Isaiah Foretells Jehovah’s ‘Strange Deed’
1, 2. Why do Israel and Judah feel secure?
FOR a brief moment, Israel and Judah feel secure. Their leaders have forged political alliances with larger, more powerful nations, in an effort to find safety in a dangerous world. Samaria, the capital of Israel, has turned to neighboring Syria, while Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, has rested her hope on ruthless Assyria.
2 In addition to putting their trust in new political allies, some in the northern kingdom may expect Jehovah to protect them—despite their continuing to use golden calves in worship. Judah is likewise convinced that she can count on Jehovah’s protection. After all, is not Jehovah’s temple located in Jerusalem, their capital city? But there are unexpected events ahead for both nations. Jehovah inspires Isaiah to foretell developments that will seem truly strange to his wayward people. And his words contain vital lessons for everyone today.
“The Drunkards of Ephraim”
3, 4. Of what is the northern kingdom of Israel proud?
3 Isaiah begins his prophecy with startling words: “Woe to the eminent crown of the drunkards of Ephraim, and the fading blossom of its decoration of beauty that is upon the head of the fertile valley of those overpowered by wine! Look! Jehovah has someone strong and vigorous. Like a thunderous storm of hail, . . . he will certainly do a casting down to the earth with force. With the feet the eminent crowns of the drunkards of Ephraim will be trampled down.”—Isaiah 28:1-3.
4 Ephraim, the most prominent of the ten northern tribes, has come to stand for the entire kingdom of Israel. Its capital, Samaria, enjoys a beautiful and commanding location at “the head of the fertile valley.” Ephraim’s leaders are proud of their “eminent crown” of independence from the Davidic kingship in Jerusalem. But they are “drunkards,” spiritually inebriated because of their alliance with Syria against Judah. Everything they cherish is about to be trampled under the feet of invaders.—Compare Isaiah 29:9.
5. What is Israel’s precarious position, but what hope does Isaiah hold out?
5 Ephraim does not realize its precarious position. Isaiah continues: “The fading flower of its decoration of beauty that is upon the head of the fertile valley must become like the early fig before summer, that, when the seer sees it, while it is yet in his palm, he swallows it down.” (Isaiah 28:4) Ephraim will fall into the hand of Assyria, a sweet morsel to be consumed in a single bite. Is there no hope, then? Well, as is so often the case, Isaiah’s judgment prophecies are tempered with hope. Even though the nation falls, faithful individuals will survive, with Jehovah’s help. “Jehovah of armies will become as a crown of decoration and as a garland of beauty to the ones remaining over of his people, and as a spirit of justice to the one sitting in the judgment, and as mightiness to those turning away the battle from the gate.”—Isaiah 28:5, 6.
“They Have Gone Astray”
6. When does Israel meet her demise, but why should Judah not gloat?
6 The day of reckoning for Samaria comes in 740 B.C.E. when the Assyrians devastate the land and the northern kingdom ceases to exist as an independent nation. What about Judah? Her land will be invaded by Assyria, and later Babylon will destroy her capital city. But during Isaiah’s lifetime, Judah’s temple and priesthood will remain in operation and her prophets will continue to prophesy. Should Judah gloat over the coming demise of her northern neighbor? Certainly not! Jehovah will also settle accounts with Judah and her leaders for their disobedience and lack of faith.
7. In what way are Judah’s leaders drunk, and with what results?
7 Directing his message to Judah, Isaiah continues: “And these also—because of wine they have gone astray and because of intoxicating liquor they have wandered about. Priest and prophet—they have gone astray because of intoxicating liquor, they have become confused as a result of the wine, they have wandered about as a result of the intoxicating liquor; they have gone astray in their seeing, they have reeled as to decision. For the tables themselves have all become full of filthy vomit—there is no place without it.” (Isaiah 28:7, 8) How disgusting! Literal drunkenness in God’s house would be bad enough. But these priests and prophets are spiritually intoxicated—their minds beclouded by overconfidence in human alliances. They have deceived themselves into thinking that their course is the only practical one, perhaps believing that they now have a backup plan in case Jehovah’s protection proves inadequate. In their spiritually inebriated state, these religious leaders spew out revolting, unclean expressions that betray their grievous lack of genuine faith in God’s promises.
8. What is the response to Isaiah’s message?
8 How do Judah’s leaders react to Jehovah’s warning? They mock Isaiah, accusing him of speaking to them as if they were infants: “Whom will one instruct in knowledge, and whom will one make understand what has been heard? Those who have been weaned from the milk, those moved away from the breasts? For it is ‘command upon command, command upon command, measuring line upon measuring line, measuring line upon measuring line, here a little, there a little.’” (Isaiah 28:9, 10) How repetitious and strange Isaiah sounds to them! He keeps repeating himself, saying: ‘This is what Jehovah has commanded! This is what Jehovah has commanded! This is Jehovah’s standard! This is Jehovah’s standard!’* But Jehovah will soon “speak” to the inhabitants of Judah by means of action. He will send against them the armies of Babylon—foreigners who really do speak a different language. Those armies will certainly carry out Jehovah’s “command upon command,” and Judah will fall.—Read Isaiah 28:11-13.
Spiritual Drunkards Today
9, 10. When and how have Isaiah’s words had meaning for later generations?
9 Were Isaiah’s prophecies fulfilled only on ancient Israel and Judah? By no means! Both Jesus and Paul quoted his words and applied them to the nation of their day. (Isaiah 29:10, 13; Matthew 15:8, 9; Romans 11:8) Today, too, a situation has arisen like that of Isaiah’s day.
10 This time, it is the religious leaders of Christendom who put their faith in politics. They stagger about unsteadily, like the drunkards of Israel and Judah, interfering in political matters, rejoicing at being consulted by the so-called great ones of this world. Instead of speaking pure Bible truth, they speak uncleanness. Their spiritual vision is blurred, and they are not safe guides for mankind.—Matthew 15:14.
11. How do the leaders of Christendom react to the good news of God’s Kingdom?
11 How do the leaders of Christendom react when Jehovah’s Witnesses draw their attention to the only true hope, God’s Kingdom? They do not understand. To them, the Witnesses seem to be babbling repetitiously, like babes. The religious leaders look down on these messengers and mock them. Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, they do not want God’s Kingdom nor do they want their flocks to hear about it. (Matthew 23:13) Hence, they are put on notice that Jehovah will not always speak by means of his harmless messengers. The time will come when those who do not subject themselves to God’s Kingdom will be “broken and ensnared and caught,” yes, utterly destroyed.
“A Covenant With Death”
12. What is Judah’s supposed “covenant with Death”?
12 Isaiah continues his pronouncement: “You men have said: ‘We have concluded a covenant with Death; and with Sheol we have effected a vision; the overflowing flash flood, in case it should pass through, will not come to us, for we have made a lie our refuge and in falsehood we have concealed ourselves.’” (Isaiah 28:14, 15) Judah’s leaders brag that their political alliances insulate them from defeat. They feel that they have made “a covenant with Death” to leave them alone. But their hollow refuge will not shield them. Their alliances are a lie, a falsehood. Similarly today, Christendom’s close relationship with the leaders of the world will not protect her when Jehovah’s time for her accounting comes. Indeed, it will prove to be her undoing.—Revelation 17:16, 17.
13. Who is the “tried stone,” and how has Christendom rejected him?
13 Where, then, should these religious leaders be looking? Isaiah now records Jehovah’s promise: “Here I am laying as a foundation in Zion a stone, a tried stone, the precious corner of a sure foundation. No one exercising faith will get panicky. And I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the leveling instrument; and the hail must sweep away the refuge of a lie, and the waters themselves will flood out the very place of concealment.” (Isaiah 28:16, 17) Not long after Isaiah speaks these words, faithful King Hezekiah is enthroned in Zion, and his kingdom is saved, not by neighboring allies, but by Jehovah’s intervention. However, these inspired words are not fulfilled in Hezekiah. The apostle Peter, quoting Isaiah’s words, showed that Jesus Christ, a distant descendant of Hezekiah, is the “tried stone” and that no one exercising faith in Him need have any fear. (1 Peter 2:6) How sad that the leaders of Christendom, while calling themselves Christian, have done what Jesus refused to do! They have sought prominence and power in this world rather than wait on Jehovah to bring about his Kingdom under Jesus Christ the King.—Matthew 4:8-10.
14. When will Judah’s “covenant with Death” be dissolved?
14 When “the overflowing flash flood” of Babylon’s armies passes through the land, Jehovah will expose Judah’s political refuge as the lie that it is. “Your covenant with Death will certainly be dissolved,” says Jehovah. “The overflowing flash flood, when it passes through—you must also become for it a trampling place. As often as it passes through, . . . it must become nothing but a reason for quaking to make others understand what has been heard.” (Isaiah 28:18, 19) Yes, there is a powerful lesson to be learned from what happens to those who claim to serve Jehovah but who instead put their confidence in alliances with the nations.
15. How does Isaiah illustrate the inadequacy of Judah’s protection?
15 Consider the position in which these leaders of Judah now find themselves. “The couch has proved too short for stretching oneself on, and the woven sheet itself is too narrow when wrapping oneself up.” (Isaiah 28:20) It is as if they were to lie down to take their ease, but in vain. Either their feet stick out in the cold or they pull up their legs and the cover is too narrow to wrap up in to keep warm. This was the uncomfortable situation in Isaiah’s day. And it is the situation today for any who put their trust in Christendom’s refuge of a lie. How disgusting that as a result of involving themselves in politics, some of Christendom’s religious leaders have found themselves implicated in such terrible atrocities as ethnic cleansing and genocide!
Jehovah’s ‘Strange Deed’
16. What is Jehovah’s ‘strange deed,’ and why is this work unusual?
16 The final outcome of affairs will be completely contrary to what Judah’s religious leaders are hoping for. Jehovah will do something strange to the spiritual drunkards of Judah. “Jehovah will rise up just as at Mount Perazim, he will be agitated just as in the low plain near Gibeon, that he may do his deed—his deed is strange—and that he may work his work—his work is unusual.” (Isaiah 28:21) In the days of King David, Jehovah gave his people notable victories over the Philistines at Mount Perazim and on the low plain of Gibeon. (1 Chronicles 14:10-16) In the days of Joshua, he even caused the sun to stand still over Gibeon so that the victory of Israel over the Amorites could be complete. (Joshua 10:8-14) That was most unusual! Now Jehovah will fight again but this time against those who profess to be his people. Could anything be more strange or unusual? Not in view of the fact that Jerusalem is the center of Jehovah’s worship and the city of Jehovah’s anointed king. Up to now, the royal house of David in Jerusalem has never been overthrown. Nevertheless, Jehovah will surely carry out his ‘strange deed.’—Compare Habakkuk 1:5-7.
17. What effect will scoffing have on the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy?
17 Therefore, Isaiah cautions: “Do not show yourselves scoffers, in order that your bands may not grow strong, for there is an extermination, even something decided upon, that I have heard of from the Sovereign Lord, Jehovah of armies, for all the land.” (Isaiah 28:22) Although the leaders scoff, Isaiah’s message is true. He has heard it from Jehovah, with whom those leaders are in a covenant relationship. Similarly today, the religious leaders of Christendom scoff when they hear of Jehovah’s ‘strange deed.’ They even rant and rave. But the message Jehovah’s Witnesses proclaim is true. It is found in the Bible, a book that those leaders claim to represent.
18. How does Isaiah illustrate Jehovah’s balance when administering discipline?
18 As for sincere individuals who do not follow those leaders, Jehovah will readjust them and restore them to his favor. (Read Isaiah 28:23-29.) Just as a farmer uses gentler methods to thresh a more delicate grain, such as cumin, so Jehovah adjusts his discipline according to the individual and the circumstances. He is never arbitrary or heavy-handed but acts with a view to the potential rehabilitation of erring ones. Yes, if individuals respond to Jehovah’s appeal, there is hope. Similarly today, while the fate of Christendom as a whole is sealed, any individual who subjects himself to Jehovah’s Kingdom can avoid the coming adverse judgment.
Woe to Jerusalem!
19. In what way is Jerusalem to become an “altar hearth,” and when and how does this take place?
19 What, though, is Jehovah now speaking about? “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the town where David encamped! Add year upon year, you people; let the festivals run the round. And I have to make things tight for Ariel, and there must come to be mourning and lamentation, and she must become to me as the altar hearth of God.” (Isaiah 29:1, 2) “Ariel” possibly means “The Altar Hearth of God,” and here it evidently refers to Jerusalem. That is where the temple with its altar of sacrifice is located. The Jews follow the routine of holding festivals and offering sacrifices there, but Jehovah takes no pleasure in their worship. (Hosea 6:6) Rather, he decrees that the city itself is to become an “altar hearth” in a different sense. Like an altar, it will run with blood and be subjected to fire. Jehovah even describes how this will happen: “I must encamp on all sides against you, and I must lay siege to you with a palisade and raise up against you siegeworks. And you must become low so that you will speak from the very earth, and as from the dust your saying will sound low.” (Isaiah 29:3, 4) This is fulfilled for Judah and Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. when the Babylonian army besieges and destroys the city and burns the temple. Jerusalem is brought down as low as the ground on which she was built.
20. What will be the ultimate fate of God’s enemies?
20 Before that fateful time, Judah does from time to time have a king who obeys Jehovah’s Law. What then? Jehovah fights for his people. Even though the enemy may cover the land, they become like “fine powder” and “chaff.” In his own due time, Jehovah disperses them “with thunder and with quaking and with a great sound, storm wind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire.”—Isaiah 29:5, 6.
21. Explain the illustration at Isaiah 29:7, 8.
21 Hostile armies may eagerly anticipate sacking Jerusalem and gorging themselves on the spoils of war. But they are in for a rude awakening! Like a starving man who dreams that he is feasting and then wakes up as hungry as ever, the enemies of Judah will not enjoy the feast that they so eagerly anticipate. (Read Isaiah 29:7, 8.) Consider what happens to the Assyrian army under Sennacherib when it threatens Jerusalem in faithful King Hezekiah’s day. (Isaiah, chapters 36 and 37) In one night, without a human hand being raised, the fear-inspiring Assyrian war machine is turned back—185,000 of its valiant warriors dead! Dreams of conquest will again be frustrated when the war machine of Gog of Magog gears up against Jehovah’s people in the near future.—Ezekiel 38:10-12; 39:6, 7.
22. How does Judah’s spiritual drunkenness affect her?
22 At the time that Isaiah utters this portion of his prophecy, the leaders of Judah do not have faith like that of Hezekiah. They have drunk themselves into a spiritual stupor by means of their alliances with ungodly nations. “Linger, you men, and be amazed; blind yourselves, and be blinded. They have become intoxicated, but not with wine; they have moved unsteadily, but not because of intoxicating liquor.” (Isaiah 29:9) Spiritually drunk, these leaders are unable to discern the import of the vision given to Jehovah’s true prophet. Isaiah states: “Upon you men Jehovah has poured a spirit of deep sleep; and he closes your eyes, the prophets, and he has covered even your heads, the visionaries. And for you men the vision of everything becomes like the words of the book that has been sealed up, which they give to someone knowing the writing, saying: ‘Read this out loud, please,’ and he has to say: ‘I am unable, for it is sealed up’; and the book must be given to someone that does not know writing, somebody saying: ‘Read this out loud, please,’ and he has to say: ‘I do not know writing at all.’”—Isaiah 29:10-12.
23. Why will Jehovah call Judah to account, and how will he do so?
23 Judah’s religious leaders profess to be spiritually discreet, but they have left Jehovah. They teach instead their own twisted ideas of right and wrong, justifying their faithless and immoral activities and their leading the people into God’s disfavor. By means of “something wonderful”—his ‘strange deed’—Jehovah will call them to account for their hypocrisy. He says: “For the reason that this people have come near with their mouth, and they have glorified me merely with their lips, and they have removed their heart itself far away from me, and their fear toward me becomes men’s commandment that is being taught, therefore here I am, the One that will act wonderfully again with this people, in a wonderful manner and with something wonderful; and the wisdom of their wise men must perish, and the very understanding of their discreet men will conceal itself.” (Isaiah 29:13, 14) Judah’s self-styled wisdom and understanding will perish when Jehovah maneuvers things for her entire apostate religious system to be wiped out by the Babylonian World Power. The same thing happened in the first century after the self-styled wise leaders of the Jews led the nation astray. Something similar will happen in our own day to Christendom.—Matthew 15:8, 9; Romans 11:8.
24. How do the Judeans betray their lack of godly fear?
24 For now, however, the bragging leaders of Judah believe that they are clever enough to get away with their perversion of true worship. Are they? Isaiah tears off their mask, exposing them as having no genuine fear of God and thus no true wisdom: “Woe to those who are going very deep in concealing counsel from Jehovah himself, and whose deeds have occurred in a dark place, while they say: ‘Who is seeing us, and who is knowing of us?’ The perversity of you men! Should the potter himself be accounted just like the clay? For should the thing made say respecting its maker: ‘He did not make me’? And does the very thing formed actually say respecting its former: ‘He showed no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:15, 16; compare Psalm 111:10.) No matter how well concealed they think they are, they stand “naked and openly exposed” to the eyes of God.—Hebrews 4:13.
“Deaf Ones Will Certainly Hear”
25. In what sense will “deaf ones” hear?
25 However, there is salvation for individuals who exercise faith. (Read Isaiah 29:17-24; compare Luke 7:22.) “Deaf ones” will “hear the words of the book,” the message from God’s Word. Yes, this is not a healing of physical deafness. It is a spiritual healing. Isaiah once again points forward to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom and the restoration of true worship on earth by the Messiah’s rule. This has taken place in our time, and millions of sincere ones are allowing themselves to be corrected by Jehovah and are learning to praise him. What a thrilling fulfillment! Ultimately, the day will come when everyone, every breathing thing, will praise Jehovah and sanctify his holy name.—Psalm 150:6.
26. What spiritual reminders do “deaf ones” hear today?
26 What do such “deaf ones” who hear God’s Word today learn? That all Christians, especially those to whom the congregation looks as examples, must scrupulously avoid ‘going astray because of intoxicating liquor.’ (Isaiah 28:7) Further, we must never tire of hearing God’s reminders, which help us to have a spiritual viewpoint of all things. While Christians are properly subject to governmental authorities and look to them to provide certain services, salvation comes, not from the secular world, but from Jehovah God. Also, we must never forget that like the judgment on apostate Jerusalem, God’s judgment on this generation is inescapable. With Jehovah’s help we can continue to proclaim his warning despite opposition, as did Isaiah.—Isaiah 28:14, 22; Matthew 24:34; Romans 13:1-4.
27. What lessons can Christians learn from Isaiah’s prophecy?
27 Elders and parents can learn from the way Jehovah administers discipline, always seeking to restore wrongdoers to God’s favor, not merely to punish them. (Isaiah 28:26-29; compare Jeremiah 30:11.) And all of us, including young people, are reminded of how vital it is to be serving Jehovah from the heart, not just going through the motions of being a Christian in order to please men. (Isaiah 29:13) We must show that unlike the faithless inhabitants of Judah, we have a wholesome fear of Jehovah and a profound respect for him. (Isaiah 29:16) Moreover, we need to show that we are willing to be corrected by and to learn from Jehovah.—Isaiah 29:24.
28. How do Jehovah’s servants view his saving acts?
28 How important it is to have faith and confidence in Jehovah and in his way of doing things! (Compare Psalm 146:3.) To most, the warning message we preach will sound childish. The prospective destruction of an organization, Christendom, that claims to serve God is a strange, an unusual, concept. But Jehovah will accomplish his ‘strange deed.’ Of that, there can be no doubt. Hence, through the last days of this system of things, God’s servants put full trust in his Kingdom and in his appointed King, Jesus Christ. They know that Jehovah’s saving acts—performed along with his ‘unusual work’—will bring eternal blessings to all obedient mankind.
In the original Hebrew, Isaiah 28:10 is a repetitious rhyme, rather like a child’s nursery rhyme. Thus, Isaiah’s message sounded repetitious and childish to the religious leaders.
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Christendom has relied on alliances with human rulers rather than on God
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Jehovah carries out his ‘strange deed’ when he allows Babylon to destroy Jerusalem
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Those who used to be spiritually deaf can “hear” the Word of God