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Having completed his condemnation of Ephraim for its failure to drink the true wine of the Holy Spirit, the prophet then turns his attention to Judah in the remaining portion of Isaiah 28.
Many Christians fail to distinguish between these two leading tribes, because they do not understand that they had different callings. Ephraim held the birthright, which was characterized mainly by the Fruitfulness Mandate, while Judah temporarily held the Dominion Mandate until the two would be reunited under Christ.
The prophet tells us that the Holy Spirit was absolutely necessary for Ephraim to bring forth the sons of God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The prophet then shifts his attention to Judah, telling us that they had failed to lay justice as the cornerstone of the Dominion Mandate. Hence, Judah was equally condemned, and Jerusalem was to be destroyed as well.
The Covenant with Death
Isaiah 28:14, 15 begins,
14 Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, O scoffers, who rule this people who are in Jerusalem. 15 Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have made a pact, the overwhelming scourge will not reach when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception,”
The prophecy is directed toward the leaders “who rule this people.” The theme, then, is about proper rulership, that is, the proper administration of the Dominion Mandate. The problem was that these leaders “made a covenant with death” and took refuge in falsehood and deception.
We know that all of the tribes of Israel were supposed to be under God’s covenant, which, if followed, would lead the people into life. Deuteronomy 5:33 says,
33 You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live…
Again, in Deuteronomy 30:19, Moses said,
19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.
The problem was that the Old Covenant put the responsibility upon man and his own will to fulfill this purpose. Hence, Paul tells us in Romans 7:10,
10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me.
The law (“commandment”) was not the problem. The problem was that the law could not be fulfilled by the will of man but only by the will of God as the Holy Spirit writes His law upon our hearts. Hence, the Old Covenant turned out to be a covenant with death.
Yet Judah’s civil and religious leaders did not believe the words of the prophet. They scoffed at him, for they put their trust in the Old Covenant while breaking it daily. They did not believe that God would judge them, especially after seeing the hand of God destroy the Assyrian army. But God’s deliverance from Assyria only postponed the judgment for another century, for God raised up the Babylonians to bring the overdue judgment.
Hence, the nation of Judah did indeed die, according to their covenant with death. It was revived after 70 years, but history shows that it died again in 70 A.D. after the scoffers rejected the word of John the Baptist and the gospel of Christ. When men make falsehood their refuge, it offers no real protection from divine judgment. Such “falsehood” and “deception” is the “darkness” in which they were walking—all who refused to come to the light of Christ.
Isaiah 28:16, 17 gives us God’s response,
16 Therefore, thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed. 17 I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level; then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters will overflow the secret place.”
Zion was the seat of government of the House of David that ruled Jerusalem and Judah. The foundation was built upon Moses and the Old Covenant that he established after the people refused to hear God’s voice that could have written the law on their hearts. That kingdom had an Old Covenant foundation with Moses as its cornerstone, and it was soon to fail.
Isaiah, however, prophesied that a new cornerstone would be laid in a new foundation. The cornerstone was Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:20), and the new foundation was the New Covenant. Christ’s Kingdom was to be based on the New Covenant, which alone could bring life and establish true justice in the earth.
The cornerstone of the Old Covenant was Moses, who became a stumbling stone to Israel, because none of the people were able to fulfill the terms of that covenant. “All have sinned,” Paul says in Romans 3:23. When the Mediator of the New Covenant arrived, the people stumbled over Him as well, for they could not believe in a crucified Messiah (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Peter and Paul both add that this “stone” was to be a foundation stone for believers but a stumbling block to unbelievers. It appears that they derived their view from Psalm 118:22,
22 The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.
We read in 1 Peter 2:4-8,
4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture [Isaiah 28:16]: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve [Psalm 118:22], “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone,” 8 and [Isaiah 8:14] “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,” for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
Peter pieces together three Scriptures to show the complete revelation as it applied to believers and unbelievers. It is clear, then, that the New Covenant corner stone God was laying in Zion was to be rejected by those who trusted in the failed corner stone of the Old Covenant. By trusting in the lie that the will of man could save them, they had made a covenant with death. Yet those who believe in Christ as the “precious corner stone” do not stumble over the sure word of prophecy but believe the word that brings life.
Paul explains this as well in Romans 9:31-33,
31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written [Isaiah 28:16, combined with Isaiah 8:14], “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
Isaiah 28:16 says that this corner stone was both “tested” and “costly.” Christ Himself was tested, first in the wilderness and later while facing the cross. To save the world was a costly venture, for it cost Him His life. Yet He was willing to pay such a price, and in so doing, He passed all of the necessary tests. Thus, He proved Himself to be worthy. Revelation 5:9 says,
9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seal, for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
Men tend to swear allegiance to earthly kings who ask others to die for them; but we have sworn our allegiance to a King who was willing to die for us. The four living creatures, representing all of humanity in the courts of heaven, tell us that He is worthy of our allegiance.
Canceling the Covenant with Death
Isaiah 28:18, 19 says,
18 Your covenant with death will be canceled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through, then you become its trampling place. 19 As often as it passes through, it will seize you; for morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night, and it will be sheer terror to understand what it means.
Isaiah says that the Old Covenant “will be canceled” when the true corner stone is laid. In other words, the Old Covenant will become “obsolete,” as Hebrews 8:13 tells us,
13 When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
Whereas the Old Covenant was valid only as long as men fulfilled their vows of obedience, the New Covenant is valid as long as God is able to fulfill His vow to make us His people, to be our God, and to write His laws upon our heart. Those who believe that He is able to do what He has promised are those who have the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:21).
When “the overwhelming scourge” of divine judgment comes (to Judah and Jerusalem), the prophet warns of “sheer terror” that would befall the people. This came to pass first with the Babylonian invasion and later with the Roman invasion. The prophet does not tell us how many times this would happen, but he implies more than one invasion, saying, “as often as it passes through.”
To understand how this was fulfilled over time, we must read the history of Jerusalem and Judah. Jesus Himself prophesied of such times of “sheer terror” four decades before the Roman war. His disciples took note of these prophecies, and when the time came, the Jerusalem church escaped to Pella before the destruction of the city. Their ability to hear the prophetic word and to obey at the appropriate time spared them from the “sheer terror” that befell the unbelievers.
Even so, Jerusalem has been rebuilt since those days. We know from Jeremiah 19:10, 11 that Jerusalem will be destroyed in such a manner that it will be impossible to repair. That time is now looming on the horizon. When it occurs, those who have ears to hear will again escape, while the majority will again experience the “sheer terror” as the overwhelming scourge passes through the city one final time.
The problem once again is that men have not understood the difference between the two covenants and the two Jerusalems. This lack of understanding has brought many to think that the earthly Jerusalem will never be destroyed and that salvation comes by one’s own vow/decision. In Galatians 4:25, 26 the two covenants are pictured prophetically by Hagar and Sarah. When “Hagar,” the earthly Jerusalem is “cast out” (Galatians 4:30), the New Jerusalem (“Sarah”) will be recognized as the true capital of Christ’s Kingdom.
Understanding these things may make the difference between life or death decisions that people will have to make, especially those now living in or near the earthly Jerusalem. I pray that many in that day will heed the sure word of prophecy and will respond to it by faith.