Isaiah 28 is another contrast between the woe that comes to people of the world and the true bliss of knowing God.
Isaiah 28:1 (HCSB) Woe to the majestic crown of Ephraim’s drunkards, and to the fading flower of its beautiful splendor, which is on the summit above the rich valley. ⌊Woe⌋ to those overcome with wine.
Another oracle begins, this time against Samaria. We see repeated references to obsession with intoxicating drink - described here as symbols of wealth and positions of influence (the crown may refer to the capital city, which sat on a hill overlooking the region); all of which will fade.
Isaiah 28:2-4 (HCSB) Look, the Lord has a strong and mighty one— like a devastating hail storm, like a storm with strong flooding waters. He will bring it across the land with ⌊His⌋ hand. The majestic crown of Ephraim’s drunkards will be trampled underfoot. The fading flower of his beautiful splendor, which is on the summit above the rich valley, will be like a ripe fig before the summer harvest. Whoever sees it will swallow it while it is still in his hand.
We see that God has a strong and mighty one to fulfill His will - one like a hail storm, a strong storm with floods; think Gen chapter 7. The symbols of wealth and power will be trampled down and shown as a sign of shame for those who trusted in uncertain things of this world. Unlike the fig tree in Matt 21:18-22, the fig tree in this passage had ripe fruit, ready for the picking - but not by those who found their security in their large barns.
Isaiah 28:5-6 (HCSB) On that day the LORD of Hosts will become a crown of beauty and a diadem of splendor to the remnant of His people, a spirit of justice to the one who sits in judgment, and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.
On THAT day, YHWH of Hosts will become the crown of beauty and splendor to His people, a remnant of the world. This passage recalls the devastation in verses 2-4, using similar terms to describe the glory of being united with YHWH. He bring justice and strength to His people.
Verses 7-12 reveal the futility of trusting one's wisdom and abusing drink meant for reasonable pleasure. When people partake of too much beer and wine (or pizza and donuts) there are consequences. Drunkards have a very hard time dealing with life, they stumble confused as to what's going on. Their vision is muddled, their judgment is muddled, their tables are covered in vomit! Nobody will listen to them.
Isaiah 28:13 (HCSB) Then the word of the LORD came to them: “Law after law, law after law, line after line, line after line, a little here, a little there,” so they go stumbling backward, to be broken, trapped, and captured.
YHWH speaks and throws their own words into their teeth, quoting the drunkard from verse 10. These aimless people stumble backward, to be broken, trapped, and captured. Woe to these who tempt God by abusing gifts given to man. Woe to those who trust in wealth rather than the Creator and Lord of all.
Isaiah 28:14-15 (HCSB) Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you mockers who rule this people in Jerusalem. For you said, “We have cut a deal with Death, and we have made an agreement with Sheol; when the overwhelming scourge passes through, it will not touch us, because we have made falsehood our refuge and have hidden behind treachery.”
Here YHWH addresses the leaders in Judah, rulers over the people in Jerusalem, who had made a deal with a nation identified as Death to provide protection from Assyria from overwhelming them. They bragged that lies were their refuge and treachery their strong wall. This will not end well for them.
Isaiah 28:16-17a (HCSB) Therefore the Lord GOD said: “Look, I have laid a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will be unshakable. And I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the mason’s level. Hail will sweep away the false refuge, and water will flood your hiding place."
Here we find architectural references to Christ, which are repeated in the gospels and epistles. Contrary to the papists who believe Peter is the cornerstone of "the church" God almighty has established His Son as the cornerstone, the sure foundation. As Jesus would later say, the one who builds on the Rock will withstand the fiercest storm, but the one who builds on sand will be devastated when the flood comes. YHWH's justice, not man's perverted "justice" will be the plumb line and His righteousness, not man's filthy rags, will the level.
Isaiah 28:17b-18 (HCSB) "And I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the mason’s level.” Hail will sweep away the false refuge, and water will flood your hiding place. Your deal with Death will be dissolved, and your agreement with Sheol will not last. When the overwhelming scourge passes through, you will be trampled.
Those who continue to trust in man will swept away in the judgment, as in the day of Noah. Juda's treacherous deal with Death and Sheol will not protect them; for when the Lord Jesus returns on that great and terrible day, the time of patience and place for repentance will have ended; and not a mortal soul will be able to find any refuge from the storm if they had not already found it in Christ. As we read in the previous chapter, Isaiah 27:11b "Therefore their Maker will not have compassion on them, and their Creator will not be gracious to them." This will be the end of time, and all who continued in their rebellion will face the Judge who has no compassion or grace for them. Indeed, in verse 19 we see that "only terror will cause you to understand the message." He will have compassion and grace only for those clothed in His righteousness, and we all will be in awe as we consider how little we understood and how much He has done for us.
Isaiah 28:21-22 (HCSB) For the LORD will rise up as ⌊He did⌋ at Mount Perazim. He will rise in wrath, as at the Valley of Gibeon, to do His work, His strange work, and to perform His task, His disturbing task. So now, do not mock, or your shackles will become stronger. Indeed, I have heard from the Lord GOD of Hosts a decree of destruction for the whole land.
These references to well-known places in Israel bring home the message to those who dwell in the land, seeking comfort in large barns. Yet almighty God has spoken: what He will do will seem strange and disturbing to those who rest on Moses and Abraham. He will burden them with unbreakable shackles and destroy the whole land. He will take the kingdom from them and give it to a nation of kings and priests that will bear fruit (Matt 21:43 & 1 Peter 2:4-6).
The last part of this chapter breaks into a new line of thought. Isaiah 28:23 (HCSB) "Listen and hear my voice. Pay attention and hear what I say." With this call to listen up, God begins giving instruction on farming!
Isaiah 28:24-26 (HCSB) Does the plowman plow every day to plant seed? Does he ⌊continuously⌋ break up and cultivate the soil? When he has leveled its surface, does he not then scatter black cumin and sow cumin? He plants wheat in rows and barley in plots, with spelt as their border. His God teaches him order; He instructs him.
As He teaches the animals where to forage for food, as He tells the clouds where to go pour out their rain, so He teaches brute man how to tend the land so he can feed his family.
Isaiah 28:28-29 (HCSB) Bread grain is crushed, but is not threshed endlessly. Though the wheel of ⌊the farmer’s⌋ cart rumbles, his horses do not crush it. This also comes from the LORD of Hosts. He gives wonderful advice; He gives great wisdom.
Simple truth about temporal things, properly used, is wisdom from God - wonderful news! Proper use of good things He has given us is wise; thanksgiving for His mercies in giving us bread and meat is the proper response. What a contrast to the attitude of Israel in Isaiah's day; for they had forgotten YHWH and had slid into the thankless, conceited position of thinking they were entitled to comfortable living, safe from the terrors of Assyria and the other pagans.
In the USA at this hour, we have our own pagans at the gate - claiming they own the nation and want to trample justice and exalt all sorts of sin and horror. Let us who know God - or rather are known by Him - stand for His Truth but never lose sight of which kingdom we belong to. As the ancient preacher taught, Ecclesiastes 9 (HCSB) Go, eat your bread with pleasure, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, ... Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life, ... Whatever your hands find to do, do with ⌊all⌋ your strength, because there is no work, planning, knowledge, or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.
Trust God, meditate on His Word. If you are His, He will be your wisdom and give you light to take the next step. If you are not His, cry out for mercy while you yet have breath.