How Isaiah Defines the “Line-upon-Line” Principle of Learning


As Isaiah is the first prophet to address the “line-upon-line” principle of learning, his words are key to understanding what it is. In an end-time prophecy directed at the “drunkards of Ephraim,” their straying prophets and erring seers (Isaiah 28:1, 7), he decries their failure to advance beyond the infant stage of learning and their resultant incapacity to receive divine revelation:

“Whom shall he give instruction? Whom shall he enlighten with revelation? Weanlings weaned from milk, those just taken from the breast? For it is but line upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept; a trifle here, a trifle there” (Isaiah 28:9–10). Paul echoes that idea when bidding the saints to move on from the milk of the gospel to the meat (Hebrews 5:12).

The Hebrew of “line upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept” (tzav latzav tzav latzav qav laqav qav laqav) uses repetition, assonance, and alliteration to parody the rote method of learning—as in a kindergarten, where children are instructed to repeat after the teacher. Such a primitive mode of learning is uncommendable for a covenant people of God.

When the gospel’s basic principles are regarded as its fulness, believers are in no way equipped to deal with imminent end-time challenges. Isaiah laments that “all tables [luach, also ‘tablets’] are filled with vomit; no spot is without excrement” (Isaiah 28:8). Instead of being directly instructed by God, the people are fed half-digested food regurgitated for them to swallow.

Revelation begets God’s rest: “This is rest; let the weary rest! This is a respite! But they would not listen. So to them the word of Jehovah remained: Line upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept; a trifle here, a trifle there, that, persisting, they might lapse into stumbling and break themselves, become ensnared and be taken captive” (Isaiah 28:12–13).

Alma expresses a similar idea. He who pays heed and diligence to God will “know the mysteries of God until he know them in full,” whereas “they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction” (Alma 12:9–11).

Isaiah warns of the same: “Jehovah will rise up as he did on Mount Perazim, and be stirred to anger, as in the Valley of Gibeon—to perform his act, his unwonted act, and do his work, his bizarre work. Now therefore scoff not, lest your bonds grow severe, for I have heard utter destruction decreed by my Lord, Jehovah of Hosts, upon the whole earth” (Isaiah 28:21–22).

This passage and entire chapter show up the retributive aspect of God’s end-time “work”: (1) that the destruction of the earth’s wicked inhabitants—including, as in this case, the scoffers of Ephraim—occurs concurrently with the deliverance of those who find rest in God; and (2) that a general falling away of God’s people is what triggers the world’s end-time destruction.

The same pattern of God’s people’s atrophy led to former worldwide destructions, as when Assyria and later Babylon conquered the then-known world. In Isaiah’s end-time scenario, it is Ephraim and its leaders’ “Covenant with Death” —“taking refuge in deception and hiding behind falsehoods” when a scourge threatens—that causes it to overtake them (Isaiah 28:18).

Hence, the chief purpose of rote learning: “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”—more of his life-saving “word” and “truth” (2 Nephi 28:28–30).

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The Isaiah Institute was created in the year 2000 by the Hebraeus Foundation to disseminate the message of the prophet Isaiah (circa 742–701 B.C.). Avraham Gileadi Ph.D’s groundbreaking research and analysis of the Book of Isaiah provides the ideal medium for publishing Isaiah’s endtime message to the world. No longer can the Book of Isaiah be regarded as an obscure document from a remote age. Its vibrant message, decoded after years of painstaking research by a leading authority in his field, now receives a new application as a sure guide to a rapidly changing world. To those who seek answers to today’s perplexing questions, the Book of Isaiah is God’s gift to humanity.

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