Oranges grown in California’s central valley, often on immense farms, are harvested from January to June. The dust of this barren part of the earth has become fertile.
The ploughing and planting that is necessary for such bounty is not random, but carefully planned, like the ordered rows of the orchards. But the beauty and order of these rows of trees may well be lost on the farm workers of California, many of whom work long hours for low wages (Arax 2018). These millions of oranges do not simply ‘drop down from the sky’ (Arax 2018: 50). Indeed, for some, the labour and the water used to irrigate the crops are seen as purloined, or in Isaiah’s words, ‘snared, and taken’ (v.13).
This third section of Isaiah 28 lays out the planning necessary for the earth to yield its abundance. Every farmer knows its importance. It is an expression of the wisdom God has embedded in creation. But this section is also a parable of what God is doing with Israel. Like the wise farmer, God plans and plants with care.
God’s ordering has justice at its centre—God’s ‘community development programme’ includes uprooting and ploughing under, as well as planting and harvesting. Farmers may have learned their practical wisdom from God’s creation; its human implications were something that Israel’s religious leaders had forgotten. As a result, they can only speak gibberish (v.13). They have constructed their own order instead of trusting YHWH’s and in the process made a covenant with death.
Perhaps Israel’s leaders thought they were the authors of their own prosperity, forgetting that their wisdom came from elsewhere: from YHWH. But when the people forgot the central focus of Isaiah’s message—‘Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’ (Isaiah 1:17)—it was YHWH who had to plough and uproot.
Arax, Mark. 2018. ‘A Kingdom from Dust, February 4, 2018’, The California Sunday Magazine
Goldingay, John. 2014. The Theology of the Book of Isaiah (Downers Grove: IVP)
Watts, John. 1986. The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans)