Monday, September 12, 2016

The Pride of Ephraim and an Economic Lesson about Trust

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1 Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!
2 Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.

3 The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:
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.
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,
6 And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate. (Isaiah 28:1-6)

Reading verses 1-4, it is pretty clear to me that Isaiah must have been disgusted with the pride of Ephraim in his day. It seems the land of Ephraim was a beautiful land with beautiful people—“glorious beauty on the head of the fat valleys”—so much so that they were drunk with it. And you get the idea that they had a problem with wine and drunkenness as well.

Isaiah warned them that the Lord could humble them with disaster—hail, storm, flood—which would throw down their pride. He also said that their glorious beauty would fade like a withering flower and like the first-ripe fruit that is eaten immediately.

The way Isaiah calls Ephraim “fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine” makes me wonder what he was seeing.  What makes a valley “fat”?  And why call Ephraim drunkards at the same time he credits them with glorious beauty? Is he calling attention to how drunkenness is unattractive, or is there something deeper going on here?    

Reading this over and over, I wondered if there was a growing problem in Ephraim’s economy that Isaiah was very concerned about and calling attention to.  It is possible that the land of Ephraim was full of vineyards for wine. 

Isaiah may have looked at all those vineyards and wondered, “Who is going to drink all that wine that they make?”  If the place is booming with grapes, then the demand has to come from somewhere to absorb the supply, otherwise some of that supply was foolishly produced.  Isaiah must have reasoned that either Ephraim was drinking it all themselves (in which case they were drunkards), or they were going to try to sell it elsewhere, which meant that the people were chasing high profits, and everyone was piling into the business.  And you can kind of see there is a problem if there is only one crop in an area. The whole place depended upon the crop of grapes. If natural disaster hits and destroyed the crop, everyone there would be affected. 

In verses 5-6, Isaiah anticipates a future day when the people would depend on the Lord instead.

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,
6 And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.

Isaiah anticipated that some day, instead of pride, the people would be humble and give the Lord the glory for their success, instead of whatever cash crop made the money roll in.  He wanted the people to trust the Lord instead of their vineyards that were at the mercy of weather patterns that could be capricious and occasionally devastating.

It is instructive to see that ancient Israel seems to have had boom-and-bust periods somewhat like we do, when people would pile into a high-yielding industry.  Embedded in Isaiah’s warning to the Ephraimites is the implied principle that high-yielding industries can be destroyed and can’t be depended upon, but the Lord can be depended upon.