Isaiah Chapter Twenty Eight, The Failure Of Religion

In our study of Isaiah chapter twenty eight, we look at both the history and the future final failure of religion. As we shall see, Israel and mankind as a whole have clung to religion as their hope to provide a right relationship with God. We will look at Israel's past and future to see that religion is not a refuge from the coming judgment of God and it does not grant you access to the shining city of His presence.

Isaiah 28:1

Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, to the fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley - to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine!

At the end of chapter 27, Isaiah prophesied of a day of harvest in which God's people would be gathered up to live with Him in the New Jerusalem. The "wreath" does not speak of a decoration you would put on your door or elsewhere as the Hebrew word is "atarah" which means "crown or wreath". This speaks of the city of Samaria which was the capitol of Israel at the time and was built on a hill with steep sides and a long flat top. The name was "Shomron" in Hebrew which means "watch-tower" and the modern ruins are located a few miles north of the city of Nablus in what is known as the "West Bank" area of Israel. During Isaiah's life, the city was one of luxury and indulgence combined with religious idolatry as false gods (Baal) were worshiped there. It was known for its very ornate structures and being the crowning achievement of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Isaiah 28:2-4

See, the Lord has one who is powerful and strong. Like a hailstorm and a destructive wind, like a driving rain and a flooding downpour, he will throw it forcefully to the ground. That wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, will be trampled underfoot. That fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley, will be like figs ripe before harvest - as soon as people see them and take them in hand, they swallow them.

This verse speaks of the king of Assyria which would be the instrument that God used to judge the city and His people for their idolatry. The city would be consumed by the Assyrians and remains in ruins to this day.

Isaiah 28:5

In that day the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.

Isaiah compares the crown of Samaria which was destroyed by the Assyrians with the crown of Jesus Christ. We are reminded that the phrase "in that day" is a technical term that refers to the Great Tribulation, the Millennial Reign, and eternity afterward. We are also reminded of the fact that Isaiah was a prophet that was sent to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. With this in mind, we see that he is reminding the people of the example of the northern kingdom and the judgment that came upon them as well as the fact that a remnant remained. He is reminding the people that, even out of that bunch, there will be some who are saved in the end to reign with Him. This would have been a message of hope to the people of Judah as they were facing judgment as well. For us it shows that there is hope for us no matter what religion we have become tangled in. If we dump all of the "religious" stuff and just accept the finished work of Jesus Christ, we can rule and reign with Him.

Isaiah 28:6

He will be a spirit of justice to the one who sits in judgment, a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

The "He" speaks of Jesus Christ and we see that He will pronounce a sentence on those who hold onto religion but He will give those who reject their teaching and trust in Him the strength to win the fight. The Hebrew word that is translated here as "spirit" is "ruwach" and it can be translated as "breath" in the sense of proclaiming a verdict or judgment. The phrase "one who sits in judgment" or "yashab 'al mishpat" refers to those that reject His words. The phrase "those who turn back the battle at the gate" or "shuwb milchamah sha'ar" speaks of those who stop fighting and turn towards a gate. This speaks of those who turn away from their own efforts at repairing their relationship with God and accept the way to a right relationship which is through Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 28:7 & 8

And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth.

Now Isaiah confronts the religious leaders of Jerusalem with the fact that they were acting the same way that the rest of the people were doing. At this time, the land of Judah was prosperous and the people were living it up and having a good time. The priests and prophets were straddling the fence as they took part in the same things that the others did but also wanted to worship God and to receive visions and messages from Him. Isaiah pointed out that their behavior was not in keeping with their holy office. This brings up what seems to be a contradiction as Isaiah had been telling the people that religion will not save them but now he is criticizing their conduct. Is Isaiah now grabbing onto religion and shying away from grace and freedom? The short answer is no but for a longer answer we look at the same type of thing as the Apostle Paul faced this in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul pointed out the fact that some of the actions of the believers in the church were wrong and their reaction was that they were free, in Christ, to do whatever they wanted. Paul agreed with them that they had the freedom as their actions did not determine their salvation. He went on to explain that the reason that they should stop doing some of the things was because they were not beneficial to others who might be weaker in their faith or not even know of Jesus. This reminds us that the purpose of the Law (religion) was to show man that they could not live up to God's standards. This was designed to lead them to the fact that they need a Messiah and that Jesus is that Messiah who frees us from our captivity to sin through His grace. The reason that Isaiah confronted the leaders was that they were not trading Law for grace but were simply abandoning the word of God and doing whatever they wanted.

Isaiah 28:9 & 10

'Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? For it is: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there.'

We see the reaction of the religious leaders to Isaiah's call for them to stop the things they were doing. They mocked him by comparing his call to repentance with that of a mother putting down rules for her child. In their arrogance, the leaders did not feel like they had to answer to any man for their actions and they were not afraid of offending God. This section of the chapter can be a little bit confusing but, if you remember that Isaiah is talking about sanctification and not salvation, you can better understand it. He is talking to people that are supposed to be serving God but they are acting like those that do not care about God. The Apostle Paul faced a similar situation with the Roman believers and, like Isaiah, he called for the people to be holy because they are saved (see Romans 6:15). We must also remember that the people of Isaiah's day did not have access to God's grace for salvation because the Messiah had not come. So, what does this have to do with us in our world today? This allows us to see that, when faced with the Law and our inability to keep it, we have two options. The first option is to cry out for God's mercy and accept His grace through Jesus Christ which will lead to freedom from the Law of sin and death. The second option is to turn away from all attempts to keep the Law and just do whatever you want without regard for the consequences. For those of us who are in Christ, Isaiah's call to the religious leaders is a reminder to us that we should be a good witness of the power of Jesus Christ. The lost and those who are still learning to understand the relationship between grace and their faith are watching us. We willingly limit our personal freedom in Christ for the sake of others.

Isaiah 28:11 & 12

Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, 'This is the resting place, let the weary rest'; and, 'This is the place of repose' - but they would not listen.

Isaiah's answer to the religious leaders of Jerusalem who mocked him was to prophesy that they would have to learn the hard way. He basically told them that he was one of them but since they would not listen to him, then, God would send foreigners to conquer the city. He went on to remind them that God had given them the land that they now occupied and that He had promised to care for them. They had abandoned that relationship and grabbed onto religious practices that were performed insincerely and merely as a duty. God was to be their ultimate ruler but they had decided that each man could rule their own lives. That is pretty much the way that things are today and it will get even worse in the final days.

Isaiah 28:13

So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: Do this, do that; a little here, a little there - so that as they go they will fall backward; they will be injured and snared and captured.

The leaders refused to repent of their ways and to acknowledge that they would not be saved by half-hearted religious rituals. Therefore, Isaiah says that God will bring foreigners against them to capture them and take them into slavery. The idea of falling backward brings to mind the picture of walking along and unexpectedly slipping and losing your footing. This is what was happening with Judah and its religious leaders as they were confident that they were doing just enough to stay on good terms with God. The same thing is happening in our world today as many people go through the motions of religion hoping that they have done just enough to satisfy the requirements of God. Like the rulers of Jerusalem, they will be surprised when God sends the judgment and they are treated in the same manner as all the others that rejected His grace.

Isaiah 28:14 & 15

Therefore hear the word of the Lord , you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem. You boast, 'We have entered into a covenant with death, with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.'

This passage speaks both of Jerusalem's past and its future. In their past, they made a deal with Egypt in hopes of being saved from invasion and they would even go so far as to make a deal with the Babylonians who would later capture and destroy Jerusalem. The leaders of Judah thought that they could avoid God's judgment by making this deal with those who did not know God. The passage also speaks of the coming deal that will be struck between God's people and the anti-christ which is described in Daniel 9:27 and by John in Revelation 6. God had made an example out of the northern kingdom for the kingdom of Judah but, instead of repenting and turning back to God, they cut a deal with the enemy in hopes of surviving as a nation. The history of Judah and Jerusalem serves as an example to us today but, as we see, the lesson will not be taken to heart and a "peace deal" will once again be signed with the enemy.

Isaiah 28:16

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.'

Isaiah has pointed out that religious rituals and deals with the world will not bring real peace but, now, he shares the solution to the problem which is Jesus Christ. Although it was all in the future to the people that Isaiah was sharing it with, we can look back and clearly see that it is Jesus. The Hebrew word that is translated as panic here is "chuwsh" and it means to hurry. This verse speaks of the fact that true peace is through Jesus alone and those that have His peace will not make deals with the world.

Isaiah 28:17

'I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place.'

Jesus, the prince of peace, will be the standard that will be used to judge the world and all who are in it. Those who have trusted in Him have His justice and righteousness while those who trusted in the ways and people of the world will be judged on their own merit.

Isaiah 28:18 & 19a

'Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it. As often as it comes it will carry you away; morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through.'

In Isaiah's time, and throughout the history of Israel, their deals with the world and trusting in others would not last. God would allow His people to be captured and taken into exile. Their half-hearted religious rituals did not measure up to the standard of perfection which is Jesus Christ. In the same way, the peace deal of the end times will not last and God's people will once again be forced out of Jerusalem.

Isaiah 28:19b & 20

The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror. The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.

This passage speaks of the fact that Israel would not find peace and rest through their military power or their religion. The same thing is true today as the people of God face threats from both inside and outside of their border as they have struggled to find peace for many years. Although they have a military that is among the finest in the world and although they have many who will go to the western wall of the old Temple Mount to cry out to God, peace is still not found in the land. There are many who pray for the peace of Jerusalem and that is a good thing but it is even more important that they realize that true peace will only come with the return of Jesus Christ to rule and reign as their King of Kings.

Isaiah 28:21

The Lord will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon - to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task.

Isaiah had warned the leaders of Jerusalem that their military and their religion would not save them. Now, he explains why and gives two examples from their history. We are reminded that, throughout the Bible, the number two is associated with witnesses and was required to establish that something was truth. At Mount Perazim, which means "breaks out", God had fought against the Philistines on behalf of David and given him the victory. In the Valley of Gibeon, God made the sun stand still as Joshua was facing five kings in battle. This gave him the necessary time to completely destroy them. These two examples show God intervening on behalf of His people so, why would this bring terror to the people of Jerusalem? Isaiah goes on to explain that the work that God was going to do was "strange" and "alien" which is from the Hebrew word "zuwr" and basically means "foreign". The "foreign" work that God was going to do was the fact that He was not going to defend Jerusalem or Judah and, in fact, He was going to side with the Babylonians to judge the land. This is "foreign" to God as He wants to bless His people and it would cause terror to His people when they see that God is against them. So, what does this have to do with us as Christians in the world today? As in Isaiah's day, more and more people do not see a need for God in their lives or, if they do, it is merely a religious obligation. This will only be tolerated for a certain period of time and then God will bring judgment on the land and the people. God used the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment in Isaiah's day and, in the last days, He will use Satan and his world system to persecute His people. This again is "foreign" to God but the purpose is to bring people to a point of repentance so that they can be rescued. The good news is that, during this period of time, the greatest "revival" that the world has ever seen will happen.

Isaiah 28:22

Now stop your mocking, or your chains will become heavier; the Lord, the Lord Almighty, has told me of the destruction decreed against the whole land.

Isaiah urges the rulers of Jerusalem to stop their heckling and to accept the instruction from the Lord. He warns them that, if they do not, then, their "chains" will become heavier. The Hebrew word that is translated here as "chains" is "mowcer" and it means chastisement or correction. This is an important point as it reminds us that the purpose of this correction was to bring the people to repentance and not as a punishment. Isaiah goes on to say that this correction will be a total destruction of the land. We are also reminded that the people did not think that God would bring the correction on them because of the fact that they were His "chosen people". The opposite was actually true because a "good father" will not let their children continue to do harmful things. Correction or discipline is the mark of a loving Father. In our world today, this is not a very popular way of thinking but the lack of correction has allowed many a child to continue down a road that leads to some pretty miserable consequences. The correction is meant to bring the child's actions into agreement with the will of the parent. In the same way, the correction at the hands of the Babylonians was meant to get the people of Israel to abandon their self righteous attitude and to follow the ways of God. This is the same thing that is going to happen in the last days as God will bring on a series of corrections with the purpose of getting His people to turn to Him. Today, it seems like more and more people are mocking God because they don't see Him bringing a fearful judgment on those who are in disobedience to His will. We are reminded that correction is meant for the Father's children and not the children of the devil. Eternal punishment is what awaits those who refuse to be adopted into God's family. The fearful judgment will come at its appointed time but, for now, the hand of mercy is extended.

Isaiah 28:23 & 24

Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say. When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil?

Isaiah begins to share a sorta mini parable with the leaders of Jerusalem. Using the example of farming, he explains that a farmer that desires a harvest does not go on plowing and preparing the ground for the entire season. Most of the people of this day did not run out to a grocery store or a restaurant to get the food that they needed. In order to have food on the table they had to plan and prepare in advance. For a farmer, that means the ground must be broken up so that the seed can be covered and so its roots can dig in to provide nutrients for the plant. When the soil is broken into smaller and smaller pieces, it allows the roots to penetrate easier and go deeper to ensure proper water and nutrients throughout the growing season. There is a point in the process where the effort in breaking up the soil does not provide a significant benefit anymore and this is what Isaiah is describing here.

Isaiah 28:25 & 26

When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot and spelt in its field? His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.

At some point, the seed has got to be put into the ground if a farmer is expecting a harvest of food for his family. Isaiah goes on to remind them that there are different seeds for different crops and they must be put into their proper place. Caraway and cumin are from the parsley family of plants and are used for flavoring while wheat, barley, and spelt were grains that were used to make bread. The flavoring was nice but it would have been more important to have the grains for making bread. Isaiah reminds them (and us) that the wisdom to know the proper time to plant the seeds as well as where to plant them comes from God. This would have been a sharp contrast to the way that the people of Israel were casting aside the wisdom of God to get ahead in business and to live it up. So, what does this have to do with the people of Jerusalem during Isaiah's day and what does it mean for us? Isaiah was using the example of farming to show them that God had prepared (plowed) them to be His people when they were in Egypt. The seeds were planted when the words of God were given to them at Mount Sinai and so God (as with any farmer) was expecting a harvest. The same thing is true for us today, as the Holy Spirit prepares (plows) our hearts (the soil) to hear the words of God so that we might be saved (the harvest).

Isaiah 28:27

Caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor is the wheel of a cart rolled over cumin; caraway is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a stick.

Just as different crops are planted in different areas, the harvesting methods are different as well. The first way of threshing was to simply beat the stalks with a stick and the seeds would fall out. The second method was to use a threshing board which was a board with sharp spikes or rocks in it. The board was pulled by oxen over the stalks and more pressure was exerted to separate the grain. The third method was more of processing than threshing but it involved driving oxen over the grain to grind it so that it could be used to make bread. Isaiah uses the example of caraway and cumin which were seeds used for seasoning and they were threshed (harvested) by flailing or beating them with a stick to separate the seeds from the chaff. If the threshing board or the oxen were used on the caraway and cumin, they would be crushed and unfit for use. In the same way, God can use a gentler touch to correct some people than He uses with others.

Isaiah 28:28

Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever. The wheels of a threshing cart may be rolled over it, but one does not use horses to grind the grain.

With grains, the harvesters would use the threshing board (cart) to quickly separate the grain from the chaff. This was necessary so that the process of making bread could be started by grinding the grain. The grain was not ground at the same time that it was threshed because the chaff and flour would be mixed and it would have to be separated for use. Oxen were used to grind the grain because they would weigh more and they were more common. Horses were reserved for soldiers and kings during time of war. This describes the fact that, with some of us, God must use a little more force in getting us to the point of brokenness. It is necessary to get to that point so that we can trust in Jesus Christ and be saved. The fact that a horse is not used in the grinding reminds us that God does not do this in anger.

Isaiah 28:29

All this also comes from the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent.

God gives the farmer the wisdom to prepare the ground, plant the right seed, and to use the right method of harvest. In the same way, God knows each and every one of us to the point that He knows what we need to get to the point of trusting in Him. He knows just what to use to get us to that point without crushing us to where we are no longer any use.