To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,” And, “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear. Isaiah 28:12
But the word of the Lord was to them, “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little,” That they might go and fall backward, and be broken And snared and caught. Isaiah 28:13
Isaiah’s grim predictions of judgment were briefly set aside in the last chapters (Isa. 26-27). But now he returns to his forbidding theme. This time his gaze is focused directly on God’s own people, the Jews of Isaiah’s time, who represent in both northern and southern Hebrew kingdoms the unbelief of every historic age. In a stunning sermon that has been praised as one of the most powerful of any prophet’s preachings, Isaiah decries his people’s foolish reliance on a protective “covenant with death.” That covenant will be annulled, and death will sweep in, a terrifying scourge. A nature itself follows a seasonal pattern, so history has its pattern. And the planting of sin leads inevitably to a harvest of judgment. Consequently Jerusalem will be besieged and brought low, although God will at last fight against Israel’s enemies. Until then God’s people will be blind to the vision, for their hearts are far from God. One day the mockers will be destroyed. Then a shamed Israel will at last stand in awe of God and gain the understanding she now so tragically lacks.
Chapter 28-31. Principles of Judgment
The blessings of the last days are to be preceded by God’s . Now Isaiah outlines principles related to judgment.
Woe to God’s Befuddled People: 28:1-15. Priests and prophets among Israel, like drunkards, will be unable to grasp the meaning of God’s Word. They will miss its message of grace and (as did the Pharisees of Jesus’ day) take the law as a system of rules by which to win salvation. Finally it will be Gentiles, speakers of foreign tongues, who by their faith in Jesus and Messiah point out, “This is the resting place” (v.12).
A Place of Safety; 28:16-29. In another great messianic prophecy Isaiah speaks of a precious cornerstone God will lay in Zion as the foundation of his kingdom. When the scourging judgment of that day sweeps down, those who trust him will never be put to shame. In a striking simile, the prophet explains the time of judgment in terms an agricultural people will understand: judgment is God’s wise preparation of the ground for a rich harvest to follow.
Key verse. 28:13: Misread the Word, and there is no hope.
Personal application. Seek God. He will give understanding.
Decadence (28:1-6). In one of history’s most famous studies, Gibbon ascribed the fall of the Roman Empire to drunkenness and decadence. This is the image Isaiah has of Israel’s leaders, wearing floral wreaths, staggering drunkenly as the Assyrian forces loomed just over the horizon. The pride of Israel would soon wither. And at history’s end God Himself will be the beautiful wreath that crowns His people, and justice will be their strength.
“Do and do” (28:10-13). The repeated phrases are reminiscent of the drunkard’s babbling, words said and heard without meaning. But there is more to these verses than this. Isaiah warns that a people who will not hear God’s Word will be not only meaningless, but misinterpreted! Rather than a message of salvation (v. 12), the Word will seem little more than a set of rules: “do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule” (v. 13).
Covenant with death (28:15). The phrase simply means that the people of Israel thought they had an agreement worked out by which they could avoid death. But God will soon annul that and strike His people with judgment.
A precious cornerstone (28:16-17) This imagery is picked up in the NT and applied to Jesus as the Messiah. The stone image is also repeated in Isa. 8:14, another instance in which contemporary leaders fail. Put the two messianic “stones” in Isaiah together, and we have a fascinating revelation. In human construction, the same stone cannot serve both as the foundation of the building and the capstone, which holds the arch atop it together. But the Messiah is both foundation and capstone in God’s building, both the beginning and end. What’s more, this stone both is God and is laid by God. Only Jesus, sent by God and yet God the Son, could possibly fulfill this requirement.
⇒ This chapter reminds me of the movie Days of Wine and Roses. The anti-climax of the characters’ lives ends in despair. When we honestly follow sound instructions, we can rest in the end. But like a person without a clear head, may choose whatever ways that seem to be pleasant at the moment without perspective.
Condemnation of Ephraim
28 1 Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, Whose glorious beauty is a fading flower Which is at the head of the verdant valleys, To those who are overcome with wine! 2 Behold, the Lord has a mighty and strong one, Like a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, Like a flood of mighty waters overflowing, Who will bring them down to the earth with His hand. 3 The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, Will be trampled underfoot; 4 And the glorious beauty is a fading flower Which is at the head of the verdant valley, Like the first fruit before the summer, Which an observer sees; He eats it up while it is still in his hand. 5 In that day the Lord of hosts will be For a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty To the remnant of His people, 6 For a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, And for strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate. 7 But they also have erred through wine, And through intoxicating drink are out of the way; The priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink, They are swallowed up by wine, They are out of the way through intoxicating drink; They err in vision, they stumble in judgment. 8 For all tables are full of vomit and filth; No place is clean.
9 “Whom will he teach knowledge? And whom will he make to understand the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts? 10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.” 11 For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, 12 To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,” And, “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear. 13 But the word of the Lord was to them, “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little,” That they might go and fall backward, and be broken And snared and caught.
The Warning to Jerusalem
14 Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scornful men, Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem, 15 Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, And with Sheol we are in agreement. When the overflowing scourge passes through, It will not come to us, For we have made lies our refuge, And under falsehood we have hidden ourselves.” 16 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily. 17 Also I will make justice the measuring line, And righteousness the plummet; The hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, And the waters will overflow the hiding place. 18 Your covenant with death will be annulled, And your agreement with Sheol will not stand; When the overflowing scourge passes through, Then you will be trampled down by it. 19 As often as it goes out it will take you; For morning by morning it will pass over, And by day and by night; It will be a terror just to understand the report.” 20 For the bed is too short to stretch out on, And the covering so narrow that one cannot wrap himself in it. 21 For the Lord will rise up as at Mount Perazim, He will be angry as in the Valley of Gibeon– That He may do His work, His awesome work, And bring to pass His act, His unusual act. 22 Now therefore, do not be mockers, Lest your bonds be made strong; For I have heard from the Lord God of hosts, A destruction determined even upon the whole earth.
23 Give ear and hear my voice, Listen and hear my speech. 24 Does the plowman keep plowing all day to sow? Does he keep turning his soil and breaking the clods? 25 When he has leveled its surface, Does he not sow the black cummin And scatter the cummin, Plant the wheat in rows, The barley in the appointed place, And the spelt in its place? 26 For He instructs him in right judgment, His God teaches him. 27 For the black cummin is not threshed with a threshing sledge, Nor is a cartwheel rolled over the cummin; But the black cummin is beaten out with a stick, And the cummin with a rod. 28 Bread flour must be ground; Therefore he does not thresh it forever, Break it with his cartwheel, Or crush it with his horsemen. 29 This also comes from the Lord of hosts, Who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance.