"He Will Not Ever be Threshing it"

"Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech. Doth the ploughman plough all day to sow? doth he open and break the clod of his ground? When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rye in their place? For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him. For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cumin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working" (Isaiah 28:23-29).

To get the true interpretation of any passage of Scripture one must not separate it from its context, and this passage is no exception to that rule. The chapter is a Tribulation chapter. It describes what God will do when the crowd of infidel Jews that are yet to be in power in Jerusalem make a pact with Antichrist and his ally the Beast, and consequently with the devil, whose power and subtlety these supermen will wield and practise. They will make a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell (v. 5). This will not only be the climax of their apostasy but a definite challenge, and defiance of God. They will consider themselves safe from God's interference, and will say, "Peace and safety"; then shall their destruction come. For the Lord shall rise up as in Mount Perazim. He shall be wroth as in the Valley of Gibeon, that He may do His work, His strange work; and bring to pass His act, His strange act" (v. 21). His strange work is judgment, His strange act the destruction of these scornful men. It is strange work because He is the God of all grace, and willeth not that any should perish; but the Day of Judgment has been appointed: He is compelled to judge because men slight His mercy and defy His authority.

The great tribulation will be the time of "Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7), but it will be "the hour of temptation that shall come upon the whole world," as our Scripture indicates. "Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your hands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord God of Hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth" (v. 22); for all the world is guilty before God, and at that time the acceptable year of the Lord will have closed and the day of vengeance of our God will have come. As we think of that day, we may well thank God for the grace that has turned us to Him from idols to serve Him, the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, our Deliverer from the coming wrath (1 Thess. 1).

But the chapter closes with a sure and certain hope beyond the tribulation, and with instruction as to the ways of God. The ploughman ploughs all day to sow: his ploughing is not the end but a means to an end, and the end is a harvest of grain. When the grain is ripe, he reaps and threshes: but "he will not ever be threshing it." The threshing is not the end, but it has an end in view; that end is the separating the chaff from the wheat and the cumin and the barley and the rye. And it is "his God that doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him" (v. 26). And will not God who has given men wisdom in these things be wise Himself in what He does? He will break up the fallow ground in His people's hearts with the ploughshare of His chastisement and judgments, that they will cry to Him in their sorrow, then their hearts will be prepared for the sowing of His Word within them. John the Baptist also prophesied of this tribulation period when he said, "His fan is in His hand and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12). The great tribulation will destroy the chaff, but it will bring to light the wheat and secure it for the Lord's garner. We are assured of this by His word through the prophet Amos. Said he, "I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among the nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth" (chap. 9:9).

And what of our day? Has our Scripture any message for us? It surely has, these are not the days of "the great tribulation," but they are days of tribulation nevertheless. The ploughshare of sorrow is cutting deeply into multitudes of lives. God is ploughing up the fallow ground: has He no aim in this, and is He indifferent as to results? Nay, He is preparing hearts for the reception of His Word, the Word of His grace, which tells us that He is a very present help in time of trouble; the God of all comfort, He offers Himself to the burdened and bereaved as a Refuge and a Saviour through Jesus Christ the Lord.

"The threshing has its application to those who have found a refuge in Him. To all such the Lord has said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation." And our word "tribulation" is derived from the Latin 'tribulum, which was the threshing instrument or harrow, whereby the husbandman separated the corn from the husks; and Roman 'tribulatio' in its primary significance was the act of this separation" (Trench). "Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope: and hope maketh not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." Tribulation may come upon us in diverse ways; in sickness or in separation from those who are dear to us, in bereavement, in persecution, or oppression by unreasonable and godless men; but if we know the end that God has in view in permitting it, we shall glory in it.

Further, the husbandman does not treat all the grain alike, in that fitches are threshed with a threshing instrument, that the cart wheel is not turned about on the cumin, the staff is used for the fitches and the rod for the cumin. He does not break his bread with the wheel of his cart nor bruise it with his horsemen. And this wisdom, we are told, cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts. And shall He not act wisely with His own? He knows our frame, our tendencies and infirmities, and He orders His ways towards us in infinite wisdom, and His wisdom is the servant of His love.

Let us trust Him. "The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower." We can surely say, as in the words with which our chapter closes, "He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. And to Him, the Only wise God and our Saviour, be glory and majesty dominion, and power both now and for ever. Amen.