A Deal with Death

Isaiah 28 SCC 7/14/13



The prophet began by exposing the folly of the leaders of the Northern Kingdom. He condemned them for their proud scoffing. The “woe” appears at first to be against them alone, but as the chapter unfolds it becomes clear that Isaiah was pronouncing woe on the leaders of the Southern Kingdom even more.

28:1: “Woe” as mentioned before is a term of lament and threat. Here the object of the prophet’s “woe” was the leaders of Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The reason for his “woe” was the pride of these representatives that was their outstanding mark and that resulted in their complacency. This nation and its leaders had been objects of admiration, but now their glory was fading, like the flowers they wore in garlands on their heads as they indulged in drunken revelry. Ephraim’s capital, Samaria, stood like a crown at the eastern end of the fertile Shechem Valley, which drained into the Mediterranean Sea to the west. A false sense of security led these leaders to spend too much time drinking wine, which now controlled them.

28:2: Ephraim was in danger because the Lord had an irresistible agent who would humble her pride, as a storm overwhelms the unprepared. Assyria was that agent, but the prophet did not name it, perhaps because he wanted to emphasize the principles involved in the judgment.

28:3: Isaiah predicted the overthrow of Ephraim and its leaders. It was as good as accomplished. With hand (v. 2) and foot (v. 3) God would throw down and trample His people.

28:4: Ephraim’s pride (v. 3) made her ripe for judgment. Her enemy would pluck her and consume her as greedily and as easily as a person who sees a ripe fig on a tree at the beginning of the fig season picks it, pops it into his mouth, and swallows it.

28:5-6: “In that day,” when Ephriam would fall, the Lord would also preserve a remnant of the Northern Kingdom. He would be the true crown of His people and a source of glory for them, in contrast to their present fading garlands. He would also become the standard and facilitator of justice for their judges and the strength of their soldiers. This does not mean that the faithful Ephraimites would turn on their enemies and defeat them but that they would find in the Lord all that they had looked for in the wrong places before.



Isaiah now compared the pride and indulgence of the Ephraimite leaders to that of their Southern Kingdom brethren. The leaders of Judah were even worse.

28:7-8: The priests and the false prophets in Judah also drank so much that their visions and judgments were distorted, and they degraded themselves by vomiting all over their tables. Isaiah chose words to mimic the staggering and stumbling of the drunkards: reel, stagger, reel, confused, stagger, reel, totter.

28:9-10: These drunken leaders mocked Isaiah for the simplicity and repetition with which he presented the Lord’s messages.

(1) the jeering reply of the pro-Assyrian party of King Ahaz, resisted the impact of Isaiah’s words recorded in the previous paragraph. They scoffed at his remarks as ‘Sunday School moralizing,’ appropriate for infants but quite irrelevant to grown men who understand the art of practical politics. His [God’s] laws are like little petty annoyances, one command after another, or one joined to another, coming constantly v 10.

(2) They accused Isaiah of proclaiming elementary teaching and of speaking to them like small children. What Isaiah advocated was trust in the Lord rather than reliance on foreign alliances for national security. Isaiah built his hearers’ knowledge bit by bit adding a little here and a little there. This is, of course, the best method of teaching, but it has never appealed to proud intellectuals who consider themselves beyond the simplicity of God’s truth.

 28:11-12: Isaiah turned his critics’ words back on themselves; what they had said about his words in

 mockery would overtake them. If God’s people refused to listen to words spoken in simple intelligibility,

 He would give them unintelligibility as a judgment. Since they refused to learn from a prophet who

 appealed to them in their own language, He would teach them with plunderers whose language they

 would not understand but whose lances they would. They would learn to rest on the Lord from their

 foreign foe’s treatment of them if they refused to learn that lesson from Isaiah.  The Apostle Paul used

 verse 11 to remind the Corinthians that messages in tongues (foreign languages), far from being a sign of

 spirituality, indicate that the recipients are spiritually immature (1 Cor. 14:20-21).  Likewise Isaiah

 revealed that when people are so spiritually dull that simple messages do not move them, God will teach

 them through experience.

28:13: The Lord would continue to teach them bit by bit, and a little here and a little there, through

hardship. The result would be retrogression, brokenness, entrapment, and captivity. A child or childish

person will have to live with the consequences of their foolishness as the only tool of learning available to

them. To intervene and rescue them only keeps tem immature.

28:14-15: The rulers in Jerusalem scoffed at the Lord’s word, but Isaiah called on them to listen to it.

Scoffer is the strongest negative term that the Old Testament writers used to describe the wicked. A

scoffer not only chooses the wrong way, but he or she also mocks the right way. He or she is not only

misled, but he or she delights in misleading others. The rulers had made a covenant with some nation

that involved deception and falsehood. Israel had already made a covenant with the Lord that guaranteed

her security. Why did she need to make another? The rulers thought that as a result of their covenant the

scourge of their dreaded enemy (Assyria) would not touch them. But Isaiah sarcastically told them that

their covenant was really with death and Sheol; death would be the outcome of their pact. They were the

naive ones, not he.

28:16: The Lord God’s response to His people’s lack of faith in Him was to reveal that He was doing

something too. He was laying a firm foundation in Jerusalem that they could and should build on. This

huge “stone” was tested, planted securely, and a sound basis for security. Builders oriented the rest of the

foundation in reference to this stone and it supported the major portion of the superstructure. What was

this stone? It was Messiah. God was doing something that would make possible a stable edifice (Israel),

namely, preparing for Messiah. Those in Isaiah’s day who believed that God was working for His people

would not panic.

28:17: The rulers had made a covenant in which they hoped (v. 15), but God would make justice and

righteousness the measuring standards by which He would act and judge His people. They thought they

could avoid the “overwhelming scourge” of their enemy by taking refuge in a treaty (v. 15), but God

would allow them to be swept away by an adversary.

They will be terrified instead for two reasons:

28:18-19: (1) Their signed agreements would prove meaningless. Their boast of immunity from

catastrophe would prove hollow. They mocked a message leading to rest and chose to embrace a message

resulting in terror. The scourge God would send would be like a marauding beast as well as a hailstorm

and a flood.

28:20: The resting place and the cover the Judahites had chosen for themselves (v. 12) would prove

disappointingly uncomfortable. A treaty with Egypt would be inadequate.

28:21: (2) They would experience divine hostility. The Lord would rise up against His people to defeat

them, as He formerly rose up to defeat the Philistines at Mount Perazim. He had also defeated the

Canaanites in the valley of Gibeon with hailstones (Josh. 10:11). Defeating the Israelites was

strange work for the Lord because He customarily defended them. Judgment is His “strange work,”

especially judgment of His own people, a work foreign to what He usually does, namely.

28:22: Isaiah called on the rulers to stop being scoffers or their punishment would be worse. It

was unavoidable, but by repenting they could lessen it. Thus this section of the “woe” that describes

judgment coming on Judah ends with a note of mercy just as the section describing judgment coming on

Ephraim did (v 5-6).



How would the leaders of Judah respond? Would they continue in their chosen course of action and so suffer the fate of the Northern Kingdom, or would they repent and experience a milder judgment?

28:23: The prophet appealed to his audience to listen to him even though some of them were scoffers. What he had to say was very important for them. Failure to listen to God’s word had been the fatal flaw of the leaders, but they could still hearken and respond.

The prophet used two illustrations.

28:24-26: A wise farmer follows a plan in his plowing and planting so each type of seed will grow best.

Some seed requires planting under the ground and other seed on top. God teaches the farmer this

discrimination just as God Himself practices discrimination in dealing with people.

28:27-29: Likewise a farmer threshes dill, cummin, and grain different ways. This is also wisdom that

God teaches. A simple farmer learns how to plow, plant, thresh, and grind from God, by studying nature,

and as he applies what God teaches there is blessing. How much more should the sophisticated leaders of

Judah learn from Him to trust Him.

An implication of these two parables (vv. 24-25 and 27-28), not stated, is that God might deal differently with the Southern Kingdom than He dealt with the Northern Kingdom. The Jerusalemites should not conclude that because God would allow the Assyrians to defeat the Ephraimites the same fate would necessarily befall them. A change of attitude could mitigate their judgment. So this whole “woe” ends with an implied offer of grace.

As things worked out, of course, God did allow an invading army to take the Judahites into captivity as another invading army had taken the Israelites captive. But that did not happen at the same time. Sennacherib destroyed Samaria but not Jerusalem. God postponed Judah’s judgment because He found a measure of repentance there.



1. You do not need to learn from judgment but it will be the tool God uses if there is no other way to teach you.

2. God is always looking for a repentant spirit and a soft heart in His people. We will never win if pitted against God.