With Foreign Lips and Strange Tongues

God Will Speak to This People

28: 1-13

   DIG: Isaiah singles out Ephraim and Samaria as an example of God’s judgment. What will happen to the wreath in which the Israelites have taken such pride? What are the reasons for the LORD's judgment upon Israel (1:12-17, 10:1-4)? What light does Second Kings 17:1-6 shed on the fulfillment of this prophecy against Samaria? What will be different when ADONAI is truly the crown of His people? What is Isaiah saying about the visions and decisions of the religious leadership of Israel by the severe way he describes them? What is the effect of their drunken excesses on the nation itself? To what spiritual reality does this vivid imagery point? How do these leaders receive Isaiah’s message? Why would they mock him and his warnings, much like a rebel teenager does his parents? How were their very words turned around against them? What is God’s basic message too the nation of Isra'el, which they are ignoring, to their detriment? What kind of rest was Isaiah talking about here?

   REFLECT: Israel’s kings often lacked the strength to oppose evil. Where do you need, like Israel did, the word of the LORD to strengthen you to turn back the battle at the gate of your life? Have you ever responded to God's message as the leaders of the northern kingdom of Israel did? How long did that rebellious phase last? What was the result? How did the LORD break through your cynicism?

    This section is a warning to Judah; however, God uses Ephraim (28:1-6), the largest tribe in the northern kingdom of Israel, to provide a negative example of what could happen to her if she didn’t change her ways (28:7-13). After the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided; Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Ten tribes made up the nation of Israel, and two tribes, (Benjamin and Judah) made up the nation of Judah. Ephraim was the largest tribe in the Northern Kingdom. That is why the Holy Spirit used that name to represent the entire nation of Israel. Benjamin was the smallest tribe, dwarfed by Judah, hence the name Judah.

    Unfortunately, the northern kingdom of Israel was founded upon idolatry. Jeroboam corrupted the worship of ADONAI (First Kings 12: 25-33). As Israel continued to corrupt the worship of the LORD, and as God brought the Assyrians closer and closer to punish Ephraim for her sins, more and more of this faithful remnant moved south to the nation of Judah, and back to the true worship at Jerusalem. So by the time the Assyrians destroyed Israel, a believing remnant of all twelve tribes lived in Judah. Therefore, no tribes were lost. Today, Jews refer to themselves as M.O.T. or members of the tribe. To which tribe do they belong? Except for the Levitical tribe of the Cohen's who can be traced genetically today, only God knows (Revelation 4:1-8).

    This is the first woe in the Book of Woes. Isaiah declares that Ephraim was characterized by drunkenness: Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards (28:1a). She was throwing away the blessings of God like a drunk throws away money on wine. As a result, ADONAI directed His message to the fading flower, His glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley – to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine (28:1b). There is a word play with the word head. The capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel was Samaria. And Isaiah, the master of the Hebrew language, said it was both the head of a fertile valley and the head of those laid low by wine. King Omri had built it on the hill of Shemer (First Kings 16:24). It rose about 300 feet above the surrounding fertile valleys and seemed to be impregnable. But both the drunkards and the fertile valley, as it were, wore faded wreaths.

    Because of Samaria’s beauty it was called a wreath. It became the center of Ephraim’s pride. In their own eyes, they were strong and beautiful. The possibility of material prosperity was great. But as far as Isaiah was concerned, Samaria was in the process of dying like a fading flower. The party was over. At the time of Isaiah’s writing, the Assyrians had not yet conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. But all of it was about to be destroyed.

    See, ADONAI has one, the king of Assyria, who is powerful and strong (28:2a). Two illustrations from nature depict the total destruction of the city of Samaria. First, is the hailstorm. Like a hailstorm and a destructive wind, like a driving rain and a flooding downpour, He will throw it forcefully to the ground (28:2b). One of the characteristics of the Jewish people seems to have been their ability to ignore the signs of the times (Chapter 22). Isaiah tried to alert his people to their danger. But they would not listen. Therefore, Isaiah predicted that Assyria, the one who is powerful and strong, would be the coming storm of invasion. They would be incredibly violent and unrelenting. He would burst upon Israel like a hailstorm, stripping the plants of their leaves and washing away the devastated stalks. Everything would be flattened under the tyrant’s hand. This is the reason for the first woe. The pride of Ephraim, or Samaria, would be trampled underfoot.

    Isaiah is concerned with the root cause of the problem, not the symptoms. That wreath, the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards, will be trampled underfoot (28:3). Thus, whenever pride leads people into moral decay, the LORD has the authority to deal with it. After the hailstorm had swept through, nothing would be left but a few broken-down wreaths trampled in the mud. Again, double imagery is present (28:1) because Samaria was also included, as the next verse makes clear.

    The second illustration from nature is that of a fig tree. Samaria would become like a ripened fig that was eaten by a stranger before it could be harvested. That fading flower, His glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley will be like a fig ripe before harvest – as soon as someone sees it and takes it in his hand, he swallows it (28:4). The first ripe fig comes out in June, while the main crop is not until September or October. The first fig crop is unusually tender and is quickly eaten (Hosea 9:10; Micah 7:1; Nahum 3:12; Jeremiah 24:2). Isaiah said Samaria would be like that. Although the siege took three years, it was but an instant in the big picture of things. Isaiah is using this illustration to emphasize the suddenness of the coming destruction. The pride of Ephraim would collapse very quickly unless the drunkards, who were her leaders, would soon come to their senses.

    Another reason some people say the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom were lost was because of their assimilation by the Assyrians. The Assyrians, who captured the Northern Kingdom, and the Babylonians, who captured the Southern Kingdom, treated their captives differently. They had different philosophies of how to eliminate their foes. They assimilated their captives. They moved some Assyrians into the captured land and eliminated the culture of the captured people. And they brought some of the people to Assyria to assimilate them. They intermarried with them, so that the captured people became Assyrian also (Second Kings 15:29). The Babylonians, on the other hand, destroyed the lands of their captives, killed most of them, and brought “the best and the brightest” back to Babylon to help, in their minds, to elevate the Babylonian culture. Daniel is an example of this. But the Assyrians intermarried with them. This is why the Jews of Judah hated the “half-breeds” from the north. They called them Samaritans and no respectable Jew would even travel through their territory, let alone talk to one (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Gw – The Parable of the Good Samaritan).

    Nevertheless, despite the present failure, there would always be a believing remnant. Even in the drunken nation of Israel there was such a remnant. In that day, the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies (CJB) will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of His people (28:5). Here Isaiah describes what the effect will be on them. The coming destruction of Samaria will be a comfort to the believing remnant because it would mean that God’s prophecies were being fulfilled and He would punish sin accordingly. For the remnant, the LORD is always a glorious crown and a beautiful wreath. He, not the prosperous beautiful city, should be honored. In that day, when the LORD establishes the Millennial Kingdom He will honor the remnant.

    In the context of that day, or the far eschatological future, ADONAI will be a spirit of justice to Him who sits in judgment (28:6a). All judgment has been given to Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son (John 5:22). During the messianic Kingdom there will be a spirit of justice rather than the spirit of evil in the present day (Ephesians 2:2). Where the Messiah is lifted up, there is a whole new spirit about whatever we undertake (4:4, 11:2-3, 30:1, 37:7, 54:6, 57:15, 65:14). We may dare to be just, because He is just (Deuteronomy 17:8-12; Second Chronicles 19:5-8); we may fight with courage because we know that ultimately, in this life or in the next, Yeshua will overcome (Revelation 2:7, 17, 26 and 3:21). There is a divine empowerment. He will be a source of strength to those who stand up for righteousness and turn back the battle at the gate (28:6b).

    Isaiah has been dealing with the northern kingdom of Isra'el. But now he gives application to Judah (28:7-13). As he turns to her, he finds the very same spiritual adultery that brought about the destruction of the northern Kingdom! Not only are the rulers drunken and foolish, but also the religious leaders, the priests and scribes, upon whom the nation depends for divine guidance, are in the same condition. And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer. These verses read as if Isaiah was actually watching the despicable scene firsthand. Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when they see visions, they stumble when rendering decisions (28:7).

    Here Isaiah describes the debauchery in the strongest terms. They were so drunk that all their tables were covered with vomit. They were drunk even when supposedly seeing visions (the false prophets) or when rendering decisions (the false priests). There was no attempt to hide their self-indulgence. As Isaiah looks over the place where the leaders were drinking and vomiting, there was not a spot without filth (28:8). No wonder the nation was ripe for judgment!

    Having spelled out these words of judgment, in particular against the leaders of Judah who were pushing for a covenant with Egypt, those drunken leaders turned on Isaiah and mocked him, saying: Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast (28:9)? They mocked Isaiah’s apparent simplicity, but he turns their words right back on them to give a picture of their own fate. The atmosphere was grim, but realistic. There is not a more hardened or cynical person in the world, than a religious leader whose conscience is seared (Second Timothy 4:2). For them, Isaiah’s tender appeals were only a source of amusement. They had learned to rationalize everything and to believe nothing (Hebrews 10:26-31), and were really only hypocritical liars (James 3:13-18).

    The speakers were probably the drunken false priests and prophets pictured in 28:7-8. They responded and said they didn’t need to be taught because they were not children in need of a tutor. Then they begin to mimic Isaiah’s message as if he were speaking baby talk, words that could not be understood. Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule is a series of one syllable words in Hebrew. They acted as an adult lecturing a child. A little here, a little there was a method used in teaching children, indicating a little at a time (28:10). They said Isaiah was the one who was talking like a baby, using words that could not be understood. But in truth, it was their words that were slurred and stammering. They wanted nothing to do with Isaiah’s message or his ministry. Ironically, however, they had just passed judgment on themselves.

    Isaiah had been accused of using words that could not be understood. So he turns it around and said to the drunks: Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people (28:11). The foreign lips and strange tongues he was referring to were the Assyrians. Because the Jewish religious leaders did not believe the prophet’s message that they shouldn’t enter a covenant with Egypt (and in 30:1-17 we will see that they go ahead with the covenant against Isaiah’s warning), the Assyrian army would invade Israel. And when they heard those strange tongues, the Assyrian language that they did not understand, it would sound like their own mocking stammering. The hearing of the Assyrian tongue would be a sign of their own unbelief.

    This passage is referred to in the New Covenant where Paul quotes from Isaiah and says: Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers, specifically unbelieving Jews, the unbelievers of this people (First Corinthians 14:21-22). The purpose of tongues in a church or messianic synagogue is not to bring unbelievers to faith. It has the same purpose it had in Isaiah 28. It is a sign of Jewish unbelief. It is not to bring them to Christ, because Paul, quoting from this verse says, that even then they will not listen (First Corinthians 14: 21b). Therefore, tongues are a sign of cursing because of Jewish unbelief, a sign of blessing because the Church Age had begun, and a sign of authority (from apostles, prophets, or a nation, authenticating that it was God who was speaking). Peter, for example, had the keys to the Kingdom and would be responsible for ushering in the three major ethnic groups to the faith, the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46).

    Moses said that if the Israelites did not serve God joyfully and gladly then they would serve the enemies of the LORD. Isra'el’s enemies would put an iron yoke around their necks until they were destroyed (Deuteronomy 28:32). He continued to say: Yes, ADONAI will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand (Deuteronomy 28:49). If Isra'el had believed Isaiah’s message and not aligned with Egypt there would not have been any invasion. So just as Israel’s disobedience in Deuteronomy led to the use of tongues as a sign of Jewish disobedience in the Land, so Israel’s disobedience in the rejection of Messiah led to the use of tongues as a sign of Jewish disobedience in the Church Age.

    To whom He said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest,” and, “This is the place of repose – but they would not listen (28:12). The reason for this coming judgment was their failure to enter into rest. The kind of rest that Isaiah is speaking of is that of obedience to the word of the LORD. They had rejected the message of rest. Therefore, they would have no rest, only judgment. The word of the LORD would indeed seem like an endless series of trivial commandments and sufferings to them, just like Moses said it would (Deuteronomy 28:32-49). So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there (28:13a). The way the rabbis teach this verse is this: Do and do, line upon line of retribution, for every rule upon rule they have broken. Here a little, retribution will come in a very short time, there a little, you will survive the captivity. You can reject the word of the LORD, but you cannot escape it.

    When Isaiah came to the nation of Judah they would not listen. God sent the Assyrians against Judah, but she was spared by His grace. But about a hundred years later the LORD would once again send His prophet, this time being Jeremiah, who would say: O House of Israel (meaning both the northern and southern kingdoms), declares the LORD, “I am bringing a distant nation against you – an ancient people whose language you do not know, whose speech you do not understand” (Jeremiah 5:15). But that time ADONAI’s patience had run out. The spiritual adultery became to repulsive to Him and He allowed King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians to destroy the nation of Judah, the Temple and take all the best and the brightest with them back to Babylon for seventy years.

    So that they go and fall backward, be injured, snared and captured (28:13b). So in place of living free, in place of living in rest, Israel would fall backward and be injured (as against a rock), they would be snared (as in a net), and they would be captured by the Assyrians (as in a trap). The people whose language they did not understand.


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