Isaiah looks to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Ephraim, or what is left of it after the Assyrian mauling of 733. It’s capital Samaria was in a beautiful valley, but Isaiah pronounces imminent woe. It’s a fading flower, it’s glorious beauty. Samaria is a “living metaphor of the easy-going decadence soon to become easy pickings for the Assyrian invader” (Ray Ortlund, Isaiah – God Saves Sinners)
The issue is will we trust God alone? Isaiah is showing us in these next chapters that God has all the power needed to fulfil his saving purposes.
Ephraim is yet another historical disaster – kingdoms rise and fall, wealth comes, ego climbs on a pedestal and then pride takes a fall. The first few verses set up the scenario – the priests and prophets are drunk with trendy philosophy, wisdom and disgusting religion and they have been mocking Isaiah who is the “he” of v9,10. Isaiah’s message to them seems to simple (the gospel is to simple too!) It’s like milk for toddlers just off the breast v9. They don’t feel fed by Isaiah’s preaching! Martin Luther had the same problem “When I preach I regard neither doctors or magistrates of whom I have above forty in my congregation; I have all my eyes on the servant maids and on the children. And if the learned men are not well pleased with what they hear, well, the door is open.”
They feel his message is like a sing song baby talk rhyme “do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there” – so God steps in v11 “Very well then!” The message of rest in God will be judgement then.
It’s like that when listening to a sermon – one person is getting fed the next is thinking this is not very deep, why doesn’t the Bible say something impressive at my level! Same message, different impact. C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle illustrates this well – some are on the side of Aslan (the Christ figure) and the world looks great and others like the dwarves are on the other side outside a stable and to them everything is dark and smelly. Aslan gives them a feast
“Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices and each dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sorts of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage lead. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “ugh, fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough taht a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.”
So is the gospel rich wine to you or trough water?
Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom had bottled it! They had made an alliance against Assyria with Egypt v15. Egypt was saying you can count on us. God is saying let Me show you how you can count on Me. Tehir covenant with Egypt is actually a covenant with death v15
There are times when our faith is tested, when we need to accept His answers and await His timing. The real enemy is sin and God is telling us to take refuge in him, not in denial and nice falsehoods.
v16 Whoever believes in me will not be in haste – He is thinking of teh city of God, of whom Jesus is the precious cornerstone and sure foundation! Faith won’t be in a flutter, driven, freaking out, being a drama queen. Faith in Jesus can stand up to anything!
The chapter concludes with a parable of a simple farmer who knows ploughing doesn’t last for ever it changes to planting and growing and harvest and celebration. God always has life enriching purposes for us even in the dark times. Each type of plant has a different way of working. God has different ways to work in each of us.
A the end of John’s Gospel Peter asked how Jesus will deal with the other disciple – Jesus’s answer was how I deal with him “What is that to you? You must follow me.”