Earlier this evening when I was eating dinner I received a message on my phone from a loyal reader who asked me what Isaiah 28:11 meant, specifically when it referred to stammering lips: “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people.” Many people are under the illusion that when God speaks to us He means to be heard and well understood, but this verse is a reminder that is not the case. Indeed, in order to understand this word, and more importantly its relevance to us as an audience, it is worthwhile to understand at least two different contexts relating to this verse. The first context, of course, is the passage in which this verse is embedded, and the second context is the situation the author, Isaiah, is referring to here. As is often the case when it comes to passages like this one or issues in our world, it is worthwhile to understand this verse in part by making the problem bigger in order to solve it .
Let us first do this by looking at the verse in the context of its neighboring verses. The immediate context of Isaiah 28:11 is Isaiah 28:9-13, and what it says is somewhat surprising in that the words are familiar but their meaning is not as well-understood: ““Whom will he teach knowledge? And whom will he make to understand the message Those just weaned from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts? For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, to whom He said, “This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest,” and, “This is the refreshing”; yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was to them, “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little,” that they might go and fall backward, and be broken and snared and caught.”
It is commonly thought, for example, that the statement of Isaiah about the word of God being precept upon precept and line upon line, here a little, there a little, is a hermeneutic that comes from scripture and is generally applicable, and it is rejoiced that the Bible contains deep truths scattered throughout the entirety of scripture the way that the food of small finches and birds like that are scattered like seeds and must be gathered little by little. Yet this verse does not view the scattering of biblical truth as an aid to interpretation, but rather a barrier to communication between God and mankind. The fact that truth is build line upon line, here a little, there a little, means that many people often fail to understand it because it is based on prior understanding and knowledge and sustained attention and focus.
Indeed, it should be noted that many Bible versions view this saying as part of a quotation. There appears to be some disconnect between the way that the scattered nature of so much biblical truth is viewed by those who are fond of that truth and preaching that truth on the one hand and those who are in the position of listening to that truth or being warned about judgment on the other hand. For those who love investigating and digging and have a love for the material, it is not a bad thing for the process to be a bit basic and the material to be scattered. For those who have no love for the material on its own, though, the approach matters. There are plenty of people in our world, as was the case during the times of Isaiah, where people wanted to be entertained and didn’t want to think too hard or face too serious of demands, and for those people this message that Isaiah is presenting was not the sort of message calculated to draw their interest. Witness, for example, the way that Isaiah has typically been plundered for its messianic prophecies of interest and subjected to all sorts of bogus source theories while its material has often not been read in a full or systematic fashion.
To get back to Isaiah 28:11 specifically, sometimes God does not want to make it easy for others to understand Him. When a prophet like Isaiah gave a puzzling message to the people of Israel and Judah that required teasing out and working out, there were some people who were simply not interested in putting in the effort to do that, so the words sounded like they came from a stammering man. We remember that Moses, for example, was cursed with a stammer and had a hard time making himself understood, especially in his younger days. Sometimes the awkwardness of the messenger makes understanding the message more difficult, and there are times where God does not make it easy for an audience to understand a message and respond positively to it, as if He is testing us to whether we are interested enough or committed enough to focus on the message even when it is not entertaining or easy to do so. That is a lesson that is certainly relevant in our own time and in our own situation, just as it was for the original audience of Isaiah’s message.
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