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Isaiah: Prophet of Salvation Book 4

Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Isaiah 28, 29: Ephraim and Judah

Chapter 19: Ephraim and Pentecost

Isaiah 28 gives a prophecy about Ephraim, the custodian of the Fruitfulness portion of the birthright. Ephraim’s calling was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). This calling was originally given to Adam, and if his children had been born before he sinned, he would have begun to fulfill it. Unfortunately, because like begets like, his children were born mortal.

To fulfill this calling, one must give birth to the sons of God, for that is the “fruit” that God requires. Adam was originally a “son of God” (Luke 3:38), but he lost that position when he sinned. History is the time it takes to reverse this and bring forth the sons of God. We know from the New Testament that the sons of God are begotten by the incorruptible seed of the word (gospel) through the feast of Passover and later brought to full birth through the feast of Tabernacles.

Ephraim as a tribe or nation followed the same path that Adam took by failing to bring forth the sons of God. The reason is obvious—Ephraim was of the flesh, being descended from Adam, and did not understand that the sons of God are those who are begotten by the Spirit. Basing their calling (birthright) on their descent from Adam (or Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph) they claimed to be the children of fleshly fathers. But John 1:12, 13 says,

12 But as many as received Him [Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born [begotten], not of blood [bloodline], nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Isaiah’s prophecy about Ephraim is a record of the failure of fleshly children to fulfill the terms of the birthright and bring forth the fruit that God requires. Hence, God brought judgment upon Ephraim. Even so, the Apostle Paul drew some important truths from this chapter in his dissertation on the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 28:11; 1 Cor. 14:21), as we will see.

The Drunkards of Ephraim

Isaiah 28:1 begins,

1 Woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of its glorious beauty, which is at the head of the fertile valley of those who are overcome with wine!

Ephraim was being threatened by Assyria. The solution was to drink deeply of the spiritual well of salvation, that is, the well of Yeshua (Isaiah 12:3). However, being carnal, they continued in their fleshly ways, pictured as a drinking party.

The hill of Samaria” (1 Kings 16:24) that overlooked fertile valleys was a walled city, and from a distance, the wall resembled a crown on the head of a king. Men depended upon the walls of the city to protect them from enemy attackers, allowing them to get drunk without worrying about danger.

Samaria was originally a hill purchased from a man named Shemer, after whom Samaria was named. His name means “preserved,” referring to the dregs, or lees, of wine. No doubt this was why Isaiah used the wine metaphor in describing Samaria, the main city of Ephraim. If Ephraim had drunk the true wine of the Spirit, the tribe would have been truly fruitful.

Ephesians 5:18 compares the two kinds of wine, saying,

18 And do not get drunk with [natural] wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit, then, is the true wine that we should be drinking daily. It brings true joy and peace, whereas drunkards often drink to suppress guilt and bad memories.

Fading Flowers

Isaiah’s second metaphor speaks of “the fading flower,” because at the parties in those days they often put garlands of flowers on the heads of their guests. The prophet thus refers to fertile valleys surrounding the hill of Samaria as if they were a garland of flowers. But beautiful flowers fade and wither, as we read in 1 Peter 1:23-25,

23 for you have been born [begotten] again, not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God, 24 for, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.

Fleshly people such as the Ephraimites, born of natural seed from Adam, Israel, and Joseph, were “like the flower of grass.” Only those who are begotten by the imperishable and incorruptible seed of the enduring word of God can fulfill the terms of the birthright.

All flesh, however beautiful it may appear in its season, cannot long endure. We should appreciate flowers and green grass but also recognize the transitory nature of fleshly things.

The Storm and Flood

Isaiah 28:2, 3 continues,

2 Behold, the Lord has a strong and mighty agent; as a storm of hail, a tempest of destruction, like a storm of mighty overflowing waters, He has cast it down to the earth with His hand. 3 The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim is trodden under foot.

The “storm of hail,” “tempest,” and “overflowing waters” took shape as an Assyrian army, which cast Samaria down to the earth. As we will see shortly in verse 17, hail was the prophet’s metaphor for truth, saying, “hail will sweep away the refuge of lies.” In other words the truth of Ephraim’s folly will be exposed by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:8, 13).

The drunkards of Ephraim, being full of wine, were “trodden under foot” as if they themselves were grapes. In fact, they were part of the grape company (unbelievers), even as the overcomers are the barley company and the church is the wheat company.

Isaiah 28:4 says,

4 And the fading flower of its glorious beauty, which is at the head of the fertile valley, will be like the first-ripe fig prior to summer, which one sees, and as soon as it is in his hand, he swallows it.

Figs normally ripened in August, though sometimes a first-ripe fig could appear as early as June. The prophet likens Samaria to such first-ripe figs which are eaten immediately. In this case it was the Assyrians who would “eat” Samaria.

The True Crown of Glory

Isaiah 28:5 says,

5 In that day the Lord of hosts will become a beautiful crown and a glorious diadem to the remnant of His people.

The Holy Spirit crowned the disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. How do we know that the Holy Spirit was their crown? We see it in the earlier pattern at the crowning of King Saul on the day of “wheat harvest” (1 Sam. 12:17), which was Pentecost. While Saul received a fleshly crown, the disciples received a spiritual crown that gave them spiritual authority in the earth. Hence, “the Lord of hosts” became their “beautiful crown.”

Isaiah thus prophesied of the coming of the Holy Spirit, which was designed to make people fruitful Ephraimites. The prophet continues in Isaiah 28:7,

7 And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink; they reel while having visions, they totter when rendering judgment [making decrees and declarations as judges].

Hence, some of the people who saw the Spirit-filled disciples were saying in Acts 2:13, “they are full of sweet wine.” Isaiah saw these disciples reeling “while having visions” and tottering “when rendering judgment.” In other words, the wine of the Holy Spirit was comparable to natural wine that made people drunk. Men observed this on the day of Pentecost, and their mocking actually fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. This was God’s way of mocking the mockers.

The Problem of Spiritual Immaturity

Isaiah then prophesies problems in the church, which Paul recognized as well, having studied Isaiah’s writings. We read in Isaiah 28:8, 9,

8 For all the tables are full of vomit, without a single clean place. 9 To whom would He teach knowledge, and to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?

Once again, the prophet returns to his theme of the drunkards of Ephraim who were partying all night on natural wine. In such parties men often vomited without warning upon the tables. The prophet sees tables “full of vomit, without a single clean place.” To vomit food and drink is not a pretty sight. But vomiting the word of God is actually a good thing in biblical symbology. That is why Jonah was vomited out of the great fish, signifying resurrection and preaching the word.

In Matt. 12:40-42 Jesus compared His death and burial to Jonah being in the belly of the whale. By extension, that also means that Christ’s resurrection was like the whale vomiting out Jonah. Further, it was also the launching of the second work of Christ (a preaching work), depicted by the fact that Jonah went to Nineveh to preach the word.

Thus, both resurrection and preaching the word is the positive side of “vomit.” The word of God comes out of our mouth as water from our “innermost being” (John 7:38). The biblical metaphor may seem distasteful, but we should understand its meaning. Spirit-filled people prophesy the words of God, rather than vomiting fleshly words.

The Holy Spirit came to “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). “Whom would He teach?” the prophet asked. John 14:26 says that the Holy Spirit “will teach you all things.” But will God teach and “interpret the message” for “those just weaned from milk?” Will He teach those who are spiritually immature?

The prophet does not give us an answer. Instead, we must find the answer in Heb. 5:11-14,

11 Concerning him [Christ] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

The implication is that the “message” makes no sense to an infant, and expounding the word of righteousness to one who is still in need of milk does no good. So to answer Isaiah’s rhetorical questions, no, the prophetic message (truth) will not be understood by spiritual infants. The “milk” is defined in Heb. 6:1, 2, which I covered in my book: Hebrews: Immigrating from the Old Covenant to the New.

I have found many in the church today who consume a weekly diet of milk and who have difficulty understanding the deep things of God. Many fail even to drink “milk,” which is said to be “the elementary principles of the oracles of God.” What are those “oracles?” Paul tells us in Rom. 3:1, 2,

1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

In other words, they were given the law and the prophets—inspired Scripture. We now include the New Testament in these “oracles,” but in Paul’s day the “oracles of God” were primarily the Old Testament—including the law. How many Christians today study the law? How many study the prophets? God is constantly speaking, but few are mature enough to understand the words that they hear.

Those “oracles” are the milk of the word. Those who yet drink milk lack understanding of the milk that they drink. And those who fail to study the law and the prophets are not even getting milk, much less learning the deep things of God.

But those who have asked the Holy Spirit to guide them into the truth and who are willing to study the word and meditate upon it in conjunction with the Holy Spirit are those that God will indeed “teach knowledge” and “interpret the message” (Isaiah 28:9). These will soon grow to maturity, where they are able to understand the deep things that He is revealing.