Isaiah calls out the presumption of the people of Judah. They reject him out of hand. In Luther’s comments on Isaiah he sees many parallels between the time of Isaiah and his own time. I think we’ll find some parallels with our time as well.
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 16, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 1-39. St. Louis: Concordia, 1969. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 28” pp. 219-237
Considering Isaiah 28, Luther considers that the reference in verse 1 to Ephraim refers to Jerusalem. He seems to be speaking of the southern kingdom rather than the northern kingdom (LW 16, 219). The drunkenness to which the text refers may well be an intoxication with power, though Luther does consider that Isaiah could be referring to literal drunkenness (LW 16, 219). The glory which is fading in verse 1 is a danger to those who are presumptuous. In comparison, the king of Assyria has genuine power. He will trample Israel. Yet his power will also be exhausted (LW 16, 220). Unlike Judah or Assyria, in verse 5 God himself will crown his people. This is what will give the people strength and endurance (LW 16, 221). Luther continues to see the language of drunkenness used in verse 7 as a reference to presumptuous behavior. The priests and prophets who should know the things of God are ignorant. They make prophecies but not in accord with God’s will (LW 16, 222). The scope of this corruption is enormous. Verse 8 says that all around, at all the tables, the drunken authorities are throwing up. The world becomes a place of filth and folly. Luther compares this to the papacy and the monastic system of his day (LW 16, 223).
Counter to this folly, in verse 9, the prophet asks about knowledge. The location Luther sees for knowledge is in the Word of God (LW 16, 224). This knowledge of God’s Word is something that the simple can grasp. It is for those who are like little children, just weaned. However, in verse 10, the prophet criticizes those who would try to systematize God’s Word and promises and reduce the life of faith to a series of activities. Follow the process and all will be well. On the contrary, the Gospel is gracious and simple. god’s people should not be deceived (LW 16, .225). Those who engage in sophistry, “who laugh at the purity of the Word, are derided by God with various lies and errors. This, then, is the punishment of the ungodly, that they ridicule themselves with their own ridicule and are ridiculed by God” (LW 16, 226). The true Gospel brings comfort and rest. This is what God’s people are called to hear. It is what true prophets deliver. In verse 13 the false prophets and their victims will fall and be broken. Luther considers this to be the situation within the Roman Catholicism of his day (LW 16, 227).
God’s judgment falls in verse 14. He calls the people scoffers and tyrants. They have made a covenant with death itself, rather than the God who gives eternal life, they trust in themselves to the very end (LW 16, 228). The very acts which these people think would bring life will result in their death and the ruin of those who have followed them. They consider themselves to be protected from every ill due to their trust in themselves (LW 16, 229). In contrast to the scoffers’ works and teaching, God lays a foundation stone, which Luther interprets to refer to Christ. The solidity of Jesus, God the Son, who has endured all things in life and death, may be built upon securely (LW 16, 229). Luther cites numerous New Testament allusions to this passage, calling all Christians to Christ as the precious cornerstone of their faith (LW 16, 230). The claim in verse 16 that the believer “will not be in haste” is difficult. Luther relates being in haste to being put to shame. This is what happens when we depend on things which are temporary. The result is that we make hasty flight in terror when we could have confidence in Christ (LW 16, 230).
Verse 17 turns and gives hope to the people of Judah. God’s judgment and destruction will not be indiscriminate. He will consider righteousness. Believers will be protected and unbelievers will be destroyed (LW 16, 231). At that time the covenants made with death, the reliance upon our own laws and our own works will be taken up. They will be found unsatisfactory. Luther compares this destruction with the societal troubles in his time during the Peasants’ Revolt (LW 16, 231). Those who took matters into their own hands suffered badly. Those who steadfastly trusted in God were largely unharmed. In Isaiah’s prophecy the disaster will come upon those who are trusting in themselves. It will be relentless. Yet Luther observes that the more people have learned to trust in God the safer they are. Those who are fools and choose not to understand the message will be in terror (LW 16, 232).
Verse 20 adds a different metaphor. Isaiah compares this to a time when the bed is too small and the covers will not cover the occupant. Luther cites Jerome, who makes an allegorical interpretation, saying that Christ and our presumption cannot fit together. Luther prefers to interpret it fairly literally. “Just as the shortness of the bed keeps us from stretching our limbs but makes us pull them up so that we do not fall out and get cold, so distress holds us together so that we do not fall away from the Word of God, neither in good times or in affliction, but by faith abide in it” (LW 16, 233). Luther goes on to speak of God’s “proper” work of grace and favor, and God’s “alien” work in which he speaks condemnation. The words of condemnation drive us to seek God’s mercy (LW 16, 234). “He condemns and expels righteousness and the people clinging to their righteousness in order to raise up His own righteousness. He kills the flesh in order to make the spirit alive” (LW 16, 235).
In verse 22, then, the prophet admonishes people not to scoff. They only bring harm upon themselves by doing so. Rather, in verse 23, they should hear God (LW 16, 235). God is faithful to redeem those who believe him. The plowing and other farm labor pictured as the chapter closes illustrates that God’s work of apparent destruction actually brings forth a fruitful crop (LW 16, 236).
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