The thrust of Isaiah 28-31 is that Judah should trust in the Lord alone during the Assyrian threat. Isaiah described God’s sovereignty over the nations in hopes that Judah would cast herself at the Lord’s feet and receive grace to endure advances first by Tigleth-pileser (2 Kgs 16:7-9), then Shalmaneser V (2 Kings 17-18), and finally Sennacherib (2 Kings 18-19). Isaiah’s sharp tone in Isaiah 28-31 may have been prompted by King Ahaz’s earlier alliance with Tigleth-pileser (Isaiah 7). In the day of crisis, would Judah run to a neighbor, like Egypt—whom Isaiah had predicted would be destroyed (Isaiah 20)—or would they take refuge in the Lord (Isaiah 26)?
Several New Testament authors saw in the prophet’s oracles phrases that could be used to persuade their audience(s) to trust in the fuller demonstration of God’s faithfulness, Jesus Christ. Thus, Isaiah 28-31 has significance for the storyline of Scripture.
(1) In Isa 28:14-22 the prophet confronted Judah, perhaps specifically Ahaz, for making a pact with Death rather than relying on the Lord for deliverance. All the while, the Lord promised, “Look, I have laid a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will be unshakable” (Isa 28:16). The authors of the New Testament understood Jesus Christ to represent the stone of Isa 28:16 (see Ps 118:22). Paul saw in Isaiah’s phrase a description of Israel in his own day; they too failed to rely upon the Lord’s offer of righteousness by faith in Christ. Concerning Israel, Paul wrote, “They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written, ‘Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over, and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame’” (Rom 9:33). Peter on the other hand understood Isaiah’s prophecy of the faithfulness of God to be a means of encouragement for the Gentile believers in his audience. Peter wrote, “Coming to Him, a living stone—rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God—you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:4-5).
(2) In Isa 29:13, the prophet warned the people of their hypocrisy. They went through the motions of temple service while considering surrendering to the Assyrians or seeking an alliance with Egypt. Jesus saw in the words of the prophet an apt description of the hypocritical Jewish leadership of His own day, those who put their traditions—like giving extra to the temple instead of using their surplus to take care of their aging parents—above God’s word or submission to His lordship. Like Isaiah’s audience, Jesus’ opponents honored God with their lips but their hearts were far from God (Matt 15:8-9//Mark 7:6-7).
(3) In Isa 29:14, Isaiah said that the Lord would confound the wisdom of the wise in Judah, those who thought it best to make a pact with Assyria or Egypt to preserve their national identity. Paul saw in Isaiah’s statement a warning for the Corinthians—who themselves were guilty of seeking significance and security in worldly alliances rather than the foolish message of the cross. Paul wrote, “To those who are perishing the message of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is God’s power. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts’” (1 Cor 1:18-19).
(4) In Isa 29:16, the prophet rebuked those who questioned God’s faithfulness to His people. Many in Judah thought they were smarter than God, able to inform the Lord that it would be a better plan to surrender to Assyria or make a pact with Egypt than be defeated by Assyria. They regarded themselves as the potter and God as the clay. Paul saw in Israel’s rebellious attitude a picture of those who questioned God’s faithfulness to national Israel. Some wondered why so many Jews were rejecting the Messiah with the result that the church was dominated by Gentiles. Paul answered their quandary by setting forth the sovereignty of God to call whom He would. To the haughty interlocutor who asked, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” Paul replied, “Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Or has the potter no right over His clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor?” (Rom 9:19-21).