In Isa 28:16 clearly marks one of those foundational moments in history where the past is put aside and a new beginning occurs. Further this verse is not merely left to be mined from Isaiah it is quoted in at least half a dozen places in the New Testament. The inevitable question is therefore: "When was, or will, this foundation (be) laid?" The purpose of this brief paper is to dig into the verse and its references to see if this question can reasonably be answered.
The first step in attempting to ascertain the point in history at which the foundation laying occurs is to work out who or what the foundation is. Fortunately it is a very easy step as Peter lays it out for us in Act 4:11 NET Translation:
Act 4:11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone.
This verse could be used to argue that the foundation had been laid already by the time Peter spoke. However that is somewhat of a stretch as it really states that Christ is the stone; it doesn't specify when the stone is used. However we can show that the stone had been laid by the time Romans was written, here is Rom 9:32-33 KJV:
Rom 9:32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
Rom 9:33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Note that Paul is equating the stumbling stone of Is 8:14 with the foundation stone of Isa 28:16 and claiming that the stumble had happened and that that is why the Jewish nation had given way to the church. Of course Paul's teaching was based upon what the Lord Himself had stated. In Matthew, Mark and Luke He quotes Isa 28:16 subsequent to the parable of the vineyard and then states: "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." He then relates this to the two fold action of the stumbling stone: "And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."
Having asked who the stone is and when it was laid the natural question to ask is: "What is it the foundation of?" This answer is provided by Eph 2:19-20:
Eph 2:19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
Eph 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
Jesus Christ the chief corner stone is the basis of the Church. I think it is therefore clear that Calvary, where the Lord laid down His life, is the point where the foundation stone was laid into the ground.
I think a slightly more contentious question is: "Who and when will the stone crush?" Both in the original verses in Isaiah and in the Lord's quotations the 'stumblers' and crushed are different groups. I think the answer is supplied by Daniel in a third prophetic reference to the 'stone.' In Dan 2:45 we see a stone cut from a mountain without human hands that breaks the nations and grows to fill the whole earth. The fact that it grows to fill the earth suggests it is foundational; it certainly crushes.
In closing then I would note that Christ as a rock or stone is a recurrent theme in scripture. Two verses of Isaiah are clearly tied together by the Lord and Paul to show that the foundation laid in Isa 28:16 is also the stumbling stone of Isa 8:14 and that it is the Jews that stumble. The foundation then becomes the basis of the church. It is also possible that this is the same stone that latter comes from heaven to crush the ungodly.
Whilst Isaiah 28 has one prophetic verse that can be fixed firmly in time the others leave themselves open to far broader interpretation. Some such as Clarke, Keil and Delitzsch make the entire chapter to be fulfilled around the time of the Assyrian capture of Samaria. Others such as Gill have it fulfilled by the Roman invasion of 70AD. The aim of this brief paper is to suggest that whilst the first half of this chapter is fulfilled the second is still to be fulfilled in a future time.
Most of the controversy in the commentators surrounds the timing of the verses subsequent to Is 28:16. Given we are told Is 28:16 refers to the crucifixion a degree of mysticism has to be claimed by those that wish to make the whole chapter prior to the captivity. Gill's Roman invasion does not fall foul of that problem although it has other issues I shall deal with later.
I believe however that the initial error people make and which the headings in some Bibles even encourage is to assume that Judah is first addressed in Is 28:14. It is true the Ephraim is the subject if Is 28:1-4 and that Judah is not explicitly mentioned until ten verses later. However Is 28:4-5 need to be looked at closely:
Isa 28:4 And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.
Isa 28:5 In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people,
The fourth verse undoubtedly refers to Ephraim and it suggests they are being eaten up. The NET translations states 'grabbed and swallowed'. The verse does not imply a remnant will be left behind. Is 28:5 then states there is a remnant for whom God is a royal diadem and the following verse implies there will be justice and success in battle. None of those were true for anything the Assyrians left behind in Samaria. I suggest therefore that the remnant left behind is Judah and that what we actually see in Is 28:5-13 is a history of Judah until the time of Christ.
In order to get a correct perspective of the later verses of this chapter we need to look closely at the seventeenth verse:
Isa 28:17 Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.
We need to note the absolute nature of this verse and also the acting agent. In Is 28:6 God had provided a spirit of discernment to the ones that judged and they eventually erred. In the seventeenth verse God Himself is laying out the measuring line and a hail and water are going to sweep away the lies and no-one will be able to hide.
I suggest that it is immediately obvious that this was not fulfilled by the Romans or any other earthly force we have seen. Whilst many people have taken it upon themselves to try to obliterate the Jews none of the regimes in question have been characterized by an overwhelming flood of justice and truth. I also think this chapter is being precise. Prior to the laying of the corner-stone God was working through human agents: the Jews. Now he is taking matters into His own hands. In fact Is 28:21 it states that God is going to rise up to do this work.
The suggestion above that this prophecy has future fulfillment during the End Times may also explain the curious references to a 'covenant with death' that need to be spiritualized or virtualized by the historic interpretations. We know from Daniel 9:27 that the Jews of the tribulation period do form a covenant with the Beast and that the covenant is annulled. It is quite possible that this is the covenant which the Jews are relying upon. In fact Rev 6:8 does personify Death in the form of a rider of a pale horse. It could well be that it is the beast that causes the war and famine which then allow him to take power.
As stated in the introduction there is no consensus as to the timing of this passage. The opinions range from Clarke who places this within about a century of the invasion of Samaria, through Gill the closes it in 70AD and on to those such as F.C. Jennings that have the fulfillment of the latter half still future. I believe I have shown the first four verses cover the invasion of Samaria, the next ten deal with the history of Judah up to the time of Christ and then verse 16 deal with Christ's death. I offer based upon verse 17 that the fulfillment of the remainder has to be future if taken literally and that once future then these verses fit comfortably into the existing pre-tribulationist framework.
Isaiah 28 delivers a terrifying message; judgment is coming that will sweep the inhabitants of Jerusalem off their feet. However the end of the chapter then steps back and uses an agricultural parable to show that the judgment is towards an eventual good.
The Lord likens the destruction of Jerusalem to the plowing of the ground. Plowing is a fairly brutal process; a sharp metal blade slices through the soils crust, lifts the top layer of dirt and the deposits it slightly out of place and upside down. Plowing is fatal for those plants living in the ground at the time. A similar degree of disturbance was about to afflict the Jew.
The ploughman does not continue plowing the soil however. If a severe weed re-growth occurs after the first plowing he may do it again once or twice. But the object of the exercise is not to keep the soil ploughed; the object is to get the soil stable to that planting can occur and fruitful growth.
The text then goes on to state that once the new seed is producing growth not only does plowing stop but the farmer even stops riding his cart through the field lest any harm should befall the crop. Certain some crops require a stick or flail to yield the seed but nothing as violent as the plough again.
The key to the passage is however Isaiah 28:26 -
Isa 28:26 His God instructs him; he teaches him the principles of agriculture. (NET)
If the God of Heaven taught this care and attention to the farmer then can we not readily believe that He will apply similar care and attention to those crops that He is growing? In this chapter God's 'crop' is the Jew; today it is the Church. This is really a continuation of the metaphor that Isaiah has been using; previously in the form of a vineyard.