Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards, to the fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley— to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine! See, the Lord has one who is powerful and strong. Like a hailstorm and a destructive wind, like a driving rain and a flooding downpour, he will throw it forcefully to the ground. That wreath, the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards, will be trampled underfoot. That fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley, will be like figs ripe before harvest— as soon as people see them and take them in hand, they swallow them. In that day the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people. He will be a spirit of justice to the one who sits in judgment, a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate. – Isaiah 28:1-6
God is not being very complementary of Ephraim in this passage. They seem to be a town that has fallen from grace; once God’s glorious beauty, but now merely a faded flower. I am not sure the significance of the wreath reference, whether it refers to an actual or metaphorical crown. God seems to be saying that the people of Ephraim have become prideful and dependent on their own “hairy crowns” rather than God.
God does not pull any punches when describing the consequences of their choice to follow each other rather than God: “Like a hailstorm and a destructive wind, like a driving rain and a flooding downpour, he will throw it forcefully to the ground.” This may be describing the destruction of physical parts of Ephraim and it also may be describing a spiritual dethroning that is a consequence of their actions.
This description of a “flooding downpour” is particularly poignant at the moment with the entire state of North Carolina experiencing rains and flooding not seen for 100’s of years. There is a sense of inevitability when rains like this arrive. There is simply no place to put all the water falling from the sky and it accumulates everywhere. This can leave one feeling rather hopeless and like they are drowning, even if they are not in fact physically drowning.
God knows that the people of Ephraim will feel like this during the “wreath removal” process to come. He wants them to ask for the wreath that comes from Him: “In that day the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people. God wants the same of us today. He wants to be our wreath, crown, and protection amidst life’s storms. We need only ask and He will be “a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.”
What does it look like to “turn back the battle at the gate”? I am reminded of the Lord of Rings battle in the Two Towers. All seems lost in the battle for Rohan as they hold up in Helm’s Deep. They have retreated to the last gate and wall. Aragorn and King Théoden are discussing what to do and Aragorn proposes something the king did not expect:
Theoden: So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?
Aragorn: Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.
Theoden: For death and glory.
Aragorn: For Rohan. For your people.
Theoden: The Horn of Helm Hammerhand will sound in the deep, one last time!
All ends well as Gandalf and the riders of Rohan come to the rescue of the King and Aragorn and they are victorious. I think this passage is asking us to act just as boldly in our pursuit of God. We are to “ride out” of our comfortable coffins and return to Him. He will take care of the rest. In the end God wins.
Prayer: God You have our backs and will protect us when we boldly follow You. Help us to ride out and face those things that would keep us from You.