Case in Point


This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Isaiah says to you: “Keep it simple, stupid” (Isaiah 8:1)

The two subsequent Biblical passages which admonish us to write concisely, plainly and simply all key off this Mosaic exhortation from the Lord God.

Before we get to Habakkuk let’s take a look at the exhortation through Isaiah to write plainly and simply.

Isaiah 8:1—“The LORD said to Isaiah, ‘Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters: ‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.’” (ESV)

God then tells Isaiah that he will bring in two individuals to give public witness to the truth of this headline: Uriah and Zechariah. These two were not considered part of the true Church but rather nominal believers who were good for public testimony. So, this exhortation to write simply is for the entire Church, whether true or false.

In order to arouse the Church more effectually, God commands that this message be made public by clear and simple writing (“common characters”), that it may be understood by all.  It was the custom of the prophets, after having been enjoined to deliver any message to the people, to sum up in a few words — a brief abstract, a headline — the substance of what the prophets had said, and then to affix this headline to the gates of the temple.  Isaiah is to take a “large tablet” that could easily be seen by passers-by. The word translated “tablet” in the ESV could be translated “slab” or “scroll” or “plank.” In short, it was to be a small billboard.

The brevity and conciseness of this headline (“Maher-shalal-hash-baz”) is emphatic and impressionable. It is a headline designed by God to be read and remembered by all passers-by.  Even the most ignorant and uneducated Jerusalemite could read and ponder these four words. This is a divine demonstration of how to write plainly and simply so that all can understand.

But there is the additional admonishment to write concisely and clearly here also.

Isaiah is to write on the tablet in simple, easy-to-understand language, the language of the common people. This brief message-headline is to be written in a common style of script that could easily be read. There was to be no misunderstanding of this divine, pithy statement because it was to be written in “plain” or “common” Hebrew (the Hebrew vulgate). It is to be written in an “ordinary pen.” The literal translation of the Hebrew is “a man’s pen” or even more accurate, “man’s graving tool” (cheret enosh). “Man” here means “all mankind.” That is, write in common letters on a clear slab easy to understand by all passers-by, but particularly members of the Church.

The Greek Septuagint translates this verse, “And the Lord said to me, ‘Take to yourself a volume of a great new book, and write in it with a man’s pen concerning the making a rapid plunder of spoils; for it is near at hand.” The Greek word for man’s “pen” means “carving,” “engraving,” “hewing,” “inscribing” and comes from the Homeric Greek usage in the Iliad of tearing or carving of the flesh with a lance.


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