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Precept Upon Precept?

Have we allowed a mistranslated text of scripture to become a catch-phrase of wisdom which was originally intended to be a mocking chide?

Isa 28:10 (KJV) For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.

Isa 28:13 (KJV) ...precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little...

The phrase "precept upon precept" from the King James Version of the above two scriptures is often associated with "deep teaching" and biblical larks. Normally you hear about it when the going gets muddleheaded, hard to follow, or just plain confusing; in which case the handy old "precept upon precept" phrase will be trotted out to explain why. Understanding how "precepts" are built upon "precepts" ad-infinitum to absurd complexity is supposed to be a key to understanding, or so we are told.

2Co 11:3 (NKJ) But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

We know from Scripture that God does not cotton much to mental conceit, human sophistry, or the lofty thoughts of men. These, in fact, are specifically warned against as the very scent of deception. But with the popular use of "precept upon precept" to justify such, God's prophetic irony is stark.

Isa 28:19 (NIV) ...The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror.
What does what the King James rendered as "precept upon precept" really mean, then? Well, in Hebrew the phrase in Isaiah 28 verses 10 and 13 is: "sav lasav sav lasav, kav lakav kav lakav" as can be seen in the footnotes of most modern Bibles. The phrase appears to be mere gobbledygook, a mockery of the prophet's words, which we will see in context momentarily. To have translated this gibberish was extremely daffy, but the KJV translators set an unfortunate precedent.

As an example in English, imagine someone standing up in the audience at a Promise Keepers rally with a megaphone and shouting, "Lah De Dah, Lah De Dah; Blah Be Blah, Blah Be Blah". You would take it this person was not "with the program"; was making fun. Now suppose a naive person was translating this into French for French television, and missed the satirical point: "He's from Los Angeles, He's from Los Angeles... He is bored with insects, He is bored with insects," might be a honest attempt. But--really now!

Now that a precedent has been set with "sav lasav" in English, most new translations dare not deviate. The NIV follows the KJV lead with "do and do, do and do", and the NAS "order on order, order on order", with footnotes alerting the reader of the problem. Beyond precedent, however, it is painful to admit that a verse we have used as a badge of our "wisdom" and "depth" is in fact drunken chiding which triggers the judgment of God.

As we will see in context, this is not "wisdom" to be imitated, or a "key" of understanding to apprehend God's word, it is a mockery of the spirit of prophecy.

Let's dive into the text.

Isa 28:1 (NIV) Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, to the fading flower, his glorious beauty... the pride of those laid low by wine!

Isa 28:7-8 (NIV) And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth.

Isa 28:9-12 (NIV) "Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? For it is: ["sav lasav sav lasav, kav lakav kav lakav"] "Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there". Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, "This is the resting-place, let the weary rest"; and, "This is the place of repose"--but they would not listen.

So far, unless you have been paying close attention, you might have misunderstood that the "kav lakav" message comes from the drunken and stumbling prophets--aimed at those who are too spiritually dull or sodden to even know better. The idea of foreign lips and strange tongues carries with it a pagan and unclean aspect, perhaps even alluding to Balaam. But all this, so far, could be disputed. Some expositors, for example, suggest that this is an old testament harbinger of speaking in tongues; and link "kav kakav" to the glossolalia of 1Cr 14:22 as a means of explaining the "foreign" reference. But this is a bit of a stretch even if we stop where we are; and there is more.

So that we can not miss the point that this chiding phrase is not God's wisdom, but a travesty of it that brings on God's judgment, the phrase is repeated in a context that cannot be missed and with a result that that is inescapable.

Isa 28:13 (NIV) So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: ["sav lasav sav lasav, kav lakav kav lakav"] Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there--so that they will go and fall backwards, be injured and snared and captured.
Sound like a group you would like to be part of?

Isaiah now will respond to this sing-songy taunt and ignorance paraded as wisdom.

Isa 28:14-15 (NIV) Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem. You boast, "We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding-place."

Isa 28:16-20 (NIV) So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb-line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding-place... When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it. As often as it comes it will carry you away; morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through." The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror. The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.

Isa 28:21-22 (NIV) The Lord will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon--to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task. Now stop your mocking, or your chains will become heavier; the Lord, the Lord Almighty, has told me of the destruction decreed against the whole land.


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