The Old Testament nation of Israel was split into two lands after the reign of Solomon. The northern kingdom was still called Israel, but was sometimes referred to by the name of one of her leading tribes, the tribe of Ephraim. This northern area was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC. Her fall was the occasion for the oracle contained in Isaiah 28.
Wine is a mocker. The proud man thinks that he is valued when he drinks. He forgets the danger that is all around him, and his senses are dulled—senses that would be important for his continued safety. Israel is said to be a drunkard in these verses, but she is also called a fading flower. She is well past her prime, and there is a strong adversary who will soon overcome her defenses. This adversary, Assyria, is coming as an agent of the Lord.
The destruction of the northern kingdom will all happen very quickly when her final days come. She will suddenly be gone. Yet even this part of ancient Israel will have a remnant who are kept by God. This holy portion will turn to the Lord Almighty and they will find Him to be beautiful and glorious. Nonetheless, the drunken priests and prophets will have no help from the God that they say they represent. They will still claim to bring a word from God or a prophetic vision, but their lives will be covered with filth. Who will believe that they actually represent a holy Lord?
Will anyone pay attention to the prophet or priest who will not follow the God he claims to represent? He would give training to the young, but who will listen to such a man? Since God will not bless His people forever through men who only make a pretense of holiness, He will speak to them through those men from far-off nations, men who speak with a foreign tongue. God Himself will teach foreigners of a new way of rest and security, and they will come back and speak to His people, the Israelites, but many will refuse to hear. They will be offended when they hear a true message from foreign lips. Instead of growing little by little in the way of righteousness as should be the way for those who are the children of God, little by little they will fall backward and will eventually be utterly broken.
This prophecy is an exact description of the struggles of the first century church. True spiritual security had been revealed in Christ, yet He was rejected by so many from His own people group, the Jews. When Gentiles were brought into the household of faith—and some would even be elders and pastors—this would be an intolerable offense for many Jews. They would themselves become hardened against both the message of the Old Testament and the good news of the kingdom of heaven.
Isaiah speaks of Israel (the northern land) not learning the message of God, but lest the southern land of Judah and her capital, Jerusalem, think that the way would be smooth for her, or that she would be an example of faithfulness as opposed to her wayward sister, the prophet reveals that the people of Jerusalem would be scoffers. Her leaders would be a grave disappointment. They would take false confidence in their spiritist pacts that they imagined would protect them from death, but they would be sadly mistaken. They would place their confidence in lies and falsehood, rather than listening to the Word of truth. Because of this they would stumble over the One who would be God’s cornerstone in His kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This cornerstone who would one day come. Though rejected by men, He would be precious in God’s eyes. Jesus became the key rock of stability in the foundation of God’s holy spiritual temple at the inauguration of the New Testament era. He had a life of unfailing righteousness, and His death and resurrection brought life to all who put their trust in Him.
Jesus was not impressed with the lies of men, no matter how good they sounded to those who considered their words very spiritual and praiseworthy. Rather than discovering a secure way to protect themselves from death, many Jews were simply overcome by the kingdom of darkness. They rejected the Messiah and faced the Lord’s decree of destruction against His ancient nation.
The only way for anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, to escape this judgment is to hear the Word of the Lord, give attention to His speech, and surrender to Him. The Lord is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom. There is no better resolve for any of us than to consider His Word with care and to follow Him with serious attention.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Glorious God, You will purify Your church in the days that are coming. How large is Your mercy, O Lord? What will You do with those who have been oppressed by the devil and who have fallen into enslaving sin? We know that we are guilty sinners. None of us could stand before You in our own goodness. Our only hope is in the righteousness of Christ. We pray for Your mercy upon our sons and daughters who have been caught in foolish lies and worldliness. Surely You know the sincerity of the faith that You gave to them in the days of their youth. Annul their covenant with death that they make when they seem to forget Your ways. They have not utterly forsaken Your Name. You must have held them through the raging storm of deception and immorality. They have faced the destruction of this creation, will they face a second destruction in the age to come? Our hope is for something better than this. You will not discipline Your people forever. Though the body be dead because of sin, the Spirit will be alive because of righteousness. We thank You for the abundance of Your grace. Our God and the God of our children, have mercy on us, for we are weak.