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Isaiah: Prophet of Salvation Book 4

Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Isaiah 28, 29: Ephraim and Judah

Chapter 20: The Law of Tongues

Isaiah 28:10 says,

10 For He says, “Order on order, order on order, line on line, line on line, a little here, a little there.”

The phrase translated “order on order” is tsav l’tsav, “precept on precept” (KJV), or “rule after rule.” It was probably meant to mock Isaiah, as if he were a father teaching his baby son the rules or commandments, and all he could do was to repeat endlessly “rule after rule.” In other words, the people were mocking the prophet for over-emphasizing (in their view) the laws of God.

The Septuagint (Greek) translation of Isaiah 28:10 gives us a rabbinical interpretation of the verse, saying,

10 Expect thou affliction on affliction, hope upon hope, yet a little and yet a little, by reason of contemptuous words of the lips by means of another language.

The Septuagint implies that the prophet’s words were doom and gloom and that they should expect a lot of affliction, or tribulation, mixed with contradiction (“hope upon hope”). The rabbinic translators took this as a “contemptuous” reaction to the words of the prophet.

The phrase translated “line on line” is qav l’qav. The word qav is literally a measuring line, but figuratively it means “rule.” To know the measure of something is to rule it and exercise authority over it. Once again, the people were implying that Isaiah was trying too hard to teach them rules and regulations. They preferred to be “free” to follow their own “conscience.”

They did not understand that one’s conscience is soulish and fallible, for that which is born of the flesh is flesh. One’s conscience is trained first by his parents, then by teachers and culture, for better or for worse. Men can be taught to feel guilt if they do good things, or they can be taught to feel no guilt when they sin. It is only when the Spirit of God takes over and when we learn the word of God that our minds are renewed, and we adopt the culture of God’s nature.

The Syriac (Aramaic) version of Isaiah 28:10 renders the verse as a continuation of verses 7 and 8, where the prophet painted a picture of those who had had too much to drink:

10 For filth is upon filth, filth upon filth; vomit upon vomit, vomit upon vomit, a little here, a little there.

The reason for this difference seems to be because “line” is qav and “vomit” is qa. Did a scribe add the vav to the Hebrew text by mistake, or did the Aramaic version drop the vav? Perhaps the only way to know for sure is to study the gematria of the passage. Unfortunately, Ivan Panin did not have time to study the gematria of the entire Old Testament. A century ago there were no computers, so he had to do all of his work with pencil and paper.

If the Aramaic is correct, it paints a picture of a drinking party, where one must be careful where to step, because there were piles of vomit here and there.

No matter how we understand it, this passage shows that “the drunkards of Ephraim” were carnal and were not drinking the right type of wine. Their wine was making them drunk and a bit crazy. Their words and doctrines, having come out of their own belly, were just vomit. They ought to have been drinking the new wine of the Spirit, so that their words would prophesy and edify the people around them.

But except for a few who were faithful, the majority did not have ears to hear the words of the prophet. Hence, they mocked Isaiah.

God Speaks in a Foreign Language

Isaiah 28:11, 12 says,

11 Indeed, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue. 12 He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,” and “Here is repose,” but they would not listen.

This is the text that Paul referenced in 1 Cor. 14:20-22,

20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking, yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.

Verse 20 refers to “children” and “infants,” where the apostle instructs us to be spiritually mature in our thinking. In other words, we are not to be like the drunkards of Ephraim who could not yet understand the language of prophecy and who mocked the prophet with child-talk.

Paul then explains the words of the prophet Isaiah. Because the people could not hear and respond to the words of the prophet when He spoke in their own (Hebrew) language, God would speak to them in a foreign tongue that they most certainly would not understand. Paul tells us that Isaiah was prophesying of the gift of tongues, which was to speak the things of God in a language they did not understand.

Paul’s conclusion is that prophecy in one’s own language is for believers, while tongues is for unbelievers. In essence, the gift of tongues is the judgment of God upon those who, like children, cannot hear and understand what their parents are telling them—or who, as adults, refuse to hear and respond to the prophecy in their own understandable language.

This is also why Paul valued the gift of interpretation as well as tongues (1 Cor. 14:27). Paul did not forbid tongues, but he said that prophecy was preferable (1 Cor. 14:5). Prophecy is the word of God spoken in one’s own language; tongues is the same word but spoken in a foreign (i.e., unintelligible) language that required interpretation.

The gift of tongues was given to the church in its purest form on the day of Pentecost. On that day the disciples spoke in at least 17 different languages, and each language group heard the prophecies in their own language (Acts 2:4-6). No interpretation was necessary. Hence, it was not really “tongues” in the later sense of the word, because each was able to hear in his own language.

However, two decades later, when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we find a very different situation in the church. Tongues and prophecy were distinguished in the manner of Isaiah 28 and both were being utilized in fellowship gatherings. Paul understood that many believers were as children and infants insofar as spiritual things were concerned. 1 Cor. 3:1-3 says,

1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly…

The immaturity seen in the drunkards of Ephraim was also prevalent in the Corinthian church. Hence, they were in need of milk, because they could not yet handle the meat of the word. In speaking to such infants, Paul had to speak to them in baby talk. Their minds were not yet renewed (Rom. 12:2), for they were still growing up into Christ.

Paul said in 1 Cor. 2:14 that “a natural man” (i.e., the soulish mind, which is the “old man” of Adam) “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.” As long as one is led by the soul, rather than by the spirit (or spiritual man, the “new man”), he is not yet mature.

The soulish mind cannot accept spiritual things; therefore, while it might be persuaded about certain truths, it is incapable of attaining that which the spiritual mind is capable of attaining. This is because the Holy Spirit has come to indwell the Most Holy Place in our “temple” and has awakened and has begotten our (human) spirit, giving it immortality and incorruption.

But just because a believer has received the Holy Spirit does not mean that he or she is being led by the Spirit. Faith in Christ does not impart immediate maturity. For this reason, the carnal mind (fleshly soul) is still present and is acting as a drunkard of Ephraim that cannot receive the word of prophecy. It drinks its own carnal wine.

For this reason, the gift of tongues was present in the church. Tongues was for unbelievers, and the soulish mind cannot help but be an unbeliever. Hence, tongues is a way to bypass the carnal mind, that is, the unbelieving soul, for the one who speaks in an unknown tongue “speaks mysteries” (1 Cor. 14:2). Paul says that he speaks to God, not to men. In essence, tongues is a way for a man to set aside his soulish mind so that his spirit may communicate with God directly without soulish interference or objection.

So we see that the gift of tongues has purpose. What God did with this gift in the Old Testament context with the drunkards of Ephraim was re-applied in the New Testament to the carnal, unbelieving mind.

The Law of Tongues

In Isaiah’s day, the Ephraimites were unable to be fruitful because they were led by their carnal minds and were unable to hear the word of God when it was spoken to them in their own language (Hebrew). For this reason, God judged them with “tongues” when He sent the Assyrian army to conquer Samaria. The Assyrians issued their orders to the captives in “a foreign tongue” that required interpretation.

Those orders: “Come!” “Bow!” “March!” “Go!” were credited to God Himself, for the Assyrians were speaking the words of divine judgment. This judgment was prophesied in the law of tribulation found in Deut. 28:49,

49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand.

This was the law that Isaiah later applied to the drunkards of Ephraim who had refused to hear the clear word of prophecy in their own language. While Isaiah adds details to the law of Moses, it is only in the New Testament that we get the full revelation of this judgment.

We then see how this particular judgment of God is corrective in nature, helping us to bypass the old man with its soulish nature. By this judgment a carnal believer is able to speak directly with God, even when his soulish mind does not comprehend what he is saying.

Therefore, Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:4, “one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself,” that is, he edifies his spiritual man without interference from his soulish man. The true gift of tongues is a way in which the spiritual man may speak the words of God through the soul and body (mouth) without allowing the soul to assert its own will.

One’s gift of tongues, of course, must be genuine, for as with all good things, there are also fleshly counterfeits.

Entering God’s Rest

Isaiah 28:12 says,

12 He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,” and “Here is repose,” but they would not listen.

This again refers to the law of tribulation found in Lev. 26:33, 34,

33 You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste. 34 Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths.

All sin is reckoned as a debt. Whenever the people failed to keep a Sabbath land-rest year, they owed God a year. This was applied many years later to Judah, which owed God 70 rest years, and God then removed them from the land to Babylon for 70 years (2 Chron. 36:21). Yet the same law applied also to the House of Israel on a greater scale.

The highest level of Sabbath is God’s rest, which Isaiah describes in chapter 58. It is the “rest” in which we do nothing except what we see our Father do, and say nothing except what we hear our Father say. In other words, we cease from our own labors and enter God’s rest. That is possible only when our minds are fully renewed and we take on the full character, nature, and image of God as expressed in His word.

Yet because the tribe of Ephraim had failed to hear the word, Isaiah 28: 13 concludes,

13 So the word of the Lord to them will be, “Order on order, order on order, line on line, line on line, a little here, a little there,” that they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared, and taken captive.”