Salvation in Isaiah 28
The word WOE with which Isaiah 28 starts communicates to the reader a state of heavy calamity, of grief, misery and sorrow. It is an exclamation! Sometimes a person will express a personal sorrow and say “Oh, woe is me.” In old English there was an en expression that described someone consumed with a tragedy as WOE BEGONE – utterly surrounded with by calamity and wretched. The Old Testament scriptures variously translates the Hebrew word as Woe, Ah! Alas! Ho! Or simply O!
1. It is used as a LAMENT – people crying or singing dirges about a desperate situation. In 1 Kings 13 there is the sad story of a prophet who was devoured by lions when he disobeyed the Lord God. The man who buried his body, also a prophet said this
30 And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother! A lament of woe – of intense sadness.
2. It is used as a word of ADMONISHMENT – a telling off. For example in Zechariah 11 v 17
Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened.
3. It is used as a word of THREATENING – as we have here in Isaiah 28 and many other places.
Isaiah 28 begins a section in the prophecy that stretches through to Chapter 35. It contains a whole series of Woes – threatenings and announcements of doom to various communities who lived in Isaiah’s day, the days when good King Hezekiah ruled and reigned over the people of Judah in Jerusalem. From the predictions of the end times, that have been his focus for the previous few chapters, he comes back to his own time and speaks to his contemporaries. However it is thought that this prophecy against Israel was pronounced some years before Hezekiah’s reign – because the fall of Samaria happened in 721 BC – Hezekiah began to reign 6 years later. Why would Isaiah want to repeat a WOE to Samaria and Ephraim if they have already vanished in captivity in Assyria? The answer is that here Isaiah is speaking to Judah in the same terms as he had spoken to Israel. We need to understand this as Isaiah states that the first community to be threatened with WOE is Ephraim with Samaria its capital to the North of Jerusalem. We know it better as Israel, the Northern Kingdom of tribes made up of all the 12 tribes except Judah and Benjamin. Israel is referred to as Ephraim here because it was the principle tribe in the North.
This chapter tells us 3 things about God’s dealings with the people of Israel and Judah in Isaiah’s day – and enables us to see how relevant and up to date this prophecy is for us also.
1. There is CONDEMNATION for false religion. 2. False religion led to a COVENANT WITH DEATH. 3. God in His mercy sends a CORNERSTONE of deliverance.
Let us think about the first of these issues.
1. There is CONDEMNATION for false religion.
1 Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!
The crown of pride is a poetic reference to the geographical situation of the capital city of Samaria. Set on a hill 300 feet high at the head of a beautiful fertile and luxuriant valley. The sparkling Mediterranean Sea could be seen from its summit. To look at Samaria it resembled a crown, because its walls extended around the crest of the hill. Samaria had luxurious palaces and gardens at this time and her people were very proud of their achievements. Of course this prophecy is dated before the fall of Samaria in 721 BC when the Assyrians took the city after a 3 year long siege. The prosperity of Israel’s capital enabled the people to hold out for that long against a formidable foe.
Isaiah’s task is to warn and announce in God’s language, the threat that is around the corner.
But what was their crime? Why were the people of God’s covenant and promise in so much trouble? Why is there a woe pronounced upon them?
Isaiah spells it out – twice they were called drunkards – alcohol problems, addiction to hard drinking and all that is related to it, are highlighted as an offence to God. When they raised their glasses and tankards to toast, they honoured their city, its leaders and their great wealth and achievements. Then after many toasts they staggered and reeled in their incapacity and drunkenness, vomiting and dishonouring God in their vile behaviour. Verses 7 and 8 spell out the power that wine and strong drink had over the people of Israel. Let us consider this for a moment. Was it that the sophisticated people of God, who had a tradition of blessing from the Lord God through His gracious dealings with them, did not know what was right and wrong? No – they knew alright. Their crime was utter rejection of God and rejection of the prophets sent by God with His warning words to them. Look down to verses 9 – 13
9 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. 10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: 11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. 12 To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. 13 But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
God’s people had grown weary of the prophets reminding the people in successive generations of their responsibilities to keep God’s word. Levites and priests and prophets were appointed to catechise, to instruct the people of God’s covenant, to keep God’s truth and to walk in His ways. THEY were supposed to be a witness to the rest of the world – that God blesses those who obey His commandments. These verses speak of the boredom that the people felt with instruction. We don’t want it anymore – all this precept upon precept, precept upon precept. Rule after rule, law after law; line upon line, line upon line; here a little and there a little. These words are the prophet quoting their expressions of tiredness with hearing God’s law. Israel (and Isaiah extends the same condemnation to his own people of Judah now) have departed from the very safety that God had put in place to preserve them as His people.
There are some today who say that those who advocate total abstinence from alcohol are too strict. Yet when one considers that the result of free flowing wine and strong drink, spirits, is a disinclination to follow instruction and God’s precepts, laws and rules then one can only wonder at the way that some put their spiritual welfare in danger. Anything that comes between us and pleasing the Lord should be rejected. If any substance so affects our thinking capacity or reasoning skill; or can render us unusable for testimony, or service of others through being drunk or influenced by a drug of some sort – then such should be refused – for the sake of an upstanding witness and testimony. Israel and Judah teach us this from their drunkenness. If only our society could see this – drink and drugs are rendering people in society, young and old, incapable of receiving God’s word. It mattered little how faithful God’s prophets were in calling people to listen to God – if they were unable to hear because they were drunk – then God would have to send another language to them – the language of the Assyrians – notice verse 11
For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. 12 To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.
Now they will listen – as they are carted off into exile following the fall of Samaria.
2. False religion led to a COVENANT WITH DEATH.
Isaiah now specifically turns his sights upon Jerusalem –
14 Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. 15 Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
17 Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place. 18 And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
There is an intriguing story of a man named William Randolph Hearst. He was a newspaper baron, a publisher and an editor in America – a one time millionaire and owner of 20 newspapers. At one point in American history one in four Americans read a Hearst newspaper. William attempted to remove all reminders of death from his home and his life. He would not allow death to be mentioned. He refused to attend funerals. He sought to make a covenant with death by simply ignoring it. He thought that it would go away – so he made a covenant with death.
In the same way the rulers in Jerusalem tried to make an agreement with the grave. V 15 Such a covenant was with a lie which was considered a refuge and the covenant was with false gods who were considered a hiding place. When the scourge comes it shall not include us! But verse 17 says that hail will sweep away the refuge with the lie and water will overflow the hiding place.
My friends exactly the same thing is happening today in our society. People scornfully imagine that they need have no fear of death or of hell; of judgement or of the grave. In doing this they have made an agreement with death and hell. We will not fear you if you leave us alone. And this is tantamount to making an agreement with Satan himself. The argument against God went like this. We are fed up with Jehovah making demands upon us. We wish to go our own way. We have invented and devised our own ways of righteousness – a kind of humanism where man has more value than God.
What arrogant self-confidence this is! What reliance on themselves to think like this! No fear of death.
My friend, if you are not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ tonight then, you have every reason to fear death. You have every reason to fear it because of what lies beyond for you.
Hebrews 9 v 27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
After this – the judgement.
Acts 17 v 31 Because God hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
God is going to judge all men and women. God will judge according to a standard. That standard is His dearly beloved son the Lord Jesus Christ. All of us will be judged, compared with Jesus. We will be examined to see whether we come up to His standard or not. What standard did Jesus Christ reach in his manhood?
PERFECTION! Are you perfect my friend? Are you able to say in your heart right now that you have lived a perfect life? Always thought perfect thoughts? Always worked perfect deeds? Always done what God requires of you in your duties to Him and to your fellow men?
Jesus did – He was perfect. How will you shape up in comparison to Jesus Christ?
My friend I must tell you that if I’d have died and had to face the Lord God and be compared with Jesus – until March 31st 1968 I would have been terrified and worried. Up until then I knew that I would fall short of the standard – and that I would suffer the consequences of my failure to match up to Jesus!
I know that I have not lived a perfect life and that as far as death is concerned I deserve to die and be punished for ever in hell.
But there is something else to tell you. Remarkable though it sounds, 35 years ago the perfect Lord Jesus Christ came into my soul by His Holy Spirit, and took up residence within me. His presence has never left me since then and never will.
When I die and I appear before the judgement throne – God will see me and will see Jesus in me. God has already judged His Son once and poured out upon Him, on the cross at Calvary, His wrath and anger against sin, and punished Jesus. Jesus has broken the covenant of death that threatened my soul for all eternity and made me safe for ever. Is this your experience my friend?
In verse 17 the prophet continues with an architectural metaphor –
17 Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet:
In other words God will make justice the line, the string; and righteousness the plummet – the little plum bob used by builders to guarantee a straight and perpendicular wall – which leads us to our third point –
Amidst their self confidence and God’s woe of doom the Lord God announces a precious Messianic prophecy -
3. God in His mercy sends a CORNERSTONE of deliverance.
16 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
In God’s purposes a stone, a foundation stone, had been laid before the foundation of the world. Who is depicted by this corner stone, this foundation stone? Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2 v 4 – 8
4 To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is that foundation stone! With Him as our foundation in life we need have no fear of death. He is the precious cornerstone laid in Zion – the principle stone of the building by which all the other stones in the building are measured and laid.
God is building His church on this cornerstone. It is a tried and tested stone. It is a genuine stone – firm, immoveable and permanent. Those who are built on this stone are safe. The believer who builds on this stone shall never be put to shame. This stone stands in contrast to the false foundation on which the rulers of Israel and Judah relied.
What foundation is your life built on my friend? Is your confidence and trust only in the Lord Jesus Christ the stronghold of His people? He can be trusted for ever and ever. He will keep His people in life and through death and through the judgement.
Will you be safe? If you are not sure of these things then talk to a mature Christian about it. Ask that person to point out to you from the Bible God’s provision of the Lord Jesus Christ – who died for sinners and rose again so that they might have everlasting life.
Repent and turn from your sins that will condemn you. Turn to the rock – Jesus Christ – ask for His pardon and forgiveness and be assured of an eternal future with Him in heaven!