The first half of Isaiah 28 is both a woe (a judgment) pronounced against Ephraim/Israel and an announcement of the Messianic hope for the remnant of faithful people who lived in Israel. Even in the midst of judgment, there would be “a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty” (Isaiah 28:5, ESV). Ephraim was the tribe located immediately to the north of the southern kingdom of Judah. Ephraim was a border tribe and one of the more prominent tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, which included ten tribes to the north of Judah and Benjamin. Because of Ephraim’s prominence and location, it was sometimes representative of the entire northern kingdom (e.g., Ezekiel 37:16).
In Isaiah 28:1–13 judgment is pronounced against the “proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim” (Isaiah 28:1, ESV). Israel was enjoying the prosperity of living in the land God gave to the nation, but it was not worshipping God. Instead, the people were worshipping the gods of the people of Canaan and committing idolatry against God. As a result, the glorious beauty of Ephraim was fading (Isaiah 28:2), and God’s patience with their immorality was coming to an end. Like hail in a storm, the glory of Ephraim would be cast to the ground (Isaiah 28:2), and the “proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim” would be brought so low that it would be stepped on (Isaiah 28:3, ESV). Their beauty would fade very quickly (Isaiah 28:4). But with God’s judgment He shows grace. Even when Ephraim would be judged, the Lord of Hosts would be “a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty” to them (Isaiah 28:5).
The kingdom of Israel was reveling in its own glory, but it was short-lived. When that glory faded, the remnant of the people—that smaller group who had trusted in God and was seeking to worship Him—would see that He was their crown of glory and diadem of beauty. Those who had stood for God even while much of the nation had opposed Him would be rewarded when God’s judgment arrived. God’s rule and the arrival of His justice would be beautiful to those who had long awaited it (Isaiah 28:6).
While there was judgment coming in the near term for Israel, justice wasn’t simply a short-term happening, as God said, “Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion, a tested stone, A precious cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. The one who believes in it will not be disturbed” (Isaiah 28:16, NASB). God would one day, through the Messiah (the cornerstone, Acts 4:11), bring about lasting justice (Isaiah 28:17). Just as He was then, God will be a “crown of glory and diadem of beauty” to all who trust in Him.
Isaiah 28 records a particular judgment for Ephraim, and it reminds us that we should glory in Him, not in our own strength or circumstances. Like Ephraim, sometimes we enjoy the prosperity God provides so much that we don’t trust in Him as we should. When we keep in view that He is also our “crown of glory and diadem of beauty,” we can avoid putting our hope and trust in someone or something else.