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Don’t Panic!

Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Isaiah 28.14-16 KJV

I have presented this morning’s text in the King James translation for a very particular reason. It is because what I see there takes me back more than fifty years to one Sunday morning when I thought I was going to be late for a church service I was supposed to be assisting in and I was rushing to get there. ‘Slow down,’ said my companion. ‘”He that believeth shall not make haste” – Isaiah 28.16.’

The verse stuck with me and I’ve carried it through the decades, often repeating it to myself and sometimes to others. Only today, however, did I stop to consider the verse in context and look at it more closely.

The situation described by Isaiah is that Judah has made a foolish alliance with Egypt which Isaiah can see is going to bring the wrath of Assyria down upon them. The leaders of Jerusalem are not actually boasting that they have made a covenant with death: their boast is that they have made a treaty with Egypt. But Isaiah sees it for what it actually is and knows that very soon all hell (his word) will be let loose in Jerusalem.

But that will not be the end of God’s people or their holy city. He hears God saying something quite strange, but full of promise. He is saying that he is laying a stone in Zion, a tried stone — that is to say, one that has no flaws in it and that will not shatter; a precious corner stone — that is to say, one that something wonderful will be built upon. (In the New Testament that is, of course, seen as a reference to Jesus and the church – 1 Corinthians 3.11.) And written on the stone (most foundation stones have something written on them, don’t they?) are the words of verse 16: “he that believeth shall not make haste” …

Yes. Except that the little word translated as “make haste” (chûsh) has several possible meanings and “make haste” is the least likely. The most likely is “panic” and that is why, in the NIV (which sadly fails to recognise the words as an inscription on the cornerstone} has: ‘the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.’ Other viable translations are ‘worry’ or ‘be afraid’ or ‘be put to shame’ or even ‘practice divination’. In the writings of Peter and Paul in the New Testament – Romans 9.33, 10.11 and 1 Peter 2.6 – it is ‘put to shame’ because that is how the word is translated in the Septuagint – the Greek version of the Old Testament widely used by Greek-speaking Jews throughout the Roman Empire.

So what should it be? I think you can take your pick … or go for all of them, because the contextual meaning will carry them all. When the Assyrian army does eventually fall on Jerusalem, says Isaiah, the true believer will not run around like a headless chicken. He won’t be afraid, or worry, or panic, or go running off to fortune tellers to see what’s going to happen to him, and at the end of the day his faith will be vindicated — he won’t be put to shame.

And that surely is the word of encouragement for us to take away from this passage against the day when adversity strikes: Jesus is our cornerstone and written on his brow is the message – The one who puts their trust in me will never need to panic, nor worry, nor be afraid; and he or she will surely never be put to shame. That is the real message of this passage which we are to hide in our hearts.

As to using Isaiah 28.16 as a verse to tell myself or others that Christians should never be in a hurry, however. No, I can see now that that’s really not on … Indeed, there are many times when we all really do need to get a move on, whether we are Christians or not, and Isaiah 28.16 cannot be used to tell us otherwise.

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