Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Isaiah 28 takes place during Hezekiah’s reign. “The setting is the restless period of intrigue with Egypt which led to Hezekiah’s revolt against Assyria and the reprisals of 701 bc … but the prophecies frequently break out of these narrow confines” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 27:12).
Isa. 28:16 – Therefore the Lord God said: “Look, I have laid a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will be unshakable.”
Robert B. Hughes and Carl J. Laney write: “Ephraim was the chief tribe of the northern kingdom of Israel. As the people mocked Isaiah’s prophecy as nonsense (28:9–10), so they would get their fill of the nonsensical language of the Assyrians (28:11)…. Instead of trusting in shaking alliances (28:15), God’s people were to rely on the firm Cornerstone, the Messiah (cf. Ps. 118:22; Rom. 9:33; 10:11; 1 Pet. 2:6)…. God works in many different ways to accomplish his purposes (Isa. 28:23–29)” (Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, S. 263).
Paul refers to Isa. 28:11 in 1 Cor. 14:21 to demonstrate the purpose of tongues as a sign of God’s judgment on unbelieving Jews. The people in Isaiah’s day mock the prophet’s words as incoherent babbling, so God promises to “speak to this people with stammering speech and in a foreign language” (v. 11); that is, they will be conquered by the Assyrians, who speak in a language they cannot understand. In the same way, the apostle Paul writes, the spiritual gift of tongues serves as a sign to the unbelieving Jews of his generation that God’s judgment is once again about to descend on Israel. This occurs in 70 A.D. as the Romans sack Jerusalem, destroy the temple, kill more than 1 million Jews, and scatter the rest worldwide in the Diaspora.
As new believers speak in tongues – dialects, or human languages unknown to them – on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), their Spirit-filled glorification of God is greeted by some Jews with derision: “But some sneered and said, ‘They’re full of new wine!’” (v. 13). Peter addresses all of the Jews from around the world gathered in Jerusalem for this important feast and declares that “these people [speaking in tongues] are not drunk, as you suppose … On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel …” (vv. 15-16). As his sermon, proclaiming Jesus as Messiah, draws to a close, Peter warns his fellow Jews. “And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, ‘Be saved from this corrupt generation’” (v. 40). Sadly, many first-century Jews reject the words of Peter and Paul and are swept away in God’s judgment at the hands of the Roman legions.
The Drunkards of Ephraim (Isa. 28:1-6)
This seems to be an early prophecy before the fall of the northern kingdom and its capital city of Samaria in 722-21 B.C. Isaiah paints an interesting picture in verses 1-4. He compares Samaria, an affluent city set on a hill, to a garland on a drunkard’s brow. The glory of this once-great city is fading and God is about to bring swift judgment upon Ephraim’s clueless drunkards (v. 1). The “devastating hailstorm” in verse 2 no doubt symbolizes the Assyrians, who will snatch the capital city like a passing traveler snatches a ripe fig (v. 4). There is a day, however, when the clouds depart and the Lord of Hosts – “a crown of beauty and a diadem of splendor” – will adorn the believing remnant of Israel (v. 5). The Lord Himself, active among and engaged with His people, provides “a spirit of justice … and strength” in stark contrast to the corrupt and inept leaders of the northern kingdom (v. 6).
Vomit-covered Tables (Isa. 28:7-13)
Isaiah now returns to the image of the northern kingdom as a drunkard (cf. v. 1). He refers to the people and their leaders – meaning the priests and prophets – as revelers at a banquet where the tables are covered with vomit and the stench is inescapable (v. 8). “They were intoxicated even when supposedly seeing visions (the false prophets) or when rendering decisions (the false priests). No wonder the nation was ripe for judgment” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1077).
The speakers in verses 9-10 likely are the priests and prophets spoken of in verses 7-8. Offended that Isaiah is speaking to them like children, they mock the prophet as if he’s speaking baby talk. “The Hebrew of v 10 is a jingle, almost the equivalent of our derisive ‘blah blah,’ but not quite as meaningless (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 28:7). “A little here, a little there” is a method used to teach children. So essentially the priests and prophets employ simple repetitive phrases used with youngsters to make it clear they are insulted by Isaiah’s speech and want nothing to do with the message or the messenger.
Isaiah’s response is that if the people won’t listen to his plain-spoken message of repentance, they will be lectured by their conquerors, who speak a difficult and foreign language. He’s referring, of course, to the Assyrians, who are bearing down on the northern kingdom and who will deliver God’s judgment to its citizens. Although the Lord offers His people “rest” and “repose” (v. 12), they refuse to listen. Therefore, God will turn their mocking back on them and they will “go stumbling backwards, to be broken, trapped, and captured” (v. 13).
A Deal with Death (Isa. 28:14-22)
Isaiah has strong words for Judah’s leaders, whom he calls “mockers,” perhaps in part because of their childish taunting of the prophet in verses 9-10. Instead of leading the people responsibly, the nation’s rulers scoff at the threat of judgment. “We have cut a deal with Death,” they boast, and when judgment comes “it will not touch us” (v. 15). Why would they say such a thing? In the Ugaritic pantheon of gods, death is personified as the god of the underworld. Jerusalem’s leaders are trusting in false gods to save them from the “overwhelming scourge,” the Assyrian invasion. But with “falsehood” on their lips and “treachery” in their hearts, their trust is misplaced. They will come to ruin.
In verse 16, Isaiah gives the Lord’s response to Jerusalem’s arrogant rebellion. “Look, I have laid a stone in Zion,” says the Lord, “a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation, and the one who believes will be unshakable.” God, not idols or human resistance, is the only true source of physical and spiritual salvation. Whether Isaiah is thinking of the cornerstone as Messiah is not completely clear; however, other Scripture passages make this connection (Zech. 10:4; Eph. 2:20) and both Paul and Peter quote this verse as Messianic (Rom. 9:33, 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6). Lawrence O. Richards makes an interesting observation: “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” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 425).
Next, the Lord responds to each of Jerusalem’s boasts. “Your deal with death will be dissolved,” He tells them. “Your deal with Sheol will not last. When the overwhelming scourge passes through, you will be trampled” (v. 18). This message will bring sheer terror on those who realize its implications. To seek the intervention of false gods in the midst of God’s judgment will be as futile as sleeping comfortably in a bed that is too short or seeking warmth in a blanket that is too small. Destruction will sweep down into Judah. Mount Perazim and the valley of Gibeon (v. 21) are near Jerusalem, where David defeated the Philistines (1 Chron. 14:11, 16). Just as God defeated David’s enemies, He now threatens to defeat David’s kingdom. Therefore, Jerusalem’s leaders are warned to stop mocking God’s prophet, and to cease trusting in idols. The Lord’s wrath is coming.
The Plowman (Isa. 28:23-29)
This chapter ends with a message of hope as Isaiah shares the parable of the plowman. Just as the farmer employs different steps – plowing, planting, threshing – to produce a variety of crops, so the Lord will take the appropriate steps to purify His people. “A farmer must crush his crops to get the desired results. For example, caraway and cumin, aromatic herbs, are beaten out with a rod or stick, not threshed, because their seeds are so small. Grain is ground by millstone, after the wheat stalks are threshed…. Similarly God … is the Master ‘Farmer,’ who knows how to handle each ‘crop.’ Therefore the Southern Kingdom should submit to Him because He is wonderful in counsel (cf. 9:6) and magnificent in wisdom (cf. 11:2)” (Walvoord and Zuck, S. 1:1078).
God’s purpose in punishment is not to destroy His people any more than the farmer’s object in threshing is to obliterate his crop; rather, it is to produce an abundance of fruit. Isaiah challenges his listeners to look to the farmer’s ways to vindicate God’s work among the citizens of Judah.
Warren W. Wiersbe comments: “Perhaps the people of Judah rejoiced to hear Isaiah announce the fall of their rival kingdom, but their celebration was shortlived; for the prophet then announced that Judah was guilty of the same sins as Samaria and therefore was in danger of judgment … Jerusalem watched the Northern Kingdom fall to the Assyrians, but this judgment did not bring them to repentance. When we start saying to ourselves, ‘It can never happen to me!’—it is sure to happen!” (Be Comforted, S. Is 28:1).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
Isaiah means “salvation of the Lord.”
Isaiah prophesied in Judah during the reigns of four kings, a period of about 60-70 years during which Samaria was captured, Israel was carried away (722 – 721 B.C.), and Judah was invaded (701 B.C.). He was a contemporary of Hosea and Micah.
Isaiah’s messages hearken back to the eternal counsels of God and the creation of the universe (see 42:5) and gaze forward to God’s creation of new heavens and a new earth (65:17; 66:22). While there are many important prophecies concerning Jerusalem, Israel and Judah, Isaiah’s predictions encompass all the nations of the earth (see 2:4; 5:26; 14:6, 26; 40:15, 17, 22; 66:18).
His Messianic focus
Isaiah foretells the Messiah’s birth (7:14; 9:6); His deity (9:6-7); His ministry (9:1-2; 42:1-7; 61:1-2); His death (52:1 – 53:12); and His future reign on earth (chaps 2; 11; 65).
Isaiah “was the greatest of the writing prophets,” according to The New Scofield Study Bible. “No other prophet has written with such majestic eloquence about the glory of God…. Of all the O.T. prophets, Isaiah is the most comprehensive in range. No prophet is more fully occupied with the redemptive work of Christ. In no other place, in the Scriptures written under the law, is there so clear a view of grace” (p. 924).
The kings of Judah
Chronologies for the Hebrew kings vary between one and 10 years depending on the source consulted. Here are the dates according to E.R. Thiele in The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983): Uzziah/Azariah – 792-740 B.C.; Jotham (co-regent until Uzziah’s death) – 750-732 B.C.; Ahaz – 735-716 B.C.; Hezekiah – 716-687 B.C.
Uzziah and Jotham
Isa. 1:1 tells us the prophet’s ministry began during the time of Uzziah and his son Jotham. It is likely that Isaiah began late in Uzziah’s reign, after he had attained substantial wealth and military success, perhaps between 750-740 B.C. At this time Jotham was coregent and running the country because Uzziah was leprous and therefore secluded. Uzziah’s success early in his kingship was due to his willingness to listen to the prophet Zechariah, who taught him God’s ways. As a result, Uzziah is listed as one of Judah’s kings who “did what was right in the Lord’s sight” (2 Chron. 26:4-5). But his legacy began a downward spiral when he arrogantly entered the temple in Jerusalem and burned incense to God, despite warnings from 80 priests. As a result, God struck Uzziah with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-20) and his son Jotham ruled as coregent for about 10 years until Uzziah died around 740 B.C.
Religious life in Judah deteriorated significantly during the reign of Azah, who “did not do what was right in the Lord’s sight … he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and made cast images of the Baals. He burned incense in the Valley of Hinnom and burned his children in the fire, imitating the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites” (2 Chron. 28:1-3). His lack of faith in God was illustrated graphically when he failed to trust God despite the promise of military victory (Isa. 7:1-9).
Hezekiah was a great religious reformer, a man of faith who led his armies to trust in God for deliverance (2 Chron. 32:6-8), and who did so himself when he asked God to deliver the Jews from the Assyrians (2 Chron. 32:20-21). In the first year of his reign, he repaired the temple, consecrated priests, renewed the nation’s covenant with God, removed pagan elements his father brought into the temple area, and restored worship (see 2 Chron. 29:3-11, 15-36). Although he later was puffed up with pride for a time, he quickly repented, and God blessed him with great riches (2 Chron. 32:27-29).
The prophet Isaiah
It’s difficult to get a full picture of the prophet because his writings reveal very little about his personal life. We do know that Isaiah identifies his father as Amoz, who may have been a scribe in the king’s court. Jewish tradition suggests that Amoz was the brother of King Amaziah, the father of Uzziah, but there is no way to substantiate this. Isaiah’s wife is called a prophetess (8:3), but there is no record of her prophetic messages, so it’s possible the term simply identifies her with Isaiah. Isaiah and his wife have at least two sons (7:3; 8:3), but little is known of them.
A high point in Isaiah’s ministry comes in chapter 6 when he meets with God. He despises his uncleanness and confesses his sinfulness as he catches a glimpse of the glory of God (6:1-4). He then confesses the sins of the people of Judah and responds to the divine call to take God’s message to the people (6:6-8). Gary V. Smith comments, “Isaiah did not know the nature of the mission God designed for the one being sent, the length of the responsibility, where this person must go, the message that must be spoken, or the difficulty of the task that must be accomplished. Nevertheless, Isaiah immediately volunteered. He did not make excuses or question God’s plan like Moses or Jeremiah (Exod. 3:11; 4:1, 10; Jer. 1:6) but gladly offered to serve God” (The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Isaiah 1-36, p. 36).
It is important to note that Isaiah is sent to bring hardness to the hearts of the people of Judah (6:9-10). The Lord states plainly that the future is dark for His people, but there is hope (6:11-13). This is illustrated in Isaiah’s encounter with Ahaz in chapter 7. God instructs Isaiah to bring the wicked and wildly outnumbered king hope of God’s deliverance in the upcoming Syro-Ephraimite War. Rather than trusting God, however, Ahaz hardens his heart and refuses to invite God to grant a sign (7:10-13).
Isaiah obediently serves the Lord even when the assignments seem bizarre. For example, he is told to go naked in public for parts of three years (20:2). This symbolizes what would happen to the inhabitants of Judah if taken captive in war; normally, war captives are stripped in shame. It isn’t known whether Isaiah explains his behavior to anyone in self defense, but the Lord calls Isaiah “my servant,” “a sign,” and “portent.” The impact of Isaiah’s ministry is felt far beyond the scope of his lifetime. He is quoted directly in the New Testament more than 65 times, far more than any other Old Testament prophet, and is mentioned by name more than 20 times.
Through a literary device known as “prophetic foreshortening,” Isaiah predicts future events without laying down exact sequences of the events or the time intervals separating them. For example, as John MacArthur writes, “nothing in Isaiah reveals the extended period separating the two comings of the Messiah (cf. Is. 61:1, 2; Luke 4:17-22). Also, he does not provide as clear a distinction between the future temporal kingdom and the eternal kingdom as John does in Revelation 20:1-10; 21:1-22:5. In God’s program of progressive revelation, details of these relationships awaited a prophetic spokesman in a later time” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 757).
In summary, Isaiah the person is known primarily through what he says, not what he does. His speeches focus on Judah’s wrong political policies as reflections of their lack of trust in God. In ways similar to Joel, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum and Zephaniah, Isaiah offers little biographical information about the prophet. Many of the Lord’s prophets seem intentionally to downplay themselves in order to lift of God and His message.
Tradition has it that Isaiah met his death under King Manasseh by being cut in two with a wooden saw (see Heb. 11:37).
An outline of study
Commentators approach the book of Isaiah in different ways, but generally we will pursue this simple outline:
- I. Judgment: Chapters 1-35
- II. Historical Interlude: Chapters 36-39
- III. Salvation: Chapters 40-66