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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 28

Overview main part 1.3 – Isaiah 28-35

God and His people

The third part of the first main part (Isaiah 1-35) contains Isaiah 28-35 and can be divided as follows:

1. Woe to Samaria (Isaiah 28)
2. Woe to Ariel (Isaiah 29)
3. Woe to the rebellious children (Isaiah 30)
4. Woe to those who seek the help of Egypt (Isaiah 31)
5. The kingdom of God (Isaiah 32)
6. Woe to the destroyer (Isaiah 33)
7. Judgment on the world and Edom (Isaiah 34)
8. Blessing for God’s people (Isaiah 35)

Like the previous parts, Isaiah 1-12 and Isaiah 13-27, this part begins with the judgment of God and continues to the realm of peace. It also ends with a song of praise and an enumeration of the blessings of the realm of peace.

Introduction on Isaiah 28

Isaiah 28-29 introduce a series of prophecies. Prophetic we find here the two attacks (Dan 11:39-44) of the Assyrians in the time of God’s indignation. After the final destruction of the Assyrians, the realm of peace is established.

This prophetic part finds its historical pre-fulfillment in the fall of Samaria (2Kgs 17:1-5; 22-23).

Verses 1-4

Woe to Samaria

This chapter introduces a new series of woes. In Isaiah 5 we hear a “woe” six times, and now there are six more until Isaiah 33. The first five are to Israel and especially to Judah and Jerusalem. The sixth is about Assyria. The “woe” is pronounced to God’s people because of leaving the LORD. It is about the wicked of Israel. They put their trust in Egypt rather than in the LORD. In the end time they will put their trust in their king, the antichrist, and the covenant with the beast, the coming leader of the restored Roman Empire, the united states of Europe.

This chapter can be divided into three sections:
1. Isa 28:1-13,
2. Isa 28:14-22,
3. Isa 28:23-29.

The first section describes the degenerated condition of the leaders in Israel at that time. In the first verses Samaria is openly denounced. As the capital of the ten tribes realm, the city is called “the proud crown”, on which the drunken Ephraim boasts (Isa 28:1). The inhabitants of Samaria live in luxurious complacency. The city, lying on a mountain and therefore seen as “at the head”, is compared to a “fading flower”, which gives the picture of glory that is decaying. The background of this prophecy is the pre-fulfillment when Samaria is besieged for three years and finally destroyed by the Assyrians (2Kgs 17:5).

They use the fertility of the valley, on which the city lies as a head ornament, to satisfy their own needs (cf. Amos 4:1). It makes them drunk and therefore insensitive to the word of God through His prophets. All this the LORD will strike with His judgment. Assyria will be the instrument through which the LORD will carry out the judgment. Assyria can be identified here with the coming king of the North, the alliance of North Arab countries (Psa 83:5-8), islamic countries with the support of Gog (cf. Dan 8:24). Assyria is presented again as “mighty overflowing waters” (Isa 28:2; Isa 8:7).

Assyria will overrun Samaria and treed their pride underfoot (Isa 28:3). He will do so with the greatest ease. The city will be judged as “the fading flower” (Isa 28:4). It will be casually done with the speed with which one sees an early fig, plucks it, puts it in the mouth and swallows it, and it is no longer there. We would say: bite, swallow, disappeared. These verses are fulfilled in 622 BC.

In this section we are warned not to place our trust in our prosperity. We may enjoy what the Lord gives us, but He requires us to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Mt 6:33). After all, we have received it from Him. If we acknowledge that, we will want to honor Him with what He has entrusted to us. Then we will also give to the less fortunate.

Prophetically, this attack (Isa 28:1-6) points to the king of the North’s first attack on Israel (Dan 11:41). By Ephraim is meant the north of Israel that is first attacked by this king. The ten tribes themselves will return after the appearance of the Lord (Mt 24:29-31). From Isa 28:7 it is about the continuation of this attack on Jerusalem.

Verses 5-6

Encouragement for the Faithful

Here we go to the future, indicated by the expression “in that day” (Isa 28:5). The prophet suddenly moves us to the end time. The threat to the apostates is again followed by the encouragement for the faithful, “the remnant of His people”, for whom the LORD always has an eye. He will be for them “a beautiful crown and a glorious diadem”. This is a clear and telling contrast with the “proud crown” that Samaria is at the moment of the prophecy of Isaiah and which turns out to be a fading flower (Isa 28:1).

He will also spiritually support this remnant in making the right decisions in judgment (Isa 28:6). He will also give their warriors the strength to push the invaded enemy back to the gate and chase them out of the city. This support the remnant needs to rule with the LORD in the regeneration (Mt 19:28), which is in the realm of peace.

This encouragement also applies to all those who want to walk in the fear of the Lord today, the time when apostacy is growing rapidly. They receive wisdom and power from the Lord. We must see to it that we live righteously and gain victories in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Verses 7-10

Drunk Priests and Prophets

With “these also” (Isa 28:7) Isaiah now speaks about the southern realm of Judah and more specifically about the leaders of Jerusalem, those who have responsibility among the people (Isa 28:14). They are no better than those of Samaria and even have a greater responsibility and therefore a greater guilt. Isaiah speaks in stronger terms about their deceptive visions and court judgments. In strong words he denounces the debauched lifestyle they lead (Isa 28:8).

Even their tables, i.e. their altars, are terribly polluted by vomit – Hebrew: kotzen. It goes against the commandment of the priests: “Do not drink wine or strong drink” (Lev 10:9; Eze 44:21). Nor is it just an incident, but it has become a habit, a lifestyle. Prophetically, Jerusalem will simply fall as they are spiritually in an eclipse of God, intoxicated by the wine of the antichrist. Therefore, the king of the North will easily push on to Jerusalem.

We hear their roaring reaction in Isa 28:9-10. In Hebrew, these words sound like the chatter of drunken people: “ki tsav latsav, tsav latsav, kav lakav, kav lakav, ze’ir sham, ze’ir sham”. Prophetically, these priests and prophets of the Jews are drunk by drinking the wine of the antichrist, so that they lack true knowledge of God and they no longer have any spiritual discernment.

This drunken priest roars to his comrades about Isaiah: ‘Does he come here to lecture us who have knowledge?’ And the drunk prophet, who boasts of having received revelations himself, mockingly says to his feasting brothers about Isaiah: ‘Will he let us know what a revelation means? He certainly thinks we are a bunch of toddlers! He always makes his laws heard, each time he puts his demands on us. Sometimes he talks about this and sometimes he talks about something else. That man always has something to whine about!’

They believe that they are the enlightened intellectuals of their days, while they do not realize that they are indeed foolish and childish. That is why Isaiah speaks to them with clear and understandable language. He does indeed say what they are allowed to do and what not. They are a people of orders and lines, but they have them only in an external sense.

Verses 11-13

A Foreign Tongue as Judgment

Because they are not listening, Isaiah continues with an announcement of judgment. If they do not want to listen to the plain language of the prophet, but make some tentative remarks about it, they will be spoken to in an incomprehensible language. This will happen when the armies of Assyria, people who speak a foreign language, will invade the country (Isa 28:11).

Paul quotes Isa 28:11-12 in connection with the speaking in languages of which the Corinthians are so proud. But he adds that the languages are a sign for the unbelievers (1Cor 14:21-22). Those unbelievers turn out to be the Israelites because Paul quotes this verse from Isaiah. With this he means that by this languages it is made clear to the unbelieving Israel that from now on the Lord can be praised in every human language and not only in holy Hebrew.

This means – albeit temporarily – the rejection of Israel as a special people of God. Speaking in languages is a sign of judgment and not of blessing. That is the application of this verse. The explanation is that the Assyrians will come and that judgment will come through these people who cannot be understood because they have not listened to God’s prophets they have understood.

The wonder and sign of the languages also happens on Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5-12). There are many Jews from other countries present. Then they hear in their languages and even dialects about the great deeds of God. For the native Jews it seems to be language of the drunk. Only a small part of the mass, three thousand, comes to faith.

The languages are a sign for the unbelieving Jews. It is a sign of judgment. Speaking in languages may also be done in the church, if there are (Jewish) unbelievers who speak another language, but an interpreter must be present, because the church must receive upbuilding. Only the content builds up the church (1Cor 14:20-28).

The LORD has offered his people rest and repose, but they have no ears (Isa 28:12; Isa 30:15). Therefore, they will be forced to bow to orders and lines in all kinds of fields in submission to an enemy who knows no compassion at all (Isa 28:13). They will simply continue with their outer religion and fall (cf. Zec 14:2).

Verses 14-19

A Covenant With Death

After Isaiah spoke about the leaders of Jerusalem in the previous verses, especially the spiritual leaders, he now speaks to the political leaders, “who rule this people who are in Jerusalem” (Isa 28:14). In the future these will be the government officials of the antichrist. He calls them outright “scoffers,” referring to their earlier remarks (Isa 28:9-10) and draws their attention to the audacity of their foreign policy. Their mockery has led them to challenge God. Challenging, they report that they have made a “covenant with death”, and that “with Sheol” they have “made a pact”. That is what they count on and not on God. In this is their strength and not in God.

It seems that their politics are as follows. They always have to deal with two enemy superpowers: Egypt in the south and Assyria in the north. They have secretly made a covenant with Egypt – by Isaiah called “death” and “Sheol”, the realm of death – to defend themselves against Assyria (Isa 28:15). They have been warned of an invasion of Assyria (Isa 8:7-8). Through the covenant with Egypt they now feel safe. When Assyria comes as “the overwhelming scourge”, – “the rod” (Isa 10:5) – they have a hiding place. They would rather deliver themselves with skin and hair to lies and deceit than put their trust in the LORD in accordance with the call of Isaiah.

Prophetically, Israel will have to deal with two superpowers. The danger comes from the first, the Assyrians, that is the king of the North, an alliance of Arab Islamic countries (probably Shiite), with behind them their powerful ally Gog, that is Russia. In order to defend itself against him, Israel will make an alliance with another superpower, the restored Roman Empire, the united states of Europe. The Word of God calls this covenant a covenant with death and Sheol.

In contrast to the hypocritical and therefore unreliable politics, the God-fearing is pointed to an unshakable foundation (Isa 28:16). Jacob already speaks of this in his blessing for Joseph when he says that the power of Israel comes from “the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob”, Who as his Shepherd is “the Stone of Israel” (Gen 49:24). This stone or rock is none other than Christ, as we know from the apostle Peter who quotes this verse of Isaiah in his first letter (1Pet 2:6).

From Peter we learn that what will be true for the faithful remnant in the last days, is already true for us now. Christ is indeed “a tested stone*”, what we see in what happened to Him during His first coming and stay on earth. Christ is the living stone unto Whom we, who are dust by nature (Gen 3:19), may come and be made living stones in connection with Him (1Pet 2:4).

*Literally, it is “a testing stone” in the sense of a stone that is a standard and touchstone for the other stones. The other stones are formed in His image (see and cf. 2Cor 3:18).

When He comes, it turns out that He is “a costly cornerstone [for] the foundation, firmly placed”, literally “a well-founded foundation” or a solid foundation (cf. Lk 6:46-49). Although He has not yet been revealed in this way, faith already sees it. He is what the unstable man needs.

Whoever believes in Him, whoever puts his trust on this basis, does not make a vain covenant and will not be disturbed, but looks forward to Him, to His coming. The Hebrew verb ‘disturbed’ means ‘hurry away’, crawl away out of shame, because you are ashamed of what you have believed you could trust. The God-fearing “will not be disturbed” (cf. Rom 9:33; Rom 10:11). Christ is always the way to salvation and rescue.

Whoever of the Israelites puts his trust in the power of the beast, which is the restored Roman Empire, will be ashamed. He who puts his trust in Christ, however, will never, ever come out ashamed, he will not rush away from shame. This does not only apply to Israel in the future, but it also applies to us now.

What is a fixed foundation for the believer, means for the unbeliever the judgment. When Christ comes to Zion, He will administer justice in a perfectly righteous manner (Isa 28:17). “The measuring line” and “level” are necessary to lay a good foundation. Before Christ can begin His kingdom, all remainders of the work of the antichrist must be removed so that a good foundation can be laid.

Through His judgments of hail and water, He will sweep away the hiding places where the lie is and the covenant of death. Hail and water are two pictures that have been used before to describe what the Assyrians work (Isa 28:2), but they are now used to describe the effect of the coming of the LORD into the land.

“The refuge of lies” and “the secret place” will be “swept out” and “overflowed”. “Zion will be plowed as a field” (Mic 3:12). The leaders and the people will be “trampled” by the “overwhelming scourge” (Isa 28:18). The Assyrians of old have never been able to conquer Jerusalem. This clearly shows that the full fulfillment of these prophecies is yet to come (Zec 13:8; Zec 14:2).

In Isa 28:18, in addition to the immediate judgment, our gaze is also focused on the judgment in the distant future – for us: the near future. In the end time the covenant of Isa 28:15 will find full fulfillment. Death is the antichrist. In him the devil entered who had “the power over death” (Heb 2:14). The “covenant” that the wicked masses make under the leadership of the antichrist is a covenant with death. They have made a “pact” with Sheol, the realm of death. The covenant, with death, is the covenant that the wicked mass of the Jews made through their head, the antichrist, with the restored Roman Empire, that is Europe.

This realm comes from the abyss (Rev 17:8). Satan is its inspiration. Because of both connections, the wicked Israel will get God’s judgment on him in a horrible way. God will use “the overwhelming scourge”, that is Assyria, in this case the prophetic king of the North, or an alliance of Arab islamic countries (Dan 11:40-41). The execution of the judgment will take place one after the other, “morning after morning” (Isa 28:19). The leaders, who have refused to listen to the warnings, will then realize to their horror that these are the judgments which they thought would not affect them after all.

Verses 20-22

The Unusual Task

They think that by asking Egypt for help they will be able to protect themselves in a comfortable bed, under a comfortable blanket, from danger and will have rest (Isa 28:20). To their dismay, they will discover that their precautions are of no use. On the contrary, the bed will be too short and the blanket too small. There is no rest and no protection outside of the LORD. This is how it is always with every member of God’s people: trusting the world will only bring shame, misery and disasters. Faith overcomes. Christ is the firm foundation on which we can build our hope.

The LORD will act against His people with overflowing waters and hailstorm (Isa 28:17), as He did against their enemies in the past (Isa 28:21). At “Mount Perazim” and “in the valley of Gibeon” the LORD has risen up to support David in the first case and Joshua in the second case in their fight against their enemies. He went out before David like the breakthrough of waters (2Sam 5:18-25) and He helped Joshua through large hailstones (Jos 10:1-11). But now He will do an unusual task, an extraordinary work. That is that He will rise up to support the enemies against His people. He will treat His own people as if they were His enemies. They have forced Him to do this, but it will be an unusual act.

Once again the people are called upon to repent of their cynical unbelief (Isa 28:22). If they do not, the bonds of their misery will be tightened even more. The judgment on the whole is determined; it is a destruction of “all the earth [or: land]”. The whole land of Israel is plowed (cf. Isa 28:24). For the few who repent there is grace. But furthermore, half of the inhabitants of Jerusalem will be taken away in exile by the prophetic Assyrians (Zec 14:2).

For Isaiah it’s a done deal, it’s for sure. He has heard it personally from the LORD GOD of hosts. Therefore there is no doubt that it will go this way.

Verses 23-29

The Work of the LORD Is Wise

The third and last section of this chapter deals with what the LORD has to say to those individuals who have remained faithful in the time of great distress, when they are suffering for the sake of their faithfulness to Him. He speaks to them with a voice familiar to them and with comforting words (Isa 28:23). They are urged to listen attentively: “give ear … listen” (cf. Mk 4:3; 9).

Isaiah uses a parable for his comforting words. He uses the picture of a farmer, as also Paul does (1Cor 3:7-9). The farmer is here a picture of the LORD. His ground represents the people of Israel. The hard ground is the apostate part of the people. The plow is the Assyrians. The different seeds are the scattered tribes of Israel who will be planted again in the land of Israel.

Just as the farmer does not always continue to plow (Isa 28:24), so will the LORD not endlessly scourge. Both plowing and disciplining are not the ultimate goal of the work. The farmer has another goal, a good goal, with the land in mind. So does the LORD. Therefore there is hope in the midst of tribulation. The LORD has a merciful intention for all and the time of trial will come to an end.

The farmer knows exactly how to cultivate the land for the diverse types of seed and how to sow each kind (Isa 28:25). He does not have this from himself, but from his God who taught him in nature (Isa 28:26). Why then is man so reluctant to accept God’s teaching of spiritual things?

Just as the farmer cultivates the soil differently for the various kinds of seed, he also cultivates the harvest in a different way (Isa 28:27). He threshes the grain, but dill and cumin are too small to thresh. If he did, they would be crushed. So he has to beat them out. And in that he also works with wisdom. He doesn’t go on threshing or beating endlessly, he’s not out to crush the harvest, because then he destroys it and it’s worthless (Isa 28:28).

If the farmer deals with the fruit of his work with so much insight, would not God, Who created him and gave him that insight, act in the same way? The faithful and heavily tested believer may know that the LORD acts with him in the same manner and with the same wisdom. The LORD is concerned with the harvest, the result. With this in mind He works the ground of man’s heart with difficulty, conviction of sin, sorrow. In it then falls the good seed, with the good fruit as a result.

Therefore, the wise believer exults in tribulation (Rom 5:3), for he knows that the Father is the Landman, who prunes so that he may bring forth more and even much fruit (Jn 15:1-2; 8). He who has been trained by discipline receives “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11).

The LORD does not go on endlessly with discipline. The goal is clearly before Him in all actions with His people. The suffering of the God-fearing has a purpose. That purpose is the purification of his faith, that it may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1Pet 1:6-7).

Everything is in the hands of “the LORD of hosts” (Isa 28:29). Though it is not always clear to see, faith may trust that He “has made [His] counsel wonderful and [His] wisdom great” (Jer 32:18b-19). His attention is constantly focused on the remnant He wants to save. In view of them, He acts with wisdom and with the greatest care.

In the process of plowing, sowing and harvesting everything is focused on the fruit. With the fruit, the chaff must be separated from the corn. The chaff of iniquity must be separated from the wheat of the person with whom is dealt. This is not a process that goes on and on. It applies to God’s actions and also to the activities of the farmer. The LORD of hosts, Who as Creator has given the farmer the necessary discernment for his work, knows how to act with perfect wisdom when He deals with His people. He will not destroy them. They remain His own possessions.

When the land has been plowed and levelled and when the seed has been sown, there is finally the harvest with the fruits of the land. Then the LORD will say to His people: “From Me comes your fruit” (Hos 14:8d).

We may know that the Lord is also so busy with us. He chastises us “for [our] good, so that we may share His holiness” and that His chastisements “to those who have been trained by it, afterwards” will give “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:10-11). He knows exactly what His own can endure (1Cor 10:13). He knows how to deal with each seed, with each of His own. Anyone who wishes to be used by the Lord must keep this principle in mind. Then he, who desires to help others, will deal with everyone he desires to help in a thoughtful and wise way.

What a comfort to know that the way of God is perfect (Psa 18:30). It is true: He “ has made [His] counsel wonderful and [His] wisdom great” (Isa 28:29b). Praised be His Name!

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 28". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.