Isaiah (Part 29): Remnant Rejoice – Ephraim Example (Ch 28)
Our side trip into Romans was to emphasize the unity of the Bible. It is God’s storybook, not his reference book. We look to it not as a manual for the appropriate thing to say, think, or do, but rather as a progressive revelation of God’s plan of redemption and restoration to realize his objective of enjoying an everlasting love relationship with his image bearers. That means what we see in Isaiah is not merely a historical record of God at a different time with different people. It is God’s revelation that rings true and is made more complete with the continuing and final revelation of the New Testament. So Paul in Romans helps us understand more fully what Isaiah was telling the Jews.
The idea of Kinship Theology permeates all of Scripture. Kinship Theology includes concentration on the three relationships God established back in the creation ideal. We learned of God with humanity, humanity with the rest of creation, and humanity with humanity. Each relationship was broken in the fall, but through God’s plan each relationship will be restored. The first—God with humanity—is restored through soteriological means. Our view is faith electionism with its concentration on the element of faith. The relationship of humanity with the rest of creation awaits the return of Christ when the physical will be resurrected. This is an eschatological outlook of hope. Our view here follows amillennialism. The relationship of humanity with humanity considers a sociological subset of anthropology. Within this relationship we understand our level status before God—a biblical egalitarianism—in which we relate to one another not in spiritual hierarchy but in love—a view toward selfless submission considering each other’s benefit.
This Kinship Theology, made possible only through the restoration plan of God, then provides the focus on faith, hope, and love by which we employ the truth, goodness, and beauty that God has revealed to us. And we see it in Isaiah as well as Romans. The Old Testament was not a trial period or God’s Plan A that he discarded in favor of the New Testament’s Plan B. It is the same plan with the same relational elements that grow through revelation as we accept in faith, rest in hope, and act in love.
In Isaiah 28 we see God beginning another summary of the same message he has had throughout the book thus far. The perspective is new, but the message is the same—place trust in God. We’ve titled chapter 28 “The Ephraim Example” because it is the action and attitude of the northern tribes of Israel that God highlights to teach his lesson.
In verses 1 through 6 we see the political activity of Ephraim pictured as party-goers. They dress in their social finery, weaving garlands to wear as crowns. There is reference here to the capital city of Samaria located in a valley surrounded by a ring—a crown—of mountain peaks. The beauty at the beginning is lovely—just like those finely dressed with coiffured hair setting out for their evening of entertainment. But Isaiah speaks of their activity in drunkenness. Although woe is pronounce on ones overcome with wine, this should not be used as support against alcohol. The point is not that you shouldn’t drink. The drunkenness is used as an image of those who are not thinking clearly. God’s point is that Ephraim, in seeking to secure protection on their own apart from God, was not thinking clearly. They thought as those drunken party-goers—not clearly, not with wisdom. The result (vv 3-5) is that they would be judged and destroyed. God used Assyria to implement his judgment, but the text does not specifically mention Assyria because the focus is on God’s judgment, not simply a foreign nation attack.
Verses 5 and 6 show the contrast of the remnant—not drunk with wine, not thinking unclearly—who understand that truth, goodness, and beauty come through reliance on God.
In the chapter’s next section (verses 7 through 13) we read that not only were the political leaders acting as if drunk, the religious leaders also are described as staggering and stumbling from drink. They too did not think clearly to look to God for protection and wisdom. The priests and prophets were confused and muddled in their visions. And their end was in degradation (verse 8): their tables were covered with vomit and the stench was everywhere.
But notice the arrogance of these religious leaders. In verses 9 and 10 they speak back to Isaiah (and the other faithful prophets of God), “Who are you to try to teach us?!” They complain that Isaiah is giving them simple, basic religious instruction: “Law after law, line after line, a little (simple truth) here, a little there.” The irony is that even this simple truth which Ephraim’s prophets and priests say they know, they are ignoring and acting in opposite manner, not trusting God.
God’s response to them is in verses 11-13. He will speak to them in different way (with different lips in a foreign language). He had been urging and exhorting to find their rest in him. But since they ignored God’s gentle approach, he will give them the same “simple” message but this time through harsh judgment.
Verses 14 through 22 bring the Ephraim Example to Judah’s attention. We learn in verse 14 that it was specifically for Judah’s rulers. Judah was doing the same thing Ephraim had done—trust in alliances (their deal with Death) instead of trusting in God. The passage drips with sarcasm: “We have cut a deal with Death….[The scourge] will not touch us, because we have made falsehood our refuge” (28:15). With this sarcasm, Isaiah shows the foolishness of their thoughts. They hope, by calling their enemies friends, to avoid being treated like enemies. They trust in falsehood (false hopes) rather than in God, the ultimate caregiver.