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The Prophet Series: Isaiah part 24; Chapters 28-29: When God's people reject His Word


28:1-8

Ephraim, the people and the land, were a beautiful gift from the Lord in a wonderful fertile valley. She had every opportunity to follow the Lord and live in beauty and be beautiful herself. Fine, wonderful families; working together, enjoying the produce of the Lord’s land; knowing that they are the kingdom of God, gracious, loving, prosperous people who obeyed the Lord’s Law and were a light to the rest of the world. Instead, they decided to gobble up their own prosperity and get drunk! God is about to call “last call.”

Every one of us, believers in this age, are more blessed than they were. We are actual members of the final kingdom of God (COL 1:13) for our status in Christ will not change or improve when we are living in the final fulfillment of that kingdom to Israel during the Lord’s Millennial reign. We are the new humanity (EPH 2:15), the blessed of the New Covenant in His blood (LUK 22:20). We are in Christ, indwelt by Christ and the Holy Spirit, possessors of the mystery revealed, gifted with the full knowledge of Christ (EPH 4:13). And every one of us could become just as much a drunkard as Ephraim did so many years ago. Whether it’s booze or sex or drugs (or any other animal lust); or bitterness, anger, envy, desire for recognition, power lust, monetary lust (or any other diabolical lust); we all have to be careful not to fall for the lies that the plan of God can somehow be compromised with the old man, the old world (as opposed to the new world of Christ’s kingdom), each of which exists in the grasp of the devil. All who have been listening to the teaching of GTM know that we have been studying compromise versus obedience a lot lately.

 

ISA 28:1

Woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,

And to the fading flower of its glorious beauty,

Which is at the head of the fertile valley

Of those who are overcome with wine!

 

“Proud crown” - pride is the culprit. Pride and blessing lacks thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is an evidentiary result of a humble, receiving heart who is in awe of the great Giver.

 

Samaria is doomed. What of Jerusalem (28:7-8):

 

ISA 28:7-8

And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink:

The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,

They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink;

They reel while having visions,

They totter when rendering judgment.

8 For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, without a single clean place.

 

Ephraim will be gobbled up by Assyria with the same alacrity and unthinkingness as a passer-by picks and swallows a ripe fig, referring to total disappearance (verse 4). We have already seen that very warning by Isaiah quite a bit in this book. How many times did God warn them?

Assyria is not mentioned by name just yet, though we know them to be God’s chosen tool, so that the principle of the effect of rejecting God’s word is emphasized over the historical event. It is a principle as unchangeable as God Himself. And, as always, God is sure to remind them that this doesn’t mean failure to God’s purposes or covenants. Isaiah customarily introduces hope as a surprise, and so, doesn’t God do just that in our own lives now and again. There will be a better day when the Lord Himself will be the crown of His people and the city (Zion) will be impregnable.

 

ISA 28:5-6

In that day the Lord of hosts will become a beautiful crown

And a glorious diadem to the remnant of His people;

6 A spirit of justice for him who sits in judgment,

A strength to those who repel the onslaught at the gate.

 

This is also a motivation to us. If we become proud drunkards we will not destroy the beautiful plan of God. Others will live it and experience it. We will only destroy our own experience of it. It’s like a Christmas train stops at your home which is headed to the most beautiful, magical snowy wonderland, where the Lord is (not Santa!), and the people of the Lord will be there with Him, all singing carols together (the good ones that are spiritual!), and the doors of this beautiful old-time train open up (like the Orient Express or the Hogwarts Express and not the dirty commuter trains!), and you can see the joyful people inside, giddy with anticipation for where they are going, and you say, “Nah, I think I’ll stay home and drink and watch TV.” The train is going to its destination and the joy, so full it almost bursts the hearts of the worshippers, is going to occur, with or without you. We must not settle for the lowlands of this gray world and its sin, but always keep reaching ahead to the highlands to which all believers have been called (PHI 3:14). And if you do, the promise from God is that He will empower you to get there. He will not empower us on any other path.

 

Woes:

There are six “woes” in chapters 28-35. The first three offer principles of divine action, and the second three give matching applications to history and eschatology. The first is above in 28:1 and the second in 29:1. We will deal with these first two in our first look at this section (28-37); which is shaping up to be given in two blogs.

I want to encourage each of us, again, to not get frustrated at the length of this great book. It is like getting frustrated at the length of the Bible itself. Go slow, take your time.The morning I started writing this I had the attitude of a sprinter. I wanted to finish the first chapter before I headed out for my cello lesson, and with that attitude I read through chapter 28 and the commentary as fast as I could, scurrying down some notes. When I was done and I was forced to start writing, I couldn’t, because I hadn’t learned a thing. I only gobbled what I should have adored and worshipped. Starting again I savored every word and digested just the first eight verses before I had to go. I’ll be back for the rest. But as I go I have a picture of a beautiful land, a fertile green valley, and in it a blessed people whom God has chosen, and they, throwing it all away for contemptible things. Are we all not constantly in danger of doing just that, and do we not need to be diligent and alert, for the devil prowls about.

 

Staggering (28:7-8):

 

ISA 28:7-8

And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink:

The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,

They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink;

They reel while having visions,

They totter when rendering judgment.

8 For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, without a single clean place.

 

We might imagine this as the leadership banquet where the Judean ambassadors return from Egypt to Jerusalem with the “good” news that Egypt has agreed to help them. Isaiah sees this with disgust, seeing their personal indulgence as personally tragic. The leadership meeting is a table of vomit surrounded by drunken men haw-hawing, slapping each other on their sweaty backs with hands thick with gold rings, feeling as secure as they are intoxicated by Egypt’s promised help. We may be sure that the next morning their servants wash off the tables as the leaders awaken late to wash their aching heads with shaking hands, throwing aside their wine and puke stained clothes for clean ones to go out in public and assure the people that they are safe from Assyrian aggression; only thanks to them.

Like us all, they are in public ministry what they are in private. The washed face does not remove the hung-over head. The robe that hides the shaking hands does not calm them. Bodily indulgence saps spiritual perception. What we are in private is what our ministry will become. And not able to see what Isaiah sees, because they will not listen to him, Egypt, Judah’s hope, will be swallowed up by Assyria, who will then move north to gobble up Jerusalem.

 

The inescapable word (28:9-13)

 

ISA 28:9-13

"To whom would He teach knowledge?

And to whom would He interpret the message?

Those just weaned from milk?

Those just taken from the breast?

10 "For He says,

'Order on order, order on order,

Line on line, line on line,

A little here, a little there.'"

11 Indeed, He will speak to this people

Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue,

12 He who said to them, "Here is rest, give rest to the weary,"

And, "Here is repose," but they would not listen.

13 So the word of the Lord to them will be,

"Order [command] on order, order on order,

Line on line, line on line,

A little here, a little there,"

 

“Order” - tsaw = command.

“Line” - qaw = measuring line or rule.

“Command upon command and measuring line upon measuring line” repeated over and over like teaching a child bit by bit; “a little here and a little there.” The Hebrew Lexicon of the Old Testament (Brill) hints that “tsaw and qaw” could be old names for letters of the alphabet which a teacher would use in lessons.

The people are mocking this kind of instruction from Isaiah. Yet, this type of teaching is the worthiest goal of the preacher or teacher: capturing and sharing the essential simplicity of revealed truth, engaging in systematic edification. The “learned” among the people mock it, as they continue to do in every generation. Every pastor must remember this. Though they yawn, sleep, look bored in the seats before you, and you are tempted to spice things up with something more than commands and rules from God’s word, over, and over, and over; don’t do it. Sure, a story here and there, an analogy, a simile, an example is fine from time to time, but the majority of our work by far is in the simple commands and measuring lines (the tsaw and qaw) of the revealed word of God; class after class, a little here and a little there.

In vv. 9-13 the people see the great prophet as an intolerable moralist. To them Isaiah is an annoying man who only utters interminable and uninterrupted chidings that are irritating. He speaks “Order on order, order on order; line on line, line on line; a little here, a little there.” The hearers only hear pettiness, irritating repetition of the same warning and exhortation. The great minds of Athens thought the same about another of God’s great heralds:

 

ACT 17:18

And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. And some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities," —  because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

 

“Babbler” - spermologos = a collector of seeds, a dispenser of trifles.

 

The world, busy and distracted by the daily quest for petty things, finds the man of God warning them of judgment and proclaiming the reward of God’s grace blessings, as an intolerable bore, a lost, stupid, weak pretender. They hear “blah, blah, blah … order on order, line on line, a little here, a little there.” After all, our message does not change. Our answer doesn’t vary. The answer is Jesus and truth and grace in redemption by faith without works. “Blah, blah, blah,” some of them hear.

Are they little children that need to be tutored by these people of God who fail to hold any important position in society? Are they not already knowledgeable of all things - science, evolution, politics, socialism, philosophy? Are they not free and of age, enlightened and progressive? They do not need knowledge to be brought to them. The proclamation of the prophet is obviously petty, they do not need to understand it.

The sophisticated priest and prophet of vs. 7 dismiss the fact that anyone can add to their knowledge, least of all one whose teaching seems to them elementary and too simple, as if they were children “just weaned from milk … just taken from the breast.” (vs. 9) 

The word of grace rejected becomes the word of condemnation. Vain and fatal both are the unbelief in God’s word. We must hold it fast.

Jehovah would speak to the drunken scoffing people with a tongue they did not recognize, who would sound to them like barbarians - the Assyrians (vs. 11 “Indeed, He will speak to this people

Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue”). When the simple intelligibility of the word of God is refused, divine judgment falls in the shape of the unintelligible. As the army of Assyria tied ropes around their necks and dragged them from their homes and farms, yelling at them and commanding them in a tongue they did not understand, they will learn what Isaiah had been telling them in their own tongue in childlike, repetitive simplicity. If only they had listened then.

The policy of the people towards Assyrian aggression was not in agreement with Isaiah’s, which was believing and waiting and being still. Instead, Israel’s policy was to broker a deal with Syria (Aram); hoping in the world rather than in God. And therefore, the “order on order” that they heard from Isaiah as an endless series of trivial commands and exhortations, would be turned in their case to an endless series of painful sufferings. They thought they were so free and so strong, but ropes and hooks slung around their necks would prove them wrong.

 

ISA 8:14-15

"Then He shall become a sanctuary;

But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over,

And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

15 "And many will stumble over them,

Then they will fall and be broken;

They will even be snared and caught."

 

Their pride is revealed in their refusal of the word of the Lord, which Isaiah brought. Their attitude, in the face of the words of the prophet, is described as scoffing and mocking, a scene crystalized for the human race at the foot of the cross. Chosen of God, they are practically atheists concluding that the world has to be run by human common sense - what would God have to do with that?

In vs. 12: He who said to them, "Here is rest, give rest to the weary," And, "Here is repose," but they would not listen. Isaiah’s emphasis on rest reminds the leaders of their duty to be an example to the people. By faith in the word of God they should enter into God’s rest and encourage others to do the same. They refused and entered into worldly alliances. All leaders must live what they preach.

In vs. 13 Isaiah repeats the jingle of simple teaching of revealed truth, but now it will be the babble of foreigners thrust upon them by invasion, ending in their captivity. The simple truth revealed by Isaiah in commands and rules will be shown to them by foreign ropes and shouts in a foreign tongue.

 

The security deal failed you (28:14-19):

This is the second of three subsections and draws its conclusion from the first. By refusing the true resting place they are left to their own devices and there is no other security.

 

ISA 28:14-15

Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, O scoffers,

Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem,

15 Because you have said, "We have made a covenant with death,

And with Sheol we have made a pact.

The overwhelming scourge [Assyria] will not reach us when it passes by,

For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception."

 

Choosing security with Egypt was signing their own death warrant. Who would make a covenant with death? But they didn’t see it for what it was. Hearing the word of God and believing it provides the insight into what things are death and what things are life. Perhaps the envoys returned from Egypt with a parchment signed by the Pharaoh himself and they looked upon that thing as certain security when they were holding death in their hands. Outside trust in the Lord, life is an illusion.

 

ISA 28:16-17

Therefore thus says the Lord God,

"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,

A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.

He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

17 "And I will make justice the measuring line,

And righteousness the level;

Then hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies,

And the waters shall overflow the secret place.

 

The stone has been tested and shown itself worthy of trust. From the emancipation of Israel from Egypt under Moses to the day of Isaiah, the Lord has proven Himself time and time again. The one who believes in Him will still be carried off with the rest, but incredibly, he will not be disturbed. The stone meets the measuring line, whereas none of the people do, so when they put their trust in Him, He goes before them. The believing remnant will see with their own eyes the message of Isaiah come true, a message they believed and exhorted their families and neighbors to believe. Though discomforted and at times terrified by captivity, the remnant will witness coming into existence what they have believed, and they will find peace in the midst of suffering.

There is an emphasis on foundation: foundation, firmly placed, not disturbed. The fulfillment is in the church in the kingdom of priests, a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

 

1PE 2:8-10

"A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense";

for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

1CO 3:10

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it.

 

Justice is the measuring line (qaw as in vv. 10, 13), and righteousness the level. The quality of the Lord’s desires for His people is as high as heaven itself. There is no way we can get to that mark on our own. This is also fulfilled for the first time (not the last) in the church. Through faith in the gospel, man in our time is made new in Christ, and through faith in God’s purpose, he becomes Christlike. God empowers the believer only in the way of perfect righteousness and justice. He does not empower any compromise that we attempt to make with His perfection, in the pursuit of anything less we are on our own and guaranteed failure, failure even to hit the mark of the compromise.

 

ISA 28:18-19

"And your covenant with death shall be canceled,

And your pact with Sheol shall not stand;

When the overwhelming scourge passes through,

Then you become its trampling place.

19 "As often as it passes through, it will seize you.

For morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night.

And it will be sheer terror to understand what it means."

 

These final seven lines of this second subsection is a point by point contradiction. Their signed agreements are meaningless, their confidence in immunity is hollow day and night. The imagery is that of a marauding beast passing through their midst day and night who seizes victims on every pass without fail.

 

Conclusion to second subsection, a strange deed (28:20-22)

This core section ends with a restatement of human inability to achieve a satisfying life and a final appeal to God’s law of justice.

 

ISA 28:20-22

The bed is too short on which to stretch out,

And the blanket is too small to wrap oneself in.

21 For the Lord will rise up as at Mount Perazim,

He will be stirred up as in the valley of Gibeon;

To do His task, His unusual task,

And to work His work, His extraordinary work.

22 And now do not carry on as scoffers,

Lest your fetters be made stronger;

For I have heard from the Lord God of hosts,

Of decisive destruction on all the earth.

 

The resting place chosen by the people is a bed that is too short with a blanket that will not cover. At first, before the man gets in, the bed and coverings may look sufficient, but once upon it, there will be no rest. The imagery is wonderful and also comical.

Mount Perazim and Gibeon refer to two battles in which David wiped out the Philistines, breaking through them “like the breakthrough of waters” (1CH 14:11-25). These victories came just after David had overtaken Jerusalem from the Jebusites, and so they were a stepping-stone to national security and the foundation of Zion as the national capital. The people in Isaiah’s time lack David’s faith and reject the foundation of David’s throne, and now they will be the ones who will be broken through like waters. And to this clear and simple message, they mock (vs. 22).

 

Sowing and Reaping (28:23-29):

The third and final subsection closes with an open question, one yet to be determined at the time when Isaiah spoke it. Jerusalem’s life-style mirrors that of Samaria (Israel) but will Jerusalem’s history follow the same path to destruction? Samaria paid with overthrow, will Jerusalem fall? To many in Jerusalem, the idea that the city of David could fall was an impossible one. To help them answer the question for themselves, Isaiah takes the role of the wise man and gives them two parables: sowing and reaping.

 

ISA 28:23-26

Give ear and hear my voice,

Listen and hear my words.

24 Does the farmer plow continually to plant seed?

Does he continually turn and harrow the ground?

25 Does he not level its surface,

And sow dill and scatter cummin,

And plant wheat in rows,

Barley in its place, and rye within its area?

26 For his God instructs and teaches him properly.

 

Ploughing, breaking through the ground, disturbing it; is purposeful for sowing and carefully planned crop.

What appears to be a discovery of man (the proper season and conditions for sowing, farm management, the rotation of crops, etc.) is actually a revelation of the doctrine of creation, whereas God is the one who teaches this to mankind, through which He also reveals Himself.

 

ISA 28:27-29

For dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,

Nor is the cartwheel driven over cummin;

But dill is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a club.

28 Grain for bread is crushed,

Indeed, he does not continue to thresh it forever.

Because the wheel of his cart and his horses eventually damage it,

He does not thresh it longer.

29 This also comes from the Lord of hosts,

Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great.

 

Each crop has to be gathered in a way that is appropriate to it. A healthy and beautiful product, if treated wrong, will be destroyed.

What happened to Samaria (overthrow by Assyria) will not happen to Jerusalem if they have learned, like the farmer (vs. 26, 29), their discriminating ways from the Lord who has “counsel wonderful and wisdom great.”

The threshing sledge was a heavy wooden platform, studded underneath with sharp stones and metal and weighted on top. It was dragged to and fro over the crop. This treatment was good for grains but disastrous for fragile herbs which had to be harvested by hand with a rod (vs. 27).

The proper instrument selection is the beginning, but the crop can still be destroyed if the instrument is used to excess (vs. 28).

These purposeful actions, which life then depended upon, are also a revelation from the Lord.

So what will it be for Jerusalem? Will they listen to instruction or will they sow and reap under their own counsel, which God tells them through Isaiah, is a guarantee of fruitlessness and eventually death.

 

In the spirit of God's good pleasure, 

Pastor Joe Sugrue

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