Line upon Line

“Precept must be upon precept,” wrote the prophet Isaiah, “precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line” (Isaiah 28:10, 13).

If this passage sounds repetitive in English, it is even more so in Hebrew. The words for precept (tsav – צַו) and line (qav – קַו) are not only monosyllabic but they rhyme with each other, making the whole passage sound like a poem for children:

Tsav latsav, tsav latsav, qav laqav, qav laqav

Hebrew text of Isaiah 28:10 on biblehub.com

Isaiah is speaking in this chapter about the foolish leaders of the kingdom of Israel, whom he calls “drunkards.” Their kingdom is about to be destroyed by the Assyrians, but they don’t see that. Instead, in their arrogance and complacency, they complain about the repetition and simplicity in the teachings of prophets. One English translation renders the passage this way: “He tells us everything over and over— one line at a time, one line at a time” (Isaiah 28:10, New Living Translation).

It’s common to think we know more than we do, to believe that we have mastered a topic when we have only scratched the surface. Isaiah is reminding us that we still have much to learn, and that we must learn it one step at a time.

Nephi sees in this passage a reminder that learning requires humility:

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

2 Nephi 28:30

One of our articles of faith reminds us that we are in the middle of a journey and that we still have much to learn:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

Articles of Faith 1:9

President Russell M. Nelson recently reminded us that the Restoration of the Gospel is a process, not an event. As we strive to do the work of the Lord, He teaches us how to do it better. “The ongoing Restoration needs ongoing revelation” (“The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation,” General Conference, October 2021).

Today I will approach gospel learning with more humility. I will remember that I probably don’t know as much as I think and that knowledge comes gradually, step by step. I will seek inspiration to understand how I can do God’s work better today.

5 thoughts on “Line upon Line

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  1. Fascinating that this scripture, that we so often quote solemnly,
    actually has aspects of a children’s rhyme. It changes the tone, the say
    many children’s rhymes contain kernels of warning or reminder. A real
    contribution, Paul.

     

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I agree that the original context gives the saying a more playful tone. I also think it’s fascinating that such an important gospel truth was prompted by “drunkards” complaining about the words of prophets. I think kernels of truth are hidden many places, but we have to be willing to look for them.

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