this is that for over 2,000 years the hated Gentiles are the only people from whom the Jews can hear the Biblical gospel, for they themselves have blinded their eyes and stopped their ears against it.


28:12.  “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.”


Had they been willing to receive the Gospel, the Jews, instead of having to wander over the face of the earth as fugitives for over two thousand years, could have been dwelling in peace and blessing in their own land; but with the exception of a tiny minority, they refuse to see that in the Lord Jesus Christ is fulfilled every scriptural designation of their long promised Messiah.  It will take the terrible judgments of the Great Tribulation to open the blinded eyes of a small minority of Jews, but that minority will be the nucleus of the nation that will inherit Millennial blessing.


28:13.  “But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.”


The KJ translation here is ambiguous and misleading.  It does not mean that God wanted them to “fall backward ... be broken ... snared and taken.”  It was their rejection of His straightforward simple invitation to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and be blessed that precipitated all the calamities that have befallen them during the past two thousand years.  It grieves God that men, by refusing to trust in Christ as Savior, make themselves heirs of eternal torment, see Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked: but that the wicked turn from his way and live ....”


28:14.  “Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.”


Those scornful rulers are prototypes of many who take the place of leaders amongst God’s people today: men with theological degrees and impressive high-sounding titles, but who don’t accept the Bible as a Divinely inspired book, nor believe in the existence of hell and the lake of fire, and the imperative of trusting in Christ as Savior to fit them for heaven and save them from the eternal torment of that terrible lake.


28:15.  “Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:”


This satire was the prophet’s way of denouncing the folly of the people in having turned away from Jehovah to put their trust in Egypt and their false gods.  “... the covenant with death” refers to the foolish belief of the people that their covenant with Egypt, and their worship of false gods would preserve them from death at the hand of the Assyrians.


Many see in this evil covenant a foreshadowing of that which Israel will make with the Beast in the Great Tribulation, see Daniel 9:27.


28:16.  “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.”


The stone here is the Lord Jesus Christ, those who accept Him as Savior being assured that they will never be ashamed of having trusted Him with the safe-keeping of their souls.  Christ crucified and risen again is the foundation upon which rests God’s ability to pardon and bless every repentant sinner, the Father’s assessment of the Son’s worth being declared in the word “precious.”  We who know Him as Savior hold Him in the same high esteem as does the Father, as declared by Peter, “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious,” 1 Peter 2:7.


“... shall not make haste” is also translated “shall not be ashamed, shaken, moved, need never run away.”


28:17.  “Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.”


The line is connected with horizontal measurements; and the plummet or plumb-line, with vertical, so that the truth being stated is that God will take account of the people’s dealings with others (horizontal measurement), and also of their conduct towards Him (the vertical measurement).  By death-dealing hail, and overwhelming waters He destroyed all those whose works were evil.  In the coming day of judgment only those in Christ will survive unscathed; all others will first suffer the torment of hell, and eternally that of the lake of fire.  Man’s only safe hiding place is in Christ, entered the moment we confess ourselves sinners, and trust in Him as Savior.


28:18.  “And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.”


For Israel of that day the threat was fulfilled by God’s delivering them into the hand of the Assyrians; and in the impending Great Tribulation it will be fulfilled again by His delivering them into the hand of the Beast.


28:19.  “From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.”


“... morning by morning ... by day and by night” is the assurance that the chastisement will be of long duration; and Taylor translates the latter part of the verse “until at last the unmixed horror of the truth of My warnings will finally dawn on you.”  The past fulfillment of this was experienced when Israel came under the dominion of Assyria, but the misery of that enthrallment simply foreshadows the even more terrible trial that she will suffer at the hand of the Beast.  Then the mere report of her suffering will strike terror into the hearts of those not yet become his victims.


28:20.  “For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it; and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.”


As a bed too short, and a covering too narrow prevent sleep, and produce extreme discomfort, so was it with the Israel addressed by the prophet: she learned by bitter experience that her imprudence in having trusted in man rather than in God, had brought no deliverance, but had simply multiplied her misery.  And so is it with all who duplicate her folly.


28:21.  “For the Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.”


In mount Perazim, and in the valley of Gibeon (both near Jerusalem), God had fought for Israel in the past, delivering her out of the enemy’s hand; but now, because of their rebellion, He would do the exact opposite, and deliver them into the hand of those who sought their destruction.  He who exhausts God’s patience, and makes the Almighty his enemy instead of his ally puts himself in a terrible position from which there is no hope of deliverance.


The strange work and act were God’s destruction of His own people!  Well indeed has the author of Hebrews written, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” Hebrews 10:31.


28:22.  “Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord God of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.”


He who has the temerity to mock God is of all fools the greatest, for such audacity will result in the tightening of the bands which already bind him to the fatal service of Satan and of death.


Israel had been guilty of this folly, with the result that God’s patience had come to an end, and He was now determined to destroy “the whole earth,” i.e., the whole land of Palestine, not the whole world; “destroy” being used here in the sense of devastating rather than annihilating.  No spiritual mind will have difficulty seeing in this the foreshadowing of the terrible judgments of the Great Tribulation that will leave this present world a devastated ruin.


28:23.  “Give ye ear, and hear my voice, hearken, and hear my speech.”


This admonition to heed the warning was because of the certainty of the coming of the foretold judgments; and only fools will fail to see the same need to heed the warnings given in relation to the now impending judgments of the Great Tribulation, past judgments being but precursors of those now imminent.


The sense of urgency pervading this warning is too obvious to miss, and we are missing the point of the exhortation if we fail to understand that similar urgency ought to impel our proclamation of the gospel.


28:24.  “Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? Doth he open and break the clods of his ground?”


28:25.  “When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rye in their place?”


The question is hypothetical, for clearly the farmer ploughs for a purpose: to break up the ground and thus make it ready to receive the seed he is about to sow, the fruit of which he later expects to harvest.


The spiritual application is to the judgments by which God sought to bring His rebellious people to repentance and blessing, the same truth being applicable to His dealings with sinners in every age.  Sadly however, His chastisement all too often simply hardens their hearts and increases their defiance, as for example in Revelation 16:9-11, 21 relative to the judgments of the Great Tribulation, “And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory .... and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds .... and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.”


28:26.  “For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.”


The farmer’s activity is because in the beginning God taught man that this was what must be done so as to have the earth produce the food he needs in order to live.


28:27.  “For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.”


28:28.  “Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen


There are also various methods of harvesting and preparing the different types of grain, it being the responsibility of the farmer to use the grinding method best suited to the nature of the grain, the lesson presented in all of this seeming to be that God uses many and varied methods in accomplishing His purposes, and it is man’s responsibility relative to all the different circumstances of his life to be careful to discern God’s will for him as an individual who must one day render account to God.


28:29.  “This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.”


The ASV translation of this verse reads, “This also cometh forth from Jehovah of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.”

[Isaiah 29]

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