“For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” Isa 28:10
“Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and understanding comes from the connecting of these facts one with the other. These processes begin in earliest childhood, when one is “weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breast.” The methods urged here in Isaiah are those educators today generally agree upon. First, inform the student of a number of proven facts (“precepts“, i.e. truths) and then teach them the logical process of connecting these facts (“line [of reasoning] upon line [of reasoning]“).
In order to hold the pupil’s attention, a good teacher frequently changes the subject material, returning time and time again to each theme. Thus as we had stated before,
“Because God deals with us as a wise parent with his children, knowing that we need our food little by little, the lighter diet (milk) before the strong meat, therefore his truth is so arranged as to meet our necessities: a little of the truth upon one subject is placed here and a little more there; and as we take these little bits here and there and begin to put them together we gain strength and are able to appreciate the whole of it. As we deal with children, so God deals with us, giving us line upon line, and precept upon precept—the same truths repeated over and over from different standpoints, thus enforcing his teachings”
Knowledge is basic to living. A person must be acquainted with literally thousands of facts to cope with day-to-day life. That is why a minimum of twelve years are recommended for just the basic schooling, not counting the specialized training for specific fields of endeavor.
Spiritually, knowledge is just as important, perhaps even more so. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee…” (Hosea 4:6). Isaiah notes that “wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation.” Isa 33:6
The writers of the New Testament commend the ear that is open to instruction. “Despise not prophecies” (1 Thess 5:20); the brethren in Berea were commended for having “received the word with all readiness of mind” (Acts 17:11); Paul urges Timothy to “study to show thyself approved unto God.” This study, as Paul spoke of the Bereans, involved searching “the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.” Thus the Thessalonians were to “prove all things” and John admonished the church to “try the spirits” (1 John 4:1).
The Bible alone is the inspired word of God. It alone is guaranteed truth. But it is not an easy book to understand. Frequently the student finds, as Peter did of Paul, that in the Bible “are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).
The Holy Spirit is the teacher in the School of Christ. The method of its teaching is defined by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor 2:13 viz. “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (“A little here a little there”)
This suggests a topical approach. One scripture needs to be compared with another scripture. Types need to be compared with realities. Prophecies need to be compared with fulfillments. The New Testament needs to be compared with the Old. Similar passages need to be diligently compared both for points of agreement and with dissimilarities. Translations need to be compared for accuracy and clarity. The English Bible needs to be compared with the original Greek and Hebrew. Thus it is that “precept” is added to “precept” and one “line” of reasoning is built upon another.
One of the principles in our theme text was that God taught “here a little, there a little.” It was in this vain that the writer of Hebrews opens his treatise with these words: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1:1). Rather than pour out all truth at one time and thus overloading man with knowledge, God saw fit to portion out truth in gradual revelations over some forty centuries. Nor did he always choose the same manner. At times he spoke through materialized angels, at times he used dreams and visions, and at other times he led a prophet to a given conclusion.
The prophet Isaiah uses the words of our theme text just three verses later with far different connotations: “But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken”
If Isaiah’s listeners had heeded the Lord’s teachings they would have received the rest of mind promised in Verse 12. However, being unheeding, they studied mechanically, accumulating the precepts but not noting their purpose. The same teachings, which could have produced rest unto their souls, became a trap unto them.
This becomes very evident when looking at the reverence the Jewish leaders paid to the letter of the law in the days of Jesus, and their accompanying hypocrisy in not living up to it. It was this ensnarement in the letter of the law that prompted the stunning denunciation of these leaders in Matt 23:2, “All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”
To the Christian today there is also a similar snare. The study of the word of God can produce a sterile intellectualism, which robs the precepts (truths) of their real value. Always and ever the object of the Christian in his study must be to discern the will of God; and, observing, to do it, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).
Thus have we shown that this method “precept upon precept; line upon line; here a little, and there a little” is indeed the chosen method in which the Lord teaches his people. Man acquires knowledge in one of three ways: education, observation, or experience, only God has perfect intuitive knowledge, He has both perfect deductive reasoning, “declaring the end from the beginning” (Isa 46:10), and perfect inductive reasoning, with the ability to reason backward from the desired end to those means which will produce that result.
Man however must learn, step by step, line by line, precept by precept, this method applies not only to growth in knowledge, but also in the graces of the Spirit, as the Apostle admonishes us, “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge temperance, to temperance patience, to patience godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love.”
Excerpts taken from, The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom Sept/Oct 1996, “Precept upon Precept”, by Carl Hagensick