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Lowell Brueckner

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Falsehood and Farming


27. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 28

We study together the inspired word of Isaiah, trusting that the Holy Spirit will open our understanding to be able to see the revelation of God Himself. That is our main purpose, as we contemplate these chapters and verses. In the last chapter, I personally rejoiced to read of his double invitation to His enemies to make peace with Him. What does it tell us about His character? He is a God, who passionately loves and reaches out to those who are farthest from Him.

I also was enchanted by a statement that showed His individual attention to each one of His people. It tells me that He is the God of the individual and not simply One, who has a mass project in mind. We also must recognize and accept the truth about this one God being a God of warfare, who brings every enemy into subjection through the sword of His word. There is only one true and living God, He is revealed in His word, and we must completely form our concept of Him by that word. Not only should we accept this revelation, but we ought to rejoice in it, knowing that there is nothing in Him that is not righteous and good.

God’s accurate assessment of man’s condition

Now we turn our attention to the northern kingdom of Israel and its capital city of Samaria. A “woe”, that is, a curse, has been pronounced against it. The fall of the kingdom was an actual event within the period of Isaiah’s ministry, so this prophecy is very near completion. Ephraim is the dominant tribe of the north and we are to understand that it represents the ten tribes that make up this nation. “The proud crown” in verse 1 is the capital city of Samaria. By now we should be familiar with the fact that a city is a representation of the pride of its people.

The description of Ephraim as “drunkards” cannot be an exaggeration or an overly severe evaluation, since it is coming from the Lord Himself. C. H. Spurgeon said something to this effect: “Don’t be offended, if someone insults you. If he knew you, as the Lord does, his judgment would be much more severe!” Painful, but true. D. L. Moody, strolling with a companion came upon a drunk lying in the gutter. “There,” said Moody, “but for the grace of God, am I.” If there is to be any hope for any man, he must accept the Lord’s assessment of his condition.

A little study of geography and Bible history will help us understand the poetic language concerning Samaria. It was bought and built by king Omri (1 Kg.16:24), father of Ahab, on a hill surrounded by a fertile valley.  Hills overlooked the valley on all sides, the panorama gave the appearance of a crown, and it is no wonder Omri was attracted to it because of its natural beauty. Isaiah declares that the beauty is about to fade and judgment is about to fall upon a rich area, inhabited by producers of wine and given over to excessive drinking.

The powerful poetry continues in an attempt to awaken people to the impending disaster. “A storm of hail, a destroying tempest, like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters” shows the effect of the invading Assyrian army. As hail strips the crops, as wind topples trees and buildings, and a flood comes in to ruin the countryside, so the anointed prophet depicts the coming destruction (v.2). The object of their pride will be trampled and the beauty will be plucked and devoured, like the first fig of the season (v.3-4), denoting a sudden calamity, accomplished with eagerness and zeal.

The defilement of spiritual leaders

“In that day”… how often Isaiah turns to the day of the Lord, the coveted day, the day of hope. So His people in that day, but also in any day and among any people, who belong to Him, should be looking forward to a better day in the future. This present world is not our home. The crown of glory will be taken off human rulers and rest upon the head of the King of Kings! The unsurpassed beauty is His diadem (v.5). It will be a reign of righteousness and of sure defense, the Lord granting strength to defeat every uprising (v.6). We have it already in chapter 2:4: He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…”

We return to prophesy, soon to be fulfilled, and we see that the drunkenness in society invades the religious world: “These also… the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink… they reel in vision, they stumble in giving judgment” (v.7). Once those who should be the spiritual leaders are infected with the spirit of the age, there is no one on earth to turn to for survival. The drunkenness is literal and it is judicial. Vision and judgment favors the unrighteous. Are we not living in such a time?

Don’t evade the word! Let it enter with all its graphic description. Observe the tables “full of filthy vomit, with no space left” (v.8). If the spiritual element is corrupted, nothing is clean or proper for a decent life in the whole of society. The theologians tell us that what follows is the mockery of Isaiah’s prophecy by the priests and prophets of Judah. They ask the question, “Who does Isaiah pretend to teach? Is he treating us as babies, with his repetition and correction in simple truth, as though we are incapable of understanding?” (v.9). Verse 10 is spoken, as if it were by school children, in simplistic Hebrew. The fact is that those, who saw themselves as mature leaders, were sadly lacking in spiritual understanding. Isaiah was in fact treating them according to their actual, deficient state.

The religious leaders mock Isaiah

The Apostle Paul counselled: “Do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Co.14:20). These were the opposite… adults immersed in evil, but infants in understanding God’s ways. Paul must have been thinking about our chapter in Isaiah, because he goes on to quote verse 11. In essence, Isaiah gives this answer: Because you unbelieving people will not humble yourselves and learn from the plain and simple words of the prophets in your own language, God will answer your drunken questions and humble you by sending in a foreign army, whose words will be unintelligible to you.  Paul’s reference to this is only to state that the gift of tongues is a sign to unbelievers, who have not yet believed the gospel preached in their language.

I want to divert for a moment to mention that Paul says that he is quoting from the law, although it comes from the prophet Isaiah (1 Co.14:21, see also Jn.10:34; Jn.15:25). This is simply because the expression the law sometimes refers to the entire Old Testament. Therefore, when it is referred to in this manner, it must be understood as something beyond the books of Moses or the Ten Commandments, but actually includes all the teaching of the Old Testament.

If they would only hear the instruction that God is sending their way, “He has said, ‘This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose’ yet they would not hear” (v.12). God’s intention for His people is rest if they will respond to His ways. Jeremiah put it this way, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jer.6:16). Unfortunately, he got the same stubborn response that Isaiah received, “We will not walk in it.”

False hope

The consequences are these: “That they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken” (v.13). We have read the words of the scoffers, the rulers in Jerusalem, occupying the same offices as at the time of Christ (v.14). We now have a further quotation. I recall a preacher, who often warned his listeners of “a negotiated peace with the devil”… meaning, you leave me alone, Satan, and I promise to leave you alone. The leaders of Israel boasted of a negotiated peace with death, so that the impending punishment would not touch them. Isaiah states that what they are actually saying is “we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter” (v.15). Of course, anyone walking in deceit can never recognize his true situation; if he could, he would not be deceived. All refuge and all shelter outside the written word of God is false.

Isaiah is preaching to the people of his day, as well as prophesying of those in the gospel era. When it is time to speak of truth and a firm foundation, all true prophets, in the Old Testament and New, must turn to Christ as the only solution. They can speak of no other. The prophecy becomes messianic, describing a foundation, a proven stone, and a precious cornerstone. Precious refers to cost and, in the case of Jesus, it means to be priceless and unique (v.16). Paul said, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Co.3:11).

He holds a straight plumb line, building a perfect wall of righteousness upon a sure foundation. A hailstorm of truth and a flood of light overwhelms the refuge of lies and the shelter of falsehood (v.17). The Apostle John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn.1:5). He annuls the covenant with death and hell, and when the invading force, from which the rulers in Jerusalem claimed immunity, passes through, it would beat them down (v.18). The “overwhelming scourge” was first of all Assyria, then Babylon, and in 70 A.D. it was Rome.  

Continuous attacks are launched against the whole territory of Judah, inciting terror throughout the region, including among those who dwelt in Jerusalem, as the report of the invasion reached their ears (v.19). “The bed is too short to stretch oneself on, and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in” (v.20) is a local proverb, which applied precisely to the situation. It meant that all the provisions, defenses and alliances that they had made would prove inadequate… too short in length and too narrow in width. “If God be for us,” said Paul, “who can be against us?” (Ro.8:31) but conversely, “If God be against us, who can be for us?” Both axioms have been equally proven to be true.

Dealing with His people

God is no respecter of persons, when it comes to His righteousness. “The soul that sins, it shall die.” So, as the Philistines were defeated by David at Perazim and as the pagan Canaanites, by Joshua in Gibeon, so would Judah and Jerusalem suffer defeat. This would seem strange in the light of his promises to His people and alien to His nature (v.21), but no claim to His promises and protection would avert His pending judgment. He will rise up in the necessary defense of His holiness. He is the Holy One of Israel.

Mercifully, Isaiah begs the scoffers to cease for their own good, lest the sentence against them be increased and made severer than otherwise necessary. He assures them that He has heard a legal decree from the courtroom of heaven. It will involve the whole land and not only the northern kingdom (v.22). He is the Lord’s mouthpiece and he knows that what he has heard will surely come (v.23) to pass.

Having proclaimed that truth, Isaiah then reasons from the principles of agriculture to show the wisdom and limits to God’s dealings with His people. Here we begin a mighty lesson for the people of God, as well as a powerful revelation of Himself. It is not His intention to destroy them, but only to accomplish His purposes in them. “Does he who plows for sowing plow continually? Does he continually open and harrow his ground? (v.24) He assures them of this limited judgment, before it falls; He speaks in love. The plow cuts and digs deep, but it is seasonal and after loosening the soil, plowing ends. Then the harrow breaks the clods, evens the ground and aerates the soil for planting, but harrowing does its purpose and then, it is over.

Now the farmer wisely sows the different seeds. Various examples are given and their treatment is explained. There is dill or fennel and cumin. Some are very small and are scattered over the land. Others, such as wheat and barley, are sown in rows. The rye (or a different species of wheat) is sown on the borders of the field, as especially suited to its growth (v.25). God has instructed the farmer how each seed must be sown (v.26).

So much for planting, but God is not only an excellent planter, but also a harvester… He always harvests what He plants! Now we will learn what the Judean farmer had learned about threshing. One method of threshing could crush and destroy a more delicate grain, while a gentler method might be totally ineffective upon a larger grain. Therefore, a threshing sledge and a cart wheel are driven over the more rugged grain, while the smaller grain is beaten with a rod or a stick (v.27).

Threshing requires radical treatment, to be sure, but each kind is wisely beaten, driven over, or trampled on by oxen or horses, according to its strength. And what does the New Testament teach us?  “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability… that you may be able to endure it” (1Co.10:13). Even though the threshing process is drastic, it is not perpetual. It accomplishes its purpose and then, it is over (v.28). God has taught the farmer His principles for successful agriculture and the same principles pertain to God’s dealing with His people. “He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom” (v.29).

This is all an amazingly special revelation of God to His people, coming at the end of the chapter. He is so careful not to crush them, but show them that all that is happening is for their benefit. What we attempt to learn, as we study, are His nature and ways. This will not happen by natural intelligence alone, so Holy Spirit, please help us to see and then make the word penetrate deeply into our being.

These last verses are worthy of a great statement of praise by Paul: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” And now the apostle looks for assistance to Isaiah 40:13, as if the praise of one anointed writer is not sufficient: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” God has no counsellor and needs no advice. All has come from Him, all works through His Spirit, and eventually all returns to Him in a glorious harvest: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen”    


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