10/26/2015

Our One Security: God's Sure Foundation (Isaiah 28)

I. Two Crowns (1-6): Pronouncement Against Ephraim. What are you proud of?

In 28:1-6 there is a play on "crown" or "wreath." This is the circlet of flowers or vines worn on the had of champions or revelers in Greek and Roman cultures. The drunken partygoers in Samaria wear these wreaths on their heads as they try to forget the terror facing them. Isaiah sees a day when all these wreaths, both the real and the symbolic, will be thrown to the ground and trampled. The "pride" of the northern kingdom is going to be snatched up like a ripe "fig" (Isa 28:4).

In contrast there is another "wreath," the Lord himself (Isa 28:5). He will be the source of beauty and glory for those who have abandoned their own pride in glad submission to him. He will give "justice" to the judges and "strength" to the soldiers (Isa 28:6). The mention of "crown" in Isa 28:5 puts the issue in clear light: Who is the King, the drunken political leaders or "the Lord Almighty"?

II. Two Words (7-13): Continuing Pronouncement Against Ephraim. What are you hearing?

28:1-4 spoke of the political leaders and the nobility, whereas 28:7-8 show that the priests and prophets are no better off. They too are besotted with the attempt to please and satisfy themselves. Alcohol abuse is a problem for them, but it is also a symptom of their deeper problem, an unwillingness to surrender their needs and desires to the Lord (Mal 2:1-9).

So instead of giving clear guidance and teaching in that desperate hour, they are staggering, reeling and befuddled in a stupor (Isa 28:7). The tables (Isa 28:8) used either for judgment or for partying are covered with vomit.

Isa 28:9-10 express the mockery of these religious leaders toward Isaiah. "Who does he think he is, treating us like little children?" Alcohol and refusing to face reality causes one to become childish, while unable to recognize what is truly going on. They denounce the repetitive simplicity of Isaiah's teaching, clearly wanting something more nuanced and ambiguous as befits their supposedly sophisticated understanding.

Isaiah responds in Isa 28:11-13 by saying that since this is what they think they are getting, then it will be exactly what they will get, only from lips other than his. Since they refuse God's invitation to rest in him by abandoning their petty pride and demeaning pleasures, they will learn his truth through "foreign lips and strange tongues" (Isa 28:11), the Assyrians who will teach them that what Isaiah said is true. Their demands as conquerors will really be repetitively simple. If they will not learn the easy way of faith, then they must learn the hard way of experience.

III. Two Covenants (14-22): A Message to the Leaders in Jerusalem

The focus shifts to the leaders in Jerusalem. "Therefore" (Isa 28:14) calls them to pay attention and learn from Ephraim, the northern leaders who are facing imminent judgment. If Judah continues in her present ways, she too will face the same fate. Isa 28:15a may not be an actual quote from the Judean leaders but Isaiah's sarcastic restatement of their words, for they have made a lie their refuge.

Isaiah's serious and unflattering epithet to the leaders is to call them "scoffers" (Isa 28:14). They not only reject the truth, but also make light of it. Like the northern leaders, these Judean scoffers have laughed at the foolishness of trust God and made their covenants "with death" (Isa 28:15, 18), which is probably an alliance with Egypt whom they think will guarantee life for them and their nation when Assyria, the "overwhelming scourge" (Isa 28:15b) comes. They ally themselves with the "lie" (Isa 28:15b) that human power is better and more reliable than simply trusting God (Isa 28:12).

Isa 28:16-19 is God's response to the "covenant of death" (Isa 28:15a, 18a). God asserts that He alone is trustworthy (Isa 28:16). God is the "tested stone" (Isa 28:16) in contrast to the "lie" on which the leaders have built their "refuge" (Isa 28:17b). God's measurements are the "justice" and "righteousness" of God (Isa 28:17a), which can stand whatever shocks might come to it. Anyone who builds on it "will never be stricken with panic" (Isa 28:16b). They can be calm and deliberate by experiencing the place of quiet rest and repose (Isa 28:12). When any other trust is measured against God's "sure foundation," its faultiness becomes apparent at once, as with the "covenant with death" (Isa 28:18).

IV. Two Methods (23-29): Illustration from the World of Agriculture. Can you trust God's ways with you?

Isaiah concludes with two graphic illustrations. Scoffers and drunkards, literal and allegorical, have refused to listen to God's word. Isaiah has been saying that there are simple cause and effect principles that rule the spiritual world, which if they are flouted will result in disaster (28:23-29).

The least educated peasant farmer, just a serf, knows that there are some things you do and some things you don't. "Listen and hear my voice" (Isa 28:23) has overtones of wisdom literature. The comparison of one activity with another, royal counsel with farming, is characteristic of wisdom literature.

A time of rough plowing before planting new life (28:23-26). A farmer knows that there are certain appropriate ways to do things. He does not keep on plowing forever (Isa 28:24), as though that were an end in itself. When he plants he does not mix up all the different seeds together (Isa 28:25). Each has to be grown separately. Though just a peasant serf, he is smart enough to know that the upheaval of plowing is only temporary and that plowing changes to planting. Therefore God knows that endless upheaval and disruption in our lives would be fruitless. Yes, God does break up the rock-hard soil of our hearts. Yes his work of plowing does get rough with us. But not continually and only in order to plant new life there. God always has a life-enriching purpose. Yield to him.

Each crop requires its own unique special treatment and refinement. When he threshes, he uses appropriate tools according to the size of the grain involved (Isa 28:27-28). To use a heavy threshing sledge or a stone roller on the tiny "caraway" and "cummin" seeds would crush them to dust (Isa 28:27a). Instead, he uses a jointed "stick" called a "flail" in English. And even a correct method must not be overused. Therefore, God knows exactly how to work with each of us (Jn 21:20-23). God has just the right touch for you. Trust him.

Isaiah is saying that these peasants have learned these principles from God (Isa 28:26, 29). God's natural revelation has taught them how life works. Why can't these wise counselors, who have the benefit of both natural and divine revelation, be as intelligent as the uneducated peasant when it comes to understanding that God can be trusted and humans cannot?