Commentary on Isaiah 28-35.
In this section, Isaiah renews his message of judgment on Israel and Judah. It is split by six ‘woes’ in Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 29:1; Isaiah 29:15; Isaiah 30:1; Isaiah 31:1 and Isaiah 33:1. Compare the six woes of Isaiah 5:8-24. This appears to be an Isaianic pattern. The six may indicate the doubled completeness of the woes (twice three indicates intensification of three - three was a recognised number of completeness).
The first woe is against the drunken pride of the northern kingdom, Israel. The second is against the spiritual blindness of Judah. The third woe is against those who seek to hide what they are doing from God. The fourth is against those who look elsewhere for help to other than God. The fifth is specifically against those who pursue the Egyptian dream, depending for their future on the assistance of Egypt. And the final woe is against those who are treacherous to His people. So as is so common in Isaiah he begins with rebuking God’s people and ends with rebuking their enemies and with a promise of restoration.
Chapter 28 The Future For Israel, and For Judah If They Continue As They Are.
This chapter begins with a description of God’s view of Israel and its leaders in their pride and self-sufficiency, depicting them as being really like drunkards with a false view of life and of their own importance, which can only result in soon-coming judgment. Then, following a flash-forward in which what God will be for the remnant in the future is depicted, Isaiah turns to a description of Judah’s leaders, seeing them as equally culpable, and indeed despicable. But for them at least he has an offer of hope. God has not yet determined the full end of Judah.
The First Woe. The Coming Judgment on Ephraim Because of Its Parlous Condition (Isaiah 28:1-4).
Here Israel is depicted as a drunken festival king, proudly wearing a garland of faded flowers, while sadly unaware of its true condition, who is soon to be dragged down to earth by the Lord’s ‘strong one’.
a Woe to the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley of those who are overcome with wine (Isaiah 28:1).
b Behold the Lord has a mighty and strong one (Isaiah 28:2 a).
c As a tempest of hail, a destroying storm (Isaiah 28:2 b).
c As a tempest of mighty waters overflowing (Isaiah 28:2 c).
b He will cast down to the earth with the hand (2d).
a The crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim, will be trodden underfoot, and the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, will be as the first-ripe fig before the summer, which when he who looks on it sees, he eats it up while it is yet in his hand (Isaiah 28:3-4).
In ‘a’ we have a woe to ‘the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley’, and in the parallel what is to happen to their crown, their fading flower and the head of the fat valley. In ‘b’ we have the Lord’s mighty and strong one, and in the parallel what he will do. In ‘c’ we have comparative descriptions.
‘Woe to the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim,
And to the fading flower of his glorious beauty,
Which is on the head of the fat valley of those who are overcome with wine.’
A woe is called on Samaria. because of its ‘crown of pride’. It is within God’s sights for judgment, and the reason for it is clearly revealed. It is like a crowned ‘king of the festival’, slumped on his throne, and yet drunkenly proud, who in his drunken state wears, with inordinate pride, a crown which was once beautiful but was now a faded and wilted garland of dying flowers, and is unaware of his true condition.
The fat valley is probably to be seen as that outside Samaria with its fertile fields and terraced vineyards. Its ‘head’ is the proud city of Samaria, perched on its hill. It is pictured as proudly wearing the garland crown as it drunkenly celebrates, depicting the residents of Samaria, ‘the drunkards of Ephraim’, as behaving as though they were in a permanently inebriated condition. It is a sad picture, for its supposed glorious beauty, its flowered crown of which it is so ridiculously proud, is seen on closer inspection to be made up of but fading, wilting flowers. It is a crown only the foolishly drunken could be proud of, for although worn with drunken pride it is made up of the wilting blooms which are a pathetic last remnants of good days gone by, which would have been discarded by any but those well inebriated.
So the residents of Ephraim are pictured as proud, but not justly so, because in their pride they behave like inebriated sots, proud in spite of being in a dishevelled and careless condition, and glorying in folly and in a faded past. They fail to see what they really are. But they are too proud to turn to Yahweh. Compare here Isaiah 9:8-12 where a similar attitude is revealed. Ephraim, as the largest tribe numerically in the northern kingdom, here represents Israel, and thus reveals Israel as a whole to be in a sad condition.
‘Behold the Lord has a mighty and strong one.
As a tempest of hail, a destroying storm,
As a tempest of mighty waters overflowing
He will cast down to the earth with the hand.
The crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim,
Will be trodden underfoot,
And the fading flower of his glorious beauty,
Which is on the head of the fat valley,
Will be as the first-ripe fig before the summer,
Which when he who looks on it sees, he eats it up while it is yet in his hand.’
In contrast to these proud and drunken fools is the sovereign Lord’s ‘mighty and strong one’. Previously they had been chastised by the invasions of Syria and Philistia (Isaiah 9:12), now they will have to face a greater. He is in perfect condition and comes to cast Samaria down to earth with his hand, descending on them like a tempest of hail, like a destroying storm, like a tempest of mighty waters overflowing. The dreadful storm and hail pour down on them and soon produce the fearsome flash floods which overwhelm them.
And he will tread underfoot Ephraim’s proud but wilting crown, and eat up the contents of the faded garland, in the same way as someone who notices the first ripe fig, casually picks it and eats it up immediately. Her pride will have collapsed. It will be all over in moments, plucked by a stranger.
There can be little doubt that Assyria is in mind here, but Isaiah keeps it deliberately anonymous. He is concerned that all should recognise that this is the hand of the sovereign Lord, Yahweh. Yahweh could have used whoever He wanted to. It is a further reminder that Assyria is His, to do with as He will, and that it is at His behest that they are ‘the rod of His anger’ (Isaiah 10:5).
Flash Forward - The Coming Day of Deliverance (Isaiah 28:5).
In the future Yahweh will have a proper crown available for those who serve Him.
a In that day will Yahweh of hosts be for a crown of glory (Isaiah 28:5 a).
b And for a diadem of beauty, to the residue of His people (Isaiah 28:5 b).
b And for a spirit of judgment to him who sits in judgment (Isaiah 28:6 a).
a And for strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate (Isaiah 28:6 b).
In ‘a’ Yahweh will be ‘for a crown of glory’, and in the parallel will be ‘for strength’ for those who defend His city. In ‘b’ He will be a diadem of beauty, and in the parallel a spirit of judgment.
‘In that day will Yahweh of hosts be for a crown of glory,
And for a diadem of beauty, to the residue of His people,
And for a spirit of judgment to him who sits in judgment,
And for strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.’
Suddenly in true Isaianic fashion we have a flash forward to the coming day when God will deliver His people. However dark the horizon Isaiah wishes to stress that beyond it is always Yahweh’s deliverance for the remnant. The false crown of Samaria has brought to mind the true crown which His true people will receive, and the comparison is made accordingly. This therefore looks back to Isaiah 28:1-4. However the ‘spirit of judgment’ looks forward to the following verses.
‘In that day’, that is, whenever Yahweh steps in to deliver. The same pictures are used as in Isaiah 28:1-4 but this time they indicate something that is real and precious and lasting. One day Yahweh will be for a true crown of glory (not a crown of misplaced pride) and a genuine diadem of beauty (not a wilting diadem of flowers) to the residue of His people, one that they can truly wear with ‘pride’. Judgment may be coming but it will produce a residue, (but only a residue), on behalf of whom God can act. Gone will be the false pride and the wilting flowers of the past, replaced by this genuine glorious crown and beauteous diadem.
Then ‘the one who sits in judgment’ will be filled with a spirit of judgment so that his judgments are in accordance with the divine will. This is in deep contrast to the present when His people can only learn little by little. Associated as this one is with the crown and the diadem, and spoken of in the singular, Isaiah may well have in mind here the coming Prince, the son of David (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 11:1). For He is the One who is coming to rule and will be given the spirit of wisdom in judgment (Isaiah 11:1-5).
Furthermore, those who guard the ‘weak point’, the gate, of the strong city (Isaiah 26:1) will have the strength of Yahweh and be able to turn back any attack. It will no longer be a weak point. So in that day both prince and people will be strong with Yahweh’s strength. Many, however, see it as referring to taking the battle to the gates of their enemies. Either way the point is that He will give certain victory.
Back To the Present. The Condition of Judah (Isaiah 28:7-8).
Many view this movement back to the present as commencing a reference to Judah (see Isaiah 28:14), as against Israel in Isaiah 28:1-4, which would explain the reason for the intervention, which was to turn attention to the coming David and the strong city. Isaiah now points out that their leaders are too much involved in overmuch drinking to come to sensible decisions. Their riposte will be to accuse him of speaking to them as though they were children, to which he will reply that as they will not rest in Yahweh they will fall into His snare.
a But these also have erred through wine, and have gone astray through strong drink (Isaiah 28:7 a).
b The priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up by wine, they have gone astray through strong drink (Isaiah 28:7 b).
b They err in vision, they stumble in judgment (Isaiah 28:7 c).
a For all tables are filled with vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean (Isaiah 28:8).
Note how the second item covers the same ground as the first in reverse, but with an added feature, although applying it to priest and prophet. The spirit of judgment is lacking, replaced by strong drink. The writer’s pattern is complicated. Note how in ‘a’ they have been surfeited in wine and strong drink, and in the parallel it has made them filthy their surroundings with their vomit. In ‘b’ priest and prophet have erred and gone astray and in the parallel they have erred in vision (prophets) and stumbled (failure of the teaching of the priests).
‘But these also have erred through wine,
And have gone astray through strong drink.
The priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink,
They are swallowed up by wine,
They have gone astray through strong drink.
They err in vision.
They stumble in judgment.
For all tables are filled with vomit and filthiness,
So that there is no place clean.’
‘These also’ refers back to the one who sits in judgment and those who guard the gates, the people of Judah. Those who are presently in this position are not guided by the spirit of judgment, they are guided by false ‘spirit’, by wine and strong drink. Whether the people turn to priest or prophet they will discover the same. Their judgments (the responsibility of priests - Malachi 2:5-7) and their vision (the responsibility of prophets) err because they are under the influence of drink, soaked in it, swallowed up by it, and going astray. They stumble in their judgments, and spew out the contents of their stomachs. So bad is the situation that, when they are at table, the table is covered with their vomit and their filth. Thus all is unclean.
There could not be a worse picture of debility. Here they are gathered to make decisions on behalf of God’s people, but they appear hopelessly drunk. Thus they stumble in judgment, they stumble in vision, and they behave disgustingly. They vomit all over the table. All is filthy with no place clean. It is like a pigsty. The picture is of those unfit to govern. It is only later that we discover wherein they err. They look to Egypt for help against Assyria rather than to Yahweh. But at this point Isaiah is more concerned to point out that they are cut off from Yahweh in all their deliberations by their condition. God is disgusted with them.
His Opponent Mock Isaiah’s Teaching (Isaiah 28:9-13).
Isaiah’s opponents mock him because all that he does is proclaim a repetitive message. In their view that is to treat them like children. But his reply is that God will indeed speak to them through what they see as babbling, because He will bring against them people who speak in a strange tongue, which to them will seem like babbling. And this will happen because they have refused the rest that He has repeatedly offered them. And the result can only be disaster.
a To whom will he teach knowledge, and whom will he make to understand the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts? (Isaiah 28:9).
b For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little (Isaiah 28:10).
c No, but with babbling lips and with a different tongue, will he speak to this people (Isaiah 28:11).
c To whom he has said, “This is rest, give rest to the weary, and this is a resting place”, but they would not hear (Isaiah 28:12).
b Therefore will the word of Yahweh be to them, “Tsaw latsaw tsaw latsaw, kaw lakaw kaw lakaw, ze‘er sham ze‘er sham” (precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little) (Isaiah 28:13 a).
a That they may go and fall backwards, and be broken and snared and taken (Isaiah 28:13 b).
In ‘a’ they mock him declaring that his teaching can only be for babes, and in the parallel like babes they try to ‘go’, fall over backwards, and are ensnared. In ‘b’ his message is repetitive and in the parallel the word of Yahweh is repetitive to them. In ‘c’ he speaks to the people as with babbling lips, and with a different tongue (because they have been exiled abroad in a place where there is no rest), and that because in the parallel they would not hear his message of rest in their resting place.
‘To whom will he teach knowledge,
And whom will he make to understand the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
And drawn from the breasts?
For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
Line upon line, line upon line,
Here a little, there a little.’
In their drunken state the leaders reply by deriding Isaiah. They see themselves as wiser and more superior in thought than he is. They think that he clearly does not understand politics. They ask, to whom then should he convey his knowledge, to whom should he give his message? Who is there who can possibly be expected to listen to what he wants to tell them? Their answer is that it can only be those who are so young that they have just been weaned from their milk, or even recently withdrawn from the breast. For what he says is like rote teaching, constant repetition, a message that never changes, elementary repetitive words unfit for grown men, with a bit here and a bit there added as words are seen to be remembered, but constantly repeated over and over again. (For all he can say is ‘trust in Yahweh, trust in Yahweh, trust in Yahweh’, but that is for children. People today say the same thing about the Gospel).
‘Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.’ That is he teaches in an elementary fashion and by rote. The Hebrew is ‘tsaw latsaw tsaw latsaw kaw lakaw kaw lakaw ze‘er sham ze‘er sham’, a clear example of childish rote learning or even a baby’s babbling. So they deliberately insult him saying, ‘he just goes on and on saying tsaw latsaw tsaw latsaw kaw lakaw kaw lakaw ze‘er sham ze‘er sham’. He just teaches repetitively at a child’s level or even as a babbling baby.
‘No, but with babbling lips and with a different tongue,
Will he speak to this people, to whom he has said,
“This is rest, give rest to the weary,
And this is a resting place”, but they would not hear.’
The stern reply comes back. He has offered them the option of resting in Yahweh, and of helping their weary subjects by giving them rest. Indeed he has offered them a complete resting place in Yahweh (see Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 7:4; Isaiah 26:3-4; Isaiah 30:15). Note the deliberate repetitiveness of ‘rest’ and ‘resting place’, sarcastically confirming what they say. But they still will not listen to him, and instead accuse him of babbling. So be it, is his reply. God will in turn speak to them through babbling lips in a foreign tongue. In other words He will now speak to them in Assyrian (Akkadian)!! God’s word will come through the strange foreign words of Assyrian generals, and by action through the Assyrian invasion. And they will have to learn them in exile once they are taken to Assyria. The Assyrian ‘words’ from Yahweh will be difficult to understand and even more difficult to accept, but they will certainly speak powerfully.
‘Therefore will the word of Yahweh be to them,
“Tsaw latsaw tsaw latsaw,
Kaw lakaw kaw lakaw,
Ze‘er sham ze‘er sham”
That they may go and fall backwards,
And be broken and snared and taken.’
So Yahweh’s word to them will appear like the meaningless repetition that they have accused him of. Thus because they will not listen they will go and fall backwards into the camouflaged trap prepared for them where their bodies will be broken and they will be ensnared and captured. The picture is of the hunter’s pit with its wooden pointed stakes waiting to receive them. There may also be in mind the unsteadiness of a babe on its feet.
“Tsaw latsaw tsaw latsaw, kaw lakaw kaw lakaw, ze‘er sham ze‘er sham.” That is, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little.’ They might mock in this way, but in fact this is how spiritual growth takes place, learning verse upon verse, doctrine upon doctrine, here a little, there a little, until we grow to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
But in context it is a reminder to us that if we treat God’s word to us as fit only for children we can only expect devastating consequences.
Isaiah Sternly Warns About The Threatening Future If They Will Not Look to God’s Sure Foundation (Isaiah 28:14-22).
The leaders of Judah reply that they are not afraid of his threats because they have got it all worked out. They have an agreement with Egypt to come to their assistance, while meanwhile keeping the king of Assyria happy with deceitful words. Isaiah points out that that is to have a covenant with death and the grave (Sheol). What they should rather be doing is looking to the foundation stone that God will lay in Jerusalem (to Immanuel). If they looked ahead to His coming then they would accept their present situation and not be in such a hurry to be ‘free’. As it is their machinations will only result in disaster for them.
a For this reason hear the word of Yahweh, you scornful men who rule this people in Jerusalem. Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol are we at agreement. When the overflowing scourge passes through, it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hidden ourselves” (Isaiah 28:14-15).
b Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone giving a sure foundation, and he who trusts will not be in a hurry (Isaiah 28:16).
c And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet, and the hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters will overflow the hiding place, and your covenant with death will be disannulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand (Isaiah 28:17-18 a).
d When the overflowing scourge passes through, you will be trodden down by it (Isaiah 28:18 b).
d As often as it passes through it will take you, for morning by morning it will pass through, by day and by night (Isaiah 28:19 a).
c And it will be nought but terror to understand the news. For the bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself on it, and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it (Isaiah 28:19-20).
b For Yahweh will rise up as in Mount Perazim, He will be angry as in the valley of Gibeon, that He may do His work, His strange work, and bring about His act, His strange act (Isaiah 28:21).
a Now therefore do not be scornful men, lest your bands be made strong. For a consummation, and that determined, have I heard from the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, on the whole earth (Isaiah 28:22).
In ‘a’ Yahweh speaks to the scornful men and in the parallel they are not to be scornful men. In ‘b’ Yahweh lays a sure foundation stone in Zion, and in the parallel He rises up to do His strange work and bring about His strange act. In ‘c’ He will make justice His plumbline and sweep away their false agreements with death and the grave because they are incompatible with His will and in the parallel they will find their resting places incompatible so that the news can only bring them terror. In ‘d’ they will be trodden down by the overflowing scourge that passes through, and in the parallel when it passes through it will take them whether by night or by day.
‘For this reason hear the word of Yahweh,
You scornful men who rule this people in Jerusalem.
Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol are we at agreement.
When the overflowing scourge passes through,
It will not come to us,
For we have made lies our refuge,
And under falsehood have we hidden ourselves.” ’
‘For this reason.’ That is, because they have accused Isaiah of babbling and are therefore unable and unwilling to understand what God has to say to them and so are doomed to fall into a trap. Therefore let them hear what Yahweh has further to say.
Isaiah addresses them as ‘you scornful men’. This description is regularly found in Proverbs of those who are self-satisfied, beyond correction, arrogant and scornful of spiritual truth (Proverbs 1:22; Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 14:9; Proverbs 21:24; see also Psalms 1:1), as these have proved themselves to be.
They also rule Jerusalem. They sit in the place of the Davidic king, but it is quite apparent that their hearts are set in another direction than the service of Yahweh. They should be those by whom God’s Law goes out to the world (Isaiah 2:2-4), but instead they look to their own reputation and purposes. That is why Jerusalem will be subject to judgment, for great privilege brings great responsibility.
The words are not the ones that they would actually have spoken, but Isaiah’s ironic interpretation of them. They had probably boasted of their covenant with Egypt, but Isaiah interprets that as their making a covenant with death, and being in agreement with Sheol (the world of the grave), in other words as having received guarantees from death and Sheol that they would not touch them (see on Isaiah 28:18). But if they were not fools they would have realised that death and Sheol are not to be trusted. Rather their mouths are open wide to receive them
They also boasted of the fact that ‘when the overflowing scourge passes through it will not come to us’, because they actually believed that Egypt would be able to turn the tide of Assyria. Isaiah, however was of a different mind. He knew from God that Egypt stood no chance against Assyria. ‘Overflowing scourge’ combines the idea of the scourge and the overflowing of a flood against which men have no hope. It will be a scourge of terrifying proportions.
‘For we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hidden ourselves.’ This is again not what they said but Isaiah’s interpretation of it. This may refer to their deceiving of the Assyrian king, pretending one thing when doing another, or more likely it may be Isaiah’s way of indicating that their covenant, made with Egypt and its gods, was relying on something that was nothing but lies and deceit, the religious claims of Egypt. And yet the sad thing was that they would rather trust in these than in the living God, and His truth!
‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh,
“Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation stone, a tested stone,
A precious cornerstone giving a sure foundation,
And he who trusts will not be in a hurry.’
God’s reply is to set certainty against uncertainty. He declares that there is only one tried and tested thing to trust in. And that is the tested stone, the cornerstone of great value which gives a sure foundation and guarantees the stability of the building. This is the corner stone on which the whole building would depend. It is the everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:4) on which the strong city is founded.
But what is this tested stone, this sure foundation?
1) Probably primarily in mind is a looking forward to the rock of the coming son of David, ‘God’s anointed’, Immanuel, especially as described in Isaiah 9:6, for when He comes all that is false will be swept away (Isaiah 28:17), and He is mentioned again in Isaiah 32:1; Isaiah 33:17. This would tie in with the fact that as the coming Servant of Yahweh He would be a covenant of the people, in contrast to their false covenant. (See Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:8; Isaiah 55:3).
2) Alternately (or combined with 1) the thought may be of God Himself as the foundation to which they should look and in which they should believe in contrast to the false foundations they are laying.
3) A third possibility is that the tested stone may be Mount Zion, His mysterious dwelling-place which is in both heaven and earth, and is the way to God and to the fulfilment of the promises concerning Immanuel.
4) Fourthly the tried and trusted stone could be the statement with which the sentence ends, translating ‘that is to say, he who trusts will not be in a hurry’. This last would include the other three, for the whole point of the statement is that the faith must be in God and His promises, including the promise of the coming Immanuel.
Whichever it is it confirms that whoever trusts in what God has provided will not be in a hurry to seek alternative security, whether in Egypt or anywhere else. They will rest confidently in Him, because He provides a firm foundation.
Indeed like many promises of God it could have a near and far view thus having both a present and a future significance. It could be intended first to turn their thoughts on God and their need for firm trust in Him alone, and their need to be founded on Him, and then to look ahead also to its wider fulfilment in the God-sent One Whom Isaiah had promised, the coming Immanuel (God with us - Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4), which is indeed all tied up in true faith in God. Certainly we may see its supreme fulfilment in Jesus Christ, for when He came from God He became the foundation stone in which men could trust and on which they could be established with confidence and certainty (see 1 Peter 2:4-6; Matthew 21:42; Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 3:11-12; Ephesians 2:20).
The word for stone (‘bohan’) is possibly an Egyptian loan word and signifies an especially hard stone suitable for carving. What was to be seen as being carved on it may well have been ‘he who believes will not be in a hurry’.
‘And I will make justice the line,
And righteousness the plummet,
And the hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
And the waters will overflow the hiding place,
And your covenant with death will be disannulled,
And your agreement with Sheol will not stand.
When the overflowing scourge passes through,
You will be trodden down by it.’
Having laid His foundation stone God now declares that He will use justice and righteousness as tools with which to measure the population of his strong city. There can be no deceit there. All must be above board and morally true. It is a city of righteousness, the faithful city (Isaiah 1:26). Thus each who would enter its gates must be measured to determine their worthiness to be there.
Meanwhile on this basis their refuge of lies will be swept away by hail, and the hiding place of falsehood will be overflowed by floodwater, both regular symbols of the judgment of God. This possibly refers to the defeat of Pharaoh’s army by the Assyrians. Compare how the activities of the Assyrians are described in these terms in Isaiah 28:2. Furthermore the covenant with death will be disannulled, and the agreement with Sheol cancelled, for man cannot determine his own destiny. The day of his death is in the hands of God.
‘When the overflowing scourge passes through, you will be trodden down by it.’ The fact that it will ‘tread them down’ reveals that the overflowing scourge is indeed the army of the king of Assyria. The symbol is no longer being figuratively applied.
‘As often as it passes through it will take you,
For morning by morning it will pass through,
By day and by night.
And it will be nought but terror to understand the news.
For the bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself on it,
And the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.’
The overflowing scourge will continually pass through, morning by morning, and by day and night. The Assyrian annals in fact report that their armies did make numerous and constant returns to the same areas, every return being accompanied by massive slaughter and pillage. The steady blows of such attacks would create a sense of terror as the next visit was anticipated. And as the news reached them of the next advance their hearts would quail within them.
‘For the bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself on it, and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.’ They had rejected God’s resting place (Isaiah 28:12) and now the bed that they had made for themselves was distinctly uncomfortable. But having prepared it they had to lie on it, even though it was both unpleasant and ill fitting. They could not stretch comfortably on it because it was too short. They could not curl up on it because their covering was too narrow. They had sentenced themselves to night-long misery. How different it was from Yahweh’s foundation stone.
‘For Yahweh will rise up as in Mount Perazim,
He will be angry as in the valley of Gibeon,
That he may do his work, his strange work,
And bring about his act, his strange act.’
It was at Mount Perazim that Yahweh arose on behalf of David against the Philistines on their first invasion against him as king and broke them (1 Chronicles 14:8-12). And at Gibeon He again intervened on David’s behalf so that David achieved another important victory (1 Chronicles 14:13-16). These deliverances were vital occasions, and they established Israel and were the foundation of David’s kingship. So Yahweh declares that here again He will arise and act, but this time it will be a strange work and a strange act that He performs. For it will not beon behalf ofHis people butagainstthem. He will work and act in His anger so as to punish them, for His anger will this time be directed against His own people and not against the enemy.
Each nation expected their gods to favour them and to defeat the enemy. Judah too looked to Yahweh to do the same for them, although their alliances demonstrated that they did not really have much confidence in Him to do so. But things have got to a state where He will not do so. Because they would not trust Him He will do the opposite, so that they might learn to trust. He will bring their enemy against them. He will arrange for them to be taken into captivity, so that they might be faced with their own wrongdoing and unbelief.
‘Now therefore do not be scornful men,
Lest your bands be made strong,
For a consummation, and that determined,
Have I heard from the Lord, Yahweh of hosts,
On the whole earth.’
So Isaiah makes a final plea for these men to themselves cease being scornful men, lest the worst come on them. The bands being made strong might refer to future threatened captivity, or to their becoming finally bound in the state in which they now are so that there is no hope of repentance. Both are in fact connected (compare Isaiah 6:9-12). And this plea is in the light of the fact that a consummation is coming, one which is set and determined (compare Isaiah 10:23) which will affect the whole known earth (or ‘the whole land’), as he has been informed by the One Who is the sovereign Lord, Yahweh of hosts Himself.
The word for ‘consummation’ regularly means ‘a full end’ or a ‘set purpose’. The thought therefore here is of something momentous, purposed by God. In the light of the captivity of Israel, this may well signify his awareness that Judah faces the same prospect of exile (Isaiah 39:6-7).
The Parable of the Farmer and his Crops (Isaiah 28:23-29).
The point behind this parable is that the wise farmer thinks carefully about what he is doing and does not get bogged down in one activity. He looks at things as a whole, and does each thing in its proper course, ready to change as the occasion demands. He is fully flexible. In the same way these men of Jerusalem should consider that now is the time for a change. They should cease to look to other nations and should look instead to Yahweh, as the farmer does. For now is Yahweh’s day, and God has great purposes for Israel if only they will take note of what He is saying.
We must remember that the purpose behind all Isaiah’s words is not to ‘foretell the future’. It is to speak of the future in order that it might stir to action. Every revelation should cause his hearers to think again of what God would do through them if only they would respond rightly to Him.
a Give ear, and hear my voice. Listen, and hear what I say (my speech) (Isaiah 28:23).
b Does the ploughman plough continually in order to sow? Does he continually open and break the clods of the ground? (Isaiah 28:24).
c When he has levelled and broken up its surface (literally ‘made plain its face’), does he not cast abroad the dill, and scatter the cummin (Isaiah 28:25 a).
d And put the wheat in rows and the barley in its appointed place, and the spelt in its border? (Isaiah 28:25 b).
e For his God instructs him aright and teaches him (Isaiah 28:26).
d For the dill are not threshed with a sharp instrument, nor is a threshing wheel revolved over the cummin (Isaiah 28:27 a).
c But the dill are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod (Isaiah 28:27 b)..
b Bread corn is ground, for he will not be ever threshing it, and though the wheel of his cart and his horses scatter it, it does not grind it (Isaiah 28:28).
a This also comes from Yahweh of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom (Isaiah 28:29).
In ‘a’ they are to listen to Yahweh’s voice, and in the parallel the wisdom and counsel comes from Yahweh. In ‘b’ the ploughman does not restrict himself to the initial action of ploughing, and in the preparation of the grain in the parallel he does not restrict himself to the initial threshing. In ‘c’ he does not sow the dill and cummin, and in the parallel the dill and cummin are beaten out with a rod. In ‘d’ everything is put in its appointed place, and in the parallel the dill and cummin are treated in the appointed way. And in ‘e’ all is done according to the wisdom provided by Yahweh.
‘Give ear, and hear my voice.
Listen, and hear what I say (my speech).
Does the ploughman plough continually in order to sow?
Does he continually open and break the clods of the ground?’
Isaiah calls for careful attention to what he will now say. His first question is, does the farmer never do anything but plough? Does he only ever break up the ground? The answer he expects is, “Of course not.” Otherwise he would never achieve anything.
‘When he has levelled and broken up its surface (literally ‘made plain its face’),
Does he not cast abroad the dill, and scatter the cummin,
And put the wheat in rows and the barley in its appointed place, and the spelt in its border?
For his God instructs him aright and teaches him.’
We must remember that each farmer had only a comparatively small patch in which he had to grow his different crops, somewhat like a large market garden. He had to decide what to plant in each section and arrange carefully so that he produced all the crops he needed using all available space, which would come to fruition at different times. Thus he takes each type of seed and carefully sows it in the place which he has determined, different types of herbs or different types of grain in different places, even planning which will be sown on the border. This is because God gives him wisdom and shows him what to do. The hint is that that too is what these men of Jerusalem should be doing. Listening to God’s voice and planning accordingly.
‘In rows’ and ‘in its appointed place’ are two Hebrew technical farming terms and any translations are simply guesswork. (Even LXX omitted them not knowing what they meant). We do not know exactly what they mean, but the idea is clear. Each crop is dealt with in the appropriate way.
‘For the dill are not threshed with a sharp instrument,
Nor is a threshing wheel revolved over the cummin.
But the dill are beaten out with a staff,
And the cummin with a rod.
Bread corn is ground, for he will not be ever threshing it,
And though the wheel of his cart and his horses scatter it, it does not grind it.
This also comes from Yahweh of hosts,
Which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom.’
But once he has planted it the farmer does not leave matters like that. He plans ahead. Later he will deal with each crop as it requires. He does not thresh the dill with a sharp instrument like a threshingsledge, rather he beats it with a staff. He does not revolve a threshing wheel over the cummin, he beats it with a rod. He threshes the corn (with his sharp instrument), but he does not go on threshing it forever. He then grinds it ready for use. The wheel of his cart and his horses scatter the seed, but the wheel does not grind it. (Something was probably fitted to the wheel to aid the process of threshing).
So each thing is dealt with according to requirements, and each is dealt with differently. Each instrument has its purpose and must be used correctly. And all this, as guided by God, is extremely good advice and very wise. In the same way should the men of Jerusalem consider whether they are using the right instruments for what they are about to do, whether trust in Egypt or trust in Yahweh. For that too is wise advice.
There is possibly also an indirect threat here that God will have to plough up Judah if it is not responsive to His guidance. Unlike Samaria it still had the option, and God is pointing out that as the Great Farmer He is quite ready to deal differently with Judah if the situation warrants it.
It has been objected that horses would not be used for this kind of work and that the text should be amended. But Isaiah was not an experienced agriculturalist or zoologist and was probably speaking loosely. In his world in Jerusalem horses were what he came across, and he may well have meant ‘horse-like animals’. e.g. asses. Nor can we in fact be sure that they did not use horses in this way.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 28". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany