"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!" (Isaiah 28:1)
As in many other places, Ephraim here refers to the kingdom of northern Israel. Primarily, Isaiah's ministry was toward Judah; however, it was not confined solely to the southern kingdom. Here, the citizens of Israel are presented as drunkards who live for the revelry of the moment without any concern for God's Law. Amos' earlier denunciations of Israel's attitude parallel the point of Isaiah's rebuke.
Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near; That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David; That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph (Amos 6:3-6).
This particular rebuke was aimed at northern Israel; however, Judah shared in her sister's sins (Isaiah 22:13, Ezekiel 16:51-52).
"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. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet: 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." (Isaiah 28:2-4)
The Lord had reserved the fearful might of the Assyrians to deal with Ephraim's sin. As in Isaiah 8:7-8, the Assyrian is likened to a destroying flood that leaves nothing in its wake. Sargon would overcome Samaria and sweep away the fading flowers that adorned her crown of arrogance and sensuality.
The hasty fruit is literally the first ripe fig (Jeremiah 24:2, Hosea 9:10, Micah 7:1). This fruit was regarded as a delicacy. The Lord likened the Assyrian invasion of Israel to a man who eagerly devours the delicious and tender figs.
"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, 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 28:5-6)
There seems to be somewhat of a play on words in the text. Ephraim's crown of pride would fall from his head, and the glorious beauty of his fading flowers would be swept away by the Assyrians; yet, to the one who chose the fear of the LORD, God would prove to be a glorious crown that is capable of abiding any storm.
The residue certainly includes the survivors who responded to Hezekiah's Passover invitation (II Chronicles 30:11) but also has in view any and all of Israel's God-fearing population. Having a heart purified by faith in the righteousness of God, the redeemed man finds God's Spirit to be the greatest source of help in judgment. Also, the Lord, and not man, is the One Who gives the warrior his strength and enables him to meet and to defeat the enemy at the gates of the city.
In stark contrast to Samaria's sickly defenses, the Lord presents Himself as the ultimate Victor Who acts in behalf of those who turn to Him in faith. This passage has future significance as well. In principle, it describes Jesus Christ the King ruling by His Spirit of judgment and bringing redemption and victory to His saints (Isaiah 11:1-4).