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)
28Woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Eʹphraim,
and to the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!
2Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
he will cast down to the earth with violence.
3The proud crown of the drunkards of Eʹphraim
will be trodden under foot;
4and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
which is on the head of the rich valley,
will be like a first-ripe fig before the summer:
when a man sees it, he eats it up
as soon as it is in his hand.
5In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory,
and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people;
6and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,
and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.
7These also reel with wine
and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
they are confused with wine,
they stagger with strong drink;
they err in vision,
they stumble in giving judgment.
8For all tables are full of vomit,
no place is without filthiness.
9“Whom will he teach knowledge,
and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
those taken from the breast?
10For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little.”
11Nay, but by men of strange lips
and with an alien tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
yet they would not hear.
13Therefore the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
here a little, there a little;
that they may go, and fall backward,
and be broken, and snared, and taken.
14Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers,
who rule this people in Jerusalem!
15Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
and with Sheol we have an agreement;
when the overwhelming scourge passes through
it will not come to us;
for we have made lies our refuge,
and in falsehood we have taken shelter”;
16therefore thus says the Lord God,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation
a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
‘He who believes will not be in haste.’
17And I will make justice the line,
and righteousness the plummet;
and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
18Then your covenant with death will be annulled,
and your agreement with Sheol will not stand;
you will be beaten down by it.
19As often as it passes through it will take you;
for morning by morning it will pass through,
by day and by night;
and it will be sheer terror to understand the message.
20For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on it,
and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in it.
21For the Lord will rise up as on Mount Peraʹzim,
he will be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon;
to do his deed—strange is his deed!
and to work his work—alien is his work!
22Now therefore do not scoff,
lest your bonds be made strong;
for I have heard a decree of destruction
from the Lord God of hosts upon the whole land.
23Give ear, and hear my voice;
hearken, and hear my speech.
24Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
does he continually open and harrow his ground?
25When he has leveled its surface,
does he not scatter dill, sow cummin,
and put in wheat in rows
and barley in its proper place,
and spelt as the border?
26For he is instructed aright;
his God teaches him.
27Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
nor is a cart wheel rolled over cummin;
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
and cummin with a rod.
28Does one crush bread grain?
No, he does not thresh it for ever;
when he drives his cart wheel over it
with his horses, he does not crush it.
29This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel,
and excellent in wisdom.