In my accounting class, our instructor would often suggest we take the accounting principles or the names of certain accounting statements and just say them slowly to understand what they were talking about. For example, the “statement of cashflows” was just that: a statement of the cash flowing through the company. It became something of a running joke with our cohort, but obviously, something that stuck with us and which, I think, has many more applications outside of just the accounting world. In this case, I think it can have a lot of application to reading the scriptures, and in particular reading Isaiah.
“What?” you may say. “Isaiah is just obtuse and just about nobody can understand him.” One could say the same thing about accounting and if you read through it with the idea that you are just going to slog through it to say you did, you will not get near as much of out as you would if you were to slow down and apply some visualization to what you are reading.
Here’s an example using Isaiah 8 on how to read it slowly:
3 And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the Lord to me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz. 4 For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria. 5 The Lord spake also unto me again, saying, 6 Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son; 7 Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: 8 And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel. 9 Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. 10 Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us. 11 For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, 12 Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. 13 Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
In verses 3 and 4 Isaiah is talking about his own son and how the Lord told him what to name him (and what an interesting name to have “Destruction is imminent”? How would you like to have that as the meaning of your name?) Before he would be able to talk both Damascus and Samaria would be spoiled by the King of Assyria.
Then the Lord tells Isaiah that the people are refusing to be baptized (the waters of Shiloah) and were instead looking to the kings of Damascus and Samaria for support and salvation. Instead, the Lord promises that the King of Assyria would be like an overflowing river and sweep over those two kingdoms and would even come close to overcoming Jerusalem, but would go around it as a river goes around a large rock. Why? Because “Immanuel” or “The Lord is With Us.”
Then Isaiah says the same thing three times, just in a different way.
- In verse 9 he says “Don’t associate with the two kingdoms”
- In verse 10 he says “Don’t counsel with them. Don’t get into conferences with those guys, because if we do, it won’t work out”
- In verse 12 he says “Don’t bind yourself to them, neither be afraid like they are”
Finally, he tells us why we should not be afraid or join with them. Because the Lord will be a sanctuary for those who trust in him and a stumbling stone or a hindrance to those who do not. (Verse 14).
There’s a lot more to unpack in all the chapters of Isaiah and this is just a few verses, but it can be instructive on how to read Isaiah and the scriptures in general.
Going through the verses slowly and just doing some google searches when you cannot understand who “Rezin” is or what “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” means can help you learn and appreciate the scriptures more. Sure, it may take more time, but ultimately it’s not a race to see who can finish the book first. It’s more a test of who can understand what is being taught. “Say it Slowly” and you will do a lot better in the long run.